Good morning! Let’s start today by remembering the broad historical context behind this part of the Hebrew Scriptures. After the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Israel is overtaken by the Assyrians. Roughly a hundred years later, the Babylonians have defeated the Assyrians and conquered their old territories, then press further by conquering Judah and taking its elites into exile. It is this part of Hebrew history that Jeremiah lives through, but much of the book also has in mind what happened seventy years later: the Persians defeated the Babylonians and let (descendants of) the Hebrew exiles migrate to Judah as their ancestral heritage. Today’s passage (Jeremiah 28-30) has this context in mind as it describes a debate between prophets, and a concern for how the exiles are to assimilate (or not) once they are relocated to Babylon.
Jeremiah 28 takes place when the exile is already reality, but it hasn’t gone on very long so there’s hope that this will be another close call, letting the exiles return home shortly. Jeremiah and Hananiah are competing candidates with alternate visions of the future, locked in battle for the loyalties of the people. Hananiah has an upbeat but head-in-the-sand message, whereas Jeremiah calls the people to make amends for their wrongdoings and face the troubles that have beset the nation. Jeremiah tells Hananiah that time will surely tell which of these versions of the future is true. He suggests that former prophets have been dire in their warnings to Israel, and have been proven true. A prophet with an “easy” message should inspire skepticism because history has not generally endorsed such avoidance of harsh realities. I do not mean to inspire a debate about current political choices in America, but how do you react when opinion-shapers give apparently simple answers for bedeviling social problems? Does it inspire confidence in you, or skepticism that they will turn out to be modern-day Hananiahs? The first prophet we have of that name doesn’t hold up well in the biblical record.
We get a sense of disagreements among the Jews by reading Jeremiah 29. We read a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to get as comfortable as possible with this new lot because it is from God and unlikely to change any time soon. It also has harsh words (“rotten figs”) for the people left behind, too poor to be worth taking into exile. We have clues throughout this book that much of the prose in Jeremiah was written from a “pro-exile” perspective, with harsh words for those who remained in Jerusalem during exilic generations. This says something to me about the relative class of those who were taken into exile (scholars, scribes, lawyers, and others who could literally write history). By contrast, those who stayed behind in Jerusalem were subsistence farmers governed by a Babylonian puppet king. Few if any remaining Jews in Jerusalem would have had the training or tools to write. Perhaps this is why the written record of this time most often praises the circumstances of exile and pillories those who remained on the land in Judah.
We return to the older poetry of Jeremiah in chapter 30, with its recognizable themes of divine condemnation for Judah’s sins. Yet here the book promises that restoration IS coming, even though exile goes on for seventy years. Jeremiah (or more likely someone else using his “brand”) prophesies of great pain in Jerusalem, yet also the promise of eventual liberation. Persecutors will themselves be persecuted, and captors taken captive. This is almost certainly reference to the Persian conquest of Babylon and its territories. As we will see, Persian power leads to an easing of suffering for the Jews, and an eventual return home. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 31-32. Thanks for reading!