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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Jeremiah

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Cosmic Destruction (chs. 1–10 )

Largely poetic in form, these chapters announce Jeremiah's commission (Jer 1 ) and contain accusations and judgements against Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 2–10 ). They progress from a description of the broken marriage between YHWH and the people to announcements of invasion by a mythic army, to massive weeping at the inevitable cosmic destruction. Amidst this material appear short liturgical expressions of repentance that symbolize the voice of the exiles and provide them with models of repentance.

( 1:1–3 )

The superscription introduces the book by making authoritative claims for its contents. Jeremiah prophesied for forty years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah (627 BCE) until Jerusalem's capture (587 BCE). Holladay (1989: 25–7) and Carroll (1986: 89–92) provide maximalist and minimalist historical opinions of these dates. Theologically, the superscription points to an intimate relationship between Jeremiah and YHWH who alone is the source of Jeremiah's words ( 1:1–2; Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard 1991: 1–2; Liwak 1987: 54–103). Politically, the superscription sets the book within the context of royal rule that is about to collapse (Brueggemann 1988: 20). Symbolically, it links Jeremiah's forty-year ministry to Moses' leadership in the wilderness. (On Jeremiah's many parallels with Moses, see Seitz 1989a .) The superscription's details, therefore, serve to persuade readers that this book comes from Jeremiah, can be trusted, and must be heeded. Such a defence suggests an audience in conflict.

( 1:4–19 ) The Call

The call account introduces Jeremiah and certifies him to be a true prophet. (For history of composition, see Rudolph 1947: 21–31 and Thiel 1973: 63–79.) The chapter divides into two scenes, poetic audition (vv. 4–10 ) and prose visions (vv. 11–19 ). Both scenes contain dialogue between prophet and deity in which Jeremiah speaks in the first person and quotes divine speech (vv. 4, 7, 9, 11, 14 ). Elements of the conventional call narrative appear in the text (Habel 1965 ), but here also are introduced major themes and motifs of chs. 1–25 (O'Connor 1988: 118–23). YHWH names Jeremiah ‘prophet to the nations’, warns him about the people's resistance, and promises divine assistance. YHWH also announces disaster from the north that will bring judgement upon Judah and Jerusalem. For the exilic audience, the call narrative implies that the disaster that has already befallen them was in the divine plan to ‘pluck up and to pull down’, and equally that YHWH can be relied upon to ‘build and plant’ (v. 10 ).

In memorable poetry, the opening scene (vv. 4–10 ) creates a portrait of the prophet as YHWH's indisputable agent. Jeremiah himself provides a first-person account of his dialogue with YHWH who called him before his birth (v. 5 ); this prenatal commission indicates that YHWH alone established him as prophet. Jeremiah resists (v. 6 ) with vocational hesitancy that evokes Moses' call (Ex 3:11; 4:10–11 ). Like Moses, Jeremiah receives divine assurance. Were there still any doubt about the source of Jeremiah's message, YHWH touches Jeremiah's mouth and puts there divine words (v. 9; McKane 1986 ). Creating an emphatic climax to the poem, v. 10 circles back to and expands the commission announced in v. 5c . Jeremiah's mission extends beyond Judah to include the nations in a divine plan of destruction and rebuilding, of uprooting and planting.

An astonishing theological assertion of this book is that Jeremiah is sent ‘to the nations’. His mission has global significance. The God for whom he speaks governs the fall and rise of nations, a theme that receives reprises at both the middle ( 25:15–38 ) and end of the book (chs. 46–52 ). For an exilic audience, even the prophet's commission may intimate hope because it reveals that the nations who have destroyed Judah are also the subject of divine governance.

Prose visions (vv. 14–19 ) provide the content of Jeremiah's message, narrow its recipients from the nations to Judah and Jerusalem, and reassure Jeremiah that YHWH is with him to deliver him (v. 19, cf. v. 8 ). Dialogue predominates over vision in the narrative about the almond tree (vv. 11–12 ). When YHWH asks Jeremiah what he sees, Jeremiah replies literally, ‘the branch of an almond tree’. YHWH, not Jeremiah, interprets the vision, playing on the Hebrew word for almond tree (šāqēd). ‘I am watching (šōqēd) over my word to perform it’ (v. 12 ). The conversation reassures both prophet and audience that the prophetic word is relentless and irreversible because its divine speaker utters it and ‘does it’ (la῾ăśōtō).

The context of the divine word is metaphorical. A boiling pot tilts ‘away from the north’ and from the north will come disaster upon Judah and Jerusalem for their idolatry (vv. 13–16 ). The northern location of the boiling pot, and later in the book of ‘the foe from the north’, poses interpretative difficulties because Babylon is east of Judah. Literal interpretations of this language have led to many historical identifications of the enemy, including the ancient Scythians (McKane 1986: 20). But Childs (1959) and Perdue (1994: 141–6) show that the ‘foe from the north’ is language that comes from a myth of a transcendent enemy who brings chaos in a great battle. Borrowed from Israel's neighbours, this language expresses the theological conviction that Israel's disaster has cosmic significance and arises from YHWH's fierce anger. The mythic foe from the north is eventually historicized in Jeremiah but not until 20:4–6 where Babylon appears by name for the first time.

The absence of a historical referent for the ‘boiling pot, tilted from the north’, at the beginning of the book strikes an ominous note and is all the more fearsome for its lack of specificity. The threat from the north is greater than any human enemy. Boiling, burning fluid, tipped over and uncontrolled, advances upon Judah and Jerusalem with unstoppable horror in the form of attacking tribes from unknown kingdoms. They, ‘all of them’, will establish hegemony over Judah for its idolatry ( 1:16 ).

YHWH speaks directly to Jeremiah to prepare him for battle (vv. 17–19 ). Imperatives replace dialogue. Jeremiah must gird his loins and announce everything YHWH commands. He must be implacable in face of resistance or YHWH will ‘break’ him. Yet Jeremiah will prevail for YHWH has already strengthened him as ‘a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall’, and is with him to deliver him. This encouraging assurance is often thought to refer exclusively to the prophet and his mission, but it may also have resonances for an exilic audience. In some parts of the book Jeremiah's sufferings seem to gather up those of the community. Even as nations fight against them, YHWH is with them.

( 2:1–4:2 ) A Broken Marriage

Many interpreters find unifying thematic threads in the poetry and prose collected here (Biddle 1990: 82; McKane 1986: 82; DeRoche 1983; Carroll 1986 ). Study of the literary devices of direct address, grammatical gender of characters, and the nature of divine accusations reveals strong literary coherence in the material. The broken marriage of YHWH and his unfaithful wife serves as an organizing or root metaphor (Ricoeur 1975, 1976; McFague 1982) that closely unites the chapters (Diamond and O'Connor 1996; Brueggemann 1988: 46–7). In its present form, 2:1–4:2 dramatizes the ending of the marriage ( 2:1–3:5 ) and depicts its aftermath of recrimination and partial familial restoration ( 3:6–4:2 ). This metaphor functions as a second prologue to the book by providing a symbolic interpretation of the nation's fall and of the crisis facing the exiles.

Borrowed from Hosea 1–3 (see Holladay 1989: 45–7) and significantly modified (Diamond and O'Connor 1996 ), the marriage metaphor allows the poet to introduce YHWH's wife Judah or perhaps Jerusalem (Biddle 1990: 68–73) as a parallel persona to male Israel. Direct address alternates between the two personae in 2:1–3:5 . Hebrew feminine singular grammatical forms address the wife in 2:2; 2:17–25 ; and 2:33–3:5 ; and masculine singular and plural forms address male Israel in 2:3; 2:4–16 ; and 2:26–32 . At first the two personae appear to be distinct characters, but they are one entity, addressed under different guises. The opening poem ( 2:1–3 ) equates them symbolically, and 2:19–20 makes literal that identification. Both male and female personae receive the same rhetorical and thematic treatment. YHWH addresses each directly, interrogates them with similar rhetorical questions, accuses by quoting their words, and charges each with abandonment and pursuit of other allegiances.

These poetic devices in 2:1–3:5 amass legal evidence against wife/Israel. Reluctantly, husband/YHWH recognizes the hopelessness of the marriage and divorces the wife ( 2:1–3:5 ). The symbolic identity of the wife is fluid at this point in the book, though she will later be identified as Jerusalem or daughter Zion ( 4:31 ). Here, however, she represents Israel from the earliest days in the wilderness ( 2:2 ). After the divorce ( 3:6–4:2 ), the husband declares wife Judah worse than her northern sister, his first wife, whom he invites to return to him ( 3:6–12 ). The second wife, like the first, remains silent or absent, so he turns to the children and invites them to return instead ( 3:14–18 ). They accept by proclaiming repentance and return to him with a liturgical declaration of fidelity and loyalty ( 3:22b–25 ).

( 2:1–3:5 ) The Divorce

The poem that introduces the story of the marriage ( 2:1–3 ) begins with the same formula as 1:4 , but here Jeremiah is commanded to proclaim the word to Jerusalem. The husband's monologue begins with direct address to his wife ( 2:2b , fem. sing.). Nostalgically he recalls her past devotion and loyalty in the wilderness. v. 3 explicates v. 2 (Fishbane 1985: 300), even as it shifts the subject to male Israel who is ‘holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest’. In this verse, wife and male Israel converge symbolically; both are ‘totally devoted to’ (Brueggemann 1988: 32), and exclusive property of, YHWH. Subsequent poems alternate in addressing the two personae, equally guilty of betrayal and pursuit of idols.

( 2:4–16 )

An introductory formula, different from 2:1 , opens the first poem addressed to male Israel, called here the houses of Jacob and Israel (v. 4 ). Some scholars explain the shift from a Judahite to an Israelite audience historically by arguing that Jeremiah originally preached on the subject of the northern kingdom that had fallen to Assyria in 721, over a century earlier than Jeremiah's own time (Holladay 1986: 68). Of more interest is the rhetorical import of address to the northern kingdom (Carroll 1986: 122). Jacob is the eponymous ancestor and unifying patriarch of all Israel (Gen 29–30 ), who figures here as symbol of united Israel. The poems in 2:1–4:2 accuse both north and south of heinous betrayal and envision a reunified future. They interpret theologically the fall of both kingdoms. The materials concerning the north may carry further rhetorical import for, by contrast, Judah appears far more guilty ( 3:6–12 ) and by implication, faces a similar fate (cf. 7:12–15 ).

Rhetorical questions ( 2:5, 6, 8, 11, 14 ) structure 2:4–16 and convey YHWH's shock at the ancestors' treatment of him (vv. 5–6 ), despite his generosity in bringing them into a ‘plentiful land’ (v. 7 ). Leaders fail to ask the right questions, abandon him, and pursue others (v. 8 ). YHWH accuses Israel of forsaking him, ‘fountain of living water’ (v. 13 ), and of substituting their own useless cisterns (v. 14 ). The husband invites the heavens to participate in his shock (v. 12 ) for this betrayal has cosmic implications. Subjugation to Egypt, identified by its cities, becomes inevitable (v. 16 ).

( 2:17–25 )

Feminine singular forms appear without explanation. Accusatory questions (vv. 17, 18, 21, 23 ) and charges of betrayal continue from the previous poem but with a qualitative difference. Betrayal is no longer only theological, national, and cosmic; it is also intimate, domestic, sexual, pornographic (Weems 1995; O'Connor 1992 ). To build his case against his wife, the husband quotes her (v. 20a ) and accuses her with her own words (v. 25 ). He describes her lewd behaviour (v. 20b ), portraying her as a harlot, bestial in her sexuality, a lust-driven animal wildly out of control (vv. 23–4 ).

( 2:26–32 )

Male Israel's shame, by contrast, compares to that of a captured thief and to idolators who relate to trees and stones (vv. 26–7 ). The male persona turns his back on YHWH and resists correction. Again YHWH quotes (vv. 27, 31 ) and heaps questions upon the accused (vv. 28, 29, 31, 32 ). The poem reeks of scorn for idols and their addle-brained devotees (vv. 27–9 ) to evoke sympathy for YHWH/husband who cannot understand this treachery (v. 31 ).

( 2:33–3:5 )

Formally, this section may contain two poems ( 2:33–7 and 3:1–5; Nicholson 1973: 40), unified by the feminine form of address and by a return to themes of adultery and promiscuity. The adulterous wife now becomes a madam of whores who teaches other women her ways ( 2:33 ). Her husband characterizes her as a murderer of the innocent poor ( 2:24 ) and quotes her declaration of innocence and false estimates of his anger ( 2:35 ). Other lovers will shame her ( 2:36–7 ). Then comes the climactic question of this account of the marriage; will a husband return to his wife after a divorce? ( 3:1; see Holladay 1986: 112–13 and McKane 1986: 58–9 on translation difficulties). The marriage is over. For her to return is legally impossible and would pollute the land (Deut 24:1–4 ).

Multiple partners compound her adultery. She lurks at roadsides in search of them ( 3:2 ). Her distorted sexuality brings barrenness upon the land ( 3:3 ). The husband quotes her misperception of his anger ( 3:4 ) and charges her with full responsibility for the marriage's failure.

( 3:6–4:2 ) The Aftermath

The subsequent collection of poetic ( 3:12b–14, 19–23 ) and prose materials ( 3:6–12a , 15–18, 24–5 ) depicts the immediate aftermath of the divorce, but the text's formal divisions no longer correspond with shifts in addressee. Direct address of female ( 3:12b–13, and 19 ) and male ( 3:20 ) continues but other characters, hardly noticed before, become important here. Jeremiah, mentioned only in 2:1 , becomes part of the narrative as sympathetic friend of the husband ( 3:6–12 ). A second wife appears ( 3:7–10 ) and male children assume the climactic role in the story of this marriage ( 3:14–18, 21–5 ).

( 3:6–11 )

In a dramatic aside, the furious husband confides to Jeremiah the story of his wife's harlotry (vv. 6–7 ). The passage dates to the time of Josiah, further anchoring the marriage metaphor in the history of Judah and indicating that Jeremiah's prophecy of national collapse significantly predated the event. The husband muses out loud about his past hopes for the marriage. Readers receive a shock when the husband admits he had a previous wife, Israel, sister of his second wife, who also cuckolded him. Compared to Judah, who should have learned from her sister's treachery, however, first wife Israel is less guilty. YHWH sends Jeremiah to intercede with her (vv. 8–11 ).

( 3:12–18 )

To the north, Jeremiah proclaims, ‘Return, faithless Israel’ (v. 12 ). But there is a condition; she must take responsibility for the failure of the marriage by acknowledging her guilt (v. 13 ). The text narrates no reply from her, and a decisive shift occurs in relationships. Husband/YHWH turns attention on the children, offering them the same invitation to ‘return’. The Hebrew verb šûb carries the nuance of turning from sin (Holladay 1958 ). For the children there are no preconditions. Instead, they are coaxed to return with promises of a splendid future in the land, joined together north and south under one shepherd after YHWH's own heart (vv. 15–18 ).

( 3:19–20 )

Yet YHWH's unfaithful wife lingers in his thoughts as he muses sadly about his past plans for her and for their relationship. At this bitter moment, the divine speaker steps out of the role of husband to elucidate the meaning of the marital metaphor: ‘as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been … O house of Israel’ (v. 20 ).

( 3:21–5 )

A mysterious voice introduces a major motif of the book, the heartbreaking sound of children weeping (v. 21 ). They repent of their sins that echo their mother's; they, too, have forgotten their God (vv. 23–5 ). But unlike their mother whose silence implies refusal to repent, the children repent emphatically after hearing promises of healing the mother never heard (v. 22 ). The narrative closes in a dramatic reunion of father and children. Surprisingly, YHWH does not quote them, they speak for themselves. For the first time in the book, YHWH becomes the addressee and the speakers use liturgical prayer (Blank 1961: 102; Biddle 1996: 138). ‘Here we come to you; for you are the LORD our God’ (v. 22 ). Monologue becomes dialogue and chastised hope emerges (Diamond and O'Connor 1996 ).

The broken-marriage metaphor creates a highly effective introduction to Jeremiah's prophecy. Through it, the book invites readers to side with YHWH in the collapse of the nation. YHWH's portrayal as a betrayed, broken-hearted, and faithful husband creates an emotional claim upon readers that encourages them to view the marriage from the husband's perspective. What happens to wife/Israel is not YHWH's fault, but hers. The metaphor explains the fall of the nation as punishment for the infidelity of the pre-exilic generation that experienced divine rejection (ibid.). Male and female personae represent the fallen Judah and Jerusalem, and the first wife from the north represents the fallen northern kingdom. For them there is no future because they do not repent. The children in this troubled family are the implied audience, the exilic community given voice at the story's climax (vv. 22–5 ). The marriage metaphor spins a theological narrative that encapsulates the destruction of the two Israelite kingdoms, promises unconditional restoration to their offspring, and portrays the implied audience in the book as children of the cast-aside and abandoned wife. In miniature, 2:1–4:2 conveys the accusation, judgement, and hope of the entire book.

Despite the extraordinary artistic effectiveness of Jeremiah's version of the broken marriage, contemporary readers must approach this text with caution. The account's most rhetorically winning and theologically pregnant feature is its portrayal of God as an abandoned, heartbroken husband, betrayed by faithless, nymphomaniac wives. Readers cannot avoid taking his side. Hidden in this account, however, is a rhetoric of blaming in which the failure of the marriage is placed on the women with whom male Israel is symbolically identified. Men are dishonoured by being called faithless ‘women’, and the metaphor projects onto women the sins of the nation (ibid.; O'Connor 1992; Weems 1995 ). When viewed against cultures that subtly or blatantly vilify women and deify men, this metaphor requires careful treatment.

( 4:1–4 )

bridges the collections of the broken marriage and the cosmic battle ( 4:5–6:30 ). Thematically, the poem reaches back to repeat the invitation to ‘return’ (v. 1 ) in the marriage ( 3:12–14 ), and it extends forwards by promising YHWH's wrathful judgement if they refuse to turn (v. 4; see 4:8, 26 ). The children have returned ( 3:21–5 ), but vv. 1–4 ignore the family reunion. The marriage metaphor symbolically enacts the entire course of Judah's history from the perspective of divine–human relationship. But vv. 1–4 and the chapters that follow shift the temporal perspective of the text to the pre-exilic period. The text assumes that repentance is uncertain and reissues conditions of repentance and loyalty to avoid disaster (vv. 1–2 ; on syntactical problems, see Holladay 1986: 122–3). The temporal shift places readers in the psychic and spiritual world of the implied audience who exist in a limbo between the nation's destruction and return from exile. Whatever their earlier functions may have been, poems of threat and warning appropriate to the pre-exilic period aid the exilic audience by interpreting their plight and underscoring the necessity of repentance and fidelity.

The consequence of Israel's hoped-for loyalty confirms the book's exilic context; its allegiance will redound to the benefit of the nations (v. 2; Carroll 1986: 156). Like Jeremiah, Israel has a mission among the nations, and like Abraham, the mission is to be a blessing (Gen 12:3 ). vv. 3–4 transform YHWH's conditional invitation to Israel in vv. 1–2 into a threat, addressed to Judah and Jerusalem. Circumcision of the heart must replace cultic circumcision, or divine wrath will burst forth like unquenchable fire. The text's demand for circumcision of the heart echoes Deut 10:16 (Holladay 1986: 129–30), and highlights again the text's male audience. Metaphorical interpretation of circumcision as spiritual commitment, however, makes possible the inclusion of females in the worshipping community, albeit as spiritual males (O'Connor 1992 ).

( 4:5–6:30 ) Cosmic Battle

No narrative unifies the poems collected here, but the metaphor of the impending cosmic battle with the mysterious ‘foe from the north’ looms over the chapters and grants them a unity of swirling, menacing drama (Condamin 1920: 28; Perdue 1994; Brueggemann 1988: 49–73). The voices of YHWH, Jeremiah, a narrator, the people, the northern kingdom, daughter Zion, and the foe—all announce, respond to, and dispute YHWH's role in the coming siege.

The battle poems use great artistry in portraying war. Scenes of approaching armies vividly appeal to the senses and give the suprahuman enemy from the north shape in the imagination. With a few well-chosen details of sight and sound, they transport readers into the thick of battle. 4:5–31 announces the battle's approach; 5:1–31 reveals the battle to be inevitable; 6:1–30 names Jerusalem as the place of siege (Clements 1988: 40–1). Major themes and images overlap and weave together to defend YHWH from charges of injustice and arbitrariness in the fall of the nation. The principal rhetorical purpose of these chapters is to persuade the readers that YHWH was forced to punish the people. Dissenting and interrupting voices connect the chapters to the implied audience in exile ( 4:27; 5:18–19 ). Lament themes ( 4:8, 19 ) link these chapters to 8:4–10:25 , and threads from the broken-marriage metaphor ( 4:16–18, 29–31; 5:7–9 ) connect them to 2:1–4:2 .

( 4:5–8 ) Battle Announced

Opening the battle sequence ( 4:5–6:30 ), this poem announces major themes to appear in the poetry of chs. 4–10 . It assumes that the people have not repented (šûb) and proclaims that YHWH's anger has not ‘turned’ (šāb) from them (v. 8 ). v. 5 asserts a divine origin for the prophetic message addressed to Judah and Jerusalem. Symbols of war, details of sight and sound, evoke the terror of the impending siege. A trumpet, shouting, and the raising of the military standard imaginatively create the scene of battle and signal the urgency of seeking safety (vv. 5–6 ). In fierce anger (v. 8 ) YHWH claims sole agency for the approaching catastrophe, ‘for I am bringing evil from the north’ ( 4:6b ). Reference to the mythic foe adds to the unearthly terror advancing upon the nation. The enemy is a lion, magnified into a ‘destroyer of nations’ (v. 7 ). Bourguet 1987: 117 observes that the demonic power of the enemy from the north expresses the disproportionate supernatural resources amassed against Judah. The battle is already lost, so lamentation and wailing are the only suitable response (v. 8 ).

( 4:9–11 )

Interrupting prose voices indicate conflict in interpretation of the nation's fall as blame changes hands and the temporal perspective shifts to the future (vv. 9, 11 ). A narrator blames the leaders. Their courage will fail, implying their astonishment, and perhaps their ineptitude, and imputing to them responsibility for the disaster (v. 9, Brueggemann 1988: 51–2). In the first person Jeremiah accuses YHWH directly (v. 10 ): divine deception caused the catastrophe. Then YHWH speaks to defend divine action. The disaster will be total, and it is a judgement against them (v. 11 ).

( 4:13–31 )

comprises four poems that employ an array of metaphors but together depict and respond to the battle announced in 4:5–8 . vv. 13–18 continue to announce the coming battle, and in vv. 19–22 YHWH grieves over the battle. vv. 23–8 interpret the battle's meaning and vv. 29–31 continue to describe it. To escalate the horror of impending siege, vv. 13–18 use many speakers. A frenzied command opens the poem, ‘Look, he comes up like clouds’ (v. 13 ). In a cosmic epiphany, an unidentified, superhuman foe advances like clouds, with chariots ‘like the whirlwind’, and horses ‘swifter than eagles’. The community voices its dismay, ‘woe to us for we are ruined’. A voice from northern Israel broadcasts the siege to the nations (vv. 15–16 ), and YHWH speaks to Judah in feminine singular forms as to the wife who betrayed him (v. 18; cf. 2:1–3:25; Biddle 1996: 20).

( 4:19–22 )

With poignant effect, YHWH witnesses the battle's destruction and expresses uncontrollable anguish (vv. 19–20 ) (contra Craigie et al. 1991: 78–9). The conventional question of the lament form, ‘how long?’ combines with images of standard and trumpet to set the speaker in the centre of an endless battle (v. 21 ). That God is the speaker becomes clear in the accusation of ‘my people’ who ‘do not know me’ (v. 22 ). Like the previous poem, this one also interprets the national disaster as the people's fault, but here YHWH is deeply anguished by it.

( 4:23–8 ) Uncreation

YHWH or Jeremiah describes a terrifying vision of the destruction of creation that reverses and adapts the creation account of Gen 1 . Four times the speaker ‘looked’ and ‘lo’ the earth and its creatures disappear before YHWH's ‘fierce anger’ (vv. 23–6 ). YHWH interrupts the vision to announce that destruction will not be total (v. 27 ), but the poem continues relentlessly describing the earth's return to tōhû wābōhû, ‘waste and void’ ( 4:23, see Gen 1:2 ). Earth will mourn and heavens be lightless because the ineluctable divine word undoes them (v. 28 ).

The terrifying vision of uncreation that turns the earth into a lunar surface or a bombed city does not deviate from the cosmic battle; uncreation interprets it (Perdue 1994: 142). Theologically, politically, socially, the Babylonian invasion of Judah and Jerusalem meant the end of the world and the cessation of the created order for the community. Life in the land is over; no humans are present (v. 25 ); cities are in ruins (v. 26 ). In this mythical conception, earth, animals, and cities form an organic, interdependent whole, and their destruction by YHWH's angry decree is the result of human evil ( 4:22; Habel 1995: 87). The divine promise in v. 27 not to make a ‘full end’ addresses the implied audience who have survived the desolation.

( 4:29–31 )

returns to the battle itself, the noise, the attack, the empty cities (v. 29 ), but the speaker addresses Jerusalem, personified as daughter Zion. On this poetic figure see Dobbs-Allsopp (1955 ). Zion is YHWH's divorced wife ( 2:1–3:5; 4:16–18 ) who continues to play the whore and whose predicament has worsened. Her lovers now despise her and want to kill her (v. 30 ). The speaker hears her ‘voice’ (qôl) as of a ‘woman in labour’. She gasps and writhes not from giving life but in fear of death, finding her voice for the first time to bemoan her fate (v. 31; cf. 3:14 ).

( 5:1–31 )

contains closely woven materials, making it difficult to distinguish literary units (Nicholson 1973: 56). In the chapter's present arrangement, it portrays YHWH's reluctance to bring judgement, explains why the cosmic battle is inevitable, and defends the Divine Warrior from charges of cruelty and arbitrariness (Carroll 1986: 174).

( 5:1–17 ) Divine Reluctance

YHWH's desire to avoid disaster dominates the opening poem. To find one just person in the city, YHWH sends Jeremiah on a search, ‘so that I may pardon Jerusalem’ (v. 1 ; for covenant lawsuit elements, see Brueggemann 1988: 59). But the people refused to turn (šûb) from their hypocritical ways (v. 3 ). After initial failure, Jeremiah decides he is searching among the wrong people; the poor do not know justice (mišpāṭ). He then searches among the rich, but they are no better. Like the adulterous wife ( 2:20 ) all break their yoke (vv. 4–5 ). Less successful than Abraham searching Sodom for ten just people (Gen 18:23–33 ), Jeremiah fails to find even one. With Jeremiah's help, YHWH did everything possible to avert punishment (Carroll 1986 ). Destruction by beastly enemies is a fitting result (v. 6 ).

( 5:7–11 )

The rhetorical question of v. 7 , addressed to a female, suggests YHWH still desires to pardon his former wife. But the adultery of her male children (v. 8 ) leads to a second question that brings the reader to YHWH's side of the argument. ‘Shall I not punish them?’ (v. 9 ). YHWH does not wish to punish, but how could God do otherwise? (cf. 5:29 ). YHWH will destroy her vineyards for both Israel and Judah have been faithless (vv. 10–11 ).

( 5:11–17 )

Further accusations against Israel and Judah follow (vv. 11–13 ). Because of their false (v. 12 ) and belittling words about prophetic speech (v. 13 ), YHWH puts devouring fire into Jeremiah's mouth (v. 14 ). His prophetic counterspeech is as destructive and sweeping as fire, for it announces the coming of an unnamed nation for the cosmic battle. A suprahuman military machine will devour the nation's children, their sources of life, and their false security (vv. 15–17 ).

( 5:18–29 )

YHWH speaks in prose to the implied exilic audience in a temporal shift to the future that again promises an incomplete end. YHWH then quotes the exile's most salient theological question. ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ (v. 19 ). YHWH's answer shows proportionate retribution and deflects blame to the people. Idolatry in their own land results in service in a foreign land. vv. 20–9 show how YHWH's reluctance to punish was overcome. Neither Jacob nor Judah sees, hears, or fears the Creator. Despite impenetrable boundaries established in the created world (vv. 20–2 ), the people know no boundaries in their wickedness (v. 28 ). The Creator questions, accuses, and quotes the people to reveal their sin (vv. 22–5 ). Scoundrels among them rob and trick the people and oppress the orphan and the needy, while they themselves grow sleek and fat (vv. 26–8 ). The refrain of 5:9 (cf. 9:9 ) reappears to persuade the implied audience of the necessity of the punishment (v. 29 ). The last two verses of the chapter act as an expansive codicil to the previous poem. Though religious leaders engage in lies, the people want it that way (vv. 30–1 ).

( 6:1–30 ) Attack on Daughter Zion

This chapter gathers metaphors of the cosmic battle, the foe from the north, and Daughter Zion into a collection of poems from a chorus of speakers. The mythic nature of the battle sharpens when the text identifies daughter Zion as the object of attack. A ferocious military nation wages war against Jerusalem portrayed as a weak, wanton woman, defenceless in the face of her foe. From the viewpoint of the ancients, the feminine character of the city heightens its weakness and the hopelessness of resistance (Bourguet 1987: 117).

vv. 1–9 , the first-person speaker in this poem appears to be YHWH (see v. 8 ). Imperatives warn the children of Benjamin to flee as trumpet and warning signals herald evil looming from the north (v. 1 ). Nostalgically, YHWH describes how lovely and safe Zion was thought to be (vv. 2–3 ). Voices of the enemy intrude, shouting preparations for attack among themselves (vv. 4–5 ). In a brilliant stroke of imagination that further indicts Zion, the poet portrays the enemy's thoughts. They believe they are acting on divine orders against a city deserving judgement (vv. 6–7 ). Warnings of v. 1 become a threat in v. 8 that YHWH will turn from Jerusalem in disgust. Divine abandonment will cause the city's collapse because she did not attend to her own inner sickness (v. 7 ). v. 9 returns to the vineyard metaphor that appeared in 5:9–10 , where it is also connected to punishment of the faithless female. There the vineyard was simply to be pruned, but here the ‘remnant of Israel’ is to be gleaned thoroughly. Survivors of the destruction, the exiles perhaps, face still further suffering.

vv. 10–12 , Jeremiah laments the people's recalcitrance. They are not even capable of hearing the prophetic warning. He is weary of holding back divine wrath (vv. 9–11 ). Only Jeremiah stands between them and destruction. YHWH responds with a command to pour divine wrath on the people, young and old, male and female (v. 12 ). vv. 13–15 , ‘no peace’: a refrain that recurs in 8:10–13 distributes guilt throughout the community from the people to the leadership and justifies YHWH's punishment of them. Everyone is greedy and the leaders lie. Denial characterizes their speech. Though priests and prophets are particularly guilty, the whole people deserve punishment (v. 15 ), and by implication, YHWH appears fully justified in bringing it upon them. vv. 16–21 , to vindicate YHWH's judgement and to embellish the significance of the people's sin, YHWH brings them before witnesses. Two parallel accusations open the poem ( 6:16c and 17 ). In both YHWH speaks to direct and to warn and then dramatically quotes the people's blanket refusal to co-operate (vv. 16–17 ). YHWH appears to have no choice but to assemble the nations and the earth itself as legal witnesses in a trial of cosmic import. The people bring the verdict upon themselves, despite rich liturgical offerings that merely reveal their duplicity (v. 20 ). All will perish (v. 21 ) in the cosmic battle to which the next poem returns.

vv. 22–6 , the foe approaches. The voice of YHWH describes the advance of the mythic nation, a merciless military force crossing the earth, their sound ‘like the roaring sea’ (v. 23b ). Their target is ‘you, O daughter Zion!’ (v. 23c ). The people themselves speak, fearful and helpless. They urge each other to hide from the ‘terror … on every side’, māgôr missābîb (vv. 24–5, see Jer 20:3, 10 ). Jeremiah then speaks to the ‘daughter of my people’ (my tr.), urging her to begin ritual lamentation in sackcloth and ashes, as if on behalf of an only child, for the destroyer is coming with such certainty that lamentation must begin. Divine commands to lament link this section with 8:4–10:25 . vv. 27–30 , the collection dominated by the metaphor of the cosmic battle ( 4:5–6:30 ) closes with YHWH speaking to Jeremiah about his prophetic role. He is the assayer of fine silver with a hopeless task (McKane 1986: 154). The people have failed the refiner's test. Dross cannot be separated from the pure metal, so they become ‘rejected silver’ (v. 30 ). Divine, prophetic, and human speakers have voiced horror, resistance, and finally certitude that disaster is unavoidable.

( 7:1–8:3 ) Temple Sermon

The relationship of the temple sermon and other prose sermons to the rest of the book and to Deuteronomistic editors are troubling questions (see Holladay 1988: 244–82; Stulman 1986; McKane 1981; Nicholson 1970 ). Ascribed by Mowinckel to the Deuteronomists, this first lengthy prose segment disturbs the poetic flow of chs. 2–6 . Those chapters confront readers with multiple images, metaphors, and poetic figures that intrude upon and interrupt each other to create a rich literary soup. By contrast, the prose sermons appear as a thin broth of repetitive and stereotypical language. The temple sermon focuses on worship practices, seeming to change the subject from the cosmic battle and broken marriage in chs. 2–6 . The sermon, however, provides one more interpretative voice in the book's debate about the nation's collapse.

The temple sermon is not extrinsic to the poetry, but comments upon it, and in the view of Stulman (1995 ) simplifies and tames it. The nation's arrogant complacency depicted in the poetry receives precise focus in the sermon. Judah and Jerusalem, monarchy and temple fell to Babylon because of hypocritical and obscene worship practices that violated the nation's own symbolic and theological perspectives. From the time of David, monarchy and temple had been inextricably bound together in the symbolic order. God would establish David's throne forever, and David's son would build YHWH's temple (1 Sam 7:1–3 ). When Jerusalem was invaded by Assyria a century earlier, some Isaianic passages interpreted the Davidic promises as unconditional assurance of Jerusalem's safety (Isa 36–7; Ollenburger 1987; Brueggemann 1988: 74). Perhaps because Jerusalem avoided destruction at that time, Isaiah's message solidified in the national consciousness as a promise of eternal security for the temple and the entire religious-political system. They thought they were safe no matter what they did. Judah's temple ideology was based on wrong notions of God as eternally fixed by former promises no matter how the people acted.

In the temple sermon Jeremiah speaks a terrifying counter-word that challenges an entire world-view and reveals why it had to fall. The sermon insists that YHWH is an untamed deity, a wild being not reducible to theological formulae, who can bring the temple to ruins like Shiloh, the destroyed northern sanctuary (Stulman 1986; see Keown, Scalise, and Smothers 1995: 16–19 on Shiloh). The temple sermon, therefore, draws on different theological and symbolic traditions to make claims similar to the poetry. Israel is guilty and divine judgement justified. The sermon adds to the poetry a specific charge that the people failed to ‘listen’ ( 7:13, 26, 27 ), a theme that appears frequently in the prose passages. By implication, if the people in exile are to regain their place, their land, their temple, they must ‘listen’ now ( 8:3 ).

Some interpreters limit the temple sermon to 7:1–15 , seeing the rest as later accretions (Weiser 1960 ). Although the history of its composition remains obscure, the sermon ( 7:1–8:3 ) exhibits linguistic patterns and thematic links that create inner coherence (Isabell and Jackson 1980 ). It moves in a downward spiral to report and mock idolatry within legitimate temple worship ( 7:1–15 ) and across a range of foolish idolatrous practices ( 7:16–8:3 ).

( 7:1–15 )

opens with an undated superscription that presents Jeremiah as the speaker of divine words. A principal motif of the sermon is the multivalent phrase ‘in this place’ (bammāqôm hazzeh; Carroll 1986: 207). The phrase refers to the temple ( 7:3, 7, 10, 11 ), the land ( 3:7, 15 ), and perhaps also the city (cf. Jer 26 ). The ‘place’ is symbolic of false national pride, blind devotion to the monarchy, and complacent arrogance. Frequent use of the phrase in the sermon emphasizes displacement of trust from the deity to the place where the deity dwells (vv. 3, 7 ). The narrator places Jeremiah at the gates of the temple to announce that its fate will be like Shiloh, another ‘place’ where YHWH made the divine name to dwell (vv. 12, 15 ).

Exhortations to amend reveal the depth of the problem (vv. 4–7 ). The people trust in a lie, ‘the temple of the Lord’ (v. 4 ). Repeated three times like a mantra, this phrase parodies the people's confidence in the ‘place’. The true threat identified in this sermon, therefore, is not the enemy from the north but the enemy within the community (Stulman 1995 ). Insiders oppress the alien, the widow, the orphan. They kill and follow after idols. They have made ‘this place’ a robbers' den (v. 11 ) where they hide from the truth of their behaviour. They will not listen (v. 13 ). Only if they amend can they avoid the fate of Shiloh and the northern kingdom (14, 15).

( 7:16–17 ) No Intercession

Before adding to Judah's cultic infractions, YHWH addresses Jeremiah, forbidding him to intercede on the people's behalf (vv. 16–17 ). Wilson (1989 ) argues that this prohibition protects Jeremiah from charges that he failed as intercessor to avert the fall of Jerusalem. The prophet's role included intercession to avoid disaster, and it was not avoided. Rather than see this as a failure of Jeremiah, the prose writer interprets Judah's fall as YHWH's unwillingness to hear the prophet's intercession. YHWH prohibits intercession because of the outrageous infidelities described in the sermon.

( 7:18–8:3 ) Downward Spiral

YHWH accuses the community of increasingly heinous offences. Entire families worship the queen of heaven, an astral deity. (See Ackerman 1987; O'Connor 1992; and cf. 44:15–19, 24–30 .) The passage's insistence on the involvement even of the children in the worship may simply depict the all-pervasive nature of the sin, reaching even to the offspring. But it may also encode the exilic audience, the next generation who continue in the idolatry of the generation that was expelled from the land. 7:21–6 , next YHWH rejects all burnt offerings on the grounds that they were never required. Instead, YHWH commanded obedience from the time they came out of Egypt, but they did not ‘listen’ (vv. 24–6 ). Their sins are even worse than those of their ancestors. 7:27–34 , YHWH accuses them of even more horrible sins, of child sacrifice at Topheth in the valley of Hinnom. A poetic interruption orders the nation to begin ritual lamentation for the generation that will die (v. 29 ). This verse connects the sermon to the weeping and official lamentation that follows in 8:4–10:25 . For the ritual sacrifice of children, the people deserve to die. Their corpses will remain unburied, and life in the land will end (v. 34 ). Jerusalem will become a silent, joyless place, a dead place, a wasteland of shame, where bodies of leaders and people are exhumed and spread like dung upon the ground ( 8:1–3 ).

The temple sermon interprets the national catastrophe as the result of injustice and idolatry within Judah and ultimately calls for repentance. It offers a theodicy that interprets the past and addresses the exiles ( 8:3 ). Justice and covenant living within the community, obedience and total allegiance to YHWH, expressed in proper worship, are the requirements for covenant relationship ( 7:23 ). That did not happen in the past, consequently only a remnant survive where YHWH has driven them ( 8:3 ). But for the exiles the call to ‘listen’, to obey the voice of YHWH spoken through the prophets, to heed the book itself, is still before them.

( 8:4–10:25 ) Weeping

The poems assembled here fall into four groupings: 8:4–17 continues to explain why the cosmic battle must come; 8:18–9:25 begins mourning rites in face of the siege and includes a prose comment; 10:1–16 is a communal liturgy that proclaims loyalty to YHWH and the foolishness of idols; 10:17–25 announces exile as the enemy from the north comes closer. A number of metaphors, themes, and poetic devices connect these poems with earlier poetic materials in the book. 8:10b–12 repeats the refrain of 6:13–15 , and 8:13 returns to the metaphor of the vineyard ( 2:21; 5:10–11; 6:9 ). The cosmic battle, its sounds and approaching destructiveness ( 8:16–17; 10:17–18, 22 ) explicitly links this material with chs. 4–6 . The approach of the foe provokes the only response possible, lamentation and weeping for the dying nation.

As in earlier chapters, multiple voices speak to announce, comment upon, or respond to the disaster. This section of the text acts as a conclusion to chs. 2–10 , drawing together voices, themes, and perspectives from throughout the section. Voices of lamentation and weeping that appeared earlier ( 3:21; 4:19; 6:26; 7:29 ), erupt here into cascades of tears that envelop God, the prophet, and the people. Liturgical expressions of fidelity that mock other gods ( 10:1–16 ; and perhaps 8:14–15 ) repeat the form and themes used by the children in the marriage metaphor ( 3:22–5 ). If the first-person plural liturgical voice symbolizes the implied exilic audience, prayers dramatize their voice to offer them a model of proper confession of sin (Biddle 1996: 27).

( 8:4–17 )

returns to poetry as if never interrupted by the temple sermon. YHWH speaks to Jeremiah in continued perplexity at the people's failure to return (šûb, 8:4–5 ) and compares their behaviour to that of wild creatures (vv. 6–7 ). They are like a horse plunging headlong into battle, blind to the dangers facing them. And unlike birds who know their times, the people are unnatural beings who ‘do not know the justice (mišpaṭ) of YHWH’ ( 8:7 , my tr.). YHWH quotes them to accuse them of arrogance and denial. They claim to be wise but they have rejected the word of YHWH (vv. 8–9 ). Then YHWH depicts their punishment, not by invasion but by naming an effect, the capture of wives and fields by others (v. 10 ). The refrain of accusation from 6:13–15 , repeated here, explains why invasion must occur. Every one is greedy; priests and prophets fail to see the depth of the wound; no one is ashamed. YHWH expresses bitter disappointment because the vineyard is barren ( 8:13; cf. 5:10–11; 6:9 ; and Isa 5:1–6 ).

In the midst of this crisis the people speak, using first-person plural forms (vv. 14–15 ). Befuddled and confused, they blame YHWH for poisoning the water they drink. Though they confess their sin (v. 14 ), they speak in a tone of innocent misgiving. They looked for peace and healing but found neither (v. 15 ). It is as if the community recognizes the truth of accusations against it but finds itself still in circumstances of terror. This voice may characterize the implied audience, set poetically before the invasion but also expressing the dilemma and theological confusion of exile. In reply, YHWH calls attention to the sounds of the approaching battle. The snorting and neighing of horses and the quaking of the land signal the close proximity of a huge cavalry (vv. 16–17 ). YHWH orchestrates the invasion, as if uncontrollable and deadly snakes are let loose.

( 8:18–9:22 )

The weeping of God, the earth, and the mourning women signify the imminence and inevitability of the destruction, for ‘death has come up into our windows’ ( 9:21 ). But the poetry of weeping connotes something more. It joins God with the people and the earth in vulnerability, pain, and grief. Divine tears make healing possible.

( 8:18–9:3 )

The speaker, the demarcation of units, and meaning of these verses bring no consensus among interpreters, yet these lines contain some of the most extraordinary poetry in the book. Particularly disputed is the speaker of 8:18–9:1 . Because the English text numbers 8:23 of the Hebrew as 9:1 , the English verse numbers are one ahead of the Hebrew throughout ch. 9 . Who is the ‘I’, and who says ‘my poor people’ ( 8:19, 21, 22; 9:1, 2 )? A sampling reveals vast disagreement. Carroll (1986: 235) assigns these verses to personified Jerusalem; Condamin (1920: 84) attributes them to the people; Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard (1991: 136), and Clements (1988: 59) believe Jeremiah is the speaker. Holladay (1986: 288–9) finds three voices including YHWH's in 19b and 22a.

There is a strong possibility, however, that the speaker throughout the lament is YHWH, weeping at the destruction of the people; 8:19c and 9:3 clearly identify YHWH as the poem's speaker. Elsewhere in Jeremiah, YHWH is most often the speaker of the words ‘my people’ (῾ammî, cf. 2:11, 13, 32; 6:14, 30; 8:7, 11; 9:7; 15:7; 18:15; 23:22 ; less clearly, 6:26; 14:17 ). Brueggemann (1988: 88) observes that divine pathos structures 8:18–23 . Roberts (1992 ) corroborates this view by observing that Mesopotamian laments use the motif of the weeping God and exhibit similarities to 8:18–9:3 . Perhaps commentators avoid identifying YHWH as speaker because this tearful metaphor appears too contradictory of the powerful, wrathful warrior deity in much of the book; or perhaps they think weeping too vulnerable a characteristic to be attributed to the deity.

The decision as to the divine identity of the principal speaker, by no means certain, is theologically crucial. To recognize that YHWH speaks in this poem is to see a temporary but massive turning. The imagery returns to a portrait of divine suffering already begun in the broken-marriage metaphor, but rather than distancing YHWH from the people as in the divorce of his wife ( 2:1–3:25 ), this poem unites YHWH with the people in their weeping ( 9:17–22 ). God's tears mean that there may be a balm in Gilead, healing may be possible, for in such a metaphorical depiction, God joins in the people's suffering. Tears heal because they stir ‘all living souls’, bring people together in suffering, and reveal them to one another in their vulnerability (Song 1981: 40–5). YHWH's tears are more powerful even than the armies under divine command because, for a poetic moment at least, God, people, and cosmos articulate a common suffering. The pathos of God, as Heschel (1962 ) named God's intense suffering, offers an alternative interpretation of the suffering of the exiles. It puts aside punishment, eschews questions of causality, and understands God in radically different terms from much of the rest of the book.

The poem begins with divine proclamation of grief and joylessness ( 8:18; see Holladay 1986: 287–8 and McKane 1986: 194 on translation problems). YHWH quotes ‘daughter of my people’ (bat ῾ammi, my tr., and in 8:21, 22, 23 Heb.), a term for the city. Her question expresses either smug confidence in YHWH's presence or a sense of abandonment at divine absence ( 8:19–20 ). YHWH questions in turn, expressing hurt and dismay at her idolatry. But it is the hurt of the daughter that overwhelms YHWH, not the provocation to anger ( 8:21 ). YHWH calls for healing. Is there no balm, no physician, no return to health? The implied answer is ‘no’. But YHWH does not abandon her; he weeps with her. ‘O 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’ (my tr.; 9:1; 8:23 MT). YHWH desires to become weeping, to turn into tears, to weep unceasingly over the slain.

9:2 changes the mood and may be a separate poem (Thompson 1980: 307) but similar phrasing links it to 9:1 . YHWH now wants to escape the infidelities of the people. ‘O that I had a lodging-place in the desert to escape their betrayal, their adultery, their lies, for they do not know me’ ( 9:2–3 , my paraphrase).

8:18–9:3 echoes the broken-marriage metaphor of 2:1–3:25 , in its accusations of idolatry and adultery, in its attention to city personified as female, and in the grief of YHWH over the failure of people to know him. Though accusation is still part of the poetry, grief and tears predominate, bringing the reader again to side with YHWH, but here YHWH's grief joins him with the suffering woman, at least temporarily.

( 9:4–9 )

continues divine speech. YHWH speaks to the people directly to warn them against treacherous neighbours and to announce that they will be tested and refined (cf. 6:27 ). The language of refinement and testing provides yet another interpretation of exile for it suggests something less than the complete destruction promised in the material in chs. 4–6 and would undermine the prophet's earlier message. Hence, the refinement and testing motif suggests hope to the implied audience in exile. They will emerge purified. The question of v. 7 , repeated from 5:9 and 27 , however, indicates that divine hesitancy exists, as if YHWH needs confirmation of the appropriateness of punishment, and expects to receive it.

( 9:10–11 ) Weeping

Whether the speaker, who is probably YHWH, does the weeping or commands it is not clear (McKane 1986: 203). The weeping is on behalf of the earth itself, the mountains and the pastures of the wilderness, for their destruction and the absence of life upon them (v. 10 ). Lamentation is for the world that has been uncreated and returned to chaos ( 4:23–8 ). The world of Judah and Jerusalem will become a barren heap of ruins.

( 9:12–16 )

A prose voice interjects a further interpretation of the tragedy with undisguised questions about the meaning of events. ‘Who is wise enough’ to interpret these happenings? ‘Why is the land laid waste…?’ (v. 12 ). Clearly the writer of these verses claims to be wise enough to answer them. The people did not obey tôrâ, they did not listen to YHWH's voice, and they worshipped the Baals. That is why they are in exile (v. 16 ).

( 9:17–22 ) Official Weeping

This two-stanza poem ( 9:17–19, 20–2 ) formalizes the weeping and makes it official, public, and massive. In the first stanza of the MT (vv. 17–19 ), YHWH commands that the mourning women be summoned. But it is the people or Jeremiah speaking in the rest of the stanza. The official task of the keeners was to begin the public rituals of mourning for funeral rites (O'Connor 1992 ). Their presence indicates that a death has occurred. Their wails will release the tears of the people whose eyes will ‘run down with tears’ and their eyelids ‘flow with water’ (v. 18 ). The people of Zion have already begun their keening over the death of the city (v. 19 ). In the second stanza (vv. 20–2 ), the speaker gives instructions to the women. The weeping will be so extensive that they must teach other women their professional skills. The community speaks again in v. 21 to announce that death like an invading force or an intruding person has ‘come up into our windows’. The funeral to which the people are invited is their own. Life is over (v. 22 ).

( 9:23–5 )

returns to the motif of wisdom in another prose comment which seems to take up the prose remarks of vv. 12–16 rather than the poem of vv. 17–22 , where people are weeping, not boasting. The wise must not boast about wisdom but about the knowledge of God who is loving, righteous, and just. An eschatological future promises judgement against the worship of Israel's uncircumcised neighbours whom Israel resembles in heart.

( 10:1–16 ) Confession of Sin

These verses contain a hymn presented as prophetic word (vv. 1, 11 ), the subject of which is the foolishness of worshipping other gods and the loyalty of the speakers to YHWH the true God. This liturgical song, a many-voiced choir of witnesses (Seybold 1993 ) perplexes interpreters on a number of grounds (Margaliot 1980; Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard 1991: 157–61). v. 11 is in Aramaic; the order of the MT differs from the LXX, and the poem's themes of loyal monotheism intrude abruptly upon poems of accusation and weeping in the previous chapters. The order of the MT passage, however, makes sense as it stands (Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard 1991; Thompson 1980: 325), and, of greater interest, the sentiments of this hymn, loyal monotheism and derision of idols, as well as its liturgical style, evoke the voice of the repentant children in 3:21–5 . It may be placed after the injunction to the people to weep for their imminent death ( 9:1–22 ) so as to serve as a model of repentance and reconciliation for the exilic survivors of that death. The exiles are brought into the text as the voice of the community that has been refined in the fire, and they are provided with language to reconcile them with the one true God. The hymn's location in the book transposes exilic conflict from the historical world to the divine. The gods of the nations are powerless and ridiculous, and so they and their people will be punished and perish (v. 15 ). Only the Creator God of Israel can give life, and by implication provide the community with a future.

The parody and disdain for the gods of the nations expressed here (vv. 1–5, 8–9, 14–15 ) have close parallels with other exilic texts (Isa 40–8, esp. 44:9–20; Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard 1991; Blank 1961: 243). Whereas syncretism and idolatry were always part of Israel's struggle in the land, idolatry was a particular temptation for the assimilating community in Babylon. These liturgical materials, moreover, draw on creation theology of the wisdom tradition rather than on covenant terminology. The hymn of praise (vv. 12–16 ) reverses the chaos of the cosmic battle, connecting it with the defeat of the mythic foe from the north (Perdue 1994: 141–50).

Brueggemann calls the text a ‘litany of contrasts’ between true and false gods (1988: 98). Commands not to learn from the nations nor to be afraid of their idols surround the first stanza (vv. 2–5 ). The people should not become like the nations among whom they live nor adopt their idolatrous customs. Those peoples and their deities are foolish and powerless (vv. 3–5b ). The second stanza (vv. 6–10 ) begins and ends with praise and awe of the one true God. In direct address to YHWH, v. 6 declares the greatness of the divine name and the fear owed to the true King of the nations (vv. 6–7 ). By contrast, the gods of the nations are stupid, human productions (vv. 8–9 ). These gods will perish (v. 11 ), says the prose comment. The third stanza (vv. 12–16 ) provides the reason for their demise. YHWH is the Creator whose wisdom established the world, whose voice (Gen 1 ) brings potent upheaval (v. 13 ), while idols are delusions (vv. 14–15 ). In this poem of praise, relationship with the One who formed all things is re-established (v. 16 ). The Creator is unmatched by any pretenders to deity and chooses Israel for a special inheritance (v. 16 ).

( 10:17–25 ) Exile

We are brought back dramatically to the temporal threshold of exile through the voices of at least two speakers. YHWH (vv. 17–18 and probably in v. 22 ) announces the exile and the siege. Daughter Zion (vv. 19–21 and probably vv. 23–5 ) comments on the personal significance of the disaster for her and pleads for justice. YHWH's commanding voice (vv. 17–18 ) orders the people to pick up their bundles; the siege has begun. YHWH will ‘fling away the inhabitants of the land’ with relish, indeed, with vindictiveness, ‘so that they shall feel it’.

vv. 19–21 , in terminology of ‘hurt’ and ‘wound’ that makes her a figure of sympathy rather than scorn, Daughter Zion laments her fate (see Isa 54:1–3 ). She has no one to help expand her tent and no need to do so for she is bereft of children (v. 20 ). Her leaders have wounded her; her people are scattered (v. 21 ). She sees at last what faces her and humbly acknowledges the severity of her wound. Exile is a punishment she must bear. From her own words we learn again that YHWH is not the cause of the tragedy (v. 19 ). If the female character here is YHWH's divorced wife of 2:1–4:2 , she has undergone a transformation from a silent, unreconciled cast-off to a repentant and long-suffering figure of lament, deprived of her children. But the cosmic battle approaches anyway: ‘Hear’, the noise of battle comes from the north (v. 22 ).

Daughter Zion appears to speak again in vv. 24–5 , although Holladay (1986: 338) identifies the speaker as the people rather than as the personified city, and Brueggemann (1988: 103) thinks the speaker is Jeremiah. The speaker prays that God punish in ‘just measure’ and not in anger (cf. 10:19b ). She begs, instead, for YHWH to pour anger on the nations that have laid waste and devoured Jacob (vv. 24–5 ). Clearly speaking from exile, this voice echoes the repentance themes of 3:21–5 and 10:1–16 . Exile is punishment that must be borne, but YHWH, God of all nations, may, in turn, punish those who have devastated Israel, if Israel repents.

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