Jeremiah 2, Historical and Biblical Context

Dear Reader,

I have been reading through the book of Jeremiah recently and thought, for lack of anything better to blog about, that I would share some of my observations with you all. Chapter one took two posts to get through (see part 1 and part 2) and I concentrated mainly on what we can learn by looking at the original Hebrew. You can breathe a sigh of relief now because this time I am not going to refer to the Hebrew as much.

What struck me reading the second chapter of Jeremiah was how many ties there were to other parts of the Bible. Actually, this should not come as a surprise to us since we are told that Jeremiah was from a priestly family (Jer. 1:1). In a time before printing presses, this meant he, more than most of his contemporaries, would have a deep familiarity with God’s Word (which of course would only have consisted of some parts of the Old Testament).

Jeremiah’s familiarity with priestly things comes out early in chapter two. In verse three we read:

“Israel was holy to the Lord” (Jer. 2:3a; ESV)

Actually, the import of this statement is a bit obscured here in the ESV. I would punctuate it:

“Israel was ‘Holy to the LORD'”

You see, ‘holy to the LORD’ was what was written on the high priest’s turban which he wore when ministering before the Lord (cf. Exod. 28:36-37). (In a brief glance through I don’t see any English translations which make this point obvious.)

Jeremiah goes on to use a lot of common metaphors for Israel. She is the bride of God (Jer. 2:2, cf. v. 32, the whole book of Hosea, Isa. 62:5; Matt. 25; Eph. 6:24-25). She is the first fruits (v. 3; cf. Deut. 21:17; Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:20; 2 Thess. 2:13; Jam. 1:18; Ps. 78:51; 105:36). God is the living water, but Israel has become as a broken cistern (v. 13; cf. John 4; 7:37-38; Prov. 5:15-16; 9:16-18). Israel has been acted like a slave, the implication being that he should have been a son (v. 14, cf. v. 20; Rom. 6:15-22; 8:15; Luke 15:11-32).  Israel is the choice vine which has gone wild (v. 21; cf. Isa. 5:1-10; John 15:1-5; Rom. 11:16-24). Personally, I hate reading things with long lists of references. I don’t want to stop my reading to go look at them all and figure out why the author put them there. My point in giving you these cross-references is not that you need to go look them up right now but to show you that these are recurring images for Israel. If you really want to pursue one theme or doubt what I say, you can take time later to read each of them.

Of all these images, I think the key one for Jeremiah, living at the time he is, is that of the son who chooses instead to live as a slave. This seems like a crazy thing to do. Why be a slave when you could be a son? And yet in Jeremiah’s time, that is exactly what God’s people seem to be doing. You see, at this point, the northern kingdom of Israel has been wiped out by the Assyrians. All that is left is little Judah. And now they too are being threatened by the Babylonians. Babylon is north of Israel and in response many of the people are urging flight the other direction. What’s in the south? Egypt. Do you understand the implications of this? Israel (what is left of it) is choosing to flee back into Egypt. This is the reverse of the exodus and God has not authorized it. In Moses’ time, God led His people out of slavery in Egypt (Exod. 20:2). When they choose not to flee back there, it is as if they are choosing slavery again over being God’s people.

Why is God bringing this destruction on Judah? There could be a number of answers but the big one for Jeremiah is idolatry. They have worshipped the baals (local deities). While worship of false gods was always a bigger problem in the northern kingdom, by this point even Judah has succumbed and given itself over to false religion. The good news for those of us who know the end of the story is that the destruction and disruption brought by the Babylonian exile do actually accomplish their purpose. When they come back from exile, idolatry is never a problem for God’s people as it was before. Which is not to say there is no more false worship. The Greeks and Romans liked to have people bow down to their gods (and emperors). But this sort of whole-scale idolatry is gone.

Which brings me to a point I got reading through Jeremiah which I have never quite gotten before. Oddly enough, it is a point about the book of Daniel. When we read through Kings and Chronicles and most of the prophets, we are looking at God’s people as a whole. We are hearing the story of a people. But then comes the book of Daniel, which is set in Babylon during the exile, and all of a sudden we are concerned with just four young men, Daniel and his friends. There has been all this chaos. Sin has increased and spiraled out of control and destruction has come, and then it’s like the narrative breaks and slows down for a bit and we can focus. And the picture we see as the smoke clears is of this handful of boys who are faced with a big challenge: worship the Babylonian gods or face death. And they meet the challenge. The Babylonian exile only lasted about 70 years. Whaat came before can’t be very far in these boys’ memories. If they did not experience the idolatry which brought the exile upon their people then their parents and grandparents did. And yet when they are faced with the direct temptation to worship false gods, they refuse. Despite the imminent threat of death, they do what they know is right. And they choose the right worship of the Lord. They stand here for all their people. These four youths represent the whole people and they make the right choice. I can almost feel the world breathing a sigh of relief. They have chosen rightly. The trial of the exile has done what it was supposed to and God’s people are no longer consumed by idolatry as they were before. This is the purifying fire which tries men’s souls. Daniel’s three friends passed through it quite literally and came out on the other side refined like gold. And through the experiences of these four boys, the whole nation (what is left of it) is ready to start over, to return to their land and to rebuild.

It’s kind of incredible when you think of it, isn’t it?

Nebby

Gluten-Free Low Carb Peanut Butter Cookies (THM S)

Dear Reader,

This is not an entirely unique recipe. I think there are a number of variants of it out there. I got my original recipe from The Gluten-Free Bible (bad name, good book). When I wanted to use fake sugar instead of the real stuff though, I found it changed the consistency and I also had to add something else. Peanut flour seemed like an easy answer. If you are not familiar with defatted peanut flour, it is wonderful stuff. I buy it online and use it in many things. It is good stirred into yogurt. If you are on the Trim Healthy Mama diet, this is an S snack. If you are counting carbs, the cookies work out to about 3g of carbs each. If you want to substitute almond butter or another nut butter, I would try using blanched almond meal for the peanut flour  and see how that works (and let me know how it turns out if you do). Using xylitol keeps these low-carb. I think it gives them a cool (temperature-wise) taste.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

1 c natural peanut butter

1 c xylitol

1 egg

approx. 1/4 c defatted peanut flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375. Combine peanut butter, xylitol, and egg. Gradually stir in peanut flour until mixture becomes less sticky.

Mixing . . .

Mixing . . .

Drop by spoonfuls on cookie sheet. bake approx. 15 minutes.

Baking  . . .

Baking . . .

I found they took longer than I expected so you might want to check them after 10 minutes and then every few minutes after that. When done they will still be soft but not sticky or moist. Allow them to sit on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes or more after baking and they will firm up.

Yum!

Yum!

Nebby

 

Jeremiah 1, Part 2

Dear Reader,

In my previous post, I began to discuss the first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah and why I think it is all so much lovelier in the original Hebrew. My point here is not to tell you all you should learn Hebrew (though it’s not the worst idea) but to try to share with you what I see in the text, bot to help you understand it and to give an appreciation for the beauty and intricacy of the Word itself. Last time we talked about parallelism and repeated sounds. This time I have two points but I think they are much simpler.

Prophets often have a thing. Hosea had to marry a degenerate woman. Jeremiah is shown things by God and asks what he sees (who’s got the better end of that deal?). In verse 11 of chapter 1, the Lord asks Jeremiah what he sees and the prophet answers “a rod (or branch) of almond.” The Lord responds by saying, “You have seen well for I am watching over my word to do it” (v. 12; my translation). And about now unless you have a Bible with good footnotes you should be asking yourself what on earth this means. It is reasonably clear ion the second part that God is saying He will watch carefully to make sure His Word is fulfilled. But why an almond branch? It doesn’t make much sense in English. In Hebrew the meaning is immediately clear. The word for almond in Hebrew is shaqed and the word used here for watch (and certainly Hebrew has a lot of other words for watch or guard which could have been chosen) is shoqed. They are almost identical. And really Hebrew vowels are a more minor thing than consonants. They appear not as letters themselves but as dots and dashes around the consonants. So in the original text, which had no vowels, the two would have looked identical. My Bible did not explain this all to me. I would be interested in knowing if yours did.

The last point I wanted to make from this chapter comes from the latter half of verse 17. The ESV here reads: “Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.” That’s a pretty good translation. The key element here is that it uses the same verb twice. That is what the Hebrew does too. In Hebrew they are two slightly different forms of the same verb so that the first might be translated “be in dismay” (reflexive) and the second “dismay” as a transitive verb. A good test of your Bible translation would be to look at this verse and see if the same verb is used twice. The King James does not do so neither do paraphrases like the Complete English Bible. My favorite of the ones I have looked at is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which translates: “Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them.” I like the use of the word break; the Hebrew also can have the sense of “to shatter.” And I like that the verb is used slightly differently in the first and second halves. To break down is not the same as to be broken but we get the connection. That’s how the Hebrew comes across too.

And that is Jeremiah 1. I have enjoyed these posts so much I am hoping there will be more in Jeremiah worth posting about.

Nebby

A Wacky Idea

Dear Reader,

So I has kind of a wacky idea. I don’t really know what conclusions to draw from it and I think it is probably better if I don’t try.

I was reading how scientists now think, based on DNA evidence, that early humans interbred with Neanderthals. Now I don’t quite know where I stand on the whole creation thing (though I have done a lot of posts on it; see the most recent example which includes many links here). One aspect I am not willing to let go of is that people are not just highly evolved animals. There is something fundamentally different about us — we are spiritual creatures, which they are not, and we are made in the image of God which means a whole host of things including that we are relational, have authority, and are creative among others. These are concepts I can’t give up for theological reasons. So my tendency is to think that whatever natural selection may have occurred in the earth’s history, people themselves probably did not evolve from animals.

Nonetheless, I found this idea — that there is evidence of other races in the human genome intriguing. (Of course, I don’t mean “races” in the sense we usually use it, to distinguish different people groups. But I don’t want to say “species” either because different species by definition can’t interbreed and these clearly could since it is evidence of interbreeding we are looking at.) Something started resonating in my brain when I read this. Where do we hear of humans interbreeding with other kinds of creatures? The beginning of Genesis 6 leaps to mind. We are told here that the “sons of God” came down and intermarried with “the daughters of men.” It is hard to know how to take this passage. I have never really heard a satisfying explanation. Some say that this simply means that good, godly men married ungodly women. Others look for a more extraterrestrial (if you will) explanation. Fallen angels seems to be the most common one. Though in other places it seems like it is implied that angels are not sexual creatures. Though  we are not given a lot of info on it, it does seem like there are various kinds of heavenly creatures so perhaps this is true of some but not others. Still, it is not a very satisfying answer. There are also other peoples in the Bible whose identity is vague. Their common characteristic seems to be that they are big. The Anakim and Rephaim are two such groups. Goliath and his family were perhaps their descendents.

What does all this mean? Again, I don’t know and am hesitant to try to say. Only there is this: science tells us that at some point in human history people interbred with other closely related creatures. The Bible also tells us that there was a time when people interbred with non-people (but creatures who were nonetheless genetically compatible with them).

Nebby

Jeremiah 1, Or Why You Should All Learn Hebrew (Part 1)

Dear Reader,

I am a good reformed girl and I know that it is really important that everyone have access to God’s Word in their native tongue. But as someone who has studied biblical Hebrew, sometimes I just think that we can miss so much when we read the Bible in translation. I have talked about this some before in my posts on the Psalms (there are too many to link to easily; you can search on “psalm”). I think it is probably more of an issue with the Old Testament than the New since Hebrew thought, its literary forms, and ways of speaking are more foreign to us. There is a middle ground though. Instead of everyone learning Hebrew we can educate people so that they understand a bit better how Hebrew works and appreciate the beauty of God’s Word more. Consider this your first lesson :)

I was reading through the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah recently and was struck by three things that I think might have escaped me if I were reading it in English.

The first point is just about how Hebrew poetry works. I have said this before (see this post), but it bears repeating. Biblical poetry is not based on rhyme (there is some debate about to what degree rhythm figures in it; we can at least say that it is of secondary importance). Instead, Hebrew poetry uses repetition, specifically parallelism. Have you ever noticed that the Psalms seem to say things more than once? Think of the 23rd which is so well-known. In the ESV, it reads:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.” (Ps. 23:1-3)

Notice in particular the 2nd through 5th lines. They all follow the same basic pattern and say very similar things as well. This is parallelism. On its most basic level, the parallelism consist of just two lines (like a rhyming couplet in English). In Psalm 23 we get a kind of extended parallelism. Just as rhyme schemes can vary, so too paralellism can take different forms (but that is a subject for another post). But we must be careful lest we read such passages and think “okay, I got it” and skim over the details because it does seem so repetitive. There is meaning in biblical parallelism. It is never just about repetition. For instance, in the above quote there is a movement from the shepherd image taken literally (the “green pastures” and “waters”) and to something more theoretical (“paths of righteousness”). I think the form here is significant as well; the extended parallelism serves to highlight God’s faithfulness. Said another way, the repetition of similar ideas illustrates for us the continuity of the Lord’s care for us. It is also is repetitive (in a good way).

To return again to Jeremiah, the first chapter begins with an introduction to the career of the prophet, telling us when he worked (dated by the kings during whose reigns he prophesied) and using language (“the word of Jeremiah”, “the word of the LORD”) which places us clearly in the realm of prophesy. It then moves on to give us a description of the prophet’s call:

“The word of the LORD was unto me, saying:

‘Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you;

And before you came out from the womb, I set you apart;*

A prophet to the nations I made you.'” (Jer. 1:4-5; my translation)

*literally “I made you holy”, in the sense of set apart for a sacred purpose; in Hebrew it is one word

Notice the parallelism in the second and third lines. It is not a major point by any means, but the ESV translates in the third line “before you were born”, but “were born” in Hebrew is more literally “came out from the womb.” There is nothing technically wrong with the ESV’s translation. It captures the meaning of the Hebrew. But in doing so, it obscures the underlying Hebrew idiom and does away with the prepositional phrase. Because this phrase was parallel to the one in the previous line, the parallelism is not as complete. Is there a difference in meaning? I am hard pressed to find one in this instance. But I am saddened that the text is not as lovely.

Meaning is often conveyed through parallelism (as in Psalm 23). Another aspect of Hebrew poetry which adds to its beauty though it is less likely to add to the meaning in and of itself (I will not say it never does) is the sound of the words. Hebrew likes to repeat sounds. In English we like best to rhyme the end of words (fat, cat, sat) but we also use things like assonance and alliteration. Hebrew too likes to repeat sounds or use similar sounds. The section of Psalm 23 above actually has a lot of sound repetition as well. In this brief section of Jeremiah, there is a repetition of a certain vowel pattern. The words in the second and third lines for before, belly and womb all have the e-e pattern (in Hebrew they are called segholate nouns; seghol is the Hebrew short e). In addition yo the parallel structure of these two lines, this repetition of the vowel sounds also serves to draw these two verse segments together. The effect of this is to make the last part of the verse (line 4 as I have laid it out above) stand apart. And, indeed, it is in this verset that we find the heart of the message. It amounts to “I have made you, Jeremiah, my prophet.” The first two parts leave us wondering why God has chosen Jeremiah; the last part gives the answer. Does this all come across in your English translation? Maybe. Check it out for yourself and let me know. My point though is that the very structure of the Hebrew text serves to highlight the message. It is lovely but there is also meaning that is added, or at least highlighted, through the devices of parallelism and repetition of sounds.

I have a couple more things to point out in this first chapter of Jeremiah, but as this post is getting long already, I will save them for part 2. Stay tuned.

Nebby

The Cool Kids

Dear Reader,

Have you seen the study which came out recently showing that “cool” kids do not do well later in life? I have seen it in a couple of places. You can read a summary here. This seems to me to be one of those “well, duh” studies. The kids they deemed cool: had more attractive friends, were dating early, and disobeyed authority more including stealing, damaging property and using drugs. It’s hard to believe such qualities would not pay off later in life, huh? It’s like no one involved ever read the book of Proverbs. These are clearly not rewarded behaviors long-term but I guess this is news now.

I think the real question we should be asking is why these qualities are what makes one cool or popular as a middle schooler (which is when they first looked at these kids). I suspect these students are a minority of the their population (it wouldn’t be much good is too many kids were popular anyway) so why don’t all the rest stand up and just say “No, this is not cool. We won’t define it this way anymore.” I know, middle schoolers will never do such things. But I am really glad my kids are not in that fish-bowl culture which teaches them that vanity, early sexuality and disrespect are the prime values.

Nebby

Book Finds

Dear Reader,

Our library has taken in recent weeks to having a shelf of free books in the children’s section. Many of these are not very interesting but I have come across a few that I consider real finds. One is on a subject we will be covering this year and the other is on a subject I would like to cover. Both are appropriate for my two older kids (whereas many give-away books are for younger children) and both seem to be living books. Here they are:

books1We are going to be continuing our study of American history this year, beginning with the Revolution, so I don’t think it will be too many months before we are on to the Constitution and the American government. The first book, The Great Constitution, is just what I was looking for for this.

books3I have read the first couple of chapters and it is a well-written account of how the constitutional convention came to be. It is not hard reading but is detailed and gives a good picture of the character of the participants. Plus it has lots of pictures.

The other book would fit under the subject heading anatomy which is something I would like to cover if time permits.

books2It is called Spare Parts and is about how we have and will alter the human body. I have read the first chapter so far which is a history of prosthetics, nose jobs and the like. It is interesting if sometimes disgusting. I think my soon to be 14-year-old boy will like it.

The real question is why is a library giving away these books? There are so many more on their shelves which I would consider expendable. I am happy to have these books for my own, of course, but I worry about the standards our libraries have when they give away the living books. I suspect it is a matter of looking to see what hasn’t been checked out ni an age and purging to make room for new books. But it is still sad.

Nebby

 

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