In 1793 Francisco de Goya painted Fire at Night (Banco Inversion-Agepasa, Madrid) which appears to represent a fire in a hospital or mental asylum, with people being carried out, and desperate to escape. Thirty years later, near the end of his life, Goya was a refugee from political terror in Spain, and this drawing, Fuego / Fuego or ‘Fire Fire’, made in chalk and crayon, dates to this period. It appears in an album, along with pictures of inmates from an asylum. The drawing shows a figure with his arms outstretched like the pueblo Christ in Goya’s The Third of May, 1814 (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and runs, or stumbles, engulfed with fire and smoke. Is he escaping? Or raising the alarm?
Jeremiah seeks to do the former and certainly does the latter.
He cries: ‘If I say, I will not mention the NAME, or speak any more in his name, then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones’ (Jeremiah 20:9 own translation). We might think of the seventeenth-century French theologian Blaise Pascal’s conversion: ‘Fire. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and not of the philosophers and the learned’ (1966: 309). Of Moses on Horeb. And of the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:29).
The Word consumes Jeremiah. He is alight with it. We talk of someone being ‘on fire’ when they are consumed with passion for something. But this is not Jeremiah’s situation. He flees from the fire like the figure in Goya’s sketch. Or he runs crying ‘Fire, fire!’.
Jeremiah is a quiet man. He wants to live with his community, cultivate his garden in Anathoth. No chance. The Word will not allow it. The NAME says: ‘I am making my words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them’ (Jeremiah 5:14). The people of Israel are accused of sacrificing their children by fire, and the NAME threatens fire in return, but the fire comes through the prophet. Ostracism, book burning, and attempts to kill him are the result—fleeing from fire to fire.
Hughes, Robert. 2003. Goya (London: Harvill Press)
Pascal, Blaise. 1966. Pensées, trans. by Alban J. Krailsheimer (Harmondsworth: Penguin)
20 Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3On the morrow, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on every side. 4For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon; he shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall slay them with the sword. 5Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them, and seize them, and carry them to Babylon. 6And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity; to Babylon you shall go; and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.”
7O Lord, thou hast deceived me,
and I was deceived;
thou art stronger than I,
and thou hast prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
every one mocks me.
8For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
10For I hear many whispering.
Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
say all my familiar friends,
watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived,
then we can overcome him,
and take our revenge on him.”
11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
12O Lord of hosts, who triest the righteous,
who seest the heart and the mind,
let me see thy vengeance upon them,
for to thee have I committed my cause.
13Sing to the Lord;
praise the Lord!
For he has delivered the life of the needy
from the hand of evildoers.
14Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15Cursed be the man
who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
16Let that man be like the cities
which the Lord overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
17because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb for ever great.
18Why did I come forth from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?