Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflections: Jeremiah

Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet” for good reasons. In the royal courts, Jeremiah functioned as the magisterial enforcer of the covenant with primarily tragic laments and warnings of divine retribution (chapter 10 - 11). He reminded the people of the terms of the covenant God made at Sinai with their forefathers when He delivered them out of Egypt and the blessings and curses spelled out in Deuteronomy. His ministry lasted for about 40 years, which spanned the reign of Josiah and his reforms (2 Kings). But these reforms were not radical even for idolatry was still rampant in the land (Jeremiah 3:6). He called the faithless nation to return to the Lord (3:11-13) but Judah has not learnt from the lesson of northern kingdom’s fall. Even the leaders, priests and prophets were corrupted and worshipped Malak and the gods of the stars (chapter 7-8). Therefore the time of repentance was over and renewal would only come after the exile. Only judgment awaited the nation. Such unpopular message caused Jehoiakim and other leaders to threaten to persecute and kill him.

Jeremiah 7 tells us of the social injustices perpetrated in the land. The leaders were complacently thinking that just because the temple was in Jerusalem, the city would never fall. They were focused on the external appearance of the temple without obeying the Mosaic covenant to deal justly with the marginalized. Jeremiah cried out: “Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place and do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers.’” (7:1)

Jeremiah was told not to marry or to father children because the threat of invasion and exile were looming. Jeremiah 16 tells of the horrifying aftermath of wars and starvation as seen from the perspective of an eyewitness to the siege and fall of Jerusalem. The prophet himself was carried off at the end of the book to Egypt into exile and died there. No wonder the book of Jeremiah was filled with complaints and laments as he carried out such a difficult calling (Jeremiah 1:17-19). The Lord reassures him that he will be sustained and strengthened like a wall of bronze so he will not be overcome by opposition (15:15).

Yet there is a message of hope and comfort in Jeremiah 30 – 33. The prophet explained to the exilic community the reasons for God’s severe punishment. Upon repentance in 70 years God will return them to Judah and establish a new covenant. The new covenant will be different because God will put His law in the hearts and minds of the people instead of putting it on stone tablets. God will forgive their sins and the knowledge of God will be widespread (31:31). God is not finished with the Davidic dynasty yet despite the failure of his descendants. Jeremiah 23 explains, “The days are coming when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called, the LORD Our Righteousness.”

His message to the exiles in a foreign land was to settle down and seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which they has been deported (29:4).

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