Jeremiah – Chapter 4

They Just Don't Get It

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d says that if the Jews return to Him, He will accept them and if they remove their idols, they will not be exiled. When they swear in G-d’s Name (as opposed to that of idols), then they will be swearing in truth and righteousness. The other nations will praise Israel when they are faithful to G-d.

G-d told the nation to learn from farmers, who plow the soil to keep thorns from growing where they wish to plant. The Jews are advised to “circumcise” their hearts, removing those impediments to clinging to G-d. If they do not do so, G-d’s anger will ultimately come upon them because of their sins. It will be announced throughout the kingdom of Judah to flee before the invading forces, Babylonia attacking from the north.

Nebuchadnezzar is like a lion, whom none can resist. He has sprung upon the people to lay waste their cities. The Jews will mourn because they brought the anger of G-d upon themselves. On that day, the heart of the king and his officers will fall, while the priests and false prophets of the idols will be amazed.

Jeremiah says that G-d has surely misled the Jews by promising them peace because the sword has come upon them. (The Radak explains that it was the false prophets of the idols who promised peace. Since G-d never stopped them from doing so, the people took that as His tacit consent.) When the enemy invades, it will be said of the Jews that a wind blew away the streams of water, leaving a desert. A stronger wind (or spirit) will come to Israel; Jeremiah says he will contend with the false prophets of the idols. The enemy will approach swiftly. Jeremiah says that this is not the time for lip service – real repentance is necessary: “Remove the evil from your hearts and be saved!”

The voice of the prophets calls from the locations of idolatry in Dan and Mount Ephraim (home of Yeravam’s golden calf in I Kings 12 and Micha’s idol in Judges 17-18, respectively). The voice warns of the oncoming siege. The attackers will surround Jerusalem like watchmen surround a field. What caused this? The Jews’ rebelling against G-d. Jeremiah is so overwrought that it causes him actual physical pain. It’s just one destruction after another, until the whole land has been overrun, palaces falling as easily as tents. How long must we see the flags and hear the shofars of war? The people are foolish and they don’t recognize G-d, like children who just don’t understand. But when it’s time to do evil, then they’re smart!

In a vision, Jeremiah sees the Earth, desolate and uninhabited, as at the beginning of Creation. The skies were dark, representing the troubles to come, and the mountains shook, representing the destruction that would befall kings. The land was emptied of its people; even the birds had fled. The fields had become deserts and the cities were destroyed, all because of G-d’s anger. G-d says that the land will become a wasteland, but He will not allow it to become completely empty; there will always be some who remain. The Earth will mourn and the skies will go dark because of what will happen; G-d has spoken and He will not change His mind.

The sound of oncoming soldiers will make the inhabitants of the cities flee until every city is deserted. Jeremiah uses the analogy of a promiscuous woman: “Once you’re shamed, what’s the point of adorning yourself with jewelry and make-up? You’re dressing up for lovers that hate you.” Instead, the nation will be like a woman in labor with her first child, unused to such pains. They will cry out that they are weak because of those who seek to destroy them.

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