THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Lesson 3
Part II: Oracles Against Judah and Jerusalem
Chapters 3:14-4:31
The Promise of the New Zion in the Messianic Age
and the Warning of Invasion from the North

Lord God of Mercy,

The Virgin Mary's entire life was a witness to her obedience of faith. When we contemplate her life, we can see how belief in You, Lord, means to completely abandon ourselves to the truth of the Word of the Living God. We know that the way of faith will not always be easy—as it wasn't always easy for Mary. However, we have confidence, Lord, that when we trust Jesus, He who is the Way of our salvation, You will rescue us when we stumble. We ask You to guide us in our lesson on the judgment of the people of the Old Covenant Church for their failure to repent their sins and turn back in obedience to You and their covenant with You. Help us to apply their lesson to our lives so that pride and stubbornness will not hinder us from learning from Your loving chastisements that are meant to bring us back into communion with You. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for "the wedding-feast of the Lamb."
Catechism of the Catholic Church #1612

It is the eighteenth year of the reign of Davidic descendant King Josiah of Judah (c. 622), and the long lost Book of the Law was discovered during Temple renovations by the high priest, Hilkiah. When the document was read to Josiah, the king discovered to his horror that the people had not been keeping all the commandants and prohibitions of the Law of Yahweh, and they were in danger of Yahweh's condemnation for apostasy from the covenant. Josiah, who had come to belief in Yahweh at a young age, immediately called the entire nation to a confession of repentance and ordered the continued destruction of all pagan worship sites and idols that he had begun in the twelfth year of his reign (2 Kng 23:3-13; 2 Chr 34:3-7).

By the king's order, a national covenant renewal celebration took place at the Temple for the citizens of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, including priests, Levites and all the people of both high and low station. Josiah, standing on a dais, read out the entire contents of the Book of the Covenant that was discovered in the Temple and bound himself to Yahweh's covenant, vowing to keep all the commandments, decrees and laws with all his heart and soul. He made all those present to also swear their allegiance to Yahweh's covenant, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:3, 7). King Josiah then led the people in the celebrations of the God-ordained annual Feast of Passover (on Abib the 14th) and the holy week of the pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread (Abib 15th-21st) in Jerusalem (Lev 23:5-8; Num 28:17-25).

It was most likely at the Sacred Assembly during the Temple liturgy on the first daytime celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, (2 Kng 23:1-14, 21-23; 2 Chr 34:29-31; 35:1, 18-19), when the young son of a priestly family, Yirmeyah ben Chihiyah (Jeremiah son of Hilkiah), stood before the crowds and in Yahweh's name called out a covenant lawsuit against a people who were only going through the motions of repentance. His oracle repeated the warnings of what they had recently heard read aloud to them from Moses' last homily from the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy chapter 32); the clear implication was that Moses' warnings have now come to fulfillment.

The people also could not have missed the fact that Yahweh's case against them, delivered by Jeremiah, used the same symbolic images of the covenant lawsuits that the prophets Hosea and Isaiah delivered a century earlier. Jeremiah announced that Yahweh's wrath was going to descend upon them, because God was not fooled by the hypocrisy of their show of repentance: Yet Yahweh did not renounce the heat of his great anger which had been aroused against Judah by all the provocations which Manasseh had caused him. Yahweh said, "I shall thrust Judah away from me too, as I have already thrust Israel; I shall cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the Temple of which I have said: My Name shall be there (2 Kng 23:26-27). Manasseh was Josiah's grandfather who promoted pagan worship. He built pagan altars in the Temple of Yahweh, promoted ritual prostitution, practiced soothsaying, divination, sorcery, and child sacrifice to Baal "even sacrificing his own son (2 Kng 21:1-18; 2 Chr 33:1-10). Manasseh's grandson, Josiah, was a righteous man, but Josiah's reforms had not penetrated the people's stubborn hearts.

At the beginning of Jeremiah's covenant lawsuit in Chapters 2:1-3:13, he used three of the four frequently used symbolic images of the prophets to describe the covenant people's failure in their relationship with Yahweh (see the handout from Lesson 1). Jesus, Yahweh's supreme prophet, used these same symbolic in His discourses during His three-year ministry:

Symbolic Image Jeremiah's Oracles in 2:1-3:13 Examples of the Same Symbolic Images used by Jesus in the Gospels
Covenant Marriage Israel/Judah has behaved like an adulterous wife (Jer 2:3, 32-33; 3:1-4, 6-11, 12-13). Jesus is the bridegroom (Mt 9:15; Mk 2:19-21; Lk 5:34-35), and the communities of the Church are His virgin brides (see the parable of the virgins in Mt 25:1-13; Lk 12:35-38).
Animals Israel/Judah is like rebellious animals that refuse their Master's yoke and have become wild (Jer 2:20, 24-25). The covenant people are like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36, Mk 6:34).
Jesus' yoke is easy (Mt 11:28-30).
Jesus is the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1-18).
Fruitful vine or fruitful fig tree Israel/Judah, the vine God planted in His vineyard that is the Promised Land, is a failed vine that produces bad fruit (Jer 2:3, 21). Jesus said that any plant the Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots (Mt 15:13).
Jesus curses the barren fig tree that represents Israel and her failure to produce the fruit of good works (Mt 21:18-21; Mk 11:12-14, 20-24; Lk 13:6-9).
The parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16).
The parable of the vineyard and the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-43; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19).
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

Part IV of the Symbolic Images of the Prophets chart lists Jesus' New Covenant fulfillment of the images.

In Jeremiah Chapters 2:1-4:4, the prophet addresses the double themes of apostasy and repentance. The focus of our previous lesson was on the covenant people's apostasy (Jer 2:1-3:13). The focus of 3:14-4:4, in this lesson, is on repentance and conversion. The Law of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy that was read to the people in the covenant renewal ceremony did not permit a man to forgive and take back the adulterous divorced wife who had been intimate with other men (see the reference to the law in Dt 24:1-4 in Jer 3:1). However, God's grace will make the impossible possible for the spiritually renewed Israel in the Messianic Age.

Chapter 3:14-25

Jeremiah 3:14-18 ~ The New Zion in the Messianic Age
14 "Come back, disloyal children, Yahweh declares, for I alone am your Master, and I will take you, one from a town, two from a family, and bring you to Zion. 15 I shall give you shepherds after my own heart, who will pasture you wisely and discreetly. 16 Then, when you have increased and grown numerous in the country, Yahweh declares, no one will ever again say: The Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh! It will not enter their minds, they will not remember it or miss it, now will another one be made. 17 When that time comes, Jerusalem will be called: The Throne of Yahweh, and all the nations will converge on her, on Yahweh's name, on Jerusalem, and will no longer follow their own stubborn and wicked inclinations. 18 When those days come, the House of Judah will join the House of Israel; together they will come from the land of the north to the country I gave your ancestors as their heritage."

A century earlier the prophet Isaiah wrote: Now I shall lay a stone in Zion, a granite stone, a precious corner-stone, a firm foundation-stone: no one who relies on this will stumble (Is 28:16). We recognize the "corner-stone"/ "stumbling stone" as Jesus Christ, but what is the significance of the reference to "Zion" and how did the Old Covenant people of God understand the reference? In the beginning of God's relationship with Israel, Mount Sinai was the focus of the experience of the covenant formation between Yahweh and Israel. However, when King David conquered Jerusalem in circa 1000 BC and brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, Mount Zion became the focus of liturgical worship as the dwelling place of God: Look, I and the children whom Yahweh has given me shall become signs and portents in Israel on behalf of Yahweh Sabaoth who dwells on Mount Zion (Is 8:18 NJB).

Unlike Mount Sinai, whose location is uncertain, Zion has been a known physical location within the boundaries of the ancient city of Jerusalem. The original location of Mount Zion was probably the ancient city of King David (2 Sam 5:6-9; 1 Kng 8:1; 1 Chr 11:5; 2 Chr 5:2). The entomology of the place-name Zion is allusive but may stem from the Hebrew root snn, found in the derived form sinna meaning "large shield" or "fortress," and therefore likely referred to David's fortress within the ancient city of Jerusalem. However, later the name "Zion" not only designated the Temple on Mount Moriah to the north of the city of David but also the city of Jerusalem itself (Ps 2:6; 9:11; 65:1; 147:12; Is 1:27). It was to "Zion" that Isaiah delivered his announcement of a covenant lawsuit in his lament over Jerusalem a century earlier when he cried out, The faithful city, what a harlot she has become! Zion, one full of fair judgment, where saving justice used to dwell, but now assassins! (Is 1:21).

Nevertheless, Zion's theological significance outweighs its actual location. It is not the physical site that matters but the spiritual revelation of God to His people of the Old Covenant Church (Is 51:16; Ps 149:2). Zion is the spiritual concept that shapes the identity and the future of the covenant people, because tied with Zion is the divine promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty (2 Sam 7:12-17; 1 Chr 17:11-15) which is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. Jesus is the promised Anointed Prince (Dan 9:25-26), the descendant of David (Ez 34:23; Lk 1:32-33), and the inheritor of God the Father's Kingdom of Heaven on earth that is the New Israel and the new Zion where God is present among His people as the Immanuel, the "God-with-us" (Is 7:14; Mt 28:20). He is the king of the 5th kingdom that is eternal, promised by the prophet Daniel (Dan 2:44-45). He is the Anointed One who will rule all nations of the earth (Dan 7:13-14) and He is the stone, untouched by hand that will break away from the mountain of the old Zion to form the new Israel of the universal Zion that is the New Covenant Church.(1)

Question: If the Israelites who return from exile will repent their sins and return to a covenant relationship with Yahweh, what does God promise them?
Answer: He promises them membership in the new Israel/Zion of God's restored covenant people:

  1. He will take the faithful remnant that repents their sins and will return them to the spiritually renewed Zion of His Holy Church (Jer 3:14).
  2. He will give them righteous shepherds (those in authority) to guide them (Jer 3:15).
  3. There will be a new focus of worship in the new age of the Church (Jer 3:16).
  4. The Church of the new age will be sealed by God's righteousness and will have authority over all nations (Jer 3:17).
  5. The sign of the beginning of the fulfillment of these promises will be when the covenant people return from their exile in the northern lands (Jer 3:18).

These are Messianic prophecies that only the new Kingdom of the universal Church of Jesus Christ fulfills. The sign of the movement of salvation history towards the promises of restoration and spiritual renewal occur seventy years after Jeremiah when the people return from the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC as vassals of the Persian Empire (Ezra 1:1-11). The people of Judah will return to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, but the Holy of Holies will be an empty space, to the people's great sorrow, because the Ark of the Covenant is lost to them.

Do not miss the significance of loss of the Ark of the Covenant as the focus of worship in verse 16. Since the time the Ark was built by God's command at Mount Sinai, it was the dwelling place of God with His people (Ex 25:10-22). It is a shockingly audacious statement that the time will come when the Ark will no longer be the focus of Yahweh's worship. The Holy of Holies of the Desert Sanctuary and the Temple in Jerusalem were built to contain this most precious shrine. Twice daily, as the people worshiped in the Temple, the congregation turned toward the Holy of Holies as the incense burned on the golden altar of incense in front of the Holy of Holies and, representing the prayers of the people, floated out of the doors of the Sanctuary and ascended into Heaven. Verse 16 suggests that the entire liturgy of worship will change. Initially the Ark of the Covenant, also called the Ark of the Testimony, only contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, but later the Ark held three objects according to the Letter to the Hebrews 9:1-4:

  1. It held the tablets of the covenant treaty document of the Ten Commandments, the Word of God (Ex 25:21; 40:20).
  2. It held Aaron's staff, a dead branch that came back to life as a sign from God to verify the authority of the first High Priest (Num 17:17-26).
  3. It held a pot of the manna, the bread from Heaven that fed the Israelites on the wilderness journey to the Promised Land (Ex 16:33-34).

The Ark disappeared when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple (see 2 Mac 2:1-8 for the account of how Jeremiah hid the Ark). The Ark that was the dwelling place of God will not be missed, because in the Messianic Age it will be replaced by a new Ark of the Covenant "The Virgin Mary "she whose womb became the dwelling place of God as she held within her:

  1. Jesus, the Living Word of God.
  2. Jesus, the Branch (Messianic title), who died and returned to life as a sign of His divine authority.
  3. Jesus, who is the Living Bread come down from Heaven.

Seethe chart on Mary, the Ark of the New Covanant

Jesus the Messiah feeds His covenant people in the Eucharist with His glorified Body and Blood on their journey through the wilderness of earthly life to the Promised Land of Heaven. What Jeremiah reveals in this oracle is the first of his messianic prophecies and a promise of the universal Church "the new Zion in the Messianic Age.

MESSIANIC PROPHECIES IN JEREMIAH
Prophecy Jeremiah reference New Testament Fulfillment
The Church in the Messianic Age Jer 3:14-17 Mt 16:18-19; Acts 2:1-12
The death of Christ, the lamb of sacrifice, and the Eucharist Jer 11:19* Jn 1:29; Acts 8:32; 1 Pt 1:19; Rev 5:6, Rev 5:12-13
The Lord our righteousness Jer 23:5, 6 Jn 2:19-21; Rom 1:3-4; Eph 2:20-21; 1 Pt 2:5
Will be born a king and descendant of David Jer 30:9 Lk 1:32-33; Jn 18:37; Rev 1:5
The massacre of infants Jer 31:15 Mt 2:17-18
The Incarnation: "something new on earth" Jer 31:22b Mt 1:20; Lk 1:35
A New Covenant Jer 31:31-33 Mt 26:27-29; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:15-20; 1Cor 11:25; Heb 8:8-12; 10:15-17; 12:24; 13:20
The Gospel of salvation and the forgiveness of sins Jer 31:34 Mt 26:26-28; Heb 10:16-18; Jn 2:27
The coming of the Davidic Messiah Jer 33:15-16 Mt 1:1-17; 16:18; Mk 1:1; Lk 1:31-33; Jn 1:32-33, 41
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

*Jer 11:19-23 are missing from the New American Catholic Bible 1990 edition. However, these verses are included in the Greek Septuagint, the New Jerusalem Bible, the St. Ignatius, and other Catholic translations including quotations from the Septuagint in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

17 When that time comes, Jerusalem will be called: The Throne of Yahweh, and all the nations will converge on her...
There is an interesting juxtaposition between "The Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh" in verse 16 and "The throne of Yahweh" in verse 17. The Ark of the Covenant was in essence the earthly throne (also referred to as footstool) of Yahweh because God sat "enthroned between the cherubim" above the Ark (Ex 25:18-20; 1 Sam 4:4), and it was therefore the focus of liturgical worship. In the Messianic Age, Christ is enthroned in the heavenly Sanctuary that is joined in liturgical worship with all earthly Sanctuaries in the Liturgy of the Eucharist in the sacrifice of the Mass.

Jeremiah 3:19-4:1a ~ The Poem on Conversion continues
19 "And I was thinking: How am I to rank you as my children? I shall give you a country of delights, the fairest heritage of all the nations! I thought: You will call me Father and will never cease to follow me. 20 But like a woman betraying her lover, House of Israel, you have betrayed me," Yahweh declares. 21 A noise is heard on the bare heights: the weeping and entreaty of the Israelites, for they have gone wildly astray, have forgotten Yahweh their God. 22 "Come back, disloyal sons, I want to cure your disloyalty." "We are here, we are coming to you, for you are Yahweh our God. 23 The hills are a delusion [the Lie] after all, so is the tumult of the mountains. Yahweh our God is, after all, the saving of Israel. 24 [The] Shame has devoured what our ancestors worked for ever since we were young, their flocks and herds, their sons and their daughters. 25 Let us lie down in our shame, let our confusion [dishonor] cover us, for we have sinned against Yahweh our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth until today, and have not listened to the voice of Yahweh our God." [...] = more literal Hebrew translation, IBHE, vol. III, pages 1742-43 and Ludlow page 319.

This part of the poem is continued from verse 5. In verse 19, Yahweh recalls how He singled Israel out from among the other nations of the earth, making the Israelites His "firstborn sons" among the world nations (Ex 4:22-23), as He kept His promise to their ancestor Abraham by giving them the Promised Land of Canaan (Gen 15:18-21).

Question: What imagery does Yahweh return to in describing Israel's betrayal of her God and His covenant in verse 20?
Answer: God uses the imagery of covenant marriage Part II: the betrayal of a husband by an unfaithful, adulterous woman.

In verse 21, God hears the voice of His people crying out from the heights of their sites of pagan rituals. It is the wrong place from which to ask forgiveness and yet, in verse 22a, God will answer their cry with the invitation to return to Him and be forgiven. Verse 22b-25 is the beginning of communal confession. "We are coming to you" probably means forsaking their pagan worship sites and coming to worship God with legitimate worship in the Jerusalem Temple.

23 The hills are a delusion [the Lie] after all, so is the tumult of the mountains. Yahweh our God is, after all, the saving of Israel. 24 [The] Shame has devoured what our ancestors worked for ever since we were young, their flocks and herds, their sons and their daughters.
Verses 23 and 24 are better translated "The Lie in the hills is a delusion after all... The Shame has devoured what our ancestors worked for..." "The Lie" and "the Shame" refer to Baal who was worshiped on hills and mountains. In verse 24, the covenant people answer God that they have been disloyal and are now ashamed. All the blessings their ancestors were promised to receive for covenant obedience has been lost through the disobedience of idol worship.

25 Let us lie down in our shame, let our confusion [dishonor] cover us, for we have sinned against Yahweh our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth until today, and have not listened to the voice of Yahweh our God."
As they prostrated themselves to Baal, they will now prostrate themselves in confession of their sins to Yahweh. "The Shame" [Baal] in verse 24 has become "our shame" in verse 25 as the people make a confession of their generational sin of apostasy by not listening to the voice of "our God." Lying down on bare earth can be an expression of penance (see 2 Sam 12:16 and 13:31).

Chapter 4

You and I have to bear witness with our example, because we cannot live a double life. We cannot preach what we do not practice. In other words, we have to teach what we are at least struggling to put into practice.
Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal, In Conversation with God

 

Jeremiah 4:1b-4 ~ The Invitation to Repentance and the Promise of Blessings
1"If you come back, Israel," Yahweh declares, "if you come back to me, if you take your Horrors out of my sight, if you go roving no more, 2 if you swear, As Yahweh lives!' truthfully, justly, uprightly, then the nations will bless themselves by him and glory in him." 3 For Yahweh says this to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, "Clear the ground that lies neglected, do not sow among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves for Yahweh, apply circumcision to your hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will leap out like a fire and burn with no one to quench it, in return for the wickedness of your deeds."

"... your Horrors" in verse 1 is another reference to Baal and other false gods. God promises forgiveness for Jerusalem and Judah if the people sincerely repent and if they renew their covenant oaths of obedience. To swear "As Yahweh lives" is to swear belief and obedience.
Question: If they sincerely repent, what two promises does Yahweh make? See Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:8; 26:4; 28:14.
Answer: He will not only bless His covenant people, but He will also give them a blessing that will extend to the Gentile nations who will worship Him.

2 if you swear, As Yahweh lives!' truthfully, justly, uprightly, then the nations will bless themselves by him and glory in him."
In the Abrahamic covenant, God swore to bless all nations through Abraham's descendants (Gen 12:3c, 18:19; 22:18). The world-wide blessing was repeated to Isaac (Gen 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen 28:14), and by the inspired writer of Sirach (Sir 44:21). The New Testament writers testify that the world-wide blessing promised to the Patriarchs is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and His universal Church "by St. Peter in Acts 3:25 and by St. Paul in Galatians 3:8-29.

3 For Yahweh says this to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, "Clear the ground that lies neglected, do not sow among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves for Yahweh, apply circumcision to your hearts, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will leap out like a fire and burn with no one to quench it, in return for the wickedness of your deeds."
Question: In verses 3-4, what spiritual preparations should the citizens of Jerusalem and Judah make for the coming disaster in order to avoid divine judgment?
Answer:

  1. Clear all sins, the uncultivated ground in their souls, and prepare for spiritual renewal.
  2. This spiritual preparation must begin by circumcising their hearts.

The call in verse 4 is to break the hardness of their hearts like a plough breaks hard ground. The sins/"thorns" in one's life have to be dealt with and the heart-hardening sin circumcised so the seeds of God's word can take root.

The reference to the spiritual cultivation of souls recalls the words of the 8th century BC prophet Hosea: Sow saving justice for yourselves, reap a harvest of faithful love; break up your fallow ground: it is time to seek out Yahweh until he comes to rain saving justice down on you (Hos 10:12). In the Hebrew text, Jeremiah 4:3, "Clear the ground that lies neglected," is a direct quote from Hosea 10:12, which in the English translation is rendered "break up your fallow ground."

The reference to not "planting" among "thorns" reminds us of the curse-judgment against Adam when he fell from grace through his rebellion when he ate from the forbidden tree in Genesis 3:17a-19a. And, the mention of circumcised hearts recalls Moses' words in Deuteronomy 10:16-17 when he warned the Israelites, Circumcise your hearts then and be obstinate no longer, for Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, triumphant and terrible, free of favoritism, never to be bribed. Also see God's promise for future generations in Deuteronomy 30:6.

The point is that the outward symbol of circumcision of the flesh is meaningless without spiritual devotion to Yahweh. When the people refuse to listen to Yahweh they have "uncircumcised ears" (Jer 6:10), and when they refuse to repent they have "uncircumcised hearts" (Jer 9:24-25). Pagan Gentiles are uncircumcised in both flesh and heart (Ez 44:7). Circumcision was a covenant sign that pointed to baptism in the New Covenant that was also an external sign that pointed to an internal condition (see Dt 10:14-22; Jer 9:24-25).

Question: Jesus told a parable using the metaphors of seeds of faith sown in poor soil as opposed to the seeds of faith sown in well cultivated soil. How did Jesus explain the metaphors in Matthew 13:22-23 and how did His teaching apply to Jeremiah's message?
Answer: Jesus said that the seed sown in thorns is like someone who hears the word of God but the concerns of the world and the lure of material riches choke the word and so it produces nothing. The seed sown in rich soil is someone who hears the word, understands it, and grows spiritually closer to God. The Judahites and Jerusalemites must cultivate their souls by circumcising their hearts so that the word of God preached by Jeremiah can lead them to sincere repentance.

Question: What did Moses tell the people about "circumcised hearts" in his homily to Israel's new generation of holy warriors as they prepared to begin the conquest of Canaan in Deuteronomy 10:12-22?
Answer: Moses tells them that all Yahweh askes of them is to reverently fear offending Him, to follow all His ways, to love and to serve Him with all their heart and soul and to seep the commandments and laws. It was because of God's love for their forefathers, the Patriarchs, that He chose to love Israel. Then He called upon the Israelites to spiritual circumcise their hearts and to be rebellious no longer.

Circumcision first became a covenant sign in God's covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:10-14), and the command was repeated under the Sinai Covenant (Lev 12:3). It was an external sign to remind the people of an internal condition of being called to holiness in "circumcised hearts." They were committed to Yahweh as a holy people of a holy God, and they were committed in their obligations to fulfill the terms of their covenant with Yahweh.(2)

Question: What did St. Paul write about circumcision in Romans 4:11?
Answer: He explained it as the spiritual seal of the uprightness of faith.

"...or my wrath will leap out like a fire and burn with no one to quench it, in return for the wickedness of your deeds."
Fire often appears as a divine sign:

  1. God appeared to Moses in the fire that did not consume the bush (Ex 3:4-6).
  2. God purifies with His fiery love (1 Cor 3:12-15; 1 Pt 1:7).
  3. Fire is a sign of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:3-4).
  4. Fire is a sign of divine judgment (Mt 13:41-42; 2 Pt 3:10; Rev 14:10; 20:11-15).

In this verse, fire is a sign of the justice of God's divine judgment for unrepentant sinners.

We often forget that God's attributes include mercy as well as justice. We seek His mercy, but we often reject or complain about His justice. God our Father is not a permissive parent but a Father who chastises the children He loves to bring them to repentance: My child, do not scorn correction from Yahweh, do not resent his reproof; for Yahweh reproves those he loves, as a father the child whom he loves (Prov 3:11). A temporal chastisement that saves a soul from eternal punishment is an act of God's mercy.

Jeremiah 4:5-8 ~ Yahweh Commands Jeremiah to Announce the Invasion from the North
5 "Announce it in Judah, proclaim it in Jerusalem, say, Sound the trumpet in the countryside, shout the message aloud: Mobilize! Take to the fortified towns! 6 Signpost the way to Zion! Run! Do not delay! For I am bringing disaster from the north, an immense calamity. 7 The lion is up from his thicket, the destroyer of nations is on his way, he has come from his home to reduce your land to a desert; your towns will be in ruins, uninhabited. 8 So wrap yourselves in sackcloth, lament and wail, since Yahweh's burning anger has not turned away from us.'"

A series of foe-lament oracles begin in Jeremiah 4:5-6 and ends in 10:22 as it began with a watchman's report that the enemy is advancing.

Question: If the people are willing to confess their sin of idol worship and to repent, why is God's judgment still coming down upon them? See 2 Kng 22:14-20; 2 Chr 34:22-28, Jer 2:22-23
Answer: Yahweh accepted the sincere repentance of King Josiah and said He would put off the judgment of the kingdom of Judah until after Josiah's death (2 Kng 22:14-20; 2 Chr 34:22-28). However, God did not accept the insincere repentance of the people (Jer 2:22-23).

The people's confession of sins was probably motivated by the fear of judgment and not by a sincere change of heart, like a thief full of grief at being caught. The root of their motivation to repent was revealed after Josiah's death when the people and their kings returned to their previous sins, including sexual immorality, injustice to the poor, and building altars to worship Baal and other false gods.

Question: What is now confirmed for Jeremiah in 4:5-8? See Jer 1:13-16.
Answer: The object lesson of the boiling pot in Jeremiah 1:13-16 is now confirmed.

There were watchtowers throughout Judah and watchmen charged with announcing threats to the nation by signal banners and by the blowing the ram's horn trumpet (shofar) as the signal to mobilize for war (Is 13:2; Joel 2:1). When the signal was given, people in the countryside were to seek refuge within the nearest walled town.

The lion in verse 7 is the invading enemy from the north. Yahweh has not yet named the enemy, but the lion was a symbol of Babylon, called "the destroyer" here and in Jeremiah 6:26; 15:8; and 48:8, 32. Jeremiah was undoubtedly familiar with the prophecy Isaiah gave King Hezekiah of Judah (Josiah's great-grandfather) in 2 Kings 39:5-8 concerning the future conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. The people hearing the warning may have thought of the Scythians, a large group of Iranian nomads whose homeland was in the central Eurasian steppes. The Scythians were engaged in raiding along the Syrian frontier into the Levant from 630-625 BC with very little response from the weakened Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire had been in decline since the assassination of King Sennacherib in 681 BC and the dynastic struggles that followed, leaving the Empire in disarray. Later it will become clear that the enemy from the north is the Neo-Babylonian Empire.(3)

8 So wrap yourselves in sackcloth, lament and wail, since Yahweh's burning anger has not turned away from us.
Sackcloth was a coarse cloth worn as a sign of penance and contrition (Jonah Chapter 3), and also worn by mourners. The sound of loud lamenting here points to rites of mourning.

8 So wrap yourselves in sackcloth, lament and wail, since Yahweh's burning anger has not turned away from us.
This same phrase, with a slight variation, appears again in 30:24 (also see other references to Yahweh's burning anger 4:26; 12:13; 25:37, 38b; 49:37; and 51:45). When true repentance takes place the hope is that Yahweh's burning anger will melt away, as it did for the Ninevites who repented in the time of the prophet Jonah.

Jeremiah 4:9-12 ~ A Warning to Jeremiah Concerning the Oracle in 4:1b-8 and Jeremiah's Response
9 "That day," Yahweh declares, "the king's heart will fail him, the princes' hearts will fail them too, the priests will stand aghast, the prophets stupefied." 10 Then I said, "Ah, Lord Yahweh, how sadly you deceived this people and Jerusalem when you used to say, You will have peace,' whereas the sword is now at our throats! 11 When that time comes, this will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: The scorching wind from the desert heights comes toward the daughter of my people "and not to winnow or to cleanse! 12 A gale of wind comes to me from over there. Now I myself shall pass sentence on them!"

"That day," is a reference to the "Day of Yahweh," which will be a day of judgment upon Judah. Making the prophecy even bleaker, Yahweh announces in verse 9 that the threat will result in the total failure of the political and spiritual leadership of Judah.

Question: Horrified by the prophecy, what accusation does Jeremiah make against Yahweh in verses 10-12?
Answer: He accuses Yahweh of giving the people the false hope of His protection.

The false hope wasn't from God but false prophets (see Jer 14:13; 23:17; 28:8-9).

11 The scorching wind from the desert heights comes toward the daughter of my people "and not to winnow or to cleanse! 12 A gale of wind comes to me from over there. Now I myself shall pass sentence on them!"
The "daughter of my people" refers to Jerusalem. Judah's royal capital city is addressed as representative of the nation. God's scorching wind of judgment will not be a winnowing wind used to separate the good grain from the useless chaff, nor will it be a cleansing wind that blows the dust from the grain. The wind of the coming judgment will sweep away both the good and the bad alike (verse 12). However, the good who die will be consecrated to God in the abode of the righteous in Sheol, the abode of the dead, while the bad are consigned to judgment in Sheol (see Lk 16:19-31 and CCC 632-33). Under the Old Covenants, before to the coming of the Messiah, there were no eternal blessings, because Heaven was closed since the fall of Adam (see CCC 526, 633, and 1026). Nor were there eternal punishments, because God will not condemn anyone who didn't have the opportunity to accept or reject the gift of Jesus' eternal salvation.

Jeremiah 4:13-18 ~ The Description of the Enemy Coming Against Judgment
13 "Look, he is advancing like the clouds, his chariots like a hurricane, his horses swifter than eagles. Disaster for us! We are lost! 14 Wash your heart clean of wickedness, Jerusalem, and so be saved. How long will you go on harboring your pernicious thoughts? 15 For a voice from Dan shouts the news, proclaims disaster from the highlands of Ephraim. 16 Report it to the nations, proclaim it to Jerusalem, Enemies are coming from a distant country, shouting their war cry against the towns of Judah; 17 they surround her like watchmen round a field because she has rebelled against me," Yahweh declares. 18 "Your own behavior and actions have brought this on yourself. Your wickedness, how bitter, has stabbed you to the heart!"

The enemy from the north is advancing with chariots and horses, stirring up the dirt in clouds like a great storm. There is little time left to cleanse the people's wicked hearts with repentance when they still harbor their wicked thoughts.

15 For a voice from Dan shouts the news, proclaims disaster from the highlands of Ephraim.
The tribe of Dan was the northern-most of the Israelite tribes while Ephraim, in the mid-section of the Promised Land, was the largest tribe in the Northern Kingdom just north of Jerusalem. Neither of these tribes existed at this time, having been exiled into Assyrian lands a century earlier. Jeremiah is imagining the enemy's fearful progress from north to south toward Jerusalem.

In verses 16-18, Yahweh again pronounces His judgment, delivered by Judah's enemies, that the people have brought on themselves because of the sins they refuse to repent.

Jeremiah 4:19-22 ~ Jeremiah's Anguish and Yahweh's Response
[Jeremiah's anguish] 19 In the pit of my stomach how great my agony! Walls of my heart! My heart is throbbing! I cannot keep quiet, for I have heard the trumpet call, the battle cry. 20 Ruin on ruin is the news: the whole land is laid waste, my tents are suddenly destroyed, in one moment all that sheltered me. 21 How long must I see the standard and hear the trumpet call?
22[Yahweh's response] "This is because my people are stupid, they do not know me, they are slow-witted children, they have no understanding, they are clever enough at doing wrong, but do not know how to do right."

Jeremiah's vision of the enemy descending upon his nation fills him with anguish, and he asks the Lord how much longer must he endure the vision? Yahweh's response in verse 22 is to restate that Judah's apostasy and stubborn failure to demonstrate true repentance is the reason for this judgment. The goal of God's temporal judgments is always to bring about redemption and escape from eternal punishment.

Jeremiah 4:23-31 ~ Jeremiah's Vision of the Coming Disaster and Yahweh's Response
23 I looked to the earth "it was a formless waste [tohu wabohu]; to the heavens, and their light had gone. 24 I looked to the mountains "they were quaking and all the hills rocking to and fro. 25 I looked "there was no one at all, the very birds of heaven had all fled. 26 I looked "the fruitful land was a desert, all its towns in ruins before Yahweh, before his burning anger.
27[Yahweh's response] Yes, Yahweh has said this, "The whole country will be laid waste, though I shall not annihilate it completely. 28 For this, the earth will go into mourning and the heavens above grow dark. For I have spoken, I have decided, I shall not change my mind or go back on it." 29 At the din of horseman and archer the entire city takes to flight: some plunge into the thickets, others scale the rocks; every town is abandoned, not a single person is left there. 30 And, once despoiled, what are you going to do? You may dress yourself in scarlet, put on ornaments of gold, enlarge your eyes with paint but you make yourself pretty in vain. Your former lovers disdain you, your life is what they are seeking. 31 Yes, I hear screams like those of a woman in labor, anguish like that of a woman giving birth to her first child; they are the screams of the daughter of Zion gasping, hands outstretched, "Unhappy me! I am dying, the murderers have killed me!"

The destruction caused by the invasion from the north is described in terms of a de-creation event, using the same Hebrew words from Genesis 1:2, Now the earth was a formless void [tohu wabohu]... Creation, de-creation, and a renewed creation are evident in the flow of salvation history from the beginning:
Creation ==> de-creation in the flood judgment ==> renewed Creation after the flood judgment.

God is purging the land of sin in a de-creation event. They will do penance for their sins in exile in Babylon while the land is at rest, and they will return to the land as a renewed people. This pattern will be repeated for the last time in the Final Judgment when fire will purge the earth and a new Heaven and earth are created (2 Pt 3:2-13; Rev 21:1-4).

Question: Verse 30 is a description of which of the four parts of the symbolic images of the prophets?
Answer: From the imagery of covenant marriage, it is the symbolic image for Part III: God's judgment for the apostate people symbolized by an adulterous wife who has run after false lovers who then abuse her.

"Daughter of Zion," in verse 31, is a personification of Jerusalem, attacked and mortally wounded. The covenant people wanted to follow the practices of the Gentile nations. They rejected the kingship of God for a human king, and they abandoned the One, True God for the Gentile nations' created images of false gods and illicit worship of those gods. Now the pagan nation of the Neo-Babylon Empire will abuse unfaithful Israel/Judah like a false lover who used and then abused an adulterous wife who left her husband.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
How can God's warning to the people of Jerusalem and Judah in Jeremiah 4:3-4 apply to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? How do you prepare to receive the Sacrament? Are you confessing out of fear or out of love or both?

Endnotes:
1. For some other references to Zion in the Old Testament see Bar 4:9, 14, 24; Jdt 9:13; 1 Mac 4:37, 60; 5:54; 6:48, 62; 7:33; 10:11; 14:27; Sir 24:10; 36:19; 48:18, 24; 51:12. In the New Testament see references to Zion in 1 Pt 2:6 and Rom 9:33; Zion is also understood allegorically as Heaven in Heb 12:22 and Rev 14:1. There are also many references to "daughter of Zion" and "daughter Zion" that is a poetic personification of the city of Jerusalem. The name is found more than twenty-five times in the Old Testament, expressing affection and joy, and also lamentation and destruction (for example, Is 1:8; 10:32; 16:1; 52:2; 62:11; Jer 6:2, 23; Lam 1:6; 2:13; 4:22; Mic 1:13; 4:10, 13; Zeph 3:14; Zech 2:14), and in the New Testament in Mt 21:5; Jn 12:15; 11:26.
2. For more New Testament verses on circumcision see what St. Stephen said in Acts 7:51 and what St. Paul wrote in Rom 2:25-29; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 5:6; 6:15; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11; and 3:11.
3. Babylon was an ancient city of Mesopotamia located in the fertile plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was an ancient empire that had been in decline for centuries until the Neo-Assyrian Empire conquered it. Like the nation of Judah, Babylon was a vassal of the Assyrians. At the time Jeremiah was beginning his ministry, the Babylonians were in revolt against their Assyrian overlords and were gathering allies. In ten years, the Babylonians and their allies will conquer the Assyrian capital of Nineveh (612 BC). Then in 605 BC they will defeat the last of the Assyrian army and their Egyptian allies at the Battle of Carchemish, establishing the Neo-Babylonian Empire whose king was now free to turn his attention to the conquest of Assyria's former vassal states, like Judah.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):

Jer 3:14-18 (CCC 762)
Jer 3:16 (CCC 2676)
Jer 3:19-4:1a (CCC 2795*)
Jer 3:19 (CCC 441*)