Cover Image: Returning from the Abyss

Returning from the Abyss

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Member Reviews

What does it take to do a sustained study of Jeremiah? What is the "primary plotline" of this major prophet? What has the book of Jeremiah has to say to modern society, and in particular to the modern USA? How would Jeremiah speak into a culture constantly tarnished by incidents of racism and economic injustice? Reflecting on chosen passages from the book of Jeremiah, author Walter Brueggemann aims to highlight how the ancient prophet's message to Israel then is also applicable to us today. Beginning with how Jeremiah describes the time of the kings, the author looks at the reign of several kings of Judah and Israel and extrapolates God's message of intent into the 21st Century. He invites readers to enter the abyss of the Israelite exilic experience, to show us the inexplicable gift of being able to return from such dire circumstances. Instead of a verse-by-verse or a passage-by-passage commentary style, Brueggemann opts for selective verses that help us pause and read via the ancient practice of Lectio Divina. With each verse, Brueggemann provides us a context for the thought process. He then highlights some of the spiritual ills or challenges facing ancient people of God and challenges us to recognize any modern equivalents. Brueggemann challenges us to identify the threats of atheism and idolatry, warning us against the mistake of identifying the lesser enemy. Other warnings include:
-    The human tendency to disobey God's commands;
-    Failure to see reality for what it is;
-   The limits of modern "shame-filled" policing;
-    Fallacies of wealth and worldly temptations;
-    Ignoring neighbourly justice when we can do our part;
-    Not to Forget prophetic poetry that prompts inner conviction;
-    Dangers of supersessionism (aka replacement theology) that not only alienates Christians from Jews, but also masks a form of religious superiority;
-    Injustice as if God is not watching;
-    Failure of the government to do the right thing;
-    ....

These and many more form the contour of thoughtful exegesis and contemporary applications. 

My Thoughts
As mentioned in the preface, even though there is an extended commentary on the verses, this book is not a typical commentary nor an abridged commentary. It is also more than simply a devotional because it does not just offer a thought or the main point. Brueggemann takes a verse, and with an anchoring title, guides us through a journey to discover ancient contexts that prompted God's responses. With hard-hitting questions to spur our study and meditative reading, he then presents us with a few hard-hitting questions to let us apply the truths of Jeremiah to our modern society and personal lives. In that sense, this book looks more like a series of sermons, modified for reading. It is also a unique form of Lectio Divina cum Bible study. Lectio Divina is an ancient practice of spiritual reading, especially when reading the Scriptures. Once practiced mainly in monasteries and spiritual centers of learning, this type of reading is slowly becoming more mainstream, especially for those who are dissatisfied with plain reading. This book pushes back against a culture of speed-reading and impatient browsing in favour of a more reflective and intentional meditative reading of scripture. That makes this book a particularly useful companion to our reading of Jeremiah, to pause as and when the texts make us pause. I appreciate the way Brueggemann exegetes the verse and guides us through the historical contexts and meanings for today. This is indeed his unique gift of exposition. 

Out of 52 chapters, Brueggemann highlights for us 27 "pivotal moments" to learn about the ancient spiritual climate and how it applies to our modern world. In doing so, he not only injects new reasons for us to study the Jeremiah texts, he invites us to discover more "pivotal moments" in the rest of the prophetic book. Perhaps, as we discuss the questions at the end of each chapter in our small community group settings, we can discover more applications and learning moments.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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Returning from the Abyss: Pivotal Moments in the Book of Jeremiah by Walter Brueggemann is a phenomenal look at the book of Jeremiah. The book of Jeremiah is filled with such devastation and recovery. This author examines the Scriptures and brings them to life in his signature way. I highly recommend this book. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher with no obligations. These opinions are entirely my own.
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"It is the work of the poet to imagine YHWH out beyond old stereotypes and to show us that the God of Israel, at the very moment of risk, is a God of healing, transformative, covenantal fidelity." 

'Return From The Abyss,' by Walter Brueggemann is a stunning commentary on the prophetic book of Jeremiah, emphasizing the recurring themes of destruction and restoration that underpins the narrative.

The words of Jeremiah speak as provocatively into today's sociopolitical climate as it did centuries ago, if we only have ears to hear it. However, even as we see the relevance of this text in the world around us, we must remember that the text was not first written to us, as Bruggemann emphasis, "Without 'applying' the text of Jeremiah to our circumstance with any specificity, it is possible and useful to allow this ancient text to seed our imagination in fresh discernment concerning both our past and present historical realities and our future historic possibilities." 

Instead of a verse for verse commentary, Breuggemann tackles only a few verses per chapter or couples longer sections when appropriate, in order to hold the narrative thread for the reader, provide historical context, and demonstrate the parallels in the unfolding of today's political plot. Although he is primarily writing to an American audience, the book in its entirety is an equally helpful tool in navigating Jeremiah's text, for readers outside of the US (like myself). 

Brueggemann's work in this commentary serves not to pirate the spotlight from the biblical text or to embellish it, but to enhance the grains in the metaphorical wood and create an invaluable companion to read alongside it.
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