Jer 4.1-31 begins with several pleas for Israel and Judah to return to Yehovah and put away their idolatry as promised in the last few verses in Chapter 3. They were to break up their hard hearts, but judgment was coming, and it would affect everyone, and Jeremiah is anguished over the thought of it. He knows God’s power and it will be a sure thing, with no escape.
v 1…”If you will return (by teshuvah or repentance), O Israel (he had both kingdoms in mind),” declares the Lord (Hos 6.1-3, 14.1), “then you shall return to me. And if you will put away your detestable things from my presence (the idols, etc), and will not waver,
v 2…and you will swear, “As the Lord lives,’ in truth (sincere), in justice (judgment), and in righteousness (as defined by the Torah); then the nations will bless themselves in him, and in him will glory (when they see the spiritual blessings available in the one, true God they will convert to Yehovah-Psa 102.13-15; Rom 11.12-15).”
v 3…For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah (and Benjamin) and to Jerusalem (the inhabitants), “Break up your fallow ground (unfruitful hearts), and do not sow among the thorns.
v 4…Circumcise (listen-Jer 6.10) yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart (another way of saying this is “He who has an ear, let him hear”), men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my wrath go forth as fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds (reform your life and be fruitful through repentance, or judgment is waiting to burn up the chaff).”
v 5…Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem and say (Jeremiah sees an army coming), “Blow a trumpet (shofar) in the land; cry loud and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities (fortresses that were strong).’
v 6…”Lift up a standard (“nissi” and a type of the Messiah) toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still (look to Yehovah/Messiah, do not delay), for I am bringing evil from the north (the direction of judgment in Hebrew thought, and in this case, Babylon), and a great destruction (remember, Jeremiah is a seventh century prophet and it teaches about the last three and a half years of the birth-pains. The armies of Babylon allude to the kings of the east, but they also allude to the Lord because they must surrender to Babylon in order to live, and people will need to surrender to Yehovah to live in the birth-pains, too).
v 7…A lion (Nebuchadnezzar) has gone from his thicket (Babylon-Dan 7.4), and a destroyer of nations has set out (he conquered everyone, a picture of the kings of the east-Rev 16.12); he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste. Your cities will be ruins without inhabitant (destroyed by war).
v 8…For this (calamity), put on sackcloth (in mourning), lament and wail; for the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned back from us (even in repentance it was too late to prevent judgment).
v 9…And it shall come about in that day (this is the first reference to the Day of the Lord), declares the Lord, that the heart of the king and the heart of the princes will fail (when they try to devise a way to stop Babylon); and the priests will be appalled (amazed at what has happened), and the prophets will be astounded (these same people sat in haughty judgment of Jeremiah and said his prophecies of judgment were false, but now they are finding out different).”
v 10…Then I said, “Aha, Lord (Adonai) God (Yehovah), surely (truly) thou hast utterly deceived (allowed them to follow false prophets and their own ways of self-deceit) this people and Jerusalem saying, ‘You will have peace (the common prophecy of the false prophets), whereas a sword touches the throat (at the door to take away life).”
v 11…In that time (when Babylon comes) it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem, “A scorching wind (in this case Babylon-Hos 13.15 speaks of Assyria) from the bare heights in the wilderness in the direction of the daughter of my people-not to winnow, and not to cleanse,
v 12…a wind too strong for this (too violent for winnowing) will come at my command; now I will also pronounce judgments against them .
v 13…Behold (take note of, see for yourself), he (Nebuchadnezzar, the kings of the east) goes up like clouds (sand and dust storm clouds), and his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles (in bringing destruction). Woe to us, for we are ruined (devastated, too late)!”
v 14…Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem (inhabitants need a deeper cleaning, not just outward), that you may be saved (not from Babylon, but from eternal destruction). How long will your wicked thoughts lodge with you (with hopes of safety through foreign alliances)?
v 15…For a voice declares from Dan, and proclaims wickedness from Mount Ephraim (from the north reports of Babylon’s movements and approach come).
v 16…Report it to the nations (foreigners are called as witnesses), now! Proclaim (publish) over Jerusalem, besiegers come from a far country (Babylonian army), and lift their voices against the cities of Judah (about what is coming).
v 17…’Like watchmen of a field (shepherds) they are against her round about (observing Judah and Jerusalem like shepherds in a field), because she has rebelled against me,’ declares the Lord (Yehovah).
v 18…”Your ways and your deeds have brought these things to you. This is your evil (your fault). How bitter! How it has touched your heart (inflicting pain)!”
v 19…My soul (bowels and the seat of deep feelings; Jeremiah takes on the language of Judah about to be seized), my soul! I am in anguish! Oh my heart (here you see that soul, bowels and heart are synonymous terms. Jeremiah is expressing his misery over the approaching siege of Jerusalem and the cities of Judah) is pounding in me; I cannot be silent (he knows what’s coming and he is agitated), because you (his soul) have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet (a ram’s horn shofar), the alarm (teruah) of war.
v 20…Disaster on disaster is proclaimed (published), for the whole land is devastated; suddenly my tents (Israel was meant to be a nation “passing through” this world) are devastated, my curtains in an instant.
v 21…How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet (of war)?
v 22…For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, and they have no understanding. They are shrewd and do evil, but to do good they do not know (they didn’t know the Scriptures; they couldn’t tell when a man comes forth and says, “Thus says the Lord” that it didn’t come from the Lord. They didn’t know what God said or meant in the Torah).
v 23…I looked on the earth (land of Judah) and behold, it was formless and void (this is ater the destruction and very similar to the book of Lamentations. This will also be the nature of the birth-pains. The land was emptied of the population); and to the heavens, and they had no light (the sun, moon and stars were darkened by the smoke of the massive destruction; dismal and gloomy).
v 24…I looked on the mountains and behold, they were quaking (at Yehovah’s presence and displeasure), and the hills moved to and fro).
v 25…I looked and beheld there was no man (Hebrew “adam” or human being-they had fled or were hiding), and all the birds of the heavens had fled (in terror).
v 26…I looked and behold, the fruitful land (Carmel) was a wilderness (Carmel was usually fruitful and located in the north near Megiddo) and all its cities (a place guarded by a watch) were pulled down (by Babylon) before the Lord, before his fierce anger (who appointed that this be done to them).
v 27…For thus says the Lord, “The whole land shall be a desolation, yet I will not execute a complete destruction (there was “chessed” or grace in the midst of this judgment because he will preserve a remnant).
v 28…”For this land will mourn, and the heavens above be dark, because I have spoken, I have purposed (it to be so), and I will not change my mind, nor will I turn from it.”
v 29…At the sound of the horseman and bowman every city flees (to escape the Babylonians); they go into the thickets and climb among the rocks (to hide as the army approached), every city is forsaken, and no man dwells in them.
v 30…And you, O desolate one, what will you do (when destruction comes)? Although you dress in scarlet (like a harlot to captivate her lovers), although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, although you enlarge your eyes with paint (like Jezebel-2 Kings 9.30), in vain (no purpose) you make yourself beautiful (in order to be loved and admired); your lovers despise you; they seek your life.
v 31…For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor (first reference to the birth-pains and these verses will allude to them), the anguish as of one giving birth to her first child (when her pains and fears are at the greatest level), the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath (because of her condition), stretching out her hands (in distress), saying, “Ah, woe is me, for I (“my soul”) faint before murderers (helpless before her killers).”