Jer 4:3-4 “For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”
We would like to think that, when the LORD speaks, we listen (as in doing what we are told and not simply hearing). However, our behavior often tells a different story. We claim to love the Lord, but we live our daily lives with little thought to whether or not He is pleased. Instead, we worry if our employer is pleased, if our spouse and children are pleased, or if we ourselves are pleased.
We claim to love His church, but again our actions tell a different story. We love concerts, ball games, and social gatherings. We do a lot of advance planning to make sure we can attend these functions. Vacation time is requested months in advance and excitement builds as the time draws near. We lay aside funds (or borrow ourselves into debt) to be sure we can do all the things we want to do, and we grieve when these plans go awry. However, we seldom give this kind of attention to the church and barely manifest even a twinge of remorse if we fail to make it to church.
Until the word of our LORD and His church becomes of greater value than the things of the world, we will continue to look about us in despair. Note the word of the Lord as given to Jeremiah here. He was not addressing the Hittites or the Amorites or the Babylonians. His words were specifically addressed to the “men of Judah and Jerusalem.” His counsel was directed to those whom He had called, walked with, led by miraculous power, and committed His truth unto.
As it was then, so it is today. God’s word is not sent to those out in the world who He has not yet called into His service. His word is committed unto us because He has given us ears to hear and hearts to understand. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments (Joh 14:15). Otherwise, we are only giving Him lip service and our hearts are far from Him (Mat 15:8). If we would see the His church (Jerusalem) and His kingdom (Judah) here prosper, there are responsibilities laid before us.
First we are told to break up our fallow ground. As a youth, I learned the benefit of giving the land a rest now and then. We moved our garden plot every few years so as to not overtax the soil. The LORD gave commandment to allow the land to rest, but considering the context here it does not appear this was what He was referring to.
The word fallow can also carry the idea of neglect. Considering the tenor of the words God have to Jeremiah and the condition of Judah and Jerusalem, it would appear that the idea of neglect is a more appropriate interpretation here. They were neglecting the things of God in their lives just as so many of us do today. God says (thus saith the LORD) that we must pay attention to the things of His that we (those who know His word in their hearts) have neglected in favor of our carnal concerns.
When we have given our attention to His work that we have neglected, then we need to sow to that work. Our efforts and energies need to be directed toward pleasing Him. Instead of focusing on pleasing our employer, we need to focus on pleasing Him in our daily labor. We need to please Him in the way we treat our spouse, our children, our neighbors, and especially the church. While some of the things we do may not necessarily change, the focal point of why we are doing these things will change. Instead of sowing to ourselves, we are sowing to His church and kingdom here.
To further signify that He was not concerned with the natural aspect of things, God calls their attention to circumcision again. This circumcision is of a very personal nature. It is not something someone else can do for us (like the circumcision of the flesh). Instead it is something that He has laid before each of us (circumcise yourself). This circumcision has to do with our heart and not our flesh.
This is not about becoming a child of God. He alone can take away the hard and stony (carnal) heart and give us a heart of flesh (a spiritual heart). After we have been given a new heart, one capable of loving Him, we can still find ourselves caught up in carnal things. He is reminding us that He has given us the ability to take away the foreskin (loving other things while neglecting His work) and be attentive unto the things of God.
None of this is directed to those who are dead in sin: the dead cannot hear or act. The dead cannot be accused of neglect because they have no power to be attentive. These words are directed to men who have spiritual life; capable of both labor and neglect. While there is nothing that we can do (or fail to do) that will ever remove us from God’s hand (the security of our eternal salvation in Jesus Christ), rest assured that our Lord and Savior still renders judgment on His people here because of our evil doings.
May God show us mercy that we might repent of our neglect of His work and do all our labor as unto the LORD!