Friday, April 12, 2013

Change Your Ways (part 1)

The Lord God of Israel Who rules over all says: Change the way you have been living and do what is right.  If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land.– Jeremiah 7:3  (NET)

As the prophet Jeremiah is still in the early stages of his proclamation concerning the destruction and desolation and exile that is to come upon Judah because they have failed to be what their God intended them to be, he passes along the instruction, from God, that His covenant people must “change the way” that they “have been living,” and to that end, must “do what is right.”  The Creator God tells them that, if they do so, then He will allow them to continue to live in the land. 

By speaking of the land, and such an allowance, the covenant God is attempting to bring His people to the point of remembrance of perhaps the most significant component of the curses that had been presented to them in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that would result from their not being faithful to the covenant into which they had been brought by their God.  Because the promise to their progenitor, Abraham, included the promise of a land, and because the defining moment of their history was the exodus event that would allow them to return to that land promised to their forefather, the greatest of all of the curses that were on offer from their God was the curse of being driven from their land and subjected to foreign oppressors, in exile from the land of their heritage.    

Along with those warnings rooted in their historical narrative and their own self-understanding, the people of Judah would have had ready access to the extraordinarily vivid reminder of what had transpired in the not-too-distant history of their northern neighbor, Israel.  More than a century earlier, Israel (the northern kingdom of the divided kingdom) had been conquered by Assyria and removed from their land of covenantal promise. 

The Creator God’s curse had come upon the northern kingdom, and exile had ensued.  It would be none too difficult for Judah to equate the exile with the promised curses, as did the prophets of Israel, and adapt accordingly.    That group of people had been scattered to the winds, never to be re-constituted in the form of the ten tribes that had composed the nation.  As seems to be the case, the warnings had come to Israel through their prophets just as warnings were now coming to Judah.  Repeatedly, Israel had been directed to change their way of living and to do what was right.  Because they did not, the covenant God faithfully executed His solemn, covenant promises by not allowing them to continue living in their land.    

The Creator God can be heard repeating Himself in the fifth verse of this chapter, where the reader finds “You must change the way you have been living and do what is right” (7:5a).  That’s twice in the span of just three verses, so clearly attention is being drawn to the covenant-violating actions of the people.  To that is added “You must treat one another fairly” (7:5b).  Now, because fairness is often taken to be such a personally subjective and eminently fluid concept, a right understanding is probably best served by perceiving this insistence on fairness as something more along the lines of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

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