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Bob MacDonald

It is an interesting coincidence to me that we tonight in a Bible study were discussing the tension that a human feels when the issue of election arises.

Our study was Genesis 28:10-17. There is some irony in 'the devotion of your youth'. What does this refer to? (In your translation you avoided the word desert - any particular reason?) It seems to me that God's choice of Israel had and has severe consequences for them and further that the promise of God's faithfulness to them as a people is 'mandatory' and a sure sign to all who have believed from all nations. At the same time - hermeneutically - I see and feel the application of such a promise (as Jer 2:1-2) to anyone who is 'in' the work of the Anointed Jesus. I would struggle to explain why I see in this way - but somehow the particular history of Israel in the faithfulness of יהוה has to also find application in my own life - the zeal/devotion - even misplaced - of my youth, but more importantly the seal of the Spirit.

Yet I could not deny this to historical Israel - either then or now. I cannot see that the Anointing - the joy and love - that is revealed in the poetry is different from the correction and joy that one who is 'in Christ' (to use the more familiar phrase) is supposed to 'know'. ...For they will all know me, says יהוה from the greatest to the least.

It's not hard for me to jump immediately to Isaiah 11:9 or Habakkuk 2:14 - yet the image that grasped me in Israel today from our recent trip is of a pomegranate in razor wire. (Image here -

Let us pray for this complex city.

David Reimer

Hi John - fascinating (and challenging) reflections. Curiously enough, I did some thinking about this same text a long time ago, but still have the notes to hand. (Pack-rat that I am...)

My interest in Jer 2:3 was in connection with the light it shed on Jer 50:6-7. I see in my notes that Jer 2:3 had been connected by Michael Fishbane to Lev 22:14-16 as an example of "aggadic exegesis" (Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, 300-304 [see p. 301]), and independently (it seems) before that by Jacob Milgrom (Cult and Conscience, 70-71).

I think that trajectory finds a further development in Jer 50:6-7 (unnoticed by either of those great exegetes). If in 2:3 the burden of guilt is on those who "devour" Israel (thus desecrating something holy -- just as you have it), in 50:7 it is the flock itself that is responsible, as they are now guilty -- so its enemies claim. But since this is a corollary of 50:6, the enemies seem to have got this right at this point.

The connections and contrasts between the two Jeremiah texts (2:3; 50:7) lend further weight to the reading you're advocating here, it seems to me.

Additionally, my sense tallies with yours: this intersection of texts (with its accompanying interpretation) won't be found in the vast majority of commentators.

Thanks for the stimulus!

David Reimer

When I said: "in 50:7 it is the flock itself that is responsible, as they are now guilty", actually, there is more to it than that. :)

Jer 50:6 indicts the "shepherds" as those responsible for the lost flock. Hope remains for the flock itself, if it/they can rouse themselves (like Théoden!) to find their way to true pasture. The claims of their enemies are not to be trusted.

So perhaps, then, the parallels between 2:3 and 50:6-7 are stronger than their contrasts.

(Note to self: Stream-of-consciousness commenting probably not recommended.... ;)


Hi Bob,

Election is a multi-colored dreamcoat as it were. Ask Joseph, or ask Calvin, if election is an unadulterated good. Calvin resisted his election to Geneva and the most Joseph could say, through tears, was that others meant harm but God meant it for good.

I replaced the usual gloss of midbar with "the open" because I think desert or wilderness are denotative glosses, whereas I wanted to provide a connotative translation. In the background, there is a subtle allusion to shepherd-sheep it seems to me (see David Reimer's comments on this thread).

Hi David,

I'm glad you caught this. I thought of you as I wrote this post, since I think of you as a Jeremiah specialist. "I wonder if David caught this before me," I mused. (I am embarrassed to say that I have yet to look at your published work on Jeremiah.) Now I know that you did.

Along with a few other things on this blog, I would write this up properly for a purely academic demographic if I had the time. But I don't, so here's hoping that you will find the time to do it.

Steve Douglas

A couple years ago, I heard a talk on "the potter and the clay" passage in ch. 18 by Walter Moberly. That passage would seem to unify the message of hope in 2.3 with the seemingly conflicting assessment by Israel's enemies in 50.7. God the Potter has seen it fit to work with "recalcitrant material", material that has been ruined such that, "If there is hope for the future, it is hope only on the far side of judgment; Judah must pass through the valley of deep darkness and cannot go around it." Ch. 18, then, can be seen as something of a waypoint between chs. 2 and 50, affirming both God's promised care for Israel in ch. 2 and their enemies' essentially correct assessment that Israel deserved their treatment at the hands of their enemies, mediating and explaining how Israel's promises will be fulfilled even through judgment. Now that I think of it, though, I suspect this observation is probably found throughout the book!


I think you're right, Steve. The message of hope in 2:3 makes sense on the far side of the sequence adumbrated already in Jer 1:10. First comes the work of uprooting - the "alien" work of God according to Isa 28. Then comes the work of re-planting.

However, I would also note that Eicha-Lamentations are part of Holy Scripture. In that book, Zion admits her guilt but also complains that the punishment she received is unbearable. Hope on the far side of unbearable punishment is, nonetheless, the omega point of Jer 31-33, Isa 34-35, 40-66, and on and on.

Greg Smith

I thought this statement of yours was priceless. It made me want to laugh and cry.

"Most widely used Bible translations are products of committees that adjudicate by bowing to consensus. They are products of a herd mentality."

I realize this is off your topic but what would be a better model for translation committees to use than consensus?


Don't get me going, Greg.

I have some ideas about a better approach but will hold off for the moment. Someday I will put up some considered reflections.

David Ker

"The only way to pursue a grounded understanding of a biblical passage is by reading it in Hebrew and thinking it through from the point of view of structure, themes, and diction."

I'm hoping you'll do this for Psalm 16.


I've been trying to find time for that, but haven't yet.

Psalm 16 as it stands contains some incomprehensible segments. Once in a while that is the case, even in scripture, which I find comforting somehow.

The holy ones are almost certainly, nonetheless, divine beings that are nothing compared to YHWH, beings whose worship the psalmist rejects.

I hope that helps you get started.

David Ker

It is comforting if we have a certain approach to the truth of the text. The Sunday School boy in me still wants to believe that there is an answer.

David E. S. Stein

Re: «The only translation I’ve found so far that understands Jer 2:1-3 as if it recorded an oracle of assurance ... is Douay-Rheims 1899. The only commentator I’ve found so far that does the same is Michael Fishbane....»

FYI, from The Haftarah Commentary (NY: UAHC Press, 1996), here is the translation by Chaim Stern:

I remember the devotion
of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed Me in the wilderness
in a land not sown.
[For] Israel is holy to the Eternal,
the first fruit of God's harvest.
All who eat of it shall bear their guilt;
ill shall befall them!
—says the Eternal One.

And in the same book, the comment by W. Gunther Plaut on "shall bear their guilt" reads:

«Israel is "the first fruit of humanity" [Philo], and is compared to the first harvest of the farmer who may not consume all of it but must set aside a portion for God's Temple. Thus a nation that would try to "consume" Israel and destroy it utterly would trespass on God's privilege. Though God may summon such a nation to punish Israel, the agent of divine judgment will itself be punished if it will attempt to annihilate God's people.»


Hi David,

Thanks for the references. What I'm wondering at this point is when and where the past tense interpretation took hold. It shows up in Luther and in the KJV, but I doubt that Luther was innovating.

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