Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined! Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts? A voice is announcing from Dan, proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim. “Tell this to the nations, proclaim concerning Jerusalem: ‘A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah. They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against me,’ ” declares the Lord. “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!”- Jeremiah 4:13-18
It is amazing how much meaning can be conveyed by one word – “look!”. Such a seemingly simple command, but so difficult in practice. Why is it so difficult for the people of Israel, and us, to look to God for our strength and courage? It think it is tied up with how we view God and how we view ourselves. Do we view Him as clouds high above us, separate and distant or do we feel his presence like a permeating cloud?
The people of Israel tend to view God as a distant cloud that may or may not bring rain. The rain may be destructive like the rain in the time of Noah, or it may be more like rain on tender plants, gently feeding our thirsty souls. At this point in history the people of Israel and Judah are more inclined to see calamity in the clouds than comfort. They clearly feel like God is out of control (perhaps out of their control), “like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined!”
The recent tornadoes across the United States are a pretty good reminder of the way the people of Israel probably felt. They are beset by storms and wave upon wave. They blame the Father of the Rain, God, rather than themselves for the position in which they find themselves. God asks Jerusalem to “wash the evil from your heart and be saved”. It turns out that they cannot accomplish this “washing” on their own and they do not know it yet.
The passage then turns to specific prophecy about an invader from a “distant land”. Presumably this is alluding to one of the many large powers surrounding them a this time, “They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against me”. It does not really matter which invader this passage is talking about as God makes it clear that the real problem lies with the people of Israel. This is a result of their act of rebellion from God, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you”.
God finishes his rebuke with a lament “How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!”. I cannot help but wonder whether the “heart piercing” goes both ways. God’s heart is deeply saddened by the estrangement with His children, and his children deeply miss their Father. It is this mutual soul sickness that led God to settle the matter, and which should lead us to turn from our rebellious ways and follow Him.
Prayer: God You have sacrificed much to show is the way to your country. Help us to be willing to sacrifice our own wills to be with You.