August 24, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Zephaniah and Jeremiah

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in next week’s Office of Readings begin with a couple readings from the prophet Zephaniah.

The Book of Zephaniah is a short three chapters. Then the Office moves on to the first seven chapters of the major prophet Jeremiah.

Zephaniah prophesied about 50 years after Isaiah’s death during the reign of Judah’s King Josiah. It was during Josiah’s reign that an early edition of the Book of Deuteronomy was discovered in the temple, prompting Josiah to demand that the people follow the Mosaic tradition found in that book. See Chapters 23 and 24 in the Second Book of Kings. However, Zephaniah’s prophecies seem to have preceded that discovery.

Zephaniah’s prophecies sound familiar because they are similar to those of other prophets. He warns of the impending divine judgment on Judah and Jerusalem because of corruption and idolatry, but then assures his readers of God’s promise of salvation for a remnant in Judah.

Matthew’s Gospel used Zephaniah for Jesus’ words in explaining the meaning of the parable about weeds and wheat growing together. He used Zephaniah’s introductory words of divine judgment to describe the actions of the angels whom the Son of Man sends to expel from his kingdom all who do evil (Mt 13:41; Zeph 1:3).

Also, during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he said that the meek will inherit the Earth. In several places, Zephaniah told the Judahites to examine whether they were the proud or the humble.

Jeremiah began his prophetic mission around 627 B.C., three to five years after Zephaniah’s prophecies, when he was still in his late teens or early 20s. It was two years after the Book of Deuteronomy was found and Josiah began his reforms.

Jeremiah’s mission among the people lasted more than 40 years during the reigns of five kings and a governor who lived under the dominion of three successive foreign empires.

Jeremiah’s life ended in exile in Egypt after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

Jeremiah dictated his oracles to Baruch, who wrote them on a scroll. Then Baruch added a biography of Jeremiah that covered about 25 years of his mission until Jerusalem’s destruction. So the Book of Jeremiah contains both his words and his experiences. Sometime during the Exile in Babylon, an editor collected them and shaped the material into the book as we know it.

It’s interesting that one of the definitions of the word “jeremiah” is “one who is pessimistic about the present and foresees a calamitous future.” A “jeremiad” is “a prolonged lamentation or complaint.” Obviously, both words come from this prophet.

Next week’s readings show why as he warns the people of impending doom.

First, he tells of his appointment by God to be a prophet to the nations despite the fact that he was young.

In Chapter 3, he employs Hosea’s earlier marriage symbol as an image of God’s relationship with his people. “Like a woman’s faithlessness to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord” (Jer 3:20).

More about Jeremiah next week. †

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