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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, September 3, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jeremiah 2:4–13

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 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? They did not say, “Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that no one passes through, where no one lives?” I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?” Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord, and I accuse your children’s children. Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has ever been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. (NRSV)

Imagine being the person in a crowded movie theater who smells smoke, sees flames, and warns people to get out . . . and then everybody just keeps watching the movie. That’s Jeremiah.

Some context is helpful here. Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, during the tumultuous and chaotic time immediately before the Exile; that’s the cataclysmic event when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and scattered the Jews among several places, leaving only a remnant as slaves in Jerusalem. Jeremiah tries to warn his people, especially the political and religious leaders, that disaster looms because of their unfaithfulness. In pursuing the easy fix of worshiping other gods, instead of taking the long view and trusting the God who has been true to them, they doom themselves. The last verse of the passage presents a beautiful metaphor that sums it all up. The people reject God, who offers life (in the desert where they live, that’s what water is); they rely on themselves, but that’s an epic fail (broken cisterns).

If I was the person in the movie theater, I suspect that once my warnings were unheeded, I would get out of there and save myself. That’s not what Jeremiah does. He prophesies and prophesies and prophesies—and is spurned and mistreated because of it—but does not abandon his people. In fact, much later in the book, he buys a piece of land, even as the Babylonians are invading, to demonstrate his belief that God will eventually bring them back home. A prophet’s words are powerful and poetic. But the message is most clearly proclaimed in the person him- or herself. The prophet is the prophecy.

Ever-faithful God, in turbulent times, keep me from turning to idols that promise simple answers to complex questions. Inspire me with the example of Jeremiah and other prophets; give me a long view. May I always seek the life-giving water you are. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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