ONCE AGAIN JEREMIAH CYCLES around some of the themes he has already introduced (Jer. 9). For instance, the closing two verses pick up on true and false circumcision (cf. Jer. 4:4). But here, too, a new facet of the sin of the people is explored (Jer. 9:23-24). About these verses I must say four things:
First, the heart of much sin is the smug self-sufficiency that boasts in its own wisdom or strength or wealth (Jer. 9:23). That is always a mark of lostness. It focuses on self. Worse, it fails to recognize that all that we have (and boast about) is derived: we do not choose our own genes, or parents, or heritage; all we have achieved has been in function of others, of health, of gifts, of support, of situation—a thousand elements over which we have little control and which, this side of the Fall, we do not have the right to claim. Worst of all, smug and self-sufficient people leave no place for priorities outside themselves; they leave no place for God, for they are their own gods.
Second, there is nothing in the universe more important to human beings than to know the Lord (Jer. 9:24a). He is God, not we; he is the Creator, not we; he exercises providential rule, not we. He is the Self-Existent, and we are derived and dependent. He inhabits eternity; we are restricted to our very small segment of time. He is utterly holy and glorious; we are massively contaminated by dirt, and stand under his judgment. But we may know him! That is the only thing truly worth “boasting” about. Will you doubt this point two hundred or two billion years from now?
Third, the One we know is Yahweh, “who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth” (Jer. 9:24b). “Kindness” is God’s covenantal love, his covenantal mercy, bound up with his own utter reliability—a virtue that stands in stunning contrast to the fickleness of the people in rebellion against him.
Fourth, Paul understands the universal applicability of these verses when he alludes to them and then cites part of them in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. He writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth”—the kinds of things the Corinthians were boasting about. “Wise/wisdom” is found in both contexts; Paul interprets “strong” not in terms of physical strength but in terms of political and social influence; he interprets the “rich” in terms of the “noble,” for in the preindustrial world the two usually went hand in hand. But if Christ is our true wisdom—”that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), then, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).