Jeremiah 14:1-6 The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the dearth
The dearth, or famine, hit hardest while Jerusalem was under siege to the Babylonians during the 10th and 11th years of the reign of Zedekiah. Part of the famine hit because of a lack of rain, but it was made even more dangerous because no supplies could make it into Jerusalem past the Babylonian forces. Jeremiah may have delivered this prophesy decades earlier, but we will study it as it was fulfilled not given.
Jeremiah 14:7-9 the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land…?
The Jews were religious when they were in trouble. They felt after the Lord when they were starving to death. They sought Him when the opposing army approached. “In time of trouble” they would admit they had sinned and cry out, “O Lord… we are called by thy name; leave us not.” (v. 7,9) And again, “We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness… Do not abhor us… remember, break not thy covenant with us.” (v. 20-21) But the Lord was tired of them being “fair weather fans.” “In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me.” (D&C 101:8)
Glenn L. Pace
The whole world seems to be in commotion. Today’s news is filled with accounts of large-scale famine, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Even more devastating in the long run is the spiritually destructive hurricane of disobedience to God’s commandments that is engulfing the world. This horrible storm is blowing the moral fiber out of the nations of the earth and leaving the land in moral desolation. Many people seem to be oblivious to this hurricane and have become so desensitized they don’t even feel a breeze.
We are following a cycle which was repeated over and over again in the Book of Mormon. As the Lord tells us, “In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me” (D&C 101:8).
We shouldn’t be too surprised, therefore, that the Lord is allowing some wake-up calls to jar us loose from apathy just as he has done in previous dispensations. In the book of Helaman, Nephi said, “And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, … they will not remember him” (Hel. 12:3).
In our dispensation the Lord has said, “And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer” (D&C 105:6).
To some, the events unfolding in the world today are frightening. This is not a time to panic, but it is definitely a time to prepare. (Ensign, Nov. 1992, 12)
Jeremiah 14:11 Then said the Lord unto me, Pray not for this people for their good
The wickedness must be pretty bad when the Lord commands the prophet to stop praying for them. The Lord didn’t command Abraham to stop praying for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:24-33). The wickedness is reminiscent of the last days of the Nephites when Mormon could no longer pray with any faith that it would help, “Behold, I had led them, notwithstanding their wickedness I had led them many times to battle, and had loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them; nevertheless, it was without faith, because of the hardness of their hearts.” Mormon 3:12)
“Jeremiah's despair knows no bounds. The Lord rejects his prayer for the people, and yet his mission to them must still be one of warning and denunciation, with all the deep hatred it was bound to arouse:
Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me
A man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!
I have not lent, neither have men lent to me;
Yet every one of them doth curse me. (Jer. 15:10)”
(Sidney B. Sperry, The Voice of Israel's Prophets [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1952], 170)
Jeremiah 14:14-15 The prophets prophesy lies in my name… By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed
In the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign, there were many prophets on both sides of the debate—true prophets (e.g. Lehi and Zedekiah) predicting destruction and false prophets (e.g. Hananiah, Ahab, and Shemaiah) proclaiming peace. By the end of Zedekiah’s reign, there weren’t many of the false prophets left. Jeremiah asked Zedekiah, “Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, the king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” (Jer. 37:19) It must have been embarrassing for those false prophets to see the Babylonians outside the walls of the city, knowing that they had predicted such a calamity would never come. Little did they know that they would not survive the siege.
Jeremiah 14:18 If I go forth into the field, then behold the slain with the sword!
The inhabitants of Jerusalem were divided up by the Lord, “Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity.” (Jer. 15:2) Those killed by the sword included those who opposed the Babylonians when they breached the walls and those who sallied out of the city in search of food during the siege.
History would repeat itself when the Romans sacked Jerusalem circa AD 70. Josephus records what happened to those who got so hungry in the siege that they would sneak out in search of food.
[Titus] ordered they should lay ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food. Some of these were indeed fighting men, who were not contented with what they got by rapine; but the greater part of them were poor people… the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that, when they were concealed from the robbers (within the city), they should be taken by the enemy; and when they were going to be taken, they were forced to defend themselves for fear of being punished; as after they had fought, they thought it too late to make any supplications for mercy; so they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more… So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies. (Wars of the Jews, Book V, 11:1)
Jeremiah 14:18 If I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with famine!
Again we will skip ahead 660 years to the Roman siege on Jerusalem, since the pattern was nearly exactly the same as in the Babylonian siege. Josephus detailed in great detail the horrors of those dying of hunger in Jerusalem in 70 AD. We must image the same in Zedekiah’s day.
So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged; the children also and the young men wandered about the market-places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them. (Wars of the Jews, Book V, 12:3)
Now of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable; for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did any where appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life… Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed. (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 3:3)
Later, Jeremiah wrote about those who died by sword and famine. He much preferred death by sword:
They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people. (Lam. 4:9-10)
The phrase, “sodden their own children,” means to make soup of your child’s flesh. This is not poetic language! Some Jewish mother, in her extreme hunger, went so far as to make food of her own child! Who could eat such a soup? The tragedy of child cannibalism was repeated in the Roman siege of 70 AD. Josephus’ description of the event is detailed and dramatic. Both events were prophesied by Moses, “thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters… in the siege” (Deut. 38:53).
…snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves. This famine also will destroy us… As soon as she had said this, she slew her son, and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed. Upon this the [neighbors] came in presently, and smelling the horrid scent of this food, they threatened her that they would cut her throat immediately if she did not show them what food she had gotten ready. She replied that she had saved a very fine portion of it for them, and withal uncovered what was left of her son. Hereupon they were seized with a horror and amazement of mind, and stood astonished at the sight, when she said to them, "This is mine own son, and what hath been done was mine own doing! Come, eat of this food; for I have eaten of it myself! Do not you pretend to be either more tender than a woman, or more compassionate than a mother; but if you be so scrupulous, and do abominate this my sacrifice, as I have eaten the one half, let the rest be reserved for me also." After which those men went out trembling, being never so much affrighted at any thing as they were at this, and with some difficulty they left the rest of that meat to the mother. (Wars of the Jews, Book VI, 3:4)