Jeremiah 4:5-31

Sermon preached on 13th January 2013  Disaster from the north and the suffering of God’s people

destruction

Jeremiah 4:5-31 is entitled in NIV as Disaster from the North.  In chapter 1 God had given Jeremiah a vision of a boiling pot tilting away from the north.  Then He said, From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. [Jeremiah 1:14] This was a reference to the invading Babylonian armies which would come from the north … not exactly a very encouraging message.  The holocaust which Jeremiah describes in chapter 4 would be a David and Goliath war, except this time Goliath would win. Jeremiah is not sitting in his arm chair discussing a just war: he’s shouting at the top of his voice, “Get ready!”    Unfortunately at the beginning of this New Year (2013) this is not an entirely irrelevant message.  We are living in a very unstable world where dangerous international conflict could easily flare up – and it’s easy to see how in the West we bring this on ourselves due to all our immorality and sin. I will go through the passage and then ask the question: why did God’s people have to suffer?   The answer may seem obvious, but I think also it’s not so obvious.

1.       vv5-9             destruction

In vv5-6 Jeremiah cries like a watchman on the walls of the city, blowing the trumpet of God’s word to warn the king and officials of the invading armies.  The trouble was they all thought Jeremiah was talking nonsense.

v7 The Babylonian army is like a ravishing lion to lay waste the land.

v8 There was still time to repent and lament and cry out to the LORD to turn away His fierce anger.

v9 When disaster comes, the king, the officials, the priests and prophets, that is, all those who have all mocked and ridiculed Jeremiah, are astounded.

2.       v10 deception The leaders and the people were spiritually deceived.  Ah, Sovereign LORD, how completely you have deceived this people. This was Jeremiah’s heart ache: why are the leaders so spiritually blind?

3.       vv11-13 decision      The invading army would be like a scorching wind, which would not distinguish between the grain and the chaff.  The tragedy of war is that it affects everyone, the good and the bad. Now I pronounce my judgments against them – God is like a judge who pronounces a verdict or decision. v13 Jeremiah describes the advancing army in poetic and hyperbolic language.

4.       vv14-18        deliverance  v14 Deliverance is still possible if … if the people will wash the evil from their hearts and be saved.  v15 Dan, the northern most tribe will be the first to hear the news of the approaching enemy. v16 The nations should take note and witness the chastisement of Judah.  v17 It is difficult to know what this verse means except all this has happened because they have rebelled against Me.  v18 You have brought this upon yourselves.

5.       vv19-22        distress

This is an emotional anguish of a man (Jeremiah) who loves his people and his country.  I think here we see God’s pain reflected in and through Jeremiah’s pain.  v20 Jeremiah is speaking of the coming disaster as if it had already happened; it was so real to him: Disaster follows disaster, the whole land lies in ruins.

6.       vv23-26        desolation vv23-26 speaks of terrible desolation. v23 I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty, and the heavens, and their light was gone. There were still people left after the fall of Jerusalem, so we can’t take these verses absolutely literally, but Jeremiah is making reference here to Genesis 1 when God started out with a world that was formless and empty (see Genesis 1:2).  God filled the world with light, fruitful vegetation, animals and people through speaking His Word.  Now, as the people turn their back on God’s Word the land will revert back to desolation.

7.       vv27-31        death This whole chapter is a bit like a war movie, now with 5 fast moving shots which finish with a terrible conclusion. v27 The whole land will become desolate, though not completely – a remnant will be saved. v28 It is now too late, God has spoken, God has decided, and he will not turn back. v29 This describes the invading army sweeping across the land, and people fleeing from defenceless towns and running for their lives. v30 But Judah is still playing the harlot.  This is probably a reference to an effort to make last minute political alliances. v31 most devastating of all, it’s over.  Suddenly, they realise to their horror that those people they thought loved them really hated them, and were murderers.  Their pain is like that of a woman in labour, but not to give life, but as gasping in her dying breathe, Alas! I am fainting; my life is given over to murderers! Judah’s idolatry, her covenant breaking resulted in the end in destruction, death and exile.

A few thoughts

There is much in this passage which should be a warning to us.  However the question I want to as is, “Why did God’s people have to suffer so much?”    Of course, lurking behind this question is the broader question as to why anyone suffers.  I will only offer a few pieces of this huge jigsaw!

  1. The familiar and most obvious explanation from this text is that they had to suffer because of God’s judgments (or we might say ‘justice’) against them.  It was God who brought the calamity upon them because He is just, righteous, and holy, and He will not let evil continue forever.  This is true.
  2. But v18 gives us a slightly different perspective.  Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you.  This is your punishment.  [Jeremiah 4:18a]   The idea here is that the calamity came as a consequence of their own behaviour.  It’s like suffering from a car accident because you were driving dangerously – it was your own fault.   This verse indicates we are not so much punished for our sins, as by our sins.
  3. The second half of v18 gives us another way of seeing this: their suffering was the bitter fruit of their sin.  How bitter it is!  How it pierces to the heart!  [Jeremiah 4:18b]  Sin maybe seem enticing and taste sweet to begin with, but in the end it turns bitter.  Someone said, “If you don’t want to eat the fruit of sin, stay out of the devil’s orchard.”   God’s people had been in the devil’s orchard eating all the sinful fruit they could – the consequences were inevitable. The sad reality is that we often have to taste the bitter fruit of sin before we are prepared to change. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. [Galatians 6:7].  All this is part of the answer as to why God’s people suffered,
  4. But this isn’t the whole answer as to why God’s people suffered.  Weren’t there were other nations as wicked as Israel which didn’t suffer in such a way.  And, are we saying all suffering – your suffering included – is because of some sin you have committed?  This was the working assumption of the disciples, but Jesus rebuked them.

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. [John 9:1-3] Jesus is here teaching that God has a greater and more wonderful purpose in suffering.  The work of God in the life of the blind man was to bring him from darkness to light (i.e. to heal him of his blindness.)  God’s greater purpose for Judah was to preserve them and bring them back, not only physically, but also spiritually from the darkness of idolatry back to the light of the LORD.  The collapse of Jerusalem and the return of the exiles 70 years later was, if you like, a death and resurrection of Israel.   God’s plan is always resurrection, but this can only happen after death …  and there is much that needs to die … because sin always needs to die.  There is so much in our society that needs to die … and God will bring it to death … but His overall plan is resurrection. Isn’t there an easier way to deal with sin?”  Think of this:

  • the reformations of Josiah had little effect;
  • the message of Jeremiah had little effect (at least before the events described);
  • Jesus who taught and healed was executed for his trouble; and
  • Paul, who was committed to doing what is right said, “I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil do not want is what I do” [Romans 7:19].  But with God, all things are possible.

Sin has to die or we will be completely destroyed by it – and this would be a hell of our own making. God is being merciful when He says, “Enough is enough.”  The Babylonian invasion was an act of mercy that Israel might not destroy itself completely, but that a remnant of exiles might be saved, and through them God’s purposes in sending the Messiah would be fulfilled.  Therefore God’s redemptive purposes were being worked out through the suffering of his people, and this is a theme which reappears in the New Testament.   This is not the complete picture of the mystery of suffering, but is another piece of the jigsaw. When Jesus the Messiah came he identified Himself as the true Israel, and He experienced death and resurrection.  When he died a criminal’s death many jumped to the conclusion this was God’s righteous judgment for a blasphemer.  But he was raised by God from darkness to new life.  The early Christians soon discovered that what seemed like judgment actually produced life, not only for Jesus, but also new life for themselves as well.  Jesus’ suffering, as with God’s people of old, was a redemptive suffering and demonstrated the full extent of God’s love. God’s purpose is to bring new life … and this is what He wants for you today.  But the old life has to die!  The old life of sin, of going our own way, which brings death, has to die.  Yet Jesus died for our sins so that we might not die but be saved!  But sin in us still has to die.  When we die to sin and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour our sin is nailed to His cross, and the cross kills our sin.  It is then up to us to take up our cross daily to follow the Lord.  It can be a battle sometimes, but Christ gives us His power.

Conclusion

It is inevitable there will continue to be suffering and increasing suffering in this world.  However, remember that when:

  • you feel God has given up on you … He hasn’t given up on you and He’s not going to.
  • it feels like the end … it is not the end.
  • you  feel like you have died on the inside … this may not be a bad thing because it can bring you to the place where you recognize that God wants to give you new resurrection life.
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