Biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann called his commentary on Jeremiah ‘Exile and Homecoming’ which neatly captures the essence of Jeremiah’s writing. What it doesn’t capture is the tone of the book of Jeremiah which is full of lament and challenge to God’s people. Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet and in this reading from chapter 4 Jeremiah makes clear that all of creation is caught up in the failure of humanity to act according to God’s plan. Today’s reading appears, like much of Jeremiah, to be a cry of hopelessness and pain and this is a critical aspect of the book of Jeremiah. However the desolation and pain are not the final word. Jeremiah is compelled to write as he does not because he is without hope but because all of creation has hope because of the covenants which God has made with his creation. Our hope will be realized when we are no longer exiled from God but find ourselves reunited with him in our homecoming.
Jeremiah 4 19-28
Sorrow for a Doomed Nation
19 My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I[d] hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. 20 Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. 21 How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? 22 ‘For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.’
23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
27 For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.
Questions for reflection
- How does reading this text make you feel?
- Where do you find hope in times of trouble? How does your hope affect how you think about the natural world?
Walter Bruggemann (1998) A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming
Tom Wright (2007), Surprised by Hope