Jeremiah is considered one of the “major” prophets and he is contemporary to some of the kings we’ve heard about so far. He is the son of the priest Hilkiah, who is the one that brings the Book of the Law out from some storage area back in 2 Chronicles 34 and 2 Kings 22. Well, Hilkiah served King Josiah, who repented of everything and tore down the high places and all that still met his death shortly after, there is even a mention that Jeremiah says a lament for him. Even though Josiah got everyone to carry out the sacrifices and celebrations, remember that having the heart for them is an important part of it. This has been a part of the point since way back in Genesis when Cain’s sacrifice was refused. At this point, Israel is already in exile and Judah gets taken away after the death of Josiah. The book begins before the exile, though, with warnings.
Chapter one begins with Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet. In it, there is a verse that is often partially quoted. I’ll admit that it has always irritated me when people throw out a verse without context, but to not even quote the whole verse just feels wrong. Here’s the whole thing:
5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
I’ve heard the first two lines plenty, and I’m not saying they are or aren’t true for everyone, but quote the whole thing rather than two thirds.
Like just about everyone else who has had to take on such responsibility, Jeremiah’s first thought was to point out how unqualified he is for the job. God reassures him, though. Then begin the warnings for what’s to come.
Chapter two has a few references to women that are in no way flattering. It’s mostly female animals in heat and talking about the nation acting like a “whore”. That is their word, not mine. No matter how much I am in favor of women’s sexual empowerment, I still take issue with cheaters, so I understand the context being that God is comparing a cheating nation of Judah to a cheating woman.
Remember that in this patriarchal society, with the masculine plural, God will often sound like He’s only talking to the men and probably is. Given that, He is comparing Himself to the husband who has been repeatedly cheated on. Yes, it could be seen as the problem is promiscuity, but it looks like God is taking all this as a personal slight. Judah didn’t just run around with other guys, they did it after making a covenant with God to worship Him in perpetuity.
So promiscuity in itself isn’t the direct issue as much as cheating. Having been cheated on myself and understanding what one goes through, I get the anger in His words and the purpose of using this metaphor for the male leaders. This does not mean that I support this comparison, I just get why it’s there.
Chapter three continues with the marriage metaphor. This time God is talking about what to do when your spouse leaves you and marries someone else. Would you take them back? Some might say yes, but God is saying here that He definitely doesn’t expect that anyone would. Unfortunately, He seems to be either talking to men only, mostly, or is randomly choosing the male pronouns and/or perspective.
He brings up a sisterly relationship between Judah and Israel but only to say that it was bad enough when Israel turned so far away He sent them into exile but it was worse for Judah to see it happen and still end up going down the same path.
Chapter four makes a few masculine comparisons before ending with something about Judah being a woman in labor pains “before murderers” and that she beautifies in vain. Of course this isn’t actually talking about women. It’s making the point that Judah is in a really bad place. It seems like they were in that same debauched and deluded place as the aristocrats of pre-Revolution France.
In chapter five, God sounds like one of those parents that try to explain to their kid that what they did was unacceptable while telling them how much they wish they didn’t have to punish them for it. Its very “what am I supposed to do with you when you act one this?”
In chapter six, God begins to tell the people what’s coming to them in much more detail. The women are mentioned specifically but only in relation to their men. They are wives and part of the punishment of the men. Mentions of the nation are again given feminine pronouns and the pain they will be in is again compared to women in labor. Which just tells me that God agrees that is the worst pain in the human experience.