The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:
and her gates languish;
her people lament on the ground,
and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water;
they come to the cisterns;
they find no water;
they return with their vessels empty;
they are ashamed and confounded
and cover their heads.
Because of the ground that is dismayed,
since there is no rain on the land,
the farmers are ashamed;
they cover their heads.
Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
The wild donkeys stand on the bare heights;
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no vegetation.
“Though our iniquities testify against us,
act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
for our backslidings are many;
we have sinned against you.
O you hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
Why should you be like a man confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not leave us.”
Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
“They have loved to wander thus;
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them;
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.”
The Lord said to me: “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.” – Jeremiah 14:1-12 ESV
Jeremiah has just finished begging the people of Judah to give up their pride, glorify God, and listen to his words of warning. On top of this, the people knew exactly what God had said He would do if they refused to obey Him fully. He had made it perfectly clear when He made His covenant with them.
“And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. I will break your proud spirit by making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze. All your work will be for nothing, for your land will yield no crops, and your trees will bear no fruit.” – Leviticus 26:18-20 NLT
And now, God’s promise of famine was getting ready to come true. Since they refused to listen to the words of Jeremiah and humble themselves in willful submission to God, He would humiliate them by “making the skies as unyielding as iron and the earth as hard as bronze”. Famine is a non-discriminatory natural disaster. Everyone suffers, from the noble living in his posh palace to the farmer in his fields. And the lack of rain, which the people of Judah will tie directly to the hand of God, will cause each of them to cover their heads, a sign of deep grief. Even the farmers will feel shame, covering their heads in sorrow, over their inability to produce crops. They will be powerless to do anything about the dry and unyielding land. As long as God withholds the rain, the people of Judah will find themselves helpless and hopeless.
Verses 7-9 are either a prayer of Jeremiah for the people of Judah or the reflect a prophesy regarding the reaction of the people once the famine begins. Either way, these verses contain an admission of guilt and a cry for rescue.
“Our wickedness has caught up with us, Lord,
but help us for the sake of your own reputation.” – Jeremiah 14:7 NLT
The hopelessness of the situation creates a willingness to turn to God, something that had been missing up until this point. I tend to believe that this prayer is a reflection of the hearts of the people, once they find themselves suffering under the devastating effects of the famine. They become desperate, calling out to God in the midst of their suffering, hoping that He will relent and send much-needed rain.
“O Hope of Israel, our Savior in times of trouble,
why are you like a stranger to us?
Why are you like a traveler passing through the land,
stopping only for the night?
Are you also confused?
Is our champion helpless to save us?
You are right here among us, Lord.
We are known as your people.
Please don’t abandon us now!” – Jeremiah 14:8-9 NLT
Notice how they attempt to flatter God. But they also tend to make Him the guilty party. Now that they have confessed their own wickedness, they can’t seem to understand why God hasn’t done anything to rescue them. His silence and lack of action don’t make any sense to them. They said they were sorry, so why hasn’t He removed the famine and returned the rain? They remind God that they are His people and seem to infer that He is somehow obligated to protect them. But God gives them sobering news.
“You love to wander far from me
and do not restrain yourselves.
Therefore, I will no longer accept you as my people.
Now I will remember all your wickedness
and will punish you for your sins.” – Jeremiah 14:10 NLT
He knew their hearts. Their confession of guilt was nothing more than a ploy to escape further punishment. They had no intention of changing their ways, and God knew it. And so He dropped the bombshell on them that they would no longer be His people. This does not mean that God was going to abandon them. It simply meant that, from all outward indications, it would appear to all as if they had lost their privileged status as His chosen ones. Without the blessings of God, the people of God become indistinguishable from everyone else. It was His guiding and providing hand that had set them apart from all the other nations. It was His constant provision for their physical needs and His unceasing goodness as evidenced by His gracious supply of rain and crops that were to have helped distinguish them as His people. He had made this clear when He established His covenant with them, long before they arrived in the land of promise.
“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you the seasonal rains. The land will then yield its crops, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. Your threshing season will overlap with the grape harvest, and your grape harvest will overlap with the season of planting grain. You will eat your fill and live securely in your own land.” – Leviticus 26:3-5 NLT
But they had failed to follow His decrees and to obey His commands. Now, the rain was ceasing and the crops were failing. Fruitfulness had given way to famine. Fullness and security were replaced with hunger and fear. And God commands Jeremiah to stop interceding on their behalf.
“Do not pray for these people anymore. When they fast, I will pay no attention. When they present their burnt offerings and grain offerings to me, I will not accept them. Instead, I will devour them with war, famine, and disease.” – Jeremiah 14:11-12 NLT
God was not going to relent, because He knew these people were not going to repent. Jeremiah could continue to beg God to show mercy, but God would refuse, because their fasts, mourning and tears were too little, too late. And their hearts were not in it. The prophet Isaiah records God’s stinging indictment against the people of Judah.
“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT
And God goes on to reveal what they really thought about Him:
“What sorrow awaits those who try to hide their plans from the Lord,
who do their evil deeds in the dark!
‘The Lord can’t see us,’ they say.
“He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be?
He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay!
Should the created thing say of the one who made it,
‘He didn’t make me’?
Does a jar ever say,
‘The potter who made me is stupid’?” – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT
They thought they could fool God. They treated Him like He was ignorant and easily deceived. They truly believed them could fake repentance, get Him to relent and then go on with their wicked ways. But God knew better. And He was going to bring more famine, increased suffering and, eventually, the armies of the Babylonians to destroy their land and take them captive. God will not be mocked.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. – Galatians 6:7 ESV
This was a truth the people of Judah were going to learn the hard way. They were going to reap the results of their centuries-worth of rebellion against God. He was the potter and they were the clay. He had every right to do with them He wished. God will confirm this very idea for Jeremiah a little bit later on, when He sends the prophet to the house of a potter for a real-life demonstration of His sovereign will over the people of Israel.
“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” – Jeremiah 18:2-6 NLT
They were His people. He had chosen them and made them what they were. And He had every right to do with them as He saw fit. No, it would make no sense to them. It might not make sense to us. But He is God and we are not. He is sovereign and in complete control over His entire creation, including mankind. Just like a potter, God has a plan. He has something He is accomplishing in this world. And His will is going to be accomplished whether we like it or not, and whether we decide to go along with it or not. His will WILL be done.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.