[K:JNWTS 28/1 (May 2013): 11-15]

Deadly Fires versus Living Waters

Jeremiah 2:12-13

James T. Dennison, Jr.

The prophet Jeremiah stands astride the great reversal—the great undoing, the great regression. His forty-year career bridges the last days of Judah in Jerusalem and the first days of Judah exiled in Babylon. He experiences the twilight of Judah’s national freedom and life; he is eye-witness to the dawn of Judah’s national enslavement and death. Jeremiah lives through the great reversal—the reversal of the mighty act of salvation in the Old Testament—the reversal of the exodus from Egypt ("I brought your forefathers out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage"—Jer. 34:13). Jeremiah lives through the reverse exodus—the return to bondage ("Judah was led away into exile from its land—the people whom Nebuchadnezzar carried away into exile"—Jer. 52:27-28). The return to bondage is via destruction and death—the destruction of Jerusalem, the death of thousands upon thousands of Judeans ("Thus says the Lord . . . I will destroy the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem . . . [this] valley [shall be] called the valley of Slaughter"—Jer. 13:9 with 7:32).

The great act of judgment in the Old Testament is the destruction of Jerusalem in the days of the prophet Jeremiah. Destruction and captivity—exilic captivity. A return to a strange land—a descent into alien territory—disenfranchisement and expatriation. 586 B.C.—a confrontation with the last things: with final judgment, with the final enemy; 586 B.C.—an encounter with death—bloody, vicious, fiery, crushing, rapacious, wasting, rotting death—death’s devouring face stares out upon Judah and Jerusalem. Inexorably, irresistibly, irremedially, death scowls, death sneers, death smirks with eschatological finality ("The destroyers have come, for the sword of the Lord is devouring from one end of the land  . . . to the other"—Jer. 12:12). Death’s grim stare of inevitability!—only in Jeremiah’s Jerusalem 586 B.C., this inevitability is the foolish product of sin. The wages of sin is death, but only fools bring it upon themselves.

A Nation of Fools

Judah and Jerusalem were full of fools in Jeremiah’s day. Foolish political leaders; foolish theological pretenders; foolish social and cultural icons. All these foolish political, religious and cultural paragons thought they were safe, indestructible, insuperable under the shadow of the Temple of Solomon ("The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these"—Jer. 7:4). Never mind that we have befouled the divine temple with idols and the blood of human sacrifices. Never mind that we have killed our babies on altars in Jerusalem defying God’s declaration—thou shalt not kill thy babies ("They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons [and their daughters, 32:35] in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded [declares the Lord], nor did it ever enter my mind"—Jer. 19:5; cf. 7:31). Never mind that our infanticide has served our convenience, promoting our unhindered life-style, even purchasing our pleasure—more of our own pleasure by destroying our babies on the altars of the gods of our age—our freedom of choice! Our political and religious leaders have guided us to embrace and endorse this villainy. They have assured us that nothing can interfere with the sacrifice of our babies because we are invulnerable—we are unstoppable—we are the wave of the future. We have the ark of the covenant; we have the seal and guarantee of our free choice; we have the temple of the Lord—and whatever we do, god will preserve us.

As the flames ascended from the Temple of Jerusalem, as Jeremiah who had prophesied it looked upon the fiery blaze engulfing Holy of Holies and city precincts, it was clear that the Lord God would judge death-sin with death-final. He would repay evil for evil; murder for murder; blood for blood. The foolish politicians of Jeremiah’s day defied the Lord of life and he sentenced them to death.

The foolish religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day taught the masses that freedom was the greatest blessing ("We are free to roam," they say. "We will no more come to thee, O Lord"—Jer. 2:31). Freedom to fornicate; freedom to inebriate; freedom to prevaricate. Religious values were transvalued by the priests and priestesses of Jeremiah’s day. Evil was called good; good was called evil. Prostitution as religious worship was called blessed; worship of the Lord God in chaste devotion was called repressed, inhibited, illiberal. And as the seduction advanced, the wine flowed—flowed in abundance—orgiastic abundance—priests and priestesses leading worshippers in sexual devotions, sexual perversion, sexual abandon ("You are a harlot with many lovers," says the Lord. "Where have you not been violated? You have polluted the land with your harlotry and wickedness—on every high hill, under every green tree, you have lain down as a harlot. Woe to you, O Jerusalem. I have seen on the hills and in the fields the lewdness of your prostitution—you snuff the wind like a wild donkey in heat"—Jer. 3:1, 2; 2:20; 13:27; 2:24).

And as the sacred whoredom spread, fueled by alcohol-induced abandon ("all the inhabitants of Jerusalem [are filled] with drunkenness"—Jer. 13:13)—as the sacred prostitution spread, fueled by inhibition-reducing wine, the promises of the fear of the Lord became confessions, yea professions of confidence in the flesh, in the wine jug, in the pledge to the gods of the Baal shrines, the Moloch temples, the Kemosh sanctuaries, the idolatrous groves and high places of Judah. The religious and cultural leaders of Jeremiah’s day were progressive folk—god could be found in sacred sex, in the dregs of the wine cup, in the shrines of the multi-cultural and pluralistic gods. They even jeered and sneered at the name of the Lord God Jehovah.

And what of . . . the judicial leaders of Jeremiah’s day—who taught the theory of living law—law alive to the contemporary cultural context. No, said these judges and barristers, law is not absolute—never absolute law because never absolute truth or absolute lawgiver. So taking away the livelihood of the stranger, the widow and the orphan was legalized by contextualizing the law to oppress the helpless—to bribe the powerful so as to suborn legal possession of the possessions, the property, the patrimony of the weak (Thus says the Lord, "Practice justice between a man and his neighbor . . . do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery and swear falsely?’—Jer. 7:5-9). These judicial leaders, in cahoots with other cronies of this society, were using the law to mistreat, to rob, even to murder the powerless. The courts of Judah and Jerusalem became the haunts of tyrants dedicated to redefining the law of the land for their own benefit and the benefit of their cronies in the palace, in the temple, in the academy and in the society. Foolish judicial activists of Jeremiah’s Judah and Jerusalem turned the law—even the absolute law of the absolute God—turned the law into a license to benefit themselves and their class of friends and allies. It was all about power—not at all about liberty.

When the swords and spears and arrows and fire brands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army began to cut a swath of death through Judah and Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Jeremiah wept—his eyes ran down with tears ("Night and day, my eyes weep bitterly and flow down with tears because the flock of the Lord has been taken captive"—Jer. 13:17; cf. 14:17). His proclamation of God’s wrath had been ignored; his pleas for repentance had been ridiculed; his solitary stance for the Word of the Lord had brought him death threats, beatings, imprisonment, near suffocation in a muddy cistern, ostracism and ridicule. But the death of Jerusalem and Judah—the bloody devastation of the temple, the royal palace of the Davidides, the halls of justice, the shrines of the multi-cultural gods—the bloody death of the nation of Judah in the days of the prophet Jeremiah 586 B.C. was solely the result of a refusal to listen to the voice of God through his servants, the prophets ("I have sent you all my servants the prophets, sending them again and again saying, ‘Turn now every man from his evil way and amend your deeds and do not go after other gods to worship them’ . . . but you have not inclined your ear or listened to me . . . Therefore my wrath and my anger were poured out and burned in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, so that they have become a ruin and a desolation as it is this day"—Jer. 35:15 with 44:6).

Indeed, summarizing the dreadful message of the prophet Jeremiah, the great act of God’s judgment in the Old Testament is the death and destruction of Jerusalem 586 B.C. A dreary litany of destruction and death both prophesied and realized over the forty-year career of this weeping prophet. The 52 chapters of the book of Jeremiah (not to mention the 5 chapters of his Lamentations) echo and re-echo with this mantra of warning (Repent! Before it is too late!), prediction (destruction is at hand), actualization (my eyes run down with tears as I behold the death of the city, the death of the nation, the death of a disobedient, idolatrous, whorish people). Virtually one entire generation of Jewish culture and society dead-ended with Babylonian swords, fire, char layers, exile, bondage. In chapter after chapter of this largest book of the Old Testament prophets, we read the depressing rehearsal of death, death and more death. Judah forsakes the Lord God—fountain of living waters—and digs out cisterns—broken cisterns—digs out for herself cisterns which hold no water at all—no water—none!!

Alternative Litany

But there is an alternative litany—a litany which emerges from God’s self-revelation. Note his self-designation in v. 13 of our text: "me, the fountain of living waters." Here is a litany chanted by the Creator of the source of living waters. Streams of living water originating with God the Lord. The well-head, the fountain-head of this life-giving water is the Lord God. He is the genesis—the beginning of these streams of vivifying water; he is the beginning—the genesis of these river-streams animated with life, rushing/streaming with life from the genesis, from the beginning, from the fountain-head, from the source, from the Creator of life—this active animator of living; this begetter of being, acting, moving; this generator of life; this originator of no death; this life-giving generator of animation; this originator of living something, living being, living creature; this giver of the breath of life.

Active water, living water from the active and living source of that water. Not lifeless himself—this maker of living water flows with life, courses with life, rushes with life from his own self-animating, life-eternal self. He is the genesis of himself and thus generates life outside himself; he alone, only he—the life; the life-source; the living source, the living life-source; vital source, vivifying origin—the makes-alive source because he is ever alive; the ever alive genesis of flowing waters of life: cool, refreshing, streams of life; God the Lord, the life-eternal genesis of eternal life-giving waters: streams, rivers—rivers, streams; waters flowing, rushing in sync with his life, coursing with life-eternal concurrent with his eternal life; streaming from the genesis of birth—new birth in water and Spirit; streaming from the genesis of rebirth—rebirth from eternal living waters—from the origin of eternal life-giving waters—from the eternal God of the eternal region of eternal living waters. Streams of living waters from the fountain—from the throne of God; rivers of the waters of life from beneath the throne; rivers of the waters of life from this glassy sea—drenching, refreshing, cooling, vivifying thirsty spirits, parched souls, lifeless hearts, dead psyches—making alive from the dead with living water, flooding water—water from the living God: living, streaming, flooding, drenching, over-flowing God—God eternal, God of heaven, God of no more judgment, no more destruction, no more fire—God of no more death!

Protological Jeremiah → Eschatological Jeremiah

His self-revelation in the days of Jeremiah (the protological weeping prophet) is repeated in these last days by Jesus of Nazareth (the eschatological weeping prophet). The God who discloses himself to Jeremiah claims to be the source, the fountain-head, the well-spring of living water. Jesus of Nazareth discloses to a woman at a well in Samaria, "I will give you living water" (cf. John 4:10). Jesus gives what God is. God is the fountain of living water. Jesus, in co-equal relation, reveals that he gives living water. Co-equal gift from co-equal person. Jesus gifts water welling up to eternal life. No more thirst—never again; not ever thirsty after this living water Jesus gives flows into the soul, courses through the spirit—fills up and overflows the heart. And not only does Jesus give the living water, he claims to be the source of it. At the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7, Jesus declares that if anyone believes in him, out of his inner being will flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). From faith in Jesus, from believing in the Son of God—from co-equal fountain of living waters—rivers of life.

Jesus, Son of God, as active a genesis of this living water as the Lord God of Jeremiah. Jesus, Son of God, as animating, as vivifying an origin of living waters as God the Lord of the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus’ self-revelation is identical with, co-equal to the self-revelation of God himself—God who discloses himself to the prophet Jeremiah. In these last days, the God of living waters has become incarnate in his co-equal Son. He has borne witness that what his Father revealed through Jeremiah the prophet in the days of Josiah, he now reveals through his own incarnation in these last days. Jesus, the Son of God, is the fountain of living waters; he gives what God the Father gives; he is the genesis of streams of the river of life as his Father is. He and his Father are one: one in source of life eternal; one in origin of life eternal; one in fountain of living-water streams; streams flowing from eternity to eternity—flowing from life eternal, flowing to life eternal; water of life from God the Father and God the Son by the rebirth of God the Holy Spirit.

Water of life springing up into everlasting life. No more thirst in Christ Jesus; no more parched lips in Christ Jesus; no more dry mouth in Christ Jesus; no more longing for the waters of heaven in Christ Jesus. Streams, rivers, fountains, floods of living water from the throne of God the Son, through God the Holy Spirit, to the praise of God the Father. Streams of water—living water—water of life—water of life eternal as God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Streams of water from the Creator of water-streams; from the sustainer of well-springs; from the consummator of glory-streams. Living water from eternal fountains of your soul—of Jeremiah’s soul—of the souls of thirsty hearts who long for and possess life—eternal life—possess the Life who is the water—living water; God’s Son, the Lord Jesus, the eschatological fountain of living waters.

Formulaic Litany

Here is the alternate litany—the living litany of life eternal in Christ alone.

He is the Life in the face of death.

He is the Life in the face of destruction.

He is the Life in the face of tyrannical, duplicitous government.

He is the Life in the face of political corruption, connivance, incompetence.

He is the Life in the face of judicial injustice and stone-walling.

He is the Life in the face of social, moral and cultural degeneration.

He is the Life in the face of death inexorable as it rots its way into the body politic—social, economic, moral, cultural, religious, political.

Jesus is the Life—the fountain of life; the well-spring of living waters. All else—all else is death; death and broken cisterns. All else is deadly fires, not living waters—in Jeremiah’s days and in our portion of these last days.