Sunday, May 2, 2010

239: Obey God, You Die; Don't Obey God, You Die & Jeremiah: In Review

Jeremiah 51-52
"This is what the LORD says: 'See, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon and the people of Leb Kamai. I will send foreigners to Babylon to winnow her and to devastate her land; they will oppose her on every side in the day of her disaster.' " - Jeremiah 51:1-2

So it turns out that yesterday's rant about Babylon wasn't the end of it. God's monologue about how horrible Babylon is actually continued into today.

I still don't get it. God spends the entirety of chapter 51 (and 50 for that matter) repeating how terrible the Babylonians are. For what? Following God's orders? God clearly says that he is going to send the Babylonians to take over Jerusalem. In fact, he says that he's going to give Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar (the king of Babylon) personally. The first example I find of this is Jeremiah 27:6:
Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him.
This is only one example, but like anything God says he has to repeat it a hundred different times. This is certainly not a unique example of God referring to Nebuchadnezzar as his servant, or of God clearly stating that he's going to give the Israelites over to Nebuchadnezzar. What does Babylon get for being a servant of God, and following his orders to take over the city and destroy Jerusalem?:
"Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has devoured us,
he has thrown us into confusion,
he has made us an empty jar.
Like a serpent he has swallowed us
and filled his stomach with our delicacies,
and then has spewed us out.
May the violence done to our flesh be upon Babylon,"
say the inhabitants of Zion.
"May our blood be on those who live in Babylonia,"
says Jerusalem.
Therefore, this is what the LORD says:
"See, I will defend your cause
and avenge you;
I will dry up her sea
and make her springs dry.
Babylon will be a heap of ruins,
a haunt of jackals,
an object of horror and scorn,
a place where no one lives."
To summarize this quote: God is going to avenge the Israelites for what those nasty Babylonians did. Excuse me? God is going to "avenge" the Israelites? If he wants to properly avenge them he should go kill himself, considering he's the mastermind behind the whole "destroy Jerusalem" idea. I guess you can't ever win when it comes to obeying God. I would say more, but the chapter is really just repeating the same concept (i.e. the punishment of Babylon) over and over again. At the end of chapter 51 the bible says "the words of Jeremiah end here".

I guess this last chapter isn't written by Jeremiah. Did it just get thrown in the book of Jeremiah for funsies? The chapter isn't very exciting anyway. It just repeats the story of king Zedekiah being captured, having his eyes poked out, and being carried off to Babylon. The one interesting fact (I use the term "fact" loosely) from this chapter is that there were a total of 4,600 Jews that king Nebuchadnezzar took into captivity. I'm not sure if this was the entirety of the Jewish population or not.

Jeremiah: In Review
I guess I'm not quite sure what the purpose of this book was at all. There were some stories, but none of them were really new. We had already heard the story of Israel being captured by Babylon, I could have really gone without hearing it all over again. From a literary perspective, this makes the book incredibly boring. I've read no other book that repeats this much of its storyline.

In general, I find the relationship between God and Jeremiah a little strange. Really it seems more like Jeremiah is insane rather than he's talking to God. Certainly all of the kings that he talked to in his time thought he was nuts. Otherwise I think they would have paid a little more attention. Jeremiah's insanity really becomes apparent near the end of the chapter, when he decides that "God" is going to punish Babylon for something that Jeremiah said God told them to do. So either Jeremiah is insane, or God is insane.

The university of Kansas held an interesting event named "Ask a Christian a Question" this past week. I really think this is an interesting way to open up a dialog. Anyway, in the name of continuing the dialog, I feel I need to respond to some of their answers.

One of the first questions was this:
I grew up taking the Bible fairly literally. How do we know the Bible hasn’t been altered, as far as the text, through thousands of years? How do we know besides taking it on a basis of faith?
And the answer:
Any human being has to live with the concept of faith, meaning trust. We all live this way. Because we are limited beings, we have to live this way. God has given us overwhelming amounts of evidence to put our faith in. Our society thinks these are two different realms. That’s actually a philosophical idea that I don’t believe is real.
So the answer is we do have to take it on faith? I think the very basis of his answer is incorrect. Faith doesn't automatically mean trust. Trust is a belief based on solid factual evidence. Faith is belief without evidence. It's interesting how the answerer (like most Christians) says that there are mounds of evidence for God, but then they neglect to even mention one of these pieces of evidence.

Another question:
I’ve always taken the Bible more as a guide. Is there any contradiction in the Bible as you see it? What should the Bible be taken as, for example, things like Noah’s Ark or Adam and Eve? Should we take them as a guide, or were there really two of every animal entering into a boat?
And the answer:
Answerer #1: We believe that the Bible is unified in the sense of the essence of what it communicates. It was inspired that God worked through humanity to write exactly what he wanted to write.

Answerer #2: There are clearly things in Scripture that are symbolism. There are other things, as you mentioned Adam, Eve and Noah, that appear to be historic accounts. What’s historic, we take as historic, and in other places we don’t. Compared to other religious writings in the world, these are really kind of mundane. They’re not really bizarre or out there in the sense you find in other writing. There really is a difference.
So all of those seemingly contradictory statements were placed there by God? For what reason? As for the second answerer, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Compared to what other religions does Christianity seem reasonable? Talking snakes, talking donkeys, the sun stopping, a human being born of a virgin, all of the species in the world fitting on a wooden boat, a human being formed from another person's rib. Those are just the unreasonable things I can think of in 30 seconds. I could probably list hundreds of things in the bible that seem completely crazy. Most of these stories are far from "mundane".

I do find it amusing that the new litmus test for deciding whether your religion is crazy is to compare it to other crazy religions. How about you start comparing your religion to reality and decide if your ideas are crazy from there.


  1. "I've read no other book that repeats this much of its storyline."

    You think Jeremiah is more redundant than 1 & 2 Chronicles?

  2. I was referring to the bible as a whole, not necessarily the book of Jeremiah.

  3. I found this site through blog hopping, and I must say, I am rather interested in reading an atheists forays through the bible.
    A singular point to make - just because god "uses" the Babylonians doesn't make them right or good in a theological sense. To consider - just because a christian views the ressurection as a good thing (I'm not a christian) doesn't make the Romans right for crucifying Jesus. Even though god "allowed" the Babylonians to conquer Israel as punishment, they were chosen despite being "evil" as they were the best tool on hand.
    When you restructure it as an allowance versus and active command, the entire process doesn't seem quite so capricious or arbitrary from a divine standpoint - god allowed the egyptians to enslave the hebrews and subsequently punished them because, hey, they enslaved them.
    Just because it's allowed to happen doesn't mean there isn't a price to pay.

    Anyhow, just thought I'd share that one particular point (sorry for being repetitious), but I think I might start from the beginning now... :-)

  4. You could "restructure" it as an allowance. Unfortunately that's not what the bible says. In the quote I gave above ("Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him."), it's not an allowance. If anything, the bible says that God gives Israel to the Babylonians. That would be like a police officer giving someone beer who's underage and then arresting them for it.

    Over and over again the bible says that God is "sending" the Babylonians, I don't specifically remember the bible ever saying God was just "allowing" the Babylonians to take over Israel.

  5. No, actually, the appropriate analogy would be the Mayor (god) instructing the police (babylon) to break up a party/riot (Israel), and the police coming in using deadly force.

    This presumes sidestepping the ontological question of God "wanting" something, when he should know from the get-go how it will turn out. The question is in the frame of reference.
    If you allow for God being transcendant (both time and space, which is the premise of the Bible to begin with), then his [its?] reference frame would be drastically different from our own, relativistically speaking. What we would view as presently evolving events would be static objects in space-time, so that the whole of existence is synchronous and synonymous with the moment of creation in the "divine" perspective.
    As a result, the fact that anything occurs, does so with "divine" assent in this ontology. There is, then, no difference between 'command' and it's free-will occurrence. The Babylonians choosing to attack Israel is equivalent with God willing it so, as he could have simply created a universe where it failed to happen if he chose.
    That is why I say "allow" even though you read "send," as the ontological basis for the bible to begin with demands that even those acts which are the product of free will are deliberately orchestrated. There is no difference in giving them free will when it is already forecasted via prophecy.

    I'll address why this ontology doesn't conflict with free will at some other point.

  6. Your analogy about the mayor and police would only make sense if the mayor also instructed them to use deadly force, too. Nowhere in the bible is it stated or implied that the Babylonians exceeded the amount of punishment that God wished to inflict on the Israelites. Quite the opposite.

  7. On the contrary - god says he will GIVE the land to the Babylonians, and recognizes that they WILL use deadly force, widow their wives, kill their orphans, and all that fun stuff. The whole principle to biblical criticism is recognizing what it says as well as HOW it is said.
    Again, the Babylonians still chose to use deadly force, even though they were already being given the land.
    The Mayor said to break up the party, the Police still chose how. You are claiming that if the Mayor DIDN'T warn them NOT to use deadly force, then the Mayor clearly wanted them to. On the contrary, the fact that God says he will punish them for how they will treat the Israelites is a pretty clear indication that he doesn't condone the Babylonians behavior.

  8. First of all, I agree that in the following situation, God is not inherently being inconsistent or immoral in his behavior toward the Babylonians:

    1. The Babylonians, on their own, decide to destroy the Israelites.
    2. God decides to punish the Israelites for some reason or other.
    3. God informs the Israelites (but not the Babylonians) that he will kill them via the Babylonians.
    4. The Babylonians invade, and God does nothing to stop them.
    5. God punishes the Babylonians for killing the Israelites.

    (I'm leaving aside the questions of whether the crimes of the Israelites justified such harsh treatment of them, especially the children, as well as whether it is fair for God to punish anyone for wiping out another country when he advocates this behavior so frequently.)

    At issue is whether God compelled, encouraged, or otherwise led the Babylonians to believe that he approved of the invasion. (I'm pretty sure that the Bible does not say that the Babylonians didn't want to invade, but God forced them to, as he did with the Pharaoh.) This would require a close examination of, at least, Jeremiah and Daniel, and I can't say off the top of my head whether or not the text supports this reading. Suffice it to say, if God really did lead the Babylonians on in this way, Bryan's moral objection would be warranted. The quote about Nebuchadnezzar being God's servant is not enough evidence.

    Having said all that, I point out that you have misunderstood my point about your failed analogy of the mayor and the policeman. You claimed that the situation was analogous to the following:

    1. The mayor tells the police to shut down the party.
    2. The police do so by using deadly force.

    This implies that the police were in the wrong because they used excessive force. But I objected that nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that the Babylonians were being punished for going to far; that God asked them to invade but they took it too far. Instead, the issue is whether the mayor told the police to shut down the party at all. This is the correct analogy:

    1. The mayor wants to kill the people at the party.
    2. The mayor warns the people at the party that he will have them killed by the police.
    3. The police break up the party with deadly force.
    4. The mayor punishes the police for using deadly force.

    So the issues is, did the mayor actually tell the police to break up the party or not?

  9. "If he wants to properly avenge them he should go kill himself, considering he's the mastermind behind the whole "destroy Jerusalem" idea. I guess you can't ever win when it comes to obeying God."

    ?? What is this ?? Foreshadowing ??

    I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist looking at this quote. I mean, seriously, dude! Are you playing right into the Christians' hands here? You KNOW what's coming up, right? You KNOW who is about to enter stage left and what happens to him, right??

    And to be fair, you can't ever win being God either. Not even his chosen people really got him, if you know what I mean...

    btw, awesome discussion on the mayor/police/party idea! The nature and intent and power of God needs to be seen from all angles like this, talked about and even evaluated.

  10. Haha, I didn't even think about it when I was typing that sentence. Anyway, I meant killing himself in the sense that he would stay dead. Not pull the whole zombie trick in an attempt to save us from himself.

  11. I'm rather trilled to be able to toss words back and forth on this subject. It really is interesting and refreshing to see things from another side!

    Regarding the overarching question of the Babylonians being "sent" - My previous point still stands:
    From what I am aware of, there is nothing in the text that implies that God directly commanded the Babylonians in any way. The question of how one can consider them "sent" when there is no direct contact is resolved by the method that I mentioned - that there is no difference within the ontology/cosmology of Judaism between God directly "causing" something to happen (what may be perceived as a 'miracle') and God "letting" something happen.

    Ultimately, though,, I concur with your assessment, but with a single caveat - I would reword #2 slightly:

    2. The mayor warns the people at the party that he will have them killed by the police PROVIDED that they don't break up the party themselves FIRST.

    The warning of Jeremiah was giving them the "option" of redemption through repentance, even though it was known that they wouldn't take it. See the story of Jonah for comparison where destruction was decreed and rescinded due to the response of the populace.

    In addressing the concept of "divine hypocrisy," the fact that God had the Babylonians kill the Jews doesn't remove the Babylonians from being murderers guilty of punishment.

  12. " the sense that he would stay dead."

    Now it's starting to look a lot like a Monty Python skit -
    "I'm not dead, I'm feeling much better!"
    "Naw, he's dead."

    It is surprising though just how close to the mark you got, even if it was unintended. This is kind of how the religious mindset put together some of these ideas.

    A personal criticism of mine to Christianity, but I think the Jesus-story and his message would be a whole lot more powerful, and more noble, and just better in terms of integrity, if as you put it, he had just stayed dead.



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