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Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be. . . .” (Ge 1:1–3.)

According to the prophets of Israel, life began with the speaking of God into the chaos and disorder and lifelessness of primordial creation. In the beginning God commanded light to emerge and to be separated from darkness, and then God commanded the chaotic waters to separate, carving out a space for life to inhabit. The prophets called this space the shamayim (the heavens). Today, scientists call it space-time.

Part of the prophetic inspiration of the Hebrew people was to recognize that life has always been and will always be dependent on the utterances of God. The Gospel-writers recount Jesus as confessing as much when he quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 to the satan in the wilderness, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Mt 4:4)

And, God did not speak only words of initial creation. God has continued to speak. And for the Hebrew people to whom Jeremiah was writing, they might have recognized that the Torah (Law) that God had spoken to Moses in the wake of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt was just as essential to the sustaining of creation as the words ‘let there be’ had been in Genesis 1.

But, the people of Israel had not recognized this reality. Perhaps they had come to understand creation as a firm and fixed system–inviolable, unalterable, immutable. Perhaps they assumed that the minutia of their daily lives, the shapes and patterns of their culture and communities, the choices they made as individuals and as a people could not possibly effect the viability of creation. What is a human, after all?

Jeremiah has challenged both these assumptions and any other that might lead humanity to disregard the utterances of God. If stars and planets decided to disregard gravity, chaos would ensue. If protons and neutrons decided to disregard the strong or weak nuclear force, life, as we know it, would be undone. What, then, might happen if humanity were to disregard what God has asked of us? According to Jeremiah, creation would be deconstructed.

Walter Brueggemann has written the following of Jeremiah 4:23-28:

This poem is a step-by-step rhetorical dismantling of creation. Jeremiah 4:23 utilizes the words of Gen. 1:2, “formless and void,” to express the resurgence of chaos and disorder that is experienced by the poet at every dimension of life. [1]

In Jeremiah’s words: “23I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.” And still today, humanity’s refusal to live into the world God has been speaking into being in the Torah, through the prophets of Israel, in the Person of Jesus, and through Jesus’ Apostles constitutes a resistance of God’s creation, a resistance of life, an embracing of the primordial chaos of lifelessness. And Jeremiah has reminded God’s wayward sons and daughters that life does not live on material sustenance alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Creator and Sustainer of all things—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who now we confess became flesh in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.

And yet, Jeremiah communicates an astounding promise on God’s behalf: “27For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.” God will not make a full end? Why not? Why not allow creation’s free will to have the final word? Why not allow those who wish to be free from the utterances of God to be liberated to decay? Why not allow the chaos of primordial creation to flood the shamayim and wipe away all traces of life?

Jeremiah only hinted at God’s intentions. But in Jesus, humanity has received God’s logos, God’s logic, God’s explanation. God’s refusal to turn away from His creation has been demonstrated finally and ultimately in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And in Jesus, God, again, has spoken creation into being. Now, it falls to us–to those who have heard the Gospel and followed Jesus–to remember that we, too, like Israel before us, do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Creation depends on our willingness to learn from Jesus and to follow Him in obedience.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 59.