Home > Jeremiah Was a Dragon-Man > Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: Context, Not Proof Text

Jeremiah Was A Dragon Man: Context, Not Proof Text

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed the importance of reading New Testament quotes of the Old Testament with an understanding of the context of the OT quotes (this statement will become more clear in this post. If you’re interested, I believe I first did this in a brief note on OT quotes in the beginning of Matthew, extensively throughout a series on the somewhat frightening Romans 9, and in the last few posts in stories about water. If you’re interested in reading the New Testament well, I don’t think the process of contextualizing OT quotes can be overdone.

In Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is making a scene in the Temple, he says to those selling in the Temple, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers'” (19:46 ESV, also Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17). Jesus quotes both Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (the current chapter of Jeremiah I’m writing on). By quoting these Scriptures, Jesus isn’t using Scripture to justify his actions or prove his point that they should be praying instead of selling. Jesus’ message is partially in his word choice, but the full thrust of the message is only felt with an understanding of the context of the verses he quotes.

Isaiah 56:7

“these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

The context of Isaiah 56:7 is pretty awesome. Isaiah is describing the world as it will be when the Messianic Servant of Isaiah 52-53 ushers in the redemption and restoration of Israel; the reigning of the presence, peace, and love of YHWH; and the rectification and rejoicing of creation (read Isaiah 50-end… if you want a deeper understanding of the kingdom of God Jesus established). The words of Isaiah and other prophets about redemption are what Israel has been hoping in and waiting for since the Exile.

The redemption of Israel involves YHWH bringing them out of their exile, he “gathers the outcasts,” and after that, he gathers “yet others to him besides those already gathered” (Is 56:8). These others are the outsiders to Israel, the foreigners, the unclean eunuchs, and everyone who would honor God, He will make his people in the same way the people of Israel are His people. In YHWH’s kingdom, religious divisions (which are often ethnic and racial) are thrown aside and all are welcome in his house, the “house of prayer for all peoples” (Is 56:7; Mark 11:17 makes the “all peoples” part more explicit).

In the Temple scene Jesus is doing far more than declaring the Temple is not functioning as it should. Jesus’ criticism, based on Isaiah, is that the Temple is not functioning as a “house of prayer for all nations.” This criticism only makes sense if Israel is living in the age where YHWH is acting to redeem his people and rule over the world. Jesus is not just criticizing, but by implication, Jesus is declaring that the Kingdom of God is here. Jesus’ actions in the Temple are representative of God bringing justice to the Temple, making the Temple the way it should be in the age of redemption, open to all peoples.

Jeremiah 7:11

“Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?”

Prior to this verse are exhortations for the people of Judah to amend their ways (repent) and stop putting their trust in their status as God’s people who have been given the place where YHWH’s presence dwells (3&4). What matters for Israel is treating the outsiders and underprivileged with dignity and everyone with justice (5-7), not that they also happen to be offering sacrifices in the Temple (21). Jeremiah equates Israel’s continued mistreatment of God and others while claiming their deliverance in the house of YHWH with thinking His house is a “den of robbers” (10-11).

After the the verse quoted above, YHWH warns of the repercussions that will follow if the people of Judah do not amend their ways. For their treatment of His house like a den of robbers, YHWH says He will destroy the place of His dwelling as He has done in the past (12-14). The destruction of His dwelling in Jerusalem is a symbolic abandoning of Israel to their own “abominations” and a removal from Israel the very thing which distinguishes it from other nations, the dwelling of YHWH. Following this, God states the obvious: without the dwelling of God in their midst, they are just like the descendants of Esau (15), blood related to Abraham but not his true offspring (see Romans 9 above).

Jesus’ use of this text gives extensive meaning to his brief statement. He is accusing those selling in the Temple area of “swearing falsely,” mistreating the sojourner and the underprivileged, and putting their trust in offerings and the Temple while living in a manner incongruent with the kingdom of heaven. Contained within Jesus’ words is a warning that Israel is in danger of being cast out of the people of God despite blood descent from Abraham. Jesus’ citation of Jeremiah are one of the many places in the gospels (implicitly and explicitly) where Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple. Like Jeremiah, Jesus is a prophet warning the people of God about exile. While Jeremiah warns Israel if they do not accept YHWH’s words and repent they will be exiled from their land, Jesus warns Israel that if they do not accept His words and repent they will not experience the freedom from exile their Redeemer has come to enact.

Jesus’ interplay between the texts of Isaiah and Jeremiah is fascinating. Jesus says through Isaiah, “The time of the Redeemer has come, the exile of His people is ending, Israel is fulfilling its purpose (through Jesus Messiah) of being a light to all nations, and God’s reign over all creation is beginning.” Through Jeremiah Jesus says, “The exile is ending, but only for those who hear the word and amend their ways.” When we see Jesus’ Old Testament quotations and references in their proper context, we discover new insights into the meaning of what Jesus is doing and saying.

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