Jeremiah 3-4

Good morning! Today’s gloomy reading in Jeremiah 3-4 foreshadows the total eclipse of Judah before much longer. The prophet contends that the people have been unfaithful, and calls them to repentance. If Judah does not repent, God will let them be overrun as a sovereign nation. Jeremiah is so sure that Jerusalem will fail to repent that he announces their impending doom, even while calling for them to change their ways.

Jeremiah 3 lays out against Judah the divine charge of adultery with other deities and idols. The very land itself bears witness to their infidelity, suggesting that nature cults in the ancient Near East are part of the threat. First the northern kingdom Israel was disloyal and suffered the Assyrian conquest because of it, yet now Judah is worse off because she didn’t learn from the example made of Israel. Israel personified at the chapter’s end confesses these things and acknowledges shame. But God calls Jeremiah to hold out hope for fallen Israel as well, promising safe harbor and protection, if only Israel will repent of its adultery. That time will be known by the eclipse of the Ark of the Covenant (because the law will be on human hearts?), and a universal focus on Jerusalem. United again in common penitence, Israel and Judah will return from northern captivity. Yet absent a national renewal to bring this about, the “enemy from the north” (Assyria, described as a lion or a whirlwind) will enact God’s judgment on Judah. Jeremiah laments the calamity to come. Again we see the implications this will have for nature, as “the fruitful land” is instead “a desert”.

This raises the issue of a troubling characteristic in Jeremiah and later prophets like Hosea: their abusive imagery of both women and nature. The prophets sometimes use attention-grabbing metaphors of sexual violence to garner attention for their message. Nature too—not unrelatedly—comes in for rhetorical ecocide on occasion.  In a culture that considered humans the only important actors and men the only important humans, such metaphors are the canvas on which an argument about religious fidelity is painted. However, this choice is hardly value-neutral. It reinforces patriarchy and denies earth’s worth independent of human activity. We have to search different parts of Scripture to counteract these messages, except for the slender thread where God promises to watch out for at least a remnant of people and the earth: “I will not make a full end”. Happy reading!

Read Jeremiah 3-4.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 5-6. Thanks for reading!

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