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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : 4. And After. (XXX, XXXI, XXXIX-XLIV.)

Jeremiah by William Smith

4. And After. (XXX, XXXI, XXXIX-XLIV.)

There are two separated accounts of what befel Jeremiah when the city was taken. Ch. XXXIX.3, 14 tells us that he was fetched from the guard-court by Babylonian officers,(609) and given to Gedaliah, the son of his old befriender Ahikam, to be taken home.(610) At last! -- but for only a brief interval in the life of this homeless and harried man. When a few months later Nebusaradan arrived on his mission to burn the city and deport the inhabitants Jeremiah is said by Ch. XL to have been carried off in chains with the rest of the captivity as far as Ramah, where, probably on Gedaliah's motion, Nebusaradan released him and he joined Gedaliah at Mispah.(611)

It is unfortunate that we take our impressions of Nebuchadrezzar from the late Book of Daniel instead of from the contemporary accounts of his policy by Jeremiah, Baruch and Ezekiel. A proof of his wisdom and clemency is here. While deporting a second multitude to Babylonia in the interests of peace and order, he placed Judah under a native governor and chose for the post a Jew of high family traditions and personal character. All honour to Gedaliah for accepting so difficult and dangerous a task! He attracted those Jewish captains and their bands who during the siege had maintained themselves in the country,(612) and advised them to acknowledge the Chaldean power and to cultivate their lands, which that year fortunately produced excellent crops. At last there was peace, and the like-minded Governor and Prophet must together have looked forward to organising in Judah the nucleus at least of a restored Israel.

To this quiet interval, brief as it tragically proved, we may reasonably assign those Oracles of Hope which it is possible to recognise as Jeremiah's among the series attributed to him in Chs. XXX, XXXI. No chapters of the book have been more keenly discussed or variously estimated.(613) Yet at least there is agreement that their compilation is due to a late editor who has arranged his materials progressively so that the whole is a unity;(614) that many of these materials are obviously from the end of the exile in the style then prevailing; but that among them are genuine Oracles of Jeremiah recognisable by their style. These are admitted as his by the most drastic of critics. It is indeed incredible that after such a crisis as the destruction of the Holy City and the exile of her people, and with the new situation and prospect of Israel before him, the Prophet should have had nothing to say. And the most probable date for such utterances of hope as we have now to consider is not that of his imprisonment but the breathing-space given him after 586, when the Jewish community left in Judah made such a promising start.(615)

From its measure and vivid vision the first piece might well be Jeremiah's; but it uses Jacob, the later literature's favourite name for Israel, which Jeremiah does not use, and (in the last two verses) some phrases with an outlook reminiscent of the Second Isaiah. The verses describe a day when the world shall again be shaken, but out of the shaking Israel's deliverance shall come.

[The sound of trembling we hear, XXX.5
Dread without peace.
Enquire now and look ye, 6
If men be bearing?
Why then do I see every man(616)
With his hands on his loins?
All faces are changed, and
Livid become.(617)
For great is that day, 7
None is there like it,
With a time of trouble for Jacob.
Yet out of it saved shall he be.
It shall come to pass on that day -- 8
Rede of the Lord --
I will break their(618) yoke from their(619) neck,
Their(620) thongs I will burst;
And strangers no more shall they serve,(621)
But serve the Lord their God, 9
And David their king,
Whom I will raise up for them.]

The next piece is more probably Jeremiah's, as even Duhm admits; verses 10 and 11 which precede it are not given in the Greek.

Healless to me is thy ruin, 12
Sick is thy wound,
Not for thy sore is remede, 13
No closing (of wounds) for thee!
Forgot thee have all thy lovers, 14
Thee they seek not.
With the stroke of a foe I have struck thee,
A cruel correction.
Why criest thou over thy ruin, 15
Thy healless pain?
For the mass of thy guilt, thy sins profuse
Have I done to thee these.

If these Qinah quatrains are not Jeremiah's, some one else could match him to the letter and the very breath. They would fall fitly from his lips immediately upon the fulfilment of his people's doom. Less probably his are the verses which follow and abruptly add to his stern rehearsal of judgment on Judah the promise of her deliverance, even introducing this with a therefore as if deliverance were the certain corollary of judgment -- a conclusion not to be grudged by us to the faith of a later believer; for it is not untrue that the sinner's extremest need is the occasion for God's salvation.(622) Yet the sudden transition feels artificial, and lacks, be it observed, what we should expect from Jeremiah himself, a call to the doomed people to repent. Note, too, the breakdown of the metre under a certain redundancy, which is not characteristic of Jeremiah.

[Therefore thy devourers shall all be devoured, 16 And all thine oppressors.
All shall go off to captivity;
Thy spoilers for spoil shall be
And all that upon thee do prey, I give for prey.
For new flesh I shall bring up upon thee, 17
From thy wounds I shall heal thee;(623)
Outcast they called thee, O Sion,
Whom none seeketh after.]

The rest of the chapter is even less capable of being assigned to Jeremiah.

More of Jeremiah's own Oracles are readily recognised in Ch. XXXI. I leave to a later lecture the question of the authenticity of that on The New Covenant and of the immediately preceding verses;(624) while the verses which close the chapter are certainly not the Prophet's. But I take now the rest of the chapter, verses 1-28. The first of these may be editorial, the link by which the compiler has connected Chs. XXX and XXXI; yet there is nothing to prevent us from hearing in it Jeremiah himself.

XXXI.1. At that time -- Rede of the Lord -- I shall be God to all the families(625) of Israel, and they shall be a people to Me.

A poem follows which metrically and in substance bears every mark of being Jeremiah's. The measure is his favourite Qinah, and the memory of the Lord's ancient love for Israel, which had stirred the youth of the Prophet,(626) revives in his old age and is the motive of his assurance that Israel will be restored. It is of Ephraim as well as of Judah that he thinks, indeed of Ephraim especially. We have seen how the heart of this son of Anathoth-in-Benjamin was early drawn to the exiles from that province on which the northward windows of his village looked out.(627) Now once more he was in Benjamin's territory, at Ramah and at Mispah, with the same northward prospect. Naturally his heart went out again to Ephraim and its banished folk. Of the priestly tribe as Jeremiah's family were, their long residence in the land of Benjamin must have infected them with Benjamin's sense of a closer kinship to Ephraim, the son of Joseph, the son of Rachel, than to Judah, the son of Leah. And there was, in addition, the influence of neighbourhood. If blood be thicker than water it is equally true that watered blood is warmed to affection by nearness of locality and closeness of association.(628)

It is questionable whether the opening couplet quotes the deliverance of Israel from Egypt as a precedent for the future return of the northern tribes from captivity, described in the lines that follow; or whether this return is at once predicted by the couplet, with the usual prophetic assurance as though it had already happened. If we take the desert as this is taken in Hosea II.14, we may decide for the latter alternative.

Grace have they found in the desert, XXXI.2
The people escaped from the sword;
While Israel makes for his rest from afar
The Lord appears to him(629): 3
|With a love from of old I have loved thee,
So in troth I (now) draw thee.(630)
|I will rebuild thee, and built shalt thou be, 4
Maiden of Israel!
|Again thou shalt take(631) thee thy timbrels
And forth to the merrymen's dances.
|Again shall vineyards be planted(632) 5
On the hills of Samaria,
|Planters shall surely plant them(?)
And forthwith enjoy(633) (their fruit).
|For comes the day when watchmen are calling 6
On Ephraim's mountains:
|Rise, let us go up to Sion,
To the Lord our God.|

The everyday happiness promised is striking. Here speaks again the man, who, while ruin ran over the land, redeemed his ancestral acres in pledge of the resettlement of all his people upon their own farms and fields. He is back in the country, upon the landscapes of his youth, and in this fresh prospect of the restoration of Israel he puts first the common joys and fruitful labours of rural life, and only after these the national worship centred in Jerusalem. Cornill denies this last verse to Jeremiah, feeling it inconsistent with the Prophet's condemnation of the Temple and the Sacrifices.(634) But that condemnation had been uttered by Jeremiah because of his contemporaries' sinful use of the House of God, whereas now he is looking into a new dispensation. How could he more signally clinch the promise of that reunion of Israel and Judah, for which all his life he had longed, than by this call to them to worship together?

The next verses are not so recognisable as Jeremiah's, unless it be in their last couplet. The rest rather reflect the Return from Exile as on the point of coming to pass, which happened long after Jeremiah's time; and they call the nation Jacob, the name favoured by prophets of the end of the Exile.

[Ring out with joy for Jacob, 7
Shout for (?) the head of the nations,(635)
Publish ye, praise ye and say,
The Lord hath saved His(636) people,
The Remnant of Israel!
Behold from the North I bring them, 8
And gather from ends of the earth;
Their blind and their lame together,
The mother-to-be and her who hath borne.
In concourse great back they come hither.
With weeping forth did they go,(637) 9
With consolations(638) I bring them,
I lead them by(639) streams of water,
On an even way,
They stumble not on it](640)

For a father I am become to Israel,
And my first-born is Ephraim!

This couplet may well be Jeremiah's; but whether it should immediately follow verse 6 is doubtful. The next lines are hardly his, bearing the same marks of the late exile as we have seen in verses 7-9a.

[Hear, O nations, the Word of the Lord, 10
And declare on the far-away isles(641):
Who hath scattered Israel will gather,
And guard as a shepherd his flock.
For the Lord hath ransomed Jacob 11
And redeemed from the hand of the stronger than he. They are come and ring out on Mount Sion, 12
Radiant(642) all with the wealth of the Lord,
With the corn, the new wine, the fresh oil,
The young of the flock and the herd;
Till their soul becomes as a garden well-watered,
Nor again any more shall they pine.
Then rejoice in the dance shall the maidens, 13
The youths and the old make merry.(643)
When their mourning I turn to mirth(644)
And give them joy from their sorrow.
When I richly water the soul of the priests,(645) 14 And My folk with My bounty are filled --
Rede of the Lord.]

The next poems no one denies to Jeremiah; they are among the finest we have from him. And how natural that he should conceive and utter them in those quiet days when he was at, or near, Ramah, the grave of the mother of the people.(646) He hears her century-long travail of mourning for the loss of the tribes that were sprung from her Joseph, aggravated now by the banishment of her Benjamin; but hears too the promise that her travail shall be rewarded by their return. The childless old man has the soul of mother and father both -- now weeping with the comfortless Rachel and now, in human touches unmatched outside the Parable of the Prodigal, reading into the heart of God the same instinctive affections, to which, in spite of himself, every earthly father is stirred by the mere mention of the name of a rebellious and wandered son. The most vivid details are these: after I had been brought to know, which might also be translated after I had been made to know myself and so anticipate when he came to himself of our Lord's Parable; I smote on my thigh, the gesture of despair; and in 20a the very human attribution to the Deity of surprise that the mere name of Ephraim should move Him to affection, which recalls both in form and substance the similar question attributed to the Lord in XII.9.

There is no reason to try, as some do, to correct in the poems their broken measures, for these both suit and add to the poignancy and tenderness which throb through the whole.(647)

Hark, in Ramah is heard lamentation 15
And bitterest weeping,
Rachel beweeping her children,
And will not be comforted,(648)
For they are not.
Thus saith the Lord: 16
Refrain thy voice from weeping,
And from tears thine eyes,
For reward there is for thy travail --
They are back from the land of the foe!
[And hope there is for thy future, 17
Thy sons come back to their border.](649)

I have heard, I have heard 18
Ephraim bemoaning,
|Thou hast chastened me, chastened I am,
Like a calf untrained.
|Turn me Thyself, and return I will,
For Thou art my God.
|For after I had turned away (?)(650) 19
I repented ... (?)
|And after I was brought to know,(651)
I smote on my thigh.
|I am shamed, yea and confounded,
As I bear the reproach of my youth.|(652)

Is Ephraim My dearest son,(653) 20
A child of delights?
That as oft as against him I speak
I must think of him still.
My bowels for him are yearning,
Pity him I must! -- Rede of the Lord.

Set thee up way-marks, 21
Plant thyself guide-posts!
Put to the highway thy heart,
The way that thou wentest.
Come back, O maiden of Israel, 22
Back to thy towns here.
How long to drift hither and thither,
Thou turn-about daughter!
[For the Lord hath created a new thing on earth,
A female shall compass a man.](654)

The next small poem, when we take from it certain marks of a later date is possibly Jeremiah's, though this is not certain; to the previous Oracles on Ephraim it naturally adds one upon Judah.

Thus saith the Lord:(655) 23
Once more shall they speak this word.
In Judah's land and her towns,
When I turn again their captivity:
|The Lord thee bless, homestead of justice!|(656)
In Judah and all her towns shall be dwelling 24
Tillers and they that roam with flocks,
For I have refreshed the(657) weary soul, 25
And cheered every soul that was pining.
[On this I awoke and beheld, 26
And sweet unto me was my sleep.](658)

Behold, are coming the days -- 27
Rede of the Lord --
When Israel and Judah(659) I sow
With the seed of man and of beast;
And it shall be, as I was wakeful upon them 28
To tear down and do evil,(660)
So wakeful on them will I be,
To build and to plant --
Rede of the Lord.

These prophecies of the physical restoration of Israel and Judah are fitly followed by two, in what is rather rhythmical prose than verse, which define the moral and spiritual aspects of the new dispensation; both laying stress on individual responsibility, the one in ethics, 29, 30, the other in religion, 31 ff., the proclamation of The New Covenant. They are no doubt Jeremiah's: we shall take them up in the last lecture.

The time of relief and fair promise, out of which we have supposed that the Prophet conceived and uttered the preceding Oracles, came to a sudden and tragic close with the assassination of the good governor Gedaliah by the fanatic Ishmael. Had this not happened we can see from those Oracles on what favourable lines the restoration of Judah might have proceeded under the co-operation of Gedaliah and Jeremiah, and how after so long and heart-breaking a mission of doom to his people the Prophet might at last have achieved before his eyes some positive part in their social and political reconstruction; for certainly he had already proved his practical ability as well his power of far vision. But even such sunset success was denied him, and once more his people crumbled under his hand. God provided some better thing for him in the spiritual future of Israel, to which he must now pass through still deeper sacrifice and humiliation.(661)

Ishmael, against whom the noble Gedaliah would take no warning, was one of those fanatics with whom the Jewish nation have been cursed at all crises in their history.(662) The motive for his crime was the same as had inspired the fatal defence of Jerusalem, a blind passion against the Chaldean rule. Having slain Gedaliah he attempted to remove the little remnant at Mispah to the other side of Jordan but was overtaken by a force under Gedaliah's lieutenant, Johanan-ben-Kareah, and his captives were recovered. Fearing the wrath of the Chaldeans for the murder of their deputy, the little flock did not return to Mispah but moved south to Gidroth(663)-Chimham near Bethlehem, broken, trembling, and uncertain whether to remain in their land or to flee from it.(664)

The Prophet was the one hope left to them, and like Sedekiah they turned to him in their perplexity for a word of guidance from the Lord. With his usual deliberation he took ten days to answer, laying the matter before the Lord in prayer; studying, we may be sure, the actual facts of the situation (including what he already knew to be the people's hope of finding security in Egypt) and carefully sifting out his own thoughts and impulses from the convictions which his prayers brought him from God. The result was clear: the people must abide in their land and not fear the Chaldeans, who under God's hand would let them be; but if they set their faces for Egypt, the sword which they feared would overtake them. This was God's Word; if they broke their promise to obey it, they would surely die.(665)

With shame we read the rest of the story. Jeremiah had well discerned(666) that those of his countrymen, who had been deported in 597, were the good figs of his vision and those who remained the bad. The latter were of the breed that had turned Temple and Sacrifice into fetishes, for as such they now treated the Prophet, the greatest whom God ever sent to Israel. Covetous of having him with them they eagerly asked him for a Word of the Lord, promising to obey it, in the expectation of their kind that it would be according to their own ignorant wishes; but when it declared against these, they scolded Jeremiah as disappointed barbarians do their idols, and presuming on his age as a weakness, complained that he had been set against them by Baruch, a philo-Chaldean who would have them all carried off to Babylon! So Baruch also -- all praise to him -- held the same sane views of the situation as his Prophet and as that wise governor Gedaliah. In spite of their promise they refused to obey the Word of the Lord, fled for Egypt carrying with them Jeremiah and Baruch, and reached the frontier town of Tahpanhes. How it must have broken the Prophet's heart!(667)

But not his honesty or his courage! At Tahpanhes he set before the fugitives one of those symbols which had been characteristic of his prophesying. He laid great stones in the entry of the house of the Pharaoh and declared that Nebuchadrezzar would plant his throne and spread his tapestries upon them, when he came to smite Egypt, assuming that land as easily as a shepherd dons his garment; and after breaking the obelisks of its gods and burning their temples he would safely depart from it.(668)

So far the narrative runs clearly, but in Ch. XLIV, the last that is written of Jeremiah, the expander has been specially busy.(669) The chapter opens, verses 1-14, with what purports to be an Oracle by Jeremiah concerning, not the little band which had brought him down with them, but all the Jews which were dwelling in the land of Egypt, at Migdol and Tahpanhes,(670) on the northern frontier, and in the land of Pathros, or Upper Egypt. It is not said that these came to Tahpanhes to receive the Oracle. Yet the arrival of a company fresh from Judah and her recent awful experiences must have stirred the Jewish communities already in Egypt and drawn at least representatives of them to Tahpanhes to see and to hear the newcomers. If so, it would be natural for Jeremiah to expound the happenings in Judah, and the Divine reasons for them. No date is given for the Prophet's Oracle. This need not have been uttered for some time after he reached Egypt, when he was able to acquaint himself with the conditions and character of his countrymen in their pagan environment, and learn in particular how they had fallen away like their fathers to the worship of other gods. Such indeed is the double theme of the words attributed to him. He is made to say that Jerusalem and Judah are now desolate because of their people's wickedness, and especially their idolatry, in stubborn disobedience to the repeated Word of their God by His prophets; surely a similar punishment must befall the Jews in Egypt, for they also have given themselves to idols. But so awkwardly and diffusely is the Oracle reported to us that we cannot doubt that, whatever its original form was, this has been considerably expanded. At least we may be sure that Jeremiah uttered some Oracle against the idolatry of the Jews in Egypt, for in what follows they give their answer.

From verse 15 the story and the words it reports become -- with the help of the briefer Greek version and the elision of manifest additions in both the Hebrew and the Greek texts(671) -- more definite. Either both the men whom Jeremiah addressed and their women, or, as is textually more probable, the women alone answered him in the following remarkable terms. These run in rhythmical prose, that almost throughout falls into metrical lines, which the English reader may easily discriminate for himself.

XLIV.16. The word which thou hast spoken to us in the Name of the Lord! -- we will not hearken to thee! 17. But we shall surely perform every word, which has gone forth from our mouth:(672) to burn to the Queen of Heaven and pour her libations, as we and our fathers did, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and streets of Jerusalem, and had fulness of bread, and were well and saw no evil.18. But since we left off to burn to the Queen of Heaven, and to pour her libations, we have lacked everything and been by the sword and the famine consumed.19. And(673) while we were burning to the Queen of Heaven and poured her libations, did we make her cakes(674) and pour her libations without our husbands?

This was a straight challenge to the prophet, returning to him the form of his own argument. As he had traced the calamities of Judah to her disobedience of Yahweh, they traced those which hit themselves hardest as women to their having ceased to worship Ashtoreth. What could Jeremiah answer to logic formally so identical with his own? The first of the answers attributed to him, verses 20-23, asserts that among their other sins it was their worship of the Queen of Heaven, and not, as they said, their desisting from it, which had worked their doom. But this answer is too full of deuteronomic phrasing for the whole of it to be the Prophet's; if any of it is genuine this can only be part of the obviously expanded opening, 21, 22a.

The real, the characteristic answers of Jeremiah are the others: to the women reported in verses 24, 25, and to all the Jews in Egypt 26-28; in which respectively he treats the claim of the women ironically, and leaves the issue between his word and that of his opponents to be decided by the event. These answers also have been expanded, but we may reasonably take the following to be original.(675) Note how they connect in verse 24 with verse 19. I again follow the Greek.

XLIV.24. And Jeremiah said [to the people and] to the women, Hear the Word of the Lord, Thus saith the Lord, Israel's God:

Ye women(676) have said with your mouths
And fulfilled with your hands,
|We must indeed perform our vows,
Which we have vowed,
|To burn to the Queen of Heaven,
And to pour her libations!|
Indeed then establish your words(677)
And perform your vows!

Jeremiah |adds this by way of irony.|(678) Having thus finished with the women, he adds an Oracle to the Jews in general.

26. Therefore hear the Word of the Lord all Judah, who are settled in the land of Egypt:

By My great Name I swear,
Sayeth the Lord,
That My Name shall no more be called
By the mouth of a man of Judah --
Saying, |As liveth the Lord!| --
In all the land of Egypt.
Lo, I am wakeful upon you 27
For evil and not for good.(679)
And the remnant of Judah shall know, 28b
Whose is the word that shall stand.(680)

These are the last words we have from him, and up to these last he is still himself -- broken-hearted indeed and disappointed in the ultimate remnant of his people -- but still himself in his honesty, his steadfastness to the truth and his courage; still himself in his irony, his deliberateness and his confident appeal to the future for the vindication of his word.

So he disappears from our sight. How pathetic that even after his death he is not spared from spoiling but that the last clear streams of his prophesying must run out, as we have seen, in the sands of those expanders!

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