In the first part of Jeremiah 5, God establishes three major points: the overwhelming guilt of His chosen people; His absolute right to punish them, and His willingness to forgive. Without His kindness, mercy, and grace, we would be eternally hopeless. Without His wisdom in making a way for us to be forgiven while still preserving His justice, we would be eternally doomed. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Regarding the nation of Judah, Jeremiah 5 continues by telling of the severe discipline and chastisement that was already being prepared for them in the form of Babylon.
The description of the punishment is detailed, vivid, and downright frightening, or at least it seems that way to me. Apparently, Judah did not have a healthy fear because God calls attention to that fact.
Jeremiah 5:18-25 begins by tempering slightly the prophesied judgment in the previous paragraph. "Yet even in those days," declares the Lord, "I will not make you a complete destruction. 19 "It shall come about when they say, 'Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?' then you shall say to them, 'As you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.' 20 "Declare this in the house of Jacob And proclaim it in Judah, saying, 21 'Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, Who have eyes but do not see; Who have ears but do not hear. 22 'Do you not fear Me?' declares the Lord. 'Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. 23 'But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; They have turned aside and departed. 24 'They do not say in their heart, "Let us now fear the Lord our God, Who gives rain in its season, Both the autumn rain and the spring rain, Who keeps for us The appointed weeks of the harvest." 25 'Your iniquities have turned these away, And your sins have withheld good from you. (NASU)
The rhetorical question God had for senseless Judah and you and me is found in verse 22: Do you not fear Me? Do you not tremble in My presence? God summarized the anticipated and certain answer in verse 24: They do not say in their heart, "Let us now fear the Lord our God. In spite of the fact that throughout the passage the unmatched power of God and the unfailing goodness of God is well documented, Judah continued refusing to do the smart thing which would be to fear God.
Beginning in Genesis 20:11, the “fear of God” is introduced as a positive thing. That theme continues throughout the rest of the Old and New Testaments. The fear of the Lord is not the end of wisdom, but it is the beginning of wisdom. Without a clear understanding that God created us and thus has the right to expect our strict and total obedience, we will never make wise decisions. Without a clear understanding that God has the right to hold us accountable to keep His commands and judge us when we do not, we will never make wise decisions. This “fear of the Lord” should enable us to understand the “good news” concerning God’s patience, kindness, and long-suffering toward us. The “fear of the Lord” should prepare us to be eager to take advantage of the offer of grace and forgiveness. Obstinance and bluster do not a smart man make.