14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."
by W.H. Bellinger, Ph.D.
Advent is a time of waiting. In 2020, we wait in a time characterized by anxiety and fear. The prophet Jeremiah ministered in a time characterized by anxiety and fear. The Babylonians had laid siege to Jerusalem and Jeremiah was under palace arrest by King Zedekiah. Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem (and the King) would fall because of the covenant disobedience of the people. The community lived for injustice and turned against one another rather than living as God’s covenant community of justice and right relationships.
But this word of prophetic judgement was not Jeremiah's last word. The divine word came to the prophet again instructing that the prophet buy a field at Anathoth his home, located in an area already controlled by the conquering Babylonians. Jeremiah followed the instructions and saw that a record of this purchase be preserved for "houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land" (Jeremiah 32:15). In the face of devastation and death, horrific anxiety and fear, Jeremiah could remember God's mighty acts in history and that even this time of defeat and woe would not defeat the God who called Israel into this covenant relationship. And God through the grieving prophet promised an everlasting covenant in which God would give the people a faithful and righteous heart to live as God's beloved community. Before the community's eyes stands an empty wasteland without animal or human. But the prophet sees a time when that land will be bought and sold and there will be food and homes and life together. Those who heard Jeremiah's message were now waiting in hope to see the promise fulfilled.
We encounter anxiety and fear, especially in the time of COVID. The prophet reminds us of the promise of a righteous Branch of the line of David (Jeremiah 33:15) who will bring justice and righteousness. God through this one gives a new life in a new community in which right relationship with God is demonstrated in right human relationships. Advent is our time of waiting for the righteous Branch to bring the Peaceable Kingdom. Hope is the reality that this promise can come into the present and make wholeness of life possible even in the face of fear and anxiety.
My goal in teaching and researching the Older Testament is to bear witness to this faithful hope. May my students encounter this hope. I pray that we all faithfully wait in hope during this season. Jeremiah has been called the grieving prophet, but his grief gave way to faithful hope.
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W.H. Bellinger, Jr., Ph.D.
W.H. Bellinger, Ph.D., is the W. Marshall and Lulie Craig Chairholder in Bible and Professor of Hebrew Bible and Old Testament, and Chair in the Department of Religion at Baylor. Dr. Bellinger is known for his research on worship texts in the Old Testament and much of his work explores the book of Psalms. Dr. Bellinger has also written on Leviticus and on prophetic texts related to worship.
His Psalms: A Guide to Studying the Psalter (2nd ed.) has introduced students in a wide variety of settings to a deeper literary and theological study of this central book in the Hebrew Scriptures. His writings include Psalmody and Prophecy; Hosea: A Study Guide; A Hermeneutic of Curiosity and Readings of Psalm 61; Leviticus and Numbers (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series); Psalms (With Walter Brueggemann; New Cambridge Bible Commentary); Engaging the Christian Scriptures (With Andrew E. Arterbury and Derek S. Dodson) and The Psalter as Witness (Edited with Dennis R. Tucker, Jr.); and numerous scholarly articles.