Jeremiah 4:19-31 – Personal Anguish at Creational Devastation
SummaryIn these verses, the suffering of prophet and God are so linked that it is difficult to sort out who is speaking what. As if with one voice, prophet and God express their anguish over the suffering of the people and the land.
AnalysisThe devastation anticipated and described in Jeremiah 4:20-26 is the source of the anguish expressed by both prophet and God in this passage. The devastation is so thoroughgoing that modern readers might well think of a nuclear catastrophe. The vision of divine judgment speaks not only of personal dwellings, but the whole land of Israel. Indeed, the very cosmos itself is swept away by the whirlwind of divine judgment. The sounds and sights of war fill the scene--trumpets, alarms, shouts, standards, the noise of moving armies, the cries of suffering people.
Is the end of the world described here? The whole earth is a desolation! The language used is not hyperbolic; it is metaphor, indicating what the severity of Israel's judgment would be, indeed was, like. Israel's sins have these kinds of cosmic effects. This text is not a prophetic prediction of the end of the world; from the perspective of exilic readers, that has already taken place. The land of Israel has been devastated, and the text thereby shows that human behaviors can have deeply adverse effects on the environment. This is a vision of what human sin can do to the ecosystem, as we know all too well today.
Texts such as these (see also 8:18-9:3) should be interpreted in terms of the prophet's embodiment of God's anguish. Both God and prophet enter into the anguish of the people. In hearing these words, the people (that is, the exilic readers) should be able to see how God and prophet have entered into the anguish of the people's situation and made it God's very own. Such words reveal that the harsh words of divine wrath and judgment are not matched by an inner divine harshness. Words of judgment are proclaimed not with joy, but reluctantly and with great anguish. The inner-divine side of the word and deed of wrath is grief, grief over what has happened to people, indeed the whole earth.