Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Scripture: Jeremiah 11: 18-20

Jeremiah 11:18-20
It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew;
    then you showed me their evil deeds.
But I was like a gentle lamb
    led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
    that they devised schemes, saying,
"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
    let us cut him off from the land of the living,
    so that his name will no longer be remembered!"
But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously,
    who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.  

 How does this text guide me? What is it concerned about, what are its interests?

Those familiar with the Psalms should recognize this as lament. The figure of the lamb is Psalmic, as is the tree and the conspiracy of the wicked. In its larger context, the lament here is about an assassination attempt against Jeremiah, who was not favored among his people, accusing any number of them of being false prophets and priests. The people involved are more specifically of Anathoth, descendents of those priests who once aided David in his flight from Saul. It is not surprising that he records the Lord's judgment against them as slaughter without remainder, as that is what they intend for him. Indeed, the hard language of the punishment is possibly why it was not included in the lectionary along with Jeremiah's petition. Of note here is the solitary nature of the appeal: Jeremiah has no one to trust but God, and appeals to God alone. Yet he will go on to question God at some length, turning the lament into an interrogation of divine justice - so Jeremiah seems at least as double-minded about his trust as most people who turn to God.

The book as a whole, of course, was written at the very end of the independent existence of Judah and after the first major siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was a young priest in that city, and would later flee to Egypt when Jerusalem fell, after the revolt by Zedekiah failed to gather promised Egyptian support but quite succeeded in provoking a Babylonian assault. Between those events, Jeremiah wrote, or rather dictated to his scribe, long oracles against Jerusalem and Judah and foreign nations. He was occasionally regarded as a traitor, yet is known as one of the "court prophets" of high education and political influence -- much like Isaiah, with whom he otherwise has much in common. It is not clear whether he thought his oracles would have much effect, or whether or not he thought there was hope for national reform.

All this quite indicates that Jeremiah sees himself quite clearly as the righteous man of Psalms 1 and 23, and sounds otherwise Davidic in his appeals. Noteworthy is this similar sort of double-motion of complete and utter trust in God simultaneous with considerable political savvy and acumen. Jeremiah may be innocent of whatever the assassins would accuse him of, but he's certainly not innocent of a world in which assassins might come after you - a difference from myself and most of my American readers. I wonder how African Christians might read this, or those of more political exposure than myself. 

 the Curious Monk

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