The prophet Jeremiah was, by most accounts, not much fun to be around. He railed against Israel, its kings, and its unwillingness to keep its end of the divine covenant: the “I will be your God and you will be my people” idea that had guided the people/tribes/nation since the time of Moses and Joshua. Closer to our own time Jeremiah came to be known as the “weeping prophet.”
Yet even this “downer” of a prophet had something hopeful to say to his people, mired as they were in what appeared to be a hopeless situation.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. –Jeremiah 31:31-34 NRSV
Note especially how that passage begins: “The days are surely coming….” That word “surely” reminds us of the words of another prophet, Isaiah, whose message was picked up by Handel for the great chorus in Messiah (see Isaiah 53:4). Maybe this shouldn’t be too surprising considering Jeremiah’s own defiant act in anticipation of his nation’s defeat and 70-year-long exile. He purchased a plot of land (chap. 32). Yes, these soon-to-be exiles still had a future. Why? Because their God, Yahweh, would bring them home.
All that would take a while, certainly, and a generation or two would pass away, not too unlike their ancestors’ 40-year exodus from Egypt to settling in the Promised Land. It was during that exodus period that a law written on stone tablets came to be their guide. Now God would be “writing” on their hearts, something far deeper, more personal, and longer lasting.
These people who had forgotten their God and all they’d learned over generations and centuries would yet be forgiven and set on a new course. From a human standpoint it doesn’t make sense. From a divine one, well, there’s a world of difference.
It’s no coincidence that this scripture passage comes to us midway through Lent, a time of self-examination, of reading what’s “written” on our own hearts. Where do we stand with God and with one another?
Surely the days of Gethsemene, Calvary, and Easter are coming. Let us be ready.
My new book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions