4 “O Israel,” says the Lord, “if you wanted to return to me, you could. You could throw away your detestable idols and stray away no more. 2 Then when you swear by my name, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ you could do so with truth, justice, and righteousness. Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world, and all people would come and praise my name.”
Coming Judgment against Judah
3 This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:
“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts! Do not waste your good seed among thorns. 4 O people of Judah and Jerusalem, surrender your pride and power. Change your hearts before the Lord,[a] or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire because of all your sins.
5 “Shout to Judah, and broadcast to Jerusalem! Tell them to sound the alarm throughout the land: ‘Run for your lives! Flee to the fortified cities!’ 6 Raise a signal flag as a warning for Jerusalem[b]: ‘Flee now! Do not delay!’ For I am bringing terrible destruction upon you from the north.”
7 A lion stalks from its den, a destroyer of nations. It has left its lair and is headed your way. It’s going to devastate your land! Your towns will lie in ruins, with no one living in them anymore. 8 So put on clothes of mourning and weep with broken hearts, for the fierce anger of the Lord is still upon us.
9 “In that day,” says the Lord, “the king and the officials will tremble in fear. The priests will be struck with horror, and the prophets will be appalled.”
10 Then I said, “O Sovereign Lord, the people have been deceived by what you said, for you promised peace for Jerusalem. But the sword is held at their throats!”
11 The time is coming when the Lord will say to the people of Jerusalem, “My dear people, a burning wind is blowing in from the desert, and it’s not a gentle breeze useful for winnowing grain. 12 It is a roaring blast sent by me! Now I will pronounce your destruction!”
13 Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds! His chariots are like whirlwinds. His horses are swifter than eagles. How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! 14 O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts? 15 Your destruction has been announced from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim.
16 “Warn the surrounding nations and announce this to Jerusalem: The enemy is coming from a distant land, raising a battle cry against the towns of Judah. 17 They surround Jerusalem like watchmen around a field, for my people have rebelled against me,” says the Lord. 18 “Your own actions have brought this upon you. This punishment is bitter, piercing you to the heart!”
Jeremiah Weeps for His People
19 My heart, my heart—I writhe in pain! My heart pounds within me! I cannot be still. For I have heard the blast of enemy trumpets and the roar of their battle cries. 20 Waves of destruction roll over the land, until it lies in complete desolation. Suddenly my tents are destroyed; in a moment my shelters are crushed. 21 How long must I see the battle flags and hear the trumpets of war?
22 “My people are foolish and do not know me,” says the Lord. “They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!”
Jeremiah’s Vision of Coming Disaster
23 I looked at the earth, and it was empty and formless. I looked at the heavens, and there was no light. 24 I looked at the mountains and hills, and they trembled and shook. 25 I looked, and all the people were gone. All the birds of the sky had flown away. 26 I looked, and the fertile fields had become a wilderness. The towns lay in ruins, crushed by the Lord’s fierce anger.
27 This is what the Lord says: “The whole land will be ruined, but I will not destroy it completely. 28 The earth will mourn and the heavens will be draped in black because of my decree against my people. I have made up my mind and will not change it.”
29 At the noise of charioteers and archers, the people flee in terror. They hide in the bushes and run for the mountains. All the towns have been abandoned— not a person remains! 30 What are you doing, you who have been plundered? Why do you dress up in beautiful clothing and put on gold jewelry? Why do you brighten your eyes with mascara? Your primping will do you no good! The allies who were your lovers despise you and seek to kill you.
31 I hear a cry, like that of a woman in labor, the groans of a woman giving birth to her first child. It is beautiful Jerusalem[c] gasping for breath and crying out, “Help! I’m being murdered!”
The Sins of Judah
5 “Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the Lord. “Look high and low; search throughout the city! If you can find even one just and honest person, I will not destroy the city. 2 But even when they are under oath, saying, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ they are still telling lies!”
3 Lord, you are searching for honesty. You struck your people, but they paid no attention. You crushed them, but they refused to be corrected. They are determined, with faces set like stone; they have refused to repent.
4 Then I said, “But what can we expect from the poor? They are ignorant. They don’t know the ways of the Lord. They don’t understand God’s laws. 5 So I will go and speak to their leaders. Surely they know the ways of the Lord and understand God’s laws.” But the leaders, too, as one man, had thrown off God’s yoke and broken his chains. 6 So now a lion from the forest will attack them; a wolf from the desert will pounce on them. A leopard will lurk near their towns, tearing apart any who dare to venture out. For their rebellion is great, and their sins are many.
7 “How can I pardon you? For even your children have turned from me. They have sworn by gods that are not gods at all! I fed my people until they were full. But they thanked me by committing adultery and lining up at the brothels. 8 They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife. 9 Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord. “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation?
10 “Go down the rows of the vineyards and destroy the grapevines, leaving a scattered few alive. Strip the branches from the vines, for these people do not belong to the Lord. 11 The people of Israel and Judah are full of treachery against me,” says the Lord. 12 “They have lied about the Lord and said, ‘He won’t bother us! No disasters will come upon us. There will be no war or famine. 13 God’s prophets are all windbags who don’t really speak for him. Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!’”
14 Therefore, this is what the Lord God of Heaven’s Armies says:
“Because the people are talking like this, my messages will flame out of your mouth and burn the people like kindling wood. 15 O Israel, I will bring a distant nation against you,” says the Lord. “It is a mighty nation, an ancient nation, a people whose language you do not know, whose speech you cannot understand. 16 Their weapons are deadly; their warriors are mighty. 17 They will devour the food of your harvest; they will devour your sons and daughters. They will devour your flocks and herds; they will devour your grapes and figs. And they will destroy your fortified towns, which you think are so safe.
18 “Yet even in those days I will not blot you out completely,” says the Lord.19 “And when your people ask, ‘Why did the Lord our God do all this to us?’ you must reply, ‘You rejected him and gave yourselves to foreign gods in your own land. Now you will serve foreigners in a land that is not your own.’
A Warning for God’s People
20 “Make this announcement to Israel,[d] and say this to Judah: 21 Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. 22 Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence? I, the Lord, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set. 23 But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. 24 They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’ 25 Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.
26 “Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait for victims like a hunter hiding in a blind. They continually set traps to catch people. 27 Like a cage filled with birds, their homes are filled with evil plots. And now they are great and rich. 28 They are fat and sleek, and there is no limit to their wicked deeds. They refuse to provide justice to orphans and deny the rights of the poor. 29 Should I not punish them for this?” says the Lord. “Should I not avenge myself against such a nation? 30 A horrible and shocking thing has happened in this land— 31 the prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. Worse yet, my people like it that way! But what will you do when the end comes?
Jerusalem’s Last Warning
6 “Run for your lives, you people of Benjamin! Get out of Jerusalem! Sound the alarm in Tekoa! Send up a signal at Beth-hakkerem! A powerful army is coming from the north, coming with disaster and destruction. 2 O Jerusalem,[e] you are my beautiful and delicate daughter— but I will destroy you! 3 Enemies will surround you, like shepherds camped around the city. Each chooses a place for his troops to devour. 4 They shout, ‘Prepare for battle! Attack at noon!’ ‘No, it’s too late; the day is fading, and the evening shadows are falling.’ 5 ‘Well then, let’s attack at night and destroy her palaces!’”
6 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: “Cut down the trees for battering rams. Build siege ramps against the walls of Jerusalem. This is the city to be punished, for she is wicked through and through. 7 She spouts evil like a fountain. Her streets echo with the sounds of violence and destruction. I always see her sickness and sores. 8 Listen to this warning, Jerusalem, or I will turn from you in disgust. Listen, or I will turn you into a heap of ruins, a land where no one lives.”
9 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: “Even the few who remain in Israel will be picked over again, as when a harvester checks each vine a second time to pick the grapes that were missed.”
Judah’s Constant Rebellion
10 To whom can I give warning? Who will listen when I speak? Their ears are closed, and they cannot hear. They scorn the word of the Lord. They don’t want to listen at all. 11 So now I am filled with the Lord’s fury. Yes, I am tired of holding it in!
“I will pour out my fury on children playing in the streets and on gatherings of young men, on husbands and wives and on those who are old and gray. 12 Their homes will be turned over to their enemies, as will their fields and their wives. For I will raise my powerful fist against the people of this land,” says the Lord. 13 “From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. From prophets to priests, they are all frauds. 14 They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace. 15 Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions? Not at all—they don’t even know how to blush! Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.
Judah Rejects the Lord’s Way
16 This is what the Lord says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ 17 I posted watchmen over you who said, ‘Listen for the sound of the alarm.’ But you replied, ‘No! We won’t pay attention!’
18 “Therefore, listen to this, all you nations. Take note of my people’s situation. 19 Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on my people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to me. They have rejected my word. 20 There’s no use offering me sweet frankincense from Sheba. Keep your fragrant calamus imported from distant lands! I will not accept your burnt offerings. Your sacrifices have no pleasing aroma for me.”
21 Therefore, this is what the Lord says: “I will put obstacles in my people’s path. Fathers and sons will both fall over them. Neighbors and friends will die together.”
An Invasion from the North
22 This is what the Lord says: “Look! A great army coming from the north! A great nation is rising against you from far-off lands. 23 They are armed with bows and spears. They are cruel and show no mercy. They sound like a roaring sea as they ride forward on horses. They are coming in battle formation, planning to destroy you, beautiful Jerusalem.[f]”
24 We have heard reports about the enemy, and we wring our hands in fright. Pangs of anguish have gripped us, like those of a woman in labor. 25 Don’t go out to the fields! Don’t travel on the roads! The enemy’s sword is everywhere and terrorizes us at every turn! 26 Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap and sit among the ashes. Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son. For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!
27 “Jeremiah, I have made you a tester of metals,[g] that you may determine the quality of my people. 28 They are the worst kind of rebel, full of slander. They are as hard as bronze and iron, and they lead others into corruption. 29 The bellows fiercely fan the flames to burn out the corruption. But it does not purify them, for the wickedness remains. 30 I will label them ‘Rejected Silver,’ for I, the Lord, am discarding them.”
4:4Hebrew Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart.
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