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Jeremiah;- The harlot city

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posted on Nov, 4 2016 @ 06:02 PM
“And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet…?” (Jeremiah ch4 v30)
“For I heard a cry as of a woman in travail, anguish as of one bringing forth her first child…”(v31)

Hosea was the first of the prophets who portrayed God’s people Israel as his unfaithful wife.
Jeremiah calls upon the same image (as does Ezekiel) in the crisis at the end of Judah’s independent history.

The story began when Israel was a new young bride.
This was in the days of the Exodus;
“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
How you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (ch2 v2).
But once the people entered the land, their attachment to the Lord began to wane.
“They did not say ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up out of the land of Egypt?’…
The priests did not say ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
The rulers transgressed against me;
The prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit” (vv6-8).
The people gave more and more of their attention to the local gods.
That is what the Lord means when he says “Upon every high hill and under every green tree, you bowed down as a harlot” (v20).
He goes on to compare Israel’s behaviour with the uninhibited lust of the wild ass, “in her heat, sniffing the wind”.

Following through the analogy, as Hosea did; adultery normally leads to separation.
In fact, the law on divorce forbids a man to take back a previously divorced wife, who has since been married to another man (Deuteronomy ch24 vv1-4).
Jeremiah quotes this law accurately;
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted?”
Then he applies it to the case of the adulterous Israel;
“You have played the harlot with many lovers; and would you return to me? says the Lord” (ch3 v1).

The logical consequence would be divorce.
Judah has already seen how this worked in the case of the northern kingdom;
“She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a bill of divorce; yet her faithless sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the harlot… she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree” (vv8-9).

Jerusalem and the rest of Judah are coming close to the same fate.
The bill of divorce would come in the form of invasion from the north.
These early prophecies appear to date from the time of Josiah, so the enemy in Jeremiah’s mind will still be the Assyrian.
The potential invader is described as “the destroyer of nations” (ch4 v7).
“Behold, he comes up like clouds, his chariots are like the whirlwind, his horses are swifter then eagles” (v13).
The result would be a devastation of the land;
“I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid waste, before the Lord, before his fierce anger” (vv23-26).
So the living things of the earth has been removed, and there is no light. The land is unstable and even “without form and void”, the same Hebrew phrase found at the beginning of Genesis.
What this picture shows is the Lord coming close to unravelling the work of Creation.

The two forceful images quoted at the top of the page appear at the end of this chapter.
From “dressing in scarlet”, the first verse continues “… that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paints?
In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life” (v30).
Jerusalem is the “desolate one”, because the Lord has abandoned her.
So she adorns herself like a harlot in order to increase her appeal.
The Assyrians are her “lovers” in a double sense.
They are political allies. Ever since the time of Ahaz, the kings of Judah have been looking to Assyria to assist them against their local enemies.
But this had effects on Judah’s religious life. It was Ahaz, again, who had a new altar made, and reserved for his own use, to match the altars he found in Damascus when he met the king of Assyria.
In both respects, the connection has been seducing Jerusalem away from reliance upon the Lord.
Yet the Assyrians, for their part, are quite capable of “betraying” Jerusalem to the point of destruction, if it suits their purposes.
A few years after these prophecies, the Assyrians themselves had disappeared from the scene.
However, the Babylonians would be equally ready to fulfil Jeremiah’s warning.

This verse is evidently one of the sources of the picture of the great Harlot in Revelation ch17. Dressed in scarlet, adorned to appeal to the kings of the earth.
Yet her lovers themselves, the kings of the earth, will turn on her and destroy her at the end of the chapter, leaving her “desolate and naked”.

“… anguish as of one bringing forth her first child, the cry of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath, stretching out her hands, “Woe is me! I am fainting before murderers” (v31).
The main point of the second image is the sheer pain of child-birth, heightened in the case of a first child.
The message is that Jerusalem will experience a similar pain.
However, if the metaphor is followed through, it’s possible to see a more encouraging message.
The pains of child-birth are followed by the arrival of a new child, a time of joy.
So a time of tribulation similar to child-birth can be treated as the necessary preliminary to a time of salvation.
That is how the prophecy develops in Micah.
It begins with the same image that we find in this verse;
“Pangs have seized you like a woman in travail.
Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail;
For now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country” (Micah ch4 vv9-10).
But in the next chapter this has become the prelude to the “birth” of a time of salvation;
“Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth;
Then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel” (Micah ch5 v3).

The same thought is picked up in the New Testament.
“All this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs” (Matthew ch24 v8).
“When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her time has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world.
So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no-one will take your joy from you” (John ch16 vv21-22).

But the most remarkable example is in Revelation;
“And a great portent appeared in heaven… she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery” (Revelation ch12 vv1-2).
This woman points forward to the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven for God, prepared as a bride for her husband” (ch21 v2).
Thus the two opposing women of Revelation have divided between them the two images from Jeremiah, claiming one verse each.
The implication is that these women represent two different versions of God’s people, viz. the faithful mother of ch12 and the scarlet woman of ch17.

It is the perennial task of God’s people to settle which of these two women is going to represent them in their relationship with God; the adulterous harlot, or the loving Bride.

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