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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the BibleBell's Commentary

Book Overview - Jeremiah

by Arend Remmers

Author and Time of Writing

The beginning of Jeremiah reads as follows: "The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah" and in chapter 51:64 we read: "Thus far the words of Jeremiah." In contradiction to these simple introductory and final words of the prophet and in spite of the fact that there is no other prophet in the OT of whom we are told so many personal details regarding his life and service, modern critics of the book of Jeremiah claim that Jeremiah's prophecies do mostly not originate from himself. And yet there is not one sensible reason for such doubtful argumentation.

Out of Jeremiah's records we see that he was born during the reign of impious king Manasseh (696 - 642 BC). He originated from the priestly family of Aaron. His hometown was Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, which was not far from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 1:1). In his very early years he was called by Jehovah to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:4-10). This happened in king Josiah's 13th year, which was in 627 BC (he reigned from 640 - 609 BC). Jeremiah's service lasted over 40 years till after Jerusalem's destruction through Nebuchadrezzar in the year 586 BC (Jeremiah 39). According to Jehovah's command Jeremiah remained unmarried (Jeremiah 16:2).

To start with, Jeremiah lived in Anathoth. But soon enough the hatred of its inhabitants arose against him (chap. 11:18-23). The prophecies of chapter 1:2ff and 3:6ff were uttered during king Josiah's time (640 - 609 BC). After Josiah's death Jeremiah lamented for him (2 Chronicles 35:25; compare Jeremiah 22:10). He prophesied against Shallum (or Jehoahaz) the son of Josiah king of Judah in chap. 22:11.

During the following reign of Jehoiakim (609 - 598 BC) Jeremiah prophesied Jerusalem's doom. This is why the priests wanted to kill him (Jeremiah 26). In Jehoiakim's fourth year Jeremiah prophesied amidst other things the 70 years captivity of Judah in Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 36:1; Jeremiah 45:1). During this time the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar defeated the Egyptian Empire in the battle of Carchemish (606 BC). Following this Jerusalem was besieged and a part of the inhabitants were brought to Babylon (which was the first deportation to Babylon in 605 BC). Jeremiah now got the task of God to write down all his hitherto existing prophecies into a book. He did this with the help of his secretary Baruch (Jeremiah 36:1-4). When Baruch had read out these words in the temple king Jehoiakim in fury cut the roll and burnt it (Jeremiah 36:20-26). Then God had Jeremiah rewrite it all again and Jeremiah added "besides unto them many like words" (chap. 36:27-32).

The next king, Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, only reigned for three months and was brought to Babylon in 597 BC (the second deportation). His successor was Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah (597 - 586 BC). Jeremiah gave Zedekiah the advice not to rely on Egypt while opposing to Babylon (Jeremiah 37:6 ff) but to subject to the king of Babylon (chap. 27:12-22). When Jeremiah intended to go to the land of Benjamin he was captured and cast into the dungeon (Jeremiah 37:11-21; Jeremiah 38:1-6). When finally the Babylonians took Jerusalem Jeremiah was freed out of prison. He was given the choice to either go to Babylon or to remain in the land (for the king Nebuchadrezzar had given charge concerning him). When Gedaliah (who was appointed governor by the king's command) was murdered the Jews flew for fear of the Babylonians' vengeance to Egypt (although Jeremiah had warned them not to do so) and forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them (Jeremiah 41; Jeremiah 42; Jeremiah 43). This is were Jeremiah continued his prophetical service in the city of Tahpanhes (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44) and this is where he shall have been stoned to death according to tradition five years after Jerusalem's destruction. The Bible remains silent regarding the death of this great prophet who lived and served in the last forty years of the kingdom of Judah.

Purpose of Writing

Jeremiah, the second of the so-called four Major prophets is rightly the so called crying prophet (compare Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:14). No other prophet encountered so much opposition and hatred. Although he had to suffer much sorrow by his compatriots during his life Jeremiah was greatly honoured after his death (compare with Math. 16:14). And although Jeremiah constantly lashed the Jews' unrighteousness and their apostasy off the living God he loved his people up to the end (comp. chap. 17:16; 18:20).

The main contents and purpose of Jeremiah's message are constantly returning appeals to the conscience of Judah's inhabitants. The messages urged them to recognise their low moral condition and to come back to God from their apostasy off Jehovah as well as from their idolatry. With that Jeremiah constantly bore the threatening judgment of Jerusalem's destruction before his eyes.

But Jeremiah also repeatedly speaks of God's mercy for His people. The captivity in Babylon shall last for 70 years only (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10). After this time the people should return to their land.

Finally Jeremiah has a message of consolation, which still remains unfulfilled for it was not yet fulfilled after the 70 years' captivity. After "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:4-7) Jehovah shall make a new covenant with His people (chap. 31:31-34) and the glorious time of the millennial peace-reign under the Messiah will dawn (chap. 23:5-8; 33:14-18). This hope of future blessing and power of the Spirit of God strengthened and encouraged Jeremiah in his sad service that was rejected by his Jewish contemporaries.


a) Judah's 70 Years' Captivity in Babylon

In two references, Jeremiah mentions the looming destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people into captivity in Babylon and that the captivity should come to an end after 70 years by the remnant's return (Jeremiah 25:11-12; Jeremiah 29:10). The threatening punishment of God found a fulfilment during Nebuchadrezzar's reign. During Jehoiakim's reign Nebuchadrezzar, in 605 BC for the first time, marched up to Jerusalem and brought a number of Jews to Babylon, amongst whom was Daniel (Daniel 1:1).

During Jehoiachin's short reign a second attack took place in 597 BC during which 10 ,000 people were led captive and brought to Babylon. Under Zedekiah's reign, finally, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 BC and the remaining people carried off to Babylon. Jeremiah's prophecy was thus fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:21).

In 539 BC Cyrus the king of Persia conquered Babylon and appointed Darius the Median as co-regent (Daniel 5:31). In Darius' second year (which according to Persian counting was the year one) Daniel understood by the books that the 70 years of the desolation of Jerusalem, whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, came to an end (Daniel 9:1-2). This is by the way a clear evidence for the God-given recognition of the OT's inspiration before the entire Canon was accomplished! When Daniel was confessing their sin in prayer he received further prophecies through the angel Gabriel concerning the 70 "weeks" of one year each. These weeks would last from the rebuilding of Jerusalem up to the coming of Messiah and to the time of the end (Daniel 9:20-27).

The author of Second Chronicles (36:22) and of Ezra (1:1) as well refers to Jeremiah's prophecy regarding the 70 years' desolation of Jerusalem. Based on king Cyrus' edict around 42 ,000 Jews got ready for Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (around 536 BC). The prophet Zechariah (who prophesied shortly after the Jews' return) likewise refers to the 70 years of Jehovah's indignation with Jerusalem and with the cities of Judah (Zechariah 1:12).

Now the question is as follows: from which of Nebuchadrezzar's three campaigns against Jerusalem are the 70 years to be counted? Some researchers think to start from the destruction of the temple in 586 BC and then conclude that the number 70 is not to be taken literally as only just 50 years passed by till the return of the remnant in 536 BC. Others (based on Ezra 5:1; Ezra 6:14 and Zechariah 1:12) want to see the final date around 516 BC when the temple was accomplished to reach the number of 70 years.

The easiest and most likely way however is to take the first conquest of Jerusalem in 605 BC as starting point and the return of the Jews in 536 BC as final point in calculating the 70 years (based on 2 Kings 24:1-4 and 2 Chronicles 36:20-23).

b) The Order of the Chapters in the Book of Jeremiah

The contents of the book of Jeremiah are not always written down in chronological order. One generally assumes that the contents of chapters 1 to 20 belong to the time of Josiah's reign (although his name is only mentioned in chap. 1:1 and 3:6). No dates are mentioned out of king Jehoahaz' reign.

- Chapters 25 to 26 , 35 to 36 and 45 to 49 are generally placed into king Jehoiakim's reign in spite of the fact that only chapters 25 , 26 , 35 , 36 and 45 are dated.

- Chapters 21 to 24 , 27 to 34 and 37 to 42 are placed into king Zedekiah's reign; dates are mentioned in chapters 21 , 27 , 28 , 29 , 32 , 33 , 34 and 37.

- Jeremiah spoke the words of chap. 43:7-8 and chap. 44 in Egypt.

- Chapter 52 is an appendix corresponding nearly word-by-word with 2 Kings 24:18-25 , 30. This appendix was added under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, maybe even by the prophet Jeremiah himself.

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) omits several verses: chapters 10:6-10; 17:1-4; 27:1.7.13 and in some cases 17-22; 29:16-20; 33:14-26; 39:4-13; 51:44-49; 52:28-30 and other references. The chapters 46 to 51 follow in changed order after chap. 25:13. Many scientists however agree that the Alexandrian translators who were trained in Greek thinking have tried to smooth the difficult construction of the Hebrew book of Jeremiah. The Hebrew Masoretic text of the book which has been preserved therefore deserves clearly the priority.

c) Prophetical Symbols

We find many a prophetical action or sign with many prophets, for example Ezekiel 2:8-10; Ezekiel 3:1-3; Hosea 1:2-9; Zechariah 11:7-17. But in no other book we will find so many prophetical symbols as in the book of Jeremiah.

  • the linen girdle (chap. 13:1-11): the rejection of Israel

  • the potter and the clay (chap. 18:1-10): God's patience

  • the earthen bottle (JND: flagon) (chap. 19:1-13): destruction

  • the yokes (chap. 27:2-11; 28:2.10-14): subjection

  • the acquisition of a field (chap. 32:6-15): faith and hope

  • the hidden stones in the brick-kiln (chap. 43:8-13): humiliation

  • the book cast into Euphrates (chap. 51:59-64): Babylon's destruction

Overview of Contents

I. Jeremiah 1 : The Prophet's Call

II. Jeremiah 2- 25 : God's Appeal to the People's Conscience

Chapter 2 Israel's Apostasy
Chapter 3 Announcement of Judgment
Chapter 4 Call to Repentance
Chapter 5 Judah's Hardening
Chapter 6 Announcement of Jerusalem's Siege
Chapter 7 Reasons for Judgment
Chapter 8 The People's Lack of Understanding
Chapter 9 The Prophet's Lamentation
Chapter 10 Jehovah and the Idols
Chapter 11 Israel has Broken the Covenant
Chapter 12 Jehovah Turns Away
Chapter 13 Judgment and Captivity
Chapter 14 The Great Drought
Chapter 15 The Remnant and Jehovah
Chapter 16 Expulsion and Return
Chapter 17 The Remnant's Position
Chapter 18 - 19 God's Sovereignty
Chapter 20 Persecution of Jeremiah
Chapter 21 - 22 Judgment over the House of David
Chapter 23 The Evil Shepherds of Israel
Chapter 24 The Way of Life and of Death
Chapter 25 Announcement of 70 Years of Exile
Chapter 26 Jeremiah in Danger to Life
Chapter 27 - 28 The Yokes: Subjugation through Babylon
Chapter 29 Jeremiah Is Comforting the Captives in Babylon

III. Jeremiah 30-33 : The New Covenant and the Reign of Peace

Chapter 30 The People's Salvation
Chapter 31 The New Covenant
Chapter 32 Jehovah's Faithfulness
Chapter 33 Salvation and Praise

IV.Jeremiah 34-39 : Events and Prophecies before Jerusalem's Fall

Chapter 34 Jeremiah warns Zedekiah
Chapter 35 The Rekabites' Faithfulness
Chapter 36 Jehoiakim's Contempt of the Word of God
Chapter 37 Jeremiah has to go into Prison
Chapter 38 Jeremiah and Zedekiah
Chapter 39 Taking of Jerusalem

V. Jeremiah 40-45 : Events and Prophecies after Jerusalem's Fall

Chapter 40 Jeremiah Remains with Gedaliah
Chapter 41 Gedaliah is Murdered
Chapter 42 - 43 The Remnant goes down to Egypt in spite of Jeremiah's Warning
Chapter 44 Jeremiah's Prophecies against Egypt
Chapter 45 Jeremiah's Warning for Baruch

VI. Jeremiah 46-51 : Prophecies against the Nations

Chapter 46 Prophecy against Egypt
Chapter 47 Prophecy against the Philistines
Chapter 48 Prophecy against Moab
Chapter 49 Prophecy against Ammon, Edom, Damascus and other Enemies
Chapter 50 - 51 Prophecy against Babylon

VII.Jeremiah 52, Historical Appendix: The Fall of Jerusalem

Arend Remmers

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