Summary: June 23, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST -- Proper 7 Jeremiah 20:7-13 Color: Green Title: “God’s Will”
June 23, 2002 -- FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST -- Proper 7
Title: “God’s Will”
Jeremiah Denounces His Persecutors
7 O LORD, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, "Violence and destruction!"
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, "I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,"
then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering:
"Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!"
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
"Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him."
11 But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
12 O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the LORD;
praise the LORD!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hands of evildoers.
This text is best understood as a lament psalm, but a very personal one. While the lament psalms in the Psalter are based on personal experience of attack by enemies, be they human enemies or enemies of physical and psychic health, the travail is more or less generalized, allowing us to identify our own particular laments or complaints with those of the psalmist. This lament of Jeremiah is much more personal and we know more about the specific circumstances to which Jeremiah refers. He is being mocked and attacked for his message, a message mandated by Yahweh. There is a part of him that expects better treatment; after all, the message is not his, but Yahweh’s. He also expects, given the intensity of opposition, more help from Yahweh.
In verses seven to ten, we find the typical element of all lament psalms. Jeremiah lays out his gripes, his complaints, before Yahweh. In verse eleven, we find the typical reversal of course; he expresses confidence in Yahweh and reminds himself before Yahweh of Yahweh’s past fidelity. In verse twelve, we find the typical petition of a lament psalm: help me and let me see your help. In verse thirteen, there is the final element of lament psalms, praise of Yahweh, either in anticipation of the certainty of Yahweh’s help or in response to the help already given. In Jeremiah’s case, he anticipates what he knows will be Yahweh’s answer. Alone, he cannot withstand his, and Yahweh’s, enemies. With Yahweh’s help they cannot be defeated. The Hebrew yakal, “prevail, overcome, triumph,” occurs four times in verses 7, 9, 10, and 11. There is movement here from complaint to trust to petition to praise.
In verse seven, you duped me: The verb used here, Hebrew patah, does have sexual connotations of seduction, but the context is more one of persuasion. Jeremiah is saying, “My being your prophet was your idea, Lord, not mine. You talked me into it.” Jeremiah is implying that whatever Jeremiah is feeling it is Yahweh’s fault. And whatever he is suffering- derision, mockery, prison, even plots against him- is Yahweh’s fault.
In verse eight, violence and outrage is my message: Jeremiah reminds one of an actor who complains he has been “type cast,” must always play the bad guy, gets roles that make people hate him. Jeremiah does not like his lines. They are so negative that people identify him with the message and want to take out their anger on him. Yahweh had told him to tell the people that because of Judah’s sins she will be destroyed.
In verse nine, I will not mention him: Jeremiah hit upon a solution: “If I keep my mouth shut, do not speak of Yahweh or his message, the people will stop persecuting me and will like me again.” He is like the obsessive person who resolves not to even think of “alcohol or “pink elephants” or whatever, and cannot help but think of the forbidden topic.
I grow weary holding it in: Jeremiah cannot keep quiet. Yahweh is too powerful, too persuasive. Despite himself and his better judgment, he must speak. The message burns in his heart. He cannot put it out and cannot stop himself from mentioning it.
In verse ten, the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side!”: People, when they saw Jeremiah in action or even just passing by, would say, “There’s old “Terror On Every Side” Jeremiah. Their nickname for him, derived from his message of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, was “whispered” loud enough for him to hear and feel derided. Actually, Jeremiah is responsible for the epithet, for that is what he dubbed Pashhur, the chief priest who had the prophet scourged and arrested for prophesying Jerusalem’s and the Temple’s doom.