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Jeremiah 20:7-18 – Jeremiah’s Final Lament

Summary

Jeremiah's most poignant lament is related to personal questions about his calling, particularly in view of the people's rejection of his words.

Analysis

Some interpreters think that this lament is so filled with anguish because the prophet deeply identifies with his people in their anticipated destruction. But the text does not speak so about the people. Indeed, he fervently prays that God's judgment will be quickly forthcoming on the whole lot of them for their opposition and persecution (explicit in 20:1-6 and elsewhere). Jeremiah's anguish is better related to the nature of his calling and his sense of being torn between God and people.

Especially troubling to readers is Jeremiah's claim that God has seduced him (20:7). Some think that his anguish is related to the absence of a positive response of the people to his preaching. Yet, given his uncompromising word about the stubbornness of the people and the certain judgment, it seems unlikely that he expected such a positive response. More basically, his lament relates to his sense of entrapment between an overpowering word from an insistent God and a stubborn and derisive people. He feels squeezed between them and complains about the sheer difficulty in being placed by God in what turned out to be an impossible position. Jeremiah never suggests that the word he was called to preach was a false word. His sharp speaking to God is the type of honest and faithful interaction that God encourages in relationships (compare Abraham; Moses).

Jeremiah's lament does not stay focused on God, but moves quickly to the response his word has engendered and the oppressive position in which he finds himself. His real complaints are about his persecutors and he expresses confidence that God will deliver him from this situation. His last words (20:14-18), addressed to himself and not to God, express a strong wish that he had not been placed in this position. This language is not self-hatred or self-loathing, but related to his calling. Given what has happened, he wishes that he had not become a prophet and, given that he was chosen from the womb (1:5), that he had not been born at all. He would then have been spared the life of great hardship that he has had in his prophetic role.

Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jeremiah Denounces His Persecutors


7Lord, you have enticed me,
   and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
   and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
   everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
   I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
   a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
   or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering:
   ‘Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
   All my close friends
   are watching for me to stumble.
‘Perhaps he can be enticed,
   and we can prevail against him,
   and take our revenge on him.’
11 But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
   therefore my persecutors will stumble,
   and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
   for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonour
   will never be forgotten.
12Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
   you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
   for to you I have committed my cause.


13 Sing to the Lord;
   praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
   from the hands of evildoers.


14 Cursed be the day
   on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
   let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man
   who brought the news to my father, saying,
‘A child is born to you, a son’,
   making him very glad.
16 Let that man be like the cities
   that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
   and an alarm at noon,
17 because he did not kill me in the womb;
   so my mother would have been my grave,
   and her womb for ever great.
18 Why did I come forth from the womb
   to see toil and sorrow,
   and spend my days in shame?

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10 February 2011

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