The Word Made Fresh
1Run away from Jerusalem to safety, people of Benjamin!
Blow the trumpet in Tekoa and raise a banner on Beth-Haccherem,
because evil hovers over the land to the north,
a harbinger of great destruction.
2I will destroy the daughter of Zion, so beautiful and delicate.
3Shepherds will come to her with their flocks
and pitch their tents around her, marking their places in the
4“Get ready to make war against her; arise and attack at noon!
Woe to us – the day is almost over, and evening shadows lengthen.
5Get up! Let us attack by night and destroy her palaces!”
6This is what the LORD Almighty says:
Cut down her forests and build a ramp to attack Jerusalem.
This city must be punished because of the oppression
that arises from within her.
7She keeps her wickedness fresh just as a well keeps its water fresh.
Violence and destruction can be heard within;
sickness and wounds are always there.
9This is what the LORD Almighty says:
“Glean carefully what is left of Israel.
Like one who gathers grapes, pass your hands
over its branches.
10Whom should I warn? Their ears are closed, and they can’t hear.
They scorn the word of the LORD and find no good in it.
11But I am filled with the wrath of the LORD,
and I’m tired of holding it inside.
I should pour it out on the children in the streets
and on the young men who gather.
Both husband and wife will be captured
along with older people and very old people.
12Their houses will be given to others
along with their fields and their wives.
I will reach out and smite those who live in the land,
says the LORD.
13From the least to the greatest of them,
they are all guilty of wanting to increase their wealth unjustly.
From prophet to priest they are all dishonest.
14They have treated the woundedness of my people lightly.
They say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
15They were not ashamed of their abominable actions.
They don’t blush at their wicked practices.
Therefore, they will be among the fallen.
When I punish them, they will be cast away, says the LORD.
16The LORD tells them to stand at the crossroads
and search the ancient directions for the good way;
then follow that way and find rest for their souls,
but they refuse.
17I also appointed guards for you who told you to pay attention
to the sound of their trumpets, but you refused.
18So listen, nations, and understand, people, what will happen to them.
19Hear, earth; I will bring disaster on these people
and on the outcome of their plans
because they have ignored my words
and rejected my teachings.
20What good is frankincense from Sheba to me?
Or sugar cane from some distant land?
Your burnt offerings are unacceptable.
I am not pleased with your sacrifices.
21That is why, says the LORD, I am placing before these people
stumbling blocks they will trip over, parents and children together,
neighbor and friend alike will perish.
22This is what the LORD says:
See, people are coming from the land of the north.
A huge nation is stirring from the far corners of the earth.
23They hold the bow and the javelin;
they are cruel and merciless
and the sound of them is like the roaring of the sea.
They ride horses equipped for battle against you, daughter Zion!
24We have heard about them and are helpless against them.
We are in anguish as a woman in labor.
25Don’t go into the open field. Don’t walk on the road.
The enemy is armed with swords,
and there is fear of them everywhere.
26My poor people, put on sackcloth and cover yourselves with ashes.
Mourn and lament as though for an only child,
for the destroyer will attack us suddenly.
27I have made you one who can test ore and metals
so that you might test the people and understand their ways.
28They are stubborn and rebellious and slanderous.
They are corrupt, and they act like damaged bronze and iron.
29The bellows blow frantically to burn the lead with fire,
but the refining goes on in vain because the wicked are still there.
30Call them, “rejected silver,” because the LORD has rejected them.
I have been wondering what I might have thought had I been a priest serving in the temple while Jeremiah was shouting his pronouncements of doom in the temple courtyard. Would I have resented his intrusions? Assuming I was an honest and upright man, would I even have been aware that our way of worshiping was tainted by pagan influences? Would I have understood that the training I received when I first began serving might have been terribly flawed? How would I have reacted to this strident prophet pointing his finger at me and telling me the city was doomed because of me and my colleagues?
As you read Jeremiah, try putting yourself in the place of, say, a farmer just arrived in the city after a 50-mile trek on foot from a small village in the hill country. You’ve brought a nice goat to offer as a sacrifice in the temple, just as your parents and grandparents taught you to do when you were a child. As you enter the temple precincts and hear this strident young prophet, how would you react?
1: It is interesting that Jeremiah should specify “children of Benjamin” here. The tribe of Benjamin was absorbed into the tribe of Judah after the reign of Solomon when the northern tribes seceded from Jerusalem. Perhaps Jeremiah is hinting that the responsibility for the current situation lies only with Judah. Beth-Haccherem was a prominent hill near Jerusalem used as a signal site from which fires could be lit as warnings of approaching danger. Its exact location is unknown, but the warning of approaching evil “out of the north” may indicate that it was located in that direction from the city.
2-3: Mt. Zion is an attractive target for the imperial ambitions of others.
4-5: An imagined exchange between the attackers and the townspeople.
6-7: Jeremiah says that God is summoning enemies to lay siege to the city.
8-9: However, these verses would seem to indicate there is yet the possibility that the judgment can be averted.
10-12: Still, the prophet despairs of finding anyone who will listen. God tells him to “pour it out” on the children and youth; adults will not heed.
13-15: It is the leaders of the people who are culpable, says God. They know no shame.
16-19: God announces to the nations that he is going to “bring disaster on these people.”
20-21: God rejects their sacrifices because they are not gifts from God’s people, but rather acquisitions from other lands. God will lay a stumbling block before them — the rejection of their traditions. St. Paul picks up on this image in one of his letters (1 Corinthians 1:23).
22-23: God repeats the warning about the danger approaching “from the land of the north,” a reference to the Assyrians.
24-25: I think this is the response of the people, who have heard about the relentless expansion of the Assyrian empire and are frightened by what they have heard.
26: These words, I believe, are from the mouth of Jeremiah, in anguish over the fate of his people.
27-30: God responds to the prophet: God has appointed him to be the assayer of the value of the people, who are likened to silver which is so corrupted with worthless minerals it cannot be refined to produce any value.
Jeremiah makes it clear that God, a forgiving and loving God, will be forgiving and loving only so long before deciding that we cannot be redeemed. God forbid that should happen to us today! But as I look around at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I sometimes wonder if we are at the precipice of stirring up God’s anger. Still, God is a forgiving and loving God. What part do I/we play in furthering God’s will for humankind?