The Prophet’s Agony: Jeremiah 4: 19-31

Job by Leon Bonnat (1880)

Job by Leon Bonnat (1880)

Jeremiah 4: 19-31

 19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!

Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly;

 I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.

 20 Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste.

 Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment.

 21 How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet?

 22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me;

 they are stupid children, they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”

 23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.

 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.

 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.

 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,

 and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

 27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation;

 yet I will not make a full end.

 28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black;

 for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

 29 At the noise of horseman and archer every town takes to flight;

they enter thickets; they climb among rocks;

all the towns are forsaken, and no one lives in them.

 30 And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in crimson,

that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold,

 that you enlarge your eyes with paint?

In vain you beautify yourself.

Your lovers despise you; they seek your life.

 31 For I heard a cry as of a woman in labor,

anguish as of one bringing forth her first child,

the cry of daughter Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands,

“Woe is me! I am fainting before killers!”

In entering the prophet’s poetry we come to experience some small part of the agony of his profession. His whole life, even his very health becomes consumed by the foreboding fear of what is to come. He sees the disaster which he feels he has no power to stop, and yet he takes the fear and names it, places it into words. Perhaps he hopes that by painting reality through the dystopic  lenses that perhaps someone might hear and turn, that perhaps the uttering of this potential reality might alter the reality that comes, otherwise he is looking at the end of the world as he has known it.

The Bible has an audacious belief that the human conduct matters for the well being of creation, in fact the whole notion of shalom and justice are not merely human concepts in Hebrew thought, they effect everything and Israel and Judah’s failure to live this vision is poisoning the earth. From the beginning of the Genesis story Adam and adamah (the Hebrew word for soil/earth) are tied together and in Genesis 3 the earth bears the price of the man’s disobedience:

And to the man he said,”Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘you shall not eat of it,’cursed is the ground because of you; Genesis 3: 17

This is a poetic and theological description of reality that Jeremiah is living out of. It is also behind Paul’s imagery in Romans 8:18-25 where creation will be set free by the children of God being revealed and beginning to live out of their identity and into God’s shalom.

The final image of the poem at this point shows the distance between the poets reality and the peoples with the offensive imagery of a foolish prostitute. When invading armies come and the capture a city the soldiers do not pay, they take what they want-and yet here is Judah represented as a prostitute who is decking herself out in her finest jewels expecting payment, but what Judah will find is rape. As I have  said in earlier posts it is an offensive image, and yet it is the image of the poetry which is trying to rouse the people from their slumber.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

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