Jeremiah

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Jeremiah was a prophet to Judah from 627 BCE[1], about a century after Isaiah, giving the same warnings that disobedience to God and alliance with foreign powers and religions would lead to defeat and exile. He prophesied so to a series of kings, who saw him as a traitor and treated him badly. In the end he saw Jerusalem besieged, its fall, and the exile of the principal people.

Jeremiah bravely analyzed the fall of his culture in terms of the covenant in Sinai (see chapter 25), showing the same concerns as Deuteronomy (Breuggeman[2] p4). He records how he suffered on account of bringing a message from God that people did not want to hear; as such he is an example to us when evangelism is difficult. But there is another important theme, God's mercy (Breuggeman[2] p5 "God's pathos"). This tension creates the interest of the book and presents God as a much more complex character than Deuteronomy does. And this is presented in the context of the popular assumption (Breuggeman[2] p.6 "royal-temple ideology of Jerusalem") that since the temple had been made [not long previously, by Josiah] the focus of God's relationship with humanity, the temple could not be destroyed, but must be immune to the covenant sanctions (see Jeremiah 7:4). Neither the Deuteronomic theology nor the temple ideology could understand the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.

Breuggeman[2] p15–18 says that the book is skilfully crafted literature that uses the reader's imagination to convey its message. Thus the descriptions in the text are not intended to report the present, nor to predict the future, but as a basis for critiquing various points of view. It "assaults every 'structure of domination' "as effectively today as it did when it was written, "including our own military, technological, consumer-led establishment". "If such a subversive reading of reality appears too unreal, too dangerous, and too costly, we must recognize that for most in the 7th and 6th centuries it was rejected for exactly the same reasons. Indeed, everything depends on our reading and hearing this text. If we fail to hear this text, we may succumb to the fraudulent discernment of our situation."

Jeremiah exists in two forms, from the Masoretic and Septuagint Hebrew Bibles, indicating that they have been transmitted independently[3] [4]. The Septuagint version is shorter and believed to be older. Copies based on both versions were found at Qumran. It has been suggested that Baruch, who acted as Jeremiah's scribe on several occasions, may have collected the material, and probably added to it (see Jer. 36:32). Both versions present Jeremiah as a "new Moses" who promoted a covenant with YHWH, and was rejected, persecuted, and died outside the Promised Land. Jeremiah's background in banishment (see 1:1) made it hard to get his message accepted[3 p.87].

Ancient tradition says that the prophet Jeremiah wrote 1 and 2 Kings. Koppers[5] p.341 says scholars agree that Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings show a striking unity of language, style and content, and are attributed to a hypothetical "Deuteronomistic Historian".

PRIOR POLITICAL BACKGROUND

721 BCE: The Northern Kingdom "Israel" was utterly defeated by Assyria and never recovered.

1 Sam 1–3: Jeremiah's family served as priests in Shiloh but were banished ...

1 Ki 2:25–27: ...to Anathoth (a priestly village, probably modern 'Anata, a few miles NE of Jerusalem[4]) when Solomon chose Zadok over Abiathar, and Jerusalem over Shiloh. Jeremiah's background in banishment made it hard to get his message accepted.[3]

Isaiah 36:1–6:Assyria attacked Judah in 701 BCE; King Hezekiah hoped in vain that Egypt would help.

PROPHETIC STYLE

Jeremiah 1:11–12: Jeremiah was heavily into puns. Unfortunately these are lost in translation.

Jeremiah 1:11, 13: cf. 1 Samuel 2:14; signs of Jeremiah's priestly background at Shiloh.

Jeremiah 18:7–10: Biblical prophecy should not be interpreted as tomorrow's newspaper, but as a warning. If we carry on as we are, the described events will take place; if we repent, they will not.

BACKGROUND TO THE PROPHECIES

JOSIAH, King of Judah 640–609 BCE

2 Ki 22:1: Josiah was 8 years old on accession. Judah had been a vassal of Assyria for decades.

2 Ki 22:3–23:25, 2 Chr 34:3–35:19: In 621 BCE[1] Josiah led the people of Judah away from idols back to God. Josiah abolished the rural shrines, but the priests from them refused to go to Jerusalem. Babylon attacked Assyria, which pleased the Jews who were under Assyrian control.

2 Ki 23:29, 2 Chr 35:23–25: In 609 BCE the Egyptian pharaoh Neco marched through Judah to help his ally Assyria. Josiah wanted Assyria to fall, and attacked the Egyptians, but was killed.

JEHOAHAZ (or SHALLUM), Josiah's son, King of Judah for 3 months in 609 BC

2 Ki 23:30: Babylon ("the Chaldeans") defeated the super-powers Assyria and Egypt, creating instability. The defeated Egyptian army retreated through Judah and found Jehoahaz reigning in his father Josiah's place. They mistrusted him so...

2 Ki 23:34–36: Pharaoh deposed Jehoahaz in favour of Eliakim (who was renamed Jehoiakim) aged 25.

2 Chr 36:4: Jehoahaz was taken by force to Egypt.

JEHOIAKIM, Johoahaz's brother, King of Judah 609–598 BCE

605 BC: Nebuchadnezzar invaded Syria, crossed the Jordan, and besieged Jerusalem. Jehoiakim paid him off by giving him the temple vessels. Jeremiah uttered an oracle against Egypt.

Jeremiah 36:1–4: In 605 BCE Baruch wrote down some of Jeremiah's prophecies, but apparently not the earliest ones, in that no comment from Jeremiah on Josiah's reforms can be identified.

Jeremiah 1:1–4 v:1–3 speak of him in the third person and look editorial, while :4 is in the first person.

2 Ki 24:1–6: In 597 BCE Jehoiakim rebelled and refused to pay tribute. While Nebuchadnezzar mobilised his army Jehoiakim disappeared and was succeeded by Jehoiakin.

JEHOIAKIN (or JECONIAH), Jehoiakin's son, King of Judah for 3 months in 598 BCE

2 Ki 24:7–15: Jehoiakin was 18 years old on accession. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Jehoiakin surrendered the chief people and temple treasures, and was taken prisoner.

ZEDEKIAH, Jehoiakin's uncle, King of Judah 597–587 BCE

2 Ki 24:17–18: Nebuchadnezzar appointed Mattaniah (who he renamed Zedekiah) puppet king aged 21.

2 Chr 36:11–12, 2 Ki 24:20: Zedekiah was a weak, vacillating king, unsure whether to look to Egypt for rescue from the demands of Nebuchadnezzar, and he eventually rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar.

2 Ki 25:1–7: Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem for over a year. Zedekiah tried to flee with his army but was caught, leading to the end of the kingdom. Zedekiah was taken to Babylon in chains along with the leaders of the people.

Jeremiah 39:3: The British Museum has a clay tablet that refers to the official Sarsechim "chief eunuch of Nebuchadnezzar", confirming the historicity of this account[4].

UNDER DIRECT RULE, 587 BCE onwards

2 Ki 25:8–21: Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BCE. All but the poorest of the people were taken captive, and some were killed. All of the temple utensils were removed, and the metal items that were too big to carry were broken up for scrap (cf. Jeremiah 27:19f).

2 Chr 36:21: This disaster fulfilled Jeremiah's prophecy.

2 Ki 25:22–26: Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor, but he was assassinated. The remaining people fled to Egypt, fearing Nebuchadnezzar's wrath, and turned to other gods.

2 Ki 25:27: In 562 BCE the Babylonians released Jehoiakin from prison to be nominal King of Judah, but living in Babylon.

Structure

Jeremiah's prophecy in the time of JOSIAH

The first 20 chapters are undated and not in chronological order.

Jeremiah 1: Editorial introduction. The encounter with God validates the following prophecy.

Jeremiah 1:9: cf. Isaiah 6:7; Jeremiah was a prophet of the same order as his predecessor Isaiah.

Jeremiah 3:6–19:13: Prophecy of doom (but possible repentance) for Israel and Judah, due to turning to Baals. Familiar phrase "Is there no balm in Gilead?"

Jeremiah 7: The famous "Temple Sermon" against misplaced faith.

Jeremiah 18:1–11: The potter and clay image also appears in Isaiah 29:16, 41:25, 45:9, 64:8, and Rom 9:21.

Jeremiah 19:5: Child sacrifice was practised.

Jeremiah 19:9: Siege foretold.

Jeremiah 19:14–20:2: Reaction to the prophecy: imprisoned overnight in stocks.

Jeremiah 20:3–6: Exile foretold.

Jeremiah's prophecy in the time of JEHOAHAZ (or SHALLUM)

Jeremiah 22:11–17

Jeremiah's prophecy in the time of JEHOIAKIM

Jeremiah 25: pivotal: vv 1–14 summarise the preceding chapters, vv 15–38 turn to judge the nations.

Jeremiah 26: Another "Temple Sermon"; reaction to unwelcome message: Jeremiah's life threatened.

Jeremiah 35: Prophecy in action. Jeremiah confronted conservative traditionalists.

Jeremiah 36: Jeremiah was under house arrest. Baruch recorded Jeremiah's prophecy (ch 2–24?) on a scroll and read it. The King burned the scroll, and Jeremiah and Baruch went into hiding.

Jeremiah 45: 605 BCE prophecies...

Jeremiah 46–49: ... including some against Egypt.

Jeremiah 50–51: Prophecy about Babylon. Dan 1:1–3 shows tribute to Nebuchadnezzar then.

Jeremiah's prophecy in the time of JEHOIAKIN (or JECONIAH)

Jeremiah 22:18f: Ezekiel (Ezek 1:2), Daniel, Shadrach and Abednego were among those taken into exile.

Jeremiah 23:1: Woe to the shepherds; a righteous branch will be raised up.

Jeremiah 23:9–52: Woe to lying prophets.

Jeremiah 23:23–24: God is God of everywhere.

Jeremiah 29: Letter to those not exiled.

Jeremiah's prophecy in the time of ZEDEKIAH

"The Lord our Righteousness" combines YHWH with Zedek from the king's name, pointing to the true righteous one.

Jeremiah 21: 588–586 BC.

Jeremiah 24: Good figs and bad figs, possibly to encourage the remnant in the land.

Jeremiah 27f: Most "prophets" were saying the opposite of Jeremiah. 27:19f fulfilled in 2 Ki 25:8–21.

Jeremiah 30–33: "The Book of Salvation"

Jeremiah 31: God would fulfil the broken covenant by introducing a new one (much quoted in Hebrews). Familiar phrase in Jeremiah 31:15 "Weeping in Ramah".

Jeremiah 32: Under siege.

Jeremiah 33:1: Jeremiah imprisoned.

Jeremiah 34: Jeremiah (seeking comfort) and Zedekiah (seeking prayer) had private conversations.

Jeremiah 37: Prophet in prison; Egypt's defeat by Babylon foretold.

Jeremiah 38: Jeremiah in cistern, because his prophecy sounded like enemy propaganda. cf. Ps 69.

Jeremiah 39: Jerusalem fell; the fate of the King, prophet and people. Compare 39:11–14 & 40:1–6.

Jeremiah 39:4: King and army fled.

Under direct Rule (a period not covered by the scope set in Jeremiah 1:3!)

Jeremiah 40: Jeremiah freed by Babylonians.

Jeremiah 41: Puppet governor assassinated; people flee to Egypt.

Jeremiah 42: Prophecy to the remnant: trust Babylon, not Egypt.

Jeremiah 43: Prophecy ignored; Jeremiah prophesied to them in Egypt.

Jeremiah 44:16f: Prophecy rejected, and the people turned to other gods.

Jeremiah 46–51: Prophecy to the surrounding nations.

Jeremiah 52: Editorial conclusion, cf. 2 Ki 24:18–25:30.

Commentary

1:1–10

cf. the call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1–8. Jeremiah's family served as priests in Shiloh in 1 Samuel 1–3 but were banished to Anathoh when Solomon chose Zadok over Abiathar in 1  Kings 2:26–27. This alienation was compounded when the shrines outside Jerusalem were abolished by Josiah in 2 Kings 23, but the priests refused to move to Jerusalem.

1:9–10

cf. Isaiah 6:7. God seems to be calling Jeremiah to speak with God's own authority, so that the word brings about its fulfilment. But Jeremiah's negative tone seems not to fulfil the balance of this call.

1:11

cf. Numbers 17:5; this example reflects Jeremiah's priestly background.

1:13

cf. 1 Samuel 2:14; this example reflects Jeremiah's priestly background and links to Shiloh (see comment on 1:1).

2

This chapter uses bridal imagery to express the gulf that has emerged between God and his chosen people. The solution to the problem is described in Jeremiah 31:31f.

2:5

The sort of accusation that might justify the Jews' rebellion (or infidelity, as in a marriage) would include God not keeping his part of the bargain.

5:1

cf. Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:32).

7

cf. Jeremiah 26. This is the only description of the destruction of the temple at Shiloh (see comment on 1:1); it is mentioned by way of an attack on those who place undue trust in the temple in Jerusalem.

7:11

This prophecy seems to have been fulfilled in two ways: greedy people invaded the land (Psalm 79:6–7) and the people themselves became greedy and dishonest (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46).

7:21

This verse seems to say that Moses, rather than God, devised the sacrificial law.

8:13

cf. Matthew 21:19, Mark 11:12.

10:25

cf. Psalm 79:6–7.

17:7–8

cf. Psalm 1, Amos 9:2–3, Matthew 13:5–6.

18:1–11

The imagery of potter and clay also appears in Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 41:25, Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 64:8, and Romans 9:21.

18:7–10

These verses contain an important definition of how biblical prophecy is to be interpreted: not as tomorrow's newspaper but as a conditional warning. We have the choice whether to let the described events take place (by continuing as we are) or not (by repenting). Jonah knew that, and was angry, because he did not want Nineveh pardoned.

20:7

The word often translated "deceived" can also mean "seduced".[6]

21:1–7

cf. Jeremiah 37:3–10.

23:23–24

cf. Psalm 139:7–12.

23:24

A key verse: God announces plainly that he is the universal God, not like the local gods ancient peoples believed in. The application appears in Jeremiah 29.

23:38f

cf. Matthew 7:22.

24:1

cf. Numbers 18:13; this example reflects Jeremiah's priestly background.

25:11–12

The prophecy of a seventy year exile soon proved wrong and was corrected in Daniel 9.

26

cf. Jeremiah 7.

26:17–19

This is Hezekiah's response to Micah 3 and the result is recorded in Isaiah 36–37.

29:7

Jeremiah was preaching against attitudes like that shown in Psalm 137:9.

29:10

cf. Ezekiel 34:11f. The 70 year period is significant, a time of cleansing as well as a punishment. This prophecy was given about 500 years after the instructions for keeping the Sabbath were given during the Exodus. The number of Sabbaths kept badly was about 500 x 52 =26,000. The land was to be healed by being given a rest from its burdensome people for 70 x 365 =25,550 days. There was to be one day of rest for every week that had elapsed.[7] However, the seventy year figure soon proved wrong and was corrected in Daniel 9.

29:11

cf. Romans 8:28.

29:12f

These verses remove the curses in Isaiah such as Isaiah 59:2 and Isaiah 64:7.

31:22

Medieval theologians interpreted this verse as referring to Mary bearing Jesus.[8]

31:29

According to John Thewlis[9] this verse contradicts the Second Commandment, thus representing a change in theology; but the comment on Exodus 20:5 suggests it is instead a change in anthropology.

31:31

cf. Hebrews 8:10, Matthew 26:28, John 15:15. It seems that God's objectives were not being met by the earlier covenants, otherwise he would not have made a new one. There were three ways in which the earlier ones were deficient: they had not made the people holy, they had not revealed God's character fully, and they did not admit people to heaven to be with God eternally. The fault lies with the people according to Jeremiah 2.

31:32

cf. John 2:1–11.

31:33

cf. Joel 2:28.

31:34

cf. Romans 1:11–21, where Paul longs to visit the Christians in Rome, convinced that it would be to their mutual benefit if he did. God's Holy Spirit leads every Christian to understand God better, but since God is beyond our understanding, none of us has a monopoly of understanding.

32:9

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

32:14

The treatment of the scroll in this verse is strikingly similar to the way the Dead Sea Scrolls were preserved.

36:3

God's forgiveness hinges on both regret and turning toward holiness.

36:32

It seems that the text handed down to us is not confined to what God said to Jeremiah, but contains additional material.

37:3

cf. Jeremiah 21:1–7. Rofe[10] sees this as a re-working of the earlier passage by scribes, but I disagree; they refer to different contexts.

39:3

The British Museum possesses a clay tablet that refers to the official Sarsechim, confirming the historicity of this account, and helping us to translate verses containing these unfamiliar terms accurately.[11]

Prophecy to the surrounding nations

46–51

Jeremiah's call, in 1:9–10, was to plant and tear down. In my opinion, the negative tone of these prophecies fails to live up to all that God called Jeremiah to say.

52:1–34

cf. 2 Kings 24:18–2 Kings 25:30 which is very similar.

52:31

Nebuchadrezzar's son Amel-Marduk is called "Evil-Merodach" here and in 2 Kings 25:27[12 p.44].

References:

  1. "Jeremiah" in Britannica Encyclopaedia Online available from http://www.britannica.com/ accessed 17 June 2014
  2. Brueggeman, W. A. Commentary on Jeremiah (Eerdmans 1998)
  3. Sweeney, M. "The Latter Prophets" in Mackenzie and Graham (eds) The Hebrew Bible Today (Westminster: John Knox Press 1998) p.82f, p.87
  4. Hubbard, R. and Johnston, K. (eds) Jeremiah, Lamentations in New International Biblical Commentary series (Milton Keynes: Paternoster 2008) p.19, p.9, p.257
  5. Koppers, G. N. "Deuteronomistic History" in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible edited by D N Freedman (Eerdmans 2000) p.341
  6. Rosalind Brown writing in Church Times 20 June 2014 p19 (Church Times, 13–17 Long Lane, London EC1A 9PN www.churchtimes.co.uk)
  7. Revd Paul Kennington's notes for a Southwark OLM class on 13 October 2003
  8. Sawyer, J. The Fifth Gospel — Isaiah in the History of Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) p.68
  9. John Thewlis preaching on 14 October 2007
  10. Rofe, A. The Nature of the Prophetic Books (Sheffield, 1997) p.20
  11. Church Times 20 July 2007 p9.
  12. Miller, S. Daniel in Clendenen, E. (General Editor) "New American Commentary" series (USA: Broadman & Holman, 1994)

© David Billin 2002–2019