John T. Willis

Friday, April 22, 2011

Surrender to Babylon or Perish--Jeremiah 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 24:1-10

God ways and God's messages are often very different from what we human beings anticipate or expect or desire. One striking example of this is God's message through Jeremiah to instruct the people of God to surrender to Babylon, and if they did not do this, they would perish. Jeremiah 21:1-10 and Jeremiah 24:1-10 contain exactly that same message, using two different figures. The events recorded in Jeremiah 24:1-10 occurred approximately 10 years earlier than those recorded in Jeremiah 21:1-10. But the composers of the Book of Jeremiah have arranged these texts in a different order for theological reasons.

I. The Figure of the Two Ways. Jeremiah 21:1-10.
a. In the period when Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon and his army were besieging Jerusalem between 589 and 587 BCE, King Zedekiah of Judah sent a message to the prophet Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord in behalf of Judah. Jeremiah 32 is also the historical time frame for the events described in Jeremiah 21:1-10. 21:1-2.
b. In Yahweh's name, Jeremiah tells Zedekiah and the Judeans that Yahweh will "turn back" the weapons of Judah, and fight against the people of God. Then, Yahweh will give Zedekiah and his servants and Judah into Babylonian exile with "pestilence, sword, and famine." See 14:13; 15:2; 16:4; 18:21; 24:10; 27:8, 13; 28:8; 29:17; 32:36. 21:3-7.
c. Then, Yahweh through Jeremiah proclaims that he is setting before God's people "the way of life and the way of death." The way of life=the way to say alive is to surrender to Babylon. The way of death=the way to die or perish is to fight against Babylon. 21:8-10.

II. The Figure of the Two Baskets of Figs. Jeremiah 24:1-10.
a. Shortly after King Nebuchadrezzar and the Babylonians took Jehoiachin and 10,000 of the leading citizens of Judah and Jerusalem, Yahweh showed Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs: one basket had very good figs, but the other basket had very bad figs. 24:1-3.
b. Then, Yahweh explains that these good figs are the exiles that Jehoiachin and his comrades went into Babylon. Yahweh will eventually bring their descendants back into the land of Canaan to give them a heart to know that Yahweh is God, to be his people and they to be their God, and to return to God with their whole heart. 24:4-7
c. By way of contrast, Yahweh explains that the bad figs are Zedekiah and his officials and the people of Judah who insist on living in the land of Canaan and fighting against Babylon. God will send "sword, famine, and pestilence" upon them until they are utterly destroyed. See 21:7, 9. 24:8-10.

In the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 21:1-10 and 24:1-10 function as "bookends" around oracles concerning kings and prophets in Jeremiah 21:11-23:40, which we will discuss in future blogs.

We human beings need to listen to God's message, even when that message is unexpected and contrary to our wishes and desire.

Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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