Good morning! Nearly all of today’s passage (Jeremiah 25-27) was written after the return from exile, as the prose writing and references to historical events can attest. Keeping this in mind, we can see how the words put in Jeremiah’s mouth give a theological explanation for suffering, and work through the delicate task of determining true versus false prophets.
The description of Babylonian exile in Jeremiah 25 is so precise that though it’s written as foreshadowing, it almost certainly was written afterward. The writer grounds it in the historical timeline with reference to the Hebrew king ruling during Jeremiah’s later days, but then quickly conveys a theological interpretation of historical events. The people did not obey the rightful prophets of God, ignoring and persecuting one after another. As a consequence, they became subject to the enemies God allowed to conquer Judah. Here’s an example of theologizing a painful event, explaining how a good God might allow good people (“us”) to suffer great evil. This is an extended variant of the common refrain that “God must have a plan”. Here, the “plan” involves eventual retribution and subjugation of mighty Babylon, who will face God’s wrath at the end of the promised 70 years of Hebrew captivity. This might comfort those who had returned from Babylon with the promise that the bad times were over, and now their oppressor would be punished instead. One final clue that this writing comes from later in Hebrew history is the suggestion that God’s judgment will spread throughout the whole world. This is an early example of the apocalyptic, “end of the world” genre we see much more of in later prophets.
Jeremiah 26 opens with a shorter version of his earlier speech against idolatry in the temple (chapter 7), but then we see what happens next. The people in the temple respond with outrage and condemnation for this abrasive prophet! Jeremiah faces trial before the officials of Judah, accused by the temple priests and prophets of disloyalty. Jeremiah’s defense spends more time calling the people to repentance rather than trying to save his own life. The officials of Judah decide that Jeremiah might truthfully be God-inspired, and so they refuse to execute him. However, we read that King Jehoiakim had another prophet hunted down and killed earlier, which is a cautionary counter-example that lets Jeremiah know he’s on thin ice. Not to be deterred, Jeremiah’s next stunt in chapter 27 involves a great yoke that he carries around his neck. (He certainly knew how to get and keep the news cycle!) The yoke was a sign of slavery, and with it he counsels both Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to submit to Babylon for three generations, because that will be better for their land than foolishly trying to fight it out. Here again, the question of which prophet to believe comes to the fore. We saw earlier in the narratives of Samuel and Kings the war of words that can erupt between competing prophets, but the benefit of history helps us know which prophet was telling the truth. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 28-30. Thanks for reading!