Monthly Archives: September 2014

Jeremiah 46: Judgment for Egypt and Hope for Jacob

Jeremiah 46:1-26 Words for Egypt

The word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.  2 Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah:
 The word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.
 3 Prepare buckler and shield, and advance for battle!
 4 Harness the horses; mount the steeds!
Take your stations with your helmets,
whet your lances, put on your coats of mail!
 5 Why do I see them terrified? They have fallen back;
their warriors are beaten down, and have fled in haste.
They do not look back– terror is all around! says the LORD.
                6 The swift cannot flee away, nor can the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates they have stumbled and fallen.
                7 Who is this, rising like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge?
 8 Egypt rises like the Nile, like rivers whose waters surge.
It said, Let me rise, let me cover the earth,
let me destroy cities and their inhabitants.
                9 Advance, O horses, and dash madly, O chariots!
Let the warriors go forth:
Ethiopia and Put who carry the shield,
the Ludim, who draw the bow.
                10 That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
a day of retribution, to gain vindication from his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated, and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord GOD of hosts holds a sacrifice in the land of the north by the river Euphrates.
                11 Go up to Gilead, and take balm, O virgin daughter Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines; there is no healing for you.
                12 The nations have heard of your shame, and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior; both have fallen together.
 13 The word that the LORD spoke to the prophet Jeremiah about the coming of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon to attack the land of Egypt:
14 Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol; proclaim in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
Say, “Take your stations and be ready, for the sword shall devour those around you.”
                15 Why has Apis fled? Why did your bull not stand?—
because the LORD thrust him down.
                16 Your multitude stumbled and fell, and one said to another,
“Come, let us go back to our own people and to the land of our birth,
because of the destroying sword.”
                17 Give Pharaoh, king of Egypt, the name
“Braggart who missed his chance.”
                18 As I live, says the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts,
one is coming like Tabor among the mountains, and like Carmel by the sea.
                19 Pack your bags for exile, sheltered daughter Egypt!
For Memphis shall become a waste, a ruin, without inhabitant.
                20 A beautiful heifer is Egypt– a gadfly from the north lights upon her.
                21 Even her mercenaries in her midst are like fatted calves;
they too have turned and fled together, they did not stand;
for the day of their calamity has come upon them, the time of their punishment.
                22 She makes a sound like a snake gliding away;
for her enemies march in force,
and come against her with axes, like those who fell trees.
                23 They shall cut down her forest, says the LORD, though it is impenetrable,
because they are more numerous than locusts; they are without number.
 24 Daughter Egypt shall be put to shame;
she shall be handed over to a people from the north.
                25 The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, said: See, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh, and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. 26 I will hand them over to those who seek their life, to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, says the LORD.


For the first forty five chapters of Jeremiah the focus has been almost exclusively centered on narrating the events of the end of the first temple period of Judah, from the final attempt at reform under Josiah, to the multiple defeats of Judah at the hand of Babylon, the eventual destruction of the city and exile of much of the population and then finally the chaos among the small remnant that eventually flees to Egypt. Yet from the beginning Jeremiah was called as a prophet to the nations (see Jeremiah 1: 5, 10). The events that have happened in Judah are not isolated from the nations that surround them, they are caught up in the tide of the politics and intrigue of empires and that if the LORD of hosts, literally the LORD of armies, which is one of Jeremiah’s favorite constructs using the name of the LORD, is involved in the movement of the forces of the Chaldeans as the Babylonian empire ascends, then the LORD must also be involved in the disposition of all the events going on in the surround region. To pull on the broader narratives of the Hebrew people about God as the creator and God in the Exodus, the LORD is not a regional god, who only has purview over the terrain of Israel or only has power on Israel’s soil (this type of belief for example is why Naaman asks Elisha for two barrels of oil so that Naaman can worship the LORD on Israel’s soil, see 2 Kings 5: 17) and so like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos, Jeremiah now announces God’s words to the nations.

The judgment on Egypt here in these words is focused on the military power of Egypt. Egypt, in contrast to the relatively tiny kingdom of Judah, was one of the ‘super-powers’ of the day and they were heavily involved in projecting their influence through their economic and military might. Judah often found itself making alliances with either Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian might in the previous generation precisely because they were not militarily a threat to any of these empires. Egypt, once viewed as the oppressor of Israel, the place from which they emerged from slavery to become the chosen people, now has become the benefactor, the ally. Egypt’s judgment, in comparison to many of the oracles spoken against Judah and Israel as a whole, are relatively calm. There is little mention of destruction taking place within the Egyptian homeland and what destruction is mentioned is precisely in the areas where the Judean refugees settled (Migdol, Memphis and Tahpanhes) and it causes the causes the refugees there to desire to return back to their own home.

T.E. Lawrence and L. Wooley at Carchemish (1913)

T.E. Lawrence and L. Wooley at Carchemish (1913)

It is military defeat and humiliation that receives the lion share of this oracle. The pride of Egypt is shattered as its military is defeated, first probably referring to the Battle of Carchemish (605 BCE) which has numerous connections with the story of Jeremiah. As Babylon rose to power and continued to drive the Assyrian empire further and further into submission conquering their capitol at Ninevah in 612 BCE and then Harran in 610 BCE the Assyrians moved their capitol to Carchemish. In 609 BCE Pharaoh Neco II marched his forces to aid his ally, Assyria, in resisting the advance of the Babylonian armies. As Pharaoh’s army advance out of Egypt the armies of Judah, led by King Josiah, resisted the advance of Egypt and King Josiah was killed in the battle. When the Egyptian and Assyrian armies met the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar II the combined Egyptian and Assyrian forces were soundly defeated and this marked the eclipse of the Assyrian empire and the decline of influence of Egypt in the Middle East. As we have seen throughout the journey in Jeremiah there continues to be battles for influence within Judah and the surrounding region’s area, and Jehoiachim embraces a pro-Egyptian policy that leads into conflict with Babylon and then in the time of Zedekiah’s appointed reign there are still internal and external forces encouraging a pro-Egyptian/anti-Babylonian stance.

Map of the Assyrian Empire

Map of the Assyrian Empire

Egypt would have several other confrontations with the Babylonian forces between 604 and 568 BCE, and while Egypt never lost its independence to Babylon it continued to lose its dominance over the region. The imagery of Egypt’s military falling back in disarray, including its proud mercenaries from Ethiopia (Cush), Put, and Ludim which at one time seemed invincible are not merely the result of the military prowess of the Chaldean (Babylonian) forces but in Jeremiah’s eye a sign of the LORD of host at work in the events of the nations. Egypt’s military defeat is tied to the Egyptian gods being put to shame, to her beauty being lost and her impenetrable forests being cut away. Yet, the word of judgment is not final. For Egypt there is also the promise that it shall be inhabited as in days of old. The LORD cares not only for Judah but also for Egypt and the judgment will pass and prosperity return.

Jeremiah 46: 27-28 Words of Comfort for the Exiles

 27 But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob,
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.
 28 As for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the LORD, for I am with you.
I will make an end of all the nations among which I have banished you,
but I will not make an end of you!
I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.


Here again at the beginning of the judgment of the nations there is the reassurance to Israel that there is a future for them as well. Much like the words of hope beginning in Jeremiah 30, the judgment that is coming on the nations is a part of God’s work to return the people of Israel home and to shelter them. After so much judgment on the God’s people, after so much death and pain, after so much disappointment and desolation the time of judgment is passed and the people have a hope for the future.

Gracefully Unfair

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Codex Aureus Epternacensis, 11th Century

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Codex Aureus Epternacensis, 11th Century

It’s not fair, this may be what I signed up for but it’s not fair
That in this crazy mixed up world of grace the last are first and the first last
Where a person can work from sunup to sundown laboring in the vineyard
Bearing the brutal rays of the sun beating down upon their backs
Getting up early to be the early bird that gets called out into the fields
Being the ant who works all day every day unlike those others
Those others who might look different, party different, act different, smell different
So that they get left behind among the other laborers, for it is about my skills
The sweat of my brow, the skill of my hands, the pain in my back from the harvest
And yet others work less, coming in later, leaving earlier, getting the same recompense
In a world of continually increasing worker productivity and efficiency
What is this inefficient master doing in the distribution of grace
Don’t I deserve more for my labor, for my conscientious and diligent striving
For I could manage the field better than this crazy master and the world would know no rest
For everyone would work as hard as I do or they would never work at all.
Yet maybe in this crazy and gracious world a new and strange master emerges
One who challenges the lords of commerce and time or wage and resource
One who sees the people left behind in the world of competition
Those in the market at 9 o’clock and noon and even at 3 or 5 o’clock
Those who no one sees or cares about, those who no one will hire
Those who wait all day in the hope that they too might enter into the fields
Perhaps in this crazy mixed up world of grace they are seen and valued and fed
They receive the same in some injustly and unfairly gracious manner
And why does my heart grow angry against those for whom the master’s heart breaks
Neil White, 2014

Winners and Losers

We’ve created a culture of antagonism and agitation, of winners and losers
Where words can cut deeper than spears and pierce our enemy’s armor
We refine and polish our arguments like swords to gut our opposition
Trained in a culture of savage warfare to transform opponents into enemies
One who was once a brother or sister now becomes something less than human
A demon in my eyes to be cast out and slain, their bodies and reputations annihilated
Rather than walking a mile in their shoes I doggedly pursue their retreat
Hunting them down in their refuge and taking captive their allies and families
Dividing the world into camps and erecting walls of dogmatic certainty
Turning plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears
We ignore the costs and the civilian casualties incurred in the onslaught
As we raise our standards and blow the bugle to assemble the amassed armies
There to fight a war that never needed to be waged if we could learn a different way
In a world of winners and losers there is no need for reconciliation and healing
History belongs to the victors and the losers are a part of the casualties of time
Or become the terrorists of tomorrow fighting a lost battle because it is all they know
But maybe there is another way where the conflict never evolves into combat
Where swords can be returned to the forge to become the instruments of harvest
Where the enemy becomes my brother and my opponent my sister
And I walk in their shoes and begin to see the world through their eyes
Where instead of tracking my enemy down in their home I welcome them into mine
My righteous indignation can be set aside at the mote in my neighbor’s eye
And there can be a future together in the dawning light of forgiveness
And the world gasps a sigh of relief that its forests are no longer consumed
Building walls and siege engines to fuel a conflict which never ends
And perhaps in our culture of agitation and antagonism we are all losers
Caught in perpetual cycles of conflict, continually training for the next fight
Unable to be at rest under our own vine feasting with our friends and companions
Perhaps in our string of victories we may ignore the tremors of our own trauma
We may justify our own unending nightmares of the past or the wounds we carry
For in a world of harsh justice where wound cried out for wound, scar for scar
And eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a heart for a heart, a life for a life
We all come out broken and hurting too tired to focus on the fields of harvest
Perhaps there is a time to end the pouring out of our neighbors and our own blood
As some sort of sick libation to the cruel gods of conflict we choose to serve
And it is a time to live, a time to be born, a time of peace
A time when brothers can live together in harmony if only we can learn another way
Let us Beat Swords Into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich, given by the Soviet Union to the United Nations in 1959

Let us Beat Swords Into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich, given by the Soviet Union to the United Nations in 1959

Jeremiah 45 The Scribe and The Word Endure the Ending

Baruch ben Neriah from Promptuerri Iconum Insigniorum, Published by Guillaume Rouille 1553

Baruch ben Neriah from Promptuerri Iconum Insigniorum, Published by Guillaume Rouille 1553

The word that the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Baruch son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah: 2 Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3 You said, “Woe is me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.” 4 Thus you shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: I am going to break down what I have built, and pluck up what I have planted– that is, the whole land. 5 And you, do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the LORD; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.”


This little chapter which marks a closing of this part of the story, after all the desolation there is a small word of hope to Baruch. Like Jeremiah’s offer in the time of Zedekiah and the promise to Ebed-Melech, now Baruch also receives this consolation prize. There is no promise of wealth, riches, power or prosperity, greatness and good fortune-do not seek that in this book, in this time, in this story. This is a story of endings, of pain, of collapse and relationships that come to an end, and death. Yet in the midst of the death there is life for those who hear, who work with God, who are willing to take the more difficult path. It is perhaps important to notice that the opening line takes us way back in the story, to the time of chapter 36 and not in sequence with what has come before, and yet here at the dark end with the people in Egypt turning away from God and God’s prophet, perhaps it is the only way to end this part-to go back to the promise to Baruch, the one who took the spoken word and recorded them and to allow us to know that the words of the LORD, the life of the prophet and the scribe who stood by him will endure beyond the ending of this tragic story. That in the midst of all the harshness that Jeremiah and Baruch go through in being caught between God and the people that there is life in their path. Perhaps the mere existence of this book in all its dark and painful story do indeed bring hope in the midst of hopelessness. The book of Jeremiah is not complete, even though this is culmination of the words to Judah and Israel, there are still words to be spoken to the nations and a final attempt at this book which cannot end with a happily ever after. With the collapse of the world that the people of Judah knew there are no easy answers in their relationship with their God and as Kathleen O’Connor states:

By not settling matters prematurely, by refusing to reduce disaster to one final, settled interpretation. Jeremiah’s three endings honor victims of the Babylonian disaster. They acknowledge the difficulties of closing matters, at least not quickly, not clearly, not finally. The endings leave readers with a set of questions about justice, about Judah’s relationship with God, and about whether or not the nation will have a future. (O’Conner, 2011, p. 116)

Or to end in a more poetic way I will close this section with the words of the poet Uri Zvi Greenberg

                Like chapters of prophecy my days burn, in all the revelations,
                And my body between them’s a block of metal for smelting,
                And over me stands my god, the Smith, who hits hard:
                Each wound that Time has opened in me opens its mouth to him
                And pours forth in a shower of sparks the intrinsic fire.
                This is my just lot—until dusk on the road.
                And when I return to throw my beaten block on a bed,
                My mouth is an open wound,
                And naked I speak with my god: You worked hard.
                Now it is night; come let us both rest. (Lau, 2013, p. 98.)

 Jeremiah 44 Plummeting to the End

Athur Kacker, By the Waters of Babylon (1888)

Athur Kacker, By the Waters of Babylon (1888)

Jeremiah 44: 1-14 Forty Years and Nothing Changed

The word that came to Jeremiah for all the Judeans living in the land of Egypt, at Migdol, at Tahpanhes, at Memphis, and in the land of Pathros, 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You yourselves have seen all the disaster that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Look at them; today they are a desolation, without an inhabitant in them, 3 because of the wickedness that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they had not known, neither they, nor you, nor your ancestors. 4 Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, “I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!” 5 But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and make no offerings to other gods. 6 So my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they became a waste and a desolation, as they still are today.

 7 And now thus says the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel: Why are you doing such great harm to yourselves, to cut off man and woman, child and infant, from the midst of Judah, leaving yourselves without a remnant? 8 Why do you provoke me to anger with the works of your hands, making offerings to other gods in the land of Egypt where you have come to settle? Will you be cut off and become an object of cursing and ridicule among all the nations of the earth? 9 Have you forgotten the crimes of your ancestors, of the kings of Judah, of their wives, your own crimes and those of your wives, which they committed in the land of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 10 They have shown no contrition or fear to this day, nor have they walked in my law and my statutes that I set before you and before your ancestors.The word that came to Jeremiah for all the Judeans living in the land of Egypt, at Migdol, at Tahpanhes, at Memphis, and in the land of Pathros, 2 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You yourselves have seen all the disaster that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Look at them; today they are a desolation, without an inhabitant in them, 3 because of the wickedness that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they had not known, neither they, nor you, nor your ancestors. 4 Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, “I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!” 5 But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and make no offerings to other gods. 6 So my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they became a waste and a desolation, as they still are today.

 11 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am determined to bring disaster on you, to bring all Judah to an end. 12 I will take the remnant of Judah who are determined to come to the land of Egypt to settle, and they shall perish, everyone; in the land of Egypt they shall fall; by the sword and by famine they shall perish; from the least to the greatest, they shall die by the sword and by famine; and they shall become an object of execration and horror, of cursing and ridicule. 13 I will punish those who live in the land of Egypt, as I have punished Jerusalem, with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, 14 so that none of the remnant of Judah who have come to settle in the land of Egypt shall escape or survive or return to the land of Judah. Although they long to go back to live there, they shall not go back, except some fugitives.


The book of Jeremiah really doesn’t have just one ending but three, one coming in chapter 45, one at the end of 51 at the conclusion of the judgments on the nations and then chapter 52 gives a final ending narrating what happens back in Babylon. Maybe this reflect the unresolved nature of the people and their relationship with God in the light of the disaster of the destruction of Jerusalem, the kingdom of Judea, the Davidic line of kings, the temple and all these markers of identity that made them the people of the LORD. But as we plummet towards the end of the story of the last remaining group not in Babylon, a group that once sought Jeremiah’s word and now rather than a small remnant we find settlements in three cities and perhaps a larger emigration to Egypt after the confusion of the last several years. It is a group that has already heard and ignored Jeremiah’s words that their actions of turning to Egypt will mean famine, the sword and pestilence. In the midst of this refugee group in Egypt we see Jeremiah dealing with some of the same issues as the beginning of his ministry.

Forty years earlier, when Josiah was king and led a reformation of the temple and worship in Jerusalem and turned the people back to the LORD and away from the practices of adopting the customs and worship of the Assyrians now returns again as they encounter Egypt and its lifestyle, culture and religions. As Benyamin Lau describes it:


Jeremiah wanders around his people in shock. All the reformations of his beloved Josiah are instantly forgotten. The idolatry he had witnessed in his childhood, the legacy of Manasseh, has been resurrected in a different form. He finds himself back where he started forty years earlier, only now he is weary, broken, and drained of all hope. For the last time he summons the strength to warn the people against going astray in Egypt to learn from the sins of their forefathers. (Lau, 2013, p. 216)


At stake are different readings of history and the times. Jeremiah reads the events of the past in light of the LORD’s judgment on the people for turning away from the covenant, law, decrees and worship of the LORD. The group of people who are gathered together one last time to hear the prophet’s final recorded words to them read the events of the last several years in a different light.

Jeremiah 44: 15-23 Different Readings of Reality

 15 Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we are not going to listen to you. 17 Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. 18 But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said, “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?”

 20 Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who were giving him this answer: 21 “As for the offerings that you made in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your ancestors, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them? Did it not come into his mind? 22 The LORD could no longer bear the sight of your evil doings, the abominations that you committed; therefore your land became a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is to this day. 23 It is because you burned offerings, and because you sinned against the LORD and did not obey the voice of the LORD or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his decrees, that this disaster has befallen you, as is still evident today.”


The people answer Jeremiah’s prophecy with a very different reading of reality. From their perspective, prior to Jeremiah’s prophecies, prior to the reformation of Josiah and under the reign of Manasseh forty years ago things were pretty good. The people had adopted a pro-Assyrian policy, adopted their customs and practices and along with that portions of their religious practice. Until that time, in the memory of the people, things went well for Judah. After Josiah’s death at the hands of Egypt and the rise of the Babylonian empire, while they had ceased worshipping the Assyrian gods/goddesses (although apparently the remembrance of the practice and probably the practices themselves lingered). The queen of heaven probably referred to Astarte, a fertility goddess but could also refer here in Egypt to Isis, but somehow there is an amalgamation between the worship of the LORD the God of Israel and this other deity.  The people defiantly resist Jeremiah, claiming ‘we will go on making offerings.’

It is easy to imagine the allure of the culture and worship in Egypt as well as the practices from the past when times seemed easier and more secure being very attractive to the people. It’s also not hard to imagine the allure of a fertility cult at any point in society. Yet, in the midst of these final words between the people and Jeremiah we see the people interpreting reality in light of their prosperity of the past while doing these practices and Jeremiah seeing the judgment of the recent past in light of these practices. Judaism probably was not as monotheistic throughout its history prior to the exile as it became when it emerged again from the exile in Babylon. Yet in the book of Jeremiah this is a new low point, the people feel no need to apologize for their actions or cover them up. They are claiming a new identity in the new land, they are choosing to no longer be the people of the LORD. Perhaps this is that moment where something so drastic has happened that the parent has disowned the child and this is the counter story to the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  Regardless for this portion of the exiles, who disobeyed Jeremiah’s prophetic words against going to Egypt and now are adopting new practices in this new land the dissolution in nearly complete.


Byzantine Fresca of Joshua from Hosias Loukas Monastery in Boetian, Greece

Byzantine Fresca of Joshua from Hosias Loukas Monastery in Boetian, Greece

Jeremiah 44: 24-30: Choose This Day Who You Will Serve

                24 Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the LORD, all you Judeans who are in the land of Egypt, 25 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have accomplished in deeds what you declared in words, saying, ‘We are determined to perform the vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out libations to her.’ By all means, keep your vows and make your libations! 26 Therefore hear the word of the LORD, all you Judeans who live in the land of Egypt: Lo, I swear by my great name, says the LORD, that my name shall no longer be pronounced on the lips of any of the people of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, ‘As the Lord GOD lives.’ 27 I am going to watch over them for harm and not for good; all the people of Judah who are in the land of Egypt shall perish by the sword and by famine, until not one is left. 28 And those who escape the sword shall return from the land of Egypt to the land of Judah, few in number; and all the remnant of Judah, who have come to the land of Egypt to settle, shall know whose words will stand, mine or theirs! 29 This shall be the sign to you, says the LORD, that I am going to punish you in this place, in order that you may know that my words against you will surely be carried out: 30 Thus says the LORD, I am going to give Pharaoh Hophra, king of Egypt, into the hands of his enemies, those who seek his life, just as I gave King Zedekiah of Judah into the hand of King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, his enemy who sought his life.”


At the end of a very different story in the book of Joshua, Joshua presents the people with a choice:


Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24: 14f)


At the end of Jeremiah the people have made a choice, and it is a different choice. Every action has consequences in the world of Jeremiah, but Jeremiah has played his part and done his job. Jeremiah is finished with this people. “By all means, keep your vows and make your libations!” but the consequence of this choice is that the people are no longer to use the name of the LORD. They are no longer Israel, or Judah without their relationship to the God of Israel. Once again the words come prophesying the war, famine, and disease that will reduce the people in Egypt greatly. These words are followed up by a series of events that unfold in the near future when Pharoah Hophra is killed in a rebellion in 569 BCE and then Nebuchadrezzar invades in 568/67 BCE shattering the illusion of the safety of the Egyptian empire. (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, p. VI: 874) From the brokenhearted prophet there is one more word of promise not for the people but for Baruch as the story closes and then inhales for a final scream of judgment against the nations. Light will re-emerge, there will be a hope for the future but it will not be seen by those in Egypt, nor quickly by those in Babylon. The Judean refugees in Babylon will go through a long process of reconstructing their identity as a people no longer identified by land, the temple and its worship or the Davidic king. Now they must begin the long process of gathering their stories, figuring out who they are and imagining a new future for themselves and their LORD.


There is no better future without letting go of the sins of the past
Without being willing to see others not as a summation of debt unpaid
For we all walk around carrying the burdens and baggage of our lives
Fearing that someone might see the scarlet letter we cover with a coat
Or the identity we hide behind the masks we wear for the world to see
Pinned within boxes far too small to fit our frames constricting our freedom
And our shame is a garment that makes it too hard to breathe the thin air of life
For until we learn to forgive and love ourselves we will be enslaved to shame
Unable to feel the love we desire or the compassion we seek
Forgiveness is such a simple word to say and a hard life to live
Love would be so easy if only it didn’t involve letting down my walls
And when one has pierced my heart to let them close again
To offer peace to one who acted in war, to offer friendship to an enemy
To love one who I would rather label as unloveable, unforgiveable
And yet rather than picking up the blade that pierced my heart
Turning once again to use it on its previous wielder,
To demand an eye for an eye and a heart for a heart
Perhaps I can learn to see the wounds they already carry
And in my own healing begin to point the way to a new future
Where swords are put aside in favor of the surgeon’s needle
As lives become stitched back together and hearts are make whole again.
Neil White, 2014

The Prodigal Son, Marble Statue by Joseph Mozier (1857)

The Prodigal Son, Marble Statue by Joseph Mozier (1857)