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 discussion on Jeremiah 4:19-21, and forthcoming are short discussions on Jeremiah 8:19-9:2 and 10:19-20.
Jeremiah 4:19-211 is one text in which there is ambiguity about whether the agent of the feelings is the LORD or Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 4, the personal pronoun spilling over into all the verses causes the identification of the participants, most especially the “I” figure, to be not entirely obvious. Ward explains the problem of identification: “The obvious conclusion would be to take the “I” of the two parts as one and the same, were it not for the vivid pathos described in the first part. Commentators therefore have concluded that the prophet was speaking for himself here, but it seems to me that there is an intentional confusion of speakers. The prophet is not conveying his own private response to the tragedy of Judah, but the response of a messenger of YHWH—one who is YHWH’s mouth. It is not too much to say that in his mind, his own pathos is also the pathos of God.”6 Ward’s comments here illustrate how the ambiguity can be an effective part of the prophetic message: Through the ambiguity, Jeremiah is able to speak for God.
Yet, identifying the speaker in vv. 19-21 is not easy. The LORD is speaking in verse 22, as he brings up that the people of Judah do not know him. The previous verses could also be his speech, and the tents would symbolize the temple. However, the anguish in verse 19 sounds more like an emotion caused as a reaction to the alarm of war and is thus not an expected affection belonging to the LORD, even if the LORD is the one speaking in verse 18. Thus, in my opinion, the one speaking in verse 19 is most likely Jeremiah,2 with the tents being symbolic of the property of the people of Israel and the anguish belonging to those facing coming disaster.
Korpel, however, argues that the speaker of verses 19-21 is actually Zion.In her article on who is speaking in Jeremiah 4:19-22, she highlights the various scholarly arguments3 before indicating how textual markings help to make the speaker less ambiguous. She argues that the speaker of verses 19-21 is Zion, based on the coherence of the text of Jeremiah 4:9-18 and the link of concatenation: lbk (4:18aC) || lby (4:19aA, 19aB).4 She goes on to argue that verse 22 is the beginning of a new unit, as “both the phrase ‘wty l’yd’w in v. 22 and the fourfold r’yty of vv. 23-26 can hardly have been spoken by anyone else but God.”5
Although I appreciate Korpel’s argument that the verses prior to v. 22 are most likely not spoken by the LORD, I would argue that the Zion figure has been somewhat superimposed on the text. The people of Israel, identifying themselves as Zion, are somewhat more clearly present here in the text as they are the ones hearing the text. Jeremiah as the speaker is also clearly present. Yet, the only definite conclusion that can be made here is that the verses are then divided into the former being the words of Jeremiah or Zion and the latter being those of the LORD.
Even if Jeremiah is the speaker of verses 19-21, it is not completely clear that his anguish is his alone, especially as it could be shared with the people of Israel who would be identified with Zion. The ambiguity7 allows the anguish still to be that of the LORD, a connection not necessarily expected by the reader even though the cause for such anguish is given in verse 22.