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Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
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 8:18-9:1
This reading comes after the section 7:1-8:3 - the Sermon in the Temple - which speaks about the people's reliance on the temple and not on God. Following this are further questions asked by God - why have they turned away? why have they failed to return? The text set for the lectionary are depicted as a lament of God over this people who are so determined to go their own way despite all the calls and pleas of the prophet Jeremiah. Jer 9:2 continues in a similar vein with monologue by God bewailing the people's behaviour both in the religious and ethical domain. In the end even the earth will suffer because of their obstinacy and refusal to know God and be faithful.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah  8:18-9:1
Literary structure:
Some people suggest Jer 8:18-9:1 is a lament by the prophet Jeremiah, but in the context of the previous verses and especially v.17 it reads as a lament by the Lord. Miller suggests that we do well not to make sharp distinctions between the words of the prophet and the divine voice (648). The phrase, "the daughter of my people" is present in vv.19, 21, 22, and 9:1 and seems to refer to Zion (Jerusalem). It makes the lament very poignant when either the city or the people are referred to as Yahweh's daughter. The two rhetorical questions in v.19 are followed by the accusatory question of God, "why have they provoked me ...? It is the same assumption as that spoken about in the Temple Sermon in Jer 7, that is, the people assume that the Lord is present in Jerusalem and will save them. They have both Isaiah's preaching and the time when they were saved from the Assyrians by a miracle (Isa 36-37) upon which to base their certainty that they will be saved again from the Babylonians. But Jeremiah is saying it will be different this time and God will not save them as depicted in the metaphor used in v.20. This saying means that the harvest has failed and it is a hopeless situation which is exactly how Jeremiah perceives the present time in Judah (Thompson: 306). Jer 8:22 has the same structure as v.19 in which there are two more rhetorical questions followed by an accusotary question which begins with,"Why?". Vv.21-22 pick up the imagery of v.18 which speaks of healing and of God's heart as sick. The physical healing which could be alleviated with the healing oinments from Gilead or from pysician will not heal their present sickness. However, the extraordinary suggestion in v.22 is that the daughter's wound is God's heart wounded. God identifies so closely with the people that their wound is his wound. The rhetorical questions in v.22 assume a negative answer and Jer 9:1 suggests that it is because the daughter of my people has been slain.

Message / Theology:
There is a lovely quote from of Buechner's books in Brueggemann's commentary about how one can love another as one loves a child (92). It talks about a whole new way of being vulnerable so that when the child is hurting for whatever reason the one who loves is hurt in the same way and maybe even more so. There is a helplessness because one can do little to ease the pain and one simply has to bear it.So the pathos of God is understood in this way in Jer 8:18ff. The people had every right at one level to believe that because God was known to be present in Jersualem that they would be safe. It is a different situation now and they are unable to hear Jeremiah's message in a new time. God appears unable to get the people to change through the words of the prophet and hurts so much that his own heart is wounded. This picture of God loving us like a parent and suffering so much pain because of our behaviour is one often neglected by people. It is picked up in the gospels when Jesus shows compassion and weeps over Jerusalem.
OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 16:1-13, There are no form echoes or allusions in this passage.

Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

I think it would be helpful to talk about the images and how the repetition of such phrases as "the daughter of my people" point to a very close realtionship between God and us. To point out that God takes over the wound and bears the pain.

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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