Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Idolatry and the Peril of the Nation: Reading Jeremiah 2 in an African Context

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Idolatry and the Peril of the Nation: Reading Jeremiah 2 in an African Context

Article excerpt


4. Hear the word of Yahweh, house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. 5. Thus says Yahweh: What evil did your fathers find in me, that they walked away from me, and went after vanity, and became vain in the process? 6. And they did not say, "Where is Yahweh? Who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who guided us in the wilderness, in a land of dryness and utter darkness, in a land through which no one passes, and (where) no one settles?" 7.1 brought you into a fertile land, to eat its fruit and its good produce; but when you went in, you defiled my land and changed my heritage into an abomination. 8. The priests did not say, "Where is Yahweh?" Those who handle the Torah did not know me. The shepherds rebelled against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal; they walked after things that do not profit.

Historical and Literary Contexts

Jeremiah 2 belongs to the "the foe from the north" unit (chapters 2-6) of the book. The general theme that runs through these five chapters is Judahs unfaithfulness and Yahweh s judgment to punish his people through an enemy coming from the north. Chapter 2 opens the section with the description of Yahweh's accusation against Judah because of its evil. The prophet identifies this evil as idolatry.

The prophecy in chapter 2 must have been uttered at the beginning of Jeremiahs ministry, more specifically, before Josiah's reformation (622 вс). Thus the mention of idolatry may reflect, in part, Judahs vassal status to a foreign power (Assyria).1 John Thompson recognizes that chapter 2 consists of a literary arrangement of several originally independent segments dealing with the same theme and brought together to serve a theological purpose.2 The literary unity of verses 4-13 can be distinguished from other units in the chapter by the person who is addressed: in verses 1-3 as well as in 14-19 the person of address is second person feminine singular, whereas in verses 4-13 the second person masculine plural is employed. Thompson also rightly points out that in the context of the whole chapter, verses 4-13 form a bridge between the statement of Israels early devotion to Yahweh (w. 1-3) and the description of her present state of bondage to Assyria (w. 14-19). This gives a clear sequence of the chapter: Israels early devotion (w. 1-3), Israels apostasy (w. 4-13), and the tragic results of this apostasy (w. 14r-19).3 Because of space limitations this study will only deal with the section about apostasy in verses 4-6 and 8.

The study of Jeremiah 2 is very important for us in Africa, for it shows how Israel started well with Yahweh only to end in apostasy. It is easy for a country to slowly but surely abandon its primary vision of justice, unity, love, and progress.. In most of our African countries, the anthems composed during the time of independence contain such a primary vision: the need for building a better nation on the basis of unity, justice, and love, and sometimes even prayer to God to bless the nation. Some of the first constitutions after independence contain such a primary vision as well. But when the country abandons its vision and embraces vanity, it finally destroys the whole nation with its people. As I read this text and seek to discover what went wrong in Judah between Yahweh and his beloved people, I will also be reading my African story and try to understand what is going on in the continent.

History Matters (v. 4)

When we go to the hospital for the first time, doctors always start with questions about our medical history. They carefully take detailed notes of what we tell them in order to construct a correct picture of the state of our health. They are taught that our health is heavily influenced by the past: places where we lived, our families, the kind of activities we were involved in, past behaviors, and past experiences are all important information that can help to explain our present health conditions. It is the same with our society at large. …

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