Archive for the ‘Zedekiah’ Tag

The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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Divine Judgment Against Elam   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIII

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Jeremiah 49:34-39

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Elam (capital = Susa) was east of the Tigris River.  The name of the country derived from one of the children of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Ezra 4:9 mentioned the “men of Susa.”  The Assyrian Empire sacked Susa in 646 B.C.E., and Elamite archers participated in Assyrian attacks on Judah (Isaiah 21:2; 22:6).  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire expelled Elamite invaders into the Tigris region circa 596 B.C.E.

This oracle provides a date, of a sort.  The oracle originates from very early in the reign (597-586 B.C.E.) of King Zedekiah of Judah.

This oracle, like some others in this set of oracles, concludes on a hopeful note.

Elam passed into the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire then into the Persian Empire, but long remained a rebellious province.  Finally, in 521 B.C.E., King Darius I of the Persian Empire (r. 522-486 B.C.E.) established his winter palace in Susa.

Some of the people in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were Elamites (Acts 2:9).

The oracle does not list any sin Elamites may have committed.

After the massive devastation, Yahweh will restore the fortune of Elam.  God’s ultimate resolve is the well-being even of Elam.  That well-being can only happen, however, when Yahweh’s throne is firm in the land and all other claimants to the throne have been eliminated.

–Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (1998), 461

After all, God is sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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The Brief Governorship and the Assassination of Gedaliah   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXII

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Jeremiah 40:7-41:8

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The Kingdom of Judah had fallen to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The second mass deportation–the second phase of the Babylonian Exile had begun.  Yet the new masters of Judah did not deport everyone (40:11).

Jeremiah had repeatedly cautioned against opposing the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians; he had understood that a rebellion could not succeed.  Events had proven Jeremiah’s warnings correct.  Gedaliah ben Ahikam, he new local governor of Judah, grasped reality, too.  He sought to do the best for the people in Judah.  The situation was bad, but it did not have to deteriorate.

Gedaliah came from a good family.  His father, Ahikam, had rescued Jeremiah from execution years prior (Jeremiah 26:24).  In one version of the liberation of Jeremiah after the Fall of Jerusalem, Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian authorities freed the prophet from King Zedekiah’s prison and into the care of Gedaliah (39:11-14).  In another version of the liberation of Jeremiah, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian captain of the guard had removed the prophet from a group of people destined for Babylon, and Jeremiah had gone to the home of Gedaliah (40:1-6).

Gedaliah ben Ahikam, whose name meant, “YHWH is great,” was a realist.  He was also a collaborator, objectively.  This made him a target of assassination plots immediately.  Ishmael ben Nethaniah, of the House of David, was a guest at Gedaliah’s official residence at Mizpah.  The claimant to the throne was one of ten other guests who assassinated the governor.  These eleven men murdered seventy men from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria two days later.  Then Ishmael attempted to take the rest of the population of Mizpah into the territory of the Ammonites.  All but Ishmael turned back, though.  The others headed for Egypt.

One may legitimately dislike collaborators.  I, as a student of history, know the names of collaborators (especially from World War II) who were traitors to their homelands.  “Quisling” is a synonym for traitor for a good reason.  In the context of the Book of Jeremiah, however, the authorial voices side with Jeremiah and Gedaliah.  The tragedy (in the Greek dramatic sense of that term) is that Gedaliah, a good man, did not heed a warning that could have saved his life, at least for a little while.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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The End of the Reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, with the Release of Jeremiah from Prison   1 comment

Above:  Jeremiah Let Down Into the Cistern

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXI

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Jeremiah 34:1-22

Jeremiah 37:1-40:6

Jeremiah 52:1-34

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The Book of Jeremiah, in which chronology is not the organizing principle for material, contains various sources, some of which contradict each other regarding details.

  1. You may recall, O reader, that that Jeremiah was in prison in Chapters 32 and 33, and that Jerusalem fell between 32 and 33.  Yet we have jumped back in time to before the Fall of Jerusalem  in Chapter 37, only to read of its fall in Chapter 39.  Jerusalem had yet to fall in Chapters 34-38, as well in much of Chapter 52.
  2. Jeremiah 52, by the way, is nearly identical to 2 Kings 24:18-25:30.
  3. The accounts of Jeremiah’s incarceration disagree with each other.  37:11-16 and 38:1-13 contradict each other.  Furthermore, 37:17-21 flows into 38:14-28.  Also, 39:11-14 contradicts 40:1-6.  Evidence of ancient cutting, copying, and pasting exists in Jeremiah 37-40.  I unpack this point below, in this post.

Due to the lack of chronological organization of material in the Book of Jeremiah, we have encountered King Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.E.; see 2 Chronicles 36:11f, also) already.  We have read his name in Jeremiah 1, 21, 24, 27, 28, 29, 32, and 33, not including the false prophet Zedekiah in 29:21-22.  Zedekiah ben Josiah was the last King of Judah.  King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.) would have rolled over in his grave to learn of the circumstances during the reigns of the last four Kings of Judah (609-586 B.C.E.)

The cause of Jeremiah’s arrest was either alleged defection to the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians (37:11-16) or unpopular prophecy (38:1-13).  The latter explanation is consistent with 32:1-5.

The copying, cutting, and pasting of sources in Chapters 37-40 creates a confusing, mixed-up, and contradictory composite chronology.

  1. 37:17-21 interrupts the natural flow of material into 38:1-13.  We read that Jeremiah was in a pit for days (37:16).  We also read that Ebed-melech liberated Jeremiah from that pit.  Then, in that chronology, we read that Jeremiah went to the court of the guardhouse (38:7-13), where he was in Chapters 32 and 33.  Then, in this chronology, we move to 39:1-14.  We read of the liberation of Jeremiah after the Fall of Jerusalem.  We read that Jeremiah went to the household of Gedaliah.  We read that the prophet nearly became an exile in Babylon, but that Nebuzaradan, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian captain of the guard, freed him (40:1-6).  We read that Jeremiah went to the household of Gedaliah.
  2. We read of no pit in the other chronology.  No, we read that Jeremiah remained in the court of the guardhouse, except when King Zedekiah had him temporarily transported somewhere.  In this timeline, we read that the prophet nearly became an exile in Babylon, but that Nebuzaradan, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian captain of the guard, freed him (40:1-6).  We read that Jeremiah then went to the household of Gedaliah.

34:8-2 adds another wrinkle to the last days before the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.  We read that King Zedekiah had convinced the slaveholders of Jerusalem to free their Hebrew slaves.  We also read that some slaveholders returned freed slaves to slavery, and that God strongly objected to this.  Deuteronomy 15:12-15 dictates that the maximum period of slavery of a Hebrew was six years.

In context, with the temporary lifting of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian siege, thanks to Egyptian military intervention on behalf of Judah, some slaveholders of Jerusalem thought they no longer had to live or to try to live according to divine law.  Perhaps some of these slaveholders had already kept many of the Hebrew slaves for longer than six years.  The liberation, therefore, was overdue.  Reenslavement was morally indefensible.

34:17-22 ascribes the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. to divine punishment for the reenslavement of these unfortunate individuals.

A major theme in these readings is that, when people do what God says to do, they are better off.  They may not necessarily be more prosperous, but they may be safer.  They will not die in exile in Babylon, for example.  This is an overly simplistic idea.  Staying within the Book of Jeremiah alone, I cite the example of that prophet, who died in exile in Egypt (43:8-44:30).  Nevertheless, actions do have consequences.  People reap what they sow.  Yet sometimes obeying God leads down a difficult path, as the life of Jeremiah attests.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Restoration of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XX

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Jeremiah 32:1-33:26

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The given timeframe in 32:1-33:26 begins during the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean siege of Jerusalem and continues through the immediate aftermath of the fall of the city in 386 B.C.E.  We read that King Zedekiah had incarcerated Jeremiah for prophesying against Jerusalem–for telling the inconvenient and unpopular truth.  We read that Jeremiah was still in prison when the city fell.  We also read prophecies of the restoration of Jerusalem.

Many themes from earlier in the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books composed or begun to that point repeat in Jeremiah 32:1-33:26.  I acknowledge their existence without further comment–with one exception.

Having such faith in God as to affirm the restoration of Jerusalem while the Kingdom of Judah fell in 586 B.C.E. was remarkable.  A chapter in recorded history ended catastrophically.  The Jews did not achieve political independence in their homeland again until the time of the Hasmoneans.  The future that unfolded between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and the rise of independent Judea (142 B.C.E.; read 1 Maccabees 13:31-14:29) was not what prophets had predicted.  The Davidic Dynasty did not return to power.  The land was not a utopia with God as the king.  Reality did not match expectations.  And, after Judea became independent in 142 B.C.E., Hasmonean priest-kings proved they were mere mortals, capable of petty politics and bad decisions.  Judean independence ended in 63 B.C.E., when the Roman Republic took over.

Having faith that God would eventually restore Jerusalem as the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian army took that city was remarkable.  Yet that faith was also realistic.

Faith in God may be difficult at times, but it is also realistic.  We mere mortals may get some of the details of our expectations wrong, but God remains faithful to divine promises.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Posted June 13, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 Maccabees 13, 1 Maccabees 14, Jeremiah 32, Jeremiah 33

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Jeremiah Versus False Prophets   Leave a comment

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XVIII

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Jeremiah 27:1-29:32

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The Masoretic Text of Jeremiah 27:1 indicates that Jehoiakim was the King of Judah.  Yet this is a scribal error, for the rest of the text names Zedekiah as the King of Judah.  Many English translations correct the Masoretic Text and list Zedekiah as the monarch.

Zedekiah, born Mattaniah, reigned from 597 to 586 B.C.E.  As the King of Judah, he was always a vassal of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

God was sovereign, Jeremiah pronounced.  All world leaders, even King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (r. 605-562 B.C.E.) were vassals of God.  The prophet told King Zedekiah to disregard the advice of the false prophets to rebel against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The only way to live was as a Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian vassal, Jeremiah told King Zedekiah.  The King of Judah disregarded the prophet’s advice and rebelled anyway.  King Zedekiah, blinded, died a prisoner in Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; 1 Esdras 1:47-58).

Hananiah ben Azzur was a false prophet.  He was the prophetic equivalent of happy pills.  Hananiah, who had

urged disloyalty to the LORD,

died the same year he issued the false prophecy.

The first round of the Babylonian Exile started in 597 B.C.E., with the deposition of King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah.  Before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), Jeremiah wrote to these exiles.  They were home, Jeremiah wrote to these exiles.  Jeremiah counseled them to settle permanently.  In Deuteronomy 20:5-7, building houses, planting vineyards, marrying, and procreating indicated permanent settlement.  The collapse of such signs of permanent settlement, as was about to happen in Judah, indicated divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:30-32; Amos 5:11; Zephaniah 1:13).  The restoration of these signs of permanent settlement played a role in prophecies of consolation (Isaiah 65:21-23; Jeremiah 29:5-6; Ezekiel 28:25-26).

Jeremiah 29:10 returns to the motif of seventy years, present in Jeremiah 25:11-14.

We read denunciations of other false prophets–Ahab ben Kolaiah and Zedekiah ben Maaseiah (29:20-23), as well as Shemaiah the Nehelamite (29:24-32).  We read of their unfortunate fates.  We also read again that false prophesy is urging disloyalty to God.

One of the practical difficulties in applying timeless principles is that one must apply them in circumstances.  Circumstances can vary widely, according to who, when, and where one is.  Therefore, a degree of relativism exists in the application of timeless principles.

Consider one timeless principle, O reader.  One should never urge disloyalty to God.  My circumstances are quite different from those of Jeremiah, during the reign of King Zedekiah.  Yet the timeless principle applies to my set of circumstances.  When and where I am, how I may confront those urging disloyalty to God looks very different than Jeremiah in Chapters 27-29.

Whenever and wherever you are, O reader, may you never urge disloyalty to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMEGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Jeremiah and Baruch   1 comment

Above:  Jehoiakim Burns the Word of God

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XVI

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Jeremiah 36:1-32

Jeremiah 45:1-5

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When I taught history survey courses in colleges and universities, I told my students:

Keep your facts straight and your chronology in order.

The Book of Jeremiah does not always keep its facts straight.  I have noted some examples of this already in this series of posts.  I point to two examples in this post.  I have more examples to point out when I get to them.  I am a serious student of history; I stand by the objective reality that x either happened or did not.  I make no apology for this.

The Book of Jeremiah does not keep its chronology straight, either.

  1. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.  He reigned from 597 to 586 B.C.E.  He was the named monarch in Jeremiah 24, 27, 28, 32, 37, and 38.
  2. Jehoiakim, nephew of Zedekiah, reigned as the King of Judah from 608 to 598 B.C.E.  Jehoiakim was the named monarch in Chapters 25, 26 (completing the story in 7 and 8, by the way), 35, and 45.  The events of Chapter 35 transpired after those of Chapter 36.
  3. Jeremiah 39 and 52 cover the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.  Off-screen, so to speak, the city fell between Chapters 32 and 33, and before 10:23-25.

The Book of Jeremiah is messing with my head.  The beginning should come before the middle, which should precede the end.  Linear story-telling has its virtues.

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In 608 B.C.E., Eliakim ben Josiah came to the throne of Judah as Jehoiakim, succeeding a deposed and exiled brother, Jehoahaz ben Josiah (r. 609 B.C.E.).  Both brothers were vassals of Pharoah Neco II (reigned 610-595 B.C.E.).  During the reign of Jehoiakim, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire replaced Egypt as the power to which Judah’s monarch served as a vassal.  Jehoiakim was also a tyrant who had prophets who spoke inconvenient truths arrested and executed circa 608 B.C.E.  Intervention spared the life of Jeremiah from Jehoiakim’s wrath (Jeremiah 26).  Yet, circa 608 B.C.E., Uriah ben Shemaiah died for saying what Jeremiah proclaimed (Jeremiah 26).

The events of Jeremiah 36 occurred in 605 B.C.E.  That year, Jeremiah had no access to the Temple.  Therefore, he sent his scribe, Baruch ben Neriah, in his place.  The scribe used the words of divine judgment and the invitation to repent.  These words met with a chilly reception.  King Jehoiakim burned the scroll.

The LORD now says of Jehoiakim, king of Judah:  No descendant of his shall sit on David’s throne; his corpse shall be thrown out, exposed to heat by day, frost by night.  I will punish him and his descendants for their wickedness; upon them, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the people of Judah I will bring all the evil threats to which they will not listen.

–Jeremiah 36:30-31, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

King Jehoiakim’s reign ended in 598 B.C.E.

  1. He may have died peacefully in his sleep, in his palace (2 Kings 24:6).  “He rested with his forefathers” usually indicated a peaceful death.
  2. He may have become a prisoner in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (2 Chronicles 36:6; 1 Esdras 1:40).
  3. He may have died in battle, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  His corpse may have remained unburied, a sign of disgrace and disrespect (Jeremiah 22:19; 36:30-31).

Despite the prophecy, a son of Jehoiakim succeeded him.  King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah reigned for about three months in 597 B.C.E. before becoming a prisoner in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46).

Above:  Baruch Writing Jeremiah’s Prophecies

Image in the Public Domain

Turning to Jeremiah 45, we remain in 605 B.C.E., according to the text.

God commanded Jeremiah to tell Baruch ben Neriah:

Thus said the LORD:  I am going to overthrow what I have built, and uproot what I have planted–this applies to the whole land.  And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.  For I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh–declares the LORD–but I will at least grant your life in all the places where you may go.

–Jeremiah 45:4-5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This work exacted a heavy toll on Jeremiah and his scribe.  The divine promise of not getting killed in the line of duty applied to the prophet, also (Jeremiah 1:19).  Ebed-melech, another ally of Jeremiah, had a divine guarantee of his life, too (Jeremiah 39:18).  Despite this divine promise, being Jeremiah or one of his allies was risky.

One may not want to hear God say to one:

And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.

Baruch, of course, went to Egypt with Jeremiah (43:6).

Some interpretive difficulties arise in Jeremiah 45.

  1. The text dates the prophecy to 605 B.C.E.
  2. Yet Chapter 45 follows exile in Egypt for Jeremiah and Baruch, and flows thematically from Chapter 44.
  3. Nevertheless, as I keep repeating, chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Jeremiah.  Structurally, the Book of Jeremiah reminds me of certain movies by Atom Egoyan, the acclaimed Canadian movie director.  Egoyan does not favor linear story-telling; he often has three timeframes running in his movies, and cuts from one timeframe to another one periodically.  For proper understanding of The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Ararat (2002), for example, one needs to watch at least three times.
  4. The translation of the end of 45:5 varies.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) goes one way, with, “…but I will, at least, grant you your life.”  The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) goes another way, with, “…but I will grant you your life as spoils of war….”

And do you expect great things for yourself?  Don’t expect them.

God’s reward to Jeremiah, Baruch, and Ebed-melech was survival in a terrifying time.

That does not seem like much of a reward, does it?  Yet, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls people to be faithful, not successful.  This is a difficult teaching.  I struggle with it.  Maybe you do, too, O reader.  I read that Jeremiah and Baruch did.

By human standards, Jeremiah was a failure.  He was on the outs with authorities.  His message convinced few people.  He died in involuntary exile in a land where he had warned people not to go.  And, by human standards, Jeremiah dragged Baruch down with him.

Yet, thousands of years later, faithful Jews and Christians utter the names of Jeremiah and Baruch with respect.  Many Jews and Christians still study and read the Book of Jeremiah.  The faithful legacy of Jeremiah and Baruch endures.

By that standard, Jeremiah and Baruch succeeded.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMEGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Good and Bad Figs, and the Cup of God’s Wrath   1 comment

Above:  Figs

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XV

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Jeremiah 24:2-25:38

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Chronology is not the organizing principle in the Book of Jeremiah.  Chapter 21, for example, is set circa 586 B.C.E., at the end of the reign (597-586 B.C.E.) of King Zedekiah.  Chapter 24 opens earlier, circa 597 B.C.E., also during the reign of Zedekiah, after the brief reign (597 B.C.E.) of King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah.  Furthermore, Chapter 25 opens in the fourth year (605 B.C.E.) of the reign (608-598 B.C.E.) of King Jehoiakim.

The good figs in Chapter 24 represent the faithful remnant of Judah–exiles of 597 B.C.E.–that would eventually return to the ancestral homeland after the Babylonian Exile.  They would also return to God.  The bad, inedible figs, however, represent those, who, between 597 and 586 B.C.E., remained in Judah or fled to Egypt, and were destined for annihilation.  In Jeremiah 24 and Ezekiel 11:6, the exiles of 597 B.C.E. were the only recipients of the divine promise of future restoration.  They alone were covenant people of God.

By 605 B.C.E., Jeremiah had been prophesying for twenty-three years. He had been faithful to God, the people had not.  They would face destruction, therefore, Jeremiah decreed yet again.

And those nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.  When the seventy years are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation and the land of the Chaldeans for their sins–declares the LORD–and I will make it a desolation for all time.

–Jeremiah 25:11-12, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Let us consider some historical dates and perform some arithmetic, O reader.

  1. Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian domination started in 605 B.C.E.
  2. The first Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian deportation of Judean exiles occurred in 597 B.C.E.
  3. The Fall of Jerusalem and the more famous deportation occurred in 586 B.C.E.
  4. The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire fell in 539 B.C.E.
  5. Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes permitted Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, starting in 538 B.C.E.
  6. 605 – 539 = 67.
  7. 597 – 538 = 59.
  8. 586 – 538 = 48.

Seventy is a round and symbolic number.  It means, in Mesopotamian terms, a long duration.  In Zechariah 1:12 and 7:5, seventy is the number of years between the destruction of the First Temple (586 B.C.E.) and the dedication of the Second Temple (516 B.C.E.).  This reinterpretation in Zechariah addresses the despair of the returned exiles in Haggai 1 and 2.

The reinterpretation of Biblical prophecies within the Bible itself is a recurring theme.  Other examples include all those exuberant visions of what the the Holy Land would be like after the Babylonian Exile.  The Biblical record indicates, however, that those visions did not come true, and disappointment was commonplace among returned exiles.  Therefore, we read interpretations of those prophecies to apply them to a then-future time (and perhaps a still-future time).  This practice of reinterpreting prophecies that, objectively and literally, did not come to pass, is consistent with the practice of adding to Hebrew prophetic books as late as after the Babylonian Exile.  Hope is one of the basic human needs.

But first, there was more divine judgment to ponder.  All twenty-six nations of the world known to Jeremiah were to drink the poisoned wine of the wrath of God then to suffer the sword of divine punishment.

The text minces no words:

In that day, the earth shall be strewn with the slain of the LORD from one end to the other.  They shall not be mourned, or gathered and buried; they shall become dung upon the face of the earth.

–Jeremiah 25:33, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In Jeremiah 25:30, God’s residence is in heaven, not the Temple in Jerusalem (Joel 4:16; Amos 1:2).  This detail may be significant, given expressions of divine displeasure with Judah in the Book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 25 concludes on a terrifying and vivid poetic account of divine wrath and sovereignty (verses 34-38).  God is in control of the world.  The King of Babylon is God’s vassal, although he does not know it.  (See Jeremiah 27:6, also.)

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMEGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Divine Judgment on Bad Kings and False Prophets   Leave a comment

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIV

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Jeremiah 23:1-40

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I like wordplay.  The Hebrew Bible is replete with it.  In Jeremiah 23, for example, puns on the Hebrew root letters resh and ayin move from ro’in (“shepherds,” in verses 1-4) to ra’ah (“evil,” in verses 11, 12, 14, 17, 22), mere’im (“evildoers,” in verse 14), and re’im (“each other,” in verses 27, 30, 35).  Also, in verses 5-6, we find a pun on the name of Zedekiah, the last King of Judah.  “Zedekiah” means “YHWH is justice.'”  The true branch of David’s line, however, will be “The LORD our justice.” we read.  This text tells us that Zedekiah did not live up to his regnal name.

The imagery of kings as shepherds exists in Ezekiel 34, also.

The promise of a messianic royal branch, in reference to an ideal ruler, occurs also in Isaiah 11:1 and Zechariah 3:8.  This promise contradicts facts from the historical record.

As with other parts of the Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 23 contains layers of authorship.  Verses 7-8, repeated nearly verbatim from Jeremiah 16:14-15, probably date to a period after Jeremiah–most likely during or after the Babylonian Exile.

False prophets abounded.  Some prophesied in the name of Baal Peor; they led people astray.  Other prophets claimed to speak on behalf of God; they led people into violations of the covenant.  The people and the false prophets paid a high price.  In more wordplay, massa (“burden”) meant a message from God (also in Deuteronomy 1:12; Jeremiah 17:24, 27; Isaiah 13:1; Isaiah 15:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Malachi 1:1; Isaiah 22:1; Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1), as well as a judgment from God.  The language of the “burden of the LORD,” as an oracle, was more common in reference to Gentile nations than to Israel and Judah.  In Jeremiah 23, the population that had requested an oracle received a judgment instead.

A difficult and germane question remains unanswered:  Without the benefit of hindsight, how can one discern who is a false prophet?  Each of us may correctly classify some figures as false prophets and wrongly categorize others, based on a belief system.  In hindsight, identifying false prophets is easier than doing so in real time.  If, for example, a self-proclaimed prophet predicts that Jesus will return by a certain date, one may reasonably classify him or her as a false prophet.  One may be certain, however, if that date comes and goes without the Second Coming having occurred.  On a mundane level, someone may offer a pronouncement that may be difficult to evaluate on the true prophet-false prophet scale in real time.  This person may even be a false prophet while imagining himself or herself to be a true prophet.  I accept Jeremiah as a true prophet, with the benefit of hindsight and faith.  Yet I admit that, had I lived when he was prophesying, I may have thought he was crazy.

May rulers be good and prophets be true.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Fates of Kings and Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah Tells the King That Jerusalem Shall Be Taken

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIII

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Jeremiah 21:1-22:30

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For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,

and tell sad stories of the death of kings….

–William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 3, Scene 2

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Jeremiah 21-25 consists of oracles in the last years of Jerusalem.  Zedekiah (born Mattaniah) in the regnant monarch named in 21:1.  The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), lists his reign as having spanned 597-586 B.C.E.  Outside of the Book of Jeremiah, one can read about King Zedekiah in 2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; and 1 Esdras 1:47-58.

Passhur the priest (21:1) was a different person than Passhur the priest (20:1), just as Zephaniah the priest (21:1) was a different person than Zephaniah the prophet (Zephaniah 1-3).

The theme of divine retribution in exchange for rampant, persistent, and systemic social injustice recurs.

There was bad news all around.

  1. Jerusalem was fall to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.E.
  2. King Zedekiah (r. 597-586 B.C.E.) would suffer an ignominious fate.
  3. King Jehohaz/Jeconiah/Shallum (r. 609 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Chronicles 36:1-4; 1 Esdras 1:34-38), would die in exile in Egypt.
  4. King Jehoiakim (r. 608-598 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 23:36-24:7; 2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:39-42) either died peacefully in his palace (2 Kings 24:6), became a captive in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:5-8; 1 Esdras 1:40), or died outside the walls of Jerusalem in 598 B.C.E. and received no burial (Jeremiah 22:19; 36:30-31).
  5. King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah (r. 597 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 24:8-17; 2 Kings 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; 1 Esdras 1:43-46) would become a prisoner in Babylon, too.

I detect odd editing, without regard to chronology.  Follow my reasoning, O reader:

  1. Zedekiah was the last King of Judah.  Material concerning him establishes the present tense at the beginning of Chapter 21.
  2. The material concerning Jehoahaz/Jeconiah/Shallum would have been contemporary to the Zedekiah material.
  3. Yet the material concerning Jehoiakim comes from during his reign.
  4. Likewise, the material concerning Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah comes from during his reign.

The divine condemnations of rulers who did not try to govern righteously remain relevant, sadly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARNABAS THE APOSTLE, COWORKER OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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