My wife actually has a distant ancestor named Balaam (although he spelled it “Balum”). This ancient Gentile prophet is something of a paradox in the Hebrew Bible and even moreso in later Jewish tradition. Sometimes he is depicted as a paragon of virtue, a “righteous gentile,” but at other times he is vilified as one who led God’s people astray.
This post by Seth Sanders provides an informative introduction to this perplexing figure.
For those of you who aren’t sick to death of the music from Frozen—and its various covers and parodies—here’s one for Passover:
Jonathan Storment, guest-blogging at Jesus Creed, raises an important question about the Noah movie that is opening this weekend:
It turns out that Evangelicals have a bad habit of reviewing stuff that we haven’t seen or read. Some people are critiquing it because it doesn’t stay true to the 3 chapters that Noah is in the Bible, but I have a different concern.
I am not so concerned that they will get the story wrong, I am wondering what will happen if they get it right?
Part of me wonders if we really remember what the Noah story is. It is an incredibly dark and disturbing story of a God who takes evil seriously. What we see in Genesis 6–9 is the unrestrained justice of God.
In the beginning of Genesis, God creates the world by holding back the waters of chaos, but in chapter 6, it is as if God just stops holding it back. He undoes Creation.
He purges the world from sin, starts over with one family and asks them to give the world a better future. The only problem with the flood is that it didn’t work.
Two chapters later, Noah’s family starts the same cycles of sin. Noah passes out drunk and naked, and wakes up cursing his family.
It’s like the ark washed up on the Jersey Shore.
I wonder if Hollywood is prepared to deal honestly with a story like that. (I guess we’ll find out Friday.) But I also wonder if American Evangelicalism is prepared to deal with a story like that.
Due to Mercer’s exciting NCAA tournament run (in which our team showed themselves to be the epitome of class in both victory and defeat), last week’s discussion of Jeremiah was (1) somewhat truncated and (2) rather poorly attended. So I’ve decided to post my lecture notes (admittedly rough; I like to wing it) so everyone can get their bearings as we move forward into a discussion of the exile.
I. Jeremiah’s complicated literary history.
A. Some sections are repeated elsewhere (Jer 7:1-15 = Jer 26:1-9; Jer 39 = Jer 52)
B. There is great variation among ancient texts. The Septuagint (LXX) is 1/8 shorter than the Masoretic Text (MT) and has the later chapters in an entirely different order.
C. What can account for these variations?
- A reflection of the chaos of the time?
- A reflection of an open-ended understanding of the book? (i.e., editors felt free to revise, expand)
D. Three major times of material, traditionally divided into 3 different sources.
- Source A: Poetic oracles, perhaps from Jeremiah himself?
- Source B: Biographical narratives—written by Baruch?
- Source C: Deuteronomic editing and expansion.
II. The Contents of Jeremiah
A. Chapters 1–25 are the nucleus of the book, mainly consisting of poetic oracles. Is this the “first scroll” Jeremiah dictated to Baruch (36:4)? Jer 25:13 hints that this part may have originally stood alone.
1. The Call of Jeremiah. Jer 1:4-19 is an overture to the whole book. Jeremiah has a perception of having been called all his life.
- Looking backwards – a trail of Yahweh’s leading, a working together of things – haven’t come this way accidentally! Jeremiah senses this as a liability.
- Appointed a prophet “to the nations” – the only prophet so designated – doesn’t seem to be a missionary – perhaps so named because the fate of nations was tied up with Israel and Judah.
- Perhaps he was so named because he ministered during a time of great upheaval in international affairs? YHWH using Nebuchadnezzar, etc, bring message of what God is doing.
2. The Temple Sermon (ch. 7). Jeremiah rebukes Israel for their misdirected confidence that they are safe because they have the temple in which to worship. Their worship means nothing if they don’t get their act together—only after they change their ways will God meet them in the temple. (But don’t bet on this happening, see 7:16.)
3. The Potter’s House (ch. 18). God gives Jeremiah an object lesson about what Judah looks like from the divine perspective. They are as intransigent as a flawed lump of clay that resists what the potter is trying to do to it. Therefore, like the clay, they must be “worked over” so that the Potter can make of them a fitting vessel. (And this reworking is not going to be pleasant!)
4. The “Confessions” of Jeremiah. Five soliloquies that give insight into the prophet’s psyche: 11:18–12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18. Individual lament form.
- Deep unhappiness with his mission.
- Prayers for God to punish those who oppose him.
- Enduring commitment to the divine will.
5. Prophetic “gestures.” Like several other prophets, Jeremiah seems to have been a fan of “performance art.” He occasionally sought to make his point not through words alone but symbolic acts such as:
- Breaking the jug (19:11)
- Wearing a yoke (27:12)
- Buying a plot of land (32:15)
**What follows is an almost random assortment of oracles, laments, prose narrative, and speeches.
B. Chapters 26–29: Encounters between Jeremiah and the establishment, mainly other prophets. Chapter 29 is Jeremiah’s famous letter to the exiles, encouraging them to get on with life—they’re in it for the long haul, so they might as well get used to it.
C. Chapters 30–33: “The book of Consolation”—hope and comfort for the future. Many affinities with Deutero-Isaiah.
- 1. A new future for Israel. This is a pivotal passage—reversal of fortunes.
- 2. The “new covenant” (31:31-34)
D. Chapters 34–45: More prose narratives, mostly from the reign of Zedekiah and after the Fall of Jerusalem.
E. Chapters 46–51: Oracles against the Nations—some are quite formulaic, stereotyped.
- 1. The same language is used in Obadiah, Isa 15–16
- 2. Parts are repeated elsewhere: Edom (Jer 49:19-21) = Babylon (50:44-46)
F. Chapter 52 is an appendix taking from the Deuteronomic History (2 Kgs 24:18–25:30)—the Fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath.
III. The Message of Jeremiah is complex. Changing with the changing political landscape.
A. Encourage the reform of King Josiah.
- 1. The “temple sermon” (ch. 7), esp. 7:16, “Do not pray for this people.” Time has run out!
- 2. False assurances of a speedy return (ch. 27:16-17). Rather, serve the king of Babylon (cf. ch. 29—seek the peace of the city where you find yourselves)
C. Hope: YHWH will not entire abandon his people (esp. chs. 30–33).
Actually, what I discussed was textual criticism and how we are sometimes guilty of wrestling to understand the wrong biblical text! But it’s more fun to talk about David and Goliath, so that’s the way I did it.
For those who are interested, here is the PowerPoint presentation I used: “Opponents of Unusual Size.” Enjoy!
I was also informed (in jest, I’m almost certain) that a rumor had started that I was doing a Bible study on bestiality. I can only say that, if I were writing a book, that is exactly the sort of rumor I would hope someone would get started!