Thursday, February 6, 2014

Jeremiah 1:1-3:25


Jeremiah 1:1-3 introduce us to the book's titular prophet. Our hero is a priest from Anathtoh, a town in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. Israel's first king, Saul, was a Benjaminite. According to the introduction to Jeremiah in the Jewish Study Bible, this would make Jeremiah a descendant of Eli, the priest of Shiloh whom we met in 1 Samuel. Israel's second king, David, removed the "Elide" priests from the office of high priest and installed the Zadokites in their place.

Jeremiah prophesied in Judah beginning in the reign of King Josiah, continuing through the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and right up until the time of the Babylonian exile. Again, the Jewish Study Bible says that Jeremiah, like Moses, is a priest and prophet whose career spanned 40 years.

Verses 4-19 describe Jeremiah's inaugural experience. Appointed by YHWH, Jeremiah, like Moses and others before him, protests that he is not prepared for the job. "I'm too young," he says. As usual, YHWH will have none of it.

Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."
      (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

There follow two visions (vv.11-14)  the first involving a pun. In Hebrew the words for "almond tree" and "watching" sound similar. The second vision is a boiling pot from the north. YHWH will pour out disasters from the north in judgment for Judah's idolatry.

The chapter concludes with YHWH telling Jeremiah that the prophet will be an inviolable "fortified city," a description that Jeremiah's opponents would have applied to Jerusalem.

Reading chapters 2 and 3 is something like watching an episode of Divorce Court with YHWH as the husband and Israel as the wife. Their relationship started out happily. YHWH's recollection of their time in the wilderness is rosy and romantic, far removed from the book of Exodus.

I remember the devotion of your youth,
   how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
   through a land not sown. 
      (Jeremiah 2:1b)

Now, YHWH brings his unfaithful bride to court:

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the LORD.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.”
      (Jeremiah 2:9)

YHWH's beef is that Judah has gone to Egypt and Assyria for help (2:18) and has committed idolatry which is rather graphically described as prostitution (2:20) and adultery. Israel's indiscretions are put in terms of animal sex.

You are a swift she-camel
   running here and there,
a wild donkey accustomed to the desert,
   sniffing the wind in her craving—
   in her heat who can restrain her?
Any males that pursue her need not tire themselves;
   at mating time they will find her.
      (Jeremiah 2:23b-24)

For his part, YHWH insists that he is innocent:

"Why do you bring charges against me?
   You have all rebelled against me."
      (Jeremiah 2:29)

YHWH at first insists that his divorce from Judah will be final, complete, and irrevocable (3:1-5). But then, as the prophet's words turn from poetry to a mix of prose and poem, YHWH's tone softens. The oracle of vv. 6-25 is set in the time of King Josiah whose reforms sought unite Judah with the remnants of Israel. YHWH here says that he would welcome repentant Israel back.

Scripture quotes are from the New International Version.
Next: Jeremiah 4-6

No comments:

Post a Comment