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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Jeremiah

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The prophet’s name and descent

The name Jeremiah was not uncommon (1 Chronicles 12:13; 2 Kings 23:31; cf. Jeremiah 35:3). Our prophet is more precisely described as “son of Hilkiah” (Jeremiah 1:1), by whom we are not to understand the high priest of this name who held office in Josiah’s days (2 Kings 22:1-20; 2 Kings 23:1-37), since, instead of the definite statement which we should then expect, we have only a general account: “of the priests at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin”; the high priest without doubt had his seat at Jerusalem; on the other hand, the priests settled at Anathoth, the old Levitical town (Joshua 21:18), the present Anata (a good hour northeast of Jerusalem; according to Josephus, twenty stadia from Jerusalem), probably belonged, according to 1 Kings 2:26, to the line of Ithamar, not to that of Zadok. (C. Von Orelli.)

The name of Jeremiah is significant. Some have supposed that it means that he was exalted by the Lord. Others assert with more probability that it means set by the Lord, as solid foundation; or sent forth by the Lord, as lightning from the cloud, or as an arrow from a bow. Whichever etymology we adopt, the name Jeremiah intimates that, whatever he did and suffered, all was from the Lord. He was set by God’s hand as a solitary beacon on a lofty tower, in a dark night, in a stormy sea; lashed by waves and winds, but never shaken from his foundations. (Bishop Chris. Wordsworth)

Political state of affairs

His call to the prophetic office came in the thirteenth year of Josiah. Danger was once again gathering round Judah, and to Jeremiah was assigned a more directly political position than to any other prophet. The destruction of Sennacherib’s army in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (B.C. 693), though it had not freed the land from predatory incursions, had nevertheless put an end to all serious designs on the part of the Assyrians to reduce it to the same condition as that to which Shalmaneser had reduced Samaria. The danger of Judea really rose from Egypt on the one hand and Babylon on the other. In Egypt, Psammetichus put an end to the subdivision of the country, and made himself sole master in B.C. 649. As he reigned for fifty-four years he was--during the last eighteen or nineteen years of his life--contemporary with Josiah, but it was his successor Necho who slew Josiah at Megiddo. Meanwhile, as Egypt grew in strength, so Nineveh declined, partly from the effects of the Scythian invasion, but still more from the growing power of the Medes, and from Babylon having achieved its independence. Two years after the battle of Megiddo, Nineveh fell before a combined attack of the Medes under Cyaxares and the Babylonians under Nabopalassar. But Nabopalassar does not seem to have been otherwise a warlike king, and Egypt remained the dominant power till the fourth year of Jehoiakim. In that year (B.C. 586) Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho at Carchemish. Having peaceably succeeded his father, he returned to Judea, and Jehoiakim became his vassal. After three years of servitude Jehoiakim rebelled (2 Kings 24:1), and died. Three months after his son Jehoiachin, the queen-mother, and a large number of nobles and artificers were carried captive to Babylon. The growth of Egypt into a first-rate power under Psammetichus (2:18, 36) raised the question of a close alliance with him. The youthful Jeremiah gave his voice against it. Josiah recognised that voice as inspired, and obeyed. His obedience cost him his life at Megiddo; but four years later Necho was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar at Carchemish. On that day the fate of the Jewish nation was decided, and the primary object of Jeremiah’s mission then ceased. The ministry of Jeremiah really belonged to the last eighteen years of Josiah’s reign. Judah’s probation was then going on, her salvation still possible; though each year Judah’s guilt became heavier, her condemnation more certain. But to the eye of man her punishment seemed more remote than ever. Jehoiakim was the willing vassal of Egypt, the supreme power. No wonder that, being an irreligious man, he scorned all Jeremiah’s predictions of utter and early ruin; no wonder that he destroyed Jeremiah’s roll, as the record of the outpourings of mere fanaticism. It was his last chance, his last offer of mercy; and as he threw the torn fragments of the roll on the fire he threw there in symbol his royal house, his doomed city, the temple, and all the people of the land. It was in this fourth year of Jehoiakim that Jeremiah boldly foretold the greatness of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire, and the wide limits over which it would extend. This prophecy (chap. 25) placed his life in danger, so that “the Lord hid” him and Baruch (Jeremiah 36:26). When Jeremiah appears again, Nebuchadnezzar was advancing upon Jerusalem to execute the prophecy contained in Jeremiah 36:30-31. And with the death of Jehoiakim the first period of Judah’s history was brought to a close. Though Jeremiah remained with Zedekiah, and tried to influence him for good, yet his mission was over. He testifies himself that the Jewish Church had gone with Jehoiachin to Babylon. Zedekiah and those who remained in Jerusalem were but the refuse of a fruit basket from which everything good had been culled (chap. 24), and their destruction was a matter of course. Jeremiah held no distinctive office towards them. (Dean Payne Smith.)

Jeremiah’s personal characteristics

The personality of Jeremiah looks out on us from his book in more individual distinctness than that of any other prophet. He reveals himself as a soul of gentle nature, yielding, tender-hearted, affectionate, with almost a woman’s thirst for love, with which certainly the iron, unbending firmness and immovable power of resistance belonging to him in his prophetic sphere are in strange contrast. There were in turn two different, widely diverging potencies,--the human flesh in its weakness, yet with all its lawful generous impulses; and the Divine Spirit, with its boundless strength. Thou h the former was thoroughly subject to the latter, it suffered, sighed, bled under the heavy, almost intolerable, burden laid upon it by God’s Spirit and Word. No doubt the youth received the Divine revelations with delighted eagerness (Jeremiah 15:16); but it went hard with him to be obliged to renounce every joy of youth on account of the hand of the Lord that came upon him, and to be obliged to experience and proclaim to his people nothing but wrath, ruin, woe. How utterly all this cut across his natural inclination (Jeremiah 15:17 f.). Moreover, the office of this witness of Jehovah was in itself highly tragical; he had to preach repentance to a people unfaithful to its God, while knowing that this final call to salvation would pass away unheeded! He had to picture to the nation and its God-forgetting leaders the terrible danger accruing to it from its guilt, and he was not understood, because no one wished to understand him! Thus he himself suffered most under the disobedience of the nation which he loved, without being able to save it. And at the same time he, the warmest, noblest friend of his country, was forced to let himself be counted among traitors, as though in league with the enemy! And yet it was God’s inspiration that compelled him again and again to beat down without mercy every deceitful hope to which sinking courage strove to cling; not cowardice, but courage, made him dissuade those eager for war; not treachery, but love for people and city, made him enjoin submission to the conqueror chosen of God. If such a position in some respects like the one forced on Hosea in the last days of the northern kingdom--would have been terribly hard for any one, for the deeply sensitive Jeremiah, who felt the wounds of his nation as his own, it was almost crushing! That he who interceded with priestly heart for Judah saw himself rejected in his constant intercession before God’s throne (Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11; Jeremiah 18:20); that he who consumed himself for the salvation of his country, and strove only to avert the ruin threatened by God, had to listen to the bitterest suspicions and revilings (Jeremiah 9:1 ff; Jeremiah 12:5 f., Jeremiah 15:10, Jeremiah 17:14-18, Jeremiah 18:23, etc.), often brought him to despair; nor does he restrain his feelings. Nothing can again cheer him and heal his inner wounds (Jeremiah 8:18; Jeremiah 8:21); he wishes he could dissolve in tears for his poor people (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17); he would fain dwell alone in the wilderness to escape the wickedness of his surroundings (Jeremiah 9:2); he wishes God had never persuaded him to enter His service, since God’s words make him reel like wine (Jeremiah 23:9), and burn in him like fire, when he would suppress them (Jeremiah 20:7 ff.). Yea, in this conflict between his heart of human feeling and God’s inexorable word he wishes he had never been born (Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:14-18), like Job (Job 3:1 ff.). But just because what the Lord announces to him is so painful and contrary to his natural feelings and wishes, he is so certain that a stronger one has come upon him; and he opposes with invincible certainty of triumph the false prophets, who publish the flattering dreams of their own heart as revelations from above. Over against all outward attacks he stands as an iron pillar and brazen wall (Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 15:20), whilst inwardly mourning the ruin of Judah and Jerusalem as none else does. (C. Von Orelli.)

Jeremiah has been likened to several characters in profane history--to Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess, whose fate it was never to be believed, though prophesying nothing but the truth; to Phocion, the rival of Demosthenes in the last generation of Athenian greatness, who maintained the unpopular but sound doctrine that, if Athens were to escape worse evils, she must submit peaceably to the growing power of Macedon; to Dante, whose native state, Florence, was in relation to France and the empire as Palestine was to Egypt and Babylon, while the poet, like the prophet, could only protest without effect against the thickening ills. (A. W. Streane, D. D.)

Jeremiah faithful as a prophet

In the midst of his own sorrow, and even in the deepest despondency, Jeremiah is faithful to his task as a prophet, and bold in declaring the Word of the Lord. Though his message was largely directed to immediate affairs, it pointed forward to a better dispensation, and his words have a meaning for all time.

1. We see fidelity to his calling triumphing over natural timidity throughout his life. See his own words (Jeremiah 20:8-9). He seems ever to have been conscious of the assurance given to him at his call (Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 15:20). And his faith in God’s promise is illustrated in his purchase of a field when the ruin of the country was imminent (32).

2. The truths mainly insisted on by Jeremiah are

(a)--That mere attention to worship or veneration for its forms is worthless (Jeremiah 3:16; Jeremiah 7:8-11; Jeremiah 7:21-23). The law must be written on the heart (Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 4:14; Jeremiah 17:9; Jeremiah 31:33).

(b) Consequently the individual rather than the state is the object of Divine regard (Jeremiah 5:1; Jeremiah 9:1-6; Jeremiah 9:18).

(c) In thus condemning the old, Jeremiah anticipates a new order of things. Though he says little of a personal Messiah, he prepares His way (see Jeremiah 23:5-8; Jeremiah 30:4-11; Jeremiah 33:14-26). (James Robertson, D. D.)

The teaching of jeremiah

The distinctive advance of Jeremiah’s teaching on that of his predecessors is due to his clear recognition of the fact that the Divine purpose could not be realised under the forms of the Hebrew state, that the continuity and victory of the true faith could not be dependent on the continuity of the nation. Israel must be wholly dispersed, and can only be gathered again by a Divine call addressed to individuals, and bringing them one by one into a new covenant with their God, written on their hearts. Here for the first time in history the ultimate problem of faith is based on the relation of God to the individual soul; and it is to Jeremiah’s idea of the new covenant that the New Testament teaching directly attaches itself. (Chamberss Encyclopaedia.)

Jeremiah’s literary style

So far as style can be spoken of in Jeremiah, his style perfectly reflects all the articulations of thought and all the hues of emotion of his mind. His was a nature characterised by simplicity, reality, pathos, tenderness, and a strange piety, but subject to his emotions, which were liable to rise into passions. His mind was set on a minor key, and his temper elegiac. And to all this his language is true. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)

Arrangement of the prophecies of Jeremiah

The prophecies of Jeremiah are not arranged m chronological order. The earlier portion (chaps. 1-20) has a general character, and is a prelude to the rest. Some of these earlier chapters belong to the days of Josiah (Jeremiah 3:6); others to the time of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 13:18). But at the beginning of chap. 21, which is introductory to the second great portion of the book, we are carried forward to the days of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah. The prophet hastens, as it were, to the end, and sets before us the fate of that king of Judah, to be delivered into the hands of the Babylonian monarch, Nebuchadnezzar; and the fate of Jerusalem, to be destroyed by fire; and of the whole land, to be spoiled by Nebuchadnezzar and by the armies of the Chaldeans (Jeremiah 21:1-14). The next chapter (22) contains prophecies delivered in earlier times concerning the predecessors of Zedekiah, namely, Shallum or Joash, the son and successor of the good king Josiah (Jeremiah 22:10-12); and Jehoiakim the elder brother and successor of Shallum (Jeremiah 22:13-19); and concerning Jehoiakim’s son and successor--Jehoiachin, Jeconiah, or Coniah, the immediate predecessor of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 22:24; Jeremiah 22:30). What is the reason of such an arrangement? It was intended to show that Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, had ample notice from God, by the ministry of Jeremiah, with regard to the fatal consequences of his own acts, both to his country and to himself. If he persisted in his rebellion against God, speaking to him by the voice of the prophet. The fulfilment, which Zedekiah himself had seen, of Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning his three predecessors on the throne, was a solemn warning to him that unless he himself repented, the predictions of the same prophet concerning himself would be fulfilled also; and it contained also a merciful assurance that if he listened to the prophet’s voice, and turned to God with a true penitent heart from his evil ways, he would thus escape the punishments hanging over his head. This is a specimen of the principle on which the prophecies of Jeremiah are arranged; and if we bear this principle in mind, and apply it to the rest, we shall see that these prophecies are not thrown together without method and system, but that they have been disposed in such a manner as to exhibit in a clear light the wisdom, justice, and mercy of God in dealing with His own people, and to justify His dispensations in executing His sentence upon them; which, after His other methods of correction had been exhausted, led at length, by the severe but salutary discipline of their captivity of seventy years, to their conversion from idolatry, and to their restoration to God’s favour and to their own land. (Bishop Chris. Wordsworth.)

The unchronological arrangement of Jeremiah’s prophecies is not without its teachings.

1. As showing that during the length of tune over which the prophet’s work was spread but little care was taken by him to provide for their transmission in any definite order. Like the sibyl of classical antiquity, he gave his writings, as it were, to the winds, careless of their fate, and left it to others, through his long career, to collect, copy, and arrange them as they could.

2. As suggesting the probability that what happened in his case may have befallen the writings of other prophets also, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, whose labours were spread over a considerable period of time; and consequently, as leaving it open to us to deal freely with the order in which we find them, so as to convert them, as we best can, with the successive stages of the prophet’s life. (Dean Plumptre.)

The very lack of order which is displayed here serves a valuable end, in showing that we possess the words of Jeremiah put together in those same troublous times in the course of which they were spoken, not arranged with the care and method which would have been afterwards employed to remodel and fit them to men’s notions of propriety. It is not the Book of Jeremiah, edited by a future generation, but, his words, as they fell from the inspired lips themselves, that are thus in God’s providence preserved to us. (A. W. Streane, D. D.)

Contents of the book.--

1.Jeremiah 1:1-19Jeremiah 1:1-19; Jeremiah 2:1-37; Jeremiah 3:1-25; Jeremiah 4:1-31; Jeremiah 5:1-31; Jeremiah 6:1-30; Jeremiah 7:1-34; Jeremiah 8:1-22; Jeremiah 9:1-26; Jeremiah 10:1-25; Jeremiah 11:1-23; Jeremiah 12:1-17; Jeremiah 13:1-27; Jeremiah 14:1-22; Jeremiah 15:1-21; Jeremiah 16:1-21; Jeremiah 17:1-27; Jeremiah 18:1-23; Jeremiah 19:1-15; Jeremiah 20:1-18; Jeremiah 21:1-14. Containing probably the substance of the book of Jeremiah 36:32, and including prophecies from the thirteenth year of Josiah (with a long interval of silence) to the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah 1:3, however, indicates a later revision, and the whole of chap. 1 may have been added as the prophet’s retrospect of his whole work from this its first beginning. Jeremiah 21:1-14 belongs to a later period, but may have been placed here, as connected by the recurrence of the name of Pashur with Jeremiah 20:2.Jeremiah 22:1-30; Jeremiah 23:1-40; Jeremiah 24:1-10; Jeremiah 25:1-38. Short prophecies against the kings of Judah and the false prophets. Jeremiah 25:13-14, evidently marks the conclusion of a series, and that which follows (Jeremiah 25:15-38), the germ of the fuller predictions of Jeremiah 46:1-28; Jeremiah 47:1-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Jeremiah 49:1-39, has apparently been placed here as a completion to that of the seventy years of exile.

3.Jeremiah 26:1-24Jeremiah 26:1-24; Jeremiah 27:1-22; Jeremiah 28:1-17. The two great prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 26:1-24 belongs to the earlier, Jeremiah 27:1-22; Jeremiah 28:1-17, to the later portion of the prophet’s work.

4.Jeremiah 29:1-32Jeremiah 29:1-32; Jeremiah 30:1-24; Jeremiah 31:1-40. The message of comfort to exiles in Babylon.

5.Jeremiah 32:1-44Jeremiah 32:1-44; Jeremiah 33:1-26; Jeremiah 34:1-22; Jeremiah 35:1-19; Jeremiah 36:1-32; Jeremiah 37:1-21; Jeremiah 38:1-28; Jeremiah 39:1-18; Jeremiah 40:1-16; Jeremiah 41:1-18; Jeremiah 42:1-22; Jeremiah 43:1-13; Jeremiah 44:1-30. The history of Jeremiah’s work immediately before and after the capture of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 35:1-19; Jeremiah 36:1-32 are remarkable as interrupting the chronological order, which would otherwise have been followed here more closely than elsewhere. The position of chap. 14 as an isolated fragment suggests that it may have been added by Baruch at the close of his narrative of his master’s life.

6. Jeremiah 46:1-28; Jeremiah 47:1-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Jeremiah 49:1-39; Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-64. The prophecies against foreign nations, ending with the great utterance against Babylon.

7. Jeremiah 52:1-34. Historical appendix. (Dean Plumptre.)


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