Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.
Jer 4:1-31. Continuation of Address to the Ten Tribes of Israel. (Jer 4:1, 2). The Prophet Turns Again to Judah, to Whom He Had Originally Been Sent (Jer 4:3-31).
1. return … return—play on words. "If thou wouldest return to thy land (thou must first), return (by conversion and repentance) to Me."
not remove—no longer be an unsettled wanderer in a strange land. So Cain (Ge 4:12, 14).
And thou shalt swear, The LORD liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory.
2. And thou—rather, "And if (carried on from Jer 4:1) thou shalt swear, 'Jehovah liveth,' in truth, &c.", that is, if thou shalt worship Him (for we swear by the God whom we worship; compare De 6:13; 10:20; Isa 19:18; Am 8:14) in sincerity, &c.
and the nations—Rather, this is apodosis to the "if"; then shall the nations bless themselves in (by) Him" (Isa 65:16). The conversion of the nations will be the consequence of Israel's conversion (Ps 102:13, 15; Ro 11:12, 15).
For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among 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.
Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.
4. Remove your natural corruption of heart (De 10:16; 30:6; Ro 2:29; Col 2:11).
Declare ye in Judah, and publish in Jerusalem; and say, Blow ye the trumpet in the land: cry, gather together, and say, Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the defenced cities.
5. cry, gather together—rather, "cry fully" that is, loudly. The Jews are warned to take measures against the impending Chaldean invasion (compare Jer 8:14).
Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction.
6. Zion—The standard toward Zion intimated that the people of the surrounding country were to fly to it, as being the strongest of their fortresses.
The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant.
7. lion—Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans (Jer 2:15; 5:6; Da 7:14).
his thicket—lair; Babylon.
destroyer of the Gentiles—rather, "the nations" (Jer 25:9).
For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of the LORD is not turned back from us.
8. Nothing is left to the Jews but to bewail their desperate condition.
anger … not turned back—(Isa 9:12, 17, 21).
And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the LORD, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, and the prophets shall wonder.
9. heart—The wisdom of the most leading men will be utterly at a loss to devise means of relief.
Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.
10. thou hast … deceived—God, having even the false prophets in His hands, is here said to do that which for inscrutable purposes He permits them to do (Ex 9:12; 2Th 2:11; compare Jer 8:15; which passage shows that the dupes of error were self-prepared for it, and that God's predestination did not destroy their moral freedom as voluntary agents). The false prophets foretold "peace," and the Jews believed them; God overruled this to His purposes (Jer 5:12; 14:13; Eze 14:9).
soul—rather, "reacheth to the life."
At that time shall it be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A dry wind of the high places in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to fan, nor to cleanse,
11. dry wind—the simoom, terrific and destructive, blowing from the southeast across the sandy deserts east of Palestine. Image of the invading Babylonian army (Ho 13:15). Babylon in its turn shall be visited by a similar "destroying wind" (Jer 51:1).
of … high places—that is, that sweeps over the high places.
daughter—that is, the children of my people.
not to fan—a very different wind from those ordinary winds employed for fanning the grain in the open air.
Even a full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence against them.
12. full … from those places—rather, "a wind fuller (that is, more impetuous) than those winds" (which fan the corn) (Jer 4:11) [Rosenmuller].
unto me—"for Me," as My instrument for executing My purpose.
sentence—judgments against them (Jer 1:16).
Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled.
13. clouds—continuing the metaphor in Jer 4:11:12. Clouds of sand and dust accompany the simoom, and after rapid gyrations ascend like a pillar.
eagles—(De 28:49; Hab 1:8).
Woe unto us—The people are graphically presented before us, without it being formally so stated, bursting out in these exclamations.
O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?
14. Only one means of deliverance is left to the Jews—a thorough repentance.
vain thoughts—namely, projects for deliverance, such as enlisting the Egyptians on their side. Gesenius translates, "How long wilt thou harbor vain thoughts?"
For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from mount Ephraim.
15. For … from Dan—The connection is: There is danger in delay; for the voice of a messenger announces the approach of the Chaldean enemy from Dan, the northern frontier of Palestine (Jer 8:16; compare Jer 4:6; Jer 1:14).
Mount Ephraim—which borders closely on Judah; so that the foe is coming nearer and nearer. Dan and Beth-el in Ephraim were the two places where Jeroboam set up the idolatrous calves (1Ki 12:29); just retribution.
Make ye mention to the nations; behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out their voice against the cities of Judah.
16. The neighboring foreign "nations" are summoned to witness Jehovah's judgments on His rebel people (Jer 6:18, 19).
watchers—that is, besiegers (compare 2Sa 11:16); observed or watched, that is, besieged.
their voice—the war shout.
As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the LORD.
17. keepers of a field—metaphor from those who watch a field, to frighten away the wild beasts.
Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it is bitter, because it reacheth unto thine heart.
18. (Jer 2:17, 19; Ps 107:17).
this is thy wickedness—that is, the fruit of thy wickedness.
My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
19. The prophet suddenly assumes the language of the Jewish state personified, lamenting its affliction (Jer 10:19, 20; 9:1, 10; Isa 15:5; compare Lu 19:41).
at my very heart—Hebrew, "at the walls of my heart"; the muscles round the heart. There is a climax, the "bowels," the pericardium, the "heart" itself.
maketh … noise—moaneth [Henderson].
alarm—the battle shout.
Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment.
20. Destruction … cried—Breach upon breach is announced (Ps 42:7; Eze 7:26). The war "trumpet" … the battle shout … the "destructions" … the havoc throughout "the whole land" … the spoiling of the shepherds' "tents" (Jer 10:20; or, "tents" means cities, which should be overthrown as easily as tents [Calvin]), form a gradation.
How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?
21. Judah in perplexity asks, How long is this state of things to continue?
For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.
22. Jehovah's reply; they cannot be otherwise than miserable, since they persevere in sin. The repetition of clauses gives greater force to the sentiment.
wise … evil … to do good … no knowledge—reversing the rule (Ro 16:19) "wise unto … good, simple concerning evil."
I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
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 the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly.
24. mountains—(Isa 5:25).
moved lightly—shook vehemently.
I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.
25. no man … birds—No vestige of the human, or of the feathered creation, is to be seen (Eze 38:20; Zep 1:3).
I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger.
26. fruitful place—Hebrew, Carmel.
a wilderness—Hebrew, "the wilderness," in contrast to "the fruitful place"; the great desert, where Carmel was, there is now the desert of Arabia [Maurer].
cities—in contrast to the fruitful place or field.
For thus hath the LORD said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end.
27. full end—utter destruction: I will leave some hope of restoration (Jer 5:10, 18; 30:11; 46:28; compare Le 26:44).
For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.
28. For this—on account of the desolations just described (Isa 5:30; Ho 4:3).
not repent—(Nu 23:19).
The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein.
29. whole city—Jerusalem: to it the inhabitants of the country had fled for refuge; but when it, too, is likely to fall, they flee out of it to hide in the "thickets." Henderson translates, "every city."
noise—The mere noise of the hostile horsemen shall put you to flight.
And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life.
30. when thou art spoiled—rather, "thou, O destroyed one" [Maurer].
rentest … face with painting—Oriental women paint their eyes with stibium, or antimony, to make them look full and sparkling, the black margin causing the white of the eyes to appear the brighter by contrast (2Ki 9:30). He uses the term "distendest" in derision of their effort to make their eyes look large [Maurer]; or else, "rentest," that is, dost lacerate by puncturing the eyelid in order to make the antimony adhere [Rosenmuller]. So the Jews use every artifice to secure the aid of Egypt against Babylon.
face—rather, thy eyes (Eze 23:40).
For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands, saying, Woe is me now! for my soul is wearied because of murderers.
31. anguish—namely, occasioned by the attack of the enemy.
daughter of Zion—There is peculiar beauty in suppressing the name of the person in trouble, until that trouble had been fully described [Henderson].
bewaileth herself—rather, "draweth her breath short" [Horsley]; "panteth."
spreadeth … hands—(La 1:17).