16 March 2018

Jeremiah 26:1-24

“Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD; speak to them all the words that I command you; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.” (vv. 2-3)

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-48


Prophets in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) were not simply spiritual guides, they had historical and political awareness. This awareness was allied to faith. The consequence was that in any situation they began to reflect theologically. Confronted with what might appear to our eyes to be a political threat, more is read into the situation and different questions are asked of events and people who act in them. Israel and Judah in the pre-Christian era were set in an evolving tableau in which struggles for power were ever to the fore. We can think of parallels in Europe over the past 500 years. Boundaries change, lands are annexed, kingdoms rise and fall. Today we are likely to call on strategic specialists, diplomats and commentators to explain what is happening, to interpret background and to suggest suitable actions. In many ways, in the time of Jeremiah, things were little different.

What alters the perspective is the place and significance of God. You only need to follow the occasional discussions about religious broadcasting (‘Thought for the Day’ and so on) to recognise that the majority of people in the United Kingdom don’t have God or theological reflection very high up on their agenda. The difference is palpable. We are less likely to see world politics moving as a consequence of God’s will for one thing. But read that passage from Jeremiah again and you find, I think, that the conversation is very political – what actions should we take, what would be the consequence of taking Jeremiah’s life, whose side is he on and who is on his side? And then, what does our history teach us? But Jeremiah speaks another language, as so often prophets do. He asks how the people are behaving. What have they done? What actions might have brought catastrophe on themselves? It’s the opposite of the Laurel and Hardy moment – “here’s another fine mess you’ve got me into?” More ‘what have you done to get into this situation?’ And I think it’s that faithful introspection that we are so often lacking. 

To Ponder

  • How do you think faith and politics should relate to each other?
  • What opportunities have you taken to speak about God in day-to-day conversations about non-church affairs?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.