The Book of JEREMIAH
James J. Barker
IF THOU WILT RETURN
- Jeremiah 4 is a
continuation of Jeremiah's second recorded message, which began in chapter 3,
- The Scofield
Study Bible calls it, "The second message to backslidden
- They were
terribly backslidden, and the LORD was telling them to return from their
backsliding (3:7, 22; 4:1).
- The key verse
is Jeremiah 4:3. Hosea 10:12 says
the same thing: “Break up your fallow ground.”
- The Israelites
were a nation of farmers, and there are many references to farming in the
- “Be not
deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he
also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the
flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of
the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7,
- In Matthew
13:3, our Lord said, “Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” He went on to
say that some seeds fell by the way side, some fell upon stony places, some fell
among thorns, and other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit (Matt.
- In His
explanation of the parable, our Lord said in Matthew 13:19 that the ground
represents the heart of man.
- That is why the
prophets Jeremiah and Hosea say, “Break up your fallow ground” (Jer. 4:3; Hosea
- Fallow ground (Jer. 4:3) is hard ground. It
is inactive and uncultivated. It is thorny ground.
- When Jeremiah and Hosea say, “Break up your fallow
ground,” they are referring to the hard, stubborn heart of
- The Lord says, “Break up your fallow ground, and sow
not among thorns” (Jer. 4:3).
- Our churches are filled with thorns. A proud heart is a
thorny heart. It is like ground untilled. A hard heart needs to be broken up by
the Spirit of God. And only the
Holy Spirit can do that.
- Matthew Henry said a hard heart “is ground which may be
improved…but it is fallow; it is over-grown with thorns and weeds, the natural
product of the corrupt heart. Let us entreat the Lord to create in us a clean
heart, and to renew a right spirit within us; for except a man be born again, he
cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
- I have preached from Jeremiah 4 before and I have a very
simple outline for this chapter, one that is very easy to remember: repentance,
Finney also mentioned the lack of interest in
Sins of commission referred to by Finney include:
worldly-mindedness, pride, envy, a bitter spirit, slander, lying, cheating,
hypocrisy, robbing God (not tithing), bad temper, and hindering others from
- “The plowshare
of conviction must overturn the hardened soil of the heart” (HA
- Sin must be
dealt with (Jer. 4:1; cf. 3:13). Just like fallow ground must be broken up, sin
must be rooted out of the heart.
- The word
“abominations” (Jer. 4:1) is a strong word. The word refers to the wicked
things God hates – witchcraft, immorality, pride, idolatry, false religion, etc.
- The Israelites
were stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, and burning incense unto
Baal and other heathen gods (Jer. 7:9). Then they would go into the temple and
try and worship the true God of heaven. God calls this an abomination (Jer. 7:10;
- In fact, our
Lord quoted Jeremiah 7:11 when He threw the moneylenders out of the temple
- Sin must be
thoroughly dealt with. Jeremiah 4:1 says, “Put away thine abominations out of my
- Jeremiah 3:13
says, "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast
transgressed against the LORD thy God."
- God says,
“Break up your fallow ground,” but the flesh shrinks from that.
Repentance is painful at first but afterwards it produces a tremendous
- True repentance
means turning from sin from sin and turning to God. The apostle Paul wrote in I
Thessalonians 1:9, “How ye turned to God from idols to serve the living
and true God.”
- Paul said in Acts 26:20, “That they should repent and
turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”
- The great revivalist Charles Finney said for Christians
to break up the fallow ground they must repent of all known sins. He said
they first must deal with their sins of omission, and then their sins of
- Sins of omission referred to by Finney include:
ingratitude, coldness toward God, neglect of Bible reading, neglect of prayer,
neglect of family duties, and neglect of self-denial.
- Finney said, “They think they are doing a great deal for
God, and doing about as much as He ought to ask in reason, if they are only
doing what they can do about as well as not; but they are not willing to
deny themselves any comfort or convenience whatever, for the sake of serving the
Lord. They will not willingly suffer reproach for the name of Christ. Nor will
they deny themselves the luxuries of life, to save a world from
- Other sins of omission referred to by Finney include
skipping Sunday School and church services,
unbelief, and no burden for the souls of men.
Finney said, “You have stood by and seen them going right to hell, and it seems
as though you did not care if they did.”
- It is sad but
true: Many church members have never been born again.
- The Jews
thought they were saved on the basis of their circumcision. This sort of
thinking carried over into the apostolic church. In Acts 15:1 we read,
“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said,
Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be
- The apostle
Paul dealt with this false teaching in his epistle to the
- God wanted them
to circumcise their hearts (Jer. 4:4a; 9:26). This refers to
regeneration, not ritual. But worldly, carnal religionists prefer
ritual. The flesh likes ritual.
- Ritualism likes
holy days and traditions and liturgies and sacraments. This has replaced soulwinning, prayer,
and strong Bible preaching in most churches. Even many Baptist churches have been
- God wanted
their hearts circumcised (4:4). This meant radical change. They
needed to be born again.
- In Deuteronomy
10:16, the LORD told the Israelites, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your
heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”
- “And be no
more stiffnecked.” Stephen said to the stubborn Jews in Acts
7:51, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye
do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do
often wonder why some church members are so stiffnecked, so hard-hearted, so
obstinate, so unteachable, and so stubborn. It could be that many of these
stiffnecked church members were never saved in the first
- In Romans 2:28, 29, the apostle Paul explains that
circumcision – the circumcision necessary for salvation – was not
“outward in the flesh.”
- It is the inward circumcision of the heart that
God requires (cf. Col. 2:11).
- The circumcision of the flesh is physical and
visible. It was a visible token of the covenant God made with Abraham and
his descendants, the Jews.
- But the circumcision of the heart is spiritual
- Men like physical demonstrations of their
religion – circumcision, baptism, confirmation, liturgy, bar mitzvah, high holy
- Ministers with colorful robes and pretentious titles,
big candles, holy days and liturgies, and chanting and incense and pomp and
- But God is unimpressed with all of that ecclesiastical
foolishness. In fact, in Isaiah 1:13 He calls it an
- Religion without regeneration is an abomination.
Please allow me to be blunt – the biggest racket in America today is not the
gambling business; it is not the drug trade; it is not pornography; and it is
not the alcohol business.
- The biggest racket in America today is the religion
racket and it is more wicked and more corrupt and more dangerous than drugs,
alcohol, gambling, and pornography put together (cf. Jer.
- L. Ron Hubbard was an author who wrote weird science
fiction books. He told
people, "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to
make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own
religion." So he started the
Scientology cult, which is weirder and more devilish than the trashy books he
- It is a fact that the flesh does not mind a little
religion, but the flesh hates the circumcision of the heart.
- Over 100 years ago, William Booth wrote these words: “In
answer to your inquiry, I consider that the chief dangers which confront the
coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without
Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics
without God, and heaven without hell.”
- Jesus told Nicodemus, that very religious man, that
great Pharisee, “Ye must be born again" (John 3:7).
- God says, “Break up your fallow ground” (Jer.
4:3). But most of what passes for preaching today has no effect on the
fallow ground – it is like a man digging with a broken shovel or a broken
- Backslidden, carnal and unsaved people like this weak,
anemic preaching because they do not have to change. No demands are put
- They can continue on in their worldly ways, but God will
not put up with it for long. This brings us to our last
- Most of
Jeremiah 4 deals with retribution. Jeremiah 4:4 says, “Lest my fury come forth like fire, and
burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (cf.
- This is a
warning of God's judgment upon backslidden Judah. Evil would come "from the north" (4:6;
cf. 1:13), a reference to the invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
- Verses 5 to 13
warn of the coming fall of Jerusalem by the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar.
Jeremiah uses three different pictures to describe the coming
- "The lion is come up from his thicket, and the
destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make
thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant"
- "A dry wind" (4:11) and a "full wind" (4:12) shall come,
bringing great destruction and discomfort. Jeremiah says, "Woe unto us! for we are spoiled"
- Jeremiah 4:16 says, "watchers come from a far country"
(Babylon), waiting for the right time to attack the cities of
- There could
only be one way to escape God's fierce judgment - “Wash thine heart from
- This "washing"
can only be done by receiving the Word of God, and obeying it, and allowing it
to work in the conscience.
- Our Lord said
in John 15:3, "Now ye are clean through the word
which I have spoken unto you."
- Ephesians 5:26
says the church has been sanctified and cleansed with the washing of water "by
- Since the
people of Judah would not listen to Jeremiah, they would have to face the
judgment of God (4:15-21).
- The message
upset Jeremiah and affected his health (4:19).
- The people of Judah were determined to continue in their
wickedness. They were “wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge”
- The coming judgment is graphically depicted (4:23
- Regarding Jeremiah's frightening prophecies (e.g., 4:30,
31), H.A. Ironside said, "The language is doubtless highly poetical, yet fully
to be relied on."
- J. Vernon McGee
said America is in the same kind of position today as were the people of Judah
in Jeremiah's day.
- "The nation at
that time had rejected God, but the people were still making a pretense of
following Him. Such a people will
find themselves rejected by God and by the world. America is following that same
path. We are not loved by the world
today. After World War II we were
the pious people who were going to bring democracy to the world. What have we
done? We have brought lawlessness
into our own land. Do you think we
should bring lawlessness into the trails of the jungle as we have into the
streets of our cities? Is that the
kind of civilization we are going to bring to people?
- "We find
ourselves despised by other nations. God said it would be that way.
No people can pretend to be God-fearing, be hypocritical about it, and
still expect the world to look up to them. God has ordered it that way.
I know it is not popular to say this -- Jeremiah wasn't very popular in
his day either" (Thru the