Jeremiah 4:3
For thus said the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) For thus saith the Lord . . .—The words seem the close of one discourse, the opening of another. The parable of Israel is left behind, and the appeal to Judah and Jerusalem is more direct.

To the men of Judah.—Literally, to each man individually.

Break up your fallow ground.—The Hebrew has the force which comes from the verb and noun being from the same root, Break up for you a broken ground or fallow a fallow field. The metaphor had been used before by Hosea (Hosea 10:12). What the spiritual field needed was to be exposed to God’s sun and God’s free air, to the influences of spiritual light and warmth, and the dew and soft showers of His grace.

Sow not among thorns.—Not without a special interest as, perhaps, containing the germ of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:7. Here, as there, the seed is the “word of God,” spoken by the prophet, and taking root in the heart, and the thorns are the “cares of this world,” the selfish desires which choke the good seed and render it unfruitful.

Jeremiah 4:3-4. For thus saith the Lord — The prophet now addresses himself to the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem, and exhorts them to repentance and reformation in metaphorical language. Break up your fallow ground, &c. — That is, purge and purify the field of your hearts, by godly sorrow for your sins, and hatred to them; prepare your hearts for receiving the seed of the divine word, by making them soft, tender, and pliable, fit to believe and obey it. And sow not among thorns — Eradicate the lusts and vices, the corrupt principles and dispositions, habits, and practices, which, unless rooted out, will effectually choke the good seed of truth and grace, and prevent the growth of piety and virtue in your souls. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord — Put away your corruptions; mortify your vicious inclinations and passions: the same thing with the former, expressed in other words. Take away the foreskin of your heart — Let your repentance and renovation be inward in your soul and spirit, and not merely outward in your flesh; lest my fury come forth like fire — Which it is now ready to do, as that fire which came forth from the Lord, and consumed the sacrifices; and burn that none can quench it — Which wrath is not only fierce and consuming like fire, but unquenchable; because of the evil of your doings — Which is the thing that kindles the fire of God’s wrath against us. Observe, reader, that which is to be dreaded by us more than any thing else, in time or eternity, is the wrath of God kindled against us by the evil of our doings, for it is the spring and bitterness of all present miseries, and will be the quintessence and perfection of everlasting misery. And the consideration of the imminent danger we are in of falling and perishing under this wrath, should awaken us with all possible care to sanctify ourselves to God’s glory, and to see to it that we be sanctified by his grace.4:3,4 An unhumbled heart is like ground untilled. It is ground which may be improved; it is our ground let out to us; but it is fallow; it is over-grown with thorns and weeds, the natural product of the corrupt heart. Let us entreat the Lord to create in us a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within us; for except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.To the men - To each man "of Judah." They are summoned individually to repentance.

Break up - literally, Fallow for you a fallow ground, i. e., do not sow the seeds of repentance in unfit soil, but just as the farmer prepares the ground, by clearing it of weeds, and exposing it to the sun and air, before entrusting to it the seed, so must you regard repentance as a serious matter, requiring forethought, and anxious labor. To sow in unfallowed ground was practically to sow on land full of thorns.

3. Transition to Judah. Supply mentally. All which (the foregoing declaration as to Israel) applies to Judah.

and Jerusalem—that is, and especially the men of Jerusalem, as being the most prominent in Judea.

Break … fallow ground—that is, Repent of your idolatry, and so be prepared to serve the Lord in truth (Ho 10:12; Mt 13:7). The unhumbled heart is like ground which may be improved, being let out to us for that purpose, but which is as yet fallow, overgrown with weeds, its natural product.

To the men, Heb. man, i.e. to each man; I speak to every individual among you, Ezekiel 20:7,8.

Of Judah and Jerusalem: the Lord having spoke what he had to say at present to Israel, turns now his speech from Israel to Judah, and so continues it; which consists of several subjects, and first begins with repentance.

Break up your fallow ground, i.e. prepare your hearts by making them soft, tender, and pliable, fit to embrace my word; a metaphor taken from ploughmen, that do either prepare the ground that hath lain some time waste and untilled, by tearing up the surface of the earth, making it mellow and soft to receive the seed; (for the Hebrew word nir seems to be of larger extent than bare preparation; God useth the same word when he speaks to the same purpose to Israel, Hosea 10:13; and so it is used Proverbs 13:23) or it may relate to both, that every thing that may be injurious to the seed may be stubbed up. Or rather, From such as plough the ground.

Sow not among thorns; rid you hearts and hands of what may hinder you of embracing my word; grub up all those briers, and thorns, and mischievous weeds that will not suffer my counsels to take, or my graces to thrive, with you; such as use to overrun the sluggard’s field, Proverbs 24:30,31. Here the Lord begins to call upon them to repent. The phrase seems to intimate that the Jews had been wont to mix the truths of God among their own inventions, as seed among thorns, and so corrupted it; as also, that they retained many secret and hidden sins, like hypocrites, which he exhorts them to eradicate. For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem,.... The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who were at the time of this prophecy in their own land; and so are distinguished from Israel the ten tribes, who were in captivity; unless the same persons should be meant, who were called by these several names, the people of the Jews; and it was in Judea that our Lord appeared in the flesh, and to the inhabitants thereof he ministered, he was the minister of the circumcision; and so to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, whom he called to repentance, and would have gathered, Matthew 23:37,

break up your fallow ground; this is ground that lies untilled, not ploughed, nor sown, on which nothing grows but the produce of nature, as weeds, thorns, briers, &c. is common to men and beasts, and is trodden upon, and, so is hard and unsusceptible of seed; which, if it accidentally falls upon it, makes no impression on it, and is not received by it; and the breaking of it up is by the plough. The "fallow ground" fitly represents the hearts of unregenerate men, which are unopened to the word, and unbroken by it; nor have they the seed of divine grace sown in them; but are destitute of faith, hope, love, fear, and the like; there is nothing grows there but the weeds of sin and corruption; and are like a common beaten road; are the common track of sin, where lusts pass to and fro, and dwell; and so are hardened and obdurate, as hard as a stone, yea, harder than the nether millstone; and who, though they may occasionally be under the word, it makes no impression on them; it has no place in them, but is like the seed that falls by the wayside, Matthew 13:4, unless divine power attends it; for the Gospel is the plough, and ministers are the ploughmen; but it is the Lord alone that makes it effectual to the breaking up the fallow ground of men's hearts, Luke 9:62, but when the Lord puts his hand to the plough it enters within, and opens the heart; it is quick, powerful, and sharp; it cuts deep, and makes long and large furrows, even strong convictions of sin; it throws a man's inside outward, as the plough does the earth; and lays all the wicked of his heart open to him; and roots up the pride, the vanity, and boasting of the creature, and other lusts; and so makes way for the seed of divine grace to be sown there:

and sow not among thorns; or, "that ye may not sow among thorns" (o); for, unless the fallow ground is broken up, it will be no other than sowing among thorns; and unless the hearts of men are opened by the power and grace of God, they will not attend to the things that are spoken; preaching and eating the word will be like sowing among thorns; cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the pleasures of life, and the lusts thereof, which are comparable to thorns, because pricking, perplexing, and distressing, and because vain and unprofitable, choke the word, and make it unfruitful; see Matthew 13:7, now this exhortation in the text does not suppose power in man to break up and open his heart; but to show his want of renewing grace; the necessity of it; and the danger he is in without it; and to awaken in him a concern for it; see Ezekiel 18:31. The words may be applied to backsliding professors, since backsliding Israel and Judah are the persons addressed; and this may be done with great propriety and pertinence to the simile; for fallow ground is that which has been broke up and sown, and laid fallow. It is usual to till and sow two years, and lay fallow a third: and backsliding Christians look very much like fallow ground; so faithless, so lukewarm, and indifferent; so inattentive to the word, and unconcerned under it; so barren and unfruitful, as if they had never had any faith, or love, or good work in them; so that they need to be renewed in the spirit of their minds; to have a new face of things put upon them: and to have a clean heart, and a right spirit, created in them. The Targum is,

"make to yourselves good works, and seek not salvation in sins.''

(o) "ut non seratis".

For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up {c} your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.

(c) He wills them to pluck up the impiety and wicked affection and worldly respects out of their heart, that the true seed of God's word may be sown in it, Ho 10:12 and this is the true circumcision of the heart, De 10:16, Ro 2:29, Col 2:11.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. Break up] The ground of their heart is hard. It needs as it were the plough and the harrow. Moreover, it is overgrown with thorns. These must be removed.Verse 3. - There is no occasion to separate vers. 3, 4, from the preceding prophecy. We have other instances of as sudden a transition from the Israelites (in the narrower sense) to the men of Judah (see Isaiah 8:6-14; Isaiah 10:1-4; Isaiah 28:1-6; in the writer's commentary). For thus, etc. "For" is here not causal, but explanatory: "I say this not only to the men of Israel, but to you, O men of Judah, who need the admonition to repentance, how deeply!" (see Jeremiah 5:2). Break up your fallow ground; the same figure as in Hosea 10:12. To understand it we must read the clause in connection with the following one. Sow not among thorns. The prophet means, though he does not say so, the roots which will spring up into thorns. "Do not plant your good resolutions in a heart filled up with the roots of thorns, but first rake up the soil, and clear it of noxious germs, and then sow the seed which will grow up in a holy life" (comp. Matthew 13:7). The prophet further overhears in spirit, as answer to the entreaty of the Israelites, the divine invitation and promise: Return, ye backsliding children (cf. Jeremiah 3:14), I will heal your backslidings. ארפּה for ארפּא. Backslidings, i.e., mischief which backsliding has brought, the wounds inflicted by apostasy from God; cf. Hosea 14:5, a passage which was in the prophet's mind; and fore the figure of healing, cf. Jeremiah 30:17; Jeremiah 33:6. To this promise they answer: Behold, we come to Thee (אתנוּ for אתאנוּ from אתא, Isaiah 21:12, for אתה ), for Thou art Jahveh, art our God. Of this confession they further state the cause in Jeremiah 3:23-25.
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