Moving into Jeremiah

We got through Isaiah a lot quicker than I thought we would, and now we are moving into Jeremiah.

I really don’t know any more about Jeremiah than I did about Isaiah. I remember more about it than I remembered about Isaiah, but that is just because it has more stories than Isaiah does. What I don’t know is its structure.

As those of you who have been reading the blog have learned by now, I am always very concerned about the structure or “big picture” of the books of the Bible. I tend to know the structure of the shorter books because it is easier to see and because we covered them verse-by-verse in Bible college. But the structure of the larger books is much harder to see. And most of the time I have no clue about the structure of the larger books.

A Big “X”

I heard something about the structure of Jeremiah, though. What I heard is that Jeremiah is a chiasm or, as some people call it, a chiasmus.

Now chiasm and chiasmus might not be familiar terms to you, but they aren’t too hard to get a handle on. They come from the Greek letter chi (which I was taught to pronounce as key but I’ve heard others pronounce as chai or kai). Chi is the Greek equivalent of our “ch” sound, the sound we have twice in the word church. But it looks like our letter X (so it is pronounced as “ch” but spelled as X; language truly is weird). And if you look at the letter X, you will see that it is symmetrical; it starts wide open, comes to a central point, then goes wide open again. In fact, it is symmetrical like that from both directions, top to bottom as well as side to side.

Symmetry in Writing

Like the letter Chi or X, a chiasm is a symmetrical writing that comes to a point in its center. Or, to put it another way, it is a writing whose most important part is in the middle. And there are several books of the Bible that are chiasms like this.

Song of Songs is a nearly perfect chiasm. It has a clear center: God giving approval to the consummation of the lover and the beloved’s union in 5:1. And everything that happens on one side of that center also happens on the other side. The lovers come together, they are separated, and the beloved meets the watchmen both before 5:1 and after 5:1.

Other books may not be as perfectly chiastic as Song of Songs, but they do seem to put their main teachings in their centers. For example, both Amos and Joel do this.

The Meaning in the Middle

And it is possible that Jeremiah does this as well. Again, I don’t know this for sure; I’m working on information I heard someone say once in a Bible college class. But I know it has been suggested. I know that there are some people who think that the main teaching of the book is what we find in the middle of the book.

And I think that is possibly the case. I think that because what we find in the middle of the book is a teaching that is clearly very important. Chapter 31 is close to the middle of Jeremiah, or maybe part of it (some figure the full middle to be chapters 29-31, which work together to form one section). And there God says this:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
     “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
     and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
     I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
     to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
     though I was a husband to them,”
          declares the Lord.
 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
     after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
     and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
     and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
     or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
     from the least of them to the greatest,”
          declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
     and will remember their sins no more.” (31:31-34)

A New Covenant

Here God promises to make a “new covenant” with Israel/Judah, a covenant that will result in greater obedience and greater intimacy with the people. We followers of Jesus have no trouble figuring out what God is talking about here.

He is clearly talking about the covenant Jesus made with not just Israel and Judah but all mankind. It is a covenant Jesus Himself called “new” (Luke 11:20) and which is referred to multiple times in the Epistles. Hebrews in particular gives a lot of attention to this new covenant and even quotes this passage from Jeremiah not just once but twice. So this is clearly an important teaching.

And it is quite likely Jeremiah’s central or main teaching. This book is going to cover a lot of ground. There will be condemnations like we found in Isaiah. There will be the prophet’s own complaints about how hard his life and work were. There will be the fall of Jerusalem and the collapse of the Jewish society. But there will also be this promise of a new covenant. That is the message in the middle of Jeremiah, and it is central message for us today.

Pastor Doug McCoy
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