Talking about who’s talking again: Jer 10:18-21

Photo from By Snapshots Of The Past (Bedouin tents and occupants Holy Land)

In my Who’s that talking? Jer 4:19-26 I commented on the first in a series of posts by Brenda at “Joining the Conversation”, thus joining a conversation I am happy to extend. Various factors, including available time meant I did not engage with Part 2: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 8:18-9:2?. But I would like to push further on Part 3: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 10:19-20?

Brenda focuses on Jer 10:19-20. In v.18 Yhwh is the “speaker”, note the messenger formula introducing the verse, and the “I” speaker who claims responsibility for”slinging out” the inhabitants of the land and “bringing” distress on them.

 18 For thus says the LORD: I am going to sling out the inhabitants of the land at this time, and I will bring distress on them, so that they shall feel it. (Jer 10:18 NRS)

Verse 21 draws conclusions speaking of the leaders of Judah in the third person, and also speaks of Yhwh in the third person:

 21 For the shepherds are stupid, and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered. (Jer 10:21 NRS)

It seems a priori likely therefore that “Jeremiah” is the speaker here. With such bookends in place Brenda focuses on vv.19-20, writing:

Furthermore, the use of the first person singular possessive pronoun here suggests instead a completely different speaker: one who has a claim on the people of Judah, a claim held primarily by God. Yet, it does not seem that the LORD is speaking here, which implies that Jeremiah has taken over that claim. Moreover, it is fairly clear that Jeremiah is speaking in verse 23, so he could easily be the one speaking in verses 19-20.

I’d like to ask, what sort of claim has this singular speaker on Judah? This speaker calls the hurt their own (v.19) and accepts that it as “punishment”, yet as well as bewailing the destruction of their “tent” also mourns their lost “children”.

 19 Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is severe. But I said, “Truly this is my punishment, and I must bear it.”
20 My tent is destroyed, and all my cords are broken; my children have gone from me, and they are no more; there is no one to spread my tent again, and to set up my curtains. (Jer 10:19-20 NRS)

Yhwh has referred to Judeans as his children at Jer 3:19. In the book of Isaiah Zion mourns her children… The tent is also interesting, in 30:18 Yhwh will speak of the “tents of Jacob”, but Jer 4:20 with the reference to tents destroyed offers a closer parallel. None of this clinches an opinion on the speaker of Jer 10:19-20 but I am again (as at 4:19-21) inclined to hear Zion as the speaker who bewails her lost children and tent. This might also explain why she needs assistance to spread her tent again.

Brenda concluded that identifying the speaker of these two verses “is somewhat ambiguous, blurring the distinction between the feelings of Jeremiah and the people of Israel.” I am more inclined to hear a conversation:

  • Jer 10:18 Yhwh declares exile and destruction as punishment
  • Jer 10:19-20 Zion bemoans the destruction and her lost children
  • Jer 10:21 Jeremiah points to the blame attaching to the leaders of Judah, the “shepherds” who have failed to inquire of Yhwh and so brought down this punishment.


2 comments on “Talking about who’s talking again: Jer 10:18-21

  1. Brenda

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m not yet entirely convinced of the role of Zion here in this passage or in chapter 4, but it has definitely got me thinking. And hopefully I’ll respond soon!

  2. Tim Bulkeley

    I’m not convinced, but am wondering… Perhaps I’m over influenced by Rachel in 31:15 and “daughter [of] Zion” in 4:31, and in the light of the “tents” 6:2-3 and 9:19 (not daughter, but cf. 20).