Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled. — Jeremiah 4:13
Whirlwinds are common and destructive in many parts of the world, but here in Portland, Oregon, where I live, they are less common. However, we do occasionally have severe windstorms. My mind goes back to the biggest storm I remember: the Columbus Day Storm of 1962. It ranked among the most intense to strike the United States for many decades.
Since I was young when the storm occurred, I paid little attention to any record-making statistics being reported in the news media that day. But I did pay a lot of attention to the wind! The “big blow” is etched into my memory. Our family lived adjacent to our church campground, and I recall watching the towering fir trees just feet from our house bend over at almost right angles. Broken branches and debris flew through the air; when the storm was finally over, the rubble was nearly waist-deep on many parts of the campground. Fifty-five big trees had snapped off and crashed to the earth, in many cases smashing the small cabins used for accommodating visitors at our camp meeting.
As devastating as the results of that October blast were, they pale by comparison with the destruction predicted by Jeremiah in today’s text. The prophet foretold a coming invasion by using the image of a “dry wind” — referring to the sirocco, a hot east wind that sometimes roared across the area. Since the violence of these storms caused great distress to the people and also obliterated their crops, the people of Jeremiah’s day would have easily understood what a terrible devastation was being symbolized. Their cry, after the invading armies swept through as a whirlwind, would be, “Woe unto us! for we are spoiled.” Their only deliverance from impending doom would be to wash their hearts from wickedness (verse 14).
While the prophet’s warning indicated that judgment was certain, God still promised that the faithful remnant would be spared (see verse 27). Today, too, judgment for those who persist in unrighteousness is sure, but a way of escape is still open for those who repent and give their lives to God. We can escape the devastation that God has said will come upon this world. Thank God for His mercy and His plan for deliverance of those who honor and trust Him!
In this passage, part of Jeremiah’s second sermon, the prophet turned his attention to the impending judgment that would come if Judah did not repent. Blowing a trumpet was the customary way of warning the people that danger was approaching. To “set up the standard” meant to map out a way of escape and point to a place of refuge. Although Jeremiah did not directly name the enemy “from the north,” history indicates that he was referring to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army, which conquered Judah in 586 B.C. Some Bible scholars differ in their interpretation of verse 10. One thought is that God had allowed the false prophets to deceive the people into believing there would be peace. Others see it as a cry of despair from Jeremiah as he tried to reconcile the grand promises of God concerning Israel and their Promised Land with the terrible plight that now awaited them.
In verses 11-13, the prophet used a metaphor of the dreaded dry wind, or sirocco, which commonly blew over Palestine in the spring and fall, and could last from three to seven days. The devastating impact upon crops, livelihood, and lives was a picture of the great destruction that would come at the hand of the foe from the north.
Moved by what he had foreseen, in verses 14-18 Jeremiah once again beseeched the people of Judah to repent, pointing out that they alone were responsible for their rebellion which would bring definite judgment and destruction. In verses 19-22, Jeremiah expressed his deep anguish at the vision he had seen and Judah’s refusal to repent. In verses 23-26, the prophet foretold that the fruitful land that had been promised to Israel would become the opposite — a wilderness. In Jeremiah’s vision, everywhere he looked was total desolation. The earth was empty and had no light; the mountains shook; all living things were gone; all the cities were broken down. Yet, even in the midst of this devastation, Jeremiah offered a ray of hope in verse 27, “. . . yet will I not make a full end.” God’s mercy would be available when true repentance occurred.
In the concluding verses, Jeremiah reiterated that judgment was sure and God would not turn back from it. Verse 30 relates to Jerusalem, which had acted as an immoral harlot who had decked herself with crimson, ornaments of gold, and enlarged her eyes with paint. All of this vanity would not deter her enemies from seeking her destruction. In the end, she would be as a woman experiencing unbearable labor pains, and deserted by all.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. The pronouncement of judgment against Judah
A. The condemnation of the prophet
2. The second sermon: Repentance or retribution
c. The chaos from the north (4:5-31)
(1) The judgment upon the land (4:6-13)
(2) The invasion of the land (4:14-18)
(3) The desolation of the land (4:19-31)
While destruction of the wicked is certain, a way of escape is still open. If we pay careful heed to the warnings given in God’s Word, we will escape that time of terrible devastation.