The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:
2 Judah mourns
and her gates languish;
they lie in gloom on the ground,
and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
3 Her nobles send their servants for water;
they come to the cisterns,
they find no water,
they return with their vessels empty.
They are ashamed and dismayed
and cover their heads,
4 because the ground is cracked.
Because there has been no rain on the land
the farmers are dismayed;
they cover their heads.
5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
6 The wild asses stand on the bare heights,
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no herbage.
7 Although our iniquities testify against us,
act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
our apostasies indeed are many,
and we have sinned against you.
8 O hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler turning aside for the night?
9 Why should you be like someone confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not forsake us!
10 Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.
There is a connection between the vision of shalom that the people of God are called to live in and not only their own health, but the very health of the earth around them. The turning away of the people has effected everything and nobody is able to avoid the drought. Even nobles who have the choice wells and access to the best water are no longer able to have their servants successfully draw water. Farmers in their fields are directly affected as their crops are unable to grow and life itself hangs by a thread. Even the wild animals abandon the natural order, does no longer care for their fawns, wild donkeys can find no food foraging in the mountains. Everything is dying in the midst of the drought. And in a turn of lament, whether the prophet or the people call on God. In the tradition of the Psalms of lament they cry out in their distress calling on the Lord to act, to rouse Godself from slumber, to act like God has acted in the past, to demonstrate God’s power. Finally as the land dies and the events of the people’s rebellion is coming to fruition, both in the approaching armies of the Babylonians and in the oppressive lack of moisture which is killing the animals and crops of the fields. Yet the prayer comes too late, God is not willing to quickly and easily accept the words that come before God. Too many times in the past the turning has been superficial and now God has turned God’s back upon the people of the covenant, allowing the negative side of the covenant-the woes-to come to pass. The iniquity and sins will not be forgotten or passed over, forgiveness is not granted, the past is not forgotten.
The wrath of God can be a troubling concept for many, myself included at times, especially the way in which it can be utilized to be a tool of fear and oppression. Yet, there is a very real sense where God does care, where God does take sides and where we need to wrestle with the ways in which forgiveness is not cheap, where reconciliation is often a hard and painful process and where our actions (or inactions) cause pain and harm not only to ourselves but the world around us.
Jeremiah 14: 11-22
11 The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people.12Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt-offering and grain-offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.
13 Then I said: ‘Ah, Lord God! Here are the prophets saying to them, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you true peace in this place.” ’ 14And the Lord said to me: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.15Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name though I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come on this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16And the people to whom they prophesy shall be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword. There shall be no one to bury them—themselves, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their wickedness upon them.
17 You shall say to them this word:
Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter—my people—is struck down with a crushing blow,
with a very grievous wound.
18 If I go out into the field,
look—those killed by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
look—those sick with famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land,
and have no knowledge.
19 Have you completely rejected Judah?
Does your heart loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us?
We look for peace, but find no good;
for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
the iniquity of our ancestors,
for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God?
We set our hope on you,
for it is you who do all this.
Perhaps the role of the prophet is not to give up, to be willing to wrestle with God-even when God is unwilling to hear any longer. Moses wrestled with God for the sake of the people several times in the Exodus and God changed God’s mind, and here Jeremiah enters in to once again plead for the people even after God instructs him not to pray for them any longer. Jeremiah refuses to give us, refuses to stay silent. Once again he searches for a way, reminding God that the priests, the prophets and the leaders have failed the people, they have set them on a course for war with Babylon while promising peace. They have trusted in their own strength and the strength of allies like Egypt and have not accepted that it is God’s hand that is moving with the Babylonians and they are to accept their rule for the time being. The Lord is not having any of this, the prophets and leaders will indeed bear the consequences with the people, but there is no turning back from the death that is coming and will soon be all around. Death in the fields, death in the city, death from war and famine and sickness, and the shattering of all that was. The world that the people of Judah know is about to die, they will now be exiles in a foreign land, the remnant of a once proud people.
Jeremiah refuses to give up, returning to the language of lament, searching for hope in the hopelessness. Trying once again to call on God to be God, to be their hope, to save the people not because they deserve it but because it will bring glory to God. Jeremiah fears that if God turns this time the stump will be destroyed to the point it will never rise again, that the people will be wiped out and that death will triumph. Jeremiah continues, even in his own woundedness, to pray for and appeal for the people against the command of God. His love of the people, of Jerusalem and the temple push him to this even though he has been considered a traitor by all of these throughout his ministry. Grace and healing may be coming, but it is not before the people passes through the valley of the shadow of death. With the approaching armies of Babylon death is coming. But we looking back know that God will not turn God’s back forever.