A prophesy during the siege of Judah. There are only a couple of fortified towns left and Jerusalem was attacked, but the Babylonian king has withdrawn for now.
Jeremiah is here to tell them it means nothing, the city will be destroyed.
The King is told he’ll die in Babylon, deposed but not a violent death.
The King has made a last minute effort to please God by setting all the Israelite slaves free. It’s a key part of the justice teaching in the Torah, exodus and all that, that they are not to enslave each other.
But the people don’t stick with the kings decree, they set the slaves free then take them back again. Poor slaves, how disappointed they must have been. That they do this while under attack shows how far from God’s law they really are.
Sword, pestilence and famine are the only law they will listen to.
Thinking about tough love, on myself and my family. Such a drag to be the Jeremiah in people’s lives.
There have been a few object lessons in recent chapters, and here God’s right to judge Israel is compared to a potter rethrowing a pot that goes wonky.
There are parallel judgements that follow. They are always in poetic form.
First God pronounces shock at Israel’s inability to repent in the face of the barrage of dire prophesies he has given Jeremiah to say. He confirms its destruction once again.
Then Jeremiah mentions a plot to kill him. There has been one before, don’t know if this is the same or new.
He calls down judgement on the plotters and their families specifically as part of the general judgement.
God’s judgement is justified as the right of the creator, the potter. Jeremiah acknowledges that the ‘time of anger’ is God’s, and his poem is a plea for justice.
He’s not about to grab a gun and shout ‘vengence is mine saith the Lord’ as he mows everyone down like in a Hollywood movie.
He doesn’t implement the judgement, he doesn’t do the judging. He’s God’s mouthpiece. That order is maintained.
However my Christian radar sounded alarm when he wished destruction on the houses of the plotters. After all, Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, ‘turn the other cheek’.
And maybe he was taking it too far here. One thing you learn reading the old testament, even the heros get it wrong sometimes.
He was being self reflective, I think, in the last chapter when he said that the human heart is deceitful and asked God to search it.
But there is a place for asking God for justice. In fact prayer is probably THE place for venting about all the wrongs done to you.
He’s prepared them in the last chapter, telling them he needs to wake them from a dream and that is for their own good. And now he whacks them.
This is the full on bleak vision of Jerusalem’s future, their leaders useless, their young men dead, the women and children who survive stripped of all possessions finery and dignity, scabrous, homeless, with only sacks to wear.
It reads a bit like a socialist or misogynist rant again the power structures or the finery of Jerusalem’s women, but the previous chapter set the frame of his concern over their indifference to God. It’s tough love, not rage.
I was struck by the casual sexism of his reference to being ruled by women as a sign that society has gone to the dogs.
But I’m confident that is an artefact of Isaiah’s cultural bias, not the point of the passage. Against it, for example, is the positive contribution of women in kings described in instances of them having special insight into God’s word and taking proactive steps to act on their understanding.
Isaiah would have known female prophets, and in kings at least their gender is a non-issue, they are mentioned only for the truth that they speak
The passage tells me about the urgency of the Christian message, something I find hard to think about.
This is how I remember kings. The chapter fast forwards though the rest of the reigns of the two kings.
The Southern, in Jerusalem is weak. Worship of false gods is allowed to flourish, and Egyptians raid and take all the treasure and wealth of Solomon.
The northern king is stronger but actively shuns God. His son dies and his line ends.
God speaks though prophets. Jeroboam in the north tacitly acknowledges that he still fears the true God by sending his wife to speak to a prophet, in disguise.
The blind prophet knows it is her the moment she reaches the door. He tells her of the end of their house and that she will never see her son again.
It’s a sad picture of someone childishly trying to manage God. They’ve got power by throwing God under the bus to the people, a grave sin, and then tentatively and sneakily try to check if there’s going to be a consequence. C.S. Lewis set up Aslan the lion as a picture of God in his children’s books, the point being he’s good but not tame.
The promised land project has started a long decline. Only the prophets will hold out any hope.
Moses completes his narrative of the progress of the Israelites from Egypt and talks about the conquests that lie before them.
They destroy people as vehicles of God’s judgement. When they do this they are not needlessly malicious. They are being like earthquakes, or hurricanes, or old age or sickness. God is the creator, that status means that in bringing physical death he is not a murderer. Most armies pray to God for victory, but this is unique. He is using this nation as part of his plan, he is having them bring judgment on the people along the path.
After the mountain top.
We’ve had two chapters of praise for the blessedness, prosperity and might of the Israelites and the one true God by their enemies’ seer, full of God’s spirit. Now we return to the Israelites camp and the contrast could not be greater.
This is such a biblical theme. We had it after Sinai, and after Jesus’ transfiguration.
They are weak messy and compromised by worshipping foreign Gods and breaking their strict moral code with the Moabite women.
This is a strange chapter where some of the story seems untold. A leader of the tribe of simeon brazenly brings a midianite woman to a gathering of the people. He and the woman are named, she’s the daughter of a Moabite leader, so it’s probably a political and religious alliance as well.
They are both killed by spear in their tent by a priest, who earns eternal honour by the deed. At the same time there is reference to a plague, which takes 24000 people and is stopped by the killing. Not sure if it’s a disease born by the Moab people or judgement from God or both.
In any event, it’s a tragic and dramatic contrast to how God sees them though the spirit in the previous chapter.
The Bible is a book full of mercy, but it is merciless in showing us how corrupt the human race can be. So much grace, so much need of it.
The philistines send the ark back to Israel. They know all about Israel’s God, how they escaped from Egypt, Jericho. They get spiritual advice and put it on a cart with gold offerings.
It arrives in Israel during harvest with great celebration. But some of the men take the opportunity to look inside it and die. So the celebration with offerings turns into a slaughter (the number is very uncertain, between 50000 and 70. But even 70 is a terrible tragedy).
They organise for people for the temple to take it away.
This is the story of the ark, it is old testament in the stereotypical way: judgement and wrath. The ark is the powerful author of life God, who as I said yesterday, cannot be tamed. CS Lewis envisioned him as a lion, such a great image.
The people here tested God. The philistines knew of his reputation, but they thought they’d find out what happened if they took the ark.
The Israelites have lost their religion and sent it into battle as a sort of superstition. Celebrating its return thought they’d find out what happens is you look inside, despite knowing full well that the old religions rules were that only the high priest was able to even enter its presence once per year.
Don’t pick a fight with God. Don’t challenge him to see how strong he really is. We coast along on the doctrine of grace, letting our personal religion be hollowed out as society treats God as a joke.
Eli’s end had been telegraphed the last two chapters, and here it is.
The Israelites are losing in battle with the philistines. Rather than pray for victory, claiming god’s promise that they would be a great nation they summoned the ark of the covenant. The symbol of the promise has become a magic box who’s presence gives power. It’s Steven Speilbergs ark. The irony if making it an idol is lost on them it seems.
The battle where they use it becomes the day of Eli’s end in a dramatic series of events. His sons are killed in the battle.
Upon hearing the news of their defeat and the capture of the ark Eli falls backwards and breaks his neck.
His daughter in law, pregnant, is thrown into early labour, dies in childbirth, never having seen the baby. They call I him Ichabod: god’s glory has departed.
This is narrative of the fulfillment of the prophesy. It also shows how superstitious the Israelites have become. It paints a picture of the nation ripe for spiritual transformation.
God speaks … In a temple no less!
God does the old 1 2 3.. when people aren’t ready to hear him, we so often see this repetition. Like the calling of Gideon, the plagues in Egypt, or when Christ takes several stages to heal a blind person.
And now Samuel, as a boy living in the temple, hearts good call him 3 times, thinking it’s the chief priest eli, before he is told it is God’s voice.
And this is a temple, why would anyone expect to hear him there? This is the story of Samuel being chosen to be a vehicle, a prophet.
But the emotional centre of the story goes to eli, the chief priest, who has seen his sons betray and pervert the faith. He knows the word of the lord has left his line, he expects the word to Samuel to reflect badly on him. And he accepts it with graceful resignation. One can only imagine how his sleep went the rest of the night once he realised the lord was calling Samuel.
May I gracefully accept your judgement lord, and your challenges.
Civil war follows the humiliation and death of the Levites wife in the last chapter. The tribes meet and unite against Benjamin. They refuse to disavow the act. Many thousands of Israelites die.
They consult God as to how to run the attack. I think we’re are arriving at the end of judges. God has barely appeared for a while now.