Key Texts: Jeremiah 40-44
Jeremiah 40-44 tells the tragic story of intrigue and broken promises. It tells how Jeremiah, against his own counsel and against his own will, was taken to Egypt by the rebels. What is especially interesting is the cross reference from Jeremiah 44 to Jeremiah’s temple discourse in Jeremiah 7. The topic is “Queen of Heaven” and how the rebellious Jews said that they would keep on doing service to the “Queen of Heaven” just as they had always done. Here is the verse from Jeremiah 7:18“
The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.” – Jer. 7:18, NRSV
And here is the remarkable statement of their continued rebellion from Jer. 44:15-25. Note in particular how the people insisted that they intended to continue in their rebellion just as they had done all along:
15 Then all the men who were aware that their wives had been making offerings to other gods, and all the women who stood by, a great assembly, all the people who lived in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah: 16 “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you. 17 Instead, we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out libations to her, just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials, used to do in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. 18 But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.” 19 And the women said,[a] “Indeed we will go on making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her; do you think that we made cakes for her, marked with her image, and poured out libations to her without our husbands’ being involved?”
20 Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who were giving him this answer: 21 “As for the offerings that you made in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your ancestors, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? 22 The Lord could no longer bear the sight of your evil doings, the abominations that you committed; therefore your land became a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is to this day. 23 It is because you burned offerings, and because you sinned against the Lord and did not obey the voice of the Lord or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his decrees, that this disaster has befallen you, as is still evident today.”
24 Jeremiah said to all the people and all the women, “Hear the word of the Lord, all you Judeans who are in the land of Egypt, 25 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You and your wives have accomplished in deeds what you declared in words, saying, ‘We are determined to perform the vows that we have made, to make offerings to the queen of heaven and to pour out libations to her.’ By all means, keep your vows and make your libations!
Question: Does this narrative give us the clue to all Jeremiah’s angry rhetoric about the worship of false gods? The people admitted that they knew all along what they were doing and vowed to keep doing it!
Question: Does the temple discourse, with its blending of sins against God and humanity tell us why Jeremiah was so irate?
Question: How would we, in our modern world, make the case that bad religion makes for bad morality? Does Jeremiah give us any clues that would help us make the case the true religion contributes to high moral standards?