Sep 1, 2019: Reflection on Jeremiah 39 – The Painful Heart of God in the Judgement of His People

When we come to Jeremiah 39, we read about the fall of Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 39:1-10 we read about the fate of both the city and the king in terse factual reporting (for more detailed accounts, see chapter 52 and 2 Kings 25). It is a cold factual account and we cannot help but notice what is missing. Where is the prophetic passion? Where is the theological rationale? Where is the listing of sins that brought all this about? And the short answer is, they are all there in the rest of the book we’ve read through! (Read especially 6:1-8, 22-26; 9:17-22; 13:18-27; 14:18; 15:1-9; 19:7-9). No more explanation need be given than had already been said.

Now one may ask, “where is God in chapter 39?” And the answer is: “conspicuous by his absence.” From the rest of the book we know that the rod of Babylon, like the rod of Assyria, was the hand of the sovereign Lord God. The message of 25:8-11 is unambiguously clear on that point. The divine judgment operated through human agency, and human beings would face their full accountability for all that was done in the process.

And yet…when the moment comes, the account is given in a way that noticeably shifts from God’s conspicuous presence in earlier texts predicting his judgment, to his conspicuous absence in the description of the execution of it. Is this a hint that God, as one might say, could scarcely bear to look? That the moment of final abandonment of the city and the people who bore his name—whom he had planted and built, whom he had loved as husband and father—the abandonment of these people, to their self-inflicted desecration, decimation, and destruction was simply too painful for God to participate in? There is more than a hint of this in God’s words to Baruch in 45:2-4. The wrath of God was at work. But the eyes of the God who takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” the God who “does not willingly bring affliction or grief,” were brimming and blinded with the tears of rejected love that his prophets had shed so abundantly on his behalf. God turns his face away.

Abandonment. God mysteriously absent. God turning his face away as his judgment was outpoured through the hands of wicked men. If this was so when the object of such divine-human wrath was a people who had persisted in rebellion against their divine covenant Lord, how much more awesome, mysterious and profound was the silence of abandonment when the sinless Son of God cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why indeed, in both cases. In Jerusalem’s case, the answer was: “for their own sins.” In Jesus’ case, the answer equally clearly is: “for ours.”

Do you know the painful heart of God when his people were judged because of their sins? Do you know the painful heart of God when his own Son was judged because of our sins?

* Adapted from The Message of Jeremiah by Christopher Wright.

This week’s bible reading schedule:

Monday: Jeremiah 44 Thursday: Jeremiah 47
Tuesday: Jeremiah 45 Friday: Jeremiah 48
Wednesday: Jeremiah 46 Saturday: Jeremiah 49