Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 20 - From the Fall of Nineveh to the Fall of Judah
FOR three years Ashurbanipal's successor held the Assyrian throne and at his death Sin-shar-ishkin became king. In the summer of 612, Nabopolassar, a Chaldean leader, aided by Medes and northern nomads, attacked, looted and destroyed Nineveh, an event that marked the crumbling of the last vestiges of power in Assyria and established the foundations for the Neo-Babylonian Empire. There is some evidence that the defeat of Nineveh was the occasion of rejoicing in Judah, although the Assyrians established a new capital at Harran. Within a few years Harran was conquered by the Medes.
The reaction of at least one individual to the fall of Nineveh is preserved in a poem echoing sheer mocking joy in the defeat of Assyria. The book of the prophet Nahum falls into two parts: Chapter 1 contains an incomplete poem in an alphabetic acrostic form,1 and Chapters 2 and 3 are concerned with Nineveh. Attempts have been made to read out of this short poem something of the writer's status and personality, but there is really no way of learning much about the man for, in his jubilant mood, he treats only one theme-Nineveh. His words form a triumphant shout of praise to Yahweh that the enemy has fallen. His native village of Elkosh (1:1) has not been located.2 The prophet may have been a Judaean who reacted with intense pleasure at the news of Nineveh's defeat or he may have been a descendant of the exiles of Israel living in a village near enough to Nineveh to enable him to witness the siege, thus accounting for the graphic descriptions in his poem. He may have been a cult prophet in Jerusalem.
The two chapters dealing with the siege (chs. 2-3) appear to have been written near the time of the battle. The reference to the sack of Thebes (3:8) guarantees a date after 663, the date of Ashurbanipal's successful attack. The context of the poem suggests a date close to 612.
ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS FLAYING CAPTIVES. Nahum's bitter attitude toward the Assyrians may have been engendered in part by the knowledge of the cruel treatment given to prisoners and conquered peoples by Assyrian warriors. The portrayal is from one of the wall panels of Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh (early seventh century).
The opening chapter is a separate work which employs theophanic imagery (1:3b-5) and depicts Yahweh as an avenger (1:2-3, 9-11), a wrathful deity (1:6), a refuge for his people (1:7-8), and a deliverer (1:12-13). While it cannot be determined for certain, it seems that someone other than Nahum wrote this chapter. The liturgical or hymnic quality of this section has led to the suggestion that the first chapter was combined with the last two to form a liturgy for use in the New Year festival in the autumn of 612 after the fall of Nineveh.3
The last chapters employ forceful, descriptive terminology to create a compact, vivid word picture of the confusion and horror during the Babylonian attack. In Nahum's thought, God acts against an enemy who has earned punishment and wrath. The closing, mocking verses, indicate that the battle was over and the quietness of death and desolation had descended upon the city and its leaders. All who suffered the cruelty of Assyrian tyranny clap their hands in rejoicing (3:18-19).
It has also been proposed that the book was developed to propagandize, to encourage a strong stand against Assyria and to extend hopes for the restoration of the nation of Judah.4 It seems better and simpler to recognize the book of Nahum as consisting of genuine oracles by the prophet concerning the fall of Nineveh, to which an introductory poem was added to adapt the total work to liturgical usage.5
THE GROWTH OF NEO-BABYLONIAN POWER
Not all of the old Assyrian empire bowed to Babylon. A young Assyrian prince was made king and an invitation was sent to Pharaoh Necho of Egypt to join in stopping the growth of the new Babylonian empire. As Necho moved northward to join his allies, Josiah, perhaps in an attempt to protect Judah from both Assyrian and Egyptian control, attempted to stop him and was killed in the battle of Megiddo. Necho proceeded into Syria and Josiah's son Shallum, or Jehoahaz (possibly his throne name), took the throne, supported by the free men of Judah. Within three months he was deposed by Necho and taken as a hostage to Egypt. His brother Eliakim was appointed king and his name changed to Jehoiakim.6
The Babylonian army, led by Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadrezzar (the Nebuchadnezzar of the Bible), defeated the Assyrians and Egyptians at Carchemish in 605. Fleeing Egyptians were pursued to their own borders and only saved from invasion by the death of Nabopolassar which necessitated Nebuchadrezzar's return to Babylon. He was crowned king in April, 604.
In Judah, Jehoiakim, having promised allegiance to Babylon, retained the crown. He was an unpopular ruler and Jeremiah makes reference to his extravagance in building a new summer palace at Bethhaccerem (Ramat Rahel), a hill site a few miles south of Jerusalem.7 Jeremiah also refers to the brutal and tyrannical role that Jehoiakim played, thus suggesting that he was anything but esteemed.
The Egyptian-Babylonian power struggle had not been completely settled and in 601 the two nations met again. Apparently the battle was a stalemate, and Nebuchadrezzar returned to Babylon to strengthen his forces. Possibly the failure of Nebuchadrezzar to win a decisive victory encouraged Jehoiakim to make a fatal error and rebel against Babylon. At the time, Nebuchadrezzar was engaged in a frontier struggle and it was not until late in 598 that Babylonian armies moved on Jerusalem. During that same month Jehoiakim died, passing his problems to his 18-year-old son Jehoiachin.8 The siege of Jerusalem began on December 18, 598 and the city was taken on March 16, 597.9 The temple was looted and Jehoiachin and leading citizens and artisans were taken as prisoners to Babylon. Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah, whose name was changed to Zedekiah, was appointed king over a nation once again suffering from the ravages of war. Nebuchadrezzar had not only attacked Jerusalem, but Jehoiakim's new summer palace and the cities of Debit and Lachish all bear archaeological witness to Babylonian demolition.
The new threat to Judaean security in the rise of Babylonian power, the evil of Jehoiakim's rule, and the faltering of the Josianic reform produced turmoil in the mind of the prophet Habakkuk whose cry, "O Yahweh, how long?" introduces his collected oracles. Nothing is known of the man beyond the editorial note that he was a prophet (1:1). Many scholars have surmised that he may have been a Jerusalem cult prophet, for the notations in Chapter 3 suggest that his words may have been used in the temple liturgy.10 A legend preserved in Bel and the Dragon11 seems to be void of historical content. Habakkuk is not a Hebrew name and may be derived from an Assyrian word for a plant or herb ( hambakuku).
It is difficult to date with certainty the time of the oracles. The only real clue is the reference in 1:6 to the Chaldeans as the instrument of Yahweh's judgment, and even this passage has been given different interpretations. The German scholar B. Duhm argued that "Chaldean" should be changed to read "Kittim," a term originally used with reference to the people of Cyprus but later applied to the Greeks and Romans. Duhm believed that Habakkuk was written in the late fourth century in the time of Alexander the Great.12 A first century B.C. scroll of Habakkuk, containing only the first two chapters and an interpretive commentaryl3 found at Qumran, reads "Chaldeans" in 1:6 but employs the word "Kittim" when applying it to their own day. It is clear that in the Qumran literary tradition the original meaning was "Chaldean." If those who suffer at the hands of the Chaldeans are Assyrians, as some have suggested, the book is to be dated in 625 when Nabopolassar revolted, or near 612 when Nineveh fell.14 On the other hand, if it is Judah that is to suffer at the hands of the Babylonians and if some of the references in Chapter 2:9 ff. can be related to the actions of Jehoiakim, then a date between 609 and 598 B.C. is preferable. The latter interpretation seems to fit the situation best, and if the prophet's anticipation of a Babylonian attack was prompted by Jehoiakim's efforts to achieve independence, then a date after 601 seems most appropriate. The fact that the Egyptians are not mentioned may indicate that the oracles are from 598.
Two titles (1:1, 3:1) divide the book. The first two chapters include oracular statements; the last chapter, entitled "a prayer of Habakkuk," is a hymn. For clearer analysis the book can be divided as follows:
Yahweh's answer (1:5-11) was that the instrument of justice was to be the Chaldeans, despite the fact that they did not recognize Yahweh's role in their conquest (1:11). It seems clear that the Babylonians were on the march.
The answer shocked the prophet. How could a pure and holy deity use a people as ruthless and unrighteous as the Chaldeans to punish Judah, a people that, despite their evil ways, were more righteous than the Babylonians? How long would Yahweh permit the Chaldeans to enslave people (1:12-17) ? The prophet went to a tower to "see" how Yahweh would reply.
The answer came in the form of a command and a statement of reassurance (2:2-5). The prophet was ordered to inscribe on a tablet, in letters large enough so that a fleeing man could read it without stopping his flight, the message that the end was at hand. The just or righteous, he was assured, would "live by his faith" or "faithfulness." The meaning of this statement is not clear. Does it mean that the righteous man would, could or should live with steadfast, unyielding, moral courage, knowing that he is right-small comfort if the enemy kills without discrimination-or does it mean that the righteous man should live in the faith that Yahweh would deliver him from the enemy because of his faithfulness to Yahweh's way?15 The prophet introduced the problem of theodicy,16 the righteousness of Yahweh, which was to be discussed over and over again by subsequent writers.
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAH
Zedekiah's rule was a tenuous one. Jehoiachin, the king in exile, was treated as a royal hostage and Babylonian tablets recording the allotment of provender to the monarch (listed as "Yaukin of Yahud") and his family have been found, confirming the note in II Kings 25:29 f. Moreover, Jehoiachin retained his holdings in Judah, for storage jars bearing the stamped seal of "Eliakim, steward of Jehoiachin" have been found, indicating that financial returns from Judah holdings were garnered in the name of the absentee king.23 The portrait of Zedekiah preserved in Jeremiah's words depicts him as a vacillating, rather weak ruler not fitted for the delicate responsibilities of his age. Whatever his character may have been, he failed to recognize and appreciate, as Jeremiah apparently did, the master statesmanship and military skill of Nebuchadrezzar.
A revolt in Babylon, perhaps led by certain elements of the army, may have caused Zedekiah to believe that Nebuchadrezzar's power was crumbling, and it would appear that the Jerusalem prophet Hannaniah furthered this hope (cf. Jer. 28:1 ff.). It is possible that some of the exiles were restless, for Jeremiah wrote them a letter urging them to be good citizens (Jer. 29). A cooperative plan of revolt was developed by small nations, including Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon, and Zedekiah was urged to ally himself with them (Jer. 27). Zedekiah refused but later that same year (594), the Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt attacked Philistia in an attempt to regain control of territory important for trade and shipping and Zedekiah joined this rebellion. Once again Nebuchadrezzar moved on Jerusalem and, after an eighteen-month siege beginning in late December, 588 or January, 587, took the city in August, 586.24 These were disastrous months for Judah. Babylonian armies ravaged nearby cities, including Debir and Lachish.25 From the excavation of Lachish, twenty-one ostraca26, have been recovered consisting of correspondence between a scout or soldier in charge of an outpost and an officer within the city, written about the time the siege of Jerusalem was about to begin.27 Some letters are so indistinct and fragmentary that their meaning is obscure, but others are quite clear. They speak of those who hinder and weaken and they invoke the name of Yahweh and refer to "fire-signals" by which information was relayed. Shortly afterward the Babylonian armies destroyed Lachish and other Judaean cities. The siege of Jerusalem is related briefly in II Kings 25:1-21 (cf. Jer. 39:1-10). The city was without food and when the Babylonians finally entered, Zedekiah and his soldiers fled. Zedekiah was captured and brought for judgment before Nebuchadrezzar who was in Syria. His fate was worse than death. His family was murdered one by one before him, and then Zedekiah was blinded so that the last sight he would remember would be the destruction of his loved ones. In chains he was led to Babylon. The city of Jerusalem was utterly destroyed: the temple of Solomon was pulled down, the walls of the city were demolished and buildings were set afire.
Once again Babylonian soldiers took into captivity what remained of skilled or talented leadership, leaving only the poor and the underprivileged. So great was the devastation of Jerusalem that governmental headquarters were moved to Mizpah, probably Tell en-Nasbeh a few miles north and west. A certain Gedaliah was placed in charge of Judah.28 Little by little, as Babylonian soldiers withdrew, refugees returned, including Judaean soldiers. Encouraged by the king of Ammon, one of these men, named Ishmael, murdered Gedaliah. Pursued by angry Judaean warriors, Ishmael went to Ammon. In fear of reprisal from Babylon, many Judaeans fled to Egypt, compelling Jeremiah and his scribe to accompany them. The tattered remnant predicted by the prophets remained in Judah. In Babylon, another remnant of the educated, informed and talented kept alive faith in Yahweh and the fierce nationalism that was to be the rebirth of the people of Judah, the Jews.
Some insight into the last tumultuous trouble-ridden days of Judah comes from the book bearing the name of the prophet Jeremiah. According to the editorial superscription (1:1) Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, a priest of the village of Anathoth a few miles northeast of Jerusalem.29 Unlike Isaiah and Hosea, Jeremiah remained unmarried (16:2). The superscription notes that he received his summons to prophesy in the thirteenth year of Josiah (cf. 25:3) or about 627/626 B.C., leading to the hypothesis that he may have been born about 650 or, in view of the prophet's complaint that he was too young for prophetic responsibilities (1:6), between 650 and 640.30 Many scholars have proposed that his first oracles, which dealt with an enemy from the north (1:11-19), are to be associated with the movement of the Scythians, but others, including J. P. Hyatt, have argued that the foe from the north is to be identified as Neo-Babylonian,31 and that the thirteenth year of Josiah was the date of Jeremiah's birth, for Jeremiah speaks of Yahweh consecrating him while he was still in the womb (1:5).32 Because, to the best of our knowledge, the Scythian threat was not realized and the Neo-Babylonian one was, it is attractive to accept the latter theory. However, references to Jeremiah's wrestling with his call from Yahweh can hardly be considered prenatal and the implications of the superscription (and 25:3) should not be ignored. The superscription goes on to say that Jeremiah continued to prophesy until the eleventh year of Zedekiah (587), but events subsequent to this date appear in Chapters 40-44, a separate source. Jeremiah's prophetic ministry extends over a period of more than forty years.
Passages recording Jeremiah's personal response to his work, his loneliness and sense of frustration, and the vituperative attitude of his countrymen tend to create in the reader a feeling of genuine intimacy and empathy beyond that experienced with other biblical writers. Jeremiah's sensitivity to nature, his allusions to village life, and his changing moods are recorded in poetry charged with emotional power and illuminated by vivid imagery (cf. 4:20-21, 29; 6:24; 8:18). His deep religious awareness, his sense of personal relationship with Yahweh, his outcries and protests yet his constant yielding to what he understood to be divine will reveal the emotional depth of his experiences. He appears as one upon whom the waning fortunes of the nation, the callous indifference to community welfare of Jehoiakim, and the apostasy of the people laid a heavy burden and produced emotions akin to physical torment (4:19 f.). Yet, when Babylonians removed the leading citizenry, Jeremiah rose above his personal situation to direct words of wisdom and guidance to those being led by false hopes to anticipate an early return to Judah (ch. 29).
Despite his loneliness, Jeremiah had at least one disciple, Baruch, son of Neriah, who copied the prophet's oracles and delivered them to King Jehoiakim (ch. 36). It is possible that the bulk of the record of Jeremiah rests upon Baruch's work.
Traditionally the entire fifty-two chapters of Jeremiah have been attributed to the prophet, but it is clear that such a thesis is no longer tenable. There is a considerable difference between the Hebrew and the LXX texts, not only in the order of the contents but in length. The LXX version is shorter, omitting numerous individual verses but adding others, raising a question as to whether passages were dropped from the LXX tradition or added to the Hebrew. Chapter 52 of Jeremiah parallels II Kings 24:18-25:21 and is a summary of events from 598 to 566, from the same source as II Kings. Chapters 50 and 51 come from a period after the destruction of Jerusalem but before the death of Nebuchadrezzar in 562 and represent the time when the captive Judaeans, or Jews as they came to be called, dreamed of the overthrow of Babylon by an enemy vaguely defined as a foe from the north or, at times, as the Medes. Certain eschatological and restoration oracles represent the thinking of the people of the Exile and are, therefore, additions to Jeremiah's work: 3:14-18; 4:23-26; 12:14-17; 16:14-15; 23:1-4, 5-6, 7-8; 25:30-38; 30:8-9, 10-11, 16-17, 18-22, 22-24; 31:1, 7-9, 10-14, 23-25, 27-28, 35-37, 38-40. Numerous passages in Chapters 26-45 relating Jeremiah's activities in the third person may represent Baruch's memoirs. Therefore, the book is composite, containing genuine Jeremiac sayings, Baruch's contributions and later additions.
INCENSE ALTARS from the Early Iron Age found at Megiddo, perhaps similar to those used in Jeremiah's time to burn incense to Ba'al (cf. Jer. 1:16; 7:9; 11:12 f.; etc.)
Chapter 36, which tells of a scroll dictated by Jeremiah to Baruch for presentation to King Jehoiakim, is usually taken as the starting point for study of the literary tradition. The king destroyed this scroll but Jeremiah immediately dictated another containing the same material and numerous additions (36:32). The contents appear to have been the accumulated oracles of the prophet, including those denouncing "Israel and Judah" and foreign nations (36:2). Some attempts have been made to isolate this scroll from the total work assigned to Jeremiah, but results have not been particularly satisfactory.33 The basis for selections are that the material must represent oracles from 626 to 605 and that they must be composed of indictments and threats. The choice of oracles is generally limited to Chapters 1 to 25. Just how helpful such lists are is not clear. The problem is complicated by the Deuteronomic style which appears in varying degrees in Jeremiah's work, for it is not clear to what extent Jeremiah may have adopted or employed a Deuteronomic style (which could have become popular after 621), or to what degree his work has been edited by Deuteronomists, or to what extent his scribe, Baruch, may have utilized Deuteronomic patterns. It seems wiser to begin with an analysis of the entire content of the book and to proceed from there on an historical basis, so far as possible.
The book of Jeremiah may be divided into seven parts:
I. Ch. 1 The prophet's vocational summons.
A more detailed breakdown follows (non-Jeremiac material is italicized) :
I. The Vocational Summons: Chapter 1.
II. Oracles against his own people: Chapters 2-25.
III. Biographical material: Chapters 26-29 (probably the work of Baruch).
IV. Prophetic Oracles: Chapters 30-33.
V. Biographical material: Chapters 34-45.
VI. Oracles Against the Nations: Chapters 46-51.
VII. An Historical Appendix: Chapter 52.
JEREMIAH AND JOSIAH
Read Ch. 1
The first visions are associated with everyday objects transformed in the prophet's mind to symbols. The branch of the almond tree, shaqed in Hebrew, becomes shoqed or "watching" to the prophet and brings a promise that Yahweh was watching over his word. A boiling pot tipped toward the south becomes a warning that hordes of enemies would pour out of the north into Judah. If the reference is to the Scythian-Cimmerian movement, then Jeremiah was wrong; if it has a longer time significance then the Neo-Babylonians proved him to be right; or if these oracles are to be dated fifteen or twenty years later, as Hyatt has proposed, then Jeremiah was correct.
A COSMETIC MORTAR. The cosmetic mortar pictured here is from the time of Jeremiah and was found at Tell en-Nasbeh which is believed to be the biblical city of Mizpah (Jer. 40:6 ff.). Cosmetic mortars were usually made from limestone or marble and were from three to four inches in diameter. Fragments of green malachite ore were placed in the mortar and ground to a fine powder with a pestle, then oil was added to make a paste and the green eyeshadow called kohlor kuhl was applied to the eyelids. A black cosmetic preparation for eyebrows, eyelashes and for outlining the eyes was made by grinding antimony to powder and adding oil. It was the use of these products that Jeremiah had in mind when he described Jerusalem as a harlot enlarging her eyes with paint (Jer. 4:30). A reddish colored cosmetic mixture was made by using iron oxide as a base.
JEREMIAH AND DEUTERONOMY
Read Chs. 11-12
A second monologue raises the problem of theodicy39 (12:1) and mentions the rejection of the prophet by his own family. Yahweh's response to the query about theodicy is Yahweh's promise of the destruction of the nation and the abandonment of his temple. Without Yahweh the nation could have no inner strength; indeed, Yahweh's sword was to be turned against his chosen people (12:12). On the basis of these chapters it could be argued that Jeremiah supported the Deuteronomic reform with enthusiasm, that he encountered bitter opposition in his home community when he attempted to preach there, and that his efforts to bring about the reform were unavailing (cf. Jer. 15:16 f.).
Other passages may be selected to reflect another response. For example, Jeremiah 8:8 ff. may refer to the prophet's rejection of D as a false work by the scribes, or this passage may be interpreted as a reflection of Jeremiah's attitude after his work on behalf of the code failed. Whatever Jeremiah's original response to D may have been,40 if 31:31 ff. is by the prophet as most scholars believe it is quite clear that Jeremiah became convinced that the formalizing of religion in a covenantal code or in a rigid credal statement was inadequate. He returned to the emphasis of his prophetic predecessors and stressed a religion of inner commitment rather than outer observance. The covenant of the future would be inscribed on the human heart rather than on tablets of stone, and knowledge of God would not be knowledge about Yahweh acquired through teaching but inner, personal knowledge gained through experience.
JEREMIAH AND THE DEATH OF JOSIAH
Read 22:10-12; 8:14-15
JEREMIAH AND JEHOIAKIM
Read Chs. 7, 26
Read 19-20:6; 36:9-32
Read 22:13-23; 45
Read Ch. 25; Chs. 46-47
Read Chs. 48-49
JEREMIAH AND JEHOIACHIN
Read 13:18-19; 22:24-30
JEREMIAH AND ZEDEKIAH
Read Ch. 24
Read Chs. 27-29
When Zedekiah's folly brought about the return of Nebuchadrezzar's army, Zedekiah, in a desperate effort to win Yahweh's favor and support, declared the release of all Hebrew slaves in accord with Deuteronomy 15. The covenantal requirement was no sooner announced than it was violated, and the newly freed slaves were taken back into bondage. The armies of Babylon arrived. During a lull in the siege, Jeremiah attempted to visit his home in Anathoth but was arrested as a deserter and imprisoned in a cistern empty of water but not of miry sediment. When he was rescued from this cell and brought before Zedekiah, he advised surrender to Babylon-counsel that the monarch rejected. After the fall of the city when the second deportation took place, Jeremiah was permitted to remain in Judah.
JEREMIAH AFTER THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
A number of monologues in which Jeremiah reveals his inner emotions and personal communications with Yahweh are labeled "Confessions." They include: 11:18-23; 12:1-6; 15:10-12, 15-21; 17:910, 14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-12, 14-18.
The youthful naiveté with which the prophet entered his career, the resultant suffering at the hands of his opponents (including his own family), his loneliness and isolation from the ordinary joys of his countrymen, and his frustration and cries for vengeance, depict the inner turmoil of the prophet. His experiences, which caused him real physical pain, grew out of a commitment to Yahweh which both delighted him (15:16) and isolated him from pleasures of society. Doubts about Yahweh's constant support (15:18b) were answered with the guarantee of fortifying strength (15:19 ff.). As he became the subject of mockery and ridicule, he determined never to utter the oracles of Yahweh again, only to find that the fire of Yahweh's demands burned within him, compelling him to cry out his words of doom against his will, so demanding was the power of his experience of the divine (20:7 ff.). Fluctuating moods, anger, demands for vengeance, coupled with moments of strength and assurance, mark him as the most human of men, an individual torn between destiny, duty, a committed life, and the pressures of an unsympathetic, hostile audience.43
HEAD OF A GODDESS. Figurines of clay, often called "Astarte figurines," have been found by archaeologists at many sites in Palestine in material remains coming from the period of the divided kingdom (Iron II). The face or front of the head was formed by pressing soft clay into a carefully prepared mold. The back of the head was roughly shaped by hand. The body consisted of a solid pillar of clay, flared at the base so it could stand alone. Usually the breasts were prominent and the arms, formed of strips of rolled clay, are flattened at the end to form hands which may merge into the body beneath the the breasts or cup or support the breasts as though offering them to an infant. Such representations are called dea nutrix or "the nurse goddess," symbolizing the mother who feeds her children. It is quite possible that these figurines are representations of the "queen of heaven" favored by the women of Jerusalem in Jeremiah's time (Jer. 7:16-20; 44:16-19).
JEREMIAH'S CONCEPT OF GOD
From the confessions it is easy to ascertain that Jeremiah believed Yahweh to be a god of judgment and justice, reliable and sure, concerned with the people's ethical behavior and obedience. Other passages reveal that Jeremiah emphasized the election tradition. Drawing upon Hosea, he glorified the wilderness tradition as the time when the people were faithful to their deity and argued that infidelity developed with the settlement in Canaan. What is new in Jeremiah's teaching is the reference to the covenant which was not specifically mentioned by his prophetic predecessors, but which, under Deuteronomic influence, was brought into central focus (11:3 ff.). Judah was the chosen of Yahweh, linked not only by ties of obedience and love, but by the binding, contractual force of the covenant.
Like earlier prophets, Jeremiah emphasized moral conduct and condemned the cult (6:20), but he went much further in his mockery of those who accepted the existence of the temple as a symbol of divine protection. The centralization of the cult under Deuteronomic influence no doubt contributed to this idea, and Jeremiah's prediction that the temple would become a ruin like the shrine at Shiloh was more than religious heresy and bordered upon treason. Jeremiah's argument was that Yahweh could not be protector of his people when they had forsaken him and that the very symbol of his protective role had become meaningless and would be removed because of national apostasy (ch. 7). Ritual was secondary; obedience was primary. Complete commitment to Yahweh and national security went hand in hand, as did unfaithfulness and disaster.
Yahweh's interest and power was not limited to Judah. He was creator of the world, and all human authority, all world leadership, all history was under his control (27:5 ff.; 31:35 ff.). Yahweh was god of nature, but was concerned with moral behavior (5:25 f.). Nor was the worship of Yahweh restricted to Judah or Jerusalem; Jeremiah taught that those in exile should pray to Yahweh on behalf of their captors, in the assurance that their prayers would be heard (29:7). This teaching moves beyond the monolatrous statements of Deuteronomy toward monotheism, encouraging belief in the possibility of worshipping Yahweh in any spot on the face of Yahweh's earth, and although the first full statement of monotheism was to come over half a century later, Jeremiah's expanded concepts provide the basis for such beliefs.
The theme of Yahweh's redemptive love developed by Hosea is expanded by Jeremiah. The national debacle foreseen by the prophets had become a reality and the war-weary Judaeans looked toward the future. Jeremiah did not extend hope for a quick return from exile but gave the exiles a new identity as the seed of the new Israel. As Yahweh in anger had sent them away, so Yahweh in love would restore them. A new god-people relationship would be established (24:4 ff.) and a new covenant of the heart formed (31:31 ff.), a concept that would be of great significance to those in exile and unable to perform covenant rituals. So confident was Jeremiah of Yahweh's redeeming love and of the future of the people, that at the height of the Babylonian siege he purchased a plot of ground in Anathoth from a cousin (32:6-15). Yahweh was not only god of the past, but lord of the future.
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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