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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
This book starts with information concerning the person of Jeremiah, the time when he was called to the office of a prophet, and the period of time during which he exercised his ministry.
Jeremiah means “exalted of the Lord,” or, “established by the Lord.” He was the son of Hilkiah. Some have identified the father of Jeremiah with the high-priest Hilkiah, who was such a power in Josiah’s great reformation work. This is incorrect. The high-priest Hilkiah was of the line of Eleazar, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 6:4 ; 1 Chronicles 6:13 . The father of the prophet Jeremiah was, we read in the first verse of this book, of the priests that were in Anathoth; the priests who lived there were of the line of Ithamar. (See 1Ki 2:26 ; 1 Chronicles 24:3 ; 1 Chronicles 24:6 .) Anathoth, the home of Jeremiah, was in Benjamin, about three miles northeast of Jerusalem.
The first time the Word of the Lord came to young Jeremiah, for he was but a child, was in the thirteenth year of King Josiah, or just a year after the eventful reformation accomplished by that good man. We know but little of the activity of the prophet during the subsequent reign of Josiah. Only one message is timed “in the day of Josiah the king” (Jeremiah 3:6 ). In the history of that illustrious king of Judah, we read nothing of Jeremiah, with the exception of the brief statement “and Jeremiah lamented for Josiah” 2 Chronicles 35:25 . It seems that the third verse gives the period covering the larger part of the ministry of this prophet. The Word of the Lord came unto him “also in the days of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, the king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.”
The book which bears this prophet’s name abounds in personal allusions. In fact no other prophet in his character, in the exercise of his soul, and in his experience is so fully portrayed as Jeremiah; not even Ezekiel and Daniel whom, with Habakkuk and Zephaniah, were his contemporaries. The study of this great man of God is deeply interesting.
He has been called “the weeping prophet” and is generally known by that name. No other prophet wept like Jeremiah. That outburst in his lamentations, “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye, runneth down with water” Lamentations 1:16 shows how tender hearted he was, and how his tears flowed freely. But he was something else beside the weeping prophet. He was a man of great courage, with the boldness of a lion. In the presence of His Lord he was prostrate and broken, one who trembled at His Word, filled with godly fear. He was a man of prayer and faith in the Lord and faithful in the discharge of his great commission.
His Life of Service and Suffering
His lot was one of great solitude; he was divinely commanded to remain unmarried (Jeremiah 16:2 ). He was forbidden to enter the house of joy and feasting (Jeremiah 16:8 ). Reproach and derision were his daily portion (Jeremiah 20:8 ). He was betrayed by his own kindred (Jeremiah 12:6 ) , and his fellow citizens at Anathoth wanted to kill him (Jeremiah 11:21 ). Then, in the first part of his book, we read of the inner struggles he had, the spiritual conflict, when everybody was against him. In the bitterness of his spirit he spoke of himself as “a man of contention to the whole earth” (Jeremiah 15:10 ). He even doubted whether his whole work was not a delusion and a lie (Jeremiah 20:7 ) , and like Job he cursed the day of his birth (Jeremiah 20:14 ). When the Chaldeans came to the front and Jeremiah heard from the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar was called as His servant to receive the dominion from His hands (Jeremiah 27:6 ) , Jeremiah urged submission. This stamped him as a traitor. False prophets appeared who contradicted him with their false messages; he committed his cause to the Lord. On one occasion when the temple courts were filled with thousands of worshippers, he appeared and uttered the message that Jerusalem would be a curse, that the temple should share the fate of the tabernacle at Shiloh (Jeremiah 26:6 ). Then the great conflict began. The priests, the false prophets and the people demanded his death (Jeremiah 26:8 ). The Lord graciously protected him through chosen instruments. Still greater were his sufferings under Zedekiah. His struggles with the false prophets continued; they called him a madman (Jeremiah 29:26 ) , and urged his imprisonment. He then appeared in the streets of Jerusalem with bonds and yokes upon his neck (Jeremiah 27:2 ) , showing the coming fate of Judah. A false prophet broke the offensive symbol and gave a lying message that the Chaldeans should be destroyed within two years. Then the Egyptian army approached, and the Chaldeans hastened away; it created a dangerous condition for Jeremiah. He sought to escape to his home town Anathoth; it was discovered, and he was charged with falling to the Chaldeans as others did (Jeremiah 37:14 ). In spite of his denial, he was thrown into a dungeon. Later he was thrown into the prison pit by the princes to die there. From that horrible fate he was again mercifully delivered. When the city fell, Nebuchadnezzar protected his person (Jeremiah 39:11 ) , and after being carried away with other captives as far as Ramah, he set him free. It was left to him whether he would go to Babylon to live under the special protection of the king, or remain in the land with the governor Gedaliah. He chose the latter. But Gedaliah was murdered by Ishmael and his associates. Then the people forced him to emigrate with them to Egypt. The last glimpse of the prophet’s life we have of him is in Tahpanhes, uttering there a final protest and a great message. Nothing is known of the details of his death.
“He is preeminently the man that hath seen afflictions Lamentations 3:1 . He witnessed the departure one by one, of all his hopes of national reformation and deliverance. He is forced to appear as a prophet of evil, dashing to the ground the false hopes with which the people were deluded. Other prophets, Samuel, Elisha, Isaiah, had been sent to arouse the people to resistance. He has been brought to the conclusion, bitter as it is, that the only safety for his people lies in their acceptance of that which they think is the worst evil, that brings on him the charge of treachery. If it were not for his trust in the God of Israel, for his hope of a better future to be brought out of all this chaos and darkness, his heart would fail within him. But that vision is clear and bright, and it gives to him, almost as fully as to Isaiah, the character of a prophet of glory. He is not merely an Israelite looking forward to a national restoration. In the midst of all the woes he utters against the nearby nations, he has hopes and promises for them also. In that stormy sunset of prophecy, he beholds, in spirit, the dawn of a brighter day. He sees that, if there is any hope of salvation for his people, it cannot be by a return to the old system and the old ordinances, divine though they had once been. There must be a New Covenant. That word, destined to be so full of power for after ages, appears first in his prophecies. The relations between the people and the Lord of Israel, between mankind and God, must rest, not on an outward law, with its requirements of obedience, but on an inward fellowship with Him and the consciousness of entire dependence. For all this the prophet saw clearly there must be a personal center. The kingdom of God could not be manifested but through a perfect righteous man, ruling over men on earth. They gather round the person of Christ, the Jehovah Zdidkenu--THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, the Son of David, Israel’s coming king.”
The Authorship of Jeremiah
The book begins with “The words of Jeremiah,” and it closes with Jeremiah 51:64 with the statement, “thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” The final chapter is an addition of a historical character. That Jeremiah must be the author of the greater part of the book is proven by the many personal references which only the prophet himself could have written. No other prophet was so frequently commanded to write as Jeremiah was. “Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book” (Jeremiah 30:2 ). “Take thee the roll of a book and write therein all the words that I have spoken” (Jeremiah 36:2 ). Then Baruch witnessed that he wrote all these words which came from Jeremiah’s lips in a book (Jeremiah 36:18 ) ; and when the roll was burned the Lord said, “Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll” (Jeremiah 36:28 ). “So Jeremiah wrote in a book” (Jeremiah 51:60 ). Who are the men who try to make us believe that Jeremiah did not write these words? Baruch, his secretary, who took the dictations from the lips of the prophet (Jeremiah 36:27 ) may have arranged, under the direction of Jeremiah, the different prophecies. The language used is the language of his time and is tinged with Aramaic. The style does not compare with that of Isaiah.
There are, of course, many difficulties in connection with the text. For instance, the Greek version (the Septuagint) differs more widely from the Hebrew than that of any other portion of the Old Testament. Numerous passages like Jeremiah 7:1-2 ; Jeremiah 17:1-4 ; Jeremiah 23:14-26 , etc., are omitted in the Greek version. Inasmuch as the Hebrew is the oldest and the Septuagint was made from the Hebrew, the latter is the correct text. The critical school has made much out of these apparent difficulties and the disorder and unchronological character of the book. Therefore Jeremiah has suffered just as much in the dissecting room of the destructive critics as Isaiah and Moses. Thus Peake in his commentary on Jeremiah uses nine symbolic letters to show which is which.
J. Which stands for the prophecies of which Jeremiah is most likely the author. S. This stands for certain supplementers. JS. This stands for the words of Jeremiah worked over by a supplementer; nobody knows who he was. B. This means Baruch and his production. BS. This means that Baruch’s words were supplemented by some more unknown supplementers. R. This stands for Redactor, whoever he was. I. Here we have an unknown author who, according to the critics, wrote Jeremiah 10:1-6 . K. Here is another unknown gentleman, the author of Jeremiah 17:19 , etc. E. This letter denotes extracts from 2 Kings.
It is of little interest to quote the ramblings of Duhm, Ryssell, Hitzig, Renan and others about the authorship and compilation of Jeremiah. Not one of these scholars agrees. They have theories but no certainties. How simple it is to believe the beginning and the end of this book, that here are “the words of Jeremiah. And though King Jehoiakim tried to destroy these words, they still live and they will live on in our days, in spite of the successors of the wicked king, the professors of apostasy, who are trying to give Christendom an abridged Bible.
That the book appears disjointed and is unchronological is no argument against its authenticity. The Companion Bible gives the following: “The prophecies of Jeremiah do not profess to be given in chronological order; nor is there any reason why they should be so given. Why, we ask, should modern critics first assume that they ought to be, and then condemn them because they are not? It is the historical portions, which concern Jehoiakim and Zedekiah that are chiefly so affected; and who was Jehoiakim that his history should be of any importance? Was it not he who cut up the Word of the Lord with a penknife and cast it into the fire? Why should not his history be cut up? Zedekiah rejected the same Word of Jehovah. Why should his history be respected?”
The Message of Jeremiah
His message is first a message which charges the people with having forsaken Jehovah. The sins of the people are uncovered, especially the sins of false worship and idolatry. Connected with this are the appeals to return unto the Lord with the promises of the mercy of Jehovah. The impenitent condition of the people is foreseen and judgment is announced. Then follow the messages which make known Jehovah’s determination to punish Jerusalem, and further announcement of the impending judgment. But while Jeremiah gave the messages of warning of the coming disaster of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest, he also received prophecies concerning the future. Thus in chapter 23 we find a great prophecy of restoration. He speaks of the days when the righteous Branch, the King, is to reign, when Judah will be saved and Israel dwell safely. Who that King is, every believer knows. His name is “Jehovah our Righteousness.” It is the Lord Jesus Christ. Greater still is the great prophecy contained in chapters 30-31. Here we find the prophecy of the new covenant to be made with the house of Judah and the house of Israel. Chapter 33 contains another prophetic restoration message. Chapters 46-51 contain prophecies against Gentile nations.
The personal experience and the sufferings of this prophet are of a typical character, like the experiences and sufferings of other men of God in the Old Testament. The following passages make Jeremiah a type of Christ: Jeremiah 11:19 ; Jeremiah 13:17 ; Jeremiah 20:7 (last sentence) , Jeremiah 20:10 ; Jeremiah 26:11 ; Jeremiah 26:15 ; Lamentations 1:12 ; Lamentations 3:14 .
The Divisions of Jeremiah
We have already referred in the introduction to the charge made by the critics that the book of Jeremiah is unchronological and lacks proper arrangement. Says one critic, “as the book now stands, there is nothing but the wildest confusion, a preposterous jumbling together of prophecies of different dates.” Attempts have therefore been made to reconstruct the book on a chronological basis, but none of these are satisfactory. on the other hand, some able scholars have come to the conclusion that we possess the book substantially in the same state as that in which it left the hands of the prophet and his secretary Baruch. We believe this is correct. If Jeremiah was guided by the Spirit of God in writing and dictating his great messages, he wrote them down just as the Spirit wanted to have them written down. If some things appear disjointed, or out of the chronological order, there must be some wise purpose in it. We shall discover this as we proceed with the analysis and in our annotations.
To enjoy fully the book of Jeremiah a good knowledge of the historical setting is eminently necessary. We have given many references in the annotations which will help in this direction.
We call attention first to the two main divisions of the book. The first constitutes the greater part of the book, from chapters 1-45. This portion has the full ministry of the prophet during the reign of Josiah, the brief reign of Jehoahaz (Shallum; see Jeremiah 22:10-12 ) ; the reign of Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin (Coniah) and the reign of Zedekiah. The second division contains the prophecies against Gentile nations, that is chapters 46-51. The last chapter is an appendix corresponding in its history to 2 Kings. Some have looked upon this appendix as the introduction to the Lamentations.
The prophecies historically according to the reign of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin, and Zedekiah may be arranged as follows:
Under the Reign of Josiah. The call of Jeremiah and probably the greater part of chapters 1-6.
Under the Reign of Jehoahaz. The prophecy contained in Jeremiah 22:10-12 .
Under the Reign of Jehoiakim. Chapters 7-20, 25-26, 35-36, 46:1-12, 47, 49.
Under the Reign of Jehoiakim (Coniah, Jeconiah). Chapters 22 and 23.
Under the Reign of Zedekiah. Chapters 21, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30-34, 37-44, 46:13-28, 50 and 51.
We make the following divisions for the study of this book:
I. THE PROPHET’S CALL TO REPENTANCE, THE NATION’S IMPENITENCE, AND THE JUDGMENT ANNOUNCED (1-13)
II. THE PROPHET’S MINISTRY BEFORE THE FALL OF JERUSALEM, THE PROPHECIES OF JUDGMENT AND RESTORATION, THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF JEREMIAH, HIS FAITHFULNESS AND HIS SUFFERING (14-39)
III. AFTER THE FALL OF JERUSALEM (40-45)
IV. THE PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE GENTILE NATIONS (46-51)
V. THE HISTORICAL APPENDIX (52:1-34)
The different subdivisions will appear in the analysis.
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