Knowledge and Understanding of the Confessions of Jeremiah Essay
Knowledge and Understanding of the Confessions of Jeremiah
Outline your knowledge and understanding of the Confessions of Jeremiah
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, and a member of a priestly family. He was a native of Judah and came from Anathoth, a small village in the north east of Jerusalem. His prophetic ministry lasted from approximately 626 to 580BC, and is one of the longest of all the writing prophets.
The prophet Jeremiah began his long prophetic career in 626BC; “in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign” He was still a very young man at this time. The narrative of his call is in a dialogue between Jeremiah and Yahweh. From this we can see straight away that Jeremiah had a very intimate relationship with God from the outset. Unlike other prophets, Jeremiah seems to have been chosen to be a prophet before he was even born. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.
Before you were born I consecrated you, I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” It seemed it was the destiny of Jeremiah to be a prophet. According to Kidner, Jeremiah was “handmade for the task.” Similarly to Moses and Amos, at first Jeremiah was reluctant to consent to his mission, saying “Ah Lord God behold I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth”, but his faith in Yahweh gave him faith in himself, and he accepted the role God asked of him. Perhaps this teaches us the meaning of rising to face personal challenges. Yahweh said to Jeremiah “Be not afraid of them for I am with you to deliver you.” This is very much the faith of believers today, that in times of trouble, God is constant in our lives.
In Jeremiahs call, Yahweh outlines the purpose of his ministry. He says “I have set you this day over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” This summarizes the two main aspects of Jeremiahs mission. It was to be a twofold mission, having both a positive and negative mission, and promising reconstruction after destruction. Yahweh intended to punish the people for their sins and injustice, yet it would be this destruction that would create a new and holy people. In this aspect, we can see a similarity between Hosea and Jeremiah, in that Hosea also believed in Redemptive Judgement.
Following the dialogue of Jeremiah’s call, there were two visions. The first of these visions is the vision of the almond rod, and the second vision is one of the boiling pot facing away from the north. These visions both contained a message of judgement. The mouth of the put is facing towards the south, away from the north, which implies that the danger that Judah will face will come from the north, and that these forces will destroy Judah. Yahweh says here “And I will utter my judgements against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made their offerings to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.”
In his visions, God speaks very frankly of judgement, expressing that it is going to happen soon, and that the destruction is going to come from the North. After this, Yahweh encourages Jeremiah again with the divine power of his task. He is made aware that being young and experienced, he would be resisted and persecuted by many, but that he would be upheld and strengthened by God.
Jeremiah understood “sin” in terms of the betrayal of love, and accused the people of being guilty of embracing pagan gods, and flirting with heathen empires. They succumbed to the corrupting influences of the nature cults. Jeremiah found their behaviour incredible, and failed to understand why after Yahweh had been so good to the people during the time of exodus, they would desert him. He accused the people of forsaking Yahweh saying “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
In other words, they had deserted Yahweh for gods which were useless to them. Jeremiah also outlined the futility of foreign alliances, and said that in times of political emergency, he left their true protector. They lost faith in Yahweh, and this led to Assyria losing their religion independence. Jeremiah felt this was stupidity on their part, and appealed to the people to return to the covenant, but they paid him no heed. The call from Jeremiah is a call for repentance. Kidner said “Judah had seen it all and followed suit, sinning with her eyes open. To make it worse she had put on a sanctimonious show of repentance and reform.”
Jeremiah says that the Jews were guilty of syncretism and apostasy, but that they were so religiously complacent that they were ignorant of their own sin. There was evidence of paganism and the people of Judah were confused. The nation had sunk to a dangerously low level of religious impurity. They had become hardened, and unfeeling in relation to their conscience.
Jeremiahs confessions are autobiographical. The book of Jeremiah is split into six different passages The passages in jeremiahs confessions have three things in common, they are in first person, they are directly addressed to God and not to the people or its rulers, and they express the deep suffering felt by the prophet in exercising his mission. These passages are what made Jeremiah unique amongst the Hebrew prophets. He is the only prophet to reveal the personal impact his role had on him. In the confessional passages we see a real, human being, whose frailty we can identify with and whose trauma we can understand. Rarely did other prophets give us a glimpse into their lives, but in the passages Jeremiah wrote, he revealed his soul.
Throughout his ministry, Jeremiah was often in conflict with his own contemporaries. This conflict was not his choosing. We are reminded of Hosea, in the sense that Jeremiah was a man of intense sympathy and tenderness of the heart, and all he wanted was to feel the love and companionship of others. He despised the conflict that deprived him of warmth and conflict that he craved, and so he became a depressed and hostile man. Yahweh said to Jeremiah “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons and daughters in this place.” This was due to the impending crisis. In the ancient near east, sterility was considered to be a terrible curse, so we know from this that Jeremiahs celibacy would not have been down to personal choice. This shows how Jeremiah endured personal suffering, as a result of the nation’s wickedness.
The first two passages in Jeremiahs confessions reveal a plot against his life, instigated by immediate family and acquaintances. The people saw Jeremiah, son of a priest, as a traitor. He reacted fiercely to this plot, and asked for the death of these men. The incident caused Jeremiah to reflect on his mission, and on the very meaning of human existence.
As Jeremiah asked for no more than justice, God upheld his fierce reaction saying “I am going to punish them…For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth.” This punishment however is not for vengeance, it is for reform. It is here that Jeremiah shows us a different side of him. He exaggerates the gloom, and welcomes the thought of retribution. Yahweh tells him that he has to keep his faith and courage during his sufferings, because they are little compared to what is to come. God knows only too well the pain of ingratitude; desertion from a spouse; defiance of a son, a daughter. A parallel is evident between the family’s rejection of Jeremiah, and the nation’s rejection of Yahweh.
In the third passage, we see a new outburst and pleading by Jeremiah as he describes the “inner crisis” he is facing. He believed that everything he did seemed to bring him into conflict with his fellow men. It is here that Jeremiah laments on his mother, saying “woe is me, my mother that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land.” As Jeremiah’s call predates his birth, to curse the day of his birth would mean a rejection of his mission. His persecution arises from the message he has to deliver. Jeremiah was depressed by his work and often wondered about its purpose. In his eyes, all it caused was contention with his fellow Jews, and made him considered a troublemaker. The reaction the people of Judah gave him meant he became bitter, and saw himself condemned to a life of loneliness.
The people reacted in such a hostile way to Jeremiah because he told them what they didn’t want to hear. He foretold disaster and the people remained sceptical of what he was saying, which only caused Jeremiah to fall even further into depression. As a result of the personal persecution and enforced loneliness, Jeremiah became vindictive and actually prayed for vengeance on those who treated him so poorly. This desire for vengeance only further reveals the humanity of Jeremiah. The third confession also indicates that Jeremiah faced an inward struggle with Yahweh, as well as an outward struggle with men. He was torn between obligation and inclination.
He felt obliged to work as a prophet, and continue to live the sort of life that would lead to conflict with others, but due to the stress his prophetic work caused him, he felt inclined to avoid it. In the beginning, the words of Yahweh brought Jeremiah joy. “Your words were found, and I ate them and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart”, but this has all changed now. Jeremiah has been left an object of ridicule, and God’s words no longer gave him joy. He felt God used him as instrument to announce pain and destruction on people he felt love for, and at times he was almost blasphemous, accusing Yahweh of overpowering and misleading him. “Oh Lord though hast deceived me, and I was deceived, thou art stronger than I and thou hast prevailed. Yahweh’s reply renews and confirms he prophet’s mission, using the very words from his call. “And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze.” It is made clear however, that this will only happen when Jeremiah has converted, and regained confidence within his mission.
In the last of the confessional passages, Jeremiah tells us of his most dramatic inner crisis, firmly believing that Yahweh has tricked him. “Oh Lord you have enticed me and I was enticed; you have over powered me and you have prevailed.” He fears being classed as a false prophet, which would have been devastating because he is one of the biggest critics of them. These false prophets were Jeremiahs greatest competition, and promised a shortcut to divine restoration. They spoke of peace, and attempted to “heal the wound of the people lightly”, but their remedies failed to touch even the root of the problem. Jeremiah says the complete opposite to these false prophets. Jeremiah believed that Yahweh would intervene in human history to punish, where as the false prophets proclaimed that God was uninterested in human affairs, and therefore that he wouldn’t intervene in them.
Jeremiah believes that they feed the Jews with false hope, whenever doom is inevitable, and without the destruction they cannot be rebuilt. According to Bright, these prophets are “nothing but wind.” The role of a true prophet was often to act as a contestant to the status quo. The people of Judah did not like the challenge that Jeremiah was presenting them with. Jeremiah remained insistent however, that in light of Judah’s perversity, she would be punished. Although here he is clearly presented as a Prophet of Doom, this is only one aspect to his mission, and like other prophets, he does have a message of hope. Similarly to Amos, Jeremiah is warning the people what is to come if they do not repent, he is giving them warning so change is a possibility. It is for this reason he is also known as the “Prophet of Repentance.”
He feels doubtful in relation to his message, and feels he is crying wolf in regard to his mission, by proclaiming a message of judgement which has not yet come to pass. Once again we are reminded of the conflict with Jeremiah in relation to obligation and inclination. Here Jeremiah describes his obligation to speak in a prophetic voice as a fire burning within him, forcing him to go on with his prophetic work despite the feeling that his inclination was to stop. Jeremiah speaks of his struggle saying “If I saw I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name, the n within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in and I cannot.”
When Jeremiah says “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble”, he seems to have come to realise that within him there was the potential to move forwards and cope with what he thought was impossible. He finally realised that he was not alone, and that God would always be with him. Although Jeremiah at times curses the day he was born, the one thing that lifted him out of his depression was the deep conviction that Yahweh would always be there for him. Kidner says on Jeremiah “He goes on to his worst ordeals with never a hesitation or a word of doubt.”
In conclusions, the outpourings from Jeremiahs heart that we witness in his confessions could be said to reveal imperfections about his human character, such as vindictiveness towards his fellow men and irrelevance towards God. However as Jeremiah was aware of his own perfections, by repenting Yahweh would help him overcome all of his human imperfections. If only the Jews had have realised the need to repent, then Yahweh could have help them overcome their imperfections through prayer and dialogue.
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