Sunday, May 22, 2022

“Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!” [Matt's Messages]

“Oh My Anguish, My Anguish!”
Uprooted - The Words of Jeremiah
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
May 22, 2022 :: Jeremiah 4:5-5:31 

Jeremiah chapters 4 through 6 really hang together as one unit of this book, but three chapters seemed like too much for us to bite off and chew in one message, so I thought we’d do chapters 4 and 5 this Sunday and then look at chapter 6 on its own next Sunday with the graduates.

Jeremiah chapters 4, 5, and 6 are all about the judgment that is coming on Judah. 

We saw that judgment was predicted already in chapter 1. In chapter 2, the LORD explained why that judgment was coming as He brought charges of infidelity against His people. And in chapter 3, the LORD invited His people to escape that judgment by repenting. He invited them to repent and return to Him.

Remember that? “Shuv.” He said, “Return to me.

Well, they did not repent, and they continued to not repent, and so Jeremiah continued to warn them about the judgment that was going to be poured out upon them. The boiling pot tilted from the north ready to scorch the rebellious people of Jerusalem and all of Judah.

And that’s what chapters 4, 5, and 6 are all about. 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a true prophet of God?

What it would feel like to be the mouthpiece of the living God?
The spokesman of the living God.
A true prophet.

Someone being given fresh revelation from God to deliver to His people.

I am, thankfully, not a prophet. 
And I am not the son of a prophet.
And I work for a non-profit organization. (Thank you, Walt Kaiser!)

But I do get to regularly represent God and try to faithfully present His words.

I’m trying to do so right here, right now.

I hope you do, as well, in your spheres of influence.

But I wonder what it would be like–not just to teach and preach and share what God has already said in His written Word to the current generation, but–to have God actually put His words fresh and hot right into your mouth?

To be able to see and know the future and be tasked with telling others what it will be. What would that be like?

Well, if the words of Jeremiah are any indication, it could apparently be pretty miserable.

It could apparently be pretty miserable to be a true prophet of the LORD at least in a time of great national decline such as the last 40 years before the exile of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Jeremiah is not called the “Weeping Prophet” for nothing.

It was no fun to be a true prophet in the time of Jeremiah. In fact, it could be downright excruciating.

The title for this message is drawn from the words of Jeremiah in chapter 4, verse 19, “Oh, my anguish, my anguish!”

The Hebrew is literally, “my innards, my innards.”  It’s what you cry out when you have a massive pain in your gut. “My belly, my belly!”

Seven years ago this last week I had my first bout with diverticulitis. I was working on a sermon on Romans 12 one Saturday, and I had this growing pain in my gut. I thought it was a stomach bug because I got a fever to go with it. And I got up on Sunday morning and preached with a fever of 102, and then I was too weak to drive home after church! That was pre-covid, wasn’t it? Imagine coming to church with a fever!

But I thought I was getting over it, and I’d just sleep it off, and then the pain got worse and worse, until I was saying to Heather, “My belly, my belly!” And so we went to the ER, and then I got my first ride in an ambulance, and then started the odyssey of diverticulitis. 

Apparently, sometimes it hurts like that to be a true prophet like Jeremiah.

And I think that teaches us something important about how to live for Jesus in 2022.

Jeremiah, in his anguish, is a model for us for how to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ in this day and age.

It’s not always easy to live for Christ in America in 2022. It’s not always obvious how to act, what to say, what to say out on social media, what to do in various situations. Especially when you think about what other Christians are saying and doing out in  the world. Out on social media. Out in the public square. Out in the churches. I am often bewildered when I learn what supposed Christians are saying and doing. How do we respond?

Well, one of key ways we can respond is with tears. With lament. With sadness. With agony. With personal pain over the choices that our fellow Christians are making. With tears.

We’re going to read a lot of words today, but I only have two simple points to make from these two chapters. Two things I want to point out over which we should rightly and righteously agonize. And here’s number one.

My anguish:


Jeremiah knows that Judah is in for a world of hurt.

That was clear from the first four verses I read to you, right? V.5 again.
‘Announce in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem and say: 'Sound the trumpet throughout the land!' Cry aloud and say: 'Gather together! Let us flee to the fortified cities!' Raise the signal to go to Zion! Flee for safety without delay! For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction.’”

It’s going to hurt.

Jeremiah says that Judah is going to be attacked and destroyed.

Now, we don’t know when Jeremiah said this. It could have been forty years before it actually occurred. Like if someone predicted an attack on us in Lanse in 1982, and it’s just happening now. But Jeremiah could see it coming very clearly, and he was warning them, not to get ready to fight, but to get ready to flee.

The alarm was going off. This is not a test. Run!

Whom are they supposed to run from?

Well, from Him. The LORD is the One bringing this disaster. And He’s doing it through an invader from the north, whom we will eventually discover is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. V.7

“A lion has come out of his lair; a destroyer of nations has set out. He has left his place to lay waste your land. Your towns will lie in ruins without inhabitant.”

How does Jeremiah feel about that? How does he feel about his message? Well, he tells them to cry. V.8

“So put on sackcloth, lament and wail, for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned away from us. ‘In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘the king and the officials will lose heart, the priests will be horrified, and the prophets will be appalled.’”

It’s going to be terrible! The wrath of God is coming. And everyone is going to agonize over it.

You know, Jeremiah could just sit back and laugh. I mean, these guys have brought this on themselves, right? Jeremiah could be like, “Hey, pass the popcorn. Let’s watch these guys get what they deserve.”

But that’s not what Jeremiah does. He actually talks back to God about the whole thing. Verse 10.

“Then I said, ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, 'You will have peace,' when the sword is at our throats.’”

Now, that there is a confusing verse. It’s one of the hardest to interpret. Jeremiah might actually be wrong here. The Bible isn’t wrong. It perfectly captures what Jeremiah said, but Jeremiah might have thought at the time that the prophets of peace were from the Lord. But we know from the rest of his book that the prophets of peace were not true prophets of the LORD. They were false prophets.

And we also know that the LORD does not deceive us, though He does allows us at times to be deceived.

I think it’s more likely that Jeremiah is saying something like that [and the NET Bible actually translates it that way, see the translation notes here]. He is agonizing over the fact that the LORD in his wisdom and justice has allowed false prophets to proliferate in Judah spreading the lie that everything was going to be okay.

Everything was not going to be okay.

I’ll bet that Jeremiah wished that the LORD would just zap those false prophets right then and there!

“You will have peace.”

We’re going to see this again and again in Jeremiah. People saying, “It’s okay. You can live however you want, and it will be okay.”

Which prophets do you think were more popular for 40 years? The prophets of peace and prosperity or sad old Jeremiah, the prophet of doom?

But Jeremiah knows, “the sword is at our throats.”

And not just a sword, but a storm. Verse 11.

“At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, ‘A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.’”

The desert storm of judgment is coming, a sirocco destroying everything in its path.

In verse 13, Jeremiah sees it. He has a vision of the attack. V.13

“Look! He advances like the clouds, his chariots come like a whirlwind, his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe to us! We are ruined! O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts? [Even now, he’s calling them to repent. V.15] A voice is announcing from Dan, proclaiming disaster from the hills of Ephraim. ‘Tell this to the nations, proclaim it to Jerusalem: 'A besieging army is coming from a distant land, raising a war cry against the cities of Judah. They surround her like men guarding a field, because she has rebelled against me,'’ declares the LORD.”

Ephraim and Dan are in the north. The picture in Jeremiah’s mind is an attack that descends and swarms in from the north and decimates Judah in the south so that they say, “Woe to us! We are ruined!”

Why? Why all of this pain? V.18

“‘Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!’”

All of this pain is self-inflicted. They deserve this. They have brought this on themselves by their ways and their deeds.

So how does Jeremiah respond to that? With anguish.

No smug satisfaction. 
No prideful laughing at these people getting their comeuppance. 

But with tears.

Just thinking about what is going to happen to his people makes Jeremiah feel completely awful. V.19

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry. Disaster follows disaster; the whole land lies in ruins. In an instant my tents are destroyed, my shelter in a moment. How long must I see the battle standard and hear the sound of the trumpet?”

Do you hear his pain over his people’s pain?

You know, he could just quit caring. That’s a real temptation today when you see your people make foolish choices. When you log on to social media and you see fellow Christians saying foolish things. When you read the news reports and you hear the latest scandals happening in churches. When your friends and family members make foolish choices and the painful consequences start coming down on them.

It’s tempting to say, “Well, they made their bed. They can lie in it. I don’t care any more.”

It’s true. They made their bed.
It’s true. They can lie in it.

But Jeremiah wasn’t able to stop caring.

And I think you and I should be like that, too.

Because I think that Jeremiah’s heart reveals the heart of His God.

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent.”

This is the first of several passages in this book that are often called “Jeremiah’s Laments” or “Jeremiah’s Confessions.” Jeremiah just bares his heart to the LORD and pours it out on the page for us to see ourselves.

Not only does his belly hurt, but he’s having a heart attack. The one phrase there in the Hebrew is literally, “O the walls of my heart!” He thinks his heart is going to burst just thinking about what is going to happen to his people. He’s almost in shock, and he wonders long he will have to feel this way.

Then answer is, a long time. He talked this way for 40 years.

And as far as we know he died, after seeing it all actually happen, with these same feelings in his heart.

Anguish at his people’s self-inflicted pain.

Do you think that is pitiful? Are you tempted to shake your head at Jeremiah’s words? Maybe you think he’s being a little over the top? I mean, these people definitely deserve this.

Who does Jeremiah remind you of?

I can’t read this without thinking about Jesus. Remember how He wept over Jerusalem?

The Gospel of Matthew chapter 9 says, “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (V.35).

What are sheep like without a shepherd? Well, they are out of control, for one thing. They go in all kinds of directions and get into all kinds of trouble. Self-inflicted pain.

And what did Jesus feel when He saw that? Did He say to the disciples, “Get a load of this one!” Share that outrageous thing. “I can’t believe they are doing that. Stupid dummies!”

No. Matthew says that Jesus had compassion on them and the Greek word there means...a pain in the gut.

“Oh my anguish, my anguish.”

I have a rule for myself on social media: “No outrage and no shaming.” I don’t always do it perfectly, but that’s my general rule. “No outrage. No shaming.”

Not because people don’t do outrageous things, even fellow Christians.
Not because people don’t do shameful things, even fellow Christians.
But because there is plenty of outrage and shame out there to go around.

There aren’t enough tears.

That doesn’t mean we don’t need truth. If there is one thing that Jeremiah has to share it is the truth. He has to call it like it is. Look at verse 22.

“‘My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.’”

That’s the truth. And it is shameful. 

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for shame. But he does not gloat. He does not look down his nose at them. He laments their willful ignorance and their skill at sinning. And he laments what is surely going to happen to them because of it. V.23 He has  another vision.

“I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone. [It’s like creation was being undone. Creation was being uncreated. v.24] I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying. I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away. I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger. This is what the LORD says: ‘The whole land will be ruined, though I will not destroy it completely.  Therefore the earth will mourn and the heavens above grow dark, because I have spoken and will not relent, I have decided and will not turn back.’  At the sound of horsemen and archers every town takes to flight. Some go into the thickets; some climb up among the rocks. All the towns are deserted; no one lives in them.”

It’s a picture of utter destruction.

Though notice in verse 27 how even this terrible judgment is tempered with God’s mercy. “...though I will not destroy it completely.” He says that 3 times in today’s passage. He always has a remnant. Until the final judgment–of which this is a foretaste–He always stirs in some mercy just because of Who He is.

But He makes no excuses for them. And He does not pretend that everything is okay.

Instead, He calls it like it is, just with anguish. Verse 30.

“What are you doing, O devastated one? Why dress yourself in scarlet and put on jewels of gold? Why shade your eyes with paint? You adorn yourself in vain. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life.”

Do you hear his anguish here? This is the second and last point for this morning.

Jeremiah doesn’t just have anguish over His people’s pain. His anguish is also over their sin, as well.

My anguish:


You can hear it in his voice: “What are you doing, O devastated one?”

This is shocking. This is senseless. This stubborn. This shameful.

What is Judah doing? The invaders are attacking, and what is she doing? 

She’s dolling herself up for false gods and foreign nations!

“Ooh, Babylon is coming over? I better get ready.

Instead of repenting and returning to the LORD, she is thinking that if she just does more of what she has been doing, she’ll get out of the consequences once again.

But Jeremiah sees through all of that. He says that the seduction act will not work this time around. Her lovers have used her up and are going to kill her this time. V.31

“I hear a cry as of a woman in labor, a groan as of one bearing her first child–the cry of the Daughter of Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands and saying, ‘Alas! I am fainting; my life is given over to murderers.’”

Do you know someone who is caught in self-destructive sin?

How do you respond to that?

Do you just shake your head and turn away?
Do you just wash your hands of it and thank God that you’re not like that?

Or do you make excuses for them?  “Oh well, maybe it’s not so bad.”
Or even celebrate their sin with them?

Jeremiah sees it, calls a spade a spade, a sin a sin.

And he weeps.

“Oh my anguish, my anguish.”

The emphasis in chapter 5 is on the rightness and righteousness of God’s coming judgment. 

The LORD keeps asking these indicting questions, these damning questions, that bring home just how just the LORD’s justice is. But there is no smugness in it at all. No schadenfreude.

If anything, the LORD almost wants to be wrong about His justice. He almost seems to want to find a way out of bringing this justice on them.

There’s no wimpyness here. He is not going to wimp out.

But He isn’t gleeful in His judgment, either. He is in anguish.

Listen. Chapter 5, verse 1. Yahweh gives Jeremiah a challenge.

“‘Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city. [This might be poetic hyperbole, but the standard here is 10X lower than was for the city of Sodom in Genesis 18. “If you can find one righteous man, I’ll forgive the whole city!” But you know how that’s going to end. V.2] Although they say, 'As surely as the LORD lives,' still they are swearing falsely.’

[Jeremiah agrees.] O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent. [They refused to “shuv.” That’s who we’ve got here in Jerusalem today.]

[But maybe shouldn’t just look among the people. We should look to their leaders. V.4] I thought, ‘These are only the poor; they are foolish, for they do not know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God. So I will go to the leaders and speak to them; surely they know the way of the LORD, the requirements of their God.’ But with one accord they too had broken off the yoke and torn off the bonds.”

Or, in other words, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. They have all have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one....all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” (Romans 3:10-12, 23).

And so the justice of God is coming. V.6

“Therefore a lion from the forest will attack them, a wolf from the desert will ravage them, a leopard will lie in wait near their towns to tear to pieces any who venture out, for their rebellion is great and their backslidings many [their many “shuvs” in the wrong directions]. 

‘Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. [I was a good husband.] I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes. They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man's wife.

Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this? 

‘Go through her vineyards and ravage them, but do not destroy them completely. Strip off her branches, for these people do not belong to the LORD. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me,’ declares the LORD.

They have lied about the LORD; they said, ‘He will do nothing! No harm will come to us; we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind and the word is not in them; so let what they say be done to them.’”

You hear the play on words there? The don’t have the breath of the LORD. They don’t have the Spirit. They just have the wind. These false prophets are windbags.

But Jeremiah is a true prophet. Verse 14.

“Therefore this is what the LORD God Almighty says: ‘Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.”

Apparently, this what it feels like to be a true prophet of God!

You have a fire burning in your mouth.

That doesn’t sound pleasant to me. It sounds urgent! But it sounds painful.

Jeremiah’s mouth was full of fire, and the words that came from it were judgment words that uprooted and tore down and destroyed and overthrew the nation (1:10).

The people were the firewood that the fire burned up. Verse 15. 

“O house of Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘I am bringing a distant nation against you–an ancient and enduring nation, a people whose language you do not know, whose speech you do not understand. Their quivers are like an open grave; all of them are mighty warriors. They will devour your harvests and food, devour your sons and daughters; they will devour your flocks and herds, devour your vines and fig trees. With the sword they will destroy the fortified cities in which you trust. [And you deserve it.]

‘Yet even in those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will not destroy you completely. 

And when the people ask, 'Why has the LORD our God done all this to us?' you will tell them, 'As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your own land, so now you will serve foreigners in a land not your own.' [Exile.]

‘Announce this to the house of Jacob and proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence? [Do you  hear His anguish?  What’s the answer to those questions? Should they not fear the Creator? Of course, they should! V.22] I made the sand a boundary for the sea, an everlasting barrier it cannot cross. The waves may roll, but they cannot prevail; they may roar, but they cannot cross it. 

But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts; they have turned aside and gone away. They do not say to themselves, 'Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.' Your wrongdoings have kept these away; your sins have deprived you of good. ‘Among my people are wicked men who lie in wait like men who snare birds and like those who set traps to catch men. Like cages full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; they have become rich and powerful and have grown fat and sleek. Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not plead the case of the fatherless to win it, they do not defend the rights of the poor.

Should I not punish them for this?’ declares the LORD. ‘Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?

‘A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?”

Do you hear the anguish in his voice?

Jeremiah’s voice. And behind and above that, the voice of the LORD?

Anguish over His people’s sin.

Notice again that He calls the sin what it is, but He does not relish doing it.

Many (most?) of the people I see out there that seem to regard themselves as “prophetic” seem to me to relish the downfall of those they are preaching against. And their followers are like, “Yeah! Stick it to them!”

That’s not prophetic. Prophetic is calling sin “sin” but with anguish in your heart. Hoping and willing and praying for genuine repentance on the part of your opponents. Holding out the invitation to return to the LORD. And be forgiven!

A fire in the mouth but agony in the heart.

No, “I told you so.” No, “You heard it here first. Like and share. Tell your friends.”

Instead it is belly-busting anguish over their pain and heart-pounding anguish over their sin. And a heartfelt desire for them to be forgiven.

Jeremiah asks, “What will you do in the end?”

Sadly, we know the answer for Judah.  They did not repent, and in the end, they got all that was coming to them (tempered with mercy). But we also know that the LORD extends forgiveness to all who will repent and come to Him. 

And we know that there was another search for a righteous person that was successful. Remember Revelation chapter 5?

Where they searched high and low for someone who was worthy to open the seals and bring about the forgiveness of sins and make all of the promises come true?

They searched, not just Jerusalem, but heaven and earth and under the earth.

And John the Revelator wept because nobody was found that was worthy.

Then John was told, you don’t have to anguish over this!

“See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (V.5).  And John looked and there was...the Lamb that was slain now standing at the center of the throne.

God has made a way to forgive sinners.

“Why should I forgive you?” the LORD asks?

Because of the anguish of Jesus.

He was forsaken by God because we had forsaken God.

And in His death, He has made it right again.

“The Lord is my salvation!” 


Previous Messages in This Series:

01. "The Word of the LORD Came to Me" - Jeremiah 1:1-19
02. "I Bring Charges Against You" - Jeremiah 2:1-3:5