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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

- Jeremiah

by Multiple Authors

INTRODUCTION

The Theme of Jeremiah

The theme of the book of Jeremiah is judgment against Judah. The book of Jeremiah may be divided into three basic sections: the prophecies before the captivity (Jeremiah 1:1 to Jeremiah 39:18), the prophecies after the captivity (Jeremiah 40:1 to Jeremiah 51:64), and the historical appendix.

Propecies under Josiah and Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 1:1 to Jeremiah 20:18)

In the first major section there are prophecies under Josiah and Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 1:1 to Jeremiah 20:18), and prophecies which were delivered at various periods until the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 39:18). The book begins by giving the call and confirmation of Jeremiah (1:1-19). This is followed by a series of messages announcing Jerusalem’s judgment. The sin of the nation is first declared. Her sin is apostasy and neglect of God (Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5). She is characterized as a stubborn ox (Jeremiah 2:20) degenerate vine (Jeremiah 2:21), a lustful prostitute (Jeremiah 2:22-25), a shameless thief (Jeremiah 2:26), a foolish idolater (Jeremiah 2:27-28), a thankless people (Jeremiah 2:29-32), an impudent transgressor (Jeremiah 2:33), and a violent murderer (Jeremiah 2:34-37).

The prophet then speaks of the devastation to come from the north (Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 6:30). After mentioning the magnitude of Judah’s apostasy (Jeremiah 3:6-25), he proceeds to give the instrument of her Judgment (Jeremiah 4:1-31), the various reasons for it (Jeremiah 5:1 to Jeremiah 6:16), and the sufferings that would result from it (Jeremiah 6:17-30).

In his third sermon the message was similar to the first although it was centered more on the religious conditions in Judah. Religionism and idolatry were condemned (Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 10:25). After a strong rebuke of apostate religionism and its corrupting influences (Jeremiah 7:1-34), further warnings of judgment are given (Jeremiah 8:1-22) in which the leaders as well as the people fall under God’s judgment. Jeremiah laments over the situation (Jeremiah 9:1-26), and the sermon closes with a satire on idolatry (Jeremiah 10:1-25), giving its folly (Jeremiah 10:1-16) and the judgment to come upon those who worship idols (Jeremiah 10:17-25).

In the fourth message, the prophet rebukes the people for disobeying the Palestinian covenant (Jeremiah 11:1-13). His own life is threatened (Jeremiah 11:14-17), but following prayer (Jeremiah 12:1-6), the prophet pronounces the Lord’s lamentation for Judah (Jeremiah 12:7-17).This lamentation is followed by the sign of the lion-cloth (Jeremiah 13:1-27) in which the prophet showed the ruin of the nation away from God and their predicted captivity in Babylon.

The message of drought is next recorded (Jeremiah 14:1-22) in which the empty ritualism of the nation and their rejection by the Lord was described. Jeremiah gives intercession for the people but it is rejected and judgment becomes inevitable (Jeremiah 15:1-21). Jeremiah himself becomes a sign of this judgment as he is not permitted to marry, nor to observe funerals or festivities (Jeremiah 16:1-18). This is followed by another description of Judah’s terrible sin (Jeremiah 17:1-27), along with a message concerning the Sabbath as an index to loyalty or disloyalty to Jehovah.

The Potter’s House and It’s Significance (Jeremiah 18:1-23)

This brings the writer to the message of the potter’s house and its significance (Jeremiah 18:1-23). As the potter had sovereign control over his pottery, so God has control over His people. This is immediately followed by another sign in which the prophet breaks an earthen vessel, thus symbolizing how the Lord would smash His idolatry-ridden people (Jeremiah 19:1-15). As usual, with such pointed prophesying, persecution comes (Jeremiah 20:1-18). The chief temple guard, Pashur, imprisons Jeremiah. Jeremiah strongly perseveres announcing Pashur’s doom and triumphing over defeat.

Prophecies Given Until Jerusalem’s Fall (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 25:38)

Note: These Prophecies are given from Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 39:18

The second major sub-section begins in chapter twenty-one in which prophecies are recorded which were delivered at various times until Jerusalem’s fall (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 39:18). First of all messages are given concerning various reigning kings of Judah (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30). Messages of judgment are delivered concerning Zedekiah (Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:9), Shallum (Jeremiah 22:10-12), Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:13-19), and Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 22:20-30). This is followed by a great Messianic prophecy in which Messiah is exalted (Jeremiah 23:1-8), and the false prophets are denounced for their ungodliness (Jeremiah 23:9-15), and for their rejection of God’s Word (Jeremiah 23:16-40).

The vision of the two baskets of figs is next recorded (Jeremiah 24:1-10) in which the good figs symbolize the best of the people carried to Babylon, and the bad figs symbolize the apostates who remain in Jerusalem to resist Babylon. The length of the captivity is then predicted (Jeremiah 25:1-11) as well as God’s future judgment on Babylon (Jeremiah 25:12-38).

Destruction of the Temple Predicted (Jeremiah 26:1 to Jeremiah 28:17)

Jeremiah follows this prediction with a prediction of the destruction of the temple which was to come (Jeremiah 26:1-6). This resulted in Jeremiah’s arrest (Jeremiah 26:7-11). God is with him and he is soon delivered to continue his prophetic ministry (Jeremiah 26:12-24).

Not being slowed down by persecution, the prophet saddles himself with an ox yoke to symbolize the yoke of Babylon which would fall upon Jerusalem’s neck (Jeremiah 27:1-22). A false prophet, Hananiah, rebukes Jeremiah’s yoke and is punished by death (Jeremiah 28:1-17).

Words of Comfort for the Exiles (Jeremiah 29:1-32)

Following the recording of this incident, the prophet’s letters of comfort to the exiles are given in which he encourages them to be peaceful and to multiply as they await their future restoration (Jeremiah 29:1-23). Shemaiah, another false prophet, attacks Jeremiah by sending a scathing letter to Zephaniah, the new temple overseer. Jeremiah is shown the letter and writes another letter to Babylon, condemning Shemaiah and announcing his judgment (Jeremiah 29:24-32).

Prophecies of Coming Restoration (Jeremiah 30:1 to Jeremiah 33:26)

In the midst of all the prophecies of judgment are prophecies of coming restoration (Jeremiah 30:1 to Jeremiah 33:26). The day of the Lord is first described (Jeremiah 30:1-17), along with the future deliverance and restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 30:18-24). The joy and blessings of Israel’s national home-going is set forth (Jeremiah 31:1-26) as well as the basis whereby it would be accomplished (Jeremiah 31:27-40). This basis is the new covenant of Jehovah which will be based entirely on the sacrificed blood of Christ. This will be of grace in contrast to law and will be a perpetual covenant to Israel making her an everlasting nation.

Jeremiah demonstrates his faith in Israel’s future restoration by buying a field at Anathoth and hiding his deed in order to obtain it later at the time of restoration (Jeremiah 32:1-44). This is followed by the great prophecy of the Davidic kingdom (Jeremiah 33:1-26), in which the glory of the kingdom (Jeremiah 33:1-14) its king (Jeremiah 33:15-18), and the certainty of its fulfillment are all set down (Jeremiah 33:19-26).

More Prophecies of Coming Judgment (Jeremiah 34:1 to Jeremiah 36:32)

After this glimpse of future restoration, the prophet returns to his prophecies of coming judgment. In chapter thirty-four, Jeremiah warns Zedekiah of the coming captivity (Jeremiah 34:1-7) and condemns him for breaking his agreement to free the Hebrew slaves (Jeremiah 34:8-22). The message concerning the Rechabites follows (Jeremiah 35:1-19), in which their obedience to their founder is contrasted with Israel’s disobedience to Jehovah.

Opposition to Jeremiah’s word is again seen. This time Jeremiah is instructed to write a scroll concerning the coming judgment and Baruch is enjoined to read it (Jeremiah 36:1-20). It is shortly brought to king Jehoiakim who, upon hearing it, cuts and burns the roll (Jeremiah 36:21-26). The scroll is re-written as the indestructibility of God’s Word is demonstrated (Jeremiah 36:27-32).

Some Personal Experiences of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:1 to Jeremiah 38:28)

Coming to the close of the first section, the book sets down the personal experiences of Jeremiah during the Babylonian siege (Jeremiah 37:1 to Jeremiah 38:28). The prophet is interviewed by Zedekiah after a brief Egyptian victory, and continues to warn of the Babylonian destruction (Jeremiah 37:1-10). He is later charged with desertion and is placed into a dungeon (Jeremiah 37:11-16). He is later removed to the prison court (Jeremiah 37:17-21). Another interview with Zedekiah takes place, and again the prophet warns of the captivity, advising the king to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 38:1-3). His appeal is again rejected and he remains in prison (Jeremiah 38:4-13).

Judgment Comes to Pass (Jeremiah 39:1-18)

The judgment finally falls as the city is burned, Zedekiah’s sons are killed, he is blinded and is carried in chains to Babylon (Jeremiah 39:1-10). God does not forget his servants. Jeremiah is treated kindly and is released (Jeremiah 39:11-14), and Ebed-Melech is rewarded for his previous concern and identification with the prophet when he was in the dungeon (Jeremiah 39:15-18).

Prophecies After The Captivity (Jeremiah 40:1 to Jeremiah 51:64)

After giving the prophecies before the captivity, the second major section of the book begins in chapter forty in which prophecies after the captivity are recorded (Jeremiah 40:1 to Jeremiah 51:64).

First of all, there are the prophecies which were delivered to the remaining remnant that stayed in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1 to Jeremiah 51:64). Jeremiah decides to stay in Jerusalem with Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:1-8), It is not long, however, before problems arise and the plot to assassinate Gedaliah is discovered (Jeremiah 40:1-16). Falling to heed the warning concerning this plot, Gedaliah is assassinated (Jeremiah 41:1-18).

The people are disturbed about whether to remain in the land or not, and come to Jeremiah for advice. He warns them against going to Egypt (Jeremiah 42:1-22), but in disobedience the people go to this very place (Jeremiah 43:1-7). In response to their action, the prophet predicts the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8-13), and rebukes the Jews in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1-19) warning them of the judgment they would face under Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest (Jeremiah 44:20-30). The prophet’s message of comfort to Baruch in chapter forty-five concludes his prophecies prior to those delivered against the nations (Jeremiah 45:1-5).

Beginning in chapter forty-six, the prophet gives prophecies against the nations (Jeremiah 46:1 to Jeremiah 51:64). Prophecies are delivered against Egypt (Jeremiah 46:1-28), Philistia and Phoenicia (Jeremiah 47:1-7), Moab (Jeremiah 48:1-47), Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6), Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22), Damascus (Jeremiah 49:23-27), Kedar and Hazor (Jeremiah 49:28-33), Elam (Jeremiah 49:34-39), and finally against Babylon (Jeremiah 50:1 to Jeremiah 51:64).

The Closing Chapter (Jeremiah 52:1-34)

The book closes with an historical appendix (Jeremiah 52:1-34) in which the fall of Jerusalem is reiterated (Jeremiah 52:1-30), and the liberation of Jehoiachin is briefly stated (Jeremiah 52:31-34).

PART ONE:

JEREMIAH: MAN AND PROPHET

The year 627 BC was a crucial one in the history of redemption. That was the year that God ordained a timid young priest to the prophetic ministry. Jeremiah was destined to become the dominant figure of redemptive history during that eventful half-century from 625-575 BC. What kind of man did God choose to vocalize the final divine appeal to the condemned nation of Judah? How did God mold and shape the raw material that was Jeremiah of Anathoth?

In the opening verse of Jeremiah the author clearly identifies himself, his family, his lineage and his hometown. This is about all that is known of Jeremiah before his call to the public office of a prophet. These few notices, however, can be amplified by deductions drawn from the totality of Jeremiah’s writings. What then can be said about Jeremiah the man?

HIS NAME

A great deal of importance was attached to names in the OT period—much more importance than is generally the case today. Modern parents when naming the newborn usually think in terms of the length of the name or euphonious sound. The ancients, however, always considered the background and meaning of a name. The name was to reflect the personality, the accomplishments, goals, or aspirations of a man. For this reason a man in antiquity might change his name at some critical juncture of his life.

Meaning: Scholars are in general agreement concerning the meaning of important biblical names. No such unanimity exists when it comes to the name of Jeremiah. The basic problem is in ascertaining the Hebrew root word from which this name has been constructed. Some scholars think it is derived from see a Hebrew root (rum) which means to arise, elevate or exalt. According to this interpretation the name Jeremiah means the Lord exalts or exalted of the Lord or even the Lord establishes. Others suggest that the name is derived from the Hebrew root ramah that means to cast or hurl. The name Jeremiah then means the Lord throws down or perhaps the Lord hurls forth.

Frequency: The famous prophet who is the subject of this study was not the only one to wear the name Jeremiah. Indeed the name seems to have been a common one. Evidence of its use can be found in several periods of OT history. At least seven other Jeremiahs are mentioned in Scripture. A Jeremiah was a leader in the tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 5:24). Three of David’s mighty men bore this name. One of the fathers of the Rechabites was named Jeremiah (Jeremiah 35:3). A Jeremiah of Libnah was the maternal grandfather of Jehoahaz king of Judah (2 Kings 23:31). One of the leaders of the restoration community who signed a covenant to walk according to the law of Moses was called Jeremiah (Nehemiah 10:2).

HIS FAMILY

What kind of family did Jeremiah have? Was he surrounded in those early, formative years by piety and godliness? Caution is in order when one goes beyond the explicit testimony of Scripture and the Word of God does not supply any specific information about Jeremiah’s life in Anathoth.

Godly Family: It is best to think of Jeremiah as coming from a very devout family. His family was one steeped in the religious traditions of Israel and committed unequivocally to the true God. In his sermons Jeremiah reflects the spirit of the great prophets who preceded him. The words of these men of God were part of the fabric of his personality. He surely had been instructed in the Scriptures in his most tender years. Skinner writes:

His familiarity with the ideas of the older prophets, especially with those of Hosea, appears so soon after his call, and that call came to him so early in life, that we may safely assume that he had known the prophetic writings and assimilated the principles of their teaching before he had reached the age of manhood.

At the time of his call in 627 BC Jeremiah was still a very young man (Jeremiah 1:6). He must have been born about the year of 645 BC, near the end of King Manasseh’s long and notorious reign. Perhaps the name of his father— Hilkiah—was more than a mere name; perhaps it was the family credo. The name Hilkiah means the Lord is my portion. During the reign of Manasseh, when apostasy was the order of the day and Assyrian idolatry was rampant through the land, this family had taken its stand. Though others were chasing after the latest fad in deities this family had boldly declared the Lord is my portion. Hilkiah, like Joshua before him, had proclaimed to the world as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Influential Father: Is it mere coincidence that the high priest during the time of Josiah’s reformation—the one who discovered the lost law book— bore the same name as Jeremiah’s father? Is the father of Jeremiah the famous high priest Hilkiah? Scholars are practically unanimous in dismissing this identification. One cannot, of course, be dogmatic about the matter since the name Hilkiah seems to have been fairly common in this period (cf. Jeremiah 29:3). If—and it must necessarily remain just that—if Jeremiah was the son of the high priest his ministry is placed in new perspective. One true prophet of God, Urijah, was executed during the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:23-24). Though Jeremiah had some narrow escapes in the reign of this king, he survived. What made the difference? Could it be because Jeremiah belonged to one of the most prominent families in the land? Jeremiah had friends in high places. Another interesting coincidence is that the uncle of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 32:7) and the husband of Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14) both were named Shallum. If these two Shallums are in fact one and the same person, Jeremiah is again linked through relatives to the Josian reformation. He was treated with respect (for the most part) by the successive rulers of Judah and the princes of Babylon.

While it is impossible to say with certainty that Hilkiah the high priest was in fact the father of Jeremiah, the thought is not impossible. As the son of a priest—possibly the high priest—Jeremiah no doubt frequently made the short trip to Jerusalem. There in the temple he had opportunity to observe, to ponder, to meditate and to contemplate the day when he would enter the active priesthood. Perhaps it was a high view of the priesthood, formed during his boyhood, which made Jeremiah so bitter against the worthless clergy of his adult years.

Financial Standing. A number of questions concerning the family of Jeremiah might be asked. It would be useless, however, to speculate about the answers. One point is at least probable: Jeremiah’s family must have been financially well off. This conclusion is based on the fact that Jeremiah was able to buy the forfeited estate of a bankrupt kinsman (Jeremiah 32:1-15). It is hard to imagine Jeremiah receiving any wages for his prophetic ministry; his means must have come through inheritance.

HIS HOMETOWN

Priestly Community. Jeremiah grew up in the town of Anathoth located about three miles northeast of Jerusalem. This town dates to pre-Israelite times and was named by the original Canaanite inhabitants after their goddess Anath. Following the Conquest, Anathoth, and thirteen other cities in the territories of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin, were set apart for priests. (cf. Joshua 21:13-19; 1 Chronicles 6:57-60). After Solomon built the temple the priests went up to Jerusalem at regular intervals to officiate in the religious ceremonies. Anathoth survives in the modern Anata.

Solomon banished the high priest Abiathar to Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26). Abiathar was the last high priest of the line of Eli, the high priest during the last days of the Judges. Now since Abiathar retired to Anathoth, and since Jeremiah is said to have come from Anathoth (Jeremiah 1:1), some commentators have jumped to the conclusion that Jeremiah was a descendant of Abiathar. Since Abiathar came from the priestly family of Ithamar, and since Hilkiah, the high priest of the Josian reformation, was of the priestly family of Eleazer, Jeremiah’s father could not have been the famous Hilkiah. This argument is based on the unproved assumption that only descendants of Ithamar lived in Anathoth. Is this assumption, however, justified? Could not descendants of both Ithamar (Abiathar) and Eleazer (Hilkiah) have lived in this priestly town?

Benjamite Community: Like Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, Jeremiah the prophet to the nations (Gentiles) was a Benjamite. It is repeatedly emphasized that Anathoth, though included in the kingdom of Judah and so close to its capital, was in the territory of Benjamin.(See Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 32:8; Jeremiah 37:12) Ethnologically Benjamin belonged to Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Perhaps this helps to explain Jeremiah’s undying affection for the Rachel-tribes of the North and his longing for the homecoming of their exiled children.(See Jeremiah 3:12 f; Jeremiah 31:4-6; Jeremiah 31:15-20.)

Rural Community: In the rural setting of Anathoth, Jeremiah was exposed to nature and profoundly influenced by it. His book reveals Jeremiah as a true outdoorsman. He observed, listened and learned from the animals and plants. He was familiar with the agricultural processes of his time and no doubt had spent many hard but happy days sowing, reaping and winnowing the grain as well as laboring in the vintage. Of course nature allusions can be found in other prophetic books; but Skinner is probably correct in his opinion that "we may find in Jeremiah’s poetry traces of a closer sympathy with the life of nature than in any other prophet.” An investigation of the nature metaphors and illustrations in the Book of Jeremiah tends to support this evaluation.

Animal allusions: Numerous allusions to animals are found in the Book of Jeremiah. The enemies of Judah are compared to lions, wolves (Jeremiah 5:6), leopards, Jeremiah 5:6) and serpents (Jeremiah 8:17). (See Jeremiah 2:15; Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6.) Jeremiah sees a picture of backsliding Judah in the young camel running helter-skelter in a trackless waste (Jeremiah 2:23) and in the wild ass in heat desperately searching for a mate (Jeremiah 2:24). Adulterers are compared to well-fed, lusty stallions neighing after the wives of their neighbors (Jeremiah 5:8). Riches accumulated by unjust means are as precarious as the eggs of the partridge that has so many natural enemies (Jeremiah 17:11). It is as impossible for Judah to change her disposition towards God as for a leopard to change its spots (Jeremiah 13:23).

Judah, like a lion in the forest, had roared against God (Jeremiah 12:8) and thus God must bring judgment upon the nation. Judah had become a strange speckled bird that is about to be attacked by other birds of prey (Jeremiah 12:9). The beasts and birds will feed upon the carcasses of those who fall in battle. (See Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 15:3) The land will become desolate, forsaken by birds and beasts alike (Jeremiah 4:25; Jeremiah 9:10). However the ruined cities of Judah will become a lair for jackals (Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 10:22). Perhaps the most striking animal figures employed in the book is that of the tender hind forsaking her young and the wild ass desperately sniffing the air for the scent of water during a terrible famine (Jeremiah 14:5-6). Even nature suffers when mankind sins against God!

In a figure reminiscent of Isaiah 53 the prophet compares himself to a gentle lamb being led to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:9). He places in juxtaposition the contrariness of sinful man and the unfailing obedience of the migratory birds to the law of their creator (Jeremiah 8:7).

Botanical allusions: Jeremiah’s allusions to plants and trees are almost as numerous as his mention of various animals. In several passages he pictures the withering of vegetation during famine (e.g., Jeremiah 7:20). He compares those who put their trust in God to a tree planted by a stream of water (Jeremiah 17:6-7). Once Israel had been as a green olive tree; but shortly all the branches of that fair tree would be broken off and burned (Jeremiah 11:16).

Jeremiah’s favorite figure is that of the vine. Israel is God’s vineyard (Jeremiah 12:10) in which once flourished a choice vine. That vine, however, now had become degenerate and worthless (2:21). Hence the once-proud vine must be stripped of its branches (5:10). The remnant that will survive the destruction of Judah is compared to the few miserable grapes overlooked by grape gatherers. (See Jeremiah 6:9; Jeremiah 8:13)

Agricultural allusions: Jeremiah was also fond of metaphors and illustrations drawn from the area of agriculture. He pictures the consternation of farmers as they confronted a national drought (Jeremiah 14:4). The positive aspect of his ministry is compared to planting (Jeremiah 1:10). In several passages he emphasizes the contrast between the barren wilderness through which God had earlier led the Israelites and the plentiful land into which the Lord had brought his people (e.g., Jeremiah 2:6-7). In the early days of her national history Israel was regarded by God with delight similar to a farmer looking upon the first fruits of his increase (Jeremiah 2:3). Judah is shortly to reap the disappointing harvest of sin (Jeremiah 12:13). The tempest of divine judgment, unlike the gentle winnowing wind, will sweep down upon them (Jeremiah 4:11); the sinful people will be scattered like worthless stubble (Jeremiah 13:24). For this reason Jeremiah earnestly pleads with his people to break up their fallow ground—to prepare the soil of their heart—that the seed of the word of God might take root in their lives (Jeremiah 4:3).

Other striking figures: Still other striking nature figures are to be found in the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah refers to the perennial streams that flow down the sides of the snow-capped Lebanon Mountains (Jeremiah 18:14) and to the tumultuous oceans that do not pass beyond their appointed bounds (Jeremiah 5:22). His point was that even inanimate nature complied fully with the will of the Creator. Of all the creation only man had the audacity to violate the God-ordained principles of conduct. Jeremiah pictures the wicked men of Judah as fowlers who set their trap to catch men (Jeremiah 5:26-27). The enemies of Judah are compared to fishers and hunters who will not allow any of their victims to escape (Jeremiah 16:16). In one of his most humorous figures Jeremiah compares the pagan idols to a harmless, lifeless scarecrow in the middle of a cucumber field (Jeremiah 10:5). On the other hand the God of Israel is the one who makes the vapors ascend from the earth and creates the lightning, wind and rain (Jeremiah 10:13).

HIS TIMES

To appreciate the ministry of Jeremiah one must thoroughly understand the times in which he lived. The public life of Jeremiah spans a period marked by political, social and religious changes of the utmost significance. This is particularly true of the years 627 to 586 BC, years of black disaster that culminated in the greatest catastrophe that had yet befallen the nation.

Political Conditions: Jeremiah lived in a crucial period of ancient Near Eastern history. It was a period characterized by political instability. Tiny Judah was involved the death struggle between the superpowers, Egypt to the South and Mesopotamia to the North. Jeremiah heard the news of the fall of Nineveh and watched as the great Assyrian colossus crumbled to the ground. He observed the rise of the Chaldean empire from its first defiance of Assyria until its smashing triumph at Carchemish (605 BC).

Jeremiah witnessed the desperate efforts of Pharaoh Neco to halt the inevitable Chaldean advance and saw the proud armies of Egypt flee in disarray before Nebuchadnezzar. He saw the armies of Chaldea smash through the feeble defenses of the land and force the surrender of Judah’s young monarch. He saw thousands of his countrymen—the best citizens of the nation—deported to far-off Babylon. He saw the Chaldean battering rams systematically reduce the walls of Jerusalem to rubble.

Jeremiah saw the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar poured out on the faithless vassal king of Jerusalem as well as some of his officials. He saw a puppet government established in his land and then saw that government wiped out by ruthless extremists. The political turmoil and day-to-day uncertainty demanded the leadership of a man with unwavering confidence in the God of history. Jeremiah was that man.

Religious Conditions: Religiously, Judah was bankrupt during the times of Jeremiah. Under Manasseh (686-642 BC), the Assyrian religion had invaded Judah and had been accepted by the large masses of the people. Idolatry was rampant; pagan rites corrupted the worship of God at the altars of the temple (Jeremiah 7:30). (cf. Jeremiah 2:10 f; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 10:2 ff; Jeremiah 44:15-19) The gallant effort of Josiah to effect a reformation in the land did not have any effect on the hearts of the people.

While the external signs of pagan worship were temporarily removed by royal decree, the king was unable to rekindle within his people a genuine and lasting love for the Lord. This is not to suggest that the Jews ceased to perform the outward acts of worship to God. Throngs of people attended the great festivals at the temple in Jerusalem. The altar there never lacked for sacrificial animals. The finest incense was used by the priests.(See Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21) On occasion the people even fasted and prayed (Jeremiah 14:12). All of this, however, was nothing more than mechanical ritual.

To make matters worse, the people were living with the religious fiction— promoted by their professional theologians— that they as the people of God were exempt from judgment and destruction. They had been assured by their learned prophets and priests that the Lord would never allow Jerusalem, much less his temple, to be destroyed. With his threats of divine retribution Jeremiah was the voice of one crying in the wilderness of theological delusion.

Moral Conditions: Jeremiah lived in corrupt times. In Jeremiah 7:9 the prophet summarizes the vices of his day: stealing, murder, adultery and false swearing. The house of God had virtually become a den of robbers (Jeremiah 7:11). Human life was cheap. Infants were offered up as sacrifices in the valley of Hinnom (See Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:4-6 ). A faithful prophet of God was hunted down and executed by the tyrant Jehoiakim for no greater crime than preaching the word of the Lord (Jeremiah 26:20-23). The Baal cult with its lewd and licentious "worship" had taken its toll. When Jeremiah refers several times to the harlotry being committed on the hills and under the green trees he is referring to the sexual orgies that passed for the worship of Baal.(See Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:13) The men of Judah brazenly chased after the wives of their neighbors.(See Jeremiah 5:7-9; Jeremiah 9:2) Deceit and lying were so common that no one could be trusted, even members of one’s own family (Jeremiah 9:2-6). The people had completely lost their sense of sin (Jeremiah 2:27). Wickedness prevailed everywhere and the national leadership seemed unconcerned (Jeremiah 10:21).

Social Conditions: Socially, Judah was in turmoil throughout Jeremiah’s days. Four major upheavals were caused by Josiah’s reformation, Jehoiakim’s exploitation, Babylonian deportation and Jerusalem’s final submission to Babylon.

Josiah’s reformation: The reformation of Josiah brought the first major upheaval to the society in which he lived. For over fifty years Judah had been a docile vassal state of the Assyrian empire. With the assassination of Amon (640 BC) a wave of nationalistic fervor swept over the land. As the reform movement got into high gear tremendous changes took place in Judah in a relatively short time. Idolatrous priests were executed (2 Kings 23:5). Other priests had their ministries restricted to the temple in Jerusalem in compliance with the Mosaic law of the central sanctuary (2 Kings 23:8-9). Wizards and witches were driven from the land (2 Kings 23:24). While Josiah’s actions were necessary and commendatory they were nonetheless divisive. Those who lost power, property or prestige during the reforms had their followers. No doubt the population was divided into camps of those who supported and those who opposed the royal reformation.

Jehoiakim’s exploitation: Another socio-economic upheaval took place when Pharaoh Neco placed a vassal king on the throne in 609 bc. As the appointee of the Pharaoh, Jehoiakim was responsible for raising an enormous annual tribute. (See 2 Chronicles 36:3; 2 Kings 23:35) Though there is no direct evidence of it, there can be little doubt that the Egyptian levies put a severe strain on the economy of the tiny country. Jehoiakim himself added to the misery of his people by his irresponsible building projects. He squandered the meager resources of his kingdom in erecting a magnificent but unnecessary new palace. When his funds were exhausted citizens were pressed into the royal service to work on the project without remuneration. Jeremiah had nothing but contempt for this petty tyrant (Jeremiah 22:13).

Babylonian deportation: The deportation of 597 BC created yet another social upheaval in the ministry of Jeremiah. The king, the queen mother, the high officials and the leading citizens, together with an enormous booty were taken by Babylon. The nation again faced social and economic chaos. It must have been very difficult for society to function normally after all the craftsmen and skilled laborers had been carried away to Babylon. The deportation created a dearth of leadership in the land. Zedekiah the vassal king was weak, though seemly well-intentioned, character. He could not or would not stand up to the princes who had become the real power in the kingdom. These royal advisers were men of small vision, low character and stubborn will.

Jerusalem’s submission: The final great social upheaval came during and immediately after the Chaldean siege of Jerusalem in 588-586 BC. Children were orphaned and wives made widows during the prolonged defense of the city (Lamentations 5:3). Faced with starvation and death, mothers abandoned their children (Lamentations 2:11) or, even worse, ate them.(See Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:10) When the city finally fell, the women were humiliated (Lamentations 5:11). All class distinctions were abolished; elders, priests, princes and common people were treated with equal disrespect and cruelty. (See Lamentations 4:16; Lamentations 5:12) Young men were forced to push mill stones like animals; children staggered beneath loads of firewood (Lamentations 5:13). The tattered survivors of Jerusalem’s fall had to barter with the Chaldeans for water and firewood (Lamentations 5:4). All the normal activities of Judean society had to be suspended during those terrible days (Lamentations 5:14-15).

Economic disparity: Throughout his ministry Jeremiah was concerned about the plight of the poor and helpless. They were being exploited by the powerful land owners as well as by the government. These men continued to enrich themselves by unscrupulous means (Jeremiah 5:26-27). The poor were mistreated to the point of being physically abused. The agonizing cry of the suffering poor went up continually before the throne of God (Jeremiah 6:7). Relief could not be obtained from the courts for they were completely corrupt (Jeremiah 5:28). The poor, the fatherless, the widows and the foreign sojourners were completely at the mercy of these vicious men. Many were forced to sell themselves into slavery to pay their debts. The Mosaic Law that clearly required a slave-holder to release his Hebrew slaves after seven years of service, was set aside (Jeremiah 34:12-16). Jeremiah’s impassioned appeals for social justice went unheard and unheeded (See Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3).

HIS PERSONALITY

A.B. Davidson opines "the book of Jeremiah does not so much teach religious truths as present a religious personality." More biographical material is available for Jeremiah than for any other of the so-called writing prophets. Then, too, unlike other prophets Jeremiah reveals the inmost recesses of his mind. These considerations make a character evaluation of this prophet of God something more than exercise in imagination. Four outstanding personality traits are worthy of note.

Sensitivity: Jeremiah was a gentle man. Though he personally would have preferred the quiet rural life of Anathoth, he was thrust by circumstances into the limelight. In those turbulent times he became the center of controversy, the object of nefarious schemes, the butt of ridicule; he was subjected to a constant barrage of slander and persecution. While outwardly he stood in the face of this abuse like an iron pillar, inwardly he was a broken man. On occasion he sought to resign his prophetic ministry. Only the consciousness of having been predestined for his task, the sense of dedication, and the overpowering urge of God’s Word within him, enabled this man to rise to the heights of his call.

Sympathy: How did a prophet of God feel when uttering threats of doom against his countrymen and against surrounding nations? Was he fierce, vindictive, and even joyful as he contemplated the destruction of "sinners"? Was he even self-righteously exulting? Some would have it so. This picture of the Hebrew prophets, however, belies the facts.

With a heavy heart Jeremiah predicted the doom of his beloved land; tears stained the manuscript when he penned his oracle of doom against Moab. Jeremiah did not desire to be the harbinger of evil (Jeremiah 17:15 f.). He laments for the people (Jeremiah 4:19 f.). He repeatedly displays his tenderness by fervently praying for his people (Jeremiah 8:21-22). He acknowledged the neessity of judgment, yet he prays that it might be tempered (Jeremiah 10:24); he pleads with God (Jeremiah 14:8). It was no moment of malicious jubilation for Jeremiah when he saw his dire predictions coming to pass.

If it was with heavy heart that he uttered prophecies of doom, it was with still heavier heart that he witnessed the fulfillment. He had sympathy with the condemned. It was because of his sensitivity to personal abuse and his sympathy with those doomed for divine judgment that Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet. It is, however, important to remember that "Jeremiah was no weeping willow; he was a stalwart oak of divine planting."

Courage: By nature Jeremiah was shy and retiring; but when armed with divine courage he was a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a brazen wall against the whole land (Jeremiah 1:18). He braved the fury of the people, the princes and the crown. He vigorously denounced the moral and spiritual corruption in the land as well as the suicidal foreign policy of the kings of Judah. He did not flinch when threatened; he sealed the truth of his testimony by being willing to offer his life.

While others who called themselves prophets adjusted their message to harmonize with the popular theology of the day, Jeremiah could not and did not. On numerous occasions only a slight shift in emphasis, a single word of conciliation would have brought Jeremiah release from physical suffering if not honor among his contemporaries. He chose, however, to speak the truth at all cost. That cost to Jeremiah for his physical well-being was great.

Conviction: Jeremiah had an overwhelming and unshakable conviction that he had been called of God and that he spoke the word of God. While he was, for the most part, a prophet of doom, he also had faith in the future of his people. When Jerusalem was besieged and all looked hopeless, Jeremiah demonstrated his faith by buying a field (Jeremiah 32). He could see beyond the tragedy of exile. He was certain of the ultimate restoration of Israel. When Jerusalem was in shambles and the faith of many faltered, Jeremiah stood like a rock. Through his beautiful poetry (now incorporated into the Book of Lamentations) he gave expression to the agony of his suffering and theologically perplexed people while at the same time pointing out to them the direction of spiritual recovery.

Conclusions: As far as personality is concerned, Jeremiah was the heir of the great prophets that preceded him. Hertz’s assessment is this: "He combines the tenderness of Hosea, the fearlessness of Amos, and the stern majesty of Isaiah." Freedman describes him as "a realistic optimist." Jeremiah was realistic in the sense that he was not lulled into a false, and theologically unsound, sense of security; he was optimistic in that he could see beyond the darkness of the present hour the dawning of a new day. Naglesbach captured the paradox of this man of God when he wrote: "He was like a brazen wall, and at the same time like soft wax."28 He was like a brazen wall in that no power could shake him; he was soft like wax because of his gentle disposition and his broken heart.

Jeremiah was a prophet. Such a statement though it might seem trite and unnecessary, is essential to the understanding of both this man and his book. Many superlatives have been used about Jeremiah. His eloquence and unusual poetic gifts have been praised; his profound insights, driving courage, unwavering commitment and fervent proclamation of the word of God make him one of the truly outstanding heroes of Bible history. He was an honest man—honest enough to reveal to all succeeding generations his inner doubts, fears and frustrations. He was a gentle man who was filled with compassion for his countrymen. He was a statesman, the most outstanding statesman in Judah in those desperate days of the nation’s dying agony. Jeremiah, however, was primarily a prophet of God. He believed to the very depths of his soul that he was a spokesman for the living God. If one fails to recognize this conviction in Jeremiah, or refuses to take this conviction seriously, he will never understand Jeremiah.

BEGINNING OF HIS MINISTRY

His Call: In the thirteenth year of King Josiah, 627 BC, Jeremiah was called by God to the prophetic ministry. The circumstances of his call are not known. Whether he was in the temple or at home or meditating on a green hillside cannot be determined. It was not his privilege to see a vision of divine majesty such as Isaiah saw; nor did he see visions of mysterious living creatures and wheels as did Ezekiel. His call experience, however, brought to Jeremiah the inescapable awareness that God had a claim on his life, and that he had been predestined to fill the prophetic office before he was born.

His Reaction: Like other great men of God, Jeremiah did not receive his call with eagerness. In fact he sought to escape or at least postpone the divine summons by pleading that he was too young for such responsibility. Jeremiah age at the time of his call cannot be computed precisely. Estimates range from fourteen to twenty. Certainly, then, he was young; but was this the real reason he shrank back from the task? Perhaps Jeremiah was more a realist than most people are in their youth. Perhaps he could foresee what would befall him as God’s messenger and he wanted no part of it. Jeremiah did not desire to be a prophet and through the early part of his ministry he had a difficult time reconciling himself to his calling. Yet he did not quit; he could not quit. He knew that God had touched his lips, had given him a message. He had to preach!

DIMENSIONS OF HIS MINISTRY

The ministry was multi-dimensional. He was a preacher, a writer, an intercessor, a statesman and a counselor.

Jeremiah the Preacher:

His authority: Jeremiah felt an uncontrollable urge to proclaim the message of God. When he tried to hold back the word of God became a burning fire shut up in his bones (Jeremiah 20:8-9). He could not forbear. God was speaking through his lips. For this reason he could preface his sermons with thus says the Lord; for this reason he could use the first person when presenting the divine demands.

His purpose: The purpose of Jeremiah’s preaching ministry is succinctly stated in Jeremiah 1:10 : God sent him to pluck up, break down, destroy and overthrow, but also to build and plant. The negative aspect of his ministry receives the greater emphasis in this verse. Jeremiah denounced sin and warned of judgment. Jeremiah, however, was not, as some critics have presented him, merely a prophet of doom. There was a genuine positive thrust to his preaching. He offered realistic encouragement to those of his countrymen who had been deported to Babylon (ch 29). His predictions regarding the coming Messiah-Prince (Jeremiah 23:1-8) and new covenant age (chs 31-34) are among the grandest in the OT.

His location: Jeremiah seems to have begun his preaching ministry in his native home of Anathoth. His words so angered the men of that town that they ordered him not to prophesy again in the name of the Lord. They threatened him with death if he did not cease preaching (Jeremiah 11:21). During the early years of his ministry Jeremiah may have commuted from Anathoth to Jerusalem to deliver his thundering denunciations and threats of doom. The prophet did not restrict his preaching to the temple area. (See Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 26:2) He preached in the city gates (Jeremiah 17:19), in prison (Jeremiah 32:2), in the king’s house (Jeremiah 22:1; Jeremiah 37:17), and at the city dump (Jeremiah 19:1). On one occasion he went into the streets throughout the land to proclaim his message (Jeremiah 11:6).

His lifestyle: God spoke through what Jeremiah did and did not do. God spoke through his life as well as through his lips. It was almost unheard of in his day for a young man to remain unmarried, yet Jeremiah never took a wife. His abstinence from marriage was intended to demonstrate how perilous the times were (Jeremiah 16:1-4). In view of the forthcoming national disaster Jeremiah could not think of marriage and children. He also refrained from attending parties and joyous festivities to dramatize that shortly all the sounds of joy would cease from the land (Jeremiah 16:8-9). On the other hand, he did not attend funerals (Jeremiah 16:5-7). Many were to die in the coming capture of Jerusalem. Those that remained would not find time for the customary funeral rites. What a sad life it must have been. At God’s command he denied himself wifely companionship and normal social intercourse. He preached a sermon through his life.

Jeremiah the Actor: Jeremiah used dramatic symbolic acts and visual aids to capture the attention of an audience and underscore the point of his message. No doubt Jeremiah would be accused today of sensationalism and melodramatics. Many of his actions, even by standards of that day, were bizarre. The accredited clergy cast aspersion upon him and hinted that he was deranged (Jeremiah 29:26). It might be helpful and convenient to list Jeremiah’s action parables, as they are sometimes called, in the order in which they occur in the book. Some of the acts listed above have been interpreted as being simply visions translated into ordinary narrative. Others have suggested that these acts are altogether imaginary, that is, a recognized rhetorical fiction.

Linen girdle: Jeremiah was instructed to get a linen girdle, wear it, bury it and then, after many days, to retrieve it. The marred and rotten garment was then used to symbolize the corruption and consequent worthlessness of Judah that had once been so very close to God (Jeremiah 13:1-11).

Smashed jar: He was told to take an earthen vessel, go out to the city dump, and smash the bottle in the sight of the elders of the people. Thus would God smash Jerusalem because of the idolatry practiced there (Jeremiah 19:1-13).

Wine cup: Jeremiah was commanded to take a cup of wine representing the wrath of God and cause all the nations of Syria-Palestine to drink from it (Jeremiah 25:15-28).

Wooden yoke: The prophet appeared for sometime in public wearing a wooden yoke such as was commonly worn by oxen (Jeremiah 27:2). It is possible that miniature yokes were given to the foreign ambassadors who had gathered in Jerusalem to be carried back to their respective lands (Jeremiah 27:3). The yoke-bars and thongs, the prophet declared, represented Nebuchadnezzar’s right to rule by divine decree (Jeremiah 27:4-7). That yoke so enraged one of Jeremiah’s adversaries that he ripped it from the neck of the prophet and smashed it in the temple (Jeremiah 28:10).

Purchased plot: When Jerusalem was under siege and Jeremiah was confined in the court of the prison, the Lord instructed him to buy a plot of ground from a relative (Jeremiah 32:6 ff). Jeremiah was careful to execute the purchase in the proper legal manner. This transaction was to demonstrate to the embattled populace of Jerusalem that Jeremiah had faith in the future of the land. After the destruction and deportation of the population, at some point in the future, houses, fields and vineyards would again be bought and sold in the land of Judah.

Rechabites: The prophet took those teetotalers—the Rechabites—to the temple and offered them wine to drink. In loyal obedience to their ancestor, the Rechabites refused to partake of the fruit of the vine. Jeremiah used the faithfulness of this clan to the instructions of their earthly father to rebuke the unfaithfulness of Judah to their heavenly Father (Jeremiah 35:1-19).

Buried stones: The prophet in Egypt continued to use symbolic acts. He hid great stones beneath the brick pavement in front of the house of Pharaoh in Tahpanhes. That action marked the spot where Nebuchadnezzar would one- day erect his royal pavilion (Jeremiah 43:8-11).

Sunken scroll: Jeremiah instructed a faithful follower to read a scroll in Babylon and then sink it in the Euphrates River (51:61-64). By this act the ultimate overthrow of Babylon dramatically was portrayed.

Thus by his non-actions and by his actions Jeremiah dramatized the message. His unusual behavior attracted attention and created opportunities for formal oral discourse. Those who are attempting to bring the message of God to communities where men are indifferent, unconcerned and hostile might well learn a lesson here: one must first capture the attention of an audience before he can effectively communicate the word of God.

Jeremiah the Writer

A letter: Jeremiah was not only a preacher; he was also a writer. He felt duty-bound to deal with the delusions of Jewish captives in Babylon; so he wrote a letter to them (Jeremiah 29:1). This letter must have been widely circulated among the exiles for it created quite a stir. False prophets in Babylon sent a letter back to the high priest in Jerusalem demanding that Jeremiah be silenced (Jeremiah 29:24-29).

A scroll: When Jeremiah was forbidden by the authorities to preach his message of doom he committed his sermons to writing. A scroll dictated by Jeremiah to his faithful scribe got the prophet in trouble with King Jehoiakim. This scroll, which was in reality the first edition of the Book of Jeremiah, contained excerpts from the sermons during Jeremiah’s first two decades of preaching. When the scroll was read in his presence, Jehoiakim slashed it to pieces and burned it upon a brazier. Jeremiah then produced a second copy of the scroll adding to the original contents many like words (Jeremiah 36:32). Eventually this scroll developed into what is today the canonical Book of Jeremiah.

Lamentations: Jeremiah also composed certain lamentations. He is said to have lamented the death of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25). This suggests that he composed a poetic lamentation over the death of that fine king. Tradition is consistent in assigning the Book of Lamentations to the prophet Jeremiah. In the oldest arrangements of the books of the Hebrew Bible the Book of Lamentations seems to have been part of the Book of Jeremiah. It is not possible to determine precisely when Lamentations was separated from the Book of Jeremiah

Besides the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations, Jeremiah may also have compiled the Book of Kings. The two books of Kings of the English and Greek OT are counted as one book in the Hebrew Bible. The Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 15a, states categorically that Jeremiah wrote the Book of Kings. The usage of the word wrote in this passage of Baba Bathra suggests that the statement means that the prophet was the editor of the Book of Kings. The same passage of Baba Bathra asserts that Hezekiah and his associates wrote the books of Isaiah, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes; the men of the Great Synagogue wrote the books of Ezekiel, the twelve Minor Prophets, Daniel, and the Scroll of Esther.

Some psalms?: Scholars have suggested that Jeremiah may have been the author of some of the Biblical psalms. Psalms 22, 31, 40, 55, 69, , 71 are so permeated with the "spirit of Jeremiah" that they have been ascribed to the pen of this prophet. These psalms do contain certain circumstantial parallels to the life of Jeremiah. None of the psalms ascribed to Jeremiah, however, allude to his prophetic office or his conflict with "false prophets." Figurative expressions like sinking in the mire and in the deep water (Psalms 69:2; Psalms 69:14) "require no groundwork of literal biographical fact.”

Most important is this fact: each of the psalms ascribed by modern critics to Jeremiah is attributed to David in the heading of the psalm. No good reason has yet been offered to deny that these psalms are in fact Davidic. The Ugaritic texts discovered in 1929 prove that poetic composition was a highly developed art centuries before David. Considering this evidence, the testimony of the psalm headings becomes even more compelling. The internal circumstantial similarity between these psalms and the life of Jeremiah does not offset this other evidence. Jeremiah probably did not write any of the biblical psalms.

Apocryphal writings: The apocryphal and pseudepigraphic literature attributes at least three additional writings to Jeremiah. Two of these are worthy of note. The first is the so-called Epistle of Jeremiah is supposedly a letter written by the prophet to the Jews who were about to be led as captives to Babylon. In this letter the author warns his readers about the dangers of idolatry. This short book appears in the Roman Catholic Douay version of the OT as the sixth chapter of the apocryphal Book of Baruch, a pseudepigraph (forged document) written many years after the death of Jeremiah (ca. 300-100 BC).

The second is the Paralipomena of Jeremiah, also called the Rest of the Words of Baruch is chiefly concerned with Ebed-melech the Ethiopian who befriended Jeremiah in one of his darkest hours (Jeremiah 38:7-13). This writing appears to be even later than the former. It contains some passages obviously of Christian origin. Jeremiah could not have been responsible for either of these documents.

Jeremiah the Intercessor: The Book of Jeremiah is rich with thought-provoking material on the subject of prayer. All the great prophets were men of prayer. Jeremiah, however, is the only prophet whose prayers are on record in sufficient quantity to invite analysis. They are all but unique in prophetic literature.

Types of prayers: Jeremiah’s prayers for the nation fall into several categories: (1) In a prayer of complaint Jeremiah charges God with deceiving and misleading the people (Jeremiah 4:10). (2) In a prayer of perception Jeremiah acknowledges that God’s disciplinary dealings with Judah have been fair and just (Jeremiah 5:3). (3) In a blistering attack against idolatry, Jeremiah burst forth into a prayer of praise (Jeremiah 10:6-7). (4) In a prayer for clarification Jeremiah asks God to explain why he has been instructed to buy a plot of ground in Judah when God had commissioned him to preach the destruction of the nation (Jeremiah 32:16-25). It is however, (5) the prayer of intercession that merits closer attention.

Language of intercession: One of the great ministries of the prophets was to engage in intercessory prayer for their people. Jeremiah was no exception. On the other hand, Jeremiah regarded the failure to engage in intercessory prayer as an indication of the falsity of certain self-proclaimed prophets (Jeremiah 27:18). Jeremiah apparently regarded the ministry of intercession as one of the hallmarks of a true prophet of God.

Three Hebrew expressions in Jeremiah are of particular importance in understanding the biblical concept of intercession. The verb palal means to pray but it has the overtones of argument, of presenting a logical case in defense of someone. The intercessor, then, is like a lawyer who pleads his case before the divine Judge. The expression "to stand before" is also used of prayer. This expression comes from the vocabulary of the royal court. Thus the intercessor is one who has access to the council chambers of God, and uses his influence there for the well-being of the people he represents. The third Hebrew word, paga’, has the idea of an impassioned emotional appeal. The intercessor is one who pours out his heart as well as his mind on behalf of the people he loves.

Evidence of intercession: Jeremiah prayed on behalf of his people. Several lines of evidence point in this direction.

Requests for intercession: On more than one occasion individuals came to the prophet and requested that he pray on their behalf. Twice king Zedekiah sent messengers to Jeremiah requesting prayer(Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 37:3). Following the assassination of Gedaliah the leaders of the remnant requested Jeremiah for divine guidance (Jeremiah 42:2; Jeremiah 42:20).

Divine prohibitions: Three times the Lord instructed Jeremiah not to pray for the people of Judah(Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11). A fourth passage has the force of a prohibition though it is not in the imperative mood (Jeremiah 15:1).

Direct reference: In one of his personal prayers Jeremiah alludes to his ministry of intercession: Remember how I stood before you to speak good on their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them (Jeremiah 18:20 b).

Prayer fragments: Fragments of Jeremiah’s intercessory prayers that have been preserved in the book. In one of these prayers Jeremiah so completely identifies with his suffering people that he employs the singular pronoun me for the nation. It is as though the nation personified is speaking to God through Jeremiah’s mouth (Jeremiah 10:23-25). During a terrible drought Jeremiah, speaking as a member of the suffering nation, calls upon God to extend mercy to his people (Jeremiah 14:7-9). Perhaps the most beautiful of the fragments of intercession is found in Jeremiah 14:19-22. Here Jeremiah skillfully mingles a series of rhetorical questions with confessions of sin and appeals for divine mercy.

Jeremiah the Statesman

His position: In ancient Israel the functions of church and state could not be separated into neat compartments. Israel was a theocracy, a nation under the direct government of God. All areas of national life were to be directed by the word of God as revealed through his accredited messengers. For this reason Jeremiah—and most of the other prophets for that matter—became involved in what today would be classified as political activity. Jeremiah’s political position can be summed up in one principle: Submit to Babylon.

His patriotism: The patriotism of Jeremiah has been called into question by more than one modern writer. Did not Jeremiah advocate capitulation to the Chaldeans? Did he not encourage the defenders of Jerusalem to desert during those last desperate days before Jerusalem was captured? Such conduct would certainly be considered treason today! If a government fully commits itself to a definite and irrevocable policy, patriotism would demand at least silent acquiescence. Was Jeremiah then a traitor? In defense of Jeremiah it is important to make several observations.

Jeremiah was no coward: Though he advised others to desert to the enemy he did not follow his own advice. He was convinced that Jerusalem would fall to the Chaldeans and be destroyed yet he chose to remain within the city. Strange traitor, this man who refused to desert a sinking ship.

Jeremiah was not a hireling: When Jerusalem fell the Chaldeans wished to reward this prophet who for so many years had advocated capitulation to Babylon. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Jeremiah was a fifth columnist on the Chaldean payroll and that his job was to wage psychological warfare within the walls of Jerusalem. If, however, this prophet was a hireling it is most strange that he pointedly refused a life of luxury and ease in Babylon. He chose rather to cast his lot with the tattered remnant who remained in the land after the disaster of 586 bc. Strange traitor this man who refused to take reward for his treason.

Jeremiah was not malevolent: He took no delight in the message of doom he was compelled to preach to his countrymen. Earnestly he prayed for them. He was not anti-Judah. He loved his nation and wanted it to survive as a nation. He could not comprehend why God must utterly destroy Judah and he did not hesitate to confess this lack of understanding to his creator. Strange traitor, this man who so earnestly prayed for the survival of his nation.

Jeremiah was no prophet of doom, at least in the sense that this epithet is usually used. True, he did forecast the defeat of his nation by an enemy force; but Jeremiah believed firmly in the future of his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He demonstrated that belief by buying a plot of ground at the very time when the Chaldean armies were sweeping through the land (Jeremiah 32:6-15). Jeremiah persisted to the end in a "heaven-born assurance of the immortality and spiritual regeneration of his people.” Strange traitor this man who had such confidence in the future of his nation.

Jeremiah was no political theoretician. His counsel to yield to Babylon without a struggle was not politically motivated or dictated by mere prudence. In denouncing revolution against Babylon Jeremiah was running counter to the opinions of the best statesmen of Syria-Palestine including Judah. It was not the mere fact that resistance was suicidal that caused him to call for surrender and submission. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that Jeremiah had no admiration for the Babylonian imperial system. In fact he boldly predicted that after the divinely assigned period of world supremacy Babylon too would taste of the wrath of God. Strange traitor this man who was so outspoken against the enemy of his people.

Jeremiah was no pacifist. Though he opposed resistance to the Chaldeans he did not oppose war as such. As a matter of fact Jeremiah preached that the impending conflict was divinely ordained. God was involved in the struggle (Jeremiah 21:5), but he was fighting on the side of the Chaldeans. Those who would equate pacifism with treason certainly cannot question the patriotism of Jeremiah on these grounds.

In Jeremiah one can see what John Bright calls "patriotism on a deeper level.” The religious idea with which he was inspired was higher and broader than conventional ideas of patriotism. Israel had a divinely appropriated work to do; if Israel failed to perform that mission, it had no further right to exist. To state the matter another way, Judah was a theocracy in rebellion against its divine king. Jeremiah was the inspired spokesman for God to those rebellious people. The God who knows the future had revealed to Jeremiah what the future course of political events in the ancient Near East would be. This prophet did not formulate his advice based on political or personal expediency. He knew whereof he spoke. History has vindicated his position.

Jeremiah the Counselor: Jeremiah was not only concerned with crowds, oratory and national policy; he was concerned as well for individuals. His counseling settled around three individuals.

Zedekiah: Zedekiah the king had many agonizing decisions to make during the last days of Judah. On more than one occasion he sought out Jeremiah to ask his inspired counsel (Jeremiah 37:17; Jeremiah 38:14 ff.). Jeremiah was not a practitioner of the non-directive technique in counseling. He clearly explained for Zedekiah the alternative courses of action and the consequences of each. If Zedekiah would surrender to Nebuchadnezzar the city would be saved; if he did not, the city was doomed. When Zedekiah expressed fear over his personal fate should he surrender, Jeremiah reassured him that his fears were unfounded. He tried to help the king see that selfish considerations must be secondary. Thousands would suffer if the king persisted in resisting Babylon. Jeremiah’s private conversations with Zedekiah reveal the consistency and honesty of this man of God. He did not succumb to the temptation to tailor God’s word to fit the individual but rather sought to bring the individual into harmony with God’s will.

Baruch: The weeping prophet knew personal agony and despondency and thus could have empathy with those who suffered. To Baruch, a frustrated and discouraged disciple, Jeremiah spoke a tender word from the Lord. His message to Baruch in ch. 45 when properly understood is a masterpiece of counseling technique. By revealing to Baruch the genuine and unparalleled suffering of God, Jeremiah helped that scribe to place his own predicament in proper perspective.

Ebed-melech: Equally tender and pertinent is Jeremiah’s brief word for Ebed-melech (Jeremiah 39:15-18). This Ethiopian servant was terrified at the prospect of falling into the hand of the Chaldean soldiers who were attacking Jerusalem. Doubtless he feared that all the servants of King Zedekiah would be slain when the enemy stormed into the city. The God who loved individuals as much as he loved nations sent his prophet to that noble Negro slave with a comforting word. Ebed-melech would not fall into the hands of those whom he feared.

Whether dealing with the paralyzing indecision of Zedekiah, the gloomy despondency of Baruch or the terrifying fear of Ebed-melech Jeremiah was the master counselor. He did not always wait for the distressed to seek him out; he went to them. He was straightforward and honest, yet tender and compassionate as he dealt with the needs of individuals.

CHRONOLOGY OF HIS MINISTRY

The reconstruction of the life and career of Jeremiah is not an easy task. For the period following 609 BC an abundance of dated biographical material from the book can be used. When this material is placed in chronological order, one has a fairly complete outline of the latter part of the prophet’s career. For information about the pre-609 BC career of the prophet, however, one must depend upon undated oracles and sermons. For this reason the greatest caution needs to be exercised in reconstructing the early phases of the ministry of Jeremiah. Some modern scholars have questioned whether Jeremiah had a ministry before 609 BC. May and Hyatt,40 for example, believe that Jeremiah did not begin to prophesy until after the reformation of Josiah—near the end of Josiah’s reign or beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (ca. 609 BC). Not allowing for genuine predictive prophecy, these scholars insist that the foe from the north in chs 1-6 must be explained against the background of the emerging Chaldean menace. For those who accept the testimony of the book itself, however, the matter of dating is settled by the clear statements of 1:2 and 25:3. The ministry of Jeremiah began in the thirteenth year of Josiah, 627 BC.

The prophetic career of Jeremiah can be divided into five periods.

Pre-reformation Period (627-621 BC): The early phase of Jeremiah’s ministry extends from the divine call (627 BC) to the reformation under Josiah (621 BC). During this five-year period the energetic Jeremiah joined forces with Zephaniah in thundering forth denunciations of apostasy. Intermingled with these verbal assaults against the national sin, however, are impassioned pleas for repentance (Jeremiah 3:19 to Jeremiah 4:2). One can scarcely doubt that the powerful preaching of Zephaniah and Jeremiah helped pave the way for the reforms of King Josiah.

Post-reformation Period (621-605 BC): The years following the reformation of Josiah and before the battle of Carchemish are practically a blank as far as the career of Jeremiah is concerned. Scholars are in disagreement about Jeremiah’s attitude towards Josiah’s reforms. Some picture the prophet as bitterly opposed to the reform; others think he actively supported the efforts of the young king; still others argue that Jeremiah supported the aims of the reformation but took no active part in it. Most scholars believe that following the reformation of 621 BC Jeremiah entered into a period of silence.

Two pieces of evidence seem to indicate Jeremiah’s sympathy with the Josian reform. First, Jeremiah publicly expressed almost unbounded admiration for Josiah (Jeremiah 22:15 f.). This would be most strange if Jeremiah felt that his reform efforts were inappropriate, inadequate or futile. Second, those who stood up for Jeremiah during his controversial ministry and who intervened to save his life were themselves leaders in the reform effort or came from families that were instrumental in the reform. Ahikam son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 26:24) was among the delegation that took the lost book of the law to Huldah the prophetess for identification. Gemariah son of Shaphan (Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 36:25) must have been a brother of Ahikam. Elnathan, another prince who defended the writing of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:25), was the son of Achbor who had been active in the Josian reform (cf. 2 Kings 22:12). It is unlikely that Jeremiah would have received the support of these families if he had opposed the reforms of Josiah.

Scripture affirms that Josiah began to seek the Lord while he was yet young, in the eighth year of his reign. He began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of all of idolatrous paraphernalia in the twelfth year of his reign (2 Chronicles 34:3). Jeremiah was called to the prophetic ministry in the thirteenth year of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2) one year after the reform got started and five years before the discovery of the lost law book. It is important to note that the discovery of the lost book was the result of the reformation and not the cause of it.

Jeremiah’s preaching during the five years between the beginning of the reformation and the discovery of the law book must surely have helped pave the way for further reforms. Some have interpreted Jeremiah 11:6 to mean that Jeremiah got involved in the reformation efforts and went about the countryside as its chief advocate. If, however, Jeremiah was a supporter of the reforms of the king, why did Josiah consult Huldah the prophetess concerning the newly discovered law book instead of Jeremiah? Does this not indicate that the king regarded Jeremiah as un- sympathetic to the cause? Not necessarily. Jeremiah was still young and relatively unknown. Perhaps he had not yet left the rural areas to begin his ministry in the capital.

Middle Period (605-597 BC): After the battle of Carchemish (605 BC) the prophet began a new phase of his ministry. The great clash between the Egyptians/Assyrians and the Chaldeans, marked a turning point in the life of Jeremiah as well as in world history. From that time Jeremiah explicitly named Babylon as the chosen agent of destruction of Judah. Babylon was to Jeremiah what Nineveh had been to Isaiah. The prophet foresaw and announced the prophetic program of God for the next seventy years. God had allocated to Babylonian world supremacy a period of seventy years. During that period any nation that refused to submit to the yoke of Babylon would be destroyed. The year 605 BC was important to Jeremiah in the form as well as the content of his message. It was in 605 BC that Jeremiah received instruction from the Lord to commit his prophecies to writing, apparently for the first time (ch 36).

Pre-destruction Period (597-586 BC): The year 597 BC, in which several thousand Jews including the royal household were taken to Babylon, marked another milestone in the ministry of Jeremiah. Jeremiah believed that those captives in Babylon were the real hope of the nation. He was looking beyond the tragedy of 586 BC to a new community that the Lord would establish. During this phase of his ministry Jeremiah appears in the role of the king’s counselor. The counsel of Jeremiah ran counter to that of the powerful young princes who seemed to control King Zedekiah. For that reason Jeremiah suffered immeasurably during this decade.

Post-destruction Period (After 586 BC): The final phase of the ministry of Jeremiah begins in 586 BC, the year in which Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah was broken in body but not in spirit. While the old man could have closed out his life in luxury and ease in Babylon, he chose to cast his lot with the tattered remnant that remained in Palestine. After the assassination of Gedaliah, Jeremiah was forced to accompany the terrified remnant to Egypt. His last recorded sermons were delivered on foreign soil. Though well into his sixties, Jeremiah had lost none of his fervor or fire. He still cried out against idolatry and predicted divine judgment upon those who refused to turn to the Lord with all their heart. In that foreign land Jeremiah ended his prophetic ministry; there probably he was buried.

VICISSITUDES OF HIS MINISTRY

Internal Stress: The life and ministry of Jeremiah were filled with discouragement and danger.

Failure to “get through”: To preach to people for decades and realize no tangible results places a great burden on the heart of a minister. So it was with Jeremiah. He preached powerfully, eloquently and passionately, but no one seemed to listen. This constant failure to "get through" to the people affected Jeremiah negatively.

Painful observation: Jeremiah suffered intense personal pain as he watched the nation advancing step by step on the road to ruin. When he saw that the spirit of disobedience and rebellion in his countrymen was seemingly past remedy he still prayed that they might be spared. Finally when God forbade him to offer any more intercessory prayers on behalf of Judah, Jeremiah realized that the doom of his people was inevitable and irreversible. Only the complete overthrow of the nation could effect a cure for the malignancy of transgression that had permeated the land.

Painful expectation: Jeremiah shed many tears over the impending doom of his people. He could see so clearly in his mind’s eye the bloodshed and death and carnage that would accompany the assault by the enemy from the North. Frequently he burst forth in bitter lamentation. See Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 8:1 to Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 10:19; and Jeremiah 14:17-18. Once he cried out: Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people (Jeremiah 9:1). In one of his sermons following a particularly eloquent appeal for repentance Jeremiah added: But if you will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret for your pride; and my eye shall weep sore and run down with tears, because the flock of Yahweh is taken captive (Jeremiah 13:17).

Life-style Stress: The burden of Jeremiah’s suffering was somewhat increased by the restrictions placed upon his life and ministry by the Lord. He was forbidden to marry (16:2) and hence had to bear his suffering without the solace afforded by wifely companionship. He was forbidden to attend social gatherings, even funerals (16:1, 8). While these prohibitions served a wise and useful purpose they nonetheless added to the personal agony of this broken-hearted man.

External Persecution: Add to the discouragement of this prophet the danger that he constantly faced in his ministry and the biography of Jeremiah becomes truly pathetic. Almost daily he suffered hostility and abuse from the people he was trying to help. Early in his ministry the men of his own hometown plotted against him (Jeremiah 11:9 ff.). On one occasion he was arrested by the chief officer of the temple, flogged, and forced to endure the pain and humiliation of exposure in the public stocks (Jeremiah 20:1 f.).

Following one of his mighty sermons in the temple Jeremiah was seized by a mob and hastily put on trial for his life (Jeremiah 26:11 ff.). For a time Jeremiah was declared to be persona non grata. He was restrained from entering the temple area (Jeremiah 36:5). His first literary production was ruthlessly destroyed by a tyrant king (Jeremiah 36:23 ff.). For a time he was forced to go into hiding to escape the wrath of this king (Jeremiah 36:26). Back in circulation again, he was assaulted by a rival prophet (Jeremiah 28:10 f.).

A letter from Babylon urged further violence against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:24 ff.). While attempting to leave Jerusalem on a private business matter, the prophet was arrested and accused of treasonous desertion to the enemy (Jeremiah 37:11 ff.). Confinement in prison threatened the health of the prophet (Jeremiah 37:20). He was lowered into an empty but damp cistern and left to die without food or water (Jeremiah 38:6). Delivered from that danger he yet remained under arrest (Jeremiah 38:13).

Jeremiah was released from custody when the Chaldeans captured Jerusalem, but then through the blunder of some junior officer was again put in chains to be carried away to Babylon (Jeremiah 40:1). Released by the Chaldean commanding general, Jeremiah chose to cast his lot with the tattered remnant of his people. His suffering was not yet at an end, however. Shortly the old man of God was abducted to Egypt where he spent his last years in forced exile from his beloved home land (Jeremiah 43:5 f.). "His whole life," says one writer, "is a series of dramatic rescues at the hand of unexpected people.”

Agonizing Outcries: It is on the background of this intense personal pain and persecution that the so-called confessions of Jeremiah must be interpreted. In these prayers, which all appear in the second ten chapters of the book, Jeremiah asks for justice. Standing before the Judge of all the earth Jeremiah presents the case for himself and against his adversaries.

Personal defense: In defense of his own conduct, the prophet points to his tireless efforts to persuade the people of Judah to repent. He has to the best of his ability carried out the divine commission that had been given to him (Jeremiah 17:16). He has said and done only that which God had authorized. He had animosity for no one and had offended neither his people nor his God (Jeremiah 15:10). He had prayed for the salvation of his nation (See Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 15:11). Why then is his life so turbulent? (Jeremiah 15:15-17). Why does he suffer so? (Jeremiah 18:20).

Narrative prayer: In narrative prayer Jeremiah told God the tragic story of his life and ministry, and he does something more. He sought to disparage the activities of his adversaries. He vividly described in these prayers the vicious behavior of those who had pitted themselves against him. They had cursed (Jeremiah 15:10), taunted (Jeremiah 17:15) and ridiculed (Jeremiah 20:8) God’s duly appointed representative. They had openly blasphemed God as well (Jeremiah 12:2; Jeremiah 12:4). They were hypocritical (Jeremiah 12:6) and treacherous (Jeremiah 20:10). They were plotting the death of the prophet from Anathoth (See Jeremiah 18:18; Jeremiah 11:21) By placing his innocence in juxtaposition with the guilt of his enemies Jeremiah was calling the attention of God to the injustice of the whole situation. He was setting the stage for his plea.

Urgent appeals: After Jeremiah presented his case before God he made his appeal. At times his plea was direct and unambiguous. He prays that God will vindicate his prophet and pour out vengeance upon his enemies (See Jeremiah 15:15; Jeremiah 17:17-18). In some of his prayers he calls down in dreadful detail the wrath of God upon his adversaries (See Jeremiah 17:18; Jeremiah 18:21-23; Jeremiah 12:3) These imprecations are perhaps the most difficult passages in the book to comprehend. Are they to be interpreted as a sudden ebullition of natural anger?

Imprecations: Jeremiah did not desire the destruction of his people and in fact prayed for their deliverance(See Jeremiah 17:16; Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 15:11). Those upon whom Jeremiah calls down the wrath of the Almighty are the religious leaders who had so beguiled the people and persecuted the prophet. They had spurned the appointed representatives of the God of Israel; they had hindered the word of God. When Jeremiah called upon God to destroy these wicked men he did not speak with vindictive enmity. He spoke rather as the official representative of God. God’s cause was being hindered; God’s honor was at stake. It was his zeal for God and desire for the triumph of righteousness that caused Jeremiah to pray for the destruction of these sinners. The so-called imprecations are in reality pronouncements of judgment. They are not unlike the "woes" which Jesus pronounced against the religious leaders of His generation (see Matthew 23).

Accusations: Sometimes the plea in Jeremiah’s personal prayers is less direct, taking the form of accusation or of a bold rhetorical question. Jeremiah accused God of enticing him and forcing him into the ministry (Jeremiah 20:7) and filling him with gloom (Jeremiah 15:17). Perhaps his most bitter accusation is found in Jeremiah 15:18 b: You are indeed to me as a deceitful brook, as waters that fail! He is accusing God of being unfaithful and unreliable. These accusations against God amount to an appeal. The prophet was asking for release from a situation that he viewed as unbearable.

The rhetorical questions in his prayers amount to accusations. The troubled prophet asked God Shall evil be rewarded for good? (Jeremiah 18:20 a). Again he asked: Why is my pain perpetual and my wound incurable? (Jeremiah 15:18 a). In Jeremiah 12:1 b he asked the question suffering men have asked as far back as one can trace the literary records of the human race: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are all they at ease that deal very treacherously? Both of these questions suggest that something has gone wrong in the world. Righteous men suffer; wicked men prosper. Jeremiah knows that God is just. It is to his justice that Jeremiah appeals in both his accusations and his rhetorical questions.

Rare Bright Spots:

Handful of friends: The biographical picture of Jeremiah is not entirely black. Though it might have seemed to Jeremiah that every hand was against him, he was not altogether friendless. The elders of the land defended Jeremiah at his trial. A certain prince named Ahikam used his influence to get the prophet acquitted. Baruch was a faithful friend. He joined Jeremiah in hiding, wrote his first book for him, read it in public and apparently remained with his master until the end in Egypt. Numbered among his friends are the court officials who saw to it that King Jehoiakim got a chance to hear the words written in Jeremiah’s scroll and who protested when that scroll was destroyed by the king. A temple official by the name of Zephaniah came under personal attack for allowing Jeremiah to preach in the temple. Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian servant of King Zedekiah, risked his own life to rescue Jeremiah from a foul pit. Even Zedekiah himself on certain occasions befriended the prophet. Finally there was Gedaliah with whom Jeremiah would have spent his last days had this governor not been struck down by the blow of an assassin.

Occasional triumphs:There were occasional triumphs in his ministry. Jeremiah’s defense of his prophetic preaching was vindicated when he was on trial for his life. When Nebuchadnezzar lifted the siege of Jerusalem to deal with an attack by Egyptian forces, Jeremiah alone correctly assessed the situation. In a matter of weeks his confident assertion that the Chaldean would return to the siege of the city was vindicated. Twice the king sought him out to ask his counsel. The remnant came to him to seek his guidance following the death of Gedaliah. Nevertheless these moments of triumph are not the dominant theme in the biography of Jeremiah.

IMPORTANCE OF HIS MINISTRY

Only God knows to what degree the ministry of a man has been a success or a failure. As the world evaluates such things Jeremiah was a failure. No one, it seems, paid any attention to his dire predictions; no one gave heed to his appeals for repentance. He was powerless to stop the suicidal national policy. Yet in a very real way Jeremiah was the hero of the last days of Judah. More than any other single individual he enabled the people to survive the calamity of 586 BC. Philip Schaff has referred to Jeremiah as "the most prominent personage in a period of deepest distress and humiliation of the Jewish theocracy.”

Interpreting a Disaster: The destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation to Babylon was a severe spiritual as well as political blow to the people of Judah. The religious establishment long had said that such a calamity could not befall the holy city. God would never allow Jerusalem and the temple to be destroyed. The notion of the inviolability of Zion seems to have hardened into an unquestioned assumption in Jeremiah’s days. It was heresy and blasphemy to challenge this dogma. Those who attempted to refute it did so at the peril of their lives.

When the disaster of 586 BC became a reality the official religious leaders were at a loss to explain how it could have come about. The entire structure of faith in the Lord was dangerously close to toppling to ruins because one dogma—and it false to begin with—had proven to be unsound. Many were questioning the justice of God (See Jeremiah 31:29; Ezekiel 18:2; Ezekiel 18:25; Lamentations 5:7) The temptation was strong to render homage to the gods of the conquering Chaldeans. Those who retained their faith were plunged into hopeless despair feeling that God had utterly and completely cast off his people (Ezekiel 33:10; Ezekiel 37:11). During and shortly after 586 BC the very survival of Israel’s faith was hanging in the balance. Without Jeremiah in Palestine to warn of tragedy and Ezekiel to interpret it when it struck, the Israelite people probably would have faired no better than the other peoples conquered by Babylon. That the faith of Israel survived 586 BC is due in no small measure to Jeremiah’s preaching.

Herein lies the paradox of Jeremiah’s ministry: By preaching judgment he was in fact providing the basis of salvation for his people. Repeatedly Jeremiah emphasized that the destruction of Jerusalem was of the Lord. He underscored that the judgment was just because of the enormous transgression of the people. The desperately confused Jews in 586 BC clung to Jeremiah’s words as the only viable explanation of what had happened. Thus Jeremiah was able to fit the tragedy of 586 BC into the framework of faith.

Visualizing a Future: Jeremiah made another equally important contribution to the ongoing of his people. This prophet laid the foundations and prepared the way for the new Israel that would one day rise out of the ruins of the old. Jeremiah believed in the indestructibility of Israel (Jeremiah 30:11; Jeremiah 29:11). The nation must go into captivity; but the day for return would come after seventy years of servitude to Babylon (See Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 25:11-12). That grand exodus from Babylon would eclipse the memory of the exodus from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14 ff.). It would involve a restoration for Israel as well as for Judah (Jeremiah 30:10). Replacing the worthless kings who had disgraced the throne of David, God would raise up for them in that day an ideal king, a righteous Branch, the Messiah (See Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 30:9).

Out of the ruins of the old Jerusalem a new city—a spiritual city—would arise which would wear the same name as the king who rules over it (Jeremiah 33:11; Jeremiah 33:16). Replacing the old covenant that had been written upon stone would be a new covenant written upon the tables of the heart—an inward, spiritual, everlasting covenant of pardon and grace (See Jeremiah 31:33 f; Jeremiah 32:39 f; Jeremiah 33:8). The old ark of the covenant, symbolic of God’s presence, would no longer be needed or even desired in the new age for God himself would dwell in the midst of the people (Jeremiah 3:16 f.). Through faith and obedience Gentiles would be incorporated into that new Israel (See Jeremiah 3:17; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 12:16). These and similar predictions sustained God’s people through the agonizing spiritual ordeal of the exile. Because of his messianic predictions Jeremiah is part of the prophetic foundation upon which is reared the new Israel of God.

LEGENDS OF HIS MINISTRY

Considerations of space will not permit a lengthy discussion of Jeremiah’s importance in Jewish tradition. Ginzberg in his monumental work, The Legends of the Jews records dozens of legends that grew up about this prophet. Legend would have it that Jeremiah was born circumcised; that he was weeping at his birth and that shortly thereafter he could speak; that the prophet concealed the temple vessels and heavenly fire when Jerusalem fell to the Chaldeans; that Jeremiah and Nebuchadnezzar were friends in their childhood; that one of his prayers caused the crocodiles to disappear; that he entered paradise alive; that he would be one of two witnesses to return to earth in the future. It was probably this last tradition that explains why some Jews thought Jesus was Jeremiah.

PART TWO:

JEREMIAH: THE BOOK

The Book of Jeremiah in the standard English edition contains fifty-two chs, among the prophets second only to the sixty-six chs of Isaiah. By actual word count Jeremiah is the longest prophetic book in the Bible. This book is not the easiest one to understand and appreciate. As a matter of fact Jeremiah makes extremely difficult reading even for those who might be somewhat more advanced in the area of biblical studies. This book—like the other prophetic books—alludes to persons, situations and events that are unfamiliar to the modern reader. The figures of speech seem often to be crude and inappropriate or obscure. Yet those who pick up this book should realize that they are studying a document that is more than twenty-five hundred years old. Such difficulties are to be expected when one reads any literature from antiquity. If one succeeds, however, in bridging the culture gap between the twentieth century AD and the sixth century BC he will be richly rewarded by what he discovers in the Book of Jeremiah.

WRITING OF THE BOOK

Authorship: The heading of the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1) claims that the chapters that follow right up to (but not including) Jeremiah 52 are the work of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah who lived in the late seventh and early sixth centuries before Christ. With this agrees the statement in Jeremiah 51:64, Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. Internal evidence supports the contention of the superscription and subscription of the book. In Jeremiah 36:1-2 Jeremiah is told to record in a scroll his oral messages from the first half of his ministry. When the prophet complied with that command, the first edition of the Book of Jeremiah came into being. Concerning the matter of authorship three questions need probing: What was the role of Baruch in the production of the Book of Jeremiah? Is there any extraneous material in the book? Who is responsible for the historical appendix that is contained in ch 52?

Role of Baruch: Baruch the son of Neriah is mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah several times. Chronologically his first appearance is in ch 36 where he wrote a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah and then publicly read the document. Jeremiah was commissioned to utter a special oracle pertaining to Baruch in that same year (Jeremiah 45). Sixteen years later Baruch again appears as an assistant to Jeremiah when the latter was performing one of the most dramatic action parables of his career (Jeremiah 32:12 f.). When last mentioned in the book Baruch was accused of influencing Jeremiah to denounce the plans of the remnant to emigrate to Egypt. Subsequently both the prophet and Baruch were forced to accompany the refugees in their flight from Judah (Jeremiah 43:3; Jeremiah 43:6).

Opinions differ as to the extent of Baruch’s influence in producing the Book of Jeremiah. On one extreme there are scholars who believe that Baruch was involved only in writing the scroll of 605-604 BC. According to this view Baruch was nothing more than a public scribe employed for a very limited task. On the other extreme are those scholars who believe Baruch on his own initiative published a biography of Jeremiah. Later Baruch combined Jeremiah’s work with his own, recasting some of Jeremiah’s sermons in his own pedestrian style. Both of these positions regarding to the role of Baruch are unacceptable. The first position—that of Mowinckel—is a priori unlikely considering the close association between Baruch and Jeremiah subsequent to 604 BC. As for the second position, Baruch appears to be too pious and serious a man to have tampered with the speeches of his master.

What then was Baruch’s role in the publication of the book? His initial role as the scribe who recorded verbatim the sermons dictated to him by Jeremiah is clearly indicated in Jeremiah. It is quite possible and even probable that in the latter half of his ministry Jeremiah used Baruch in a similar capacity. In Jeremiah’s twilight years Baruch probably gathered and edited all of Jeremiah’s prophecies. Whatever he did in the way of editing, however, was doubtless at Jeremiah’s direction. Even the arrangement of the prophecies may be due to the suggestion of Jeremiah. Thus Jeremiah is the author of the book that bears his name. Baruch’s contribution was purely technical and mechanical.

Alleged non-Jeremian material: Negative critical scholars do not feel obligated to accept the claims of any OT book regarding its authorship. They believe that they have at their disposal modern "tools" by which they can confidently separate the actual words of Jeremiah from later intrusions. Robert Pfeiffer, for example, believes that the Book of Jeremiah consists of three groups of writings: (1) words dictated or written by Jeremiah himself; (2) biography of the prophet probably written by Baruch; and (3) "miscellaneous contributions from the hands of redactors and later authors.” It is this third category of materials that is most disturbing. How is one to distinguish between the inspired and authentic words of Jeremiah the prophet and the words of redactors and later authors? The critical scholars begin by setting up categories of what they believe a prophet of that period could or would have said. Any verses in the book that do not fall into those categories are declared to be spurious.

Since these critics, for the most part, do not believe in the possibility of long-range, pin-point predictive prophecy, all such passages can be taken away from the prophet and assigned to some anonymous person who lived after the event that is predicted. According to some of the more radical critics, messianic prophecy prior to the return from captivity in Babylon is impossible. Therefore all passages predicting the coming of a personal Messiah in the books of Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and the other pre-exilic prophets must be assigned to some author living after 538 BC. Now this methodology is so ridiculous that one is prone to dismiss it with a shrug. Yet this is the type of scholarship to which young people are exposed in most universities and theological training schools today!

It is not possible nor would it be profitable to deal here with all the disputed passages in Jeremiah. One highly respected introduction to the OT has taken the position that 533 verses—roughly thirty-nine per cent of the book—were written neither by Jeremiah nor by Baruch. One cannot, of course, find unanimity among the critics as to which specific passages in the book are spurious. Since their methodology is so subjective, agreement among these critics is not to be expected. It will suffice here to note the various categories of passages that the negative critics tend to deny to the prophet Jeremiah.

In general the critics question the following types of passages: (1) Passages which are verbally parallel with those in other OT books; (2) verses which are repetitions from earlier within the Book of Jeremiah; (3) passages which predict doom for Babylon; and (4) messianic prophecies.

Authorship of Jeremiah 52 : The concluding words of ch 51, Thus far are the words of Jeremiah, suggest that what follows in ch 52 was not written by the prophet. In spite of this explicit statement some insist that Jeremiah is still to be regarded as the author of the last chapter of the book. Their argument goes like this: Jeremiah 52 has been copied from 2 Kgs and Jeremiah wrote 2 Kgs; therefore Jeremiah wrote ch 52.

This argument hinges on two basic assumptions: (1) that the Jewish tradition ascribing the authorship of Kings to Jeremiah is reliable; and (2) that Jeremiah 52 was copied from 2 Kgs. The latter assumption does not appear to be justified because Jeremiah 52 contains information not contained in 2 Kgs. See Jeremiah 52:10; Jeremiah 52:19-23; Jeremiah 52:28-30. Furthermore certain words are spelled differently in the two sources. While most of these spelling differences are obvious only in the Hebrew at least one is clear in some English versions. In 2 Kings 24:18 the name of the king of Babylon is spelled Nebuchadnezzar while in Jeremiah 52 the spelling Nebuchadrezzar is used.

The last seven verses of ch 52 seem to require authorship by someone other than Jeremiah. For one thing Jeremiah would have been close to ninety years of age when Jehoiachin was released from Babylonian imprisonment (Jeremiah 52:31). While not rendering Jeremian authorship of these vv impossible, this age factor certainly renders it improbable. Furthermore, in these the next to the last king of Judah is called Jehoiachin while in the body of the Book of Jeremiah this king goes by the name Coniah (Jeremiah 37:1; Jeremiah 22:24; Jeremiah 22:28) or Jeconiah (Jeremiah 27:20; Jeremiah 28:4; Jeremiah 24:1). Finally these last seven verses use the Babylonian or accession year method of computing the regnal years of Nebuchadnezzar while in the body of the Book of Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 52:12 and in the Book of Kings the Palestinian system is employed. It would be most difficult to imagine one author using two different dating systems for the same king.

If Jeremiah did not write ch 52, who did? Various suggestions have been made. Most likely Baruch added this chapter and clearly indicated that he was doing so by inserting the editorial note at the end of ch 51. It is possible that ch 52 (or at least most of it) was included at the suggestion of Jeremiah himself. Please note that an oracle is a divine utterance which the prophet as the spokesman and messenger of God announces publicly in the name of God. Generally an oracle is introduced by the formula Thus says the Lord and concluded by oracle of the Lord.

The position taken here is that the entire work belongs to Jeremiah and his amanuensis, Baruch. The poetic oracles65and prose sermons no doubt were dictated by Jeremiah to Baruch or, in some cases, recorded by Baruch as they were preached. The biographical materials were likely written by Baruch. They were based on his own observations or conversations with Jeremiah. The prophet himself was ultimately responsible for all the material in the book with the possible exception of ch 52.

Style of Writing: A careful study of the prophetic books of the OT reveals that each of the inspired authors wrote in his own distinctive style. Much has been written on the style of Jeremiah, some of it complimentary, much of it derogatory. The present writer finds it impossible to make pronouncements on whether Jeremiah’s style is good or bad, or whether it is superior or inferior to that of other prophets. Jeremiah is Jeremiah. He has his own distinctive style of writing. His book has influenced profoundly the course of Jewish and Christian thought. Long after the subjective evaluations of literary critics are forgotten the Book of Jeremiah will continue to be studied and appreciated.

That certain sections of the book—e.g., the prose sections—strike modern scholars as stylistically inferior does not mean that his contemporaries regarded them as bad Hebrew. Thus modern students of the book should be very cautious in passing value judgments on the style of this ancient document.

As one reads the Book of Jeremiah he cannot help noticing certain rather prominent stylistic characteristics.

Absence of ornament: Cheyne describes the style of Jeremiah as one of "unpretending simplicity.” One does not find in Jeremiah the glowing language and vivacity that characterizes the Book of Isaiah; he is not the "artist in words" as was his predecessor. This is not to say that Jeremiah was inferior to Isaiah; such an evaluation would be grossly unfair. The men lived in different ages; they spoke to and wrote for different audiences and, most important, they had different personalities. Jeremiah was preeminently a man of sorrows; perhaps this accounts for his unadorned simplicity. In the desperate times in which he lived flowery oratory would have been entirely out of place. The times called for clear, lucid, direct, concise and easily understood discourse. When placed within the proper historical context, the style of Jeremiah has a beauty of its own.

Perhaps one should not speak of a Jeremian style. Variations of style can be detected within the book. One’s style of writing or speaking is determined largely by external factors. Those whose ministry extends over several decades may be shocked in later years to read what was written in their youth. In the case of Jeremiah the earlier oracles display a calmness and uniformity of tone; his later oracles show traces of his personal suffering.

Frequent repetition: Jeremiah’s ministry was quite lengthy and his message throughout was the same. Given these circumstances repetition is to be expected. What modern preacher does not on occasion repeat himself?

The repetitions in Jeremiah may be categorized under the following headings:

Figures: Certain figures of speech are repeated in the book. Among these are the figures of the brazen wall (Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 15:20), the turned back(Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 32:33), fury that burns like fire(Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 21:12), the water of gall(Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15), the incurable wound(Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 30:12) and rotten figs(Jeremiah 24:8; Jeremiah 29:17). The favorite figure employed by the prophet is that of the travailing woman(Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 6:24; Jeremiah 13:21; Jeremiah 22:23; Jeremiah 30:6). Another prominent figure is that of carcasses being given over to the fowl of the heavens(Jeremiah 7:33; Jeremiah 19:7; Jeremiah 16:4; Jeremiah 34:20).

Formulae: The prophet uses stereotyped formulae throughout the book. He uses the expression rising up early at least a dozen times to express the idea of earnestness. Other favorite expressions are: walking in the stubbornness of the heart (seven times); the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride (four times); sword, famine, pestilence (eighteen times); and fear on every side (four times).

Verses: Entire verses are repeated. At least fourteen examples of such repetition can be observed in the book as the following chart illustrates. Several other examples of virtual repetition could be cited, e.g., Jeremiah 15:13-14 and Jeremiah 17:3-4; Jeremiah 4:5 and Jeremiah 8:14-15 and Jeremiah 14:19; and Jeremiah 49:19-21 and

Jeremiah 50:44-46..

Verse Repetitions in the Book of Jeremiah

(1)1:18,19 and 15:20(9) 11:20 and 20:12
(2)2:28 and 11:13(10)15:2 and 48:11
(3)5:9,29 and 9:9(11)16:14,15 and 23:7,8
(4)6:13-15 and 8:10-12(12)17:25 and 22:4
(5)6:22-24 and 50:41-43(13)23:19,20 and 30:23,24
(6)7:14 and 26:6(14)30:11 and 46:28
(7)7:31-33 and 19:5-7;(15)31:35,36 and 33:25,26
32:35
(8)10:12-16 and 51:15-19

As to literary form, the repetitions in Jeremiah fall into no clear pattern. Poetic sayings are repeated in similar, or sometimes quite different, connections; the same is true of the prose sayings. The two parts of the doublet may differ in literary form. One may be prose and the other poetry; one may be part of a prose sermon, and the other part of the biographical narrative.

Influence of earlier writers: Jeremiah was influenced in no small measure by his predecessors. Because he quotes so frequently from other prophets, Jeremiah has been charged with a lack of originality. This man, however, was so saturated with the word of God that he unconsciously used the language of Israel’s past spiritual giants. It may even be at times that he deliberately quoted the earlier prophets to vindicate himself by showing a continuity between what he was preaching and what the prophets of God had always preached viz., that idolatry and disobedience to the covenant would lead to national overthrow. Jeremiah, however, never allowed himself to become the slave of another man’s style. The imprint of his own personality is upon all of his prophecies.

Jeremiah was especially fond of quoting the two great prophets of the eighth century, Isaiah and Hosea. The influence of Isaiah is clearly present in at least six passages of the book. Compare Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1 and Jeremiah 23:5-6; Jeremiah 33:15; Isaiah 13, 47 and Jeremiah 50-51; Isaiah 15 and Jeremiah 48; Isaiah 40:19-20 and Jeremiah 10:3-5; Isaiah 42:16 and Jeremiah 31:9. Because of the similarities in language and thought, Hosea has been called by one scholar "the Jeremiah of the Northern Kingdom." A parallel listing of some of the similar passages clearly indicates the influence that Hosea exerted on Jeremiah. See Hosea 14:1; Hosea 14:4; Hosea 10:12; Hosea 6:10. These three passages compare quite apprarently with Jeremiah 3:22; Jeremiah 4:3; Jeremiah 5:30; Jeremiah 18:18 and Jeremiah 23:14. These are just a few examples. There are many others to be found between Hosea and Jeremiah.

Mixture of prose and poetry: The Book of Jeremiah contains prose and poetry in nearly equal proportions. While the literary critics may be correct in evaluating the poetry of Jeremiah as artistically inferior to that of the eighth century prophets, Jeremiah’s poetry is nonetheless outstanding. His poetry combines "pathos with picturesque imagery.” Jeremiah wrote some of the most sympathetic pages of the OT. Whatever his literary merits or demerits, however, Jeremiah deserves the highest honor for his conscientiousness. Cheyne has correctly observed: "his greatest poem is his life.”

Numerous figures of speech: Jeremiah uses numerous images and figures of speech. He is particularly fond of similes drawn from the realm of nature(Jeremiah 2:23; Jeremiah 8:7,) and from the scenes of every-day life(Jeremiah 6:29 f; Jeremiah 18:2 ff). Frequently the figures are only partially developed as the prophet jumps back and forth from figurative to concrete description.

Preoccupation with mourning: The Weeping Prophet has a great deal to say about mourning and lamentation. In several passages he calls upon others to lament the destruction of the nation(Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 9:17-18; Jeremiah 9:20) or her lovers (Jeremiah 22:20). In one passage Jeremiah discourages further weeping over the death of Josiah and instructs the people rather to mourn over the banishment of King Jehoahaz (Jeremiah 22:10-11). He calls upon the shepherds of the nation to lament the impending slaughter of the flock (Jeremiah 25:34). In his oracles concerning Moab and Ammon he rhetorically calls upon these Gentiles to mourn(Jeremiah 48:20; Jeremiah 49:3).

Besides these direct exhortations, there are numerous descriptions of and allusions to lamentation in the book. He vividly describes the lamentation and consternation caused by a terrible drought (Jeremiah 14:2-3) and the wail of shepherds when their pasture has been destroyed (Jeremiah 25:36). He places a lament on the lips of the captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 8:19). He visualizes a day when rebellious Israel would return to God with bitter tears of remorse(Jeremiah 3:21; Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 50:4). Jeremiah refers to the cry of lamentation that would arise over the destruction of foreign nations(Jeremiah 46:12; Jeremiah 47:2; Jeremiah 48:4-5; Jeremiah 49:21; Jeremiah 50:46).

When Jeremiah contemplated the disaster that was about to befall the peoples of Syria-Palestine he was overcome by grief. He mourned bitterly for his own people(See Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 10:19; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17-18); but he shed tears as well for the people of Moab(Jeremiah 48:31-32; Jeremiah 48:36). This preoccupation with lamentation is one of the unique characteristics of the book. The mind of this prophet "was set on a minor key, and his temper was elegiac.”

Use of the rhetorical question: The Book of Jeremiah is filled with rhetorical questions and the use of this device must be regarded as characteristic of the literary and oratorical style of this prophet. At times God uses rhetorical questions in speaking to Jeremiah(Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 7:17; Jeremiah 12:5). Jeremiah uses this device to rebuke and exhort the people of Judah. At least ten verse in chapter 2 alone contain rhetorical questions. Sometimes such questions are placed on the lips of the people(E.g., Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 13:22; Jeremiah 16:20; Jeremiah 21:13; Jeremiah 22:8). Rhetorical questions are also used by Jeremiah in his prayers(E.g., Jeremiah 15:18; Jeremiah 18:20).

Use of quotations: Another favorite technique of Jeremiah is the use of quotations. In at least three verses God quotes himself(Jeremiah 7:23; Jeremiah 11:4; Jeremiah 11:7). Jeremiah frequently quotes the words of the people to whom he was preaching. Such quotations reveal the rebellion(Jeremiah 6:16-17; Jeremiah 5:12), hypocrisy(Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 7:10) and hostility (Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:21) of the people of his day. In at least one passage Jeremiah quotes the religious leaders of the nation (14:14). Finally there is what might be called the projected quotation where Jeremiah anticipated what the people will be saying once God’s judgment has been poured out upon them(Jeremiah 5:19; Jeremiah 8:14-15; Jeremiah 8:19).

HISTORY OF THE BOOK

Early Editions of Jeremiah: Considering the turbulence of the times it is indeed remarkable that any records written during the early sixth century have survived. It is nothing short of a miracle of God’s providence that men can have access to the writings of this great prophet. Perhaps more is known about the process of producing the Book of Jeremiah than any other OT book. It seems clear from internal evidence that the book went through at least three distinct stages before reaching its present form

Original roll: The first edition of the Book of Jeremiah appeared in 604 BC. At the command of the Lord, Jeremiah dictated to his scribe Baruch portions of the sermons he had been preaching for some twenty-three years. Nearly everyone who has written a commentary or introduction to the Book of Jeremiah has attempted to reconstruct the contents of that original document. Such efforts are really futile, virtually amounting to nothing more than guesswork.

The following cautious conclusions about the original roll are based upon what is said about it in ch 36: (1) the scroll contained a selection from or a digest of the sermons of the prophet preached between 627 and 605 BC. It is unlikely that it contained any narratives or reports of incidents in the prophet’s life. (2) The sermons in the scroll must have been exclusively or at least primarily of a threatening character. (3) These messages were directed against foreign nations as well as against Judah and Jerusalem. (4) In comparison to the length of the present book the first edition must have been relatively brief. It was read three times in a single day (Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 36:15; Jeremiah 36:21) with significant intervals between each reading.

The first edition of Jeremiah was utterly destroyed by the tyrant king Jehoiakim but was reproduced in an expanded form that very same year. Besides the material contained in the roll that Jehoiakim destroyed, this second roll contained many like words (Jeremiah 36:32).

Subsequent editions: The history of the Book of Jeremiah after 604 BC is obscure. At least one (possibly more) edition of the book preceded the final form of the text as it has been preserved in the Hebrew Bible. Probably an edition of the book was published by Baruch in Egypt after the death of Jeremiah. This Egyptian edition of Jeremiah would have been considerably larger than the scroll that was destroyed and reproduced in 604 BC. It would have contained along with the earlier material all the accounts of the life and ministry of Jeremiah subsequent to 604 BC. These accounts cover the last twenty years of the prophet’s ministry. If this edition of Jeremiah contained ch 52—and this appears likely— then a clue is available as to the date of its publication. The Book of Jeremiah closes with the release of King Jehoiachin from Babylonian imprisonment (560 BC). The Egyptian edition of Jeremiah must have been published shortly after this.

When Baruch decided to leave Egypt the Jews there must have made a hasty copy of the Book of Jeremiah to retain in their own possession. Baruch seems to have emigrated to Babylon. There he issued the final, completed form of the Book of Jeremiah. Baruch may have rearranged the material in the Egyptian edition and may have added some new Jeremian material (e.g., Jeremiah 33:14-26). It is this Babylonian edition of Jeremiah that appears in the Hebrew Bible and which has been translated in the standard English versions of the OT Thus at the time of Baruch’s death two editions of the Book of Jeremiah were in circulation, a shorter and incomplete edition in Egypt and the comprehensive and final edition in Babylonia.

Problem of the Septuagint: The Greek translation of Jeremiah is peculiar in several respects. It differs from the standard Hebrew Book of Jeremiah in both content and form. To be specific the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX) differs from the Hebrew in at least four ways.

Shorter text: The Septuagint is about one-eighth shorter than the Hebrew text. This means that about twenty-seven hundred words that are found in the Hebrew text are not represented in the Greek version. These omissions range in length from a word or two up to an entire section (e.g., Jeremiah 33:14-26). Most of the omissions in the Greek text are trifling. The Septuagint also adds about one hundred words that are not represented in the Hebrew text. Some, perhaps many, of them may be attributed to the caprice, ignorance or carelessness of those who translated Jeremiah into Greek. Some of the omissions, however, appear to be systematic and deliberate. This would suggest that the Septuagint translators had before them a different Hebrew copy of Jeremiah, one that was considerably shorter than the Hebrew copy that has survived. Among the Dead Sea scrolls, texts of Jeremiah were found which support the shorter as well as the longer version of the book.

Arrangement of sections: The Greek version of Jeremiah has a different arrangement of sections within the book. The section of oracles against foreign nations that is placed at the end of the book in the standard Hebrew text (chs 46-51) is placed in the middle of the book in the Septuagint (after Jeremiah 25:13).

Arrangement within sections: Even within the various sections of the book the Greek version sometimes arranges the material in a different order. In the Septuagint the oracles against the foreign nations are not in the same order in which they appear in the Hebrew text. The following chart illustrates the differences between the Hebrew and Greek arrangements of these oracles.

Order of the Oracles Against
Foreign Nations
Pos.HebRefGreekRef
1EgyptCh. 46Elam25:15-20
2PhilistiaCh. 47EgyptCh. 26
3MoabCh 48BabylonChs. 26-28
4Ammon49:1-6Philistia29:1-7
5Edom49:7-22Edom29:7-22
6Damascus49:23-27Ammon30:1-5
7Kedar49:28-33Kedar30:6-11
8Elam49:34-39Damascus30:12-16
9BabylonChs. 50-51MoabCh 31

Missing blocks: Some blocks of materials (e.g., Jeremiah 33:14-16) that are found in the Hebrew text are absent from the Greek version.

Explanation of the Septuagint

Abbreviated version: No entirely satisfactory explanation of the differences between the Hebrew and Greek texts of Jeremiah has yet been put forward. This much is clear: The Greek version must have been translated from a Hebrew manuscript that differed markedly from the standard Hebrew manuscripts of the book. Since the Septuagint was translated in Alexandria Egypt, the translators must have used the text of Jeremiah that was most popular in that area. That text would be the hastily copied scroll of Jeremiah that was made when Baruch emigrated to Babylon. This abbreviated form of the Book of Jeremiah became the basis of the Septuagint translation. Some have held that the Septuagint represents a superior text of the book. On the whole, however, the Hebrew text is superior.

Superior Hebrew text: The arrangement of the materials within the Hebrew text is also superior to that of the Septuagint. The Alexandrian translators apparently took great liberty in rearranging the materials in what they considered to be a more logical order. Perhaps the oracles against foreign nations were inserted in the middle of ch 25 in order to make the Book of Jeremiah conform in structure to the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel. In any case the placement of these oracles between Jeremiah 25:13 and Jeremiah 25:15 is quite unnatural. These chapters should certainly have followed and not preceded the enumeration of nations in Jeremiah 25:15-26 to which they refer.

The principle followed by the Septuagint translators in revising the order of the oracles against the nations can no longer be determined. Perhaps they were influenced by the political situation of their own day. In the mid-third century when the Book of Jeremiah was translated into Greek the Parthian empire had taken over the ancient territory of Elam. The Parthians had given evidence that they were a power to be reckoned with. Babylonia was one of the major possessions of the Seleucid Empire and Egypt was the center of the powerful Ptolemies. Because of their prestige and political importance Elam, Egypt and Babylon may have been placed first in the list by the Septuagint translators. What principle was followed in arranging the other six oracles is unclear. Be that as it may the order in the Hebrew text corresponds mostly to that of the nations enumerated in Jeremiah 25:15-26 and has all the marks of originality.

Canonicity of the Book: The term canonicity refers to the recognition of a writing as inspired and authoritative Scripture.

Earliest attestation: In the case of the Book of Jeremiah such recognition must have come shortly after the publication of the book. History had vindicated the predictions of Jeremiah; no one could question any longer that he was a man of God. The earliest reference to the actual use of the Book of Jeremiah is recorded in Daniel 9:2. Just after the fall of Babylon, in the first year of Darius the Mede, Daniel was studying Jeremiah’s famous seventy years prophecy. It was during his meditation upon this prophecy that Daniel himself received a revelation of the first magnitude, his famous seventy weeks revelation.

The Book of Chronicles, probably compiled and written by Ezra the priest and scribe, furnishes evidence of the second use of Jeremiah. In the closing chapter of Chronicles a reference is made again to the seventy years prophecy (2 Chronicles 36:21). Thus the Chronicler as well as Daniel recognized that Jeremiah spoke the word of the Lord and he made use of the writing of that prophet.

External attestation: The earliest testimony to the canonicity of Jeremiah outside the OT is found in the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus (Jeremiah 49:6-7). Here Ben Sira, the author of this important book, states that the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC was a fulfillment of the predictions of Jeremiah. Ben Sira, then, in ca. 280 BC recognized Jeremiah as a prophet of God. Consequently he must have regarded the Book of Jeremiah as inspired Scripture. Since Ben Sira obviously speaks as a well-educated and pious man, one must conclude that his attitude toward Jeremiah was the attitude prevalent among the Jews of his day. Ben Sira is usually dated at about 180 bc. However, when all the evidence is sifted a date for the book at 280 bc is certainly possible if not probable.

Placement of the Book: Probably every Sunday School child in memorizing the books of the Bible has learned that the five books of Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. This arrangement of the books is based upon the ancient Greek OT, the so-called Septuagint version. A Jewish child memorizing the books of the Hebrew Bible learned that the Latter Prophets consists of four books: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve. Under this system of counting the Minor Prophets are lumped together as one book. Daniel and Lamentations are not found among the prophets in the Hebrew Bible; they are counted among the so-called Kethubhim or Writings.

In both ancient and modern Bibles, in the Hebrew, Greek and English arrangements of OT books, Jeremiah stands alongside Isaiah and Ezekiel. While these three books—Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel—have always stood together, they have not always stood in that order.

Certain evidence exists that the Book of Jeremiah once stood at the head of the Major Prophets. In the Talmud listing of OT books Jeremiah is named immediately after Kings. Furthermore, a large number of Hebrew manuscripts place Jeremiah in the initial position.

Jeremiah in the New Testament: For the Christian, the attitude of Jesus Christ toward the OT is of supreme importance. No one can question that the Lord and His apostles regarded the Book of Jeremiah as inspired Scripture and an integral part of that group of sacred writings known collectively as the OT. There are, according to one estimate, ninety-six allusions in the NT to the Book of Jeremiah. Four passages from Jeremiah are directly quoted in the NT.

Matthew 2:17 : Commenting on the death of the Bethlehem innocents, Matthew quoted Jeremiah 31:15. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she would not be comforted, because they are not (Matthew 2:17).

Matthew 21:13 : When Jesus drove the money-changers from the temple He quoted with an authoritative formula Jeremiah 7:11. And He said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13).

1 Corinthians 1:31 : Using the same formula, it is written the Apostle Paul gives an interpretive quotation or paraphrase of Jeremiah 9:24 : He that glories, let him glory in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31).

Hebrews: The writer of Hebrews quotes at length from Jeremiah 31:31-34 and attributes the words of directly to God. Here is the inspired interpretation of the important New Covenant passage in Jeremiah.

Disputed passage: In one passage Matthew quotes Zechariah 11:12-13 and attributes the quotation to Jeremiah the prophet. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced whom certain of the children of Israel did price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me (Matthew 27:9-10). Many different solutions have been proposed for this difficulty. Some think that a scribe has inserted the name of Jeremiah into the Matthew passage. Others think that Jeremiah spoke the words here attributed to him and then they were subsequently written down by Zechariah. However the simplest solution is that Matthew is quoting a section of the OT rather than a book. Jeremiah originally stood first among the prophetic books. What Matthew meant was that the relevant passage was found in that section of the OT that had Jeremiah at its head. During the course of his debate with the atheist Robert Owen, an anonymous questioner submitted in writing a number of questions to Alexander Campbell among which was one question pertaining to the quote here under discussion. Campbell’s answer on that occasion was essentially the same as the answer here proposed.

CONTENTS OF THE BOOK

Types of Literature: Four basic types of material are to be found in the Book of Jeremiah: poetic sayings, the confessions, biographical prose, and prose discourses. The four types of literature are found commingled through the various parts of the book. Even though the recognition of these literary types is not a key to the arrangement of Jeremiah it is nonetheless a useful tool in understanding the book.

Poetic sayings: The greater part of the poetry in Jeremiah belongs to the first literary type, the poetic saying or prophetic oracle. Most of the material found in the pre-exilic prophetic books falls into this category. In this type of utterance the prophet speaks as the mouthpiece of the Lord. He uses throughout the first person, but the I is the Lord, not the prophet. Such an oracle is usually introduced by a formula such as Thus says the Lord or Hear the word of the Lord. These oracles come from all periods of the prophet’s public ministry with the heaviest incidence coming in the reign of King Jehoiakim.

Confessions. The second type of literature in Jeremiah is virtually unique in prophetic books. It is called by some autobiography; by others, documents of self-revelation; by still others "the confessions." Here the prophet lays bare his most intimate feelings. In these passages Jeremiah uses the first person, but the I is not the Lord; it is the prophet himself. It is most difficult to imagine that these lines of self-revelation were ever publicly spoken. At some state of writing—probably in the second edition of the book—these verses were skillfully interwoven with the oracles of judgment against Judah. Jeremiah records for subsequent generations his thundering denunciations and threats of destruction. At the same time he reveals the personal agony that he experienced all the while he was publicly preaching doom. The material which falls into the second literary type may be further subdivided into (1) the confessions or complaints (Jeremiah 11:18 to Jeremiah 12:6; Jeremiah 15:10-21; Jeremiah 17:14-18; Jeremiah 18:18-23; Jeremiah 20:7-18); and (2) the laments(E.g., Jeremiah 4:19-21; Jeremiah 5:3-5; Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:1)

Prose discourse. The third type of literature in the book is the prose discourse. Most of the passages in this category begin with God addressing Jeremiah and giving him directions what he is to say and do (E.g., Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 7:27 f.; Jeremiah 11:1-17; Jeremiah 16:1-13; Jeremiah 18:1-12; Jeremiah 19:1-13). Sometimes the introductory address has been omitted and only the prose sermon remains(E.g., Jeremiah 16:14-18; Jeremiah 31:27-34; Jeremiah 38:17; ch 33).). The prose discourse is found in all parts of the book and is often intermingled with the poetic material. Some twenty-five percent of the content of the book falls into this category.

Biography. Biography constitutes the fourth category of literature in the Book of Jeremiah. While other prophetic books contain snatches of this type of material, large blocks of such material are found in this book. This narrative material refers to Jeremiah in the third person. The individual sections of this material are usually introduced by precise chronological data119 though sometimes such data are omitted (e.g., Jeremiah 14:1 to Jeremiah 20:6). Often the biographical material serves to provide a framework for one of Jeremiah’s prose sermons. Some critics believe that the creator of this material, the "Biographer" as he is sometimes called, lived several generations after the time of Jeremiah. However it is more likely that Baruch is responsible for recording and preserving this material probably at the direction and possibly the dictation of Jeremiah himself.

Arrangement of the Material: One of the most difficult problems facing the student of Jeremiah is the arrangement of the materials within the book. Francisco regards the arrangement of the book as the most confused in the OT. Non-chronological. That the book is not chronologically arranged can be seen in the various time notices in the book. Eleven of these notices are explicit as to the particular year of a king’s reign; the rest mention events that can be dated precisely by other means.

At times the Book of Jeremiah is chronological (chs 37-44) and at times it is topical (chs 46-51). Chs 1-6 seem to be in sequence; but from ch 7 on, no systematic pattern can be observed. Even a superficial reading of the book reveals that materials from widely different periods of Jeremiah’s life have been placed side by side. The undated material presents still another problem. Where do these chapters fit chronologically in the ministry of the prophet? Scholars do not agree how the Book of Jeremiah reached its present form.

JEREMIAH GLOSSARY

Part One

PERSONAL NAMES

ABRAHAM: Most famous of the patriarchs and progenitor of the Hebrews. Cited by Jeremiah as one with whom God previously had been faithful in keeping a covenant (Jeremiah 33:26). A

AHAB: Immoral and lying prophet in Babylon. Jeremiah predicted Nebuchadnezzar would roast him in the fire (Jeremiah 29:21-23). P

AHIKAM: The son of Shaphan the scribe who protected Jeremiah when priests and false prophets wanted his death (Jeremiah 26:24). F

AMON: Sun god, and for many centuries the chief god, of the Egyptians. The greatest Egyptian temple was constructed for Amon at No (Thebes). Jeremiah predicted Amon would be discredited by Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:25). D

APIS: The sacred bull, one of the high gods of Egypt. The word is translated "valiant men" in KJV and "strong ones" in ASV. D

ASHERAH: A Canaanite mother-goddess associated with Baal. The term also applies to the wooden images which represented this goddess (Jeremiah 17:2). D

ASA: King of Judah three hundred years before the time of Jeremiah. He was the builder of a cistern into which Ishmael threw the corpses of the men he had slain (Jeremiah 41:9). A

AZARIAH: Probably the brother of Jezaniah (Jeremiah 42:1). Acted as spokesman for the remnant of Jews who rejected the word of God given through Jeremiah that they should not flee to Egypt.Jer

BAAL: The Hebrew word means "master" or "possessor"; the name of the Canaanite fertility deity which the Jews began to worship in Palestine. It was this apostasy toward which Jeremiah aimed much of his prophecy. There are twelve references to Baal in Jeremiah. D

BAALIS: King of the Ammonites who plotted the death of Gedaliah, governor of Judah (Jeremiah 40:14). K

BARUCH: Friend and scribe to whom Jeremiah dictated his prophecies in 605-604 BC (Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 36:32; Jeremiah 45:1). Baruch was placed in charge of the prophet’s purchase of a field at Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:13). Considered by some to have been Jeremiah’s biographer and editor. F

BEL: Bel-Merodach (Marduk), chief god of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:2). D

CHEMOSH: National god of the Moabites who would be carried off into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 48:7). D

CONIAH: (Jeremiah 22:24; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 37:1) See JEHOIACHIN.

DAVID: Second king of Judah whose dynasty still ruled in Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day. The terminology "throne or David" occurs seven times in the book. The Messiah would come from the house of David (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 30:9; Jeremiah 33:15). Jeremiah emphasizes the eternality of the covenant made with David (Jeremiah 33:17; Jeremiah 33:21-22; Jeremiah 33:26). A

DELAIAH: One of the princes who urged Jehoiakim not to burn the scroll of Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:25). F

EBED-MELECH: An Ethiopian eunuch in the court of Zedekiah who rescued Jeremiah from a pit in which he had been left to die (Jeremiah 38:7-13). Because of this act of faith and courage, Jeremiah directed a favorable oracle to him (Jeremiah 39:15-18). F

ELASAH: A member of king Zedekiah’s embassy to Babylon who carried Jeremiah’s letter to the exiled Jews (Jeremiah 29:3). F

ELISHAMA: A prince and scribe in the reign of King Jehoiakim in whose office Jeremiah’s scroll was placed for safekeeping (Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:20-21). F

ELNATHAN: A prince sent by King Jehoiakim to Egypt in pursuit of Uriah the prophet (Jeremiah 26:22). Later, one of the princes who urged the king not to burn Jeremiah’s scroll (Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:25). F

EPHAI: Inhabitant of Netophah near Bethlehem whose sons recognized Gedaliah as governor and accepted his protection (Jeremiah 40:8).

ESAU: Ancestor of the Edomites, and hence a name applied to the country of Edom (Jeremiah 49:8; Jeremiah 49:10). A

EVIL-MERODACH: Biblical name of Amel-Marduk, son and successor of Nebuchadnezzar who released Jehoiachin from prison in 561 BC (Jeremiah 52:31). K

GEDALIAH (1): The son of Ahikam who was appointed governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. Jeremiah was committed to his care (39:14). After a brief governorship Gedaliah was murdered by Ishmael (chs 40-41). F

GEDALIAH (2): The son of Pashur. One of four princes who received Zedekiah’s permission to cast Jeremiah into a cistern to die (Jeremiah 38:1).

GEMARIAH (1): The son of Hilkiah. A member of King Zedekiah’s embassy to Babylon who carried Jeremiah’s letter to the Jews exiled there (Jeremiah 29:3). F

GEMARIAH (2): The son of Shaphan who occupied a chamber in the temple where he and other officials heard Baruch read Jeremiah’s prophecies. He joined others in urging king Jehoiakim not to burn the prophet’s writings (Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 36:12; Jeremiah 36:25). F

HAMUTAL: Wife of King Josiah and mother of kings Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31) and Zedekiah (Jeremiah 52:1).

HANAMEL: Cousin of Jeremiah who sold him a field in Anathoth (Jeremiah 32:7-12). F

HANAN: The man of God whose sons (or disciples) had a chamber in the temple (Jeremiah 35:4).

HANANIAH: A false prophet from Gibeon who contradicted and insulted Jeremiah on the matter of Babylonian domination. For these sins he died two months later (ch 28). P

HEZEKIAH: Good king of Judah (715-686 BC) who heeded the prophet Micah’s warnings and instituted reforms (Jeremiah 26:18). A

HOPHRA: A Pharaoh of Egypt. Jeremiah predicted he would be killed by his enemies (Jer 44:39; 44:30). The succeeding Pharaoh had him strangled in 560 BC (Jeremiah 37:13).K

IRIJAH: A captain of the guard who arrested Jeremiah as he attempted to go to Benjamin during the lull in the siege of Jerusalem. He falsely charged Jeremiah with desertion to the enemy (Jeremiah 37:13).

ISHMAEL: Member of the royal family who murdered Gedaliah, governor of Judah, and escaped with eight men to the king of Ammon, taking several hostages with him (chs 40-41).

ISSAC: Ancestor of the Jews (Jeremiah 33:26). A

JAAZANIAH: A Rechabite whose obedience to his ancestor, who had lived two hundred years before, was contrasted with Israel’s disobedience to God (chap. 35).

F

JACOB: Ancestor of the Jews (Jeremiah 33:26). Fifteen times in Jeremiah Jacob becomes a designation for the descendants of Jacob i.e., the Israelites. A

JECONIAH: Son of King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 24:1). See JEHOIACHIN.

JEHOAHAZ: The throne name of Shallum, the son and successor of Josiah. After a reign of three months, he was deposed by Pharaoh Neco and deported to Egypt where he died (Jeremiah 22:11). K

JEHOIACHIN: Throne name of Coniah or Jeconiah (Jeremiah 22:24; Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 37:1). He reigned for 3 months after the death of his father Jehoiakim, before he was carried off to Babylon with his family and 10,000 Jews in 597 BC (Jeremiah 24:1). After thirty-seven years of captivity, he was released by Nebuchadnezzar’s son Evil-Merodach (Jeremiah 52:31). K

JEHOIADA: A chief priest in Jerusalem during the early part of Jeremiah’s ministry who was displaced by Zephaniah (Jeremiah 29:26). P

JEHOIAKIM: The son of Josiah who was placed on the throne of Judah by Pharaoh Neco to replace his brother Jehoahaz. During his eleven-year reign (609-598 BC) the reforms of Josiah were forgotten and replaced by personal luxury, extortion, and idolatry. After Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt in 605 BC, he became a Babylonian vassal. He destroyed the first edition of the Book of Jeremiah (ch 36). Jeremiah predicted he would die in disgrace (Jeremiah 22:13-23). K

JEHUCAL: A prince of Judah who conveyed Zedekiah’s request that Jeremiah pray for him. Later one of the group that had Jeremiah thrown into a pit to die (Jeremiah 37:3; Jeremiah 38:1-6). The name is also spelled JUCAL.

JEHUDI (1): The son of Nethaniah who was sent by the princes to summon Baruch to read Jeremiah’s scroll (Jeremiah 36:14).

JEHUDI (2): Possibly the same as JEHUDI (1). He was dispatched by King Jehoiakim to fetch Jeremiah’s scroll and then was ordered to read it in the presence of the king (Jeremiah 36:21).

JERAHMEEL: The officer sent by King Jehoiakim to arrest Baruch and Jeremiah. He was probably of royal blood (Jeremiah 36:26).

JEREMIAH: He was born in Anathoth into a priestly family, and consecrated before his birth to be a prophet. He prophesied under kings Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, and even after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. His message was of God’s judgment on an apostate people and a new covenant for the future.

JEZANIAH: A commander of Judean forces who paid respects to Gedaliah the governor of Judah. After Gedaliah’s death he joined others in leading the remnant of Jews to Egypt. He appears to have been the brother of Azariah (Jeremiah 40:8; Jeremiah 42:1).

JOHANAN: A commander of forces who respected Gedaliah as governor of Judah and warned him of impending assassination. After Gedaliah was slain, he led forces against the murderer, Ishmael. Johanan then joined others in leading the remnant of Jews into Egypt against Jeremiah’s advice (chs 40-43).

JONADAB: The ancestor of the Rechabites who required his clan never to build houses, farm, nor drink wine (Jeremiah 35:6-19). A

JONATHAN (1): The scribe whose house served as prison for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:15).

JONATHAN (2): The son of Kareah and the brother of Johanan. He is listed among those who submitted to Gedaliah’s government and protection (Jeremiah 40:8).

JOSIAH: King of Judah when Jeremiah began his ministry. He initiated reforms early in his reign that reached a climax after a law book was discovered during his eighteenth year. This led to widespread external cleansing of the land from idolatry. He was killed in battle against Pharaoh Neco in 609 BC and was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz (Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 3:6). K

JUCAL: See JEHUCAL.

MAASEIAH: A doorkeeper of one of the three gates to the temple (Jeremiah 35:4).

MAGOR MISSABIB: This ominous name meaning terror around was given to the priest Pashur by Jeremiah after the prophet had been released from the stocks (Jeremiah 20:3). See PASHUR (1).

MANASSEH: His reign was the longest (695-642 BC) and most wicked of any king of Judah. He defiled the temple and promoted Baal worship. But after a captivity in Babylon he repented and tried to undo the evil he had done. Jeremiah, however, said that the judgment was inevitable because of the sins of Manasseh (Jeremiah 15:4). A

MERODACH: Biblical name of Marduk, chief god of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:2). D

MICAH: The prophet from the town of Moresheth-gath who lived a hundred years before Jeremiah. His negative prophecy against Jerusalem was cited as part of Jeremiah’s defense when he was on trial for his life (Jeremiah 26:18). A

MICAIAH: The man who heard Baruch reading from Jeremiah’s scroll and who reported to the council of princes the contents of that scroll (Jeremiah 36:11-13). F

MOLECH: The national deity of the Ammonites who was worshiped by means of child sacrifice (32:35). Jeremiah sternly condemned this practice (Jeremiah 7:29-34). The name is also spelled Milcom or Malcom.

MOSES: Referred to by Jeremiah as one of the greatest intercessors in the history of the nation (Jeremiah 15:1). A

NEBO-SARSEKIM: One of the Babylonian officers of the provisional government in Jerusalem. Rab-saris was the title of his office (Jeremiah 39:3). NASB takes the "Nebo" or "nebu" to be the concluding element of the previous name in the verse, viz., Samgar-nebu.

NEBUCHADNEZZAR: Ruler of the Babylonian empire from 605 BC to 562 BC. He destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and four times carried Jewish people captive to Babylon. He is called my servant in Jeremiah’s prophecies because God used him as an instrument of punishment for the apostate Jews. K

NEBUZARADAN: The captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard who was in charge of the final destruction of Jerusalem. He freed Jeremiah and treated him kindly (Jeremiah 39:9-13; Jeremiah 52:12-30). F

NECO: Also spelled Necho. The Egyptian Pharaoh defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC (Jeremiah 46:2). Four years earlier Neco had slain Josiah at the pass of Megiddo. K

NERGAL-SHAREZER: Also spelled Nergal-sarezer. An official of the provisional government of Jerusalem after the destruction of 586 BC. Rab-mag is the title of his high office. Possibly he was the same Nergal-sharezer who succeeded Nebuchadnezzar’s son on the throne of Babylon in 560 BC (Jeremiah 39:3).

PASHUR (1): The son of Immer. A chief officer in the temple who had Jeremiah scourged and imprisoned. Later Jeremiah prophesied that Pashur would die in captivity because he prophesied falsely, and changed his name to Magor-missabib (Jeremiah 20:1-6). P

PASHUR (2): The son of Maluhiah who was sent by King Zedekiah to Jeremiah to seek a word from God when Nebuchadnezzar’s forces began their attack on Judah (Jeremiah 21:1). Later he joined other princes in seeking Jeremiah’s death (Jeremiah 38:1-3).

QUEEN OF HEAVEN: Probably to be identified with the goddess Astarte or Ashtoreth. She was worshiped by the Jews both in Judah (7:18) and in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:17-19; Jeremiah 44:25). D

RACHEL: Wife of the patriarch Jacob who was regarded as the mother of Israel. She is represented as weeping over those who are going into captivity (Jeremiah 31:15).

A

SAMGAR NEBO: A name found in KJV of Jeremiah 39:3. Spelled Samgar-nebu in NASB. NIV takes Samgar to refer to the town of the previous person and attaches Nebo to the following name.

SAMUEL: Referred to as one of the greatest intercessors in the history of Israel (Jeremiah 15:1). A

SAR-SECHIM: A name found in the KJV of Jeremiah 39:3. Spelled Sarsekim in NASB. See Nebo-Sarsekim.

SERAIAH (1): The chief priest at the time of Jerusalem’s capture who was killed by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah (Jeremiah 52:24). P

SERAIAH (2): The son of Azriel who was ordered by King Jehoiakim to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch (Jeremiah 36:23).

SERAIAH (3): The son of Neriah who was chief chamberlain for Zedekiah’s trip to meet Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah gave him a scroll to read aloud in Babylon and then sink in the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:59). F

SERAIAH (4): The son of Tanhumeth who is listed among those who came to Gedaliah recognizing him as governor and accepting his protection (Jeremiah 40:8).

SHALLUM: Son of Josiah (Jeremiah 22:11). See JEHO-AHAZ.

SHAPHAN: The scribe who read the book of the law to Josiah (2 Kings 22:8-14). Also father of Ahikam, Gemariah, Jaazaniah, and grandfather of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 26:24; Jeremiah 36:10; Jeremiah 40:5). His family befriended Jeremiah on several occasions. A

SHEMAIAH: A false prophet in Babylon who promised captive Jews that their exile would be short. Jeremiah prophesied he would die before the return and leave no posterity (Jeremiah 29:24-32). P

SIHON: An Amorite king who had conquered Moab sometime before the Israelites emerged from their wilderness wanderings. Jeremiah alludes to this conquest in his oracle against Moab (Jeremiah 48:45). A

SOLOMON: Third king of Israel during whose reign the temple was built. Nebuchadnezzar carried off the bronze that Solomon had used in constructing various parts of the temple furnishings (Jeremiah 52:20). A

URIAH: Prophet who prophesied against Judah as did Jeremiah, and who was executed by King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:20-24). He was from the village of Kireath-jearim. P

ZEDEKIAH (1): The son of Josiah who ruled as last king of Judah (597-586 BC). Because of his rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem. Zedeklah was taken captive, blinded and deported to Babylon. During the last days before the fall of Jerusalem, Zedekiah had several interviews with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21:1-14; Jeremiah 34:2-7; Jeremiah 37:3-10; Jeremiah 37:16-21; Jeremiah 38:14-28). K

ZEDEKIAH (2): The son of Maaseiah. Jeremiah threatened that Nebuchadnezzar would roast this immoral and lying prophet in a fire (Jeremiah 29:21-23). P

ZEDEKIAH (3): The son of Hananiah. A prince in the reign of King Jehoiakim who was present at Baruch’s reading of Jeremiah’s scroll in the chamber of Elisha the scribe (Jeremiah 36:12).

ZEPHANIAH: The second priest, under the high priest Seraiah, who was sent by King Zedekiah to inquire of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 37:3). This priest, who seems to have been somewhat favorably inclined toward Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 29:29), was killed by Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah (Jeremiah 52:24). P

Part Two

PLACE NAMES

ABARIM: The mountain range SE of the Dead Sea in which Mt. Nebo was one of the prominent peaks, People in this region would lament when the Babylonians attacked (Jeremiah 22:20).

AI: A city of Ammon (location unknown) that was to be laid waste by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:3).

AMMON: A country NE of Moab and E of the tribe of Reuben, between the Arnon and Jabbock rivers. The children of Ammon are among those God will judge by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:21) but in the messianic age they would be converted to true faith (Jeremiah 49:6).

ANATHOTH: A village three miles NE of Jerusalem. The hometown of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 29:27). The doom of certain men of Anathoth is announced because they plotted against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 11:23). During the siege of Jerusalem, Jeremiah purchased a field in Anathoth as a sign that lands would again be bought and sold (Jeremiah 32:7-9).

ARABAH: The valley of the Jordan River toward which King Zedekiah fled when Jerusalem was under attack (Jeremiah 39:4).

ARABIA: A general name for the region between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. The kings of Arabia will be forced to drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:24).

ARAM, ARAMEANS: The region N of Canaan of which Damascus was a leading city. Nebuchadnezzar sent Arameans (Syrians) to harass the Judean countryside until he could arrive with the army to destroy Jerusalem (Jeremiah 35:11).

ARARAT: A district in Armenia, between the Araxes River and lakes Van and Urmia. One of the areas from which God would summon peoples to attack Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

ARNON: The deep river gorge that was the southern boundary of Reuben but which in Jeremiah’s day was within the territory of Moab. It is possible there was a Moabite town of this name (Jeremiah 48:20).

AROER: A Moabite city just N of the Arnon River. Its inhabitants will interrogate the fugitives from the N as they flee from the destroyer (Jeremiah 48:19).

ARPAD: A fortified city about ninety-five miles N of Hamath in Aram (Syria) that is said to melt in fear at the reported advances of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:23).

ASHDOD: One of the five chief Philistine cities. In Jeremiah’s day only a remnant survived in this town and the prophet predicts that they must further drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:20).

ASHKELON: Philistine city (Jeremiah 25:20) that Jeremiah predicted would be attacked by the enemy from the north.

ASHKENAZ: A tribe located in the neighborhood of Armenia, along with the kingdom of Ararat and Minni. They are summoned to attack Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

ASSYRIA: A narrow country in the upper Tigris valley which ruled the world from about 745-605 BC. In the days of Ahaz, Judah turned to Assyria for aid (Jeremiah 2:18), but was bitterly disappointed (Jeremiah 2:36). Assyria devoured Judah for a number of years (Jeremiah 50:17) but was finally punished by God (Jeremiah 50:18).

AZEKAH: A village of Judah ten miles SW of Jerusalem. One of the last outposts to fall to Nebuchadnezzar before he attacked Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:7).

BABYLON: The great world power of the sixth century before Christ and the capital of that empire. The Judean captives were taken to Babylon (Jeremiah 20:4). Jeremiah also predicts the eventual fall of this empire (chs 50-51). There are 168 direct references to Babylon in Jeremiah.

BASHAN: A region E of Jordan extending from Gilead on the S to Mt. Hermon on the N. Bashan is bidden to weep because of the approach of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 22:20). Following exile, Israel would again possess this region (Jeremiah 50:19).

BENJAMIN: The territory just N of Jerusalem. Jeremiah lived in this region (Jeremiah 1:1) and purchased a field here from a relative (Jeremiah 32:8). He was arrested trying to go to the land of Benjamin during the lull in the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:12). He addresses the children of Benjamin in one oracle (Jeremiah 6:1) and alludes to the land of Benjamin in two others (Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 33:13).

BETH-DIBLATHAIM: A city of Moab the location of which is uncertain (Jeremiah 48:22).

BETHEL: Twelve miles N of Jerusalem. A seat of one of the golden calves. In the day of judgment the inhabitants of Moab will be ashamed of their god Chemosh just as Israel was ashamed of the illegitimate worship at Bethel when that nation was being judged (Jeremiah 48:13).

BETH-GAMUL: A city of Moab about ten miles W of Dibon (Jeremiah 48:23).

BETH-HAKKEREM: Spelled Beth-haccerem in KJV. Thought to be a hill east of Bethlehem. Jeremiah urged the Judean fugitives to set up a signpost there to guide others in their flight to the wilderness (Jeremiah 6:1).

BETHLEHEM: Near this famous town 6 miles S of Jerusalem the remnant camped on their flight to Egypt after the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:17).

BETH-MEON: A Moabite city the location of which is uncertain (Jeremiah 48:23).

BETH-SHEMESH: The name literally means the house of the sun. An Egyptian city called On by the Egyptians and Heliopolis by the Greeks. Located about ten miles NE of modern Cairo and a few miles S of ancient Tahpanhes. Jeremiah predicts that the obelisks of the sun temple there would be broken down (Jeremiah 43:13).

BOZRAH (1): Chief city of northern Edom over which Nebuchadnezzar would spread his wings (49:22) making the place a desolation (Jeremiah 44:13).

BOZRAH (2): A city in the plains of Moab. It was destined to fall to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 44:24).

BUZ: A tribe in northern Arabia descended from Nahor, Abraham’s brother, which must drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:23).

CARMEL: The prominent mountain on the W coast of Canaan that stands as a wall between the maritime plain of Sharon on the S and the more inland plain of Esdraelon on the W Carmel is used by Jeremiah as a symbol of that which is beautiful (Jeremiah 2:7) and lofty (Jeremiah 46:18). In the restoration Carmel will again be possessed by Israel (Jeremiah 50:19).

CHALDEA, CHALDEANS In Jeremiah’s day Chaldea was synonymous with Babylonia. Forty-six references are made to this land and people in Jeremiah.

CUSH: The Hebrew name for Ethiopia. Ebed-melech the Ethiopian once rescued Jeremiah (Jeremiah 38:7-13). The prophet referred to Ethiopians in a sermon illustration (Jeremiah 13:23). Some of Pharaoh’s mercenary troops came from Cush (Jeremiah 46:9).

CYPRUS: See KITTIM.

DAMASCUS: Capital of the kingdom of Aram (Syria) the destruction of which Jeremiah predicts (Jeremiah 49:23-24; Jeremiah 49:27).

DAN: The northern-most city of Canaan. Indications of the invasion from the north would first come from Dan (Jeremiah 4:15; Jeremiah 8:16).

DEDAN: One of the Arab tribes that must drink of the divine cup of wrath (Jeremiah 25:23). The Dedanites inhabited the region S of Edom. Jeremiah urges them to withdraw further into the desert so that they might not have to experience the fate of Edom (Jeremiah 49:8).

DIBON: A Moabite city located about four miles N of the Arnon River. The important King’s Highway passed through this place. Dibon will experience disgrace in the day of Moab’s judgment (Jeremiah 48:18; Jeremiah 48:22).

EDOM: A mountainous region between Moab and the Red Sea. In addition to several allusions to the impending destruction of Edom, Jeremiah composed a lengthy oracle against this land (Jeremiah 49:7-22). The prophet directed the Edomite ambassador to take a symbolic yoke to this king (Jeremiah 27:3). Many Jews fled to Edom when the Chaldeans attacked Judah in 588-86 BC (Jeremiah 40:11).

EGLATH-SHELISHIYAH: A Moabite city the location of which is unknown (Jeremiah 48:34). The name means a heifer of three years old and is so translated in KJV.

EGYPT: The great power on the NW corner of the continent of Africa. There are fifty-three references to Egypt in Jeremiah. Several passages refer to the Exodus from Egypt (Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 16:14; Jeremiah 23:7; etc.). After the assassination of Gedaliah the Judean fugitives fled to Egypt (chs 41- 44). Jeremiah predicts the defeat of Egypt at Carchemish (Jeremiah 46:1-6) as well as an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 46:13).

EKRON: One of the chief Philistine cities. Ekron will have to drink the cup of divine wrath (Jeremiah 25:20)

.

ELAM: In addition to the brief allusion to the destruction of Elam in Jeremiah 25:25, Jeremiah wrote an oracle against this land (Jeremiah 49:34-39). Nebuchadnezzar campaigned against Elam in 596 BC.

ELEALEH: A Moabite city located about a mile N of Heshbon (Jeremiah 48:34).

EPHRAIM: The name of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet alludes to the captivity of Ephraim (7:15) and the restoration of Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 31:18; Jeremiah 31:20).

ETHIOPIA, ETHIOPIANS: See CUSH.

EUPHRATES: The most prominent river of the Near East that flows from the mountains of Armenia to the Persian Gulf. Often called in the Bible the river or simply River (Jeremiah 2:18). Jeremiah buried and subsequently retrieved a linen girdle from the banks of the river (ch 13). The battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates is mentioned both historically (Jeremiah 46:2) and prophetically (Jeremiah 46:6; Jeremiah 46:10). A scroll containing an oracle against Babylon was ordered sunk by Jeremiah in the Euphrates (Jeremiah 51:63).

GAREB: A hill near Jerusalem listed as marking the boundaries of the new Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:39).

GAZA: A Philistine city. Jeremiah mentions an otherwise unrecorded Egyptian attack on Gaza (Jeremiah 47:1) and also predicts that this city will suffer at the hands of the enemy from the north (Jeremiah 47:5).

GERUTH-CHIMHAM: NIV spells Geruth Kimham. Inn of Chimham in KJV. A rest area for travelers near Bethlehem. The remnant camped here as they fled to Egypt following the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:17).

GIBEON: A city of Judah six miles NW of Jerusalem. The home of the false prophet Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:1). At Gibeon Johanan caught up with Ishmael and effected the rescue of the captives which the latter had taken from Mizpah (Jeremiah 41:12; Jeremiah 41:16).

GILEAD: A mountainous region E of Jordan famous for its trees (Jeremiah 22:6) and the medicines produced by those trees (Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11). Jeremiah predicts that Jews will return from captivity to occupy the mountains of Gilead (Jeremiah 50:19).

GOAH: A place on the E of Jerusalem near the hill Gareb. One of the boundary marks of the new Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:39).

GOMORRAH: See SODOM.

HAMATH: A city and region in upper Syria in the valley of the Orontes River. The city is said to melt in fear at the news of the Chaldean advance. The town of Riblah in the region of Hamath was the military headquarters of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:9; Jeremiah 52:27; Jeremiah 49:23).

HAZOR: An Arabian city, region, or tribe smitten by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 49:28; Jeremiah 49:30; Jeremiah 49:33).

HESHBON: Formerly a Levitical city belonging to the tribe of Reuben. Heshbon was the major city N of the Arnon River in Jeremiah’s day (Jeremiah 49:3). The city is mentioned four times in the Moab oracle (Jeremiah 48:2; Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 48:45) as being the spot from which the destroyer of Moab would launch his attack.

HINNOM, VALLEY OF: A valley on the W side of Jerusalem where child sacrifice was practiced in worship of the god Molech (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35). Jeremiah changed its name to Valley of Slaughter (Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 19:6) because of the corpses that would fall there. Overlooking this valley Jeremiah once preached and performed a symbolic act (Jeremiah 19:2).

HOLON: A Moabite city the location of which is unknown (Jeremiah 48:21).

HORONAIM: A Moabite village just S of the Arnon river which Jeremiah predicts will be sacked and destroyed by the enemy (Jeremiah 48:3; Jeremiah 48:5; Jeremiah 48:34).

ISRAEL: There are 105 references to Israel in Jeremiah and three references in Lamentations. Israel sometimes refers to the entire theocratic nation which the Lord brought out of Egypt. In other passages Israel is the Northern Kingdom that ceased to exist in 722 BC. Frequently in the book, God is called the God of Israel.

JAHZAH: A Moabite city about eight miles SE of Heshbon (Jeremiah 48:21; Jeremiah 48:34). KJV spells Jahazah.

JAZER An Ammonite city fifteen miles N of Heshbon. The bitter lament of this city is mentioned by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:32).

JERUSALEM: The capital of Judah and site of the temple. The city is mentioned 108 times in Jeremiah and seven times in Lamentations. The main thrust in these books is on the destruction of Jerusalem, although Jeremiah does mention the restoration of the city (Jeremiah 31:38-40).

JORDAN: The major river of Canaan flowing from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. In three passages Jeremiah speaks of the Pride (KJV swelling) of the Jordan. This refers to the thick jungle-like vegetation that grew along the river (Jeremiah 12:5; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44).

JUDAH: The tiny nation in S Canaan to which Jeremiah preached. There are 176 references to Judah in Jeremiah and five in Lamentations.

KEDAR: Sometimes used of Arabia in general (Jeremiah 2:10) and sometimes of a particular tribe living in Arabia (Jeremiah 49:28). The tribe of Kedar was to be attacked by Nebuchadnezzar.

KERIOTH: A Moabite city eleven miles SE of Dibon. Jeremiah predicted it would be taken by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 48:24; Jeremiah 48:41).

KIDRON: A brook running through the valley between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Mentioned by Jeremiah as one of the boundaries of the restored city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:40).

KIR-HERES: The chief fortress of southern Moab the fall of which indicates the completion of Moab’s destruction. Jeremiah wept over the fall of this city (Jeremiah 48:31; Jeremiah 48:36). Also spelled Kir-hareseth, Kir-haraseth and Kir-haresh.

KIRIATHAIM: A Moabite city about eight miles NW of Dibon (Jeremiah 48:1; Jeremiah 48:23).

KIRJATH-JEARIM: A village eight miles W of Jerusalem. The home of the faithful prophet Uriah (Jeremiah 26:20).

KITTIM: The isles of the Mediterranean and perhaps the coastlands of Italy and Greece. Jeremiah challenged his audience to see if they could discover in Kittim an e xample of unfaithfulness that would parallel the apostasy of Judah (Jeremiah 2:10).

LACHISH A Judean city about 28 miles SW of Jerusalem. One of the last outposts to fall to Nebuchadnezzar before he began the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:7).

LEBANON: The mountain range which, commencing near Tyre, runs NE through Syria, nearly parallel to the seacoast, sometimes as high as 9000 feet above sea level. Jeremiah mentions the snows of Lebanon as an illustration of constancy (Jeremiah 18:14). The palace of the king of Judah is called Lebanon (Jeremiah 22:6), as is the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 22:23). Lebanon is the first region to suffer from the Babylonian invasion (Jeremiah 22:20).

LEB-KAMAI: A cryptic designation for Babylon which when decoded spells Chaldeans in Hebrew. Leb-kamai literally means the heart of those who rise up against me (Jeremiah 51:1).

LIBYANS: See PUT.

LUHITH: A village of Moab between Ar and Zoar at the S extremity of the Dead Sea (Jeremiah 48:5).

MADMEN: A village in Moab nine miles N of Kir-hareseth whose destruction was foretold by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:2).

MEDIA, MEDES: The kings of Media are named among those who must drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:25). Jeremiah predicted it would be the Medes that would attack and destroy Babylon (Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:28).

MEMPHIS: Moph or Noph in Hebrew. A city in central Egypt on the W of the Nile River. It was a royal residence in days of Jeremiah. A major city (2:16; 46:14) where the Jewish remnant settled (Jeremiah 44:1). Jeremiah predicted the city would be waste and desolate (Jeremiah 46:19).

MERATHAIM: A symbolic name for Babylon meaning double rebellion (Jeremiah 50:21).

MIGDOL: A fortress on the NE border of Egypt where some of the Jewish remnant settled (Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:14).

MINNI: A district near Ararat in the region later known as Armenia from which God would summon troops to attack Babylon (Jeremiah 51:27).

MISGAB: NASB and NIV render the stronghold. The name means high fortress and this spot seems to have been located in the vicinity of Nebo (Jeremiah 48:1).

MIZPAH A city of Judah about nine miles NE of Jerusalem where Gedaliah set up the seat of government after the destruction of Jerusalem (chs 40-41).

MOAB: Generally in OT times Moab occupied the region E of the Dead Sea between the Brook Zered in the S and the Arnon River in the N. In Jeremiah’s day the Moabites seem to have expanded beyond the Arnon. Jeremiah makes a point of the fact that the Moabites practice circumcision (9:26). Moab must drink the cup of wrath (Jeremiah 25:21) and submit to the yoke of Babylon (27:3). Jews fled to Moab in the war of 586 BC (Jeremiah 40:11). In a lengthy oracle Jeremiah predicts the overthrow of Moab (ch 48).

NEBO: A Moabite city about five miles SW of Heshbon (Jeremiah 48:1; Jeremiah 48:22).

NEGEV: A barren steppe S of the valley of Beer-sheba. Sometimes the word is simply rendered south. Jeremiah predicted the siege of the cities of this region (Jeremiah 13:19) and ultimate restoration of them following the captivity (Jeremiah 32:44; Jeremiah 33:13). See also Jeremiah 17:26.

NOPH: See MEMPHIS.

PATHROS: The entire region of Upper (southern) Egypt where some of the Jewish remnant settled (Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 44:15).

PEKOD: A symbolic name for Babylon meaning punishment (Jeremiah 50:21).

NILE The mighty river whose annual flooding brought prosperity to the land of Egypt. Jeremiah compared the advance of the Egyptian army to the swelling of the Nile (Jeremiah 46:7-8).

NIMRIM, WATER OF: A small brook in Moab that flows into the S end of the Dead Sea (Jeremiah 48:34).

NO: See THEBES.

PHILISTIA, PHILISTINE: The coastal region of Palestine. It is about forty miles long. Jeremiah named the kings of the Philistines among those who would be forced to drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:20). A brief oracle against the Philistines is found in ch 47.

PUT: The Hebrew name for the Libyan region W of Egypt. The Libyans were mercenaries in the army of Pharaoh (Jeremiah 46:9).

RABBAH: Also spelled Rabbath. The major city of Ammon which today is called Amman and is the capital of Jordan. This city fell, as predicted by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:2-3), to Nebuchadnezzar in 582-81 BC.

R AMAH: A city of Benjamin about five miles N of Jerusalem. Rachel’s weeping over her sons was heard as far as Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15). The Babylonians took Jeremiah to Ramah in chains (Jeremiah 40:1).

RED SEA: The sound of the cry of Edom is heard as far as the Red Sea, southern border of that land (Jeremiah 49:21).

RIBLAH: A city of Aram (Syria) on the Orontes River. This was the headquarters of Nebuchadnezzar on his 586 BC campaign against the Jews. Here Zedekiah was brought after his capture (Jeremiah 39:5-6; Jeremiah 52:9) and here the leaders of Judah were executed (Jeremiah 52:10; Jeremiah 52:26-27).

SAMARIA: Capital of the Northern Kingdom that was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Some pilgrims from the vicinity of Samaria were massacred by Ishmael as they made their way to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice (Jeremiah 41:5). Jeremiah also pointed out a contrast between the prophets of Samaria and those of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 23:13).

SHEBA: A region in SW Arabia about 1500 miles S of Jerusalem from which the Jews secured the ingredients for incense and anointing oil (Jeremiah 6:20).

SHEPHELAH: The rolling hills which separate the mountains of Judah from the coastal plains. This region of Judah is mentioned three times by the prophet (Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 32:44; Jeremiah 33:13). Translated lowland in KJV.

SHESHACH: A cryptic name for Babylon used in Jeremiah 25:26 and Jeremiah 51:41.

SHILOH: A city of Ephraim N of Bethel where the tabernacle was located during the period of the Judges. Jeremiah used the destruction of Shiloh as an illustration of what God would do to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 26:6; Jeremiah 26:9). Some pilgrims who lived in the vicinity of the ruins of Shiloh were massacred by Ishmael (Jeremiah 41:5).

SIBHAM: A village of Moab about three miles SW of Heshbon. Famous for its vineyards (Jeremiah 48:32).

SIDON: A Phoenician city about twenty-seven miles N of Tyre. Sidon must drink the cup of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:22) and submit to the yoke of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:3). In the day of national judgment Sidon will be without foreign help (Jeremiah 47:4).

SODOM: One of four cities—Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim being the others—located on the S shores of the Dead Sea that was destroyed in the days of Abraham. Jeremiah used the infamous wickedness of these cities as a basis of comparison for the wickedness of Judah (Jeremiah 23:14) and the permanent overthrow of these cities to illustrate the permanent desolation of Edom (Jeremiah 49:18) and Babylon (Jeremiah 50:40).

SYRIA, SYRIANS. See ARAM.

TABOR: An isolated mountain in the midst of the plains of Jezreel. Used by Jeremiah as a symbol of loftiness (Jeremiah 46:18).

TAHPANHES: A city in Egypt on the Nile near Pelusium, on the S extremity of Palestine. Called by the classical writers Daphne. A royal residence was located here in Jeremiah’s day (Jeremiah 43:9) and hence the city can symbolically stand for the entire land of Egypt (Jeremiah 2:16). Jeremiah preached to those of the remnant who settled in the city (Jeremiah 43:7-9; Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:14).

TARSHISH: Generally thought to be located on the SW coast of Spain. A source of silver used to manufacture idols (Jeremiah 10:9).

TEKOA: A village six miles SE of Bethlehem. Jeremiah urges that a trumpet be blown in Tekoa to assemble the refugees on their flight to the wilderness (Jeremiah 6:1).

TEMA: An Arab tribe living S of Edom named among those that must partake of the cup of wrath (Jeremiah 25:23).

TEMAN: A region in or at the NE of Edom. The Temanites were famous for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7), but this wisdom will not avert the impending destruction of Edom (Jeremiah 49:20).

THEBES: Also called No or No Amon. Located in southern or Upper Egypt. The greatest collection of monuments and ruins in the world is to be found there. Jeremiah predicted that God’s wrath would be poured out on Amon the god of No (Jeremiah 46:25).

TOPHETH: The word is used eight times in Jeremiah. Topheth is thought to be the pit in which human victims were burned in the valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31). Topheth would be defiled by the slaughter that would befall Judah and corpses would be buried there (Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 19:6; Jeremiah 19:11). The entire city of Jerusalem would be defiled like Topheth (Jeremiah 19:12-14).

TYRE: The most prominent city of Phoenicia. Tyre must drink the cup of divine wrath (Jeremiah 25:22) and submit to the yoke of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:3). In the day of judgment all helpers of Tyre would be cut off (Jeremiah 47:4).

UPHAZ: A distant land from which the idolaters of Judah secured gold to be used in the manufacture of idols (Jeremiah 10:9). The location is uncertain but is thought to be E of Canaan. Some identify Uphaz with Ophir.

UZ: A region in close proximity to Edom (Lamentations 4:21) whose kings must drink the cup of divine wrath (Jeremiah 25:20).

ZIDON: See SIDON.

ZIMRI: A people whose location is unknown. They are mentioned among those who must drink the cup of divine wrath (Jeremiah 25:25).

ZION: In Jeremiah, Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem. In prophetic passages, Zion becomes a designation for the church of Christ (Jeremiah 31:6; Jeremiah 31:12). The term is used 17 times in Jeremiah , 16 times in Lamentations.

ZOAR: The city at the SE corner of the Dead Sea into which Lot and his daughters fled. In the days of Jeremiah Zoar was the southernmost city of Moab (Jeremiah 48:34).

Historical Background (Jeremiah 1:1-3)

Many of the Old Testament prophets experienced persecution, opposition, and hardship, but the prophet Jeremiah had one of the most difficult ministries of all of them. He lived during a time in which God harshly disciplined his people for their sins, and the prophet was called to give the people what amounted to their final warning before disaster fell upon them. Jeremiah encountered constant resistance and hostility to his message, and he was disliked by practically the entire nation.

During his lifetime, Jeremiah’s ministry produced few tangible outward results, and he was rarely if ever able to see his message from God’s Word heeded and respected. Yet this man, sometimes called ’the weeping prophet’, left many wise words to instruct and edify future generations. Jeremiah calls us to re-examine our assumptions about God and our relationship with God. Though much of Jeremiah is somber or even gloomy, the book nevertheless provides a source of endurance and hope, even in the worst of times, for those truly faithful to God.

While still very young, Jeremiah was called to the ministry of the Word, in the year 627 BC (Jeremiah 1:1-2). He lived in Judah, the Southern Kingdom of God’s people. This southern half of Israel had survived the onslaught of the Assyrians in the previous century, when the invaders conquered and destroyed the Northern Kingdom. In Jeremiah’s own lifetime, the Babylonians would conquer Judah (in 586 BC) and take God’s people into exile (Jeremiah 1:3).

When Jeremiah began to prophesy, King Josiah ruled Judah. Josiah was the last of the reformer kings who tried to pull the nation out of its spiritual decline. Not long before Jeremiah began his own ministry, Josiah had begun the last great series of efforts to end the neglect of the law and the numerous abuses of holy things that had become rampant among God’s people. Although Josiah himself was sincere and zealous in his devotion to God, the hearts of the people did not change. When Josiah was killed in battle in 609 BC, Judah’s spiritual illness became terminal.

While Jeremiah and Josiah were calling God’s people to spiritual renewal, the Babylonians were re-establishing their ancient empire. They conquered their arch-enemy Assyria in 612 BC, and when the people of God refused to heed any of God’s warnings, God allowed Babylon to attack his people. Babylon assaulted Judah in 605 BC, 597 BC, and again in 586 BC, the last time destroying Jerusalem and enslaving most of its inhabitants. Even after this disaster, it would take some years before God’s people would learn the most important lessons behind all of this.

In Jeremiah’s lifetime, most of God’s people were interested only in fulfilling their own desires. Jeremiah proclaimed unpleasant truths because God called him to do so, but most of those around him defended their selfishness and self-indulgence by distorting and twisting God’s Word. Since we also live in a time in which even many who call themselves ’Christians’ use Christianity and the church mainly to accomplish worldly goals, those who desire truly to seek God from the heart can learn much from Jeremiah’s words and experience.

- Mark Garner, 2007

The Prophet Is Called To Ministry (Jeremiah 1:4-19)

Living in a time of spiritual decline and decay, Jeremiah brought a pointed warning to the people of his own time, and he brought a message of hope to future generations. Jeremiah foresaw disaster for his own generation, but he promised that things could be better for the next generation if they avoided the mistakes that their forefathers had made. Even when Jeremiah was first called to ministry, he knew that his work was not going to be easy or popular.

Even before he learned the details of the message that he was to preach, Jeremiah was intimidated by the thought of being a prophet of God (Jeremiah 1:4-10) . Told by God that he had been set apart for this special responsibility, Jeremiah is fearful, being particularly conscious of his young age and of his lack of speaking ability. Yet it was for these very reasons that he was well suited to the ministry that God had for him.

Jeremiah would never feel comfortable with his role, even after years of preaching. Yet God did not want a more confident or eloquent man for the job. God did not want someone who would relish proclaiming bad news and warnings. Jeremiah was young, sensitive, and rather insecure, and thus he was more troubled than anyone else by the warnings God gave through him. Moreover, he would always be conscious of his complete dependence on God, at a time when this very quality was so desperately needed in the nation as a whole.

God begins Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry by using two simple visions to illustrate some important themes (Jeremiah 1:11-16) . Jeremiah first sees an almond branch, the Hebrew word for which closely resembles the word for ’watching’. Jeremiah is to be a constant reminder to everyone that God is always watching their every thought and action, to see if his Word is being honored and obeyed. Most of God’s people had long since gotten into the habit of treating the truths of the Scriptures lightly, thinking that God would simply accept anything they did in his name.

The second symbolic vision is more urgent and more threatening. Jeremiah sees a boiling pot, which is just about to tilt over and pour out its scorching, searing contents. The pot symbolizes the Babylonians, the menace from the north, who already stood prepared to discipline and punish God’s people if they declined to heed God’s warnings. Jeremiah would spend the next forty years giving sincere and passionate warnings about this boiling pot, but in the end everyone would ignore him completely, to their doom.

God foresaw this too, and he warned Jeremiah of the cold response that his ministry would get (Jeremiah 1:17-19). Jeremiah was called to be like an iron pillar or a bronze wall, a lone bastion of truth and godliness at a time when everyone else followed the desires of their own hearts, rather than the will of God. We too must often teach unpopular lessons to a disbelieving world, yet we shall never experience the complete rejection and loneliness that Jeremiah endured. How much more, then, should his example call us never to waver from the truths of God.

- Mark Garner, 2007

A Double Sin (Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 4:4)

Called to give God’s people a solemn message of warning, Jeremiah would spend over forty years using a wide variety of methods and teachings to call Judah to repentance and spiritual renewal. The people were guilty of many sins and faults, and these could be traced back to two root problems. The people had wandered away from God, gradually losing interest in seeking and serving him in spirit and in truth. Then, as a result, they began to choose other gods to worship and honor instead. Jeremiah uses a series of images and explanations to demonstrate that this double sin lies at the heart of everything else.

As other prophets also did, Jeremiah likens God’s unfaithful people to an unfaithful bride (Jeremiah 2:1-12). The relationship between God and his people was meant to last forever, and God never forgets his end of it. But his people had constantly strayed from him throughout their history. The prophet points out that most nations and peoples are reluctant to give up any part of their cultural identity, and yet Judah and Israel have tossed away not only an integral part of their culture, but their very reason for existence. It is unnatural for God’s people to value anything of this world - success, material gain, popularity, or anything else - more highly than God.

Jeremiah uses graphic imagery to detail the effects of the two critical sins that God’s people have committed (Jeremiah 2:13 to Jeremiah 3:5). They have developed a false sense of freedom, and perhaps a false sense of identity as well. God even compares Judah unfavorably with the fallen Northern Kingdom, whose sins were more overt and blatant. Judah has diligently made ’worshiping’ God part of their lives, but their hearts and lives reveal that their apparent zeal is false, because they value so many other things equally with God.

Nevertheless, God holds out hope for their future, and he indicates the response that he is looking for (Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:4). Although he has prepared harsh discipline for them, they can avoid this entirely if they sincerely turn back to the true and living God. But instead, they have demonstrated a false repentance - zealous on the outside, perhaps, but unchanged on the inside. God is not looking for a show of emotions or a display of activity from his people, but rather a sincere acknowledgment of their need for him and of their dependence on him.

Today’s believers must sometimes also heed Jeremiah’s message of warning. This world offers us so many opportunities and choices that we can easily forget our God. Even when we are involved in outwardly ’religious’ activity, this does not necessarily mean that we are giving God what he wants, for he wants our hearts above all. On the other hand, Jeremiah’s teachings show that God also does not require us to change the past, nor does he require us to perform some kind of meritorious service in order to return to him. In Jeremiah’s day, as in our own, salvation and a relationship with God come through grace alone.

- Mark Garner, 2007

Warning Of Impending Judgment (Jeremiah 4:5 to Jeremiah 6:30)

As Jeremiah pleads with God’s people, calling for them to turn back to God in their hearts, he now accompanies his pleas with a grim and very specific warning. The Babylonian Empire, having regained its former strength, is ready to be used, if necessary, as God’s means of disciplining his people. If they do not change their hearts, then the future will hold invasion, siege, destruction, and captivity at the hands of the Babylonian forces.

The faithful Jeremiah does not hold back in describing the horrors that lie ahead if Judah does not repent (Jeremiah 4:5-18) . The Babylonian armies will come out of the north with the force of a hungry lion, and they will bring devastation and suffering with them. The people and their leaders will be terrified and helpless against them. Historically, God allowed this scenario to play out over a lengthy period of time. Twice during Jeremiah’s ministry (in 605 BC and in 597 BC), the Babylonians attacked Judah, bringing destruction and taking prisoners, but leaving the nation itself intact. Only after the people did not heed these final warnings did God give them over to the full measure of discipline of which Jeremiah had warned them.

Numerous times in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet expresses his own anguish at the message he must proclaim (Jeremiah 4:19-21). The sensitive young Jeremiah can already see in his mind the suffering that will come if the people do not turn back to God, and it makes him feel horrible. Yet he does not, and never will, soften the message to make it less unpopular or less overwhelming. He cares too much for God’s people to tell them anything but the truth.

And the unhappy truth is that God will soon be left with no choice but to discipline his people due to their spiritual illness (Jeremiah 4:22 to Jeremiah 6:15). The fleeting pleasures and the illusory sense of freedom that their unfaithfulness has brought them might seem to make them happy for a short time, but God is their Creator, and he knows that only a relationship with him can satisfy their souls in the long run. For this reason, he is all the more eager to welcome them back, if only they will allow him to. To do so, they must listen to the truth, as Jeremiah proclaims it, rather than the more popular teachings of the land’s numerous false teachers.

God’s people thus must choose (Jeremiah 6:16-26). They can continue in their ways, enjoying false security and fleshly pleasures, or they can ’ask for the ancient paths’. Jeremiah portrays them as standing at a crossroads, at which they have the choice between the way of life or the way of death. They do not have to find a new path, but an old one, the tried and true path of faithfulness to God. Jeremiah himself is depicted as a tester of metals (6:27-30), for it is the people’s response to his teaching that will show the choice they have made.

We too need simply to follow the ancient path that leads to life in Jesus. We do not have to find or develop our own way, nor do we need to allow worldly perspectives towards Christianity to influence us. The message of Jeremiah will never be popular, but it will always bring life to those who choose to follow it.

- Mark Garner, 2007

Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon (Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3)

To emphasize the importance and seriousness of the message that he has entrusted to Jeremiah, God tells the prophet to stand at the very entrance to the temple, the nation’s most revered landmark, and to proclaim a message detailing the nation’s spiritual ills. The temple, as a visible reminder of God’s presence among his people, served an important spiritual purpose. But in Jeremiah’s lifetime, the temple itself had become an object of the wrong kind of ’faith’.

Making use of the temple’s symbolic and social importance, God specifically directs Jeremiah to preach a particular lesson there (Jeremiah 7:1-2). To do so would have attracted considerable attention, and it would also have implicitly associated the prophet’s message with the temple. Further, the message on this occasion had to do with the way that the people of Judah viewed the temple.

Rather than using the temple as a reminder of the living but invisible God, they were trusting in the physical presence of the temple itself to keep them close to God (Jeremiah 7:3-15). Throughout the history of God’s people, we can see how easy it is for them to worship earthly things, and to put their faith in visible things. Here, the mere sight of the great temple gives the people a sense of false security. Surely, they thought, as long as we take care of ’God’s house’ we are safe. But their hearts were far from God, and nothing could make up for that.

Although the people knew that God was important, they had tried to serve both the living God and a variety of false gods (Jeremiah 7:16-19). God openly describes himself as a jealous God, who never accepts rivals in the hearts of his people. Offering worship and sacrifice to God does not allow us to have other ’gods’ in our lives as well. In Jeremiah’s day, the people had found that some of the foreign ’gods’ allowed them to do more exciting and pleasurable things in the name of ’worship’. They were hardly the first or the last generation to give in to such desires.

Jeremiah warned the people that severe punishment would come if they did not discard their false ’gods’ to worship only the true and living God of heaven (Jeremiah 7:20 to Jeremiah 8:3). Since their hearts desired to have both a relationship with God and a friendship with the world, they were constantly tempted by the world and its idols. As a result, God planned to allow them to see just how worthless these things are. God’s gracious hand of protection and compassion saves us every day from dangers that we don’t even see. But sometimes he must withdraw his hand in order that we can get a reminder of what life is like without his protection. If we respond to him, one glimpse will be enough.

God’s people today ought also to heed the words of Jeremiah’s temple sermon. Our hearts will always contain a confused mix of godly desires and fleshly desires, so our hearts will never be a reliable guide for our lives. Religious activity is not the same as true worship, and a desire for outward results is not the same as true faith. Fortunately, in these and in all other such cases, the truly spiritual things are more valuable and also more attainable, for they come by God’s grace alone to those who value them.

- Mark Garner, 2007

The Senselessness & Futility of Sin (Jeremiah 8:3 to Jeremiah 10:25)

The prophet Jeremiah had to proclaim his message to an audience whose fleshly desires had blinded them to the true nature of sin. Like many humans in every era, the people of Judah had become used to indulging their desires and exalting themselves, to the point that they saw their sinfulness as both rational and justifiable. What God called sin, they thought of as necessary, or even wise. Jeremiah thus describes to them the senseless and futile nature of sin.

The sins of Judah were particularly irrational, because they had a long history to show them the truth, the very words of God to instruct them, and God himself to help them when they needed him (Jeremiah 8:4-12). One of Jeremiah’s many examples compares them to a person who falls down and then simply declines to get back up. They have been equally senseless in squandering the many spiritual blessings in their lives.

Yet they are hardly alone. In every era, God’s people have battled the destructive desire to become like the world around them, and in every era there have been popular false teachers who misuse God’s own Word, telling others what they wish to hear, rather than what they need to hear. "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious" (Jeremiah 8:11).

Although God plans to bring punishment and disaster upon them for their sins, he is grieved at this necessity (Jeremiah 8:13 to Jeremiah 9:6), and all the more so because he knows how much love and instruction he has lavished upon them. In the New Testament, we see this same attitude in Jesus, who wept and hurt because of all the rebellious hearts and closed minds that he encountered. Yet neither God nor his glorious Son will compromise one word of the truth to make it easier. To do so would be false, worldly love, not genuine spiritual love.

Since he will not simply excuse their sin, God plans to test and discipline his people (Jeremiah 9:7-26). If they continue in their double-minded ways, pretending to worship God while their hearts were still in the world, then they could never please God, and they and their lives will become futile and empty. The worldly fail to grasp this, because they seek mindless fun and sensual pleasures that do not and cannot last. They strive desperately for a fleeting sense of happiness, while God offers a deep-rooted and lasting joy that will survive any number of earthly sorrows and hurts.

Jeremiah thus issues an emphatic call for God’s people to distance themselves from the world’s desires and perspectives (Jeremiah 10:1-25). Believers often struggle with being so different from the world, and often this struggle discourages them to the point where they stop trying to resist the world. Yet, as the prophet reminds us here, God made this world and everything in it. He himself gave us the ability to create and to express ourselves, and yet we find it much easier to worship and to put faith in the things we ourselves have made and thought up. Pulling our eyes off of the world and focusing on God may well be difficult, but it is also the only way for us to appreciate what we were intended to be.

- Mark Garner, 2007

A Broken Covenant (Jeremiah 11:1-17)

God has always dealt openly with his people, telling them clearly what he expects of them, and what he promises to do for them. Throughout history, God has made covenant agreements with his people in order to help them to remember all of these things. But when the covenant is forgotten, it soon leads to many kinds of sins and spiritual illnesses. While Jeremiah was called to confront many specific problems in the lives of God’s people, the broken covenant between God and his people was a particular cause for concern.

Even in Jeremiah’s lifetime, God had been in a covenant relationship with his people for many centuries (Jeremiah 11:1-5). His various covenants differed in details, but all of them - including the New Covenant in Jesus - rest on the same basic principle, summed up in verse 4: if we obey God and serve him only, then we will be his people, and he will be our God. God’s grace is extraordinary in its power to forgive sins and to cleanse us of our sins. But it has always been conditioned on our acknowledgment of God as God, our acceptance that he is to be rivaled by nothing else in the universe.

The history of God’s people shows us many examples of what happens when we turn away from the covenant he has made with us, yet human nature is such that we easily forget these lessons and warnings (Jeremiah 11:5-13). Jeremiah’s listeners were well aware of their history, back to the days in Egypt and before, and yet they willfully blinded themselves to the lessons that their own history held for them.

Jeremiah’s generation was hardly an exception, for even believers in Jesus can make the same mistakes over and over again. It is not hard to understand the spiritual problems that are caused when we replace our faith in God with faith in the world and its attitudes, and yet we always find the world tempting. Competitive striving for numerical results has damaged numerous congregations, and yet there are always more who will make the same mistakes in their need to feel successful. Compromising the truths of God’s Word has turned many strong congregations into bland social clubs, and yet there will always be more who will do the same thing out of a misguided belief that this constitutes love and compassion.

God even told the prophet not to pray for his people (Jeremiah 11:14-17), for he had already determined what to do to them if they refused to listen one more time. Even here, there is a message of hope, as God never tires of giving us another chance. His patience and his genuine compassion can overcome countless numbers of foolish choices on our part. Let us then be appreciative to him for his amazing love, and resolve no longer to find worldly standards and worldly pleasures so tempting and enticing.

This decision is difficult, but not as difficult as it seems. God doesn’t ask us to perform deeds of heroism, or to make expensive sacrifices, or even to give up anything tangible. He asks that we be content with him and him alone, regardless of results, pleasures, or possessions. If he gives us some of these things anyway, we then can truly appreciate his blessings without putting our faith in the blessings instead of the blessed God, where our faith belongs.

- Mark Garner, 2007

The Prophet’s Personal Trials (Jeremiah 11:18 to Jeremiah 12:17)

The Scriptures teach us about the ways that God chose to use faithful believers such as Jeremiah, and at the same time they do not hide the price that such devoted believers must pay in order to do God’s will and to proclaim God’s truth. As he fulfilled the ministry that God gave him, Jeremiah struggled and suffered as much as almost anyone else in the Scriptures. Moreover, his personality and his temperament did not make it easy for him to endure such trials.

It is not surprising that Jeremiah’s uncompromising message of warning didn’t win him many friends, and it was not long before opposition to him became a source of mortal danger to the prophet (Jeremiah 11:18-23). Unbeknownst to Jeremiah, the residents of his own hometown of Anathoth were plotting to kill him. Fortunately, God knew all about their plans, and he punished the evildoers swiftly and drastically.

Jeremiah had never harmed or threatened anyone, and it was only his message of unwelcome truth that brought him into danger. This angry response from his listeners is much like the many ways that unbelievers react violently to the gospel today. Because we accept God’s constraints on our behavior, because we teach that God will judge the world, and because we are certain that there is another world better than this one, we threaten and challenge everything that the world holds dear. Their anger, their ridicule, their boasting, and their arrogance are nothing more than desperate expressions of the insecurity and fear that they feel in their fleshly hearts.

Although Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed all that God told him to say, he still agonizes over the implications of his own teachings and prophecies (Jeremiah 12:1-4). The sensitive prophet longs to have some positive news, some comforting teaching, to soften the despair he feels when he sees God’s people drifting away from their Lord and Creator. We can easily sympathize, and Jeremiah’s example reminds us also that we are not always going to enjoy saying what God wants us to tell the world. We have many wonderful blessings from God that we can tell the world about, and that will bring joy to their spirits, but we also have much to say to them that their flesh will not like at all.

For this reason, we ought to pay close attention to God’s response to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:5-17). He knows all about Jeremiah’s struggles, and he certainly understands that he has asked Jeremiah to fulfill a thankless and painful task. Yet he also knows that it is important, since Jeremiah may be the last and only person in Judah willing to stick his neck out for the sake of giving God’s people another chance. While Jeremiah’s job is a rough one, he also has some great blessings to sustain him, for God is always with him. His listeners do indeed have the ability to harm him physically and emotionally, but nothing they do can pull him away from God.

Like Jeremiah, we have a task that is often thankless. Like him, we may see few if any tangible results from our most faithful acts of service and ministry. But like him, we must continue to do God’s will; we have no right and no reason to change God’s plans to make them more popular or more pleasant. And like Jeremiah, we have a hope and a power on our side that dwarfs any of the relatively minor forces that the world might array against us.

- Mark Garner, 2007

Belts, Wineskins, & Relationship With God

(Jeremiah 13:1 to Jeremiah 15:9)

Just as Jesus himself, many years later, would use parables about everyday objects to teach the gospel, so too in Jeremiah’s day God led the prophet to use not only images of familiar things, but even symbolic actions, as a way to communicate with his people. In the next few chapters, Jeremiah will use both kinds of teachings in order to warn God’s people of the disaster that awaits them if they do not quickly and sincerely return to God.

The prophet physically acts out the first of these illustrations (Jeremiah 13:1-11), as he buys a new linen belt, wears it briefly, and then buries it at God’s direction. When he digs it up some time later, it is understandably rotted and ruined. This visible sign was to dramatize the process of spiritual rotting that had brought God’s people to the point that they were of no use to their God, since they no longer cared at all for him. There is also a dual meaning, in that God now promises to bring the same ruination upon the pride and self-sufficiency of those who have decided that they did not need God.

A simpler figure of speech, using wineskins, leads into another warning of captivity (Jeremiah 13:12-27). Making use of the saying, ’every wineskin should be filled with wine’’ - a simple expression meaning that God wants to take care of his people - Jeremiah warns them that they have become complacent, and have taken God’s compassion and providence for granted. They may soon become filled with disorienting spiritual drunkenness, rather than with contented satisfaction. If God can provide for them, he can also take away from them. Indeed, he is about to take away even their very nation, unless they return to him.

They have not only taken God’s blessings for granted, but have also assumed that he will always take care of them no matter what they do or feel (Jeremiah 14:1 to Jeremiah 15:9). God thus uses graphic language to express the frustration, pain, and outright anger that he now feels towards a people who have ignored him and belittled his word for so long. Somewhere in their hearts, they do probably realize that something is wrong. But like so many who do not take God seriously, they assume that all they will need to do is to say a prayer or offer a sacrifice, and things will be fine.

God uses Jeremiah to warn them that this is not enough. The faithful prophet is even warned that he himself should not pray for them, for it will no longer do any good. They have hardened themselves so completely that only a true and sincere repentance, of their own will, can save them. Not even Moses or Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1) could now persuade God to withhold destruction.

The stark lessons in these chapters should cause us also to take note. A relationship with the Lord of the universe is nothing to take for granted. Up to a point, others can help us, by teaching, guiding, correcting, and encouraging. But each of us ultimately bears sole and complete responsibility for whatever kind of relationship we have - or do not have - with God. If it is weak, no one else can fix it for us; if it is strong, no one can take it away from us.

--Mark Garner, 2007

The Prophet’s Symbolic Life (Jeremiah 15:10 to Jeremiah 17:27)

One of the most striking aspects of the Jeremiah’s ministry is the way that Jeremiah himself had to endure so much anxiety and disruption in his personal life. This was not accidental, nor was it a punishment, nor did it mean that God did not love Jeremiah. Because Jeremiah lived in a time of such acute spiritual crisis, God had to use the prophet’s own life as a constant illustration and reminder for the people. Their hearts were so deadened to the truth that mere words were not enough to convey the important message that God had for them.

As Jeremiah came to grasp the magnitude of the spiritual decay around him, he struggled just as much as any of us would have (Jeremiah 15:10-21). For a thoughtful and sensitive person like Jeremiah, his situation is doubly painful. He truly does not want to see harm befall his people, even if they deserve it. Yet even as he warns them and pleads with them to change, they reject him and ridicule him. Given this dilemma, Jeremiah finds the one and only correct course. He simply continues to speak the truth of God, regardless of the consequences, knowing that God alone can save him, and that God alone can forgive sinners.

God warns the prophet that his life is going to be a convicting example to the people (Jeremiah 16:1-18). As part of the need to make the message unmistakably clear, God forbids Jeremiah to marry, to have children, to mourn the dead, or even to feast with others. Such basic parts of life come to us as gifts of God, and because the people had taken them for granted, Jeremiah himself had to live a life of sacrifice and deprivation in order to call this to their attention.

Jeremiah can only remind himself that his one true source of refuge and strength is God himself (Jeremiah 16:19 to Jeremiah 17:18). He has humbly accepted the knowledge of his own weakness, and he realizes that he cannot even trust his own heart (Jeremiah 17:9). This realization is essential for us as well, for without it we do not truly have faith in God. We too, like Jeremiah, will find this frightening, and yet it is the beginning of the development of complete reliance on God and trust in God.

God also has Jeremiah personally illustrate a teaching about the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:19-27). The prophet frequents the gates of the city, in order to approach the citizens as they engage in the daily comings and goings in their business and social lives. Like God’s other commands, the Sabbath had long since become meaningless to the people. They did not understand its purpose, and did not know how to observe it properly. Believers today likewise misunderstand the ’Sabbath rest’ (Hebrews 4:9) that we have found in Christ.

God’s Sabbath is not, and never was, about the presence or lack of physical activity in itself. Rather, it is about the awareness of our complete dependence on God for everything. No amount of striving, study, thinking, talking, or action can in itself accomplish anything of spiritual value. Neither money nor church buildings nor church programs nor hard work can, in themselves, accomplish anything that pleases God. But if we, like Jeremiah, are ready to forego all worldly privileges if that is what God calls us to do - that is what pleases God and glorifies God.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Spiritual Lessons From Pottery (Jeremiah 18:1 to Jeremiah 19:15)

These two chapters contain two of Jeremiah’s most well-known prophecies, linked by a common theme in the way that the prophet illustrates them. The making of clay pots was a familiar industry to Jeremiah’s original listeners, and even now these practical illustrations are quite easy to visualize and to understand. Just as a potter commands his clay and molds it according to his will, so too all of us are merely clay in the hands of our divine Creator.

When Jeremiah visits a potter at work, it illustrates an important principle about God’s plans (Jeremiah 18:1-17). As the prophet looks on, the potter goes about the familiar process of using his wheel to shape a vessel. As he does so, something goes wrong, and he finds it necessary to start over, re-shaping the pot to make it right this time. The simple but important lesson is that when God (who is infinitely wiser and more skilled than a human potter), sees his creations going down the wrong path, he is thoroughly entitled to re-shape them and to change his plans.

Jeremiah’s observation refutes the legalistic ways that humans often interpret God’s promises. He has every right to make his blessings conditional upon our faithfulness, and when he does so, his blessings still come to us by grace. The pot can never make itself; it can only submit to the potter’s will. Likewise, we can never earn anything from God, since we can never make him obligated to us. Therefore he can change his plans for us, based on our thoughts or behavior, without in any way infringing either on his grace or on our free will.

In response to this lesson, the people once more plot against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 18:18-23). They perceived the implications at once: that although they were God’s chosen people, and had received many promises from him, these promises were nevertheless conditioned on their continued faithfulness. This angered them, because they had come to think of God’s blessings as entitlements, not as gifts. As a result, hostility and opposition towards Jeremiah and his message continued to increase.

While hurt and discouraged, the faithful prophet nonetheless followed this with a related lesson (Jeremiah 19:1-15). Leaving the city via the Potsherd Gate, he went into the Valley of Hinnom (or Ben Hinnom), where the city’s refuse was dumped. This ’unclean’ place also served as a frequent site for sacrifices to idols. In this unattractive setting, Jeremiah smashed a clay jar to illustrate what would happen to the city if the people did not return in their hearts to God.

Like the people of God in Jeremiah’s time, many ’believers’ today want to pretend that God will never really judge or punish anyone. This harmful delusion has seduced many otherwise faithful, kind-hearted persons. As in Jeremiah’s time, there are many today who teach us that, once we have a relationship with God, we can never lose it. It is true, of course, that no third party can ever deprive us of our salvation, of God’s grace, or of our closeness with him. But we can, of our own will, stray from him if we do not honor his Word and will at all times.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Rejection By Men Vs. Rejection By God

(Jeremiah 20:1 to Jeremiah 21:14)

Jeremiah’s ministry was never popular, appreciated, or respected. In these two chapters, we see some of the conflict and unpopularity that he endured. These sufferings were not pointless or random, for they teach some important lessons. The faithful prophet was constantly rejected by other humans. But they, by their own actions, ran the far greater and more dangerous risk of rejection by God.

A priest named Pashhur was offended by Jeremiah’s teaching that Jerusalem and Judah faced punishment from God, so he seized the prophet and subjected him to beating and to public humiliation in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-6). By these authoritarian tactics, the brutish Pashhur hoped to silence a message that annoyed him. But Jeremiah refused to alter the truth; he not only reiterated that destruction and exile were coming, but also added that the faithless Pashhur would himself be taken prisoner by the Babylonians, so that all would see him to be a liar and a phony. Again and again, Jeremiah stood alone for the truth, and he never tampered with God’s message.

He also did this despite considerable inner agony (Jeremiah 20:7-18). As most of us would have, Jeremiah fell into despair because of the lack of positive results from his preaching. At times, he even wished that he had never been born. Yet he always knew with certainty that God had all true power and all true wisdom. Therefore, despite his current misery, Jeremiah remained completely loyal to God and completely true to the message God gave him to proclaim.

In a separate incident just before the fall of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon, Zedekiah (the last king of Judah) asked God, through Jeremiah, to rescue him and his kingdom (Jeremiah 21:1-14). After the nation’s many sins and its lack of penitence, and in spite of his own idolatrous behavior, Zedekiah still believed that God should perform a miraculous rescue for the king’s benefit.

The absurdity of this expectation is emphasized by his choice of the loutish Pashhur (see above) as his messenger to the faithful Jeremiah. The king’s idle hope in a last-second salvation was obviously unfounded, and yet he is little different from many today who think that they can indulge their selfish desires whenever they wish, and yet still expect God to rescue them from the problems that they themselves have caused.

Since the king asked only out of self-interest, without repentance, faith, or humility, Jeremiah answered him harshly. Just as Zedekiah and his people continued to reject God’s Word and will, so now God rejected Zedekiah’s plea for mercy. God does love mercy, and he frequently saves genuine believers from the very brink of disaster. In his compassion, he will even save faithless persons in the hope that they will turn and seek him. But to those who, like Zedekiah, view God only as a desperation last chance, God is by no means obligated to respond.

It is a painful thing to be rejected by other humans. But it is much worse to be rejected by God, as the consequences and implications are far graver. Fortunately, no one ever has to be rejected by both, and when God accepts us, we are accepted for an eternity of his favor and blessing.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Thirteen: Kings, Prophets, & The Righteous Branch

(Jeremiah 22 & 23)

During Jeremiah’s lifetime, God was forced to bring stern discipline upon his people, and thus Jeremiah’s message of hope found its fulfillment only in the future. He and most of his listeners had to endure the discipline without seeing its rewards, comforted only by knowing that the few faithful believers of their time were playing an invaluable part in God’s long-term plans. Even the kings and prophets of the day were foolish and ungodly, providing little or no spiritual leadership. But God promised better things to come.

Jeremiah began prophesying during the days of the godly King Josiah. But from Josiah’s death until the fall of Jerusalem, Judah had ineffective, unspiritual rulers, whose sins and folly Jeremiah criticizes harshly (Jeremiah 22:1-10). Josiah’s unworthy son Jehoahaz (or Shallum) loved luxury and dishonest gain (Jeremiah 22:11-17). He offended the Pharaoh of Egypt, who attacked and took Jehoahaz prisoner (2 Kings 23:31-34). His successor and brother Eliakim (or Jehoiakim) was a cruel, murderous king (Jeremiah 22:18-23) whose inept diplomacy led to his overthrow (2 Kings 23:36 to 2 Kings 24:7). Jehoiakim’s son Jehoiachin (or Coniah) was no better (Jeremiah 22:24-30, 2 Kings 24:8-14).

These three unworthy rulers, along with Jehoiachin’s uncle King Zedekiah (whom we met in Jeremiah 21), were responsible for much of the sin and spiritual sickness that characterized the last years of what was once a great kingdom. But these worthless persons, guilty as they were, formed only the last few sad links in a centuries-long chain of poor spiritual leadership. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah were constantly afflicted by kings and ’leaders’ whose thoughts were on power, authority, personal greatness, wealth, and other worldly and sinful things.

But Jeremiah foretold a day, then still far in the future, when a new and perfect kind of leader would replace these useless kings and the equally useless prophets (see below). The righteous Branch would change everything, by himself spanning the gulf between sinful, weak, mortal humans and the perfect, eternal God (Jeremiah 23:1-8). Human leaders are inherently flawed, weak, and perishable, sand thus no human will ever be an ideal spiritual leader. But the Branch, the Messiah, would be perfect, and he would carry out a perfect ministry.

The Christ (or Messiah) is called the Branch here and also in Scriptures such as Isaiah 4:2 and Isaiah 11:1. Figuratively, he is a Branch because Jesus was a shoot or descendant of the family of David, from the tribe of Judah. Literally and prophetically, the title of Branch refers to Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up, since the town’s name comes from the Hebrew word for ’branch’.

But in Jeremiah’s lifetime, even those considered prophets were unreliable, shamelessly teaching lies and delusions (Jeremiah 23:9-40). Jeremiah fearlessly proclaimed the truth, and was rejected and attacked. But when these false prophets told pleasant lies to the people, they were rewarded with popularity and gain. This is hardly different from the ways that humans respond to teachers in almost any era. Whether prophet, teacher, politician, or celebrity, the liar who tells others what they want to hear will always be popular. Meanwhile, the humble teachers of the truth will find support only amongst those who selflessly seek God on his own terms. This is what God wills, and this is what pleases him.

-- Mark Garner, 2007

Baskets Of Figs (Jeremiah 24)

When it became apparent that Jeremiah’s prophecies of doom and exile were beginning to come true, the people finally began to think about the future. The Babylonians invaded three different times, on each occasion taking groups of captives back to Babylon with them. Those who remained in Judah naturally felt that God had spared them for the task of rebuilding for the future - but Jeremiah used a visual illustration to indicate that this was not the case.

The lesson of the figs was proclaimed just after Jehoiachin (the third of King Josiah’s useless successors) was overthrown, and the second of three groups of captives were taken to Babylon (Jeremiah 24:1). By this time, it was becoming clear to all but the most stubborn hearts that God’s people were undergoing a time of increasingly harsh discipline. Even so, most of them retained false hopes, never accepting that only their own repentance and humility could turn things around.

To confront these false hopes, Jeremiah found two baskets of figs near the temple (Jeremiah 24:2-3). One basket contained perfect, appetizing figs, but the other basket held rotten, worthless figs, with each basket representing one group of God’s people. The obvious guess, and no doubt what most of Jeremiah’s listeners would have thought initially, would be that the ’good’ basket represented the Jews who remained in Jerusalem and in Judea, while the ’bad’ figs would be the unfortunate ones who were captured and forced to leave their homeland. But in fact the opposite is true.

The good figs, the desirable and useful ones, actually represent the exiles (Jeremiah 24:4-7). The exiles are the new beginning and the hope for the future. In a foreign land, they will be forced to reconsider their identity as God’s people. In a land full of false pagan idols, they will learn to recommit themselves to the true and living God. The problem with ancient Israel and Judah was never the outward, but the inward. In Babylon, God will give the exiles a chance to develop a new heart of humility, and a new spirit of dependence on God.

Meanwhile, those who were able to stay in Judea were really the parallel to the rotten, useless figs (Jeremiah 24:8-10). Judah’s last king, Zedekiah, was a ’rotten fig’ who cared only about his own power and his own self-interest. The people left with him were still complacent, and were still blind to their own sins. God did not offer them any hope, but only a continued warning of even worse things to come. They no longer served any purpose for the future.

It is human nature for even Christians to look with envy at those who are blessed by human standards. But earthly blessings do not correlate with faith, and they do not correlate with God’s approval. Those whom God wishes to use must be disciplined and humbled, so that they learn to rely on God and not on themselves. We ought therefore to see the misfortunes in our lives and the injustices that we suffer not as curses, but as things that God can and will use to make us grow spiritually, to his glory. That does not mean that these things won’t hurt, but it does mean that the pain will only be temporary, and the possible blessings lasting.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Seventy Years Of Captivity (Jeremiah 25 & 26)

God enabled Jeremiah both to understand his people’s present spiritual ills and also to foresee what would happen many years in the future. Yet this blessing was also a heavy responsibility for Jeremiah to carry. He was alone in seeking to know the full truth from God, and alone in his willingness to proclaim the truth despite unpopularity and threats. In this passage, Jeremiah details the precise length of the upcoming period of captivity, one of the most significant prophecies in his entire ministry. Yet for doing so he faced increased hostility and peril.

For years, God and his prophets had warned the people and pleaded with them, but they simply would not listen (Jeremiah 25:1-7). The time for teaching was over, and God had decided to use the Babylonians to conquer, capture, and discipline his people (Jeremiah 25:8-14). Jeremiah had said all this before, but in this passage he adds some crucial details. The exile to Babylon would be neither a final destruction nor a brief interruption. God had already determined a period of 70 years for the exile and the people’s spiritual healing. Moreover, he promised afterwards to punish the Babylonians themselves for all the harm that they might do to God’s people.

Historically, this seventy-year period began in 606 BC, with the first of three Babylonian raids and their capture of the first of the three groups of exiles. It ended in 536 BC, when Cyrus the Great of Persia (who had conquered Babylon in 538 BC) began allowing the Israelites to return to their homeland. These, as well as many other historical events in the interim, all took place under God’s control and as part of his plans.

The prophet thus called God’s people to drink the cup that God offered them (Jeremiah 25:15-38). It was a cup of wrath and woe for the present, but to resist would only bring worse things. The people’s own idolatry and lack of faithfulness had brought this situation about, and God in his great love was about to do the only thing that could heal them. An uncaring God could have allowed them to wallow in their sin and squalor, but a loving God had no alternative but to discipline them.

Few persons are willing to proclaim such a message, and Jeremiah’s faithfulness and compassion brought him not appreciation, but hostility and danger. When he proclaimed this message in the temple area (Jeremiah 26:1-6), he was arrested and threatened with death (Jeremiah 26:7-11). God enabled Jeremiah to answer the threat wisely and bravely, and a few relatively reasonable officials secured Jeremiah’s release (Jeremiah 26:12-19; Jeremiah 26:24). Even so, another brave and faithful prophet, named Uriah, was not as fortunate: he was hunted down and killed for teaching the truth (Jeremiah 26:20-23).

If we preach the truth about God and Jesus, the world will not always like it. They enjoy hearing talk of love and peace, but they are not willing to humble themselves before God in order to obtain these blessings. Thus many Christians are content to teach a false gospel in order to avoid conflict. God offers a desperate world the blessings it most needs: love, mercy, peace, security, and contentment. But the only way to obtain these is by humility, obedience to God, self-denial, and faithfulness. If we truly care about others, we must teach the world the whole truth.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Truth About The Future (Jeremiah 27 & 28)

God had long since realized that his people would have to be disciplined, exiled, and completely humbled, and over the course of many years he had made preparations for this discipline. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was in many respects a typical pagan ruler, brutal and power-hungry. Yet he also possessed some qualities that made him suitable for God’s purposes. In these two chapters of Jeremiah, the prophet explains this to the people, but once again he is faced with hostility, as a rival prophet seeks to contradict and discredit Jeremiah’s message.

God has Jeremiah carry out another symbolic action to demonstrate this message (Jeremiah 27:1-11). Jeremiah puts an actual yoke around his neck as he goes out to preach, as a way of demonstrating that God has placed his people (and also the surrounding nations) under the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon. This decision has now been made irrevocably, and as a result, those who resist Nebuchadnezzar will be rebelling against God’s own design. The few faithful of Judah are thus called to submit to the coming discipline.

This contradicted what numerous false prophets of the day were proclaiming (Jeremiah 27:12-22). These false prophets were simply telling the people what they wanted to hear, because national pride, personal pride, false hope, and self-centered attitudes had all combined to prevent the people from accepting the truth. Jeremiah thus becomes even more specific, detailing the coming end down to the specific objects that the Babylonians would seize from the temple.

Boldest among these false prophets was Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:1-17). This conscienceless people-pleaser impudently predicted that the whole problem with Babylon would be over within two years. In his arrogance and his craving for popularity, he even grabbed Jeremiah’s illustrative yoke and broke it, as a haughty imitation of Jeremiah’s own symbolic messages. God’s people are afflicted with this kind of phony in every generation. Often, they enjoy long periods of popularity, but in this case, God pronounced doom for Hananiah, and the false prophet died within a short time of his confrontation with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s own reaction to Hananiah provides an instructive and edifying example. He truly wishes that Hananiah’s words of false comfort were true, and admits as much. But to the faithful prophet, the truths of God are more important than either the will of the people or the desires of his own heart. He thus gently but unmistakably continues to teach the truth and the truth alone, even when it goes against his own feelings.

Jeremiah did not want to see Jerusalem destroyed, but he knew that it was going to happen. He cared too much for God’s people to tell them anything but the truth. To have agreed with Hananiah would have made him more popular, and might even have made him feel better, but it would have been spiritually damaging to those who sought the truth. Likewise, today there are many Christians who truly wish that no one would stand in danger of eternal condemnation. Too often, because of this desire, we decide that we have authority to contradict the sterner teachings in God’s word. But if we truly care about others, then we shall, like Jeremiah, stick to the truth.

--Mark Garner, 2007

The Plans I Have for You (Jeremiah 29)

God’s eternal love for his people did not change, even after many centuries of disobedience and idolatry. But because God’s love is a genuine love, not the kind of phony love that humans proclaim for one another, he had no choice but to discipline them for their good. In this chapter, God uses Jeremiah to explain to the exiles in Babylon the ways that God was going to use them to rebuild his people spiritually, and how he would eventually (after the seventy year period described in chapter 25) bring them back to rebuild Israel physically. Most of the exiles would not live to see this, but they could take heart in knowing God would use what had happened to them for a good purpose.

The exile to Babylon took place in three stages. After the second of three groups had been taken captive, Jeremiah wrote a letter of encouragement and instruction to those who had been captured (Jeremiah 29:1-23). The exiles naturally felt discouraged and hopeless, yet in fact they were the ones whom God planned to use to build for the future. Jeremiah knew this, yet he also knew that their present dismay would prevent them from understanding it.

The prophet thus begins with a simple exhortation for the exiles to live as normally as possible in their new surroundings. They needed to avoid looking back and to avoid indulging in false hopes of an early return. (Here is another reason why false prophets like Hananiah did such a disservice to God’s people.) Although they had to make new homes and build new communities, they could still experience the many simple joys of life. They could have new homes, they could plant new gardens, they could continue to marry and have children. The world had by no means come to an end.

Jeremiah reiterates that the exile would last for a period of 70 years. Once again, he has to dash the false hopes of those who may have listened to the false prophets. But Jeremiah truly cared about God’s people; he didn’t care or worry about being popular or liked. He knew that those exiles who accepted God’s will, even when it was contrary to their own desires, would be the ones who would make the best of their time in Babylon. On the other hand, those who refused to accept God’s stern teachings would, instead, live in continual anxiety and resentment, never able to move forward.

As much as we might dream of being able to be part of something grand and exciting, we never really know for certain what God desires to do with us. Our own desires often lead us to convince ourselves that God wants to do something specific with us, when in reality he has made no promises. Like the exiles, we must learn to accept our present situation for what it is, to be faithful and joyful regardless of external results or situations, and to be ready for whatever God wills: whether it is 70 years of patient rebuilding, or whether it is to be a part of something more immediate and tangible. Whatever God wills, we can be confident that it is worthwhile.

--Mark Garner, 2007

The Days Are Coming (Jeremiah 30 & 31)

As Jeremiah proclaimed his prophecies, the present and future both seemed dark for God’s people. Indeed, many of his original listeners would experience years of living in a foreign land. But extraordinary developments would take place in the more distant future. Not only would God rebuild the nation of Israel once his people had been spiritually healed, but he would also use the rebuilt nation to prepare for the coming of an entirely new covenant, a covenant that would bring their relationship with him onto a more intimate and fulfilling level.

Chapters 30 through 34 of Jeremiah are sometimes called ’the book of consolation’, or ’the book of hope’. In a book that predominately features messages of warning and doom, these chapters stand out for their strong and emphatic assurances of positive things to come. Yet even in making these promises, the prophet continues to point out the sacrifices and hardships that will be necessary for the promises to be fulfilled. God did not enjoy seeing his people struggle and suffer, but their own spiritual illness left him no alternative if he truly loved them.

Among Jeremiah’s many responsibilities was his duty to proclaim the future restoration of Israel (or Judah) as a nation (Jeremiah 30:1-11). No matter what would happen in the short term, no matter how many indignities and impositions they might suffer at the hands of unbelievers, the situation would not last. We, likewise, are exiles in a world that worships the present rather than God, and this situation can become quite painful and depressing. But it too will last only for a time.

God again emphasizes that the people’s sin, idolatry, and spiritual rebellion left him no choice but to do this (Jeremiah 30:12-24). Truly, their spiritual wounds and illnesses had become incurable by any other means. Like them, we often underestimate the severity of our spiritual needs and problems. Only the shedding of blood can forgive sin, and only through occasional discipline will we remain faithful.

But the joys and victories of the future will have to be prepared by the trials and sufferings of the present (Jeremiah 31:1-30). The people must first be purified in mind and heart, or else they will be of no use to God. In this passage, Jeremiah 31:15 is particularly significant in that Matthew also applies it to the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. Just as innocent children were slaughtered in Herod’s rage, yet Jesus was protected, so also in Jeremiah’s day some harmless and faithful persons would suffer for the sins of the rest of the nation. It is not God who willed this unpleasant reality - rather, our own sin inevitably harms others.

One of the greatest of God’s assurances through Jeremiah was the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-40). The writer of Hebrews quoted from this passage to demonstrate how Jeremiah’s promises were fulfilled through Jesus. Although Jeremiah and his listeners would never live to see the Messiah, they could still know, almost six hundred years before his coming, that they were playing a role in preparing the way for him. They also had God’s assurance of the kind of relationship that he wanted with his people: one of intimacy, understanding and compassion. This too is what he wants for us, but we too must be faithful and humble if we want to experience these greatest of God’s blessings.

--Mark Garner, 2007

The Certainty of God’s Promises (Jeremiah 32 & 33)

As the faithful Jeremiah continued to proclaim the message that God had given him, he himself was called upon to put his faith into practice. In the simple act of redeeming a field from a relative, Jeremiah demonstrates his confidence in God’s promises for the future. God himself also provides additional assurances, and he desires his people to live and to act in the certainty that his plans for them will be fulfilled at the proper time.

As Jeremiah is imprisoned for again arousing the hostility of the king (Jeremiah 32:1-5), God calls him to perform an act of faith, by redeeming a field from a relative (Jeremiah 32:6-15). In ancient Israel, this was a common part of life, for both God’s Law and Israelite customs provided for land to remain within one family indefinitely. Yet the circumstances here are different, because Jeremiah knows - and has been preaching publicly - that the Babylonians are about to conquer Jerusalem and Judah, and seize all of the land for themselves. In fact, the final siege had already begun (note verse 24).

So, from an earthly viewpoint, it made little sense for Jeremiah to buy the field; it looked as if he was throwing his money away. But he knew first of all that God has a reason for everything he calls us to do. And Jeremiah believed not only in the imminence of destruction by Babylon, but also in the certainty that God would restore the land someday. All of this is evident in Jeremiah’s heartfelt prayer (Jeremiah 32:16-25). In response, God assures his faithful prophet that the time will surely come when land is bought and sold again, and when other daily routines also resume in a spiritually cleansed Judah (Jeremiah 32:26-44).

God then speaks further through the imprisoned prophet, detailing what he will do and reiterating the certainty of his promises (Jeremiah 33:1-26). In particular, God confirms the promise of the righteous Branch (Jeremiah 33:14-16; mentioned earlier in Jeremiah 23:5-6) as the ultimate fulfillment of his relationship with his people. God also emphasizes the importance of his covenant and of his people’s faithfulness to it. For his part, God gas always been absolutely faithful to his own promises and to the covenants he has established.

Once more, we see how Jeremiah is called upon to be an example to a benighted and hardened populace. We too shall often be called upon to perform acts of faith that seem at the time not to have any purpose or to bring any hope. But like Jeremiah, we are but one small link in God’s plans. Jeremiah responded faithfully to God’s call, despite his imprisonment and his own message of doom.

In Christ Jesus, we have promises from God that are even more certain, since Jesus’ blood has brought cleansing for sins once for all. No longer is salvation deferred until a future generation, no longer do we have to use our weak human knowledge to guess what the Messiah might be like. We still shall, as did Jeremiah, be called upon to endure hardship in the name of God. But we have a deeper and even more certain assurance to draw upon whenever things are difficult.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Promises Broken, Promises Kept (Jeremah 34 & 35)

These two chapters form an interesting and important parallel with ’the book of hope’ in the previous four chapters. Jeremiah has demonstrated, by word and action, his own confidence in God’s promises. Indeed, one of the main aspects of his prophetic ministry is to remind us of the absolute faithfulness of God’s love for his people, and of the absolute certainty of his promises. Now, the prophet provides us with a contrast, in terms of the ways that humans act in regard to the promises that they themselves make.

The negative example comes from King Zedekiah and the ruling classes of Jerusalem (chapter 34). Despite Zedekiah’s personal unfaithfulness, God had promised the king that he would merely be captured, rather than killed, by the Babylonians when they took the city (Jeremiah 34:1-7).

Then Zedekiah arranges with the upper classes to issue a proclamation of freedom for all of the slaves in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:8-10; in ancient Israel, slavery usually occurred because of heavy indebtedness or other financially desperate situations). This was not necessarily an act of generosity, but of stinginess, for the Babylonian siege had made it much more expensive for slave owners to feed and house their slaves. The king and his allies then compound their sin by changing their minds and re-enslaving many of their brothers and sisters (Jeremiah 34:11), presumably when conditions started to look a little better.

Through the prophet, God sharply rebukes Zedekiah and the others, and indicates that this selfish, dishonest treatment of others will result in harsher punishment when the city falls (Jeremiah 34:12-22). Not only did they ignore God’s Word and treat his prophet with contempt, but they even ignored their own words. They were so faithless that they could not even remain faithful to their own promises, much less to God’s.

On the other hand, Jeremiah found a positive example in the family of the Recabites (chapter 35). Jeremiah first learned of these persons when God told him to invite the Recabite family to drink wine with him. In response, they explained that they never drank wine because of a promise made by their ancestor Jonadab. (Jonadab, or Jehonadab, is mentioned in 2 Kings 10:15 as a rare man of faith in another era when rampant idolatry was the norm.)

God is quick to point out the contrast between the Recabites and the rich of Jerusalem. Here is a group of common citizens who are living faithfully under a promise that they themselves did not even make. Even the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, and the probable loss of their entire way of life, are not enough to induce them to go back on the words they have lived by.

Regardless of the faithlessness that we see around us, God expects his people to honor both his Word and their own words. The worldly constantly make promises or commitments as a way of getting what they want, and then go back on their word when it is convenient to do so. As in Jeremiah’s day, this is especially common among the wealthy, the powerful, and the influential. If the worldly consider us foolish or unsophisticated for living by the truth, so be it. That is a small price to pay for the spiritual rewards that God promises to the faithful.

  • ·    Mark Garner, 2007

The King, The Prophet, & The Word Of God

(Jeremiah 36)

We have seen numerous examples of the opposition and anger that Jeremiah’s ministry aroused. The prophet himself faced many threats and dangers. Yet, as this chapter illustrates, the deepest opposition and hatred were directed not at the prophet personally, but at the actual Word of God.

The next several chapters (Jeremiah 36 through 45) parallel the nation’s final decline with some of the hardships that the faithful Jeremiah faced for his devotion to the truth. Jesus himself said that no servant is greater than his master, and Jeremiah is treated with brutality and scorn because of his faith. If he had been faithless, he could have been popular, but like true believers in any era, he valued his relationship with God more than his relationships with the worldly.

This first incident occurred only a few years after the death of the reformer king Josiah. With Josiah’s faithless son Jehoiakim now on the throne, God instructs Jeremiah to write a complete account of all that he had taught up to that time (Jeremiah 36:1-3). With the aid of his scribe Baruch, Jeremiah prepares a scroll with the words that God had spoken though him (Jeremiah 36:4-7). Baruch then goes to the temple and reads aloud God’s warnings and exhortations, in the hope that this will lead to a time of repentance Jeremiah 36:8-10).

The temple officials are disturbed, but they do not know what to do (Jeremiah 36:11-19). Guessing that the message came from the unpopular Jeremiah, they decide to tell the king, and they warn Baruch that he and the prophet should hide. Indeed, the king’s reaction is anything but godly.

The king’s response to the Word of God is as cold, ignorant, and prideful as any such example in Scripture (Jeremiah 36:20-26). As the king listens to his attendant read Jeremiah’s scroll, from time to time he literally cuts off a portion of the scroll and burns it. No amount of warning from onlookers can dissuade him from this act of pride and faithlessness. The king’s behavior reveals his contempt for God more clearly than any sensual indulgence or frightened rationalizations would have done. He also orders the arrests of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they have already heeded God’s warning and have hidden themselves.

The king’s attitude of rebellion accomplishes nothing of substance. God simply commands Jeremiah to write another scroll, which the prophet obediently does at once (Jeremiah 36:27-32). This time, though, more words are added - words of judgment upon Jehoiakim. Nor were these the only additions, for Jeremiah would go on to add many additional inspired messages in the years to come.

The arrogant Jehoiakim merely expressed openly what many feel in their hearts. Who has not at one time wished that he or she could view as inspired only the pleasant passages of Scripture, only those that agree with our own sentiments and opinions? But, as God taught Jehoiakim, denial or argument does not make Scripture go away. God’s Word will often thrill us, will often inspire us, and will often cheer us. But it also will often challenge our pride, our personal beliefs, and our lifestyles. God always speaks for our good, regardless of our response. Let us not be like Jehoiakim, who thought that he could censor God’s Words. Let us be like Jeremiah and Baruch, who honored and respected every Word that came from the mouth of God.

- Mark Garner, 2007

Under Siege (Jeremiah 37 & 38)

Despite the denials and the resistance of God’s people, the time finally came for the Babylonians to close in for the final siege of Jerusalem. Even during the final days of the kingdom of Judah, the persecution of Jeremiah continues, and there is a convicting parallel in these chapters. As the Babylonian attack gradually overwhelms Jerusalem, the realization gradually overwhelms King Zedekiah and the unfaithful residents of Judah. Yet they cannot admit their sin and their fault. Thus, the more desperate that their own situation becomes, the more they take out their fears and anger on the devoted Jeremiah.

These two chapters detail a tense sequence of events that illustrates these points. As Jerusalem’s end came nearer, King Zedekiah became even weaker and even less capable of making good decisions. Jeremiah, for his part, remained firm in the truths that God had taught him. The contrast between the king and the prophet is illustrative of the differences to be found in any era between those who seek their treasure in this world, and those who rely on God.

After consistently ignoring Jeremiah’s message, Zedekiah suddenly asks Jeremiah to pray for the country (Jeremiah 37:1-5). At the time, the Egyptians had decided to stage a show of force in the hope of inducing the Babylonians to leave the region. If this had worked, then it would have had the secondary effect of saving Judah for the time being. Unable to put their faith in God, Zedekiah and his associates now hoped that Pharaoh’s army would be their salvation.

Once more, Jeremiah has to destroy their illusions (Jeremiah 37:6-10). Since the people had not changed, there was no reason to think that God would even consider calling off the destruction of Jerusalem. But Zedekiah’s misplaced hope is all too typical. It is always easier to put our faith in the things of this world. Material things, human leaders, earthly achievements, and the like are all more visible than God, and they may offer immediate results. But they cannot deal with the root problems in human hearts, and they certainly cannot enable our sins to be forgiven.

After this incident, Jeremiah is accused of treason and is thrown into prison (Jeremiah 37:11-16). Amazingly, Zedekiah thinks that this will improve his chances of survival (Jeremiah 37:17-21), and Jeremiah again reproves him for his completely misguided perspective. Things get even worse for Jeremiah when some other officials take offense at his teachings, and persuade the weak-willed king to allow them to throw Jeremiah into a cistern (Jeremiah 38:1-6). Only the compassionate intervention of a foreign official, Ebed-Melech the Cushite (that is, an Ethiopian) saves Jeremiah from a particularly unpleasant death.

Incredibly, Zedekiah still thinks that he can bargain with Jeremiah in order to save his kingdom (Jeremiah 38:13-28). When he finally realizes that Jeremiah is not going to change his message, the king decides to shield Jeremiah from further violence, but he continues to keep the prophet in prison. Zedekiah never did benefit from having a great prophet like Jeremiah eager to teach him the truth. He never took advantage of God’s warnings or of God’s merciful nature. To the very end, he remained concerned only with his own desires and reputation. Jeremiah, on the other hand, persevered at all times, and put his faith completely in God’s promises for the future.

- Mark Garner, 2007

No More Illusions (Jeremiah 39)

Judah’s final fall and destruction had been unavoidable for a long time, yet King Zedekiah and other unfaithful Jews never accepted this fact until it actually happened. We can never prevent unpleasant events simply by wishing they would not happen, nor can we prevent them by pretending that God is too kind and loving to allow any harm to befall us. This chapter tersely describes the fall of the city, the gruesome fate of Zedekiah, and the new circumstances in which Jeremiah finds himself afterwards.

The inevitable finally happened in 586 BC, as the Babylonian army broke through the city walls of Jerusalem and took the city (Jeremiah 39:1-4). Instead of trying to protect the helpless residents of the town, the king and his ’loyal’ soldiers slipped out during the night and headed out into the countryside, hoping to save themselves. How typical this is of self-important human rulers and ’leaders’, who so often reveal their real priorities in times of crisis.

But neither Zedekiah nor the city can escape the inevitable (Jeremiah 39:5-10). The Babylonians chase down Zedekiah, kill his sons in front of him, and then blind him. What is left of Zedekiah is shackled like a criminal and forced to march to Babylon. Regardless of Zedekiah’s crimes, it is sad to see him suffer such barbarous and brutal treatment. But, on the other hand, he would have been spared such a ghastly end if he had listened to Jeremiah and submitted much earlier to God’s discipline. His own pride made his end much more painful.

The Babylonian soldiers also ravage the city, destroying the walls and prominent buildings. They carry off as captives most of the people, yet they show some consideration for the poor, leaving them behind and allowing them to use vacated fields and vineyards.

In contrast to the king, Jeremiah is kept safe from the general slaughter and destruction (Jeremiah 39:11-18). A direct command to ensure the prophet’s safety had come down from no less than the Babylonian king himself. God also promised safety for Ebed-Melech, the Cushite (Ethiopian) official who had rescued Jeremiah earlier (see Jeremiah 38:6-13).

Faithful and righteous persons like Jeremiah and Ebed-Melech will often still find themselves caught up in the horrors that human sin causes in this world. They deserve better, yet they suffer because of others’ sins. Yet, while prideful unbelievers like Zedekiah will have to drink the bitter cup of woe to the bottom, God cares for the faithful and watches over them.

This does not mean that we shall never suffer. Joshua and Caleb endured 40 years of wandering because of the unbelief of others, faithful prophets like Jeremiah and Habakkuk agonized over Jerusalem’s fall, and we too must experience what sin does to this world. But God never abandons us, and he is always with us regardless of what the world does. Even when our bodies are in danger, we can be certain that our souls and spirits are always safe in God’s keeping.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Responses To The Fall Of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1 to Jeremiah 41:15)

The fall of Jerusalem, inevitable as it was, caught most of God’s people by surprise. The false prophets, along with the people’s own false hopes, kept them from being psychologically prepared for the enormous shock that awaited them. Thus the final conquest by the Babylonians provoked a wide variety of responses from those who remained in the land, as they saw the city destroyed and many of their brothers and sisters taken into captivity.

Jeremiah himself simply has to make a choice as to where he might best serve God (Jeremiah 40:1-6). God made sure that the Babylonians would treat him with considerable kindness, and he could have gone to Babylon as a welcome guest, not as a captive like the others. But Jeremiah decides to stay behind, and he makes his way to Mizpah, where the Babylonians were establishing a new center of administration for the conquered territory.

Jeremiah understood that his ministry was here in his homeland. Now that all of his prophecies had come true, the main part of his work was finished. Other, younger prophets, such as Ezekiel and Daniel, would take up the job of proclaiming God’s Word amongst the exiles. These prophets would guide the people as they established a fresh start. Yet God still had a few things for Jeremiah to do, and they would take place in the now-devastated land where he had been teaching for so many years.

Sadly, there would soon be more turmoil in Judah (Jeremiah 40:7 to Jeremiah 41:10). The new governor, Gedaliah, was ready to follow Jeremiah’s long-ignored advice to live in peace under the Babylonians. But just as he was getting underway, he fell victim to a plot instigated by the neighboring Ammonites, an old enemy of the Jews. Although the governor was warned in time, he did not take the warning seriously enough.

Thus a power-hungry, violent individual named Ishmael assassinated the governor and began a widespread slaughter of both Jews and Babylonians, throwing the land into terror and chaos once again. Only quick action by Johanan, a loyal associate of the late governor (who had tried earlier to warn Gedaliah), was able to stop Ishmael from still further acts of bloodshed (Jeremiah 41:11-15). Yet now the frightened, demoralized survivors faced likely reprisals from the Babylonians.

The aftermath of a disaster often brings out what a person is really like. Here we see a wide range of personalities and responses. Jeremiah faithfully readies himself for further ministry, while Johanan also behaved commendably, to the best of his abilities. The administration-minded Gedaliah had good plans, but he was not alert to new dangers, and foolishly ignored an important warning. Meanwhile, the cold-hearted king of the Ammonites, the vile traitor Ishmael, and their henchmen could think only of how they would exploit the miseries of others.

Such a wide-ranging variety of responses can often be seen in any era. Living in a sin-filled, temporary world will test our hearts and our characters again and again. Trials and misfortunes will reveal what is inside us. Sometimes we may find a measure of faith that we didn’t realize we had, while at other times we may be dismayed or frightened at our reactions. Yet in all cases, we should above all entrust ourselves to God, live as he calls us to live, and learn whatever lessons he has for us.

--Mark Garner, 2007

False Hopes Persist (Jeremiah 41:16-18)

We begin now to see why God planned to rebuild his people through the exiles, rather than using those who remained in Judah after the Babylonian conquest. Even after all that has happened, even after mocking and persecuting Jeremiah only to see everything he said come true, even after the tumultuous events subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem, they still have not learned much, and they have definitely not humbled themselves. They still refuse to heed what God tells them to do, and as a result they simply create new problems for themselves.

The land had experienced new turmoil when Gedaliah the governor was assassinated, in an uprising in which many other Jews and Babylonians died. Johanan, an officer loyal to the governor, had rallied others and defeated the killers, but he was now filled with fear over possible repercussions from the Babylonians (Jeremiah 41:16-18). Johanan thought that it might be best for everyone to flee to Egypt, where they would not be blamed for the governor’s death.

Having finally realized that the prophet Jeremiah would give them the full truth from God, Johanan and the others ask Jeremiah to tell them what God wanted them to do (Jeremiah 42:1-6). They ask this in apparent sincerity, even making a special vow to follow whatever advice the prophet gives them. This seems promising, but when Jeremiah returns with a message from God telling them to stay in Judah, and not to flee to Egypt (Jeremiah 42:7-22), Johanan and his associates suddenly turn against Jeremiah (Jeremiah 43:1-3), accusing him of lying.

It is always easy for us to promise that we will do whatever God calls us to do. But it is another matter entirely for us actually to submit to his will when it is not what we wish to do. Johanan responded to the initial crisis with diligence and a solid sense of responsibility, but now he too reveals a sad and sinful side of his character. He leads a large group of people in deliberate disobedience to God, taking them to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:4-7), and he even forces the unfortunate Jeremiah to come with them. Through the prophet, God warns them of the discipline and punishment that awaits them in the future, yet this does not persuade them either (Jeremiah 43:8 to Jeremiah 44:30).

All this takes place even after they have seen the drastic and undeniable consequences of ignoring God’s Word. Yet in some respects they are little different from us. God has constantly reminded us, through the Scriptures and through experience, that we should distrust and disregard the world, its leaders, and its values; yet we persistently find ourselves more passionate about the world’s affairs than about God’s. God emphatically warns us against sin, and yet we flirt with it just as the world does.

Most of all, it is sad to see these persons have such close contact with a completely faithful, fearless prophet like Jeremiah, and yet learn so little from him. We have even more complete access to the very Words of God. Will we then disregard them as Johanan did, or will we respect and follow them as Jeremiah did, regardless of the consequences?

--Mark Garner, 2007

Week Twenty-Six: Message To A Faithful Helper

(Jeremiah 45)

Although this chapter is added almost as a postscript to fall of Jerusalem, it actually recalls discussions of earlier years, at a time when Judah was just entering its final stages of decline. At that time, God spoke personally to Jeremiah’s faithful helper Baruch, foretelling his own role in coming events, and indicating to him what his personal expectations ought to be in the days to come.

Baruch was one of the few persons who trusted and respected Jeremiah, and who supported the prophet in his ministry. At times, Baruch was the only one who stood with Jeremiah and with God in the face of an unbelieving nation. It was through Baruch that Jeremiah redeemed a relation’s property, as a gesture of faith in the future (Jeremiah 32:12-16). Baruch diligently recorded the messages that God spoke through Jeremiah, and with Jeremiah he risked the king’s wrath to proclaim these words (Jeremiah 36:1-19; Jeremiah 36:27-32). In the final crisis, when the people once more rejected God’s Word and fled to Egypt, it was again Baruch who stood with Jeremiah and shared in his unpopularity (Jeremiah 43:1-7).

Having participated in so many tumultuous events, it is no wonder that Baruch, like Jeremiah himself, had times when he wondered whether God was looking after him, and when he questioned the wisdom of what he and Jeremiah were doing (Jeremiah 45:1-3). Unlike Jeremiah, whose lengthy expressions of despair and unhappiness are recorded earlier in the book, Baruch seems to have kept most of his thoughts to himself. Thus, in these verses, God anticipates Baruch’s feelings and brings them out into the open, in order to answer them.

In doing so, God is by no means rebuking Baruch or trying to make him feel bad. God simply realizes that such doubts and questions are best addressed directly, without hiding them or pretending that they are not there. No doubt Baruch did not want to give Jeremiah more discouragement than he already had to face. Yet both God and Jeremiah want him to express his struggles openly, so that Baruch can clear his mind for the times still to come.

As it happens, God can only warn Baruch of the bleak future that lies ahead for him and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 45:4-5). Baruch, like Jeremiah, lived in an age when God found it necessary to uproot the nation that he himself had planted. God could not defer the discipline that was necessary for the nation, even though it meant that faithful servants like Jeremiah and Baruch would have to suffer as well. The only honest assurance that God can give Baruch is that God will be watching over him and protecting his life. Baruch, as one of the very few genuine believers whom God can count upon, will simply have to focus on his ministry at all costs.

We too, like these two trustworthy ministers of the Word, live in a time and place in which hardly anyone seeks the true, living God. Our society is littered with blasphemous distortions of Christianity, and even in our own fellowship the focus is too often on trivial matters or on personal agendas. In such an environment, we must not be concerned about seeking popularity or worldly results. Faithfulness to the truth is important above all things.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Messages to the Nations (Jeremiah 46-51)

Besides Jeremiah’s preaching and teaching to God’s own people, God gave him a few messages for the surrounding nations. These are collected here, at the end of the main part of the book. Though to some degree independent of Jeremiah’s main message, they also provide an important part of the overall picture. God disciplined his people severely, but only to heal them and prepare them for the future. When he disciplined and punished nations of unbelievers, though, these nations sometimes vanished forever, with no chance of recovery or restoration.

Jeremiah speaks first to Egypt (Jeremiah 46) . This ancient nation frequently played a part in the history of God’s people, yet more often than not is was a dishonorable role. Often powerful and successful, proud of their past, secure in their strategic location, the ancient Egyptians loved to be a part of international affairs. They used the Israelites, just as they used their other neighbors, in whatever fashion was to their own advantage. God would use the Babylonians to bring them low, yet he holds Egypt in some regard, and promises that Egypt, unlike most of the other nations Jeremiah addresses, will survive (Jeremiah 46:26). And so it does, even today.

The Philistines (chapter 47) had long been a source of woe to Israel; Moab (chapter 48) was perpetually prideful and complacent; Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6) was greedy and idolatrous; and Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22) was filled with prideful, vengeful hate against Israel, its brother nation. Given the blunt denunciations of these nations’ sins and the vivid portrayals of their destruction, it is no surprise that these nations have long since disappeared, lost and unlamented in the dust of history. Likewise, of the series of smaller towns and regions that Jeremiah speaks to next (Jeremiah 49:23-39), only Damascus still remains.

Jeremiah’s most lengthy and detailed message is to Babylon (chapters 50-51). Babylon’s strength made it useful to God as an instrument of discipline, and while Nebuchadnezzar was king, he showed at times a sincere interest in learning about the living God. But otherwise the Babylonians were idolatrous and violent, profiting from the destruction and oppression of other, smaller nations. Their own success, self-indulgence, and violence would eventually lead to their downfall. Within only a few decades, the Persians would crush Babylon, and the once-great nation would never rise again.

The history of the world is filled with example upon example of nations that have come and gone, that have enjoyed power and supremacy for a time only to collapse and disappear soon afterwards. In these chapters of Jeremiah, we are reminded of once-proud nations whose affairs were thought to be of vital importance to the rest of the world. As believers in the living, eternal God, and as seekers of his heavenly kingdom, we should learn from history not to allow ourselves to become pre- occupied with the affairs of this world’s weak rulers and flimsy nations. What seems important to the world is usually trivial, while the kingdom of God will last forever.

--Mark Garner, 2007

Historical Summary & Postscript (Jeremiah 52)

Jeremiah closes with a detailed summary of the fall of Jerusalem, which he had so often foretold. He also adds a final postscript, as a subtle way of re-emphasizing God’s promises for the future. Jeremiah thus leaves us with a reminder of the comprehensive nature of God’s plans and God’s character. God is not one-dimensional: he does not always bless, nor is he always angry. When we need discipline, he will discipline; when we need compassion, he will show compassion.

Jeremiah gives a review of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC that parallels the accounts in Kings, Chronicles, and earlier chapters of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 52:1-16; see also 2 Kings 24:18 to 2 Kings 25:21, 2 Chronicles 36:11-20, and Jeremiah 39:1-10). These familiar events are described repeatedly in the Scriptures, as a way of exhorting us to take careful notice of the lessons they hold.

The fall of once-great Jerusalem, the enslavement of its people, and the gruesome fate of Zedekiah and so many others, were the culmination of a long period of spiritual hardness and indifference. God will bear with our sins and weaknesses as long as possible, but he loves us too much to allow them to go uncorrected forever. If we ignore his repeated urgings and cautions, his compels him to discipline us, painfully if necessary, in hope that we will come back to him.

As an eyewitness who foresaw the city’s end and who also lived through these turbulent times, Jeremiah records considerable extra detail about the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and Judah (Jeremiah 52:17-30). The prophet places particular emphasis on the destruction of the temple, the looting of its valuable contents, and the execution of its officials. God permitted the brutish, unclean Babylonian soldiers to enter places once considered sacred and heavily restricted. Items once used with great care and reverence were now seized and roughly handled by pagans with no idea of their spiritual significance.

In allowing this, God illustrated on a physical level what the nation itself had long ago done on a spiritual level. The temple, its implements, and its ceremonies were meant to be a constant reminder of God’s presence among his people. But by their lazy and self-indulgent attitude towards the things of God, they had long ago shown that they considered God’s presence to have no real importance in their lives. This now simply takes place on a literal level, as the items that represent God’s presence are removed, once for all, from the city that had rejected God himself.

Yet the book has a postscript, which is also appended to the end of 2 Kings (Jeremiah 52:31-34). Judah’s next-to-last king, Jehoiachin, was taken prisoner to Babylon 11 years before the city fell. We now learn that, another 26 years after the Babylonian conquest, Babylon’s king shows Jehoiachin special favor, releasing him from and treating him as an honored guest. Jehoiachin had been a weak, foolish, and sinful king, like most of the rest. But he now receives a lavish portion of grace, just as God’s people would also later be given an underserved chance to start over again.

When God disciplines his people, it is only to provide hope for the future. He is always ready to grant us a fresh start, a second chance, a renewed hope. Like Jehoiachin, we can never earn God’s forgiveness or his mercy. We can, and should, merely accept them humbly and gratefully.

--Mark Garner, 2007

PART ONE

SIN UNMASKED

Jeremiah 1-12

The first major unit in the book begins and ends with a dialogue with deity. In the first conversation with Yahweh Jeremiah complains about the prospect of ministry; in the second he complains about the persecution within his ministry. Between these two bookends of the Jeremiah library are seven messages. None of these messages is given specific dating (but cf. Jeremiah 3:6); none is addressed to specific individuals. These messages are put together in a chiastic arrangement that highlights the temple sermon in ch 7. The major theme in these chs is that of Judah’s sin; the minor themes are coming judgment and the need for repentance.

SECTION ONE

CALL OF THE PROPHET

Jeremiah 1:1-19

The prophets of Israel were launched upon their prophetic careers by a definite call. Amos, the herdsman from Tekoa, declared that God took him from following the flock and inducted him into the prophetic ministry (Amos 7:14-15). He felt a divine compulsion to preach (Amos 3:8). Isaiah, the aristocrat, saw a vision of divine glory and heard the voice of his God calling for a messenger. Isaiah knew that the call was meant for him. He volunteered: Here am I! Send me! (Isaiah 6). Ezekiel saw the dazzling and mysterious throne-chariot of God. From this experience he came to realize that he was to preach the word of God (Ezekiel 2:8 ff.).

An essential mark of a true prophet and “a primary element in the prophetic consciousness"1 was the assurance of a divine call. “Logically and chronologically the prophet’s career begins with a call.”2 It is therefore most appropriate that the account of the call of Jeremiah stands first in the book.

Section One has five distinct units. The first four are introduced by the phrase the word of Yahweh came (Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13); the last is indicated by a direct commission to the prophet (Jeremiah 1:17-19).

PREFACE

Jeremiah 1:1-3

A great deal of information is packed into the brief preface with which the Book of Jeremiah opens. These vv contain literary, personal, theological and chronological data relating to Jeremiah’s ministry.

Literary Information (Jeremiah 1:1 a): The words of Jeremiah… The preface opens with the formal title of the book: The Words of Jeremiah. Usually prophecies are entitled the word of Yahweh. Here the term words (debarim) is broad enough to include both the prophecies and the events of Jeremiah’s life. The more usual expression follows in v 2. The biographical narrative notwithstanding, words is an appropriate title because the emphasis throughout is on the preaching of Jeremiah. He was first and foremost a preacher of the word.

Personal Information (Jeremiah 1:1 b): Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, from the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin… Concerning Jeremiah personally the preface relates that (1) he was of the family of Hilkiah; and (2) he was a priest before he was a prophet; and (3) that he lived in the priestly town of Anathoth. As a priest—possibly the son of the high priest—the prospect before him was that of a quiet and probably uneventful life teaching the torah of God in his hometown and serving periodically at the temple in Jerusalem. God, however, had other plans for this timid young priest. From the obscurity of priestly service Jeremiah was catapulted by the call of God into a position of national and even international responsibility.

Theological Information (Jeremiah 1:2 a): to whom the word of Yahweh came… The main function of the preface is to sound forth the note that Jeremiah had received divine revelation. The phrase to whom the word of Yahweh came describes that mysterious process by which the prophet of God received divine revelation. This expression occurs some twenty times in the Book of Jeremiah.

Many attempts have been made to explain how God spoke to the prophets. Did the revelation come to the prophet while in a state of mental unconsciousness and inactivity? Or did prophets receive their oracles while in complete possession of their rational consciousness? It is interesting to notice that the NT is silent as to the manner in which God spoke to the prophets. Peter declared: Men spoke from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). To go beyond this simple statement is to become involved in useless speculation.

Chronological Information (Jer 1:2-3): The preface is full of valuable chronological information. Three kings are named: Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin, both of whom reigned only a matter of months, are omitted.

Beginning of his ministry (Jeremiah 1:2 b): in the days of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. The year of Jeremiah’s call5 is pinpointed as the thirteenth year of King Josiah. This was one year after Josiah began to purge Jerusalem and five years before the discovery of the lost law book.

Conclusion of his ministry (Jeremiah 1:3): Also it came in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah, king of Judah, until Jerusalem was carried away captive in the fifth month. The preface seems to imply that the ministry of Jeremiah terminated with the fall of Jerusalem in the eleventh year of Zedekiah. The problem is that Jeremiah continued to perform his prophetic duties for some time (possibly years) after the destruction of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 41-44). Probably the preface simply means that the active or official ministry of Jeremiah closed with the destruction of Jerusalem. A minister today who has officially retired and terminated his active ministry might still preach occasionally. Here, then, in Jeremiah’s ministry was a service for God of more than forty years.

The exile to Babylon occurred in the fifth month (Ab) of Zedekiah eleventh year (2 Kings 25:4-10). On the tenth day of that month the Babylonians burned the city. On the modern calendar the date was August 3, 586 BC. Apparently for Jeremiah this date marked the beginning of the captivity.

Jerusalem carried away captive is the theme of the book. In the concluding paragraphs of the final ch the same Hebrew word is used three times (Jeremiah 52:27-28; Jeremiah 52:30). So the entire book is bracketed between allusions to the captivity. Jeremiah warned of the exile, explained its significance, stipulated its duration, and announced Yahweh’s plans for the rebuilding of the nation following the exile. By the last ch of the book the threatened exile is a reality.

CALL OF THE PROPHET

Jeremiah 1:4-10

The call of Jeremiah is disappointing to those who love the spectacular. The account of how Jeremiah became a prophet of God is marked by stark simplicity. He was not privileged to see the grandeur of the heavenly throne room and hear the majestic praises of celestial beings as was Isaiah. Nor was he granted a vision of the throne-chariot of God with its intriguing wheels within wheels as was Ezekiel. The call of Jeremiah seems to have occurred on an ordinary day and in an ordinary place.

Jeremiah’s call is presented in the form of a dialogue between the Lord and his prospective prophet.

The change from the third person used in the preface to the first person in Jeremiah 1:4 is striking and indicates that the following verses are autobiographical. The preface probably was prefixed to the book by Baruch, the faithful secretary of Jeremiah. The account of the prophetic call, however, was either written (or dictated) by the prophet himself.

Time and Manner of the Call (Jeremiah 1:4): Then the word of Yahweh came unto me saying…Then refers back to v 2, the thirteenth year of Josiah. Thus Jeremiah 1:4 indicates that, from the human standpoint, the call and appointment of Jeremiah occurred in 627 BC. Some see in this verse a visionary experience. The prophet, however, does not say that he saw the Lord; rather he simply says, the word of Yahweh came6 unto me. Did he hear the word of God within his mind or with his ears? The question can never be answered.

What is more important is that the call was a genuine experience on the part of Jeremiah, and not something that he conjured up in his imagination. God, not Jeremiah, took the initiative in the call. Amid the tumult and clamor of four decades, Jeremiah never wavered in the claim that God had called him. One may open the book at random and find the same claim repeated time and again with only slight variation: The word of the Lord came unto me. Of the 359 occurrences of this phrase in the OT, 157 are in the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called upon again and again to suffer for that claim. No one in his right mind would endure what this man endured unless he knew that God had spoken.

Divine Summons (Jeremiah 1:5): Jeremiah needed to know at the outset the identity of the One who was commissioning him. In the four verbs of Jeremiah 1:5formed, knew, set-apart, appointed—the Lord Lidentified himself as the rightful sovereign of Jeremiah’s life. Each of these verbs is rich in theological overtones. Here in turn are the concepts of creation, election, consecration and installation.

Creation (Jeremiah 1:5 a): Before I formed you in the belly… The birth of Jeremiah was no accident. God takes credit for forming him in the belly of his mother. The verb formed is used as in Genesis 2:7 where God formed man from the dust of the earth. God’s creative activity is like that of a potter whose handiwork reveals his design (see Jeremiah 18:1-4). The fact that God formed Jeremiah in the womb of his mother does not mean that his birth was supernatural like that of Jesus. Rather the thought is that God needed a prophet and so providentially planned that one should be born who could fulfill such a ministry. The implication is that God gave the child the character, the temperament, the gifts, and the talents that would qualify him for the office of a prophet.

A similar concept appears in one of the grand Servant poems of Isaiah. The Servant, none other than the Messiah himself, declares to the nations: Yahweh called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he has mentioned my name (Isaiah 49:1 b). The Psalmist David declared much the same thing when he wrote: My unformed substance your eyes saw; in your book all of them were written, even the days that were ordained when as yet there was none of them (Psalms 139:16). John the Baptist was to be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15); Paul declared that God had separated him from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15).

At first glance, Jeremiah 1:5 seems to involve an almost mechanical notion of predestination. But this cannot be what is meant, otherwise the whole dialogue between God and the prophet would have no point. Jeremiah is being told that God has had his eye upon him for a long time―even before he was born—when he was still just a thought in the mind of God.

The distinction must be drawn between personal predestination and professional predestination The concept of professional predestination also appears in literature outside Israel. Ashurbanipal in the opening of his annals declares that the gods made him to rule Assyria while he was still in the body of his mother. It is the latter that is involved in this passage. The predestination here has nothing to do with eternal salvation. Professional predestination is illustrated by the case of Samson in the Book of Judges. Prior to Samson’s birth specific instructions were given as to how this lad should be reared. Definite predictions were made as to what this lad would accomplish (Judges 13:2-5). This was professional predestination. Samson was the right man, at the right time and the right place in the plan of God. So it was with Jeremiah. Even before his birth, God had been directing affairs in such a way as to make this man uniquely qualified to perform the work to which he was now being called.

Election (Jeremiah 1:5 b): I knew you... The verb to know involves intellectual knowledge. In the case of Jeremiah, this would be foreknowledge. Since the future is always the present to the Omniscient One, God knew the fact that Jeremiah would be born. The Hebrew verb is not limited to mere intellectual knowledge; it embraces also intimate knowledge. This is the word that is used of the most intimate of all human experiences, the relationship between husband and wife. Thus God did not merely know about Jeremiah; He knew—intimately knew—Jeremiah himself. God knew his strong points and his weaknesses, his abilities, his deficiencies and his potentialities. It was as though God had met him and fellowshipped with him for long years before he was ever born.

The Hebrew verb to know also involves selective knowledge. Through Amos the prophet God said to Israel, You only have I known of all the families of the earth (Amos 3:2). The verb to know is part of the terminology of election (See Genesis 18:19). God’s I knew you, is equivalent to his having said I selected you.

Finally, the verb to know implies commendatory knowledge. In Nahum 1:7 God knows those that trust him. In Psalms 1:6 God knows the way of the godly. In both passages the implication is that God knows and approves of the godly ways of the righteous. Thus God knew Jeremiah intellectually, intimately and selectively. God approved of his life before he was ever born.

Consecration (Jeremiah 1:5 c): and before you were born, I set you apart… God had separated, sanctified or set apart Jeremiah for holy service before he was born. Here is the only use of this term in connection with a prophet in the OT. While the word primarily involves vocational sanctification, the idea of ethical sanctification is not absent. God alone is holy. A man being made holy or sanctified means that a person is to be exclusively devoted to God for his purposes and in his service. Jesus spoke of himself as sanctified and sent into the world by the Father (John 10:36).

Looking on the call of Jeremiah from the divine standpoint, Jeremiah 1:5 indicates that his appointment long antedated the birth of the prophet. In these first three verbs Yahweh makes an affirmation about the past. The divine purpose for his life was revealed to Jeremiah.

Installation (Jeremiah 1:5 d, e):

Time of it (Jeremiah 1:5 d): I have appointed you... The word translated appointed literally means to give, to put or place. Implied in the meaning is an appointment that carries with it the impartation of spiritual gifts that enable one to perform the tasks for which he was appointed.12 Did the Lord appoint Jeremiah to his prophetic office prior to his birth, or at the very time this statement was made? This is the only verb in Jeremiah 1:5 that is not positively antecedent to the birth of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, in the light of the implications of the preceding three verbs, it seems likely that the appointment also took place in the mind of God before the prophet’s birth.

From the time of his call, Jeremiah realized that a combination of things happened even before his birth that prepared him for prophetic ministry. Jeremiah’s endowments, and all the influences of heredity and education have shaped, molded and prepared his life for his prophetic career. The consciousness that he had been planned by God before his birth must have stirred the sensitive young man from Anathoth to the depths of his being. In the opinion of Freedman, "This consciousness must have sustained him and enabled him to triumph over the moods of despondency to which he was subject.”

It is useless to speculate as to whether Jeremiah could have refused the call of God. As a matter of fact he did not; and God in his infinite knowledge knew that Jeremiah would not spurn the summons to service. However, the principle that is affirmed by biblical revelation in general may be affirmed confidently, viz., prescience on the part of God does not demand compulsion on the part of man.

Scope of it (Jeremiah 1:5 f): a prophet to the nations. What is intimated in general in the earlier part of the verse is now made clear: Jeremiah is called to accept an appointment to be a prophet (nabhi’). The Hebrew word translated prophet occurs some three hundred times in the OT. The precise etymology of the word is uncertain. As the term is used in the OT, a prophet is one who is “qualified, called, and commissioned to speak God’s truth to men.” A prophet was a mouthpiece, a spokesman. He was one who stood in the divine inner council of God and then went forth to speak of what he had seen and heard. A prophet was a man who spoke to men on behalf of God, and to God on behalf of men.

By virtue of its position in the Hebrew sentence, the phrase a prophet to the nations receives emphasis. Here is something unique about Jeremiah, for he is the only prophet to be designated by this title. His ministry was to embrace nations other than Judah. But since Jeremiah only left his native land on one occasion, how can he be said to have performed an international ministry? The v need not mean that Jeremiah was to go to the nations to proclaim his message. It may only mean that he was to include the nations within the scope of his prophecies.15 He was to be the exponent of God’s world plan in that age of convulsion and upheaval.

Several observations with regard to the title prophet to the nations need to be made:

Prophetic concern with foreign nations can be traced back through Isaiah and Amos to Elijah and Elisha and even to Samuel himself. Samuel commissioned Saul to destroy the Amalekite nation (1 Samuel 15). Elijah was commissioned by God to anoint Hazael as king “of Damascus (1 Kings 19:15) and this task was discharged by his successor Elisha (2 Kings 8:7-15). Jonah was sent on a mission to Nineveh to proclaim the doom of that city. Amos and Isaiah uttered numerous oracles against foreign nations. Both of these eighth century prophets developed the theme that mighty Assyria was but a tool in the hands of God. Jeremiah himself described his prophetic predecessors as men who had “prophesied against many lands and great kingdoms” (Jeremiah 28:8).

The issues with which Jeremiah was to deal of necessity involved the nations of his day. In the late seventh and early sixth centuries before Christ, it was no longer possible to treat Judah as though that nation existed in a political vacuum. A judgment upon Judah involved an international upheaval in which some powers went down, and others rose up.16 These were the political realities of that day.

A large portion of the Book of Jeremiah is devoted to oracles of doom against the nations. These oracles have been collected in chs 46-51. In Jeremiah 25:15-29 Jeremiah addresses the small states of Syria-Palestine, warning them that they must submit to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar or be destroyed.

Jeremiah foretold blessings that would come upon the nations through the advent of the Messiah (e.g., Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15). Those commentators who limit “unto the nations” to pronouncements of judgment on the heathen are proved to be wrong by the fact that positive as well as negative terms are used in v 10 to describe Jeremiah’s ministry to the nations.

Jeremiah on one occasion did address foreign nations directly in the person of their ambassadors in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 27:1 ff.). On another occasion he sent a scroll to be read in Babylon, and then sunk in the river Euphrates as a symbolic portrayal of the fall of that empire (Jeremiah 51:59-64).

Hebrew prophecy was universalistic in its scope. “God’s message is to all people and for all times.” Again and again Jeremiah emphasized that the sovereignty of the Lord extends to the ends of the earth. Jeremiah has lessons, then, for the present nations of the world.

Response of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6): The hesitation of Jeremiah is placed over against the decisiveness of God in the previous verse. Those called to special service by God were always humbly hesitant to accept their commission. Jeremiah was no exception. His response to the divine call was both emotional and logical.

Emotional response (Jeremiah 1:6 a): Then I said, Ah, Adonay Yahweh! Staggered by the responsibility of his call, Jeremiah relates that he heaved a deep sigh to God, Ah! The cry is not an entreaty that God change the circumstances, but a lament that circumstances are what they are. It is a cry of alarm and pain. In this emotional response there is hesitation, not rebellion. Jeremiah was fond of the word Ah and used it in three other passages (Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 32:17. Elsewhere in the OT the expression appears in Joshua 7:7; Judges 6:22; Ezekiel 4:14; Ezekiel 9:8; Ezekiel 11:13; Ezekiel 21:5. Cf. 2 Kings 3:10).

The weeping prophet was acquainted with the vocabulary of lamentation.

    

Logical response (Jeremiah 1:6 b): Jeremiah’s response to the divine summons is not purely on the emotional level. He disclaims any adequate preparation for the task to which God is calling him. To Jeremiah the call seemed impractical because of his age, and his lack of natural gifts.

His aptitude (Jeremiah 1:6 b): Behold, I do not know how to speak… Jeremiah felt a keen sense of inadequacy. Literally he says, I do not know to speak. The word know in Hebrew frequently means to be skilled or experienced in doing anything. Like Moses he felt he did not have the powers of oratory that would win the attention of vast throngs or sway the conduct of hostile multitudes.

His age (Jeremiah 1:6 c): for I am only a youth. A youth in antiquity was expected to be seen and not heard. Who would listen to him if he presumed to preach the word of God?

In the Hebrew word order, the emphasis is on the youth of the prophet. The word translated youth or child has a wide range of usage in the OT. It is used of an infant (e.g., Exodus 2:6), a small boy (e.g., Genesis 21:12) or a young man of marriageable age (e.g., Genesis 34:19). The same word is used of Joshua at age forty-five (Exodus 33:11) and of Solomon when he succeeded his father as king (1 Kings 3:7). The Jewish rabbis defined the word as referring to a youth of his fourteenth year. Estimates on the age of Jeremiah at the time of his call range from seventeen to twenty-five.

Jeremiah is not rejecting the heavenly call in Jeremiah 1:6, but is, in effect, pleading for delay. It is as if he had said, May I not wait till I can speak with the wisdom and authority that comes with years? He was not saying I will not, but I cannot; not now at any rate.

Jeremiah may have mentioned his youth because he had not yet reached the age when he, as a priest, would be permitted to serve the Lord. During the wilderness wandering, the years of service for the Levites were fixed from age twenty-five to fifty (Numbers 8:23-25). Later this age restriction was changed by David from twenty to fifty (1 Chronicles 23:24-32). One family of Levites―the Kohathites ―could only serve from ages thirty to fifty (See Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:23; Numbers 4:30-35; Numbers 4:47). Could it be that Jeremiah was still a youth in the sense that he had not yet reached the age of priestly service? Still this was not a legitimate excuse as far as the prophetic ministry was concerned. The office of prophet was not limited to any definite number of years. God called men when he pleased, and retained them as long as he desired.

Divine Assurance (Jeremiah 1:7-10): When called of God Moses brought forth excuse after excuse; but Jeremiah only needed reassurance. The Lord took steps to give that timid and hesitant young prophet the encouragement he needed. The assurance in these vv is fourfold. He received assurance of direction, deliverance, power, and authority.

Assurance of direction (Jeremiah 1:7): The divine assurance begins not with promises of assistance, but with a gentle rebuke and a reaffirmation of God’s will.

A rebuke (Jeremiah 1:7 a): But Yahweh said to me, Do not say, I am only a youth; Jeremiah’s focus was wrong. He had been looking at himself, whereas he should have had his focus on obedience to God. The emphasis throughout these verses is on the divine I and not the weak human you: I send you . . . I have commanded you . . . I am with you . . .I have placed my words in your mouth . . . I have made you an overseer.

Thoughts of self are out of place in one who has received a divine commission. It was Jeremiah’s duty simply to obey the instructions of his Sovereign. The objections raised by Jeremiah are beside the point. Often men try to set feeble excuses against the plain call of God. They imagine that they are being modest. They plead a lack of qualification, or strength, or ability, when in fact they may be mistrusting the power of God to provide for his own work.

A reaffirmation (Jeremiah 1:7 b): but unto whomever I send you, go! and all that I have commanded you, speak! Jeremiah’s focus needed to be lifted from self to God. He need not worry about where he will go or what he will say. The Lord will direct his ways and his words. All Jeremiah needs to do is follow the leading of the Lord. He is to go where God sends him and speak what God commands him.

The verbs go and speak are not imperatives, but imperfects in Hebrew. For this reason most translators render them in English as futures. But the imperfect sometimes has imperative force. In the present context an imperative seems to fit best. After all God’s wills are in reality musts. When God is directing a ministry, he will provide both the place and the power for service.21 God in effect is saying here, Where you will go and what you will say is my business. A great burden lifted off the shoulders of the young priest, when he heard these reassuring imperatives.

The limits of Jeremiah’s preaching are clearly defined. He is to preach what God commanded. He is not called to propagate the philosophies of men or to concoct and say what is clever, interesting and amusing. Jeremiah was called to preach the word! The greatest temptation that any preacher faces is that of identifying his own desires, interests and opinions with those of God. If every preacher would make his preaching as broad and as narrow as the expressed commandments of God, he would avoid this pitfall.

Assurance of deliverance (Jeremiah 1:8): Do not be afraid of them; for I am with you to deliver you (oracle of Yahweh). Do not be afraid in this v matches the do not say in the previous verse. The sequence Ah Lord Yahweh followed by do not be afraid is identical with that in Gideon call (Judges 6:22-23). Jeremiah had not said he was afraid, but the Lord saw the fear in his heart. Sinful men never had welcomed a message of judgment. There was strong possibility of reprisal.

Fear might be appropriate were it not for one fact. The Lord will be with his prophet, i.e., available to him. The Hebrew reverses the English order and has it with you am I. What words of comfort! God spoke these words to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:12), Joshua at Jordan (Joshua 1:15) and Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:15). They are reminiscent of the parting words of Jesus: Lo I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). The words stress divine protection for Jeremiah; but they also hint at divine scrutiny. The Lord will be near Jeremiah to mark his words and deeds.

God promises to deliver Jeremiah. Deliver him, but from what? From hardship? From trial? From discouragement? From slander and attack? Hardly! The promise is not that Jeremiah will be free from danger, but that God will be his Deliverer. It is not that Jeremiah would remain unhurt physically, mentally, emotionally throughout his ministry. Rather it is that God will deliver him from destruction at the hands of his enemies. He will not be delivered from trial, but will be enabled to pass through trial.

The expression oracle of Yahweh (ASV saith Jehovah) marks the preceding words as direct utterance from Yahweh. This is the first of 168 occurrences of this expression in the Book of Jeremiah. The expression is one of the strongest possible claims of inspiration in the OT.

Assurance of power (Jeremiah 1:9)

Experience of the touch (Jeremiah 1:9 a): Then Yahweh put forth his hand and touched my mouth… The touch is not purely metaphorical (as in Psalms 51:15); it represents a real experience on the part of the prophet. This experience, however, must have been a visionary one analogous to what Isaiah experienced at the beginning of his ministry. The hand is the symbol of making and doing.

Explanation of the touch (Jeremiah 1:9 b): and Yahweh said unto me, Behold, I have placed my words in your mouth. In Isaiah the touch of the lips was for purification; here, for communication. The act symbolized the fact that God was taking over Jeremiah’s mouth.. Henceforth Jeremiah would speak with the tongue (authority) of God.

Assurance of authority (Jeremiah 1:10)

His authoritative position (Jeremiah 1:10 a): See, I have appointed you an overseer this day over the nations and kingdoms… The divine summons closes with assurance that Jeremiah will have divine authority. Appointed (Hiphil of pâqad) an administrative term (cf. 40:11). In only two other passages is God the subject of this verb: Psalms 109:6; Leviticus 26:16. As God’s overseer Jeremiah’s words will set in motion God’s plans for the kingdoms of that day. The word nations of Jeremiah 1:5 is now expanded by the parallel word kingdoms.

His authoritative proclamation (Jeremiah 1:10 b): Jeremiah’s ministry will have both a negative and a positive emphasis.

His ministry of deconstruction (Jeremiah 1:10 b): to uproot, tear down, destroy, and raze… Four verbs describe the negative work that the prophet must perform: to uproot like a noxious weed (In eleven of the fourteen uses of the verb uproot (nâtað), God is the subject. The meaning is almost always metaphorical); to tear down; to destroy; and to raze or overthrow. (Note: The verb tear down (nâtats) is rarely metaphorical. It only has God as its subject three out of thirty-one times it is used in the OT). The prophet himself would not have the power to do these things; but it would be his mission to announce what God was about to do. Jeremiah fulfilled this part of his commission by preaching divine judgment upon the nations of his day. Sinful Judah must be destroyed. So too must God uproot the foreign nations that proudly had lifted up themselves against their Creator. No human measures can secure a community against destruction when that community is under the judgment of Yahweh.

His ministry of reconstruction (Jeremiah 1:10 c): to build and to plant. Jeremiah is not merely a prophet of destruction; he is also a prophet of construction. Two infinitives describe the positive aspect of his ministry: to build, and to plant. Beyond the tumult of war and destruction, Jeremiah was permitted to see the dawn of a new day. In the most hopeless situations Yahweh can create newness.

Certainly the majority of Jeremiah’s ministry emphasized the negative. Four verbs are used to describe the destructive side of his ministry, while only two verbs are used to describe the constructive aspect. Furthermore, the negative elements are listed before the positive. In this book threatening is much more in the foreground, and promise in the background. Yet somehow one gets the impression that the ultimate purpose of this prophet was to pave the way for that new day. The old must be swept away in order that the new can be inaugurated. In the words of Jensen: “Jeremiah was to pluck up dead ritual and plant living worship, pluck up vile ways and plant straight paths, pluck up degenerate hearts and plant new hearts of a new covenant.”

FIRST CONFIRMATORY VISION

Jeremiah 1:11-12

In the last half of ch 1, the call of Jeremiah is confirmed and amplified through two visions, and further words. The two visions are of particular interest. The first one expresses a general principle of prophecy; the second deals with a concrete application.

What Jeremiah Saw (Jeremiah 1:11)

Question (Jeremiah 1:11 a): And the word of Yahweh came unto me saying, What are you looking at, Jeremiah? As Jeremiah held in his hand an almond walking stick or rod, God caused the prophet to come to a tremendous realization. The almond tree that blossoms in January was poetically named by the Hebrews the wakeful tree because it was the first to awake from winter sleep. The almond watches for spring.

Response (Jeremiah 1:11 b): And I replied, I am looking at a rod of almond. When God asked Jeremiah what he saw, his purpose was not only to direct the attention of the prophet to the almond rod, but also to get the prophet to pronounce the word for almond. The Hebrew word for almond tree is shaked and the Hebrew word for watch (or wakeful) is shoked. This appears to be deliberate paronomasia or word play. Paronomasia in the context of a vision also occurs in Amos 8:1-2. This is the first of numerous allusions to nature in the Book of Jeremiah.

What Jeremiah Learned (Jeremiah 1:12): Then Yahweh said unto me, You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it. God used the rod of wake-tree wood to show Jeremiah that he is wakeful. But aside from the word play, what is the import of this vision?

First, the vision speaks of God’s concern. Since the days of wicked Manasseh, no judgment had befallen the nation of Judah. As in the winter season, all was at rest. But the Keeper of Israel does not slumber or sleep (Psalms 121:4). Amid the moral and spiritual deadness round about, God was awake. He was concerned about the corrupt condition of the nation. At times things seems to go unchecked, evil seems to triumph and men assume that God is dead or unconcerned. But the winter of moral desolation cannot last forever; the Lord is wakeful. When the season of judgment has fully come, the Wakeful One will manifest himself as the God of wrath.

The almond rod also suggests the chastisement of the nation. As Aaron’s almond rod that budded in the wilderness was a token of God’s wrath against the rebellious (Numbers 17:8), so now the almond rod that Jeremiah observes presages the outpouring of God’s judgment upon the apostate people of another time. It is not a branch with twigs and leaves that the prophet saw, but rather a stick used for walking or striking. This was an appropriate symbol of an instrument of chastisement. The symbolic significance would not be lost upon a prophet who knew the writings of Isaiah: Ho Assyrian, the rod of my anger, the staff in whose hand is my indignation! (Isaiah 10:5).

The third focus of the almond rod vision is the certainty of prophetic revelation. God is watching with persistent care to see that his word is performed. He sees to it that his word does not return unto him void, but rather accomplishes his good pleasure (Isaiah 55:11). Whether it is judgment or salvation, threat or promise, his word will come to pass. Jeremiah need have no fear that he will ever be embarrassed, or proven to be wrong, if he preaches the word of God. Thus the prophet can be absolutely confident that what he predicts through divine revelation will be fulfilled. Such confidence enabled Jeremiah to preach with boldness, power and assurance. Every preacher should remember that he is the messenger of him who watches over his word; no promise shall fail, no threat shall go unfilled.

Implicit in the first vision is the calendar of divine judgment. When one in Palestine sees the almond tree blossom, he knows that spring is hastening inevitably onward. As the almond tree hastens to put forth its leaves, so God was hastening (note the translation of the KJV) to perform his word of judgment.30 On God’s calendar, judgment was imminent.

SECOND CONFIRMATORY VISION

Jeremiah 1:13-16

The almond rod vision emphasized the nearness of the judgment; the second vision portrays its nature and direction.

What Jeremiah Saw (Jeremiah 1:13)

Question (Jeremiah 1:13 a): And the word of Yahweh came unto me a second time saying, What are you looking at? At some undetermined time subsequent to the almond rod revelation, Jeremiah experienced another vision. Again by means of a question God fixed Jeremiah’s attention on an object that was before him.

Response (Jeremiah 1:13 b): And I said, I am looking at a boiling pot, and its face is from the north. He observed a large cooking or wash pot over an open fire. The same kind of pot was used by a whole company of prophets to cook their meals (2 Kings 4:38). It probably was made of metal (Ezekiel 24:11). The pot may have been earthenware, or it may have been iron or copper. Jeremiah described the pot as boiling. The Hebrew word here means literally blown up. The idea seems to be that the fire beneath the pot had been fanned into a fierce flame by a blast of wind, thus bringing the contents of the pot to a boil. So much is clear.

More difficult is the phrase its face is from the north (The KJV translation to the north has been rightly corrected by more recent English versions). Its face probably refers to the side of the pot facing Jeremiah (Others think the face of the pot was what one would see as he looked into the pot, i.e., the contents). The face of the pot was from, i.e., away from, the north. If the pot is tilting away from the north, it must be tilting toward the south. How the pot got in this precarious position is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it had been set unevenly on the fire at the start; or perhaps as the materials on which it was standing were consumed, the pot settled unevenly.

What Jeremiah Learned (Jeremiah 1:14-16)

Nothing could be more appropriate in describing the political conditions in the days of Jeremiah than a seething caldron. The whole Fertile Crescent was seething with plans for revolt after the death of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal in 627 BC. The Assyrian Empire was tottering. The Neo-Babylonian kingdom lurked on the horizon. The description of the coming enemy is deliberately vague and imprecise, and therefore are the more ominous.

Direction of the calamity (Jeremiah 1:14): And Yahweh said unto me, From the north calamity is unleashed upon all the inhabitants of the land. This is the first disaster declaration in the book. Shortly the calamitous contents the political caldron will be unleashed (lit., opened)( ASV, shall break forth.

) against the inhabitants of Judah. Cheyne suggests that the caldron had a lid, and the removal or falling off of this lid is the opening to which the prophet alludes. It is also possible that the evil or calamity in the north was opened in the sense of revealed. The evil (ASV) or calamity that is envisioned is the invasion of Judah by hordes of Babylonian soldiers. Please note that the The word translated land in this verse can also mean earth. Here the former meaning is intended as Jeremiah 1:15 indicates. The evil of Judah must be punished by evil (calamity) from Yahweh.

The key word in Jeremiah 1:14 is the word north. Previous to the battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians are only mentioned vaguely by Jeremiah as a northern people (See Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 10:22). Strictly speaking, they were an eastern people from the point of view of Palestine. However, the caravan route that the armies of Babylon would follow as they swept southward entered Palestine at Dan (cf. Jeremiah 4:15; Jeremiah 8:16), and then proceeded due south. Jerusalem could be attacked successfully only from the north, as the west, south, and east sides of the city were rendered practically impregnable by deep valleys. Thus the ominous, and as yet unidentified, enemy is pictured as coming from the north.

Nature of the calamity (Jeremiah 1:15)

The significance of the boiling caldron pouring forth its contents toward Judah is now explained.

A vast army (Jeremiah 1:15 a): For, behold, I am about to call for all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north (oracle of Yahweh)… God will summon against Judah all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north. The army of King Nebuchadnezzar was made up of mercenaries of the various kingdoms that he had conquered. This vast throng will attack Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.

A victorious army (Jeremiah 1:15 b): and they will come and place each man his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah. The details of the attack on Jerusalem are omitted. Jeremiah scrolls forward to depict the total subjugation of the city. Each man his throne refers to formal military tribunals where judgment was passed upon the inhabitants of the conquered city by the victorious Babylonian generals. The gates of a city were centers of business and civil administration. Fulfillment of this prediction is recorded in Jeremiah 39:3. On the formula oracle of Yahweh, see information on Jeremiah 1:8.

Reason for the calamity (Jeremiah 1:16)

General wickedness (Jeremiah 1:16 a): Then I will pronounce against them my judgments, because of all of their wickedness. The coming conquerors are but instruments of God who is sending his divine judgment upon an apostate people. The expression pronounce judgments is peculiar to Jeremiah , 40 occurring elsewhere only in 2 Kings 25:6. The judgment falls upon Judah because of all of the wickedness of that nation.

Specific sins (Jeremiah 1:16 b): They have forsaken me, made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their hands. Three specific examples of Judah’s wickedness are cited: (1) They had deserted the true God and were thus guilty of infidelity; (2) they had burned incense to false gods; and (3) they had worshiped graven images.

The Hebrew words translated offered incense has a general sense (to make sacrifices smoke) and a specific sense (to offer incense). It is difficult to know in many passages which sense is intended. Bright has proposed that the word be rendered sending up offerings. The phrase other gods refers to false gods. It does not imply that Jeremiah recognized the actual existence of other deities beside God. Jeremiah’s own strict monotheism is proved by such passages as Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 10:1-16 and Jeremiah 16:20.

SPECIAL NOTE ON THE VISIONS

Two matters need to be discussed further: (1) the time of the visions, and (2) the nature of them.

Time of the visions. Hyatt calls the visions “inaugural visions,” but it really is not certain that they were part of the call experience, or even that they followed immediately after the call. The fact that each vision has a separate introductory formula would suggest a certain time interval between the call and the visions, and between the two visions as well. But if these visions did not come immediately upon the call of Jeremiah, they were given very early in his career. God used them to assure Jeremiah of his prophetic call. They are confirmatory tokens. The visions also serve to create within Jeremiah awareness that momentous events affecting the kingdom of Judah were imminent.

Nature of the visions. God made known his purpose through two kinds of visions in the OT. In the first type of vision, the prophet saw with his mind (or perhaps with his eyes, who can say?) an object or scene that had no external reality. In this type of vision, God produced what was seen, and also provided the interpretation of it.

In the second type of vision, the prophet happened to notice, or was directed to notice, an object or scene. He meditated upon what he saw, and as he did so God revealed to him the prophetic significance of it. In the first case God caused the prophet to see a significant object; in the second, God caused the prophet to see significance in an object. Into which one of these two vision categories do the visions in Jeremiah 1 fall?

It is difficult to decide whether God showed the almond rod and the boiling pot in mental visions, or whether Jeremiah happened to see the external objects, and then learned their symbolic significance through divine revelation. In both visions God asked Jeremiah, What do you see? The same language is used in Jeremiah 24:3 where the problem again arises as to the nature of what the prophet saw. The absence of the words the Lord showed me, that are present in other similar passages(E.g., Jeremiah 24:3; Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2), might suggest that Jeremiah did not receive a mental vision. However, the phrase the Lord showed me is sometimes absent in contexts where mental vision is mandatory (e.g., Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 5:2). Exegetically, then, decisive evidence with regard to the nature of what Jeremiah saw in ch 1 is lacking. Probably, as Jeremiah meditated on these common objects, God caused him to see in them a mystic or prophetic significance.

COMMISSION OF THE PROPHET

Jeremiah 1:17-19

But as for you… (Jeremiah 1:17 a): After a brief preview of the fate of Jerusalem, the divine eye again focuses on the key man for the hour. These words set Jeremiah apart from the general judgment envisioned for the nation. Promises made to Jeremiah can be claimed by all the faithful (Brueggemann (CJ, 30) points out a similar but you passage addressed to the faithful Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5 at the conclusion of Jeremiah’s oracles pertaining to Judah. The two passages may be intended as an envelope for his message. Both passages encourage the faithful to anticipate the day when Yahweh will build and plant).

Words of Exhortation (Jeremiah 1:17)

Three positive commands are followed by one prohibition.

Positive commands (Jeremiah 1:17 a)

Preparation (Jeremiah 1:17 a): gird up your loins! Before beginning a journey, starting a race, or engaging in conflict, an oriental bound up his loose flowing robes so as not to be hindered in his movement (Cf. Gehazi on an urgent mission (2 Kings 4:29); Elijah racing from Mount Carmel to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46). Jesus also advised his disciples in Luke 12:35 : Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps be burning). Girding up the loins then implies (1) readiness for action and (2) energy in action. God is saying to the prophet Prepare for a strenuous ministry. In modern idiom God might say to a preacher, Roll up your sleeves! Brueggemann characterizes the command as a summons to dress for combat.

Action (Jeremiah 1:17 b): Stand up! This command continues the forward movement into action. Jeremiah was to begin his prophetic ministry immediately. The king’s business is urgent and there is no time for loitering.

Communication (Jeremiah 1:17 c): Speak unto them all that I have commanded you! The primary task of the prophet was to communicate the word of God. As in Jeremiah 1:7, the prophet is directed to preach nothing more and nothing less than what the Lord has commanded.

Negative prohibition (Jeremiah 1:17 d): Do not be panicked because of them… This command is a variation of do not be afraid of Jeremiah 1:8. The verb chatat is used twice in succession, the first time in the Qal or Niphal, the second time in the Hiphil. The verb is used of physical shattering in Isaiah 9:3. It points to psychological paralysis, or inability to function at all. It is often used for the collapse of warriors (Isaiah 8:9; Isaiah 37:27; Obadiah 1:9). Because of them is lit., to their face. It was their faces that threatened Jeremiah with paralysis.

God knew that during his ministry Jeremiah on numerous occasions would face hostile crowds, angry shouts, mocking, taunting, jeering, and insolent opponents. The message of divine judgment always stirs such reactions among godless sinners. True preachers of the word must constantly battle the temptation to be intimidated by their audience and to compromise their message. Thus the Lord commanded his prophet not to break down before his audience, or show any signs of fear, or let his fear cause him to alter the message.

A warning (Jeremiah 1:17 e): lest I shatter your nerve before them. If Jeremiah shows the least bit of fear of his enemies, they will be able to get the best of him. One moment of weakness will finish him as God’s messenger. Only fear of the Lord will save a man of God from the fear of his congregation.

Words of Encouragement (Jeremiah 1:18-19)

Metaphors of empowerment (Jeremiah 1:18 a): And as for me, behold, I have made you today a fortified city, and iron pillar, a wall of bronze against all the land… The challenging as for you to Jeremiah (v 17) is balanced by the assuring as for me of Yahweh (Jeremiah 1:18). God does not make demands without supplying needs. When God gives the prophet a message to deliver, he also gives him the courage to deliver it, and the strength to withstand the reaction it provokes.

Jeremiah is fortified by divine strength. Three metaphors are used to portray the protection that Jeremiah would experience. Yahweh makes him (1) as invincible as a fortified city that might withstand enemy bombardment for years; (2) as indestructible as an iron pillar or bolt, i.e., a gate that could withstand the heaviest attack; and (3) as impregnable as a wall of bronze, the toughest metal known to the ancients. (Note: The term ‘ammud normally means column; but the word appears in post biblical Hebrew for a cylinder in any position) Walls of wood might be destroyed by fire, and walls of stone might ultimately be battered down; but all the weapons of ancient warfare would be ineffective against walls of bronze.

Identification of opposition (Jeremiah 1:18 b): against the kings of Judah, against her princes, against her priests and against the people of the land. Jeremiah will need the triple line of defense pictured in the first half of Jeremiah 1:18. He will be facing a quartet of adversaries. Though all segments of the population—the kings, princes, priests and people of the land—might oppose him, yet God will give him the strength to endure. People of the land refers to citizens outside the orbit of palace and temple. Jeremiah will not be able to rally any segment of the population to his cause. All will oppose him.

Promise of deliverance (Jeremiah 1:19): They shall fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you (oracle of Yahweh) to deliver you. Metaphorical language gives way to literal warning and promise. Jeremiah will be famous, but he will not be popular. All the powerful figures of the nation will fight against him, but they will not prevail. God will come to his rescue. His adversaries might win the skirmishes, but they will not win the war.

Jeremiah is not promised deliverance from persecution and suffering, but from being defeated by persecution and suffering. Though he may be hated and attacked by men, Jeremiah will be loved and protected by his God. The invincible Lord will stand with him; he cannot be defeated. On this positive note the call narrative concludes.

OVERVIEW OF JEREMIAH 2-6

Jeremiah Chapters 2-6 contain several discourses uttered at different times in the early years of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry. Some of these messages seem to be addressed to the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. The material is cast in poetic form as can be seen from the v arrangement in the NASB.

The theme that runs through chapters 2-6 is that of past faithfulness and present apostasy. Several times Jeremiah amplifies the contrast between the implicit faithfulness of Israel during the early stage of national existence, and the present state of backsliding.

Only a summary of the actual words of Jeremiah has been preserved. It is impossible to tell whether this section contains two or three longer addresses, each given on a specific occasion, or a number of shorter speeches or excerpts from sermons that were gathered up by Jeremiah or Baruch at a later time. The second alternative is more probable.

Nearly all commentators are agreed that the messages in chapters 2-6 should be assigned to the reign of King Josiah, A reference to that king appears in Jeremiah 3:6. Certain verses seem to point to the period of Josiah’s reformation that fell between the years 627 and 621 BC.

SECTION TWO

JUDAH’S MARITAL UNFAITHFULNESS

Jeremiah 2:1 to Jeremiah 3:5

If Jeremiah Chapter 2 does contain Jeremiah’s first sermon (or at least excerpts from his earliest sermons), it is apparent that this young man from the very beginning did not pull any punches. The language is tough and hard-hitting. The logic is impeccable, and the conclusion is inevitable: Judah is deserving of divine judgment. This section consists of eight parts. All except the last concludes with the words oracle of Yahweh. Five of the eight begin with an imperative directed to the prophet or to the people by the prophet. The theme of this unit is Yahweh’s unreciprocated love for his people.

INEXCUSABLE APOSTASY

Jeremiah 2:2-3

Background (Jeremiah 2:1-2 a): Now the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying, (2) Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem and say, Thus Yahweh has said: The clause the word of Yahweh came unto me signals the opening of the first message (or collection of messages) in the book. Apparently Jeremiah did not have to wait long to receive the first message from the Lord that he was to deliver to his people. While still at Anathoth, instructions came to go and preach in Jerusalem the capital city. There he was to proclaim in an authoritative manner the message that God had given to him. The phrase cry out in the ears of suggests an address or a reading to a large assembly. The messenger formula Thus Yahweh has said appears here for the first of dozens of times in the book. In the OT this formula is used exclusively by Israel’s prophets.

Jeremiah’s message opened with a nostalgic note that no doubt gained him a favorable hearing initially. The introduction to his sermon was psychologically sound. Jeremiah painted a beautiful picture of the tender relationship that in past years had existed between God and his people.

Israel’s Past Regard for God (Jeremiah 2:2 b)

Bridal figure (Jeremiah 2:2 b): I remembered for your sake the fidelity of your youth, the love of your bridal days The verb remembered is perfect and emphasizes a particular past action with present consequences. The act of remembrance is not simply inner reflection, but involves an action. God brought to mind an image of the past that influenced his present action.

The words for your sake (lit., for you) point to a judicial scene. Judah stood guilty of disregarding the covenant with Yahweh. Severe consequences for that covenant violation were in order; but past association mitigated or postponed the judgment. The second person references in the v are feminine. God addressed his people under the image of a bride.

Yahweh remembered the fidelity (chesed) that characterized the early relationship with his people. Presumably the reference is to Israel’s fidelity to Yahweh. (So most commentators. But Holiday (Her, 1:83) thinks that chesed refers both to Yahweh’s gracious support of Israel as well as Israel’s fidelity to him). The noun youth (ne’urim) for a woman is that stage of life prior to marriage (Leviticus 22:13). Love (’ahabhah) has a wide range of meanings. Here the word reflects marriage imagery. Bridal days (kelulot) is parallel to youth and refers to the time when a woman is a bride. Following the lead of Hosea, Jeremiah has idealized the exodus from Egypt as a honeymoon period.

Historical allusion (Jeremiah 2:2 c): how you walked after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown. During the nation’s formative years Israel had shown tender and affectionate fidelity to Yahweh. Because of bridal love Israel had walked behind Yahweh. In that region a woman walked behind a man with whom she was associated (See Genesis 24:5; 1 Samuel 25:42, a custom that reflected loyalty. In a religious context to walk after Yahweh (or a false god) is to worship him. See Deuteronomy 13:5; Hosea 2:7; Jeremiah 2:5; 1 Kings 18:21). So Israel followed the Lord from Egypt, a land of comparative plenty (Numbers 11:5), into the wilderness (a land not sown), i.e., an area receiving insufficient rainfall for rain-fed farming. As a bride in loving trust follows her husband into a strange land, so Israel had followed God into the barren wastes of Sinai. The figure of a bride is also used in Hosea 2:19-20, Isaiah 54:4-5 and Ezekiel 16:8.

Warmth, love, and purity marked Israel’s first relationship with Yahweh. The golden-calf incident (Exodus 32:1-29) excepted, Israel’s failures in the wilderness came from lack of faith rather than overt infidelity. Jeremiah was not ignorant of the wilderness failings of Israel. He apparently felt that these shortcomings did not detract in the least from the loving trust displayed by Israel in venturing into the desert with God.

For Jeremiah, and other prophets as well, the wilderness wandering was the honeymoon period of Israel’s history. In the wilderness Israel was completely dependent on God. Yahweh had no rivals for their affections. Israel was completely devoted to him.

God’s Past Regard for Israel (Jer 2:3)

God reciprocated the loving care of Israel in three ways. The marriage image of Jeremiah 2:2 now becomes the metaphor of the harvest offering.

Divine possession (Jeremiah 2:3 a): Israel was Yahweh’s holy portion… The Lord regarded Israel as his holy portion (qôdeð). The noun refers to what is within Yahweh’s sphere. Israel was like a consecrated gift to Yahweh to be used exclusively in his service. According to Isaiah, God was the holy one of Israel; according to Jeremiah, Israel was the holy one of God. Israel was set apart as sacred to God, because she was the first nation to worship the true God (cf. Exodus 19:5-6).

Divine preparation (Jeremiah 2:3 b): the first fruits of his increase; Israel belonged to God just as did the first fruits (rç’ðîth) of the harvest. (See Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:19). ) The term refers to whatever is the first of the yield, whether of grain, wine, oil, or fruits(See Exodus 23:19; Numbers 18:12-13). The use of the term first fruits in reference to Israel implies that God expected a later harvest among the nations of the world. With the spread of the gospel, such has been the case.

Divine protection (Jeremiah 2:3 c): all who devour him shall be held guilty, calamity comes against them (oracle of Yahweh). Foreigners were forbidden to eat of consecrated things; by breaking this law they became guilty of a trespass.60 Since Israel was consecrated to God, that nation could not be harmed with impunity. Though elsewhere Jeremiah regards the nations as agents used of God to punish Judah, here he lays down the general principle that any that attacked God’s people will be punished. Devour (’âchal) is metaphorical for military conquest (Numbers 24:8). Held guilty (’âðam) means to make oneself culpable, punishable (Cf. NEB no one who devoured her went unpunished; and JB anyone who ate of this had to pay for it). The verb comes is imperfect suggesting that calamities against Israel’s enemies is a regular feature of past history.

Inexplicable Apostasy

Jeremiah 2:4-8

Introduction (Jeremiah 2:4): Hear the word of Yahweh, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel. These words are a characteristic introduction to a prophetic oracle. The formula occurs at least twenty-three times in Jeremiah with slight variation. Jeremiah called upon all the families of the house of Israel to hear his message. He apparently regarded Judah as the representative of the entire covenant nation. It may be that the prophet is also addressing the exiles of the northern kingdom, as well as some Israelite families who were still left in Samaria.

A Question the Backslider will not Answer (Jeremiah 2:5): This is what Yahweh has said: What fault did your fathers find in me that they went far from me and have walked after vain things, and have themselves become vain? The fathers are the forebears of the audience. They are without justification for the apostasy. There is no reason or fault on God’s part that can account for the infidelity of the nation. Yet they went far from Yahweh. This is defined as having walked after (i.e., worshipedNote: Near-Eastern treaties show the phrase walked after meant to serve as a vassal) vain things (lit., a breath, a vapor). The hebel is the same regularly translated in Ecclesiastes vanity. It refers to vapor or unreality, an appearance that has no real substance. With all of its pomp and pageantry, idolatry in the eyes of Israel’s prophets was nothingness. It was utterly futile, useless and vain. In Jeremiah 2:2 the phrase walked after refers to Israel’s fidelity; it refers to Israel’s infidelity.

Following after these vain deities, the men of Israel became vain. 2 Kings 17:15 uses the same wording as the present verse. Bright sees a word play here: They think that they are following habbaal (the Baal), but in reality they are following hahebel (the wind, emptiness). The thought that men become like the object of their worship can be traced back to Hosea. Concerning the initial apostasy of the nation, Hosea declares: They came to Baal-peor, and consecrated themselves unto the shameful thing (i.e., the idol) and became abominable like that which they loved (Hosea 9:10). A man is no better than the god that he worships.

A Question the Backslider will not Ask (Jeremiah 2:6-7): They did not say, Where is Yahweh? To ask this question is to seek God, to search out his teaching, to enter into fellowship with him. The backslider loses contact with the Lord, and he has no desire to restore that contact. The failure to seek the Lord is inexplicable in view of all that the Lord had done for his people. Did not say appears also in Jeremiah 2:8. Brueggemann comments: “The recital of Yahweh’s story was no longer on their lips.” The content of the Israel’s unspoken testimony of faith is outlined in the verses that follow. In these vv the word land is prominent. Land was Yahweh’s special gift to Israel. To forget or defile that gift is requires Israel to forfeit it.

God had freed them (Jeremiah 2:6 a): ―the one who brought us up from the land of Egypt…Egypt was the house of bondage. But the Lord had brought his people out of that bondage with a mighty hand.

God had guided them (Jeremiah 2:6 b): who guided us in the wilderness, in a land of waste and ravine, a land of drought and deep darkness, a land that no one crossed and in which no human being dwelled. Several phrases are added to the word wilderness to paint a picture of the Sinai Peninsula through which the Israelites had passed so many years before. Waste (‘ârabâh) refers to the depression that extends from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Arabah was a ravine or pit out of which it was difficult to come. The Israelites passed through this area when they came out of the wilderness.

The area through which Israel traveled It was a land of drought, deserts, and darkness. The word deep darkness (tsalmâveth) is a rare compound word that means lit., shadow of death. In the OT the word frequently connotes distress or extreme danger (cf. Psalms 23:4).

The perfect verbs in the last two clauses suggest action completed before the Exodus. The region through which Yahweh guided his people had never before been crossed by such a large host.

God had blessed them (Jeremiah 2:7): I brought you unto a Carmel-land to eat of its fruit and its goodness. But you came and polluted my land, and my inheritance you made an abomination. The switch to second person you emphasizes that the present generation was the recipient of God’s blessing. Out of the barren wilderness God had brought Israel into a beautiful land. A Carmel-land is a land planted with vines and other choice plants (Cf. Jeremiah 4:26; Isaiah 29:17; Isaiah 37:24). Bright translates the phrase a land like a garden, while Freedman renders it a land of fruitful fields.

The land into which God brought Israel belonged to Yahweh (cf. Leviticus 25:23). My inheritance conveys the idea of land or property gained by inheritance. In spite of all that God had done for them, the Israelites were still unappreciative. They took that holy land that God had consecrated to his own purposes and polluted (tâmç’ Piel) or defiled it. In other words, The land is polluted by incest, sodomy, child sacrifice (Leviticus 18:19-30); murder (Numbers 35:34); failure to properly dispose of a corpse (Deuteronomy 21:23). The Mosaic material lists the offenses that pollute the land. Abomination is used in Leviticus 18 in reference to sexual misconduct; it is also used of idolatry and everything offensive to Yahweh.

A Question the Leaders will not Ask (Jeremiah 2:8)

The entire leadership structure of Judah is included in the indictment.

Priests (Jeremiah 2:8 a): The priests did not say, Where is Yahweh? They that handle the law do not know me; The apostasy extended even to the spiritual leaders of the nation. The priests are those who handle torah, i.e., were skillful the law. One can know the Book but not really know the Lord of the Book! When religious leaders are not seeking Yahweh, asking about him, looking for him, then they have failed their task. To know Yahweh is to practice justice (Jeremiah 22:16).

Politicians (Jeremiah 2:8 b): the shepherds transgressed against me… The shepherds are rulers of the nation. The term shepherds in the OT generally refers to civil, not spiritual, leaders. See Jeremiah 3:15; Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 22:22; Jeremiah 25:34; Zechariah 10:3; Zechariah 11:5; Zechariah 11:8; Zechariah 11:16; Isaiah 44:28. They have transgressed (rebelled) against Yahweh by not restraining apostasy.

Prophets (Jeremiah 2:8 c): the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after the useless ones. Many prophets began to walk after idols and prophesy by Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. This portion of the oracle contains the phrase walk after at its beginning (Jeremiah 2:2), middle (Jeremiah 2:5) and end (Jeremiah 2:8). The reference is to prophets like those in the court of Ahab, who actually had gone over to the cult of Baal (1 Kings 18:19). The plural (useless ones) suggests Judah’s popular prophets were polytheists. The loyal prophets, like Jeremiah, viewed all idols as lifeless, worthless and therefore useless.

Since Jeremiah himself was both a priest and a prophet, it must particularly have grieved his heart to point out that apostasy had infected both orders. The entire nation had ceased to follow the Lord who brought them to Canaan. They were following after useless things― gods that had not done, nor could do, anything for them.

Divine Sentence (Jeremiah 2:9): Therefore, again I present my case against you (oracle of Yahweh), and with your children I must contend. As a prosecutor arguing his case before a jury, Yahweh presents his case against Israel. Contend is a technical legal word that means to plead in a legal sense, or to present one’s case. Again (‘od) suggests a prior occasion of divine prosecution of Israel, perhaps through the mouths of previous prophets. You probably refers to the past generation of apostates, about whom the prophet has been speaking in Jeremiah 2:4-8. The children were the generation to which Jeremiah was preaching. Repeated acts of rebellion through the years had called forth repeated reproach and punishment on the part of God.

INCOMPREHENSIBLE APOSTASY

Jeremiah 2:10-12

Entirely Unprecedented (Jeremiah 2:10-11)

Gentiles cling to their gods (Jeremiah 2:10-11 a)

Challenge (Jeremiah 2:10): For pass over to the isles of Kittim and look! To Kedar send and make serious investigation! See if there was ever the like. (Cf. 1 Kings 3:21) The prophet argues that the apostasy of Judah is unprecedented. He challenges those who are witnesses to the divine prosecution to go westward to Kittim and eastward to Kedar to see if they could uncover another example of a nation that had changed deities. Kittim refers to the isles of the Mediterranean(Cf. Numbers 24:24; Daniel 11:30. Specifically Kittim is Cyprus), and perhaps also the coastlands of Italy and Greece (cf. Genesis 10:4). Kedar refers to Arabia in general. The name of one of the sons of Ishmael was Kedar (Genesis 25:13). Kedar was a major player in international trade in this period (Ezekiel 27:21). The two peoples represent the extremes of west and east.

Question (Jeremiah 2:11 a): Has a nation exchanged73 gods (and they are non-gods)? Though Kittim and Kedar were both renowned traders, they certainly would never exchange their gods for those of their trading partners. A pagan nation will not voluntarily change gods even though they have the best reason in the world to do so, viz., their gods are non-entities. The irony is this: Israel has a faithful partner, yet engages in partner swapping; the nations have unreliable partners but do not change.

God’s people abandon their Glory (Jeremiah 2:11 b): But my people have exchanged their Glory for the useless one. Other peoples had many gods, but Israel had but one God, Yahweh. He was their Glory. Israel has changed their Glory for the useless one (Baal). The use of Glory for God occurs in Psalms 106:20, Psalms 3:3 and Hosea 4:7. A similar title for God is the Pride of Israel (Amos 8:7; Hosea 5:5). When a nation ceases to trust in God that nation has lost its true glory.

Utterly Astonishing (Jeremiah 2:12): Be appalled, O heavens, at this! Bristle and be exceedingly amazed (oracle of Yahweh). It is characteristic of the divine lawsuit that God or the prophet calls upon the heavens to bear testimony in the case (E.g., Micah 6:1 f.; Isaiah 1:2). Thus in Jeremiah 2:12 the prophet calls upon the heavens to be appalled (be desolate like some unpopulated area), to bristle (lit., make your hair stand on end) and be exceedingly amazed (lit., become stiff with horror) over the sin of Judah. The heavens had looked down upon the original prophetic admonition and warning to Israel (Deuteronomy 32:1). Now they look down upon the willful and reckless transgression of the divine will. Nature that functions in perfect obedience to the will of the Creator is, as it were, horrified at the thought of God’s highest creatures rebelling against his will.

INDEFENSIBLE APOSTASY

Jeremiah 2:13-19

Plainly Deliberate (Jeremiah 2:13 a): For two evils my people have done: Two specific charges are leveled against the people of God in Jeremiah 2:13. They have forsaken the Lord, a fountain of living water, in order to hew out for themselves cisterns. Jeremiah uses the figure again in 17:13. Many years earlier David had said of the Lord: With you is the fountain of life (Psalms 36:9).

Forsaking the Fountain (Jeremiah 2:13 b): me they have forsaken, a fountain of living water… God is compared to an ever-flowing spring of refreshing water. Who in their right mind would prefer an unwholesome and inadequate water supply to the sweet and wholesome water of a bubbling fountain? Why do men prefer man-made systems of salvation to the overflowing, ever-fresh and invigorating fountain of divine grace? God satisfies the needs of the whole man both for time and eternity. One who truly drinks at this fountain shall never thirst again (John 4:13).

Constructing cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13 c): to hew for themselves cisterns, cracked cisterns that cannot contain water. A cistern in antiquity had three fundamental deficiencies: (1) the best cisterns in Palestine, even those cut in solid rock, were prone to crack, thus causing the precious water to be lost. (2) Even if by constant care the cistern was made to hold, yet the water collected from clay roofs had the color of weak soapsuds, tasted like dirt. (3) A cistern at its best is limited in the amount of water it can hold. In the hour of greatest need, during the long dry spells, it fails to supply the life-giving water.

Ultimately Disastrous (Jeremiah 2:14-17)

In this unit the verb forsake (repeated from Jeremiah 2:13) is found twice (Jeremiah 2:17; Jeremiah 2:19). Israel has walked out on the marriage relationship described in Jeremiah 2:2.

Predicament of Israel (Jeremiah 2:14-15)

In making the transition from considering the condition of apostasy to considering the consequences of apostasy, Jeremiah points to the example of the northern kingdom of Israel.

Sons now slaves (Jeremiah 2:14 a): Is Israel a bondman? Is he a house-born slave? Heb ‘ebed is a general term for slave or servant. The OT does not have separate terms for one who was owned by a master, and one who was free to terminate his relationship with his master. By this time Israel had been dragged away into slavery by the Assyrians. The idea here is of a servant born in the house of the master as opposed to a slave acquired through purchase, captivity in war, or foreclosure on debt. By means of two rhetorical questions, the prophet drives home the point that Israel had not been born to be a slave to nations. Israel was in fact a member of the Lord’s family, the firstborn son of the Lord (Exodus 4:22). That Israel should be captive in another land was an unnatural state of affairs. It demanded an explanation.

Powerful now a prey (Jeremiah 2:14-15 a): Why does he become booty? (15) Against him the young lions roar, they let their voices resound… Why has Israel become booty to the nations, helpless to resist the advances of neighboring states? Human beings could become booty in war or raids (Numbers 14:3). Israel’s enemies, like lions, have roared against God’s people. Lions roar over the catch when the catch is dying, or already dead (Amos 3:4). So the lions are not threatening Israel, they have already subdued Israel.

The lion is a symbol of the Mesopotamian powers, Assyria and Babylon (Jeremiah 49:19; Isaiah 5:29). The reference here may be to the Assyrian conquest of the northern tribes in 722-721 BC (2 Kings 15:19-20; 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 17:4-26) and to Assyria’s abuse of Judah as well (Isaiah 10:24-32). Pharaoh also is compared to a lion (Ezekiel 32:2). So the Egyptians may be among the lions that intimidate, harass and ravish Judah.

Delightful land now desolate (Jeremiah 2:15 b): they have made his land a desolation, his cities are laid waste without inhabitant. The lions (enemies) have made the land of Israel a desolation (lit., horror); they have laid waste the cities. The irony is that the beautiful land into which Yahweh brought his people (Jeremiah 2:5) has become like the uninhabited wilderness through which he had led their fathers (Jeremiah 2:6).

Prophecy pertaining to Judah (Jeremiah 2:16): Also the children of Noph and Tahpanhes have cracked your head. From Israel in the north, Jeremiah turns his attention to Judah in Jeremiah 2:16. The verse is best regarded as a prediction written as though it had been fulfilled already. Please note that the Hebrew language has no past, present and future tenses as does English. Hebrew is concerned only with whether a certain action is complete or incomplete. In English translations predictive prophecy has often been obscured by past tense.The translation cracked your skull is based on a slight alternation in the Hebrew vowel points that, in effect, the ASV has also followed. Noph (Memphis) is about 12.5 miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile. The city had once been the capital of mighty Egypt. Tahpanhes (modern Tel Defneh) is on Lake Menzaleh in the Nile Delta. It was a fortress commanding the road to Palestine (See Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:15).

Head (lit., crown, skull) may stand for the ruler of Judah. The prophecy is that Judah will receive a mortal blow at the hands of Egypt. The fulfillment is to be found in the defeat of Josiah at Megiddo, the deportation of Jehoahaz and the consequent subjugation of Judah (2 Kings 23:29). The verb here is imperfect. Some would date these verses after 609 BC and since the passage is not dated, this possibility cannot be ruled out. Unable to learn from the fate of the northern kingdom, Judah was doomed to repeat that fate.

Principle in both cases (Jeremiah 2:17): Did you not bring this upon yourself in that you forsook Yahweh your God when he was leading you in the way? Why had Israel suffered? Why was Judah yet to suffer? You have brought it upon yourself, said the prophet. From the time of the wilderness wanderings to Jeremiah’s day, they had refused to follow the leading of the Lord. At the very time Yahweh was leading them, Israel abandoned him.

Always Disappointing (Jeremiah 2:18-19)

Political uncertainty (Jeremiah 2:18): And now, what advantage is it to you to go to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile, or what advantage is it to you to go to Assyria to drink of the waters of the River? Having turned from the Fountain of Living Water, Judah was drinking desperately from the waters of the Nile and from the River, i.e., the Euphrates in Assyria. The Euphrates River was regarded as the boundary between Syria-Palestine and Assyria. Genesis 15:18 points to the fact that the River is the Euphrates. These broken cisterns could not provide the life-giving water the nation needed. Waters denotes security, specifically foreign military aid. In the view of Jeremiah there was no advantage whatsoever for Judah to become entangled in international politics. Isaiah (Isaiah 30:2-5; Isaiah 31:1) and Hosea (Hosea 7:11; Hosea 7:16) had inveighed already against an Egyptian alliance. The historical books of the OT bear witness to the fact that Israel’s vacillation between Egypt and Assyria proved disastrous.

Divine chastisement (Jeremiah 2:19)

What they will experience (Jeremiah 2:19 a): Your wickedness shall chastise you and your backsliding shall rebuke you. Since they had forsaken the Lord, they were doomed to chastisement and punishment at the hands of their enemies.

What they will learn (Jeremiah 2:19 b): Know and see that bad and bitter is your forsaking of Yahweh your God, and my fear you do not possess (oracle of the Adonay, Yahweh of host). Through the depths of their suffering they would come to realize how heinous their crime against God was. They had sowed the wind, and they were about to reap the whirlwind.

Pictures of Apostasy

Jeremiah 2:20-22

In a series of brilliant metaphors, Jeremiah sharpens his accusation against Judah. The unit contains five quotations of apostate Judah, all of which are false. The strategy is to let Judah condemn itself out of its own mouth. Because Judah has so grossly distorted reality, Judah is doomed to destruction.

Ox Breaking his Yoke (Jeremiah 2:20)

Metaphor (Jeremiah 2:20 a): For from of old you have broken your yoke, burst your cords, and you said, I will not serve. Jeremiah 2:20 presents some difficult textual problems, and consequently the differences between English translations of the v are considerable. The Hebrew permits, and the ancient Greek and Latin versions support, the reading you have broken . . . you have burst. This is also the marginal reading in the ASV. Like a stubborn ox, Israel refused to submit to the yoke of divine restraint and the cords of ethical obligation. The cords were those leather straps that secured the yoke to the ox. Israel categorically declared, I will not serve. The Greek and Syriac versions support the reading serve rather than the alternate translation transgress.

Application (Jeremiah 2:20 b): For upon every high hill, and under every green tree you reclined, committing harlotry. Having demanded freedom from the Lord, Israel became the slave to the passion and lust of idolatrous worship, and to foreign nations (Egypt; Babylon) that embraced idolatry. On the bare treeless heights, Israel offered sacrifices to the Baals. The groves and leafy trees provided the necessary privacy for the lewd rites of Asherah and Ashtoreth. Sacred prostitution was part of the rites of these fertility cults. For this reason Jeremiah likens the national apostasy to harlotry and adultery.

Vine with Strange Fruit (Jeremiah 2:21)

Planting (Jeremiah 2:21 a): But as for me, I planted you a choice vine of wholly reliable stock. To produce choice grapes takes many years of patient tender care of the vines. The divine Horticulturist planted a choice seed in the soil of human history. The Hebrew says God planted a Sorek vine, the choicest kind of Oriental vine. The word Sorek refers to the deep red color of the grapes that this type of vine produced. Over the years he had trained the temperamental vine, pruned it, and had given it the tender and loving care it required.

Production (Jeremiah 2:21 b): How sad it is that you have become a degenerate, strange vine unto me! When the vine reached the age of productivity, it bore strange fruit of inferior quality. The vintage was not commensurate with the time and effort expended by the one who had planted the vine. It was a degenerate plant worthy only of destruction.

In this brilliant metaphor, Jeremiah surveys God’s dealings with Israel. Abraham, the father of the faithful, was the choice seed. During the years of the Patriarchal journeying, the Egyptian bondage and the wilderness wandering God lovingly had watched over the tender young plant. When the people reached Canaan, they refused to yield the fruit of service and obedience to the Lord. On the contrary, Israel rendered allegiance to other gods. How sad it is expresses the amazement of the prophet at what had become of the noble vine. The Hebrew interjection used here is one of the distinctive words in the vocabulary of lamentation as can be seen in Ezekiel 26:17; Jeremiah 48:39; 2 Samuel 1:19; 2 Samuel 1:26-27. English translations have failed to capture the spirit of the word by rendering it how. The translation how sad it is better conveys the melancholy force of the word.

An Indelible Stain (Jeremiah 2:22): But if you scrub with lye and multiply to yourself so your iniquity has been splotched [upon you] before me (oracle of the Adonay Yahweh). Normally refers to washing clothes, but is used in Psalms 51:5; Psalms 51:9 for God’s washing away sin. Lye (neter) refers to mineral deposits of sodium carbonate imported from Egypt. Soap (borit) was a derivative from the ashes of a local plant. Modern soap had not yet been invented. The nation’s iniquity is clearly visible to the Holy One of Israel. It is an indelible stain that cannot be removed through human effort. Has been splotched renders a Hebrew word that appears only here. In later Hebrew the root is connected with bloodstains. The metaphor of this verse is of a murderer spattered with blood, desperately attempting to remove the stain as one scours stained clothes. Iniquity is like a bloodstain that best cleansing agents of were not able to remove. Though the outward man may be scrubbed clean, yet the ugly stain of iniquity remains upon the soul. Only God can wipe it away. What joy it is for the Christian to know that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin (1 John 1:7).

More Pictures of Apostasy

Jeremiah 2:23-30

The denials continue. Jeremiah presents even more devastating evidence in the form of graphic pictures of Judah’s apostasy.

A Roving Dromedary (Jeremiah 2:23)

Pathetic denials (Jeremiah 2:23 a): How sad it is that you say, I have not defiled myself; after the Baals I have not gone. Baal worshipers apparently did not regard their actions as apostasy as long as they went through the formal acts of worshiping the Lord. Perhaps they even went so far as to claim that the rites of Baal were performed in the service of God. Judah was indeed defiled, a violation of the covenant holiness envisioned in Jeremiah 2:3.

Pointed accusation (Jeremiah 2:23 b): Look at your conduct in the valley! Understand what you have done! Jeremiah calls their attention to what was taking place in the Valley of Hinnom. From the days of Ahaz this valley had been used for the rites of Molech, a god who demanded human sacrifice.

Powerful metaphor (Jeremiah 2:23 c): A swift camel running hither and yon90! The prophet compares their conduct to that of a swift (lit., light) young camel running hither and yon. (Running hither and yon renders the Piel participle of the root śrk used only here. Since a related noun means sandal thong, the verb must mean something like to be interlacing; entangling; crisscrossing.) Most commentators have interpreted this figure to be that of a female camel in heat, driven by lust. Kenneth Bailey, who spent seventeen years in the Middle East, argues that this is not the point of comparison in Jeremiah 2:23. As a matter of fact, says Bailey, the female camel does not come into heat; rather it is the male camel that experiences rut. It is true that the word camel in this v is feminine, but all references since Jeremiah 2:16 have been feminine singular. It is not the femaleness that is being stressed in this verse, but rather the youthfulness of the camel. On the basis of his personal observation Bailey writes: "The young camel is the perfect illustration for all that is ‘skittery’ and unreliable. It is ungainly in the extreme and runs off in any direction at the slightest provocation, much to the fury’ of the camel-driver." (See The ‘Young Camel’ and ‘Wild Ass’ in Jeremiah 2:23-25).

A Wild Donkey in Heat (Jeremiah 2:24): A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, in her desire, sniffs the wind; in her occasion [of heat] who can restrain her; all who seek her will not become weary; in her month they shall find her. The prophet compares the apostasy of Israel to the vulgar actions of a female donkey in heat. In the month of mating, sires need not weary themselves in seeking out the female donkey; on the contrary she will eagerly seek them out. So Israel eagerly turns to the lewd rites of the Baals.

The impact of this metaphor becomes even more forceful when one studies it in detail. Bailey, from his own personal observation, has thrown considerable light on the phrase in her desire, (she) sniffs the wind. She sniffs the path in front of her trying to pick up the scent of a male (from his urine). When she finds it, she rubs her nose in the dust, straightens her neck and, with head high, closes her nostrils and sniffs the wind. What she really is doing is sniffing the dust that is soaked with the urine of the male donkey. With her neck stretched to the utmost she slowly draws in a long, deep breath. She then lets out an earthshaking bray and doubles her pace, racing down the road in search of the male.

A Desperate Lover (Jeremiah 2:25)

Ernest exhortation (Jeremiah 2:25 a): Withhold your foot from bareness and your throat from thirst. The divine Husband pleads with his adulterous wife, Israel, to cease from her wild pursuit of illicit lovers. Withhold your foot from bareness, i.e., bare-footedness possibly alludes to the fatiguing practices of the Baal cult—the barefoot dances. The endless repetition of the name Baal (see 1 Kings 18:26) would lead to parched, dry throats. In a more general sense, the admonition might be taken to be: Do not run till your sandals wear out and you faint with thirst chasing your gods.

Stubborn refusal (Jeremiah 2:25 b): But you say, It is no use! No! for I love strangers and after them I will continue to go. Israel rejects this earnest appeal. She cannot be turned from the paths of apostasy. The lure of false worship was too great to be resisted. It is no use, she cries. I love the strange gods, and I will continue to go after them. Yahweh’s evidence forces Israel to admit what she is doing.

An Embarrassed Thief (Jeremiah 2:26-28)

Shame of their leaders (Jeremiah 2:26): As the shame of a thief that is found, thus the house of Israel acted shamefully―they, their kings, their primes, their priests and their prophets— A thief caught in the act is ashamed. A thief, if apprehended in the act, had to restore what he had stolen and pay a stiff fine (Exodus 22:1; Exodus 22:4). In addition to the shame of public exposure, he would then experience the shame of disappointment in having his anticipated gain result in a substantial loss. All segments of the Israelite population would experience the shame of embarrassment and disappointment when the folly of their ways became manifest.

Shame of their worship (Jeremiah 2:27)

They turn to idols (Jeremiah 2:27 a): who say to wood, You are my father, and to stone, You brought me forth! Who say is a participle, implying continuous action. They bowed down before wood (lit., the tree), a sacred pole or an idol made of wood. They piously confessed, You are my father, i.e., my guardian, my protector. Before the lifeless stone pillar (lit. the stone), they bowed and said, You brought me forth, i.e., you are my mother, my creator.

They away from God (Jeremiah 2:27 b): For they turn unto me the back and not the face… In times of prosperity, the Israelites turned their back upon God to experiment with idolatry.

They will turn to God again (Jeremiah 2:27 c): but in the time of their calamity they shall say, Rise up, save us! In the hour of national or personal calamity, when their idols of wood and stone proved utterly worthless, the Judeans will cry out to the living God in their desperation.

Shame of disappointment (Jeremiah 2:28): But where are your gods that you have made for yourself? Let them arise if they can save you in the time of your calamity; surely according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah. With Elijah-like sarcasm Jeremiah taunts the idolaters: Your gods are as numerous as the cities of your land! The famous Ras Shamra texts indicate that the Canaanites venerated fifty gods and half as many goddesses. No doubt many, if not most, of these native gods were adopted by the Israelites during the wicked reign of Manasseh. Surely among the multiplicity of the gods they had made for themselves there was one deity who could aid them in the day of their calamity!

A Devouring Lion (Jeremiah 2:29-30)

Their complaint is unreasonable (Jeremiah 2:29 a): Why do you continue to complain to me? The brazenfaced apostates actually attempted to justify themselves before God. Complain (rîb) is the same technical legal term used in Jeremiah 2:9. It means to go to court with, to present a legal case against. The evidence against Judah is overwhelming, so why do they continue the disputation.

Their guilt is transparent (Jeremiah 2:29 b): All of you have transgressed against me (oracle of Yahweh). The people think that they have a legal case against God; but he replies by resuming his case against them. All of the people of Israel had transgressed against God!

Their obduracy is demonstrable (Jeremiah 2:30 a): In vain I have smitten your sons; they have not received correction… The Israelites cannot blame God for their failures. He had done everything in his power to keep them in the narrow paths of fidelity. As a concerned Father, he had attempted to discipline his wayward children. He had smitten them with sword, drought, famine and pestilence. But these disciplinary disasters had not brought the nation to its senses.

Their viciousness is unparalleled (Jeremiah 2:30 b): your sword has devoured your prophets like a ravening lion. God had raised up mighty men to call his people to repentance. Instead of heeding the message of God, the people killed the messengers. Jeremiah probably has reference here to the reign of Manasseh, when much innocent blood was shed (2 Kings 21:16). According to Josephus, Manasseh’s persecution extended especially to the prophets. Isaiah is said to have died a martyr’s death during the reign of this tyrant.

Inconsiderate Apostasy

Jeremiah 2:31 to Jeremiah 3:1

In the closing verses of the inaugural sermon, Jeremiah drives home his final arguments against the apostasy of the people.

Israel an Ungrateful Wife (Jeremiah 2:31)

Introduction (2:31a): O generation, see the word of Yahweh! Rather than the usual Hear the word of the Lord, -- Jeremiah calls upon the people to see the word of the Lord. He wants his hearers to get a mental picture of the ingratitude of their rebellion against God.

Ingratitude implied (Jeremiah 2:31 b): Have I been a wilderness to Israel? a land of darkness? God had not been a wilderness to his people, nor a land of thick darkness, i.e., he had not failed to provide for them. He had not been a land of darkness, lit., land of the darkness of the Lord, i.e., that deep kind of darkness such as the Lord sends in judgment upon the wicked (Exodus 10:21-23). This thick darkness is symbolic of misery and uncertainty. God did not leave Israel to grope in such darkness without guidance.

Ingratitude expressed (Jeremiah 2:31 c): Why do my people say, We are free; we will not come again unto you? In spite of the Lord’s provision and guidance, the people of Israel declared, We are free! The KJV has taken this word to be from an entirely different root, and has translated it we are lords The word translated free means basically, to wander restlessly, to roam. It is equivalent to a declaration of independence from God. As far as the people were concerned, the estrangement from God was permanent: We will not come again unto you! God was asking his people, How can you say such terrible things? How can I be deserving of such treatment?

Israel an Adulterous Wife (Jeremiah 2:32-34)

She had forgotten she was married (Jeremiah 2:32): Does a virgin forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number. A maiden will not forget the ornaments or jewels that are part of her dowry, nor will a bride forget the girdle or sash that was a token of her married state. The ornaments and girdle would be objects in which any woman would take pride. Just so, God is the source of Israel’s glory. Yet Israel has forgotten him.

She had pursued lustful ways (Jeremiah 2:33): How skillfully you set your course to seek love! Therefore even the wicked women you have taught your ways. The evidence in the case against Israel is clear. Israel was so skillful, so brazen, so experienced in the ways of the licentious and immoral love of the Baal cult that she became a teacher to the prostitute of the street.

She had abused those who remained faithful (Jeremiah 2:34): Also in your skirts is the blood of the innocent poor; you did not find them in the act of breaking in; but it is because of all these things. The garments of the people were stained, as it were, with the blood of poor innocent people. No doubt the reference is to the persecutions that spring up during the wicked reign of Manasseh (2 Kings 21:16). What a paradox! Those who were most skillful in pursuing love were intolerant of those who tried to remain faithful to the laws of God.

To a large degree, the populace must have supported their king in his attacks upon the faithful. Had these folks been caught red-handed attempting to break through (lit., dig through) the mud brick sides of a house, perhaps homicide might have been justified (Exodus 22:2). But this was not the case. Those who had been slain were innocent of wrongdoing. They were executed because of all those things, viz., the apostasy and zeal for the false gods.

Israel a Sassy Wife (Jeremiah 2:35)

She brazenly denied her guilt (2:35a): But you say, I am innocent; surely his wrath has turned from me! In spite of the clear evidence against them, Israel continued to raise strong protestations of innocence of any wrongdoing (cf. Jeremiah 2:23). Their argument was simple: We cannot be as guilty before God as the prophets say we are, because God’s wrath has turned from us. The nation had been undisturbed for so long by foreign powers that they thought they were pleasing to God, or at least not offending him. If we were sinners, God would have punished us; God has not punished us; therefore we must not be sinners.

She boldly argued her innocence (2:35b): Behold, I am entering into judgment with you because you have said, I have not sinned. To enter into judgment is a technical expression similar in meaning to the term contend in Jeremiah 2:9 and complain in Jeremiah 2:29. It means to argue one’s case. In Jeremiah 2:29 Judah had no case. Because Judah continued to deny any guilt, Yahweh continues his case against them.

Israel an Unpredictable Wife (Jeremiah 2:36-37)

She had made sudden shifts in foreign policy (Jeremiah 2:36 a): Why is it such a very light thing for you to change your way? Yahweh accuses Judah of changing alliances on a whim. A light thing is something one does casually, or impulsively. The political history of both Israel and Judah since the accession of Tiglath-pileser III in 745 BC had been characterized by frequent and often disastrous shifts in foreign policy. One king yielded to Assyria; his successor secretly negotiated with Egypt. The Egyptian party seems to have held sway in Jerusalem at the time Jeremiah was preaching his first sermon. The guiding principal among the royal advisers seems to have been that a strong Egypt to the south would mean a free and independent Judah. Jerusalem was not in danger of attack from the north so long as Egypt was a friendly ally.

She would be disappointed in this policy (Jeremiah 2:36 b): Also because of Egypt you shall be ashamed as you were ashamed because of Assyria. Jeremiah warned these political optimists that Egypt would disappoint them, just as Assyria had done many years before. The prophet probably had in mind that episode when king Ahaz urgently called upon Tiglath-pileser III to come and rescue him from an attack by neighboring kings. The king of Assyria was more than glad to comply with this request. At the same time, however, he demanded that the king of Judah render tribute to him. King Ahaz stripped the temple and his own palace to bribe Tiglath-pileser (2 Chronicles 28:20).

She would be punished for this policy (Jeremiah 2:37)

Prediction (Jeremiah 2:37 a): Indeed from this place you shall go out with your hands upon your head… Political alliances with Egypt could not deliver Jerusalem from destruction. Hosea had warned against alliance with Egypt (Hosea 7:11; Hosea 12:1), and Isaiah had repeated the warning (Isaiah 31:1). The prophetic warning against trusting Egypt was justified more than once in the history of both Israel and Judah. The most dramatic demonstration of Egyptian ineffectiveness came during the final siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Pharaoh Hophra tried to march to the aid of Jerusalem; but the great Babylonian monarch easily defeated him (Jeremiah 37).

Explanation (Jeremiah 2:37 b): for Yahweh has rejected your mainstays, and you shall not prosper because of them. Mainstays are those things in which a nation puts its confidence. The day was coming when the Jews would go out from Jerusalem with their hands upon their heads. This was a gesture of shame and surrender (cf. 2 Samuel 13:19). They would not prosper because of their political schemes, for God had rejected that nation in whom Israel trusted, viz., Egypt.

A Beloved Wife (Jeremiah 3:1)

After the blistering indictment of his inaugural sermon, Jeremiah calls Israel to repentance.

Restoration legally impossible (Jeremiah 3:1 a): They say if a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return unto her again? Would not that land become greatly polluted? Is it possible for Judah after years of spiritual harlotry to return to the Lord? According to the law of Moses, a woman who had been divorced, and who had married another, could not be reclaimed by the original husband (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). In the light of this law, was it legally possible for the Lord to take Judah back again? The answer is No!

Restoration lovingly invited (Jeremiah 3:1 b): But you have committed harlotry with many partners; yet return unto me (oracle of Yahweh). Judah’s case was much worse than that envisioned in the divorce law. In the Law of Moses, the woman who has been legally married to a second husband could not be reclaimed. But Judah had cavorted around with many partners, i.e. false gods, and therefore no longer had any legal claim on the Lord. The word rç‘îm in Song of Solomon 5:16 means lovers, but here the word probably has the more general connotation. Love had nothing to do with Judah’s liaisons But grace triumphs over law. In spite of the legal impossibility of reconciliation, God calls upon Judah to return to him.

Final Picture

God has called upon his adulterous wife to be reconciled. But reconciliation seems an impossible dream. In the final picture of his first message Jeremiah paints the word picture of the brazen harlot.

Rampant Infidelity (Jeremiah 3:2)

Prevalence of infidelity (Jeremiah 3:2 a)

In the hills (Jeremiah 3:2 a): Lift up your eyes unto the bare heights97 and look! The meaning of the word translated bare heights (ŝephâyim) is debated. It occurs six times in Jeremiah, three times elsewhere. Some have opted for the meaning caravan-tracks. Where have you not been sexually abused? That the guilt of Judah might clearly be established, Jeremiah calls upon the people to lift up their eyes to the high places, where their illicit religion was being practiced. One cannot find a prominent knoll in all the land that had not been defiled by the licentious rites of Baal. Sexually abused (r. ŝgl) is a verb that is used in the context of sexual violence. Deuteronomy 28:30; Isaiah 13:16; Zechariah 14:2. The word traditionally has been regarded as obscene. In public reading of the text the word connoting simply sexual intercourse (r. ŝkb) is substituted. Israel is mistreated by those she takes as sexual partners.

Along the roads (Jeremiah 3:2 b): Along the ways you have sat for them as an Arabian in the desert… Like a lonely Arab in the midst of the desert who eagerly joins himself to any passers-by, Israel had embraced every form of idolatry that had come along.

Pollution of infidelity (Jeremiah 3:2 c): you have polluted a land with your harlotry and with your iniquity. Yahweh’s inheritance, the holy land, had been polluted by harlotry (idolatry) and other forms of iniquity.

Ineffectual Discipline (Jeremiah 3:3)

Nature of discipline (3:3a): So the showers were withheld, and there was no latter rain… God had punished them by withholding the showers, and especially the latter rain of early spring that was so essential to an abundant harvest.

Response to discipline (3:3b): yet the forehead of a harlot you possessed. You refused to be ashamed. No amount of divine discipline made Israel feel the shame of her wantonness. Forehead is the symbol for obstinacy (Isaiah 48:4; Ezekiel 3:7). It is possible that the phrase forehead of a harlot refers to so distinctive band that prostitutes wore about their foreheads such as is document in Babylonia. As a prostitute remains brazen and shameless when confronted with her deeds, so Israel gave no evidence of shame even when suffering the consequences of her sin. Ashamed (r. klm) is used of profound inner humiliation and of the outer manifestation of that emotion. It is used of a state that can continue for seven days (Numbers 12:14) and of the reaction of David’s envoys when their beards were shaven and their skirts cut off by the king of Ammon (2 Samuel 10:5). The term goes beyond mere blushing or momentary embarrassment.

Superficial Conversion (Jeremiah 3:4-5)

She had spoken flippantly (Jeremiah 3:4): Did you not recently call me, “My Father! You are the Husband of my youth!” Recently is lit., from now, i.e., from the time when the drought began. Instead of calling the idols of wood and stone my father, in their desperation they turned to Yahweh. He was the Father (founder) of the Israelite nation. Judah acknowledged Yahweh husband (’allûph) since the days of national youth. The translation husband is justified on the basis of Proverbs 2:17. The word can also mean intimate friend and even guide as in the ASV and KJV. The term is nowhere else used as a designation for God. Both terms—Father, Husband— connote intimacy. While Yahweh’s wayward daughter/wife cavorted with many partners, the old harlot expressed her claim on Yahweh by the use of these overly familiar relational titles.

She had spoken presumptuously (Jer 3:5a): Will he keep his anger102 forever? Will he keep it always? The Hebrew here means to keep, watch. It appears five times in the OT with the connotation keep one’s anger, bear a grudge: Jer 3:4, 12; Lev 19:18; Nah 1:2; Psa 103:9. Judah regards Yahweh as an overindulgent Father who gives warnings but never administers discipline, and a hen-pecked Husband who will take whatever abuse his renegade wife may heap upon him. To keep anger is to keep a record of sins, to hold a grudge. Judah counts on Yahweh’s grace, that he will not keep a record of her wrongs.

She had spoken hypocritically (Jer 3:5b): Behold, you have spoken, but you have done evil things; and you have succeeded. The word has been paraphrased gone unchallenged (NEB); had your way (NJV). Behold introduces a jarring contrast. Judah’s words and works did not match up. Judah had spoken that superficially indicated faith and commitment, but in reality were sheer hypocrisy. Even while the Judeans were ostensively turning to Yahweh they continued to do evil things. Thus far they had been successful in religious syncretism. Yahweh desires reconciliation with his people; but the reconciliation must be on his terms, not theirs.

SECTION THREE

ISRAEL CALLED TO REPENT

Jeremiah 3:6 to Jeremiah 4:2

And in the days of Josiah the king, Yahweh said unto me: Though it is not entirely clear, this passage probably dates after the reformation of the good King Josiah in 627 BC In the vv that follow Jeremiah relates the sad tale of two sister kingdoms. The focus in this second message is on Israel, the former northern kingdom. The message is organized into five units that are identified by oracle of Yahweh.

Need for Repentance

Jeremiah 3:6-10

Illustration of Israel (Jeremiah 3:6-8 a)

Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? The need for repentance in Judah was made manifest by what had happened in the northern kingdom of Israel. Israel was backsliding personified.

She committed spiritual adultery (Jeremiah 3:6 b): She continuously goes upon every high mountain and under every green tree; and you commit harlotry there. Throughout her history, Israel recklessly had pursued the false gods upon every hill where they would feel closer to the deities, and under every green tree. The trees furnished welcome shade for the practice of their lustful desires.

The last clause of Jeremiah 3:6 is actually in the second person, though this has been obscured in the standard English translations: and you commit harlotry there. This is either a parenthetical direct address to the northern tribes that were presently in exile, or else the prophet points to his hearers and declares you too have engaged in such licentious acts.

Israel refused to return (Jeremiah 3:7): And I said, After she has done all these things, she will return unto me; but she did not return. And the faithless one, her sister Judah, saw it. Through the two hundred years of the history of the northern kingdom, God waited patiently for his foolhardy people to tire of roving from him. God is not willing that any should perish. He was hopeful, even anxious, that wayward Israel would return to him.

If God knows the future, did he not know Israel would refuse to repent? Jeremiah does not bother to deal with this question. He has no interest in working out a systematic theology. He is not concerned with questions of omniscience and foreknowledge in this passage. Jeremiah is not attempting to be a logician but an artist. He is painting a picture of a loving and gracious God on the one hand, and a stubborn and rebellious people on the other. Judah saw what transpired in the north, and yet refused to profit from that experience.

Israel was divorced by God (Jeremiah 3:8 a): And I saw, when, because of the fact that Backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I put her away, and I gave a writing of divorcement unto her… Eventually God divorced his adulterous wife Israel by sending her into Assyrian captivity.

Indictment against Judah (Jeremiah 3:8-11)

Judah learn nothing from the example of her sister (Jeremiah 3:8 b): yet the Treacherous One, Judah her sister, did not fear, but she went and committed harlotry. Judah observed what had happened to her northern sister, but she did not fear. She chose the path of idolatry for herself.

Judah went deeper in harlotry (Jeremiah 3:9): And it came to pass that, because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land, and she committed adultery with stones and stocks. Apostasy in Judah was regarded rather lightly, and consequently the land was polluted. Judah forsook her Bridegroom, and committed adultery with gods of wood and stone. Committed adultery is the same term used in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). It is used in the Piel (Intensive) stem in reference to Israel and in the Qal stem in reference to Judah, perhaps indicating that Judah’s unfaithfulness did not reach the extreme of Israel’s.

Judah acted hypocritically (Jeremiah 3:10): And even in all of this, her treacherous sister Judah did not return unto me with all her heart, but insincerely (oracle of Yahweh). The wickedness of idolatry is only exceeded by the folly of it. Like an adulterous wife who promises to be faithful to her husband while at the same time perpetuating liaison with her lover, so Judah deceitfully pledged herself to the Lord. The Treacherous One had not returned to the Lord with her whole heart. This may be Jeremiah’s assessment of the reformation of Josiah, that it was hypocritical.

First Invitation to Israel

Jeremiah 3:11-18

And Yahweh said unto me… These words mark the beginning of the second unit in Jeremiah’s second message. In this unit Jeremiah has the audacity to invite Israel, the former northern kingdom, to return to Yahweh. He does this to make the point that no sinner’s condition is hopeless if he will repent. By making this point he signals to the hardened sinners in Judah that they too can repent and enjoy God’s blessings once again.

Justification of the Invitation (Jeremiah 3:11): More righteous is Backsliding Israel than Treacherous Judah. Jeremiah had a warm regard for the exiles of the northern kingdom. The sins of Israel, though considerable, were less than those of Judah. God regarded Judah as more guilty because Judah had before her the example of Israel. More light brings greater responsibility in the sight of God.

Presentation of the Invitation (Jeremiah 3:12-13)

Invitation to return (Jeremiah 3:12 a): Go and call these words to the north and say, Return, O Backsliding Israel (oracle of Yahweh). God still yearns for Israel’s return even after a hundred years of punishment in exile. So the prophet is instructed to cry out toward the north, i.e., Assyria, where the ten tribes had been deported (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11). The background of this appeal may be the overtures toward reunion with those who resided in territories of the defunct Kingdom of Israel by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:6-21) and more recently by Josiah (2 Chr 33). The word return in the OT carries the idea of going back to the original point of departure. This shocking directive to Jeremiah is reinforced by the strongest possible claim of direct revelation.

Incentives to return (Jeremiah 3:12 b): I will not frown on you, for I am faithful (oracle of Yahweh): I will not keep anger for ever. If Israel repents they will find that God is faithful, i.e., he keeps his promises. The adjective used here appears thirty-two times in the OT, but as a description of God it appears only here and in Psalms 145:17. Yahweh is anxious to receive them. He will not frown (lit., let my face fall for you) upon them and continue to be angry with them if they will but repent. Again the shocking revelation that reprobate, cast-off Israel can be restored to Yahweh’s good graces is reinforced with the strongest possible claim of direct revelation.

Instructions about returning (Jeremiah 3:13)

Admit transgression (Jeremiah 3:13 a): Just admit your iniquity, that against Yahweh your God you have transgressed… The return to God must be accompanied by sincere acknowledgement of sin. Admit is lit., know. Confession, that always precedes forgiveness, is telling God what he already knows about us. In the present case the confession was to involve acknowledgement of transgression.

Admit profligacy (Jeremiah 3:13 b): and you scattered your ways to strangers under every green tree… To come home the ex-wife must acknowledge her promiscuity. The transgression manifested itself in pursuit of idolatry. They had scattered their ways in the sense of wandering in every direction, seeking gods whose service was deemed more enjoyable and beneficial than the service of the Lord. Ways (derâchîm) means virility as in Proverbs 31:3.

Admit disobedience (Jeremiah 3:13 c): and you did not obey my voice (oracle of Yahweh). The commandments called for recognizing only Yahweh as their God. The phrase obey the voice (of Yahweh) appears eighteen times in both Deuteronomy and Jeremiah. Realizing how controversial his invitation to the northern tribes will be in Judah, Jeremiah again reinforces his words with the strongest claim of revelation.

Second Invitation to Israel

Jeremiah 3:14-18

Tone of the Appeal (Jeremiah 3:14)

Appeal as to wayward sons (Jeremiah 3:14 a): Return, O Backsliding sons (oracle of Yahweh)… The compassionate Father of Israel yearns for the wayward sons to come home, i.e., to restored to fellowship with him.

Appeal as to an unfaithful wife (Jeremiah 3:14 b): for I am married to you… As a loving Husband, the Lord pleads with Backsliding Israel to return. The marriage relationship to the nation Israel may have been severed (Jeremiah 3:8); but God is still the husband of every individual Israelite. The plural you in the Hebrew refers to individuals.

Appeal as to alienated exiles (Jeremiah 3:14 c): and I will take you one of a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. Not many will accept the gracious invitation to repent. Mass conversion was no longer a live option. God knew that most of those exiled Israelites would not return to him. But if only one from a whole city or two from a whole clan or tribe repents, the Lord will not overlook those individuals. He will bring back to Zion everyone who turns to him in sincere repentance.

God clearly is concerned with individuals. Only a few from the northern tribes would actually return to Palestine. The post-exilic records in Ezra and Nehemiah reveal that a few, but only a few, of the exiles from the northern tribes did return after the collapse of Babylon in 539 BC.

The prophecy has a higher fulfillment. Zion in prophecy frequently represents the messianic kingdom. Zion is not a geographical location, but a spiritual condition. The passage then speaks of the conversion of sinners and the incorporation of the redeemed into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Incentive of Future Blessing (Jeremiah 3:15-18)

If individuals of the ten northern tribes are brought by God into spiritual Zion, they will experience many wonderful blessings.

New leadership (Jeremiah 3:15): And I will give you shepherds according to my heart, who shall feed you with knowledge and wisdom. Restored Israel will be blessed with a new leadership. After evangelism must come education and conservation. God is not just concerned to win back his people, but also to preserve them in the faith. Thus he will provide for them shepherdsL―spiritual leaders who will be in harmony with his will and who will impart to the converts wisdom and knowledge of God. One thinks of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 6:35-63), and the faithful men of God who have fed the flock through the centuries.

New growth (Jeremiah 3:16 a): And it shall come to pass when you have multiplied and grown numerous in the land in those days (oracle of Yahweh)… The second blessing is that of prosperity and growth. The rapid increase of the spiritual Israel of God is one of the characteristic traits of messianic prophecy (See Genesis 15:5-6; Genesis 17:2; Genesis 28:14; Jeremiah 23:3; Ezekiel 36:11; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23). The Book of Acts records the thrilling fulfillment of this prediction. The number of the New Israel of God grew from 120 souls (Acts 1:15), to 3,000 souls (Acts 2:41), to 5,000 souls (Acts 4:4). And that was only the beginning! Surely God has kept his promise and blessed the New Israel numerically.

New covenant (Jeremiah 3:16 b): they will no longer say, The ark of the covenant of Yahweh! It will not enter the mind; they will neither remember it nor miss it, nor shall one be made again. In the messianic age, a new covenant will replace the cherished ark of the covenant (Jeremiah 3:16). This gold-covered chest was vital to the religious life in OT times. It must have come as a shock to the Jews to learn that God intended for the ark to disappear in the New Israel. A legend grew up in the intertestamental period that said that Jeremiah was told take the tabernacle, the ark and the altar of incense to Mount Nebo and seal them in a cave (2 Maccabees 2:1-18).

The ark is represented in the Law of Moses as the throne of the Lord. It was the visible symbol of God’s presence. But worship of the new Israel would be internalized and spiritual. A symbol of God’s presence would no longer be needed, for God himself, in the person of his Son, would dwell in the midst of his people. The once for all time sacrifice on Calvary would make unnecessary and superfluous the mercy seat upon which blood was sprinkled annually for the sins of the people.

When the Jews returned from Babylon to rebuild their temple, they had no ark to place in the holy of holies. The absence of that ark was an evident token to those who were spiritually wise that the Old Covenant was ready to vanish away and make way for the New.

A new city (Jeremiah 3:17-18)

Its name (Jeremiah 3:17 a): In that time they shall call Jerusalem “The Throne of Yahweh”… Jeremiah envisioned a new city that would replace earthly Jerusalem. The throne of God will no longer be the ark of the covenant, but rather the holy city, the new Jerusalem. The New Covenant Jerusalem is none other than the Church. Note also that The ark of the covenant is never called in the OT the throne of God, yet it was in fact no less than that.

The Apostle Paul calls it the Jerusalem that is above, i.e., spiritual Jerusalem of which all believers are citizens (Galatians 4:24-31). Jesus Christ sits on the throne of God and rules over his church (Ephesians 1:20-23). Ezekiel speaks of that same city when he says, the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘Yahweh is there’” (Ezekiel 48:35).

Its citizens (Jeremiah 3:17 b): and all nations shall be gathered unto it… Jeremiah foresaw the day when Jerusalem would become the spiritual center of the world. All nations gather there. The gathering of Gentiles into the Church of Christ is another frequent theme in messianic prophecy (e.g., Isaiah 60; Isaiah 62).

Its attractiveness (3:17c): to the Name of Yahweh and to Jerusalem… What is it that attracts Gentiles to the New Covenant Jerusalem, the Church? The verse seems to suggest that it is the Name of the Lord that attracts them. The name of God in the OT revealed something of the character and nature of God. The Name of God in this verse is not an abstract idea, or even a personification, but a person. Note the language of Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 26:8; Isaiah 59:19 where the name of God is personalized. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who came into the world to reveal to men the character and nature of God. The Name here is virtually equivalent to the Logos or Word of John 1.

Its atmosphere (Jeremiah 3:17 d): and they shall not any more walk after the stubbornness of their evil heart. Because they have experienced genuine conversion, Gentiles would no longer walk after the stubbornness of their evil heart. This phrase occurs eight times in the book.

New fellowship (Jeremiah 3:18): In those days the house of Judah shall walk along with the house of Israel, and they shall come together from the land of the north unto the land that I caused your fathers to inherit. A new fellowship would characterize the Israel of the future. Israel and Judah would be reunited for the first time since the great schism of 931 BC. The reunion of these two estranged sister nations is also a major theme in the messianic prophecy of the OT (See Jeremiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 37:16 ff; Hosea 2:2; Hosea 1:11.). The Israelites and Jews are depicted returning together from the land of the north, i.e., Assyria and Babylonia, to the land of Canaan.

The Apostle Paul quotes a similar “reunion” passage from Hosea. He applies it to the unity of believers that exists in the church of Christ (Romans 9:25-26). Therefore, while the present passage may have had a “prefillment” in the days of the restoration from Babylon, its fulfillment came in the messianic age.

Foundation of Repentance

Jeremiah 3:19-20

In this short unit Jeremiah sets forth a starting point for repentance. Those who wish to get back on track with God must grasp were they stand with God.

God Loves Backsliders (Jeremiah 3:19)

Quandary God’s love creates (Jeremiah 3:19 a): But I said, How can I put you among the sons, and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of the nations? Jeremiah pictures Yahweh yearning for his son to show the maturity to receive the inheritance that he has wanted to give the child from the beginning. God asked rhetorically how he could treat Judah as sons qualified for possession of a pleasant land. The reference is to the kingdom of God. This pleasant land is further described as the most beautiful inheritance of the nations. The most wonderful inheritance that can befall a person is to be part of the kingdom of heaven. Yahweh desires to bequeath to his people a wonderful inheritance, just as a father bequeaths land to his sons. But alas, the son is a disappointment, and the father is broken-hearted.

Solution to the quandary (Jeremiah 3:19 b): Then I said, You must call me “my Father,” and you must not withdraw from me. God then answered his own question. One is entitled to the pleasant land or beautiful inheritance when he is able by virtue of the new birth to call God my Father. The image of God as father is very old in the Near East, older even than Moses. But biblical texts directly calling Yahweh father are rare, probably because of the prominence of such imagery in Canaanite theology. Withdraw from me is lit., turn back from after me. The terminology often suggests shrinking under pressure (cf. 2 Samuel 11:15).

Backsliders Sin against Love (Jeremiah 3:20)

Surely as a wife treacherously departs from her husband, thus you have dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel (oracle of Yahweh). From an idealistic view of the distant future, the prophet returns in Jeremiah 3:20 to a realistic view of the present. As God looked upon the nation, all he presently saw in the whole house of Israel was unfaithfulness. Treacherously departs means to betray, act faithlessly against. The betrayal may be in marriage, in solemn commitments, or in rebellion against the created order. Just as a faithless wife departs from her husband, so had the covenant nation departed from the divine Husband.

Ideal Repentance

Jeremiah 3:21 to Jeremiah 4:2

Godly Sorrow (Jeremiah 3:21): A voice is heard upon the bare heights, the weeping of the supplication of the children of Israel; because they have perverted their ways, they have forsaken Yahweh their God. The sad description of the present state of affairs ends abruptly. The prophet moves on to a graphic description of the repentance for which God yearns. Like a father listening for the faintest cry of a lost child, so God listened for some sign that the long apostasy had ended. Finally, he heard it. From the high places, where once their boisterous idolatrous festivities were conducted, now came lamentation and prayers pleading for forgiveness.

Divine Invitation (Jeremiah 3:22 a): Return, O backsliding sons, I will heal your backsliding. Lest they feel that their sin was too grievous and their repentance futile, the Lord immediately offered words of encouragement. He addressed them as sons and called upon them to return to him. He, the Great Physician, will heal them of their spiritual maladies. He will restore them to spiritual health, if they will but come unto him.

Sincere Response (Jeremiah 3:22-24)

Motive (Jeremiah 3:22 b): Here we are, we have come to you because you are Yahweh our God. In Jeremiah 2:31 the people denied being willing to come to Yahweh. Here, however, they willing respond to the gracious invitation that the Lord has just offered in the first half of the v. The recognize Yahweh for who he really is, viz., our God.

The exact nature of these verese has puzzled commentators. Does this forthright confession represent the longing of the Lord? Do these verses indicate the wishful thinking on the part of the prophet? Are these words the confession of a few converted people within the nation? Is this confession predictive of a time when men would realize the folly of idolatry, and turn in true allegiance to God?

This much is certain. The confession gives all the appearances of being sincere. The prophet probably intended these verses to be an ideal prayer of repentance―the kind of prayer that God expected and demanded of those who would truly return to him. It is, to use the words of Laetsch, “a future ideal still far removed from the present reality.”

Confession (Jeremiah 3:23-24)

Admit being deceived (Jeremiah 3:23 a): Truly the hills are a swindle, the tumult of the mountains;--Pagan high places were scenes of boisterous worship of the fertility gods. All manner of debauchery and immorality was practiced there in the name of religion. Tumult (hâmôn) indicates the steady noise of a crowd, the confusion that a crowd manifests, and the large numbers of people in a crowd. The word usually has negative connotations.

Admit Yahweh alone is hope (Jeremiah 3:23 b): truly in Yahweh our God is the salvation of Israel. Salvation is deliverance, rescue.

Admit squandering resources (Jeremiah 3:24): But shame has devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. Shame (bosheth) often serves in the OT as a euphemism for the god Baal. Jeremiah uses the word to mock Baal. This god promised fertility; but for as long as these folks can remember, Baal worship had devoured the resources of the nation. Labor means toil, and then the gain that comes from toil, especially agricultural produce. Their livestock, and even their children, had been offered as sacrifices to the pagan deities.

Shame (Jeremiah 3:25)

Shame for personal and present sin (Jeremiah 3:25 a): Let us lie down in our shame and let our reproach cover us… Because of their idolatry, divine punishment had come upon them that destroyed the labor of their hands, their animals and children. Thus the foolish people had to pay double for the worship of Baal: the initial sacrifice that Baal demanded, and the subsequent punishment that the Lord exacted. The penitent sinners were so ashamed that they resolved to prostrate themselves, an expression of the deepest sorrow. Their guilt was so intense that it seems to enshroud them. Their shame is their bed, and they must lie in it.

Shame for past and persistent sin (Jeremiah 3:25 b): for against Yahweh our God we have sinned, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day; we have not hearkened to the voice of Yahweh our God. What they denied in Jeremiah 2:35, they are able now to admit. This is the godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). When one realizes the true nature of sin and the true nature of the God against whom he has sinned, he cannot help but feel such agonizing shame.

Rewards of Repentance

Jeremiah 4:1-2

Change of Life (Jeremiah 4:1-2 a)

A genuine return to the Lord would involve three distinct actions on the part of the nation.

Return to Yahweh (Jeremiah 4:1 a): If you turn, O Israel (oracle of Yahweh), unto me turn… Israel was capable of turning from God to evil, or from evil to God. If she was to reap the rewards of repentance, Israel must make sure that she turned unto the Lord. The pronoun me is in an emphatic position. Israel had turned to other gods and to other nations. She was constantly turning in one direction or the other. Now she must make sure she returns to me.

Removal of what offends God (Jeremiah 4:1 b): and if you will remove your filth from before me, and never waver… A changed life requires removal of all their filth (šiqqûtsîm), i.e., their idols and pagan worship, from before the face of Yahweh. From that point on they must never waver, i.e., run to and from other gods, but rather remain steadfastly faithful to the Lord.

Renewal of commitment to God (Jeremiah 4:2 a): and you swear, As Yahweh lives, in truth, in justice and in righteousness… Those who repent must swear by the life of the Lord. As the Lord lives was the common OT oath form. The men of Israel must swear to the Lord, and by the Lord. They must renew their covenant to the Lord by swearing allegiance to him. To swear by the Lord means to call him to witness to the truth of a statement. Lest one take this matter of swearing lightly, three qualifications are placed upon the act. The oath must be made (1) in truth, i.e., in sincerity; (2) in justice, i.e., in keeping with what is right; and (3) in righteousness, i.e., in accord with the commandments of the law of God (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Therefore, one must swear truly, justly and rightly.

Change of Circumstances (Jeremiah 4:2 b): then nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him they shall glory. Following this lengthy statement of the stipulations concerning repentance, the Lord added a beautiful promise. If Israel truly repented, then the Lord would make them a blessing to the whole world. The promise of Jeremiah 3:17 would be fulfilled. The heathen would come to bless and glorify the Lord, when they see the way that he will bless penitent Israel.

The Rewards of Repentance Jeremiah 4:1-4

(1) If you return, O Israel, (oracle of the LORD) unto Me return; and if you will remove your abominations from before Me, and never waver (2) and you sware, As the LORD lives, in truth, in justice and in righteousness then nations shall bless themselves in Him and in Him they shall glory. (3) For thus says the LORD, to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: Plow up your unplowed ground! Do not sow among the thorns! (4) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD. Remove the foreskins of your heart, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest like a fire My wrath goes out and burns and there be no one to quench it because of the evil of your deeds.

If she was to reap the rewards of repentance Israel must make sure that she turns unto the Lord. The pronoun “Me” is in an emphatic position in the Hebrew sentence structure of Jeremiah 4:1. Israel had turned to other gods and to other nations. She was constantly turning in one direction or the other. Now she must make sure she returns to “Me.” A genuine return to the Lord will involve three distinct actions on the part of the nation. (1) They must remove all their abominations, i.e., their idols and the rites conducted in their worship, from before the face of the Lord. (2) From that point on they must never waver, i.e., run to and from other gods, but rather remain steadfastly faithful to the Lord. (3) They must swear by the life of the Lord. “As the Lord lives” was the common form of the Jewish oath. The men of Israel must swear to the Lord and by the Lord. They must renew their covenant to the Lord by swearing allegiance to Him.[156] To swear by the Lord means to call Him to witness to the truth of a statement. Lest one take this matter of swearing lightly three qualifications are placed upon the act. The oath must be made (a) in truth, i.e., in sincerity; (b) in justice, i.e., in keeping with that which is right; and (c) in righteousness, i.e., in accordance with the commandments of the law of God (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Following this lengthy statement of the stipulations concerning repentance, the Lord adds a beautiful promise. If Israel truly repents then the Lord will make them a blessing to the whole world and the promise of Jeremiah 3:17 will be fulfilled. The heathen will come to bless and glorify the Lord when they see the way in which He will bless penitent Israel (Jeremiah 4:2). (Cf. Deuteronomy 26:17 f.; 2 Kings 23:3; Nehemiah 9:1 to Nehemiah 10:39.)

From the explicit promise of reward in Jeremiah 4:2 the prophet develops two metaphors which contain implicit promises to penitent sinners. In the first metaphor, which Jeremiah has borrowed from Hosea (Hosea 10:12), the heart of the men of Judah is like a field which has never been cleared of dense brush and plowed for planting. (Jeremiah 4:3). It is no easy task to clear that land of thorn and thistle and plow that virgin soil. Superficial plowing will not do for the roots of the weeds can only be destroyed as the ground is worked again and again. But no harvest of any consequence can be reaped from a field which has not thoroughly been prepared. So must the sinner laboriously work to root up and kill the thorns of wickedness and idolatry. The seed of the word of God does not stand a chance in a heart which harbors the roots of sin. But the more thorough the plowing, the richer the harvest.

In Jeremiah 4:4 the metaphor changes as Jeremiah calls upon the men of Judah to circumcise themselves to the Lord. Here the prophet is taking a slap at the mere formal, ritualistic notions of circumcision. All Jews were circumcised; but not all were “circumcised to the Lord.” Jeremiah is certainly not advocating that the outward act of circumcision be abandoned. God Himself had commanded His people to perform this act. But the prophet is demanding that circumcision be carried out in the right spirit. Israel must not only circumcise the foreskin of their flesh but also of their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). While the outward act of circumcision made a man a member of the commonwealth of Israel, it was the circumcision of the heart that made a man part of the true Israel of God. The outward act was of no consequence if the heart was unchanged. The earnest entreaty of the Lord closes with an ultimatum. If these men fail to live up to their circumcision then the consuming fire of God’s wrath will break forth against them and no one will be able to extinguish that fire (Jeremiah 4:4).

GOD’S WARNING To HIS PEOPLE

Jeremiah 4:5 to Jeremiah 6:26

Following his treatment of repentance Jeremiah takes up at length the subject of divine judgment. Using bold figures of speech he first announces the coming judgment (Jeremiah 4:5-18) and then adds a somewhat detailed description of that judgment (Jeremiah 4:19-31). Chapter 5 in its entirety is devoted to discussion of the causes of the impending disaster. In chapter 6 the prophet sees the judgment approaching ever closer to his country.

Announcement of Coming Judgment Jeremiah 4:5-18

Jeremiah builds the announcement of divine judgment around three figures. He compares the armies which will destroy Judah to a lion who ravishes the countryside (Jeremiah 4:5-10), to a tempest which swirls through the land (Jeremiah 4:11-13) and to “watchers” who station themselves outside the fortifications of Jerusalem and guard against any escape on the part of the inhabitants of the city (Jeremiah 4:14-18).

The first figure: the lion (Jeremiah 4:5-10)

(5) Declare in Judah and publish in Jerusalem, and say: Blow the trumpet in the land; cry out boldly and say: Gather yourselves and let us go unto the fortified city. (6) Set up a standard toward Zion. Take refuge. Do not hesitate; for I am about to bring calamity from the north and great destruction. (7) A lion has gone up from his thicket, yea, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out of his place to make your land a desolation. Your cities shall fall to ruins, without inhabitant. (8) Because of this gird on sackcloth, mourn and howl for the fierce anger of the LORD has not turned back from us. (9) And it shall come to pass in that day (oracle of the LORD) that the heart of the king shall perish and the heart of the princes as well. The priests shall be astonished and the prophets shall be dumbfounded. (10) And I said, Ah Lord GOD! Surely you have completely deceived this people and Jerusalem saying, you shall have peace, while the sword reaches to the soul.

Jeremiah 4:5-10 present a picture of impending disaster. Mentally projecting himself into the future, Jeremiah describes the frenzied activity throughout the land of Judah as the foe draws near. The dramatic quality of the passage is enhanced by the use of a series of rhetorical imperatives addressed by God to the prophet, by the prophet to the people, and by the people to one another. Jeremiah urges the people to sound the alarm throughout the land by means of trumpet and word of mouth. He urges them to cry out as loudly[157] as they possibly can in order that the scattered population might rush to safety in the fortified cities of the land (Jeremiah 4:5). Jeremiah urges them to set up a standard, a signal flag or signpost, to guide the fleeing refugees to Zion or Jerusalem. He pleads with fugitives not to hesitate (literally, stand around). They should not linger or tarry in order to have their possessions. It is an urgent hour. The Babylonian forces in the north are sweeping southward to bring calamity and destruction to Judah (Jeremiah 4:6). The Hebrew says literally, “Cry out! Fill!” sometimes in Hebrew a verb is used to convey an adverbial idea. Jeremiah is then urging them to cry out with the fullness of their strength.

Jeremiah compares Nebuchadnezzar to a lion which has gone up from its thicket. The lion, being the symbol of irresistible might and royalty, is a fitting figure for the invincible Chaldean conqueror. Unlike the literal lions which might attack individuals, this mighty and ruthless lion attacks and destroys whole nations. So certain is Jeremiah that this enemy from the north will descend on Judah that he can declare that Nebuchadnezzar “has gone out of his place” (lit., has broken up his camp). His purpose, declares the prophet, is to make the whole land of Judah a desolation (Jeremiah 4:7). In view of this impending disaster Jeremiah urges the people to gird on sackcloth as a sign of extreme distress. They should mourn and howl as in lamentation over the dead. The destruction of the land is inevitable because the fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from Judah (Jeremiah 4:8) as the people naively believed (Jeremiah 2:35). In that day of disaster the heart of the king and his princes shall perish. The heart in the Old Testament is the center of the intellect, the will and the emotions. Hence the civil rulers who should be a tower of strength in the national emergency will lose their reason and their courage. The spiritual leaders who had so confidently been predicting that God could not and would not destroy Jerusalem will be utterly dumbfounded at the extent of the calamity (Jeremiah 4:9).

In Jeremiah 4:10 Jeremiah reacts to the vivid description of the future judgment which he has just faithfully related to the people. Shocking as it may seem, Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving or beguiling the nation, promising them peace while the sword of divine retribution was about to reach to the very soul or life of the nation. This is not the only passage where Jeremiah charges God with deceit (cf. Jeremiah 20:7). But what is the basis of the accusation against God? Where had God promised peace to the nation? Perhaps Jeremiah has reference to the Messianic promises of Jeremiah 3:14-18. He is not able to reconcile those glorious promises of a golden age to come with his present prophecy of the total destruction of Judah. On the other hand Jeremiah may be alluding to the prophecies of the fake prophets who had been confidently predicting peace for the land (Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 23:17). In this case the Lord is held responsible for those predictions of peace because He did not immediately punish the men who delivered the prophecies. In other words God is said to have done what He only permitted to occur. Upon complaining about these other prophets in a later passage (Jeremiah 14:18) Jeremiah is told that they are prophesying lies in the name of God.

The second figure: (Jeremiah 4:11-13)

(11) In that time it shall be said to this people and to Jerusalem, A wind scorching hot of the bare heights in the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, not to winnow, not to cleanse; (12) a wind too strong for these things shall come for Me; now also I will speak judgments against them. (13) Behold, like clouds he comes up and like a whirlwind are his chariots. His horses are more swift than eagles. Woe to us! for we are devastated.

When the judgment falls upon Judah people will use the figure of a blasting wind to describe what has befallen the land. The foe sweeping down upon Jerusalem will not be like the gentle wind which separates the grain from the chaff but will be like the fierce sirocco which blasts in annually from the Arabian desert (Jeremiah 4:11). Repeating his figure for the sake of emphasis Jeremiah declares that the coming wind of retribution will be “too strong for these things,” i.e., it will be a more violent wind than could serve for winnowing the grain. God had spoken in times past through His prophets. Now God will speak to His people in the only language which they will understand, the language of judgment and punishment (Jeremiah 4:12). The hosts of God’s warriors will come up like the clouds (Ezekiel 38:16) which accompany a violent whirlwind (Isaiah 5:28; Isaiah 66:15). The horses of the enemy are more swift than eagles (Habakkuk 1:8; Deuteronomy 28:49). As the inhabitants of Judah see that vast horde descending upon them the wail of lamentation shall be taken up in the land (Jeremiah 4:13).

The third figure: the keepers (Jeremiah 4:14-18)

(14) Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you might be saved. How long will you harbor in your midst wicked thoughts? (15) For hark! A messenger from Dan, one who announces bad tidings from the hills of Ephraim! (16) Report it to the nations: Behold! Publish concerning Jerusalem, Watchers are coming from a distant land and they shall give forth their voice against the cities of Judah. (17) Like watchmen of a field are they against her round about for she has rebelled against Me (oracle of the LORD). (18) Your way and your deeds have done these things to you; this is your evil. Surely it is bitter! Surely it has touched your very heart.

The third figure opens with an appeal to the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse themselves from evil in order that they might be saved. Amid the crashing threats of divine judgment it is easy to overlook these quiet and sincere appeals. Jeremiah was perplexed by the obstinacy of his countrymen. In view of the impending disaster Jeremiah asks rhetorically, “How long will you harbor (lit., cause to lodge) in your midst (within you) wicked thoughts” (Jeremiah 4:11). Repentance is so urgent for Jeremiah can see in prophetic vision the rapid advance of the enemy, He dramatically depicts a messenger arriving from Dan, the northern border of Palestine. Almost as quickly as the first messenger reaches Jerusalem a second runner from the hills of Ephraim ten miles from Jerusalem arrives with equally bad tidings. The enemy is rapidly advancing toward Jerusalem (Jeremiah 4:15). Even the neighboring nations are called upon to take heed to what is taking place at Jerusalem for the divine visitation there has universal significance. Watchers, i.e., the besieging army. station themselves around the cities of Judah. They lift up their voices against the besieged cities in ridicule, in taunts and. demands for total surrender (Jeremiah 4:16). The enemy erects pavilions, booths and tents about the besieged city like unto those erected by those who guard a field (cf. Isaiah 1:8). The enemy watches the city lest any within make good their escape. All this has come upon Judah because she has rebelled against the Lord (Jeremiah 4:17). The sin of Judah is bitter indeed. It has reached to the very heart of the nation dealing a death blow to her (Jeremiah 4:18).

Description of Coming Judgment Jeremiah 4:19-31

In the last half of chapter four Jeremiah describes the coming judgment. He emphasizes that this judgment will be (1) terrifying (Jeremiah 4:19-22); (2) devastating (Jeremiah 4:23-26); and (3) inevitable (Jeremiah 4:27-31).

Terrifying judgment (Jeremiah 4:19-22)

(19) O my bowels, my bowels! I writhe! O walls of my heart! My heart roars within me! I cannot remain silent! for the sound of the trumpet you have heard, O my soul, the battle cry! (20) Destruction upon destruction is called for; the whole land is spoiled; suddenly they have spoiled my tents, in a moment my curtains. (21) How long shall I see a standard, hear the noise of a trumpet? (22) For My people are foolish, they know not Me; they are stupid sons! they are senseless ones. They are wise to do evil but they do not know how to do good.

Let no one think that Jeremiah enjoyed preaching his message of judgment. He was no sadist who took delight in the suffering of others. As he contemplates the imminent destruction of his people he is emotionally shaken. His heart pounds; his bowels, considered by the ancients to be the seat of emotion, are in agony. He cannot remain silent. He must give vent. to his intense feelings (Jeremiah 4:19). When he hears the war trumpet, the battle cry and sees in his mind’s eye wave after wave of destruction sweeping across his land he is completely overwhelmed. Suddenly, in a moment it seems, the land and all its “tents” and “curtains” fall into the hands of the enemy (Jeremiah 4:20). Of course the people of Judah had long since given up the tents and curtains of their nomadic age for more permanent dwellings. Here Jeremiah is using tents and curtains as a metaphor for the habitations of the citizens of Jerusalem. (See Jeremiah 30:18; 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 8:66; 1 Kings 12:16; Psalms 132:3.)

In Jeremiah 4:21 the agony of the prophet reaches a climax as he cries out, “How long shall I see a standard, hear the noise of a trumpet?” The prophet seems to be rebelling against the visions of divine judgment which he has so frequently seen. The trumpet and standard here may be those of the enemy who attack Jerusalem or those of the Judeans who are defending their capital. Jeremiah seems to have hoped for some breakthrough in divine revelation, some note of hope. Yet all he has received thus far in his ministry are revelations of death and destruction. He asks the question, “How long?” He really means “Why?” God answers that question in Jeremiah 4:23 by giving a three-fold justification for the impending destruction of the nation. (1) The Judeans are foolish and no longer truly know God in their hearts. (2) When it comes to spiritual things, God’s people are stupid and senseless sons. (3) These people are brilliant in planning further evil but do not know the first thing about how to do what is right. Jeremiah wanted to know how long he would continue to receive revelations of destruction. The implication of Jeremiah 4:22 is that these revelations will continue so long as the people continue to be foolish and disobedient.

Devastating judgment (Jeremiah 4:23-26)

(23) I looked at the land, and behold, it was waste and void; and unto the heavens, but there was no light. (24) I looked at the mountains, and behold, they were shaking; and all the hills shook themselves. (25) I looked, and behold, there was no man and all the birds of the heaven had fled. (26) I looked, and behold, Carmel was a wilderness and all his cities were pulled down because of the presence of the LORD and His fierce anger.

Jeremiah regains his composure after the emotional outburst of Jeremiah 4:19-21. God’s explanation of the forthcoming destruction in Jeremiah 4:22 seems to have satisfied the reluctant preacher. He takes up anew the description of the divine judgment by picturing the desolate condition of Judah during the years of the exile. Four times in Jeremiah 4:23-26 he declares that he “saw” what he describes to his hearers. What he saw was not a pretty picture. He saw “waste and void.” The same two words are used in combination in the second verse of Genesis to describe the state of primeval matter before the spirit of God molded it into order and form. He sees darkness prevailing over the land as the heavens refuse to give forth light (Jeremiah 4:23). The mountains and hills, despite their massive weight, are “shaking” (lit., to be light or move lightly), swaying, tossing and heaving (Jeremiah 4:24). Not a man could he see! Not even a bird remained in the land (Jeremiah 4:25). When birds flee a land the desolation is complete. Carmel, the “fruitful field,” had become a wilderness. All the cities of the land are in ruins. All had been laid waste and destroyed by the wrath of the God of judgment.

Inevitable judgment (Jeremiah 4:27-31)

(27) For thus says the LORD: All the land shall become a desolation; but I will not make a full end of it. (28) On account of this the land shall mourn, the heavens above shall be dark because I have spoken, I have purposed it and I have not repented nor turned back from it. (29) From the noise of the horsemen and bowmen all the city flees. They go into the thickets and go up into the rocks. Every city is forsaken and there is not a man dwelling in them. (30) And you who are about to be spoiled, what are you doing that you clothe yourself with scarlet, that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with eye shadow. In vain you primp! Your lovers despise you, they seek your life. (31) For a sound as a woman in labor I have heard, anguish as one who brings forth her first-born, the sound of the daughter of Zion gasping for breath, spreading forth her hands. Woe is me now for my soul faints before the murderers.

However severe the punishment of Judah may be God “will not make a full end of it” (Jeremiah 4:27). A remnant will escape and become the seed for a holier nation.[159] Without such a conviction the work of the prophet would be meaningless. Yet God has proposed and decreed the destruction of the nation as a political entity. For this reason both earth and heaven are pictured as entering into mourning (Jeremiah 4:28). The figure of the earth mourning may mean that the soil will not produce its fruit. The lamentation on the part of nature is justified. Screaming, galloping horsemen and expert bowmen will sweep down upon “the city.” The inhabitants of the city will flee for safety to the thickets and rocks, the limestone caverns which abound in Palestine. Every city is forsaken, deathly silent (Jeremiah 4:29). See Amos 9:8; Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20; Isaiah 11:11; Hosea 6:1-2.

In view of the impending national disaster Jeremiah cannot comprehend the nonchalance of his countrymen. Like the wrinkled old Jezebel who painted her face in a desperate attempt to allure and seduce her antagonist Jehu (2 Kings 9:30), Judah is using every device to gain the favor of the powers of the world. Judah puts on scarlet robes and beautiful ornaments of gold. She applies cosmetics to her eyelids in order to make her eyes seem larger. But all of this primping is in vain. Judah’s political lovers actually despise her and are seeking to destroy her (Jeremiah 4:30). Judah had entered into adulterous liaison with Egypt, Assyria (Jeremiah 2:33 f.) and, most recently, Babylon. But history was about to prove again that Judah’s lover was her implacable foe. The foreign powers of antiquity were completely unimpressed by the seductive wiles of Zion. Three times in Jeremiah 4:30 Jeremiah emphasizes Judah’s efforts to please her political friends; three times he records the futility of her efforts. Too late the silly maiden will realize the folly of her ways. The dying daughter of Zion will experience agony akin to that experienced by a woman giving birth to her first child. She gasps for breath and spreads forth her hands in desperate appeal, crying out in anguish, “woe is me!” At last she realizes that her lovers (hogebim) are really her murderers (horegim).

Causes of Coming Judgment Jeremiah 5:1-31

In chapter five Jeremiah discusses the various reasons why God must judge His people. The nation has been guilty of at least six terrible sins: (1) moral corruption (Jeremiah 5:1-6); (2) sexual impurity (Jeremiah 5:7-9); (3) treacherous unbelief (Jeremiah 5:10-18); (4) religious apostasy (Jeremiah 5:19-24); (5) social injustice (Jeremiah 5:25-29); and (6) international deception (Jeremiah 5:30-31).

Moral corruption (Jeremiah 5:1-6)

(1) Roam through the streets of Jerusalem, look and find out for yourself! Seek in her broad places if you can find a man or if there is one who does justly, seeking truth, that I may forgive her. (2) And though they sware, As the LORD lives, surely they sware falsely. (3) O LORD are not Your eyes on truth? You have smitten them but they felt no pain; You consumed them, they have refused to accept instruction. They have made their faces harder than a rock. They refuse to repent. (4) And as for me, I said, Surely these are poor! They are foolish for they do not know the way of the LORD, the judgment of their God. (5) I will go up unto the great ones and speak to them for they know the way of the LORD, the judgment of their God. But they altogether have broken the yoke, they have burst the straps. (6) Therefore a lion from the forest shall smite them, a wolf from the desert shall plunder them, a leopard watches over their cities. Anyone who goes out from thence shall be torn because their transgressions are many, their backsliding are without number.

In order to impress upon the mind of the prophet the necessity for divine judgment the Lord instructs Jeremiah to walk to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem and make a personal observation of the moral condition of the city. Specifically he is to search in the broad places or marketplaces for a man, i.e., someone who was worthy to be called a man. Jeremiah was to search for a man who does what is just and right and who seeks truth or faithfulness. The Hebrew word translated “truth” often times refers to the faithfulness of a man in performing his duties to God and his fellowmen (See 1 Chronicles 9:22; 1 Chronicles 9:26; 1 Chronicles 9:31; 2 Chronicles 31:15; 2 Chronicles 31:18, etc.). The prophet is looking for a man who was true to God, true to man and true to himself. But sometimes in the Old Testament this Hebrew word has a more specialized meaning. It refers to faith in the promise of God to bring a Redeemer into the world (See Habakkuk 2:4. Cf. Romans 1:17.). Faith in the Gospel promise sustained the Old Testament heroes. (See Genesis 4:1; Genesis 5:29; Genesis 49:18; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Hebrews 11.) It may well be that Jeremiah here is to search for a man who possessed Messianic faith. Abraham prayed that Sodom be spared if there were ten righteous men. But God here goes even further. If Jeremiah can find one just man in the city who seeks truth or faith He will forgive Jerusalem and withhold the execution of His wrath.

With the zeal of Diogenes Jeremiah searched for a real man in the streets of Jerusalem. He found many who used the name of the Lord in their oaths but only to sware to that which was untrue (Jeremiah 5:2). To use God’s name in a solemn oath and then lie was tantamount to blasphemy against the holy name. God was looking for truth or faithfulness or faith in the hearts of men. Not finding it in the men of Judah God brought disciplinary disasters upon them. The judgments of God are sometimes rehabilitative and sometimes retributive. Here the former class of judgments is intended. God had smitten them but they felt no pain; God had almost completely destroyed them but they refused to accept the correction. With stoic determination they endured the discipline of God hardening their faces and refusing to repent (Jeremiah 5:3).

Jeremiah could not believe what he saw among the common people on the streets of Jerusalem and so he began to make excuses for them. These people are poor; they are uneducated in the way of the Lord; they know nothing of the judgment, i.e., religious law of their God. It is their lack of education which causes them to foolishly sin, and the hardship of their poverty has caused them to harden their hearts in unbelief (Jeremiah 5:4). Jeremiah was confident that he would not find a real man among the down and out; but he was not ready to relinquish his search. He decided to check on the “great ones,” the wealthy and cultured of the nation. They had all the advantages of education and instruction in the way of the Lord. They were literate and could read the law of God for themselves. But Jeremiah found that the up and out were worse than the down and out. Among the elite he found nothing but lawlessness and license. They had altogether broken the yoke of divine restraint (Jeremiah 5:5). The straps which they burst were the thongs by which the yoke was secured to the neck (cf. Isaiah 58:6). These men wanted to be free from the law of God and from any divine control. They wanted to do their own thing. Thus, in the entire nation Jeremiah could not find one man who by God’s standards was a real man.

Because of the all-pervasive apostasy, God will bring judgment upon Judah: a lion from the forest, a wolf from the desert; and a leopard or panther watching over their cities (Jeremiah 5:6). Lions were common in the hills and valleys of Palestine. A few leopards are still to be found in the hills of Galilee. The singular words: lion, wolf, leopard, are probably to be regarded as collective singulars. These animals may be symbols of the calamity which would befall Judah. On the other hand, numerous prophecies make it clear that the land would be overrun by wild creatures after the Jews had been deported. See Ezekiel 14:16; Ezekiel 14:21; Leviticus 26:22; Deuteronomy 32:24; 2 Kings 17:25

Sexual impurity (Jeremiah 5:7-9)

(7) Wherefore should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken Me and have sworn by no-gods; and when I fed them, then they committed adultery and they flocked to the house of a harlot. (8) They have become well-fed stallions roaming about; each man neighs unto the wife of his neighbor. (9) On account of these things shall I not punish (oracle of the LORD)? Shall not MY soul take vengeance on a nation which is like this?

Persistent unbelief makes divine forgiveness of Judah impossible. The children of Judah have forsaken God and have indicated their allegiance to idols by swearing in the name of these non-entities. God had fed them, granted to them prosperity. But instead of gratitude, here is depravity. They had committed the sin of adultery. The prophet may be referring to literal adultery here or he may be using adultery as a metaphor for apostasy. The men of Judah flocked (lit., assembled in troops) to the house of the harlot (Jeremiah 5:7). They were utterly unashamed of their actions and made no attempt to hide their immoral acts. The reference here might be to the obscene orgies which characterized certain of the Canaanite cults. In any case, the immoral acts of the Baal cult could not be confined to “religious” exercises. The men of Judah roam about like well-fed stallions, each one neighing to the wife of his neighbor (Jeremiah 5:8). The morals of a nation have sunk to rock bottom when sexual desire becomes merely an animal appetite to be satisfied in any manner and with anyone. Can God do anything other than bring punishment and divine vengeance upon such a nation? (Jeremiah 5:9). Divine vengeance in Scripture is just retribution for sins which are an affront to God.

Treacherous unbelief (Jeremiah 5:10-18)

(10) Go up against her rows and destroy, but do not make a full end; Remove her shoots for they do not belong to the LORD. (11) For the house of Israel and the house of Judah have been thoroughly treacherous with me (oracle of the LORD). (12) They have lied against the LORD and have said, lie is not and the calamity shall not come against us. We shall not see sword and famine. (13) And the prophets are windbags and the word is not in them. Thus let it be done to them. (14) Therefore thus says the LORD God of Hosts: because you have said this thing, behold, I am about to place My words in your mouth as fire and this people as wood and it shall consume them. (15) Behold, I am about to bring against you a nation from afar, O house of Israel (oracle of the LORD), a powerful nation, an ancient nation, a nation whose tongue you do not know nor can you understand what they say. (16) Their quiver is like a open grave; all of them are mighty men. (17) They shall eat your harvest and your bread, they shall eat up your sheep and your cattle, they shall eat your vines and your fig trees, they shall batter with the sword your fortified cities in which you are trusting. (18) But even in those days (oracle of the LORD) I will not make a full end of you.

Frequently in prophetic literature the Lord through his prophet will exhort the enemy to get busy with the work of judgment against Israel. In verse ten Judah is compared to a vineyard or perhaps an olive orchard. The enemy is instructed to go up against the rows of vines and begin a ruthless pruning operation. The degenerate and dead shoots, the apostate people who no longer render allegiance to the Lord, are to be removed. But the enemy is not to completely destroy the vine. Through the process of their pruning the degenerate members of the nation will be removed and the believing kernel of the nation will be left (Jeremiah 5:10). Here again is the idea of the remnant which plays such an important role in the Old Testament (cf. Jeremiah 4:27).

But why must any judgment against Judah take place? The house of Israel and the house of Judah, both kingdoms, have been “treacherous” with the Lord (Jeremiah 5:11). The word “treacherous” in the Old Testament carries the idea of violating the most sacred relationships as, for example, marriage vows (Malachi 2:11). Furthermore, the people of Judah have lied against the Lord (Jeremiah 5:12). They were saying, “No calamity of any kind shall befall us for His is not” (lit., not He!). Were they denying the very existence of God? This is not likely. Were they saying, “God has nothing to do with either our well-being or our misfortune?” In view of the prevailing religious attitudes of that day this again seems unlikely. Were they saying, “It is not He who is speaking through prophets like Jeremiah?” This seems to be reading too much into the text. In the view of the present writer the people were saying,

“God will not turn against us, He will not bring calamity upon us.” The notion that God could not destroy Judah because of the covenant with them was deeply rooted in the popular theology of that time. Whatever it was that they were saying God regarded it as a lie concerning Himself.

Not only were the people lying against God, they were ridiculing the prophets of God. They regarded the prophets who claimed to be men of the Spirit as nothing but windbags. The word of God is not in them (lit., He who speaks is not in them). “Let these prophecies of doom fall upon those who utter them,” sneered the people (Jeremiah 5:13). But God will not let the slanderous words of the people go unchallenged. He acknowledges Jeremiah as His spokesman and affirms that He, the Almighty, has placed those words upon the lips of the prophet. The judgment words spoken by Jeremiah will eventually consume the people as fire consumes dead timber (Jeremiah 5:14). The title “Lord God of Hosts” appears in Jeremiah 5:14 for the first time in the book. This title, frequent in Isaiah, became even more popular in the period of the exile and restoration. The identity of “the hosts” is uncertain. Is He Lord of the hosts of angels, the hosts (armies) of Israel or the hosts of the nations? God is Lord of all hosts; He is sovereign over all men and angels.

The threat of divine judgment so repugnant to the people of Judah is repeated in Jeremiah 5:15-18. God is about to bring a powerful and ancient nation against the house of Israel. The “house of Israel” is here the kingdom of Judah, for after the destruction of Samaria in 722 B.C. Judah became the sole representative of the people of Israel. The attacking nation is “powerful.” The word used here is one used primarily of rivers which flow the year around. The enemies have inexhaustible resources and therefore do not fail in the purpose which they undertake. The nation is ancient, dating back to the very dawn of history. They speak a language which the men of Judah cannot comprehend (Jeremiah 5:15). Here Jeremiah seems to borrow the terminology used earlier by Isaiah to describe the Assyrians (Isaiah 28:11; Isaiah 33:19). Every man in the enemy army is a mighty of valor. The arrows of their archers are deadly (Jeremiah 5:16). The armies of the enemy sweep over the land and devour the crops and the cattle. The phrase, “they shall eat up your sons and your daughters,” is metaphorical, meaning they shall eat the food which the children would normally eat. This would mean, of course, that the children would then die of starvation. With the sword, i.e., with their weapons of war, they will batter down the walls of the cities in which the men of Judah placed their confidence (Jeremiah 5:17). Yet as terrible as this judgment is, the nation will not be utterly destroyed. A remnant will survive (cf. Jeremiah 4:27; Jeremiah 5:10).

Religious apostasy (Jeremiah 5:19-24)

(19) And it shall come to pass when you shall say, For what reason did the LORD our God do all these things to us? Then you shall say unto them, Just as you have forsaken Me and served strange gods in your land, thus you shall serve strangers in a land not your own. (20) Declare this in the house of Jacob and make it known in Judah, saying, (21) Hear now this: O foolish people who are without understanding, who have eyes and see not, who have ears and do not hear. (22) Do you not fear Me (oracle of the LORD)? Do you not tremble from before My face who placed the sand as a border to the sea, an eternal statute and it shall not cross over it. (23) But this people has a revolting and rebellious heart; they have revolted and gone. (24) They did not say in their heart, Let us fear now the LORD our God who gives us the rain in season, even showers of autumn and spring, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.

Once the divine calamity begins to fall upon Judah men will inquire of the prophet as to why their nation is suffering so. His answer is to be honest and uncompromising: “you willingly forsook God and served strange gods in your own land. As your punishment you must serve strange people in a foreign land” (Jeremiah 5:19). The divine punishment corresponds to the crime which the people have committed against God. On at least four occasions, possibly more, Nebuchadnezzar led away captives from Jerusalem, in 605, 597, 587 and 582 B.C.

In order to impress once again the seriousness of the national apostasy upon the people Jeremiah is commissioned to deliver another oracle to “the house of Jacob,” i.e., Judah (Jeremiah 5:20). The people of Judah are foolish, without understanding. They have eyes and ears but they do not see and hear (Jeremiah 5:21). This same terminology is used in Psalms 115:5 f. where it refers to idols. Perhaps by applying this familiar terminology to the people of Judah Jeremiah is suggesting that people become like the object of their worship (cf. Ezekiel 12:2). These people are blind to the omnipotence of God revealed in nature. In the Hebrew “Me” and “My presence” are placed in an emphatic position as if to stress how incomprehensible it is that people cannot recognize the might and majesty of the Creator. As but one example of His handiwork Jeremiah mentions how the creator has placed the sand as an impassable barrier to the sea. This is an eternal statute or perpetual decree, a law of nature (Jeremiah 5:22). But while inanimate nature is submissive to the divine will, Israel has a rebellious heart or will. They have actually defied and opposed their God and gone away from His will (Jeremiah 5:23). They, were utterly blind to their dependence upon God for their sustenance. God had faithfully given to His people the autumn and spring rains upon which the agricultural prosperity of Palestine depends. Year in and year out God kept the weeks of the harvest for the benefit of His people. This expression may simply mean that God granted to His people an annual harvest in late April or early May. On the other hand, God may have “kept” the harvest in the sense of preserving the harvest period from rain until the crops were gathered. In other words, God gave them rain when they needed it and restrained the rain when it would have been harmful to them. Yet in blind ingratitude they never thought of rendering to God the fear and reverence due to Him (Jeremiah 5:24).

Social injustice (Jeremiah 5:25-29)

(25) Your iniquities have turned away these things and your sins have withheld good from you. (26) For wicked men are found among My people. They watch, with the crouching of fowlers; they set the traps; they catch men. (27) As a cage full of birds so their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they become great and they become rich. (28) They have become fat, they are sleek, they have surpassed the deeds of the wicked. They do not plead the case, the case of the orphan that they might prosper and the cause of the poor they do not judge. (29) On account of these things shall I not punish (oracle of the LORD)? Shall not My soul take vengeance on a nation which is like this?

The iniquities of the people of Judah have deprived them of continued divine blessing (Jeremiah 5:25). The judgment envisioned by Jeremiah was not wholly in the future. A foretaste of that judgment was already being given in the form of disciplinary disasters designed to shake the people up and bring them to repentance (cf. Amos 4). These judgments are necessary because there are wicked men among the people of God, men who will stop at nothing to enrich themselves. Like the fowler (cf. Micah 7:2) they crouch and wait until an innocent and helpless victim is ensnared in their trap. By wicked and diabolical schemes they are attempting to catch men (Jeremiah 5:26). As the home of the successful fowler is full of caged birds, so the homes of these wicked schemers give evidence of their prowess. Their homes are full of deceit, i.e., objects obtained through deceit, ill-gotten gain (Jeremiah 5:27). These wicked men grow fat and sleek as their riches increase. Their wickedness grows ever more bold and reprehensible. They exceed or go beyond the deeds of the most wicked men. No crime is out of the question if it serves to enhance their wealth and power. They were totally inconsiderate of the rights of helpless minorities, the poor and the fatherless. Never would one of these powerful men intervene to help the less fortunate get justice in the courts (Jeremiah 5:28). Repeating the rhetorical question of Jeremiah 5:9 the Lord asks, “Shall I not take vengeance on such a nation as this?” Acts of injustice are offences against God and He must avenge them. The intervention of God on behalf of the helpless and in judgment upon those who oppress them is one of the major themes of prophetic literature.

Intentional deception (Jeremiah 5:30-31)

(30) An astonishing and horrible thing has come to pass in the land. (31) The prophets have prophesied falsehoods and the priests rule at their side and My people love it so! And what shall you do at its end?

That which is commonplace among men often is shocking in the eyes of God. As the Lord evaluated the religious situation in Judah He regarded what was taking place as astonishing and horrible (Jeremiah 5:30). Not only the political rulers (Jeremiah 5:28) but the spiritual rulers as well were utterly corrupt. Jeremiah was both prophet and priest and he criticized those who held both offices. The prophets were prophesying falsehoods, promising the people that God was on their side and no ill would befall their nation. They peddled a false security based on empty forms and rituals. It was a superficial religion, a religion which did not get in the way of one’s everyday life. The priests “rule at their side,” i.e., at the beck and call of the prophets. But the people were as guilty as their religious leaders for they encouraged and supported them. Falsehood is generally far more pleasant to the ear than truth and the men of Judah were quite anxious to hear the assurances of peace and prosperity. But what will all of these men do at the end when they ultimately face the God of judgment and truth? The word “end” might refer to the death of the individual apostates or to the end of the national existence when Judah would as a nation stand face to face with God.

Approach of Judgment Jeremiah 6:1-30

Chapter 6 contains a dramatic description of the advance of the foe against Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:1-5) and the subsequent siege of that city (Jeremiah 6:6-8). The enemy will be completely successful in destroying the city (Jeremiah 6:9-15). At this point in. the chapter Jeremiah offers to the people a prescription of deliverance from impending judgment (Jeremiah 6:16-21). Then he reverts to a description of the coming conqueror (Jeremiah 6:22-26). The chapter concludes with an indication of the hopeless task of the prophet of God (Jeremiah 6:27-30).

The advance of the foe (Jeremiah 6:1-5)

(1) Seek refuge, O children of Benjamin, from the midst of Jerusalem and in Tekoa blow a trumpet! At Beth-Hakkerem rise up a signpost! for calamity peers down from the north, great destruction. (2) The beautiful and dainty one, the daughter of Zion, I will cut off. (3) Unto her shall come shepherds with their flocks; they shall pitch against her tents round about; they shall graze each man what is at his hand. (4) Sanctify against her war. Rise up! Let us go up at noontime. Woe to us when the day turns for the shadows of evening are stretching out. (5) Rise up that we may go up by night, that we may destroy her palaces.

Projecting himself mentally into the future Jeremiah describes the scene as the foe from the north sweeps toward Jerusalem. In Jeremiah 4:6 the people of the countryside are exhorted to flee to Jerusalem. But the capital now no longer appears to be safe and the prophet can see refugees streaming southward from her gates. Being himself a Benjaminite, Jeremiah calls for his fellow tribesmen to get out of the midst of Jerusalem. The city of Jerusalem was actually located on the border between Judah and Benjamin and hence many Benjaminites made that city their home. In Tekoa, twelve miles south of Jerusalem, a trumpet is sounded to assemble the people in their flight to the wilderness of southwestern Judah. At BethHakkerem, thought to be a hill east of Bethlehem, a sign post or fiery beacon is set up to give further guidance to fugitives. This flight is wise and necessary because the ugly monster of calamity is peering down (lit., bending forward) from the north (Jeremiah 6:1). By means of the ruthless armies of Nebuchadnezzar God will cut off or destroy the beautiful and dainty daughter of Zion, i.e., the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:2). Zion was the hill chosen by the Lord as His earthly abode and was part of the city of Jerusalem. No longer will the delicate lady, the bride of God and daughter of Jerusalem, receive the loving and tender treatment of the past. Instead, foreign commanders with their armies will come up against Jerusalem like shepherds with their flocks. Each “shepherd” will allow his flock to graze that part of Judah which is “at his hand” i.e., which has been assigned to his jurisdiction. As sheep graze a pasture land until nothing but bare soil remains so will these “shepherds” and their “flocks” utterly depasture and devastate the land of Judah (Jeremiah 6:3). Jeremiah 6:4 opens with an exhortation addressed to the invading force. “Sanctify against her war!” War in antiquity was a sacred undertaking. Sacrifices were frequently offered before battle (e.g., 1 Samuel 7:9; 1 Samuel 13:9) and inspirational addresses were given (e.g., Judges 7:18). Following the exhortation which he addresses to the enemy, Jeremiah takes his audience into the very camp of the enemy. The enemy is planning a surprise attack at noontime, a time when usually both sides in a conflict rested. As the shadows of evening lengthen the enemy forces lament the fact that they have not been able to complete their work of destruction (Jeremiah 6:4). Rather than retire to the camp for rest and refreshment the enemy commanders urge their men forward in a daring and decisive night attack designed to bring them within the walls of Jerusalem. They will not wait till morning for the final assault (Jeremiah 6:5).

The siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:6-8)

(6) For thus says the LORD of hosts: Cut her trees and pour out against Jerusalem a mound! This is the city to be punished; everywhere there is oppression in her midst. (7) As the well causes its water to bubble forth so she bubbles forth her wickedness; violence and oppression are heard in her; before Me continually are sickness and wounds. (8) Be corrected, O Jerusalem, lest My soul be removed from you; lest I make you an astonishment, a land not inhabited.

The God of Israel is the Lord of the enemy hosts. He issues the commands; they are merely instruments in His hands. “Cut her trees! Pour out against Jerusalem a mound!” The Assyrian kings boast of how they cut down the trees of the enemy. The timber was sometimes taken home, sometimes used to construct battering rams, catapults and other weapons used in the siege. Baskets of earth were poured out to form high mounds from which missiles could the more easily be hurled against the walls or into the besieged city. Jerusalem is to be punished by God because oppression exists throughout that city (Jeremiah 6:6). Just as a well always yields a supply of cool, fresh water so Jerusalem seems to constantly cause her wickedness to bubble forth. Deeds of violence and oppression against the less fortunate are commonplace. As a result of this mistreatment people suffer physical agony. Diseases produced by deprivation, want and wounds resulting from violent deeds cause the people to cry out to God about their plight (Jeremiah 6:7). Jeremiah earnestly appeals to Jerusalem to accept divine chastisement, to amend her ways, to repent. If they fail to heed this appeal God will completely, finally, and totally remove (lit., pull out, tear away) Himself from their midst. The land of Judah will become uninhabited, an astonishment to all who might look upon the desolation (Jeremiah 6:8).

The success of the foe (Jeremiah 6:9-15)

(9) Thus says the LORD of hosts: They shall thoroughly glean as a vine the remnant of Israel; turn again your hand like a grape gatherer over the basket. (10) To whom may I speak and give warning that they may hear. Behold, their ear is uncircumcised; they are not able to pay attention. Behold, the word of the LORD has become a reproach to them, they do not delight in it. (11) Therefore with the wrath of the LORD am I filled; I weary myself containing it! Pour it out upon the child in the street and upon the gathering of young men. For a husband along with his wife shall be taken captive, the old man with the one full of days. (12) And their houses shall be turned over to others, their fields and their wives together. For I shall stretch out My hand over the inhabitants of the land (oracle of the LORD). (13) For from their least to their greatest everyone is greedy for gain, from the prophet even unto the priest everyone practices deception. (14) They have healed the wound of My people with platitudes, saying, Peace! peace! when there is no peace. (15) They shall be put to shame because they have committed abomination; they neither are ashamed nor do they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who are falling. At the time that I punish them they shall be thrown to the ground said the LORD.

Once again comparing Israel to a vineyard Jeremiah paints the picture of a complete and thorough judgment. Only a remnant of once powerful Israel remained after the ten northern tribes were ravished and deported by the Assyrians. Yet now even this remnant, i.e., Judah, is to undergo a severe sifting process. The enemy will thoroughly spoil sinful Judah as a grape gatherer who leaves nothing but leaves behind. The hand of the grape gatherer moves incessantly back and forth from the vine to the basket until the final grapes are picked (Jeremiah 6:9). Here is a picture of the repeated calamities, deportations, and attacks which Judah experienced in the twenty years following the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. So was the remnant of Israel, Judah, itself made a remnant.

Jeremiah’s prophetic discouragement comes out in Jeremiah 6:10. No one will listen to him as he sounds the warning of impending judgment. The word of the Lord is treated with derision. The ear of the people seems to be uncircumcised, covered as it were with a foreskin which prevents the prophetic word from penetrating their mind (cf. Acts 7:51). Discouraged though he is, Jeremiah cannot refrain from preaching the word of judgment. He is filled with the message of divine wrath; it burns within him. He tries very hard to hold it back but only succeeds in making himself weary. In the last part of Jeremiah 6:11 the problem arises as to who is speaking and to whom. Some think God is talking to Jeremiah urging him to pour out his message of doom upon the population. Others think Jeremiah is talking to God urging Him to hasten the day of judgment. The best view seems to be that Jeremiah is talking to himself. These are words of self-exhortation. He calls upon himself to announce the terrible day of God’s wrath. Whether or not the people listen he must sound the alarm. He must pour out his message to all segments of the population, from the very youngest to the very oldest, for all will ultimately be involved in the outpouring of divine judgment (Jeremiah 6:11). Their houses, and fields, and wives will be turned over to the invading soldiers; for the hand of the Lord, once stretched out against the enemies of Israel (Exodus 3:20; Deuteronomy 7:19) is now stretched out against them (Jeremiah 6:12).

The judgment described in Jeremiah 6:12 is appropriate to the root sin of the men of Judah, covetousness. Everyone in the nation, from the least to the greatest, was greedy for illicit gain. Even the prophets and priests practice deception and fraud to curry favor with the populace and thereby secure their good will and their gifts (Jeremiah 6:13). For the love of filthy lucre they would offer flattering pictures of the future prospects of the nation (cf. Micah 3:5). “All is well,” they would say. “Peace! Peace!” These soft-soaping, self-seeking clergymen completely failed to come to grips with the serious ailment of the nation. The pious platitudes of these leaders would no more cure the wound of Judah than mercurochrome could heal a skin cancer. These leaders feel no shame at present, they have no conscience, they do not know how to blush. But the leaders will eventually share the fate of those they had misguided. They shall fall among those who are slain in battle; they shall disrespectfully be thrown to the ground by the ruthless conqueror (Jeremiah 6:15).

Prescription for deliverance (Jeremiah 6:16-21)

(16) Thus said the LORD: Stand along side the ways and observe. Ask for the old ways where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your soul. But they said, We will not walk in it! (17) I have set over you watchmen. Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they have said, We will not hearken! (18) Therefore hear, O nations! Know, O congregation, what is in them. (19) Hear, O earth. Behold, I am about to bring calamity unto this people, the fruit of their thoughts; for they have not paid attention to My words and as for My law, they have rejected it. (20) Why should you bring incense from Sheba, and sweet cane from a distant land. Your burnt offerings are not pleasing and your sacrifices do not satisfy Me. (21) Therefore thus says the LORD: Behold, I am about to give unto this people stumbling and they shall stumble over them, fathers and sons together. The neighbor and his friend shall perish.

In the view of Jeremiah the nation was at a crossroads. He calls upon the people to stand, i.e., halt their headlong rush to destruction. Jeremiah urges them to select the old path of fidelity to God and adherence to His holy law and then to walk in that path. The old paths are those which previous generations have trodden to find salvation and divine blessing. There is but one way which has the blessing of the Lord and that is the way of obedient faith. True reformers are not those who are advocating new things but those who give due weight to old truths. The person who walks the old path will find spiritual rest for his soul. He will live a life free from anxiety about the here and now and the hereafter as well. In spite of this tender and gracious appeal on the part of God the people of Judah persist in stubbornly refusing to yield to His will. Their defiant response to the appeal is, “We will not walk in it!” (Jeremiah 6:16). Again God appeals to them to hearken to the alarm sounded by the prophetic watchmen whom He has placed over the nation (cf. Ezekiel 3:17; Ezekiel 33:1). Like watchmen of a city who stood on a high tower scanning the horizon for the first appearance of danger, so God’s watchmen would constantly be on the lookout for any danger to the continued existence of the nation of Judah. At the first appearance of danger these faithful watchmen would sound the alarm by blowing the trumpet of God’s warning word throughout the land. God’s second appeal is also rejected. The hardened people declare that they will not hearken to the alarm of the watchmen (Jeremiah 6:17).

In view of the double rejection of the appeal of God sentence must be pronounced against Judah. The nations of the world are called upon to hear the pronouncement (cf. Micah 1:2; Isaiah 18:3). The congregation of nations should note the sin and ingratitude which dwells in the heart of God’s chosen people. The ultimate objective of this instruction to the nation is didactic. God is about to teach a lesson to all the nations of the world by punishing His own people for their national sins. If the nations really know what is going on in Judah they will be able to apply the lesson to themselves (Jeremiah 6:18). The whole earth hears the horrible sentence of judgment: “I am about to bring calamity unto this people.” This punishment is the ripe fruit, the direct result, of their wicked and rebellious thoughts. They have not paid any attention to the word of God spoken through the prophets and furthermore they had rejected his written law (Jeremiah 6:19). Everywhere the Jews were scattered among the nations they became witnesses to their own guilt and the righteousness of the divine retribution against them.

Continued perfunctory observance of Temple ritual will not save the people from destruction. Someone has said,” The less religion a man has in his heart the more he puts into his buildings and ceremonies.” Whether or not that statement is universally true, the men of Judah certainly had an elaborate external religion completely divorced from personal holiness and morality. They went to much trouble and considerable expense to import the ingredients for the incense and anointing oil. Sheba was 1500 miles south of Jerusalem in southwestern Arabia. This may well have been the nearest location from which the proper ingredients specified in the law (Exodus 30:34) could be obtained. Sweet cane or calamus (Exodus 30:23), an ingredient of the holy anointing oil, was imported from a “distant land,” perhaps India. There was nothing wrong, of course, with the zeal of these people in obtaining these rare materials. Yet their burnt offerings and sacrifices were completely unacceptable to God. Jeremiah was not opposed to sacrifice. As a matter of fact he specifically approved of it (Jeremiah 17:26; Jeremiah 27:21-22; Jeremiah 33:10-11; Jeremiah 33:18). But Jeremiah, like all the prophets before him, regarded sacrifices without obedience as worthless (See 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.). The men of Judah were prone to make up in the outer what they did not possess in the inner. God has never been satisfied with mere externalities, with ceremonialism, with formalized and fossilized ritual. The men of Judah thought they were keeping God happy and on their side by going through the outward motions of worship. It was a tragic theological miscalculation, one which ultimately resulted in the destruction and ruin of the nation. They might be able to sidestep or rationalize the various disciplinary disasters which God had brought upon them. But in a very short period of time God would place before them a stumbling-block, Nebuchadnezzar, which they would not be able to sidestep. The whole nation would stumble over that obstacle and fall to their ruin (Jeremiah 6:21).

Description of the foe (Jeremiah 6:22-26)

(22) Thus said the LORD: Behold, a people is about to come from a north land, a great nation shall be aroused from the uttermost parts of the earth.(23) Bow and spear they bear. They are ruthless and have no compassion. Their voices roar like the sea. Upon horses they ride equipped as men for war against you, O daughter of Zion. (24) We have heard the report of them. Our hands are feeble. Anguish has taken hold of us, pain as a woman in childbirth. (25) Do not go out into the field nor walk in the way for the enemy has a sword, terror round about. (26) O daughter of My people, Gird on sackcloth and wallow in the dust; make for your selves the mourning of an only son, most bitter lamentation for suddenly the spoiler shall come upon us.

In order to impress once again upon the minds of the people what the nation of Judah is up against, Jeremiah describes in terrifying detail the foe from the north. In contrast to tiny Judah the northern foe is a great nation. They come “from the uttermost part of the earth” (v, 22). In Jeremiah 31:8 this phrase is used of Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 25:32; Isaiah 14:13). The enemy soldiers carry both bow and spear. They are ruthless and have compassion on no one. The cruelty of the Mesopotamian armies in antiquity is well documented in the monuments, They were feared throughout the ancient Near East (cf. Nahum 3:1; Habakkuk 1:6-7). The noise of their countless horsemen and chariotry resembled the roar of the sea. This vast and invincible army will shortly come to make war against the daughter of Zion, the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 6:23).

In Jeremiah 6:24 the prophet again projects himself into the future to describe the reaction of the populace of Jerusalem as this vast host approaches. He identifies himself with his people and expresses the general feeling of anxiety and pain which will prevail in the city at that time. The Jewish soldiers lose their courage; they are too scared to resist. Throughout Jerusalem there is panic and pain which can only be compared to that which a woman experiences in childbirth (Jeremiah 6:24). No one is safe; the enemy is everywhere. No one should venture outside the walls of Jerusalem. Terror surrounds the city (Jeremiah 6:25). In view of the spoiler’s rapid descent on Jerusalem, Jeremiah calls his countrymen to bitter lamentation. The bereavement for the loss of an only son was the most severe a Hebrew could suffer (cf. Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10). Jeremiah loves his nation as a father loves his daughter and thus he addresses Judah as “the daughter of my people.” They refused to shed the tears of repentance; they will now be forced to shed the tears of lamentation (Jeremiah 6:26).

The hopeless task of the Prophet (Jeremiah 6:27-30)

(27) A tower have I made you among My people, a fortified city that you may know, then test their way. (28) They are all rebellious revolters, those who go after slander, brass and iron all of them, corrupters are they. (29) The bellows are scorched! The lead is consumed by fire. In vain he continues to smelt but the wicked are not removed. (30) Refuse silver they shall call them, for the LORD has rejected them.

In Jeremiah 6:27 God addresses Jeremiah. God has made His prophet as strong as a tower a fortified city; the people will not be successful in attacking him. Another possible rendering for tower is "smelter, prover or trier" Jeremiah can then fearlessly test and try the way of the people by his preaching (Jeremiah 6:27). Elsewhere in Scripture men are tested in fire or furnace of trials and tribulations in order to refine and purify them from the dross of sin. See Proverbs 17:3; Zechariah 13:9; Jeremiah 6:29; Jeremiah 9:7.

In this and the following verses metallurgic phraseology is employed with a moral application. The men of Judah are unfaithful to God for they are in open rebellion against Him. They are unfaithful to their fellowmen because they engage in malicious slander. These wicked men are as hard as brass and iron. Their way of life is corruption; all of them are rotten to the core (Jeremiah 6:28). Try as he may the assayer is not able to extract any precious metal from the worthless ore of the nation Judah. The fire is so hot that the bellows are scorched. The lead which served as a flux to carry away the impurities melts. But no silver remains. There were no righteous ones from whom the wicked could be separated (Jeremiah 6:29). Once Israel had been as precious to God as silver (Deuteronomy 5:27-29). Now that silver had become “refuse silver” i.e., worthless silver, good for nothing dross (Jeremiah 6:30).

SERMONS ON WORSHIP

Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3

The dating of the materials in this section is a vexing problem. Laetsch assigns this section to the days of king Josiah early in the ministry of Jeremiah. However most commentators, on the basis of what they believe is a parallel passage in chapter 26, assign the section (or at least Jeremiah 7:1-15) to the early days of King Jehoiakim. Though one dare not be dogmatic on this point the present writer feels there is nothing in this material that demands a date later than the reign of king Josiah.

Whether the materials in Jeremiah 7:1 to Jeremiah 8:3 come from one of Jeremiah’s discourses or from several of them is difficult to determine. In either case the theme of worship unifies the entire section. After a brief introductory note (Jeremiah 7:12) the prophet speaks of (1) presumptuous worship (Jeremiah 7:15); (2) pagan worship (Jeremiah 7:16-20); (3) priorities in worship (Jeremiah 7:21-28); and (4) polluted worship (Jeremiah 7:29 to Jeremiah 8:3).

INTRODUCTION Jeremiah 7:1-2

(1) The word which came unto Jerusalem from the LORD, saying, (2) Stand in the gate of the house of the LORD and proclaim there this word. Say: Hear the word of the LORD all Judah who are entering these gates to worship the LORD.

Acting upon the definite instructions from the Lord (Jeremiah 7:1) Jeremiah went to one of the eight gates of the Temple to deliver a blistering sermon on worship. He is to proclaim the word to “all Judah who are entering these gates to worship the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:2). During the three annual festivals of Israel all the males were obligated to come to the Temple to worship (Leviticus 23:1-44; Deuteronomy 16:1-17).

Later in his ministry Jeremiah preached a sermon similar to the one recorded here in chapter 7. Some commentators have identified this “Temple Sermon” with the sermon preached in chapter 26. Four points of similarity are generally pointed out: (1) Both sermons were preached at the same place, one of the gates of the Temple; (2) both seem to have been preached during some festival; (3) both sermons present the demands for national repentance; and (4) both sermons allude to the destruction of Shiloh. To conclude from this that the sermon of chapter 7 is identical with that of chapter 26 and to therefore assign chapter 7 to the reign of Jehoiakim is pressing the evidence too far. Jeremiah as well as others chose the Temple gates and courts as the location for public discourse(See Jeremiah 19:14; Jeremiah 35:2; Jeremiah 35:4; Jeremiah 36:5-10; Jeremiah 28:1; Jeremiah 28:5.). It would be a priori likely that the prophet would select a festival on more than one occasion as the time to present his message. What better time to reach the masses? As for the theme of repentance, Jeremiah utilized it quite frequently. The allusion to Shiloh was a tremendous illustration that God is no respecter of religious shrines. Jeremiah probably utilized this historical note many times during his ministry. It is the feeling, then, of the writer that chapter 26 represents a later sermon of Jeremiah preached during the days of Jehoiakim. Chapter 7 represents an earlier sermon from the reign of good king Josiah.

PRESUMPTUOUS WORSHIP Jeremiah 7:3-15

The men of Judah, like the majority of all ages, took worship for granted. They were content simply to show up at the Temple and participate in the prescribed ritual. They assumed that God was pleased with their conduct. In the opening paragraph of his Temple sermon Jeremiah attacks this presumptuous attitude toward worship by (1) indicating a fundamental requirement of true worship (Jeremiah 7:3-7,); (2) challenging the fallacious assumption that worship had no bearing on conduct nor vice versa (Jeremiah 7:8-11); and (3) threatening the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the populace (Jeremiah 7:12-15).

A Fundamental Requirement Jeremiah 7:3-7

(3) Thus says the LORD of host, God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds that I may cause you to dwell in this place.’ (4) For your own sake do not trust in the words of the lie: The Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD are these. (5) If you thoroughly amend your ways and your deeds; if you thoroughly execute justice between a man and his neighbor; (6) if you do not oppress stranger, orphan and widow; and if you do not shed innocent blood in this place; and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt; (7) then I will cause you to dwell in this place in the land which I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

Jeremiah’s sermon opens with a call for repentance. “Amend (lit., cause to be good) your ways and your deeds”, i.e., change the whole pattern of your conduct. Only if such a fundamental change took place would God continue to allow them to inhabit the land of Judah (Jeremiah 7:3). Jeremiah begs his hearers for their own sake not to give any credence to the superstition that the presence of the Temple of the Lord was a guarantee for the safety of the city. The people were acting as though merely the repetition of the phrase “Temple of the Lord” was some sort of a magical charm to ward off all evil. What a dramatic moment it must have been when Jeremiah thrice repeated the phrase for emphasis gesturing as he did so to the courts and building that were part of the Temple complex (Jeremiah 7:4).

Jeremiah 7:5-7 contain a conditional sentence of which Jeremiah 7:5-6 are the protasis and Jeremiah 7:7 the apodosis. Five conditions for national survival are laid down: (1) Repeating the basic demand of Jeremiah 7:3, they must thoroughly amend their ways and their deeds. (2) They must make sure that justice is executed in the courts (Jeremiah 7:5). (3) They must not oppress the stranger, the orphan and the widow. The Old Testament enjoined Israel to show respect for peoples of other nationalities and races simply because they were fellow human beings. Many Christians have not yet caught up with this passage. There was to be a concern for the weak and for those who had lost their natural protector. No other code of laws from antiquity is marked by such humanity in respect to the unfortunate. (4) Innocent blood must no longer be shed in the land through violence and miscarriage of justice. (5) They must cease to follow after other gods “to their own hurt.” Idolatry would lead deeper and deeper into sin and have dire repercussions both on the national and personal level. If they fulfilled these fundamental requirements God would cause t h e m to continue to dwell in the land. God had given that land to their forefather “for ever and ever.” (lit., from the most remote antiquity to the most distant future). But that divine promise was conditional. If the present generation was to continue to enjoy the land gift of God they must meet the conditions which God specifies here.

A Fallacious Assumption Jeremiah 7:8-11

(8) Behold, you are trusting in the words of the worthless lie. (9) Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, sware falsely, offer incense to Baal, walk after other gods which you do not know (10) and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My Name and say, We are safe; in order to do all these abominations? (11) Has this house which is called by My Name become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen this (oracle of the LORD).

God cannot continue to allow His people to dwell in the Promised Land so long as they continue to trust in deceitful words (Jeremiah 7:8). In Jeremiah 7:4 the prophet has already given an example of the words of the worthless lie. The fact that the Lord has His Temple in Jerusalem will profit them nothing if they continue to live godless lives. The people were engaging in every conceivable sinful activity: stealing, murder, adultery, false swearing, worship of false gods (Jeremiah 7:9). Yet they would come and stand before God in His house and think that because they had expressed this outward concern for the Lord they were completely safe from all harm, The regular visits to the Temple made no difference in the lives of these hypocrites. They went to the services to keep God on their side. As long as He was on their side they could practice their abominations with immunity. What a distortion of religion! What a fallacious assumption! With amazement the Lord asks, “Has this house which is called by My Name become a den of robbers in your eyes?” The Temple had become to the people of Judah no more than a refuge into which they would flee after committing their criminal acts. But God has seen all. He knows their hearts. He is aware of their evil intentions and sinful attitudes. He is not deceived by the outward manifestations of religious zeal.

A Forceful Threat Jeremiah 7:12-15

(12) For go now to My place which was in Shiloh where I caused my Name to dwell at the first and observe what I did to it because of the evil of My people Israel. (13) And now because you have done all these things (oracle of the LORD) and I spoke earnestly and persistently unto you but you did not hear; and I called you but you did not respond; (14) therefore I will do to the house which is called by My Name, in which you are trusting, and to the place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. (15) And I will cast you forth from My presence as I cast forth all your brethren, all the seed of Ephraim.

If the people of Judah had been more aware of their history they would have been more correct in their theology. In Jeremiah 7:12 Jeremiah attacks the popular false confidence in the Temple by pointing to another sacred sanctuary which had been destroyed. When the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan under Joshua they erected the Tabernacle at Shiloh north of Bethel. Shiloh remained the center of worship for over three hundred years. The old tent which had been transported through the wilderness wanderings was eventually replaced by or perhaps encased in some type of permanent structure which is called a “house” (Judges 18:31; Judges 19:18) or “temple” (1 Samuel 1:9). The historical books of the Old Testament do not specifically mention the destruction of Shiloh. The place was probably captured and destroyed by the Philistine after the battle of Ebenezer (1 Samuel 4:1 ff.) in the days of the judgeship of Eli. On the basis of their excavations archaeologists have dated the destruction at about 1070 B.C. If God not only permitted but even instigated the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh it is sheer folly to think that in the present instance He is under some solemn obligation to preserve Jerusalem.

In spite of the fact that God had earnestly and persistently called the people to repentance, they had not responded to the appeal (Jeremiah 7:13). To emphasize the zeal of the Lord in speaking to His people Jeremiah uses the idiom “rising early and speaking.” It is an expression peculiar to Jeremiah and means that the appeals were oft repeated and eager. In view of this rebuff and rejection God will destroy the Temple in Jerusalem just as he destroyed Shiloh (Jeremiah 7:15). Jeremiah does not deny that the Temple is God’s house; nor does he deny that the Temple had been given to the people of God as a place of worship. But he emphatically denies the conclusion to which the men of Judah had jumped viz., that God would never allow the Temple to be destroyed. History had proved that God was no respecter of sanctuaries. In more recent history Jeremiah finds another analogy. Just as God had cast forth into exile the seed of Ephraim, the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, so now He will cast forth the inhabitants of Judah (Jeremiah 7:15). See Isaiah 7:2; Hoses Jeremiah 4:17; Jeremiah 5:1-9 Jeremiah 12:1. The land of Israel belonged to the Lord (Hosea 9:3; Leviticus 25:23) and here the divine Landlord is issuing an eviction notice to His tenants.

PAGAN WORSHIP Jeremiah 7:16-20

The worship in Jerusalem was so corrupt that God instructs Jeremiah to cease interceding for the apostates (Jeremiah 7:16). The depravity of the nation is further described (Jeremiah 7:17-19) and again the prophet announces that judgment will be poured out on the nation (Jeremiah 7:20).

(16) Now as for you, do not pray for this people, nor lift up entreaty, nor make supplication; and do not plead with Me on their behalf for I will not hear you. (17) Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? (18) The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire and the wives knead dough to make sacrificial cakes to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to provoke Me. (19) Is it Me they are provoking (oracle of the LORD)? Is it not themselves to the shame of their faces? (20) Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, My anger and My wrath are about to be poured out upon this place—upon man, cattle, the tree of the field, and the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn and shall not be quenched.

A prophet not only represented God to the people, he also represented the people before God through intercessory prayer. Abraham prayed for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-32); Moses prayed for Israel (Exodus 32:11-14; Exodus 17:11; Numbers 14:13-20) as did Samuel (1 Samuel 7:9-10; 1 Samuel 12:17-18; 1 Samuel 12:23). Jeremiah here is told that conditions in Judah were so bad that such prayer was useless. Still Jeremiah prayed and one of his great intercessory prayers is recorded in Jeremiah 14:19-22.

Four words for prayer are used in Jeremiah 7:16. The first Hebrew word, translated “pray,” means to intercede on behalf of someone. God told Abimelech that Abraham would pray for him (Genesis 20:7). In Numbers 21:7 the people ask Moses to intercede on their behalf. Moses interceded on behalf of Aaron (Deuteronomy 9:20). Samuel assured the people that he would not cease to intercede on their behalf (1 Samuel 12:23). The second Hebrew word carries the idea of entreaty or supplication. It is sometimes used of a ringing cry of praise to the Lord. In the present context the word would convey the idea of a loud, vehement prayer (See Psalms 17:1; Psalms 88:2; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:12.). The third word, translated “supplication,” is often used synonymously with the preceding word. The fourth word, translated “plead,” literally means “to meet, or encounter with request or entreaty.” Ruth said to Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave you” (Ruth 1:16). Abraham asked the children of Heth to intercede for him with Ephron that he might sell a cave (Genesis 23:8).

Jeremiah 7:17-19 indicate the reason why intercessory prayer on the part of the prophet would be useless. In view of the open and flagrant practice of idolatry in the cities of Judah the prohibition of intercession is justified (Jeremiah 7:17). The entire population is engaged in the service of the false gods. The children gather the wood for the cooking fires; the men kindle the fire and the women bake some kind of sacrificial cakes. The queen of heaven in whose honor all this frenzied activity takes place is probably to be identified with the pagan goddess Astarte or Ashtoreth. This goddess was the Canaanite version of the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, the planet Venus. Statuettes of Astarte have been found all over Palestine indicating how wide spread her cult was. The exact nature of the cakes which were baked is unknown as the word used here is found elsewhere only in Jeremiah 44:19. Apparently they were made in the likeness of the goddess Astarte or in the shape of a star which was her symbol. With these pastries liquid refreshment was also served. An ivory carving dating to the eighth century B.C. suggests that the whole ceremony was performed to accompaniment of music played entirely by women

Jeremiah viewed such open idolatry as deliberate provocation of the Lord. To him it was inconceivable that men could really believe that an object of wood or stone was a god. The only plausible explanation of idolatry was that the people were attempting in some way to hurt God, to provoke Him (Jeremiah 7:18). “Provoke,” one of the Characteristic Words of Jeremiah, is used here for the first time. Though they knew that their idolatry would eventually call forth the wrath of God, they continued to engage in the practice. Like a youngster who engages in all manner of lawlessness in order to show hostility towards his parents, they were really hurting no one but themselves (Jeremiah 7:19). God’s burning wrath is about to be poured forth upon Judah and no one will be able to extinguish it. The cattle, trees and crops will be consumed as well as the wicked apostates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:20). scripture emphasizes over and over again that all creation suffers because of the sin of mankind (cf. Isaiah 24:4); Hosea 4:3).

PRIORITIES IN WORSHIP Jeremiah 7:21-28

As Jeremiah looks at the current religious observances he sees only perfunctory compliance with outward ritual (Jeremiah 7:21). He reminds his listeners that there are obligations which take priority over such outward acts (Jeremiah 7:22-23). He then points out that through the centuries the people of Israel had been obstinate in their disobedience (Jeremiah 7:24-28).

Prior Obligations Jeremiah 7:21-23

(21) Thus says the LORD of hosts, God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices and eat the meat. (22) For I did not speak with your fathers nor did I give commandment in the day I brought them out of the land of Egypt concerning the matters of burnt offering and sacrifice. (23) But this word I commanded them: Hearken to My voice and I will be your God and you will be My people; walk in all the way which I command you in order that it might be well with you.

By means of a sarcastic imperative Jeremiah urges the men of Judah to increase their already numerous sacrificial offerings. Normally the burnt offerings were wholly consumed on the altar while in other sacrifices (e.g., the peace offering) parts of the animal were eaten by the priests and by those who made the offering. In view of the attitude and actions of the worshipers of Judah their burnt offerings were merely meat and nothing more. They might as well eat the meat of those burnt offerings and thereby derive some benefit from them. The offerings certainly had no religious value (Jeremiah 7:21). Contrary to the popular theology of the day the sacrificial ritual was not the heart and core of their covenant obligations to God.

Jeremiah 7:22 has played an important role in the debate which has raged over the origin of the sacrificial system in ancient Israel. In the Pentateuch sacrifice is instituted by Moses in compliance with the instructions given by God to him in the mount. According to the modern critical view of the Old Testament the so-called priestly legislation of the Pentateuch is a product of the postexilic age, a thousand years after Moses. Jeremiah 7:22 seems on the surface to support the critical contention that Moses did not have anything to do with the sacrificial ritual. The verse seems to deny that the Lord gave any instructions concerning sacrifice at Mt. Sinai. In interpreting this verse several points need be kept in mind:

1. Elsewhere in his book Jeremiah seems to recognize the importance of the sacrificial system. He promises in Jeremiah 17:26 that if the people of Judah will hallow the sabbath then God will continue to permit them to come to Jerusalem “bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meal offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the Lord.” As he looks beyond the destruction of Judah to the Israel of the future he sees the priests more than satisfied with the meat from the abundant sacrificial offerings (Jeremiah 31:14). He specifically predicts that once the captivity is over the men of Judah will “bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:11). It is true that these verses say nothing of the origin of the sacrificial system; but they do seem to imply that the Lord and his prophet regard that system with favor. To these passages may be added Jeremiah 33:17-24 which speaks of the covenant with the priests, i.e., that portion of the covenant of Sinai which included the duties and regulations of the priesthood as regards sacrifices.

2. Jeremiah seems to have supported the reforms of king Josiah which included the observance of the Passover ritual (2 Chronicles 35:1-9).

3. Jeremiah was never charged by his priestly and prophetic enemies with opposing the Temple ritual as such.

4. As early as the days of Samuel the principle had been laid down that sacrifice without obedience to God is worthless (1 Samuel 15:22).

5. Context makes it clear that Jeremiah is drawing a contrast between sacrificial ritual and the moral laws of the Decalogue (Jeremiah 7:9). It is of course true that there is no mention of sacrifice among the Ten Commandments.

6. Perhaps the emphasis in the verse is upon the phrase “your fathers.” Those courageous men who by faith had gone out from Egypt were no relation to the present generation of apostates. The verse then would not be denying that commandments concerning sacrifice were given at Mt. Sinai but rather would be denying that such commandments were given to the spiritual progenitors of the present generation.

7. Strictly speaking individuals were not commanded to bring sacrifices in the law of Moses. Burnt offerings and peace offerings were optional (cf. Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 3:1); sin offerings and guilt offerings were only required when transgression had to be expiated.

8. The expression translated “concerning” is actually a somewhat peculiar Hebrew expression occurring only six times in the Old Testament (See Deuteronomy 4:21; 2 Samuel 18:5; 2 Kings 22:13; Psalms 7:1; Jeremiah 7:22; Jeremiah 14:21.). When one checks these passages carefully it becomes clear that the expression really means “out of concern for” or “in the interest of,” or “for the sake of.” If this be the case, Jeremiah 7:22 is not denying the existence of Mosaic legislation concerning sacrifice. God is simply saying, “When your fathers came out of Egypt I did not give legislation in the interest of or for the sake of sacrifices.” The verse would then by denying that sacrifice was the chief goal or purpose of God in the Mosaic system.

9. Another possibility is that the denial of Jeremiah 7:22 is not absolute. God did not command their fathers to sacrifice, i.e., to sacrifice as they were currently doing—mere outward form divorced from the practice of piety.

When all of these factors are taken into account Jeremiah 7:22 falls into proper perspective. Jeremiah is not repudiating the Mosaic origin of the sacrificial system; rather he is simply denying that sacrifice is the essence of the Old Testament religion. The fundamental requirement of the Sinai covenant was that of obedience. The people of Israel had to hearken to the divine voice and walk in the divine way if they were to maintain their special relationship to the living God. They must yield to the demands of the Almighty if they would receive His blessing (Jeremiah 7:23). The phrase “that it might be well with you” is characteristic of Jeremiah (Cf. Jeremiah 42:6; Jeremiah 38:20; Jeremiah 40:9. The phrase is also frequent in the book of Deuteronomy:). The obedience which God demands is for the ultimate benefit of man.

Persistent Obstinacy Jeremiah 7:24-28

(24) But they would not hearken and they did not stretch out the ear but walked in the counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart and they went backwards and not forwards. (25) Even from the day when your fathers went out from the land of Egypt unto this day I sent unto them all My servants the prophets (urgently and persistently sending). (26) But they did not hearken unto Me nor did they incline their ears, but made hard the neck and committed evil more than their fathers. (27) When you speak unto them all these words they will not hearken unto you; when you call unto them they will not answer you. (28) Therefore you shall say unto them: This is the nation which will not hearken to the voice of the LORD their God nor will they accept correction. Faith has perished, it is cut off from their mouth.

The people of Israel had a record of obstinacy. They had no desire to listen to the commandments of God. They followed instead the inclinations of their own evil hearts. In relationship to God they had gone backward and not forward (Jeremiah 7:24). In other words they had turned their back to God and not their faces. Religious experimentation always masquerades as progressive development. In the view of Jeremiah, to depart from the old paths of truth and fidelity was retrogressive.

From the days of the Exodus from Egypt God had continually and earnestly communicated with His people through prophets (Jeremiah 7:25). But the people paid no heed to these servants of the Lord. Rather than inclining their ears in the direction of these messengers of God they made their necks hard. Each generation seemed to become more sinful than the preceding one (Jeremiah 7:26). The people will not listen to Jeremiah any more than they listened to his predecessors in the prophetic ministry (Jeremiah 7:27). All he can do is publicly accuse them of obstinacy: “This is the nation which will not hearken to the voice of the Lord their God nor accept correction.” No other nation had been so blessed, so honored, so trained and guided. Yet this is the nation which refuses to heed the word of God. Faith or truth has vanished from their prayers and from their praise (Jeremiah 7:28).

POLLUTED WORSHIP Jeremiah 7:29 to Jeremiah 8:3

Again Jeremiah takes up the subject of paganized worship. He speaks of the present defilement of the population of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:29), of the Temple (Jeremiah 7:30) and of the land of Judah (Jeremiah 7:31). Then Jeremiah describes the destruction which will come as a result of the polluted worship: defilement of the sanctuaries (Jeremiah 7:32-33), desolation of the land (Jeremiah 7:34) and desecration of the dead (Jeremiah 8:1-3).

The Present Defilement Jeremiah 7:29-31

(29) Cut off your hair and cast it away and take up a lamentation upon the bare hills for the LORD has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath. (30) For the children of Judah have done evil in My eyes (oracle of the LORD); they have set their abominations in the House which is called by My Name to defile it. (31) They have built the high places of Topheth which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire which I did not command nor did it even enter My mind.

In Jeremiah 7:29 Jeremiah resorts to one of his most devastating oratorical devices, the sarcastic imperative. He urges the daughter of Jerusalem to shave off her long hair as a sign of mourning and take up a lamentation. The pronoun and the verb are feminine. The Hebrew words here usually refers. to the long hair of a Nazarite. But here the word seems to have lost Its primary meaning land refers to the long, unshorn hair of a woman.

The present generation has been rejected and forsaken by God. In ancient times the divorce of a woman was a very sad affair since the former wife was left destitute. For her innumerable acts of spiritual adultery the daughter of Zion has been divorced by God. She should realize her plight and lament it. This is the generation which will experience the wrath of the living God (Jeremiah 7:29).

Denial of apostasy was impossible for it was open and flagrant. The abominations of heathendom, the cult objects used in pagan cults, had been set up in the Temple of the Lord. Manasseh built altars for all the hosts of heaven in the two courts of the Temple. He even went so far as to set an image of the Canaanite goddess Asherah in the Temple (2 Kings 21:5-7). This was the height of insolence, the crowning act of apostasy. The Temple of the Lord was defiled by the presence of these pagan images and cult objects (Jeremiah 7:30). Furthermore they had built special high places in the valley of the son of Hinnom where human sacrifice was openly practiced. Since the days of Joshua this valley near Jerusalem had been known as the valley of the son of Hinnom. See Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16 The meaning and etymology of the word Topheth are uncertain. It seems to be akin to a word meaning fireplace. Most likely the Topheth was the pit in which human victims were burned (Cf. Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; 2 Kings 23:10.). Such human sacrifices were to the god Moloch who sometimes generically is called Baal (Jeremiah 19:5). God had never commanded the wretched practice of offering children as burnt offerings and never did He condone it (Jeremiah 7:31).

The Future Destruction Jeremiah 7:32 to Jeremiah 8:3

(32) Therefore behold, days are coming (oracle of the LORD) when it shall no longer be called the Topheth or the valley of the son of Hinnom but the valley of Slaughter; for they shall bury in Topheth for lack of place to bury. (33) And the carcasses of this people shall become food for the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and no one shall cause them to be afraid. (Jeremiah 8:1) In that time (oracle of the LORD) they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah and the bones of his princes and the bones of the priests and the bones of the prophets and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem from their graves. (2) And they shall spread them to the sun and to the moon and to all the host of the heavens which they loved and served and went after and which they sought and which they worshiped. They shall not be gathered nor buried; they shall become dung upon the face of the ground. (3) Death shall be chosen rather than life by all the remnant of this evil family who remain in all the places where I have driven them (oracle of the LORD of hosts).

The polluted worship of the people of Judah will be punished in a most decisive way. A disaster will befall Judah in which so many people will be slain or die that even the pagan shrines will be converted to cemeteries. The valley of the son of Hinnom will be renamed the valley of slaughter because of the vast numbers that will be buried there (Jeremiah 7:32). The very spot where they had tried to court the favor of a pagan deity by offering their own children as burnt offerings will become a permanent monument to the folly of idolatry. But even this huge valley will not provide enough room for burial places for all the slain. Many corpses will be left unburied. The birds and beasts of prey will come and feast upon the decaying flesh and no one will be left to drive them away (Jeremiah 7:33). Jeremiah 7:33 echoes the threat of Deuteronomy 28:26. In antiquity the lack of proper burial was the worst indignity which could befall a man. The thought of a corpse exposed to the elements of nature horrified the ancient Hebrews.

The cities of Judah met the same fate as Topheth. All the normal sounds of joy and mirth will be removed. The entire land becomes a desolation (Jeremiah 7:34). The word translated “desolation” is used only of places which, having once been inhabited, have fallen into ruin. It is a gloomy picture indeed which the prophet paints of the future destruction.

Not only will the enemies of Judah leave the dead unburied (Jeremiah 7:33) they will also violate the graves of those who had been interred. In search of valuables the Babylonians will ransack the sepulchers of the leading citizens of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 7:1) and scatter their bones across the face of the ground. All the hosts of the heavens which the men of Judah had worshiped in life will helplessly look down upon this act of desecration (Jeremiah 7:2). The Biblical account of the fall of Jerusalem does not record the fulfillment of this particular prediction; but there can scarcely be any doubt that the ruthless Babylonians acted in the manner here described. The apocryphal book of Baruch (Jeremiah 2:24 f.) does allude to acts of desecration at the fall of Jerusalem.

For those who escape the destruction of Jerusalem and go into exile life will be so miserable that they will wish they were dead (Jeremiah 7:3). Practically nothing is known about the Jews who scattered into the neighboring countries of Syria-Palestine during the war with Babylon. Something of the despair of the Jewish exiles in Babylon shortly after 587 B.C. can be seen in Psalms 137. Time, of course, softened the utter despair of the exiles. The deportation to Babylon was for them a tremendous religious shock. They were forced to rethink their whole theology. As the exiles changed their mind and their heart in respect to God their lot improved. They adjusted to their surroundings and many of them actually prospered in exile. Jeremiah 7:3 must be describing the initial reaction of those who were carried away captive (Note: Laetsch views Jeremiah 7:3 as a conditional threat which was unfulfilled because of the repentance of the exiles.).

SERMONS FROM THE EARLY REIGN OF JEHOIAKIM

Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 10:25

The oracles in Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 10:25 are undated. They may well represent excerpts from the sermons of Jeremiah preached in the streets of Jerusalem between 608 B.C. and 597 B.C. before the Babylonians captured the city at the end of the reign of Jehoiakim. Many would date these oracles in the very early years of Jehoiakim, before the important battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.

For the most part this section contains excerpts from the sermons of Jeremiah. Those excerpts in Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:26 are characterized by the technique of asking and answering questions. Among these bits of sermons is found a beautiful poem in which Jeremiah expresses his personal distress over the prospects of the nation (Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:9). Chapter 10 contains a longer message on the subject of idolatry. The section ends with a prophetic prayer (Jeremiah 10:23-25). If one were to attempt to provide the sermonettes of this section with captions the following might be suggested: (1) Stubborn Apostasy (Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:1); (2) National Corruption (Jeremiah 9:2-26); (3) True Glory (Jeremiah 9:22-23); (4) The Uncircumcised Heart (Jeremiah 9:24-25); (5) God vs. the Idols (Jeremiah 10:1-25).

STUBBORN APOSTASY Jeremiah 8:4 to Jeremiah 9:1

Stubborn apostasy was ultimately responsible for the downfall of Judah. It is no wonder then that Jeremiah returns to this subject again and again. Here he dwells on the unreasonable persistence in rebellion (Jeremiah 8:4-7); the unwise proclamations by the leaders (Jeremiah 8:8-10) and the unavoidable punishment which would fall upon the people (Jeremiah 8:13-17). All of this causes Jeremiah to give expression to the unbearable pain of his own soul (Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:1).

Unreasonable Persistence in Apostasy Jeremiah 8:4-7

(4) And you shall say unto them, Thus says the LORD: Do men fall and not rise again? Does one turn away and not return? (5) Why has this people, Jerusalem, turned away with perpetual backsliding? They cling to deceit, they refuse to return. (6) I have been attentive and listened, but they continue to speak what is not right. There is not a man who repented of his evil, saying, what have I done? Everyone turns away in their course as a horse rushing into battle. (7) Even the stork in the heavens knows her appointed times and the dove, the swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming, but My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.

In attempting to jar the people into a realization of their stupid and stubborn apostasy Jeremiah appeals to common sense. A man who has fallen will not remain quietly on the ground without attempting to arise. A man who accidentally wanders from the pathway will not persist in traveling in the wrong direction (Jeremiah 8:4). Yet Jerusalem has turned away from God and refuses to turn back to Him. Tenaciously they cling to deceit, i.e., idols. As far as Jeremiah was concerned, idols were outright frauds. The men of Judah embraced the unreal and repudiated the one true and living God. And even after this folly is pointed out to them they refuse to return (Jeremiah 8:5). To Jeremiah this was unreasonable behavior. The prophet listened attentively for some word, some slight indication that the people intended to repent. No such word was forthcoming. On the contrary they continue to speak what is not right, what is not appropriate. There is no sorrow for sin, no acknowledgement of wrong doing, no request for forgiveness. They rush to their idolatry like a horse charges into battle (Jeremiah 8:6).

The unreasonableness of the apostasy of Judah is further emphasized by citing the example of the birds of the heavens. Migratory birds like the dove, the swallow, the crane and the stork obey their instincts without fail. At their appointed times these birds travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to return to the home they have left. Never do they assert themselves against the will of their Creator. Not so God’s highest creation. Men ignore the fundamental laws of God and the principles of behavior which He has ordained. Men stifle the instinct to worship their Creator and instead produce gods of their own making, gods they can manipulate and control, gods made in man’s image.

Unwise Proclamations by National Leaders Jeremiah 8:8-12

(8) How can you say, We are wise! The Torah of the LORD is with us. But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has labored falsely. (9) The wise shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed when they are captured. Behold, they have spurned the word of the LORD and what kind of wisdom do they possess? (10) Therefore I will give their wives to others, their fields to dispossessors; for from least to the greatest everyone of them is out for illicit gain; from the prophet even unto the priest everyone of them practices deceit. (11) They heal up the hurt of the daughter of My people lightly, saying, Peace, Peace; when there is no peace. (12) They shall be put to shame because they have committed abomination; yea they do not at all feel ashamed nor do they know how to blush; therefore they shall fall among those who fall; in the time of their visitation they shall stumble, says the LORD.

The wise men of Judah felt that they had no need for the preaching of Jeremiah. They had the Torah, the written precepts of the Law, so what use did they have for this agitator from Anathoth. “Let Jeremiah keep his advice to himself; for we are wise and we are the divinely appointed teachers of the people.” Among the wise men the scribes are singled out for special comment. The scribes in Old Testament times were men who could write. They often served as officials of the royal court (2 Kings 12:10) and sometimes as military officers (Jeremiah 52:2 ff.). The scribes in Jeremiah’s day were corrupt like the priests and the prophets. Somehow through their writings the scribes were attempting to nullify the written word of God. Perhaps they were publishing the false teaching of the prophets and priests. Perhaps they were making comments upon the Pentateuch which in effect warped its teaching. Some have proposed that these scribes were even guilty of altering the very text of the word of God. Whatever they were doing, these perverse scribes were distorting, twisting, perverting the truth. The lying pens of scholars through the ages have been directed against the Scriptures. Through false interpretations and insidious criticism these wolves in sheep’s clothing have attempted to escape the absolute authority of God’s word. Yet in spite of these attacks Scripture still “cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

When men reject the wisdom that comes from the word of God what kind of wisdom do they possess? The fear of the Lord and the reverent respect for His word is the beginning of all true wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). How utterly humiliated these wise men of Judah will be when calamities one after another fall upon the nation (Jeremiah 8:9). Human wisdom, human logic, human theology had declared Jerusalem to be inviolable. How embarrassed these learned men will be when they are captured and all they possess is given into the hands of the Chaldean conquerors. Because of their greed the prophets and priests had deliberately deceived the people (Jeremiah 8:10). But in the end they will lose all that they had accumulated. Instead of dealing with the spiritual maladies of the nation these religious leaders were merely concealing the impeding disaster by assuring the people of peace (Jeremiah 8:11). In misleading the people these men had committed abominations, yet they show no shame whatsoever. But when the judgment falls on Judah these proud and confident men will stumble and fall before the sword of the enemy (Jeremiah 8:12).

Unavoidable Punishment at the Hand of God

Jeremiah 8:13-17

(13) I will utterly consume them (oracle of the LORD). No grapes are on the vine and no figs are on the fig tree. The leaves are withered; and I will appoint for them those who overrun them. (14) Why are we sitting? Assemble yourselves that we may go unto the fortified cities that we may perish there; for the-LORD our God has put us to silence and has caused us to drink poison water because we have sinned against the LORD. (15) We hope for peace but no good came, for the time of healing, but behold, terror. (16) From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses; from the sound of the neighing of his stallions, all the earth shakes. For they shall come and shall consume the land and its fullness, the cities and their inhabitants. (17) For behold, I am about to send against you serpents, poisonous snakes, for which there is no charmer; and they shall bite you (oracle of the LORD).

In Jeremiah 2:21 Judah is compared to a vine with bad grapes. In the present figure no fruit at all can be found on the vine or on the fig tree. The leaves are even withered. The plant is dying; it is worthless; it must be destroyed. God has already appointed the destroyer. An army shall sweep through that worthless garden like a raging stream overflowing its banks (Jeremiah 8:13). All will be destroyed. On the phrase “those who overrun” see Isaiah 8:7; Daniel 11:10; Daniel 11:40.

Resorting to one of his favorite rhetorical devices Jeremiah projects himself into the future to dramatically portray what will happen when Judah comes under enemy attack. The inhabitants of the countryside in gloomy despair urge one another to move into the fortified cities. They feel they are under the curse of God, that they shortly will perish (lit., “be put to silence”). They are resigned to death. If they move to the cities they will die of some pestilence or plague. But at least that is better than falling into the hand of the enemy. They knew that God was making them drink of the poisonous water of divine judgment. They admit now that it is too late that they have sinned against the Lord (Jeremiah 8:14). They had listened to their false prophets and consequently they had expected peace and national healing. But good times did not come; only the terrors of ruthless war.

Jeremiah must have been a spellbinding preacher. He makes his audience almost hear the snorting and neighing of the enemy horses as the Chaldean calvary bears down upon Dan, the northern-most city of Palestine. All the known world trembles at the news that the mighty northern enemy is sweeping southward. The land and its produce, the cities and their inhabitants will be consumed by this mighty army (Jeremiah 8:16). Like venomous serpents the enemy will sink their death-dealing fangs into the inhabitants of Judah. No one will be able to charm those snakes; no one will be able to control them (Jeremiah 8:17). The doom is unavoidable.

Unbearable Pain on the Part of the Prophet

Jeremiah 8:18 to Jeremiah 9:1

(18) O my Comfort against sorrow! My heart is faint within me! (19) Behold, the sound of the cry of the daughter of my people from a distant land: Is not the LORD in Zion? Is not her king in her? Why do they provoke Me with their images with their strange vanities? (20) The harvest is past, the summer has ended and we have not been saved. (21) Because of the hurt of the daughter of my people I have been hurt; I mourn, anguish has seized me. (22) Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? For why does not healing come to the daughter of my people? (Jeremiah 9:1) Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears I would bewail day and night the slain of the daughter of my people.

As Jeremiah sees the apostasy of his people and their impending destruction his heart is sick. He casts himself upon God his comforter (Jeremiah 8:18). The word comforter means literally, the one to cause me to smile, to be cheerful or be bright. Jeremiah hears as it were a dialogue between those who will be taken into exile and God. In a distant land the former inhabitants of Judah lift up a cry for help: “Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her King in her?” They cannot comprehend how Zion, the Temple mount, can be so humiliated and degraded if God is really still on His throne. To this astonished cry God makes answer: “Why do they provoke Me with their images?” (Jeremiah 8:19). Whatever has befallen Zion has come about because of the idolatry of the people there. Ignoring the explanation of God the exiles of the future continue with their complaint by citing a popular proverb: “The harvest is past, the summer has ended and we have not been saved” (Jeremiah 8:20). Once the summer harvest was over a farmer looked forward to a period of deliverance from arduous toil. But in the case of the Jewish exiles the hot summer of toil was only followed by the cold winter of despondency. Their national deliverance confidently predicted by the false prophets did not materialize. The exiles were beginning to realize that no speedy deliverance was in the offing.

The unbelief and despair of the people causes even deeper despair in the heart of the prophet. “Because of the hurt (lit., shattering) of the daughter of my people I have been hurt.” He loves his people as a father might love a daughter. Though Jeremiah sternly rebuked the people of Judah throughout his ministry yet all the while his heart was broken because of them. He did not want to see his people destroyed. “Is there no balm (or medicine) in Gilead?” the prophet asks. Gilead, located east of the Jordan river, was famous in old Testament times for its balm. It is not certain just what this balm was but the suggestion has been made that it was the juice of the turpentine tree. The material was exported (Ezekiel 27:17) and was very costly (Genesis 43:11). The balm of Gilead was prized for its medicinal properties. There was no healing ointment which could be applied to the spiritual wound of Judah. There were no physicians who might be able to deal with the difficulty (Jeremiah 8:22). Nothing can cure the ailment of Judah except a whole-hearted return to the divine Physician (Exodus 15:26). Jeremiah wishes that his head could produce an inexhaustible supply of tears that he might lament the inevitable doom of his people (Jeremiah 8:1). In spite of their sin, in spite of the way they had rejected God’s message, the inhabitants of Judah were still “my people” as far as Jeremiah was concerned.

NATIONAL CORRUPTION Jeremiah 9:2-26

Jeremiah does not allow himself to be overcome by his personal feelings regarding the gloomy future of his people. The destruction of Judah is a punishment well deserved. The prevailing corruption (Jeremiah 9:2-8) has brought into prospect the impending destruction (Jeremiah 9:9-21).

Prevailing Corruption Jeremiah 9:2-8

(2) Oh that I were in the wilderness in a travelers’ inn, that I might leave my people and depart from them because all of them are adulterers, and an assembly of treacherous men. (3) They bend their tongue, their bow, for deceit; they are mighty in the land but not for truth; for from evil to evil they proceed and they do not know Me (oracle of the LORD). (4) Be on guard each man from his friend and do not trust any brother; for every brother is very crooked and every friend is a slanderer. (5) Every man deceives his neighbor; they do not speak truth; their tongues have learned to speak lies. With iniquity they weary themselves. (6) Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit; in deceit they refuse the knowledge of Me (oracle of the LORD). (7) Therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold! I am about to refine them by fire and test them; for how else shall I do in view of the fact that she is the daughter of My people. (8) Their tongue is a sharp arrow, it speaks deceit; with his mouth he continues to speak peaceably with his friends; but in his heart he plans treachery.

It is always nauseating for a righteous man to continue in daily contact with filthy and corrupt company. Jeremiah longs to leave the city with all its vices and take up residence in one of the desolate and dreary wayside shelters which dotted the major highways of antiquity. All of the people of Judah participate in spiritual and literal adultery at the Canaanite shrines. Even when gathered in their religious assemblies these men are treacherous, hypocritical and untrustworthy. The tender and sensitive Jeremiah would rather live the life of a monastic, sit in an isolated shack and meditate and bemoan the fate of his people. But God had called him to preach to that godless generation, and preach he must!

Jeremiah’s description of the corruption of Judah is truly remarkable. The tongue of the men of Judah is a bow which hurls falsehood and deceit. These mighty warriors do not contend for truth but for its opposite, lawlessness and injustice. Their starting point is evil and their ultimate goal is evil. This deplorable situation has developed because they do not know or have regard for the living God (Jeremiah 9:3). A willful ignorance of God and His word was at the root of their national corruption. No one could be trusted, not even the members of one’s own immediate family. Every brother was “very crooked.” The Hebrew phrase here means literally, to follow at the heel, assail insidiously, trip someone up. Everyone was out to defraud and cheat his brother. Friends went about carrying slanderous tales about friends (Jeremiah 9:4). Self-protection demanded that everyone be viewed with suspicion. These people had “learned” i.e., they had accustomed themselves, to speaking lies and falsehood. They actually weary themselves in sinning (Jeremiah 9:5). The sinner may have his wild fling but in the end he winds up exhausted, a physical, mental and moral wreck. The more abundant life is that of faithful and loving obedience to the divine will.

In Jeremiah 9:6 God addresses Jeremiah. He tells the prophet what he already knows viz., that he should trust no one since he is surrounded by deceit. Hypocritical men have no desire to really know God and so they deliberately, purposely shut the Lord out of their lives (Jeremiah 9:6). Only the knowledge of God will cure them of their hypocrisy; yet they refuse to know God because of their hypocrisy. The only alternative is a judgment which will serve to purify and refine the nation. God is about to purify His people in the fires of judgment even as silver is purified from dross by smelting. He will then test them to see if all the impurities have indeed been removed. How otherwise could God act? He has no other choice. God could not leave His people in their sin for they were intended to be a holy people. On the other hand because they are His people He cannot utterly destroy them. The only solution is to purge them through tribulation such as they had not hitherto experienced (Jeremiah 9:7). Such people who use their tongue as in arrow to smite their neighbors, who speak peace but plot treachery (lit., set an ambush) are the dross which must be removed through the judgment process (Jeremiah 9:8).

Impending Destruction Jeremiah 9:9-21

Because of the national corruption, destruction is necessary and imminent. The land will become desolate (Jeremiah 9:9-15) and death will reign supreme throughout the land (Jeremiah 9:16-21).

Desolation of the land (Jeremiah 9:9-16)

(9) On account of these things shall I not punish them (oracle of the LORD)? Shall not I take vengeance on a nation which is like this? (10) Upon the mountains I shall lift up weeping and lamentation and in the pastures of the wilderness a lamentation; for they are burned up so that no man passes by and they do not hear the noise of the cattle. The birds of the heavens as well as the cattle have fled, have gone away. (11) And I will make Jerusalem heaps, the habitation of jackals, and the cities of Judah I will make a desolation without inhabitant. (12) Who is the wise man that he may discern this and to whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken that he may declare it? Why is the land destroyed, burned like a wilderness so that no one passes by? (13) And the LORD said: Because they forsook My law which I placed before them and they did not hearken to My voice nor walk in it. (14) But they walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baalim which their fathers taught them. (15) Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I am about to cause them viz., this people, to eat wormwood and cause them to drink the poisoned water of gall. (16) And I will scatter them among nations which neither they nor their fathers have known and I will send after them the sword until I have consumed them.

In view of the terribly corrupt conditions which prevail in Judah God is perfectly justified in taking vengeance upon that land (Jeremiah 9:9). Jeremiah knows what will befall his beloved land. He knows that when the judgment falls he will be weeping and lamenting the desolation which will befall that once proud little country. The pasture lands of the wilderness i.e., the uninhabited region, which once were covered with flocks and herds will become so utterly waste that even the birds depart for lack of food (Jeremiah 9:10). The cities of Judah will not escape the desolation. Their ruins will become the habitation of wild creatures (Jeremiah 9:11). The “I” of Jeremiah 9:11 is no longer Jeremiah, but God.

In Jeremiah 9:12 Jeremiah challenges the wise men of the land and those who claimed to have received divine revelation to explain why the land has become desolate (Jeremiah 9:12). They are unable to explain it and so God himself gives the explanation. God had placed His law before this people at Sinai. He had amplified His law and kept it before the people through the preaching of the prophets. Yet the people forsook the law of God, refused to hearken to His instruction or walk in His way (Jeremiah 9:13). In their stubborn rebellion they followed after the Canaanite deities, the Baalim. This apostasy and idolatry they had learned from their fathers (Jeremiah 9:14). Where fathers go, sons will follow. What an ungodly legacy the fathers had left to their descendants!. The iniquities of fathers are often magnified in the lives of sons and when iniquity is full the punishment is inevitable (cf. Exodus 20:5). The sons must now eat the wormwood and drink the water of gall (Jeremiah 9:15). Wormwood and gall, two bitter and noxious substances, were symbols in the Old Testament for bitter affliction. Judah will become desolate because she will be depopulated. God will scatter the Jews among the far-distant foreign nations. Even in captivity the sword of divine retribution will pursue them until they are consumed (Jeremiah 9:16). Those who would be consumed in captivity are, of course, the unbelieving and unrepentant (cf. Amos 9:9-10). Those who turned to God in sincerity and truth would be restored to their homeland (Jeremiah 16:14-15; Jeremiah 31:9; Jeremiah 31:18-19).

Death throughout the land (Jeremiah 9:17-22)

(17) Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider and call for the mourning women that they might come and unto the wise women send that they might come. (18) And let them hurry and lift up over us wailing that our eyes may flow with tears and our eyelids stream with water. (19) For a sound of wailing is heard from Zion. How sad it is! We have been despoiled! We are put to great shame; for we have forsaken the land; for they have cast down our dwellings. (20) For hear the word of the LORD, O women, and let your ear receive the word of His mouth, and teach your daughters wailing and every one her neighbor lamentation. (21) For death has come up into our windows, it has entered into our palaces, to cut down children in the street, young men in the broad places. (22) Speak thus! (oracle of the LORD): The carcasses of men shall fall like dung upon the surface of the field and like sheaves behind the reaper; and there is no one to gather them.

In view of the impending national disaster, Jeremiah calls for professional mourning women to come and bewail the death of the nation. Such women were “wise” or skillful in the ways of leading public lamentation (Jeremiah 9:17). By helping others to weep and thus give vent to their emotions these women rendered a public service. One can find some measure of relief from anguish and sorrow only as he openly and outwardly expresses it. Jeremiah can seem to hear the wailing coming forth from Zion of Jerusalem. The people have been despoiled and humiliated. They have been forced to forsake the land of their birth. Their homes have been cast down by the enemy. They are confounded and confused (Jeremiah 9:19). Jeremiah calls upon the women who had been so zealous in the worship of false gods to give heed to the word of God. The day is soon approaching when the women of the nation would have to teach their daughters how to lament. So great will be the national tragedy that there will not be sufficient professional mourners. All the women will have to become involved (Jeremiah 9:20).

Why this need for universal lamentation? Death will reign supreme in the land in that day. Death creeps through the windows of homes and palaces. The Grim Reaper stalks the streets and broadplaces or market places of the city. Innocent children are cut down, young men in the flower of their youth (Jeremiah 9:21). The figure of death entering through the windows was a common one in the ancient Near East. In the Ugaritic epic of Baal, death is also described as entering by the window. Baal gave orders that no window was to be made in his palace until he had beaten his rival Moth, the god of death. After the victory over Moth, Baal issued a new order to the craftsman to construct a window. Apparently the entrance of death by the windows eventually became a common figure of speech in the Canaanite and Hebrew languages.

The picture of death throughout the land reaches its climax in Jeremiah 9:22. The first phrase, “Speak thus!” is abrupt and forceful and serves to arrest the attention of the hearer and draw his attention to this last dramatic announcement. The carcasses of the men of Judah who fall in battle will be left unburied. The dead bodies will be scattered over the surface of the ground like fertilizer spread by a farmer. A reaper in his haste to glean the harvest leaves many handfuls of grain in the field to rot. So would it be with the bodies of the dead. Those who survive the battles will be too few in number and too fearful to venture forth from the walled cities to give the fallen a decent burial (Jeremiah 9:22).

TRUE GLORY Jeremiah 9:23-24

(23) Thus says the LORD: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom and let not the mighty man boast of his might nor the rich man boast of his wealth. (24) But let him that glories glory in this: The understanding and knowledge of Me, for I am the LORD who establishes kindness, justice and righteousness in the land because in these things I take delight (oracle of the LORD).

The brief but beautiful treatment of true glory seems unrelated to either what precedes or what follows in the chapter. Men throughout history have been tempted to magnify the importance of wisdom, strength and wealth and fall down in adoration before this trinity in unholy worship. Wealth and strength are ephemeral and wisdom, if it is not rooted in reverent fear for God, is vain (cf. Psalms 111:10). Destruction and death await the nation or the individual who places undue confidence in the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 9:23). True glory belongs not to the wealthy, the strong, and the wise but to those who understand and know the Lord. To understand God means to have the correct insight into His divine nature; to know Him means to walk in intimate fellowship with Him day by day. Those who understand and know the Lord practice daily those things which are pleasing to Him. They demonstrate lovingkindness to those who are of the household of faith. They strive for justice for the underprivileged and weak. They walk in the paths of righteousness, i.e., right conduct. These are the qualities which make the relationship between God and man and these are the qualities which must characterize the relationship between the man of God and his fellowman (Jeremiah 9:24).

THE UNCIRCUMCISED HEART Jeremiah 9:25-26

(25) Behold, days are coming (oracle of the LORD) when I will bring punishment upon all circumcised in their uncircumcision. (26) Upon Egypt and Judah and Edom and the children of Ammon and Moab and all those who cut the corners (of the hair) who dwell in the wilderness, for all the nations are uncircumcised and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.

Circumcision was given by divine command to Abraham and his descendants as a sign of the covenant between God and that people. (Genesis 17:10). The men of Jeremiah’s day while outwardly bearing the sign of the covenant had drifted far from God. spiritually they were uncircumcised. Their hearts were closed to the word of God. They were members by birth of the nation Israel; but actually they were no part of the spiritual Israel. Shortly, warns Jeremiah, God will bring His punishment upon all those who though outwardly circumcised were really uncircumcised (Jeremiah 9:25), Other nations of antiquity practiced circumcision as well as did the Jews. Five such peoples are named in Jeremiah 9:26 : Egyptians, Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites and “those who cut the corners of the hair.” This latter phrase refers to the Arabian tribes who shaved the temples at puberty and consecrated them to their deities. According to Herodotus III. 8. This practice was forbidden to the Israelites. See Leviticus 19:27; Deuteronomy 14:1. The circumcision practiced by these heathen nations was not done in obedience to the command of God and therefore their circumcision was regarded by God as uncircumcision. God’s judgment would fall upon them. But God’s judgment would also fall upon the men of Judah who were in this respect no different from their pagan neighbors. They were physically circumcised but not spiritually so (See Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:25-29). Just as the men of Israel were not living up to their circumcision, so many today are not living up to their baptism. Many have had their bodies immersed in water but their minds, hearts and will remain unbaptized.

GOD VS. THE IDOLS Jeremiah 10:1-25

In chapter 10 Jeremiah ridicules idolatry (Jeremiah 10:1-5) and extols the incomparable God of Israel (Jeremiah 10:6-16). He points out the folly of forsaking God (Jeremiah 10:17-22). The chapter closes with a prophetic prayer (Jeremiah 10:23-25). The Jeremian authorship of the first sixteen verses has been questioned by various scholars on the grounds that they interrupt the thought sequence of the section and on the grounds that they are written in a different style. But one author may employ more than one style of writing depending upon he subject he is treating and the audience he is addressing. As the present section of the Book of Jeremiah is in the nature of an anthology of prophetic utterances no appeal to the interruption of thought sequence would seem to be appropriate. In short there is no good reason to suspect that Jeremiah was not the author of the first sixteen verses of chapter 10.

The Folly of Idolatry Jeremiah 10:1-5

(1) Hear the word which the LORD spoke against you, O house of Israel. (2) Thus says the LORD: Do not learn the way of the nations and do not be dismayed because of the signs of the heavens; for the nations are dismayed because of them. (3) For the customs of the people are vanity; for it is a tree which one cuts out of the forest, the work of the hands of the carpenter with an ax. (4) With silver and gold he adorns it; with nails and hammers they secure them so that it might not be made to totter. (5) They are like a post in a cucumber patch. They cannot speak. They must even be carried about for they are immobile. Do not fear because of them for they cannot do evil nor can they even do good.

Through His prophet God exhorts His people (Jeremiah 10:1) not to learn, i.e., become accustomed to, the idolatrous ways of the heathen. The people of God need not become upset by the signs of the heavens—eclipses, meteors, and the like—which other nations regarded as portents of evil (Jeremiah 10:2). Numerous tablets from the ancient Near East have been found which indicate how closely the heavens were observed and how carefully every movement of the heavenly bodies was recorded. Modern astrology had its birth in the pagan temples of Mesopotamia. Those who worship the God who created the heavens need have no superstitious fears regarding the position of the sun, moon and stars, The religious customs, practices and rituals of the heathen are utterly empty and without content (cf. Isaiah 40:19 f; Isaiah 44:12 ff.). Idols are in reality nothing more than a tree which has been cut out of the forest by the ax of a woodsman (Jeremiah 10:3). Though beautifully adorned with gold and silver overlay that idol is still nothing more than lifeless wood. An idol cannot even stand on its own two feet. It must be fastened down with hammer and nails in order to prevent it from tottering (Jeremiah 10:4). The description used here is similar to that in Isaiah 40:19-20; Isaiah 41:7. The idol is as harmless as a post erected in a cucumber patch for the purpose of scaring away the birds. They cannot speak nor can they move about without being carried by someone. They cannot harm any one, nor for that matter, can they bring blessing upon anyone. For this reason there is no particular advantage in serving an idol and no harm in failing to do so.

The Incomparable God of Israel Jeremiah 10:6-16

(6) There is none like You O LORD; great are You and great is Your name in power. (7) Who would not fear You, O King of the nations; for You are worthy of it. Because among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their royalty there is none like You. (8) They are altogether stupid and foolish; the instruction of vanities is wood. (9) Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of a craftsman and the hands of the goldsmith; blue and purple is their clothing, all of them the work of wisemen. (10) But the LORD is the true God. He is the living God and eternal King. Before His wrath the earth trembles; nations cannot endure His indignation. (11) Thus you shall say to them: the gods which did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from beneath the heavens. (12) It is He who made the earth by His power who founded the world in His wisdom; and in His understanding stretched out the heavens. (13) When He gives forth His voice, there is the noise of the waters in the heavens, and He causes the vapors to go up from the ends of the earth; lightings He makes for the rain and brings forth wind from His treasures. (14) Every man is stupid, without knowledge! Every goldsmith is put to shame because of his image, for his molten image is a fraud, and there is no breath in them. (15) They are vanity, a ridiculous work; in the time of their visitation they shall perish. (16) Not like these is the Portion of Jacob; for He is the Maker of everything and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the LORD of hosts is His name.

None of the idols can compare to the Lord in greatness and in power (Jeremiah 10:6). He is not merely a tribal deity restricted theologically and geographically in His sphere of influence. He is worthy of reverence by all mankind. No wise man of the earth can equal Him in wisdom. No prince of mankind is His equal in majesty and power (Jeremiah 10:7). On the other hand the idols are nothing but lifeless lumber. They are stupid and foolish and are utterly unable to render intelligent counsel. From an idol of wood one can only obtain “wooden,” lifeless, worthless guidance (Jeremiah 10:8). Men go to no little trouble in producing their idols. The wooden image is covered by the finest silver and gold sheets. Silver is secured from Tarshish, generally thought to be located on the southwest coast of Spain. Gold is imported from Uphaz the location of which is unknown. Since Tarshish is in the extreme west in relation to Palestine, Uphaz is perhaps equally far in the opposite direction. Some think that Uphaz, which is also mentioned in Daniel 10:5, is to be identified with Ophir. This interpretation of Uphaz appears in the Syriac versions of the Old Testament and in the Aramaic Targum. Once the beautiful metal had been shaped and molded to fit the wooden base the image was clothed in blue and purple, the most expensive cloth in antiquity. Embellished with precious metals and adorned with costly garments an image was in reality a work of art produced by cunning and skillful men. It was no wiser and more powerful than the craftsmen who produced it (Jeremiah 10:9).

What a contrast exists between the God of Israel and the idols of the nations! They are false gods, but He is the true God; they are lifeless but He is living; they are temporal, but He is eternal; they are provincial, but He is sovereign over all the earth. All nations tremble before His indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10).

Jeremiah 10:11 is regarded as a gloss by most commentators. The verse is in the Aramaic language rather than Hebrew. It does seem strange, however, that a copyist would have inserted an Aramaic gloss into a Hebrew text either accidentally or purposely. It is best then to regard Jeremiah 10:11 as having originally been part of the text and written by Jeremiah himself. Why then is the verse in Aramaic? Probably Jeremiah is here utilizing some proverb which was current in his day in the Aramaic language. The basic idea of the verse is clear- All the gods of the nation which were in reality false gods will eventually perish.

Every man who engages in idolatry is stupid. Only when men accept the self-revelation of God through His word do they have any insight into the true meaning of life. Those who make the idols will be utterly ashamed in the day of judgment as they will be forced to admit that their images are powerless. In spite of the elaborate ceremonies in which the spirit of the god came to make its abode in the images Jeremiah declares “there is no breath in them” (Jeremiah 10:14). Those idols are utterly vain, empty, ridiculous. They, along with their worshipers, shall experience the visitation of judgment of the true God. In that time the images shall perish, unable to save themselves, let alone those who held them in esteem (Jeremiah 10:15). None of the gods so popular in the days of Jeremiah remain on the scene today. They have indeed perished. The Lord of hosts is not like the idols. He who is the Creator of everything is the “Portion of Jacob” and Israel is “the tribe of His inheritance.” Though He is God of all nations, yet He belongs to Israel in a special way (Psalms 73:26; Psalms 119:57; Psalms 142:5) and Israel belongs to Him in a special way (Jeremiah 10:16).

The Folly of Forsaking God Jeremiah 10:17-22

(17) Gather your bundle from the land, you who dwell in the siege. (18) For thus says the LORD! Behold, I am about to hurl out the inhabitants of the land at this time and I shall distress them in order that they might be found. (19) Woe to me because of my hurt! My wound is grievous. But as for me, I said, Alas, this is a grief that I must bear. (20) My tent is destroyed and all my cords have been snapped; my children have gone away from me and they are dead; there is none to stretch out my tent any longer and to raise up my curtains. (21) For the shepherds are stupid and they do not seek the LORD. Therefore they have not acted wisely, and all of their flock is scattered. (22) Hark! A report! Behold, it comes! A great shaking out of the land of the north, to make the cities of Judah a desolation, the habitation of jackals.

Idolatry has inevitable consequences as far as God is concerned. In Jeremiah 10:17 Jeremiah sadly addresses his people and urges them to gather together their possessions and prepare to go into captivity when the siege of the land has ended (Jeremiah 10:17). The inhabitants of Judah are about to be violently expelled from their land, hurled forth as a rock is hurled from a sling. Because of their idolatry God Himself becomes their antagonist. He will bring them into this distress. The last phrase of Jeremiah 10:18 is very difficult, “that they might be found.” Literally the phrase might be translated, “that they might find.” Find what? Perhaps the voice of the prophet trailed off and he never completed that sentence. On the other hand it is permissible to translate the last verb as a passive, “that they might be found.” Only when Judah has been purged of wickedness through the ordeal of captivity will God be able to find or accept His people once again.

As he contemplates the future of his people Jeremiah bursts forth into another lamentation. The knowledge of what will befall his people is compared to a hurt, a wound, a grief or sickness for which there is no cure. Jeremiah must simply live with his mental suffering (Jeremiah 10:19). The prophet compares Judah to a tent which has collapsed because the cords have been snapped or cut. Those who once occupied that tent have been taken into exile or else they are dead. No one remains to help raise up the national tent once again (Jeremiah 10:20). All of this calamity has come about because the shepherds, the political and religious leaders, have not sought the Lord. The word “seek” here is a technical word meaning to inquire of, to seek an oracle from the Lord. Spurning divine revelation these leaders were making decisions which were most unwise. Jeremiah is probably alluding to the scheming, plotting and outright revolt against Babylon the superpower. Because of the policies of the national shepherds, the flock, the people of the land, were being scattered. Innocent people often suffer when national leaders spurn divine revelation. Even as he points this finger of accusation at the national leadership Jeremiah dramatically pauses and puts his hands to his ears. “Hark!” he cries. “A report!” He seems to hear rumors or reports of the dreaded enemy from the north. The earth itself seems to rumble to the cadence of marching feet. The Chaldeans are on the march. Jerusalem and indeed all the cities of Judah would shortly be desolation, inhabited by wild creatures.

A Prophetic Prayer Jeremiah 10:23-25

(23) I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not his own and that a man in walking cannot direct his step (24) Chastise me, O LORD, but in measure, not in Your wrath lest you cause me to become small. (25) Pour out Your wrath upon the nations which do not know You and upon tribes which have not called on Your name for they have consumed Jacob, they have consumed him and finished him and his habitation they have made desolate.

The solemn description of the impending desolation of Judah (Jeremiah 10:22) sent the prophet of prayer to his knees in intercession for his people. He acknowledges man’s weakness and waywardness and uses this as the grounds upon which to appeal for the mercy of God. “A man’s way is not his own;” a man belongs to God. He is under the obligation to walk in the path which God has marked out for him in the word. If a man fails to acknowledge his relationship to God, fails to submit to divine direction, he denies the fundamental reason for his existence. One who walks the path of life is not able to give moral and spiritual guidance to his own steps. He will inevitably stray from the straight and narrow (Jeremiah 10:23). He therefore requires divine discipline and correction.

Jeremiah feels himself to be one with his people. The “me” of Jeremiah 10:24 is really “us.” The prophet knows that God must chastise or discipline His people; he only prays that God will be merciful. Let God punish His people, but not in the wrath they deserve lest the nation “become small” and dwindle into insignificance. Rather let God punish Judah “in measure,” The Hebrew word is usually translated “justice” or “judgment.” That it also means “measured amounts” is indicated by 1 Kings 4:28 where the same word is used, i.e., with enough punishment to bring about the reformation of Judah. Jeremiah is willing to endure all that God intends to do to Judah so long as the judgment stops short of absolute and total annihilation of the nation.

Israel deserves punishment and Jeremiah admits it. But the nations by whom and through whom God would bring judgment upon Judah also deserve divine judgment. These nations had gone beyond the appointed bounds (Isaiah 10:6-7; Isaiah 47:6; Zechariah 1:15). God intended for these nations to punish Israel; instead they aimed at destroying the people of God. Quoting Psalms 79:6-7, Jeremiah calls upon God to pour out His wrath upon them as well as Israel.

CONSPIRACIES AGAINST GOD AND HIS PROPHET

Jeremiah 11:1 to Jeremiah 13:27

It is well nigh impossible to precisely date the discourses and activities contained in chapter 11–20. Naegelsbach feels that a date prior to the battle of Carc