Friday, June 07, 2013

Notes on Jeremiah, 1: The Trouble with Tribbles

There’s no way of proving it of course, but Jeremiah may be the least read book in the Old Testament. There are at least three major problems with the book (from the would-be reader’s perspective). It is long. It is disorganized. It is dark.

First, with regard to the length of the book: the reader is right that it is a long book. By word count in the Hebrew text, it is the longest book in the Old Testament, longer even than the Psalms. It is somewhat shorter than the Psalms in English, but that has to do with the matter of translation requirements. So yes, it is a daunting book from that perspective. Strike one.

Second, with regard to the organization of the book: the would-be reader may page through the book, looking at the subheadings in their Bible. There are about ninety of these in the ESV. Some of the sections are extended, some are brief. But reading them one after the other doesn't give the reader any sense of the development, the order, of the book. So once again, the would-be reader is right. Strike two.

Third, from reading the subheadings, and just from the general reputation of the book, the would-be reader has the impression that the book is all about judgment. Note the first few subheadings in the NIV (2011): The Call of Jeremiah; Israel Forsakes God; Unfaithful Israel; Disaster from the North; Not One is Upright; Jerusalem Under Siege. And that’s only through chapter 6. The book is dark. It is grim, The would-be reader is once again right. Strike three.

So we close up Jeremiah and go read Psalm 23 or some other comforting passage.

Why should the Christian read Jeremiah? Why is it even in the Bible? I don’t know the answer to the second question. But the answer to the first question is, we read it because it is in the Bible. It was not written just for Israel, but for God’s people through all ages. It has a message for us today as much as it did for Jeremiah’s contemporaries. It will take some patience. It will take some work. But persevering through Jeremiah will produce fruit in the end.

Over the next several posts, I hope to give the reader rationale for reading Jeremiah, and then some guidance through the book, so that it might be read with profit. Just as a starter, Jeremiah (in the KJV) has 42,654 words. That’s about half the length of the average romance novel. It falls into the long novella, or very short novel category. So you see, Jeremiah is really not as long as you thought it was.

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