This is THE book of judgement. There are a few moments of exultant Messianic promises, but it doesn’t take glorious bonkers flight like Isaiah, so don’t hang out for it.
This is gritty and grim, with the historical events of the fall of Jerusalem during Jeremiah’s lifetime as its backdrop. This central tragedy shapes the material. Its not chronological, its an anthology of responses to and consequences of the immovable central fact of destruction sent by God.
Jeremiah struggles with self loathing, the powers that be try to kill him or control him, the people as a whole never listen. But through it all like tourettes, he keeps speaking and doing street theatre illustrating the truth about justice and judgement that ‘burns in his bones’.
We learn that judgement is universal, it comes to the winners (Babylon) and the losers (all other nations in the region). It comes to enemies and friends, God’s chosen and his not chosen.
God uses our evil to bring his judgement, and he is equal parts sad but determined to carry through in each case. From our perspective that is a hard and basically incomprehensible idea, and I struggle. Though I don’t get to wishing I’d never been concieved, like Jeremiah.
We learn that the only response God wants is to accept it, and keep trusting his revealed character despite it.
People are judged according to their light. The Israelites, who have had the most of God’s nature revealed, receive the harshest rhetoric.
They have not loved God: he extensively compares them to adulterers. And they have not loved their neighbour: they are greedy and harsh to the vulnerable, nothing like the radical model of a generous society set out in Moses’ law.
They keep up the form of temple worship, but it’s all about their hearts. Jeremiah/God uses a metaphor of moldable clay on a potter’s wheel compared to the fired clay of a pot that has outlived is usefulness. One can be reworked, the other only smashed.
There is a lot about Jeremiah’s personal struggles and his temptation to water down his message, as most of the other ‘prophets’ in his era did. To put it in context, he’s like the British propagandists in WW2 who said that resistance to Hitler was pointless, and it would be best for all to surrender… he was not popular, and he hated himself. Even his scribe disliked his place in history.
For a church that feels under siege culturally we should consider that maybe the message is don’t resist, judgement comes to all. Maybe God’s using atheists and haters to judge us, maybe we’re supposed to just accept it. Repentance is about battling ourselves, not our world.
I got a job working for a christian organisation while reading through, a writer for the salvation army. Is it some kind of cruel joke? I don’t think they want a Jeremiah. Or maybe they do.
I certainly feel changes happening in me, more fearless, more connected. I feel a bit like Luke in star wars, turning off the guidance computer and trusting the force. Maybe that’s what it feels like when the law is written on your heart.
His choosing and initial diatribes against Israel, Judah, Jerusalem
1 Jeremiah chosen before birth to be the evidence that God cares during Israel’s darkest hour, lips kissed by God like Isaiah, he’ll be hated and ignored. Me, jobless, in a spin
2 And into the prophesy of doom. Its tragic, beautiful, poetic. Water metaphor (drinking anything but the living water). But I wonder if my concentration will last the distance
3 The whole acknowledge-sin-and-experience-grace story. God is so much more patient than me!
4 First hand terrifying description of the destruction of Northern Kingdom Israel if they don’t repent. I’m charged with finding the slogan for our local church sign. Hmmm
5 Southern Kingdom are almost judged more harshly than the Northern, because they knew better. The people had the temple, and godly kings, but they are hypocritical
6 Jerusalem’s ‘uncircumcised ears’ they are too deaf, too soft for war. And a remnant will be saved, Jeremiah is in pain about the message he has to deliver
Jeremiah’s symbolic grieving: public proclamation, private struggles
7 Symbolic action, standing outside temple, cut hair. Focus on repentance and obedience. Prediction that idol worshipping place will be called valley of slaughter
8 Jeremiah’s despair over failure of the people to respond with even animal level of self protection. I get Salvation Army job
9 Jeremiah laments the denial of Israel’s chosen status, tears rather than judgement
10 He reminds God of his promises, asks for mercy on Israel, justice on other nations
11 God answers Jeremiah, reveals how corrupt the people are, including plotting to kill him. Pattern of hope to hopelessness is emerging.
12 Still Jeremiah argues God’s judgement is not fair. God says there are less good people than he thinks, and a remnant will be restored
2nd symbolic message, and further struggles in the making of a prophet
13 Next symbolic action: ruining a fine garment is like the corruption of the people
14 Jeremiah doubles down on confronting God with his character of love, tries “what about the innocent animals?” and “the people aren’t bad, they were taught bad” God commands him not to pray for them, assures him the bad teachers will be dealt with
15 Jeremiah’s grief for the people, and self pity for his role, reach the point where he wishes he hadn’t been born. God gently tells him to suck it up, be an emotional wall
16 God continues to tell Jeremiah to be emotionally detached so he can bring the message. Comforts him with a ‘remnant’ promise, conquest won’t be the end.
3rd symbol, smashed pot: hard, rebellious hearts fit only for destruction
17 Their problem is their heart, not Babylon . Contrasts 3 images of God’s safety: rest, a tree, a kingdom of peace with the rebellious heart which is eternally restless, deceitful above all things. He gives his to God saying “search it”.
18 Jeremiah vents calling for extra judgement on plotters who want to kill him. Is he going too far? Such intense personal anguish, he’s no detached mouthpiece of God. Sets up a clay metaphor. When it is on the wheel and goes wonky, its still fixable.
19 A message that Judah is out of time. Jeremiah smashes a pot and throws the waste on the city dump: hard clay or hearts can’t be remoulded, are fit only to be destroyed
20 Jeremiah is punished and humiliated because of his message. Keeps preaching, but privately devastated, the message burns in his bones and he wishes he’d not been born
21 The King, facing war, consults Jeremiah but rejects his message of inevitable defeat and call for personal repentance
22 Condemning the King, Jeremiah’s formula for appropriate use of power – care for the vulnerable, right wrongs, avoid innocent bloodshed.
23 the Davidic line will survive. Sharp condemnation of false prophets with weak messages.
Symbol: bad figs and good figs,
24 A prophecy from when some of the people are in exile, they are good, the ones who stayed and don’t accept God’s judgement are like bad figs, will be thrown away.
25 A period of 70 years placed on the exile. Lesson to accept God’s judgement, it will come to all eventually
26 Jeremiah goes on trial with call of death penalty for his message. He doesn’t soften it, just trusts God.
Symbol: wood yoke, accept judgement to gain God’s promise
27 Jeremiah wore a wood yoke to show God uses evil people like King Nebuchadnezzar, whom he calls his servant. Israelites must submit or suffer ‘sword, plague and famine’.
28 A populist prophet snaps the wood yoke. Jeremiah sadly says it will be replaced with iron. A soft gospel only misleads the people.
29 Flash forward to a letter to those in exile, telling them to relax, ride out the exile, put down roots and not resist God’s will
30 A wild storm and hope, a visceral vision of judgement and messianic promise to follow
31 Flash forward 2: a joyous vision of return post exile, God’s been like a father unwillingly witholding love so that lessons can be learned
Scenes from the siege of Jerusalem, the symbolic investment in its future
32 Back to Jeremiah’s persecution during siege. The king is pleading with him to shut it. He symbolically buys a field and hides the deed, a long term investment in Jerusalem.
33 Locked up in the King’s palace, Jeremiah has ‘night and day’ visions of imminent destruction and messianic blessing
34 The people’s desperation during siege. They obey then renege on the old law to set slaves free, they celebrate prematurely a short withdrawal. Jeremiah is consistent: nothing will make any difference.
35 Rechabites, a sect, are an example of obedience. God loves the attitude, not hung up on the specifics.
36 The King burns the word of God’s judgement, paragraph by paragraph, burning hope and truth.
37 Siege coming to a climax, the king’s desperate disastrous moves, Jeremiah thrown in a dungeon to die. Worst of all, Israel has lost its identity.
38 Chaos and blatant self preservation as the siege result becomes inevitable. Only Jeremiah and his rescuer who pulled him out of the well have glory.
39 the nobles and religious leaders run away at the fall of Jerusalem, the gentile who saved Jeremiah from the well is saved
Scenes post siege, the people still haven’t learned, literally return to slavery
40 Jeremiah chooses to stay with the poor stragglers around the remains of Jerusalem. The land still produces, bit peace looks shaky.
41 a violent usurper claiming to be of Davids line upsets the fragile peace in the Babylonia peoplen post conquest order
42 To avoid Babylonian reprisals the remaining Jewish inhabitants of conquered Israel want to run away to Egypt, ironically, but Jeremiah says no.
43 the conquered Israelites run away to Egypt against Jeremiah’s advice, full circle back to Moses, will they never learn, recall bad figs prophesy.
44 Back in Egypt, the people turn to worshipping idols. Jeremiah continues to prophesy that it will lead to death. So no, they will never learn.
45 Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch thought he was destined for better things, but God patiently reminds him not to scorn the gift of life.
Prophesies about other nations
46 Prophesy against Egypt. God loves them too, clearly, they will be conquered but not destroyed.
47 Against Philistine, they will be obliterated.Though they are a traditional enemy of Israel, the tone is sad, judgement is personified as an unresting sword
48 Moab is judged for spiritual staleness, for arrogance and complacency. Again a cruel to be kind quality
49 Five more in one chapter. There is really no attempt to explain God’s relationship to evil as an way of judgement, just the assertion it will ultimately reflect God’s character
50 Babylon’s judgement, a topsy turvy vision of the new, restored Jerusalem and Babylon utterly destroyed, consigned to history. Don’t be too obsessed with politics!
51 God’s use of Babylon as a hammer to break things triggers a sharp look at why I believe any of it. Spoiler: not because it makes sense.
52 Narrative of the fall of Jerusalem, its physical destruction, death of one meaning of it to allow a new meaning, hinted at by the survival of King David’s line.