Jeremiah XI – Feeling God’s presence in the valley

February 22, 2017

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 .

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.


Jeremiah VIII – Hope

February 1, 2017

A contemporary of Mary Baker Eddy, the New England poet Emily Dickinson, wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Years later, Mrs. Eddy would write the poem “Mother’s Evening Prayer” which has this stanza:  “O make me glad for every scalding tear, / For hope deferred, ingratitude, disdain!”  The phrase “hope deferred” matches this quote from Proverbs:  “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Prov 13:12).

“Hope deferred” certainly seems to be a term we could use to describe our current global unrest, whether it is disappointed refugees or citizens disillusioned by the government or frustrated with the media. A helpful article in praying about hope to heal divisions is “When family ties are tested,” which included two definitions for “deferred hope”:

A dictionary reference pointed out that the verb “to defer” has two distinct meanings. One is “to put off to a future time, to postpone.” The second is “to submit to the opinion, wishes, or decision of another.” Some of the synonyms for this second meaning are “yield, submit, surrender, entrust.”

Ah, the light was beginning to dawn. My hopes for a happier family could sadly be postponed for a future date, relegated to the realm of someday possibilities. Or I could submit all my personal hopes and expectations for good to a loving Father-Mother, God, who created us and governs His creation every moment. I could yield my preconceived story lines and plots. I could surrender my timetable for when and how things should be accomplished. I could entrust myself, my family, my cat, to God, knowing that omnipresent Good governs all of us, always.

Each day, I choose the latter. For me, “hope deferred” no longer implies waiting until cherished hopes are realized or postponing good. “Hope deferred” has become a time of active yielding to the divine (Earleen Bailey, Christian Science Sentinel, June 27, 2005).

A few years ago, I read a biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German Lutheran pastor active in the German resistance (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas). He became engaged to a young woman shortly before being imprisoned, and then a few weeks before the end of World War II, he was executed by the Nazis.  I remember thinking that the romance must have felt like a sign of hope for the future in a war-torn country.  Or at least, that is the connection I made when I read about Jeremiah buying a field while sitting in prison with Jerusalem at war. It was an orderly business transaction in the midst of disorder. It was hope.

In the readings, Israel is referred to as “Ephraim, my firstborn” (Jer. 31:9). Ephraim was blessed by Jacob as Joseph’s first born son, although he was the last born.  Reversing the birth order reminded me of Jesus’ words that the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Matt. 19:30). Then I began thinking of all the other symbols that Jesus reversed: the burdensome yoke and the yoke which was easy; the unclean leaven of the Pharisees, and the treasured leaven of the woman baking bread. It is like a hidden blessing to call Israel “Ephraim” because it is acknowledging that God blesses the reverse order of the physical senses.

Here are some notes on Jeremiah from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Jeremiah 31:18 – Ephraim, the more powerful of the Joseph tribes, and therefore representative of all Israel (the north).

Jeremiah 32: God’s restoration of Israel. These chapters are thematically linked to the “Book of Consolation” and so are included here, even though they should follow ch 34 chronologically; they are dated to the very end of there reign of Zedekiah and of the Babylonian siege (588-586 BCE), during which Jeremiah was in confinement.

Jer. 32.1-44 centers on the theme that “fields shall be bought. . .and deeds shall be signed and sealed and witnessed” using Jeremiah’s offer of redeeming family property in Anathoth as a sign. . . .During a brief lifting of the siege, Jeremiah tried to leave the city, was accused of desertion, and was arrested. 4: Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. 7: Right of redemption, to keep property within the extended family, members who could do so were expected to “redeem” land that was in jeopardy of being forfeited or sold outside the family. 9: Seventeen shekels, 7 oz. At this time there was no coinage, and “money” was weighed in. 11: sealed deed. . .open copy, contracts were sealed with a signet ring on a clay “bulla,” but a copy or summary of the contents was left available on the outside of the scroll for reference and public scrutiny. Storage of such documents in clay jars was common practice. 12: Baruch, son of Neriah, Jeremiah’s scribe.

Lamentations 3:29 – Put one’s mouth to the dust, accept God’s discipline submissively.