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Jeremiah 14:1-15:9 – Repentance That Comes Too Late

Summary

The people of Israel openly confess their sins to God (14:7, 20), but it comes too late to have a positive effect on their future.

Analysis

This text is dialogical in character, with contributions from people (14:7-9, 19-22), prophet (14:13), and God (14:1-6, 10-12, 14-18; 15:1-9). It is dominated by laments from all three principals. The people confess their sins, but it makes no difference with regard to their situation! Some scholars suggest that the people's prayers were insincere, but there is no specific evidence in the text for such an understanding. A more helpful way into the text is to recognize that, whether the people's prayers were sincere or not, they were too late. The disastrous situation was too far along for anything (including prayers) to stop it. Like a boat just above a waterfall, there comes a point when it will go over, come what may. The only future for this people was on the far side of disaster.

Prayers, even if sincere, are not necessarily efficacious. This point does not suggest, however, that only God's will was at work in this situation. People's prayers are never offered in isolation from other factors at work in a given situation (social, medical, individual, and communal history). These factors have an effect on the situation and will shape the efficacy of the prayers offered, even ways in which God is able to be involved. The effect of the sins of the people had been so pervasive that the situation could not be turned around. Even by God!

The force of these verses is that nothing can stop the destruction of Israel: not religious or political leaders, not sacrificial acts, not intercessions (to which God will refuse to listen, 14:11; see also 7:16; 11:14), or confessions of sin, or professions of faith, not even sincere lamentation. It is too late!

Jeremiah 14:1-15:9

The Great Drought

14The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:
2 Judah mourns
   and her gates languish;
they lie in gloom on the ground,
   and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
3 Her nobles send their servants for water;
   they come to the cisterns,
they find no water,
   they return with their vessels empty.
They are ashamed and dismayed
   and cover their heads,
4 because the ground is cracked.
   Because there has been no rain on the land
the farmers are dismayed;
   they cover their heads.
5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
   because there is no grass.
6 The wild asses stand on the bare heights,*
   they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
   because there is no herbage.


7 Although our iniquities testify against us,
   act, O Lord, for your name’s sake;
our apostasies indeed are many,
   and we have sinned against you.
8 O hope of Israel,
   its saviour in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
   like a traveller turning aside for the night?
9 Why should you be like someone confused,
   like a mighty warrior who cannot give help?
Yet you, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
   and we are called by your name;
   do not forsake us!


10 Thus says the Lord concerning this people:
Truly they have loved to wander,
   they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the Lord does not accept them,
   now he will remember their iniquity
   and punish their sins.

11 The Lord said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people. 12Although they fast, I do not hear their cry, and although they offer burnt-offering and grain-offering, I do not accept them; but by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence I consume them.

Denunciation of Lying Prophets

13 Then I said: ‘Ah, Lord God! Here are the prophets saying to them, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you true peace in this place.” 14And the Lord said to me: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name though I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come on this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16And the people to whom they prophesy shall be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword. There shall be no one to bury them—themselves, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their wickedness upon them.


17 You shall say to them this word:
Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
   and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter—my people—is struck down with a crushing blow,
   with a very grievous wound.
18 If I go out into the field,
   look—those killed by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
   look—those sick with* famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade throughout the land,
   and have no knowledge.

The People Plead for Mercy


19 Have you completely rejected Judah?
   Does your heart loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
   so that there is no healing for us?
We look for peace, but find no good;
   for a time of healing, but there is terror instead.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord,
   the iniquity of our ancestors,
   for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
   do not dishonour your glorious throne;
   remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Can any idols of the nations bring rain?
   Or can the heavens give showers?
Is it not you, O Lord our God?
   We set our hope on you,
   for it is you who do all this.

Punishment Is Inevitable

15Then the Lord said to me: Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn towards this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! 2And when they say to you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord:
Those destined for pestilence, to pestilence,
   and those destined for the sword, to the sword;
those destined for famine, to famine,
   and those destined for captivity, to captivity.
3And I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, says the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, and the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth to devour and destroy. 4I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what King Manasseh son of Hezekiah of Judah did in Jerusalem.


5 Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
   or who will bemoan you?
Who will turn aside
   to ask about your welfare?
6 You have rejected me, says the Lord,
   you are going backwards;
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
   I am weary of relenting.
7 I have winnowed them with a winnowing-fork
   in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them, I have destroyed my people;
   they did not turn from their ways.
8 Their widows became more numerous
   than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of youths
   a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
   fall upon her suddenly.
9 She who bore seven has languished;
   she has swooned away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
   she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
   before their enemies,

says the Lord.

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10 February 2011

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