If you’ve never before read through the prophets, take stock of what you’ve been feeling the past few weeks. There is something stirring about how prophecy and narrative are woven together in this unique book.
Whether the camera is focused on the prophet or is expanded over the whole story, Jeremiah’s story is intense on multiple levels. A nation falls, a victim of its own infidelity to its true King. The kings, the officials, the people and even the other prophets refuse to heed Jeremiah’s warnings. That he is constantly proven true reveals nothing but their glaring stubbornness. Again, take stock of what you’re feeling.
Baruch’s lament, which we read yesterday in chapter 45, serves as both the closing scene in Jeremiah’s story and as a bridge to the oracles at the end of this book. Just before it we saw the remnant of Judah disobeying God and fleeing to Egypt. Now after it are a series of oracles promising Egypt’s demise.
The first of these is set in that same fateful year of Jehoiakim’s reign, at the moment when power in the region shifted from Egypt to Babylon. Given the prophetic activity at the time this must have been a dramatic political and social upheaval for Judah. Egypt had been Israel’s fallback plan since the Exodus, the safest territory in the region. In the first oracle Egypt is wounded; in the second, it is laid waste, “The LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel…bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him.”
The people of the coast – generically called Philistines – are the next nation on which the LORD promises judgment. Like Egypt, Gaza, Tyre and Sidon were often attacked but rarely conquered. The prophet echoes the words of Nebuzaradan: this is not an act of Babylonian strength, but of the LORD’s will.
Likewise in chapter 48 Moab shall be destroyed and be no longer a people, because he magnified himself against the LORD. Pay attention to specific images, like swords, and water, that are revisited throughout these oracles.
Pay attention also to the historical upheaval that is occurring. Moab was already a settled kingdom in the time of Moses. Tyre and Sidon had traded with King David. And Egypt had not been conquered from the north in recorded history. Something significant is happening on the Biblical and world stage, and the prophet insists that all of it is being orchestrated by the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 51:10: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Jeremiah 46 through 48. Now let’s read it!
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.