The lectionary readings for today are as follows…
I must say that each of these are worth one’s attention. This Jeremiah, especially so because it forces one to wonder about the course of human events and whether or not there is something driving them that is far greater than ourselves.
Chapter 21 of Jeremiah takes place around 588 BC, we know this because the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned. This conflict is in stark contrast to an earlier one, 700 BC, where YHWH miraculously intervened (Isaiah 36, 2 Kings 18) on behalf of Hezekiah and Jerusalem.
With the Chaldeans at the gates of the city, King Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to speak to the people regarding their desperate situation. Jeremiah offers them the choice between life and death: surrender and leave your land if you wish to live, otherwise die. This is in direct contrast with Israel’s earlier history (cp. Deut. 30:15-19) where the land and its possession meant “life” while the loss of it meant “death.”
The explicit mention of Zedekiah seems to indicate that what Jerusalem is facing is due to his failings as a head of Israel due to their desire for personal aggrandizement rather than living up to their covenant with God (2 Kings 23:3). What follows (vv. 11-14) judges the “kings of Judah” and the “House of David” for their arrogance for considering themselves protected due to their height; that is to say Jerusalem is located in a mountainous, arid location. The LORD, speaking through Jeremiah, uses the image of an all consuming and uncontrollable fire to threaten the arrogant self-sufficiency of Zion.
What we have here is an example of failed leadership at the head of state and it’s consequences for the rest of us. Leadership failures are common in other walks of life too. The best example in literature that I’m aware of is Captain Ahab’s disastrous pursuit of a large fish in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”
“Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form.” – Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”