Study Guide

God in Book of Jeremiah

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In Jeremiah, God's focused on one major concern: destroying everything. God has put up with the Israelites' disobedient ways long enough. He's given them endless second chances to return to him, and now—you guessed it—it's time to wreck some stuff. "Wrath" is probably the most frequent word in the book. That, and "dung."

God's not going to take any half-measures either. Sure, people are going to be left alive in exile (and some of the poorest people will still remain in Judah, tilling the land) but God is going to totally devastate the land. Even his own temple will be destroyed, apparently with his permission (though he's also going to punish the Babylonians for it later, which might seem a little unfair). God's mad as heck and he's not going to take it anymore.

But God's passion for destruction in The Book of Jeremiah isn't entirely…well, destructive. He says that he just wants a clean slate. As chapters 30-33 of Jeremiah make clear, God plans on eventually making it all better, restoring the whole of Israel to a pure state of body and mind, safe in the Promised Land again.

Through Jeremiah as a mouthpiece, God says:

For thus says the Lord: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good fortune that I now promise them. Fields shall be bought in this land of which you are saying, It is a desolation, without human beings or animals; it has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans. (32:42-43)

Heavy Metal Deity

God talks consolation for only four chapters out of about fifty-four. Most of the time, he's spelling out doom in incredibly harsh terms. It may be that, more than any other book of the Bible, Jeremiah makes a Wrathful God its focus. It's not too hard to find examples. He's a God that Iron Maiden would be proud of.

Here's a typical sentiment:

Those slain by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall become dung on the surface of the ground. (25:33)

God often presents himself at times as a jilted husband, with Judah his unfaithful wife, cheating on him with other gods like that notorious ladies' man, Baal.

Look up to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been lain with? By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers, like a nomad in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness. (3:2)

God's response to Judah's cheating isn't to just get a divorce and a cash-settlement and end it at that—he's going to kill Judah. But he's not going to kill everybody. He's going to leave a good number of exiles alive, so that they can come back and be faithful to him in a future blessed-out time. We're guessing that's not much consolation to the folks living through the destruction of Jerusalem.

"People [and Jeremiah's God] are Like Onions… They Have Layers." – Shrek

So the God of Jeremiah is a complex figure. He has serious mood swings. He promises eventual forgiveness and restoration to Judah, his "firstborn," but what we mainly see from God in the Book of Jeremiah is big-time vengeance. God goes Rambo on everybody—not just Judah, but the Babylonians, the Philistines, the Egyptians, the Moabites: really, almost all the nations of the ancient Near East. God will demonstrate mercy and love in a more direct way in other books (like Isaiah) but not in this book, in which he sends his people into one of their greatest trials: the Babylonian Captivity.

He Loves me, He Loves Me Not

But even though God's bent on vengeance, his heart's not really in it. What's clear in Jeremiah is, that underneath God's demands for obedience to his laws is his wish to have an intimate relationship with the people he's chosen to be his special nation. He's downright hurt at being rejected by them, a surprisingly human-like reaction to being ignored by people he really cares about.

  • Thus says the Lord: What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? (2:5)
  • I thought how I would set you among my children, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all the nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord. (3:20)
  • Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness? Why then do my people say, "We are free, we will come to you no more"? 32 Can a girl forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me, days without number. (3:31-32)

God never stops hoping for the return of his children, his bride:

For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. (7:5-7)

He just can't stay mad:

  • And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land, every one of them. (12:15)
  • For the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their ancestors and they shall take possession of it. (30:3)
  • Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he the child I delight in? As often as I speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore I am deeply moved for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD. (31:20)

You can even speculate that God saw an upside to the whole exile thing. You know how when you move to a new place or go somewhere you don't really know anyone you tend to look for someone familiar? And how cool it is to meet someone from your hometown and talk about the Red Sox or Yankees or Dodgers? You end up feeling a little proud about where you're from and can share it with the other guy. Maybe the purpose of the exile was to help the Hebrews strengthen their identity, so that when they came back from living among strangers, they'd be a stronger community for it.

God—you gotta love the guy after all.

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