Jeremiah 45: Proper Interpretation
In Jeremiah 45, everything seems to be a little bit out of order. Given the chronology presented in the first verse, this chapter was written prior to the conquering of Jerusalem. That then makes these last two verses much more understandable.
Jer 45:4 Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land.
Jer 45:5 And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
With the proper chronology, this is obviously pointing to the fact that Judah will be overrun. Fulfilled prophecy is interesting in and of itself, but I want to do with a little more technical issue today regarding God bringing evil.
In the world today, we have a very specific meaning of the word evil that it has not necessarily had throughout history. The Hebrew word that was used here is ra’. I am not a Hebrew scholar by any means, but as you read the definition in the concordance, this word does not necessarily carry the connotation of evil that we think of today. Some of the proposed ways to translate this word are adversity, grief, or trouble.
This kind of clarifies the issue that we might run into when people take this verse out of context and say that it necessarily indicates that the perfectly good God creates moral evil.
As we have been reading this entire narrative about the people of Judah, there was a choice. They could do what God told them to do, or God was going to allow adversity and trouble to come to them. There is certainly a difference between bringing evil, in the modern sense of the word, and bringing adversity or something like disaster.
The lesson I hope we all take away from this is that Biblical interpretation is not easy. We want to be very careful that we do it properly. There are cases like this where misinterpretation causes potential theological problems, but there are also cases where misinterpretation might not cause a problem per se, but it arises from not viewing the text in the right way. For example, we could read the Psalms as poetry since that are what they are meant to be, and there are certain characteristics of that genre. To read the Psalms as a historical narrative might not create a theological problem, but it would not do the text justice because we would not be understanding it in the way it ought to be understood. We need to make sure that we do not take this lightly.