THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Part I: Oracles Against Jerusalem and Judah
(the Oracles of Condemnation)
A Final Warning of the Coming Exile
Lord God of Justice,
Despite Your many warnings, the people of Jeremiah's day refused to recognize the signs of the disaster that was about to descend on them. It was a disaster they brought on themselves because of their many sins and God's just punishment for those sins. Give us the wisdom to recognize the signs of sin and apostasy among our people and the courage to denounce such practices before our sins become learned behavior for the next generation. Give us priests who are not fearful of preaching the hard and uncompromising teachings of Your Law, and help us to elect worthy shepherds to guide our nation. Most of all, Lord, give us the humility to admit wrong-doing as a people and as individuals, because the comforting lie that there is no danger will only hasten our destruction. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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But if you do
not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, and do not keep and observe all his
commandments and laws which I am laying down for you today, then all these
curses will befall and overtake you ... Yahweh will send away both you and the
king whom you have appointed to rule you to a nation unknown either to you or
to your ancestors, and there you will serve other gods, made of wood and stone.
Deuteronomy 28:15, 36
For not having obeyed
the voice of Yahweh your God, just as Yahweh used to delight in making you
happy and in making your numbers grow, so will he take delight in ruining you
and destroying you. You will be torn from the country which you are about to
enter and make your own. Yahweh will scatter you throughout every people, from
one end of the earth to the other...
Jeremiah 13:15-17 ~ A Final Warning for the People Before the Exile
15 Listen and pay attention, do not be proud: Yahweh is speaking! 16 Give glory to Yahweh your God before the darkness comes, before your feet stumble on the darkened mountains. You hope for light, but he will turn it to shadow dark as death, will change it to blackness. 17 If you do not listen to this warning, I shall weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and stream with tears, for Yahweh's flock is being led into captivity.
The theme of the oracles in Jeremiah 11:1-13:27 is the curse-judgments of a broken covenant. The poetic call for repentance and faith in this passage and the other poetic warnings in Chapter 13:15-27 probably took place just before Babylonian General Nebuchadnezzar, son of the King of Babylon, captured the city of Jerusalem in 598/7 BC (see 2 Kng 23:36-37; 24:1-17; 2 Chr 36:5-10).
Question: What three warnings does God give the
people through His prophet before it is too late in verses 15-16?
The warning is not to let false pride prevent them from listening to Jeremiah's warnings that are the words of God meant for their benefit. Yahweh is seeking a confession of sin from a people who are too puffed up with their own self-worth to give glory to God. The warning to give glory to God is familiar in Scripture. Giving glory and praise to God reminds us of our place in the hierarchy of Creation, because God is greater than all created creatures, Not to us, Yahweh, not to us, but to your name give the glory, for your faithful love and your constancy! (Ps 115:1; also see a warning to give glory to God in Ps 29:1-2; Josh 7:19; Mal 2:2).
before the darkness comes, before your feet stumble on the darkened mountains
Jeremiah is referring to the "Day of Yahweh" that is a day of divine judgment. "Darkness" in the Bible is always associated with overtones of calamity. The prophets preached that the "Day of Yahweh" is a day of darkness with no light:
Both the metaphors of darkness and stumbling in 16a warn of grave consequences if the people do not heed Yahweh's word through His prophet, renounce their pride, and give Him glory. The time for repentance is running out, but the people can still heed the words of God and give Him the glory before it is too late.
16b You hope for
light, but he will turn it to shadow dark as death, will change it to
Question: If darkness signifies calamity, what does light signify? What did Jesus say about "light" and "dark" in John 8:13 and 12:35-36?
Answer: Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark but will have the light of life." "Light" symbolized deliverance and salvation. Jesus uses the same metaphors of light and darkness for salvation and disaster in John 12:35-36.
17 If you do not
listen to this warning, I shall weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will
weep bitterly and stream with tears...
"I" refers to Jeremiah. It is on the basis of this passage together with 8:23 and 14:17 that Jeremiah is called "the weeping prophet." Pride is one of the seven capital sins that include pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. It is called a capital sin because it engenders other sins and vices (CCC 1866). Proverbs 16:18 says, Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
for Yahweh's flock is being led into captivity.
Yahweh is the Great Shepherd-King, and the covenant people are His flock (also see verse 20). For other passages where Yahweh is the Shepherd-King see Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1-4; Zechariah 10:3; and in the Psalms see 80:2; 95:7; and 100:3.
Question: How does Jesus, the Davidic heir to the Eternal Kingdom, characterize Himself in John 10:11? What is the connection to the prophecy in Jeremiah 50:5; Ezekiel 34:23 and 37:25-28.
Answer: Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will rule the Eternal Kingdom of the Eternal Covenant.
Jeremiah 13:18-19 ~ A Warning for the King and the Queen Mother
18 Tell the king and the queen mother [Gebira], "Sit in a lower place, since your glorious crown has fallen from your head. 19 The towns of the Negeb are shut off with no one to give access to them. All Judah has been deported, deported wholesale.
Historical background: King Josiah's son, King Jehoiakim, ruled for eleven years in Jerusalem (609-598 BC). When the Babylonians finally succeeded in conquering the Assyrians at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, the Babylonians turned their attention to asserting their dominance over the various vassal states of the Assyrians and Egyptians in the Levant. Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and made Jehoiakim his vassal for three years until Jehoiakim rebelled "for a second time" (2 Kng 24:1) and tried to form an alliance with the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar send armed bands of Chaldaeans, Aramaeans, Moabites, and Edomites against the nation of Judah who ravaged the towns and countryside of Judah. Finally, Nebuchadnezzar and his army surrounded Jerusalem, captured Jehoiakim and took him away to Babylon. Three months later, the Babylonian king sent for Jehoiakim's eighteen-year-old son, Jehoiachin, and had him taken in chains to Babylon, making his kinsman, an uncle who was a younger son of Josiah named Zedekiah, King of Judah (2 Kng 23:36-24:9; 2 Chr 36:5-13).(1)
Verse 18 probably dates to the chaotic days after the capture and death of King Jehoiakim by the Babylonians and the succession of his eighteen-year-old son, King Jehoiachin in 598 BC. The passage refers to young King Jehoiachin and his mother, Nehushta, daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem, the royal Davidic Gebira, the title of the Davidic Queen Mother (2 Kng 24:8).(2) Biblical scholars believe that the Davidic Gebira/Queen Mother exercised considerable influence in her son's kingdom. It is likely that she was the most powerful person in the kingdom after her son. This assumption is supported by the influence of Queen Bathsheba in obtaining kingship for her son and her role as intercessor (1 Kng 1:15-21, 28-40; 2:13-20), and also from the roles of the queen mothers Maacah and Athaliah (1 Kng 15:13; 2 Kng 11:1-3).
Question: Who is the Gebira of the Kingdom of the New and
Eternal Covenant of her Son the promised Davidic King and whose role is to act
as Intercessor on behalf of her Son's flock?
Answer: The Virgin Mary: Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.
Jeremiah urges the King and Queen Mother not to resist but to humble themselves and to give up peacefully to the Babylonians, Sit in a lower place, since your glorious crown has fallen from your head. The Queen Mother is probably included in the warning because she is the one person who had the most influence over her son. Jehoiachin did not resist the Babylonians.
Question: What is significant about Jehoiachin (also called Jechoniah) in salvation history? See Mt 1:12-16?
Answer: He is named in the genealogy of Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel.
19 The towns of the
Negeb are shut off with no one to give access to them.
Judah's enemies have shut the people in; there is no crossing the border to escape.
All Judah has been deported, deported wholesale.
The Babylonians took thousands of the citizens of Judah as captives and sent them to Babylon, among them the priest-prophet Ezekiel. This was probably the second of three deportations (see Jer 52:28-30). The fact that the king's surrender seems to have been peaceful, since Jerusalem was not destroyed by the Babylonian army, suggests that the young king took Jeremiah's advice. Later, in 562 BC, the son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar, King Evil-Merodach released Jehoiachin/Jechoniah from prison. He lived the rest of his life as a guest of the Babylonian king (Jer 52:31-34).(3)
Jeremiah 13:20-27 ~ A Final Warning to Impenitent Jerusalem
20 Raise your eyes and look at these now coming from the north. Where is the flock once entrusted to you, the flock which was your pride? 21 What will you say when they come and punish you, you yourself having taught them? Against you, in the lead, will come your friends. Then will not anguish grip you as it grips a woman in labor? 22 And should you ask yourself, "Why is all this happening to me?" it is because of your great guilt that your skirts have been pulled up and you have been manhandled. 23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? And you, can you do right, being so accustomed to wrong? 24 "I shall scatter you like chaff on the desert wind. 25 This is your share, the part allotted you, from me, Yahweh declares, because you have forgotten me and put your trust in Delusion. 26 I am the one who pulls your skirts up over your face to let your shame be seen. 27 Oh! Your adulteries, your shrieks of pleasure, your vile prostitution! On the hills, in the fields, I have seen your Horrors. Jerusalem, disaster is coming for you! How much longer till you are made clean?"
Jeremiah asks a series of rhetorical questions: Where is the flock once entrusted to you, the flock which was your pride? 21 What will you say when they come and punish you, you yourself having taught them? Against you, in the lead, will come your friends. Then will not anguish grip you as it grips a woman in labor? 22 And should you ask yourself, "Why is all this happening to me?"
Biblical scholars point out that the feminine singular suffixes indicate Jeremiah's series of rhetorical questions are either addressed to the Queen Mother, depicted as the shepherdess of the flock, or to Lady Jerusalem, the capital city that ruled the nation and is often personified in the feminine as "daughter Jerusalem" or "daughter of Zion" (see some examples in: Is 10:30; 16:1; 37:22; 52:2; 62:11; Jer 4:31; 6:2, 23; etc.; and numerous times as "daughter of my people").
20 Raise your eyes and
look at these now coming from the north. Where is the flock once entrusted to
you, the flock which was your pride?
Question: Jeremiah repeats the problem of the people's pride that he mentioned in verse 17. Why is their pride in their "flock"/themselves a problem? See Jer 9:22-23.
Answer: They should take pride not in themselves but in their God who gave them their many blessings because they were His covenant people.
21 What will you say when
they come and punish you, you yourself having taught them? Against you, in the
lead, will come your friends. This verse is better translated, You
yourselves taught them, confidants, to be head [leros] over you!
One of the covenant curses in Deuteronomy 28 is that an enemy will become the head [leros], or ruler of the covenant people (Dt 28:44 and 47-52). But how did Judah teach her enemy to become her "head"? Perhaps she taught her enemies her weaknesses in making treaties with them and making them her confidants, something Yahweh forbade: You for your part must make no covenant with the inhabitants of this country; you will destroy their altars (Judg 2:2; also see Dt 7:1-6). This direct violation certainly happened in the case of Assyria (2 Kng 16:7-9) and in the overtures of friendship made to Babylon (2 Kng 20:12-19; Is 39:1-8).
Question: What did Jeremiah say about the covenant people
bringing Yahweh's judgment on themselves in 2:17-19?
Answer: Jeremiah said the covenant people brought Yahweh's judgment on themselves because they did not rely on their God but on the protection of foreign nations.
22a And should you ask yourself, "Why is all this happening to me?"
This is the question all the self-righteous ask when they are experiencing hardship; it is as though they are too special to accept the suffering others must endure. Deuteronomy 28:47-48 answers the question why this has happened to the covenant people.
Question: What is the answer that is provided in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 that Jeremiah has echoed in his preaching?
Answer: It is because of the people's lack of gratitude and failure to cling to Yahweh and His covenant, For not having joyfully and with happy heart served Yahweh your God, despite the abundance of everything, you will have to serve the enemy whom Yahweh will send against you...
Question: What is the sin and how is it identified?
Answer: The great sin identified here is unfaithfulness to Yahweh and His covenant that is symbolically depicted as the sin of a sexually immoral woman.
23 Can the Ethiopian
change his skin, or the leopard his spots? And you, can you do right, being so
accustomed to wrong?
This double rhetorical question is probably inspired by a popular proverb.(4) The answer to both questions is "No!" A person or an animal cannot change their natural condition just as the people of Judah have become so immersed in sin and doing evil that it has become part of their nature. God will have to take some radical action for the people to change and to reverse the deeply ingrained sinful behavior that has become second nature to them; that action will be exile.
24 "I shall scatter you
like chaff on the desert wind. 25 This
is your share, the part allotted you, from me, Yahweh declares, because you
have forgotten me and put your trust in Delusion. 26 I am the one who pulls your skirts up
over your face to let your shame be seen. 27
Oh! Your adulteries, your shrieks of pleasure, your vile
prostitution! On the hills, in the fields, I have seen your Horrors.
Jerusalem, disaster is coming for you!
Yahweh pronounces His judgment on Judah. "Delusion" refers to unnamed pagan gods. God has exposed their sins of pagan worship. In this passage, the covenant-curse judgment of Deuteronomy 28:36-37 is repeated.
Question: What is the judgment in Deuteronomy 28:36-37 for apostasy from the covenant and the worship of pagan gods?
Jeremiah ends the oracle in the same way it began, with a
rhetorical question: 27b "How
much longer till you are made clean?"
Question: The answer is not provided until Jeremiah 25:11 (also see 2 Chr 36:20-21). What is the answer?
Answer: The answer is seventy years of exile and the death of the sinful first exiled generation before Judah's sins are purified.
I even withheld the rain from you full
three months before harvest-time. I caused rain to fall in one town and caused
no rain to fall in another; one field was rained on and the next for want of
rain dried up; two towns, three towns went tottering to one town for water to
drink but went unsatisfied, and still you would not come back to me, declares
Jeremiah 14:1-6 ~ Jeremiah Prophesizes the Great Drought
1 The word of Yahweh that came to Jeremiah on the occasion of the drought. 2 "Judah is in mourning, her towns are pining, sinking to the ground; a cry goes up from Jerusalem. 3 The nobles send their servants for water, they come to the water-tanks, find no water, and return with their pitchers empty. Dismayed and bewildered, they cover their heads. 4 Because the soil is all cracked since the country has had no rain; the farmers are dismayed, they cover their heads. 5 Even the doe in the countryside giving birth abandons her young, for there is no grass; 6 the wild donkeys standing on the bare heights gasp for air like jackals: their eyes grow dim for lack of pasture."
Chapter 14 forms a dialogue between Jeremiah and Yahweh that continues to the end of Chapter 15:4. Verse 1 is in prose followed by Jeremiah's poetic lament for the covenant curse-judgment of drought foretold in Deuteronomy 28:22-24. The unit is divided into three corresponding parts between 14:2-16 and 14:17-15:1-3:
1 The word of Yahweh that came to Jeremiah on the occasion of the drought.
14:1 is the introduction to the unit and 15:4 is the postscript. Both verses are references to the curse-judgments in Deuteronomy 28; this time to verses 22-24, Yahweh will strike you down with consumption, fever, inflammation, burning fever, drought, wind-blast, milder, and these will pursue you to your ruin. The heavens above you like brass, the earth beneath you iron. Your country's rain Yahweh will turn into dust and sand; it will fall on you from the heavens until you perish.
2 "Judah is in mourning,
her towns are pining, sinking to the ground; a cry goes up from Jerusalem.
The first lament in verses 2-6 is concerned with the curse-judgment of a drought on the land. The second in verses 17-19b is about Jeremiah's own spiritual drought, caused by his visions of war, siege, and famine. Notice the poetic contrast between the going down or "sinking" of Judah and the cry that "goes up" from the city of Jerusalem. The cry is from the people's distress, but it is apparently not a crying out to Yahweh for deliverance.
3 The nobles send their
servants for water, they come to the water-tanks,
find no water, and return with their pitchers empty. Dismayed and bewildered,
they cover their heads.
The cisterns built to collect rainwater are empty. Unlike Egypt that had a constant source of water from the Nile, the Jordan River was not a plentiful source of water. The Promised Land had to depend on Yahweh to send the rains at the right seasons: For you Yahweh will open his treasury of rain, the heavens, to give your country its rain at the right time, and to bless all your labors (Dt 28:12; also see Lev 26:4). Unable to understand why the drought is happening to them, the people are both dismayed and bewildered. They cover their heads, which is a sign of mourning but evidently not repentance. The people ask "Why is all this happening to me?" God's answer is "it is because of your great guit." (see Jer 13:22)
5 Even the doe in the
countryside giving birth abandons her young, for there is no grass; 6 the wild donkeys standing on the bare
heights gasp for air like jackals: their eyes grow dim for lack of pasture.
The people and the animals are suffering because of the drought. The problem is, as the prophet Amos wrote, that the droughts in the past have failed to bring the people to repentance in turning back to Yahweh (Amos 4:7-8).
Jeremiah 14:7-9 ~ Jeremiah's First Petition for Yahweh's Intervention
7 Although our sins witness against us, Yahweh, for your name's sake, intervene! Yes, our acts of infidelity have been many, we have sinned against you! 8 Yahweh, hope of Israel, its Savior in time of distress, why are you like a stranger in this country, like a traveler staying only for one night? 9 Why are you like someone bemused, like a warrior who has not power to rescue? And yet, Yahweh, you are among us, we are called by your name. Do not desert us!
In the poem in verses 7-9, Jeremiah ignores God's command not to intercede for the people. He responds to the drought oracle by offering both a communal confession and a petition for Yahweh to intervene to end the drought that is causing such suffering. This passage moves from confession and petition to affirmation to questioning to affirmation and ends in petition.
Jeremiah's confession sounds like Isaiah's in 59:12. Jeremiah is
acting as the people's intercessor as he identifies with the people and their
Question: What are the two rhetorical questions he asks Yahweh?
Answer: Jeremiah asks why God is not acting like the Father of the people He has called His own, and why is He not using His powers to rescue them.
7b we have sinned against you! Jeremiah's communal confession recalls David's confession in Psalm 51:4/6 when he cried out, Against you, you alone, I have sinned... Confession begins with the admission that sins have been committed that testify against the repentant sinner.
9b And yet, Yahweh, you
are among us, we are called by your name. Do not desert us!
Jeremiah reminds Yahweh that they are a people "called by your name" out of all the other peoples of the earth (Ex 19:8). It is as Moses told the Israelites, From you Yahweh will make a people consecrated to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of Yahweh your God and follow his ways. The peoples of the world, seeing that you bear Yahweh's name, will all be afraid of you (Dt 28:10). Jeremiah's argument is that Yahweh must save the people called by His name for the sake of His honor. He ends with a plea for deliverance: "Do not desert us!"
Jeremiah 14:10-12 ~ Yahweh's Response to Jeremiah's First Petition
10 Yahweh says this about this people, "They take such pleasure in darting hither and thither, they cannot restrain their feet! But Yahweh takes pleasure in them no longer; now he will keep their guilt in mind and punish their sins." 11 Yahweh then said to me, "Do not intercede for this people or their welfare. 12 If they fast, I will not listen to their plea; if they offer burnt offerings and cereal offerings I will not accept them. Rather, I shall make an end of them by sword, famine and plague."
Yahweh's response to Jeremiah's first petition is in prose. He gives a
negative answer, and again, for the third time, God forbids Jeremiah to
intercede for the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem (see Jer 7:16; 11:14).
Question: In addition to the curse-judgment of drought, what other judgments does God add?
Answer: In addition to the curse-judgment of drought, He adds war, famine, and sickness.
Jeremiah 14:13-16 ~ Jeremiah's Excuse for the People and Yahweh's Response
13 "Ah, Lord Yahweh," I answered, "here are the prophets telling them, You will not see the sword, famine will not touch you; I promise you true peace in the place.'" 14 Then Yahweh said to me, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I have not sent them, I gave them no orders, I never spoke to them. Delusive visions, hallow predictions, daydreams of their own, that is what they prophesy to you. 15 Therefore, Yahweh says this: The prophets who prophesy in my name when I have not sent them, and tell you there will be no sword or famine in this country, these same prophets will meet their end by sword and famine. 16 And as for the people to whom they prophesy, they will be tossed into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and the sword, with not a soul to bury them; neither them nor their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters. I shall pour their own wickedness down on them."
Jeremiah's second petition and the first part of Yahweh's answer to Jeremiah
are in a prose format. Jeremiah pleads for the people, saying it is not
entirely their fault for not listening to Yahweh's voice in his oracles because
false prophets are telling them what Jeremiah says is untrue; peace will prevail.
Question: What was the test of a true prophet according to Deuteronomy 18:20-22?
Answer: The prophecy of a true prophet who spoke God's word always came true; if a prophet's prophecy was not fulfilled, then his prophecy was not from God.
Yahweh answers Jeremiah's objection in verses 14-18. He rejects the false prophets and gives His judgment on them and on the people who are so easily deceived, allowing themselves to believe their comforting false oracles. An old Irish proverb wisely asks, "Let me have the courage to believe the ugly truth over the beautiful lie."
Question: What is Yahweh's judgment on the false prophets and
the people who believe them instead of believing God words through His prophet Jeremiah?
Answer: They will die as the result of the very same prophecies they have denied and failed to believe; they will die by the sword of war and famine.
Jeremiah 14:17-22 ~ Jeremiah's Second Confession and Petition on Behalf of the People
17 "So say this word to them: May my eyes shed tears night and day, unceasingly, since the daughter of my people has sustained a fearsome wound, a crippling injury. 18 If I go into the countryside, there lie those killed by the sword; if I go into the city, I see people tortured with hunger; even prophets and priests roam the country at their wits' end. 19 Have you rejected Judah altogether? Does your very soul revolt at Zion? Why have you struck us down without hope of cure? We were hoping for peace; no good came of it! 20 For the moment of cure, nothing but terror! Yahweh, we acknowledge our wickedness and our ancestors' guilt: we have indeed sinned against you. 21 For your name's sake do not reject us, do not dishonor the throne of your glory. 22 Remember us; do not break your covenant with us. Can any of the nations' Futile Ones make it rain? Can the heavens of their own accord give showers? Are you not the one, Yahweh our God? In you is our hope, since you make all these things."
Jeremiah is the speaker in this dialogue with God. Jeremiah is experiencing a spiritual crisis that threatens his calling. He speaks of the horrors he has witnessed in verse 18. That Jeremiah says the people suffer in the city and in the country repeats the same judgment mentioned in Deuteronomy 28:16 that warns, if the people apostatize from the covenant, they will reap the curse judgments in the city and in the country.
And then in verse 19, Jeremiah asks Yahweh another threefold set of rhetorical questions, probably in hopes of turning God to mercy: 19 Have you rejected Judah altogether? Does your very soul revolt at Zion? Why have you struck us down without hope of cure? God spoke earlier of having rejected His people because they have rejected Him (Jer 6:30; 7:29). Whatever the short-term answers have been, the long-term answers are "No!" (Jer 31:37; 33:24-26; Rom 11:1). However, Yahweh will keep His oath to never abandon His people because He will preserve a "faithful remnant" (Jer 23:3-4).
19d We were hoping for
peace; no good came of it! 20 For
the moment of cure, nothing but terror! Yahweh, we acknowledge our wickedness
and our ancestors' guilt: we have indeed sinned against you. 21 For your name's sake do not reject us,
do not dishonor the throne of your glory. 22
Remember us; do not break your covenant with us. Can any of the
nations' Futile Ones make it rain? Can the heavens of their own accord give
showers? Are you not the one, Yahweh our God? In you is our hope, since you
make all these things."
Verse 20b-22a is another of Jeremiah's communal confession for the sins of the present and past generations, and it recalls the communal confession and plea for forgiveness in Psalm 79:8-9. Perhaps Jeremiah is thinking of Leviticus 26:40-45 where a confession of past and present sin will lead Yahweh to remember prior covenants and that include the promise of the land (Gen 12:3; 15:18-21). If He has completely rejected His people, it is something Yahweh promised would never happen (Judg 2:1).
Jeremiah 15:1-4 ~ Yahweh Answers Jeremiah's Petition
1 Yahweh said to me, "Even if Moses and Samuel pleaded [stood] before me, I could not sympathize with [my soul would not incline to] this people! Drive them out of my sight, away with them! 2 And if they ask you, Where shall we go? Tell them this, Yahweh says this: Those for the plague, to the plague; those for the sword, to the sword; those for famine, to famine; those for captivity, to captivity!' 3 I shall consign them to four kinds of thing, Yahweh declares: the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the birds of heaven and wild animals of earth to devour and to destroy. 4 I shall make them an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah and what he did in Jerusalem." [...] = literal Hebrew translation, IBHE, vol. IV, page 1772.
Chapter 15:1-4 is the last section of the unit that began in Chapter 14. It is Yahweh's answer to Jeremiah's question in 14:19, his confession of the people's sins and the sins of their ancestors in 14:20, and Jeremiah's plea for God not to break His covenant with Israel. The passage is in prose except for Yahweh's curse-judgment in verse 2. These verses are divided into three parts:
Even if Moses and Samuel pleaded [stood] before me...
Moses and Samuel the prophet were Israel's great intercessors of the past that "stood before" Yahweh.
Question: When do we "stand before the Lord"?
Answer: We stand before God in the Mass:
"Standing before Yahweh" in verse 1 can mean standing as Yahweh's divine messenger who waits to receive the divine word (i.e., Jer 15:19; 23:18, 22; Ez 2:1-2), and it can also mean "standing" before Yahweh for the purpose of making intercession (i.e., Gen 18:22; Jer 18:20). Jeremiah does both.
I could not sympathize with [my soul would not incline to] this people!
Yahweh says that He cannot sympathize with a people who have turned away from Him and His covenant and have committed so many sins without shame and repentance. Jeremiah is being told again not to intercede on behalf of the people (cf. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11). Here the rejection is climatic because it is also a rejection of Jeremiah's efforts as covenant mediator, and it is the answer to two of Jeremiah's questions in 14:19, Have you rejected Judah altogether? Does your very soul revolt at Zion?
1b Drive them out of my sight, away with them!
The punishment of exile is restated.
2 And if they ask you,
Where shall we go? Tell them this, Yahweh says this: Those for the plague, to
the plague; those for the sword, to the sword; those for famine, to famine;
those for captivity, to captivity!'
Question: For a people who are guilty of many sins, including shedding the blood of the innocent, how do the concerns of the people echo the first case of shedding the blood of the innocent in Genesis 4:11-16?
Answer: The concern of the people of Judah for their future echoes the concerns of Cain. When he received God's curse-judgment for his sin, he did not express his sorrow for his sin in killing his innocent brother but only expressed concern for himself. God sent Cain from His Presence into exile, just as He will send away the sinful and unrepentant Judahites.
Question: How many types of punishment are pronounced in this short poem?
Answer: There are four: plague, sword, famine, and captivity.
Four is usually a number symbolizing the earth in Scripture. It is interesting that four agents of death are also named in the Book of Revelation 6:8 in the time of the Great Tribulation; they are the same with the exception of "captivity" that is replaced by "wild beasts."
3 I shall consign them
to four kinds of thing, Yahweh declares: the sword to kill, the dogs to drag
away, the birds of heaven and wild animals of earth to devour and to destroy.
The four kinds of things are things that are normally subject to human control: swords, dogs, birds and wild animals. Nature is turned upside down as Yahweh gives these "destroyers" full power over the men and women of Judah.
4 I shall make them an
object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh son of
Hezekiah, king of Judah and what he did in Jerusalem."
It all comes down to the sins that began during Manasseh's reign in 687-642 BC.
Question: What were the sins of abomination that Manasseh taught Jerusalem? See 2 Kng 21:1-18.
Yahweh promised the people in 2 Kings 21:7b-8, In this Temple and in Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribe of Israel, I shall put my Name forever. Nor shall I ever again set Israel's footsteps wandering outside the country which I gave to their ancestors, provided they are careful to observe all I have commanded them as laid down in the whole Law which my servant Moses prescribed for them. The repeat of the sins in the time of Manasseh is the reason the covenant curses visited on Jeremiah's generation, as Yahweh also foretold in Deuteronomy 12:29-13:1; 17:2-7; 18:9-14a. Because of the sins of the Judahites, God put the curse His prophet spoke in His name in the time of Manasseh into effect, and the setting for this divine rejection has war, siege, and exile as the means of Yahweh's judgment.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: What would happen to a city or a nation that rejected justice and never held their citizens accountable for their crimes? What would happen to humanity if God never held us accountable for our sins?
1. In 2 Chronicles 36:10, Zedekiah is called the "brother" of Jehoiachin, but the Hebrew word "brother" could mean sibling, step-brother, half-brother, cousin/kinsman, or a countryman. Mattaniah, who the Babylonians renamed Zedekiah, was, in fact, a paternal uncle, and, therefore, a son of King Josiah (2 Kng 24:17).
2. King Jehoiachin's name does not appear in the list in Jeremiah 1:2-3, probably because he only reigned for three months. The title, Gebira, is found five times in the Old Testament in 1 Kng 11:19; 15:13; 2 Kng 10:13; Jer 13:18; and 29:2.
3. Ancient tablets recording Jehoiachin/Jechoniah/Jeconiah (there are two acceptable spellings of Jechoniah) in Babylon were discovered in Iraq. They are referred to as the "Jehoiachin/Jechoniah's Rations Tablets." They were excavated near the Ishtar Gate in Babylon and are dated to c. 592 BC. Written in cuneiform, they mention Jechoniah (Ia-u-kinu) and his five sons as recipients of food rations at the court of the King of Babylon.
4. See, for example, a similar proverb in the Egyptian wisdom literature "The Instructions of Onchsheshonay."
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Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):