Tag Archives: Judah

Jeremiah 26 The Prophet, the Temple and the Elders

Jeremiah 26: 1-19 The Prophet, the Temple and the Elders

Ilya Repin, Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1870)

Ilya Repin, Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem (1870)

At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the LORD: 2 Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. 3 It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings. 4 You shall say to them: Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, 5 and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently– though you have not heeded– 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.

 7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. 8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.

                10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the LORD and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the LORD. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”

 12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

 16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ 19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the LORD and entreat the favor of the LORD, and did not the LORD change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”

This passage is traditionally linked with the ‘Temple Sermon of Jeremiah’ in Jeremiah 7 and into chapter 8 based on the dating and the circumstances lined out in the first lines. Jeremiah goes into the temple, the heart of the royal and priestly justification of the people’s favored status and compares the temple to Shiloh, which was an earlier site of the tabernacle site in the time of 1 Samuel. The prophet calls the people back to the two sided covenant of Deuteronomy, ‘If you will do these things, then you will be blessed, if you will not do these things you will be cursed.’ Since the construction of the temple by Solomon there has been a critique of the possibility of relying solely on the temple for maintaining the people’s status with God. For example when God answers Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 9, it relates the answer as this:

2 the LORD appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4 As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

 6 “If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples. 8 This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, worshiping them and serving them; therefore the LORD has brought this disaster upon them.'” (1Kings 9:2-9)

Yet in the time of King Jehoiakim this way of understanding the covenant with God is either forgotten or neglected. For the prophet claims of obedience to God’s law/Torah are more important than any human authority. This undercuts the certitude of not only Jehoiakim, but particularly here the priests in the temple where Jeremiah makes his proclamation. Their lives are invested in the maintaining of the centrality of the temple worship and the proclamation of the prophet threatens not only their temple with its words but their livelihood. The react quickly and harshly demanding the death of Jeremiah because he has spoken against the temple and the city and bring him before the leadership of the city. It is a tense picture painted where the priest and temple authorities and the crowd have surrounded the prophet and the city leaders quickly move to bring calm to the situation and hold judgment in the case of this troublesome prophet.

For his part, Jeremiah denies nothing that he is accused of and yet he claims his role as a prophet of God speaking on God’s behalf and still in the hope of both the prophet and God that the people will hear and turn from their ways. What the priests have heard as condemnation is from Jeremiah’s perspective a hope for turning and rescue by God, but the words have fallen on unreceptive ears.  Jeremiah knows that his life rests in these officials’ hands and yet he warns them that if they take his life they will be liable for innocent blood.

The elder’s rely on the precedence of Micah, one of the examples of intertextuality in the Bible. This instance refers back to the prophet Micah who a century earlier had spoken harsh words against the city, and yet Micah was not killed by the leadership then. The ‘elders’ override the ‘priest’ and the historical memory of prophetic witness and Torah piety hold out in this case and the elders too are able to see this as an opportunity for repentance rather than a certain doom. Unfortunately for the people the repentance does not come as the priestly and royal authority are hostile to this message that Jeremiah proclaim.

Jeremiah 26:20-24 The Risk of the Prophetic Challenge

 

                20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the LORD, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt.22 Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.

 24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.

King Jehoiakim is not receptive to Jeremiah’s message, and while Jeremiah apparently has some protection from Ahikam son of Shaphan another prophet, Uriah son of Shemaiah does not. The words of Uriah infuriate the king enough to send men into Egypt to capture, bring the prophet to the king and then to be killed by the king. This is not a welcome time for prophets and death and torture are real possibilities to ensure the message of King Jehoiakim is the dominant message heard.

The Place of Authority: A Brief History Part 2: King, Temple and the Prophetic Critique

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

David and King Saul, Rembrandt

 So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 1 Samuel 8.10-18

 

At roughly 1,020 BCE a decisive change takes place and Israel enters the time of monarchy.  Power becomes consolidated briefly under King Saul.  Two men, King Saul and Samuel, whose title before had been that of a judge but functioned as a mouthpiece for God at this point, hold the religious and political authority.  Israel begins to act as a powerful actor in the region, constantly moving from one conflict to another, but internal conflict emerges when David emerges on the scene.  Without getting bogged down in the story or trying to parse out what happened historically  by 1000 David would unify his power as king and Israel became for a brief shining moment a power player on the world stage, Jerusalem becomes the capitol, and then perhaps decisively for this era the temple is established under Solomon.   Especially for the Southern Kingdom of Judah this is decisive because the monarchy and the temple become linked as the dominant secular/religious authority. There is a prophetic voice within that critiques the monarchy and temple, but for the most part the people give up a portion of their freedom for the relative security, power and identity of being a part of the unified kingdom of Israel.  That is not to say that family, clan and tribe have lost their power or authority, but that the people become much more linked to the kings and temple than at any previous point in their history.

This is probably a good point for a fun interlude, it is hard for us to imagine being bound in systems where our autonomy is defined so externally.  We don’t have any experience of a monarchical system and so our reaction might be somewhat like the peasants in this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Even a romanticized king when we look from our perspective seems like a tyranny or despot.

Even though King David is often looked upon romantically like the King Arthur of legend, one of the incredible things is that the recorded memory of David includes many ugly situations, many family struggles, many times where he is at odds with the prophetic voice of the time.  The whole Bathsheba and Uriah episode (2 Samuel 10-12), incest within the royal family (2 Samuel 13) and eventually the usurpation of the throne by his son Absalom (2 Samuel 15-19) as well as other internal rebellions are a part of David’s roughly forty years of consolidated rule.  Even though the King amasses incredible authority previously unattainable in anyone’s imagination the constant warfare and internal struggles begin to wear on the people.  By the time Solomon, David’s son, ascends to the throne it is a relatively peaceful time but the energy is directed internally on large building projects, the temple, but also many houses and palaces for Solomon and his entourage. The temple becomes, at least for a large group of people, the central focus of worship, and yet again just like with the idea of consolidating power with a king there is a large amount of space dedicated to the critique of the temple

 King Solomon conscripted forced labor out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did the stonecutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.  1 Kings 5.13-18 NRSV

This is a huge commitment of people and resources which are directed internally.  In fact it is such a strain that immediately upon Solomon’s death when Rehoboam takes power the people come and plead for relief:

Your father made our yoke heavy.  Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed upon us and we will serve you. 1 Kings 12.4 NRSV

To which the narrative has Rehoboam reply three days later in our language, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet, you think my father made things hard on you?  Well prepare to be screwed!’ Most translations clean this up significantly…but the little thing that is thicker than his father’s loins is probably not a finger (see 1 Kings 12: 6-15 particularly v.10) Things are not nearly as clean in the Bible as we sometimes want to make them.  The people are offended, the kingdom splits apart and now there are two kings, two places of worship, a prophetic voice that continues to grow louder…but even with this prophetic voice within the Kingdom of Judah in the South and the Kingdom of Israel in the North growing stronger the fate of both nations is linked to the actions of kings and the worship at the temple in Judah and the worship at various sites in the North.  Particularly for the Southern Kingdom of Judah, so long as there is a Davidic king and the Temple who they are as the people of God seems secure.  Yet this too will change….

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