In Part 1 we saw that Jeremiah performed some odd activity. He buried linen clothing under a rock, only to grab it once it was damaged. He sent a scroll to Babylon so it could be read and thrown into the Euphrates River. And so on.
We also considered three explanations for his activity – none of which really work. This post tries for a better understanding.
But before we do, a helpful diversion about another central part of life in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time: the temple.
The temple was the place of sacrifice and teaching of the law. The temple system looked back, remembering God’s saving action in Israel’s history. The system looked forward, anticipating God’s victory over all his enemies. And it also rejoiced in present forgiveness and cleansing.
It seems that the sacrificial system was an every day arrangement of symbols. The symbols express God’s mind about history and the future, about guilt and forgiveness, about mediation and faith. And it expresses them all at the same time. The ‘all at once’ nature of the temple ministry is an important part of it. It was always about law. It was always about sacrifice. It was always about forgiveness. What, then was the key to the temple? The centre the whole system was God’s action and command.
That is, it’s not that the sacrifice was primary, but what God said about sacrifice. Nor was the priest at the top, but that God had established priesthood. Neither was the sinner the centre, except that sin was against God and could only be forgiven by God. It’s all about God’s action and command. The whole sacrificial system, or cult, symbolised God in the midst of his people.
So too with Jeremiah’s symbolic actions. All the actions had their origin and meaning in the mind and will of God. In fact, this was just as true for Jeremiah’s speeches. In consequence, it’s an error to separate the sign-acts from the rest of Jeremiah’s ministry. To ask, ‘What are these sign-acts?’ is a problem because it immediately divides them from the rest of Jeremiah’s life. Rather, it is necessary to see the continuity between Jeremiah’s words and his acts – indeed, between Jeremiah’s speeches, his acts and the whole of his life.
In other words, God only sent one sign: Jeremiah himself. The prophet, in word and deed, is the sign of God.
This understanding allows for all the variation Jeremiah’s sign-acts: some are psychologically revealing, some are strong on public communication, some appear to enact God’s decisions, some are in private, and ‘acts’ like singleness were true for every instant of Jeremiah’s life.
Symbolism took over the whole of Jeremiah’s life. God’s message through this man increased in power because there was convergence of prophetic word, prophetic character, and prophetic sign-acts. Jeremiah did not ‘do symbols’, Jeremiah was God’s speaking symbol.
At this point – if you’re still with me! – I feel the need to note a practical point you can take with you as you cruise to the next biblical blog. What ‘application’ is there if we understand Jeremiah and his sign-acts?
Answer: I don’t know! Perhaps you can come up with something – if so, please tell us all. (I love comments.) What I do know is that it is satisfying to struggle with God’s word in order to understand better. Jeremiah was a man wholly for the work of the Lord – a small picture of Jesus who was consumed for his devotion. His life is at least a motivation to whole-hearted dedication to understanding better the words of the prophets.