Jeremiah: Prophet of Judgment and of Hope

Jeremiah's tragic message is conveyed by both his prophecies and account of Jerusalem's destruction, but he also gives his people hope.

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How can Israel, the prophet declares, forsake their true God when the pagan nations, though they worship worthless gods, remain true to the religion of their ancestors "Hath a nation changed its gods, Which are no gods? But My people hath changed its glory for that which does not profit" (2: 11). "For My people have committed two evils; They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (2: 13).

In English a "Jeremiah" is a person given to woeful complaining but, in fact, for all the denunciations of his people, Jeremiah sounds a note of encouragement and of hope. God, he says, remembers the loyalty of their ancestors and He will restore the exiled people to their land in the future. "And the word of the Lord came to me saying: Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the Lord: I re­member for thee the affection of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness; in a land that was not sown" (2: 1-2). "But fear not thou, O Jacob [a poetic term for the people Israel, from the patriarchal stories] My servant, neither be dismayed, O Israel; For, lo I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall again be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid" (46: 27).

Jeremiah preaches not only to the nation but to the individual who is acceptable to God when he repents of his evil deeds. Even while addressing the nation as a whole, he breaks off to address himself to the individual whose temptations he recognizes: "The heart is deceit­ful above all things, And it is exceeding weak--who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man accord­ing to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (17: 9-10).

Jeremiah 32 tells how, in the year 587, during the siege of Jerusalem, when Jeremiah had been put in prison because he had foretold that the city would fall, he redeemed a piece of land so as to keep it in his family, as evidence of brighter days to come when the people would once again have possessions in the land of their fathers. This chapter, containing details of how lands were bought and sold in ancient times, is used in the Talmudic literature as a source for the laws of buying and selling property. The final verse of this chapter became a key text for Jewish philosophical reflection on the doctrine of divine omnipotence: "Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there any thing too hard for Me?"

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.