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Jeremiah 2:4-13

  Jeremiah 2:4-13
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 2:4-13
Following the prologue which sets the historical period for Jeremiah is a detailed account of his call to ministry, which was dealt with last week.

Then come two more accounts of Jeremiah's visions in which God asks, what does he see? The first vision is rather cryptic, but is interpreted by the Lord to indicate that he will be watching to ensure that all he says will occur. As almond blossom heralds spring so God's word will herald judgement on the people and comfort to Jeremiah, and as spring comes forth so will God's word come forth. The second vision which declares impending destruction on Jerusalem will come true because God has spoken it and Jeremiah will be upheld because God will be with him. Jer 2:1-4 is a prophetic oracle which states how faithful the people of Israel were in the time when they were in the wilderness. However, evil appeared to come upon them and the chapter continues with a record of their particular sins against God and against their own people. The verses following the lectionary reading likens the Egyptians to lions of prey which have devastated the land. This could refer to that period following the death of Josiah (609 BCE) when Judah came under the rule of Egypt before Babylon came along and Judah was transferred to be a vassal under the King of Babylon. jeremiah makes it very clear it is because of Judah's wickedness and unfaithfulness that disaster befalls them. The images used to depict Judah's behavior are very graphic in vv.23 ff and it is these verses that God challenges the people to call on the gods they have been worshipping to save them from the disaster which is to come.

The Book of Jeremiah continues with many prophetic oracles emphasizing faithfulness of Yahweh, the apostasy of Judah and their subsequent punishment.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah 2:4-13
Literary structure: Jer 2 can be divided into a number of units:

vv.1-3 = prophetic oracle, recalling Judah's faithfulness
vv.4-13 = prophetic oracle making specific the apostasy of Judah
vv.14-19 = the charge now moves into the political scene

The lectionary reading begins with the classic formula indicating that it is a prophetic oracle and the people know they are expected to listen and take it seriously, especially when v.5 repeats the clause, 'This says the Lord:'. The manner in which the questions are structured in the next nine verses is very clever. God seeks to find out why the forebears went after useless gods. Instead of the people acknowledging and asking where was Yahweh who lead them safely into the promised land they ignored the care and delivery which God had given them as a people in slavery. The irony is in the question which the people should have been asking and failing to do.
God's speech is now in the first person making it clear that it was God alone and nothing to do with the people, but when they entered they immediately followed the idols of the local people and forgot to remain faithful. They did not keep their side of the covenant relationship. Now the priests are named by again using a question (v.8a) which the priests ought to have been asking like the people, and failing to do so. Rulers and prophets are named with the priests as people who are failing in their leadership responsibilities. The word 'therefore' in v.9 is the indicator which says the consequences of their sin will now be dealt with in vv.10ff. However, God calls on other nations as witnesses and the heavens to show just how badly behaved the people of Judah have been in the way they have rejected the covenant of the living god for some worthless idols.
The secular understanding when a nation 'went after'(v.5) some other ruler meant that nation had renounced their allegiance to their overlord (Thompson: 167). This could well have been used deliberately by Jeremiah to make the point about Judah's behavior, especially when this phrase is used with the noun 'hebel'. This has been translated as worthlessness and may be a play on Baal - the fertility god of the Canaanites (Thompson: 167). Judah has renounced Yahweh and gone after useless gods or phantoms.
Many commentators suggest that this prophetic oracle is set up using the language of the court in which God is the judge, Judah is the plaintiff, the other nations and the heavens are the witnesses. The very medium of the message (court) tells the audience that there will be a guilty party and the judge (God) will pronounce a punishment. The charges brought against Judah in vv.12-13 using the imagery of a cistern are those of forsaking the living water = Yahweh, and making for themselves useless containers that contain no water = Baals.
Message / Theology: The community at this time is caught between Egypt trying to support an ailing Assyria against the rising power of Babylon and failing. Jeremiah is desperately trying to get the people back into covenant relationship with Yahweh in the hope it will prevent the total annihilation of Judah as had befallen the ten northern tribes in 721 BCE. It is no wonder that Jeremiah gets attacked by his own community because he names all those in authority as the ones who are leading he people astray. It would not be a popular message - and certainly not one that would befriend him to the leaders of the day.

The passage raises a number of issues including the question to us about whether we remember where God has been for us, not only in the covenant relationship of the Old Testament, but also in the birth, life,death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can we say why we choose on occasions that which gives no life and leads to emptiness? The wider context of these verses leads into a call for repentance to find that life, the living water. The invitation of Jesus Christ is to find that living water water in relationship with the God who gave us the ultimate gift of his son.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14: some of the concepts in this parable are echoes of the Book of Proverbs rather than direct allusions. for example, v.10 may reflect Prov 25:6-7.
Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 2:4-13
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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