Part 2: Who is speaking in Jeremiah 8:18-9:2?
As part of a thesis discussing the representative role of Jeremiah the prophet, I looked at how various passages in Jeremiah allow for ambiguity in who is speaking in the text. Below is a short discussion on Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 (8:18-9:1 in the Masoretic text, where the verse numbering is slightly different, with 9:1 in the English versions being labeled as 8:23 in the Masoretic text, 9:2 as 9:1 and so on).
Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 [9:1]1 is another example that many give to show the ambiguity with regard to which participant is being referred to in the text. In answer to the question of who has provoked him to anger, the LORD is clearly speaking in verses 17 and 19c, but it is unclear whether he is also speaking in verses 18-19a. In 8:18 the speaker bemoans a heart that is faint and full of sorrow, an emotional state that suggests that Jeremiah is speaking as opposed to the LORD. Yet, the ambiguity found in verses 18-19 links the sorrow of Jeremiah with the people’s denying the LORD, an action that clearly causes the LORD pain and sorrow. Alongside of Jeremiah and the LORD, one cannot forget the involvement of the people of Judah in this section.
Fretheim highlights the ambiguity given by the voices in this text, suggesting that this cacophony helps in portraying the message: “It seems best to understand the mourning of God and prophet as so symbiotic that in everything we hear the anguish of both. The admixture of speakers, including the people, seems to portray a cacophony of mourning. All involved are caught up in expressing their dismay over what has happened. At the least, Jeremiah’s mourning is an embodiment of the anguish of God, showing forth to the people the genuine pain God feels over the hurt that his people are experiencing.”2 The ambiguity points to a fading of the boundaries between the feelings of the LORD and Jeremiah. In either case, it states very clearly grief.
1 Jeremiah 8:18-9:2 (NIV): 18 You who are my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. 19 Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: “Is the LORD not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?” “Why have they aroused my anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?” 20 “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved.” 21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. 22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? 9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. 2 Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.
2 Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God (1984), 161.