Jeremiah 16-19

Good morning! Today in Jeremiah 16-19 we continue to see the cost of prophecy on Jeremiah and his family. Nevertheless, he recalls the people of Jerusalem to their religious roots, while also giving his certainty that reformation of their wickedness is impossible. We see this manifest most directly in the back-to-back metaphors of clay reshaped and clay broken forever.

The future that awaits Jerusalem is so certain and so deadly that God forbids Jeremiah to marry or have children, for fear of the ghastly fate that would befall them. All decency will fall away from people because of their agony. Nobody will interrupt their own lamentation long enough to grieve those who pass away, and there will be no proper rituals of mourning in that terrible day. We’ve talked already about the high personal costs to prophetic living and don’t need to go into it again. But we don’t have to look far to see the impact of modern prophecy on marriage and family life. Ask Coretta Scott King or Winnie Madikizela-Mandela about their experiences in this regard.

Jeremiah’s message deliberately recalls earlier Hebrew traditions in chapter 17. The curses and blessings here remind me of Psalm 1, with its description of how those who trust in God will prosper “like a tree planted by water”. Jeremiah also reiterates the importance of Sabbath—a humanitarian element of the Mosaic law that we haven’t heard much about since the time of King David. Observance of the Sabbath is one of the methods to bring about greater righteousness, and one of the hallmarks of a new day which God will usher in once the present judgment has passed.

Chapter 18 gives us the famous metaphor of a potter and clay, but what I notice in reading it this time is the juxtaposition with an earthenware jug sign-act in the very next chapter. The key message in both these chapters is that the “blank check” of divine favor for Israel that was presumed in earlier times is no good. God will not blindly endorse anything and everything that the Hebrew people do. Where these chapters differ though is whether in the coming destruction God will 1) “reformat” the Judean status quo, working from some of the same elements, or 2) destroy the preexisting civilization altogether because it is completely unworkable. Chapter 18 suggests that as a potter breaks down a defective pot, Judah’s destruction is part of the process by which God starts over, reworking the failures of the past into something more successful. By contrast, the sign-act with an earthenware jug in chapter 19 leaves no space for reworking the status quo. Jeremiah calls out a gory description of what will happen to the inhabitants of Jerusalem as a result of their sins, and then breaks the earthen jug in their presence as a sign that the will be broken beyond use any longer. Here are two possible visions for how to understand the coming collapse of Jerusalem. Will it be “creative destruction” by which something holier will come to pass? Or will it break completely,” so that it can never be mended”? One could say that the answer lies in how hardened, how calcified, the jug has become. Happy reading!

Read Jeremiah 16-19.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 20-24. Thanks for reading!

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