Study Guide

Book of Jeremiah Compassion and Forgiveness

Compassion and Forgiveness

Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say: Return, faithless Israel, says the Lord. I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, says the Lord; I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you have rebelled against the Lord your God, and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree, and have not obeyed my voice, says the Lord. Return, O faithless children, says the Lord, for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion (NRSV 3:12-14).

Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the Lord. Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion (KJV 3:12-14).

Here, God gives Israel a second chance, which is shortly to be withdrawn when Israel fails to heed his advice. He's always giving them second chances, as if he really doesn't want to have to go through with his threats.

I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord.' It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will (NRSV 3:15-17).

And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. And it shall come to pass, when ye be multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, saith the Lord, they shall say no more, The ark of the covenant of the Lord: neither shall it come to mind: neither shall they remember it; neither shall they visit it; neither shall that be done any more. At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart (KJV 3:15-17).

This is one of Jeremiah's rare moments of hope. The Ark of the Covenant won't be important anymore because external forms of worship will be less important. The inner nature of devotion and spirituality will be key. That Ark was a lot to shlep around in the heat, anyway.

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored? (NRSV 8:20-22)

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? (KJV 8:20-22)

Here, it's Jeremiah himself who laments for his people. You can feel his pain. He likens their spiritual condition to a physical ailment that needs a physician. Gilead was on the west bank of the Jordan River, and a tree grew there that was known for having curative properties. Its balm was big business at the time.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart (NRSV 24:4-7).

Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart (KJV 24:4-7).

God's setting aside the exiles for mercy. It's as if exile will have a purifying effect on the people, so they can come back ready to have a whole-hearted relationship with God, rather than the on-again, off-again thing that's been going on for centuries.

Thus says the Lord: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! that day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be rescued from it. On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will break the yoke from off his neck, and I will burst his bonds, and strangers shall no more make a servant of him (NRSV 30:5-8).

For thus saith the Lord; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him… (KJV 30:5-8).

When God wants to describe serious pain, he always comes up with childbirth analogies. Anyway, as bad as things seem now, Jacob will eventually be free and independent. Just when the pain is worst, God will deliver. Just like childbirth.

Thus says the Lord: I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the citadel set on its rightful site. Out of them shall come thanksgiving, and the sound of merrymakers. I will make them many, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be disdained. Their children shall be as of old, their congregation shall be established before me; and I will punish all who oppress them (NRSV 30:18-20).

Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwelling places; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof. And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. Their children also shall be as aforetime, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress them (KJV 30:18-20).

God's going to make everything the way it was before--like it never even happened. Actually, it'll be even better than before. Why do you think God's making all these promises even as he's lowering the boom on the Judeans and scattering them around?

Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country (NRSV 31:15-17).

Thus saith the Lord; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border (KJV 31:15-17).

Rachel, the wife of Jacob, is weeping for her offspring: the people of Judah are mainly from the Tribe of Benjamin, and Benjamin was Rachel's son. There's a rabbinic tradition that Jacob buried Rachel on the roadside where she died so that the Jews would pass by her grave on their way to exile. They saw the mention of Rachel in the Book of Jeremiah as a confirmation of this idea. (Source)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness." (NRSV 33:14-16)

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness (KJV 33:14-16).

When God sends the "Righteous Branch," it will be a great act of mercy, since the people have suffered from inadequate leadership for so long. The ancient Jewish concept of the Messiah is just what God is promising here: a righteous ruler who will unite the people and help them live in safety and peace as an independent nation. This is different from the Christian concept of a savior who redeems people from sin. Christian interpretations of this passage point out Jesus' descent from the line of David.

If you will only remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down; I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I am sorry for the disaster that I have brought upon you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, as you have been; do not be afraid of him, says the Lord, for I am with you, to save you and to rescue you from his hand. I will grant you mercy, and he will have mercy on you and restore you to your native soil (NRSV 42:10-12).

If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the Lord: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land (KJV 42:10-12).

The people need to remain in exile for a while—it's a test that will ultimately be beneficial to them. If they can endure being aliens in a foreign land, they'll be worthy to inhabit their home country again, and will find God's mercy. Weird to hear God say that he's sorry for what he's done. This is a really intimate relationship he has with these people.

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