Get out! Flee! Evil is coming from the north – a cruel people with no mercy!
This chapter fills our heads with a picture of the horror of an invasion that now seems imminent. The call is to prepare for war, because terrible times are coming (verses 4-12). But no one is listening. These people we are told are greedy (v13), have committed an abomination (v15), and are stubbornly rebellious (v28).
Yet in the midst of all this stands a verse (v16) that is often quoted – a verse that conveys a sense of goodness and beauty and tranquility:
“Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”
The Lord’s gentle and encouraging words here for his people. And their reply? No!
Still the people refuse all offers of help, and still they reject teaching about a better way of being and doing. So, therefore, disaster is coming (v19) with stumbling blocks against which both young and old will perish (v21) and terror everywhere (v25).
The analogy with the pain of a woman in labour reappears (v24) and the warning of bleak times ahead continues just as it continues to go unheeded.
And so we come to learn (v30) that ‘the Lord has rejected them’.
How do you feel as you reach the end of this chapter? I find myself puzzling over the gentle tone, the sheer beauty and encouragement captured in the words of verse 16 (quoted above) and yet the full horror to come continues to beat down on the people – and on me as I read. I feel the coming violence and the sheer agony that people will suffer. And yet God’s word in the midst of this is ever patient, gentle, loving and merciful. God is as ever the peace in our turmoil, the security and protection in our fear, and wholeness and healing in our brokenness. If we would only hear his voice and let him in …