At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.
— Jeremiah 4:11-12
Y’know, I’ve read Jeremiah a couple of times, and somehow I’ve not seen this?
In central Texas’ summers, we get this. It’s been 100F for days, the ground is brown- and straw-colored, the pavement just lays there like the heat-sink it is. The weather shifts just enough for wind to kick up…
and it’s not a wind that brings cool relief, or even a little ease. It’s the face of 100 degrees, shoving past you at speed. You feel as if you’ve opened the convection oven (though technically there’s at least another 100 degrees to go). Moisture in your skin? Not now. It all bakes dry in the time it takes to stand on your stoop. Going to the mailbox and back? Maybe you should bring a cache of water.
Winnowing separates a wheat kernel from its husk and any lingering stem-bits: chaff. Chaff lifts in a slight breeze, letting the kernel fall back, but this wind whips everything clean off the threshing-room floor. No wheat, no flour, no bread in this wind. So if you’d hoped for a “ditch the bad, keep the good” metaphor, you’re not even parched here. A dust-devil has carried off your possibilities.
Ok, you see that we’ve all gone too far for a mere winnowing. A good scrubbing, then? The metaphors for cloth-dyers, full of lye and piss and other bleaches? These sting, peel the skin, leave humans cracked and bleeding when the cloth comes out white like clouds. But we’re still here. Skin will eventually heal, and oh, that beautiful bolt-! Is not for you now either. This wind is not for cleansing.
This wind comes out of the bare heights, God says. It strips topsoil down to stone, leaving less than dust behind. The wind is just this side of the unmaking…
…or it’s the wind that carries all that topsoil, that fruitfulness, far far away. To let others see what might grow,
if properly tended.