A Life That Is All Outside but No Inside
A Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:
“Look over the trouble we’re in and call for help.
Send for some singers who can help us mourn our loss.
Tell them to hurry—
to help us express our loss and lament,
Help us get our tears flowing,
make tearful music of our crying.
Listen to it!
Listen to that torrent of tears out of Zion:
‘We’re a ruined people,
we’re a shamed people!
We’ve been driven from our homes
and must leave our land!’”
Mourning women! Oh, listen to God’s Message!
Open your ears. Take in what he says.
Teach your daughters songs for the dead
and your friends the songs of heartbreak.
Death has climbed in through the window,
broken into our bedrooms.
Children on the playgrounds drop dead,
and young men and women collapse at their games.
Speak up! “God’s Message:
“‘Dead bodies everywhere, scattered at random
like sheep and goat dung in the fields,
Like wheat cut down by reapers
and left to rot where it falls.’”
“Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom.
Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits.
Don’t let the rich brag of their riches.
If you brag, brag of this and this only:
That you understand and know me.
I’m God, and I act in loyal love.
I do what’s right and set things right and fair,
and delight in those who do the same things.
These are my trademarks.”
“Stay alert! It won’t be long now”—God’s Decree!—“when I will personally deal with everyone whose life is all outside but no inside: Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab. All these nations are big on performance religion—including Israel, who is no better.”
The Stick Gods
Listen to the Message that God is sending your way, House of Israel. Listen most carefully:
“Don’t take the godless nations as your models.
Don’t be impressed by their glamour and glitz,
no matter how much they’re impressed.
The religion of these peoples
is nothing but smoke.
An idol is nothing but a tree chopped down,
then shaped by a woodsman’s ax.
They trim it with tinsel and balls,
use hammer and nails to keep it upright.
It’s like a scarecrow in a cabbage patch—can’t talk!
Dead wood that has to be carried—can’t walk!
Don’t be impressed by such stuff.
It’s useless for either good or evil.”
All this is nothing compared to you, O God.
You’re wondrously great, famously great.
Who can fail to be impressed by you, King of the nations?
It’s your very nature to be worshiped!
Look far and wide among the elite of the nations.
The best they can come up with is nothing compared to you.
Stupidly, they line them up—a lineup of sticks,
good for nothing but making smoke.
Gilded with silver foil from Tarshish,
covered with gold from Uphaz,
Hung with violet and purple fabrics—
no matter how fancy the sticks, they’re still sticks.
But God is the real thing—
the living God, the eternal King.
When he’s angry, Earth shakes.
Yes, and the godless nations quake.
“Tell them this, ‘The stick gods
who made nothing, neither sky nor earth,
Will come to nothing
on the earth and under the sky.’”
But it is God whose power made the earth,
whose wisdom gave shape to the world,
who crafted the cosmos.
He thunders, and rain pours down.
He sends the clouds soaring.
He embellishes the storm with lightnings,
launches wind from his warehouse.
Stick-god worshipers looking mighty foolish,
god-makers embarrassed by their handmade gods!
Their gods are frauds—dead sticks,
deadwood gods, tasteless jokes.
When the fires of judgment come, they’ll be ashes.
But the Portion-of-Jacob is the real thing.
He put the whole universe together
And pays special attention to Israel.
His name? God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
Grab your bags,
all you who are under attack.
God has given notice:
“Attention! I’m evicting
Everyone who lives here,
And right now—yes, right now!
I’m going to press them to the limit,
squeeze the life right out of them.”
But it’s a black day for me!
I said, “Why, oh why
did I think I could bear it?”
My house is ruined—
the roof caved in.
Our children are gone—
we’ll never see them again.
No one left to help in rebuilding,
no one to make a new start!
It’s because our leaders are stupid.
They never asked God for counsel,
And so nothing worked right.
The people are scattered all over.
But listen! Something’s coming!
A big commotion from the northern borders!
Judah’s towns about to be smashed,
left to all the stray dogs and cats!
I know, God, that mere mortals
can’t run their own lives,
That men and women
don’t have what it takes to take charge of life.
So correct us, God, as you see best.
Don’t lose your temper. That would be the end of us.
Vent your anger on the godless nations,
who refuse to acknowledge you,
And on the people
who won’t pray to you—
The very ones who’ve made hash out of Jacob,
yes, made hash
And devoured him whole,
people and pastures alike.
The Terms of This Covenant
The Message that came to Jeremiah from God:
“Preach to the people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem. Tell them this: ‘This is God’s Message, the Message of Israel’s God to you. Anyone who does not keep the terms of this covenant is cursed. The terms are clear. I made them plain to your ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt, out of the iron furnace of suffering.
“‘Obey what I tell you. Do exactly what I command you. Your obedience will close the deal. You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours. This will provide the conditions in which I will be able to do what I promised your ancestors: to give them a fertile and lush land. And, as you know, that’s what I did.’”
“Yes, God,” I replied. “That’s true.”
God continued: “Preach all this in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. Say, ‘Listen to the terms of this covenant and carry them out! I warned your ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt and I’ve kept up the warnings. I haven’t quit warning them for a moment. I warned them from morning to night: “Obey me or else!” But they didn’t obey. They paid no attention to me. They did whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it, until finally I stepped in and ordered the punishments set out in the covenant, which, despite all my warnings, they had ignored.’”
Then God said, “There’s a conspiracy among the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem. They’ve plotted to reenact the sins of their ancestors—the ones who disobeyed me and decided to go after other gods and worship them. Israel and Judah are in this together, mindlessly breaking the covenant I made with their ancestors.”
“Well, your God has something to say about this: Watch out! I’m about to visit doom on you, and no one will get out of it. You’re going to cry for help but I won’t listen. Then all the people in Judah and Jerusalem will start praying to the gods you’ve been sacrificing to all these years, but it won’t do a bit of good. You’ve got as many gods as you have villages, Judah! And you’ve got enough altars for sacrifices to that impotent sex god Baal to put one on every street corner in Jerusalem!”
“And as for you, Jeremiah, I don’t want you praying for this people. Nothing! Not a word of petition. Indeed, I’m not going to listen to a single syllable of their crisis-prayers.”
Promises and Pious Programs
“What business do the ones I love have figuring out
how to get off the hook? And right in the house of worship!
Do you think making promises and devising pious programs
will save you from doom?
Do you think you can get out of this
by becoming more religious?
A mighty oak tree, majestic and glorious—
that’s how I once described you.
But it will only take a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning
to leave you a shattered wreck.
“I, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who planted you—yes, I have pronounced doom on you. Why? Because of the disastrous life you’ve lived, Israel and Judah alike, goading me to anger with your continuous worship and offerings to that sorry god Baal.”