Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jeremiah 18-20: Jeremiah Himself

The figure of Jeremiah himself is prominent in these three Chapters.  Jeremiah 18 begins with a specific message from God to the prophet, to the effect that he should go down to the potter’s shop and receive a message there.  As Jeremiah watches the potter work clay, sometimes abandoning a false start and reshaping something different out of the same clay, he says that it is the same with God and his people: God made the Chosen People, and he can scrap them and start over at any time, if he decides to.

There is more curious tension in Jeremiah 18, of the kind I mentioned last week, between whether the doom predicted by the prophet is foreordained or avoidable.  Is Jeremiah warning the Israelites, or just letting them know they are toast?  God/Jeremiah usually speaks as if it is the latter, but the issue is confused in 18:7-8.
If at any time I  announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.
So, this sounds like it renders much of which we’ve been reading in Jeremiah somewhat more flexible.  But then when God tells Jeremiah to go deliver his message, he adds But they will replay, ‘It’s no use.  We will continue with our own plans, each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart. (12)  Which brings things back to sounding kind of preordained. 

Jeremiah 18: 13-17 is God’s message of intended punishment for his neglect.  Then, in Verses 18-23, Jeremiah complains of a whisper campaign against himself, and implores God to repay his community with famine and slaughter.

Chapter 19 also begins with a trip to the potter’s shop.  This time, Jeremiah is told to buy a pot, which he will eventually break metaphorically during a, well, a Jeremiad I suppose, to make a point about God’s ability to shatter Jerusalem at will.  It’s a rare moment when we are given a glimpse of a prophet in action.

There is a brief narrative line in Chapter 20, as the high priest hears about Jeremiah’s preaching and, apparently finding it objectionable, has him beaten up and put in the stocks overnight.  When he is let out, Jeremiah tells the priest that he will be carried away to Babylon and die there, along with all his friends.  Which may actually have been true, but you can kind of see why Jeremiah wasn’t winning any popularity contests.

In fact, he complains to God from 20:7 to the end of the Chaper, 20:18, about his lot as a prophet.  He is mocked, insulted, and reproached all day long, he says, and regrets that he was ever born.  He curses the day he was born, the man who told his father he had been born, and the fact that he was not stillborn.  It is not easy being a prophet, apparently.  Jeremiah is not a happy man.

1 comment:

UnwiseOwl said...

"Jeremiah is not a happy man."
Understatement of the year.
I still love this project, keep at it, Michael.