A prophet like Jeremiah—and so many others who bore with similar reluctance the mantle of YHWH’s spokesperson—needed to be dragged kicking and screaming to the duty. Rarely were those prophets whom the biblical canon endorses as true prophets, the genuine article, eager with careerist zeal for the task to which YHWH had summoned them.
They dragged their feet.
Declare among the nations and proclaim, set up a banner and proclaim, conceal it not, and say … (Jeremiah 50:2 ESV)
There is a reason for the insistent repetition in the order.
‘Babylon is taken, Bel is put to shame, Merodach is dismayed. Her images are put to shame, her idols are dismayed.’ (Jeremiah 50:2 ESV)
Babylon’s downfall is simply implausible. Those who know her imperious sway can never doubt the absoluteness of it.
Babylon is empire and empire claims to be obvious, inevitable, and beyond questioning. Babylon rules because Babylon must rule.
It is ever so with empires that set themselves up against the Lord of lords. Alternative arrangements are not to be considered. It is the rare soul, the odd duck who dares to imagine Something Else.
Empire’s greatest violence is not effected by its arms, but by the astonishing persuasion of its ideology.
Babylon must be. Nothing else is to be imagined.
So does the suddenness of her collapse, as the prophet sees it, place the seer on the margins of the space where reasonable people live. It is not an easy thing to speak what one sees and be considered a lunatic for doing so.
Jeremiah must be coaxed, ordered almost, to say what he sees.
Declare it … proclaim … conceal it not … and say … !
The prophet is both invited and condemned to speak absurdities. He sees what others cannot and—if he is to be true to his Awful Summoner—he must say the thing. Hiding it will not do.
In time, Jesus would make the poetics of reversal familiar and welcome. Blessed are the poor, he would say, for theirs is the kingdom heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. The beautiful symmetry of it warms our hearts. We don’t find it impossible to believe.
The way had been paved for him by his Father’s prophets, who declared the implausible, the impossible, the sudden YHWH-wrought reversal, and were reviled for it.
Like Jesus, his prophetic forebears came to understand that God’s future always seems impossible to the human beings who will soon live in it, bent as they are on control, slaves to the predictable, wary of surprise, needing to know.
Yet those who would soon feel Babylon’s icy grip suddenly loosened from around their necks—Jeremiah knew it before time—would not struggle long for words before ‘Hallelujah’ came to parched lips, suddenly moistened by redemption’s dew.
One or two of them would in time find the old prophetic mantle settle around shoulders that never sought the thing.
‘Do not conceal it!’, the old words would come to them. Again.