Jeremiah 4:23
I beheld the earth, and, see, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) I beheld the earth.—In words of terrible grandeur the prophet speaks, as if he had already seen the consummated destruction; and repeating the words “I beheld,” as if he had passed through four distinct visions, describes its completeness.

Without form, and void.—An obvious quotation from the tohu va-bohu of Genesis 1:2. The goodly land of Israel was thrown back, as it were, into a formless chaos, before the words “Let there be light” had brought it into order.

Jeremiah 4:23-26. I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void — “The images under which the prophet here represents the approaching desolation, as foreseen by him, are such as are familiar to the Hebrew poets on the like occasions.” See note on Isaiah 13:10, and Bishop Lowth, De Sac. Poesi Hebrews, Præl. 9. “But the assemblage is finely made, so as to delineate altogether a most striking and interesting picture of a ruined country, and to justify what has been before observed of the author’s happy talent for pathetic description. The earth is brought back, as it were, to its primitive state of chaos and confusion; the cheerful light of the heavens is withdrawn, and succeeded by a dismal gloom; the mountains tremble, and the hills shake under dreadful apprehensions of the Almighty’s displeasure; a frightful solitude reigns all around; not a vestige to be seen of any of the human race; even the birds themselves have deserted the fields, unable to find any longer in them their usual food. The face of the country, in the once most fertile parts of it, now overgrown with briers and thorns, assumes the dreary wilderness of the desert. The cities and villages are either thrown down and demolished by the hand of the enemy, or crumble into ruins of their own accord, for want of being inhabited.” — Blaney.4:19-31 The prophet had no pleasure in delivering messages of wrath. He is shown in a vision the whole land in confusion. Compared with what it was, every thing is out of order; but the ruin of the Jewish nation would not be final. Every end of our comforts is not a full end. Though the Lord may correct his people very severely, yet he will not cast them off. Ornaments and false colouring would be of no avail. No outward privileges or profession, no contrivances would prevent destruction. How wretched the state of those who are like foolish children in the concerns of their souls! Whatever we are ignorant of, may the Lord make of good understanding in the ways of godliness. As sin will find out the sinner, so sorrow will, sooner or later, find out the secure.In four verses each beginning with "I beheld," the prophet sees in vision the desolate condition of Judaea during the Babylonian captivity.

Jeremiah 4:23

Without form, and void - Desolate and void (see Genesis 1:2 note). The land has returned to a state of chaos (marginal reference note).

And the heavens - And upward to the heavens. The imagery is that of the last day of judgment. To Jeremiah's vision all was as though the day of the Lord had come, and earth returned to the state in which it was before the first creative word (see 2 Peter 3:10).

23. Graphic picture of the utter desolation about to visit Palestine. "I beheld, and lo!" four times solemnly repeated, heightens the awful effect of the scene (compare Isa 24:19; 34:11).

without form and void—reduced to the primeval chaos (Ge 1:2).

I beheld; either I Jeremiah saw all this in a vision, or I fancied and framed such an

idea of it in my mind; it seems to be impressed upon my thoughts graphically, as in a map, in such a rueful manner; for in this and the three following verses he doth, as one transported with sorrow, elegantly and hyperbolically describe the phaenomenon, face or appearance of it.

It was without form and void; the land was so squalid and so ruined, that he fancieth it to be like the first chaos, for which reason possibly he calls Judea the earth, in allusion to Genesis 1:2; and herein implying that Judah’s sins were such, that they had even overturned the course of nature, being laid waste and desolate, not of inhabitants only, but of all things that might tend either to ornament or use, without men, without houses, without fruits, without beasts or birds for food or service, Jeremiah 4:25,26.

They had no light; some say being obnubilated and darkened by the abundance of smoke that would ascend from the desolating fires of towns and cities, Isaiah 9:18,19, of which you may read in the history of this breaking in of the Chaldeans. But he seems to proceed rather in his metaphor of the chaos, it being an expression whereby the Scripture doth set forth the saddest desolations, Isaiah 13:9, &c.; Ezekiel 32:7, &c.; Joel 2:10,30,31; every thing above and below seemed to be in a mournful posture, wrapt up in dismal blackness. I beheld the earth,.... The land of Judea, not the whole world; and this the prophet says, either in spirit, as Jerom; or in prophecy, as Kimchi; or in a visionary way; for these are not the words of God continued, as Cocceius, but of the prophet; who, by a prophetic spirit, describes the dreadful destruction of the Jewish nation, as follows:

and, lo, it was without form, and void; as the first earth or chaos was, before it was brought into form and order; the same words, "tohu" and "bohu", are used here, as in Genesis 1:2, the land of Judea now was, in the prophet's view of it, like the first earth, when darkness covered it; no grass sprung out of it, not a tree to be seen in it, and neither man nor beast as yet upon it, but all an undigested mass, and in the utmost wild disorder and confusion; and this may denote not only the natural, but the political, and ecclesiastical, disorder of the Jewish nation and state:

and the heavens, and they had no light; that were over the land of Judea;

"their lights did not shine,''

as the Targum paraphrases it; that is, the sun, moon, and stars, which were darkened by the smoke of the burning of Jerusalem; or which withdrew their light, as blushing at, and being ashamed of, the iniquities of his people, and who were unworthy of enjoying the light of them; and which this phrase may denote.

I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and {t} void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

(t) By this manner of speech he shows the horrible destruction that would come on the land and also condemns the obstinacy of the people who do not repent at the fear of these terrible kings, seeing that the insensible creatures are moved therewith, as if the order of nature would be changed, Isa 13:10,24:23, Eze 32:7, Joel 2:31,3:15.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. waste] formless, unsubstantial. Cp. Genesis 1:2. “And void” is not rendered by LXX either here or in Is., and is therefore probably a gloss from Genesis.

no light] as though a return to chaos before the creation of light. Cp. Gen. l.c.

23–28. In vision he beholds the earth a void waste, the hills reeling at the blast of God’s anger, the heavens black, all bird life fled, cities in ruins. Jehovah’s resolve is an abiding one.

23–28. See summary at commencement of section. In these vv. the Ḳinah rhythm changes to another of a more diffuse kind. Hence, and because of alleged lack of connexion with the neighbouring sections, Du. and Gi. (2nd ed.) consider the passage to be later than Jeremiah’s time; but without necessity. The prophet in this singularly powerful description rises to a sublime height. The state of things described in the History of the Creation has returned. All is chaotic. Cp. for Jeremiah 4:23 Isaiah 34:11.Verse 23. - I beheld. The prophet is again the speaker, but in a calmer mood. God's judgment has been pronounced, and it is not for him to rebel. He has now simply to record the vision of woe which has been granted him. He foresees the utter desolation into which not only the land of Judah, but the earth in general, will be brought, and which reminds him of nothing so much as the "waste and wild" condition of the earth previous to the first creative word. But why is "the earth" mentioned in this connection? Because the judgment upon Judah is but one act in the great general judgment which, when completed, will issue in a fresh order of things (comp. Isaiah 3:14, 15, where side by side are mentioned Jehovah's judgment of "the peoples" and of "his people," and Isaiah 24, where the judgment upon the enemies of Israel is interwoven with the judgment upon "the earth"). Without form, and void; rather, waste and wild (to represent in some degree the characteristic assonance of the original - tohu va-bohu); more literally, immovable and lifeless. It is the phrase used in Genesis L 2 for primeval chaos. Tohu and bohu occur in parallel lines in Isaiah 34:11, to express utter desolation; tohu alone five times in the Book of Isaiah, and once in Job. They had no light. The heavens were in the same condition as on the third day, subsequently to the creation of the heavens, but prior to that of the luminaries. It is high time to cleanse oneself from sin, periculum in mora est; for already calamity is announced from Dan, even from the Mount Ephraim. קול מגּיד, the voice of him who gives the alarm, sc. נשׁמע, is heard; cf. Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 31:15. That of which the herald gives warning is not given till the next clause. און, mischief, i.e., calamity. משׁמיע is still dependent on קול. "From Dan," i.e., the northern boundary of Palestine; see on Judges 20:1. "From Mount Ephraim," i.e., the northern boundary of the kingdom of Judah, not far distant from Jerusalem. The alarm and the calamity draw ever nearer. "The messenger comes from each successive place towards which the foe approaches" (Hitz.). In Jeremiah 4:16 the substance of the warning message is given, but in so animated a manner, that a charge is given to make the matter known to the peoples and in Jerusalem. Tell to the peoples, behold, cause to be heard. The הנּה in the first clause points forward, calling attention to the message in the second clause. A similar charge is given in Jeremiah 4:5, only "to the peoples" seems strange here. "The meaning would be simple if we could take 'the peoples' to be the Israelites," says Graf. But since גּוים in this connection can mean only the other nations, the question obtrudes itself: to what end the approach of the besiegers of Jerusalem should be proclaimed to the heathen peoples. Jerome remarks on this: Vult omnes in circuitu nationes Dei nosse sententiam, et flagelat Jerusalem cunctos recipere disciplinam. In like manner, Chr. B. Mich., following Schmid: Gentibus, ut his quoque innotescat severitatis divinae in Judaeos exemplum. Hitz. and Gr. object, that in what follows there is no word of the taking and destruction of Jerusalem, but only of the siege; that this could form no such exemplum, and that for this the issue must be awaited. But this objection counts for little. After the description given of the enemies (cf. Jeremiah 4:13), there can be no doubt as to the issue of the siege, that is, as to the taking of Jerusalem. But if this be so, then the warning of the heathen as to the coming catastrophe, by holding the case of Jerusalem before them, is not so far-fetched a thought as that it should be set aside by Hitz.'s remark: "So friendly an anxiety on behalf of the heathen is utterly unnatural to a Jew, especially seeing that the prophet is doubly absorbed by anxiety for his own people." Jeremiah was not the narrow-minded Jew Hitz. takes him for. Besides, there is no absolute necessity for holding "Tell to the peoples" to be a warning of a similar fate addressed to the heathen. The charge is but a rhetorical form, conveying the idea that there is no doubt about the matter to be published, and that it concerned not Jerusalem alone, but the nations too. This objection settled, there is no call to seek other interpretations, especially as all such are less easily justified. By changing the imper. הזכּירוּ and השׁמיעוּ into perfects, Ew. obtains the translation: "they say already to the peoples, behold, they come, already they proclaim in Jerusalem," etc.; but Hitz. and Graf have shown the change to be indefensible. Yet more unsatisfactory is the translation, "declare of the heathen," which Hitz. and Graf have adopted, following the lxx, Kimchi, Vat., and others. This destroys the parallelism, it is out of keeping with the הנּה, and demands the addition (with the lxx) of בּאוּ thereto to complete the sense. Graf and Hitz. have not been able to agree upon the sense of the second member of the verse. If we make לגּויםde gentibus, then 'השׁמיעוּ וגו ought to be: proclaim upon (i.e., concerning) Jerusalem. Hitz., however, translates, in accordance with the use of משׁמיע in vv. 5 and 15: Cry it aloud in Jerusalem (prop. over Jerusalem, Psalm 49:12; Hosea 8:1); but this, though clearly correct, does not correspond to the first part of the verse, according to Hitz.'s translation of it. Graf, on the other hand, gives: Call them (the peoples) out against Jerusalem - a translation which, besides completely destroying the parallelism of the two clauses, violently separates from the proclamation the thing proclaimed: Besiegers come, etc. Nor can השׁמיעוּ be taken in the sense: call together, as in Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:27; 1 Kings 15:22; for in that case the object could not be omitted, those who are to be called together would need to be mentioned; and it is too much to assume גּוים from the לגּוים for an object. The warning cry to Jerusalem runs: נצרים, besiegers, (acc. to Isaiah 1:8) come from the far country (cf. Jeremiah 5:15), and give their voice (cf. 1 Kings 2:15); i.e., let the tumult of a besieging army echo throughout the cities of Judah. These besiegers will be like field-keepers round about Jerusalem (עליה refers back to Jerus.), like field-keepers they will pitch their tents round the city (cf. 1 Kings 1:15) to blockade it. For against me (Jahveh) was she refractory (מרה c. acc. pers., elsewhere with ב, Hosea 14:1; Psalm 5:11, or with את־פּי, Numbers 20:24, and often). This is expanded in Jeremiah 4:18. Thy way, i.e., they behaviour and thy doings, have wrought thee this (calamity). This is thy wickedness, i.e., the effect or fruit of thy wickedness, yea, it is bitter, cf. Jeremiah 2:19; yea, it reacheth unto thine heart, i.e., inflicts deadly wounds on thee.
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