If I continue to look through the lens of grief between estranged lovers, Jeremiah chapter 3 reads like a grief process. There’s anger over betrayal, as well as the bargaining associated with coming to terms with a loss. The bitterness comes through naming Israel’s and Judah’s whoredom. Whoredom is the main theme of the chapter. Jeremiah begins there:
“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?” (vs 1)
Interestingly, the Tanakh adds the nuances of the Masoretic text, the authoritative text Rabbinic Judaism, “Saying, If a man divorces his wife” or “I have to say, if a man divorces his wife.” This nuance helps remind us that the prophet, speaking for God, is thinking in metaphor.
The metaphor is riddled with patriarchal assumptions, however, and that is disturbing. It’s not that God isn’t Holy, nor that God should be wholly understandable. Our relationship with God is not. The problem is that the patriarchy of the metaphor is so understandable. Is God really ranting like a schmuck who lost his lover to another man? Should I hold God to a patriarchal male standard, as if God’s a man’s man who always gets what he wants? Is God the head of household who should be able to control his woman, his personal possession? Or, is God lost in grief for the conditions of the people, with little means to express it? Is the text grasping at ineffable, unspeakable mourning.
The reader has to critically think, listen to the text by dwelling with it, and decide.
God obviously wants reconciliation.
“I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (vs 15)
Maybe its a matter of God bearing more of God’s heart. Maybe Israel’s and Judah’s infidelity to God is a matter of nurturing and ignorance, or lack of understanding.
What’s going on with us when we lose our hearts to lesser things?
No matter the reason or explanation (as if true love often has any), the grief process moves to deeper understanding. Both God and Israel (along with Judah) are suffering in shame. The prophet speaks the voices of both God and Israel in chapter 3.
“I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so you have been faithless to me.” (vs 19b, 20)
The reality of the situation is also becoming apparent to Israel.
“Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our ancestors, from your youth even to this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God.” (vs 25)
Perhaps the parent-child metaphor is better. Both father-child relationships and bride-bridegroom relationships are haunted by patriarchal assumptions. But, the parent-child relationship can be more inclusive, and it explains the relentless presence of grief much better.
Having a child is like having your heart run around outside yourself.