Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
"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."
This invitation was extended
to a later generation of Israel, the old one having died in Assyria; and this
call to Israel to return to Him will have its fulfillment in the Tribulation,
when out of that generation of Jews, a small remnant will believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ as their Messiah Savior, those of them who physically survive
till the end of that terrible era becoming the new Israel that will enter the
Millennium to enjoy its blessings.
The generation to whom the
Lord Himself addressed the invitation two thousand years ago, not only refused
to repent, but added to their multiplied sins that of His crucifixion. Nor
would they repent even when Peter assured them that God was willing to view
that murder as an act of ignorance, and would pardon it and all their sins if
they would but trust in that crucified and risen Christ as their Messiah
Savior. Had they believed they could have had the millennial kingdom right
then after the seven years of the Tribulation had run their course. But they
wouldn’t repent and believe, with the result that they forfeited the
millennial kingdom, and brought upon themselves the terrible judgment of the
Diaspora, thus postponing to a still future, but now imminent day, both the
Tribulation and the ensuing Millennium.
As that generation of Israel
assured themselves of judgment by their failure to repent, so has apostate
Christendom. She too has crossed over that invisible line that separates
God’s mercy from His wrath. Today’s Christendom is doomed.
"... then shalt thou not
remove" is literally, "... not become a wanderer," and we may gather
something of the seriousness of the wandering that results from sin when we
recall that Cain's punishment was that he was sentenced to be "a fugitive and
a vagabond (wanderer) ... in the earth," a sentence that evoked his despairing
cry, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" Ge 4:12-13. All sin takes men
away from God, and unless confessed and abandoned, will result in the
development of an ever increasing distance between them and Him, for
disobedience unconfessed, unrepented of, and unforsaken will ultimately carry
the offender into the eternal torment of the lake of fire. Safety, peace, and
blessing are the portion of those alone who walk with God.
"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
Their worship of the Baals
of Canaan was the tacit announcement of their belief in the existence of other
gods, and of the belief that Jehovah was no better than those gods; but if
they were to abandon their idolatry and confess that Jehovah alone was the
only God, then the nations, seeing Israel blessed, would also abandon their
idols and worship Him only and glorify His name by their obedience.
“... in truth, in judgment,
and in righteousness” means that Jehovah is the God of truth, i.e., His word
can be trusted; He will never lie. His government is one of perfect justice;
and as He is holy, so must those who would serve Him be righteous in thought,
word, and deed.
Regrettably Israel has not
yet rendered that obedience, with the result that she and the nations continue
to experience His chastisement rather than His blessing; nor will they render
that obedience until the Tribulation judgments will have brought a believing
remnant of them and of the nations to repentant faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ. Then and only then will they enter into the enjoyment of His blessing
in the Millennium.
Christendom, however, has
walked all too closely in Israel’s rebellious footsteps, with the result that
she also suffers his judgment rather than His blessing, her worship of money,
education, sport, pleasure, ease, etc., having led the nations into the same
idolatry, with its resultant denigration of God, and with the same disastrous
results. He is spiritually blind who fails to see that Christendom’s worship
of money has reduced God to a lower level than Mammon.
It is the same when we put
our trust in worldly wisdom for the accomplishment of our purposes, either in
connection with temporal things, or in what we piously call our "spiritual
service," relative to the life of the assembly. Never has there been a time
when God has been more dishonored than the present in this respect, for with
spiritual power gone as the result of our sin, we have compounded our guilt by
attempting to remedy the situation by applying the methods and wisdom of the
business world to the life of the church.
Our quest for prominence and
earthly glory, rather than the pursuit of God's approval, and eternal glory,
is another form of idolatry, for it simply declares that the glory which He
gives is less desirable than that which is given by, and is as transient as
this passing world. Satan is the giver of that fleeting glory, so that in
pursuing it we make God inferior to the one He Himself has created, and will
yet cast into the lake of fire.
Likewise our devotion to the
goddess Pleasure declares all too loudly how much better we esteem her than
God. A pleasure-crazed church, in company with a similarly crazed world,
announces her unbelief of what God has written, "Thou wilt shew me the path of
life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are
pleasures for evermore," Ps 16:11. Again, God is relegated to the role of an
Israel's acknowledgment that
Jehovah was the only God was to be "in truth, in judgment, and in
righteousness," i.e., it was to be made, not feignedly, but truthfully, out of
a convicted heart; it was to be the judgment (verdict) of an enlightened mind;
and it was to be accompanied by righteous living, that reformed life being
itself the proof that the acknowledgment was genuine.
Only when she does likewise
will the Church be restored to the place of blessing.
The protest that we don't
worship these idols, is refuted by a simple test: how does the time we give to
those things just mentioned, compare with the time we give to God? An
examination of how we spend our "free" time, furnishes the answer.
Linked with the blessing of
Israel is her obedience, but also linked with the blessing of Israel is the
blessing of the nations, for "the nations shall bless themselves in him, and
in him shall they glory" is literally "As a result of your testimony to the
nations, they will come to Me and be blessed, and give Me glory." It was
God's intention that Israel should have been His witness to the nations, His
blessing upon her obedience being the incentive to the Gentiles to merit the
same blessing by means of an obedient walk.
Wanton Israel, however, had
led the nations astray; but God's will for Israel has also been His will for
the Church. She too was meant to be the witness to the nations around her
that peace and all other blessings are the recompense of an obedient life; but
like Israel, she too has defaulted, and caused God's name to be blasphemed by
those who ought to have been praising Him; and her guilt is compounded by
virtue of the fact that she has had the examples of Israel and Judah to warn
her against such folly.
"For thus saith the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your
fallow ground, and sow not among thorns."
God now turns from His
exhortation of Israel, and directs His appeal to Judah, and the fact that He
speaks to "the men of Judah and Jerusalem" reminds us that the leaders
were held responsible for the actions of the people, for it is generally
agreed that in singling out the men of Jerusalem, He was especially addressing
That the elders of the
churches have the same responsibility is declared in He 13:17, "Obey them that
have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls,
as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not
with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."
It must be acknowledged that
the present generation of believers displays little inclination to obey that
injunction; but it must also be admitted that in too many cases the elders
have been delinquent in instructing the people as to the will of God, and they
have been equally delinquent in maintaining Divine order in the assemblies
over which the Holy Spirit has placed them.
God's addressing the men of
Judah and Jerusalem therefore reminds us that there was a dual
responsibility: the leaders were responsible to instruct the people, and
enforce God's commands; and the people were responsible to receive
instruction, and to obey. The same dual responsibility devolves upon the
Church. The elders are responsible to teach the people, and enforce God's
order in the local assembly over which the Holy Spirit has set them; and the
people are responsible to receive that instruction, and to obey.
The present wretched state
of the professing church, however, advertises all too clearly the dereliction
of both elders and people.
"Break up your fallow
ground," was metaphoric, the reference being to their hard stubborn hearts and
consciences. If they were to be blessed, they must repent, the reality of
their repentance being confirmed by an obedient walk.
The command is as much to
the Church today as it was to the people of Jeremiah's time.
"... and sow not among
thorns." In the physical realm the presence of thorns on a piece of ground
was proof that the plow hadn't been there; but thorns are the evidence of the
curse upon the ground, see Ge 3:17-18, and the curse was the result of sin.
Further light is shed on the
significance of thorns in Mt 13 where the Lord, in the parable of the sower,
declares, "He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the
word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the
word, and he becometh unfruitful."
The words of Jeremiah are
easily translated, for there are two aspects of sowing. There is first the
sowing of the good seed of the Gospel, but then there is the sowing which each
man does in his own life - sowing which produces fruit in eternity, "He which
soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully
shall reap also bountifully," 2 Co 9:6. "... for whatsoever a man soweth,
that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh
reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap
life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we
shall reap, if we faint not," Ga 6:7-8.
Sowing "among thorns"
therefore is "sowing to the flesh," that is, living for the things of this
world instead of for the kingdom of God, for eternity, with the judgment seat
of Christ in view. It is the Lord Who declares the thorns to be "the care of
this world, and the deceitfulness of riches." This present day is one to
which that description applies with special pertinence.
"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."
Literal circumcision was the
outward sign of Israel's covenant relationship with God, but their sorry
history makes it clear that the holiness of life implied in that symbol was
all too often absent from their conduct, for God repeatedly exhorted them to
"circumcise" their hearts, see e.g., Dt 10:16. In Isa 29:13 He declared
concerning them, "... this people draw near me with their mouth, and with
their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me," and in Mt
15:8 the Lord makes the same complaint against the generation of His day.
The exhortation given here
to the men of Judah applies also to us, for Paul warns, "He is not a Jew,
which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the
flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the
heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but
of God," Ro 2:28-29. Profession must be confirmed by deed. There must be
reformation of the life, for the disobedient life nullifies the profession of
The warning which
accompanied the exhortation is also applicable to us, "lest my fury come forth
like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your
doings." He who walks in disobedience not only robs himself of blessing, but
makes himself also heir of chastisement. For the disobedient believer there
will be chastisement here on earth, and loss of reward at the Bema; but for
the unbeliever (and unbelief is disobedience) there will be the loss of the
soul doomed to eternal torment in the lake of fire.
"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."
This was the warning that
Judah’s disobedience had carried her over the line that separates God’s mercy
from His wrath. She had refused to repent in His time, and must consequently
perish, as must everyone who commits the same folly, for it is written, “My
spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3; “He, that being often
reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without
remedy,” Pr 29:1.
Judah, meaning he shall
be praised, represents the spirit of worship, but in Jeremiah's day that
spirit had long since departed from Judah, and so, accordingly, had the power,
for the spirit of worship is also the spirit of power.
As noted already, the
specific mention of Jerusalem, points to the truth that God was also
addressing the leaders, reminding us that the elders of the churches are
responsible to govern for God. It is sadly true that failure to maintain
God's order inevitably results in the abandonment of worship, for these two
evils are Siamese twins, and their presence in many assemblies today simply
reminds us that Israel's literal history is but the pre-written history of the
professing church. In most of Christendom what passes for worship is a
travesty so far removed from the Divine pattern as to be unrecognizable; and
in many of the nondenominational assemblies where the outward form is still
preserved it is a mere charade in which the prayers offered, the hymns sung,
the Scriptures read, are very clearly impelled by the flesh, not the Holy
Spirit - a mere ritual which deceives only the untaught, and which is as
abominable to God as was the worship so-called offered by Israel and Judah.
This blowing of the trumpet
was not for good but evil. It wasn't to call the people together for a joyful
assembly, but to bring them out of the unwalled villages into the defensed
cities because of the threat of invasion.
In the days of the Judges
when the people had also departed from God, village life in Israel had become
virtually nonexistent; yet it is to be remembered that village life was the
very backbone of Israel's economy. Fearing to dwell in the unwalled villages,
the people had deserted them, and sought safety in the larger walled cities.
The application to the present condition of the Church is inescapable. God
intended believers to dwell together in the spiritual equivalent of the
unwalled villages, i.e., in small intimate fellowships. Life in the village
was simple and peaceful and rewarding. The work of the people was connected
with the land God had given them. They raised flocks and herds; tilled the
fields; tended the olive and vineyards, etc. Far from the distractions of the
cities, they dwelt in peace and quietness; but their disobedience had brought
the enemy, and the enemy had brought an end to that kind of life, as he has
also in the spiritual realm today.
Confronted by the
antagonistic might of an ungodly world, and of an equally ungodly "church,"
believers have been driven to forsake the "villages," the small scriptural
assemblies, and to seek fellowship in the equivalent of the city, the large,
imposing, organized, but unscriptural “churches” of apostate Christendom.
The result is the same in
the spiritual realm as it was in the physical: the "flocks" perish from lack
of those to care for them; neglected "fields and olive and vineyards," have
brought spiritual famine to the Church. Few today are willing to give to the
work of shepherding God's people the time that work requires. Equally few are
willing to spend time in the "fields and olive and vineyards" of the Word to
produce food, first for their own souls, and then for the household of faith.
The supreme tragedy,
however, is that spiritually blind eyes fail to see the devastation that has
attended our neglect of God's business, and the pursuit of the world's
"Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from
the north, and a great destruction."
It is instructive to note
that Zion meaning parched place is used to designate Jerusalem dual
peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace, because Judah’s sin had
indeed made Jerusalem a spiritually parched place, its peace about to be
replaced with the agitation of battle. The standard or flag of peace was to
be replaced with the banner of war and destruction.
There is further
significance in the warning that the evil would come from the north, i.e.,
from Babylon, the city that has been synonymous with false religion since the
dawn of history. It was Judah’s idolatry, their having turned to the
religions of the heathen, that had provoked God to anger. (Babylon lies east
of Palestine, but the virtually impassable desert lying between the two
countries required the Babylonians to first march north-westward and then
south to bypass the desert).
A further lesson, however,
lies in the fact that the north is the biblical direction that speaks of
worldly wisdom working in opposition to God, the propriety of the
message for our own generation being crystal clear. The professing but
apostate church today, as already noted, also worships false gods:
money, pleasure, ease, and worldly knowledge, a knowledge whose worthlessness
in God's sight is clearly declared in 1 Co 1 and 2.
The high esteem in which
that idol is held, however, may be measured, not only by the money, time, and
effort expended on it, but by the degree to which its "wisdom" has displaced
the authority of God's Word, not only in the world and in the apostate
travesty which calls itself the church, but in the true church also. What
Babylon represents is also about to bring to apostate Christendom and to the
whole world a destruction which is but dimly foreshadowed in that which
overtook idolatrous Israel and Judah in the past.
The evil brought upon Judah
by her idolatry (her guilt compounded by her having had the example of her
evil sister Israel to warn her against such folly), is simply a foreshadowing
of the evil that is coming upon apostate Christendom and the world, they
having compounded their guilt by ignoring the examples of both Israel and
Judah. For them, as for Israel and Judah, "a great destruction (lit.
breaking)" is also coming, only spiritually blind eyes failing to see that
everything points to the imminence of the Tribulation judgments.
"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."
The lion of course was
Nebuchadnezzar, but his being described as a lion reminds us that the ultimate
evil power, of which he was but the agent, is Satan, the roaring lion, walking
about seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pe 5:8.
His being “the destroyer of
the Gentiles” refers to his being the conqueror of virtually the world of his
day, with idolatrous Judah about to become also his victim. As that
Babylonian monarch made Israel and Judah a desolation, so is the present day
equivalent making the professing church a spiritual desolation, false religion
and worldly knowledge being the tools by which that destruction is being
The prophecy, however, goes
beyond Judah and beyond the present Church age, for the desolation which Judah
became during the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity is but a
foreshadowing of what virtually the whole world will become in the impending
Tribulation, the Beast ruler of that terrible era being one of God’s
instrument to wreak that worldwide havoc.
"For this gird you with sackcloth, lament and howl: for the fierce anger of
the Lord is not turned back from us."
The destruction coming upon
them would cause bitter lamentation, but it would have been far better had
they lamented instead, and in God’s time, because of their sin, for then there
would have been no need of His chastisement. Man unfortunately is slow to
learn that lesson. His weeping is almost invariably for the chastisement, not
for the sin that brought it. Today’s world, like apostate Judah of old, will
also “lament and howl,” but as it was with Judah so is it with the world: it
is too late for repentance: judgment is inevitable and imminent.
"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."
The day was fast approaching
when those who sat in haughty judgment of Jeremiah, would be appalled at God's
requittal of their rebellion. From the king and his proud princes, to the
hypocritical priests, and lying prophets, all would stand aghast, as the fury
of Jehovah broke over their guilty heads.
The scene will be repeated
in a day also not far off, when the storm clouds of Divine wrath will break
again upon the heads, not only of guilty Israel, but also upon the apostate
church that will be left here on earth to experience the awful judgments of
the Tribulation, after the true Church has been raptured home to heaven.
The same haughty arrogance
as marked rebellious Judah long ago, marks today’s world, including apostate
Christendom, whose proud leaders, and false teachers mock those who declare
the truth and call for repentance in view of the coming judgment. But as it
was then, so is it also today. Self-blinded eyes fail to discern the signs
read so clearly by faith; self-stopped ears will listen to no appeal; while
self-hardened hearts, and seared consciences have become incapable of any
repentance. Like Judah of old, both plunge on headlong to judgment.
4:10. 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."
Expositors disagree as to
whether these are the words of Jeremiah, or of the people, the Jerusalem
Bible translation being, “People will say, ‘Ah, Lord Yahweh, how utterly
you deceived us by saying: You will have peace, even when the sword is at our
throats.’” In favor of this translation is the fact that it is difficult to
believe that Jeremiah could have been guilty of failing to remember that God's
promised blessings to Israel were contingent upon the obedience of the people,
for an unalterable principle governing God in all His dealings is that He will
not bless disobedience.
Some understand this to be
Jeremiah’s expression of regret that God had permitted the false prophets to
The reference to "this
people and Jerusalem" continues to remind us that Judah's leaders were
being held accountable for the condition of the people. They, however, who
should have been their teachers and examples, were those who had led them
astray. The elders and teachers given to the Church for her upbuilding,
similarly have a very great responsibility.
4:11. "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
The context makes it clear
that He Who would make this pronouncement was God; and made equally clear is
the fact that in the soon-coming day of judgment there would be no
misunderstanding of His message. The rebels who had wilfully refused the
repeated warnings pronounced by the prophets, would be compelled to read and
understand the full significance of the impending judgment. They would know
then, too late for remedy, that the captivity was the recompense of their
rebellion. So will it be eventually with every rebel. On the day when they
are finally arraigned for judgment, every mouth will be stopped, and every lip
made to confess the righteousness of the judgment that consigns them to the
eternal torment of the lake of fire.
Unlike the wind that
separated the chaff from the grain in the time of harvest, the wind that was
being used as a figure of the coming Babylonian captivity, was a burning
desert blast, the Sirocco, that would bring destruction and death, blowing
away chaff and grain together, that is, sweeping believer and unbeliever alike
out of the land, leaving it to become a desolation. In this we learn the
lesson that the godly remnant, always found in Israel and Judah, was not
exempt from the effects resulting from the rebellion of the majority; and so
has it been in the Church. The obedient have all too often had to endure the
consequences of the folly of the disobedient; and never was this more evident
There is a difference,
however. The believer seeking to walk in obedience, has the assurance of
God's presence with him in the midst of general declension, as for example,
Daniel, and his three friends, God sustaining and keeping, even as unbelief
suffers, without comfort, the consequences of its rebellion.
4:12. "Even a
full wind from those places shall come unto me: now also will I give sentence
“... full wind” is also
rendered, “wild, tearing wind,” and “a roaring blast.” "...shall come unto
me" is literally “shall come forth at My command.” Any who might later be
foolish enough to view the judgment as a chance happening, would have to
explain away its having been foretold by God. So will it be in regard to the
impending judgments of the Great Tribulation (the final three and a half years
of the seven-year Tribulation era): they too have been foretold, and will be
the execution of God's "sentence against them," i.e., His judgment of an
apostate church and an unbelieving world.
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."
“He” is Nebuchadnezzar and
the armies of Babylon, and there is a special significance to their being
likened to clouds, for clouds are driven by the wind, but the wind is one of
the symbols of the Holy Spirit. As He drives the storm clouds which are the
tangible evidence of God's displeasure, so would He bring up the hosts of
Babylon against His rebellious people. And as the whirlwind wreaks havoc, so
would the invading Babylonians leave destruction in their wake when they
returned to their own land again, carrying with them as captives those who had
refused the beneficent government of God.
Since the horse is one of
the Biblical symbols of strength, and the eagle of speed, the use of these two
figures was to impress upon the guilty rebels the strength and speed with
which the invading Babylonians would accomplish their work of destruction.
They would sweep through the land with the invincible power of charging
chariot horses, swooping down suddenly like an eagle seizing its prey, to
carry away the guilty Judah from whom an angry God had removed His protecting
Too late, the people would
cry "Woe unto us! for we are spoiled (ruined, doomed)."
To read this, however,
simply as the foretold doom of guilty Judah at the hand of the Babylonian
conqueror, is to miss the full import of the message. Judah's rebellion, and
resultant captivity in Babylon, foreshadows that of today’s equally rebellious
and apostate church. In a fast approaching day, after the true Church has
been raptured home to heaven, the false professors, left behind, the members
of the evil ecumenical system, the apostate harlot counterfeit "church," which
is even now working for the unification of earth's godless religious systems,
will have to suffer the wrath of an angry God using the terrible Tribulation
judgments as His instruments of destruction.
Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How
long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?"
The exhortation to
rebellious Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, is no less God's exhortation to
an equally rebellious apostate church today, for it must not be forgotten that
Israel is a type of the professing church, and as the nation consisted of a
believing remnant in the midst of a professing but unbelieving mass, so is it
in the professing church. She too consists of a small minority of genuine
believers in the midst of a professing but unbelieving majority. It is that
unbelieving majority who need to wash their hearts from wickedness.
The reason for the
exhortation was "that thou mayest be saved," but since the Babylonian
captivity was inevitable, then it seems that the call was not to save
themselves from that captivity, but from hell, and the final eternal doom of
the lake of fire.
The voice of the prophet
echoes across the ages to warn the godless mass that constitutes today’s
professing but unbelieving church, to also save themselves, for the seven
decades of the Babylonian captivity are also a type of the inevitable coming
seven-year Tribulation age when the judgments of God against a rebel world
will embrace also the great harlot "church." Re 18:4 echoes the prophet's
exhortation and warning, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers
of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues."
As noted already, however,
it was Jerusalem that was specifically addressed, and inasmuch as that city
was the center of government, it is clear that God was addressing the leaders
of the nation. They, and the false prophets, were the most culpable, for they
were guilty of having led the people astray by their false teaching and evil
It is the same in the harlot
church. Godly elders have been replaced with worldly-wise "leaders," and the
gifted teachers have been supplanted by theologically educated clerics, while
true evangelists have all but disappeared from the scene. These evil
"leaders" are they who have special need to "wash their hearts from
wickedness." It is upon them that the fiercest fury of Divine wrath will
"How long shall thy vain
thoughts lodge within thee?" is addressed no less to the false "church
leaders" today, who, under the pretense of being God’s servants, are simply
the agents of Satan, disguised as "angels of light." "Iniquitous, false, evil
purposes" are other translations of what they would have us believe are their
Scriptural objectives, but which God calls their "vain thoughts."
4:15. "For a
voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from mount Ephraim."
Most expositors believe that
Dan here refers to that part of the tribe which had migrated to the extreme
north of Palestine, and since Ephraim was the southernmost tribe of Israel at
that time (it lay north of Judah) this is the announcement of the destruction
of Judah, Israel (the ten northern tribes) having already been carried captive
into Assyria in 721-22 BC. The Bible Knowledge Commentary furnishes
the following information relative to Ephraim at this time, “... Simeon was
given land in the southern section of Judah’s territory .... But it was not
long before Simeon was to lose her individuality as a tribe, for her territory
was incorporated eventually into that of Judah and many of her citizens
migrated north to Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. 2 Chron. 15:9; 34:6). This
explains why after the division of the kingdom following Solomon there were 10
tribes in the north and only 2 in the south (Judah and Benjamin).”
Relative to Dan and Ephraim
it is significant that it was in Dan and in Bethel (in Ephraim’s territory)
that Jeroboam had set up the idolatrous calves, see 1 Kings 12.
The lesson, however, goes
beyond what is related to geography, for as always in Scripture, the meanings
of the names have also a lesson to teach. Dan means judging: a judge;
and Ephraim, double ash-heap: I shall be doubly fruitful. It was the
voice of judgment that cried first against the rebels, as it cries also
Relative to the meaning of
Ephraim, its ash-heap indicated the size and importance of any city, but in
the spiritual realm there is a correlation between the ash-heap and the degree
of fruitfulness. Spiritual productivity will be in direct proportion to the
degree that we are willing to consign to the "ash-heap" all that would hinder
us in the heavenly race. Ephraim sets before us the Divine ideal. We are to
be doubly fruitful. And the God Who takes note of all that is done for
Him out of a pure motive, will not fail to bestow an abundant reward, so that
in a sense everything done for Him will be doubly fruitful. What produces
glory for Him here on earth, will produce glory for us in eternity.
The converse, however, is
also true. In proportion as there is fruitfulness in evil here on earth, so
will there be a corresponding degree of punishment in eternity. Judah had
been as fruitful in evil as had Israel, and now she was about to reap the
results of her evil sowing. She had been doubly fruitful in the production of
evil, and now her harvest of Divine retribution was to be in the same double
measure. Believer and unbeliever alike would be carried away to Babylonian
captivity, but whereas the captivity of the believing remnant would be
succeeded by eternal liberty and blessing, the fate of the unbelieving mass of
the nation would be very different. Apart from genuine repentance, their
captivity in Babylon would be succeeded by the far more terrible judgment of
their being confined in hell until the resurrection of death, when they would
be cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, Re 20.
4:16. "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."
The nations were also to be
warned that the same God Who was about to punish rebellious Judah, was the God
Who would eventually call them also to account; and if His own people weren't
spared, much less would the Gentiles escape His judgment!
Paul sounds the same warning
to the Gentiles today "For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed
lest he also spare not thee," Ro 11:21. This applies with special force to
the great apostate system masquerading as the "church," her guilt being
compounded by the fact that she subverts Scripture to achieve her evil ends,
while the godless masses don't even pretend to consult the Bible.
"... publish against
Jerusalem" continues to emphasize that the brunt of God's anger was directed
against the leaders who had led the people astray. Those who take the place
of leadership amongst God's people have an even greater responsibility than
those who have no such aspirations.
The "watchers from a far
country" were the Babylonians; but since Babylon is synonymous with the
world's false religious systems, the lesson is clear. It will be that great
apostate ecumenical system, fast developing in the world today, that will
prove in the end to be the nemesis of apostate Christianity, for those who are
now so ready to advance her objectives, will find themselves the slaves of a
monster of their own creation, when they, having thrown in their lot with her,
will share also her judgment in the Tribulation, after the true Church has
been raptured to heaven.
The eagerness with which the
foe will ravage the false church is indicated in the language used to describe
the Babylonian invaders, for "their voice against the cities of Judah" is also
rendered "howling against, etc...." The language of Revelation 17:16 is even
more graphic "... these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and
naked, and shall eat here flesh, and burn her with fire."
keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been
rebellious against me, saith the Lord."
The enemy is likened to
shepherds surrounding a field, and closing in on some wild animal, and it is
significant that the Israel which was soon to be similarly surrounded by her
enemies, was the very same nation formerly described as the Lord's vineyard,
around which He had planted a hedge, and built a wall for her preservation,
Isa 5:1-5. But her continued rebellion had caused Him to withdraw His
protection, and deliver her into the hand of her enemies. The day is fast
approaching when an equally rebellious professing church will find herself
similarly stripped of His protecting care, and delivered into the hand of the
Beast emperor who will destroy her in the coming Tribulation.
4:18. "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."
Lest they should doubt the
cause of their destruction, God Himself informed them that the impending
judgment was His recompense of their rebellion. And we should note that He
spoke first of their way, and then of their doings. There had
been first departure from the way he had marked out for them, followed quickly
by ever increasing evil deeds; and that order never changes, for if a man
isn't walking in the way of righteousness it is axiomatic that he must walk in
the way of unrighteousness, every sin unrepented of and forsaken hardening his
conscience until it becomes seared, with the result that his evil deeds
multiply the degree of judgment awaiting him in eternity.
The measure of God's
displeasure may be gauged from His describing their conduct as wickedness.
There is no such thing as a trivial sin in God's estimation, for it was by one
sin that the whole human race was ruined, and therefore by one sin that the
death of the Lord Jesus Christ became a necessity. Whether it concerns an
individual or a nation, the bitterness of sin is that it destroys the
perpetrator, its evil effects being not only outward, but inward as well: it
affects the heart, producing a misery for which the only remedy is repentance
and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and failing that repentant faith, eternal
misery in the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.
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."
This is the graphic
description of the anguish about to seize rebellious Judah upon finding
herself delivered into the hand of the Babylonian oppressor, with all hope of
There is in this a solemn
warning for the unconverted, for if mere physical and mental anguish elicited
such lamentation from disobedient Israel as she faced temporal punishment,
what will be the mental torment of those who find themselves confronted with
eternal retribution in the lake of fire!
"Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled:
suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment."
It is to be noted that
earth, land and ground are used symbolically as well as literally
in Scripture; the earth being associated with genuine faith; the
land, with mere profession, and the ground, with those without any
profession, living in complete indifference to God and His claims.
Significantly therefore, it is the land that is here spoiled.
Certainly the reference is first to the literal land, but there is no question
that it extends also to the professing, but apostate mass of the nation,
within which there was then, as always, a small believing remnant. That
remnant would suffer the same hardships, and be led off into captivity with
their unbelieving fellows, but that was only for the years of time. Their
eternal state was far different. Death would end their earthly woes, and
usher them into eternal rest; but for the unbelieving mass, their earthly
misery would simply be succeeded by a far more awful eternal state, first in
hell, and then eternally in the lake of fire.
And so is it in regard to
the professing, but apostate church. There is within her ranks also a small
believing remnant, whose earthly lot is to experience the results of her
disobedience, but whose eternal state will be one of transcendent blessing.
The reference to tents
serves as a reminder that Israel was meant to be a nation passing through this
world as pilgrims and strangers on their way to heaven. That pilgrim
character, however, had long since been abandoned, and they who should have
been demonstrating the nature of their high calling, revealed instead that
they were "of the earth, earthy," 2 Co 14:47.
The professing but apostate
church has followed all too closely in Israel's rebellious footsteps, and will
therefore reap also the same bitter harvest of Divine retribution.
The curtain was the covering
of the tent doorway, and its destruction here speaks metaphorically of the
laying open of the whole land to the Babylonian enemy.
So will a professing but
apostate church, together with a godless world, find its sin laid bare, and
itself exposed to the righteous wrath of God in the coming Tribulation.
4:21. "How long
shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?"
She, who had she been
obedient, would have known only the pleasant sounds of peace, must now exist
amid the sights and sounds of war, and then be carried off into captivity in
Babylon. The professing church and today’s godless world have likewise
forfeited peace, and even now live also amid the clamor of a world at war with
God, while the judgment of that same God draws daily nearer, the present state
of both advertizing the fact that the Tribulation judgments are about to
engulf their world.
4:22. "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
In Pr 9:10 it is written,
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the
holy is understanding." The man who doesn't know God is a fool, but the
extent of Israel's foolishness is revealed by the fact that they had
deliberately rejected the knowledge already possessed. They had chosen
not to know Him.
Their being described as
sottish children implies the idea of stupidity resulting from drunkenness;
but wine is one of the biblical symbols of joy, so that it is clear
these people had filled themselves, not with the joy that is the concomitant
of knowing God, but with the sinful pleasures of the world. And now in their
drunken stupor, they staggered on to their self-chosen doom.
In this connection it is
interesting to read what Paul has written, "See then that ye walk
circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days
are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the
Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled
with the Spirit," Ep 5:15-18. A godless world, and a professing but apostate
church, however, have aped rebellious Israel, for they too have rejected the
knowledge of God, and disobeying the exhortation of Paul, have glutted
themselves with the wine of worldly pleasure, and having, like Israel, sown
the wind, will also reap the whirlwind, Ho 8:7. They too are "wise to do
evil," but utterly ignorant of good.
4:23. "I beheld
the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they
had no light."
This language is almost
identical with Ge 1:2 which describes the condition of the once perfect earth
following the rebellion of Lucifer shining one, at which time he became
Satan an adversary, the prince of darkness, he himself having become
spiritually dark, and dead (though his spiritual existence continues
and always will). And as was the ruler, so was his domain, the earth. It
reflected the state of its fallen prince. It too became a dark, lifeless,
water-covered waste, those enveloping salt waters being symbolic of the
judgment of God upon the earth, as also upon its fallen master. (It is a
mistake to take Ge 1:2 as being descriptive of the original condition of the
earth, and the "six days" as being descriptive of creation. Apart from the
creation of living creatures in verse 21, and of man in verse 27, all the
other activity of those six days relates, not to creation, but to the
recovery of the ruin of the originally perfect earth resulting from
Lucifer's rebellion. See the verse-by-verse commentary on Genesis 1 by the
present author, and available also on this web site).
Here in Jeremiah the
description may be the graphic portrait of the land as it would become during
the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity, when it would become a
desolation resulting from lack of cultivation and care; but the words "the
heavens, and they had no light" can't be thus explained, for obviously literal
darkness didn't reign during those seventy years. The language is clearly a
blending of the literal and the symbolic, nor is the symbolism difficult to
translate, for the earth, as noted in other studies, is one of the biblical
symbols of Israel. "... without form and void," therefore is the description
of what the nation would become. She would cease to have form as a nation,
and would become "void," i.e., empty, a vacuity, a ruin nationally.
"... the heavens, and they
had no light," refers to the spiritual darkness that would envelope her in
Babylon during the seventy-year period when she would experience Divine
chastisement rather than blessing, that period being itself the foreshadowing
of what will befall present-day Israel in the coming seven-year Tribulation
era. But the application goes beyond apostate Israel, and the apostate
travesty that will be left on earth when the true Church is raptured home to
heaven: it includes the whole world, and describes its condition as it will be
at the end of the Great Tribulation.
4:24. "I beheld
the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly."
The literal mountains and
hills didn't move when an angry God delivered His rebellious people into the
hand of the Babylonians, but the words can't be dismissed simply as poetic
hyperbole. They are symbolic, for in the language of Scripture mountains and
hills are figures of rule. What is being described is the complete
dissolution of government when the invader destroyed Judah, and carried away,
not only the people, but also the rulers, from the king to the lowest
When the judgments of God
are poured out again upon Israel and the nations in the Tribulation, the
figure will be fulfilled in far fuller measure. As that awful era draws to a
close, the whole fabric of society will be torn apart. Venerable institutions
that had seemed invulnerable, will crumble as does a sand castle before the
advancing tide; governments that have endured for centuries will totter and
fall, and the words of John will be fulfilled, "And the heaven departed as a
scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved
out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the
rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and
every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of
him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great
day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Re 6:14-17.
4:25. "I beheld,
and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled."
Certainly the literal
reference is to the deportation of the bulk of the people to Babylon, but
again the words "and all the birds of the heavens are fled," alert us to the
fact that, as in verse 23, the language goes beyond mere literality, for very
obviously all the birds didn't forsake the land during the seventy years of
With the exception of the
dove and the pigeon, birds are almost invariably found to have a bad
connotation in Scripture, as for example in the parable of the sower in Lk 8,
where the fowls are declared by the Lord to represent Satan and his evil
hordes, see verse 12. Many other Scriptures indicate the same truth, so that
here the reference is far more likely to be to the departure of evil spirits,
rather than literal birds. And this is in perfect keeping with the fact that
while the idolatrous people were in the land it was infested with evil
spirits, for the altars to false gods were "upon every high mountain and under
every green tree," see 3:6, so that the whole land was polluted, see 3:2, and
Paul reminds us that what is offered to idols is offered to devils, "What say
I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to
idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice,
they sacrifice to devils ...." 1 Co 10:19-20.
With the idolatrous people
gone, the evil spirits (portrayed here by the birds) also departed, there
being no reason to stay, for Scripture makes it abundantly clear that the
activity of demons is primarily with men.
4:26. "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."
The primary application here
is literally to the land, but we can't ignore the fact that Israel, which was
also to have been fruitful for God, had become a spiritual wilderness. Nor is
the reference to the broken down cities limited to the literal, for the city,
in a good context, speaks of communal harmony, but as is declared in chapter
2, that harmony had long since broken down.
The same state exists today
in the professing church. She too, having failed to be fruitful for God, has
become a spiritual wilderness; and as Judah's unfruitful state in the days of
Jeremiah, was followed by the Babylonian captivity, so is an apostate church
plunging recklessly toward a corresponding fate. She will be left on earth to
be destroyed in the Tribulation following the rapture of the true Church.
4:27. "For thus
hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a
Even in His execution of
judgment God remembers mercy, and while it might have seemed that the
desolation that would follow the captivity of the people, would be
irreversible, He knew that out of that captivity would come a remnant who
would return to cultivate the land again, and rebuild the ruined cities. It
would be, as it were, a resurrection, reminding us that He is the God of
resurrection, the first revelation of that great truth being displayed in His
recovery of the earth from the ruin that had resulted from the rebellion of
Lucifer; that recovery being itself a figure of the recovery wrought
spiritually when a sinner puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and by that
act of faith, becomes a new creation. It was for the comfort of those who
were faithful in the midst of the general apostasy, that this assurance was
given. That same assurance is no less for the consolation of the faithful
found in the midst of today's apostasy, and as will be found also on the
But while we may be impelled
to look back, the primary purpose of this passage is to point us forward, and
remind us that out of the coming Tribulation judgments, which will leave the
whole earth a desolation (and of which the seventy-year Babylonian captivity
is but a type), will emerge another remnant, from the nations as well as from
Israel, that will then cultivate the earth, rebuild the ruined cities, and
live in the enjoyment of millennial blessings.
God has always reserved a
remnant for His own glory, each such remnant being but a figure of those
believers who will emerge from the terrible Tribulation judgments to enter the
4:28. "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
The mourning earth in the
present context of course is Israel, but in the larger prophetic picture, what
is in view is the mourning of the whole world in the coming Tribulation. And
as noted already in our study of verse 23, the description of the heavens is
not to be taken literally, for certainly there was not literal darkness in
Canaan during the Babylonian captivity. The reference can only be to the
spiritual darkness that enveloped Israel during her captivity in the land that
is synonymous with false religion, that false religion being itself the
product of spiritual darkness. The ultimate application is to the dearth of
spiritual light that will characterize the Tribulation-age earth.
The emphatic assurance that
there would be no repentance on God's part concerning the coming judgment,
reminds us that it is a fearful thing to trifle with God, for he who rejects
immeasurable mercy will have to endure immeasurable torment. Scripture
abounds with warnings against the folly of rejecting that mercy, and is
equally abundant in its warnings concerning the fearful judgment that will be
the portion of the man who provokes God to the point where His exhausted
patience gives place to His eternal wrath.
4:29. "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."
There can be little question
that by the "whole city" is meant Jerusalem, the seat of government, and the
center to which would flee the refugees out of the towns first attacked. But
it would prove to be no refuge, for the enemy wouldn't stop until Jerusalem
was also destroyed.
That the warning relates
also to the coming Tribulation era is made clear by the use of virtually the
same language as is used in Revelation to describe the horrors of that
soon-coming time of Jacob's trouble, that fearful day of which all other times
of calamity are but the shadows, see Re 6:12-17. Since the horse is one of
the Biblical symbols of strength, see Ps 147:10; and the bow is spoken of as
God's weapon, see, e.g., Ps 7:12, the reference here to horsemen and bowmen is
the assurance, not only of the enemy's invincible strength, but also that he
is the instrument in the hand of God for the execution of judgment against His
4:30. "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."
We have here in figure the
expedients Israel would employ in order to deliver herself out of the hand of
the enemy, expedients reminiscent of those used by Jezebel to deliver herself
out of the hand of Jehu, "... she painted her face, and tired her head, and
looked out at a window," 2 Ki 9:30. Her efforts, however, were to no avail.
At the command of Jehu she was thrown down from that same window, and when
they later came to bury her, the dogs had left "no more of her than the skull,
and the feet, and the palms of her hands," 1 Ki 9:35, as foretold by God "The
dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel," 1 Ki 21:23, "And the carcass
of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of
Jezreel," 2 Ki 9:37.
In the fast approaching day
of calamity Israel might still pretend to have the earthly glory represented
by the crimson, the Divine glory portrayed by the gold, and the beauty
pictured in her painted eyes - glory and beauty that had been her's in the
days of Solomon - but her former paramours, undeceived by the charade under
which she would attempt to hide her fallen state, would despise her, and seek
It is impossible to read
this figurative description of Israel become apostate, a spiritual harlot, and
not recall what is written concerning another apostate, another spiritual
harlot: the great false church, Re 17. There she too is seen "arrayed in
purple and scarlet ... and decked with gold," Re 17:4; but of her also it is
written that her former lovers "shall hate the whore, and shall make her
desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire," verse
Only spiritually blind eyes
will fail to see in Jezebel a figure of what Israel had become in the days of
Jeremiah; and only similar blindness will fail to discern that in apostate
Israel, the spiritual harlot, we have also a figure of the apostate harlot
church that will be left on earth at the Rapture, to be hated and destroyed by
the Roman beast in the Tribulation.
Nor should we miss the
significance of the part played by the dogs in connection with Jezebel's
terrible end. A proud arrogant Israel viewed the Gentiles as dogs, and it was
those same Gentile "dogs" (the Babylonians) which devoured her in the days of
Jeremiah, and that devoured her again in the form of the Romans in AD 70,
leaving both times only as it were "no more of her than the skull, and the
feet, and the palms of her hands."
Those same Roman "dogs" will
devour her again in the Tribulation, leaving also only a small remnant. But
three is the biblical number of resurrection. The God Who has
recovered her twice before, but without her having learned the lesson of her
chastisement, will then recover her again, but this time to walk in the
enjoyment of millennial blessing, she having finally learned the lesson so oft
repeated, and so dearly bought, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to
be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable
fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift
up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths
for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it
rather be healed," Heb 12:11-13.
What sorrow we would save
ourselves if we simply obeyed God so that His chastisement would be
4:31. "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."
There is the travail pain
that ends in joy, Jn 16:21, but the pangs about to convulse Israel in the days
of Jeremiah were of a very different character, for she, having sown to the
wind, was about to reap the whirlwind. The day is fast approaching, however,
when her travail anguish of the Tribulation judgments will give place to joy
and gladness as she brings forth the Man Child Who will rule all nations, Re
12:2,5; Isa 66:7-8, but that day, now imminent, was far distant when Jeremiah
warned of the terrible results that were about to accrue from her harlotry.
No such joy would follow the pain about to come upon her at the hand of her
And her recompense would be
in kind. She who had wantonly murdered the innocent, was now to become
herself the murderer's victim. And so will it be with the harlot church of
which apostate Israel is a figure or type. She too has shed innocent blood
during the thousand years of the dark ages between 500 and 1500 AD when she
slaughtered countless thousands of true believers who choose to die rather
than deny Christ, and submit to her diabolic tyranny exercised in the name of
religion. God sets a very high value on that blood, and in the Tribulation it
will be her blood that will be shed, Re 17:6,16.