Jeremiah 16: A Vision of Resurrection, But Only Through Death

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt van Rijn 1630

The word of the LORD came to me: 2 You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. 3 For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bear them and the fathers who beget them in this land: 4 They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried; they shall become like dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall become food for the birds of the air and for the wild animals of the earth.
5 For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament, or bemoan them; for I have taken away my peace from this people, says the LORD, my steadfast love and mercy. 6 Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them; there shall be no gashing, no shaving of the head for them. 7 No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers. 8 You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. 9 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to banish from this place, in your days and before your eyes, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.
10 And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?” 11 then you shall say to them: It is because your ancestors have forsaken me, says the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law; 12 and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors, for here you are, every one of you, following your stubborn evil will, refusing to listen to me. 13 Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your ancestors have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.
14 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 15 but “As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.
16 I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17 For my eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from my presence, nor is their iniquity concealed from my sight. 18 And I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.
19 O LORD, my strength and my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and say:
Our ancestors have inherited nothing but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.
20 Can mortals make for themselves gods? Such are no gods!
21 “Therefore I am surely going to teach them, this time I am going to teach them my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the LORD.”
This is a really harsh passage, and there have been a number of these harsh passages in the book and in the life of Jeremiah. Here Jeremiah is commanded not to share in the joy of others in the community, not to have the joy of a wife or family, but to live in preparation for the coming destruction. He is a contrast to the people around him, and his life of sorrow is a message to the surrounding world in the midst of its feasting and celebration. It is a hard life as a prophet, a life that no one would choose on their own if they knew what it would entail. Jeremiah will suffer, and perhaps not having a family prevents the deeper suffering of seeing the ones you love wounded by the convictions you are called to live out of, yet this is a call to a very lonely life and profession. Yet, he is the bearer of a message of the death of not only an age, but of people: of families and friends, of a way of life, of the world as it is known. It is a death so profound that it overwhelms the past stories that made the people who they are and strips away all the things that held the community together.
It is a time of death, but in the middle of this chapter we also see the glimmer of a resurrection. For the new covenant between God and God’s people to come to light the current relationship has to die. For something truly new to be born something old is having to give way. The people who have trusted in Kings, in land, in the Temple and the temple cult are about to have all these things stripped away and as exiles in a foreign land only then will they refind who they are. The promised new identity will be so strong that no longer will they point to the Exodus as their defining story but rather the regathering of the people after the Babylonian Exile as God brings them home from all the places they have been.
Yet the passage closes again with the death and with the fishers and hunters who are seeking out the people. Much as the narratives at the end of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) sometimes called the Olivet Discourses point to a similar seeking:
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and the one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. (Matthew 24: 40f)
And I think Jesus is also pointing towards the coming destruction of the city and temple that will come in the Jewish War around 70 CE. Yet Jeremiah continues to wrestle with God and enters once more into the language of lament in 19-20 hoping and praying for a merciful turn, yet perhaps God sees that it is only through death that a resurrection will be possible, only through exile that the people can return to their new home, and only through the loss of the old relationship that a new relationship can be born, and only through the loss of these idols (or things that the people have placed their trust in) that they can once again see the living God. As Isaiah states:
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. (Isaiah 11:1)
Without making the too quick jump to Christ, that many Christians naturally make with this passage, let us also consider that for Jeremiah and Isaiah who would see the house of Jesse, the line of David kings cut off and reduced to a stump, that it would take the death of this line before the people could see new life. There is no avoiding the harshness and the pain of this passage, but without the hope of new life, resurrection or the shoot that comes out of the stump; without the hope of the return from the exile that will outshine the remembrance of the journey to the promised land from Egypt-without these things the journey into the loneliness and brokenness that Jeremiah and the people will encounter is senseless hell. It only is bearable in the hope that God will once again create life out of death.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

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