Thursday, September 21, 2017

The ACA's Continuing Story

"Last-Ditch Effort By Republicans to Replace ACA: What You Need to Know"
http://billmoyers.com/story/last-ditch-effort-republicans-replace-aca-need-know/

"The National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) warned Republicans on Thursday that the Senate's latest ObamaCare repeal bill would place a massive burden on states."
http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/351846-medicaid-directors-warn-repeal-bill-would-be-largest-transfer-of-financial


Monday, September 18, 2017

Bible in a Year: Ezekiel

This calendar year, I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week, I’m studying Ezekiel, a book that I was dreading, because it can be so weird and angry, but at the same time it is so profound and concerned.

In his book Holiness in Israel (Fortress Press, 1989), John G. Gammie writes: “[N]ot only was Ezekiel a priestly prophet and theologian of the divine holiness, he was also a pastor and superb moral theologian. His homilies of divine judgment on the unfaithful shepherds (chap. 34) and of divine hope for the exiles who considered themselves as dead as dry bones in a dry valley (chap. 37) certainly rank among the best-known homilies from all of Scripture. Ezekiel spoke with the eye of a pastor to the needs of those in exile” (pp. 49-50).

Daniel Block describes other aspects of Ezekiel:

“Nor surprisingly, Ezekiel has been the subject of numerous psycho-analytical studies. While prophets were known often to act and speak erratically for rhetorical purposes, Ezekiel is in the class of his own. The concentration of so many bizarre features in one individual is without precedent: his muteness; lying bound and naked; digging holes in the walls of houses; emotional paralysis in the face of his wife’s death; ‘spiritual’ travels; images of strange creatures, of eyes, and of creeping things hearing voices and the sounds of water; withdrawal symptoms; fascination with feces and blood; wild literary imagination; pornographic imagery; unreal if not surreal understanding of Israel’s past; and the list goes on. It is no wonder that Karl Jaspers found in Ezekiel an unequaled case for physiological analysis. E. C. Broome concluded that Ezekiel was a true psychotic, capable of great religious insight but exhibit g series of diagnostic characteristics: catatonia, narcissistic-masochistic conflict, schizophrenic withdrawal, delusions of grandeur and of persecution. In short, he suffered from a paranoid donation common in many great spiritual leaders. This psychoanalytic approach has been rejected by commentators and psychiatrists alike (quoted in Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd edition, 223-223).

Block rightly dismisses this approach, but his comments do illustrate the strangeness of this particular prophet, even among the strange individuals who were gifted with prophecy  in Israel’s history.

Ezekiel was not only a prophet but a priest of Zadoc—the priests appointed by Solomon for the Temple, 1 Kings 2:35 (Jewish Study Bible, p. 1042) This priesthood has an interesting history. Not surprisingly, Ezekiel’s prophecies have a focus of purity and priestly faithfulness. The years of his prophetic office seems to coincide with the twenty years stipulated for priests (Numbers 4:23, 39; JSB, 1044. The purpose of the book is to announce and describe judgment on Judah and to urge repentance. Set during the Babylonian captivity, the book was likely written in about 571 BCE, according to one source.

But Ezekiel's concern to be a watchman is also a very pastoral duty. As Gerhard von Rad points out (Old Testament Theology, Vol. II [Harper & Row, 1965], p. 2320, his prophetic role made him go out among the people and minister to them (pp. 230-231). These words are very famous and are often taken to heart by pastoral leaders:

At the end of seven days, the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, I have made you a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, and you give them no warning, and do not speak to warn the wicked from their wicked way, in order to save their life, those wicked persons shall die for their iniquity; but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and they do not turn from their wickedness, or from their wicked way, they shall die for their iniquity; but you will have saved your life. Again, if the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before them, they shall die; because you have not warned them, they shall die for their sin, and their righteous deeds that they have done shall not be remembered; but their blood I will require at your hand. If, however, you warn the righteous not to sin, and they do not sin, they shall surely live, because they took warning; and you will have saved your life (3:16-21)

This commission of God’s for Ezekiel is reiterated in chapter 33 as well.

*****

The book is more chronological and orderly compared to Jeremiah. Here is a basic outline:

Chapters 1-3, the Lord commissions Ezekiel and gives him visions and messages concerning Judah.

Chapters 4-24. Ezekiel proclaims his message, not only in oracles but also in symbolic actions and parables.

Chapters 25-32 concern God’s judgment against the nations: Ammon, Edom, Philistia, Moab, Sidon, Egypt, and Tyre.

Chapters 33-48 contain the prophets messages of salvation and restoration. This section contains the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, the oracle of Gog and Magog, and finally the vision of the restored Temple.

The Jewish Study Bible identifies thirteen major blocks, from the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile in 593 to the vision of the restored temple in the 25th year:

Ezekiel’s inaugural vision and resulting oracles (1:1-7:27)
Oracles concerning the departure of God from the Temple (8:1-19:14)
Oracles about Israel’s punishment (20:1-23:49)
symbolic actions about Jerusalem’s destruction and the condemnation of neighboring nations (24:1-25:17)
Oracles about Tyre (26:1-28:26)
Oracles concerning Egypt (29:1-32:1-6)
Oracles about the nations; Ezekiel’s role as watchman (32:17-33:20)
Oracles about Israel’s restoration (33:21-39:29)
Vision of the restored temple (40:1-48:35) (paraphrased from JSB, 1045).

*****

God’s holiness is a major theme of the book. Ezekiel expresses God’s desire that God, or the Name of God, shall be known. The phrase “that you (they) may know that I am the Lord” occurs at least 63 times in Ezekiel (Gammie, p. 45).

Also, the Name of God is theological important in Ezekiel. “My holy name” and “for the sake of my holy name” are also frequent phrases in the book (p. 47)

Ezekiel chapter 20 provides the story of Israel, where the people are delivered “for my name’s sake”). Then they are given the Sabbaths and the laws where Israel may know the Lord and sanctify God’s name. The wilderness generation rebelled, too, but God acted again for the sake of God’s name” (p. 46).

Ezekiel also is a theologian of God’s “glory” (kabod). The book begins with a vision of glory: the weird vision that inspired that spiritual, “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” perhaps my first acquaintance with this Bible book. In chapters 8-11, the prophet depicts the departure of God’s glory from the Temple, and also the return of God’s glory to the restored Temple (Ez. 40-48).

Gammie further notes that 18:5-9, 10-13, 14-18 is an outline “for a moral theology that may justifiably be called a theology of the ethical requirements of holiness” (p. 50). For instance, 18:5-9:

If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right— if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties, follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.

Gammie connects Ezekiel chapter 18 with Leviticus 19 as the Bible’s high points of ethical reflection—-but also the Temple passage in chapters 40-48. Here, too, we have a lofty theology of ethics and holiness in the framework of God’s glory (pp. 52-59). Although the Temple vision does not depict the ark or incense or other aspects of the cultus that we find in the Torah, we do have these requirements of holiness:

1 A newly built Temple (40-42)
2. Removal of memorials of kings (43:7-8)
3. Removal of foreigners from the sanctuary (44:6-9)
4. Demotion of the Levites along with an elevation of the Zadokite priests (44:10-27)
5. Social reforms 45:9-12)
6. The people bring sacrifices to offer (45:13-17)
7. The sanctuary is cleansed (45:18-20)
8. The passover is kept (45:21-25)
9. The holiness of the inner rooms are safeguarded (44:19, 46:19)
and the land is apportioned to the prices, prince, and Zadokites, with the Temple in the center (chapter 48). (Paraphrased from Gammie p. 56)


That author goes on to discuss ways this depiction differs with or complements other scriptures about the priesthood and holy places (pp. 56-57), and also similarities with Ezekiel’s conception of holiness with that of the Chronicler (Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah), pp. 58-69.

In An Introduction to the Old Testament, Brueggemann also points out the way the repentance of the people Israel is not a matter of ethics alone, but also (for the priest Ezekiel) a regaining of God’s holiness after the ritual contamination (36:23-28). The theological focus of Ezekiel is the priestly care for the divine presence as well as the honor of the name of the sovereign God. When Jerusalem falls, then (in Ezekiel’s theology) God’s dishonored name has been vindicated (pp. 228-229). Thus the first portion of the book ends at chapter 24, with Jerusalem’s fall, and then with chapter 25 and following, he prophet teaches of God’s hope. Not only the fall of Jerusalem but the defeat of the nations (e.g, chapters 25-28, and the vision of Gog and Magog in chapters 38-39) also serve to illustrate the sovereignty of God (pp. 230-231, 234-235).

Gerhard von Rad reminds us that, during Ezekiel’s two decades of prophecy, there was yet no Deuteronomistic theology that interpreted theologically the reasons for the disaster that has befallen upon Judah. Is God weak? Is God unfaithful and uncaring? Some of the working-out of problems that Gammie points out, as well as some of the extremity that Block discusses, is Ezekiel’s effort—crude and unpoetic as he may sometimes be—-to preach the reasons for Judah’s exile. For instance, the untoward eroticism and terrible violence of the parables of chapters 16 and 23—where God’s people are depicted as a sexually insatiable, faithless wife violently punished by her jealous and wounded husband/God—is unacceptable by our contemporary standards but, in the context of the time, illustrates the intimacy of the bond between God and his people and the wounded quality and dishonor God feels when God’s people have been unfaithful to the covenant.

The unfaithfulness that Ezekiel depicts as "whoring" refers both to cultic apostasy as well as Judah's attempts to gain the help of powerful neighboring nations (pp. 229ff). Marc Zvi Brettler (How to Read the Jewish Bible, Oxford 2007, p. 191), notes that the prophet uses the root זנה (znh), "to whore," thirteen times in chapter 16 and seven times in chapter 23. A good book on Ezekiel's themes, which I've studied but can't find in my library at the moment, is Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh's Wife by Dr. Julie Galambush (Scholars Press, 1992). She discusses more about the marital and covenantal images in the prophet.

A significant aspect of Ezekiel’s moral loftiness is his refutation of the idea of intergenerational guilt. For instance, chapter 18 begins:

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

Marc Zvi Brettler paraphrases that proverb, "The parents eat Snickers® and the children get cavities." He interpret's Ezekiel's daring affirmation of individual responsibility as reflecting his ability to listen to the worries of the exiles and to offer the right words to his fellow people (pp. 188-189). 
After all, the Ten Commandments themselves (see Exodus 20:5) presumes intergenerational guilt, and stories like Sodom presume communal guilt; these are ideas we've often seen in the scriptures so far. “Ezekiel is arguing against two beliefs found in a variety of biblical texts—intergenerational punishment, and corporate (communal) responsibility and retribution. That is why he needs to make his point so forcefully” (p. 190). Thus the repetitiveness of chapter 18 and also chapter 14.

Ezekiel's theology of the law provides a potential link to Paul’s theology—-although Paul does not quote Ezekiel in this content. Von Rad writes: "Ezekiel brings a new direction to the old prophetic task of exposing sin. He is, perhaps, more concerned than his predecessors were to demonstrate its total dominion over men. These excursuses on the history are intended to make clear that it is not a matter of separate transgressions, nor simply of the failure of one generation, but of a deep-seated inability to obey, indeed of a resistance to God which made itself manifest on the very day that Israel came into being. What makes Ezekiel’s pictures of Israel’s history so unvarying is that in his eyes the end is no better than the beginning. There is no difference, no moment of suspense—the same state of affairs exists in every age of her history.” Thus God departs Israel (p. 230) but restores Israel for the sake of his name, which includes the nations (p. 236-237). “The final goal of the divine activity is therefore that Jahweh should be recognized and worshipped by those who so far have not known him or who still do not know him properly.” (p. 237).

Also, according to von Rad, although Jeremiah does not unify the traditions of Sinai and of a future Davidic king, Ezekiel does in 37:24, though for Ezekiel the Sinai mitzvot are still uppermost. (p. 236).  When we get to the New Testament texts I'll try to remember to connect this particular prophetic theology to Paul.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Childhood Joy

What reminds you of simple childhood joys? Brand-new pennies?






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bible in a Year: Lamentations, Baruch

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

This week I'm reading Lamentations, along with the apocrypha book Baruch.

The Book of Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, is found in the Jewish Bible and all Christian Old Testaments. In the Jewish tradition, the book (entitled “Eichah,” “How,” the first word), is one of the Five Scrolls and is recited on the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the holiday that remembers the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

In Christian traditions, the book follows the book of Jeremiah. Passages are read during Tenebrae of the Holy Triduum.

Both Jeremiah and Lamentations share a terrible sorrowfulness. Here are just a few verses that cry out concerning the desolation of God's people in the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem, and God's seeming absence amid the horrifying suffering. In his commentary on Jeremiah and Lamentations (1), John Bracke of Eden Seminary points out that the book is open enough to reflect a variety of terrible circumstances, which makes the book sadly timeless. (p. 187).

How lonely sits the city
   that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
   she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
   has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
   with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
   she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
   they have become her enemies (1:1-2).

Arise, cry out in the night,
   at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
   before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
   for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
   at the head of every street.

Look, O Lord, and consider!
   To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
   the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
   in the sanctuary of the Lord? (2:19-20)

Those who feasted on delicacies
   perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
   cling to ash heaps.

For the chastisement of my people has been greater
   than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
   though no hand was laid on it (4:5-6).

Lamentations has five poems. Chapters 1, 2, and 4 have 22 verses that begin with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, those forming an acrostic. Chapter 3, with its 66 verses, thus have three acrostic poems. Chapter 5 has 22 verses but is not an acrostic. The Harper's Bible Commentary notes that, in the first four poems, the first line is usually longer than the second line. “Such imbalance produces a falling rhythm that is said to ‘limp,’ ‘choke,’ or ‘sob’ in sympathy with the mournful contents.” (p. 646). “The aim of the acrostic-building poet(s) seems to have been to foster a comprehensive catharsis of grief and confession linked to an inculcation of faith and hope, to be accomplished literally by covering the subject ‘from A to Z’” (p. 647).

John Bracke points out Nahum 1:2-8, Proverbs 31:10-31, and Psalms 9-10, 25, 34 37, 11, 112, 119, and 145 have an alphabetical arrangement as well (p. 183). Furthermore, Lamentations also reflects the kind of psalm that scholars call “communal lament,” such as 74, 97, and 137 (p. 185).

The Harper's Bible Commentary continues, “Lamentations, in its final form, exhibits a striking and innovating amalgam of prophetic, Deuteronomistic, and wisdom notions that subordinates and neutralizes Davidic-Zion traditions without rejecting them outright” (pp. 648-649).

Bracke has this helpful summary: “As we read the book of Lamentations, we should not expect the book to provide answers about suffering. instead, the book of Lamentations gives us words with which to address God about suffering… Our culture is optimistic and values certainty and confidence. to speak of suffering is a sign of weakness and pessimism, out of character in ‘can-do’ America… [but] The book of Lamentations invites us to speak honestly before God of the pain that afflicts us as we live in communities. Lamentations is a book to be prayed because in those communities where we live there is suffering of which God needs to know even if it is not immediately evident that God is paying attention or cares. Perhaps, as we pray through Lamentations, we may discover anew God’s reign even when God seems absent” (pp. 188-189).

Note:

John M. Bracke, Jeremiah 30-52 and Lamentations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000), and his Jeremiah 1-29 (same date and publisher).

*****

Book of Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah.

In Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles (though not in the Jewish Bible and the Protestant Old Testament), the Book of Baruch (or 1 Baruch) follows Lamentations. The ascribed author is Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch ben Neriah, but the book was probably written during or after the Maccabean period. The five chapters concern the history of Israel and the crisis of exile.

Chapter 6 of Baruch is called the Letter (or Epistle) of Jeremiah and is addressed to exiles in Babylon. Orthodox Bibles has this letter as a stand-alone book that follows Baruch, while in Roman Catholic Bibles the letter is the last chapter/ appendix of Baruch.

After these, the next book is Ezekiel.




Haydn on Period Instruments

Amid all the distressing news these days---as well as yesterday's 9/11 anniversary---I've been cheering myself by catching up on this set of Haydn’s 107 symphonies, which came out a year or two ago. I planned to write about the set after I’d listened to all 35 CDs. That hasn’t worked out; they’re fun to listen to more than once, after all! So I'm taking my time, and getting further into all the music.

As this article discusses, the set is the first recording of Haydn’s symphonies on period instruments. Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, and Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century, recorded several of the symphonies, but plans for complete recordings faltered. Between the two orchestras, only symphonies 78-81 were not recorded on the older instruments, and the gap was filled by Ottavio Dantone conducting the Accademia Bizantina.

The order of the symphonies reflects research done since Haydn’s symphonies were first numbered. For instance, on this set, 30, 34, and 72 share a disc, because now we know they were written at about the same time in the 1760s.

I wrote about Haydn's symphonies a few years ago. I had ordered the Adam Fischer-conducted, 33-CD set of Haydn's 104 symphonies, which included two string quartets for which woodwind parts were discovered, and a sinfonia concertante. Later on, I downloaded the Antal Dorati-conducted set, which I used to see in record stores that I frequented. A common misconception, which I shared, is that Dorati's was the first complete recording of Haydn's symphonies. But the notes of this new set point out that Ernst Märzendorfer (1921-2009) was actually the first, on a set of LPs sold by the Musical Heritage Society, a mail order club to which I used to belong. At that time, though, I wasn't yet paying attention to Haydn's music.

I still enjoy the Fischer modern-instrument recordings the best. To me, he and the players really bring out the beauty of the adagio and minuet movements. But how wonderful to gain this new perspective on such a rich source of musical beauty.


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Landscape: Grandma Moses

Grandma Moses, "Shenandoah Valley (1861 News of the Battle)", 1938. Moses was born on this day in 1860!



Bible in a Year: More on Jeremiah

This calendar year (and probably into Lent 2018), I’m reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Here are a few more thoughts and notes about Jeremiah.

As I write on one of my other blogs: When I was a young person, in Sunday school in our small town church, I pictured the long biblical text in an unusual way: as if it was a landscape for exploring. My dad was a truck driver who hauled gasoline and fuel oil, and so images of travel and “the open road” come naturally to me. (The Bible contains 66 books, and Dad regularly drove Route 66 in Illinois … how providential!) Perhaps I was also inspired by the well-used maps at my church of Bible lands, maps which seemed as interesting as the folded maps, free at filling stations, in the glove compartment of our family car. I imagined the Bible as a large area, not of Palestine, but of sections of landscape, like states, laid out for more or less eastbound travel—even if you began with the New Testament but then backtracked to the Old, as I’ll do in a moment. (When I read my favorite translation of the Torah with its Hebrew text, I begin to imagine the right-to-left text as westbound.)

At the Bible’s beginning, the “scenery” is interesting from Genesis through about 2/3 of the way through Exodus. A few places become tedious—the genealogies, for instance—but the reading moves along, peaking in cinema-ready excitement with the Red Sea crossing, the Ten Commandments, and the Golden Calf.  The reading slows as you journey through Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. But you’ve encountered some of the Bible’s high points: the Creation, the Flood, Abraham’s call, Egyptian slavery, the Exodus, and the revelation at Sinai.

You continue on a varied landscape though the historical books: some good parts, some dry. Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel contain violence and intrigue. Beyond, as you pass through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the “travel” becomes tougher again. Do I really need to know all those kings—who sinned and how badly—and lists of names, in order to be saved, to love the Lord?

But in this landscape, too, we find high points: the conquest of the Land, the establishment of the monarchy and kingdom (with David and Solomon as the key figures), the destruction of Jerusalem, the Exile, and the Restoration. Understanding the Bible requires some grasp of these events.

After the historical books, the journey becomes more interesting again. Among the writings, the Psalms alone are worth many revisits; Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, too. Then you embark on journey through the prophets. The prophets contain fascinating material, but without the narrative structure of the historical books, and without a clear chronology, the prophets’ writings can seem scattered and hard to grasp. A person can lose her bearings there.

You reach the New Testament, which—again, in my young imagination—I pictured as a wonderful landscape that gradually narrows. That’s because the New Testament books tend to become shorter and shorter. Little-bitty 2 John, 3 John, and Jude have only one chapter each, compared to Matthew’s 28. It was as if God was focusing your spiritual travels toward the end times and salvation, the subject of the longer, finally book of Revelation.

I think of some of these longer biblical books in "landscape" imagery. Isaiah, with its several oracles about Isaiah, Judah, and the nations, begins really to feel like a "map" of poetry and images, until we get to chapters 40-66, which I imagine in terms of a lovely and sunny, blue sky. (See, for instance, 60:19-21!)

Jeremiah "feels" like a more rugged landscape, with cisterns and broken pots, yokes, cities destroyed or promised to be destroyed, bitter wailing, finally a scroll weighed by a stone and cast into the sea.

In his book Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Telushkin calls Jeremiah "the loneliest man of faith." Like Moses and David, we learn a lot from the Bible about his desolate moments, but also, he "is the only character in the Bible who is denied a family. Early in his career, God decrees that Jeremiah is to live alone: 'the word of the Lord came to me. You are not to marry and not to have sons and daughters in this place' (16:1-2)." This is because of the violence to come (Biblical Literacy, pp. 293-294). Tragically, Jeremiah also had to see his predictions come true (p. 295).

******

Among the well-known passages of this prophet is Jeremiah 20:7-18, a text that I first discovered in div school. Here is the NRSV:

O Lord, you have enticed me,
   and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
   and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughing-stock all day long;
   everyone mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
   I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’
For the word of the Lord has become for me
   a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
   or speak any more in his name’,
then within me there is something like a burning fire
   shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
   and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering:
   ‘Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
   All my close friends
   are watching for me to stumble.
‘Perhaps he can be enticed,
   and we can prevail against him,
   and take our revenge on him.’
But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior;
   therefore my persecutors will stumble,
   and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
   for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonour
   will never be forgotten.
O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous,
   you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
   for to you I have committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord;
   praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
   from the hands of evildoers.

Cursed be the day
   on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
   let it not be blessed!
Cursed be the man
   who brought the news to my father, saying,
‘A child is born to you, a son’,
   making him very glad.
Let that man be like the cities
   that the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
   and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me in the womb;
   so my mother would have been my grave,
   and her womb for ever great.
Why did I come forth from the womb
   to see toil and sorrow,
   and spend my days in shame?

Like some of the psalms, this passage mixes despair directed at God, with praise at God’s ability to rescue and prevail. Unfortunately, Jeremiah also feels that God has prevailed over him, in gifting him as a prophet and thus giving him over to a life of misery, rejection, and shame.

Verse 7 is particularly strong language directed at God. Years ago I wrote in my margin that the Hebrew word pata (deceive or entice) also means “seduce,” while the word yakol (prevail) has a strong sexual connotation. The sense is that God seduced and then raped Jeremiah.

When we discussed this passage in div school, our interests were in a feminist reading (1)---the language of sexual violence that we find here and elsewhere in some of the prophets, particularly Ezekiel---and also a pastoral reading---what does it mean to be called to ministry but then feel deceived by God?

Look at verses 14-18. To use a crude expression, Jeremiah declares, in effect, “F my life.” He wishes he’d never been born. Loathing of himself and fury at God are two sides of the same experience. And don't forget---these are words of the Bible, God's word for us!

Jeremiah expresses anger and despair both at God and toward his own sense of self-worth. And yet he remains true to his calling. Part of his despair is, indeed, that he is committed to this life of faith and will not deviate from it, even though, in his perception, God has treated him in the worst possible way.

I can't fail to call attention to topics of date-rape and “rape culture.” I found the following blog helpful: the author and some commenters discuss issues of gender, gendered emotional response, and sexual violence that this passage implies: http://theroundearthsimaginedcorners.blogspot.com/2012/06/god-and-images-of-rape-in-jeremiah.html

*****

Some of our memorable New Testament imagery comes from Jeremiah, for instance, 31:31-34.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

"New Testament" is a synonym for "new covenant"--so the very name of the Christian portion of the Bible derives from Jeremiah.  

I discuss this passage in my book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament (pp. 78-80). There I quote Walter Brueggemann, "The ground of the new covenant is rigorous demand. The covenant requires that Israel undertake complete loyalty to God in a social context where attractive alternatives exist" ("The Book of Exodus," The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 951). 

We also have a lovely passage from 23:5: 

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The sorrow of Rachel, evoked in 31:15-17, is used by Matthew in his narrative of the massacre of the innocent (2:13-19). 

Jeremiah's sermon about the Temple, 7:8-15, is cited by Jesus as he (Jesus attacks the money changers at the Temple. As I discuss in my book (p. 117), the reference to "a den of robbers" has less to do with the honesty of the traders, than with Jeremiah's original metaphor: Jeremiah's contemporaries believed God would protect them as long as they worshiped at the Temple, but Jeremiah likened that idea to a group of thieves who thought they were safely in hiding but were not. 

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A verse from Jeremiah cut me to the heart when I first learned it, during a life changing divinity school class taught by B. Davie Napier.  As I write this, we are in a national crisis situation concerning the well-being of non-documented immigrants and their children.

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord (Jer. 22:16).

Wow. If we love God but are uncaring toward the needy and begrudge them help, we’re fooling ourselves. We not only fail in loving God, we don’t even know God! King Josiah, though, knew God, according to Jeremiah. This verse dovetails well with Micah 6:6-8, and 1 John 4:20b, as well as Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:14-17. So why don’t more of us step up and care for the poor, with such a plain scriptural teaching? Even the straightforward verse John 3:16 implies helpfulness to the needy, for if you believe in Christ as John 3:16 instructs, you respond to “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40).

The pleasures of Bible reading often return me to this theme, because if you want to know a set of “characters” that pervades the scripture, it is the people variously and generally called the poor, the widow and orphan, the needy, the oppressed, the alien, and the stranger. With my Topical Bible and other sources, I’ve “collected” a very small selection of the total: Exodus 22:22; Leviticus 19:10, 15; Deuteronomy 10:19, 14:28-29; 15:7-8; Job 29:12; Psalms 14:6, 82:3-4; Proverbs 14:21, 14:31, 17:5; Isaiah 58:6-7; Ezekiel 16:49; Matthew 19:21, 25:35; Luke 4:18, 12:33, Acts 9:36, 10:4; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18. My book Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament has a lesson on this subject.

I’ve been inspired by Jewish friends and their concern for tzedakah, “righteousness” or “charity,” which has replaced the biblical sacrifices as a response to God. Many Jews are quick to “give back to the community” and to take the side of the needy (not necessarily the Jewish needy!) in their donations and political convictions.On the other hand I’ve known Christians, including some pastors, who love the Lord to the point of becoming teary-eyed about God’s blessings, and yet those same Christians express a harsh political outlook toward the poor. How many times have I heard Christians speak disdainfully of the poor, as if all poor people were lazy, out to cheat the system. I feel shame when I think of my own hard-heartedness toward the poor: for instance, a time when I became silently impatient in a grocery line as a young couple up ahead paid for their groceries with food stamps.

I believe there are many ways to know God, because we all have different personalities, talents, abilities, cultural backgrounds, and experiences.  The variety of the Bible’s theological perspectives attests to the importance of variety among people’s religious walks.  But this way to God haunts me and always has, from which my conscience can never escape: the trumpet call of Micah 6:8, that rhetorical question of Jeremiah 22:16, the clear words of Matthew 25:40.

(This last section is from another blog of mine, theloveofbiblestudy.com, chapter 1).