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JEREMIAH AND GOD'S CHOSEN - JEREMIAH 2

‘Was it Jean-Paul Sartre who said he’d find it easier to believe in the resurrection if only Christians had risen faces? ’

The God of Israel is often referred to as a ‘jealous God’. For most of us, jealousy is an ugly emotion; we may feel it, but we tend to be ashamed of it. So we tend to find language of a ‘jealous God’ ugly, shameful, and off-putting.

It is important to realise what lies behind this sort of language, to realise what it meant (and means) to go after ‘other gods’. As Jeremiah has God say, ‘They went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves’ (Jeremiah 2:5). Don’t we all?

I know of no passage in the Bible quite so passionate and so eloquent about the implications of abandoning faith in God. We can listen. We can steep ourselves in it.

One image sticks with me and will not let me go. ‘My people’, says God; that is ‘us’. Of course Jeremiah was thundering about Israel, but today it is us, wherever we are. The image: cracked cisterns, leaky cisterns that hold no water (2:13).

At heart, I’m a farmboy. Every farmer knows the need for water. Drought and an empty dam spells death; water by the bucketful spells life. Every gardener knows that without water almost nothing grows. Under the burning sun, I rode my motorbike around a corner in Israel and there was an oasis, verdant luxuriant green in the midst of the barren lifeless dry. The image sticks with me.

Jeremiah has God say, ‘They have forsaken me the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water’ (2:13). If faith is not life-giving, there is something wrong with faith. If living water does not produce luxuriant growth, something is wrong. It may be the soil; it may be the quality of the water. But something is wrong.

John’s gospel has Jesus, standing in the Temple on the last and greatest day of the festival, take up the image: ‘Let the one who believes in me drink. … Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). Ezekiel develops the same image: a river, flowing out from the Temple, growing mightier and mightier, producing unbelievable fertility, growth, and life (Ezekiel 47:1-12). Was it Jean-Paul Sartre who said he’d find it easier to believe in the resurrection if only Christians had risen faces? If faith is not life-giving, there is something wrong with faith.

What gets Jeremiah mad is the quality of the God that Israel can abandon. ‘Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.’ (2:11). What gets me mad is the capacity of people to distort the quality of Christian faith—deprive it of life, kill it!

Jeremiah speaks with the great thinkers of ancient Israel when he says that if we go after worthless things we become worthless ourselves (cf. 2:5). The Jerusalem Bible: ‘Vanity they pursued, vanity they became.’ Leaders, synagogues and churches, can help spell out faith. Ultimately though, we do it for ourselves—and God help us if we get it wrong. No wonder Israel got its knickers in a knot over the ease with which people abandon God.

One of the fantastic insights Jeremiah ties into this chapter is the association of faith with freedom. Living water grows one free. ‘Is Israel then a slave … to be preyed on like this?’ (2:14). ‘Preyed on like this’; it’s your own fault, says Jeremiah: ‘Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God?’ (2:17). LORD, let me believe; let there be living water and let it give me life and make me free.