Jeremiah 4

The Word Made Fresh

1“If you return to me, Israel,” says the LORD,
“and if you remove your abominable idols
from my presence without hesitation,
2and if you swear truthfully, ‘As the LORD lives!’
and pursue justice and righteousness,
then the nations will be blessed
and they will boast in the LORD.”
3This is what the LORD says to the people of Judah and to those who live in Jerusalem:
“Break up your unplowed ground,
and don’t throw your seed in the briers.
4Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts to the LORD,
you people of Judah and Jerusalem,
or my anger will sweep like fire and burn,
and no one can put it out because of the evil of your ways.”

5Tell it in Judah and announce it in Jerusalem. Tell them
to blow the trumpet all over the land,
to shout loudly and say,
“Come and let us go together into the walled cities.”
6Raise the flag toward Zion. Flee for your own safety without delay
because I am bringing woes from the north, and great
7A lion has left its lair;
one who destroys nations is on the march.
He has gone out to turn your land into wasteland.
Your cities will be in ruins and completely uninhabited.
8Because of this you should wrap yourselves in sackcloth.
You should moan and wail and cry,
“The terrible anger of the LORD has not turned away from us!”

9When that day comes, says the LORD, the courage of kings and other leaders will utterly fail. The priests and prophets will be taken aback and confounded. 10Then I said, “LORD God, you have completely deceived the people of Jerusalem. You have told them, ‘Everything will be okay,’ even while the sword was at their throat!”

11Then you will tell these people and the people in Jerusalem that a hot wind is coming from the hills in the desert toward my unfortunate people, but not to winnow or cleanse. 12It will be too strong a wind for that. I am the one who is proclaiming the judgment against them.

13Look! God is coming like storm clouds, with whirlwinds for chariots. God’s horses are quicker than eagles. Woe to us! We’re done for!

14Jerusalem, Jerusalem, make your heart empty of all wickedness
so that you might be saved.
How long will you embrace your evil schemes?
15Don’t you know that voices are shouting from Dan and
proclaiming your disaster from Mt. Ephraim?
16Tell all the nations, “Here they are!”
Speak against Jerusalem, and say, “Enemies from a distant land
shout against all the cities of Judah,
17surrounding her and closing in like watchers hired to protect a field,
because she has turned against me,” says the LORD.
18“Your ways and your behavior have brought this upon you.
Thus, you are doomed – how bitter it will be.
It will reach even into your heart.”

19I am anguished; I writhe in pain!
Oh, my heart is beating wildly!
I cannot keep silence because I can hear the trumpet
sounding the battle.
20Disaster follows disaster until the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed,
and my curtains ripped apart.
21How long must I see the battle flag
and hear the trumpets blaring?

22“My people are fools. They don’t really know me.
They are stupid children who have no understanding.
They only know how to do evil;
they don’t know how to do good.”

23I looked down on the earth and it was wasted and empty.
I looked to the skies, but there was no light.
24I looked to the mountains and saw them shaking,
with all the hills moving back and forth.
25I looked and there was no one at all,
even the birds of the air had fled.
26I kept looking, and the rich productive land was a desert,
with all its cities laid to ruins before the fierce anger of the LORD.

27For the LORD declares this: The whole land will be desolate
but I will not completely destroy it.
28However, the earth shall be in mourning and the heavens will grow dark
for I have spoken it and I will not turn back from my purpose.
I will not relent.

29At the sound of horsemen and archers every town now flees.
They hide in thickets and among the rocks.
All the towns are deserted. No one lives there anymore.
30And you who are now desolate, why do you dress in crimson?
Why do you adorn yourselves with gold ornaments?
Why do you paint your eyes to make them larger?
Vainly you try to make yourself beautiful,
but your lovers hate you and even seek your life.
31I heard someone cry out like a woman in labor,
crying in anguish as though birthing her first child.
It is the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath,
reaching out her hands and crying,
“Woe is me! I faint, for murderers are all around me.”


1-4: God’s message which Jeremiah is to announce continues with a promise that, if they return to following the LORD and practice truth, justice, and righteousness, God will then bless not only Israel but other nations through them. “Don’t throw your seed in the briers” means in this context “stop depending on idols and pagan gods.” The phrase “foreskin of your hearts” does not occur anywhere else in the Bible but is an important metaphor for Christians. It essentially means “open your heart to God.” Steven, in his speech before the Jewish Council, says they are a stiff-necked people, “uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51). You may want to read Paul’s treatise on the true meaning of circumcision at Romans 2:25-29. See also 1 Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 6:15, Colossians 2:11.

The reference to “the nations” in verse 2 likely means only Israel and Judah.

5-8: God tells Jeremiah to announce that he is going to send “a lion” (Assyria) from the north that will bring destruction to Judah and Jerusalem.

9-10: When that happens, God says, everyone will be surprised. Then Jeremiah challenges God! “You deceived this people!” he cries, because God has said through the prophets that Jerusalem would prosper.

11-12: Nevertheless, God repeats that destruction is coming as God’s judgment against them.

13-18: Jeremiah cries out the warning. He begs them to “make your heart empty of all wickedness (literally, “wash your heart clean of wickedness”) but the destruction is coming. Dan and Mount Ephraim are in the north, by the way, reinforcing the prediction that the destruction will come from that quarter.

19-22: I think verses 19 and following are the voice of Jeremiah, in anguish over the vision he has been given of what is to come. Verse 22 is God’s voice, reinforcing the judgment.

23-28: Jeremiah continues his description of the awful calamity to come. In verses 27-28 God speaks again, reinforcing the decision that he has made.

29-31: Jeremiah’s vision of the destruction of Jerusalem now includes archers and cavalry searching down those who flee. He is appalled that the leaders of Jerusalem (“you who are now desolate”) are dressing in finery and jewelry when God’s judgment is fast approaching.


God is willing to leave us free to live as we wish – up to a point. Sooner or later sinfulness will result in downfall. The need to connect with God daily in prayer cannot be emphasized enough.