Jeremiah X – Liberty and Order

February 15, 2017

We are completing the Book of Jeremiah this Wednesday and next Wednesday.  In today’s readings, we begin with the Mosaic law about releasing Hebrew slaves from their debt after seven years. The Judean slaveowners disobeyed this law, which was just another debt their nation would have to pay off with their own 70 years of captivity. (Did you notice that some of the poor farmers were permitted to remain in Judea while most of the ruling class was carried away to captivity in Babylon?  Seven years for an individual slave becomes 70 years for a whole nation — I love that symbolism!)

Jeremiah never deserted his countrymen, but did his influence ever bear fruit, even in Egypt where he was carried away captive? Here is an interesting connection, but first some history about Bible translations:

The Septuagint (from the Latin “seventy”) is the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament. This title refers to the legendary 70 Jewish scholars who translated the five books of Moses into Koine Greek as early as the 3rd century BCE. (Koine Greek was the trading language of the Egyptian city of Alexandria and the Eastern Mediterranean at that time.) The traditional story is that 72 Jewish scholars (or 6 elders from each of the 12 tribes) were asked by the Greek king of Egypt Ptolemy II to translate the Torah from Hebrew to Greek for the Library in Alexandria. This is the story repeated by Josephus and St. Augustine:

King Ptolemy once gathered 72 Elders. He placed them in 72 chambers, each of them in a separate one, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: “Write for me the Torah of Moshe your teacher”. God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did.

Did Jeremiah inspire the ancestors of these Egyptian Jews to treasure and remember their law so precisely?  Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626 BCE under King Josiah to 595 BCE. Then we no longer have any record of Jeremiah and no account of his death, but I like to think that his cherishing of the Word in Egypt impacted the later Greek translation.

Here are the Bible Notes about today’s readings from The New Oxford Annotated Bible:

Deuteronomy 15 Manumission. . .A court might require a thief, unable to repay a theft, to indenture his labor as compensation or, overcome by debt, a serf might assign his labor to repay a loan. The gift provided the manumitted slave recalls and reenacts the nation’s own manumission by God from slavery in Egypt.

Jeremiah 34.8-22: The aborted manumission of slaves. The context for this event is the period when the siege was briefly lifted because Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Hophra arrived in Judah to attempt to break the siege of the Babylonian army. Babylonian forces temporarily withdrew from Jerusalem in order to face Hophra’s army. . . .The manumission likely also served practical purposes, given scarcity of food resources and the need for male support troops. As soon as the site was lifted, however, the people presumed that normality would return and therefore the manumission was retracted.

Jeremiah 40: Jeremiah was allowed to choose exile or residence in Judah. Choosing the latter, he was placed in the custody of Gedaliah, the newly appointed governor of Judah whose family Jeremiah had long been friendly. Gedaliah’s family figures prominently, not only in the life of Jeremiah but also at the Judean court and in relation to the Deuteronomic reform. Gedaliah’s grandfather Shaphan delivered the newly discovered law scroll to King Josiah. Gedaliah’s father, Ahikam, a member of the delegation sent to the prophetess Huldah, was Jeremiah’s champion as well.


Jeremiah IX – Discovering the Ever-Present Word

February 8, 2017

The Bible stories this week illustrate how the Word cannot be destroyed because it is Everlasting and Ever-present. There is a comparison between the obedience of good King Josiah (who repented after discovering part of the Book of Deuteronomy while repairing the Temple) and the disrespect of bad King Jehoiakim (who cut up Jeremiah’s scroll and threw it in the fire). Josiah consulted the prophetess Huldah, so whenever there is a woman in the Bible, I have to do some more research. Here is what I learned:

Huldah was one of the seven prophetesses, with Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther. (We’ve covered them all on Wednesdays, so I’m glad I didn’t miss Huldah!)

According to Rabbinic interpretation, Huldah said to the messengers of King Josiah, “Tell the man that sent you to me,” etc. (2 Kings 22:15), indicating by her unceremonious language that for her Josiah was like any other man. The king addressed her, and not Jeremiah, because he thought that women are more easily stirred to pity than men, and that therefore the prophet would be more likely than Jeremiah to intercede with God in his behalf (Meg. 14a, b; comp. Seder ‘Olam R. xxi.). Huldah was a relative of Jeremiah, both being descendants of Rahab by her marriage with Joshua (Sifre, Num. 78; Meg. 14a, b). While Jeremiah admonished and preached repentance to the men, she did the same to the women (Pesiḳ. R. 26 [ed. Friedmann, p. 129]). Huldah was not only a prophet, but taught publicly in the school (Targ. to 2 Kings 22:14), according to some teaching especially the oral doctrine.

There is some disagreement as to why King Josiah went to Huldah instead of Jeremiah. According to another Jewish website, Jeremiah was not consulted because he was visiting the Jewish exiles in Assyria at the time.

Under bad King Jehoiakim (Josiah’s son), Jeremiah used the example of the Rechabites’ faithful obedience to the rules of their human father compared to the Hebrews’ disobedience of the Word of their heavenly Father. The Rechabites were a guild of metal workers who made chariots and other weaponry. They lived apart and abstained from alcohol so they wouldn’t divulge their trade secrets while under the influence. (Eugene Peterson, Run with the Horses, pages 135-136).

I am so grateful to be reading the Book of Jeremiah. I had not discovered Huldah or the Rechabites until I started studying Jeremiah from beginning to end. If the Bible is our Temple, then discovering this book could be how King Josiah felt when he found Deuteronomy. Or Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery of Christian Science — the Word was always there, waiting for the receptive heart.

Here is a beautiful poem reflecting this sentiment in this month’s Journal which begins:

Fresh upon the listening ear

Of one who waits upon the Word,

Comes inspiration, calm and clear,

As whispers of God’s truth are heard.

New concepts only Mind can give

Call gently at the open door

Of consciousness, which longs to live

In heavenly places, more and more!

(Revelation for a Reader, by Wanda Richard, from the February 2017 issue of the Christian Science Journal)

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

2 Kings 22: For the authors of the book of Kings, Josiah (640-609 BCE) is the perfect king, a new David, but also a new Moses and a new Joshua. . .8-10: The book, which reaches the king through Shaphan and Hilkiah is meant to be some form of the book of Deuteronomy. . . 19-20: Hilkiah’s oracle concerning Josiah is inconsistent with what is reported later, since he did not die in peace but was killed by the Egyptian king. Perhaps her prophecy meant that Josiah would be spared the agony of Judah’s destruction and exile.23.1-3: The king himself reads the book to all the people and renews the covenant with the Lord. The book of the law can therefore also be called the book of the covenant.

2 Kings 23. 34-35: When making Eliakim the new king, Neco changes his hame to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim reigned 608-597 BCE.

Jeremiah 36: In a pivotal year, the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians in battle and asserted themselves as the dominant power over Judah, forcing the radical reshaping of Judean aspirations and allegiances. . . Jeremiah has the assistance of Baruch, who serves as his scribe, and is supported by the family of Shaphan within the royal court and who sent Baruch and Jeremiah into protective hiding. Piece by piece Jehoiakim burned the scroll, likely as a means of mitigating the effects of the words of judgment, which would have been received as a type of curse. Most scholars assume that the second scroll, produced to replace the first destroyed by Jehoiakim contained the core of material now found in chapters 1-24. . . Jeremiah 36:22 Ninth month, November-December.

Jeremiah V – “What is the chaff to the wheat?”

January 11, 2017

There is a poem in The Christian Science Journal, entitled “Jeremiah’s question,” which begins:

“What is the chaff to the wheat?”*

What is the husk to the seed?

Is it the thing that is gathered and cherished?

Is it the thing that we need?

Is it the thing that can grow and bear fruit?

Is it the thing that can feed?

What is the chaff to the wheat—

the mortal lies to God’s thought?

Which is the one

to be gathered and cherished?

Which is the one to be taught?

(“Jeremiah’s question” by Diane Allison from the August 2014 issue of The Christian Science Journal)

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah strongly rebuked the swirling chaff of false prophets and lying prophecies. The Jews were being forced to separate themselves from the sin in believing that God (and therefore good) was limited to a particular place (Jerusalem and its Temple). The conquest of Nebuchadnezzar burnt up this sin (like the tares and the wheat), so nothing was left but the Christ-seed, which was present with them in Babylon, and which inspired them to write many of the books of our Old Testament during their captivity.

Then in the New Testament, Jesus expresses his harshest criticism for the scribes and Pharisees and their burdensome rules. “God’s glowing denunciations of man when not found in His image, the likeness of Spirit, convince reason and coincide with revelation in declaring this material creation false.” (Science and Health 522:21)  I think this acronym for SIN, “Separate Individual Nature,” sums up this pride in a false creation.

There is so much in the news today about fair wages and immigration, so here’s a reminder from Jeremiah about the importance of social justice: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (Jeremiah 22:13).  The warning about callous “pastors” in the King James Version is translated as “shepherds” in other versions, and according to the Bible Notes, “shepherds” is a metaphor for Judah’s kings.

There is an unnamed reference to Megiddo in Jeremiah 22:10, and there is a recent two-minute video by Bible scholar Madelon Maupin on this ancient battleground which you can watch here:  (Madelon has a free Bible Roads e-newsletter which you can sign up for on the same link.)

Here are some more Bible Notes from The New Oxford Annotated Bible which are helpful in understanding the swirling history in Jeremiah’s verses.

Jeremiah 22:10-11: Him who is dead, Josiah was killed at Megiddo in 609 BCE in a battle with Pharaoh Neco. Neco was leading the Egyptian army northward to come to the aid of the Assyrian army, which was under critical pressure from the Babylonians. Josiah’s political program was governed by his revolt against Assyria, so he did not want Neco’s campaign to relieve Assyria to succeed. Him who goes away, Josiah’s son Jehoahaz (Shallum) reigned briefly but was taken captive by Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt who placed his brother Jehoiakim (608-598 BCE) on the throne. . . . 13-23: An oracle against Jehoiakim, who is judged to be the antithesis of his father, Josiah. 13: Work for nothing, the royal building projects were carried out by use of conscripted laborers, one of the realities of dynastic kingship as suggested by Samuel’s warning. References to elaborate building projects completed by means of uncompensated labor suggest that Jehoiakim was perceived as imitating Solomon’s grandeur and autocratic power. 14: Windows…cedar…vermillion, signs of royal ostentation and arrogance. 15: Your father, that is Josiah.