Droughts Will Give Way to More Severe Punishment
Drought, first apparently mentioned in Jeremiah 12:4, continues to afflict the land (Jeremiah 14:1-6; see also Jeremiah 23:10). Things get so bad that the people resort to calling on God, Jeremiah here recording the people's plea for relief in which they confessed their sins and asked God to save them for His own name's sake (Jeremiah 14:7-9). This was according to the prayer Solomon had long before prayed at the temple's dedication: "When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, when they pray toward this place and confess your name, and turn from their sin because you afflict them, then hear in heaven, and forgive the sin of Your servants, Your people Israel, that You may teach them the good way in which they should walk; and send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people as an inheritance" (1 Kings 8:35-36).
But there was a major problem here. The people confessed but they did not "turn from their sin" as Solomon had stated. They asked God to act for the sake of His name (His reputation) after they had, by their wicked conduct, profaned God's name among the nations—and would not desist from doing so. Therefore, their repentance is meaningless and God will not accept it. He knows that such pleas always come in times of need. In the past He answered the calls over and over again. This time He has drawn the line and will follow through with the threatened punishment (Jeremiah 14:10). Again, God tells Jeremiah not to pray for the people (verse 11; compare Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14).
In verse 12 of chapter 14, God says that He will not accept any of their hypocritical displays of piety but will send worse punishment than just the droughts. The people will be consumed by the sword (of warfare), by famine and by pestilence (disease epidemics). Centuries before, King David was given a choice between these three punishments for sin (see 2 Samuel 24:13). But the people of Judah would now suffer all three (Jeremiah 14:12; compare Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 24:10; Jeremiah 27:8, Jeremiah 27:13; Jeremiah 29:17-18; Ezekiel 14:21). Indeed, these terrible occurrences have often formed a cycle in human history. In war, people are pillaged, their crops and livestock ruined, their water taken or polluted. This leads to famine. Widespread malnourishment then weakens people to the point of greater susceptibility to infection with disease.
Jeremiah's love for the people is obvious. While he is not allowed to pray for the people's deliverance from punishment, he proposes mitigating circumstances that may alleviate the people's guilt to some degree. "He says it's the prophets' fault. The prophets have misled the ordinary folks. There are two things to note here. First, we are each responsible for our own choices. We can't pass that on to anyone else, even preachers! Second, the prophets were guilty of misleading Judah and would suffer more greatly than others [compare James 1:1-3]. [But] don't suppose that 'he said it was all right' or 'I was obeying orders' relieves us of responsibility" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Jeremiah 14:13-16, emphasis added).
In verses 17-18, God gives Jeremiah a lament to utter when the prophesied punishment actually comes. "Jeremiah's tears, portraying his own and the Lord's anguish over a destroyed people, are part of his message to them and have the force of an 'acted oracle.' They show the backlash of the message of doom on him who preaches it, and none should preach destruction who cannot weep for those under its threat" (New Bible Commentary, note on verse 17). Surely we will feel the same when we see our nations suffer in the years ahead. Indeed, many tears were shed by God's people over the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Thus we can certainly empathize with Jeremiah.
At the end of verse 18, it is not clear in this case if the "land they do not know" is a foreign land or their homeland so devastated as to be unrecognizable. Eventually, as other prophecies make clear, they will be removed to a foreign land.
In verses 19-22, the people make another empty plea for mercy. "The people of Judah based their hope for relief on an appeal to God to act for the sake of (1) His name, (2) His temple (e.g., His 'glorious throne'), and (3) His covenant. Why was the plea empty? Because Israel's blatant idolatry had already dragged God's name through the mud. His temple was defiled by those who supposed they could [brazenly] sin and still worship. And His covenant had been broken by those who now wanted to claim it. There comes a time when only judgment can preserve God's honor" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on verse 21).
So God responds in Jeremiah 15:1-9 with His determination to proceed. Moses and Samuel were among the great leaders of God who interceded for Israel with favorable results (Exodus 32:11; 1 Samuel 7:9). But even their intercession would avail nothing for the people now. Verse 2 of Jeremiah 15 is rather ominous, telling the prophet to respond to inquiries about where to go (i.e., what to do now) with the pronouncement of judgment. "The imagery of dogs, birds and beasts devouring human flesh vividly illustrates not only death but desecration" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 3-4). These animals may also portray gentile nations here.
"The basis for this desecration is the defilement of Jerusalem that took place during the reign of Manasseh, when idolatry reigned in the temple courts and children were sacrificed to Molech" (note on verses 3-4). Manasseh was the most evil king Judah ever had (2 Kings 21:9-18). It seems he did turn to God later, but had caused much damage to the relationship between Judah and God. "He was now dead, but the effects of his sins still remained. How much evil one bad man can cause! The evil fruits remain even after he himself has received repentance and forgiveness. The people had followed his wicked example ever since; and it is implied that it was only through the long-suffering of God that the penal consequences had been suspended up to the present time (cf. I Kings 14:16; II Kings 21:11; 23:26; 24:3, 4)" (Jamieson, Fausset &Brown's Commentary, note on verse 4).