Monthly Archives: February 2012

Jesus wept; so did Jeremiah

Prophet Jeremiah and Christ

Peter F. Ellis makes a good case that Jeremiah’s life was more like that of Jesus than anyone else in the history of Israel. Jesus taught in parables, was rejected by his people, wept for his people. So did Jeremiah. He was scourged, imprisoned, put on trial for his life. So was Jeremiah. Each prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and in each case the prophecy was fulfilled: in 587 BC by the Babylonians and in 70 AD by the Romans.

In fact, Jews of Christ’s time wondered if he were not Jeremiah come back from the dead (Matt 16:13-14):

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

“Without Jeremiah,” Ellis says (Collegeville Commentary, 455), “the mystical side of human nature and the unfathomable capacity of the human heart for unselfish suffering might have lain hidden until the coming of Jesus. … His life more than his teaching was a ferment and a fire that permeated the bones of Israel after the Exile and prepared the way for him who came to cast a similar fire on earth and to see it kindled in the lives of innumerable saints.”


A prophet akin to Hosea, Samuel, Moses

Scholar Thomas LeClerc draws helpful comparisons between Jeremiah and three other prophets (Introduction to the Prophets,239-240). The similarities with Hosea are particularly striking. Like the earlier prophet, Jeremiah is steeped in covenant traditions and expresses the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marriage and harlotry.

I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness…

~Jeremiah 2:2

I will now allure her and bring her into the wilderness… She shall respond as in the days of her youth.

~Hosea 2:15

Both prophets used family imagery to express God’s compassion and anger, and each celebrated God as the giver of fertility.

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deu...

Moses pleading with Israel

Jeremiah and Samuel are the only two prophets to be called as youths. Samuel was the first person since Joshua to be presented as a prophet like Moses.

Both Jeremiah and Moses expressed reservations about their call. Both prophets are closely associated with the covenant and the Law. Each experienced conflict with his own people, strife, and rejection. Each interceded for the people before God. Both died outside the Promised Land, Moses in Moab, Jeremiah in Egypt.

The Canticle of Jeremiah

For a change of pace … Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Jeremiah–my choice for “memory verse” on the Unit I test. I love the nature imagery and the theme of trust. The second stanza reminded me of a scene from my September trip to the Canadian Rockies (note the ice-blue of the water, from glacial melt or “rock flour.”)

Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.

Robson River, British Columbia

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose hope is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat
when it comes,
its leaves stay green:
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.

~Jeremiah 17:5-8

Anger, laments, and jeremiads …

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

~Matthew 23:37

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem recalls the famous “Confessions of Jeremiah.” They also are known as lamentations, a form of prayer commonly found in the Psalms. Typically, psalms of lament included a direct address to God, a complaint describing a problem, a request for help, a statement of confidence in God, and praise of God for the help that will come. Sometimes they included a response from the priest or temple prophet speaking for God and assuring deliverance, followed by expressions of thanks. (LeClerc, Introduction to the Prophets, 232, 243).

Jeremiah’s laments so closely follow this model that some scholars believe they may be prayers added by editors. Even so, they help build a theology of prophets as faithful but suffering servants of the Lord.  As our instructor Jim McGill said, Jeremiah actually made it acceptable to rail against God. Anger and hurt are human responses to suffering and are perfectly appropriate to express in prayers. Lamenting out loud may be considered part of the spiritual process.

Here are excerpts from the five laments:


Jeremiah 12:1-6
Why does the way of the wicked prosper, why live all the treacherous in contentment?

Jeremiah 15:10-21
Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention to all the land.

Jeremiah 17: 14-18
Heal me, Lord, that I may be healed; save me that I may be saved; for it is you whom I praise.

Jeremiah 18: 18-23
But you, O Lord, know all their plans to slay me. Forgive not their crime; blot not out their sin in your sight.

Jeremiah 20: 7-18
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped … all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.

Prophets, pathos, and compassion

Abraham Heschel on the prophet’s point of view:

“The prophet is guided not by what he feels but rather by what God feels. In moments of intense sympathy for God, the prophet is moved by the pathos of God, Who is disillusioned by His people. The state is far from being his main concern. His declarations are made from the point of view of God. It is rarely a personal, direct reaction to a situation, and mostly an articulation of God’s view and an identification with it. Yet, in taking God’s part, he defends the people’s position, since in truth God’s pathos is compassion. For compassion is the root of God’s relationship with man.”

~Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets

The Temple cult and the den of thieves

Cry of prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusa...

Jeremiah at destruction of Temple

Chapter 7 recounts Jeremiah’s famous Temple Sermon. After the death of reformer King Josiah, his successors reintroduced idolatry and a Temple cult. They believed they were protected from God’s judgment simply because of the presence of the Temple in Jerusalem, but Jeremiah accused them of crimes against the covenant. Matthew, Mark, and Luke echo this passage when they report Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I may remain with you in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: This is the temple of the Lord … Are you to steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal, go after strange gods that you know not, and yet come to stand before me in this house which bears my name, and say: ‘We are safe; we can commit all these abominations again’? Has this house which bears my name become in your eyes a den of thieves?”

Jeremiah reminded Judah that the Shiloh temple was destroyed in the time of Samuel and warns that the same fate could await the Temple in Jerusalem. This occurred early in the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 BC). Jeremiah was considered a traitor for such a warning, but spoke out of love for Judah and God’s people.

In Chapter 26, we learn Jeremiah was then arrested and tried for blasphemy. He was acquitted only when the judges were reminded that the prophet Micah had made a similar threat against the Temple and was not condemned.

Chapter 39 recounts the devastating siege of Jerusalem that began in 588 BC and ended with the destruction of the Temple and the city and the death or deportation of the wealthy and powerful, including religious and civil leaders. The prophet’s life was spared.

Warnings, hope, and other major themes

"The Prophet Jeremiah" (1968)

Jeremiah by Marc Chagall

Jeremiah, according to scholar Peter Ellis, was a “quiet, peace-loving mystic sent by God, against his inclinations, to rebuke kings, accuse his fellow Jews of infidelity to the covenant, and draw upon himself in return the scorn, contempt, and homicidal hatred of his enemies” (Collegeville Commentary, 453).

Here, from our workbook overview, are the many themes of Jeremiah. Be sure to read past the gloom and doom to the messages of hope and salvation!

  • Confessions or laments provide insights into Jeremiah’s relationship with the Lord and his personal anguish as a prophet in service to the word of God
  • Idolatry as a great sin of Judah, which calls for God’s corrective judgment
  • Covenant infidelity as the reason for God’s acts of judgment against Judah and Jerusalem
  • Ineradicable nature of Judah’s sin
  • Judgment against Judah and Jerusalem in the form of the destruction of the cities of Judah, including Jerusalem, by the Babylonians
  • The Temple sermon as a summary of God’s complaint against the complacency and spiritual decay of the people, the divine call to conversion, and the Lord’s promise of judgment if there is no repentance
  • Warning against heeding the message of false prophets who fill the people with vain hopes
  • Future hope for the mercy of God, the reign of righteous Davidic kings, the restoration of Israel and Judah, and a new covenant.
  • New covenant made with the house of Israel through which God’s law is written upon the people’s hearts and God is known because of divine forgiveness.
  • Social justice as connected to God’s blessings and judgment on Judah
  • Symbolic actions used as a means for communicating the prophetic message (the potter and the clay; the potter’s flask; the rotted loincloth)
  • Images of wounds and healing used to describe the condition of the prophet and God’s people, as well as the action of the Lord on their behalf