Monday, September 19, 2016

Reading Through Jeremiah #2 (Chapters 13-29)

31sWD6lEWeL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing to read through the book of Jeremiah accompanied by Jeremiah: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library, by Leslie C. Allen. This section of Jeremiah shows that Israel has failed to keep the Old Covenant and this exile is assured. There is hope after judgment in the future but only if they seek God and return to covenant. 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…

Chapter 13 presents two symbolic messages that announce exile and the reasons for it. Jeremiah takes a linen sash and hides it in a rock for a long time. When he returns it is rotted and useless. This pictures Israel as a privileged nation with a mission from God. They took their privileges and used them selfishly and so became useless to God. The second picture is of smashed wine jars. Once they are smashed they can't be fixed. The exile is coming. It will be complete and degrading as God removes the privilege of his power, wealth and protection from Israel and Judah.

Jeremiah 13:1–17 comprises an oracle of disaster. It accuses the people of forfeiting its covenant birthright by pagan worship and failing to listen to prophetic warnings. It forecasts exile, which would accomplish Yahweh’s twofold reprisal, the extinction of national prestige and the collapse of political and social solidarity. Jeremiah 13, 161

jeremiah 1-29 chartNow that the exile is inevitable chapters 14-17 explain the reasons for it so that the later exiles will listen to Jeremiah's prophecies and learn the lessons the exile was meant to teach. The section begins with a resounding "no" to a prayer for God to intervene in the crisis. The people have refused God and repentance and continue to follow false prophets. There will be no relief.

Jeremiah 14:1–16 sounds an emphatic no in response to the people’s prayers of hope, whether in the face of drought or military defeat. Nothing could avert their rightful fate, neither the cultic tradition of Yahweh’s promise of deliverance, which they had forfeited, nor a prophet’s intercession nor fasting nor sacrifice. And false prophets who could not excuse communal culpability are denounced as make-believe. Jeremiah 14.1-16, 171

In OT narratives the tradition of intercession is present in Exod 32:11–13; Num 14:13–19; 1 Sam 7:5, 8–9; 12:19, 23. Here, however, the people had no mediator to present their prayers and they presented them on their own behalf. Jeremiah himself is not compared with Moses and Samuel; there is no mention of his interceding. The mediatory role he is now assigned is ironically the opposite of intercession, to communicate the rejection of their appeal. Jeremiah 15.1-4, 175

Jeremiah begins to complain that his prophecies of disaster are causing his family and friends to ostracize him and make his life more difficult. God's response is a call to Jeremiah to repent and to commit more deeply to his calling. Jeremiah is commanded to  remove himself from the cultural social events and to refrain from marriage and becoming a father as a sign of the coming disaster. God promises to protect Jeremiah through this suffering and chapter 16 closes with a powerful promise of return from exile after removal of idolatry from the nation.

(Jeremiah) had to throw in his lot with Yahweh, instead of hankering after social normality—a normality that the redactor in vv. 13–14 had already characterized as doomed to end. Only such integrated commitment would permit Jeremiah to continue as a prophet. Jeremiah 15.19, 185

Jeremiah 16:1–21 celebrates Yahweh’s stand against pagan religion in Israel and the world at large...which plainly present Israel’s problem and Yahweh’s drastic solution of exile...first Judah’s pagan religion must be punished...That done, in vv. 19–21 Israel in exile turns back to Yahweh with fresh faith and with morale high enough to assert that the other nations who practiced the non-Yahwistic worship (v. 13) would put their own faith in the true God. Jeremiah 16, 194–195

Jeremiah 17 gives the reason that the exile is inevitable. The people's hearts have become hard and evil through generations of disobedience. This has produced the fruit of idolatry and disobedience. God was willing to lavish blessings on them if they would trust him and keep the covenant but they chose to go their own way and now would suffer the consequences of that way.

Here the self-sufficiency is simply contrasted with faith in Yahweh. A grim prognosis is supplied by the imagery of a shrub eking out a miserable existence in the desert...The road not taken is tantalizingly elaborated in lavish, positive terms. It would have provided a vital source of sustenance beyond the limitations of the human ecosystem, a source that would have stayed available in worst-case scenarios. Jeremiah 17.5-8, 199–200

Jeremiah 17:14–27 exposes the reprehensibility of the faith community in refusing to heed from the prophet “Yahweh’s message,” here illustrated with a torah-based message relating to the Sabbath. This refusal must usher in the collapse of Jerusalem and its valued traditions. Jeremiah 17.14-27, 209

Jeremiah 18-20 uses the symbols of the potter and his creations to show both God's sovereignty and Judah's responsibility for their destruction. In 18 Jeremiah watches the potter work with the soft clay and adjust to its imperfections to encourage Israel to do what is right and experience blessing. They won't do that so in chapter 19 Jeremiah smashes a clay pot to show that God has determined to exile the nation. There is no turning back. They have rejected God and his prophets and exile is inevitable. The section climaxes (20) with overt persecution of Jeremiah and his cry of pain at the rejection of God and His messenger by the people of Jerusalem.

Creation is not a static notion, but involves Yahweh’s lordship over the nations of the world...The new pot is interpreted as the new situation Yahweh creates in the history of a claylike nation. Jeremiah 18.7-10, 215–216

A coherent message emerges from the composition: Yahweh’s announcement of disaster for Judah for its religious defection had a further ominous reason, the community’s rejection of Yahweh’s prophetic messages, a rejection that found tragic illustration in the confessions of the rejected prophet...That disaster would consist of not only the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (19:7–9, 13), but of Jerusalem’s sacking and Judah’s exile to Babylon (20:4–6). Jeremiah 19, 224–225.

Passionate focus is laid on Jeremiah’s role as a rejected prophet, even while his prophetic vindication and Yahweh’s own eventual vindication in support of the prophet by wreaking disaster are affirmed. The rejection of the messenger of Yahweh’s destruction is reflected through the mirror of Jeremiah’s cry of despairing pain. Jeremiah 20, 234

21-24 begin a new oracle which now specifically name Babylon as God's tool of judgment on the nation. God is now  fighting for Jerusalem's enemies and the only hope for the nation is God's grace toward the exiles. Each king, after Josiah, is named and his doom is pronounced. The only for survival for the people of Jerusalem is defection to Babylon. The reasons given are that these kings tolerated idolatry in the nation and they refused their role as defender of the weak and poor. The lived above the people, rather than as their neighbors. The line of the current kings is rejected, but God will raise up a new king who will be identified as "the LORD our Righteousness." The only hope is that God will look in favor on the "good figs" (24) in exile and restore them to the land after the "bad figs" in Jerusalem are completely wiped out by the Babylonians.

Prophetic warnings that, taken seriously, could have prevented national tragedy had been disregarded. Economic prosperity and Babylonian noninterference muffled them. This skepticism is traced back to the preprophetic period, to a history of disregarding Yahweh’s earlier revelation, presumably the torah traditions. As earlier in the book, notably in 6:16–19, disregarding the double revelation is the prescription for sure disaster. Jeremiah 22.21, 252

The oracle offers hope by celebrating a new revelation of Yahweh in a second redemptive act that would eclipse the exodus and bring about a wonderful reversal of Israel’s punishment by the regaining of the land. The brief composition in 23:1–8 rounds off the previous two by summarizing their negative series of oracles in terms of bad kings who caused Judah’s exile and by adding promises of a capable monarchy in the future and the restoration of the banished community. Jeremiah 23.1-8, 260

None of the prophets can hide from the bad fate to which their bad behavior, all too visible to divine eyes, makes them liable...23:9–24 vehemently castigates Jeremiah’s prophetic rivals for their morally irresponsible lifestyle and message. It can only predict a bad end for them at the hands of a God whom they have misunderstood and misrepresented. Jeremiah 23.9-24, 268

The section ends with an explicit prophecy of judgment on Judah and then all nations. God will use Nebuchadnezzar as his tool of judgment. Jerusalem will be devastated and depopulated. The exile will last 70 years before anyone will return. All the nations in the region will be righteously judged by God through Nebuchadnezzar and "drink the cup" of his wrath.

The ultimate sin in the book of Jeremiah is a failure to heed the prophetic message...Behind the standards of good and bad and of exclusive, aniconic worship of Yahweh implicitly stands the torah, as chs. 7 and 11 made clear. Failure to maintain such standards was serious but forgivable, and the prophetic message permitted a second chance. But rejection of that message was a different matter; it spelled only doom. Jeremiah 25, 285

Chapter 26 begins a section in which Jeremiah and the false prophets battle over the prediction of a long exile. It begins with Jeremiah in the temple predicting its destruction. The people and priests seize Jeremiah and want him killed. He is saved with the intervention of Ahikam and the king but more opposition to God's word is coming.

Jeremiah 26:1–24 turns out to be good news for Jeremiah, but paints a bleak picture of Judah’s spiritual state in that Yahweh’s faithful representative becomes the butt of the people’s animosity. “Jeremiah survived; neither heeded like Micah nor martyred like Uriah, he survived to be ignored.” So Yahweh’s “bad fate” for Judah was confirmed; a divine change of mind was out of the question. Jeremiah 26, 302

The main opposition to Jeremiah comes from false prophets who say that the exile will last only two years and Jerusalem will not be destroyed. In 27-28 Jeremiah makes a symbolic prophecy by wearing a yoke and sending 5 yokes to the nations who were planning on rebelling against Babylon. The prophecy is that God has decreed the rule of Babylon over the region for the next 70 years. The only way their cities will survive is by surrendering. Hananiah the prophet breaks the yoke off of Jeremiah and proclaims that the exile will be short. Jeremiah counters with God's word that the exile will be long, Jerusalem will be destroyed, and Hananiah's death within the year would be the sign of it. Hananiah dies a few months later. Jeremiah's point is that the consistent theme of prophecy in Israel has been that judgment is coming and the people need to repent. Hananiah's "prosperity theology" is just as bad as idolatry.

The prophets were right about their eventual restoration, but wrong about the timing. “The true prophet must be able to distinguish whether the historical hour stands under the wrath or love of God." Jeremiah 27, 310
Again idolatry and a false view of Yahweh’s character and purposes are compared. Hananiah’s sin was as gross as idolatry; it warranted an exemplary death, as in Deuteronomy 13.
Jeremiah 28, 318

Chapter 29 closes with a letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles and a second letter that deals with the opposition to the first one. The letter basically says that the false prophets are wrong and they will be in exile for three generations. Thus, they are to seek God's blessing by settling down in Babylon and seeking the peace and prosperity of the place where they are and praying for them. This is how their blessing would come. Daniel would be a good example of what Jeremiah is telling them to do. In the far future God would bring them back to the land and the exile would end. The first letter ends with a terrible prophecy of doom on Zedekiah and those in Jerusalem. Again there is resistance to Jeremiah's word and Jeremiah pronounces doom on another false prophet, Shemaiah. He and all his family will die in Babylon. The role of Israel in exile is much like the role of Christians in the present age as we live out our role as "ambassadors of reconciliation" while waiting for the consummation of the kingdom of Christ.

The community is told to accept and make the best of the divinely ordained situation, even to pray for Babylon (cf. Ezra 6:10; 1 Tim 2:1–2). Thus they would survive what was to be a prolonged situation, to endure as long as Babylon was the agent of Yahweh’s will. Jeremiah 29, 324

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