In these verses, Jeremiah urgently warns of imminent, ‘great destruction’ soon to overtake the capital city of Jerusalem and the entire nation of God’s People (vs. 1). The Prophet advises those immediately north of the city, in the territory of Benjamin, to ‘be strong’ (vs. 1). After all, they will be first to taste the coming havoc, since they live in the path of the invaders (1). And he also advises the people in Tekoa, south of Jerusalem to make themselves ready, including those at the signal-hill of Haccerem, a local high point from which urgent messages and news pass among the nation’s populace (vs. 1).
What arouses such urgency in Jeremiah? He is impelled by a warning received from God. “For thus says the Lord….against Jerusalem, O false city. There is oppression in her entirely” (vs. 7). Lest anyone doubt what the Prophet is announcing, he sketches out the predicted invasion: the beauty of the city will be ‘taken away’ (vs. 2). Jerusalem and environs will reduced to grazing land for pasturing flocks with spacious fields for any and all shepherds (vs. 3). Whether the attack comes by day or by night will make little difference (vss. 4,5). The people are facing utter destruction of their beloved city, down to its foundations (vs. 5).
Truthfully, from the time “…Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him…” (Gn. 4:8) down to the present-day, with drive-by shootings, suicide bombings, international reprisals and rogue states, people around the world are facing threats of destruction. Oppression comes as interpersonal assault, attacks from terrorist groups, or the oppression by a clique or a government determined to assert its will, whether to satisfy an ideology or to enhance wealth and power.
There is no doubt that oppression is used as a policy of political groups and governments, sometimes covertly, or ‘off the record,’ and at other times openly as in Lenin’s frank revelation in 1918: “We exist on a basis of organized terror, which is an absolutely essential element in revolution. We counter the enemies of the Soviet Government with terror and extirpate the criminals on the spot….The Cheka is not a court of justice. It is a defender of the Revolution, just like the Red Army.” His policy of oppression extended to mass killings, deadly, genocidal deportations in winter-time, and to regional starvation imposed by force.
Statistics from the mid-1990s reveal that oppression in the form of personal violence continues as a problem in the United States. Murder occurs among us every twenty-two minutes, forcible rape every five minutes, robbery every forty-nine seconds and aggravated assault every seventeen seconds. While some social analysts trace the origins of violent personal crime back to poverty, hopelessness, and “…the innate violence of society,” the Apostles and Holy Fathers teach us that violence arises from unbridled passions that explode out of the dark souls of men.
In every age, the Lord speaks against oppression. Saint John of the Ladder teaches that “…wrath is a reminder of hidden hatred.” Oppression was already in Cain’s soul, forming his anger. The Lord saw it, and He asked him, “Why are you extremely sorrowful?” (Gn. 4:6). God then sought to encourage Cain to correct his hidden urge to oppress by asking him, “Did you not sin, even though you brought [your offering] rightly?” (Gn. 4:7). The Holy Spirit is peace of soul, while anger is disturbance in the heart. The Holy Spirit will help us purge unruly desires, mad cravings, every unrighteous choice to force our will upon others – to oppress and ‘get my way.’
For the peace from above, and the salvation of our souls; for the peace of the whole world, and the union of all men, Lord have mercy, hear us, and help us!
St George Orthodox Church