Good morning! Today in Jeremiah 13-15 we see further developments of the prophetic tradition. We encounter the first sign-acts that will be so visible throughout other prophets, and we also see the squeeze that the prophet’s vocation puts on Jeremiah’s mental health.
Sign-acts first show up in Jeremiah 13. They are recognizable because they demonstrate prophetic truth through symbolic behavior. (This gets all the more pronounced as we go forward in the prophets.) The loincloth (of God) is a symbol of Israel—made to be close to God, but tattered and ragged by the time buried near the Euphrates, which is geographically at the heart of the Babylonian Empire. Note that both this sign act and that of the wine jars are in prose, suggesting they come from later writers (who might have been more familiar with the sign-act tradition among the prophets).
Verse 13:22 is jaw-dropping in our modern context of rape culture. I understand that Jeremiah is trying to communicate that suffering comes as a result of disobedience, but let’s be clear that although this blame-the-victim rhetoric in connection to rape is thousands of years old, I am certain that God has never been pleased when rape is used as punishment or retribution in time of war. Jeremiah concludes that the backsliding people are no more able to become righteous than a leopard is able to change its spots.
This season of Jeremiah’s ministry is evidently a time of great drought in Israel, which may be the inspiration for many of the images herein of ecological disaster. Jeremiah takes on the voice of the people back to God, pleading for deliverance in spite of their misbehavior. Yet God’s heart is hardened against mercy. When the issue of false prophets arises, the ability of prophecies to be falsified becomes critically important. If prophecy were merely about telling the distant future, there would be no way of judging true from false, and prophetic insight would be unreliable. Yet since prophecy is about correctly reading and interpreting the signs of the times, it’s possible to see whose version of current events most closely aligns with the people’s experience. Jeremiah denounces the false prophets as those who (to borrow an earlier phrase) say “peace, peace” when there is no peace.
Humanity would do well to pray against the day when we would encounter a God as stone-faced as we find in chapter 15. God is adamantly against showing compassion or rescue to the people. There is no promise of mercy to be found here (though it does come in other parts of the prophetic canon). Instead, the sins of Manasseh have turned God’s heart cold against the people. (Recall from our reading of Kings and Chronicles that Manasseh was one of the chief idolaters in Judah, and he reigned for 55 years, the longest of any king in Judah.) Jeremiah gives voice again to his anguish at the no-win situation before him. God hears Jeremiah’s lament, then promises to empower and preserve him through the coming torment. It will not be peaceful, but God tells Jeremiah that so long as the prophet is true, God will deliver him. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 16-19. Thanks for reading!