20 Look up and see
those who are coming from the north.
Where is the flock that was entrusted to you,
the sheep of which you boasted?
21 What will you say when the Lord sets over you
those you cultivated as your special allies?
Will not pain grip you
like that of a woman in labor?
22 And if you ask yourself,
“Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
that your skirts have been torn off
and your body mistreated.
23 Can an Ethiopian change his skin
or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.
24 “I will scatter you like chaff
driven by the desert wind.
25 This is your lot,
the portion I have decreed for you,”
declares the Lord,
“because you have forgotten me
and trusted in false gods.
26 I will pull up your skirts over your face
that your shame may be seen—
27 your adulteries and lustful neighings,
your shameless prostitution!
I have seen your detestable acts
on the hills and in the fields.
Woe to you, Jerusalem!
How long will you be unclean?”
(Jeremiah 13:20-27 NIV)
In the previous two passages, we see the selfish pride of both the people and of their leaders being called out. The focus is on the nation as a whole.
In today’s passage, we see the focus shifting from Judah as a nation to Jerusalem as a city. The “you” reference throughout the passage is feminine in gender, reminiscent of the Lord referring to Jerusalem as His daughter.
Today’s passage begins by reminding the people of Jerusalem of their impending capture by the armies of the north. Jerusalem was the capital city of Judah, and as such, ruled over all the land. With the rest of the nation and its people already captured (the “sheep” and “flocks” in verse 20), Jerusalem’s pride was no more – she was all alone.
Verse 21 recalls the bad decisions that Jerusalem had made with its foes. Rather than fight against its enemies, Jerusalem elected to make peace treaties and trade agreements with them and take up their religious practices, worshiping their false gods. Because Jerusalem had turned her back on the Lord and disobeyed His commands, the Lord allowed these so-called “friends” to become Jerusalem’s captors. This turn of events, from trusted friend to cruel captor, was devastating to Jerusalem, bringing on pain so intense that childbirth was its only comparison.
Verse 22 expresses the anticipated cry of Jerusalem against the Lord: “Why has this happened to me?” Jerusalem is assuming that this is all God’s fault – she takes none of the responsibility for her actions. The Lord answers her complaint – it is because of her many sins. And what has happened? The trusted friend turned cruel captor has not only forced her into captivity but also shamefully exposed her nakedness and sexually molested and raped her. Jerusalem had been sleeping with the enemy against her Father’s wishes, through her worship of the false gods. Now her lovers turned on her and treated her like a common prostitute rather than the daughter of the king.
Verse 24 asks a question with a known negative answer. The implication is that it would be easier for a dark-skinned person to change their skin color or a leopard to change its spots than for Jerusalem to do good rather than evil.
Verses 24 – 27b are the Lord’s disciplinary actions spelled out for Jerusalem because of her sinful worship of other gods and turning her back on the One True God. Jeremiah mournfully asks Jerusalem how long she will continue in her wicked ways. Jeremiah believed that Jerusalem would either a) repent and turn from her wicked ways, or b) the Lord would finish His discipline and then restore Jerusalem as His beloved child again.
May we remember that nothing is hidden from the Lord. He sees everything that goes on in our lives and our hearts and minds, especially our motives – why we do what we do.
May we humbly ask the Lord to search our hearts, to remove any displeasing attitudes or actions from our being (Psalm 139, especially verses 23 – 24).
And when we do experience the Lord’s loving discipline, may we remember that “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” (Hebrews 12:10).
May we walk in sweet fellowship with the Lord, as with our best friend, the One who loves us unconditionally and desires our best, who relentlessly pursues us and loves us too much to give up on us.