Religion Why, according to Jeremiah 7, is God angry at the people of Judah? Drawing on the assigned secondary reading by Avioz, speculate on why it is sig

Religion Why, according to Jeremiah 7, is God angry at the people of Judah? Drawing on the assigned secondary reading by Avioz, speculate on why it is sig

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Religion Why, according to Jeremiah 7, is God angry at the people of Judah? Drawing on the assigned secondary reading by Avioz, speculate on why it is significant that Jeremiah conveys God’s anger at the temple. Turning to Jeremiah 27-28, why is the prophet Hananiah furious at Jeremiah and what does he (Hananiah) do as a result? “I Sat Alone”

Jeremiah Among the Prophets


T 1 6) r i s

First Gorgias Press Edition, 2009

Copyright © 2009 by Gorgias Press LLC

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Published in the United States of America by Gorgias Press LLC, New Jersey

ISBN: 978-1-59333-854-1

T i (j) r s
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Library- of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Avioz, Michael, 1967-
[Nevu’ato shel Yirmeyahu. English]
I sat alone : Jeremiah among the prophets / Michael Av­

ioz. — 1st Gorgias Press ed.
p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-59333-854-1 (alk. paper)

1. Jeremiah (Biblical prophet) 2. Bible. O.T. Jeremiah-
-Criticism, interpretation, etc. I. Title.
BS580.J4A9513 2009


The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the
American National Standards.


Jeremiah’s speech in the Temple (Jeremiah 7:1-15) is one of the most im­
pressive in the 1 Iebrew Bible. In his book, Zeev Weisman writes the follow­

The canonical prophets’ charismatic test lay not so much in whether
they succeeded in predicting the future, but in whether they possessed the
proficiency and power with which to persuade their audience of the truth of
their messages.

In the same vein as Weisman, I will attempt to show that research
written on the subject of rhetoric can make a significant contribution to
understanding Jeremiah’s speech in the Temple.

What were the historical and societal conditions leading to Jeremiah’s
Temple speech? What is the message of the speech? By what means does
Jeremiah transmit his message, with the aim of persuading his audience?

It seems that two specific groups were of special interest in Jeremiah’s

a. The reference to the Ten Commandments and to Shiloh implies
the priests, whose job it is to teach the people how to observe the Ten
Commandments (sec, for example Deut. 17:9-12; 33:10; Jer. 2:8; 18:18;
Ezek. 7:26; IIos. 5:1; Mai. 2:7; 2 Chr. 15:3). Since they failed in their duties,
they deserved to be censured, a task that the true prophets take upon them­
selves. According to the description in 1 Sam. 2, Eli’s sons, the priests, were
responsible for the destruction of Shiloh. The priests’ abuse of their posi­
tion in Jeremiah’s time likewise threatens to cause the destruction of Jerusa­
lem. Jeremiah is particularly entitled to prophecy this, as according to the
first verse of the book (Jer. 1:1), he himself was from a priestly family. He
knows very well how a priest is supposed to behave, and is therefore in a
position to judge.

b. Jeremiah appears to be addressing a second group—the false
prophets—in his speech. ‘ITiey are indicated by the expression “we are
saved” and by use of the word “falsehood”. The use of slogans implies the
false prophets. The fact that the prophets and the priests were Jeremiah’s


22 I Sat Alone

leading accusers in the story of his trial in chapter 26 is also an indication
that they understood Jeremiah’s words perfectly.

If Jeremiah’s speech was indeed made in 609/8 BCE, as many scholars
suppose, then it goes without saying that the effect created thereby was fear.
It was a particularly difficult year for the people of Judah, a year of turmoil:
the death of josiah, followed by his replacement by two more kings, Jehoa-
haz and jehoiakim. judah came under Egyptian rule and the people sought
comfort and security in the Temple. Jeremiah’s role, then, was to under­
mine the peoples’ sense of calm and security. This period was a fertile one
for the false prophets to espouse their ideologies and to gain popularity
among the masses. It is in this troubled period that Jeremiah had to stand
strong and go out against these prophets.

The Arrangement of the Material

In contrast to Isaiah 1, wherein grave accusations are brought against the
people in the introduction, Jeremiah opens the body of his speech on a
positive note: “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in
this place” (v. 3). This positive attitude is part of Jeremiah’s ethos: He is
genuinely concerned with the destinv of Israel, and he makes efforts to save
them from error.

Jeremiah 7 is a classic call for repentance, a change of direction. In­
deed, the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel according to the
promise made to their forefathers, yet their dwelling therein is conditional:
In every generation, the people have to prove that they are worthy of the
Land, and should therefore take care that the Temple does not become a
source of illusion, or a stumbling block for Israel. Later on, Jeremiah states
that society has a moral obligation toward its members, and is therefore
required to make improvements. From a rhetorical point of view, Jeremiah
begins by moving from the general to the particular, and then returns to the
general in his speech’s conclusion.

When Jeremiah sees no positive response from the audience, he ratch­
ets up his tone. He abandons all pretenses and expresses the full severity of
his words. While he begins his speech in a positive tone, when this tack re­
ceives no response, he moves on to a description of his people’s terrifying
position. Evidence for this can be found in his speech (v. 13): “When I spoke
to you persistently, you did not listen”.

Jeremiah is now wearing the “hat” of the prosecution in court. He pre­
sents the charges to the people followed by the consequences should they
be found guilty. Jeremiah pleads that the people’s negative behavior consti-

4 Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon 23

tutes a violation of the binding legal document that lays down the terms of
the relationship between the people of Israel and God: the Ten Com­
mandments. The Ten Commandments are defined as a covenant, a contract
between Israel and God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20), which obligates
both sides. If the people break their part of the agreement, then God will
commensuratelv break His.

Jeremiah refers to the Ten Commandments in a different order from
diat in the Hebrew Bible. In Exodus 20, die religious commandments come
first, and the social commandments come afterwards. Jeremiah, however,
starts by presenting the social commandments. Martin Buber explains the
significance of this: the sins against religion come at the end (as in v. 6),
because the prophet has to proclaim just this, that God seeks something
other than religion. Out of a human community He wills to make his king­
dom; communitv there must be in order that 1 lis kingdom shall come;
therefore here, where he blames a people for not having become a commu­
nity, man’s claim upon man takes precedence of God’s claim.

According to Buber, the moral commandments occupy a more impor­
tant position within the prophet’s value system. I lowever, Bubcr’s opinion
seems not to fit the Book of Jeremiah, which names idolatry as the main
cause of the destruction of the Temple. Thus reads Jer. 9:12-14, for exam­

Who is wise enough to understand this? To whom has the mouth of
the LORD spoken, so that they may declare it? Why is the land mined and
laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the LORD
says: Because they have forsaken My law that I set before them, and have
not obeyed My voice, or walked in accordance with it, but have stubbornly
followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their ancestors
taught them (see also Jer. 5:10-11, 16, 18).

What is special about Jeremiah’s words is that he raises the position of
social ethics to the level of an additional basic condition for the existence of
the nation in its land, in contrast to the viewpoint that sees the Temple sac­
rifices as the essence. Apart from that, the distinction between “man’s
claim” and “God’s claim” is a problem. The Hebrew’ Bible makes a connec­
tion between sins against man and sins against God. “Thou shalt not com­
mit adulter}'” is not only a sin against man, but also a sin against God. The
same is the case with “Thou shalt not murder”. We see from here that pro­
gression is incorporated within Jeremiah’s words.

In v. 3-5, we follow Jeremiah’s move from the general to the particu­
lar. Now we see the progression from the (relatively) light to the serious.

24 I Sat Alone

Jeremiah wishes to tell his audience: Not only have you sinned in a moral
context, but you have also dared to commit the greatest sin of all—idolatry.

Citations and Refutation

Jeremiah quotes his antagonists, the false prophets: “The Temple of the
LORD, The Temple of the LORD, The Temple of the LORD”, (v. 4) and again,
“we are saved” (v. 10). Presendng the false prophets’ words as mere slogans
enables Jeremiah’s audience to discern the untruths, as they ask themselves,
“What is the basis for this person’s statements?”

Moreover, one definition of falsehood is: words spoken with the inten­
tion of creating an erroneous belief or understanding among the audience,
by using half-truths and/or delivering partial information. From the words
•3*7 pi^C’to vour own harm”, v. 6), it can be understood that Jeremiah

believes that words are being spoken by the false prophets, who are aware
of their being partially or completely incorrect.

Although it is quite likely that Jeremiah is referring to beliefs regarding
Jerusalem’s immunity, which developed during Sennacherib’s campaign to
Judah (2 Kings 18-20 / Isaiah 36-39), Jeremiah only hints at this belief by
using 1 Iebrew words with the roots TOU (“trust”) and (“save; rescue”).
An explicit mention of the story of Jerusalem’s deliverance is likely to con­
ceal Jeremiah’s intenuon of presenting Jerusalem as vulnerable to the en­

The use of first person plural (“We are delivered”, JPS; “We are
safe”, NRSV) is also deliberate. Jeremiah does not say, “God has saved us”,
but rather, “we are delivered”. In other words, he disconnects God from
the slogans created by his antagonists. The word was apparently a
slogan regularly used by the false prophets.

Various scholars who have dealt with the subject of falsehood have
noted that the aspiration to popularity must be included in the motives for
lying. Belief in falsehood stems from the false prophets’ authority in the
eyes of the people, and from the comfort the latter derive from the optimis­
tic message.

In chapter 7, Jeremiah speaks out against such beliefs, and in doing so
must contend with prophecies that were particularly popular. Such prophe­
cies were given by prophets claiming to be God’s messengers, representing
the Zion Tradition. This ideology seeks to highlight God’s unconditional
commitment to Jerusalem and to the Temple, thus releasing the people
from their commitment to God. According to Jeremiah, there is no guaran-

4 Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon 25

tee that the Temple will be saved, as it is not independent of earlier prom­
ises, but rather conditioned on the behavior of the people.

Will Jeremiah succeed in achieving the impossible and persuading the
people that his cause is just? Jeremiah needs to persuade those gathered at
die Temple that it is indeed an important place, and before coming to pray
diere, or to offer sacrifices, they must make sure that their hands are clean
and must mend their ways. Otherwise, they have no business there, and no
sacrifice will serve as insurance against enemies who try to conquer the city.

It appears that Jeremiah did not intend to speak against the legitimacy
of the Temple as such; rather, his intention was to shock the people and
spur them into action. Other prophets worked in a similar way. Neither did
they speak out against the Temple or religious rituals as such, but radier
against the people’s flouting of the covenant between them and their God.

The Rhetorical Questions

Jeremiah presents die violation of the Ten Commandments as a rhetorical
question: “Will you steal, murder, commit adulter}’…?” (v. 9). This is a con­
firmed rhetorical medium, i.e., the rhetorical question forces an answer on
the part of the listener, and in this case, it is negative. Jeremiah uses rhetori­
cal questions to speak out against accepted opinions, or to rephrase the an­
swers to his questions. His rhetorical questions are designed to cause the
audience to utter such responses as, “What are you talking about? Of
course we won’t violate all Ten Commandments and then come to the
Temple to pray”.

Jeremiah continues with a more forceful rhetorical question: “Has this
house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers?” (v. 11 ).
This is very strong language, and there is no doubt that it outraged his audi­
ence. Its significance is that the Temple has become a hiding place for
criminals, thieves, and murderers, a city of refuge for those who are not
entided to flee thereto. Jeremiah’s audience would consider such a pro­
nouncement to be a desecration of holiness.

Jeremiah is playing on the emotions here, and his words befit the pa­
thos of Aristode’s rhetoric. The purpose of playing on the emotions in a
speech is to influence the audience’s judgment, to cause it to identify with
the orator’s content.

26 I Sat Alone


Like even,” successful rhetorician, Jeremiah has to back up his words. It is
not enough to reject widespread conceptions. He must prove his arguments
with examples from history. Jeremiah needs to suggest opposing precedents
to those presented by the false prophets. I Ie therefore notes two such his­
torical precedents.

The first example is the destruction of Shiloh (v. 12-14). Before
Jeremiah reaches the description of the Jerusalem Temple’s fate, he uses a
series of relative clauses instead of stating directly that the Temple will be
destroyed. “The Temple”, indicating Jerusalem, is placed at the beginning
of the sentence, and “Shiloh”, which constitutes the negative precedent, is
placed at the end. Between them are placed the descriptions of the Temple
in Jerusalem: “therefore I will do to the house that is called by My name, in
which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors,
just what I did to Shiloh” (v. 14).

Jeremiah combines past, present, and future in one sentence, i.e., the
Temple belongs to God: He gave it to the people and to their forefathers.
The people currently trust in Him. God will do to the Temple what He has
already done to another temple, Shiloh. This negative slant contradicts
Jeremiah’s demands in the first part of the speech, i.e., “if you truly act
justly” ( v. 5 ), yet it is apparent from verses 10 and 13 that the people’s
actions arc mainly negative.

What is the significance of the analogy to Shiloh? Jeremiah is saying
that just as the Ark of the Coyenant was to no avail in the days of Samuel
and Eli because the priests had greatly sinned, so the Temple in Jerusalem
will be to no avail and will not protect the people, because they have not
seen the error of their ways. Linking Shiloh and Jerusalem also appears in
Psalm 78, although Jeremiah presents an opposing viewpoint to that of the
psalm. Instead of presenting the difference between Jerusalem, which was
chosen bv God, and Shiloh, which was rejected by Him, Jeremiah presents
a parallel between the two towns: The citizens of both have sinned, and
therefore a similar fate will befall them.

Jeremiah’s words are considered to be innovative compared to those
of other prophets. Isaiah, for example, never once mentioned the possibility
of the Temple’s destruction. He spoke about exile, but not about the de­
struction of the Temple.

The second precedent, with which Jeremiah ends his speech (v. 15),
relates to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, when the ten
tribes were exiled. Why? Because they committed the sins against which the

4 Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon 27

prophet warned, and did not pay heed to their contemporary prophets’ ad­
vice (see 2 Kings 17:13-14). 1’hat being the case, the people have no insur­
ance—no Temple, and no Divine promise—that they will dwell in the Land
of Israel to eternity.

Jeremiah concludes his speech in a severe tone, i.e., threat of the de­
struction of the Temple and exile. Throughout all of Israel’s history, ex­
ile—the loss of property and independence, and life in a foreign land—was a
substantive threat. In the eyes of the people, the destruction of the Temple
meant losing their intimate connection with God, and living in an impure

What Was Not Mentioned in the Speech?

A comparison of the speech in Jeremiah 7 with other speeches reveals that
the prophet omitted an important element in his speech: the kings of the
House of David. While Jeremiah discusses the question of Jerusalem’s pro­
tection of her citizens, he does not specifically mention the kings of the
House of David. This omission is despite the fact that the treatment of the
orphaned, the poor, and the widowed is the king’s responsibility (see for
example Ezek. 22:6-7; cf. 25, 29; Ps. 72:4; Prov. 23:10-11).

Two possible reasons can be suggested for why Jeremiah did not men­
tion the kings of the House of David in his prophecy: First, because they
are referred to in various prophecies, (particularly in Jer. 21-24). Secondly,
specific mention of the kings of the House of David would have been likely
to shift the focus from the discussion of the Temple and its functions, to
the fate of the promise made to the House of David that it will be an ever­
lasting kingdom. The promise could have been used by the false prophets,
claiming that not only is the Temple protected, but so is Jerusalem, not only
because of the Divine presence therein, but also because of the promise
made to David in 2 Samuel 7. By excluding specific mention of the kings of
the House of David, Jeremiah can extend the legal demand for protection
of the weak to society as a whole, as is done in the Pentateuch. “litis is also
the apparent reason for why Jeremiah deviates from the line presented in
Psalm 78: Instead of ending with the choice of David for the monarchy, he
concludes with threats about the destruction of the Temple and the exile of
the people from their land.

The prosecution has now finished its argument. The ball is now in the
hands of the people and their leaders, who must decide whether to embrace
Jeremiah or to throttle him, whether to stone him or to applaud him. It is
important to emphasize that in the days of Jeremiah, a means that had ex-

28 I Sat Alone

isted in the days of the prophets who preceded him no longer existed, i.e.,
performing miracles in order to prove one’s message. This is how it had
been in the days of Elijah on Mount Carmel when he brought down fire
from the skies (1 Kings 18). In contrast, the only power that could be used
in Jeremiah’s days was the power of speech. What was the people’s reaction
to Jeremiah’s harsh words? The answer is presented in chapter 26 of
Jeremiah, the focus of the next chapter.

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