Friday, September 09, 2016

Reading Through Jeremiah #1 (Chapters 1-12)

31sWD6lEWeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I wanted to change things up a little and study through Jeremiah with a more technical commentary,  Jeremiah: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library, by Leslie C. Allen. This commentary does a good job of focusing on the forms Jeremiah uses to convey his message, and connects each passage with its Old and New Testament contexts. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Jeremiah is basically a prophecy which focuses on a "now" of judgment. The people have forsaken God and exile is inevitable. However, it also focuses on a future "then" of restoration, new covenant and restored Jerusalem. What God's people need to do is repent now, "know Yahweh" and then they will be part of that remnant in the glorious future "then."

Its call to “know” Yahweh follows in the wake of Jeremiah’s accusation in 9:3 (2) that Yahweh’s preexilic people did not know their covenant Lord, as their engaging in such vices as falsehood and untrustworthiness revealed. From such negative spirituality is extrapolated a contemporary call to a positive spirituality of knowing Yahweh and thereby engaging instead in the virtues of “loyalty, justice, and right dealing.” 15

In conclusion it may be said in terms of Rom 5:20 that, where sin (and judgment) abounded, grace was much more to abound. The overruling message of the book as a whole is that “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5 [6]), a morning yet to dawn. 18

Jeremiah begins with the calling and basic message of the prophet. God had prepared him, specially, as a prophet for his times. Jeremiah's job was to clearly announce the coming disaster on Jerusalem and to be very frank with them about the reasons for it - their rejection of God's covenant. He also had a message of hope. After disaster would come reconstruction.

Long ago a divine decision had been made, to set Jeremiah aside to belong to God and to be used by God, as if for priesthood. The precise sacred purpose is stated in an abrupt and blatant climax. The divine plan was for Jeremiah to be “a prophet for nations,” and he had already been designated for this task...In Jeremiah’s case supernatural equipping stands uncompromisingly over against nature and nurture. Jeremiah 1, 25–26

Jeremiah 2 begins a new section (2-6) which warns Judah of the disaster which is about to come upon it because of their faithlessness to God who saved them from Egypt and established them in a new land and in a gracious covenant. They did not learn from the mistakes of their ancestors, or even the recent example of the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In chapter 3, God offers to heal the nation if they will repent and return to an exclusive worship of YHWH and a daily life that integrates with that commitment. However, the people do not respond. God promises a glorious future, but only the very few who repent will enjoy it.

Judah had not reckoned with Yahweh, its first and best ally, and with Yahweh’s ultimate power of reprisal for Judah’s misplaced trust in human allies. Jeremiah 2.36-37, 51

The “ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim” represented the throne on which Yahweh invisibly sat, and in earlier times its loss had to be made good by David before Solomon’s temple could be built to house it. Its loss must have caused great grief during the exile. However, the eschatological tradition of a new and glorious Jerusalem, a positive magnet for the nations, would mean that Yahweh’s ark-linked presence was released to pervade the city. In Rev 21:22–25, in a development of this motif, the new Jerusalem to which the nations come has no need of a material temple. Jeremiah 3.15-17, 58

Chapters 4-6 now announce the disaster caused by Judah's unwillingness to seriously repent. God removes His protection from the nation and the Gentile nations will be allowed to devastate it. Jeremiah appeals for a last-minute repentance, but the people's refusal spells doom for Jerusalem. The people have rejected God and his message, including the warning about the coming disaster. They have chosen to listen to people who make them feel better instead of the truth about their condition. So Jeremiah announces God's decision to withdraw from Jerusalem and allow the army of the North (Babylon) to bring total destruction to Jerusalem and Judah.

The vision reports in vv. 15–31 present with the aid of psychic imagination the results of Yahweh’s future intervention in terms first of Judah’s being engulfed in battle and desolation and then of Jerusalem’s death throes. As in the earlier composition, moral issues left Yahweh no alternative. Into the dire darkness of such a future, however, a ray of hope is permitted for readers; such destruction, real and terrible though it was, was not to be God’s last word. Jeremiah 4.19-31, 70

The analogy of the sea held in check highlights the anomaly of Judah’s untrammeled loss of reverence for its covenant God. The virtual definition of such reverence in terms of social justice, in addition to faithful religious leadership, paves the way for James’s interpretation of religion as “to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (Jas 1:27). Jeremiah 5, 81

The people had refused the basic revelation given by Yahweh, which was a prescription for living. Life is pictured as a journey for which moral choices had to be made at every juncture. Only thus could one stay on the path that led to blessing and travel restfully or without mishap, unimpeded by self-generated crisis. “Age-old paths” refer to torah traditions in light of the resumptive reference to the torah in v. 19. Each generation faced a divine challenge to govern their lives by its teachings for their own good. Jeremiah 6.16, 88

The people rejected Jeremiah's warning because they believed that the temple worship and God's gift of the land made them bullet-proof. They forgot the many prophetic warnings and their history that showed that a lifestyle of whole-hearted worship and obedience to God's ways are necessary to experience blessing. Jerusalem's lack of faithfulness and just lifestyles and their refusal to be corrected will bring on the exile.

The people’s lifestyle functions here as the condition of living in the land and in v. 10 as the criterion for worshiping in the temple. So large does this element loom that, if it is negated, it is capable of nullifying in turn both the temple privilege and the land privilege; once this element goes missing, the rest of the triangle collapses. Jeremiah 7.1-20, 96

Chapters 8-10 explain why Judah must go into exile and cannot stay in the land. They have broken the ancient covenant and the stipulations of that covenant must come into play. However, this is an opportunity for the people because that covenant also promises forgiveness if they will repent. Sadly they will not listen. So Jeremiah calls in the professional mourners because Jerusalem’s destruction is inevitable. There is still hope because the exiles will have the opportunity to live out God's justice in the lands to which they have been scattered. So the exiles are warned against adopting the idolatrous customs and beliefs of foreign nations and assured that the living God can give them the wisdom and protection they need to thrive in these pagan environments.

Jeremiah speaks as an insider, yet one who has been won over to the rival cause of his divine patron. The prophet’s outburst registers a heartfelt regret in face of the inevitable. The moral explicability of a tragedy does not preclude grieving its terrible consequences, especially when he has close ties with the victims. Here grief is a measure of the extent of the disaster. Jeremiah 8, 112

The standard ethical principle of justice (cf. 5:1, 4, 5; 7:5; 8:7) is here expanded with two others. Those who shared Yahweh’s appreciation of such virtues should show them in their community...Here God’s positive providential control of the world is in view. This striking piece encourages the exiles to identify themselves in faith and lifestyle with this universal God who was on their side. It is a counterchallenge to earlier accusations of not knowing Yahweh. Jeremiah 9.23-24, 120–121

Jeremiah 10:1–16 breaks out of the preexilic setting that has hitherto dominated the book and addresses the Babylonian exiles, in pursuance of the exile-related agenda set by 9:16 (15). Its defiant call to faith in Yahweh turns into a hymnic celebration of Yahweh’s superiority to Babylon’s icons...The entire composition offers a spirited testimony to aniconic monotheism in an alien, threatening culture. Jeremiah 10.1-16, 129

Jeremiah 11 ties the exile to the nation's historic rejection of God. The pre-exilic generation was no different than the first generation than the first generation of Israel who were not allowed to enter the promised land because of their rejection of God and his promises. Jeremiah was rejected by his own family much as Moses was. Thus, he is not allowed to even pray for the people (12) because their destruction was imminent. Jeremiah was suffering greatly, but God told him that he would need to toughen up because it would get worse before it would get better. But, even chapter 12 ends with the hope of physical and spiritual restoration and reconciliation.

Jeremiah functions as “the paradigmatic illustration of the degree of total national rejection of the message of the prophets." Jeremiah 11, 145

(God's) counterquestions do not address theological conundrums and pointed challenges, but rather challenge Jeremiah. They make a pastoral comment on his prophetic relationship to Yahweh, envisioning it in terms of an arduous struggle. Jeremiah was not to overreact to his experience, but must learn to take such problems in his stride, as preparation for more daunting ones ahead. Jeremiah 12.5, 150

The implicit goal of the unit is the vindication of Yahweh and of Yahweh’s people. This unit purposefully breaks into the series of oracles of disaster directed at Judah. It strains forward in hope for a time when Yahweh would remake the spiritual geography of Judah’s world and put its pernicious influence into reverse. So 12:14–17 encompasses not only the alienation of exile but reconciliation, which would spill beyond Judah’s borders to the glory of God. Jeremiah 12.7-17, 55

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