THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Part II: The Oracles of Condemnation
Lesson 2: Chapters 2:1-3:13
The Infidelity of Israel and the Indictment for Breach of Covenant
Holy Heavenly Father,
You have called all baptized Christians to take up the mantle of discipleship in serving Your Son's eternal Kingdom of the Church. We are to continue Jesus' earthly ministry by preaching the Gospel of salvation and by ministering with acts of mercy and compassion to the poor and disadvantaged. Give us, Lord, the courage and conviction of the Prophet Jeremiah so that we might fulfill the destiny You have planned for us. Give us the faith, trust, and confidence to know that so long as You are with us no power on earth and no force of evil can defeat us in our mission as Your devoted servants. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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It is this man who, of all the
prophets, gives us the fullest revelation of his own character. This is
because the man and his message are in such passionate oneness under such
tragic circumstances. Jeremiah's nature was such that he simply could not be
merely a transmitter, able to detach his own feelings from that which he was
commissioned to declare. With an intensity of love and sympathy, he himself
lived and felt and suffered in his message. His own heartstrings vibrated to
every major and minor chord. The man and his message were one.
J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, vol. 3, 260
God's word first came to Jeremiah in his call to become God's holy prophet when he was still a child, but, as we shall see, God's word has an ongoing and forward motion from call, to promise, to commission, to fulfillment:
If Jeremiah was thirteen years old when Yahweh announced his call, the events in Chapter two would now be taking place when he was about eighteen years old. In any event, the dates of his prophetic preaching should not be dated prior to the year 622 BC. Yahweh gave Jeremiah the mandate to begin his prophetic career sometime after the Book of the Law (probably the Book of Deuteronomy) was discovered in the Temple, in the eighteenth year of Josiah's reign in c. 622 BC (2 Kng 22:3, 8-10; 2 Chr 34:8, 14-21; Jer 15:16). Remember when counting years, months, or days in the Bible to count as the ancients counted without the concept of a zero place-value. Therefore, Jeremiah's ministry lasted from his divine call in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign in 628 BC to the destruction of the Temple in 587 BC, for a total of forty years with 628 counting as year #1.
The discovery of the long lost Book of the Law put in motion the great religious reforms of Davidic King Josiah throughout the kingdom of Judah. Later, Jeremiah reflected on the significance of this event:
When your words came, I devoured them:
Your word was my delight
and the joy of my heart;
for I was called by your Name,
Yahweh, God Sabaoth.
What occurred in Jeremiah's life in the years between his prophetic call and the beginning of his prophetic teaching (628-622 BC) is unknown. As the son of a chief priest who was possibly the reigning High Priest (2 Kng 22:4) and a descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses, Jeremiah had undoubtedly moved from his hometown of Anathoth to Jerusalem and was probably preparing for his priestly vocation. Given his life-long association with the Shaphan family, it is possible that he studied letters and rhetoric at the scribal school in Jerusalem, presided over by the priestly scribe Shaphan, the secretary to King Josiah (2 Kng 22:3). It is evident from the beginning of his preaching ministry that Jeremiah was fully literate and trained in the rhetoric arts of his times.
Yet, Jeremiah felt isolated from the civil and religious community of Jerusalem; this is evident in Jeremiah 15:17b where he writes, with your hands on me I held myself aloof, since you had filled me with indignation. The entire city was caught up in the celebration of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread amid the joy of covenant renewal led by King Josiah. However, Jeremiah could not be filled with joy because he knew what the future was bringing—first prophesied by the prophet Isaiah to Josiah's great-grandfather a century earlier: Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Listen to the word of Yahweh Sabaoth, 'The days are coming when everything in your palace, everything that your ancestors have amassed until now, will be carried off to Babylon. Not a thing will be left,' Yahweh says. 'Sons sprung from you, sons begotten by you, will be abducted to be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon'" (Is 39:5-7).
When Assyrian power began to deteriorate after 627 BC, Davidic King Josiah of Judah moved into the territory of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel that had become the Assyrian province of Samaria. It was his desire to bring the former territory of Israel under his control, to institute the religious and political reforms he had established in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and to restore right worship of Yahweh (the Gentile Samaritans had adopted their own form of illicit Yahweh worship at their own temple).(1)
From the beginning of his ministry, Jeremiah is unceasing insistent that a great enemy from the north (later revealed to be Babylon) will conquer Judah and Jerusalem. Despite Jeremiah's incessant and bitter complaints over his nation's wickedness, he also preaches:
Jeremiah's oracles in Chapters 2:1-4:4, from the early period of Jeremiah's ministry, present the double theme of apostasy and repentance—the focus of 2:1-3:13 is on apostasy, and the focus of 3:14-4:4 is on repentance and conversion. God's holy prophet preaches the word of God in oracles that are in the form of a covenant "lawsuit" (in Hebrew a riv, 2:9), in which Yahweh is both the plaintive and the divine judge (compare with the covenant lawsuits of other prophets in Is 5:1-7; Hos 9:10-13; 13:4-8; Mic 6:1-8). Yahweh's covenant lawsuit against Israel/Judah, delivered as an oracle poem, is based on the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah's religious apostasy and political disloyalty to Yahweh, their divine King, and to the violation of the covenant treaty He made with Israel at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24).
Jeremiah's oracles follow the pattern of ancient Middle Eastern covenant lawsuits when packs or treaty alliances were broken between people or between nations:
Both secular and Biblical covenant lawsuits usually included the calling of witnesses against the offending party in the first stage. In pagan treaties or covenant lawsuits the false gods of both parties were called as witnesses. However, since there is only one true God who is Yahweh, the witnesses who are called are the created elements of heaven and earth (for example see Dt 30:19; 32:1; Is 1:2; Jer 2:12) that witnessed the original treaty formation and ratification when the Israelites swore an oath to obey all that God commanded at the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:3, 7).
In Jeremiah's covenant lawsuit, Yahweh uses the same reoccurring symbolic imagery found in the books of the other prophets. See the chart in the handout on Symbolic Images of the Prophets in the first lesson, or the chartSymbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets on the website. As Jeremiah calls his covenant lawsuit against Israel, notice the prophetic imagery he uses to describe Israel's apostasy.
The Infidelity of Israel and the Indictment for Breach of Covenant in a Covenant Lawsuit
The priest Hilkiah, Ahikam, Achbor,
Shaphan and Asaiah went to the prophetess Huldah wife of Shallum son of Tkvah,
son of Harhas the keeper of the wardrobe... They put the matter to her, and she
replied, 'Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, 'To the man who sent you to me say
this: Yahweh says this: I am going to bring disaster on this place and the
people who live in it—all the words of the book read by the king of Judah.
Because they have abandoned me and sacrificed to other gods, so as to provoke
my anger by their every action, my wrath is kindled against this place, and
nothing can stop it.
2 Kings 22:14-17
To court, take your mother to court!
For she is no longer my wife nor am I her husband. She must either remove her
whoring ways from her face and her adulteries from between her breasts, or I
shall strip her and expose her naked as the day she was born...
Jeremiah 2:1-3 ~ Jeremiah's First Mission to Jerusalem: Announcing a Covenant Lawsuit
1 The word of Yahweh came to me, saying, 2 "Go and shout this in Jerusalem's ears: "Yahweh says this: 'I Remember your faithful love [hesed], the affection of your bridal days, when you followed me through the desert, through a land unsown. 3 Israel was sacred to Yahweh; the first-fruits of his harvest; all who ate this incurred guilt, disaster befell them, Yahweh declares.'"
The word of Yahweh came ... is a formula saying that is the last of five such announcements in a sequence (see 1:2, 4, 11, 13 and 2:1). They function in connecting the oracle in Chapter 2 to the oracles in Chapter 1. The words announce that Yahweh's commissioning of Jeremiah is now fulfilled in his preaching and connects back to the original call. Please note that the majority of the oracles reveled to Jeremiah are poetic.
2 "Go and shout this in
Jerusalem's ears: "Yahweh says this: 'I Remember your faithful love [hesed],
the affection of your bridal days, when you followed me through the desert,
through a land unsown.
Jeremiah's covenant lawsuit against Jerusalem and Judah takes the form of a husband bringing legal action against an unfaithful wife in establishing grounds for a divorce. Despite the fact that Yahweh has more than enough evidence to repudiate his "wife" Judah (Judah is the last remaining part of the twelve tribes of Israel), because of His love, He will never abandon Israel/Judah, even though Israel/Judah has abandoned Him. He will continue to call Israel to repentance and restoration as His covenant people promising, I shall betroth you to myself forever, I shall betroth you in uprightness and justice, and faithful love [hesed] and tenderness ... I shall tell Lo-Ammi [not my people]. "You are my people," and he will say, "You are my God" (Hos 2:21/19-25/23).
The Hebrew word hesed in verse 2 means "faithful covenant
love." The first time this word appears in Scripture is in describing Isaac's
love for his bride Rebecca in Genesis 24:67. It was a love that was not based
on physical or emotional attraction but the commitment of fidelity in the
covenant bond of marriage.(2)
Question: What is the symbolic imagery in verse 2 that is common in the reoccurring imagery of God's relationship with Israel? See Hosea 2:21 where hesed is also used. What is the imagery in verse 3?
Answer: Verse 2 uses the metaphor of covenant marriage, while verse 3 uses a metaphor from agriculture.
Other examples of the marriage metaphor portraying the relationship between Yahweh and Israel are also found in Isaiah chapters 40-55; Ezekiel chapter 16 and 24:15-17; Hosea chapters 1-3, and Zephaniah 3:14-20.
Question: What event is Yahweh recalling that He describes as
Israel's "bridal days"?
Answer: Yahweh is giving a romantic, idealized version of His relationship with Israel in the desert wilderness on the journey to Mt. Sinai when the Israelites were completely dependent upon Yahweh to keep them alive.
It is an idealized version because even in the desert wilderness experience the Israelites were rebellious and ungrateful for what God had done for them (see Ex 16:1-3).
In the two metaphors, there is an alternating pattern of masculine and feminine words in the two verses, and the pronoun changes to point the progression of the dialogue. First the oracle in the next passage portrays the covenant relationship in the past when Israel was Yahweh's faithful covenant bride—chaste and untouchable among Israel's enemies. What follows is an account of the people's fall into apostasy and the resulting humiliations by Israel's enemies (2:5-19).
3a "... Israel was sacred
to Yahweh; the first-fruits of his harvest..."
Question: What was Israel's obligation to Yahweh once the tribes were settled in the Promise Land according to the Law in the Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and what is the comparison to Israel?
Answer: The first-fruits of all produce of the soil had to be given to the Sanctuary of God the divine King by His faithful vassal people. At the time of their offering, each man of the covenant had to make a profession of faith. As first-fruits of the harvest in the Promise Land were consecrated to Yahweh, verse 3 makes the point that Israel was consecrated to Yahweh at the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai. Israel is the "first-fruits" of God's harvest among the nations of the world and therefore is sacred to Yahweh.
This obligation of the giving of the first-fruits were observed at the Feast of Firstfruits on the day after the Saturday Sabbath (the first day of the week that is our Sunday) during the seven-day festival of Unleavened Bread that began the day after Passover in the gift of the first fruits of the barley harvest. The first fruits of the wheat harvest were also offered fifty days later on the feast of Weeks (called Pentecost in the 1st century AD). See the commands concerning these feasts in Leviticus 23:5-22. These two feast days will be fulfilled in the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish feast of Pentecost in 30 AD, fifty days after Jesus Resurrection.
3b "... all who ate this
incurred guilt, disaster befell them, Yahweh declares.'"
"This" refers to Israel, consecrated to Yahweh as His covenant people at Mt. Sinai. Such was Yahweh's protection of Israel that anyone who "ate"/took what belonged to Yahweh in harming His people, incurred God's divine wrath.
Jeremiah 2:4-13 ~ Recalling Yahweh's Past Works to Benefit Israel and Israel's Ingratitude
4 Listen to Yahweh's word, House of Jacob and all the families of the House of Israel. Yahweh says this, 5 "What did your ancestors find wrong in me for them to have deserted me so far as to follow Futility and become futile themselves? 6 They never said, 'Where is Yahweh, who brought us out of Egypt and led us through the desert, through a land of plains and ravines, through a land of drought, of shadow dark as death, a land through which no one passes and where no human being lives?" 7 I brought you to a country of plenty, to enjoy its produce and good things; but when you entered you defiled my country and made my heritage loathsome. 8 The priests never asked, 'Where is Yahweh?' Those skilled in the Law did not know me, the shepherds too rebelled against me and the prophets prophesied by Baal and followed the Useless Ones. 9 So I must state my case [riv = lawsuit] against you once more, Yahweh declares, and state my case [riv] against your children's children: 10 Cross to the isles of the Kittim and look, send to Kedar and carefully observe, see if anything like this has happened before! 11 Does a nation change its gods?—and these are not gods at all! Yet my people have exchanged their Glory for the Useless One! 12 You heavens, stand aghast at this, horrified, utterly appalled, Yahweh declares. 13 For my people have committed two crimes: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and dug water-tanks for themselves, cracked water-tanks that hold no water."
God's speech to "Israel/Judah" as the entire covenant people in 2:4-3:5 is in the form of a courtroom statement in which a wronged husband brings charges against an unfaithful wife. Yahweh's prophet, speaking for Yahweh the divine Bridegroom, is calling down a covenant lawsuit (riv) against God's unfaithful bride, Israel. This section begins the list of charges in the form of rhetorical questions.
In verses 5-11, God claims to having been abandoned by Israel, in spite of having led them out of slavery in Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The answer to Yahweh's rhetorical question if verse 5 is "Nothing"—there was nothing that Yahweh did that was wrong in caring for His people Israel. The Israelites were called to be a "holy people" of a "holy God" (Lev 11:44-45), and proper moral behavior and ritual observances maintained the purity of the people and the land (see the Holiness Code in Leviticus chapters 11-22, Ez chapter 18; Hos chapter 4). However, immorality and apostasy defiled both the people and the land, and acts of covenant infidelity would turn God's promised covenant blessings into covenant judgments, as Moses warned the people in his last homily in Deuteronomy Chapter 32.
The parallels between the missions of Moses and Jeremiah have already been mentioned in Lesson One. Jeremiah's warnings for the apostate covenant people, beginning in Chapter 2, has many similarities to Moses' last homily to the Israelites on the banks of the Jordan River just prior to the conquest of Canaan in which he warns them of the consequences of the people's future apostasy and the resulting divine judgment. References to the topics and themes in Deuteronomy 32 continue throughout Jeremiah's prophetic teachings as Jeremiah makes the point that Moses' warnings have finally come to fulfillment.
What did your ancestors find wrong in me for them to have deserted me so far as to follow Futility and become futile themselves?
He is the Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are equitable. A trustworthy God who does no wrong, he is the Honest, the Upright One!
They never said, 'Where is Yahweh, who brought us out of Egypt and led us through the desert, through a land of plains and ravines, through a land of drought, of shadow dark as death, a land through which no one passes and where no human being lives?'
In the desert he finds him [Israel], in the howling expanses of the wastelands. He protects him, rears him, guards him as the pupil of his eye.
I brought you to a country of plenty, to enjoy its produce and good things ...
He gives him the heights of the land
to ride, he feeds him on the yield of the mountains, he gives him honey from
the rock to taste, and oil from the flinty crag; curds from the cattle, milk
from the flock, and the richness of the pasture, rams of Bashan's breed, and
goats, the richness of the wheat kernel; the fermented blood of the grape for
... but when you entered you defiled my country and made my heritage loathsome.
... but Yahweh's portion was his people, Jacob was to be the measure of his inheritance.
The priests [of Israel] never asked, 'Where is Yahweh?' Those skilled in the Law did not know me, the
shepherds too rebelled against me and the prophets prophesied by Baal and
followed the Useless Ones.
... He [Israel] has disowned
the God who made him, and dishonored the Rock, his salvation, whose jealousy
they aroused with foreigners—with things detestable they angered him. They
sacrificed to demons who are not God, to gods hitherto unknown to them, to
newcomers of yesterday whom their ancestors had never respected.
Does a nation change its gods?—and
these are not gods at all!
They have roused me to jealousy with a non-god, they have exasperated me with their idols.
You heavens, stand aghast at this, horrified, utterly appalled, Yahweh declares.
Listen heavens, while I speak; hear earth the words that I shall say!
...who say to a piece of wood, "You
are my father," and to a stone, "You gave birth to me." For they turn their
backs, never their faces; yet when trouble comes they shout, "Get up! Save
us!" [...] Does a girl forget her ornaments, a bride her sash? And yet my
people have forgotten me, days beyond number.
Jer 2:27, 32
You forgot the Rock who fathered you, the God who made you, you no longer remember.
Where are your gods you made for
yourself? Let them get up if they can save you when trouble comes! For you
have as many gods as you have towns, Judah!
"Where are their gods then?" he will
ask, "the rock they sought refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and
drank the wine of their libations?" Let these arise and help you, let these
be the shelter above you!
9 So I must state my
case [riv = lawsuit] against you once more, Yahweh declares, and state my case
[riv] against your children's children: 10
Cross to the isles of the Kittim and look, send to Kedar and
carefully observe, see if anything like this has happened before!
Question: Why is God's covenant lawsuit against the people to include their children and grandchildren?
Answer: Their sin isn't just personal—it is generational because they have taught their children to practice their sins.
God does not hold the sins of the parents against the children unless
the children practice the same sins. In that case, the parents are not only
judged for their personal sins but for spreading the sin to other generations,
and the condemnation is severe.
Question: What did Jesus say about the corruption of children by adults that causes the loss of faith in God? See Mt 18:5-7; Mk 9:42.
Answer: On Judgment Day, God will give that person the most severe judgment.
In verse 10 Yahweh is calling the people to observe other nations. The "isles of the Kittim" refers to the peoples across the Mediterranean Sea in the Greek isles or Cyprus (later Kittim will be used for the Romans). "Kedar" refers to a confederation of Arab tribes located in the north Arabian desert (see Gen 25:13; Is 42:11; Jer 49:28-29; Ez 27:21). Yahweh's point is, even if you look to other peoples, no comparable action has ever taken place where a people's God has called them to account for their sins.
12 You heavens, stand
aghast at this, horrified, utterly appalled, Yahweh declares.
In treaty documents of the ancient Near East, the national gods are asked to stand as witnesses against the offender, but since there is only One true God, Yahweh, who is the author of creation, He asks the cosmos to stand as His witness. Moses makes the same request at the beginning of his final homily in Deuteronomy 32:1.
13 For my people have
committed two crimes: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and
dug water-tanks for themselves, cracked water-tanks that hold no water."
The Hebrew word maqor is an underground spring, and the phrase meqor mayim hayyim, literally "fountain/spring of living waters," means a spring with flowing waters as opposed to the non-flowing waters in a pool or well. "Cracked water-tanks" or cisterns are useless like false gods.
Question: What are the covenant people's two crimes?
"Living water" is a good metaphor for Yahweh who is the "living God," elohim hayyim (Dt 5:25), and is the only God who can swear "As I live forever (Dt 32:40). The "living water" metaphor will be used again in Jeremiah 17:13b and by Jesus in His talk with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:10-15. In that encounter, the Greek word zoe means both "living," and "flowing." When Jesus promised the woman "living water" the woman is confused and mentions the non-flowing well-water. Jesus will expand the metaphor by telling the woman, "Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again; but no one who drinks the water that I shall give him will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up for eternal life" (Jn 4:13-14)—referring to His gift of eternal salvation.
Jeremiah 2:14-19 ~ Israel is Responsible for the Coming Catastrophe
14 "Is Israel a slave? Was he born into serfdom, for him to be preyed on like this? 15 Lions have roared at him, they have made their voices heard. They have left this country a desert, his towns lie burnt and uninhabited. 16 The people of Noph and Tahpanhes have shaved your skull! 17 Have you not brought this on yourself, by abandoning Yahweh your God, when he was guiding you on your way? 18 What is the good of going to Egypt now to drink the water of the Nile? What is the good of going to Assyria to drink the water of the River? 19 Your wickedness will bring its own punishment, your infidelities will bring you to book, to give thought and see how evil and bitter it is to abandon Yahweh your God and not to stand in awe of me," the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth declares.
In verses 14-19 Yahweh asks a series of five rhetorical questions (verses 14a, 14b, 17, 18a and 18b), typical in the accusation section of a covenant lawsuit. The answers can be summed up by stating that Israel has brought all her miseries on herself because she was unfaithful to her covenant oath in abandoning Yahweh her God and in not giving Him the reverence He deserved.
16 The people of Noph and Tahpanhes have shaved your skull!
These two place names are towns near modern Cairo, Egypt. Noph is ancient Memphis, the capital of Lower Egypt, while Taphanhes is a town in the Nile Delta. The reference is probably to the Egyptian invasion of the Levant by Pharaoh Shishak in 626 BC, or the invasion of Pharaoh Necho in 609-605 BC. Necho was allied with the Assyrians when King Josiah was killed at the Battle of Megiddo in 609 BC, putting an end to Judah's hopes of achieving independence from Assyrian domination. In both events, captured Judeans would have been taken as slaves back to Egypt in a return to their former bondage. It was because of Israel's infidelities that Yahweh lifted His hand of protection and allowed the Egyptian invasion, but the Judeans have not learned any lessons from the tragedy, and they have not repented and returned to God (verses 18-19).
Jeremiah 2:20-25 ~ Yahweh Reminds the Judeans of their Rebellious Nature
20 "It is long ago now since you broke your yoke, burst your bonds and said, 'I will not serve!' Yet on every high hill and under every green tree you have sprawled and played the whore. 21 Yet I had planted you, a red vine of completely sound stock. How is it you have turned into seedlings of a vine that is alien to me? 22 Even though you scrub yourself with soda and put in quantities of soap, the stain of your guilt would still be visible to me, the Lord Yahweh declares. 23 How dare you say, 'I am not defiled, I have not run after the Baals?' Look at your behavior in the Valley, realize what you have done. 24 A wild she-donkey, at home in the desert, snuffing the breeze in desire; who can control her when she is on heat? Males need not trouble to look for her, they will find her in her month. 25 Beware! Your own foot will go unshod, your own throat grow dry! But you said, 'It is no use! No! For I love the Strangers and they are the ones I shall follow.'"
Question: In verses 20-21 what three symbolic images does Yahweh
use to describe Israel's rebellion? Please consult the handout of the chart
from lesson 1 on the Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets or the chart on the website.
Answer: He uses the imagery of domesticated animals that stubbornly refuse to be obedient to the master's yoke, the marriage imagery of an adulterous wife, and the image of the fruitful vine turned unfruitful.
God uses the image of a rebellious domesticated animal in describing the stubborn nature of the covenant people who refuse to wear God, the divine Master's, "yoke" of the commands and prohibitions of covenant law. He also uses the images from covenant marriage in that Israel, the once faithful Bride of Yahweh has defiled her covenant union with Yahweh by running after false gods. Verses 22-23 contain God's refusal to accept Israel's insincere response of confession of their sin, denial of idol worship, and ingratitude that began with their forefathers.
21 Yet I had planted
you, a red vine of completely sound stock. How is it you have turned into
seedlings of a vine that is alien to me?
The image of the "red vine of sound stock" recalls the imagery of Israel as the sound stock God planted in His Vineyard of the Promised Land that only produced wild grapes in Isaiah's parable in 5:2.
22 Even though you scrub
yourself with soda and put in quantities of soap, the stain of your guilt would
still be visible to me, the Lord Yahweh declares.
The people's attempt to "cleanse" themselves has resulted in failure because only God can cleanse them of their sins that begins with the people's sincere repentance.
23 How dare you say, "I am not defiled, I have not run after the
Baals?" Look at your behavior in the Valley, realize what you have done.
"The Valley" is probably a reference to the notorious Valley of Ben-Hinnom that in Jesus' time was referred to as the Valley of Gehenna. Jesus will use the word "Gehenna" as an image of the Hell of the damned. The Valley of Ben-Hinnom was considered a place of abomination from ancient times. It was connected with the worship and sacrifice of children to the pagan god Molech/Baal (also see 2 Kng 23:10). In Jesus' day it was where the city's rubbish, carrion, and all kinds of unclean things were deposited and burned in fires that continued day and night—a fitting image for the abode of the damned.
In verses 24-25 Yahweh compares the Israelites to wild animals in heat
to symbolize Israel's eagerness to "run after" and accept the false gods of the
Gentiles instead of Yahweh, her true Master.
Question: God is again using the animal imagery of the Old Testament prophets, but which of the four parts is depicted in these verses? Consult the chart on the Symbolic Images of the Prophets.
Answer: In Part II of the rebellion of the domesticated animal imagery, the animals run away and become wild—in other words, becoming separated from the guidance of God the divine Master and to be complete unchecked in their moral behavior. Like wild animals, they go "unshod" and with "dry throats" without God to take care of them. Their excuse is that they cannot resist "Strangers"—the strange gods of the pagans.
Jeremiah 2:26-32 ~ The Failure of Israelite Leadership and Idol Worship
26 "Like a thief ashamed at being caught, so will the House of Israel be: they, their kings, their chief men, their priests and their prophets, 27 who say to a piece of wood, 'You are my father,' and to a stone, 'You gave birth to me.' For they turn to me their backs, never their faces; yet when trouble comes they shout, 'Get up! Save us!' 28 Where are your gods you made for yourself? Let them get up if they can save you when trouble comes! For you have as many gods as you have towns, Judah! 29 Why make out a case [riv] against me? You have all rebelled against me, Yahweh declares. 30 In vain I have struck your children, they have not accepted correction; your own sword has devoured your prophets like a marauding lion. 31 Now you of this generation, listen to what Yahweh says: Have I been a desert for Israel, or a land of gloom? Why do my people say, 'We are our own masters, we will come to you no more'? 32 Does a girl forget her ornaments, a bride her sash? And yet my people have forgotten me, days beyond number."
Question: How is it that Israel, or people today for that
matter, came to forget God and all He had done that was good?
Answer: Israel forgot God while focusing her attention and affection on the world.
Question: How many different parts of society that made up the
covenant people became idol worshipers?
Answer: All levels of society:
Question: According to verse 27b, when do the people who normally
fail to give God their prayers and worship suddenly remember Him and His power
to save? What is God's response to their long overdue prayers and petitions in
Answer: They only turn to Him when they are in peril. God tells them to call upon the many false gods they made for themselves out of wood and stone to give them protection.
29 Why make out a case
[riv] against me? You have all rebelled against me, Yahweh declares. 30 In vain I have struck your children,
they have not accepted correction; your own sword has devoured your prophets
like a marauding lion.
Question: Yahweh tells the people through His prophet that they have no case against Him. Instead, what is God's case against them?
31 Now you of this
generation, listen to what Yahweh says: Have I been a desert for Israel, or a
land of gloom? Why do my people say, 'We are our own masters, we will come to
you no more'? 32 Does a
girl forget her ornaments, a bride her sash? And yet my people have forgotten
me, days beyond number."
Yahweh reminds the present generation that they would not exist as a people or possess the good land they live in that was promised to the descendants of the Patriarchs without His intervention and protection. He asks how they can forget the most important event in their history—the covenant their ancestors made at Mt. Sinai, when Israel became Yahweh's Bride (referring to covenant marriage imagery).
In Jeremiah 2:33-3:5, Yahweh depicts Israel as an adulterous wife to
confirm the grounds for the covenant lawsuit.
Jeremiah 2:33-37 ~ Israel's Pursuit of Injustice
33 "How well you set your course in pursuit of love! And so you have schooled your ways to wicked deeds. 34 The very skirts of your robe are stained with the blood of the poor, of innocent men you never caught breaking and entering! And in spite of all this, 35 you say, 'I am innocent, let his anger turn from me!' Now I pass sentence on you for saying, 'I have not sinned.' 36 How frivolously you undertake a change of course! But you will be disappointed by Egypt just as you were by Assyria. 37 You will have to leave there too with your hands on your head, for Yahweh has rejected those that you rely on, you will come to no good with them."
Question: In what ways have the covenant people displayed their
love of injustice?
Answer: Symbolically their garments are stained with the blood of the poor and the blood of innocent men convicted unjustly. To make matters worse, the Israelites/Judahites refuse to take responsibility for their transgressions.
Yahweh will pass judgment on them for the refusal to repent their many sins. Part of their judgment will be that the hope they have placed on the Egyptians to defeat the Babylonian threat will come to nothing. They will still become captives and exiles of the enemy from the North, marching away into exile with their hands on their heads.
Chapter 3:1-13: The Indictment Continues
Then I saw you as I was passing. Your
time had come, the time for love. I spread my cloak over you and covered your
nakedness; I gave you my oath, I made a covenant with you—declares the Lord
Yahweh—and you became mine. I bathed you in water, I washed the blood off you,
I anointed you with oil ... But you became infatuated with your own beauty and
used your fame to play the whore, lavishing your debauchery on all comers.
Seeing God's covenant with Israel in
the image of exclusive and faithful married love, the prophets prepared the
Chosen People's conscience for a deepened understanding of the unity and
indissolubility of marriage ... The nuptial covenant between God and his people
Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the
Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in
a certain way all mankind saved b him, thus preparing for "the wedding "feast
of the Lamb."
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1611-12
Jeremiah's oracle poem continues. Two prose passages in 3:6-13 and
3:14-18, interrupt the poem, which is continued in 3:19-4:4.
Jeremiah 3:1-5 ~ Covenant Marriage Imagery of an Unfaithful Wife
1 "If a man divorces his wife and she leaves him and becomes someone else's, has he the right to go back to her? Has not that piece of land been totally polluted? And you, having played the whore with many lovers, you claim the right to come back to me!" Yahweh demands. 2 "Lift your eyes to the bare heights and look! Where have you not offered your sex! You waited by the roadside for them like an Arab in the desert. You have polluted the country with your prostitution and your vices: 3 this is why the showers have been withheld, the late rains have not come. But you maintained a prostitute's bold front, with no trace of a blush. 4 From now on, do not cry out at me, 'My father! My beloved ever since I was young! 5 Will he keep up his anger forever, maintain his wrath to the end?' You say this but still go on sinning, being so obstinate."
Notice the symbolic imagery Yahweh uses to describe Israel's infidelity
in abandoning their true God for the worship of false idols. You can find the
same imagery in Ezekiel 16:1-63.
Question: Which of the symbolic images of the prophets and which of the four parts of that imagery does Yahweh use for Israel's rebellion?
Answer: Yahweh uses the imagery of covenant marriage Part II: an adulterous wife.
Question: What did the law of the Sinai Covenant decree
concerning divorced wives in Deuteronomy 24:1-4? What was the command of the
Law concerning remarriage with a previously divorced wife who had a
relationship with another man, and in what way does Yahweh link this law to the
behavior of the covenant people in their present relationship with Him?
Answer: The Law forbids remarriage to a previously divorced wife who had been intimate with someone else. Israel/Judah abandoned the covenant, when she became intimate with/worshiped other gods. If Yahweh treated Israel like a divorced and adulterous wife, He should not take her back.
However, despite Israel's rebellion, God has not repudiated Israel. Yet her unfaithfulness has been so great that her return and reconciliation would be a miracle of God's grace. In verse 1b Yahweh makes the claim that He has every right to refuse to take Israel back as His Bride. In verse 2, like a thief might wait along a roadside to rob a passing caravan, Judah ran after idolatry and prostituted herself in worshipping false gods, polluting the land with illicit altars and sacrifices. To punish the people, God withheld the rains, as He promised. Providing rains when needed was one of the promises God made for covenant obedience (Lev 26:4; Dt 11:13-14) and withholding the rains was one of the penalties for covenant disobedience (see Lev 26:19; Dt 11:17) to remind the people they had strayed from their covenant promises of obedience (Ex 24:3, 7). In verse 3 God says He withheld the latter rains as a sign of chastisement—the "former" rains came in September/October and the "later rains" in October/November (Israel's Liturgical and Civil Calendar Year).
3b "But you
maintained a prostitute's bold front, with no trace of a blush. 4 From now on, do not cry out at me, 'My
father! My beloved ever since I was young! 5 Will he keep up his anger forever, maintain his wrath to
the end?' You say this but still go on sinning, being so obstinate."
Despite God's attempts to call the people to repentance, God accuses them of having remained obstinate in refusing to acknowledging wrong-doing. He uses the metaphor of an unrepentant prostitute, which fits the previous imagery of sexual infidelity.
Question: What accusation is made against the covenant people in
Answer: The people make insincere attempts at repentance by calling on Yahweh as their divine Father and beloved Spouse, but without any intention of turning away from their many sins.
Jeremiah 3:6-10 ~ Yahweh Recounts the Northern Kingdom's Adulterous Crime of Idol Worship
6 In the days of King Josiah, Yahweh said to me, "Have you seen what disloyal Israel has done? How she has made her way up every high hill and to every green tree, and played the whore there? 7 I thought, 'After doing all this she will come back to me.' But she did not come back. Her faithless sister Judah saw this. 8 She also saw that I had repudiated disloyal Israel for all her adulteries and given her her divorce papers. Her faithless sister Judah, however, was not afraid: she too went and played the whore. 9 And with her shameless whoring, she polluted the country; she committed adultery with stones and pieces of wood. 10 Worse than all this: Judah, her faithless sister, has come back to me not in sincerity, but only in pretense, Yahweh declares."
Most of the Book of Jeremiah is written as poetry. However, Jeremiah 3:6-12 is prose and is not written in the usual poetic form of the other oracles. As the time-marker in verse 6 tells us, this oracle dates from the reign of Davidic descendant King Josiah and was probably written in the period following the religious reforms in 622 BC. You can read about those reforms in 2 Kings 23:1-27 and 2 Chronicles 34:3-35:18 and in the Agape Bible study of 2 Kings in Lesson 8.
Josiah began his reforms in circa 628 when he was about 20 years old.(3) He began by purging Jerusalem and Judah of all pagan worship sites and destroying all pagan idols. Next, he advanced into what had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians had deported the last of the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC, imported five groups of pagan peoples, and made the territory the Assyrian province of Samaria. The Samaritans adopted their own false idea of the worship of Yahweh while they continued to worship their cultural pagan gods (2 Kng 17:24-41). After the death of death of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian empire began to disintegrate in a series of civil wars and Assyria was no longer able to retain control of the northern territory of the Promised Land. Josiah used these conditions to his advantage by invading the north and extending his religious reforms as far north as the former Galilean territory of Naphtali (2 Chr 34:6-7).
Question: Comparing the chapters with the time references in the
reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah and also the passages referring to Jeremiah in
Egypt, what do you notice?
Answer: The book is not arranged chronologically. Some later messages come earlier in the book, and some earlier messages come later in the book.
Jeremiah's messages were delivered orally and his discourses were probably repeated a number of times over the course of his forty-year ministry before they were written down. The writing down of the discourses by Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch, may have been sporadic, and therefore some discourses from an earlier time may have been included later when they were repeated. There is also the problem cause by the destruction of Jeremiah's entire book/scroll in 605 BC by King Jehoiakim followed by God's command to rewrite what had been destroyed (36:21-28).
In this passage, "Israel" refers to what had been the Northern Kingdom while "Judah" refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The passage concerns the conduct of those people living in the northern parts of the Promised Land. Josiah destroyed their pagan worship sites and encouraged them to come to Jerusalem to offer right worship to Yahweh.
Question: Which of the reoccurring prophetic images does Yahweh use to accuse the Northern Kingdom of covenant disloyalty in verses 6-9?
Answer: God uses the imagery of covenant marriage again, and He equates Israel's practice of idol worship to an adulterous wife who deserves to be repudiated and divorced by her husband.
In verse 10 Yahweh refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah as the
Northern Kingdom's "sister."
Question: What does this passage suggest about the response of the citizen of Judah and the people of Samaria to Josiah's religious reforms?
Answer: They have only pretended to return to Yahweh but are still engaging in their pagan practices.
Jeremiah 3:11-13 ~ The Exiled Northern Kingdom is Urged to Repent and Return
11 And Yahweh said to me, "Disloyal Israel is upright, compared with faithless Judah. 12 So go and shout words towards the north, and say: 'Come back, disloyal Israel, Yahweh declares, I shall frown on you no more since I am merciful, Yahweh declares. I shall not keep my anger forever. 13 Only acknowledge your guilt: how you have rebelled against Yahweh your God, how you have prostituted yourself with the Strangers under every green tree and have not listened to my voice, Yahweh declares.
The oracle returns to the poetic form in verse 12b. Yahweh accuses
Judah of being even more sinful and disloyal than the Northern Kingdom that has
already suffered the Assyrian conquest and exile.
Question: Despite the Northern Kingdom's sins of idol worship and rebellion, Yahweh will restore the people He still loves, but on what conditions?
Answer: The people must acknowledge their guilt by renouncing their rebellion and their worship of the "Strangers"—man-made idols of pagan gods.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
In Jeremiah 2:29 God asks the covenant people, Why make out a case [riv] against me? You have all rebelled against me, Yahweh declares. The people in Jeremiah's time were making excuses for why they were not being obedient to the Law of the Covenant. Their argument was that it wasn't their fault it was God's fault, either because His laws were too harsh or His commands and prohibitions were not observed by Gentile peoples who were admired.
Question: People today use the same excuse for what amounts to rebellion against God/Christ and His Church. The problem is if you believe that God is all-knowing, just and holy, and that Jesus has given His Church the power to "bind and loose," then how can what He or His Church asks of us in obedience be wrong? Are we really qualified to judge what is right and what is wrong behavior—what is sin and what is holy? Are our concepts of right and wrong based on the word of God or on the views of secular society? List some of the modern day excuses for abandoning the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ and how you might counter those views.
Question: In Jeremiah 2:9 Yahweh accuses the covenant people of generational sin by exposing their children and grandchildren to the worship of false gods and failing to teach them about the One True God and His covenant with them. When we have our children baptized in the Church, what oath do parents and grandparents swear? Do you think there will be accountability for keeping that oath on Judgment Day? What do parents and godparents need to do to fulfill their oaths?
1. In John 4:22 Jesus told the Samaritan woman that her people worshipped what they did not understand concerning Yahweh and true worship and understanding of Yahweh came from the Jews. They rejected the Jerusalem Temple and had their own Temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria (Jn 4:20).
2. For other examples of hesed see Gen 24:49; 32:11; 47:29; Ex 34:6-7; Jos 2:14; 2 Sam 2:6; 15:20; Ps 136 used twenty-six times; Hos 2:21/19. Hesed has a much narrower definition than the English word "love" conveys. In the Hebrew Scriptures, hesed refers to the kind of love that is promised and is owed—a mutual exchange of affection and loyalty based on mutual obligations—love formed in the bonds of covenant. When this Hebrew word is used of human relationships it means union, fidelity and loyalty in the context of the marriage covenant (Gen 24:49), and when used between men or nations, it expresses the covenant bond of family loyalty or the bond of treaty obligation (Gen 21:27; 1 Sam 11:1). See the document "Is Hesed the Same as Agape: God's Love Defined by Covenant in the Old and New Testaments".
3. King Josiah was a descendant of King David and the inheritor of the eternal Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:8-29; 23:5; 2 Chr 13:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11/13). He was the last righteous king of Judah (2 Kng 22:1-2), the great-grandson of good King Hezekiah, and an ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1, 10-16).
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Catechism references (* indicates that the Scripture passage is quoted in the citation):