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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 4:18-21

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 4, 2014

18 Your way of living and your deeds have done this to you.
  This is your punishment.
It is bitter!
  It pierces your heart!

We don’t know the incident Jeremiah might be referring to, but he felt the anguish of his people intensely. In this case we can only guess, but a likely moment for this incident was one of the attacks made by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, between 599 and the spring of 597 BC.

Sometimes we suffer because other people sin. People’s greed, their jealousy, their stubbornness and their other sins can easily burn out of control and scorch us. But in this case, the people’s suffering was brought on by their own sins and not the sins of someone else. God was allowing them to suffer punishment on account of the way they lived and the sins that they committed. Knowing this only made the anguish more intense for Jeremiah their prophet. He begins by crying out “It pierces your heart!” but soon he will turn to describing his own personal agony.

19 My stomach! My stomach!
      I writhe in pain.
Oh my heart!
  My heart is pounding!
I cannot keep silent
  because I hear the sound of the ram’s horn.
  It is the blast for war!
20 One disaster after another is announced.
      All the land is destroyed.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed.
  My tent curtains are torn in an instant.
21 How long must I see the battle flag
      and hear the sound of the ram’s horn?

Jeremiah is describing what it was like to be in a city under siege. The pain had penetrated even his own body, and he describes the anxiety and fear by crying out about his “stomach” (or bowels—the seat of emotion to the Hebrew way of thinking) twisting in pain like a spinning dancer or a woman writhing in the agony of childbirth. Then he cries out, “Oh my heart!” Literally, he says, “Oh the wall of my heart!” (qiryoth libbi), although I have left it as “Oh my heart” in the translation. Perhaps a wall of the city had been wrecked by the Babylonian warfare, leading Jeremiah to imagine the surface of his own heart bursting open.

The mere sound of the ram’s horn was enough to bring on fits of panic and anxiety among the people. People in our time who survived World War II in Europe use similar words to describe the feeling they got when the air raid sirens blew night after night. The sirens meant people had to run for cover, and every day for months (or years, in Jerusalem’s case) was disrupted by attack after attack.

This kind of suffering is also a picture of the anguish of hell, when suffering will know no end, and pain will only increase and grow worse day by infinite day. How often people who have been through a war will say that they understand what hell will be like because of the suffering they’ve endured! That is part of the reason that God permits that kind of suffering; so that people can have a glimpse into hell’s terror and unending torment; hell’s agony and its ferocity. It’s an incentive to turn away from sin, to escape the imminent danger of hell by running back to God and to the forgiveness and rescue offered by Jesus. In him, we have pardon for our sins and release from the agony that would otherwise be so unbearable—agony that Jesus bore in our place on the cross.

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.