Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
circumcise your hearts…
Jeremiah 4:4a (NIV)
“Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
Hath but a losing office…”
Shakespeare, Henry IV (Part 2)
As Wendy and I drove down to the lake yesterday, I listened to the Cubs’ Spring Training game against the A’s. The regular season starts next week and this is the time of year when baseball prophets and prognosticators predict which teams will contend for the postseason and World Series this year. Like most fans, I like to hear “experts” giving me hope for a winning season and the potential of watching my team play in October. I equally despise hearing “experts” giving doomsday predictions of another season of being the doormat of our division rivals no matter how accurate they might be. I shut them off. I tune them out. I refuse to listen. And, if I’m honest, I don’t like them very much.
No one likes the bearer of bad news. “Shooting the messenger” is a commonly used metaphor. It is rooted in sentiments by Plutarch and Sophocles. Shakespeare used it in two of his plays.
The ancient Hebrew prophets were not particularly popular in their day. You’ll find that Jeremiah will face a fair amount of persecution as we trek through his writings and story. His prophetic prognostications are almost always bad news. Even Jesus lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…” (Luke 13:34). The Hebrews gained a reputation for “shooting the messenger” when it came to the doomsday prophets God sent their way.
Get ready. Jeremiah has a lot of doom and gloom to proclaim, starting with today’s chapter.
Among the things I find most fascinating about the ancient Hebrew prophets is the way they connect to one another, and the way they foreshadow what’s to come in the Great Story in ways they could never have known.
In our recent chapter-a-day trek through Daniel, we read one of Daniel’s visions in which the coming succession of empires was represented by different beasts. The Neo-Babylonian empire that had taken Daniel into captivity was represented metaphorically as a lion (Daniel 7:1-4). In today’s doomsday message for the people of Judah, Jerry writes:
A lion has come out of his lair;
a destroyer of nations has set out.
He has left his place
to lay waste your land.
The lion in Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is the same lion in Daniel’s vision. Jeremiah is recording the message in today’s chapter sometime around 620 BC. The events he’s accurately described will tragically take place 40-50 years later. Of course, no one wants to hear this.
When Jerry tells the people of Judah and Jerusalem to “circumcise your hearts,” he is foreshadowing a tectonic shift that Jesus would usher in some 600 years later. The Hebrews of Jerry’s day thought they were in good standing with God simply because they were “God’s people” as evidenced by their heritage, DNA, and traditional physical signs such as circumcising males. But this was exactly the point God is making through prophet Jerry. Just being a member of the tribe was never the point. It is from the heart that our motives give birth to action. Having a circumcised penis is simply a physical sign. God is looking for a spiritual sign, a circumcised heart. Jesus said as much:
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21 (NIV)
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:17-19 (NIV)
Just as Jeremiah was persecuted for his words, Jesus would be persecuted and executed for His.
The apostle Paul would make this same argument in his letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.“
Romans 2:28-29 (NIV)
Just as Jeremiah and Jesus were persecuted for their words, Paul would be persecuted and executed for his.
I promise to have mercy on those prophets who are predicting another losing season for the Cubs. They could well be right. In the same vein, I ask mercy, dear reader, for anything I write that you don’t like. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Please don’t shoot the messenger! 😜
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.