Jeremiah 4:23
I beheld the earth, and, lo, 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earth is brought back, as it were, to its primitive state of chaos and confusion; the cheerful light of the heavens is withdrawn, and succeeded by a dismal gloom; the mountains tremble, and the hills shake under dreadful apprehensions of the Almighty’s displeasure; a frightful solitude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. Jeremiah 4:23One destruction after another is heralded (on שׁבר, see Jeremiah 4:6). Ew. translates loosely: wound upon wound meet one another. For the word does not mean wound, but the fracture of a limb; and it seems inadmissible to follow the Chald. and Syr. in taking נקרא here in the sense of נקרה , since the sig. "meet" does not suit שׁבר. The thought is this: tidings are brought of one catastrophe after another, for the devastation extends itself over the whole land and comes suddenly upon the tents, i.e., dwellings of those who are lamenting. Covers, curtains of the tent, is used as synonymous with tents; cf. Jeremiah 10:20; Isaiah 54:2. How long shall I see the standard, etc.! is the cry of despair, seeing no prospect of the end to the horrors of the war. The standard and the sound of the trumpet are, as in Jeremiah 4:5, the alarm-signals on the approach of the enemy.

There is no prospect of an end to the horrors, for (Jeremiah 4:22) the people is so foolish that it understands only how to do the evil, but not the good; cf. for this Jeremiah 5:21; Isaiah 1:3; Micah 7:3. Jeremiah 4:21 gives God's answer to the woful query, how long the ravaging of the land by war is to last. The answer is: as long as the people persists in the folly of its rebellion against God, so long will chastising judgments continue. To bring this answer of God home to the people's heart, the prophet, in Jeremiah 4:23-26, tells what he has seen in the spirit. He has seen (ראיתי, perf. proph.) bursting over Judah a visitation which convulses the whole world. The earth seemed waste and void as at the beginning of creation, Genesis 1:2, before the separation of the elements and before the creation of organic and living beings. In heaven no light was to be seen, earth and heaven seemed to have been thrown back into a condition of chaos. The mountains and hills, these firm foundations of the earth, quivered and swayed (התקלקל, be put into a light motion, cf. Nahum 1:5); men had fled and hidden themselves from the wrath of God (cf. Isaiah 2:19, Isaiah 2:21), and all the birds had flown out of sight in terror at the dreadful tokens of the beginning catastrophe (Genesis 9:9). The fruitful field was the wilderness - not a wilderness, but "changed into the wilderness with all its attributes" (Hitz.). הכּרמל is not appell. as in Jeremiah 2:7, but nom. prop. of the lower slopes of Carmel, famed for their fruitfulness; these being taken as representatives of all the fruitful districts of the land. The cities of the Carmel, or of the fruitful-field, are manifestly not to be identified with the store cities of 1 Kings 9:19, as Hitz. supposes, but the cities in the most fertile districts of the country, which, by reason of their situation, were in a prosperous condition, but now are destroyed. "Before the heat of His anger," which is kindled against the foolish and godless race; cf. Nahum 1:6; Isaiah 13:13.

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