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There’s nothing new in governments trying to suppress criticism

July 31, 2014

Jeremiah 15:10,16-21                      (Wednesday of Week 17, 2014)


At the moment in the Church Year we’re listening to readings from the Book of Jeremiah. Here’s some advice if you fancy sitting down and reading through the whole of the book. Don’t.

It’s a long book, and it has some history contained in it, but it is not an easy read because it jumps all over the place, with no continuity. That’s because the ancient Jewish writings were not written in the way we usually write our books today, in chronological order. No, they put things in order of importance. And apart from that, although is has history in it, the Book of Jeremiah is first and foremost meant to be a book of prophecy.

Being a prophet, speaking out against a corrupt or immoral society, is always going to encounter opposition from those in government. In today’s excerpt we hear Jeremiah bemoaning his lot.

“Woe is me, my mother, for you have borne me to be a man of strife and of dissension for all the land.”

It is a form of prayer to God called a lament. God understands the difficulties we have, and we learn from Jeremiah and other laments found in scripture (particularly some of the psalms) that we are allowed to complain to God.

Jeremiah was born into the Jewish priesthood and went on to be a prophet, and he wrote his book roughly 600 years before the birth of Christ.

In its time it was a very controversial book. Jehoiakim was the name of the king at that time, and he was not popular. He had only come to the throne, against the wishes of the Jewish people, through the influence of the powerful neighbours, the Egyptians. And to stay in power King Jehoiakim had to pay tribute to his Egyptian masters, which did not go down well with the people either.

But then the Egyptians were beaten in battle by the up and coming superpower, the Babylonians, and the Jewish King Jehoiakim promptly changed allegiance to them. After three years of siding with Babylonia, King Jehoiakim rebelled against his new masters, and the Jewish nation of Judah was under a very real threat of invasion – which many thought would only a matter of time.

This is where the Prophet Jeremiah comes in really. Jeremiah was warning against the godlessness of the Jewish people, and how it would end in national disaster. Basically Jeremiah warned that over his lifetime the nation had become unfaithful to God, so that it was now a corrupt society led by irreligious kings. As a result Jeremiah said the nation now risked humiliation and defeat as punishment by God. Of course, such criticism would not be welcomed by King Jehoiakim. Basically Jeremiah prophesied that the nation’s sin would lead to foreign invasion and then exile at the hands of the Babylonians, but that the Jewish people deserved this punishment, which would then end in a dramatic demonstration of God’s forgiveness, with the Jewish people would be restored to God’s favour.

When the King’s officials heard that Jeremiah had written a book, they immediately insisted it was brought to them. They were then so alarmed by Jeremiah’s writings that they had the book brought to the attention of the King Jehoiakim.

No doubt Jeremiah was a bit worried, not to say annoyed, when he found out that as the King had listened to the scroll being read out to him, every so often the King would jump up and use a knife to cut of the bits he disagreed with, throwing them in the fire. By the end, the whole of the Book of Jeremiah had been literally burnt by the king![1]

When Judah eventually was invaded as predicted by Jeremiah it was then end for King Jehoiakim, and it was indeed the start of the ruthless Babylonian exile for the Jewish people. Jeremiah’s prophesy was to be proved right – and so was his prediction that God would forgive them and allow them to return from exile and rebuilt the Temple. That’s what happened 58 years later.

How come we have a Book of Jeremiah if the King had burnt it? Well, Jeremiah was instructed by God to write it out again. So the version we have today is the second copy.[2]

As I was saying at the weekend, being faithful to God is not an easy path. Sometimes, because we seem to stand out against what other people say, our lives can seem very difficult. We can, like Jeremiah, end up suffering setbacks, having to repeat things in our lives we thought we had already done.

Yet after his rather depressing opening lines, as with all laments in the Jewish tradition, the writer ends on a high note, when God tells Jeremiah:

“They will fight against you but they will not overcome you, because I am with you to save you and to deliver you.”

Yes, through it all, God is watching over us.


[1] Jeremiah 36: 1-26

[2] Jeremiah 36: 27-32

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