Did Yahweh seduce Jeremiah?

In response to my podcast “The last Confession of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 20: Yahweh seduces his prophetDavid Haslam asked (on Facebook) about the choice of “seduce” here. He noted that most English translations have other words:

“persuaded/denounce” (ASV & WEB),
“deceived/report” (KJV),
“coerced/denounce” (NET)
“deceived/persecute” (DRC & NIV)

From that list you will see that פתה is not easy to translate, like most words, but more than many it carries a meaning that will in other languages be rendered in different ways according to the context. It does indeed suggest persuading, though often in the sense of deceiving, sometimes coercing. In the qal it has the sense of being simple, open minded, or deceived. Its first occurrence in the Bible (Gen 9:27) it just means “enlarge”.

The piel that we have in Jer 20:7 is used 17 times:

  • enlarge (Gen 9:27)
  • seduce virgin girl (Ex 22:15 v.16 in English)
  • coax, entice – of Delilah technique for getting information from her husband (Jud 14:15; 16:5) of tricking Ahab (1 Kgs 22:20,21,22 also 2 Chron 18:19,20,21) or of humans attempting to trick Yahweh as if he were a god (Ps 78:36)
  • deceive (2 Sam 3:25; Pr 24:28)
  • seduce (Hos 2:1) of Yhwh as husband persuading his wife (Israel) to return to him from her lovers
  • Pr 1:10 might be either coax/entice or deceive but Pr 16:29 suggests the use of force
  • Ez 14:9 is perhaps the closest usage at first sight, it involves someone deceiving  a prophet into inquiring of Yhwh on their behalf even though they are an idol worshipper, in which case Yhwh will do the same to the prophet, and even kill him.

So basically most of the usages involve persuading someone to do wrong, often by using sexual wiles. The question that remains concerns Jer 20:7. Does Yhwh here trick a gullible Jeremiah into doing wrong? or Does Yhwh here seduce Jeremiah? Clearly the sexual overtones here cannot be intended literally, but is this the picture being painted? I find it difficult to see Jeremiah in this case claiming that Yhwh has treated him like the prophet in Ezekiel, for Jeremiah is firm that he has spoken the truth. Rather, I suggest that he is claiming to be like an innocent girl (cf. his first confession 11:18ff.) whom Yhwh has persuaded to do as he wishes.

Because in Jer 20:7 that seems to me to be the choice we have: either Jeremiah accuses Yhwh of treating him like a prophet who takes payment from idolaters to give an oracle, or Jeremiah is claiming Yhwh charmed him into what he has done, like a girl seduced by a lover.

What do you think?

6 comments on “Did Yahweh seduce Jeremiah?

  1. Bob MacDonald

    Clearly the sexual overtones here cannot be intended literally

    pourquoi non?

  2. tim

    God is no body.

  3. Bob MacDonald

    But body God created for me ergo I must seek a way to glorify God in my body – this is in context of who we are in the one whose body was broken for the life of the world. True that such things are unspeakable, but it would not surprise me at all that the prophets experienced the anointing in the context of their own time and election.

  4. Bob MacDonald

    The motets on the video I just posted by Stile Antico are lovely – one is from the Song, another the middle one, from the text a Virgin shall conceive – by Byrd – astonishing cadence at the end.

  5. tim

    I think I agree (not about the motets, I haven’t listened yet) but I don’t think this would make Jeremiah’s accusation that YHWH has seduced him “literal” I think “Jeremiah” is using figures of speech to describe his experience in a deliberately emotive and effective way.

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