Breaking the Yoke of Slavery and Sin in Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah 28 tells a good story about the dueling prophets, Hananiah and Jeremiah.  In chapter 28, Hananiah predicts, in the Temple of Jerusalem, that Babylon’s occupation of Jerusalem will be broken within two years. Jeremiah responds by placing a wood yoke on his own shoulders, and then declaring that Hananiah had spoken prematurely. The insistent Hananiah removes the wooden yoke form Jeremiah’s shoulders, stating that God will relieve Jerusalem just as Hananiah had relieved Jeremiah of his yoke.

God later appears to Jeremiah, and expresses his displeasure with Hananiah, the false prophet:

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke!
For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
A yoke of iron I will place on the necks
of all these nations serving Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,
and they shall serve him.

The yoke of slavery or oppression imposed by the Babylonians on the inhabitants of Jerusalem is a useful analogy for the yoke of sin.  We cannot escape or shatter the yoke of sin as easily as we would like to think.  In the new testament, this a theme of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans 7:14-25:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

The greatest difference between the yoke of sin in Jeremiah and the slavery to sin in Romans is that for Jeremiah and the inhabitants of the city, the yoke of sin has become a national drama, upon which the fate of Jerusalem rests.  For Paul, the yoke of sin is a personal burden. He despises his own body, which is the cause of sin. Of course, Paul does not abandon all hope, since his salvation lies in faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 8:1-11,

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

Jeremiah, too, is told by God not to abandon all hope against the yoke of slavery imposed by the Babylonians.  In chapter 32, God tells Jeremiah to purchase land outside of Jerusalem even before the city falls in 586 BC. God is telling Jeremiah that his people will return from exile, eventually.

This message came to me from the LORD, said Jeremiah: Hanamel, son of your uncle Shallum, will come to you with the offer: “Buy for yourself my field in Anathoth, since you, as nearest relative, have the first right of purchase.” Then, as the LORD foretold, Hanamel, my uncle’s son, came to me to the quarters of the guard and said, “Please buy my field in Anathoth, in the district of Benjamin; as nearest relative, you have the first claim to possess it; make it yours.” I knew this was what the LORD meant, so I bought the field in Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, paying him the money, seventeen silver shekels. When I had written and sealed the deed, called witnesses and weighed out the silver on the scales, I accepted the deed of purchase, both the sealed copy, containing title and conditions, and the open one. This deed of purchase I gave to Baruch, son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed, and before all the men of Judah who happened to be in the quarters of the guard. In their presence I gave Baruch this charge: Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both the sealed and the open deed of purchase, and put them in an earthen jar, so that they can be kept there a long time.

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