Below is a discussion of the content and form and some features of Jeremiah 2-9, which is part of the oracles against Judah in the book of Jeremiah. Note especially the themes of prophetic lawsuit and circumcision of the heart.
The paragraph opening marker opens chapter 2:
“The word of YHWH came to me, saying,”
And the only other speech introduction marking a section off is verses 4-5a:
“Hear the word of YHWH, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel. Thus says YHWH:”
The poetic language of the chapter is put into the structure of a prophetic lawsuit. The charge is that Israel has been unfaithful.
When a vassal king rebelled against his suzerain king there was a proper legal format for the charges in the ANE – Jeremiah 2 follows that pattern.
Thompson tells us that the elements of this form are as follows: 1. “an appeal to the vassal to pay heed, and a summons to the earth and sky to act as witnesses;” 2. “a series of questions each of which carried an implied accusation;” 3. “a recollection of past benefits bestowed on the vassal with some statement of the offenses by which he had broken his treaty (covenant);” 4. “a reference to the futility of ritual compensations, recourse to foreign cults, or other kinds of aid;” 5. “a declaration of culpability and a threat of judgment” (p.159-160).
A particularly significant vocabulary term used is “hesed” translated here in the ESV as “devotion.” Usually the term is translated in the ESV as “steadfast love” though I would prefer “loyal-love.” The word has to do with the loyalty, the unfailing devotion, the devoted love, that a vassal and suzerain are to have for one another. This term invites the marriage metaphor: “your love as a bride.” Thus the charge is that Israel has been unfaithful — has cheated on her husband and this continues into Jeremiah 3. Compare Hosea.
Note the similarity of language from the poetry here and the prose you will see on the next slide:
“Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore” (Jeremiah 2:20b).
(This shocking language is meant to be shocking.)
The next paragraph marker does not come until Jeremiah 3:6
“YHWH said to me in the days of King Josiah: ‘Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares YHWH.’
And YHWH said to me, ‘Faithless Israel has shown herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,’”
[This is the only prophecy in Jeremiah specifically dated to the reign of King Josiah.]
One of the patterns you can find in Jeremiah (as well as elsewhere in Scripture that we find laments is called the quina. It is a rhythm where the words go from three counts to two. This falling tone resembles a dirge. Jeremiah 4:1-2 is an example. While this feature is totally lost in translation, it adds to the sense of lament when we read in the Hebrew.
Jeremiah 4:3 gives us another paragraph heading, “For thus says YHWH to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:”
And then Jeremiah 4:5, “Declare in Judah, and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say,”
Here we see the theme of heart circumcision from Deuteronomy:
“Circumcise yourselves to YHWH; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jeremiah 4:4a).
And later in the chapter we can see why he is known as the weeping prophet:
“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly…” (Jeremiah 4:19a).
The next paragraph marker is Jeremiah 4:27: “For thus says YHWH.” Versions of this we will see become a popular way to introduce a new paragraph shortly.
If you read though these opening chapters it is obvious that Jeremiah is a passionate prophet. Chapter 2 lays down the charge, Jeremiah 3:1-4:4 pleads for Judah to repent, and then Jeremiah 4:5-6:30 (and beyond) tells us of the coming judgment.
Jeremiah 5:14 shows us a new paragraph: “Therefore thus says YHWH, the God of hosts:”[This is a long version of “Thus says YHWH.”]
Next is Jeremiah 5:20-21: “Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah: Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.”
Jeremiah 6 has a new paragraph at Jeremiah 6:6, “For thus says YHWH of hosts:” and Jeremiah 6:9, “Thus says YHWH of hosts:” and Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus says YHWH:” and Jeremiah 6:21, “Therefore thus says YHWH:” and Jeremiah 6:22, “Thus says YHWH:”
The way new paragraphs are opened shows you that there is a logical connection throughout the whole argument – yes it is a new paragraph, but it is building on what was said before it.
These new paragraphs generally mark a poetic prophecy. Most English Bibles indent differently for the poetic portions compared to the prose portions (though as I have said before, prose and poetry are on a continuum).
The portion quoted earlier from Jeremiah 3 was closer to prose than poetry. With few exceptions (Jeremiah 3:1-12 being the main one), the prose tells us about “in those days” or “in that day” or “at that time” (cf. Jeremiah 3:16, 18, 4:9, 11, 5:18). This shows the judgment of Judah and Jerusalem as an eschatological event.
A common theme of the last two prose parts is as follows:
“The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end” (Jeremiah 4:27b).
“I will not make a full end of you” (Jeremiah 5:18b).
We will later note this theme is also found in the poetry, it seems that everything said in poetry is also said in prose.
Another theme found both in the poetry and prose is the criticism of the religious leaders of Israel, for example,
“The priests did not say, ‘Where is YHWH?’ Those who handle the Torah did not know me; the shepherds [or rulers] transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit” (Jeremiah 2:8 poetry).
“Courage shall fail both king and officials. The priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded” (Jeremiah 4:9b prose).
As you might imagine, Jeremiah’s harsh words for the prophets, priests, and kings of Israel did not win him many friends.
But Jeremiah was not concerned with having many friends, he was concerned that the religious and civil officials were lying to the people and that judgment was coming.Jeremiah 2-6The retelling of Israel’s story is interesting:
“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to YHWH, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them” (Jeremiah 2:2-3).
“And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:7).
But also the poetic images are verses one could mine for meaning:
“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
The image is of them leaving the fountain of living waters, digging their own cisterns that leak and thus are empty, and therefore drinking sand.
“Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).
“Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me” (Jeremiah 2:22).
“Look at your way in the valley; know what you have done—a restless young camel running here and there, a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? (Jeremiah 2:23-24).
The people apparently were not convinced of their guilt, as you can tell reading through Jeremiah’s words, but Jeremiah warns them, “Behold, I will bring you to judgment, for saying, ‘I have not sinned’” (Jeremiah 2:35b).
This too is part of the reason for the shocking and graphic language describing their sin – they need to see their sin for all its ugliness.
Thus the shocking language of Jeremiah 3:2 (see also Jeremiah 3:13, 20-23):
“Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been ravished? By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers like an Arab in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom.”
Therefore Jeremiah tells us there was a drought. But it still did not lead to repentance.
In chapter 5 God challenges Jeremiah to find just one righteous person that He might spare Jerusalem of the judgment for these sins.
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, ONE who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her” (Jeremiah 5:1). This has the sound of the story of Sodom, but one righteous person cannot be found in Jerusalem.
The text says, “How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods [Spiritual adultery]. When I feed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not punish them for these things? Declares YHWH; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? (Jeremiah 5:7-9). This last line “Shall I not punish them for…” is a refrain repeated at Jeremiah 5:29 and 9:9.
And then the image of the vine returns:
“Go up through her vine rows and destroy, but make not a full end; strip away her branches for they are not YHWH’s” (Jeremiah 5:11).
Here we see the theme of not making a full end together with the metaphor of the vine.
Jeremiah even gives them a catechetical teaching to prepare them for the coming judgment:
“And when your people say, ‘Why has YHWH our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours’” (Jeremiah 5:19).
By contrast we might note some more verses about the prophets and priests:
“They have spoken falsely of YHWH and have said, ‘He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us, nor shall we see sword or famine. The prophets will become wind; the word is not in them. Thus shall it be done to them!” (Jeremiah 5:12-13).
“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction…” (Jer 5:30-31).
And one more: “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:13-14, repeated in Jer 8:10-11).
Thus the judgment is that a people is coming from a north country (a great nation from the farthest parts of the earth) (Jer 6:22) and they will destroy Jerusalem and leave it “a desolation, an uninhabited land” (Jer 6:8b).
While most of the prophecies in Isaiah were poetic (highly elevated prose), Jeremiah has sections that are more poetic and sections that are more prose.
Jeremiah 7 begins a portion of the prophecy that is mostly prose.
That it is a new major section is clear from the 3rd person opening marker: “The word that came to Jeremiah from YHWH.”
Several interesting things are said in this chapter. It begins with this call for repentance: “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of YHWH, the temple of YHWH, the temple of YHWH’” (Jer 7:3b-4).
The text says that if they “truly amend” their ways and deeds then they will be allowed to dwell in this place, in the land.
This is the chapter where Jeremiah says that the temple has become “a den of robbers” (Jer 7:11).
The people would live how they wanted to live and then go into the temple and declare ‘sanctuary’ (“We are delivered” – Jeremiah 7:10). But Jeremiah 7 explains that this is not how the temple works.
So Jeremiah is told that he is not to intercede for the people – this is a shocking thing, one of the main tasks of a prophet is to intercede for the people – but YHWH prohibited Jeremiah from doing so.
A new paragraph begins at Jer 7:21: “Thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel:”
And here the text says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jer 7:22-23).
“But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jer 7:24-26).
Jeremiah is then told to do the symbolic act of cutting off his hair and casting it away and raising a lamentation on the bare heights (Jer 7:29). There will be other symbolic acts later.
But this narrative too speaks about the latter days: “behold, the days are coming” (Jer 7:32) and “at that time” (Jer 8:1).
A new paragraph begins at Jer 8:4 “You shall say to them, Thus says YHWH:”
Here Jeremiah takes to task the scribes/wisdom teachers: “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the Torah of YHWH is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of YHWH, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jer 8:8-9).
We see Jeremiah weeping again: “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. ..I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?…Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people” (Jer 8:18-9:1).
A new paragraph begins at Jer 9:7: “Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts:” and Jer 9:15, “Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel:” Jer 9:17, “Thus says YHWH of hosts” and Jer 9:23: “Thus says YHWH.”
The last section is worth quoting at length, given how New Testament it sounds, “Thus says YHWH: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am YHWH who practices loyal-love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares YHWH. Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart” (Jer 9:23-26).