Week 17 – The Story
Lament for a City
A quick review of Jeremiah. Chapter one was Jeremiah’s calling. God called him to be a prophet to the nations and warned him that he would have to preach judgment before he would get to preach grace.
Chapter two was the trial. Even though he never went through with it, God filed for divorce. He presented enough evidence to prove that although he was always a faithful husband, his people dumped him after the honeymoon and prostituted themselves to other gods.
Chapter three was the invitation to come back home. Time and again God pleaded with his people to turn away from idols, confess their sins in true repentance, and come back to their husband. He even gave them a solemn warning about the dangers of refusing to come back home.
Sadly, Judah never heeded those warnings. God’s people rejected God’s invitation to come back home. That’s why Jeremiah four is a living nightmare of divine judgment.
The terrible things that befall Judah for refusing to turn back to God are jumbled all together. Like most nightmares, you are not always sure where you are. Events sometimes seem out of sequence; thoughts and images appear without any logical order. You are not always sure what is happening, but whatever it is, it is absolutely frightening.
First, there is a battle cry in the countryside:
“Sound the trumpet throughout the land!”
Cry aloud and say:
Let us flee to the fortified cities” (v. 5)
The rams’ horns are sounding all over Judah, like so many civil defense sirens, warning the people to run for the walled cities. This is the first sign that something is amiss.
Then a signal flag is raised in Jerusalem, or perhaps a fire beacon is lit, warning the Judeans to gather within the walls of Zion. “Raise the signal to go to Zion! Flee for safety without delay!” (v. 6a). There is not a moment to lose!
Why all the commotion? “For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction” (v. 6b). An enemy army is approaching from the north.
An army (lion) has left its den and is on the prowl.
Jeremiah instructs the people to get out their handkerchiefs, possibly to repent. Their situation will be desperate”
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“the king and the officials will lose heart,
the priests will be horrified,
and the prophets will be appalled” (v. 9).
Jeremiah prophesies a complete collapse of leadership in Judah. The three pillars of Judean society – “the king,” “the priests,” and “the prophets” – will be completely demoralized. Politicians are not much help in the face of divine judgment. The coming disaster will totally overwhelm their capacity to govern.
Everything Jeremiah has described so far will happen while the disaster is still on its way, before it even strikes. Even the rumors of impending disaster are a disaster. “At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told ‘A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them’” (vv. 11-12).
The kind of wind Jeremiah describes is called a sirocco. It is oppressive desert wind, too dry to bring refreshment, too strong to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The wind will lift up the sand and turn the whole world gray. Then it will get stronger still. The winds whip up to gale forces, and storm clouds appear on the horizon.
“Look! He advances like the clouds,
his chariots come like a whirlwind,
his horses are swifter than eagles,
Woe to us! We are ruined!”
God’s judgment is coming like a cyclone. But the disaster has yet to strike. A watchman in Dan – in the northern part of Israel, beyond Galilee, at the headwaters of the River Jordan – can see the enemy mobilizing. “A voice is announcing from Dan” (v. 15a) that invasion is impending. Then all of a sudden the messenger is “proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim” (v.15b), just ten miles north of Jerusalem. The prophet gives us a vivid description of an unidentified flying army gathering like a storm in the north and then sweeping down toward Jerusalem.
“Tell this to the nations,” Jeremiah says, “proclaim it to Jerusalem: ‘A besieging army is coming from a distant land, rising a war cry against the cities of Judah” (v. 16). Get the word out! The whole nation is surrounded. Spread the news so people will hear how much trouble Judah is in. Maybe someone will send help!
Then the disaster comes right to the walls of the city. The judgment has been coming closer and closer, until finally it advances on Jerusalem.
Jeremiah himself is in the capital city. He says, “I have heard the sound of the trumpet. I have heard the battle cry” (v. 19b). The enemy soldiers are so close, the prophet can hear their voices. All the while he is cowering in his flimsy tent. Jeremiah is weak from fear, weary from the sights and sounds of battle.
If verses 23-26 sound familiar, it is because Jeremiah deliberately repeats the vocabulary of Genesis chapter one. The destruction of Judah will be so catastrophic that it will be like the un-creation of creation. When God created the world he brought order out of chaos, light out of darkness, and fullness out of emptiness. Now the judgment of God is bringing chaos out of order, darkness out of light, and emptiness out of fullness. The acts of creation are reversed by the judgment of God.
When God judged Jerusalem, he was well within his rights. Every sin deserves the wrath and curse of God. There can be no doubt that when these punishments came, they were well-deserved. The opening chapters of Jeremiah prove that God’s people were desperately wicked. They did everything from sleeping with the enemy to sacrificing their children to idols. The reason for judgment is not hard to find.
Anyone who is honest will admit to deserving the same punishment. Jeremiah’s prophesies have a way of touching the conscience and exposing sins that usually go unnoticed. Do you worship success, beauty, wealth, happiness, comfort, or control over others? Is it not true that when you fail to put the Lord first in your life, that the glory of God is not your only motivation?
We deserve no more than judgment. The same was true of Jeremiah’s people, and yet their judgment was only partial. “This is what the Lord says: ‘The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely’” (v/ 27). The Lord did not completely destroy his people. God preserved the people of Judah through captivity. Eventually he brought them back to their land. As terrible as their judgment was, it was not final.
However, there will come a day when the present earth and the heavens will be destroyed. The language Jeremiah uses – particularly when he foretells the destruction of the cosmos – is a reminder that a day is coming when God will un-create the heavens and the earth. Do you believe this! Do you believe that Jeremiah’s nightmare will come true?
It is tempting to say, “God will not really judge me for my sins.” But the Bible warns against that temptation:
“First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come,
scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this
‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as
it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long
ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of
water and with water. . . By the same word the present heavens and earth
are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of
ungodly men . . . But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens
will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the
earth will and everything in it will be laid bare. . . That day will bring about
the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat”
(2 Peter 3:3-5, 7, 1`0, 12b).
There are two ways to respond to news of divine judgment. One is to ignore it, which is the way of death. Another is to lament it, which is a way of tears. A third way is to escape it, which is the way of life.
How can anyone escape the wrath to come? There is nowhere to hide. But even in Jeremiah four, in the heat of battle and destruction of the cosmos, God offers salvation. The invitation is so short it is easy to overlook: “O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?” (v. 14).
It is not certain how Jeremiah would have understood this invitation. How could Jerusalem have washed evil from her heart? Jeremiah does not say.
But know this: God’s purpose for the salvation of the world is to offer cleansing from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the whole world that can wash away the stain of sin except the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross to take away sin. His blood can cleanse us from all sin. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). In Christ God says to us, as he said to the people of Judah, “Wash the evil from your heart and be saved.”
Christians may say that Jesus suffered the judgment of Jeremiah four in their place. There is great comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ has already suffered all of the wrath of God against your sin. On the Day of Judgment, when human history is rewound, creation is un-created, and the heavens and the earth are consumed by fire, you will have nothing to fear. You will be safe in Jesus Christ."