The reading for this week fits into a series of poetic and prose texts concerned with failed relationships (Jeremiah 2:1-3:25). The decimated relationships are a metaphor or figurative way of exposing the failed relationships between God and the people. The images are drawn from love and sexuality (2:2, 20, 23-24, 33; 3:1-3, 6, 8, 20) coupled with agricultural images (2:3, 20, 21) as well as economic and social factors (2:11, 13, 14, 26, 32).
The entire section, just as much of the book of Jeremiah, reflects the complicated way the prophet’s life and later commentators used the materials to try to understand the punishment for failed relationships and the hope of restoration. Residing behind the words of the book of Jeremiah are reflections of the end of the Assyrian Empire in the late 7th century BCE/BC and destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE/BC. All of the questions about the meaning of God’s relationship to the people came to the front. Did God desert the people? Was the power of God really not what the people thought it was? Was there any hope for the future amid the destruction? All of this as one commentator said, “Haunted” the people (Kathleen
"The book displays one primary theological concern: It seeks to defend God from the charge of injustice or impotence in the fall of the nation. The book strives to explain the catastrophe of the nation’s exile and to restructure the world in its aftermath. It does this, in part, by interpreting the national tragedy as the result of human sin, rather than divine caprice or impotence. The theme of Israel’s failure to 'listen' to the words of the prophets stretches across the book" (O'Connor)
Our passage is introduced (Jeremiah 2:1-3) with the LORD speaking as the husband and addressing the bride/female (Israel). Reflections of the relationships in the wilderness are remembered
longingly. In fact the recollection goes even further back to the people having been brought into the
“plentiful land” or one might even say “garden” that they promptly defiled (Jeremiah 2:6-7).
Our reading (Jeremiah 2:4-13) turns to God addressing Israel portrayed as a male and Israel’s ancestors as living a life of betrayal despite all that God had provided. The accusation becomes even more intense as the people are asked to go far and wide (coasts of Cyprus and Kedar) to see if any other people ever acted in this despicable way. The people are intensely questioned as to the reason they would exchange God’s gift for something that provided no value. This going after “things that do not profit” is the same Hebrew word used in Ecclesiastes 1:2 and throughout that book referring to vanity or emptiness or vapor.
Concluding the accusation in summary form is the fact that the people not only turned from “the fountain of living water” but “dug out their own cisterns which were cracked and could “hold no water.” Of course water was intensely needed in the parched land of Palestine. Said another way, the people depended upon themselves storing still, sometimes stagnant, water rather than the continually nourishing water provided
The metaphor of the water is used in Judaism as well as later in the New Testament. Philo of Alexandria, a
Jewish philosopher very influential in early Christianity 20 BCE/BC-50 CE/AD, said of Jeremiah 2:13, “God
is more than life; he is the ever flowing fountain of life.” Jesus uses and extends the “living water” metaphor when talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be
thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will
give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13–14).