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Discerning the Dynamics of Jeremiah 25–52 (MT)
Discerning the Dynamics of Jeremiah 25–52 (MT)
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Discerning the Dynamics of Jeremiah 25–52 (MT)

Mark A O'Brien
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Discerning the Dynamics of Jeremiah 25–52 (MT)

Mark A O'Brien
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Before outlining my understanding of the Dynamics of Jeremiah 25–52, it may be of use to readers to summarise the Dynamics of Jeremiah 1–25 as presented in my preceding volume. The book begins with Jeremiah appointed by YHWH over Judah and the nations 'to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant' (cf 1:10). The accompanying announcement that YHWH is summoning invaders from the north against Judah and the nations implies that any planting and building will only occur after the existing (dis)order has been plucked up and pulled down, destroyed and overthrown. Jeremiah's preaching commences in chapter 2 with a review that employs the metaphor of a perfect marriage that subsequently went awry due to the infidelity of wife Israel. Because the review has to cover the period of the divided kingdom, in 3:5–11 and following there is a discrete shift from the marriage metaphor to that of the two sisters, Israel (northern kingdom) and Judah (southern kingdom), apparently in order to avoid portraying YHWH with two wives. These sisters are the rebellious children of parent YHWH, with 'false Judah' compared unfavourably with her sister 'faithless Israel'. Given the setting of Jeremiah's ministry in the final days of Judah and its capital Jerusalem, one is not surprised to find this nation and its capital city as the focus of a series of indictments in 4:3–6:20. The most sacred place in Judah and Jerusalem is the temple, and the series of indictments reaches a dramatic climax in a sermon that Jeremiah delivers at the gate of the temple in 7:1–8:3. Here he declares on YHWH's authority that the most sacred place in the land will be destroyed like the northern shrine of Shiloh, and the people will be cast out of YHWH's presence. A number of passages in chapters 4–10 signals the stress this message causes the prophet, a stress that reaches crisis point in his first lament or complaint in 11:18–12:4. If a key issue in chapters 2–10 is whether a disobedient Judah can or should remain in the place (land and temple) that was gifted by YHWH, Jeremiah's lament introduces a second major issue, namely time. Given that YHWH is Sovereign over place and time, the two realms in which human beings live out their relationship with God and one another, whyβ€”Jeremiah asks in 12:1-4β€”has YHWH not intervened earlier to stop the corruption in Judah from reaching such a crisis point? On my reading, YHWH responds to this by instructing Jeremiah via a series of three lessons that are presented in chapters 13–15; the first involves the sign of the ruined loin-cloth in chapter 13, the second that of drought in chapter 14, and the third that of war in chapter 15. The lessons conclude with YHWH's challenge to Jeremiah that he can only continue as YHWH's mouthpiece if 'you utter what is precious and not what is worthless (15:19b). Jeremiah then receives further commissions in chapter 16 to which he responds by declaring that YHWH alone is 'my strength and my stronghold, my refuge in the day of trouble' (16:19). This is followed by a further lesson about YHWH's just rule over all the nations, with Judah providing the paradigm example of the sinful nation (17:1–13). Jeremiah expresses his complete commitment to YHWH in 17:14–18, after which he is commissioned to stand in the gates of the city and warn the people about the need to honour YHWH as the Lord of time (17:19–27). Keeping the Sabbath is identified as the key sign of such loyalty because it marks their passage from slave time in Egypt (no distinction between work and rest) to life in the designated land/place, where they have time to work and time to rest, and to honour YHWH for this great gift. YHWH's sovereignty over time is underscored by a series of signs and words in chapters 18–19, culminating in Jeremiah smashing a pottery jug before witnesses as the sign that Judah's time in the land is at an end. For this he is imprisoned by the priest Pashhur at the gate of the temple, the sacred place, but, on being released he declares that Passhur and his kind are the real prisonersβ€”of the king of Babylon, the first naming in the book of the foe from the north who is being summoned to punish Judah (20:1–6). The impending end of Judah triggers a final lament from Jeremiah in 20:7–20 but he now sees the truth of YHWH's earlier promises (1:17–19; 15:20–21), namely that if he remains loyal YHWH will protect him from all enemies. In v 13 he praises YHWH because he realises that what he has received is in keeping with the way YHWH responds to all those in need of deliverance from evildoers (20:13). But this in turn triggers a painful final question that echoes the book of Job; what is the point of being born if it is only to 'see toil and sorrow'? The imminent end of Judah's time in the land and temple is signaled by the report in 21:1–2 of a delegation from king Zedekiah to Jeremiah to intercede with YHWH against the Babylonian siege that has begun. Despite the prospect of seeing more toil and sorrow, Jeremiah reaffirms the conquest of the city and its inhabitants, in line with his preceding announcements. The only way out of this crisis is to obey YHWH's word and surrender to the Babylonians (21:9). Jeremiah is then instructed, as with the sermon in the temple, to go to the gates of the royal palace and there proclaim what YHWH requires of the kings in order for them to continue on the throne of David. Except for loyal Josiah, all the subsequent kings are exposed as failures and condemned in 22:10–30. But, as a sign that the plucking up and pulling down will be followed by building and planting, a woe against 'the shepherds' of YHWH's flock in 23:1–2 is followed by a promise that YHWH will gather the scattered flock and install a successor to David who will 'execute justice and righteousness'. This sequence of woe and promise, which recalls Jeremiah's commission in 1:10, is followed by a series of passages against false prophecy. Within the context, the thrust of this is that there is no alternative prophecy about Judah and Jerusalem to the one that Jeremiah has consistently proclaimed in the preceding chapters. Chapter 24 confirms Jeremiah's words via the sign of good and bad figs. The good figs are those who have presumably obeyed the injunction in 21:9 to surrender to Babylon and have been taken into exile. They will form the core of those whom YHWH will bring back to the land in order to build and plant. The sight of the good figs that YHWH provides for Jeremiah (and the reader) can also be read as a response to Jeremiah's lament in 20:18β€”the loyal, suffering prophet is privileged by YHWH to 'see' beyond the toil and sorrow. The bad figs are king Zedekiah and those who did not obey the injunction. In line with YHWH's decree, they will be 'utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their ancestors' (24:10)....

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Information

Publisher
ATF Press Publishing
Year
2020
ISBN
9781925679342
Topic
Languages & Linguistics
Subtopic
Linguistics

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