Does God hold water?

Signpost for Sunday 28 August, 2016: Jer.2:4-13; Ps.81:1, 10-16; Heb.13:1-8; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah from the 13th year of King Josiah (627 BC) until the Babylonian exile (589 BC).  He warned the people of impending doom; he urged political strategies; he lamented the destruction of the nation; and he offered words of hope.

In today’s selection we see Jeremiah confronting the people of Israel with the indictment that they no longer love God.  They have turned to the worship of other gods.  Disastrous times are coming, not because God has abandoned them, but because they have turned from God.

Jeremiah here sets the tone for understanding his entire prophetic ministry.  Although he comes from the southern kingdom of Judah, his vision and prophecy concern the people of both kingdoms.  Almost 100 years earlier, Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, had fallen to the Assyrians, and tens of thousands were deported.  Jeremiah addresses all the people, north and south, remaining or deported.

In today’s lection, we picture a court room where God is stating the case against the people.   God had led them safely out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert, into the fertile land.   But there they deserted God for Baals.   They were seduced by the power of the foreign nations whose gods the Baals were.  How can there be any defence? Those accused include the rulers, the priests, the teachers and the prophets.  There is no legal precedent for a people to change their gods!  Israel (with Judah) is convicted on two counts.  They have turned away from God, AND they have chosen a way of delusion.

Jeremiah also sees this in terms that mean much there on the edge of the desert.  God had provided his people with a free-flowing spring of abundant living water fed by countless hidden springs, theirs without labour or price.  Instead they have chosen to toil at carving out a cistern in hard fractured rock, to contain rain water.  And it drains away!

Like water in a leaky cistern, the people of the two kingdoms have placed their hope in gods who “don’t hold water”.  They will be left with nothing.  The message is clear; God has not abandoned them.  This is their own doing, their own folly.  Yet they are still free to drink from the living water.

This is not a popular declaration.  This is why Jeremiah’s name is still a byword for foretelling bad things.  Even today we are more comfortable preaching from the Servant Songs of Deutero-Isaiah than Jeremiah.  I assume that the majority of those who are addressed in these notes are preachers.

Andrew Brown


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