And if you ask yourself,
“Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
that your skirts have been torn off
and your body mistreated.
Jeremiah 13:22 (NIV)
The HBO miniseries Band of Brothers is one of my all-time favorites. Based on the excellent book of the same name by historian Stephen E. Ambrose, it tells the real life stories of the men of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne in World War II. They were one of the most active company’s in the war and had among the highest casualty rates as they fought from the beaches of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge and were the first Allies to capture Hitler’s famed “Eagles Nest” in Austria.
One of the more powerful scenes from the series takes place during the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis. The local citizens flood the streets to celebrate, and the men of Easy Company get plenty of hugs and kisses from young Dutch maids. The young infantrymen then witness the public shaming of those young Dutch ladies who had slept with and endeared themselves to their Nazi occupiers. They are pulled into the streets into crowds of their fellow citizens. Their dresses are torn off and their hair cut off as their peers mock them for “prostituting themselves” with the Nazis. It’s a difficult scene to watch.
That scene came to mind, however, as I read today’s chapter. Based on the context of Jeremiah’s words, we can make an educated guess as to the time period of Jeremiah’s message. He says:
Say to the king and to the queen mother,
“Come down from your thrones,
for your glorious crowns
will fall from your heads.”
In our recent chapter-a-day trek through 2 Kings, it told of the brief reign King Jehoiachin who ascended the throne at age 18, and his mother Nehushta. It was they whom the conquering Nebuchadnezzar would pull from the throne and carry into exile in 597 B.C. This, in turn, allows us to put the events Jeremiah describes in today’s chapter into context.
Jeremiah’s ascension to prominence happened during the reign of the reformer King Josiah, who I wrote about on Monday. My post that day pointed out that government dictates don’t change hearts. As evidence, history records that as soon as Josiah died, his successors immediately reversed Josiah’s reforms. Idolatry was back in business like American breweries after Prohibition. Judah’s kings and people immediately went back to worshipping fertility gods, sleeping with temple prostitutes, and participating in all of the pagan practices that Josiah had attempted to stamp out.
Jeremiah has, therefore, been watching this happen for 12 years as he proclaims the words of today’s prophetic message. He’s watched Josiah’s successors play a game of political appeasement and shifting loyalties between Egypt and Babylon in an effort strike a profitable alliance. In doing so, they “prostitute” themselves in servitude to the empire who will give them the best deal for their submission and political bondage.
Jeremiah’s message is a harsh one. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian conqueror, is angry that the young king’s predecessor had betrayed and embarrassed him by turning against him. Jehoiachin and his mother will be publicly shamed and carried off to Babylon as captives just as Jeremiah has been predicting for years. Twice Jeremiah provides a word picture stating that just as their idolatry was spiritual prostitution against their God, so their captivity and exile is the same as the public shaming of a prostitute.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about standing in the sandals of Jeremiah. It’s easy for me to get sucked into seeing the characters in these stories as black-and-white, good-and-evil caricatures. Jehoiachin and Nehushta are the evil idolators receiving their comeuppance. Jeremiah is the good prophet gloating over the downfall of his antagonists.
But then I think of the scene in Band of Brothers. The scene of these women being publicly shamed was powerfully tragic. It was followed by a scene in which one of the shamed female collaborators stood alone by the side of a road as the Americans drove by on tanks and troop carriers. Her head shaved, her dress in tatters, and her baby (presumably the offspring of a German soldier) in her arms. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The men of Easy Company weren’t laughing. They were sobered and moved by the site. One of them hands her a mess kit so she and her child have something to eat.
In a similar vein, Jeremiah describes his own emotions regarding the impending shaming and exile of his king and people. It is not gloating, or pride, or schadenfreude. It’s grief:
If you do not listen,
I will weep in secret
because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
overflowing with tears,
because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive.
One of the basic tenets of Jesus’ teaching tells me not to worry about the speck in someone’s eye while ignoring the log in my own. I observe in Jeremiah that kind of spirit. He had been mocked, threatened, and persecuted by his own people, the very people who are about to face the harsh realities that Jerry had predicted. The prophet will be vindicated and proved right. But he takes no pleasure in this. In fact, it pains him greatly. There’s a lesson for me in this when I observe the public shaming of others. The truth is that there’s plenty of shaming fodder in my own life.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.