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Old Testament: Jeremiah

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Summary

Blossoming Almond Tree

The book of Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible (in terms of words and verses), and it is certainly one of the most complex. The nature of its structure and flow of thought are sharply disputed among scholars, evidence that the book does not lend itself well to summary statements. Jeremiah is a prophetic book that reports the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel both before (primarily) and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. The preaching of Jeremiah speaks sharp words of indictment and judgment to an idolatrous people. Initially Jeremiah speaks in the hope that they will turn from their wicked ways, but in the wake of a lack of repentance the prophet portrays an inevitable judgment. Jeremiah also speaks words of hope, but recognizes that such a hopeful future will be realized only on the far side of the fall of Jerusalem. The book, however, is concerned not only to report the prophet's preaching, but also to speak a word of God to a people that has already experienced horrendous hardships in the fall of Jerusalem.

So What?

Jeremiah is unique in the extent to which it integrates prophetic preaching and the life and times of the prophet. The book thereby enables readers to make explicit connections between the word of God and actual life situations into which that word is addressed. The range of the book's reflection on the human condition and God, especially the judgment of God, continues to challenge those who would speak more narrowly of who God is and what God is about in the world. The laments, indeed the tears of both prophet and God, bear witness to the closeness of the relationship between God and people and also confront those who think that God is distant, aloof, and impassible. Jeremiah's unique "new covenant" language has left an indelible promissory mark on the larger biblical collection.

Where Do I Find It?

Jeremiah is the twenty-fourth book of the Bible, the second of the major prophets, sandwiched between Isaiah and Ezekiel (with Lamentations intervening).

Who Wrote It?

Traditionally, Jeremiah has been considered the author of the book. Over the course of two centuries and more, the question of authorship has been seen to be more complex. While the book probably has a major collection of Jeremiah's preaching, it is now usually understood to be the product of a long growth of development in which many authors/editors have had an important role, especially Jeremiah's secretary, Baruch.

When Was It Written?

Jeremiah came into being over the course of half a century or so. It was probably completed sometime during the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.E.), though some consider the editing of the book to have continued even later.

What's It About?

The book is concerned with the ministry of the prophet Jeremiah before and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (587 B.C.E.). That ministry is basically concerned with preaching the word of God to that situation, but the prophet's personal life and the times in which he lived play a significant role in mediating the word of God to readers.

How Do I Read It?

Remember that the original audience for the book of Jeremiah is fundamentally different from the audience for the preaching of Jeremiah (even if some people were a part of both audiences). Readers of the book (and from every subsequent generation) are to hear Jeremiah's life and words not so much as past event, but as present word of God to them. Take especially into account the type of literature contained therein, especially its poetry and its prose. Recall that this literature centers on God's indictment of people's lives, the announcement of judgment, and, on the far side of disaster, a word of promise.

AUTHOR: Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament

1. The Call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1-19)
Jeremiah is called by God to be a prophet to the nations.


2. Indictment for Infidelity and Call to Repentance (Jeremiah 2:1-4:4)
Israel's apostasy is detailed, and the people are called to repentance.


3. God Will Not Turn Back (Jeremiah 4:5-6:30)

God's judgment on Israel is pronounced and will certainly come to pass.


4. The Temple Sermon (Jeremiah 7:1-8:3)
The prophet publicly announces, in a temple setting, that a horrific judgment on Israel is now inevitable.


5. Judgment and Tears (Jeremiah 8:4-10:25)
Interwoven with words of judgment against Israel are the tears of the prophet and of God.


6. Laments of Jeremiah and God (Jeremiah 11:1-20:18)
A series of six laments by Jeremiah is portrayed because of his suffering as the bearer of the word of God. They are interwoven with divine laments over the disastrous judgment that Israel experiences.


7. Indictment of Israel's Leadership (Jeremiah 21:1-23:40)

The prophet indicts Israel's kings and false prophets for their part in what the people of God have become.


8. Vision of the Good and Bad Figs (Jeremiah 24:1-10)

The prophet is shown a vision that makes a sharp distinction between the Israelites in exile (good figs) and those who remain in the land (bad figs). The future of Israel lies with the exiles.


9. Summary Judgments against the Nations (Jeremiah 25:1-38)
Beginning with a summary of Jeremiah's message (25:1-14), an announcement of divine judgment against various nations is introduced (25:15-38). This section may originally have introduced the specific oracles against the nations in Jeremiah 46-51.


10. Jeremiah in Controversy (Jeremiah 26:1-29:32)
A series of sermons and letters raises issues of true and false prophecy and brings Jeremiah into sharp contention with people, king, and prophet.


11. The Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30:1-33:26)

Jeremiah preaches a series of hopeful oracles, promising the restoration of Israel, but only on the far side of judgment.


12. Announcements of Judgment to Zedekiah and Israel and a Commendation of the Rechabites (Jeremiah 34:1-35:19)

Examples of faithfulness and unfaithfulness are offered as illustrations of the situation in Jerusalem prior to the fall of Jerusalem.


13. The Scrolls of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:1-32)
God calls for Jeremiah's preaching to be written down, and the initial responses to that document, especially by the king, are described.


14. The "Baruch Narrative" (Jeremiah 37:1-45:5)
This long prose narrative, probably written by Jeremiah's secretary Baruch, chronicles the ministry of Jeremiah in the last days before the destruction of Jerusalem and during its immediate aftermath.


15. The Oracles against the Nations (Jeremiah 46:1-51:64)

Jeremiah announces a word from God regarding the following nations in Israel's geographical context: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam, and Babylon.


16. The Fall of Jerusalem and Its Aftermath (Jeremiah 52:1-34)

This historical appendix provides information regarding the fall of Jerusalem, concluding with a brief, positive account regarding the situation of Israel in exile.

AUTHOR: Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament

The book has its beginnings in the preaching of Jeremiah to the people of Israel during the period from 627 B.C.E. to shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. This preaching is especially associated with the unfaithfulness of the people, which manifested itself in idolatry, social injustice, and other forms of disloyalty to their God. In view of this unfaithfulness, Israel was threatened by foreign enemies, particularly the Babylonians, who are understood as God's agents of judgment on the people and are finally responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and the exiling of many Israelites to Babylonia. The book is unusual in that it not only transmits Jeremiah's preaching, but also describes many of the twists and turns of the life of the prophet during the course of his ministry.

The book itself comes into being over the course of some twenty years. The initial writing takes place at the command of God in 605 B.C.E., the fourth year of King Jehoiakim (36:1-3). The resultant scroll contains Jeremiah's preaching from the period 627-605 B.C.E. and consists of a major portion of Jeremiah 2:1-25:13, much of which is poetry. This timing is associated with the emergence of Babylonian dominance in that region and the threat to Israel.

The timing of the writing of other portions of the book is uncertain. Some smaller written segments by Jeremiah are noted in Jeremiah 29:1, 30-32; 30:2; 51:60-63. Jeremiah's secretary Baruch, who transcribed the initial scroll, is also thought to have written the major portion of Jeremiah 37-45. The final form of the book is the product of unknown editors sometime during the Babylonian exile. Their purpose was to recast the preaching and ministry of Jeremiah in such a way as to address the hardships that had been and continued to be experienced by the exiles in Babylon. A complicating factor regarding the origins of Jeremiah is that the Septuagint of Jeremiah (the Greek translation of the book) is one-seventh shorter than the Hebrew version. This may mean that the Hebrew book of Jeremiah continued to develop for some time after the Greek translation was made.

AUTHOR: Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament

The audience of the preaching and the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah's ministry to the people of Israel took place over the course of some forty years, beginning in 627 B.C.E. and continuing through the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. We don't know the end-date of his ministry or his life, but Jeremiah 40-44 report some prophetic activity after the fall. Many texts give us examples of this preaching, particularly in Jeremiah 1-20. But the audience for this preaching is different from the audience of the book (with some overlap), which is "finished" by other editors/authors sometime after his death. The date of the completion of the book is not known, but at least one major edition was addressed to the exiles in Babylon (see 1:3) and they are a "new audience" for the earlier words of the prophet.


The Babylonians. The Babylonians are the dominant foreign power during much of Jeremiah's ministry and play a prominent role in the book. The Assyrians had dominated the region during the seventh century B.C.E., but were defeated by the Babylonians at the battle of Nineveh (612 B.C.E.). Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne of Babylon in 605 B.C.E., and he set his sights on further conquests. Babylon defeated Egypt and its allies at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.E. and secured control of the region, including Israel. When King Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylonian rule in 601 B.C.E., Babylon moved against Jerusalem, which fell in 597 B.C.E., and put Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, on the throne. Zedekiah also rebelled against Babylon, despite Jeremiah's counsel, and Babylon responded by razing the city and the temple, humiliating the Davidic king, and sending many Israelites into exile (587 B.C.E.). Babylon appointed a leading Judean citizen, Gedaliah, to govern Judah; but within a few years anti-Babylonian zealots assassinated Gedaliah, and more Judeans were exiled to Babylon (approximately 582 B.C.E.). Other Judeans, ignoring Jeremiah's counsel, migrated to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them (40:7-44:30). Jeremiah apparently died in Egypt.


The Book of Consolation. Jeremiah 30-33 (some include only chapters 30-31) is often referred to as the Book of Consolation. Written in both poetry and prose, the oracles announce God's future restoration of Israel, and the narratives are a concrete symbolization of God's new possibilities for Israel. That these materials are included at this point in the text is something of a puzzle, but may be an indication that even in the midst of the certain judgment to come, God's saving will was at work on behalf of the people of God. The oracles are usually placed in the second person direct address. As such, they become a very personal word from God to a people who are enduring deep suffering.


The book's rhetorical strategy. As noted, the book of Jeremiah is addressed to the exiles in Babylon in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem. The book is thus addressed to the people of God at a time when they have been traumatized by these disastrous events. The book is most basically concerned to address itself in as forthright a way as possible to these survivors. It seeks to use the heritage of Jeremiah to address ongoing personal, spiritual, and religious needs of a devastated and questioning community. Their most compelling question is one that regularly punctuates the text (for example, 5:19; 9:12; 13:22; 14:19; 16:10; 22:8): "Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through?" (9:12). The book stakes a theological claim that these events occurred not because Israel's God was incompetent or uncaring, but because the people of God were unfaithful. The intended effect is to bring to the shamed and hurting exiles a clear word about the kind of God who has been active among them, a God who will, finally, make all things new. To that end, language is used in a starkly realistic way, through the use of vivid portrayals, piercing images, and harsh, outrageous metaphors. This language is used especially to highlight the people's infidelity and to depict the horrendous judgment through which they have passed. The suffering of the people is fully recognized. But because of the suffering of God in and through their experiences, their tears will not have the last word.


The call of Jeremiah as literary convention. The report of the call of Jeremiah is outlined in ways similar to other divine calls (for example, Moses in Exodus 3; Isaiah 6). The common elements in the calls include: the divine encounter (Jeremiah 1:4); the introductory word (1:5a); the commission (1:5b, 10); the objection (1:6); the divine reassurance (1:7-8); the sign (1:9-10, 11-16). The "objection" component is important, not least because it helps readers to see that, though Jeremiah was called by God from his mother's womb, the call was still able to be resisted (see also 20:7-8).


The formation of the book of Jeremiah. The formation of the book of Jeremiah has been the subject of considerable debate. Scholars generally agree that the book achieved its present form over an extended period of time, continuing beyond the time of Jeremiah himself, but the details are disputed.


Several prominent sources have been suggested: the poetic oracles, especially in Jeremiah 2-25; the prose accounts of the ministry of Jeremiah, especially chapters 26-29 and 34-45; various editorial reworkings. The formation of the book has been described as "a rolling corpus" (William McKane, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986] vol. 1, p. 1). That is, a nucleus of basic texts has been built up over time by other texts, at each stage of which further reflections are generated. This process was somewhat haphazard, with the result that clarity and coherence are not always present.


The Greek translation of Jeremiah. An especially striking characteristic of Jeremiah is the significant difference between the Septuagint (or LXX, the Greek translation) and the original Hebrew. The LXX is one-seventh shorter than the Hebrew; the latter has 3,097 words that the LXX does not have, while the LXX has 307 words that the Hebrew does not have. The LXX has the same number of chapters, but they are somewhat differently arranged; the most striking is that Jeremiah 46-51 in the Hebrew is placed after 25:13a in the LXX (and in a different order). The LXX normally expands on the Hebrew text in the Old Testament, but not in Jeremiah. This suggests to many scholars that the LXX was an earlier version of Jeremiah and not a later shortened version. This may mean that the LXX translation took place before the book had been completed, but it is difficult to say.


Jeremiah and Baruch. Jeremiah is the only prophet who has a personal secretary and companion. We know little about him, however. Baruch is given an explicit role in the transmission of Jeremiah's oracles (see 36:4, 32). Baruch is often given a considerable role in the composition of other parts of the book, especially those prose sections that portray Jeremiah's activities (see 36-45), but this is speculative. Jeremiah does speak a specific word of the Lord to Baruch in Jeremiah 45. Later Jewish literature develops the relationship between Jeremiah and Baruch (see the deuterocanonical book Baruch), and some tendency exists to read that later material back into the life of Jeremiah.


Jeremiah and its readers. Texts are not autonomous, independent of those who read them, nor can they communicate without a reader. So, to at least some degree, meaning is not simply found in the mind of the author, nor is it inherent in the text. The meaning of the text is the result of the conversation between the text and its readers. As a result, no single meaning is available in any text; indeed, meaning changes over time, even for the same reader, because readers change. Meanings of texts, then, will always be open-ended to some degree; they are not fixed and stable. At the same time, while the texts can mean many things, they cannot mean anything. Constraints on meaning possibilities exist; these include the text itself, historical background information, and the many and diverse communities within which readers and texts reside.


Jeremiah and the theological task. The book of Jeremiah is filled with theological reflection, that is, reflections about God and the divine-human relationship. The word "theology" for what the Bible contains has been suspect in scholarly circles, not least because that word is thought to introduce subjective factors into an "objective" or "descriptive" enterprise. But it has increasingly been evident that every reader of the text, from whatever angle, introduces subjective factors into biblical study, whether admitted or not. At best, one might attempt a relatively objective approach. Theological analysis is not innately any more subjective than historical or literary study. In view of such analysis, most scholars recognize that it is no longer appropriate to distinguish between what the text meant and what the text means. All questions asked of the text are contemporary questions, and all results of our work are, finally, constructive.


Jeremiah in other ancient literature. The tradition of Jeremiah as a "weeping prophet" is reinforced by 2 Chronicles 35:25 and the introduction to the book of Lamentations in the Septuagint, which ascribes that book to Jeremiah. Several apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books imagine varying accounts of his ministry (for example, Baruch; the Letter of Jeremiah; 2 Maccabees; 2-4 Baruch). Jeremiah is mentioned in the New Testament only in Matthew (2:17; 16:14; 27:9). Citations of Jeremiah in the New Testament are relatively infrequent. The most famous uses of Jeremiah are the references to the new covenant (1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Hebrews 8:8-12; 10:16-17), after which the New Testament derives its name.


Jeremiah's laments. Six texts in Jeremiah 11-20 have been identified as the laments or "confessions" of Jeremiah. They usually include 11:18-20; 12:1-4; 15:10, 15-18; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13, 14-18 (other texts also have been so designated, for example, 4:19-22; 8:18-9:1). These blunt and intense laments belong to the same genre as many lament psalms (for example, Psalm 13). These texts are grounded in the personal prayers of Jeremiah. They reflect Jeremiah's calling to be a spokesman of God to a people antagonistic to such a word and to the one who bears that word. These prayers reveal how he feels in being squeezed between an insistent God and a resistant people.


Luther on Jeremiah. Martin Luther already recognized the complexity of the formation of the book of Jeremiah. His preface to the book includes these comments: "So, it seems as though Jeremiah did not compose these books himself, but that the parts were taken piecemeal from his utterances and written into a book. For this reason one must not worry about the order or be hindered by the lack of it" (Luthers Works, 35:280-281).


The portrayal of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is unique with respect to the amount of material that speaks about the prophet's personal journey. At the same time, the book betrays no interest in giving readers a biography of the prophet (witness the lack of reference to his birth and death). Considerable scholarly disagreement exists regarding the extent to which the book's portrayal corresponds to reality. Some scholars think the book narrates the story of the prophet in a relatively straightforward way. Others think that the portrayal of the prophet has been idealized, with only shadowy links to historical reality. Most scholars find their way between these two poles. The book presents us with both a powerful personality and an interpretation of his person and ministry. The result is that Jeremiah emerges as both more than and less than the actual historical prophet. All personal matters about the prophet are not presented for biographical purposes, but are in the service of the word of God that the book puts forward for its readers.


The speaker of Jeremiah. Sometimes Jeremiah speaks in the first person, as in his call (1:4, 11). At other times, the story is about Jeremiah, presented in the third person, especially in the last half of the book (see, for example, 25:1; 27:1). Jeremiah's secretary Baruch is often thought to be responsible for the third person narrative. At other times, readers cannot clearly sort out whether it is God or Jeremiah who is speaking (4:19-22; 8:18-9:3).


The structure of Jeremiah. The structure of the book of Jeremiah is something of a puzzle, not least because of the inconsistent chronological ordering of materials (for example, 21:1-2 is dated around 588 B.C.E.; 24:1 then is dated in 597 B.C.E.; 25:1 then jumps back to 605 B.C.E.). It is probably best to divide Jeremiah into two major blocks of materials (chapters 2-24 and 26-51, with chapter 25 a hinge), with an introductory and a concluding chapter. The first half of the book emphasizes judgment (though promise themes are present); the last half stresses salvation. Scholars sharply disagree regarding the flow of thought within these two halves of the book. In any case, the book does not present a single argument in any usual sense or a clear historical development; it might be best to think of a kaleidoscopic or impressionistic portrayal of this highly conflicted time of Israel's life and thought.

AUTHOR: Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament

The anger of God. God's wrath is a strong feature in the book of Jeremiah. In a basic sense, the theme of wrath reveals that God is affected by what people do and responds to what they have said and done from within the relationship. It is important to understand that the divine wrath is contingent and not an essential characteristic or attribute of God. God's anger is "provoked" (see 8:19; 11:17; 25:6-7; 32:29-32; 44:3, 8). If there were no sin, there would be no divine wrath. Indeed, Israel itself is to blame for the sufferings it has had to experience, not God. Moreover, God's tears always accompany divine anger (see, for example, 8:18-9:1); the harsh words that are conveyed are not accompanied by an inner harshness. God's wrathful response to Israel's unfaithfulness is, finally, in the service of the best possible future for Israel; through judgment they are refined and renewed in their relationship with God. God's promises will prevail through every disaster.


Creation. Creation in Jeremiah is most fundamentally the activity of God in bringing the cosmos into being and includes both originating and continuing creative activity. Such an understanding grounds God's call to Jeremiah as "a prophet to the nations" (1:5, 10) as well as the variety of ways in which the nations become the subject of various oracles (25; 46-51). Creation also includes the activity of creatures (human and nonhuman) in and through which God works to create in ever new ways, even among the exiles in a foreign land (29:5-14).


Divine freedom. Certainly God is free to enter into judgment against God's own people (and others). At the same time, God's freedom cannot be maintained in an unqualified way for Jeremiah. The immense agony of God over what has happened with the people demonstrates that God is not truly free of God's relationship with Israel. If God were truly free of Israel, God would just get up and leave. But God has made significant commitments to this people, and God is bound to be faithful to promises made. Such promises limit the divine options. God is truly limited by promises made, for God will be faithful to them.


Divine presence. For Jeremiah, God is not a God who is aloof and distant, but one who is near at hand, present and active in the lives of peoples and nations. That God "fills heaven and earth" (23:24) is a claim that God's relationship with the world is comprehensive in scope, present not only to Israel, but to all peoples. Other Old Testament texts will fill out what it means for the world to be filled with God; the world is also full of the steadfast love of God (Psalm 33:5; 119:64) and the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3). God is a part of the map of reality and is always relational, indeed lovingly relational to all that is not God. Wherever there is world, there is God. To say that the world is filled with the love of God means that God's presence is not static or passive or indifferent. God is not simply here and there; God is always lovingly at work in every nook and cranny of the universe.


Eating the word of God. Because Jeremiah is called by God from the womb, being a prophet defines his person from the very beginning of his life; it is the very essence of his being. He is called not only to be a certain kind of speaker, but a certain kind of person. Hence, he no longer has a private life he can call his own (see 16:1-9). This point is reinforced by God's placing the word directly into Jeremiah's mouth (1:9-10; 15:17); the word is transferred directly into his bodily self (comparably, Ezekiel 2:8-3:3). Jeremiah thus ingests the word of God; the word of God is thereby enfleshed in the very being of the prophet. You are what you eat! Jeremiah is embodied word of God.


False prophecy. Conflict among prophets, often mentioned in Jeremiah, was a common phenomenon in Israel, especially in the decades leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. Various criteria were apparently used to distinguish true prophets from false prophets. Examples include: their worship of false gods, including Baal; false claims to have received a word from God; to have had visions and dreams; immorality; absence from the council of the Lord (see especially 23:9-40; 27-28). Yet, these are not sure-fire criteria, not least because they cannot be publicly demonstrated. Even so, issues of discernment regarding the truth or falsehood of a word from God remain important. The community of faith is called to be vigilant and always to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1).


The future and divine foreknowledge. Jeremiah contains several texts with an "either-or" form of address. Jeremiah 22:1-5 may be used as an example (see also 21:8-10; 38:17-18; 42:9-17). Two specific possibilities are open to the king and the people, depending upon the justice of their activities, according to the command of the Lord (22:3). For each of these options to have integrity, God cannot know for sure what will in fact happen--at least at the time this oracle was delivered. If God knows for certain that the negative future will occur, then for God to offer the positive future would be a deception. The latter is a possibility, but in the absence of some indication that this is the case, it seems unlikely; all of God's words regarding the future would then be potentially untrustworthy. The options offered to people and king are genuine, and it seems that God moves into a future that is somewhat unknown. The future depends to some extent on what the people do regarding issues of justice (in modern terms, think in terms of the care of the environment).


God. God is the primary character in the book of Jeremiah. Virtually every characteristic of God that is found in the Old Testament is found here. God is seen to be present and active, among both chosen and nonchosen peoples, from the beginning of the book and throughout. God's activity is often depicted in terms of wrath and judgment. Yet, God's work is always seen as purposive, directed toward objectives that are in the best interests of individuals and peoples involved, indeed the entire creation. God's promises are spoken in the very midst of judgment and assure God's people that they have a future.


God's use of human agents. A characteristic theological feature of Jeremiah is God's action in Israel's history in and through agents, especially human agents. Babylon is the most prominent agent used by God, especially in the judgment of Israel. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar is called God's servant (25:9; 27:6; 43:10)! The coalescence of God's actions and those of Babylon/Nebuchadnezzar is common throughout the book. Indeed, God and Babylon will often be the subject of the same verbs, even violent verbs. For example, God will not pity or spare or have compassion (13:14), language that is also used to describe Babylon (21:7). Language regarding divine activity is thus conformed to the language of God's agents. This use of language makes clear that God is not the only effective agent in the judgment of Israel. Moreover, God will not micromanage the activities of the agents; they can and do exceed the divine mandate (25:12-14).


Heschel on the wrath of God. For the prophets, according to Abraham Heschel, "the wrath of God is a lamentation. All prophecy is one great exclamation; God is not indifferent to evil! He is always concerned. He is personally affected by what man does to man [sic!]. He is a God of pathos. This is one of the meanings of the anger of God: the end of indifference! The message of wrath is frightful indeed. But for those who have been driven to the brink of despair by the sight of what malice and ruthlessness can do, comfort will be found in the thought that evil is not the end….Man's sense of injustice is a poor analogy to God's sense of injustice. The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God's reaction is something no language can convey. Is it a sign of cruelty that God's anger is aroused when the rights of the poor are violated, when widows and orphans are oppressed?" (The Prophets [New York: Harper & Row, 1962] 284-285).


Jeremiah's use of sexual/marital imagery. Sexual/marital imagery is used in Jeremiah in troubling ways (3:1-5; 13:20-27; see also Hosea 1-3, probably a source for Jeremiah). In terms of the marital metaphor, Yahweh is the husband of Israel who has been betrayed by his wife, with all of the negative effects that that produces in the lives of those involved, including the life of God. Readers are invited to compare feelings they would have if their spouse proved unfaithful--anger, distress, frustration, and hurt--and think of a comparable effect that Israel's infidelity had on God.


Judgment as circumstantial will of God. Passages such as Jeremiah 26:3 and 36:3 make clear that two understandings of the will of God are present in these texts, one of which takes priority over the other. God does "intend" that the people experience the consequences of their wickedness. This mediation of sin's consequences might be termed the circumstantial will of God; it is God's will for them only in view of the specific circumstances that have developed. Judgment is not the primary will of God for the people: God desires the people's repentance so that God can change God's mind regarding the judgment. God prefers Israel's life to Israel's death, salvation instead of judgment. That this is God's absolute will comes into play again when God's promises are announced to those who have experienced judgment. God's primary will for life and salvation persists through the fires of judgment.


New covenant and old covenant. What are the differences between the new covenant and the Sinai covenant? The new covenant is grounded in a newly constitutive, salvific event, namely, the return from exile (see 16:14-15; 23:7-8). Moreover, the new covenant cannot be broken by either people or God; it is everlasting. Also, the new covenant has a unilateral character; the new covenant is sheer promise; it is not agreed to by the people. God alone assumes obligations to remain forever committed to this people, with attendant blessings, come what may. In addition, everyone in the community, from the least to the greatest, will know the Lord. Sin (and death, 31:30; see also Isaiah 65:20) will continue to be characteristic of their lives, but they will not have an "evil will" ever again, for God's forgiveness (independent of repentance?) will regularly take hold in their lives, and the past shall not be remembered.


A new heart that will never turn from God. God promises Israel that they will receive the gift of "one heart and one way" so that "they may not turn from me" (32:37-41). Indeed, God will do this "with all my heart and all my soul"! The accompanying promise regarding land assures that a disembodied spirituality is not in view (32:41-44). This new heart is sharply different from the old heart in that the people will not turn from God again, indeed they cannot turn from God. They will fear God "for all time" and will not "turn from me." This new creation differs from the old creation, wherein human beings were able to sin (and did). The new creation seems to yield human beings who will "not be able to sin" (also characteristic of Christian eschatology). Or, at least, in view of 31:30, sin in the sense of an evil will; perhaps sin as act is distinguished from sin as condition. It is clear that this text has not yet been fulfilled.


The pathos of God. The relational God of Jeremiah is not an aloof God, somehow present but detached. God is a God of great passion (pathos). The range of emotions shown by God in the book of Jeremiah is unparalleled in biblical literature: sorrow, lament, weeping, wailing, grief, pain, anguish, regret, heartache, anger, disappointment, and frustration are all evident. This anthropopathic language is truly revealing of the divine life, though God's emotions are unlike human emotions in many respects. For example, God is never out of control or embittered or immobilized or forgetful of divine commitments. Yet, this God is in a genuine relationship with the people of Israel, engages in genuine interaction with them, and is affected deeply by what happens in this engagement.


Relationality. God is a relational God, present and active in the world, who enters into a relationship with the prophet, the people, and an interrelated world. The world is envisaged as a giant spider web in which the movement of any entity affects the entire web, with human beings having the greatest potential effect. The relationship between God and world is a living and dynamic reality (more comprehensive than covenant), within which both parties are affected by the realities of genuine interrelatedness over time.


Sin and judgment. Sin and judgment are remarkably common themes in the book. The relationship between them is conceived in intrinsic rather than forensic terms. As such, judgment may be defined as the divinely mediated consequences of sin. This understanding may be observed in formulations such as "the fruit of their schemes" (6:19; see 14:16; 17:10; 32:19). Like fruit, the consequences grow out of the deed itself; they are not imposed by God from without (as, for example, a penalty). It is thus wise not to refer to such judgments as punishments (for which there is no Hebrew word, in any case); rather, judgment refers to the natural consequences of sin that are integral to God's creational moral order, an order which God continues to mediate.

AUTHOR: Terence E. Fretheim, Elva B. Lovell Professor of Old Testament

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