Posts Tagged ‘Jeremiah’

Among literatures ancient and modern, the Bible’s astounding realism is sui generis.

The biblical literature manages to defy all religious restraint in order to press into YHWH’s reality. It will settle for no less.

The prophet Jeremiah is remarkable, if otherwise unexceptional in this respect.

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? (Jeremiah 12:1 ESV)

He dares to ask, privately and then in an excruciating way, publicly: Why are things not as they ought to be? As they have been promised to be? As you, YHWH, have led us to believe that they will be? (more…)


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The design of life is shot through with extraordinary ironies. ‘Poetic justice’ is one tried and true expression that attempts to define this.

One of the odd symmetries of reality is that we become what we chase after. It is the logic in the deep structure of creation that generates what theologians eventually come to call ‘sanctification’ and ‘depravity’. A thousand saintly techniques crumble before one truth: when we pursue what is holy, we become more holy. The encyclopedia of sin and idolatry is equally predictable from this angle of view: we become tragically like the idols that we waste our lives pursuing.

It is an arrangement of twinned promise and threat. Yet none of it is theatrical or false. This is simply how things are.

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: ‘What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?’ (Jeremiah 2:4–5 ESV)

The Hebrew prophet plays here upon one of the Hebrew Bible’s most potent negatives: הבל,  ‘worthless’, ‘vanity’, utter moral weightlessness. It is a commonplace—though a pungent one—for the prophets to label all manner of glorious idols with this pejorative claim. But it is a deep insight into the dynamics of being human to recognize that we become what we treasure.

If an idol is inert, so do we lose the efficacy of will, the gigantic capacity to decide who we will become. If an idol is glitzy, so do we become flecked with cheap reflections that conceal the emptiness within. If an idol is elevated above its peers, so do we fall prey to the hubris of the unique and the special.

But if, the prophet would have us know—since despair is not his end game—, if we pursue the Ineffable, the Most High, the Holy One of Israel, we become better than we were. By grace and imitation, not by technique or exertion.

Things become simple.


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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. (more…)

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To be a prophet is not simply to declare what’s coming.

Contrary to what is often assumed, the language of the biblical prophets is rarely deterministic. To the contrary, the lines of this literature are relationally rich. The emotion of love and embrace, as of love unrequited, is a frequent visitor to these pages.

The Lord is not only the subject of the famous words, ‘Thus says …’. He is also the one who woos his often recalcitrant Israel. He pleads with her, suffers with her, is stunned by her, returns to her. He both desolates and is desolated by his beloved people. (more…)

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Prophetic oracle finds few reasons to go gently with Edom.

This too-close-for-comfort neighbor of Israel-Judah comes in for uncommon diatribe and unflinching condemnation from the prophets of Israel-Judah. Just as those who stand—or sleep—nearest to us wound us the most grievously, so does Edom fail to go gently into the good night when the Hebrew prophets have got their dander up.

Curiously, Edom’s announced demise does not turn on pure Hebrew nationalism. Edom is condemned for the same reason that humans everywhere fall afoul of YHWH’s way: they crush the most vulnerable among them.

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? 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. If grape-gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings? If thieves came by night, even they would pillage only what they wanted. 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. Leave your orphans, I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.

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. 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.’

YHWH in the Hebrew Scripture only seldom appoints himself the guardian and vindicator of half-pagan orphans and widows.

Yet he sometimes does, which in itself distinguishes him from all other gods.

YHWH the defender of Edom‘s orphans and widows.

The rabbis cultivate an uncommon instinct for moving from the lesser to the greater. The New Testament, in its quite distinct dialect, does the same.

Both press upon us the comforting, judging logic that runs something like this:

And if of Edom‘s orphans and widows, then what of ours?

Then what of us?

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We desperately want good news. In time of distress, our minds scan their half-remembered data for a word of hope. As we need food and water, we sense that there must be a happy description of what is happening under our feet that will declare things not be as bad as they appear. Salvation is just around the corner. It must be so.

In Jeremiah’s day, prophetic voices of easy hope abounded. The canonical text calls them false. In the literature that comes to us bearing Jeremiah’s name, YHWH’s verdict upon such happy criers is almost violent for its brevity: ‘I did not send them’. (more…)

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In the biblical narratives of a prophet’s calling to his particular function, the individual in question is usually summoned against or independently of his own will. He never asks for the job, never finds himself in some sublime moment reveling in the fulfillment of his long-time dream to become a prophet.

Moreover, such passages frequently show him asserting not only his disinterest but also his lack of ability for the work into which YHWH has dragged him. (more…)

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When the Bible traffics in unconditional promises and everlasting guarantees, the modern reader easily loses the thread. This is in part because our view of history is less dramatic than that assumed by large portions of the biblical narrative.

We read such promise as verbal guarantee of an uninterrupted status quo. On the contrary, the narrative itself posits a dilemma that YHWH cannot or will not leave unresolved. Its point of reference is not the each-minute-of-all-minutes status of a promise, but rather the final outcome of history or of some large segment of history. YHWH is presumed to rule sovereignly over the story and to promise that a certain outcome will stand. It is understood that interruption and hiatus will from time to time be the experience of the people, a matter that creates both tension and expectation. (more…)

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With an unusual dramatic touch, Jeremiah faces off against a YHWH-prophet whose message of good news and spectacular deliverance from the Babylonian besieger must have sounded with a welcome ring in encircled Jerusalem. Hananiah’s symbolic and verbal artistry can be understood in a manner that aligns them with the more lyric moments of the book of Isaiah or even the consoling passages within the book of Jeremiah itself. (more…)

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Jeremiah comes down to us not only as the weeping prophet. He is also a most realistic seer.

The text allows us to intuit the presence of many prophetic good-timers, making their rounds in the streets of besieged Jerusalem and claiming against the evidence of the Babylonian troops just over the wall that YHWH would never allow his prime-time city to be destroyed. They proclaimed an imminent miracle, an inviolable city, and an unconditional divine choice. (more…)

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