29 At the sound of horsemen and archers
every town takes to flight.
Some go into the thickets;
some climb up among the rocks.
All the towns are deserted;
no one lives in them.
30 What are you doing, you devastated one?
Why dress yourself in scarlet
and put on jewels of gold?
Why highlight your eyes with makeup?
You adorn yourself in vain.
Your lovers despise you;
they want to kill you.
31 I hear a cry as of a woman in labor,
a groan as of one bearing her first child—
the cry of Daughter Zion gasping for breath,
stretching out her hands and saying,
“Alas! I am fainting;
my life is given over to murderers.”
(Jeremiah 4:29-31 NIV)
In previous passages, we saw Jeremiah’s grief over the Lord’s discipline upon the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (vv. 19-21), and God’s response to Jeremiah (v. 22). Jeremiah then shared the revelation the Lord gave him (vv. 23-26), and what the Lord told him (vv. 27-28). The vision was of the land moving backward through the creation story, from modern civilization back to primordial, unformed chaos. In today’s passage, Jeremiah shares some additional details of the land being overtaken by the enemies from the north.
Verse 29 shows the reaction of the people living outside the city of Jerusalem. They heed the warning that Jeremiah issued in verses 5 – 6. The townspeople flee from their unprotected villages to the mountains to hide in caves and behind rocks in the cliffs, and crouch in the thickets. All the outlying towns are now completely deserted.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, takes a different approach. Verse 30 tells us that rather than heeding the warnings, they seek to win over their would-be captors. They dress up like a high-class prostitute in hopes of alluring their assailants. Jeremiah notes the level to which they prepare for their would-be lovers:
- they put on their best dress
- they wear their best jewelry
- they even put on their best makeup
(literally, they applied dark eye shadow to make their eyes look bigger and thus more alluring and seductive)
But all her preparation is in vain. Her attempts at last-minute diplomacy have ended badly. Her captors do not seek her pleasure, but rather her destruction. The only pleasure her captors will have will be in killing her.
Verse 31 depicts the onslaught of the enemy and Jerusalem’s reaction, again portrayed as the woman in verse 30. Rather than hearing the joyous sounds of a party, Jeremiah hears cries of pain and anguish, as if the woman were giving birth to her first child. Upon further investigation, Jeremiah finds the woman, not in childbirth, but as a captive, her hands tied and fists clenched, gasping for breath, about to be executed. Her cries of anguish are not in hopes of being spared, but rather fear of death, wails of regret that her life as a prostitute has been in vain.
Wow. Today’s passage is a troublesome visual. Imagine walking in Jeremiah’s shoes, seeing these visions as if they were happening before his very eyes. Remember that this revelation was given at the country and city level, not at the individual level.
Despite these terrible events, God still loves His own and goes to extremes to bring His wayward bride back home. May we pray that the hearts of our respective nations would turn back to the Lord.
May revival once again sweep across our lands, and may it begin with us, in prayer.