Monday, August 20, 2018

Jeremiah 4: Break up the fallow ground

The central verse in Jeremiah 4 may be
O Jerusalem, wash your heart clean of wickedness
    so that you may be saved.
How long shall your evil schemes
    lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14)
Washing the heart of wickedness denotes an overhaul of one's own character. It parallels the figures of breaking up the fallow ground and of circumcising the heart in vss. 3-4.
For thus says the Lord to the people of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem:
Break up your fallow ground,
    and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    remove the foreskin of your hearts,
    O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or else my wrath will go forth like fire,
    and burn with no one to quench it,
    because of the evil of your doings. (Jeremiah 4:3-4)
We can see that failure to do this character adjustment risks God's wrath. Breaking up the soil of a fallow field denotes years of neglected relationship with Yahweh. Working a field after so many years means that a lot of work will go to getting the weeds out (Mark 4:7; 18-19). Judah had gotten used to bad habits and even pagan rituals. The religious leaders were no longer worried about them. Getting rid of them would mean making difficult changes to long-established bad habits. Circumcision of the heart denotes the same thing. It means to perform surgery on the heart ( = the mind) to get rid of whatever is separating one's self from God (Romans 2:28-29; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Colossians 2:11-14).

Notice in Jeremiah 4:14 that this self-reorientation results in salvation. God in the Old Testament is not all about wrath. God has always been about salvation. God's call to repent is always open (Jeremiah 4:8) and it always comes with a promise of salvation. And more importantly to God, a broken relationship is repaired.

In verse 14, we also hear a question.
How long shall your evil schemes
    lodge within you?
An atemporal god would not ask such a question. A god who practices Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace would never ask such a question. A God who desires a real relationship with a people wearing God's name would definitely ask this question; for that relationship is neither established or restored until such time as you and I respond to God's earnest appeals. Our response is required or else the relationship cannot be real.

This drawing near to God is not a first action on our part. God is already passionately moving in our direction and he is diligently working to repair a damaged relationship. Something frequently stops the desired reconciliation. That something is our failure to respond to God's work. God is reaching out to us but we often fail to respond. The relationship remains damaged. That dynamic is what James has in mind when he says
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. (James 4:8-9)
I love the words to the song "Reach Out to Jesus."
When you get discouraged, just remember what to do.
Reach out to Jesus. He's reaching out to you. (Ralph Carmichael, 1968)

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