The final chapters of Isaiah form a litany of prayer and lament to God (ch. 64), and God’s response, which contains his charges against his people (65: 1-7), promises of restoration for Judah and Zion, and even a vision and promise of the ingathering of the nations. Elements and images that reappear in the New Testament include “a new heaven and a new earth,” (Is. 65:17; Rev. 21:1) and the eternal destruction of wickedness (Is. 66: 24; Mk. 9:48).
That the prophecies of Isaiah end with a warning (more likely for Israel than for the pagans) brings up the uncomfortable topic of God’s wrath, the dark theme of the prophets, intermingled with the light themes of God’s mercy and of restoration and renewal for Israel and the cosmos. Since prophetic language is poetic and anthropomorphic (using human imagery to describe divine actions and qualities), its hard to say how much of the disasters that befall Israel and the nations are due to God’s active punishment, or, more passively, to the removal of his protecting hand, or, just as likely, to the consequences of people taking themselves outside the shadow of God’s grace and protection by their idolatry and injustice.
Whatever the case, the God of Israel’s prophets makes no apologies for the moral order of the universe, nor for the consequences they entail for our woe or our welfare. If anything, it is God’s restraint that is remarkable, and God’s hope and patience for his wayward creatures, leading up to the great cosmic surprise of God himself taking on the suffering and the redemptive payment for sin through Christ, something first glimmered in advance in Isaiah 53.
In Jeremiah’s story we will encounter a prophet who promises all grace and no guilt, only blessing and no consequence, but it wasn’t Jeremiah. It was Hananiah, a false court prophet, whose ministry only greased the skids for Judah’s descent into injustice and idolatry, and who only made the looming national catastrophe worse (Jer. 28).
JEREMIAH: But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In the next book of prophecy, Jeremiah, we meet a prophet who lived much of what his immediate predecessor, Isaiah, foresaw and foretold. His ministry began around 627 BC, during the reign of King Josiah, and ended in Egypt, some time soon after the third and most devastating Exile to Babylon, 587 BC, as counted in the opening verses of Chapter 1. There we also learn that this prophet was from a priestly family, in contrast to the stereotype of the priesthood and the prophets being inherently at odds with each other. Jeremiah’s calling came early in his life, and throughout his many years of ministry, he never lost his youthful sensitivity, nor the insecurity he expressed upon receiving his call (1: 6).
The first two visions set the scene for what follows in Jeremiah. The almond tree, being early to bud, is a symbol of the swiftness of the coming fulfillment of the prophecies. The boiling pot to the north represents the coming Babylonian invasion. Other visions will have similar symbolic schemes that will stay in the minds of his auditors.
God speaks to Jeremiah’s sensitivity and insecurity (1: 17-19) by revealing that all the opposition and persecution he will face will only reveal that his adversaries are actually more afraid of him than he is of them. Let’s remember that whenever we too face opposition or even persecution for our faith.
The opening chapters also introduce us to themes and symbols used repeatedly by Jeremiah and other prophets: idolatry and injustice are likened to adultery and prostitution; the nation’s leaders are thieves and murderers who came to power, and who keep it, by such means; true circumcision is an inward one, of the heart; false prophets serve not God but this corrupt leadership by prophesying only good, presuming upon the protecting hand of God (especially Chapter 7, “The Temple of God! The Temple of God!”); the judgment of God is coming in the form of a merciless adversary who will destroy and dispossess them, unless they repent and mend their way. The divine logic is: “As you abandoned me in order to serve in your own country foreign gods, thus shall you serve foreign gods in a foreign land (5:19).”
Jeremiah 8:13 is the basis of Jesus’ parable in action, of cursing the fig tree (Mt. 21:9) on Mt. Zion. It demonstrated the fruitless condition of Israel, and that another time of decision and judgment had come.
Jeremiah’s laments and warnings tell us that for the people of God, there can be no disconnect between “foreign policy” and “domestic policy,” as there was when Israel played conventional power politics in the Levant while being the people of YHWH God. Soon her domestic policy began to look like her foreign policy: ruthless, wily, exploitive and idolatrous. The prophets, by contrast, pleaded for a “social policy,” that would also be her “foreign policy:” Israel’s perpetual internal reform, ever cultivating a just relationship with God, with the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Not only then would she be a moral and spiritual light to the nations, such covenant justice and faithfulness would be her security.
This yet holds true for the church, even though we are not a nation-state in the sense that Israel and Judah were. Our witness to the world is not separate from our attention to a just relationship with God and each other; the latter is also the former.
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jer. 6: 16)
…is a wisdom psalm that contrasts the state and the fate of the righteous and the wicked. The vision of righteousness combines trust in God with trustworthiness in all human relationships. Biblical wisdom contains an apocalyptic element in that it focuses not only on the here and now, but looks to the farther horizon that is God’s work of setting the world right, and adjusts today’s conduct accordingly.