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by Adam Clarke
Introduction to the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
The Prophet Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, was of the sacerdotal race, and a native of Anathoth, a village in the tribe of Benjamin, within a few miles of Jerusalem, which had been appointed for the use of the priests, the descendants of Aaron, Joshua 21:18. He was called to the prophetic office when very young; probably when he was fourteen years of age, and in the thirteenth of the reign of Josiah, A.M. 3375, b.c. 629. He continued to prophesy till after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, which took place A.M. 3416; and it is supposed that about two years after he died in Egypt. Thus it appears that he discharged the arduous duties of the prophetic office for upwards of forty years.
Being very young when called to the prophetic office, he endeavored to excuse himself on account of his youth and incapacity for the work; but, being overruled by the Divine authority, he undertook the task, and performed it with matchless zeal and fidelity in the midst of a most crooked and perverse people, by whom he was continually persecuted, and whom he boldly reproved, often at the hazard of his life.
His attachment to his country was strong and fervent; he foresaw by the light of prophecy the ruin that was coming upon it. He might have made terms with the enemy, and not only saved his life, but have gained ease and plenty; but he chose rather to continue with his people, and take his part in all the disasters that befell them.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar having made Gedaliah governor of Judea, the fractious Jews rose up against him, and put him to death; they then escaped to Tahpanhes in Egypt, carrying Jeremiah with them; who, continuing to testify against their wickedness and idolatry, at length fell a victim to his faithfulness: they filled up the measure of their iniquity, as tradition reports, by stoning the prophet to death. God marked this murderous outrage by his peculiar displeasure; for in a few years after they were almost all miserably destroyed by the Chaldean armies which had invaded Egypt; and even this destruction had been foretold by the prophet himself, chap. 44: "They were consumed by the sword and by the famine until there was an end of them, a small remnant only escaping," Jeremiah 44:14, Jeremiah 44:27, Jeremiah 44:28.
The pitch of desperate wickedness to which the Jews had arrived previously to their captivity was truly astonishing. They had exhausted all the means that infinite mercy, associated with infinite justice, could employ for the salvation of sinners; and they became in consequence desperately wicked; no wonder, therefore, that wrath fell upon them to the uttermost. It seems that their hardness and darkness had proceeded to such lengths that they abandoned themselves to all the abominations of idolatry to avenge themselves on God, because he would not bear with their continual profligacy. Were ever people more highly favored, more desperately ungrateful, or more signally punished! What a lesson is their history to the nations of the earth, and especially to those who have been favored with the light of revelation!
I should have entered into a particular discussion relative to the history of those times mentioned by this prophet, had they not passed already in review in the Books of Kings and Chronicles; in which much of the historical parts of this prophet has been anticipated; and to which, in order to avoid repetition, I must refer my readers. What is farther necessary to be added will be found in the following notes.
As a writer, the character of Jeremiah has been well drawn by Bishop Lowth. On comparing him with Isaiah, the learned prelate says: "Jeremiah is by no means wanting either in elegance or sublimity; although, generally speaking, inferior to Isaiah in both. St. Jerome has objected to him a certain rusticity in his diction; of which, I must confess, I do not discover the smallest trace. His thoughts, indeed, are somewhat less elevated, and he is commonly more large and diffuse in his sentences; but the reason of this may be, that he is mostly taken up with the gentler passions of grief and pity, for the expressing of which he has a peculiar talent. This is most evident in the Lamentations, where those passions altogether predominate; but it is often visible also in his Prophecies; in the former part of the book more especially, which is principally poetical. The middle parts are for the most part historical; but the last part, consisting of six chapters, is entirely poetical; and contains several oracles distinctly marked, in which this prophet falls very little short of the loftiest style of Isaiah." It has often been remarked, that although several of the prophecies in this book have their dates distinctly noted, and most of the rest may be ascertained from collateral evidence; yet there is a strange disorder in the arrangement. "There is," says Dr. Blayney, "a preposterous jumbling together of the prophecies of the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah in the seventeen chapters which follow the twentieth, according to the Hebrew copies; so that, without any apparent reason, many of the latter reigns precede those of the former; and in the same reign, the last delivered are put first, and the first, last." In order to prevent the confusion arising from this, Dr. Blayney has transposed the chapters where he thought it needful, without altering the numerals as they stand in our common Bibles.
This defect has been noticed, and attempts made to remedy it, by others. Dr. John George Dahler, Professor of Theology in the Protestant seminary of Strasburg, has just now published the first volume of a work, entitled, Jeremie, traduit sur le Texte original, accompagne de Notes Explicatives, Historiques, et Critiques, 8vo., (antedated) Strasbourg, 1824. After a preface, and very judicious historical introduction, consisting, the first of twenty-two, the second of thirty-six pages, the text and notes follow. The poetical parts of the text are translated in the hemistich manner, as the original appears in the best copies; and the whole is divided into sections; each of which is introduced with judicious observations relative to time, place, circumstances, and the matter contained in that section. The discourses or prophecies delivered under a particular reign, are all produced under that reign in their chronological order. A table of this arrangement I shall here introduce, and refer to the use of it afterwards:
Table I Prophecies under Josiah 1:1-19 3:6 4:4 4, 5, Jeremiah 6:30; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Jeremiah 3:1-5; Jeremiah 47:1-7; Under Jehoiakim 7:1 9:25 Jeremiah 20:14-18; 26:1-24 23:9-40 Jeremiah 46:2-12; 35:1-19 10:1-16 25:1-38 14:1 15:21 36:1-32 16:1 17:18 Jeremiah 45:1-5; 18:1-23 Jeremiah 12:14-17; 19:1 20:13 Jeremiah 10:17-25; Under Jeconiah 13:1-27 Under Zedekiah 22:1-23:8 Jeremiah 34:1-7; 11:1-17 Jeremiah 37:1-10; 11:18 12:13 Jeremiah 34:8-22; Jeremiah 24:1-10; Jeremiah 37:11-21; 29:1-32 38:1-28 27:1 28:17 Jeremiah 39:15-18; Jeremiah 49:34-39; 32:1-44 Jeremiah 51:59-64; 33:1-26 Jeremiah 21:1-14; Jeremiah 39:1-10; After the destruction of Jerusalem Jeremiah 39:11-14; 42:1 43:7 40:1 41:18 30:1 31:40 Prophecies delivered in Egypt Jeremiah 43:8-13; 44:1-30 46:13-28 Prophecies relative to strange nations Jeremiah 46:1; Jeremiah 49:23-27; Jeremiah 49:14; Jeremiah 49:28-33; 48:1-47 50:1 51:64 49:7-22 Historical Appendix 52:1-34
The kings under whom Jeremiah prophesied succeeded each other in the following order:
Table II Jeremiah 1:1. Delivered the thirteenth year of Josiah Jeremiah 35:1. Under Jehoiakim Jeremiah 3:6. Under Josiah Jeremiah 36:1. Under Jehoiakim Jeremiah 21:1. Under Zedekiah Jeremiah 37:1. Under Zedekiah during the siege of Jerusalem Jeremiah 24:1. After the carrying away of Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 37:11. Under Zedekiah Jeremiah 25:1. The fourth year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 38:1. Under Zedekiah Jeremiah 26:1. The beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 39:15. Under Zedekiah while Jeremiah was in prison Jeremiah 28:1. The beginning of the reign of Zedekiah Jeremiah 45:1. The fourth year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 29:1. After the carrying away of Jeconiah Jeremiah 46:2. The fourth year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah 32:1. The tenth year of Zedekiah Jeremiah 49:34. In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah Jeremiah 34:1. (Under Zedekiah) during the siege of Jerusalem Jeremiah 51:59. The fourth year of Zedekiah Jeremiah 34:8. (Under Zedekiah) when he had obliged his subjects to give liberty to the Israelites whom they had reduced to slavery
Taking into consideration the order of the reigns, a child may perceive that the above prophecies are not in the order of the times of their delivery; and that the sheets or skins on which the text of that MS. was written, from which the present copies have derived their origin, have been pitifully interchanged, huddled and tacked together, without connection or arrangement.
To remedy this defect, Dr. Blayney has arranged the chapters in the following order which he terms a new arrangement of the chapters in Jeremiah, from chap. 20, to chap. 46, inclusive: 20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 35, 36, 45, 24, 29, 30, 31, 27, 28, 21, 34, 37, 32, 33, 38, 39:15-18, 39:1-14, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 46, etc.
The preceding and subsequent chapters Dr. Blayney thought sufficiently correct for all the general purposes of chronology; and it is according to this order that he prints the text in his edition and translation of this prophet.
Dr. Dahler, as we have seen, is more circumstantial. Where he has dates, as are shown in the preceding table, he produces the text in that order; where there are not positive dates, he ascertains several by circumstantial intimations, which bear great evidence of accuracy; but there is a numerous class of discourses which he is obliged to insert in this work by critical conjecture. In such a case as this, when the arrangement of the common text is so evidently defective, and in many respects absurd, this procedure is quite allowable; for although the present text as to its arrangement has the sanction of antiquity, yet when a remedy is found, it would be absurd, if not sinful, to follow an order which we may rest satisfied never did proceed from the inspired writer.
I hope none will suppose that these observations detract any thing from the Divine inspiration of the book. The prophet delivered his discourses at particular times in select portions, during forty or forty-three years; these were afterwards gathered together and stitched up without any attention to chronological arrangement. Though the Spirit of the Lord directed the prophet, yet it would be absurd to suppose that it guided the hand of every collector or scribe into whose custody these several parcels might come. Suppose a man buy a copy of the Bible in sheets, and not knowing how to collate them, stitches the whole confusedly together, so that in many places the sense cannot be made out from a preceding to a following sheet, would it not be singularly foolish for any person to say, "As God is the Fountain of wisdom and Author of reason, such incongruities cannot proceed from him, therefore this book was not given by Divine revelation." A child in a printer's office might reply, "Cut the stitching asunder, that is man's work; collate the sheets and put them in their proper order, and you will soon see that every paragraph is in harmony with the rest, and contains the words of Divine wisdom." Many an ancient MS., which appeared mutilated and imperfect, I have restored to order and perfection by cutting the binding asunder, and restoring the sheets and leaves to those places from which the ignorance and unskilfulness of the binder had detached them. May we not be allowed to treat the dislocations in the writings of a prophet in the same way, when it is evident that in the lapse of time his work has suffered by the hand of the careless and ignorant.
But it may be asked, "After all the evidence I have, and the concessions I have made, why I have not transposed those disjointed chapters, and produced them in the order in which I think they should be read?" I answer, Were I to give a new translation with notes of this prophet separately, as Drs. Blayney and Dahler have done, I should feel it my duty to do what the objection states; but as my province as a general commentator requires me to take up all the books of the sacred volume in the order in which I find them in the present authorized version, though convinced that this arrangement is neither correct nor convenient; so I take up the parts of each, however transposed, in the same manner, directing the reader by tables and notes to regulate his use of the work so as to produce general edification with as little embarrassment as possible.
For general purposes, Dr. Blayney's chronological arrangement may be sufficient; but for greater accuracy Table I. may be preferred. These may at least be considered in the light of helps to a better understanding of these several prophecies; but no man is bound to follow either, farther than he is convinced that it follows what is specifically set down by the prophet himself, or fairly deducible from strong circumstantial evidence.
In my notes on this prophet I have availed myself, as far as my plan would permit, of the best helps within my reach. The various readings of Kennicott and De Rossi I have carefully consulted, and occasionally strengthened the evidence in behalf of those readings, more particularly recommended by collations from my own M,SS. I regret that I have not been able, for the reasons mentioned at the conclusion of the notes on Isaiah, to produce all the various readings of importance found in these ancient MSS., and especially in the Book of Lamentations, which is contained in five of them; but like the woman in the Gospels, I have done what I could, and must leave the rest to those who, with better abilities, may possess the greater advantages of youth and strength, with unimpaired sight.
Reader! God designs thee a blessing by every portion of his word: in thy reading seek for this; and if these notes be helpful to thee, give Him the glory.
Eastcott, Nov. 1, 1824.
the Sixth Week after Easter