These opening chapters haven’t been an easy read so far, have they? But however bad things seemed in chapters 1-3, the tone still manages to hit a whole new level of harshness here in chapter 4.
Be warned! This message to the people of both the region of Judah as well as the city of Jerusalem is quite clear: evil and destruction are headed your way – it’s time to flee to safety. There’s a brief plea (v.10) to God from Jeremiah in which the prophet points out the unreasonableness of what is being suggested. But God is not to be swayed here. His people are evil and this evil must stop and they must be washed clean. Otherwise judgment is coming and it will sweep through more or less in the manner of a destructive windstorm.
However, lest we think God likes this approach, the second half of the chapter makes it clear that there is real sorrow. The words pile up on one another here: anguish, pain, alarm, war, disaster (twice), waste (twice), destroyed, void. There’s the cry of a woman in labour indicating real pain and anguish and the phrase ‘Woe is me’. In this lengthy poetic passage we even find ourselves presented with a vision of creation reversed as things revert back to the formless and void first encountered in the Genesis 1 creation account.
But this vision of chaos and disorder is not written as an accurate future prediction, but as, as has already been said, poetry. It perhaps operates as hyperbole – an exaggerated word picture used with the aim of helping these people who are seemingly so unaware of their failures and shortcomings in God’s eyes to come to better understand the reality of the predicament they are in and the doomed future they face because of it.
Well, that barely skims the surface of all that we read in this chapter, but it is enough to give us the basic picture: God’s people are in the wrong and destruction is coming unless they get themselves back on track.
And what then of me? Where do I find myself in all of this and what, if anything, do I hear God saying to me through this ancient poetic rant at his people?
Not an easy one to answer, but I think I learn more about God than about myself here. God cannot accept the waywardness of his people, and yet, out of love, does not want to see them suffer the coming destruction. But how else will they learn? This seems a real lesson in the Fathers ‘tough love’. There are consequences to my actions and it displeases God when I do wrong. But God loves me, and wants nothing more for me than the best, and offers a way out and the possibility of getting back on the right path and mending my ways. It’s all there in black and white – ‘All’ I need to do is respond.