22 This is what the Lord says:
“Look, an army is coming
from the land of the north;
a great nation is being stirred up
from the ends of the earth.
23 They are armed with bow and spear;
they are cruel and show no mercy.
They sound like the roaring sea
as they ride on their horses;
they come like men in battle formation
to attack you, Daughter Zion.”
24 We have heard reports about them,
and our hands hang limp.
Anguish has gripped us,
pain like that of a woman in labor.
25 Do not go out to the fields
or walk on the roads,
for the enemy has a sword,
and there is terror on every side.
26 Put on sackcloth, my people,
and roll in ashes;
mourn with bitter wailing
as for an only son,
for suddenly the destroyer
will come upon us.
(Jeremiah 6:22-26 NIV)
In yesterday’s passage, the Lord reviewed His offer of mercy if His people would turn and follow Him. But His people rejected Him outright, choosing to go their separate way.
Today’s text is a reminder of the coming judgment on God’s people from the northern invaders. This coming invasion is not a new revelation, but rather, a reminder of what God promised if the people did not repent.
As I consider today’s passage, I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote from his book, The Great Divorce:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” “
Just as Lewis described the choice of each person, so it goes with a neighborhood, a city, and a nation. In today’s passage, it was a city (Jerusalem, referred to as “Daughter Zion” in v. 23) and a nation (Judah) that turned her back on the Lord. The Lord said, “Your will be done”, and removed His protective hands from around them. The terror of the Lord was no longer a deterrent to the enemies of Jerusalem and Judah. They were on their own.
In verses 22 – 23, the Lord describes again the massive army that will invade the land. The Lord predicts their response, completely defenseless, like a woman in labor, about to give birth (v. 24). Remember Jeremiah’s reaction to the vision he saw in chapter 4, verse 19? This description is more of the same battle.
Verse 25 is a warning to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that there is no safety or protection anywhere. The incoming invaders would attack Jerusalem, so they were not safe in their homes or the city. Often, when a city or country was about to be attacked, the residents would leave their homes and villages and start walking. Some would gather in open fields, and others would walk along the roads toward a safe haven, a neighboring city or country that might take them in. But the Lord says that the fields and roads were not safe either, as the enemy was merciless and would kill them just as surely in the open as they would in their homes. The end of verse 25 will become a familiar phrase with Jeremiah – there will be “terror on every side”.
We see a similar pattern today, with people displaced from their homes by the ravages of war gathered in refugee camps, or walking along the edge of the road by the hundreds or thousands. Typically, there is safety in numbers as vulnerable refugees; in Jeremiah’s day, the incoming enemy was merciless, and the people were not safe anywhere.
Verse 26 predicts the sorrow that will come to God’s people, like the deep anguish that falls on a family when the only son dies. There will be no one to carry on the family name. The Lord had promised to retain a remnant of the nation, so the enemy would not completely annihilate the people of Judah. But Jerusalem and Judah would mourn as if they were being totally destroyed.
The only hope for Jerusalem and Judah was to repent in sackcloth and ashes, signifying their repentance for their sin and turning their hearts back to the Lord.
May we pray for our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities, and our nations, that we would not collectively turn our backs on the Lord.
As the ambient light of the world around us grows dimmer each year, may the hope of Christ shine brightly through us to the hurting ones around us.