I am at present making a bit of a study of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. It’s one of those books that I have not had to much contact with, outside the lectionary readings - which don’t happen that often - so when a unit was offered on it at Moore College, I took up the offer.
The story takes place during an interesting time in Judah’s history - the late 7th - early 6th Century B.C. By this time Judah, the southern kingdom, was the only one left. Israel, the northern kingdom, had been destroyed about 100 years before this time by the Assyrians and most of its people taken into captivity. But by the end of the 7th century, Assyria was in decline and Babylon was the new bad boy on the block. Anyway, in about the year 605, the Babylonians pop down south, capture Jerusalem, take a few people captive, put a puppet king on the throne, then go home.
After four years, the puppet king rebels, deciding to trust in Judah’s alliance with Egypt to help them against the Babylonians. The Babylonians head south again, this time angry. The Babylonians do not like subject nations rebelling.
So, Jeremiah (who, by the way, was probably not a bullfrog*) is doing his stuff in this period. Basically, his is a message of doom and gloom. He points out, as very, that Judah has turned from YHWH (a.k.a God) and has been doing unspeakable acts with Baals and other gods. So Jeremiah’s first point is that they should repent - always a good place to start. But he then goes goes on to say that they must not trust Egypt. They should surrender to the Babylonians, and then the city would survive and the people would survive. This is not a message the authorities want to hear, and Jeremiah becomes distinctly unpopular. He is jailed, beaten up, threatened with death, even thrown dow a well. (It is interesting that a lot of the book is taken up with Jeremiah whinging to God - why did you choose me? I don’t want to be a prophet! etc). It might have been some consolation when he was proved right. The Babylonians com, the Egyptians don’t; the Babylonians besiege Jerusalem, capture it, destroy the city and the temple, and take the people off into captivity in Babylon (‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ as Boney M put it). And just to show how miffed they were, they captured the rebel king and the last thing he saw was his children having their heads cut off before his eyes were poked out. Don’t mess with the Babylonians.
So, there’s the basic picture. Not happy. Nearly the whole book (and it is the longest book in the Bible) is doom-laden. Except one small section in the middle, known as the Book of Comfort.
In this part, the mood changes. In this, God announces that He will bring the nation back and not just Judah but Israel as well. And it is not just that the nation will be restored but will be renewed. There will be a new creation. What looks like a complete and utter disaster (the exile lasted for 70 years) would turn into something new and glorious, as there will be a new covenant. Just as in the Isaiah passage I quoted yesterday, God is in control and will do things His way. We just have to trust. Even when it seems ludicrous - like surrendering to the Babylonians - we must trust. A great thing to hear at the moment!