“This is what the Lord says:
“‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
through a land not sown.”
Jeremiah 2:2 (NIV)
One of the keys to unlocking the power of the ancient prophets is to understand both the context of their time and circumstances in history and the metaphors they use in addressing them.
Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry began during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (648-609 BC). The authors of Kings and Chronicles have made it clear that the Hebrew people have spent most of their nearly 300 years as divided kingdoms breaking the first two of God’s Top Ten rules for life (1. No other gods 2. No idols). By the time Josiah ascends the throne, there had been 19 successive kings in Israel who all promoted the worship of local and regional pagan idols. Of Josiah’s 15 predecessors in Judah, seven had been outright idolatrous and most of the others maintained a policy of appeasement with those who wanted to worship gods other than Yahweh. The result was that even the worship of the God of Abraham, Moses, and David had been diluted to the point that it was an empty shell of what God had prescribed for worship as Moses led the Hebrew tribes out of slavery in Egypt.
King Josiah led a massive reformation after a copy of the Law of Moses was discovered in a storage closet in Solomon’s Temple. The fact that it had been lost in a Temple junk room lends evidence to how far worship had strayed from God’s design. Even the priests of God had not read or taught God’s law in who knows how long. Solomon’s Temple itself had become a polytheistic religious center in which shrines and altars to pagan gods were placed alongside the altar God had prescribed back in Exodus. After three hundred years of polytheistic political accommodation, it’s hard to believe that young Josiah’s dictatorial reforms were universally well-received by his people.
It’s in this period of religious reformation and the resulting political tension that a young Jeremiah begins his prophetic career. Jeremiah and Josiah got along well, and Jerry’s career took off under the power and protection of Josiah as his benefactor.
Today’s chapter is the first of Jerry’s recorded prophetic messages. He addresses God’s people with one overarching metaphor: marriage. The Hebrew people were God’s young bride. God initiated through Abraham and then again in Moses, God pursued her in Egypt, God secured her, and God led her out of slavery and into a covenant relationship. God provided for her and led her to a home He prepared for her. What He asked of her was faithfulness.
By the way, Jesus used this same marital metaphor. His followers are His bride. At the Omega Point of the Great Story is a wedding and the greatest wedding feast of all time (Rev 19:7-9).
As for Jeremiah, he sits amidst Josiah’s mandated reform and hears the grumbling of the idolaters who desire to go back to their shrine prostitutes and fertility orgies. He sees those who gave lip service to Josiah’s reforms but meet secretly with their idols on the down-low. In this, he envisions God’s bride following indulgent appetites into adulterous liaisons only to justify her actions and lie to herself that her husband doesn’t care.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but escape the power of Jeremiah’s metaphor as I face my past. I know the reality of a broken marriage and divorce. I have experienced “youthful devotion” that led to a broken marital covenant. I stand guilty like Jeremiah’s audience. The unspoken question, of course, is “What am I going to do about it?” The calling of a prophet is to call God’s spiritually wayward people to repentance, to find the Prodigal knee-deep in the pig slop, and suggest he consider returning home. And from his first message, Jeremiah is on-task.
As I meditated on the chapter this morning, a line from an old hymn popped into my head and heart:
“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the one I love.”
I head into today with introspection. Where, in my spiritual journey, am I prone to wander? In what ways do my own appetites beckon me to indulge and lead me away from the One I love? The following line in the hymn describes my heart’s cry:
“Here’s my heart. Oh, take and seal it.”
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.