Jeremiah 13:20-27 – The Violence of Female Metaphors


Jeremiah 13:20-27


This text uses strong sexual imagery to refer to the sin of Israel (13:27) and the correlative judgment that is experienced (13:22, 26).


For many readers, the language used in this text is remarkably harsh and demeaning in its use of female imagery. The God who speaks here is once again the God who has experienced infidelity on the part of the spouse and who responds with all the anger, sorrow, frustration, and pain that accompanies the breakdown of intimate relationships (see 3:1-5).

There is no subject of the exposing and violating in 13:22; the language of act-consequence is used (“what goes around comes around”), and the violation is understood to be mediated by the foe from the north (Babylon, 13:20). Israel’s sin is sexual–that is, unfaithfulness imaged in terms of adultery and prostitution–and hence the judgment is sexually imaged. The rape of women would have been a common way in which those defeated in war were treated (see 38:23; Lamentations 5:11), both then and in more recent times. At the same time, God is made the subject of this activity in 13:26; God works judgment in and through agents, that is, the Babylonian armies.

Such texts are rightfully troubling to many readers, not least because they may have contributed to violence against women. Must not readers be critical of the use of such language, even if it is placed in the mouth of God? Granted, one must take the ancient context into account, but that does not excuse the use of such language, then or now.