Demolish, and Then Start Over
1 1-4 The Message of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah of the family of priests who lived in Anathoth in the country of Benjamin. God’s Message began to come to him during the thirteenth year that Josiah son of Amon reigned over Judah. It continued to come to him during the time Jehoiakim son of Josiah reigned over Judah. And it continued to come to him clear down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah son of Josiah over Judah, the year that Jerusalem was taken into exile. This is what God said:
5 “Before I shaped you in the womb,
I knew all about you.
Before you saw the light of day,
I had holy plans for you:
A prophet to the nations—
that’s what I had in mind for you.”
6 But I said, “Hold it, Master God! Look at me.
I don’t know anything. I’m only a boy!”
7-8 God told me, “Don’t say, ‘I’m only a boy.’
I’ll tell you where to go and you’ll go there.
I’ll tell you what to say and you’ll say it.
Don’t be afraid of a soul.
I’ll be right there, looking after you.”
9-10 God reached out, touched my mouth, and said,
“Look! I’ve just put my words in your mouth—hand-delivered!
See what I’ve done? I’ve given you a job to do
among nations and governments—a red-letter day!
Your job is to pull up and tear down,
take apart and demolish,
And then start over,
building and planting.”
Stand Up and Say Your Piece
11-12 God’s Message came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
I said, “A walking stick—that’s all.”
And God said, “Good eyes! I’m sticking with you.
I’ll make every word I give you come true.”
13-15 God’s Message came again: “So what do you see now?”
I said, “I see a boiling pot, tipped down toward us.”
Then God told me, “Disaster will pour out of the north
on everyone living in this land.
Watch for this: I’m calling all the kings out of the north.”
15-16 “They’ll come and set up headquarters
facing Jerusalem’s gates,
Facing all the city walls,
facing all the villages of Judah.
I’ll pronounce my judgment on the people of Judah
for walking out on me—what a terrible thing to do!—
And courting other gods with their offerings,
worshiping as gods sticks they’d carved, stones they’d painted.
17 “But you—up on your feet and get dressed for work!
Stand up and say your piece. Say exactly what I tell you to say.
Don’t pull your punches
or I’ll pull you out of the lineup.
18-19 “Stand at attention while I prepare you for your work.
I’m making you as impregnable as a castle,
Immovable as a steel post,
solid as a concrete block wall.
You’re a one-man defense system
against this culture,
Against Judah’s kings and princes,
against the priests and local leaders.
They’ll fight you, but they won’t
even scratch you.
I’ll back you up every inch of the way.”
Israel Was God’s Holy Choice
2 1-3 God’s Message came to me. It went like this:
“Get out in the streets and call to Jerusalem,
I remember your youthful loyalty,
our love as newlyweds.
You stayed with me through the wilderness years,
stuck with me through all the hard places.
Israel was God’s holy choice,
the pick of the crop.
Anyone who laid a hand on her
would soon wish he hadn’t!’”
* * *
4-6 Hear God’s Message, House of Jacob!
Yes, you—House of Israel!
God’s Message: “What did your ancestors find fault with in me
that they drifted so far from me,
Took up with Sir Windbag
and turned into windbags themselves?
It never occurred to them to say, ‘Where’s God,
the God who got us out of Egypt,
Who took care of us through thick and thin, those rough-and-tumble
wilderness years of parched deserts and death valleys,
A land that no one who enters comes out of,
a cruel, inhospitable land?’
7-8 “I brought you to a garden land
where you could eat lush fruit.
But you barged in and polluted my land,
trashed and defiled my dear land.
The priests never thought to ask, ‘Where’s God?’
The religion experts knew nothing of me.
The rulers defied me.
The prophets preached god Baal
And chased empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.
9-11 “Because of all this, I’m bringing charges against you”
“charging you and your children and your grandchildren.
Look around. Have you ever seen anything quite like this?
Sail to the western islands and look.
Travel to the Kedar wilderness and look.
Look closely. Has this ever happened before,
That a nation has traded in its gods
for gods that aren’t even close to gods?
But my people have traded my Glory
for empty god-dreams and silly god-schemes.
12-13 “Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see!
Throw up your hands in disbelief—this can’t be!”
“My people have committed a compound sin:
they’ve walked out on me, the fountain
Of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns—
cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves.
14-17 “Isn’t Israel a valued servant,
born into a family with place and position?
So how did she end up a piece of meat
fought over by snarling and roaring lions?
There’s nothing left of her but a few old bones,
her towns trashed and deserted.
Egyptians from the cities of Memphis and Tahpanhes
have broken your skulls.
And why do you think all this has happened?
Isn’t it because you walked out on your God
just as he was beginning to lead you in the right way?
18-19 “And now, what do you think you’ll get by going off to Egypt?
Maybe a cool drink of Nile River water?
Or what do you think you’ll get by going off to Assyria?
Maybe a long drink of Euphrates River water?
Your evil ways will get you a sound thrashing, that’s what you’ll get.
You’ll pay dearly for your disloyal ways.
Take a long, hard look at what you’ve done and its bitter results.
Was it worth it to have walked out on your God?”
God’s Decree, Master God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
Addicted to Alien Gods
20-22 “A long time ago you broke out of the harness.
You shook off all restraints.
You said, ‘I will not serve!’
and off you went,
Visiting every sex-and-religion shrine on the way,
like a common whore.
You were a select vine when I planted you
from completely reliable stock.
And look how you’ve turned out—
a tangle of rancid growth, a poor excuse for a vine.
Scrub, using the strongest soaps.
Scour your skin raw.
The sin-grease won’t come out. I can’t stand to even look at you!”
God’s Decree, the Master’s Decree.
23-24 “How dare you tell me, ‘I’m not stained by sin.
I’ve never chased after the Baal sex gods’!
Well, look at the tracks you’ve left behind in the valley.
How do you account for what is written in the desert dust—
Tracks of a camel in heat, running this way and that,
tracks of a wild donkey in rut,
Sniffing the wind for the slightest scent of sex.
Who could possibly corral her!
On the hunt for sex, sex, and more sex—
insatiable, indiscriminate, promiscuous.
25 “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry?
Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?
But you say, ‘I can’t help it.
I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.’
* * *
26-28 “Just as a thief is chagrined, but only when caught,
so the people of Israel are chagrined,
Caught along with their kings and princes,
their priests and prophets.
They walk up to a tree and say, ‘My father!’
They pick up a stone and say, ‘My mother! You bore me!’
All I ever see of them is their backsides.
They never look me in the face.
But when things go badly, they don’t hesitate to come running,
calling out, ‘Get a move on! Save us!’
Why not go to your handcrafted gods you’re so fond of?
Rouse them. Let them save you from your bad times.
You’ve got more gods, Judah,
than you know what to do with.
Trying Out Another Sin-Project
29-30 “What do you have against me,
running off to assert your ‘independence’?”
“I’ve wasted my time trying to train your children.
They’ve paid no attention to me, ignored my discipline.
And you’ve gotten rid of your God-messengers,
treating them like dirt and sweeping them away.
31-32 “What a generation you turned out to be!
Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I warn you?
Have I let you down, Israel?
Am I nothing but a dead-end street?
Why do my people say, ‘Good riddance!
From now on we’re on our own’?
Young women don’t forget their jewelry, do they?
Brides don’t show up without their veils, do they?
But my people forget me.
Day after day after day they never give me a thought.
* * *
33-35 “What an impressive start you made
to get the most out of life.
You founded schools of sin,
taught graduate courses in evil!
And now you’re sending out graduates, resplendent in cap and gown—
except the gowns are stained with the blood of your victims!
All that blood convicts you.
You cut and hurt a lot of people to get where you are.
And yet you have the nerve to say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.
God doesn’t mind. He hasn’t punished me, has he?’
Don’t look now, but judgment’s on the way,
aimed at you who say, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
36-37 “You think it’s just a small thing, don’t you,
to try out another sin-project when the first one fails?
But Egypt will leave you in the lurch
the same way that Assyria did.
You’re going to walk away from there
wringing your hands.
I, God, have blacklisted those you trusted.
You’ll get not a lick of help from them.”
Your Sex-and-Religion Obsessions
3 God’s Message came to me as follows:
“If a man’s wife
walks out on him
And marries another man,
can he take her back as if nothing had happened?
Wouldn’t that raise a huge stink
in the land?
And isn’t that what you’ve done—
‘whored’ your way with god after god?
And now you want to come back as if nothing had happened.”
2-5 “Look around at the hills.
Where have you not had sex?
You’ve camped out like hunters stalking deer.
You’ve solicited many lover-gods,
Like a streetwalking whore
chasing after other gods.
And so the rain has stopped.
No more rain from the skies!
But it doesn’t even faze you. Brazen as whores,
you carry on as if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Then you have the nerve to call out, ‘My father!
You took care of me when I was a child. Why not now?
Are you going to keep up your anger nonstop?’
That’s your line. Meanwhile you keep sinning nonstop.”
Admit Your God-Defiance
6-10 God spoke to me during the reign of King Josiah: “You have noticed, haven’t you, how fickle Israel has visited every hill and grove of trees as a whore at large? I assumed that after she had gotten it out of her system, she’d come back, but she didn’t. Her flighty sister, Judah, saw what she did. She also saw that because of fickle Israel’s loose morals I threw her out, gave her her walking papers. But that didn’t faze flighty sister Judah. She went out, big as you please, and took up a whore’s life also. She took up cheap sex-and-religion as a sideline diversion, an indulgent recreation, and used anything and anyone, flouting sanity and sanctity alike, stinking up the country. And not once in all this did flighty sister Judah even give me a nod, although she made a show of it from time to time.” God’s Decree.
11-12 Then God told me, “Fickle Israel was a good sight better than flighty Judah. Go and preach this message. Face north toward Israel and say:
12-15 “‘Turn back, fickle Israel.
I’m not just hanging back to punish you.
I’m committed in love to you.
My anger doesn’t seethe nonstop.
Just admit your guilt.
Admit your God-defiance.
Admit to your promiscuous life with casual partners,
pulling strangers into the sex-and-religion groves
While turning a deaf ear to me.’”
“Come back, wandering children!”
“I, yes I, am your true husband.
I’ll pick you out one by one—
This one from the city, these two from the country—
and bring you to Zion.
I’ll give you good shepherd-rulers who rule my way,
who rule you with intelligence and wisdom.
16 “And this is what will happen: You will increase and prosper in the land. The time will come”—God’s Decree!—“when no one will say any longer, ‘Oh, for the good old days! Remember the Ark of the Covenant?’ It won’t even occur to anyone to say it—‘the good old days.’ The so-called good old days of the Ark are gone for good.
17 “Jerusalem will be the new Ark—‘God’s Throne.’ All the godless nations, no longer stuck in the ruts of their evil ways, will gather there to honor God.
18 “At that time, the House of Judah will join up with the House of Israel. Holding hands, they’ll leave the north country and come to the land I willed to your ancestors.
* * *
19-20 “I planned what I’d say if you returned to me:
‘Good! I’ll bring you back into the family.
I’ll give you choice land,
land that the godless nations would die for.’
And I imagined that you would say, ‘Dear father!’
and would never again go off and leave me.
But no luck. Like a false-hearted woman walking out on her husband,
you, the whole family of Israel, have proven false to me.”
21-22 The sound of voices comes drifting out of the hills,
the unhappy sound of Israel’s crying,
Israel lamenting the wasted years,
never once giving her God a thought.
“Come back, wandering children!
I can heal your wanderlust!”
* * *
22-25 “We’re here! We’ve come back to you.
You’re our own true God!
All that popular religion was a cheap lie,
duped crowds buying up the latest in gods.
We’re back! Back to our true God,
the salvation of Israel.
The Fraud picked us clean, swindled us
of what our ancestors bequeathed us,
Gypped us out of our inheritance—
God-blessed flocks and God-given children.
We made our bed and now lie in it,
all tangled up in the dirty sheets of dishonor.
All because we sinned against our God,
we and our fathers and mothers.
From the time we took our first steps, said our first words,
we’ve been rebels, disobeying the voice of our God.”
* * *