Connections 09.01.2019: God’s Astonishment

Jeremiah 2:4-13

As an independent editing contractor, I have a more flexible schedule than my husband and children. While they are (mostly) willing to help when time allows, household management falls largely on my shoulders. This means that in addition to my work, I plan meals, create grocery lists, shop, and cook most dinners; restock necessary household supplies; keep track of monthly bills; supply the girls with needed clothing, school items, and toiletries; take them to their various appointments; attend school meetings; assist with homework (except for math; that’s John’s area of expertise!); feed, walk, and care for our two dogs; and manage housekeeping and cleaning.

There are weeks when I feel like I’ve done so much for the people I love, and it seems that they are (at best) unaware or (at worst) ungrateful. These are the weeks when I think, “If you could only understand how much I have done for you, you would appreciate me and treat me accordingly.” These are the weeks when, whether justified or not, I’m astonished at my family’s lack of appreciation. But you know what? Chances are good that each of them feels the same way sometimes. We all want to know we’re appreciated—that what we do matters to people.

I like our lesson title: “God’s Astonishment.” I’m always intrigued by such descriptions of God. In order to be astonished, we have to experience something we did not expect. Does God ever encounter the unexpected? We can find instances in the Bible when God seems grieved and even surprised (see, for example, Ge 3:8-13; 6:6; Hos 11:7-9; Ps 78:58). Maybe God isn’t exactly shocked when we are ungrateful, but God is definitely disappointed.

In our passage from Jeremiah, God names what God has done for the people (2:6-7a). They ought to appreciate this and treat God accordingly. But they don’t, and God is astonished: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (vv. 12-13).

Why would anyone trade the fountain of living water for leaky containers? And yet we do it all the time. We know what our loving God has done for us, but we pay scarce attention to God. We bury ourselves in our busyness and groan about how no one appreciates us, when all the while we are failing to appreciate and honor the One who gave us life and deserves our highest praise. Focusing on God can turn our bitterness into gratitude.

Discussion

• Why is it important to feel that what we do matters to people? Why do we need to feel appreciated?

• Who in your life might need your appreciation today? What can you do to show them how much they mean to you?

• The Bible is filled with examples of people who turned away from God in spite of all God had done for them. Why would God be astonished by their behavior?

• Do you have any daily habits and attitudes that would astonish God? If so, why?

• If you feel that you deserve appreciation for your care of others, how much more does God deserve your highest praise? What spiritual practices can help you remember what God has done and turn your spirit of bitterness into gratitude?

Reference Shelf

On Changing Gods, 2:4-13

With this divine memory of the “honeymoon” in view [vv. 1-3], God responds to the present, broken state of the relationship. This rupture is signaled by the new address to both Judah and the families of Israel (v. 4; cf. Judah in v. 28)—both covered in the phrase “in the hearing of Jerusalem” (2:2). In the verses that follow, God’s recollections, and interactions with the people, including questions (rhetorical and otherwise) and accusations, tumble over one another as integral parts of the divine lament.

Initially, readers hear God complaining in the form of a question: “What did your ancestors find wrong with me?” (v. 5; this language is used in divorce proceedings, Deut 24:1). For exilic readers, the “ancestors” would recall all prior generations, not merely those of ancient times. God’s question seems to be rhetorical, with the answer self-evident: God committed no wrong in the relationship to occasion Israel’s forsaking the marriage to “marry” other gods (and hence Israel could not apply the divorce law of 24:1-4). Yet this approach may understate the import of God’s question. Israel does in fact accuse Yahweh (e.g., 2:35; 3:5) and so the question of 2:5 could be construed as God’s invitation to engage in a dialogue—to get the problem out on the table. God’s question could be a real question. As such, God’s question catches up exilic readers (see the exiles’ questions in Lam 5:20-22). From another angle, this is a genuine “why?” question for God (as in vv. 29-32). Given God’s exemplary participation as spouse, it is a mystery even to God why Israel would run after other gods. The latter are “worthless things” with no substance to them (hebel, perhaps a play on the word Baal; cf. vv. 8, 11, where the economic metaphor is also used; 2 Kgs 17:15). Because the people will inevitably become like that which they follow and worship (as in Hos 9:10; Ps 135:18), why would they choose to shape their lives in terms of that which is insubstantial?

In being unfaithful to the relationship, the ancestors no longer inquired about their most basic story and traditions—God’s gracious actions on their behalf in the exodus from Egypt and the treacherous—note the emphasis—wilderness wanderings (v. 6). This strong wilderness language would connect with the exiles (see Isa 35 for the transformation of the wilderness). In the absence of Israel’s testimony, God bears witness to having brought Israel into “my land,” the productive garden that was the land of Canaan (2:7; Exod 34:6-7 also places the people’s confession—in the third person—in the mouth of God in the wake of apostasy). In v. 7, notably, God makes a switch from the ancestors to the present audience (“you”; cf. v. 5), thereby collapsing the distinction between the ancestors and the present readers (see also 3:25; 14:20). Their own infidelity matched that of their ancestors; readers could not escape from this indicting word of God by laying the blame on them (see 31:29-30).

The religious leaders were no better than the people; the most important types are singled out (v. 8). Priests did not inquire of the Lord (see v. 6a); scribes or Levites taught the Law without trust/fear (“know”) in God; political leaders (shepherds) did not rule effectively; and prophets were prophesying the word of Baal. No one escaped from Jeremiah’s word! All alike had forsaken the Lord and forgotten the confessional tradition—all became as bankrupt as the idols they worshiped (reinforcing the point made in v. 5; cf. v. 11). This divine assessment of the breakdown in relationship issues in an accusation (v. 9), typical of human laments to God (as with Jeremiah, 12:1). Only in this case, the grounds for the accusation are clear: Israel has forsaken Yahweh by turning to other gods. The people’s infidelity is so deep-seated that this judgmental divine response is set for generations to come (v. 9). Notably, the “you” that God accuses here are not the ancestors, but the readers, who have just experienced such judgment!

That Israel would “change gods” is something unparalleled in that world. Readers (the “you” of vv. 7, 9) are invited to see for themselves that this is so (v. 10): take a survey at key trading centers to the east (Cyprus) and to the west (Kedar). Both would be in a position to hear of such changes and assess exchanges. For other nations, changing gods is unheard of, even though no real gods are involved! Reinforcing the economic metaphor (vv. 5, 8), Israel has exchanged its wealth or glory (=God; see Ps 3:3) for bankruptcy (v. 11).

The heavens are invited to be witnesses to this appalling and shocking evil (cf. Isa 1:2), as they had witnessed the initial love. The common translation “be desolate” (v. 12) could also be rendered “be dry”—give no rain. This reference should be linked with the following water metaphors (v. 13) and the adverse effect on the land. Indeed, the heavens are to witness two evils: Israel has forsaken Yahweh (also 2:17, 19), the fountain/spring of living water (see 17:13; Isa 55:1; John 4:10-14). Also, Israel has taken up with other gods, cisterns that have cracked plaster and can hold no water (for possible marital links, see Prov 5:15-23). Ironically, they have dug cisterns to conserve water (without success) whereas the spring flows naturally. The water metaphors focus on Yahweh as an ongoing source of life (an ever-flowing natural spring) in contrast to other gods, which, in spite of appearances, are no life-giving resource at all (vv. 12-13). Note that in spite of their infidelities, God calls Israel “my people” (vv. 11, 13, 31-32) and “children” (3:14, 22) and is still identified as “your God” (vv. 17, 19) and “your master.” Once again, exilic readers are in view.

Terence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2002) 63–67.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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