Corrupted Justice: Jeremiah 5:18-31

Icon of Jeremiah

Icon of Jeremiah

Jeremiah 5: 18-31

18 But even in those days, says the LORD, I will not make a full end of you. 19 And when your people say, “Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?” you shall say to them, “As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”
 20 Declare this in the house of Jacob, proclaim it in Judah:
 21 Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
 who have eyes, but do not see,
 who have ears, but do not hear.
 22 Do you not fear me? says the LORD;
Do you not tremble before me?
I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass;
 though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it.
 23 But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;
they have turned aside and gone away.
 24 They do not say in their hearts,
 “Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season,
 the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.”
 25 Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have deprived you of good.
 26 For scoundrels are found among my people; they take over the goods of others.
 Like fowlers they set a trap; they catch human beings.
 27 Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of treachery;
therefore they have become great and rich, 28 they have grown fat and sleek.
They know no limits in deeds of wickedness;
they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper,
 and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
 29 Shall I not punish them for these things? says the LORD,
 and shall I not bring retribution on a nation such as this?
 30 An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
 31 the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct;
 my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?
In a brief interlude in the poetry (v. 18-19) we see some hope in the future, it is a dim hope, but it is a hope nonetheless when people after all the destruction ask ‘why has this happened’ and the answer is simply you chose to serve strange gods, so you have gone to serve strangers in another land. In a broken home sometimes someone has to leave, but God has not closed the door to a return, in fact it seems to be God’s continual hope through all the pain, yet God will not be tame or mocked. The relationship will not be one where God will bend to whatever the people think is right. God has not given up on God’s vision of justice and shalom. Yet the people are not in a place where their eyes can see or their ears can hear yet because their heart is in the wrong place and one the wrong things. Literally they are heart-less or empty hearted (NRSV senseless) and their heart is no longer in the relationship with God.

Justice has been so corrupted towards the wealthy that the cause of the orphan and the needy are neglected. The way things are remain irreconcilable with God’s vision of justice, and yet the very mouthpieces that should be calling for faithfulness and correction are behind the corruption. Prophets and priests rule and direct falsely and the people love the falseness. Patrick Miller speaks truth about this passage when he states:

This is a strong indictment of a community in which the politically powerful and the well-to-do amass possessions and wealth at the expense of the marginal and those in society who do not have the protection and power, in which flagrant manipulation of the socioeconomic system to the advantage of the advantaged is simply ignored. The picture is as familiar at the beginning of the third millennium CE as it was in the first millennium BCE. (NIB 6:621)

The Bible often has harsh words for those who are wealthy and in power, especially among the prophets. Most people assume wealth in the Bible is primarily viewed as a source of blessing, and that is one theology present within the Bible, but more commonly in the prophets and throughout most of the New Testament power and wealth are temptations and things that may distort one’s relationship with God. This is difficult for most people to accept, and I struggle with it myself but God does have a vision of a society that all can live in justice and peace and everyone has enough. Perhaps it is a utopian dream, perhaps it is naïve, and perhaps looking at the world through a dream like this opens a person to see the dystopia within the reality they live in, but at the same point just because the way that the people love and the prophets and priests in Jeremiah’s time proclaim may be easier, it doesn’t mean it is the right way.

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