For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

4:1.  "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.


4:2.  "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."


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 inferior deity.


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.


4:3.  "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 the leaders. 


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.


4:4.  "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 lips.


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.


4:5.  "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 baubles.      


4:6.  "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.


4:7.  "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 accomplished.


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.


4:8.  "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.


4:9.  "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 prophesy lies. 


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 cleanse."


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 than today.


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 against them."


“... 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.


4:13.  "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."


“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 hand.


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.


4:14.  "O 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 example.


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 fall.


"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 today. 


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."


4:17.  "As 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.


4:19.  "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."


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 deliverance gone.


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!


4:20.  "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 knowledge."


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 official.


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 the captivity.


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 full end."


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 Tribulation-age earth.


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 Millennium.


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 it."


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 rebellious people.


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 her life.


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 16.


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 unnecessary!


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 Babylonian captor.


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.

[Jeremiah 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough