When Jeremiah finished speaking to all the people all these words of the LORD their God, with which the LORD their God had sent him to them, 2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the other insolent men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie. The LORD our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to settle there’; 3 but Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us, to hand us over to the Chaldeans, in order that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” 4 So Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the LORD, to stay in the land of Judah. 5 But Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces took all the remnant of Judah who had returned to settle in the land of Judah from all the nations to which they had been driven– 6 the men, the women, the children, the princesses, and everyone whom Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan; also the prophet Jeremiah and Baruch son of Neriah. 7 And they came into the land of Egypt, for they did not obey the voice of the LORD. And they arrived at Tahpanhes. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah in Tahpanhes: 9 Take some large stones in your hands, and bury them in the clay pavement that is at the entrance to Pharaoh’s palace in Tahpanhes. Let the Judeans see you do it, 10 and say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to send and take my servant King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, and he will set his throne above these stones that I have buried, and he will spread his royal canopy over them. 11 He shall come and ravage the land of Egypt, giving those who are destined for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are destined for captivity, to captivity, and those who are destined for the sword, to the sword. 12 He shall kindle a fire in the temples of the gods of Egypt; and he shall burn them and carry them away captive; and he shall pick clean the land of Egypt, as a shepherd picks his cloak clean of vermin; and he shall depart from there safely. 13 He shall break the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he shall burn with fire.
Everything in the book of Jeremiah seems to work against the hope that the people will hear and listen and be obedient. Every time Jeremiah has spoken before the listeners have not responded, and yet there was perhaps a small hope that this time, since the leaders and the people had sought him out that the response might be different. Yet, the response by Azariah and Johanan (and I find the fact that Azariah son of Hoshaiah is mentioned first intriguing since in the chapters that proceed Johanan is apparently the dominant leader and when Azariah is mentioned, which isn’t often, it is after Johanan) is not only negative but accusatory. First is the accusation that Jeremiah’s prophecy is a lie, that in Jeremiah’s persistence in telling the people what they do not want to hear that somehow the inconvenient truth is shouted down as the lie. Second, interestingly, is the accusation that Baruch son of Neriah is behind this believed subversion. Other than his role as the scribe of Jeremiah we know very little about Baruch, but in this interconnected and politically charged world it isn’t surprising that Baruch is probably more than a mere scribe and that he (like Gedeliah and his father and grandfather) probably represented the present opposition to the policy of the officials in Jerusalem that led to the cities overthrow by Babylon. Perhaps he, and probably others as well, had been public voices critical of the pro-Egyptian policies of the past and as the people look to flee for safety in Egypt, perhaps Baruch makes a convenient scapegoat. Now the remnant who escaped exile by hiding away in foreign lands is now entering into a self-chosen exile in the land of Egypt. The land is left deserted since the text gives the impression that everyone left is taken away by Johanan and the forces remaining. Interesting that we see that the princesses are also left in Jerusalem and they along with the rest of the people, including Jeremiah and Baruch are carried off into to Tahpanhes (also known as Daphanae by the Greeks).
Once in Egypt, the LORD again calls on Jeremiah to perform a visual representation of the coming judgment in the sight of the people. Taking large stones and burying them in the front of the entrance of the palace of the pharaoh at Tahpanhes (Tahpanhes is not the capitol but this is probably one of many palaces throughout the nation) symbolically marking a place where the feared king of Babylon will again set up his court in the front yard of his biggest challenger in the region. The prophecy points out again that Egypt will not bring safety, that captivity, sword and pestilence will not be avoided and that the Chaldeans are instruments of the LORD of hosts, and that the Egyptians are no more a threat to them than a rat or insect on a shepherd’s robe. This tragic part of the story is approaching its end and not only do the people bring judgment upon themselves, but also upon Egypt and her gods for being the place they have come to for security.
We enter into a world full of broken people and shattered storiesAm I my brother’s keeper? Who is my neighbor and who can I ignore? Can’t I just send the crowds away with their insatiable appetite and needs? Or ignore the foreigner on my doorstep who cries out for her daughter? Who can I, in my mental and physical fatigue, exclude so I don’t see? Where can I go to escape the cries of creation that fill my ears? In the highest heaven they ascend to God rending the creator’s heart And they echo from the walls of the endless abyss creating a hell of brokenness I don’t want to see, I don’t want to care, I want to block it out To plug my ears, cover my eyes, harden my heart and distract my mind To hear no evil, see no evil and to feel no compulsion to speak back to evil To wall my broken heart away behind immense walls of cold stone Some safe shelter where I can isolate myself from the needs of the world To buy in to the promise of despair, that in giving up hope I can save myself That the promises of the kingdom of God are not worth the birth pangs of creation And that by pulling away and shutting out the world that the pain may simply cease From a young child I was taught to hide the feelings, the emotions, the pain That to be a man was to be like some distant unloving picture of a god Who was unaffected and unattached to the world around him Whose heart did not break, but rather this deistic god was unmoved And to live a life in that stoic god’s image was not to feel, not to love For in feeling there was fault and in love there was weakness And to be weak was to fail and to fail was to be worthless It was a god that seemed to demand nothing and to give nothing But its sacrifice was the very marrow of life, it sucked dry the bones Exchanging the risk of love for the a hollow security of disconnection For in love there is joy and pain, in losing there is loss and gain And I could never exchange the fleshy heart in my breast for a stone one Yet, from a young child I was taught to hide the feelings, the emotions, the pain As a man I began to realize the pain and cries of a loving God Foolish enough to love the world, to cry for its hurts, to enter its rejection A God of crazy dreams of new creation that emerges out of the brokenness Where shattered shields and broken spears become the instruments of harvest time Where even in the midst of death, life can emerge from an unending well of love That the world in all its broken people and shattered stories can be taken in That it can be loved, not because it is loveable but because that is what the softhearted do And that perhaps, in a company of bumbling fools who dare to hope and dream Who put aside the false promise of despair and have the courage to love God’s beloved That perhaps in those moments where stones slowly removed change mountains We see the hope that the creation has long been waiting for The instruments of God’s work being those who can take up the sensitivity of a child To see the world as it is and to dare to believe that it can be better And that the discomfort I feel is not weakness, but the strength of a soft heart A heart not content to be locked behind walls of stone separate from the world But rather that sees the evil, hears the evil and dares to speak and name the evil And perhaps to do my small part in the struggle, for the dream of a better world A world of compassion and justice and joy and love, the world that could be To dream and speak that world into being one small act of love at a time A world where hearts of stone are replaced by soft fleshy hearts That dare to love, the courage to hope and the audacity to dream Of a time where tears are wiped away, where pains are healed And we can enter into a world of healed people and mended lives Neil White, 2014
Then all the commanders of the forces, and Johanan son of Kareah and Azariah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest, approached 2 the prophet Jeremiah and said, “Be good enough to listen to our plea, and pray to the LORD your God for us– for all this remnant. For there are only a few of us left out of many, as your eyes can see. 3 Let the LORD your God show us where we should go and what we should do.” 4 The prophet Jeremiah said to them, “Very well: I am going to pray to the LORD your God as you request, and whatever the LORD answers you I will tell you; I will keep nothing back from you.” 5 They in their turn said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act according to everything that the LORD your God sends us through you. 6 Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we are sending you, in order that it may go well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God.”
7 At the end of ten days the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah. 8 Then he summoned Johanan son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces who were with him, and all the people from the least to the greatest, 9 and said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your plea before him: 10 If you will only remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I am sorry for the disaster that I have brought upon you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, as you have been; do not be afraid of him, says the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to rescue you from his hand. 12 I will grant you mercy, and he will have mercy on you and restore you to your native soil.
13 But if you continue to say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ thus disobeying the voice of the LORD your God 14 and saying, ‘No, we will go to the land of Egypt, where we shall not see war, or hear the sound of the trumpet, or be hungry for bread, and there we will stay,’ 15 then hear the word of the LORD, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: If you are determined to enter Egypt and go to settle there, 16 then the sword that you fear shall overtake you there, in the land of Egypt; and the famine that you dread shall follow close after you into Egypt; and there you shall die. 17 All the people who have determined to go to Egypt to settle there shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; they shall have no remnant or survivor from the disaster that I am bringing upon them.
18 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Just as my anger and my wrath were poured out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so my wrath will be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You shall become an object of execration and horror, of cursing and ridicule. You shall see this place no more. 19 The LORD has said to you, O remnant of Judah, Do not go to Egypt. Be well aware that I have warned you today 20 that you have made a fatal mistake. For you yourselves sent me to the LORD your God, saying, ‘Pray for us to the LORD our God, and whatever the LORD our God says, tell us and we will do it.’ 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD your God in anything that he sent me to tell you. 22 Be well aware, then, that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go and settle.”
Into the space and confusion following the assassination of Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Babylon to rule in Judea over the remnant, the interim leaders, Johanan and Azariah come with the people to Jeremiah asking for a word from the LORD. Based on previous times when kings and leaders have asked for a word from the LORD there is little expectation for the reader that it will be heard and obeyed, yet here in desperation the people come and finally they come to Jeremiah who they have ignored so many times before asking his prayer to God. It is very possible that Jeremiah is tired at this point and yet he consents and goes once again in prayer to the LORD. In contrast to Jeremiah’s reluctance (Very well: I am going to pray to the LORD your God as you request, and whatever the LORD answers you I will tell you, I will keep nothing back from you) and the peoples’ insistence (Whether it is good or bad, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God.) Yet, in the space and time of waiting the people probably don’t sit idle. Why does it take ten days to answer? We will never know the answer, but ultimately God doesn’t work on our time tables, but in that time when Jeremiah returns to give the answer it is clear he knows which way the peoples’ hearts are leaning.
The LORD’s answer presents two choices, one in obedience with an accompanied blessing and on in disobedience with an accompanying curse. Much as the end of Deuteronomy ends with blessings if the people keeps the commandments of the LORD and curses if they do not. If the people listens and stays within the land the LORD promises an end to their disaster. The LORD will build and not tear down, plant and not pluck up, that in the midst of the present threat of Babylon’s retaliation the LORD promises to protect them and to give them mercy. In the response we hear that the LORD is sorry for the pain that God’s people have endured and that this remnant finds themselves within and so if they will obey they will have the opportunity to begin anew. Yet, if they do not obey, if they seek security in Egypt then the very things they fear here in Judah will find them in Egypt. Sword, famine and pestilence will follow them, their name will become dishonored and an object of not only shame but horror. Jeremiah tries desperately to convince the people not to go to Egypt, and it is quite possible that he knows that is the journey the people are preparing for, and yet once again he tries to get the people to see something which seems to run counter to their own intuition.
In the face of the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the taking on much of the people of Judah into exile this small remnant has seen ample reason to fear Babylon. It may be very difficult for the people to trust God at this point, and at points they seem to distance themselves from the LORD (your God) and at other points want to claim God (our God). Egypt being the other major power in the region from a military/political standpoint makes sense as a place to flee to when fleeing the Babylonian empire, but here they are asked to trust the LORD, something they have failed to do to this point, and to listen to the LORD’s prophet, something else they have failed to do.
A few of Elijah
And for the Reading from Matthew of Jesus and Peter on the sea of Galilee
Also James B. Janknegt’s picture Walking on Water