Monthly Archives: October 2014
Psalm 1 Poetry and the Law
Psalm 1Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. 3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm one introduces what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the Prayerbook of the Bible” and Martin Luther once called the “little Bible”. Here in these one hundred and fifty little (and occasionally long) poems and songs we encounter the breadth of emotion and dedication put into poetic form. Many scholars believe that Psalm 1 was added as a forward to the entire collection of Psalms and gives a summary of what is to lie ahead and the structure of the Psalm itself encourages this thought. The Psalm begins with the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet with the word translated ‘Happy’ (‘aŝrê) and ends with the last word beginning with the last letter forming an inclusio, a device frequently seen in wisdom literature and denotes a completion of a thought or idea.
So why write poetry about the law? Seems strange or foreign to us and why introduce the Psalms with a meditation on the law? For many people poetry and rules are antithetical, but to a Hebrew way of life the law is at the center for their view of a life in harmony with God’s will. The simple dichotomy between the righteous and the unrighteous, the wicked and the law delighters may seem odd. This was a Psalm I never really enjoyed until recently because it seemed to pretentious, to easy to place oneself in the position of the righteous and not in the place of the wicked, but as an introduction to the Psalter and as a way of looking at the law not as something to be dreaded but something to delight in has changed my mind. It is not a coincidence that the Psalter begins with a meditation of the delight of the law and that the longest Psalm (Psalm 119) is a meditation on the law. That in knowing how one is to live, what it means to be in harmony with God’s will for the people and the world is joy. For the Hebrew people the law of the LORD is life and to ignore the way of the LORD is to undercut one’s own life. In a world of easy expedients that may bring short term prosperity the people are called to a way of life that is in harmony with the creator’s desire for the world.
The word translated happy, probably is better translated ‘blessed’ (this Hebrew word would be translated into Greek Septuagint (the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) as markarios which is the first word of each of the beatitudes in Matthew 5) and in entering into the poetry and the struggle of the Psalmists (since there are multiple composers of the Psalms) it is also an entry into the meditation on how one is to live in the continual meditation on the law of the LORD. Poetry and wisdom, life and the law, the way of the righteous and the blessed may not be simple and it may be something that continues to be a dialogue between the LORD and the LORD’s people, but entering into the meditation of the law of the LORD may not be an invitation to prosperity but it is an invitation into a blessed life.
A Major Completion and A Transition
So I finally completed working through the book of Jeremiah. That was a lot of work and it took me a little longer than I anticipated. I am proud to have made it through and I learned a lot in the process. That means that I will be making a transition in my personal devotion activity and I will be beginning the Psalter (the book of Psalms). I am not going to go through all 150 Psalms to begin with, I think after Jeremiah I learned that I was perhaps a little over ambitious about what a project like that would mean, but I am going to do ten and then decide what I will use next. Perhaps at some point I will work my way through all 150, but that would be a long way down the road. Right now having worked through Haggai, Esther and Jeremiah I have found it a good way for me to continue to learn and to grow and perhaps for someone else they will be fruitful as well.
I will continue to write my poetry as inspiration strikes and time allows. Fortunately for me, for the most part, my life has been very full over the last couple months and I know I have had less time for reflection than I have had at other times in my life, but most of the things that have occupied my life have been good things.
Jeremiah 52 Ending the Journey
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign; he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 2 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, just as Jehoiakim had done. 3 Indeed, Jerusalem and Judah so angered the LORD that he expelled them from his presence. Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
4 And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and they laid siege to it; they built siegeworks against it all around. 5 So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
6 On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. 7 Then a breach was made in the city wall; and all the soldiers fled and went out from the city by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. They went in the direction of the Arabah. 8 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and all his army was scattered, deserting him. 9 Then they captured the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath, and he passed sentence on him. 10 The king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and also killed all the officers of Judah at Riblah. 11 He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters, and the king of Babylon took him to Babylon, and put him in prison until the day of his death.
12 In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month– which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon– Nebuzaradan the captain of the bodyguard who served the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. 13 He burned the house of the LORD, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 14 All the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down all the walls around Jerusalem. 15 Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile some of the poorest of the people and the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the artisans. 16 But Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left some of the poorest people of the land to be vinedressers and tillers of the soil.
17 The pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon. 18 They took away the pots, the shovels, the snuffers, the basins, the ladles, and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service. 19 The captain of the guard took away the small bowls also, the firepans, the basins, the pots, the lampstands, the ladles, and the bowls for libation, both those of gold and those of silver. 20 As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which King Solomon had made for the house of the LORD, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weighing. 21 As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits; it was hollow and its thickness was four fingers. 22 Upon it was a capital of bronze; the height of the one capital was five cubits; latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, encircled the top of the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. 23 There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates encircling the latticework numbered one hundred.
24 The captain of the guard took the chief priest Seraiah, the second priest Zephaniah, and the three guardians of the threshold; 25 and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the soldiers, and seven men of the king’s council who were found in the city; the secretary of the commander of the army who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land who were found inside the city. 26 Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them, and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 27 And the king of Babylon struck them down, and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah went into exile out of its land.
28 This is the number of the people whom Nebuchadrezzar took into exile: in the seventh year, three thousand twenty-three Judeans; 29 in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar he took into exile from Jerusalem eight hundred thirty-two persons; 30 in the twenty-third year of Nebuchadrezzar, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took into exile of the Judeans seven hundred forty-five persons; all the persons were four thousand six hundred.
31 In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of King Jehoiachin of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-fifth day of the month, King Evil-merodach of Babylon, in the year he began to reign, showed favor to King Jehoiachin of Judah and brought him out of prison; 32 he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. 33 So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes, and every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table. 34 For his allowance, a regular daily allowance was given him by the king of Babylon, as long as he lived, up to the day of his death.
In its own strange way the book of Jeremiah as we have it today comes to an end. In an almost words for word parallel of 2 Kings24:18-25:30 , with the addition of the comments about the number of people deported in verses 28-30 and the omission of the appointment and execution of Gedeliah in 2 Kings 25:22-26 (which is dealt with at length in Jeremiah 40-41). There is a tradition that the Book of Kings (which we divide into 1 & 2 Kings) and the Book of Jeremiah both originate with Jeremiah and do share a similar theological judgment to explain why the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah collapsed, but regardless of who composed or edited each work the ending of 2 Kings and Jeremiah almost certainly share a common source. So why end here, even going back and retelling once more in a short summary narrative the collapse of Jerusalem.
The book of Jeremiah attempts to make sense of the what seems senseless, the ending of the world as the people of Judah and Jerusalem knew it in the emergence of the Babylonian empire and the conquering multiple times and eventual decimation of the land, the city, the people, the temple and all the markers that made them who they are. The pride of the people is shattered, the riches of the temple are cut up and carried off, the items that the false prophet Hananiah said would be returned in Jeremiah 28 are not only not returned but everything else is carried off. So much time is spent dwelling on the vessels of the temple which are carried away perhaps to catalog the way things were for some future day when they can be reclaimed, but the volume of description for the vessels and articles of the temple vastly outweigh the sparcity of the description of those taken into exile.
Those who go into exile is another puzzling feature. The decimation of Judah and Jerusalem must have led to many, many deaths by war, starvation and pestilence (as we heard echoed throughout the book) and certainly seventy four Judeans, many if not all bearing specific titles or ranks, who were executed is an act which created horror among the people as well as the arrest, blinding and public shaming of Zedekiah, would have created a trauma among many of the people, but to look at the numbers talked about in the deportation(a total of 4,600 people and only 832 in the deportation of the story immediately providing context) seems like a very small part of the Judean population or even the population of Jerusalem. The Babylonian exile is one of the defining events of the Jewish identity and yet the numbers don’t seem to match the impact or the number of people that would become dispersed in the diaspora. It is from those who are deported and go into exile in Babylon that the future will come out of, and yet to me this number seems smaller than I had expected to see.
The story does end on a small note of hope, Jehoiachin the first king deported is eventually shown favor and perhaps there is an entry of hope for the rest of those in captivity in Babylon. Perhaps the people who heeded Jeremiah’s plea to settle in the land where they find themselves allows for the birth of a new hope and a new beginning. It is during this time that many of the writings of the Hebrew Bible will be compiled and collected and brought together to be used to continue to form the identity of this people now in exile in a foreign land.
So my long journey with the book that bears Jeremiah’s name comes to an end. It has been at times a challenging journey and it means walking through the depression and questions that come with the ending of all the things that once defined a people. The very things that occupy space in this last chapter, the humiliation and imprisonment of the Davidic king, the loss of the land and the city of Jerusalem, the loss of the temple built under Solomon no longer provide identity and meaning for the people and now as they go into exile they have to find a new way to construct their identity as the chosen people of the LORD. The anguished cries of Jeremiah are a part of that process of reconstruction as are the process of collecting together the stories and memories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. For the people to understand who they are going forward it appears they first have to look back into the past and evaluating their story theologically determine what went wrong in the past to make a way for a new future after the exile.
Jeremiah 50-51 The Cry Against Babylon
I am going to break with my normal pattern with Jeremiah and put the text after the reflections. It didn’t make sense to me to cover these two chapters as separate because they are both a part of a long conglomeration of oracles against Babylon, set by the text in the fourth year of King Zedekiah (in the time between the first exile where leadership are taken into exile and the main exile where the largest group is taken into exile in Babylon). To place this oracle against Babylon coming from the mouth of Jeremiah combined with the sign act of throwing the scroll into the Euphrates by Seraiah seems to run against everything else Jeremiah is saying at this time. Many historical critical scholars would argue against this being composed by Jeremiah but the reality is that we have this massive book which we now receive as the book of Jeremiah and there is no way to go back to the ‘authentic words of Jeremiah’ or to tell exactly what Jeremiah the prophet wrote and some later compiler.
I take this long scream against the Babylonian empire about its coming destruction much the same way I take Psalm 137 which is a cry out of pain. The people of Judah after encountering the destruction of all that they know need some hope that God has not abandoned them to their fate, that Babylon is far from blameless and must also answer for its sins. The images and idols of Babylon are not more powerful than the LORD of hosts and will be put to shame and the armies which were viewed as an instrument in the LORD’s hands throughout the rest of the book now will have other armies from the north that come an terrorize them. The poetic language of disasters follows patterns seen throughout Jeremiah: beasts, arrows, clubs, violence. Warriors in misogynistic language become women, walls become leveled, honor becomes dishonor. Just as there was no balm for Judah and Jerusalem, now there is no balm for healing Babylon.
Babylon would fall to the Persian empire under Cyrus the Great, who the book of Isaiah lifts up as a messiah-which literally means anointed one as it is typically translated in English (see Isaiah 45:1). It is in the continuing movement of armies and the realignment of power in the Middle East that the people in Babylon would be able to return to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, the temple and re-settle Jerusalem. Perhaps a part of this oracle which encourages people to leave Babylon also speaks to the reality of those born and raised in Babylon that have become accustomed to life in the Babylonian empire and an encouragement to return back to Judah.
Things are never as neat and tidy as they come out in oracles. Babylon would be conquered, but like Judah it never truly becomes a haunt of jackals, a place uninhabited that people avoid for all times. Babylon will be integrated into the next empire and the chain continues. Jerusalem and Judah are never the same again as well with the majority of the Jewish people being dispersed across the region from Egypt to Babylon to Asia Minor. In these chapters a powerless people hope for powerful actions by their God to deliver them again from their captivity. Much as in the founding story of the Exodus, now the hope is that God will see and hear God’s people’s plight in a foreign land and act to bring them back home again.Jeremiah 50 The word that the LORD spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chaldeans, by the prophet Jeremiah: 2 Declare among the nations and proclaim, set up a banner and proclaim, do not conceal it, say: Babylon is taken, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is dismayed. Her images are put to shame, her idols are dismayed. 3 For out of the north a nation has come up against her; it shall make her land a desolation, and no one shall live in it; both human beings and animals shall flee away. 4 In those days and in that time, says the LORD, the people of Israel shall come, they and the people of Judah together; they shall come weeping as they seek the LORD their God. 5 They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, and they shall come and join themselves to the LORD by an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten. 6 My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold.7 All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, because they have sinned against the LORD, the true pasture, the LORD, the hope of their ancestors.” 8 Flee from Babylon, and go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be like male goats leading the flock. 9 For I am going to stir up and bring against Babylon a company of great nations from the land of the north; and they shall array themselves against her; from there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like the arrows of a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed. 10 Chaldea shall be plundered; all who plunder her shall be sated, says the LORD. 11 Though you rejoice, though you exult, O plunderers of my heritage, though you frisk about like a heifer on the grass, and neigh like stallions, 12 your mother shall be utterly shamed, and she who bore you shall be disgraced. Lo, she shall be the last of the nations, a wilderness, dry land, and a desert. 13 Because of the wrath of the LORD she shall not be inhabited, but shall be an utter desolation; everyone who passes by Babylon shall be appalled and hiss because of all her wounds. 14 Take up your positions around Babylon, all you that bend the bow; shoot at her, spare no arrows, for she has sinned against the LORD. 15 Raise a shout against her from all sides, “She has surrendered; her bulwarks have fallen, her walls are thrown down.” For this is the vengeance of the LORD: take vengeance on her, do to her as she has done. 16 Cut off from Babylon the sower, and the wielder of the sickle in time of harvest; because of the destroying sword all of them shall return to their own people, and all of them shall flee to their own land. 17 Israel is a hunted sheep driven away by lions. First the king of Assyria devoured it, and now at the end King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has gnawed its bones. 18 Therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I am going to punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I punished the king of Assyria. 19 I will restore Israel to its pasture, and it shall feed on Carmel and in Bashan, and on the hills of Ephraim and in Gilead its hunger shall be satisfied. 20 In those days and at that time, says the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and none shall be found; for I will pardon the remnant that I have spared. 21 Go up to the land of Merathaim; go up against her, and attack the inhabitants of Pekod and utterly destroy the last of them, says the LORD; do all that I have commanded you. 22 The noise of battle is in the land, and great destruction! 23 How the hammer of the whole earth is cut down and broken! How Babylon has become a horror among the nations! 24 You set a snare for yourself and you were caught, O Babylon, but you did not know it; you were discovered and seized, because you challenged the LORD. 25 The LORD has opened his armory, and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord GOD of hosts has a task to do in the land of the Chaldeans. 26 Come against her from every quarter; open her granaries; pile her up like heaps of grain, and destroy her utterly; let nothing be left of her. 27 Kill all her bulls, let them go down to the slaughter. Alas for them, their day has come, the time of their punishment! 28 Listen! Fugitives and refugees from the land of Babylon are coming to declare in Zion the vengeance of the LORD our God, vengeance for his temple. 29 Summon archers against Babylon, all who bend the bow. Encamp all around her; let no one escape. Repay her according to her deeds; just as she has done, do to her– for she has arrogantly defied the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. 30 Therefore her young men shall fall in her squares, and all her soldiers shall be destroyed on that day, says the LORD. 31 I am against you, O arrogant one, says the Lord GOD of hosts; for your day has come, the time when I will punish you. 32 The arrogant one shall stumble and fall, with no one to raise him up, and I will kindle a fire in his cities, and it will devour everything around him. 33 Thus says the LORD of hosts: The people of Israel are oppressed, and so too are the people of Judah; all their captors have held them fast and refuse to let them go. 34 Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name. He will surely plead their cause, that he may give rest to the earth, but unrest to the inhabitants of Babylon. 35 A sword against the Chaldeans, says the LORD, and against the inhabitants of Babylon, and against her officials and her sages! 36 A sword against the diviners, so that they may become fools! A sword against her warriors, so that they may be destroyed! 37 A sword against her horses and against her chariots, and against all the foreign troops in her midst, so that they may become women! A sword against all her treasures, that they may be plundered! 38 A drought against her waters, that they may be dried up! For it is a land of images, and they go mad over idols. 39 Therefore wild animals shall live with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall inhabit her; she shall never again be peopled, or inhabited for all generations. 40 As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors, says the LORD, so no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in her. 41 Look, a people is coming from the north; a mighty nation and many kings are stirring from the farthest parts of the earth. 42 They wield bow and spear, they are cruel and have no mercy. The sound of them is like the roaring sea; they ride upon horses, set in array as a warrior for battle, against you, O daughter Babylon! 43 The king of Babylon heard news of them, and his hands fell helpless; anguish seized him, pain like that of a woman in labor. 44 Like a lion coming up from the thickets of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly chase them away from her; and I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who can summon me? Who is the shepherd who can stand before me? 45 Therefore hear the plan that the LORD has made against Babylon, and the purposes that he has formed against the land of the Chaldeans: Surely the little ones of the flock shall be dragged away; surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. 46 At the sound of the capture of Babylon the earth shall tremble, and her cry shall be heard among the nations. Jeremiah 51 Thus says the LORD: I am going to stir up a destructive wind against Babylon and against the inhabitants of Leb-qamai; 2 and I will send winnowers to Babylon, and they shall winnow her. They shall empty her land when they come against her from every side on the day of trouble. 3 Let not the archer bend his bow, and let him not array himself in his coat of mail. Do not spare her young men; utterly destroy her entire army. 4 They shall fall down slain in the land of the Chaldeans, and wounded in her streets. 5 Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD of hosts, though their land is full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel. 6 Flee from the midst of Babylon, save your lives, each of you! Do not perish because of her guilt, for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance; he is repaying her what is due. 7 Babylon was a golden cup in the LORD’s hand, making all the earth drunken; the nations drank of her wine, and so the nations went mad. 8 Suddenly Babylon has fallen and is shattered; wail for her! Bring balm for her wound; perhaps she may be healed. 9 We tried to heal Babylon, but she could not be healed. Forsake her, and let each of us go to our own country; for her judgment has reached up to heaven and has been lifted up even to the skies. 10 The LORD has brought forth our vindication; come, let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God. 11 Sharpen the arrows! Fill the quivers! The LORD has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, because his purpose concerning Babylon is to destroy it, for that is the vengeance of the LORD, vengeance for his temple. 12 Raise a standard against the walls of Babylon; make the watch strong; post sentinels; prepare the ambushes; for the LORD has both planned and done what he spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon. 13 You who live by mighty waters, rich in treasures, your end has come, the thread of your life is cut. 14 The LORD of hosts has sworn by himself: Surely I will fill you with troops like a swarm of locusts, and they shall raise a shout of victory over you. 15 It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. 16 When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightnings for the rain, and he brings out the wind from his storehouses. 17 Everyone is stupid and without knowledge; goldsmiths are all put to shame by their idols; for their images are false, and there is no breath in them. 18 They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish. 19 Not like these is the LORD, the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is his name. 20 You are my war club, my weapon of battle: with you I smash nations; with you I destroy kingdoms; 21 with you I smash the horse and its rider; with you I smash the chariot and the charioteer; 22 with you I smash man and woman; with you I smash the old man and the boy; with you I smash the young man and the girl; 23 with you I smash shepherds and their flocks; with you I smash farmers and their teams; with you I smash governors and deputies. 24 I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the wrong that they have done in Zion, says the LORD. 25 I am against you, O destroying mountain, says the LORD, that destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burned-out mountain. 26 No stone shall be taken from you for a corner and no stone for a foundation, but you shall be a perpetual waste, says the LORD. 27 Raise a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations; prepare the nations for war against her, summon against her the kingdoms, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her, bring up horses like bristling locusts. 28 Prepare the nations for war against her, the kings of the Medes, with their governors and deputies, and every land under their dominion. 29 The land trembles and writhes, for the LORD’s purposes against Babylon stand, to make the land of Babylon a desolation, without inhabitant. 30 The warriors of Babylon have given up fighting, they remain in their strongholds; their strength has failed, they have become women; her buildings are set on fire, her bars are broken. 31 One runner runs to meet another, and one messenger to meet another, to tell the king of Babylon that his city is taken from end to end: 32 the fords have been seized, the marshes have been burned with fire, and the soldiers are in panic. 33 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Daughter Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time when it is trodden; yet a little while and the time of her harvest will come. 34 “King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has devoured me, he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel, he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his belly with my delicacies, he has spewed me out. 35 May my torn flesh be avenged on Babylon,” the inhabitants of Zion shall say. “May my blood be avenged on the inhabitants of Chaldea,” Jerusalem shall say. 36 Therefore thus says the LORD: I am going to defend your cause and take vengeance for you. I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry; 37 and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, a den of jackals, an object of horror and of hissing, without inhabitant. 38 Like lions they shall roar together; they shall growl like lions’ whelps. 39 When they are inflamed, I will set out their drink and make them drunk, until they become merry and then sleep a perpetual sleep and never wake, says the LORD. 40 I will bring them down like lambs to the slaughter, like rams and goats. 41 How Sheshach is taken, the pride of the whole earth seized! How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations! 42 The sea has risen over Babylon; she has been covered by its tumultuous waves. 43 Her cities have become an object of horror, a land of drought and a desert, a land in which no one lives, and through which no mortal passes. 44 I will punish Bel in Babylon, and make him disgorge what he has swallowed. The nations shall no longer stream to him; the wall of Babylon has fallen. 45 Come out of her, my people! Save your lives, each of you, from the fierce anger of the LORD! 46 Do not be fainthearted or fearful at the rumors heard in the land– one year one rumor comes, the next year another, rumors of violence in the land and of ruler against ruler. 47 Assuredly, the days are coming when I will punish the images of Babylon; her whole land shall be put to shame, and all her slain shall fall in her midst. 48 Then the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, shall shout for joy over Babylon; for the destroyers shall come against them out of the north, says the LORD. 49 Babylon must fall for the slain of Israel, as the slain of all the earth have fallen because of Babylon. 50 You survivors of the sword, go, do not linger! Remember the LORD in a distant land, and let Jerusalem come into your mind: 51 We are put to shame, for we have heard insults; dishonor has covered our face, for aliens have come into the holy places of the LORD’s house. 52 Therefore the time is surely coming, says the LORD, when I will punish her idols, and through all her land the wounded shall groan. 53 Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify her strong height, from me destroyers would come upon her, says the LORD. 54 Listen!– a cry from Babylon! A great crashing from the land of the Chaldeans! 55 For the LORD is laying Babylon waste, and stilling her loud clamor. Their waves roar like mighty waters, the sound of their clamor resounds; 56 for a destroyer has come against her, against Babylon; her warriors are taken, their bows are broken; for the LORD is a God of recompense, he will repay in full. 57 I will make her officials and her sages drunk, also her governors, her deputies, and her warriors; they shall sleep a perpetual sleep and never wake, says the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts. 58 Thus says the LORD of hosts: The broad wall of Babylon shall be leveled to the ground, and her high gates shall be burned with fire. The peoples exhaust themselves for nothing, and the nations weary themselves only for fire. 59 The word that the prophet Jeremiah commanded Seraiah son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, when he went with King Zedekiah of Judah to Babylon, in the fourth year of his reign. Seraiah was the quartermaster. 60 Jeremiah wrote in a scroll all the disasters that would come on Babylon, all these words that are written concerning Babylon. 61 And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: “When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, 62 and say, ‘O LORD, you yourself threatened to destroy this place so that neither human beings nor animals shall live in it, and it shall be desolate forever.’ 63 When you finish reading this scroll, tie a stone to it, and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, 64 and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disasters that I am bringing on her.'” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 49: Judgment on the Other Surrounding Nations
Concerning the Ammonites. Thus says the LORD: Has Israel no sons? Has he no heir? Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad, and his people settled in its towns? 2 Therefore, the time is surely coming, says the LORD, when I will sound the battle alarm against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it shall become a desolate mound, and its villages shall be burned with fire; then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him, says the LORD. 3 Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste! Cry out, O daughters of Rabbah! Put on sackcloth, lament, and slash yourselves with whips! For Milcom shall go into exile, with his priests and his attendants. 4 Why do you boast in your strength? Your strength is ebbing, O faithless daughter. You trusted in your treasures, saying, “Who will attack me?” 5 I am going to bring terror upon you, says the Lord GOD of hosts, from all your neighbors, and you will be scattered, each headlong, with no one to gather the fugitives. 6 But afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, says the LORD. 7 Concerning Edom. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Is there no longer wisdom in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished? 8 Flee, turn back, get down low, inhabitants of Dedan! For I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him, the time when I punish him. 9 If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings? If thieves came by night, even they would pillage only what they wanted. 10 But as for me, I have stripped Esau bare, I have uncovered his hiding places, and he is not able to conceal himself. His offspring are destroyed, his kinsfolk and his neighbors; and he is no more. 11 Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me. 12 For thus says the LORD: If those who do not deserve to drink the cup still have to drink it, shall you be the one to go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished; you must drink it. 13 For by myself I have sworn, says the LORD, that Bozrah shall become an object of horror and ridicule, a waste, and an object of cursing; and all her towns shall be perpetual wastes. 14 I have heard tidings from the LORD, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Gather yourselves together and come against her, and rise up for battle!” 15 For I will make you least among the nations, despised by humankind. 16 The terror you inspire and the pride of your heart have deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill. Although you make your nest as high as the eagle’s, from there I will bring you down, says the LORD. 17 Edom shall become an object of horror; everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. 18 As when Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors were overthrown, says the LORD, no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it. 19 Like a lion coming up from the thickets of the Jordan against a perennial pasture, I will suddenly chase Edom away from it; and I will appoint over it whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who can summon me? Who is the shepherd who can stand before me? 20 Therefore hear the plan that the LORD has made against Edom and the purposes that he has formed against the inhabitants of Teman: Surely the little ones of the flock shall be dragged away; surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. 21 At the sound of their fall the earth shall tremble; the sound of their cry shall be heard at the Red Sea. 22 Look, he shall mount up and swoop down like an eagle, and spread his wings against Bozrah, and the heart of the warriors of Edom in that day shall be like the heart of a woman in labor. 23 Concerning Damascus. Hamath and Arpad are confounded, for they have heard bad news; they melt in fear, they are troubled like the sea that cannot be quiet. 24 Damascus has become feeble, she turned to flee, and panic seized her; anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her, as of a woman in labor. 25 How the famous city is forsaken, the joyful town! 26 Therefore her young men shall fall in her squares, and all her soldiers shall be destroyed in that day, says the LORD of hosts. 27 And I will kindle a fire at the wall of Damascus, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad. 28 Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor that King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon defeated. Thus says the LORD: Rise up, advance against Kedar! Destroy the people of the east! 29 Take their tents and their flocks, their curtains and all their goods; carry off their camels for yourselves, and a cry shall go up: “Terror is all around!” 30 Flee, wander far away, hide in deep places, O inhabitants of Hazor! says the LORD. For King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon has made a plan against you and formed a purpose against you. 31 Rise up, advance against a nation at ease, that lives secure, says the LORD, that has no gates or bars, that lives alone. 32 Their camels shall become booty, their herds of cattle a spoil. I will scatter to every wind those who have shaven temples, and I will bring calamity against them from every side, says the LORD. 33 Hazor shall become a lair of jackals, an everlasting waste; no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it. 34 The word of the LORD that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning Elam, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah. 35 Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am going to break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might; 36 and I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; and I will scatter them to all these winds, and there shall be no nation to which the exiles from Elam shall not come. 37 I will terrify Elam before their enemies, and before those who seek their life; I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, says the LORD. I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them; 38 and I will set my throne in Elam, and destroy their king and officials, says the LORD. 39 But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, says the LORD.
As I have gone through these chapters where we hear the judgment of the nations being place in the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah and proceeding from the voice of the LORD, I have to admit that these passages are deeply unsettling to me. Perhaps it is because I stand in such a different place that the hearers of these words, I am a white middle class male who lives in the relative security and comfort of the United States and the hearers of these words would’ve been Jewish people taken into exile and perhaps needing a word of vengeance. Perhaps in their powerlessness they were willing to endure if the could trust that their suffering would have meaning and they would be avenged. As St. Paul could say in his letter to the Romans:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12.19
And I can identify with what Miroslav Volf can discuss in the last chapter of his incredible work Exclusion and Embrace where he discusses the need for God’s judgment as he writes from his own experience of trying to discuss reconciliation in the contexts of his native Bosnia. I can understand the need to give a voice to the pain that one encounters and the loss of identity, and even to use the language I’ve used throughout this blog of the wounded God who is grieving the loss of God’s relationship to Judah because of their inability or refusal to live in the covenant. I can understand all these things and yet still this is an uncomfortable section to work through, and it isn’t that Jeremiah in general is easy to work through, there is the language of judgment and the ending of the world the Jewish people knew which continually makes the book a challenge, but I think it hit me hear in these last chapters because it is directed towards the outsiders. Most of Jeremiah is directed inwardly towards the people of Judah and trying to get them to return to their covenant relationship, but in these final chapters Jeremiah turns towards all the other nations, in Chapter 49 it rails against Ammon, Edom, Damascus (and by extension Syria), Kedar and Hazor (Arabia), and Elam. This is a consistent pattern among the prophets which also occurs in Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos and yet to me it is still uncomfortable.
The primary reason for my discomfort is its external direction. The judgment that each of these nations is no greater than what Judah/Israel receives, but these are not nations that were ever in a covenant with God. I’m always a little uncomfortable when a group, a community or a congregation identifies all the evil or all the judgment that is going to occur on everyone but themselves. Certainly there has been plenty of judgment on Israel and in particular with all these nations there is no way to know what sins, real and perceived, they perpetrated against the nation of Judah, the exiles in Babylon or Egypt, how they played in the political intrigue that led Judah into its confrontation with Babylon or really anything. Perhaps they are innocent bystanders, perhaps not. I am troubled by the quick and easy resolution of each section how afterwards God will restore the fortunes as if after all the bloodshed and destruction it suddenly makes it all better.
One of the struggles in the Bible is it is not one picture of God but more like a mosaic of pictures from different people at different times with different experiences. Christians from very early have always had a struggle reconciling the judgment of God with the love of God and several of the earliest heresies of the church wanted to separate the judging God they perceived in the Old Testament from the God of love in the New Testament, but things are rarely that simple. I value Jeremiah and the picture of the passionately engaged and wounded God he portrays even if at times that picture makes me uncomfortable and I know there are times where my own perspective needs to be stretched.
One of the nice things about writing reflections rather than a verse by verse commentary is that while I can talk about the individual judgments and go into greater detail, I think for the few people who read this far into Jeremiah they are pretty familiar with this type of language. Others can probably do more justice to the relatively sparse historical references we have to these verses, and at this point it is not where my heart is. Walking with Jeremiah for the last year and a half has been insightful but I also am aware that as I near the end of this long walk into the destruction of Judah and the convulsions of the struggles of empires that I come to the end longing for an end to the cycle of destruction and judgment and to enter into the long process that the people of Judah will go through of reconstructing their identity as the people of God.
Jeremiah 48: Against Moab
Moab is Judah’s neighbor and has had its role to play in the region. Unlike the Philistines, the Moabites are mentioned as one of the players in the regional conference mentioned in Jeremiah 27. Perhaps Moab has been one of the forces manipulating the opinions in Israel toward the pro-Egyptian/anti-Babylonian policy that led to so much destruction, but we will never know how exactly the politics and promises played in the events around the exile. Moab receives more direct condemnation than any of the other nations in this long and winding and repetitive poem. Moab is not a regional powerhouse and so it too finds themselves caught up between the two major players (Egypt and Babylon). But as is always the case in Jeremiah it is not just the movement of armies, but it is the LORD of armies, the God of Israel that is behind all the movements in the region around Judah. Jeremiah sees the LORD as not just the LORD of Israel but the LORD of nations.
This judgment on Moab utilizes a repetitive usage of images around Viticulture. Moab is wine, Moab is a vine, Moab is the vessel to hold the wine, and Moab is drunk. The wine presses and the merriment around them have stopped and Moab who has been spared from the consequences of exile and destruction in the past now shares with everyone else in the region in the destruction both at the hands of Babylon, and ultimately in Jeremiah’s view, at the hands of the LORD.
Coming up to the end of Jeremiah, these last judgments on the kingdoms around Judah are both similar to the judgment that Judah receives and the probably does serve a need to vent around the frustration of their own nation’s powerlessness. How these were used and what purpose they serve is hard to know, but they stand here at the end of the book and are probably a part of how the people of Jeremiah make sense of their world. The God of Jeremiah is wild and uncontainable, incredibly powerful and in contrast to the people of Judah’s weakness this God is passionate and strong. Even though it makes me a little uncomfortable, and the entire direction of this unrelenting judgment is difficult as I have made my way through Jeremiah, it is a part of the people’s experience of God and their world and we continue to wrestle today with how active God is in our world and identifying where things are chance or destiny, divine providence or divine judgment or a series of causes and effects in the natural world.
Jeremiah 47: Philistia Caught in the Flood
The Philistines, Israel’s ancient enemy, has not played a role in Jeremiah up to this point. There is no reason given for Philistia being caught up in the destruction that is playing itself out in the conflicts of empires, in the rise of Babylon and the fall of Assyria and the diminishment of the power and influence that Egypt could exert in the region. The Philistines are not even a part of the regional powers that are mentioned in Jeremiah 27 and perhaps are plotting together how to throw off the yoke of Babylon. Philistia from her absence in the narrative up to this point seems merely to be caught up in the conflict going on around her. Pharaoh does come up from the South to oppose Babylon and Babylon in its pacification of Judah and Egypt and most major armies when they march show little discrimination about cities, towns and fields that can be plundered. As so many times before the Chaldean/Babylonian forces are portrayed as an irresistible force that cut down all in their way. The poetic language captures this in the desperation of parents who do not turn back for their own children, of two of traditional five cities of Philistia (Gaza and Ashkelon are mentioned, Ashdod is implied in the chapter and Gath and Ekron are not mentioned in this chapter) are shown as mourning (bald heads and cutting themselves) but the mourning is to no effect. Perhaps the sack of Ashkelon in 604 BCE by Nebuchadrezzar is reflected in this text, but again there is no reason other than Babylon as extension of the sword of the LORD has been loosed from its scabbard and it will not be still.
There is really no information to understand how the cities of Philistia play into the events of this time, whether they are active players or merely innocent bystanders that become casualties of much larger more powerful forces. Unfortunately war often doesn’t discriminate between innocent and guilty, between civilian and military and all are caught up together in the deluge. Perhaps the Philistines see their children die for someone else’s sins and the end of the chapter is a cry against the seemingly non-discriminatory judgment where guilty and innocent are caught up in the forces that are unleashed.