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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Jeremiah

- Jeremiah

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE

The title of this book derives from its writer, the early seventh and late sixth-century B.C. Judean prophet: Jeremiah. The book occupies the second position in the Latter Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible after Isaiah and before Ezekiel, which accounts for its position in the Septuagint and most modern translations.

The meaning of "Jeremiah" is not clear. It could mean "Yahweh founds (or establishes)," "Yahweh exalts," "Yahweh throws down," "Yahweh hurls," or "Yahweh loosens (the womb)."

WRITER

The composition and structure of Jeremiah, discussed below, have led many scholars to conclude that an editor or editors (redactors) probably put the book in its final form. Many conservatives, however, believe that Jeremiah himself was responsible for the final form, though it is likely that the book went through several revisions before it reached its final canonical form. Jeremiah could even have written the last chapter, which describes events that took place about 25 years after the next latest events, since he would have been approximately 83 years old, assuming he was still alive. Clearly, Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, provided the prophet with much assistance in writing the material and possibly arranging it in its final form (Jer_36:17-18; Jer_45:1). Baruch was to Jeremiah what Luke was to Paul: his companion, amanuensis, and biographer. The book bears marks of having been assembled by one person at one time.

"There is no satisfactory reason for doubting that Jeremiah himself was the author of the entire book." [Note: Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 243. See also Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel, p. 458; and Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 323-28.]

The Book of Jeremiah tells us more about the prophet Jeremiah than any other prophetic book reveals about its writer. It is highly biographical and autobiographical. [Note: E.g., John F. Graybill, "Jeremiah," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 656; and J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, pp. 88-92.] Scholars refer to the autobiographical sections (Jer_10:23-25; Jer_11:18 to Jer_12:6; Jer_15:10-21; Jer_17:9-11; Jer_17:14-18; Jer_18:18-23; and Jer_20:7-18) as "Jeremiah’s confessions." We know more about his personality than that of any other writing prophet.

Jeremiah’s hometown was Anathoth, a Levitical town in the territory of Benjamin three miles northeast of Jerusalem. [Note: See the map of Palestine at the end of these notes.] Jeremiah’s father, Hilkiah, was evidently a descendant of Abiathar, a descendant of Eli (1Sa_14:3). Thus Jeremiah had ancestral connections to Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood during the Judges Period of Israel’s history (the amphictyony). Jeremiah referred to Shiloh in his Temple Sermon (Jer_7:12; Jer_7:14; cf. Jer_26:6). Abiathar was the sole survivor of King Saul’s massacre of the priests at Nob, also only a few miles northeast of Jerusalem (1Sa_22:20). Later Solomon exiled Abiathar to Anathoth, where Abiathar had property, because Abiathar had proved unfaithful to David (1Ki_2:26). Jeremiah’s father Hilkiah may have been the high priest who found the book of the Law in the temple during Josiah’s reforms (2Ki_22:8-10). [Note: R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 802.] Even though Jeremiah came from a priestly family (like Ezekiel and Zechariah), there is no indication that he ever underwent training for the priesthood or functioned as a priest.

Jeremiah’s date of birth is a matter of dispute. Many scholars believe he was born about 643 B.C., one year before the end of King Manasseh’s reign. [Note: For a clear discussion of the problem, see Thompson, pp. 50-56. See Edwin R. Thiele, A Chronology of the Hebrew Kings, p. 75, for the dates of Israel and Judah’s kings. The commentators give dates that sometimes vary by one or two years when describing the same events. This is because the Babylonians used one method of dating and the Israelites another, at least for some periods of their history. There is still some confusion about these dates. I have usually followed the scheme that Thiele set forth.] He probably died in Egypt.

"A late, unattested tradition, mentioned by Tertullian, Jerome, and others, claims that the people of Tahpanhes [in Egypt] stoned Jeremiah to death." [Note: Charles Lee Feinberg, "Jeremiah," in Isaiah-Ezekiel, vol. 6 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 360.]

His call to the prophetic office came in 627 B.C. (Jer_1:2; Jer_25:3) when he would have been about 20 years old. [Note: See my comments on 1:6.] His ministry as a prophet may have extended over 40 years. Several reliable scholars believe that Jeremiah’s ministry ended about 587 B.C. or a little later. [Note: E.g., Peter C. Craigie, Jeremiah 1-25, p. xlv; Merrill, p. 467; and Thompson, p. 116. Craigie, by the way, wrote only the commentary on 1:1-8:3 and the Introduction in this volume.] Others believe it continued to about 580 B.C. [Note: E.g., Charles H. Dyer, "Jeremiah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1123; and Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 330. Dyer usually provided good explanations of time references that occur throughout Jeremiah.] Jeremiah evidently exercised his ministry mainly during periods of crisis in Judah’s history, though it is impossible to date some of his prophecies. His ministry involved prophesying about Judah and the other ancient Near Eastern nations of his time (Jer_1:10). One writer divided Jeremiah’s life into three periods. [Note: Wood, pp. 333-35.] These periods were the pleasant years during Josiah’s reign, the hard years of persecution and suffering during the reigns of Josiah’s sons and grandson, and the mixed years of favor and disappointment following Jerusalem’s fall.

Judging by Jeremiah’s autobiographical remarks and the narrative information about him in this book, his life was a sad one, one long martyrdom. He probably encountered more opposition from more enemies than any other prophet. Much of it stemmed from his message to his own people: unconditional surrender to Babylon.

"No braver or more tragic figure ever trod the stage of Israel’s history than the prophet Jeremiah. . . .

"Jeremiah was hated, jeered at, ostracized (e.g., chs. Jer_15:10 f., 17; Jer_18:18; Jer_20:10), continually harassed, and more than once almost killed (e.g., chs. Jer_11:18 to Jer_12:6; Jeremiah 26; Jeremiah 36)." [Note: John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 313, 314.]

Jeremiah is the only prophet who recorded his own feelings as he ministered, which makes him both very interesting and very helpful to other ministers. Some authorities believe that his greatest contribution to posterity is the revelation of his personality.

". . . by birth a priest; by grace a prophet; by the trials of life a bulwark for God’s truth; by daily spiritual experience one of the greatest exponents of prophetic faith in his unique relation to God; by temperament gentle and timid, yet constantly contending against the forces of sin; and by natural desire a seeker after the love of a companion, his family, friends, and above all, his people-which were all denied him." [Note: Feinberg, p. 358.]

"He was a weeping prophet to a wayward people." [Note: Dyer, p. 1123.]

Leon Wood described Jeremiah as a man of spiritual maturity, courage, deep emotion, compassion, and integrity. [Note: Wood, pp. 335-39.]

There are many similarities between Jeremiah and Hosea. Hosea announced the fall of Samaria, and Jeremiah announced the fall of Jerusalem. Both prophets experienced much personal tragedy. In his ideas as well as in his vocabulary, Jeremiah demonstrates familiarity with Hosea’s prophecies. There are also affinities with Job and the Psalter.

There are also remarkable parallels between Jeremiah and the Lord Jesus Christ. No other prophet bears as many striking similarities to the Savior, which makes him the most Christ-like of the prophets. The people of Jesus’ day noted these similarities (Mat_16:14). In both of their cases: Jerusalem was about to fall, the temple would suffer destruction soon, the worship of Yahweh had become a formalistic husk, and there was need for emphasis on an individual relationship with God. Both men had a message for Israel and the whole world. Both of them used nature quite extensively for illustrative purposes in their teaching. Both came from a high tradition: Jeremiah from a priestly, prophetic heritage, and Jesus from a divine, royal position. Both were very conscious of their call from God. Both condemned the commercialism of temple worship in their day (Jer_7:11 : Mat_21:13). Their enemies charged both of them with political treason. Both experienced persecutions, trials, and imprisonments. Both foretold the destruction of the temple (Jer_7:14; Mar_13:2). Both wept over Jerusalem (Jer_9:1; Luk_19:41). Both condemned the priests of their day. Both experienced rejection by members of their own families (Jer_12:6; Joh_1:11). Both were so tenderhearted that some Jewish leaders identified them with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Both loved Israel deeply. Both were lonely (Jer_15:10; Isa_53:3), and both enjoyed unusually intimate fellowship with God (Jer_20:7; Joh_11:41-42). [Note: Feinberg, p. 361.]

"It has often been remarked that Jeremiah’s life was finally a failure. He was alone for most of his ministry. It seemed that no one gave any heed to his words. He was dragged off finally to live his last days in exile against his own will. He was a failure as the world judges human achievement. But a more balanced assessment of him would be that his very words of judgment saved Israel’s faith from disintegration, and his words of hope finally helped his people to gain hope in God’s future for them." [Note: Thompson, p. 106.]

"The character of Jeremiah is also reflected in his writings. His speech is clear and simple, incisive and pithy, and, though generally speaking somewhat diffuse, yet ever rich in thought. If it lacks the lofty strain, the soaring flight of an Isaiah, yet it has beauties of its own. It is distinguished by a wealth of new imagery which is wrought out with great delicacy and deep feeling, and by ’a versatility that easily adapts itself to the most various objects, and by artistic clearness’ (Ewald)." [Note: C. F. Keil, The Prophecies of Jeremiah , 1:19. For good summaries of Jeremiah’s life, see ibid., 1:11-20; Thompson, pp. 94-106; and Bright, pp. 313-15.]

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The biblical records of the times in which Jeremiah ministered are 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. His contemporary prophets were Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel after it began. A greater concentration of writing prophets existed just before the fall of Judah than at any other time in biblical history. [Note: Wood, p. 329.]

King Manasseh had been Judah’s most ungodly king, but toward the end of his life he repented (2Ch_33:15-19). He was responsible for many of the evil conditions that marked Judah in Jeremiah’s earliest years (cf. Jer_15:4; 2Ki_23:26). His long life was not a blessing for faithfulness, as his father Hezekiah’s had been, but an instrument of chastening for Judah.

King Amon succeeded Manasseh and reigned two years (642-640 B.C.). Rather than perpetuating the repentant attitude that his father had demonstrated, Amon reverted to the policies of Manasseh’s earlier reign and rebelled against Yahweh completely. This provoked some of his officials to assassinate him (2Ki_21:23).

Josiah was eight years old when his father Amon died. He began reigning then and continued on the throne for 31 years (640-609 B.C.). Josiah was one of Judah’s best kings and one of the four reforming kings of the Southern Kingdom. He began to seek the Lord when he was 16 years old and began initiating religious reforms when he was 20 (2Ch_34:3-7). Jeremiah received his call to minister in the thirteenth year of Josiah when the king was 21, namely, 627 B.C. (Jer_1:6). Josiah’s reforms were more extensive than those of any of his predecessors. He began the major projects when he was 26. During these years Assyria was declining as a world power and Neo-Babylonia was not yet the dominant empire it soon became. One of Josiah’s projects was the repairing of Solomon’s temple (2Ki_22:5; cf. 2Ki_12:4-16). During its renovation, Hilkiah, the high priest and possibly Jeremiah’s father, discovered the Mosaic Law, which had been lost for a long time (cf. 2Ki_22:8). This discovery spurred a return to the system of worship that the Book of Deuteronomy specified (2 Kings 23). Josiah also did much to clear the land of idolatry, sacred prostitution, child sacrifice, and pagan altars-not only in Judah, but also in some formerly Israelite territory. He also reinstituted the Passover. Unfortunately for Judah, Josiah felt compelled to travel to Megiddo to try and block Pharaoh Neco II from advancing north to assist the Assyrians in resisting the westward expanding Babylonians. Josiah died at Megiddo, in 609 B.C., at the age of 39. His death was a tragic loss for Judah.

Some of Jeremiah’s prophecies date from Josiah’s reign. Zephaniah also ministered in Judah during the reign of Josiah, as did the prophetess Huldah (2Ki_22:14-20). There have been many attempts to date all the various sections of Jeremiah. However, much of this is guesswork, and even conservative commentators disagree about the dating of many sections of the book. [Note: See the chart "The Dating of Jeremiah’s Prophecies" in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1126; Young, pp. 250-55; Thompson, pp. 27-30; Feinberg, p. 367; R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 33; and Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah, pp. 173-75; for various schemes.]

Three of Josiah’s sons and one of his grandsons ruled Judah after his death. The first of these, though he was the second son, was Jehoahaz, who ruled for only three months in 609 B.C. The Judean people favored Jehoahaz, but Pharaoh Neco, who by slaying Josiah gained control over Judah, found him uncooperative. Therefore, Pharaoh deported Jehoahaz to Egypt as a prisoner where he died (Jer_22:10-12). God gave Jeremiah a few prophecies during this king’s brief reign.

Jehoahaz’s older brother Jehoiakim succeeded him on Judah’s throne, thanks to Pharaoh Neco. He reigned for 11 years (609-598 B.C.). Jehoiakim was a weak king who changed allegiances between Egypt and Babylon whenever he thought a change might be to Judah’s advantage. During his tenure, Prince Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated the allied Egyptian and Assyrian forces at Carchemish, thus establishing Babylonian supremacy in the ancient Near East (605 B.C.). Shortly thereafter, the now King Nebuchadnezzar, as he had become, invaded Palestine, conquered some cities, and took some of the nobles, including Daniel, as exiles to Babylon (Dan_1:1-3). Jehoiakim refused to follow Jeremiah’s counsel to submit to the Babylonians. Instead he showed his contempt for the prophet by burning his prophecies (ch. 36). Jeremiah despised this king for his wickedness (Jer_22:18-19; Jer_26:20-23; Jeremiah 36). Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon in 601 B.C., so the Babylonians deposed him and took him to Babylon (2Ch_36:6). Later they allowed him to return to Jerusalem where he died in 561 B.C. (cf. Jer_22:18-19). Several of Jeremiah’s prophecies apparently date from Jehoiakim’s reign. Habakkuk probably also ministered at this time, as the content of his book suggests.

Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin succeeded his father but only reigned for three months (598-597 B.C.). During that time Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem and carried off a large portion of the city’s population (in 597 B.C.). The king was evil, and Jeremiah predicted that none of his sons would rule over the nation (Jer_22:30). He ended his days in Babylon, enjoying the favor of the Babylonian king Evilmerodach (Jer_52:31-34).

Zedekiah was the third son of Josiah to rule Judah, and he too ruled under Nebuchadnezzar’s sovereignty (597-586 B.C.). The Babylonian monarch summoned Zedekiah to Babylon in 593 B.C. (Jer_51:59), but he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar by making a treaty with Pharaoh Hophra (589-570 B.C.) under pressure from Judean nationalists (chs. 37-38). This resulted in the final siege of Jerusalem in 588 and its fall two years later in 586 B.C. (ch. 39). [Note: A few writers date the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. See, for example, Rodger C. Young, "When Did Jerusalem Fall?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:1 (March 2004):21-38.] The Babylonians took Zedekiah captive to Riblah, in Syria, where they executed his sons and put out his eyes. He died later in Babylon. Since Jeremiah advocated surrender to the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar allowed him to choose where he wanted to live when Jerusalem fell, and the prophet elected to stay where he was.

Shortly after he defeated Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar set up a pro-Babylonian Judean named Gedaliah as his governor of Judah (Jer_40:5-6). But a group of Jewish nationalists under Ishmael’s leadership assassinated Gedaliah within the year (586 B.C.; Jer_41:2). This ill-advised act resulted in the rebels having to flee to Egypt for safety from Nebuchadnezzar. They forced Jeremiah to accompany them against his will (chs. 42-43). There the prophet evidently spent the remaining years of his life and produced his final prophecies. [Note: All of the major commentaries on Jeremiah, Old Testament Introductions, and Histories of Israel contain explanations of the historical background of the book, which see for further detail.]

Important Dates for Jeremiah
YearsEventsReferences
643Probable date of Jeremiah’s birth
640Josiah becomes king of Judah at age 82Ch_34:1
628Josiah begins his reforms2Ch_34:3
627Jeremiah begins his ministryJer_1:2; Jer_25:3
626Nabopolassar founds the Neo-Babylonian Empire
622The book of the Law discovered in the temple2Ch_34:8; 2Ch_34:14
612The fall of Nineveh, Assyria’s capitol
609Josiah killed in battle by Egyptians at Megiddo2Ch_35:20-25
Jehoahaz reigns over Judah for 3 months2Ch_36:1-3
Jehoiakim made king of Judah by Pharaoh Necho2Ch_36:4
605Nebuchadnezzar defeats the Egyptians at CarchemishJer_46:2
The first deportation of exiles (including Daniel) to BabylonDan_1:1-7
604Jehoiakim burns Jeremiah’s first scrollJeremiah 36
601Jehoiakim rebels against Babylon2Ki_24:1
598Jehoiakim is deposed and dies2Ch_36:3
Jehioachin reigns over Judah for 3 months2Ki_24:8
597The second deportation of exiles (includingJehoiachin) to Babylon2Ki_24:12-16
Zedekiah made king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar2Ki_24:17
593Zedekiah summoned to BabylonJer_51:59
588Zedekiah is besieged in Jerusalem for treacheryJer_52:3-4
586Fall of JerusalemJeremiah 39
Gedaliah appointed governor of Judah by NebuchadnezzarJer_40:5-6
Gedaliah assassinated by IshmaelJer_41:2
Judean refugees flee to Egypt taking Jeremiah with themJeremiah 42-43
581The third deportation of exiles to BabylonJer_52:30
568Nebuchadnezzar invades EgyptJer_43:8-13; Jer_46:13-26
561Jehoiachin released from prison in BabylonJer_52:31-34
539Fall of Babylon to Cyrus the Persian (considered by some scholars to be the same ruler as Darius the Mede)Dan_5:30-31
538Cyrus issues his decree allowing the Jews to return to PalestineEzr_1:1-4

DATE

Jeremiah gave the prophecies and composed the narratives that constitute this book at various times during his long ministry. [Note: See the table of dated material in Jeremiah in Longman and Dillard, p. 341.] The date at which the book reached the state in which it is today is debatable. Many scholars believe that editors continued to add and rearrange the material long after Jeremiah’s day. However, the tradition that Jeremiah was responsible for the book is old and has encouraged many conservative scholars to view it as the product of the prophet himself or perhaps his scribe Baruch. If Jeremiah was the final editor of the work, as well as its writer, he completed this editorial task after his last historical reference and before his death. The last historical reference is Jehoiachin’s release from captivity in Babylon (561 B.C.; Jer_52:31-34). We do not know when Jeremiah died, but if he was born about 643 B.C., he probably did not live much beyond 560 B.C. Some scholars believe Jeremiah wrote this account himself or that Baruch provided it. Others believe the writer of the Book of Kings added it to the collections of Jeremiah’s writings. [Note: E.g., Dyer, p. 1123.] One writer speculated that the final canonical form of the book was in circulation not later than 520 B.C. [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 32.] Another believed it was available shortly after Jeremiah’s death, which he guessed was about 586 B.C. [Note: Feinberg, p. 362.]

AUDIENCE

Jeremiah ministered to the people of Judah during the last days of the Judean monarchy and the early part of the captivity. Almost all of his ministry took place in Jerusalem. He spoke to kings, priests, and prophets, as well as to ordinary citizens, and he delivered oracles against foreign nations.

"The book of Jeremiah and the book of Lamentations show how God looks at a culture which knew Him and deliberately turned away." [Note: Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City, p. 16.]

PURPOSE

Jeremiah’s purpose was to call his hearers to repentance in view of God’s judgment on Judah, which would come soon by an army from the north (chs. 2-45). Judgment was coming because God’s people had forsaken Yahweh and had given themselves to idolatry. Jeremiah spoke more about repentance than any other prophet. He also assured his audience that God had a future for Israel and Judah (chs. 30-33). Once it became clear that the people would not repent, he advocated submission to Babylon to minimize the destruction that was inevitable. As God’s prophetic spokesman, he also uttered oracles against the nations that opposed God’s chosen people (chs. 46-51).

"The theme of this prophet consists largely in a stern warning to Judah to turn from idolatry and sin to avoid the catastrophe of exile." [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 359. See also Young, pp. 248-49.]

". . . judgment, especially the final curse of exile, is the dominant note in the book (Lev_26:31-33; Deu_28:49-68)." [Note: Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 841.]

THEOLOGICAL EMPHASES

The Book of Jeremiah is not theologically organized in the sense of developing a certain theological emphasis as it unfolds, as Isaiah does. Rather it presents certain theological truths in greater or lesser degree throughout its entirety. The dominant theological emphases are as follows.

The prophet paid more attention to God and the Israelites than to any other subjects of revelation. His appreciation for God as the Lord of all creation is noteworthy. In contrast to Isaiah, Micah, Zechariah, and Daniel: Jeremiah did not reveal much about the coming Messiah, though he did record a few significant messianic predictions. A coming revealer would outshine the ark of the covenant (Jer_3:14-17), and the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant promises would come (Jer_33:14-26).

Regarding the Israelites, Jeremiah stressed the fact that immorality always accompanies idolatry. Israel’s present problems were the result of her past and present apostasy. The priests, Jeremiah asserted, were primarily responsible for the degeneration of worship from the spiritual to the merely formal-though several false prophets also misled the people. The Judahites could not escape going into captivity because they refused to repent. Therefore, they needed to accept the inevitable and not resist the Babylonians. Jerusalem and Judah would suffer destruction, the Davidic kings would not rule (for some time), and the Israelites would lose their land (temporarily). But there would be a return from exile (Jer_25:11; Jer_29:10). Israel had hope of a glorious future in view of God’s faithfulness to His promises (Jer_32:1-15). In the distant future, Israel would return in penitence to the Lord (Jer_32:37-40). Messiah would rule over her (Jer_23:5-8).

". . . Jeremiah placed an enormous emphasis on the sins and misdeeds of Israel. . . .

"The evil deeds in which Israel was involved were of two broad classes-the worship of false gods, and the perpetration of personal and social sins of an ethical and moral kind." [Note: Thompson, pp. 110, 111.]

"The theology of the book of Jeremiah may be summarized as follows: God’s judgment would fall on Judah because she had broken His covenant." [Note: Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of Jeremiah and Lamentations," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 342.]

The nations were God’s agents in executing His will, particularly Nebuchadnezzar (Jer_27:6). But Babylon would fall (chs. 50-51). The nations, as well as Israel, needed to demonstrate righteousness (chs. 46-51). God had a concern for the nations as well as for His people (Jer_29:1-14). In the distant future, the remnant of the nations would enjoy blessing from the Lord (Jer_3:17; Jer_16:19).

There is also a strong emphasis on the biblical covenants in Jeremiah, particularly the Mosaic and New Covenants. Jeremiah viewed Israel as the chosen people of God, adopted by Him for a special relationship with Himself, and for a special purpose in the world. The Mosaic Covenant was pure grace, and Yahweh had made it with a redeemed people. It involved promises from God and responsibilities for the Israelites that required trust, obedience, and holiness. Obedience would result in blessing from God, and disobedience would yield divine cursing. The prophet knew the Mosaic Law and compared the conduct of the people to what it required. This feature is so prominent that some scholars have argued that someone from the so-called Deuteronomistic School composed or edited the book. Writers identified as Deuteronomistic in their emphasis, especially writers of the books of Joshua through 2 Kings, consistently compared the conduct of the Israelites to what God required in the Mosaic Law, which was Moses’ practice in Deuteronomy. Jeremiah anticipated the appearing of the promised Davidic Messiah and the fulfillment of the kingdom promises that God had made to David. He also predicted that God would make a new covenant with the Israelites sometime in the future that would involve new provisions and conditions for living (Jer_31:31-34). It would replace the old Mosaic Covenant, and would feature a personal relationship with God to an extent never experienced before.

"Probably the outstanding emphasis in Jeremiah’s ministry was the priority of the spiritual over everything else. He saw how secondary the temporal features of Judah’s faith were. . . .

"The lasting value of Jeremiah’s book lies not only in the allusions (between forty and fifty of them) in the NT (over half are in Revelation) but also in its being a wonderful handbook for learning the art of having fellowship with God." [Note: Feinberg, pp. 369-70. Most of the allusions to Jeremiah in Revelation deal with the coming fall of Babylon. For more extensive discussions of Jeremiah’s theological emphases, see Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 37-42; Thompson, pp. 107-13; and Kidner, pp. 163-72.]

COMPOSITION

The present canonical form of the book was probably the result of a long and complex process of collection. The Book of Psalms also underwent compilation in a similar fashion over many years. The compilation is not chronological, but it evidently occurred in stages.

"Precisely how the final form of the prophecy arose is unknown." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 32.]

In some cases key words link units of material together. There is also some grouping of subject matter according to genre within the larger sections of the book. [Note: See Dyer, pp. 1127-28.]

The attempt to identify the original sources of material in Bible books is a worthy subject of study. [Note: See the major commentaries on Jeremiah for further discussion of how the present canonical form of the text came into existence, especially Thompson, pp. 33-50.] The book itself indicates that King Jehoiakim destroyed some of Jeremiah’s earlier written prophecies, and that Baruch rewrote them and added more to form another collection (ch. 36). This information explains to some extent the anthological structure of the book and suggests that Jeremiah, Baruch, and perhaps others added even more prophecies as time passed and that the final product is what we have in our Bibles.

"It is clear that the book assumed its present form either very late in the prophet’s lifetime, or more probably after his death." [Note: Craigie, p. xxxiii.]

GENRE

About half of Jeremiah is poetry and half prose. But poetry and prose appear side by side in many sections of the book, and several literary units contain both forms of composition.

Scholars have identified three main types of literature (genre) in Jeremiah: poetic sayings or oracles (so-called Type A material), prose narratives that are largely biographical and historical (so-called Type B material), and prose speeches or discourses (so-called Type C material). [Note: Sigmund Mowinckel labeled the three types A, B, and C in Zur Komposition des Buches Jeremia (1914) following the earlier work of Berhard Duhm in Das Buch Jeremia (1901), and some commentators make reference to the genre by these types.]

Several generations of scholars have held that the poetic oracles toward the first part of the book represent Jeremiah’s original sayings, and the historical and biographical narratives that follow were the product of Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. This view, while a common one, contains serious problems, and many competent authorities have pointed out the inconsistencies of this position. I mention it here because it is a common view, not because I accept it, which I do not. [Note: For further discussion of the different genres in Jeremiah, see C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books, pp. 204-6.]

STRUCTURE

Like most other prophetic books of the Old Testament, Jeremiah is a collection of oracles and other materials. It is an anthology of Jeremiah’s speeches and writings, really an anthology of anthologies. It is not like a novel that one may read from start to finish, discovering that it unfolds in a logical fashion as it goes.

"No commentator, ancient or modern, has seriously posited a chronological arrangement of its prophecies." [Note: Feinberg, p. 367. He argued for an essentially topical arrangement of the material.]

This book, even more than most of the other prophetic books, strikes the western mind initially as not following any consistently logical order, especially within the body of the book. The difficulty that students of Jeremiah have had in discovering its underlying plan is clear from the fact that commentators have offered so many different outlines of it. [Note: Harrison even provided two different outlines of the book in his Old Testament Introduction and in his commentary on Jeremiah.]

"When we come to inquire whether any principles of arrangement can be observed in the book of Jeremiah, we have to admit that any consistent principles escape us." [Note: Thompson, p. 30.]

". . . it is often difficult to see why certain passages occur at precisely the point where they do occur." [Note: Young, p. 249. See also S. Jonathan Murphy, "The Quest for the Structure of the Book of Jeremiah," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:663 (July-September 2009):306-18.]

DISTINCTIVE FEATURES

In addition to the lack of a clear organizing plan, Jeremiah is quite repetitive. The repetition is for emphasis, no doubt, and many very similar passages occur two and even three times.

The last chapter is unique because someone must have written it long after the rest of the book. The options are that Jeremiah or Baruch wrote it or that some other writer added it later. There is no way to tell for sure who wrote it or when, but it’s purpose seems clear enough. It provides hope at the end of a record of discouraging circumstances.

The biographical and autobiographical sections of the book are also distinctive. No other prophet wrote as much about himself and his experiences as Jeremiah did, and no other prophet let us into his head and his heart as much as he did by sharing how he thought and felt.

Jeremiah used object lessons to communicate spiritual truth more than the other prophets. He made his prophecies concrete and vivid by this means. He did not delight to paint word pictures as much as Isaiah did, but he performed acts and spoke of real situations far more than that earlier prophet did.

"The book that Jeremiah wrote is one of the great prophetic documents of the Old Testament, ranking probably second only to Isaiah in its force and significance." [Note: Wood, p. 338.]

TEXT

The history of the textual transmission of Jeremiah is unusual. The Septuagint (Greek) translation, made in the third and second centuries B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, is about one-eighth shorter than the Masoretic Text (the Hebrew text formalized in the fifth century A.D. that is the basis for the modern Hebrew Bible and most English translations). In addition to being shorter, the arrangement of material in the book is in a different order in several places. The Septuagint version of Jeremiah differs from the Hebrew more widely than is true of any other Old Testament book. There are omissions, additions, transpositions, alterations, and substitutions. [Note: See Longman and Dillard, pp. 328-32; G. C. Workman, The Text of Jeremiah, pp. 18-181; and Emanuel Tov, "The Literary History of the Book of Jeremiah in the Light of Its Textual History," in Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism, pp. 211-37.]

Probably the Septuagint translators worked from a different version of Jeremiah than the one that was the basis for the Masoretic Text. Some Dead Sea Scroll fragments of Jeremiah point to the existence of such a version. The Septuagint was the Bible of most of the early Christians, especially those who lived outside Palestine. Which version is more reliable: the shorter one that they used (and quoted in the New Testament), or the longer one that we have? Most conservative scholars believe that the Masoretic Text has a solid history and is more reliable than the Septuagint. The differences between these two versions are not significant in terms of theology. We do not have contradictions between what the New Testament writers quoted as being from Jeremiah and what we read in our English translations of Jeremiah. [Note: See Feinberg, p. 372; Thompson, pp. 117-20; or Craigie, pp. xli-xlv; for further discussion, or Chisholm, p. 342, n. 1, for a concise summary.]

OUTLINE

I.    Introduction ch. 1

A.    The introduction of Jer_1:1-3

B.    The call of Jer_1:4-19

1.    The promise of divine enablement Jer_1:4-10

2.    Two confirming visions Jer_1:11-19

II.    Prophecies about Judah chs. 2-45

A.    Warnings of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem chs. 2-25

1.    Warnings of coming punishment because of Judah’s guilt chs. 2-6

2.    Warnings about apostasy and its consequences chs. 7-10

3.    Warnings in view of present conditions Jer_11:1 to Jer_15:9

4.    Warnings in view of Judah’s hardheartedness Jer_15:10 to Jer_25:38

B.    Controversies concerning false prophets chs. 26-29

1.    Conflict with the people ch. 26

2.    Conflict with the false prophets in Jerusalem chs. 27-28

3.    Conflict with the false prophets in exile ch. 29

C.    The Book of Consolation chs. 30-33

1.    The restoration of all Israel chs. 30-31

The restoration of Judah and Jerusalem chs. 32-33

D.    Incidents surrounding the fall of Jerusalem chs. 34-45

1.    Incidents before the fall of Jerusalem chs. 34-36

2.    Incidents during the fall of Jerusalem chs. 37-39

3.    Incidents after the fall of Jerusalem chs. 40-45

III.    Prophecies about the nations chs. 46-51

A.    The oracle against Egypt ch. 46

1.    Egypt’s defeat in Syria Jer_46:1-12

2.    Egypt’s defeat in Egypt Jer_46:13-24

3.    Egypt’s defeat and Israel’s deliverance Jer_46:25-28

B.    The oracle against the Philistines ch. 47

C.    The oracle against Moab ch. 48

1.    The destruction of Moab Jer_48:1-10

2.    The complacency of Moab Jer_48:11-17

3.    The catastrophe of Moab Jer_48:18-28

4.    The pride of Moab Jer_48:29-39

D.    The oracle against Ammon Jer_49:1-6

E.    The oracle against Edom Jer_49:7-22

F.    The oracle against Damascus Jer_49:23-27

G.    The oracle against the Arab tribes Jer_49:28-33

H.    The oracle against Elam Jer_49:34-39

I.    The oracle against Babylon chs. 50-51

An overview of Babylon’s future Jer_50:1-10

The fall of Babylon Jer_50:11-16

The restoration of Israel Jer_50:17-20

Divine vengeance Jer_50:21-28

Human arrogance Jer_50:29-32

Israel’s future redemption Jer_50:33-40

Babylon’s agony Jer_50:41-46

The certainty of Babylon’s judgment Jer_51:1-14

Yahweh’s sovereignty over Babylon Jer_51:15-19

Babylon’s destroyer Jer_51:20-26

God’s instruments of Babylon’s destruction Jer_51:27-33

Judah’s complaint against Babylon Jer_51:34-40

Babylon’s fate Jer_51:41-48

A call to flee from Babylon Jer_51:49-53

The justice of Babylon’s judgment Jer_51:54-58

Babylon’s fall dramatized Jer_51:59-64

IV.    Conclusion ch. 52.

A.    The fall of Jerusalem and the capture of Zedekiah Jer_52:1-16

B.    The sacking of the temple Jer_52:17-23

C.    The numbers deported to Babylon Jer_52:24-30

D.    The release of Jehoiachin from prison Jer_52:31-34

End Maps

Canaan in Jeremiah’s times

The ancient Near East in Jeremiah’s times


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I. INTRODUCTION CH. 1

The first chapter of this great book introduces the prophet to the reader and records his calling by Yahweh into the prophetic ministry.