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Jeremiah 2:4-13

Can you imagine being the defendant in a trial where the plaintiff is also the judge? In the Old Testament prophetic literature, this is a common occurrence for the people of Israel. It’s even a favored literary genre of the prophets. We usually can tell this is what is happening when we see the word rib in the text which is translated as “accuse” (NRSV), “bring charges” (NIV), “to contend” (ESV), etc. In verse 9 of this week’s first reading, we see that dreaded word.

One of the things that can be difficult about preaching or teaching from the prophets is that most Christians are going to see themselves as in line with the prophetic word and rarely will we be convicted by it without deeply considering its meaning. We hear of the people’s seeking after worthless things and we think, “how could they be so dumb after all the Lord has done for them?” The task of the preacher is to help the people imagine how we may be guilty of the same sin while also reminding them of God’s love, grace, and prevenient and enduring covenant faithfulness. One question the preacher may consider in his or her preparation is simply “how can we begin to sit in this text until we truly hear the word of the Lord?”

Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that a central part of Israel’s identity is found in the remembrance of what God has done for them. Even aspects of their worship services and spaces are dedicated to the remembrance of God’s covenant faithfulness. Jeremiah 2 begins with a recounting of the good ole’ days when Israel was faithful to the covenant but then in our passage, the prophet quickly switches gears as God accuses the people of forgetting what God has done for them which has resulted in their unfaithfulness to the covenant. Here we see the wrong that Israel is guilty of: they stopped seeking the presence of God and they stopped telling the story of God’s liberating work. The result of this is subsequentially that the people have forgotten what it means to be God’s people, they have lost their identity, and they have placed their hope in worthless things. In this lawsuit, God is bringing the amnesia of the people to light.

God the prosecutor/judge is fair though and so allows the people to defend themselves. God asks, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me.” Of course, the answer is obvious as God the prosecutor/judge has never been unfaithful to the covenant. And while God has always been faithful, the people’s unfaithfulness can be traced back through their history. It is not any injustice of God that has driven the people to unfaithfulness but rather the temptation of “worthless things”.

Jeremiah, like all of the Old Testament prophets, is serving as the Torah or covenant police, helping to bring the message of God’s justice to the people. We see this frequently in the Old Testament. God sends the prophets when the people have become idolatrous and unfaithful to the covenant. When reading the prophetic literature we often assume that the people’s idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness is blatant. That is, the peopl