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Jeremiah 29:1-7

Jeremiah 32:1-13

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  29:1-7
What is known as a "letter to the exiles" comes after chapters 26-28 in which Jeremiah is involved in controversy with various people in Jerusalem and immediately prior to the "The Book of Consolation" (Jer 30:1-33:26). The controversy began when Jeremiah preached a second time in the temple and priests, prophets and all the people threatened to kill Jeremiah (26:8). Even the Princes became involved and listened to the people's call for death but the elders prevailed and Jeremiah was spared. Jer 27 takes place in a different reign from the previous chapter. Zedekiah came to the throne after King Jehoiachin was taken into exile in 597. Jeremiah is instructed to put a cattle yoke around his neck and proclaim that Yahweh is the one who has given all the nations into the hands of Nebuchadrezzar and all people will serve the King of Babylon. Jeremiah tells the king the other prophets are telling lies and Jeremiah prophesies that there will be further deportation into Babylon including the remaining temple vessels. Jer 28 describes the confrontation between Hananiah who proclaims the direct opposite of Jeremiah. The letter in chapter 29 is a further example of Jeremiah going against the prevailing opinion when he tell the exiles to settle down in Babylon for a long stay. Immediately following the letter is "The Book of Consolation" suggests that the people are experiencing exile and the promise will restore them to the land of Judah. As part of this restoration God will make a new covenant with them - a covenant that is written on the hearts of the people (Jer 31:31-34). The promise at the end of Jer 31 declares they will never be overthrown again.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah  29:1-7
Literary structure:
The prose begins with the statement that what follows is a letter which was sent to the exiles in Babylon. There has been debate among scholars on the literary structure of this chapter and whether it is really a letter with the format of greeting, message, closing formula etc. Rather than argue the merits for or against it is better to accept the author's intention which is that we understand this to be a letter. We note the letter begins with the prophetic words, "Thus says the Lord" making it clear to the exiles that this is no ordinary letter (v.4). A second letter appears to be in response to Shemaiah (vv.30-32) because he has written from Babylon telling the priest to stop Jeremiah from writing to the exiles. Jeremiah then writes to Shemaiah who is portrayed as a false prophet. The Lectionary reading (vv.1-7) is part of the first letter in vv.1-23. The letter goes with the King's emissaries (v.3) and is to be read to elders, priests, the prophets and all the people. Although Jeremiah doesn't name the King in exile it is stated that he is there along with the Queen mother, princes and craftsmen. The commands, "to build, plant, take wives and multiply" all point to a settled existence for a considerable period of time.

Message / Theology:
The letter addresses issues raised in Jer 26-28, that is, the people in exile cannot expect an early return no matter what other prophets are saying. The people need to settle down and make a life for themselves in Babylon. The assumption is that God is present with them in exile (they are to pray in v.7) and they can expect to return after seventy years (v.10). Not only have they to settle down, but they are to seek the welfare of the Babylonian city in which they are living and they are to pray on its behalf. The welfare of the exiles and of their captors are bound together. Immediately after the command to pray in v.7 there is a warning not to listen to any false prophets. By the end of the chapter we know Shemaiah is acting in just such a role. Jeremiah has always seen the future of Israel was through those who went into exile (Brueggemann: 256). It is interesting to note that Jeremiah sees himself addressing both those who remain in jerusalema nd those who ahve beent aken away into exile. It would be a much easier message to proclaim to the exiles that they will have an early return. Some scholars are concerned that Jeremiah is suggestion collusion with the enemy and they don't like that idea. Jeremiah appears to have a realistic view of the length of time and the exiles need to continue to have children and keep their faith alive.

Daniel L. Smith ("Jeremiah as Prophet of Nonviolent Resistance". JSOT 43 (1989) pp.95-107) argues that this chapter is in opposition to Hananiah's call to rebellion versus Jeremiah's call to limited co-operation and social resistance. I am unsure whether one can read into the chapter a "social resistance", but certainly agree on a non-violent acceptance of the reality. In our lives there are times we have to accept the tragedy that has happened or unexpected circumstances that life has dealt us. This can be hard when all we want to do is to escape the pain or difficulty. It would be easier to listen to those who suggest a quick fix. The advice to accept the present situation and live through it is worth hearing. Furthermore, it is a mark of a Christian that we are to pray for our enemies and in doing so both parties may find peace. In Australia we live in a pluralistic society and the command to pray for others is one that could have benefits for all.

One of the issues facing the UCA could be the same question about true and false prophets in regards to the issue about homosexual people in leadership in the UCA. As in Jeremiah's time all the prophets from whatever position claim what they say is the Word of God. The solution for the writers of that time was to say we can only know whether a person is true prophet if it comes true (Deut 18:22). Perhaps the UCA will have to wait and live with the situation to find the God's word for this time.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 17:11-19, could easily be based on the story of Namaan the leper in 2 Kings 5:1-19. It has several points which are similar and emphases the point that God's salvation is available to all people, foreigners which include Samaritans. The points which are parallel are: both are foreigners, the Samaritan locatoion, communication from a distance, the delayed cleansing, the return of the healed leper, praise and thanksgiving from the leper. It mainatains Jesus in line with the great prophetic healers of the Old Ttestament including Elisha.

Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 29:1-7
The worship service could be designed along that of a letter, that is, greeting and opening, message and conclusion. It would be helpful to talk about the trouble that Jeremiah is experiencing because he is proclaiming an unpopular message.

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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