17 This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come;
send for the most skillful of them.
18 Let them come quickly
and wail over us
till our eyes overflow with tears
and water streams from our eyelids.
19 The sound of wailing is heard from Zion:
‘How ruined we are!
How great is our shame!
We must leave our land
because our houses are in ruins.’”
20 Now, you women, hear the word of the Lord;
open your ears to the words of his mouth.
Teach your daughters how to wail;
teach one another a lament.
21 Death has climbed in through our windows
and has entered our fortresses;
it has removed the children from the streets
and the young men from the public squares.
22 Say, “This is what the Lord declares:
“‘Dead bodies will lie
like dung on the open field,
like cut grain behind the reaper,
with no one to gather them.’”
(Jeremiah 9:17-22 NIV)
Today’s passage builds on yesterday’s text as a continuation of the lament and mourning for Judah’s upcoming devastation and Jerusalem’s ruin. Jeremiah began yesterday’s scripture with his mourning (v. 10); in today’s passage, the Lord instructs the nation to mourn.
Starting in verse 17, the Lord tells the people of Judah to hire the professional wailing women to come and lament over Judah’s and Jerusalem’s imminent destruction. In ancient Middle Eastern cultures, it was common for families to hire professional mourners who would follow the funeral procession and loudly express the sadness of the family over the loss of the loved one. Some Middle Eastern cultures still practice this tradition in our day.
Verse 18 indicates the urgency of the request, thus implying the nearness of the impending judgment. Verse 19 states what the mourners will be saying – lamenting over the ruin of their country and cities, being forced to leave their homeland and see their homes destroyed.
Verse 20 adds another layer of urgency and intensity. The Lord instructs the professional mourners to teach their daughters and friends how to mourn. There are two implications of the Lord giving this instruction:
- the need for their skills and services will be overwhelming due to the massive losses
- the professional mourners will not be exempt from experiencing loss; they will need someone to mourn over them during their time of need.
In verse 21, the Lord says that this judgment of death is inevitable. It comes in through the windows uninvited; no fortress can protect against it. Death will be no respecter of persons – children playing in the streets and young men working in the fields will be struck down.
Verse 22 is a reminder of what the Lord had already said – terror would be everywhere (6:25, 8:14-16). Dead bodies would be all over, with no one to bury them. Jeremiah had already expressed this concern once (8:2), as the Lord had said this was a curse on the land. Even convicted murderers were to be given a prompt and burial (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
May we, like Jeremiah, not run away and separate ourselves from the society in which we live, but rather, live as a source of hope and light to the world around us. May we love those are hurting, even when they don’t love us back or are even hostile to us and the Good News we live out in word and deed.