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Lowell Brueckner

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Fallow Ground


This is an expositional study of Jeremiah 4. We do not provide the biblical text, but suggest you follow it in your own Bible.

 Chapter 4

When the Lord brought me to a place of surrender in my youth, I began a serious study of the Scriptures. My parents helped me by giving me a Halley’s Handbook and a Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. I found the Autobiography of Charles Finney in my dad’s library and still have it today. I devoured that book and presented it to my Sunday School class of adolescent boys, chapter by chapter. In the book, Finney often wrote of his sermons, which he preached in revivals across New York State, and one of them was from Jeremiah 4:3, Break Up Your Fallow Ground.

 Israel has already fallen to Assyria, but if they want to return to their land, they must first return to the Lord. It is His land, lent to Israel, so the inhabitant must swear, “The Lord lives,” and recognize His attributes of truth, judgment and righteousness. From that land, He will reign and the entire world will glory in His reign and find spiritual blessing for themselves.   

 Beginning with the third verse of this chapter, the Lord turns specifically to Judah and Jerusalem. Judah escaped from the Assyrian invasion, under which the northern kingdom fell, but Nebuchadnezzar is on his way from Babylon towards Jerusalem. He speaks to them of the land, in terms which they understand, being an agricultural nation, if not working the ground, certainly involved in its products. They are as uncultivated land, left to grow whatever sprouts of itself. They cannot produce a harvest on this ground covered with weeds and thorns. Jesus illustrated that the good seed would be choked by them (Mt.13:22). He said that the thorns are cares of the world and the quest for riches.  

 The reason for existence is to be fruitful for God, and the human heart cannot be productive, while it is left to go its own way. It must be cultivated in order to receive the things of God. Next the Lord uses their religious practice of physical circumcision to speak of heart separation from the lust of the world and its idols. He warns them of coming under His wrath, as unquenchable fire, provoked by their evil living (4). The God of the Old Testament is concerned with heart religion! 


 Devastation upon the land

 When giving the Law through Moses, God spoke of trumpets and their use. They were used to warn Israel of impending warfare and to assemble them for battle or for other purposes (Nu.10:8-10). Enemy armies are approaching and the trumpets call the people to gather and take refuge in fortified cities (5). They are to gather under the Lord’s banner in Zion, the strongest of these cities, the inner fortress of Jerusalem, and the most blessed of God. He is warning His people, those who will listen, because He Himself has summoned the Babylonian invaders.  They not only tear down walls and buildings, but destroy national identity, subjecting them under one empire (6).

 The lion has come up from his thicket… We learned from Jesus in His parables that God uses natural things to illustrate coming realities. In this way, the words penetrate into the ears of the listener and find their way into the heart. Babylonians have abandoned their homeland, sacrificing everything to focus on one goal, which is the conquest of nations.  

 I can never forget the testimony of one lady, describing how the population of her city of Borovo fled, before the Serbian army devasted the city. She recalled how she and her husband returned and not a bird was to be heard singing in the streets. Their home was in ruins and they foraged through the wreckage, looking for goods to feed their children. They came upon the bodies of the dead, leaving them with psychological scars that only Christ could remove. She found the Savior, when our son, Dan, Evangelist Tom Kyle, our Navajo friend, Herman Williams, and myself preached the gospel in a church founded by a Macedonian missionary, Slave Velesanov, in Borovo, along with other places in the area. I happened to be present, when her husband was baptized. As it happened in Borovo, so it had happened in the cities of Judah (7).

 This world knows no greater sorrow than that which warfare brings. The prophet relayed the message that Jehovah would vent His fierce anger, because His people had spurned His infinite love and care for them and had turned to other gods (8). The heart of the king shall perish, probably could be said in modern terms, the exceptional ego needed to assume the office of a king, president or prime minister would break. The inner strength of other nobles, princes, priests and prophets would likewise crumble under the weight of conquest. It is said that when the Japanese emperor appeared before General MacArthur in his dress military uniform that the U.S. conqueror, reached over and ripped the emperor’s medals from his jacket. In defeat, there is no room for dignity or pride (9).

 Jeremiah is smitten to the core of his being and finds no joy in pronouncing prophetic doom upon his people. Commentators feel that the message of peace was given by false prophets and it seems to me that Jeremiah was disturbed by the fact that the Lord allowed that message to be uttered to the people. We will see later that Jeremiah said to one of them, Hananiah, “The prophets who have been before me and before you of old prophesied against many countries and great kings – of war and disaster and pestilence” (28:8). True prophets are always bound to the word of God at great cost to their persons. In chapter 26, Micah of Morestheth and Urijah are named. These proved to be the true prophets and not those who spoke of peace and victory (10).  

 God speaks again through nature of a strong wind from the desert. It will not fan, nor will it bring rain, but will scorch the land, unobstructed, directly toward Jerusalem, with intolerable news.  The reality will be worse than the type (11-12). Again, hear the metaphors: Nebuchadnezzar will come as clouds that suddenly cover the blue sky; his chariots bring confusion, like a surrounding whirlwind with the speed of diving eagles. Picture the prey, recognizing his certain doom (13)!  

 However, the principle that accompanies the prophecy, stemming from the throne of God, as we have already declared, is that He will offer an escape. I repeat, the condemning word from Satan never does that, but leaves the victim overwhelmed by distress and depression. Old Testament or New, true religion is never found until it reaches the heart: “Wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved,” God says. A cleansed heart will produce a healthy mentality, but not vice versa, as some positive-thinking advocates have tried to teach. The biblical order is first, motivation from the heart, then profitable thinking, accompanied by profitable speech, and finally valuable deeds (14).

 The northern tribes, Dan and Ephraim who, already fallen into captivity, speak to Judah that affliction comes from their direction (15); the devastation that they experienced, carries the message of watchers from a far country, not from Assyria this time, but from Babylon (16). They are watching to see that no one escapes during the siege, due to the rebellion against God (17).

 The Lord declares the same cause as Elijah did, when he encountered King Ahaz, who accused, “Is that you, o troubler of Israel?” To whom Elijah answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals” (1 K.18:17-18). The cause of all problems in society is always sin and nothing less. Here the Lord declares bitter wickedness, flowing from the deep recesses of their innermost being… the heart. It is manifested in their deeds and their ways. Ways are the mannerisms of an individual or a body of people (18). Isaiah wrote, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Is.55:8). A new Christian must change his ways (see also Is.55, verse 7).

Soul sorrow

 No other prophet exhibits the deep sensitivity of Jeremiah. This is what qualifies him for the prophetic office, as much as the word that he speaks. It is the quality that every preacher of the gospel must possess. George Whitefield exclaimed as he spoke to the masses in the open air, “O sinners, if you will not weep for your own sins, George Whitefield will weep for you!” After which, he burst into tears. Nothing is feigned here; a prophet is one who is pained in my very heart! His heart hears an inner noise that clamors like an alarming trumpet and cannot be silenced, and because it cannot be silenced, he cannot but speak (19). “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,” said Peter (Ac.4:20).

 The flag of Judah waves over the prophet and the trumpet announces destruction upon destruction. Can we see why he pleads with the nation and their leaders to surrender to the Babylonian emperor? He sees the calamity is on the way already and the Lord has sent it. The only recourse is surrender… a surrender to Nebuchadnezzar is a surrender to the God, who has called him against Judah (20-21).

 Please see here the principle that decides whether a person will be damned or saved… They have not known Me. Jesus spoke to the Father, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (Jn.17:3). Paul accused members of the Corinthian church, “Some do not have the knowledge of God” (1 Co.15:34). It will be an awful day, when the Lord proclaims to professing believers, “I never knew you; depart from me…” (Mt.7:22-23). Therefore the five foolish virgins had not brought enough oil to light their lamps late into the night (Mt.25:12). Judah also is foolish and silly, without understanding, because they do not know God, and because they do not know Him, they do not know good (22).

 Jeremiah beholds four things (23-26). He sees Judah devastated and void as the earth before creation… it is totally wasted and darkened. The mountains, known for their steadfastness, tremble. Men have deserted the land and it is no longer fit for birds. The agricultural riches had turned to desert. Cities were in ruins. According to witnesses, this was Palestine, outside the protection of the government of Israel. When God called His people back in the early 20th Century and formed a free nation on May 14, 1948, it was like turning on a light. The land stabilized, even flocks of birds returned and the land became a rich producer of fruit.

 The nation fails totally under the wrath of God and returns to fruitfulness under His promises. Ah, hear the word of the Lord, shortly before the Babylonian captivity: The whole land shall be desolate; yet I will not make a full end (27). This is not the last time that we will read this; he will never abandon fully the people, to whom He lays claim.

 His judgments are as sure as His blessings. He reaffirms that judgment is on the way and it will be thorough and no one will escape. The invaders will search the thickets and climb the rocks; the cities will be desolate (29). There is no way to beautify that which God has defaced. What does a plundered society have to save its pride? True adornment is of the heart and when the heart is ugly, empty and exposed, feigned, external fairness is hated by all (30).

 What will be seen and heard from Judah is typified by a woman in labor with her first child. There is no way to embellish that scene. There is deep anguish and despair: Woe is me now. It is described as soul-weariness, far exceeding a tired body. The soul is exhausted under the extreme pressure that has fallen upon it, as it is tormented by devils, doing their worst to destroy it. “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Jn.10:10).  

 The God of all hope declares, Yet I will not make a full end. In the fullness of time, He has sent Jesus to defeat the demonic murderers and rescue sinners. It was this kind of weariness that He addressed, when He cried, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Mt.11:28).  

 Oh soul, are you weary and troubled,

No light in the darkness you see;

There’s light for a look at the Savior,

And life more abundant and free.



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