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Jeremiah 4:11-28

Jeremiah 4:11-28
Background to the Book of Jeremiah:

Historical Background to the Book:
Jeremiah began his ministry in Jerusalem around 627 BCE and he witnessed the final years of Jerusalem before it fell to Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE. While there may be some dispute about the exact dating of his call that is what the author of the Book of Jeremiah wanted us to accept. Jeremiah was a young man who protested to God when he was called (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and who later made bitter lament to God about the way he was treated by colleagues. He came from a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, a few kilometre north of Jerusalem and formerly in the territory of Northern Israel.

He was well aware of the traditions from the northern tribes rather than the southern tradition as the prophet Isaiah. The king at the time of the first part of Jeremiah's prophecies was Josiah who had instituted reforms to purify the worship practices in 621 BCE. He did this by removing the local shrines and their sacrifices, outlawing the country Levites from presiding over sacrifices (at local shrines) and made Jerusalem the only place in which sacrifice could be made. Because the Levites gained their livelihood from this practice he made laws which dictated they had to be cared for by the local people (Deuteronomy 14:27-28). The reign of King Josiah was relatively peaceful from the ravages of the superpowers - Assyria, Babylon and Egypt which gave him the opportunity to instigate his reforms based on the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah got caught up in a war with Egypt in 609 BCE and was killed when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of the Assyrians in their last ditch stand against the upcoming power of Babylon (and was killed in battle in 609 BCE). The situation of Jerusalem rapidly deteriorated from this time with a quick turnover of kings and the continued rise of Babylon. Josiah's son Jehoahaz was sent in bonds to Egypt after three months. His brother Jehoiakim took the throne and from a vassal of Egypt he became a vassal of Babylon in 604 BCE. Jehoiakim died in 598 BCE (or assassinated) and his son Jehoiachin had been on the throne for three months when Nebuchadrezzar took Jerusalem in 597 BCE. He deported Jehoiachin, the Queen mother, state officials and took enormous booty including the temple vessels and treasures, but did not destroy the city or temple (Thompson: 24).

Jeremiah's preaching appears to indicate that the reforms had been unsuccessful because his preaching is calling the people back to faithful worship of Yahweh. He prophecies the impending fall of Jerusalem with all its horrific implications. The people refused to believe him because they thought that Jerusalem would always be safe, as indeed, Isaiah had told them 110 years previously. After 598 BCE Jeremiah suffered personally because he was prophesying exile for 70 years and this was an unpopular message. Zedekiah (uncle of Jehoiachin) supported rebellion against Babylon and Nebuchadrezzar came and destroyed Jerusalem after a terrible siege. The city was destroyed, including the temple and further officials taken into exile. The Governor set up by the Babylonians was assassinated in 582 BCE and further deportations occurred. Some Judeans fled to Egypt before the arrival of Nebuchadrezzar taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 42).

Literary Background to the Book:
We don't know the precise process whereby the book was formed from the oral traditions into the final form we have now. It appears to be in blocks of material which are deliberately structured to reinforce the message. Chapters 1-29 depict the divine judgement on Judah and Jeremiah's controversy with false prophets: chapters 30-33 make up the Book of Consolation: chapters 34-45 depict events around the fall of Jerusalem: chapters 46-51 contain the oracles against the nations and the final chapter parallels 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 which tells us about the final fall of Jerusalem.

The Greek translation of the Book of Jeremiah is shorter by one seventh which is unusual as the Greek translations are usually longer. The Hebrew and Greek translations were both circulating in Israel at the time of the Qumran community ( ). Whether there was a shorter Hebrew version which is now represented by the Greek and this was later expanded into the Hebrew edition of the Book is a matter of some debate. The arrangement of the blocks of material are different in each edition with the Oracles against the Nations to be found in the Greek edition in chapters 26-32. The Greek edition names Jeremiah as the prophet four times whereas the Hebrew edition names Jeremiah as the prophet thirty times.

The book is a mixture of poetry and prose. It appears to many scholars that much of the prose is preaching on aspects of Jeremiah's oracles from the poetry. This preaching has many similarities to the theology and language used by the Deuteronomistic writers. Whether the Deuteronomists took Jeremiah's oracles and use them as a basis for preaching God's word to a later situation we can never be certain. However, the message and language of the prose sections are compatible with Deueteronomic thought. For example, the message to the exiles was the need to believe in the true prophets like Jeremiah. He is held up as an excellent example. Another message was to explain that they were in exile was because they had been disobedient and therefore lost the land. Yahweh had been faithful to them and they had failed to keep their side of the covenant as depicted in Exodus 19.

Context of Jeremiah 4:11-28
This reading comes after the section 2:1 -4:4, which speaks of the people's indictment for unfaithfulness and a call to repentance. It uses images of adultery which accuses Israel of betrayal compared with the faithfulness of God towards God's people. Judah is portrayed as much worse than Israel because Israel had been lost to the Assyrians and surely Judah could see her fate would be the same. If Judah would just repent and return to worship God faithfully, then Yahweh would restore Jerusalem to its former glory. The call to repent is repeated using various images and immediately prior to our Lectionary reading Jeremiah suggests that God has deceived the people saying, 'It shall be well with you; whereas the sword has reached their very life' (Jer 4:10).

The verses following the Lectionary reading return to the imagery of Israel as a harlot who in the midst of the desolation thinks it is possible to still attract lovers. Jer 4 finishes this chapter with the the call of a woman in childbirth seeking help, which in this case will be Jerusalem seeking help from those who plunder and murder her. Jerusalem will be spared this fate if Israel can find one man who does justice and seek truth.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah4:11-28: 
Literary structure:
The verses chosen use strong images of nature and earth to convey the terrible destruction which will come after an invading army has taken the land. The verses omitted from the lectionary speak of the besiegers who are coming and it is the people who have brought this on themselves - it is a consequence of their unfaithfulness. The prophet shares something of his anguish because the people will not heed the words of God which he proclaims (vv.19-22). It is a personal response to the public declaration in vv.11-18. ( Brueggemann: 56).

The language in vv.23-28 echoes Gen 1-2 which will now be the reverse of creation and become uncreation. So the judgement will be like the chaos before creation came into being by the action of God. The fruitful land which was promised to the people of Israel will become the opposite - a desert. The word of God which spoke creation into being in Gen 1 will now speak the word of judgement and can be relied on because God has willed it to happen. The fourfold 'I looked' at the beginning of vv.23-26 emphases the scene of devastation which greets the prophet's eyes on every side. The visual impact of vv.22-28 are quite extraordinary and within them is one little ray of hope - 'yet I will not make a full end' (v.27b). As in many places in the Hebrew Scriptures there are voices which contradict each other. We read of the possibility of repentance (Jer 3:11-12), of total destruction (Jer 4:23-26), of hope (Jer 3:15-18), all within a couple of chapters. Some want to explain this by later composers who understand the Word preached to a new situation. Whatever the reason, we have to accept that there is diversity in the Scriptures. Indeed, it can be likened to post-modern writing which doesn't necessarily follow logical sequence, but as in Jer 4 builds up metaphor after metaphor. Brueggemann says that 'no logical coherence is intended', however they all 'point to a stunning assertion that death is coming to Jerusalem soon' (57). The call to repent has been given several times and from our reading the people have chosen to ignore it therefore ... .

Message / Theology:
The anguish of the prophet appears to mirror the anguish of God which cannot believe the people are bent on self-destruction. I can't help feeling this must the case today as we watch our world bent on self-destruction because of our greed and the consequences of our actions. The consequences depicted in the world of the Hebrew Scriptures is that God will be the agent which brings an enemy down on Israel. Our world view of God has changed and we know that judgement is the consequences of our actions which are often not for the benefit of others, but to maintain a life style which destroys others in the world. In that time the growing strength and power of the Babylonians was clear to see and Jeremiah was very concerned that Judah - what was left of it - would suffer the same fate as the Northern Kingdom in 721 BCE. His message was based on the understanding that God would prevent this fate if the people repented and were faithful to Yahweh. We don't know if this would have been the case because the reality was the overthrow of Judah and their march into exile in 597, 587 aand 582 BCE. Later in the Book of Jeremiah the promises of God come to the fore and we read of the new covenant which will be written on the hearts of the people and there will be a remnant which will return.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 15:1-10, picks the same message as in Ezekiel 34:11-16 in which the prophet condemns the shepherds/leaders because they show little justice or compassion instead striving after power. Jesus follows in the shoes of the prophets who preach cobnstantly against corrupt leaders who are failing to lead the people in the right direction. The Pharisees are likened to the shepherds of Ezekiel 34.

Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 4:11-28
I think it would be helpful to say a little about the context of this reading and help people to see the way the vv.23-26 depict the return of the creation to chaos. Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 4:11-28
The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Jeremiah

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming. Cambridge: W.B.Eerdmans, 1998.
Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1986.
Clements, R. E. Jeremiah. Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Holladay,William L. Jeremiah 1 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 1-25. Herm. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
---. Jeremiah 2 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 26-52. Herm. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
Keown,Gerald L. Jeremiah 26-52. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1995.
Jones, Douglas Rawlinson. Jeremiah. NCB. [London]: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 1992.
McKane, William. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 1, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah I-XXV. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986.
---. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 2, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah XXVI-LII. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996.
Miller, Patrick D. The Book of Jeremiah. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001
Thompson, John A. The Book of Jeremiah. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1980.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989
Web sites with helpful lectionary resources:

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