Good morning! Today and tomorrow in Jeremiah we have a series of “oracles against the nations”. One civilization after another receives rebuke for various sins, and we hear how God will send destruction their way. It’s only sometimes spelled out explicitly, but we are to understand that the Babylonians who visit such misery on those they conquer are doing so as agents of God. This is how the writers of this portion of Scripture try to make sense of the fact that bad things are happening in a world where there’s an omnipotent divinity. God must be using these calamities that abound in the world—more, God must be orchestrating them. Therefore, Jeremiah can square why a good God with all the power in the world would still let bad things happen in it. Today in Jeremiah 47-49 we see this thinking deployed in prophecies against numerous nations, especially Moab.
Chapters 47 and 49 briefly outline divine judgment against a variety of ancient Near Eastern cultures: Philistines, Ammon, Edom (ancestrally related to Jacob’s twin brother Esau), Damascus, Kedar, Hazor and Elam. We know virtually nothing of these last three nations, but their hardships in resisting the crusading Babylonians are interpreted as God’s punishment for various sins. Moab though, in Jeremiah 48, receives the most extended critique. The Moabites lived opposite the territory of Judah, on the other side of the slender north-south Dead Sea. Throughout the theological history we read earlier in Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, the Moabites emerge as something like loathsome stepchildren to the Hebrew people. They share close connections and sometimes collaborate in mutual defense, but Moabites were also regarded with high suspicion. (This is why Ruth’s identity as a Moabite woman, the great-grandmother of King David, is such a big deal.) Here we see an entire long chapter given over to rhetorically eviscerating Moab. Jeremiah leaves little to the imagination in how Moab will be destroyed. Even the Moabite God Chemosh and his priests will be exiled. Interestingly, the writer makes a connection that the same thing will befall Moab as came upon Israel, because they trusted in “Bethel, their confidence” (the rival sanctuary to Jerusalem was set up in Bethel), just as Moab trusts in Chemosh. After the Babylonian invasion even the land will be salted, a sign of utter destruction. It’s been said that family know how to hurt the worst, and here the familial connections between Judah and Moab might underlie this prophetic denunciation.
However, there’s another sign of closeness and favor we mustn’t miss as we read through these chapters. Notice the sense that God laments for Moab, and the interesting promise at the end of chapter 48 that God will not abandon Moab entirely, but lead to Moab’s rebuilding. This promise is also given to two other nations: Ammon and Elam. What’s with that? A strictly historical response would suggest that these prophecies were written well after Babylon conquered its neighbors, so long after that the author had observed how it all turned out. But I also want to see in this a kernel of theological promise. The God who could visit righteous judgment on “the enemy” (and on the “chosen people” as well) nevertheless has a divine ability to find redemption for the opposing side, such that even enemies are beloved by God and destined for redemption. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 50-51. Thanks for reading!