I am trying something a little different as I start again with Jeremiah: rather than breaking each section into several posts throughout the week I am going to try to do one larger post for those who enjoy this type of Biblical reflection but to where those who don’t read this part of the blog don’t have multiple posts weekly on Jeremiah. I have also been given the honor of reviewing Binyamin Lau’s Jeremiah: The Fate of the Prophet and that should be coming in the next couple weeks as well as integrating some of his insights into my journey through Jeremiah.
4 You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD:
When people fall, do they not get up again?
If they go astray, do they not turn back?
5 Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding?
They have held fast to deceit, they have refused to return.
6 I have given heed and listened, but they do not speak honestly;
no one repents of wickedness, saying, “What have I done!”
All of them turn to their own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
7 Even the stork in the heavens knows its times;
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming;
but my people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.
8 How can you say, “We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us,”
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie?
9 The wise shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken;
since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what wisdom is in them?
10 Therefore I will give their wives to others and their fields to conquerors,
because from the least to the greatest everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
from prophet to priest everyone deals falsely.
11 They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
12 They acted shamefully, they committed abomination;
yet they were not at all ashamed, they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time when I punish them,
they shall be overthrown, says the LORD.
13 When I wanted to gather them, says the LORD,
there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.
14 Why do we sit still? Gather together, let us go into the fortified cities and perish there;
for the LORD our God has doomed us to perish, and has given us poisoned water to drink,
because we have sinned against the LORD.
15 We look for peace, but find no good,
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
16 The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
at the sound of the neighing of their stallions the whole land quakes.
They come and devour the land and all that fills it, the city and those who live in it.
17 See, I am letting snakes loose among you,
adders that cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you, says the LORD.
If you have been following through Jeremiah to this point you could be forgiven for thinking you have read much of this before. Much as people agonizing over the brokenness of a relationship or the ending of a marriage often revisit the same material again and again trying to make sense of the reality of the changes they are dealing with, we see God continuing to struggle through God’s own disillusionment and emotions. As I’ve mentioned before the God portrayed in Jeremiah struggles with very human emotions and struggles against the coming disaster, desiring any evidence of a return to the way things could have been. Yet the falsehood of the people, which begins at the top with the prophets and the priests, has set them on a course that is moving away from God. Over and over we hear God saying, turn, return, repent but the people are charging towards their own destiny as a horse charging in battle. Even the law has been corrupted by the scribes, whether it is by their interpretation of it or their actual recording of it we do not know, but this is a world where only a select few were literate and they were the interpreters of God’s will to the people.
Two things that caught my attention reading through this, one is the reference to the fig tree, in verse 13, that neither puts our figs and even its leaves are withered. I am becoming more and more convinced of the influence of Jeremiah’s imagery on the New Testament, and in Mark 11(as well as Matthew) we encounter Jesus encountering a fig tree with no fruit, cursing it and it withers-which is a direct allusion to the temple. In earlier posts I have also talked about the vine/vineyard imagery. Both figs and grapes are common parts of the agricultural life of the people in Judah. The other image is the transition to snakes in verse 17, which may also point back to Numbers 21 where the Lord sent snakes among the people in their journey in the wilderness and Moses eventually was commanded to make a bronze serpent that the people could look upon and live.
God continues to agonize over the judgment that is coming upon God’s chosen people. If there was some way to restore the relationship without the removing of God’s protection and the harsh reality of the coming Babylonian invasion God seems open to it, but the direction of the people has moved away from God’s pursuit, and soon God’s people will also join in the grieving.
Jeremiah 8: 18-9:1
18 My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
19 Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land:
“Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King not in her?”
(“Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their foreign idols?”)
20 “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
21 For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt,
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?
9:1 O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears,
so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!
Who is doing the weeping here, is it the prophet or is it God, or perhaps it is both. The prophet is so closely tied into God’s emotions and yet these are his people too. There is a heartsick God and a heartsick prophet who are mourning for the people whose path is taking them to a place where they will experience hurt and destruction. It is like the parent watching a child go down a path that they know will cause them pain but no words they say will turn them away, or it is like the person who loves the addict but has to allow them to follow the path they are on until they are ready to receive treatment not as a punishment but as a new opportunity. The old African American spiritual points to the reality of a the region of Gilead, East of the Jordan, being famous for a balm, an aromatic resin famous for its properties of easing pain and covering the smell of a festering wound:
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship 2006)
But in contrast to not only the words in the song and the hopeful nature, Jeremiah and God see no healing, even in Gilead. There is no prescription medication or course of treatment that will ease the pain of what is to come.