>“O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble, why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night?” (Jeremiah 14:8)
The 14th chapter of the book of Jeremiah describes what happened to the people of Judah, the land, and even the animals when a devastating drought brought havoc to the community. Jeremiah realized that the devastation was the result of the people’s iniquity. Jeremiah prayed to God: “Our iniquities testify against us” (Jeremiah 14:7).
But the voice of lament in Jeremiah 14:1-6 is not Jeremiah’s and not even the people’s. The voice lamenting the situation of the people is that of God himself. The people are suffering and God is deeply moved by the suffering of the people.
God’s words to Jeremiah show the difficult situation confronting the people of Jerusalem:
Judah mourns; its gates fall apart. The people of Judah sit in mourning on the ground. Their cry goes up from Jerusalem. Important people send their assistants out for water. They go to the cisterns, but they don’t find any water. They come back with their containers empty. They cover their heads, because they are ashamed and disgraced. The ground is cracked because there has been no rain in the land. The farmers are disappointed. They cover their heads. Even deer in the fields give birth and abandon their young because there’s no grass. Wild donkeys stand on the bare hills. They sniff the air like jackals. Their eyesight fails because they have no green plants. (Jeremiah 14:2-6).
Touched by the despair of the people, Jeremiah intercedes with God on behalf of the people. Terence Fretheim, in his commentary Jeremiah (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), p. 219, said that the one who was lamenting was not the prophet but God himself. He wrote:
“Though it is common to claim that Jeremiah is the intermediary in these verses, there is no contextual marker to indicate this. . . . Given the absence of an introduction, these words are likely still a part of the word spoken by God to Jeremiah as with vv. 1-6. That God quotes the people’s prayer is a witness that God has indeed heard them and passes them on to the prophet.”
Whether it is Jeremiah or the people who is praying, the prayer recognizes that the people of Israel have sinned against God and in their iniquity they call unto God for mercy: “Do something, LORD, for the sake of your name, even though our sins testify against us. We have been unfaithful and have sinned against you” (Jeremiah 14:7).
The people ask God to act on their behalf: “Do something.” They appeal to God for the sake of his name. Thus, in their despair, the people appeal to God’s reputation and to his faithful love (his hesed) which he had demonstrated so many times on behalf of Israel.
The only grounds Israel had to appeal to God was God’s grace: “You are Israel’s hope, the one who saves it in times of trouble. Why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler who stays only one night?” (Jeremiah 14:8).
The people confessed that God was the hope of Israel and its savior. Since God was the hope of Israel, and since in the past he had delivered them from their troubles, they knew that he would save them again. But in their appeal to God, they questioned God’s constancy: “Why are you like a stranger?” The people believed that God was hidden from them, that he seldom made his presence known, since he was like a traveler who remained no more than a brief moment with them.
The complaint of the people is similar to the complaint of many troubled souls today. People who suffer and people who are in distress believe that God is unaware of their troubles, that he is like a stranger who does not care for their plight: “Why do you just stand there and stare, like someone who doesn’t know what to do in a crisis?” (Jeremiah 14:8 The Message).
But God is aware of our situation. In Jeremiah 14:1-6, God was giving voice to the suffering of the people, yet they were unaware that their suffering was affecting even God. The reason for the people’s questioning of God’s presence was that they were separated from God because of their iniquities.
There is a lesson for people of faith in the predicament of Israel. God is our hope and when we trust him, we know that even in our problems, there is a future with God. Although we may not know what will happen tomorrow, we know that our tomorrows are in God’s hands.
I don’t borrow from its sunshine, For its skies may turn to grey.
I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him, For He knows what lies ahead.
I don’t know about tomorrow; It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow, Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that is my portion, May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me, And I’m covered with His blood.
Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Tags: Jeremiah 14, Hope, Drought, Despair