Thursday, February 20, 2014

Jeremiah 30:1-31:40


Here in the midst of all the doomy-gloomy stuff in Jeremiah, we find the "Book of Comfort" or "Consolation" a collection of material with a decidedly more upbeat nature. In The Twible, Jana Reiss jokingly (p. 173) calls this section a "Hallmark card."  Some of my sources restrict the "Book of Comfort" to today's passage, the poetic oracles of chapters 30-31. Others include the prose narratives of chapters 32-33. A note in the Augsburg Fortress Lutheran Study Bible says,

Many scholars believe that someone other than Jeremiah wrote this section in the prophet's name to balance his many sermons of doom.

The Jewish Study Bible suggests that this section may have originally stood at the end of the book of Jeremiah. It seems clear to me that the oracles of the "Book of Comfort" are addressed to the people in exile.

Chapters 30 and 31 are spoken in YHWH's voice. The theme of this section is stated in 30:3:

The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”

Note that both Judah and Israel are to be returned.

In 30:13a the NIV once again translates a Hebrew word for "lovers" with the explanatory "allies":

All your allies have forgotten you;
    they care nothing for you.

Personally, I think the metaphor is more powerful when not explained.

Jeremiah 31:15 is a heartbreaking image:

This is what the Lord says:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”

Rachel was, of course, Jacob/Israel's favorite wife. By analogy the exiled Judahites are her children. (Technically Leah was the mother of Judah but this is poetry. Let's not get technical).  The Gospel of Matthew (2:17-18) quotes this verse in reference to Herod's slaughter of the children of Bethlehem. 

Following verse 15 YHWH comforts Rachel with the news that her children will return from the land of their enemies.

Verse 26 seems to suggest that these oracles came to the prophet in his sleep.

At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me.

Verse 29 quotes what must have been a familiar proverb:

The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

The prophet says that this proverb will no longer be spoken. The children will no longer be punished for their parents' sins. Ezekiel 18:2-4 quotes the same proverb to the same effect. I don't take this as a universal statement of individual responsibility. It is tempting to read it that way in light of our current individualistic culture. In context, however, the prophet seems to mean only that the parents' sin, which led to exile, is no longer being held against the children who are coming home.

Verses 31-34 promise a brighter future. YHWH's covenant will not only be reinstated, but it will be made unbreakable.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
   declares the Lord.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Every year at the end of October, Luthereans read this passage as part of their celebration of Reformation Day. I've always thought that this was just a bit presumptuous on our part.

Bible quotes are from the New International Version. Next: Jeremiah 32-34

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