For the Love of God, Volume 2/July 15
From Gospel Translations
Joshua 22; Acts 2; Jeremiah 11; Matthew 25
THE OPENING LINE OF JEREMIAH 11 shows that what follows is a new prophecy, a new oracle from God, the fourth reported in this book. It is difficult to be certain exactly when it was preached. Many have suggested, plausibly enough, that it was delivered not too long after Hilkiah rediscovered the scroll of the Law, about 621 B.C. This generated something of a religious reformation under King Josiah (2 Kings 22—23). According to 2 Chronicles 34, the discovery of the scroll was preceded by a centralization of worship at Jerusalem. Inevitably this meant a decline of the rites shaped by Canaanite religion at the local shrines—and, presumably, an increase in the resentment of local religious leaders. Jeremiah certainly supported Josiah in this reformation. If this is the setting—and one cannot be certain, for there are other possibilities—two elements in the chapter before us take on new significance.
First, the Lord tells Jeremiah to threaten the people with judgment specifically grounded in the blessings and cursings of the Mosaic covenant (11:6-8). What is threatened is more specific than the judgments reserved for other nations, judgments grounded in God’s response to unrighteousness and idolatry. Rather, what is threatened is no more and no less than what the covenant said would happen if the people fell away into disobedience (Deut. 28). The religion of the covenant people of God had apparently become so debased, so merely traditional, and so removed from any current study of the Scriptures, that such elements had largely passed from public memory, until the scroll of the Law was rediscovered. These specific covenantal threats of judgment were what caused Josiah to tear his clothes and utter, “Great is the LORD’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13). Assuming this setting for Jeremiah 11, the prophet is carefully drawing out the covenantal implications of the failure to obey.
Second, this also explains why the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s own village, seek to do away with him (Jer. 11:18-23). Priests had lived there since the time of the settlement under Joshua (Josh. 21:18). Because this line had participated in the revolt against David, Solomon excluded them from temple service (1 Kings 2:26-27). Doubtless they were heavily invested in local shrines and resented the centralized worship in the Jerusalem temple, where they were not allowed to serve. So in addition to the animus against a local (a prophet is without honor in his home town, Luke 4:24), these men may have especially hated Jeremiah’s support for Josiah’s reformation. Where there is no passion for the Word of God, other passions take over.