THIS CHAPTER, JEREMIAH 14, oscillates between poetry and prose, and between God's speech and Jeremiah's response. The occasion is the calamitous drought devastating the country. Some reflections:
(1) A disaster may be no more than the effluent of the Fall, and not God's specific judgment on a people. Even then it reminds us of our mortality and our lostness, and calls for repentance (Luke 13:1-5). Nevertheless, a specific disaster may be the immediate and direct judgment of God on a people. Therefore disasters demand self-examination and a humble heart. In exactly the same way, a crippling illness may not be the direct consequence of a specific sin (John 9). But it may be (John 5).
(2) Again and again in the Old Testament, God punishes the covenant community for their sins by using the recurrent banes of the ancient world: sword (i.e., war, and sometimes exile with it), famine, and plague (Jer. 14:11-12). This threefold combination is brought together seven times in the prophecy of Jeremiah. Ezekiel 14 adds a fourth: wild beasts. These are either "natural" phenomena (famine and plague) or are brought about by wicked human conduct (war, and sometimes famine and plague).
(3) Because our own culture tries so hard to detach from God what happens in the "natural" world, reserving for him only private or distantly "spiritual" things, we rush to give naturalistic explanations for our wars and famines and plagues instead of at least trying to learn the lessons providence may be teaching us. I am not suggesting that it is easy to read providence. We have seen that Scripture itself warns us against trying to infer too much too quickly (Luke 13:1-5). Nevertheless, not to draw any moral and spiritual lessons from disasters may be nothing more than an index of how far we have sold ourselves to the forces of secularization. We resolutely refuse to "hear" what God says when he speaks to us in the language of judgment---exactly the response of ancient Israel. Indeed, according to this chapter there was a hearty collection of religious leaders who denied any connection between disaster and divine judgment (Jer. 14:14). It is ever so. So not only will prophets be held accountable for what they say and teach, but the people are responsible for what they choose to listen to. Shall we not learn any moral and spiritual lessons in this bloody twentieth century from two world wars, the arms race, economic collapses, the Nazis, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Biafra, the Balkans, Rwanda, Vietnam, wretched totalitarian regimes of left and right, famines, slavery, the Sudan, racism, AIDS, abortion? Kipling was right: "Lord God of hosts, be with us yet / Lest we forget; lest we forget."