The Prophets (06): Jeremiah 4 - Soft Hearts or Siege
The Prophets: Jeremiah (02) - Soft Hearts or Siege
“If you will return, O Israel,” declares the LORD, “Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And will not waver, 2 And you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ In truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, And in Him they will glory.” 3 For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns. 4 “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.” . . . 16 “Report it to the nations, now! Proclaim over Jerusalem, ‘Besiegers come from a far country, And lift their voices against the cities of Judah. Jeremiah 4:1–16
A Parallel Outline of Jeremiah (adapted from Dr. Michael Kelly)
Call and Narrative against Babylon (1)
Oracles against Judah (2-25)
Victorious Events in Jeremiah’s Life (26-29)
Book of Consolation (30-33)
Defeating Events in Jeremiah’s Life (34-45)
Oracles against the Nations (46-51)
Narrative Concerning Babylon (52)
Chapters 2-25 contain “Oracles against Judah.” The lead up to our text includes the well known imagery of “broken cisterns:” “They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water” (2:13). In chapter 3, Israel is likened to a harlot (3:6), but if she repents God will give true Shepherds (3:15) and raise Jerusalem as Throne for a reunited Judah and Israel (3:18).
Similarly, chapter 4 begins with a call to “return” (v 1) with an echo of reaffirmation of the Abrahamic covenant: “the nations will bless themselves in Him” (v 2; Gen. 12:1ff). This call is illustrated in two ways (vv 3-4): a) A fallow ground image which is to say don’t throw seeds in the briar patch of an uncultivated field. The hard and thorny ground of their hearts that has been neglected needs to be plowed soft (Hos. 10:12; Mt. 13:7). b) Circumcise your hearts. This command draws upon Deut. 10:16 which contrasts the intention of the covenant sign (cleansing) with being “stiff-necked” or hard-hearted. It is a call to repent and to have one’s heart intention align with the covenant, expressed earlier as living “in truth, in justice and in righteousness” (v 2). The consequence of not “returning” is that Yahweh’s wrath will overwhelm Judah, “because of the evil of your deeds” (v 4). The rest of the oracle of unfolds poetically and in some prose the coming destruction through Babylon: “Proclaim over Jerusalem, ‘Besiegers come from a afar country, And lift their voices against the cities of Judah” (v 16). Judah will even be de-created: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; And to the heavens, and they had no light” (v 23).
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more