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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries


- Jeremiah

by Joseph Exell


1. THE name of Jeremiah at once suggests the ideas of trouble and lamentation; and not without too much historical ground. Jeremiah was, in fact, not only "the evening star of the declining day of prophecy," but the herald of the dissolution of the Jewish commonwealth. The outward show of things, however, seemed to promise a calm and peaceful ministry to the youthful prophet. The last great political misfortune mentioned (in 2 Chronicles 33:11, not in Kings) before his time is the carrying captive of King Manasseh to Babylon, and this is also the last occasion on which a king of Assyria is recorded to have interfered in the affairs of Judah. Manasseh, however, we are told, was restored to his kingdom, and, apostate and persecutor as he was, found mercy from the Lord God of his fathers. Before he closed his eyes forever a great and terrible event occurred — the sister kingdom of the ten tribes was finally destroyed, and one great Burden of prophecy found its fulfillment. Judah was spared a little longer. Manasseh acquiesced in his dependent position, and continued to pay tribute to the "great King" of Nineveh. In B.C. 642 Manasseh died, and, after a brief interval of two years (it is the reign of Amon, a prince with an ill-omened Egyptian name), Josiah, the grandson of Manasseh, ascended the throne. This king was a man of a more spiritual religion than any of his predecessors except Hezekiah, of which he gave a solid proof by putting clown the shrines and chapels in which the people delighted to worship the true God, Jehovah, and other supposed gods under idolatrous forms. This extremely popular form of religion could never be entirely eradicated; competent travelers agree that traces of it are still visible in the religious usages of the professedly Mohammedan peasantry of Palestine. "Not only have the fellahs preserved (Robinson had already a presentiment of this), by the erection of their Mussulman kubbes, and through their fetish-worship of certain great isolated trees, the situation and the memory of those sanctuaries which Deuteronomy gives up to the execration of the Israelites entering the promised land, and which it points out to them crowning the lofty summits, surmounting the hills, and sheltering themselves under the green trees; but they pay them almost the same worship as the ancient devotees of the Elohim, those Canaanitish kuffars of whom they are the descendants. These makoms — so Deuteronomy calls them — which Manasseh went on constructing, and against which the prophets in vain exhaust their grandiose invectives, are word for word, thing for thing, the Arab makams of our modern goyim, covered by those little cupolas which dot with such picturesque white spots the mountainous horizons of the arid Judaea."

Such is the language of an accomplished explorer, M. Clermont-Gannman, and it helps us to understand the difficulties with which Hezekiah and Josiah had to contend, The former king had the support of Isaiah, and the latter had at his right hand the equally devoted prophet, Jeremiah, the year of whose call was apparently the one immediately following the commencement of the reformation (see Jeremiah 1:2; 2 Chronicles 34:3). Jeremiah, however, had a more difficult task than Isaiah. The latter prophet must have had on his side nearly all the zealous worshippers of Jehovah. The state was more than once in great danger, and it was the burden of Isaiah's prophecies that, by simply trusting in Jehovah and obeying his commandments, the state would infallibly be delivered. But in Jeremiah's time there seems to have been a great revival of purely external religion. Men went to the temple and performed all the ceremonial laws which concerned them, but neglected those practical duties which make up so large a portion of true religion. There was a party of this kind in Isaiah's time, but it was not so powerful, because the misfortunes of the country seemed to show clearly that Jehovah was displeased with the state of the national religion. In Jeremiah's time, on the other hand, the continued peace and prosperity which at first prevailed was equally regarded as a proof that God looked favorably upon his people, in accordance with those repeated promises in the Book of Deuteronomy, that, if the people obeyed the Law of Jehovah, Jehovah would bless their basket and their store, and would keep them in peace and safety. And here it must be remarked (apart from the higher criticism, so much is as clear as the day) that the Book of Deuteronomy was a favorite reading-book of religious people at this time. Jeremiah himself (surely a representative of the most religious class) is full of allusions to it; its characteristic phrases recur continually in his pages. The discovery of the book in the temple (2 Kings 22:0.) was, we may venture to surmise, providentially permitted with a view to the religious needs of those times. No one can deny that Deuteronomy was peculiarly adapted to the age of Josiah and Jeremiah, partly because of the stress which it lays on the importance of religious centralization as opposed to the liberty of worshipping at local shrines, and partly because of its emphasis on the simple moral duties which the men of that age were in serious danger of forgetting. No wonder, then, that Jeremiah himself should take up the study of the book with special earnestness, and that its phraseology should impress itself on his own style of writing. There is yet another circumstance which may help us to understand our prophet's strong interest in the Book of Deuteronomy. It is that his father was not improbably the high priest who found the Book of the Law in the temple. We know, at any rate, that Jeremiah was a member of a priestly family, and that his father was named Hilkiah (Jeremiah 1:1); and that he had high connections is probable from the respect shown to him by successive rulers of Judah — by Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, no less than by Ahikam and Gedaliah, the viceroys of the King of Babylon. We may safely assume, then, that both Jeremiah and a large section of the Jewish people were deeply interested in the Book of Deuteronomy, and, though there was no Bible at that time in our sense of the word, that this impressive book to some extent supplied its place. There was, however, as has been indicated above, a danger connected with reading the Book of Deuteronomy, the exhortations of which so repeatedly connect the national prosperity with obedience to the commandments of God. Now, these commandments are obviously of two kinds — moral and ceremonial; not that any hard and fast line can be drawn between them, but, roughly speaking, the contents of some of the laws are more distinctly moral, and those of others more distinctly ceremonial. Some of the Jews had little or no conception of the moral or spiritual side of religion, and thought it enough to perform with the strictest punctuality the ceremonial part of God's Law. Having done this, they cried, "Peace, peace;" and applied the delightful promises of Deuteronomy to themselves. And it seemed as if Providence justified them, for, as was noticed just now, the kingdom of Judah was freer from external danger than it had been for a long time. Another consideration may be added. The prophet Nahum, as is well known, predicted the complete destruction of the tyrannical power of Assyria. In B.C. 626, i.e. in the fourteenth year of Josiah, a great step was taken towards the fulfillment of that prediction; a powerful rival kingdom to Assyria (though in nominal subordination to it) was established at Babylon, and the Medes, now a powerful and united kingdom, advanced upon Assyria from the east. This was just at the time when Josiah was beginning his reformation, and Jeremiah beginning to prophesy. Could there be a more manifest token (so many professedly religious people might urge) of the favor of God to his long humiliated people? Jeremiah, however, thought otherwise. Cassandra-like, he began his dirge when all were lulled in a deep sense of security. The spiritual state of his country seemed to him utterly rotten. He agreed, it is true, with those would-be religious persons that the local shrines and chapels ought to be abolished, and he could not object to their strict observance of the appointed rites and ceremonies; but he did from the bottom of his heart abhor and detest the supposition that a mere ceremonial worship could be pleasing to God (see those remarkable, though at the same time obscure, passages, Jeremiah 7:8-15, Jeremiah 7:21-23; Jeremiah 11:15).

2. Jeremiah did not cease preaching, but with very little result. We need not wonder at this. The visible success of a faithful preacher is no test of his acceptableness before God. There are times when the Holy Spirit himself seems to work in vain, and the world seems given up to the powers of evil. True, even then there is a "silver lining" to the cloud, if we have only faith to see it. There is always a "remnant according to the election of grace;" and there is often a late harvest which the sower does not live to see. It was so with the labors of Jeremiah, who, like the hero Samson, slew more in his death than in his life; but on this interesting point we must not at present linger. Jeremiah went on preaching, but with small apparent success; when all at once a little cloud arose, no bigger than a man's hand, and soon the fair prospects of Judah were cruelly blighted. Josiah, the favorite, as it seemed, of God and man, was defeated and slain on the field of Megiddo, in B.C. 609. The immediate result was a tightening of the political yoke under which the kingdom of Judah labored. The old Assyrian empire had long been declining; and just at the beginning of Jeremiah's ministry there occurred, as we have seen, one of those great events which change the face of the world — the rise of the great Babylonian power. It need hardly be said that Babylon and the Chaldeans occupy a large place in the prophecies of Jeremiah; Babylon was to him what Nineveh had been to Isaiah.

But, before entering upon this subject of the relations of Jeremiah to the Babylonians, we have first to consider a question of some importance for the study of his writings, viz. whether his references to foreign invaders are covered entirely by the Babylonian aggression. Is it not possible that an earlier danger may have left its impress on his pages (and also on those of Zephaniah)? Herodotus tells us that the Scythians were masters of Asia for twenty-eight years (?), that they advanced to the borders of Egypt; and that, on their return, some of them plundered the temple of Ascalon. The date of the Scythian invasion of Palestine can, it is true, only be fixed approximately. The Canons of Eusebius place it in Olympiad 36.2, equivalent to B.C. 635 (St. Jerome's Latin version), or Olympiad 37.1, equivalent to B.C. 632 (Armenian version). At any rate, it ranges between about B.C. 634 and 618, i.e. between the accession of Cyaxares and the death of Psamnutichus (see Herod., 1:103-105),or more precisely, perhaps, between B.C. 634 and 625 (accepting Abydenus's account of the fall of Nineveh). True, one could wish for better evidence than that of Herodotus (loc. cit.) and Justin (2. 3). But the statements of these writers have not yet been disproved, and they suit the chronological conditions of the prophecies before us. A reference to the Babylonian invasion seems to be excluded in the case of Zephaniah, by the facts that in B.C. 635-625 Babylonia was still under the supremacy of Assyria, and that from neither country could any danger to Palestine then be apprehended. The case of Jeremiah is, no doubt, more complicated. It cannot be maintained that any discourses, in the form in which we now have them, relate to the Scythians; but it is possible that passages originally spoken of the Scythians have been intermixed with later prophecies respecting the Chaldeans. The descriptions in Jeremiah 4:5, Jeremiah 4:8, of the wild, northern nation, sweeping along and spreading devastation as it goes, seems more strikingly appropriate to the Scythians (see Professor Rawlinson's description, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:122) than to the Babylonians. The difficulty felt by many in admitting this view is doubtless caused by the silence of Herodotus as to any mischief wrought by these nomad hordes in Judah; of course, by keeping the coast-road, the latter might have left Judah unharmed. But

(1) we cannot be sure that they did keep entirely to the coast-road. If Scythopolis is equivalent to Beth-shan, and if "Scythe" is correctly explained as "Scythian," they did not; and

(2) the pictures of devastation may have been principally called forth by the later invasion. According to Jeremiah 36:1-4, Jeremiah dictated all his former prophecies to Baruch, either from memory or from rough notes, as late as B.C. 606. Is it not possible that he may have heightened the coloring of warnings suggested by the Scythian invasion to adapt them to the later and more awful crisis? Nay, more, is not this expressly suggested by the statement (Jeremiah 36:32) that "there were added besides unto them many like words?" When you once grant that prophecies were written down subsequently to their delivery, and afterwards combined with others in the form of a summary (a theory which does not admit of a doubt either in Isaiah or in Jeremiah), you therewith admit that features of different periods have in some cases most probably been combined by an unconscious anachronism.

We may now return to that more pressing danger which has so deeply colored the discourses of the prophet. One striking feature about the rise of the Babylonian power is its rapidity; this is vigorously expressed by a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah-
"Behold ye among the nations, and look,
Astonish yourselves, and be astonished;
For, he doeth a deed in your days,
Which ye will not believe, when related.
For, behold, I raise up the Chaldeans,
The passionate and impetuous nation,
Who goeth through the breadth of the earth,
To possess himself of dwelling-places which are not his."
(Habakkuk 1:5, Habakkuk 1:6.)

In B.C. 609 Babylon had still two seemingly vigorous rivals — Assyria and Egypt; in B.C. 604 it had the undisputed mastery of the East. Between these two dates lie — to mention the events in Palestine first — the conquest of Syria by Egypt, and the reattachment of Judah, after the lapse of five centuries, to the empire of the Pharaohs. Another still more surprising event remains — the fall of Nineveh, which, so very short a time previously, had made such a show of warlike power Under the brilliant Assurbanipal. In vol. 11. of the 'Records of the Past,' Mr. Sayce has translated some striking though fragmentary texts relative to the collapse of this mighty colossus. "When Cyaxares the Mede, with the Cimmerians, the people of Minni, or Van, and the tribe of Saparda, or Sepharad (cf. Obadiah 1:20), on the Black Sea, was threatening Nineveh, Esarhaddon II., the Saracos of the Greek writers, had proclaimed a solemn assembly to the gods, in the hope of warding off the danger. But the bad writing of the tablets shows that they are merely the first rough text of the royal proclamation, and we may perhaps infer that the capture of Nineveh and the overthrow of the empire prevented a fair copy from being taken".

Thus was the prediction of Nahum, uttered in the height of Assyrian power, fulfilled; the sword devoured her young lions, her prey was cut off from the earth, and the voice of her insolent messenger (like the Rabshakeh in Isaiah 36:0.) was no more heard (Habakkuk 2:13). And now began a series of calamities only to be paralleled by the still more awful catastrophe in the Roman War. The Chaldeans became the waking thought and the nightly dream of king, prophets, and people. A reference was made just now to Habakkuk, who gives vent to the bitterness of his reflections in complaint to Jehovah. Jeremiah, however, fond as he is supposed to be of lamentation, does not give way to the language of complaint; his feelings were, perhaps, too deep for words. He records, however, the unfortunate moral effect produced by the danger of the state on his fellow-countrymen. It took the form of a religious reaction. The promises of Jehovah in the Book of Deuteronomy appeared to have been falsified, and Israel's God to be incapable of protecting his worshippers. Many Jews fell away into idolatry. Even those who did not become renegades kept aloof from prophets like Jeremiah, who boldly declared that God had hidden his face for the sins of the people. Those who have read the life of Savonarola will be struck by the parallel between the preaching of the great Italian and that of Jeremiah. Without venturing to claim for Savonarola an equality with Jeremiah, he can hardly be denied a kind of reflection of Old Testament prophecy. God's Spirit is not tied to countries or to centuries; and there is nothing wonderful if mountain-moving faith were blessed in Florence as it was in Jerusalem.

The prospects held out by Jeremiah were gloomy indeed. The Captivity was to be no brief interlude in Israel's history, but a full generation; in round numbers, seventy years. Such a message was, from its very nature, doomed to an unfavorable reception. The renegades (probably not a few) were, of course, disbelievers in "the word of Jehovah," and many even of the faithful still hoped against hope that the promises of Deuteronomy, according to their faulty interpretation of them, would somehow be fulfilled.
It cost Jeremiah much to be a prophet of ill; to be always threatening "sword, famine, pestilence," and the destruction of that temple which was "the throne of Jehovah's glory" (Jeremiah 17:12). But, as our own Milton says, "when God commands to take the trumpet and blow a dolorous or a jarring blast, it lies not in man's will what he shall say." There are several passages which show how nearly intolerable Jeremiah's position became to him, and how terribly bitter his feelings (sometimes at least) towards his own enemies and those of his country. Take, for instance, that thrilling passage in Jeremiah 20:7-13, beginning —

"Thou didst entice me, O Jehovah! and I let myself he enticed;
Thou didst take hold on me, and didst prevail;
I have become a derision all the day long,
They all mock me."

The contrast between what he hoped for as a prophet of Jehovah, and what he actually experienced, takes form in his mind as the result of an enticement on the part of Jehovah. The passage draws to its end with the solemnly jubilant words —
"But Jehovah is with me as a fierce warrior;
Therefore shall mine enemies stumble and not prevail,
They shall be greatly ashamed, because they have not prospered,
With an everlasting reproach that shall never be forgotten.
And thou, O Jehovah of hosts, that triest the righteous,
That seest the reins and the heart,
Let me see thy revenge upon them,
For unto thee have I committed my cause.
Sing ye unto Jehovah; praise ye Jehovah:
For he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evil-doers."

But immediately after this chant of faith, the prophet relapses into melancholy with those terrible words, which recur almost word for word in the first discourse of the afflicted Job —
"Cursed be the day wherein I was born:
Let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed," etc.

And even this is not the most bitter thing which Jeremiah has said. On one occasion, when his enemies had plotted against him, he utters the following solemn imprecation: — "Give heed to me, O Jehovah, and hearken to the voice of them that contend with me. Should evil be recompensed for good? for they have digged a pit for my soul. Remember how I stood before thee to speak good for them — to turn away thy wrath from them. Therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and spill them into the hands of the sword; and let their wives become childless, and widows; and let their men be slain by the plague, their young men smitten of the sword in battle. Let a cry be heard from their houses, when thou bringest suddenly troops upon them: for they have digged a pit to take me, and hid snares for my feet. But thou, O Jehovah, knowest all their counsel against me to slay me: forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight, but let them be (counted as) fallen ones before thee; deal with them (accordingly) in the time of thine anger" (Jeremiah 18:19-23). And now, how are we to account for this? Shall we ascribe it to a sudden ebullition of natural anger? Some will reply that this is inconceivable in one consecrated from his youth to the service of God. Let us remember, however, that even the perfect Exemplar of consecrated manhood gave utterance to feelings somewhat akin to those of Jeremiah. When our Lord found that all his preaching and all his wonderful works were thrown away on the scribes and Pharisees, he did not hesitate to pour out the full vials of his wrath on those "hypocrites." Doubtless "he felt pity as well as anger, but he thought the anger had a better right to be expressed. The impostors must be first unmasked; they might be forgiven afterwards, if they should abandon their conventionalities. The lover of men is angry to see harm clone to men." Jeremiah, too, like our Lord, felt pity as well as anger — pity for the nation misguided by its natural "shepherds," and was willing to extend forgiveness, in the name of his Lord, to those who were willing to return; the addresses in Jeremiah 7:2-9 are manifestly intended for those very "shepherds of the people" whom he afterwards so solemnly curses. Natural feeling, no doubt, there was in his communications, but a natural feeling purified and exalted by the inspiring Spirit. He feels himself charged with the thunders of an angry God; he is conscious that he is the representative of that Messiah-people of whom a still greater prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah —

"Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will get myself glory."
(Isaiah 49:3.)

This latter point is well worthy of consideration, as it suggests the most probable explanation of the imprecatory passages in the Psalms as well as in the Book of Jeremiah. Both psalmists and prophet felt themselves representatives of that "Son of God", that Messiah-people, which existed to some slight extent in reality, but in its full dimensions in the Divine counsels. Jeremiah, in particular, was a type of the true Israelite, an Abdiel (a "servant of God") among the faithless, an adumbration of the perfect Israel and the perfect Israelite reserved by God for future ages. Feeling himself, however indistinctly, to be such a type and such a representative, and being at the same time "one of like affections (ὁμοιοπαθηìς) with ourselves," he could not but use language which, however justified, bears a superficial resemblance to vindictive enmity.

3. Jeremiah's warnings became more and more definite. He foresaw, at any rate in its main outlines, the course which events would shortly afterwards take, and refers expressly to the dishonored burial of Jehoiakim, and the captivity of the youthful Jehoiachin. In the presence of such misfortunes he becomes tender-hearted, and gives vent to his sympathetic emotion precisely as our Lord does in similar circumstances. How touching are the words! —

"Weep not over one that is dead, neither lament for him;
Weep (rather) for one that is gone away
For he will return no more,
Nor see his native country."
(Jeremiah 22:10.)

And in another passage (Jeremiah 24:0.) he speaks both kindly and hopefully of those who have been carried away into exile, while those who are left at home are described, most expressively, as "bad figs, very bad, that cannot be eaten." "All that we hear of the later history helps us," Mr. Maurice remarks, "to understand the force and truth of this sign. The reign of Zedekiah presents us with the most vivid picture of a king and people sinking deeper and deeper into an abyss, ever and anon making wild and frantic efforts to rise out of it, imputing their evil to every one but themselves, — their struggles for a nominal freedom always proving them to be both slaves and tyrants at heart."

The evil, however, was perhaps by nothing so much intensified as by the hearing which the people, and especially the rulers, accorded to the flattering prophets who announced a too speedy termination to the clearly impending captivity. One of these, named Hananiah, declared that in two years the yoke of the King of Babylon should be broken, and the Jewish exiles be restored, together with the vessels of the sanctuary (Jeremiah 28:0.). "Not in two but in seventy years," was virtually Jeremiah's reply. If the Jews who remained did not submit quietly, they would be utterly destroyed. If, on the other hand, they were obedient, and "brought their necks under the yoke of the King of Babylon," they would be left undisturbed in their own land.

This seems to be the place to answer a question which has more than once been asked — Was Jeremiah a true patriot in so continually expressing his conviction of the futility of resistance to Babylon? It must be remembered, first of all, that the religious idea with which Jeremiah was inspired is higher and broader than the idea of patriotism. Israel had a divinely appropriated work; if it fell below its mission, what further right had it of existence? Perhaps it may be allowable to admit that such conduct as Jeremiah's would not in our day be regarded as patriotic. If the Government had fully committed itself to a definite and irrevocable policy, it is probable that all parties would agree to enforce at any rate silent acquiescence. One eminent man may, however, be appealed to in favor of Jeremiah's patriotism. Niebuhr, quoted by Sir Edward Strachey, writes thus at the period of Germany's deepest humiliation under Napoleon: "I told you, as I told every one, how indignant I felt at the senseless prating of those who talked of desperate resolves as of a tragedy.... To bear our fate with dignity and wisdom, that the yoke might be lightened, was my doctrine, and I supported it with the advice of the prophet Jeremiah, who spoke and acted very wisely, living as he did under King Zedekiah, in the times of Nebuchadnezzar, though he would have given different counsel had he lived under Judas Maccabaeus, in the times of Antiochus Epiphanes."
This time, too, Jeremiah's warning voice was in vain. Zedekiah was mad enough to court an alliance with Pharaoh-Hophra, who, by a naval victory, had "revived the prestige of the Egyptian arms which had received so severe a shock under Necho II." The Babylonians would not pardon this insubordination, and a second siege of Jerusalem was the consequence. Undaunted by the hostility of the popular magnates ("princes"), Jeremiah urgently counsels immediate surrender. (At this point, it is expedient to be brief; Jeremiah himself is his best biographer. There is, perhaps, nothing in all literature which rivals the narrative chapters in his book for dispassionate truthfulness.) He is rewarded by close imprisonment, but his policy is justified by the event. Famine raged among the besieged inhabitants (Jeremiah 52:6; Lamentations 1:19, Lamentations 1:20, etc.), till at length a breach was effected in the walls; a vain attempt at flight was made by the king, who was captured, and with most of his people carried to Babylon, B.C. 588. Thus fell Jerusalem, nineteen years after the battle of Carchemish, and, with- Jerusalem, the last bold opponent of Babylonian power in Syria. A few poor inhabitants, indeed, were left, but only to prevent the land from becoming utterly desolate (2 Kings 25:12). Their only consolation was that they were allowed a native governor, Gedaliah, who was also a hereditary friend of Jeremiah. But it was a short-lived consolation! Gedaliah fell by an assassin's hand, and the principal Jews, fearing the vengeance of their new lords, took refuge in Egypt, dragging the prophet with them (Jeremiah 42:7-22; Jeremiah 43:7; Jeremiah 44:1). But Jeremiah had not come to the end of his message of woe. Did the Jews, he asked, expect to be secure from the Babylonians in Egpyt? Soon would their foes be after them; Egypt would be chastised, and the Jews would suffer for their treason. And now the unhappy consequences of the misreading of the Deuteronomic Scripture became fully visible. It was from their infidelity, not to Jehovah, but to the queen of heaven, that their calamities proceeded, said the Jewish exiles in Egypt (Jeremiah 44:17-19). What answer could Jeremiah make? His mission to that generation was closed. He could only console himself with that heroic faith which was one of his most striking qualities. During the siege of Jerusalem he had, with a Roman belief in his country's destinies, purchased a piece of ground at no great distance from the capital (Jeremiah 32:6-15); and it was after the fate of the city was sealed that he rose to the highest pitch of religious enthusiasm, when he uttered that memorable promise of a new and spiritual covenant in which the external helps of prophecy and a written Law should be dispensed with (Jeremiah 31:31-34). And in this heaven-born assurance of the immortality and spiritual regeneration of his people he persisted to the end.

4. It was impossible to avoid giving a brief abstract of Jeremiah's prophetic career, because his book is to such a large extent autobiographical. He cannot limit himself to reproducing "the word of the Lord;" his individual nature is too strong for him, and asserts its right of expression. His life was a constant alternation between the action of the "burning fire" of revelation (Jeremiah 20:9), and the reaction of human sensibilities. Truly has it been observed that "Jeremiah has a kind of feminine tenderness and susceptibility; strength was to be educed out of a spirit which was inclined to be timid and shrinking;" and again that "he was a loving, priesty spirit, who felt the unbelief and sin of his nation as a heavy, overwhelming burden." Who does not remember those touching words? —

"Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there?
Why then hath not healing appeared for the daughter of my people?
Oh that my head were water, and mine eye a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!"
(Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 9:1.)

And again —
"Let mine eyes run down with tears day and night,
And let them not cease:
For the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach,
With a very grievous blow."
(Jeremiah 14:17.)

In this respect Jeremiah marks an epoch in the history of prophecy. Isaiah and the prophets of his generation are fully absorbed in their message, and allow no space to the exhibition of personal feeling. In Jeremiah, on the other hand, the element of human feeling is constantly overpowering the prophetic. But let not Jeremiah be disparaged, and let not those triumph over him who are gifted with greater power of self-repression. Self-repression does not always imply the absence of selfishness, whereas Jeremiah's demonstrativeness is not called forth by purely personal troubles, but by those of God's people. The words of Jesus, "Ye would not," and "But now they are hid from thine eyes," might, as Delitzsch remarks, be placed as mottoes to the Book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah's rich individual consciousness extends its influence over his conception of religion, which, without being less practical, has become more inward and spiritual than Isaiah's. The main object of his preaching is to communicate this deeper conception (expressed, above all, in his doctrine of the covenant, see on Jeremiah 31:31-34) to his countrymen. And if they will not receive it in the peace and comfort of their Judaean home, then — welcome ruin, welcome captivity! By uttering this solemn truth (Jeremiah 31:0.) — that a period of enforced seclusion was necessary before Israel could rise to the height of his grand mission — Jeremiah preserved the spiritual independence of his people, and prepared the way for a still higher and more spiritual and evangelical religion. The next generation instinctively recognized this. Not a few of those psalms which belong most probably to the Captivity (especially Psalms 22:31, 40, 55, 69, 71.) are so pervaded with the spirit of Jeremiah that several writers have ascribed them to the pen of this prophet. The question is a complicated one, and the solution call hardly be so simple as these writers appear to suppose. We have to deal with the fact that there is a large body of Biblical literature impregnated with the spirit, and consequently filled with many of the expressions, of Jeremiah. The Books of Kings, the Book of Job, the second part of Isaiah, the Lamentations, are, with the psalms mentioned above, the chief items of this literature; and while, on the one hand, no one would dream of assigning all these to Jeremiah, there seems, on the other, to Be no sufficient reason for giving one of them to the great prophet rather than the other. With regard to the circumstantial parallels in the above-named psalms to passages in the life of Jeremiah, it may be observed

(1) that other pious Israelites had a similar lot of persecution to Jeremiah (cf. Micah 7:2; Isaiah 57:1);

(2) that 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 (not to remind realistic critics that there was no water in Jeremiah's prison, Jeremiah 38:6); and

(3) that none of the psalms ascribed to Jeremiah allude to his prophetic office, or to the conflict with the "false prophets," which must have occupied so much of his thoughts.

Still, the fact that some diligent students of the Scriptures have ascribed this group of psalms to Jeremiah is an index of the close affinities existing on either side. So, too, the Book of Job may be more than plausibly referred to as influenced by Jeremiah. The tendency of careful criticism is to hold that the author of Job selects a passionate utterance of Jeremiah's for the theme of his afflicted hero's first discourse (Job 3:3; comp. Jeremiah 20:14); and it is difficult to evade the impression that a feature in the deepest prophecy of the second part of Isaiah is suggested By Jeremiah's pathetic comparison of himself to a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 52:7; comp. Jeremiah 11:19). Later on, an intensified interest in the details of the future contributed to heighten the estimation of Jeremiah's works; and several traces of the extraordinary respect in which this prophet was held appear in the Apocrypha (2 Macc. 2:1-7; 15:14; Epist. Jeremiah) and in the Gospel narrative (Matthew 16:14; John 1:21).

Another point in which Jeremiah marks an epoch in prophecy is his peculiar fondness for symbolic acts (e.g. Jeremiah 13:1; Jeremiah 16:1; Jeremiah 18:1; Jeremiah 19:1; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 25:15; Jeremiah 35:1). This is a subject fraught with difficulty, and the question may reasonably be asked whether his accounts of such transactions are to be taken literally, or whether they are simply visions translated into ordinary narrative, or even altogether imaginary — recognized rhetorical fictions. We must remember that the flourishing age of prophecy is over, the age when the public work of a prophet was still the chief part of his ministry, and the age of decline is come, in which the quiet work of laying up a store of testimony for the next generation has acquired greater importance. The chapter with Jeremiah's going to the Euphrates and hiding a girdle "in a hole of the rock" till it became good for nothing, and then taking another journey thither to fetch it again, is no doubt rendered more intelligible by reading "Ephrath" instead of P'rath, i.e. "the Euphrates" (Jeremiah 13:4-7); but the difficulty is, perhaps, not entirely removed. May not this narrative (and that in Jeremiah 35:0.) be regarded as fictitious with fully as much ground as the equally positive statement in Jeremiah 25:17, "Then took I the cup at Jehovah's hand, and made all the nations to drink?"

There is yet another important feature for the student to notice in Jeremiah — the diminishing emphasis on the advent of the Messiah, i.e. of the great ideal victorious King, through whom the whole world was to be brought into subjection to Jehovah. Though still found — at the end of a passage on the bad kings Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (Jeremiah 23:5), and in the promises given shortly before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 30:9, Jeremiah 30:21; Jeremiah 33:15) — the personal Messiah is no longer the center of prophecy as in Isaiah and Micah. In Zephaniah he is not mentioned at all. It seems as if, in the decline of the state, royalty had ceased to be an adequate symbol for the great Personage to whom all prophecy points. Every one remembers that, in the last twenty-seven chapter's of Isaiah, the great Deliverer is spoken of, not as a King, but as a persuasive Teacher, reviled by his own countrymen, and exposed to suffering and death, but in and through his sufferings atoning for and justifying all those who believed in him. Jeremiah does not allude to this great Servant of Jehovah in words, but his revelation of a new and spiritual covenant requires the prophecy of the Servant for its explanation. How is the Law of the Lord to be written in t, he hearts of a rebellious and depraved humanity? How, except by the atoning death of the humble, but after his death royally exalted, Savior? Jeremiah prepared the way for the coming of Christ, partly by his putting out of sight the too dazzling regal conception which prevented men from realizing the deeper evangelical truths summed up in the prophecy of the "Servant of the Lord." It ought to be added (and this is another respect in which Jeremiah is a remarkable waymark in the Old Testament dispensation) that he prepared the way of Christ by his own typical life. He stood alone, with few friends and no family joys to console him (Jeremiah 16:2). His country was hastening to its ruin, at a crisis which strikingly reminds us of the times of the Savior. He lifted up a warning voice, but the natural guides of the people drowned it by their Blind opposition. In his utter self-abnegation, too, he reminds us of the Lord, in whose human nature a strong feminine element cannot be mistaken. Doubtless he had a less balanced mind; how should this not be the ease, for we are speaking of him in relation to the unique, incomparable One? But there are moments in the life of Jesus when the lyrical note is as clearly marked as in the utterances of Jeremiah. The prophet weeping over Zion (Jeremiah 9:1; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 14:17) is an adumbration of the sacred tears in Luke 19:41; and the suggestions of the life of Jeremiah in the great prophetic life of Christ (Isaiah 53:0.) are so distinct as to have induced Saadyab the Jew (tenth century A.D.) and Bunsen the Christian to suppose that the original reference was simply and solely to the prophet. It is strange that the most esteemed Christian writers should have dwelt so little on this typical character of Jeremiah; but it is one proof of the richness of the Old Testament that so striking a type should have been reserved for later and less conventional students.

5. The literary merits of Jeremiah have been frequently contested. He is accused of Aramaizing diction, of diffuseness, monotony, imitativeness, proneness to repetition, and to the use of stereotyped formula; nor can these charges be denied. Jeremiah was not an artist in words, as to some extent was Isaiah. His poetic flights were restrained by his presentiments; his utterance was choked by tears. How could he exercise his imagination on depicting woes which he already so fully realized? or vary a theme of such unchanging importance? Even from a literary point of view, however, his unpretending simplicity is not to be despised; as Ewald has already remarked, it forms a pleasing contrast (be it said with all reverence to the Spirit common to all the prophets) to the artificial style of Habakkuk. But above and apart from his literary merits or demerits, Jeremiah deserves the highest honor for his almost unparalleled conscientiousness. Under the most trying circumstances, he never swerved from his fidelity to the truth, nor gave way to the" grief that saps the mind." In a quieter age he might (for his talent is chiefly lyrical) have developed into a great lyric poet. Even as it is, he may fairly claim to have written some of the most sympathetic pages of the Old Testament; and yet — his greatest poem is his life.


The question naturally suggests itself, Do we possess the prophecies of Jeremiah in the form in which they were delivered by him from the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah onwards? In reply, let us first of all look to the analogy of the occasional prophecies of Isaiah. These, it can be reasonably well proved, have not come down to us in the form in which they were delivered, but have grown together out of several smaller books or prophetic collections. Analogy is in favor of a somewhat similar origin of the Book of Jeremiah, which was, at any rate once, much smaller. The collection which formed the nucleus of the present book may be conjectured to have been as follows: — Jeremiah 1:1, Jeremiah 1:2; Jeremiah 1:4 Jeremiah 1:9:22; Jeremiah 10:17-12:6; Jeremiah 25:0.; Jeremiah 46:1-49:33; Jeremiah 26:0.; Jeremiah 36:0.; Jeremiah 45:0. These were, perhaps, the contents of the roll referred to in Jeremiah 36:0, if at least, with the great majority of commentators, we give a strict interpretation to ver. 2 of that chapter, in which the command is given to write in the roll "all the words that I have spoken unto thee... from the days of Josiah, even unto this day." On this view of the case, it was not till twenty-three years after Jeremiah's entrance upon his ministry that he caused his prophecies to be committed to writing by Baruch. This obviously excludes the possibility of an exact reproduction of the early discourses, even if the main outlines were, by God's blessing upon a tenacious memory, faithfully reported. But even if we adopt the alternative view mentioned in the introduction to Jeremiah 36., the analogy of other prophetic collections (especially of those embodied in the first part of Isaiah) forbids us to assume that we have Jeremiah's original utterances, unmodified by later thoughts and experiences.

That the Book of Jeremiah has been gradually enlarged can, indeed, be shown

(1) by a simple inspection of the heading of the book, which, as we shall see, originally ran thus: "The word of Jehovah which came to. Jeremiah in the days of Josiah, etc., in the thirteenth year of his reign." It is clear that this was not intended to refer to more than Jeremiah 1., or, more precisely, to Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 49:37, which appears to represent the earliest discourse of our prophet. Two further chronological specifications, one relative to Jehoiakim, the other to Zedekiah, appear to have been successively added, and even the later of these will not cover Jeremiah 40-44.

(2) The same result follows from the remark at the close of Jeremiah 51., "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah." This evidently proceeds from an editor, in whose time the book terminated at Jeremiah 51:64. Jeremiah Hi. is, in fact, not an independent narrative, but the conclusion of a history of the kings of Judah — the same historical work which was followed by the editor of our "Books of the Kings," except that vers. 28-30 (a notice of the number of the Jewish captives) appears from the chronology to be from another source; it is wanting, moreover, in the Septuagint Version.


(1) that the Book of Jeremiah was edited and brought into its present form subsequently to the time of the prophet himself, and

(2) that an important addition in the narrative style has been made to it by one of its editors, it is not a priori inconceivable that it should also contain passages in the prophetic style not by Jeremiah himself. The passages respecting which the greatest doubt exists are Jeremiah 10:1-16 and Jeremiah 50, 51. (the longest and one of the least original of all the prophecies). It is unnecessary to enter upon the question of their origin here; it is enough to refer the reader to the special introductions in the course of this work. The case, however, is sufficiently strong for the negative critics to make it desirable to caution the reader not to suppose that a negative position is necessarily inconsistent with the doctrine of inspiration. In words which the author asks permission to quote from a recent work of his own, "The editors of the Scriptures were inspired; there is no maintaining the authority of the Bible without this postulate. True, we must allow a distinction in degrees of inspiration, as the Jewish doctors themselves saw, though it was some time before they dearly formulated their view. I am glad to notice that one so free from the suspicion of rationalism or Romanism as Rudolf Stier adopts the Jewish distinction, remarking that even the lowest grade of inspiration (b'ruakh hakkodesh) remains one of faith's mysteries" ('The Prophecies of Isaiah,' 2:205).


The differences between the two recensions relate

(1) to the arrangement of the prophecies,
(2) to the reading of the text.

1. Variation in arrangement is only found in one instance, but that a very remarkable one. In the Hebrew, the prophecies concerning foreign nations occupy Jeremiah 46.-51.; in the Septuagint they are inserted immediately after Jeremiah 25:13. The following table will show the differences: —

Hebrew text.

Jeremiah 49:34-39
Jeremiah 46:2-12
Jeremiah 46:13-28
Jeremiah 46:40- Jeremiah 51:0
Jeremiah 47:1-7
Jeremiah 49:7-22
Jeremiah 49:1-6
Jeremiah 49:28-33
Jeremiah 49:23-27
Jeremiah 48:0.
Jeremiah 25:15-38.

Text of Septuagint.

Jeremiah 25:14-18.
Jeremiah 26:1-11.
Jeremiah 26:12-26.
Jeremiah 26:27, 28.
Jeremiah 29:1-7.
Jeremiah 29:7-22.
Jeremiah 30:1-5.
Jeremiah 30:6-11.
Jeremiah 30:12-16.
Jeremiah 31:0.
Jeremiah 32:0.

Thus not only is this group of prophecies differently placed as a whole, but the members of the group are differently arranged. In particular, Elam, which comes last but one (or even last, if the prophecy on Baby]on be excluded from the group) in the Hebrew, opens the series of prophecies in the Septuagint.

Which of these arrangements has the stronger claims on our acceptance? No one, after reading Jeremiah 25., would expect to find the prophecies on foreign nations separated from it by so long an interval as in the received Hebrew text; and thus (the latter being notoriously of comparatively recent origin, and far from infallible) it would seem at first sight reasonable to follow the Septuagint. But there must be some error in the arrangement adopted by the latter. It is incredible that the passage, Jeremiah 25:15-26 (in our Bibles), is rightly placed, as in the Septuagint, at the very end of the foreign prophecies (as part of Jeremiah 32:0.); it seems, indeed, absolutely required as the introduction of the group. The error of the Septuagint appears to have arisen out of a previous error on the part of a transcriber. When this version was made, a gloss (viz. Jeremiah 25:13) destructive of the connection had already made its way into the text, and the Greek translator seems to have been led by it to the striking dislocation which we now find in his version. On this subject the reader may be referred to an important essay by Professor Budde, of Bonn, in the 'Jahrbucher fur deutsche Theologic,' 1879. That the whole of the verse (Jeremiah 25:13) is a gloss had already been recognized by the old Dutch commentator Venema, who will hardly be accused of rationalistic tendencies.

2. Variations of reading were of common occurrence in the Hebrew text employed by the Septuagint. It may be admitted (for it is self-evident) that the Greek translator was but ill prepared for his work. He not only often attaches wrong vowels to the consonants, but is sometimes so completely at a loss for the meaning that he introduces Hebrew words untranslated into the Greek text. It would also appear that the Hebrew manuscript which he employed was badly written, and disfigured by frequent confusions of similar letters. It may further be granted that the Greek translator is sometimes guilty of deliberately tampering with the text of his manuscript; that he sometimes abridges where Jeremiah (as often) repeats himself; and that either he or his transcribers have made various unauthorized additions to the original text (as, for instance, Jeremiah 1:17; Jeremiah 2:28; Jeremiah 3:19; Jeremiah 5:2; Jeremiah 11:16; Jeremiah 13:20; Jeremiah 22:18; Jeremiah 27:3; Jeremiah 30:6). But a candid examination reveals the fact that both the consonants and the vocalization of them employed in the Septuagint are sometimes better than those of the received Hebrew text. Instances of this will be found in Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 11:15; Jeremiah 16:7; Jeremiah 23:33; Jeremiah 41:9; Jeremiah 46:17. True, there are interpolations in the text of the Septuagint; but such are by no means wanting in the received Hebrew text. The Septuagint is sometimes nearer to the original simplicity than the Hebrew (see, for instance, Jeremiah 10:0.; Jeremiah 27:7, Jeremiah 27:8b, Jeremiah 27:16, Jeremiah 27:17, Jeremiah 27:19-22; Jeremiah 28:1, Jeremiah 28:14, Jeremiah 28:16; Jeremiah 29:1, Jeremiah 29:2, Jeremiah 29:16-20, Jeremiah 29:32). And if the Greek translator takes offence at some of the repetitions of his original, so in all probability hate the transcribers who have, without any evil intention, modified the received Hebrew text. On the whole, it is a favorable circumstance that we have, virtually, two recensions of the text of Jeremiah. If no prophet was more unpopular during his life, none was more popular after his death. A book which is known "by heart" is much less likely to be transcribed correctly, and much more exposed to glosses and interpolations, than one in whom no such special interest is felt.


The Latin Commentary of St. Jerome only extends to the thirty-second chapter of Jeremiah. Aben Ezra, the most talented of the rabbis, did not write On our prophet; but the works of Rashi and David Kimchi are easily accessible. Modern philological exegesis begins with the Reformation. The following commentaries may be mentioned: Calvin, 'Praelectiones in Jeremlam,' Geneva, 1563; Venema, 'Commentarius ad Librum Prophetiarum Jeremiae,' Leuwarden, 1765; Blayney, 'Jeremiah and Lamentations, a New Translation with Notes,' etc., Oxford, 1784; Dahler, 'Jeremie traduit sur le Texte Original, accompagne de Notes,' Strasbourg, 1.825; Ewald, 'The Prophets of the Old Testament,' English translation, vol. 3., London, 1878; Hitzig, 'Der Prophet Jeremia,' 2nd edit., Leipzig, 1866; Graf, 'Der Prophet Jeremia erklart,' Leipzig, 1862; Naegels bach, 'Jeremiah,' in Lange's Commentary, part 15.; Payne Smith, 'Jeremiah,' in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' vol. 5.; Konig, 'Das Deuteronomium und der Prophet Jeremia,' Berlin, 1839; Wichelhaus, 'De Jeremiae Versione Alexandrine,' Halle, 1847; Movers, 'De utriusque Recensionis Vaticiniorum Jeremiae Indole et Origine,' Hamburg, 1837; Hengstenberg, 'The Christology of the Old Testament' (Clark's edit.).


Any chronological arrangement of the reigns of the Jewish kings must be largely conjectural and open to criticism, and it is not perfectly clear that the writers of the narrative books in the Old Testament, or those who edited their works, intended to give a critically accurate chronology adequate for historical purposes. The most tedious problems relate to the times previous to Jeremiah. One difficulty, however, may be pointed out in the chronology of the concluding reigns. According to 2 Kings 23:36, Jehoiakim reigned eleven years. This agrees with Jeremiah 25:1, which makes the fourth year of Jehoiakim synchronize with the first of Nebuchadnezzar (comp. Jeremiah 32:1). But, according to Jeremiah 46:2, the battle of Carehemish took place in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was the last year of Nabe-polassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar. This would make the first year of Nebuchadnezzar synchronize with the fifth year of Jehoiakim, and we should have to conclude that the latter king reigned not eleven but twelve years.

The following table, which is at any rate based on a critical use of the sometimes discordant data, is taken from Professor H. Brandes' ' The Royal Successions of Judah and Israel according to the Biblical Narratives and the Cuneiform Inscriptions: —

B.C. 641 (spring) — First year of Josiah.
B.C. 611 (spring) — Thirty-first year of Josiah.
B.C. 610 (autumn) — Jehoahaz.B.C. 609 (spring) — First year of Jehoiakim.
B.C. 599 (spring) — Eleventh year of Jehoiakim.
B.C. 598-7 (winter) — Jehoiachin. Beginning of the Captivity.
BC. 597 (summer) — Zedekiah appointed king.
B.C. 596 (spring) — First year of Zedekiah.
B.C. 586 (spring) — Eleventh year of Zedekiah. Fall of the kingdom of Judah.