Weeping In Secret Places

But if ye will not hear it, [God’s word] my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride

Jeremiah 13: 17

I try to read some in the Bible every day.

I read the Psalms because they are generally readable in small bites (Psalm 119 is a rather drastic exception) and I often read in short bursts.  I’m still wading through the Psalms for the umpteenth time, but for some reason I have also started going on Jeremiah, too.

Maybe not for the highest of reasons.  I have discovered lately – that is, I think I have discovered,  I might be fooling myself – that I can actually hear the different voices in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.  That is, I can hear a different voice when I read Habakkuk than when I read Isaiah.  I have never really tried to make these discernments and I know that if someone gave me a passage from one of the prophetic books and said, “Okay, Mr. Scholar, based on the voice you hear, tell me which of the great troublers of Israel this bit came from” I would be at a complete loss, unless it was one of the passages that I have committed to memory and  already knew the author.

That being said, I do find that when I read one or the other of the prophets I find in them different poetic sensibilities.  And, yes, they are poets.  One of the interesting things about this study is the notion that prophesy and poetry are kind of linked.  A prophet was one who proclaimed, not predicted,  and his messages had more to do with interpreting what was happening in the moment than with predicting the future.  I’m sure that some readers with object to this, and they have grounds.  I know that the prophetic books are full of predictions of doom and then of a messianic age when all will be put to rights.   I know.  But I had a very trustworthy teacher, years ago, who emphasized the idea that biblical prophets were “forth-tellers,” and not so much “foretellers.”  And I just read – or maybe heard in one of Carl Trueman’s excellent lectures on the history of The Reformation – that the Biblical prophets were interpreters of the events and circumstances of the day – kind of like today’s pundits, but with the perspective of what God meant in and by those events, and that those who attempted to predict the future were “diviners.”

If you will bear with me for a moment, then, and assume with me that the Biblical prophets were primarily concerned with interpreting the meaning of the events of their day, then the notion of poetic expression and the idea that prophesy and poetry are linked comes back into view.

If we think of prophets as those who interpret and proclaim the meaning of the events of the day, we might compare them to the singer-songwriters of the sixties and seventies who wrote about the meaning of current events – for example, the Viet Nam war, the civil-rights struggle and the ruin of the environment.

Okay, I can just hear the wailing now.  “You – you little blogger, you!  You have the temerity to compare Isaiah, whose words have lasted for three thousand years – whose words were quoted by Our Lord Jesus Christ – with Jackson Browne and Stephen Stills?  Ugh!”

Well, no.  Well, yes and no.  I don’t mean to imply that their writings are at all of the same value.  But what I am saying is that they were doing the same thing – commenting on the affairs of the day and trying to interpret the meaning of those events.  The difference, of course, is that the Biblical prophets were inspired by God’s Spirit and spoke from God’s perspective and with His authority.  No such thing for Stephen Stills.

Still, when we look at it this way – that the prophets of Israel and the songwriters of the sixties were trying to do the same thing, we may start to understand the relationship between poetry and prophesy.  A poet is a maker.  A poet is someone who attempts to convey meaning and emotion through the creative use of language.  A poet employs metaphor to spark the imagination and meter and rhyme to trigger the memory.  Would we have understood – would we have “gotten” – the meaning of the Viet Nam war – as the songwriters wanted  us to get it – without the music and rhythm and rhyme of, for example “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” or “Run Through The Jungle”:

Whoa thought it was a nightmare
Lord it was so true

They told me don’t go walking slow
The devil’s on the loose

Better run through the jungle
Better run through the jungle
Better run through the jungle
Whoa don’t look back to see

Thought I heard a rumblin’
Calling to my name

Two hundred million guns are loaded
Satan cries “take aim”

“Run Through The Jungle,” John Fogerty

And Jeremiah, for my money, at least, did those very things.  Although meter and rhyme cannot survive the translation from ancient Hebrew into modern English, I can still see and feel the poetic expression in Jeremiah’s writings.  They are full of metaphor and emotion.

Today I was reading in Chapter 13 and came upon this verse:

But, if ye will not hear it [God’s word], my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride

 In spite of the three thousand years in between us, I think I get this verse in a way I could not if Jeremiah had not been a poet.  What does “in secret places” mean?  Other English translations suggest it means that Jeremiah goes off and hides somewhere before he cries; that he is referring to “secret places” in a physical, geographic sense.  I don’t think so.  I think he is referring to the secret places in the heart.  His grief is so great and so woven together with shame that he even hides his tears.  Jeremiah’s grief is so terrible and so unique that it finds expression only in those places in his soul that are  secret; that are hidden, even to himself.

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