Jeremiah 9:23-24 reflects a more complex use of parallelism than is found in the typical chiasm and should be considered as a sophisticated example of chiastic structures.
A chiasm (or chiasmus) has a central theme preceded and followed by an equal number of supporting points. A supporting point has a thematic partner; one partner precedes and one follows the main point; the partners following are sequenced in inverse order (1-2-3 becomes 3-2-1), an arrangement known as inverse parallelism. In examining chiasms in both the Old and New Testaments, Nils W. Lund explains:
The ideas contained in any given passage occur in a certain order of succession up to a certain point when they apparently reach a climax, after which they are repeated, with or without variation, in the reverse order, until the last idea of the system is reached.1
They are really concerned with the order of ideas. In a given system the ideas occur in a given order, until the center is reached; after which they are repeated in the reverse order, until the end of the system is reached. The words in which these ideas are expressed may be, as in ordinary parallelisms, either identical or merely related words.2
In his paper on the importance of chiasm in Biblical literature, Brad McCoy explains the structure and stresses the need to see the central theme as the key to understanding the passage:
In its most general sense, chiasmus involves inverted parallelism between two or more (synonymously or antithetically) corresponding words, phrases, or units of thoughts.” 3 And, “...chiasmus always involves a balanced multi-unit inverted parallelism which leads to and then moves away from a distinct central component…” 4
chiasmus is “the use of inverted parallelism of form and/or content which moves toward and away from a strategic central component” 5
Therefore in Jeremiah 9:23-24, a central theme which was introduced by three points should be balanced by three points related synonymously or antithetically to the first three:
1. (A) The wise glories in his wisdom
2. (B) The mighty glories in his might
3. (C) The rich glories is his riches
3. (C') Related to riches
2. (B') Related to might
1. (A') Related to wise
As there is no apparent match between the
c-c′ points, the passage makes for either a poor example, or no example of a chiasm at all. 6
Nevertheless, it is clear a central theme has been placed between an equal number of points which individually relate to that theme. As noted in an answer to another question, Jeremiah 10:2-16 is a carefully constructed chiasm demonstrating the writer understood the formal structure of chiasms, which is also evident in the actual arrangement:
1. (A) Let not the wise glory in his wisdom
2. (B) Let not the mighty glory in his might
3. (C) Let not the rich glory is his riches
Main point: Let him glory in understanding and knowing I am YHVH that exercises
4. (D) Mercy (loving kindness/covenant loyalty)
5. (E) Judgment
6. (F) Righteousness on earth
The placement of the main theme in the middle of six points, three of which progress towards it and three of which flow from it is a characteristic of a chiasm, and it is clear the writer constructed this passage to be considered as a whole:
Thus has YHVH said (אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה)...
I am YHVH (אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה)
...For in these things I delight says YHVH (נְאֻם־ יְהוָֽה).
Only the inverted parallelism on either side of the central theme is missing to qualify as a chiasm. However, it can be shown there is an overriding consideration why the expected pattern was not rigorously followed, and how the passage qualifies as a chiasm.
The Antithetic Nature of Jeremiah 9:23-24
As an earlier edit to the question suggested, perhaps the passage was intended to contrast human works with God’s. In fact, the passage begins with YHVH saying (אָמַר) three types of men should not glory (הָלַל) in what their work brings. Instead all should glory in what YHVH does (עָשָׂה). The passage then ends with a characteristic of prophetic speech, "...said (נְאֻם) YHVH."
At the center the flow from "glory not" is reversed: “glory in this, that he understands me and knows me, that I am YHVH who does mercy, judgment, and righteousness in the earth." (JUB)
Ralf Norrman notes this type of reversal is another characteristic of a chiasm:
these constituent principles of chiasmus is dualism, or, more generally, the use of the number two. A chiasmus is made up of two halves, which are each other’s mirror-image – each others enantiomorph. …Another important element in chiasmus is the principle of antithesis. In a chiasmus the two halves, on each side of the break in the middle, are somehow perceived as being ‘turned against one another’. Chiasmus is therefore seen as a particularly suitable vehicle for the expression of opposition – of antithetical relationship. 7
In this sense the one side of the passage consisting of men and their works is "turned against" the other side consisting of YHVH and His works. The reversal in the center creates an element with two positive components making the passage a combination of three separate thoughts:
1 – let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches.
2. (Center) – he who glories should glory in this: that he understands Me and knows Me that I am YHVH
3 – [I am YHVH] who does mercy, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
While the thought, not to glory in oneself or one's works is congruent with the antithesis of the central theme (to glory in YHVH), limiting the point by addressing only the wise, the mighty, and the rich individually is not. A more proper introduction would be something like "let no one glory in their own works..." In fact, this aspect of the positive command was given earlier:
And thou shalt swear, The LORD lives, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the Gentiles shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. (Jeremiah 4:2) [JUB]
The positive component, to glory in YHVH applies to all people, including Gentiles but the negative command is addressed only to three types of people who are also given a related work. The apparent redundancy creates a thematic partner where the writer located one partner to immediately follow the other in order to place both the type of man and his related work in the negative portion of the passage:
Do not glory:
a the wise a' his wisdom
b the mighty b' his might
c the rich c' his riches
In light of the central theme, the point is all men should neither glory in themselves or in the results of any of their works.
Now the central theme begins with a truth which needs no qualifying support:
All who glories should glory in this: that they understand Me and know Me that I am YHVH.
In other words, if one understands and knows "that I am YHVH", they should glory in that. Any number of works would elicit the same response, and any list of YHVH's works would be incomplete. Jeremiah has two similar yet slightly different lists of YHVH which all should glory:
YHVH lives (Jeremiah 4:2):
truth, judgment, righteousness
YHVH does (Jeremiah 9:24)
mercy, judgment, righteousness
The exchange of mercy for truth does not mean all (in 9:24) should not also glory in His truth, or the Gentiles should not also glory in His mercy (in 4:2). Yet, clearly the Gentile's list of truth (אֱמֶת), judgment (מִשְׁפָּט), and righteousness (צְדָקָה) was altered to create a new list with mercy (חֶסֶד) for YHVH's people.
These four are used to describe YHVH in only one other place:
For the word of the LORD is right, and all his works are done in truth. He loves righteousness and judgment; the earth is full of the mercy of the LORD. (Psalm 33:4-5)
Both lists in Jeremiah have clear textual affinity with Psalm 33:
Psalm 33:4-5 Jeremiah 4:2 Jeremiah 9:24
In truth Lives Does
A Righteousness A Truth A Righteousness
B Judgment B Judgment B Judgment
C Mercy C Righteousness C Mercy
Where Jeremiah 9 describes YHVH lamenting on the reality He has no choice but to judge His own people, Psalm 33 is praise from people who understand and know YHVH:
Praise of God's faithful care and the joy in trusting in God. The creator of the world maintains control of it; in contrast to Him, all human power pales in significance. Pss. 33 and 34 have been incorporated into the introductory prayers to the morning service on Sabbaths and festivals.....The world God created by his word, which is right is full of God's faithful care. The world is, as a result of how it was created, a place of righteousness, judgment, and "hesed." 8
The Psalmist praises YHVH for His work of creation and that all His works are done in truth and He loves righteousness, judgment, and mercy. At the conclusion of YHVH's lament, Jeremiah altered his first list by replacing truth with mercy. This added what had been omitted from the first list to create an inverted order with the Psalm:
Psalm 33:4-5 Jeremiah 4:2 Jeremiah 9:24
Praise YHVH Gentiles glory in YHVH's own glory in
A Truth A' Truth
B Righteousness B' Judgment B' Righteousness
C Judgment C' Righteousness C' Judgment
D Mercy D' Mercy
When compared to Psalm 33, Jeremiah 9:24 does reflect the inverted parallelism expected in a chiasm. In addition, when both lists in Jeremiah are compared, it is evident the writer used an inverted parallel arrangement to arrange those lists, to the extent possible:
Jeremiah 4:2 Jeremiah 9:24
A Truth A' Mercy
B Judgment B' Judgment
C Righteousness C' Righteousness
When examined in isolation, the works of YHVH following the main point have no apparent textual or specific relationship to the works or men leading up to the main point and Jeremiah 9:23-24 fails to meet the definition of a chiasm.
However, Jeremiah 4:2 and 9:24 have been constructed as a chiasm and both display a chiastic structure when compared to Psalm 33, with 9:24 having the exact inverted parallelism expected. Therefore Jeremiah 9:23-24 displays a more sophisticated use of parallelism than found in a simple chiastic structure:
YHVH and Truth YHVH lives Man should not glory YHVH does
Psalm 33 Jeremiah 4:2 Jeremiah 9:23 Jeremiah 9:24
A Righteousness A' Truth d Wise d' Wisdom A'' Righteousness
B Judgment B' Judgment e Mighty e' Might B'' Judgment
C Mercy C' Righteousness f Rich f' Riches C'' Mercy
Jeremiah 9:23-24 it is an excellent example of how structure is used to demonstrate the unity within Biblical literature such that the complete message of Jeremiah 4:2 and 9:23-24 is one in which truth compels YHVH to have mercy on both Gentile and Jewish in order for these attributes of YHVH to be found in all the earth.
1. Nils W. Lund, "The Presence of Chiasmus in the Old Testament", The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 46, No. s (Jan 1930), p. 111
2. Nils W. Lund, "The Presence of Chiasmus in the New Testament", The Journal of Religion, Vol. 10, No.1 (Jan 1930), p. 79
3. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An important Structural Device commonly Found in Biblical Literature", Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9 (Fall 2003), p. 19-20
4. Ibid., p. 19
5. Ibid., p. 18
6. The balance described by Lund and McCoy states the most common rule. As Jan de Waard shows the chiasm in Amos 5:1-17 deviates from the traditional pattern because there is a chiasm within a chiasm which explains the inverted lengths of elements within the main chiasm: C (5:7) and D' (5:9) and D (5:8a, 5:8b, 5:8c) and C' (5:10-13).
7. Ralf Norrmann, Samuel Butler and the Meaning of Chiasmus, St. Martin’s Press, 1986, p. 5
8. Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 1317