For the Love of God, Volume 2/July 8

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 189 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


Joshua 10; Psalms 142—143; Jeremiah 4; Matthew 18

MOST OF JEREMIAH 4 IS DEVOTED to depicting the devastation that will be caused by the Babylonian hordes from the north (4:5-31). Much of this prediction is on the lips of Yahweh himself. At one point there is an interlude in which Jeremiah expresses his own devastation at the prospect: “Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry” (4:19). However faithfully he reports God’s words, however much he recognizes that God’s judgments are just, Jeremiah nevertheless identifies with the agony his people will endure. In this he anticipates the Lord Jesus, who condemns the sins of his day, but weeps over the city as he contemplates the judgment that must inevitably follow.

In the opening four verses of the chapter, however, the Lord demonstrates that it is still not too late. In fact, if Israel returns to him, not only will the nation be spared, but she will resume her role as a channel of blessing to the nations (cf. Gen. 12:3; Ps. 72:17). But such a return must not be a masquerade, a mere show of repentance. Israel must genuinely abandon her idols. She must swear “in a truthful, just and righteous way . . . ‘As surely as the LORD lives’” (4:2). There are at least two facets to this oath. The first is that it constitutes, in effect, a renewal of the Sinai covenant. If the oath were not meant—i.e., not truthful, just, and righteous—then of course it would be not only false but blasphemous. The second facet is that it reflects the Mosaic stipulation that the oaths of the nation should be in the name of the Lord (Deut. 10:20). A nation steeped in idolatry would take its oaths in the names of the many false gods. If all in the nation take their oaths in the name of the Lord, it could only be because the Lord alone is supreme, the only God, the highest Being by whom they can swear.

Two word pictures further describe the genuineness of repentance and the sincerity of heart that God demands. (a) “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns” (4:3). The people show no genuine receptivity to the Lord and his words. The hardness must be broken up. There is no fruitfulness in sowing where thorns choke the life out of all that is worthwhile (cf. Mark 4:1-20). (b) What God wants is more than circumcision of the foreskin, however deeply symbolic the act is. He wants circumcision of the heart (4:4)—a cutting away of all that is evil. That was so even in Mosaic times (Deut.10:16). Reflect on Paul’s inferences (Rom. 2:28-29).

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