24th Ordinary Year C
24th Ordinary Year C
by Arch Taylor

JEREMIAH 4: 11-28

To me, the following verses are the very heart of the Bible's word for today, unfortunately omitted from the assigned passage forthis day.

Speaking for God, Jeremiah announces judgment on his people, not willingly, not lightly, but reluctantly and with tears, indeed, with cries of anguish.

Read the whole passage, vv 11-28. Who speaks here? Remember that Hebrew had no quotation marks. NRSV tries to distinguish between YHWH's words and Jeremiah's, but that is impossible. Through Jeremiah, in Jeremiah, YHWH cries out the divine anguish that his stupid people are bringing tragedy on themselves by their heedless self-centeredness and self-deception.

Read the whole passage; read it in light of the tragedy of New York and Washington, September 11, 2001. Read it: "my people" -- the USA.

It's always the innocent, the civilians, that suffer the consequences of the stupidity of their political and military leaders. Whether it's unspeakably desperate terrorism like that of the plane hijackers, or calculated cruelty against the innocent people of Iraq under the guise of "getting" Saddam Hussein, it's all the same.

The prophet weeps; God weeps; we all weep.

And it will happen again, on one side or the other or both, so long as we all live in a mood of self-deception and denial. Fools? See below:


14.1: "The fool" (sing. Heb nabal) refers especially to one who has no perception of ethical and religious claims (BDB). He does not doubt the existence of God, but thinks only that God has no concern in moral questions nor any power to act. The fool thinks he can get by with his abominable deeds.

The next two verbs, masc plu, are in causative form applied to behavior `alilah--1] shachat, go to ruin; in hiph = cause to become corrupt or perverted; and 2] ta`ab, be abhorrent or abominable; in hiph = to make abominable. It frequently refers to idol worship, acts ritually or morally reprehensible. When David ordered Joab to take a census of the people, Joab resisted the order, for it was abominable to him (1 Chron 21.6). "They have made corrupt, have made abominable [their] behavior, there is no doer of good."

14.2: "YWHW from heaven looks down [as though leaning out the window] upon bene 'adam [sons of men, mortals, humankind] to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God."

"Any who are wise" (NRSV), "any who act wisely" (RSV) translates Heb maskil. The root sakal "be prudent" of which this is the hiph. participial form, includes many shades of meaning which scholars find difficult to apply in every case. As success may naturally follow prudent action, the hiph may be translated "to prosper" as in case of the Servant of YHWH, Is 52.13. Cf also 1 Sam 18.5,14,15 below.

"Seek after God" translates the common Heb verb darash, indicating that the worshipper goes in person to visit the shrine where the deity is thought to dwell in order to seek augury and offer sacrifice. Thus, to seek Bethel or Gilgal (Amos 5.5) implies all that formal worship involves, yet the prophet denies that such action apart from upright behavior is true worship. "Seek me and live" (5.4); "seek YHWH and live" (5.6).

Thus, acting wisely/prudently and hence prospering has close ties to properly seeking God. To neglect the latter is to fail in the former. Jer 10.21 states, "The shepherds are stupid, and do not inquire of [darashu, seek] YHWH; therefore they have not prospered [hiskilu].

In 1 Sam 18.5 we read (NRSV): David went out and was successful [yaskil] wherever Saul sent him." In 18.14,15 we read, "David had success [maskil] in all his undertakings; for the LORD was with him. When Saul saw that he had great success [maskil], he stood in awe of him." Yet in 2 Sam 11.1ff David acts foolishly in following his lust for Bathsheba, resulting in the murder of Uriah and the death of 17 other soldiers of David's army under Joab. In that case, David acted like the fool who thinks God does not know or care, who does not sincerely seek God, and therefore does not act wisely/prudently/successfully.

14.3: (presumably referring to bene 'adam) declares "there is no one who does good, no, not one." In Rom 3.10ff Paul quotes from Ps 14.2-3 acc to LXX version which differs significantly from Heb. In doing so, Paul makes the accusation universal, and fundamentalists make this a cornerstone of their evangelistic witness.

14.4ff, however, makes clear distinction between "all the evildoers" and "my people" whom the evildoers devour. God is with the righteous and is refuge for the poor. Thus the psalm falls short of universalizing the total depravity of bene 'adam in the manner of Paul.

The Psalmist asks: "Who gives from Zion salvation of Israel?" and answers with the expectation of future joy when YHWH "restores the fortunes of his people" (NRSV). Reflecting on the exile, yet confident in YHWH's covenant faithfulness, by means of this phrase writers expressed conviction concerning YHWH's gracious restoration. At a later time, editors proclaimed also YHWH's restoration of Moab, Ammon, and Elam (Jer 48.47; 49.6, 39) and Sodom, Samaria (Ezek 16.53) and Egypt (29.14).

(Comments to Arch at arch.taylor@ecunet.org.)