Jeremiah 30: Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness

Jeremiah 30: 1-11: Judgment Will Not Last Forever

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1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. 3 For the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it.
4 These are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah:
5 Thus says the LORD:
We have heard a cry of panic,
of terror, and no peace.
6 Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child?
Why then do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor?
Why has every face turned pale?
7 Alas! that day is so great there is none like it;
it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be rescued from it.
8 On that day, says the LORD of hosts, I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
10 But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the LORD,
and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and no one shall make him afraid.
11 For I am with you, says the LORD, to save you;
I will make an end of all the nations among which I scattered you,
but of you I will not make an end.
I will chastise you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

Chapters 30-33 of the book of Jeremiah are chapters of hope, it is not the easy pie in the sky, everything is going to turn out all right kind of hope, but it is a hard won hope born out of the disappointment and heartbreak of the exile and the ending of the misconceptions of privilege that come with the collapse of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Davidic Monarchy. The events that have occurred in the Near East, with the rise of Babylon, the conquering of Judea and Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple: all of this is interpreted theologically by Jeremiah. As the people find themselves in exile, beyond the ends of their strength where the military leaders find themselves powerless, compared to women in labor, in the double play of this metaphor that precisely in their powerlessness and their inability to bring something new to birth, the God of Israel is working to do just that. This is not the far too hasty breaking of the yoke of Babylon we saw attempted by Hananiah in chapter 28, but the breaking of the bonds at the time God has appointed. God’s judgment for the people in Jeremiah is not easy, it is not cheap, but it is also not without end. God will again show compassion and mercy to God’s people. God will not let what appears to be the end of the Davidic line or the destruction of the temple be the end of the Jewish people’s identity as the people of God.

Jeremiah 30: 12-24: The Turning in God

Nehemiah View the Ruins of jerusalem's Walls, Gustav Dore 1866

Nehemiah View the Ruins of jerusalem’s Walls, Gustav Dore 1866

12 For thus says the LORD:
Your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous.
13 There is no one to uphold your cause,
no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.
14 All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you;
for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe,
because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous.
15 Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable.
Because your guilt is great, because your sins are so numerous,
I have done these things to you.
16 Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured,
and all your foes, everyone of them, shall go into captivity;
those who plunder you shall be plundered,
and all who prey on you I will make a prey.
17 For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the LORD,
because they have called you an outcast: “It is Zion; no one cares for her!”
18 Thus says the LORD: I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob,
and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site.
19 Out of them shall come thanksgiving, and the sound of merrymakers.
I will make them many, and they shall not be few;
I will make them honored, and they shall not be disdained.
20 Their children shall be as of old, their congregation shall be established before me;
and I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their prince shall be one of their own, their ruler shall come from their midst;
I will bring him near, and he shall approach me,
for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the LORD.
22 And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
23 Look, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest;
it will burst upon the head of the wicked.
24 The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back
until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind.
In the latter days you will understand this.

There is a sense of justice that undergirds the book of Jeremiah that the guilty will be punished, that goes back to the Mosaic memory and covenantal understanding that Jeremiah understands the world through. The punishment had come, but it is not final or ultimate. There is an ending, a rescue. This is by no means cheap, it takes a generation in exile, a complete reconfiguration of the people’s identity of what it means to be the covenant people of God without the land, temple, king. In this time of exile they return to the promise and calling of their identity, they become truly a people of the book as they record their stories and the promises and covenant of God into many of the books that will make up the Hebrew Bible. On their own they are in an incurable state, there is no balm in Gilead that will heal their sin sick souls, yet they now rely upon the turning of God’s compassion to them. Like when their ancestors remembered the captivity in Egypt and God’s hearing of their cry, now the people of God in exile in Babylon rely upon their Lord hearing their cries in their displacement and oppression. As Walter Brueggemann says very well:

 Nothing has changed about the propensity of Israel. Israel is still guilty, is still sick, still under threat. Everything however has changed about God….The Indignant One has become the compassionate One. God who would abandon Judah is now prepared to intervene to save Judah. The poem traced in dramatic fashion, albeit with elliptical articulation, the transformation of God from enemy to advocate. (Brueggemann, 1998, p. 277)

God’s wrath has now turned from the people of Israel’s to the oppressors of Israel, and in the compassion of God there is the hope for the return home, for a new identity as the people of God and for a future beyond the crisis of the exile.

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