Friday, February 7, 2014

Jeremiah 4:1-6:30


Jeremiah 4:1-4 complete the oracle begun at 3:1. Once again the parties responsible for dividing the Bible into chapters and verses have done the text a disservice.

Jeremiah 4:5-6:30 are a new oracle, complete unto itself. It warns of impending disaster, invasion from the north. In verse 10, the prophet accuses YHWH of duplicity:

Then I said, “Alas, Sovereign LORD! How completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace,’ when the sword is at our throats!” 

There was an idea that Jerusalem, as the city of God, was inviolable. Jeremiah's rival prophets promoted the idea. Jeremiah, rightly, recognized that it was a false notion. That he accuses YHWH of deception, here and elsewhere, is one of the fascinating things about Jeremiah.

In verses 19-29, speaking through the prophet, YHWH expresses his own anguish at the pending disaster. Verses 30-31 use imagery familiar from the preceding chapters; Judah is an unfaithful wife only now her lovers have become her attackers.

Legend has it that the cynic philosopher Diogenes carried a lantern in broad daylight searching, he said, for an honest person. Jeremiah 5:1-9 describe the prophet's search for a good person. Neither the Greek philosopher nor the Hebrew prophet were successful. Jeremiah cannot find a righteous person among either among the poor (v. 4) or the powerful (v. 5).

Verses 10-30 accuse the Judahites of idolatry, once again equating the sin with adultery, and using the imagery of animal sex:

They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
   each neighing for another man’s wife.
      (Jeremiah 5:8)

Verses 12-13 denounce Jeremiah's rival prophets:

 They have lied about the LORD;
   they said, “He will do nothing!
No harm will come to us;
   we will never see sword or famine.
The prophets are but wind
   and the word is not in them;
   so let what they say be done to them.” 

In verses 18-19, which the NIV set as prose, YHWH promises that the northern invaders will not completely destroy Judah. A remnant will be left to testify against themselves:

“Yet even in those days,” declares the LORD, “I will not destroy you completely. And when the people ask, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all this to us?’ you will tell them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your own land, so now you will serve foreigners in a land not your own.’"

Chapter 6 describes the coming siege in terms that are urgent, nearly frantic. In verse 11 Jeremiah associates himself closely with YHWH. The prophet is more than a mouthpiece, he feels YHWH's feelings:

But I am full of the wrath of the LORD,
   and I cannot hold it in. 

In verse 14 YHWH and the prophet again denounce Jeremiah's rival prophets:

 They dress the wound of my people
   as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
   when there is no peace. 

Today's portion concludes (vv. 27-30) with YHWH addressing Jeremiah. Jeremiah, the Lord says, is an assayer:

“I have made you a tester of metals
   and my people the ore,
that you may observe
   and test their ways.
They are all hardened rebels,
   going about to slander.
They are bronze and iron;
   they all act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely
   to burn away the lead with fire,
but the refining goes on in vain;
   the wicked are not purged out.
They are called rejected silver,
   because the LORD has rejected them.”

I looked at several translations of that passage. Some of them, like the NIV quoted above, enclose all four verses in quotation marks indicating that YHWH is the sole speaker. Others, like the NRSV, don't add quotation marks at all which, frankly, has the same effect. Quotation marks would not have been a part of the original text. I find myself wondering if it doesn't make sense to read those verses as a dialogue. YHWH says, "I've made you an assayer to test my people." Then Jeremiah gives his report, "They're no good. They're full of impurities."

Just a thought.

Biblical quotes are from the New International Version. The painting of Diogenes came from this website.

Next: Jeremiah 7-9

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