The book of Ezra opens with another timestamp. “And in the first year of Cyrus, the king of Persia, at the completion of the word of the Lord from the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord aroused the Spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia, and he issued a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also in writing (Ezra 1:1).” So Jeremiah is in the past, Cyrus is the present king, and his first act, in this book at least, is to invite all of the Jews living in Persia to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Many take up the call, including the leadership of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites. We are told of all of the riches that they brought with them, some of which had come from the first Temple, and some of which was apparently donated, and we’re on the way back to Jerusalem! It’s a short introductory chapter, so I’m sure there’s much more to come, including, hopefully, an explanation of who Ezra is and why he’s the latest to have the gift of prophecy. For now though, things seem positive, so let’s hope it lasts!
Now, as we’re coming to the end of the Book of Jeremiah, we hear a bit about his family. “Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and his mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah from Libnah (Jeremiah 52:1).” It’s nice to get a glimpse into Jeremiah as something other than a mouthpiece for God. We know that he had a daughter, who apparently ranked highly enough to give birth to a king, and also to be counted and acknowledged in the text as his mother, in a time when normally only the father was taken into account.
Zedekiah isn’t without problems though, and he does evil in God’s eyes. He rebells against the king of Babylon, who is still Nebuchadrezzar. This inspires Nebuchadrezzar to surround and attack Jerusalem. At the same time, there’s a famine in the city, and the people are starving. Bad convergence of events. The people end up abandoning the city, including the king, who is chased to the plains of Jericho.
“And they seized the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon, to Riblah in the land of Hamath, and called him to account (Jeremiah 52:8).” Jeremiah suffers again, because Nebuchadrezzar slaughters his sons in front of him. He then blinds Jeremiah, ties him in chains, and holds him in prison until the day of his death. At least at this point, it seems that there is no prophet who has suffered to this extent in Tanakh. I understand why Jeremiah wasn’t necessarily beloved, but this is all truly tragic.
While Jeremiah is in jail, Jerusalem burns. The Temple is sacked and looted, and the people are either executed or exiled. We hear in great detail about the items broken and taken from the Temple, with detailed descriptions of each object. I’m wondering if that’s so the people in subsequent generations would know what to rebuild, or to go looking for as they regained power in Jerusalem.
The book of Jeremiah ends with Jehoiachin, king of Judah, being released from prison. He seems to stay in Babylon, but he’s finally treated well there, and is a member of the king’s court. It’s a weird ending, and doesn’t mention Jeremiah’s ultimate fate, other than that he was in jail. Therefore we can only imagine that he was left to languish in his prison, and died suffering and alone. It’s a terrible end, and definitely not what the prophet deserved. But with this implied ending, the chapter ends, and with it the Book of Jeremiah. Once again, this has been the longest book thus far, a trend that I hope doesn’t necessarily keep continuing. I’ve found that I like switching narrators or plot lines more regularly, and it’s hard to keep track of extended prophetic messages that last multiple chapters.
Tomorrow kicks off Ezekiel, the last of the major prophets. I’m looking forward to a new challenge, one that should take me straight into the Fall. As always, thank you all for reading and for being part of my learning community!
The description of the Babylonian destruction continues. “And I will send against Babylon foreigners and they shall scatter her and empty her land, for they were against her all around on that day of evil (Jeremiah 51:2).” The Israelites are encouraged to flee from Babylon and save their own lives. The tables have turned. The Israelites were brought to Babylon because of God’s anger, and now they’re being given the opportunity to leave because God’s anger has transferred. But the people have been in Babylon for a long time, so it may no longer be instinctive for them to go anywhere else. “Fugitives from the sword, go, do not stand still! Remember the Lord from the distant past, and let Jerusalem enter your mind (Jeremiah 51:50).” This reminds me of stories that I’ve heard about the immigrant experience. When Jews left Europe, even though they’d been longing for Israel for generations, many wound up going to America because it made the most sense, and was most present in their minds. Therefore, it’s logical that God needed to make sure that Israel was front and center once again in the minds of the Babylonian Diaspora Jews. Otherwise, who knows where they would have ended up?
The latest prophecy is about Babylon, the nation that is also the latest in the long list of aggressors of the Jewish people. At this point in the narrative, Babylon is being oppressed as well, and the land is desolate. It is at this time that the Israelites are able to leave Babylon, as the land is being attacked from all sides.
“A scattered sheep is Israel which lions have driven away. First of the king of Assyria devoured him, and this last one broke his bones, Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:17).” Being portrayed as sheep, the Israelites are completely innocent in all of this, and fully victims of the other nations. But they were contributing partners in everything that lead to their eventual punishment, so this seems like a situation of hindsight being 20/20. But regardless, Israel will finally be able to return home. So even a harsh, punishing God has His merciful side.
Now, it’s Ammon’s turn to be mentioned in the prophecy. It seems that the Ammonites have taken possession of some of the Israelite cities. It’s not clear how this happened, or why. But it’s a big deal. “Therefore, behold days are coming, says the Lord, and I will cause an alarm of war to be heard against Rabbah of the children of Ammon, and it shall become a desolate mound, and its villages shall be burnt with fire, and Israel shall possess those who have possessed their possessions, says the Lord (Jeremiah 49:2).” As I say regularly, it seems like this is a very harsh pronouncement. We don’t know if the Ammonites took the cities by force, or if they were invited or something, but they somehow are given this very harsh punishment.
A second nation is mentioned in this chapter, the Edomites. The Edomites are the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, and are therefore cousins of the Israelites. But bad times come to the Edomites as well, so this is clearly no protection. “And Edom shall become a desolation; whoever passes by her shall be astonished and shall hiss at all her plagues (Jeremiah 49:17).” Ouch.
More and more nations are cursed as the chapter continues, and it almost seems that God has some kind of new rage towards the whole world. Every nation seems to be at risk for destruction, and there’s no end in sight.
Now Moab is being discussed, and it too is destroyed. The whole region seems to be toppling, tribe by tribe, chapter by chapter. “The destruction of Moab is near to come, and his evil has hastened exceedingly (Jeremiah 48:16).” It seems that every nation in the biblical landscape has done evil, and therefore must be punished. Though, if every people is falling victim, does that say that the standards provided are too hard to live up to? Why do none of them learn from the mistakes of the others?
Unlike the previous accounts of destruction, Moab’s involves emotion. God seems more invested in the Moabites for some reason. “Therefore, I wail for Moab, and for all of Moab I will cry; for the people of Kir-heres they shall moan (Jeremiah 48:31).” So does this mean that God has a special relationship with Moab, as well as with Israel? And why is it with them, instead of the Egyptians or the Philistines?
Now, God is focusing on the Philistines. “So said the Lord: Behold water is coming up from the north, and it shall become a flooding stream and will inundate a land and the fullness thereof, a city and those who dwell therein, and the people shall cry out, and all the inhabitants of the land shall wail (Jeremiah 47:2).” Another war, another people. All of this destruction keeps happening. The places listed – Egypt, Gaza – are still war torn and crazy sometimes. It’s like the cycle of drama in this region has never ended. Will it ever?
The Jews are the chosen people, but God is still concerned with other nations as well. In this instance, Jeremiah receives a prophecy about Egypt, and the Egyptian army in particular. “Make ready shield and buckler and draw near to battle (Jeremiah 46:3).” God describes a major battle that will come in the future. “And that day shall be for the Lord God of Hosts a day of vengeance, to avenge Himself against His adversaries, and the sword shall consume and shall be sated, and its thirst shall be quenched by their blood, for the Lord God of Hosts shall have a massacre in the north land by the Euphrates River (Jeremiah 46:10).” It sounds like a truly epic battle to come, and it seems interesting to me that it’s described in such detail when it’s between Babylon and Egypt, not Israel. I guess it’s an ancient case of intersectionality, where the interaction between to outside subjects ends up directly impacting a third, even if the reason why isn’t visible on the surface.
This chapter is incredibly short – only five verses. It begins with a reminder of Baruch, who Jeremiah’s latest prophecy is about and who he speaks to. Baruch has been weary and restless, and God has an answer. “And you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek, for behold I am bringing evil upon all flesh, says the Lord, and I will give you your soul as prey in all the places where you will go (Jeremiah 45:5).” This isn’t particularly heartwarming news coming from God, and more than anything else of value, this interlude is making me realize how arbitrary chapter divisions are in Tanakh. Why does Baruch come up now, and why is this exchange cut off so quickly? I have no answers, and will have to wait and see if this part of the story ends here, or if it’s taken up again in subsequent readings.
This chapter opens with Jeremiah getting another prophecy regarding the Jews who are currently living in Egypt. God reminds him, and by proxy the people, of all of the evil that went down in Jerusalem. “But they did not hearken, nor did they incline their ear[s] to repent of their evil, not to burn incense to other gods (Jeremiah 44:5).” So God became angry and the disobedience, and the betrayal, and the city was destroyed. Now, God asks, why do the people feel the need to provoke Him again, leaving the land and taking on the idolatrous customs of the locals in Egypt? Then comes the inevitable threat, that those who left for Egypt will be destroyed, just like Jerusalem was. And this time, it’ll be a total destruction.
“There shall be neither fugitive nor survivor to the remnant of Judah coming to sojourn there in the land of Egypt and to return to the land of Judah, for they mislead themselves to return to dwell there, for only fugitives shall return (Jeremiah 44:14).”
This time, the people aren’t just disobedient, but outright defiant. As it turns out, the men know that their wives are worshipping other gods, which I think is an interesting aside. Why is it the women who have taken on the practices of idolatry? The men tolerate it, so everyone is complicit, but is there a reason why it’s noted that women seem to be the leaders in this regard? The people assemble, and they tell Jeremiah that they just won’t listen. They will continue to worship the ‘queen of heaven’ because they see her as they true benefactress, and not God. It’s so annoying that women always seem to be the ones who lead the forays into sin, just like with Adam and Eve. Why can’t the men take ownership of their own temptations, rather than blaming the women?