Prayer for consolation. 8:18-9:1
In chapters 7 to 10 of Jeremiah we find a collection of oracles concerning the people of Judah and their addiction to pagan religions. Our passage for study consists of Jeremiah's lament for God's people who are about to be caught up in a self-inflicted disaster. The intensity of this lament indicates that Jeremiah has probably penned these words himself, either during the Babylonian invasion of 598/7BC, or during the incessant guerrilla attacks that ravaged the land prior to the invasion.
v18. "Grief has overwhelmed me, I am sick at heart." Jeremiah's devotion to the Lord and the deep love he has for his own people, tears at his heart.
v19. In the face of invasion the people ask the big "why?" question. Jeremiah personifies the people as his "daughter". For Jeremiah, they are "my people". The question is the typical one for theists facing troubled times. If the Lord is God, and he is our God, then why is this trouble coming upon us? "Is Yahweh not in Zion; is her King no longer there?" The Lord is a mighty warrior, king above all kings, and his throne is in Jerusalem, so why does he not act for his people? Jeremiah gives the answer in the form of a question asked by the Lord himself. "Why do they provoke me with images and their futile foreign gods?" The invasion of a foreign people into the Lord's territory is nothing less than the enacting of the covenant's curse. The people have, by their life, alienated the Lord. The alienation is defined in the Lord's question. The people have sought their security in other god's. The consequence of such behaviour is judgement.
v20. "Is Yahweh not in Zion? Is her king no longer there?" Jeremiah follows up these questions with a proverb of woe. Famine follows when both the wheat harvest in April to June and the Summer fruit ingathering, fails. The situation facing Judah is a similar disaster. There is no escape for God's people. The opportunity to repent and be delivered/saved has passed them by and so now they face judgement.
v21-9:1. Jeremiah is overcome by grief for "my daughter - my people." "I mourn; dismay has seized me." If the people faced a medical problem then the "balm of Gilead" (the eastern side of the Jordan was famous for healing balsams) could heal their wounds; a "physician" could tend them. Yet, Judah's wounds are too deep for healing balm, or a doctor's care. "Then why has no new skin grown over their wound?" There can be no regeneration of Judah's spiritual health, for the people stubbornly oppose the Lord in their chase after other God's. In the face of this tragedy, Jeremiah can only wish that his head was a bowl of water and his eyes fountains and then he could weep day and night for the slain of "my daughter - my people."
Jeremiah demonstrates some interesting characteristics in his prophecies. On one hand he laments for the doom that overtakes his fellow countryman, his "daughter - my people." Yet, on other occasions he unflinchingly proclaims the doom that will befall them. Jeremiah even seeks to escape from the corruption and degradation he saw in the people of Judah, cf. 9:2-9. He wants out, he wants to hide in some wilderness refuge.
In this painful paradox, Jeremiah shares the very mind of the Lord who both weeps for his broken people while handing them over to the whirlwind. We often find, in our own lives, the same interplay between righteous indignation and grief. With our own children, we can be angered by their behaviour, but at the same time saddened as we identify with them in their difficulties. They may be facing the consequences of their actions, consequences they will have to carry themselves, but we can still feel for them, mourn, lament, grieve.... for them. Such identification images God's personal care for broken humanity and is the spring from which His mercy flows.
When the American President Bill Clinton was in office, his affair prompted an outpouring of righteous indignation. Certainly few of his political enemies shed any tears for him.; condemnation was their concerted cry. Yet, the American people demonstrated something of the humanity that empowers a democracy which believes in the notion of the government of the people, by the people, for the people. Against the desire of the majority of members of Congress who sought to claim their political scalp, the vast majority of the people gladly stood with their president. Their response did not lessen the president's wrongdoing, nor the horrible consequences of his unfaithfulness, rather it demonstrated the kindly mercy which flows from heartfelt sadness, a sadness prompted by identification with flawed humanity - "there, but for the grace of God, go I."
Jeremiah understood Judah's sin, and although forthright in condemnation, he was above all grieved. Out of such grief (sorrow) flows mercy. Such is the character of God himself. We remember well Jesus' words to the prostitute, "neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more."
We do well to have "the mind of Christ" when a brother slips and falls.
1. "Is the Lord not in Zion?" People will often question why they suffer, particularly if they believe there is a God. What was Jeremiah's answer, and what should be our answer?
2. Sorrow through identification. Consider how this relates to some particular example of social injustice.
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