Jeremiah XI – Feeling God’s presence in the valley

February 22, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

This month is the end of my three-year-term as First Reader of Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, in New Orleans. Thank you for your support of this blog which was a weekly diary of what I was learning through my time with our Pastor, the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy.

Thank you especially for letting me explore different approaches to the Wednesday service. Sometimes our readings were based on the holidays — liberty for the 4th of July, nativity stories during Advent, or a passion week series during Lent. Sometimes our readings were explorations of Mary Baker Eddy’s terms in the “Glossary,” such as Jacob’s sons or the four rivers in the Garden of Eden. Sometimes we focused on Bible characters — the famous, such as King David; or the mysterious, such as “Melchizedek? Melchisedec Who?” Sometimes our topics matched events in the news, such as immunity from sickness or terrorism, and sometimes the readings were about issues facing our own members, such as discouragement, employment, or home. Sometimes we’ve read whole books of the Bible, such as Paul’s epistles or our current study of Jeremiah.

We’ve had the opportunity to explore our Pastor in depth during our Wednesday services, and I like to think that we’ve addressed “Some Objections Answered” where Mrs. Eddy wrote:

The strictures on this volume would condemn to oblivion the truth, which is raising up thousands from helplessness to strength and elevating them from a theoretical to a practical Christianity. These criticisms are generally based on detached sentences or clauses separated from their context. Even the Scriptures, which grow in beauty and consistency from one grand root, appear contradictory when subjected to such usage. (Science and Health, 341:1-8)

In Jeremiah, the Scriptures do appear contradictory. First, God helps Babylon; then He destroys Babylon. First, King Jehoiakim cuts up Jeremiah’s words and is killed by the Babylonians, but then his captured son Jeconiah is released from his Babylonian prison. Forgiveness of an individual became forgiveness to the nation of Israel as all worked out their “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  Did you notice that national forgiveness became global forgiveness in Jeremiah’s oracles to the ten nations? (“bring again their captivity” KJV or “restore their fortunes” NRSV) Or in this famous quote from an Anglican bishop: “It takes a whole world to understand the whole Christ” (Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, p. 183).

I was familiar with individual verses from the Book of Jeremiah, but learning his whole story added new layers of meaning — not just to the Bible, but also to Science and Health. For example, Jeremiah told his messenger to read his words to the Babylonians, then cast his message into the River Euphrates.  According to the “Glossary” definition, did the infinity of the Euphrates swallow up the finity of a corporeal Babylon? I’ve been pondering whether Jeremiah, this “prophet to the nations,” was learning the frustrating limits to human communication, whereas the incorporeal Word “needs no material method for the transmission of messages”  (Science and Health 78:17-19), which is a really good reminder when we feel tongue-tied to technology.

Since the Book of Jeremiah ends abruptly, here is what happens after those last paragraphs.  King of Babylon, Evil-Merodach, reigned briefly during the period before his nation was defeated by King Cyrus of Persia.  The released King Jeconiah had seven children and was the grandfather of Zerubbabel who led the first group of Jews back to Jerusalem from the Babylonian Captivity in the first year of Cyrus, King of Persia.  Zerubbabel also laid the foundation of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Jeconiah and Zerubbabel are listed as ancestors of Joseph, the husband of Mary in Jesus’ chronology in Matthew 1:11-12 .  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeconiah  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zerubbabel

Jeremiah felt God’s presence in the valley, in the midst of “fear and trembling,” and his book ends with hope, with the mercy and love of being fed “in the presence of mine enemies” (Psalm 23:5). “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Science and Health 442:25-28).

Here are the Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 43:7 Tahpanhes was an Egyptian border fortress in the eastern Nile Delta.

Jeremiah 44.1-30: A final oracle against the Jewish refugee communities in Egypt. . . .Jeremiah associates the disaster with the people’s faithlessness toward God. He meets popular resistance form those who insist that the disaster has come precisely because they had discontinued their ancient syncretistic ritual practices, especially that of the adoration of and homage paid to the goddess known as the “queen of heaven,” probably Astarte, variously known as Ishtar in Babylon and Ashtart in Canaan.  17: The worship of the queen of heaven was popular throughout the ancient world, including popular religious expression in Israel (compare the worship of Aphrodite and Venus). Her worship included the making of raisin cakes to her, expressive of prayers for fertility. This goddess represented the evening-star phase of the planet Venus, while in Canaan her brother, Ashtar, represented the morning-star phase which refers to an ancient myth  associated with Ashtar, the “day star” who ushers in the light of morning.

Jeremiah 46.1-51.64 Oracles against the nations. Prophetic books commonly have collections of such oracles directed against Israel’s enemies. These oracles may preserve one of the early functions of prophecy as “war prophecy” undermining the strength of the enemy with curses and psychologically fortifying the home troops for victory. . . .The Hebrew tradition begins with the oracle against Egypt. . . .The general sweep is then from west to east (or using the language of the text from “south” to “north”) and concludes with the lengthy oracle against Babylon, the major enemy in the book of Jeremiah. . . .Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited, that the oracle concludes with a brief word of promise for the restoration of Egypt is strange . . . .Moab’s fortunes will be restored, as will those of Ammon and Elam. 49.34-39: Against Elam. One of the few dated oracles, it is placed in the context of the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah following the first deportation (597 BCE). Elam, with its capital at Susa, lay to the east of Babylon.

Jeremiah 50: The oracle against Babylon (Chaldea) appears last in the list, reflecting its historical importance and the cosmic aspects of Jeremiah’s proclamation of judgment against the nations. This lengthy oracle, made up of numerous fragments, expresses both a harsh judgment upon Babylon and visions of restoration for Judah. Lacking is the sense expressed elsewhere that Babylon was an agent in God’s purposeful design. Instead the oracle stresses the arrogance and defiance of Babylon, which will now face retribution from Israel’s God. . . .2. Bel, a title of Marduk, the chief deity of Babylon, related to the Canaanite title ba’al, “lord, master.” Merdach refers to the chief patron deity of Babylon, Marduk, creator of the world in Babylonian mythology and founder of the city of Babylon. . . Even Babylon, the enemy from the north, is subject to her own “enemies from the north.” Babylon was conquered by Cyrus, head of a coalition of Medes and Persians, in 539 BCE.

Jeremiah 51. The oracles against Babylon (“all these words”) were according to this account, sealed in a scroll and then taken to the Euphrates by courier and thrown in as a prophetic sign and curse that Babylon would so sink in divine disaster. This action is dated to 594 BCE, the year of the likely aborted revolt against Babylon.

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Jeremiah IV – “Go down to the potter’s house.”

January 4, 2017

http://www.christianscienceneworleans.org/WedReadings.html

I’ve read and heard many comments about how awful the year 2016 was due to the bitter presidential elections, celebrity deaths, terrorists attacks, and so on. I find great hope in reading the Book of Jeremiah, as did Christian Science Bible scholar Elaine Follis who wrote the following testimony:

I was particularly struck by the eighteenth chapter of the book, which describes Jeremiah’s vision of a potter. The text indicates the vision is based on an experience he had while struggling with despair over the impending doom of his nation. God told Jeremiah to take a walk to the part of the city where potters’ shops were located. He obeyed, and became absorbed in watching a craftsman at work. Just as a lovely design was emerging from the clay, the potter suddenly stopped the wheel and pressed the clay back into a lump. Initially startled, Jeremiah continued to watch as the potter turned the wheel again and eventually produced a piece even more beautiful than before.

Jeremiah realized the meaning of the vision as a parable for his own day. Even as the potter brought fresh creativity out of what appeared to be destruction, so God was working something new in the hearts of the people Israel. God told Jeremiah, “Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (18:6). I began to think: Perhaps that is what is happening to me, as well. Perhaps the foundations of my previous concepts of life are being torn away to make way for new perspectives, based on a better foundation.

I decided to believe that might be possible, and, accordingly, to take hope and heart. Every time I felt tempted to despair, I thought of God as the potter and me as the clay, safe in His hands. I reasoned, “If this can work for Jeremiah—and if Scripture includes basic principles as to the nature of God and humanity—it ought to work for me as well.” (“The Spirit in the Word,” by Elaine Follis, from the September 1, 2003 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel)

Jeremiah pleaded with the besieged people to accept a way out — instead of facing death in Jerusalem, they could surrender to the Babylonians and live.  What a shock this message must have felt like to the citizens of Jerusalem! Was God treating them like he threatened to do to the Ninevites in the story of Jonah a century earlier? Yet the Jews’ captivity in Babylon forced them to progress spiritually; and in a short time, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians who allowed the exiled Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem.

Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 17:1-4: Israel’s intransigence is likened to an engraver writing on rock. 1: Diamond point, the term usually refers to sharp thorns, but can be used also of sharp hard stone, probably flint. Tablet of their hearts, combining the images of the Torah being written on the human heart and on tablets of stone. But now it is their sinfulness that is so engraved. The human heart represented the center of resolve and will. Its hardening was a common metaphor for human stubbornness. Horns of their altars, protrusions at each of the four corners of a cut-stone altar, symbolizing divine strength and functioning to hold in place the wood and animal parts. Sanctuary could be gained by seizing the horns.

 

Jeremiah 18:12: Although God may have a “plan,” the people can only follow their own. The people express their fatalistic sense of doom, their inability to be “reworked.”

 

Jeremiah 19: This section continues the theme of pottery as a symbol of divine judgment. . . .No time reference is given, but by 605 BCE Jeremiah had been barred from the Temple, perhaps as a result of his confinement by the priest Pashhur, the chief officer of the Temple personnel.

 

Jeremiah 21: Zedekiah was the last of Judah’s kings who reigned from the first deportation in 597 until the final fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. . . .In the face of the people’s confidence, the Lord warns that he will fight against Judah, and Jerusalem and Zedekiah will fall to Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah repeatedly sent envoys to Jeremiah for divine guidance and information, always with similar results: Zedekiah should capitulate to the Babylonian armies. The historical setting is apparently 588 BCE, after Zedekiah had committed himself to a rebellion against Babylon. . . . 8: Jeremiah offers the people the opportunity to choose, but their choices do not include the option of avoiding the Babylonian onslaught. The only possibility for life is surrender to the enemy besieging the city; Jerusalem, however, will be destroyed.