Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jeremiah 18:1-22:30


In Jeremiah 18:1-12, at YHWH's instruction Jeremiah watches a potter shaping a clay vessel. When it doesn't turn out the potter forms it into something else. The analogy is simple. YHWH is the potter. Israel is the clay. The Lord can re-shape his people as he sees fit. Verse 11 is disturbing:

Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. (NRSV)

The NIV softens the verse, excusing YHWH of "evil":

Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.

Though YHWH offers Judah a chance to repent, his offer is rejected (v. 12).

In verses 13-17, YHWH complains that his people have forgotten him (v. 15) and therefore:

Their land will be an object of horror
    and of lasting scorn;
all who pass by will be appalled
    and will shake their heads.
      (Jeremiah 18:16)

Verse 18 says that Judah's priests, sages, and prophets have conspired against Jeremiah. In verses 19-23, Jeremiah complains to YHWH and asks the Lord to avenge him. The book of Jeremiah sketches an interesting picture of dueling prophets in Judah. Reading between the lines one can picture finger-pointing and mutual accusations of heresy. Jeremiah's message was unpopular. His was, no doubt, the minority voice. That he was right is confirmed by the fact that his oracles are preserved. His adversaries are known mostly from being mentioned in his own book. It's interesting to me that, in his day, Jeremiah opposed the orthodox establishment. It is his unorthodox view that is enshrined in the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

There is more pottery in chapter 19. In a prophetic act, Jeremiah buys an earthenware vessel. He takes it along as he leads some of Jerusalem's key leaders out to the valley of Hinnom. There, speaking for YHWH he accuses the Judahites of idolatry and child sacrifice:

They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.
      (Jeremiah 19:5)

He warns of the horrors of a pending siege of Jerusalem:

I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.’
      (Jeremiah 19:9) 

And then, Jeremiah breaks the jar. Next, the prophet goes to the temple and preaches that YHWH will bring disaster on his people.

Chapter 20:1-6 tell how a priest named Pashhur responds to Jeremiah's message. He has the prophet beaten and put in stocks overnight. In the morning Jeremiah gives Pashhur a new name. The good old King James Version transliterated the Hebrew as "Magormissabib." Modern versions translate the name to something like "Terror on Every Side." Jeremiah tells the Pashhur that he and all his family will die in exile.

The rest of chapter 20 (vv. 7-18) is taken up with one of Jeremiah's laments. A beating and a night in the stocks did nothing to improve his mood. He complains that YHWH has deceived and overpowered him. There may be an image of sexual violence in these words; YHWH seduced and raped Jeremiah. In verses 11-12 Jeremiah, claiming that YHWH is on his side, asks the Lord to avenge him against his opponents. Verse 13 is an expression of praise that may be a "thanks in advance" for YHWH's help:

Sing to the Lord!
    Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
    from the hands of the wicked.

In verses 14-18 Jeremiah once more regrets ever being born.

The historical situation for chapter 21 is specified in verses 1-3. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has besieged Jerusalem.  King Zedekiah delegates Pashhur, a different Pashhur than the priest we met in the last chapter, and a priest named Zephaniah to ask Jeremiah's, and therefore YHWH's, advice. They hope for a happy oracle (v. 2). Jeremiah disappoints them. He prophesies an ugly siege and defeat for Jerusalem (vv. 4-7). He advises surrender to the Babylonians.

The footnotes in the Harper Collins Study Bible suggest that verses 11-14 are separate oracles of judgment addressed to unnamed kings of Judah for their failure to do justice.

Chapter 22:1-9 are also addressed to an unnamed king. 

This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.      (Jeremiah 22:3)
Or else (v. 5)

Verses 10-12 speak of one king who is dead (possibly a proverbial usage) and another who is in exile. The exiled king is identified as "Shallum," whom we also know as Jehoahaz (cf. 1 Chronicles 3:15).  He will die in exile.

Verses 13-19 are addressed to king Jehoiakim (identified in v. 18). Jehoiakim was an Egyptian puppet king and later a Babylonian vassal. He is criticized for building his palace with forced labor. His father, Josiah was a right guy but Jehoiakim is going to going to die unmourned; his body will go unburied. Interestingly neither the books of Kings nor Chronicles mentions Jehoiakim's burial.

Verses 20-23 pronounce judgment on Jerusalem, describing the city as an adulterous wife. The NIV renders a Hebrew word as "allies" in verses 20 and 22. The NRSV renders the same word more literally, and more sexually, as "lovers." The NRSV's translation allows for the possibility that the "lovers" are foreign allies or foreign gods.

Verses 24-30 are addressed to Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin. He will not return from exile. Though he had seven sons (1 Chronicles 3:17-18) he will be accounted childless. His sons will share his fate. None of them will occupy Judah's throne.


The photo illustrating this blog post came from this site. Unless otherwise noted biblical quotes are from the New International Version. Next: Jeremiah 23-25

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