Drought, famine and sword. 14:1-16


In this lament, Jeremiah describes a terrible drought affecting Israel, v1-6, he then prays for mercy, v7, asking why the Lord is so slow in acting for his people. Jeremiah then asks for deliverance, v8-9, and concludes with the Lord's response - it is because of Israel's sin that the Lord refuses to act, v10. In a prose section, v11-16, Jeremiah expands on v10. In this section, Jeremiah tries to excuse the people of Israel. False prophets had indeed led Israel astray, but the people are responsible for their own sin and so the Lord does not accept this excuse.

The passage

v1. The actual wording of this verse implies that what follows is a reflection (lament) from Jeremiah, rather than an oracle (word) from the Lord. This does not come across in the NIV translation.

v2. The people of Judah and Jerusalem grieve. ("Her cities", lit. her gates = Jerusalem.)

v3. The people grieve because of the drought. The cisterns (water tanks carved out of the rock and lined with a lime render) are empty. The servants cover their heads in shame.

v4-6. The land is drought stricken, pastures bare, pools and streams dried up. Even the wild animals suffer.

v7. Jeremiah confesses the people's sin and pleads for mercy - for deliverance from the drought. The people have broken the covenant agreement by turning away from the Lord and so they deserve punishment, but Jeremiah pleads for mercy because of the Lord's name. Since God is merciful, can he really ignore his people?

v8-9. The Lord is Israel's deliverer in times of distress; he is the source of Israel's hope. The people of Israel are His; they belong to Him. Yet, the Lord is aloof, distant from his people. So Jeremiah asks, why is the all-forgiving-one estranged from his people? Jeremiah cries out on behalf of the people, "do not forsake us!"

v10. Most laments end in hope, but here Jeremiah demonstrates his belief that judgment is close at hand. The people "wander" (chase after other Gods) and so national calamity is inevitable.

v11-12. The Lord tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people, given that he has no intention of alleviating their plight. This is the third time Jeremiah has been told this, cf. 7:15, 11:14. He should know by now that a prayer for deliverance must rest on the will of God. Israel may indulge in their cultic rituals, but it will make no difference. Sword, famine and pestilence, the fruits of war, will soon be upon them.

v13-14. Jeremiah tries to blame the popular prophets for the plight of the people. These prophets proclaim lasting prosperity, but they have failed to understand the consequences of Israel's breach of the covenant. All they proclaim is "the delusion of their own minds."

v15-16. The popular prophets had no authority to proclaim peace when there was no peace. They will therefore be the first to suffer. Yet, gullible Israel will inevitably face the same fate. In their case they will be thrown out into the streets and left unburied. For an Israelite, as with most cultures, to be left unburied is a terrible end.

Prayer according to the will of God

In the apostle Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians he reminds them to "pray without ceasing", 1Thess.5:17. This is good advice for the application of practical Christianity. Rather than analyzing each prayer request, best just to lay them all before the Lord. The Lord is well able to handle our extended prayer points, even if He has no intention of acting on the bulk of them. So yes, pray without ceasing; lay it all before the Lord.

Yet, Jeremiah found himself in a particular situation. He had inside knowledge of God's intentions regarding the nation of Israel. He knew well that this drought was a punishment from the Lord upon a people who had fondled pagan Gods - "they greatly love to wander." In fact, he knew that the Lord was about to "remember their wickedness." Yet, he still sought to shift the blame from the people to the popular prophets, calling on the Lord to exercise his covenantal responsibilities and show mercy to the people.

Asking the Lord to act mercifully, knowing full well the will of the Lord, can only prompt the reply "do not pray for the well-being of this people." Jeremiah should have known better. In fact, this is the third time the Lord has had to remind Jeremiah to stick with the Lord's plan, rather than trying to manipulate the Lord's intentions in line with his own, cf. 7:15, 11:14.

Here we find an important principle on prayer. John, in his first epistle, puts it simply when he says, "if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know (believe) that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him", 1Jn.5:14-15. Efficacy in prayer depends on a prayer (intercession or supplication) of faith which is based on the will (promised intentions) of God.

There is no harm praying for a neighbor's dog that has run away and gotten lost. The Lord can handle all our prayers. A problem only develops when we think that the Lord is in the business of retrieving lost dogs. The Lord is in the business of fulfilling his will, and when we pray in line with that will, it's then we see our prayers answered.

Other than specific promises made to specific people, God's will, as it applies to us, is found in the general promises recorded in the Bible that apply to all people at all times - the John 3:16 type of promise, the forgiveness of sins type of promise. So, pray without ceasing, but particularly pray according to the will of God.


List some points of prayer based on the revealed will of God.

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