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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 6:1-8

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 15, 2014

Chapter 6 begins with a poetic description of the enemy coming out of the north, the very thing God showed Jeremiah in the vision of the boiling pot tipping from the north (Jeremiah 1:13). This is the invasion of the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter falls into five parts:

  1. The foe from the north (Jeremiah 6:1-8)
  2. The people are complacent (Jeremiah 6:9-15)
  3. Going through rituals is not the same as obedience (Jeremiah 6:16-21)
  4. The foe from the north is coming (Jeremiah 6:22-26)
  5. Jeremiah is to test and assay the people (Jeremiah 6:27-30)

This first section is presented with three different speakers: The Lord, the enemy, and the people of Jerusalem. Their words fall into a chiastic and carefully balanced structure:

a. The Lord (To the people: flee! Jeremiah 6:1-3)
   b. The enemy (Attack at noon! Jeremiah 6:4a)
      c. The people (Woe to us! Jeremiah 6:4b)
   b’. The enemy (Attack at night! Jeremiah 6:5)
a’. The Lord (To the enemy: attack! To the people: be warned! Jeremiah 6:6-8)

The Lord
6 “Flee for safety, people of Benjamin!
     Get out of Jerusalem!
Blow the ram’s horn in Tekoa,ª
  raise a signal over Beth Hakkerem!
For disaster and great destruction
  threatens from the north.
2 I will destroy the beautiful and delicately bred one,
      the daughter of Zion.
3 Shepherds and their flocks will come against her;
     they will stake their tents all around.
     Each one will pasture his own portion.”

ª1 The Hebrew word taka’  “blow” sounds like the name of the village Tekoa.

Here the Lord warns his people to run away. The “signal” is probably a reference to a burning signal like a big signal fire, not a banner or flag. Signal fires were used as nighttime warnings (they are mentioned in messages from the garrison of Lachish to the military commander at Jerusalem from this period), but the blast of the ram’s horn was more effective in daylight. We don’t know for certain where Beth Hakkerem was located, but it seems to have been somewhere south of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:14).

The image in verse 3 is of an army spread out like a vast herd of sheep, but the image doesn’t calm the heart. The Lord could have described the invaders like wolves or lions, but wolves and lions don’t hunt in groups as vast as the advancing Babylonian army. So instead, the attackers will look as numerous as the largest herd of sheep imaginable, spread out all over the land of Judah surrounding Jerusalem on every side. Their shepherds would be their generals. Their pasture? Jerusalem itself, on which their armies would graze.

The enemy
4 “Dedicate yourselves for war against her!
      Rise up, we will attack at noon!”

The invaders want to attack right away when they arrive, at noon. Their shouts take the form of an oath to make war and do nothing else until the war is brought to its successful conclusion.

The people
“Woe to us! The day is ending!
   The evening shadows are getting longer.”

Evening shadows are looked at with anticipation by slaves, who’s work would soon end (Job 7:2) or by a wife anticipating the return of her husband (Song of Solomon 2:17, 4:6). But people in a besieged city have no such joy. The attack might come at any time.

The people don’t know how to ask God for help. They have forgotten. All they can do is cry out. Their words were almost quoted by the Emmaus disciples, who at least remembered how to be polite, and whose words have become an invocation prayer for Christians worshiping near sundown: “Stay with us, for it is evening, and the day is almost over” (Luke 24:29).

The enemy
5 “We should get up and attack at night,
      and destroy its palaces.”

The enemy agrees with the fearful people in the city. Night would be a fine time to attack. “We should destroy its palaces!” The stronger buildings in the city were both palaces and fortresses, often used to house weapons, like David’s “Palace of the Forest of Lebanon” (1 Kings 10:17) with its hundreds of golden shields.

The Lord
6 This is what the LORD of Armies says:
“Cut down her trees.
   Raise a siege ramp against Jerusalem.
This city must be punished.
  There is nothing but oppression within her.
7 Just as a well keeps its water freshª
     she keeps her evil fresh.
Violence and destruction are heard in her,
  sickness and wounds are ever before me.
8 Be warned, Jerusalem,
     or I will turn away from you.
I will make your land desolate
  so not one can live there.”

ª 7 Hebrew keeps its water cool.

The Hebrew shaphach (“raise a siege ramp”) implies pouring dirt from buckets to erect a mound. This is the classic method of siege using gabion and fascine still in use more than two thousand years later. Another reference to being under siege is the comparison between having fresh water (Jerusalem had an elaborate underwater system constructed in the days of King Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 32:30) and having fresh evil in the city. The people didn’t allow their sins to get stale, but refreshed them with new sins all the time.

God renews his warning in verse 8: “I will turn away from you.” The people are still foolish enough not to understand what that would mean. It’s not pleasant to think about, but to imagine that it could never happen is so ridiculous that it verges on the insane. God turned away from Israel and let them vanish into exile (2 Kings 17:22-23). God turned away from Solomon when he embraced the sins of his wives (1 Kings 11:9-11). God turned away from Saul when Saul rejected God’s word (1 Samuel 28:16). God turned away from Pharaoh when he hardened his heart against the Lord (Exodus 9:12, 10:1). And God turned away from the whole world when everyone turned away from him except for Noah and his small family (1 Peter 3:20).

So we turn to God; we bow before the Lord our Maker. We turn away from our own sins, every single day, and ask him to forgive us and to keep us from them and from every temptation. Without him, we are helpless. With his help and by his grace, we have peace and the promise of eternal life.

May the Lord our God be with us. May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commands. (1 Kings 8:57,58)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.