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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jeremiah 1

 

 

Introduction

Jeremiah 1 - chapters 1 to 10.

A (Very) Brief History Of The Time Of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah began his ministry prior to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the reign of the godly king Josiah, and he continued his ministry throughout the remainder of Josiah’s life, until that life was sadly cut short when Josiah sought to prevent the Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of a dying Assyria in 609 BC. During that period Judah had enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity with their enemies being too preoccupied elsewhere to trouble them, and with fervent religious reform taking place at the centre in Jerusalem, a reform which, however, as Jeremiah knew, had not reached the hearts of the people, for they still hankered after the old Canaanite syncretism of YHWH with Baal. Conformity was thus outward, not inward, and the old hill top sanctuaries did not remain unused, even though that use had to be in secret.

Assyria indeed, which had for a hundred years and more been the dominating force in the area, was by this time fighting a rearguard action for its very life against the combined forces of Babylonia and the Medes (Nineveh had fallen in 612 BC), and was on its last legs. Indeed Josiah’s intervention may well have been the final nail in their coffin, delaying the Egyptian forces long enough to prevent them aiding Assyria in time, thus ensuring Assyria’s final defeat. (Egypt had seen the threat that would follow that defeat). But, in spite of Josiah’s reforms, religiously speaking things had not been going well in the heartland of Judah, for idolatry and disobedience to the covenant had become too well engrained among the people to be easily removed and was still flourishing, so that Jeremiah had constantly to be engaged in seeking to bring the people back to a response to the Law and to the true worship of YHWH (chapters 1-20), warning them of invaders who would be coming from the north (either the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both) if they did not. He respected Josiah greatly and mourned his death (2 Chronicles 35:25).

The fall of Assyria left a power vacuum in which a resurgent Egypt sought to establish its control over Palestine, Syria and beyond, establishing a base at Carchemish, and becoming initially determinant of who would rule Judah, removing Jehoahaz and replacing him with his brother Jehoiakim. After the freedom enjoyed under Josiah this was a bitter blow for Judah, and, along with the fact of Josiah’s untimely death, appeared to many to indicate that what Josiah had sought to achieve had failed.

But Egypt was not to be triumphant for long. They had not reckoned with the power of Babylon and its allies, and four years after the death of Josiah they were decisively beaten by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, and then at Hamath. As a result the Pharaoh retired behind his own borders licking his wounds. Meanwhile Babylon took over the jurisdiction of Judah, and Jehoiakim had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The first part of Jeremiah’s work covers this whole period, initially of Josiah’s successful reign, tainted by the stubbornness of the people, and then of the reign of Jehoiakim who took Judah back to the old evil ways of syncretism and Baal worship.

Jeremiah continued to prophesy during the reign of Zedekiah, and even afterwards, and he thus ministered during the period described in 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. Contemporary with him were the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel subsequently.

The First Judean Exile To Babylon Including Daniel (c.605 BC).

As a result of Josiah’s intervention and death the Egyptians on their return journey took control of Judah, and Jehoahaz, who had reigned for a mere three months, was carried off to Egypt, being replaced by the weak Jehoiakim, who in spite of the heavy tribute required by Egypt, squandered money needlessly on a new palace complex, built by forced labour, for which he was castigated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:13-19). He was no doubt trying to prove how grand he was, as weak men will. At the same time the religious reforms, such as they were, were falling by the wayside, and even the Temple itself was being affected (Jeremiah 7:16-18; Jeremiah 11:9-13; etc., compare Ezekiel 8). Judah had become disillusioned with YHWH, partly as a result of the death of Josiah, with the result that the prophets who did speak up against the decline were harassed, or even put to death (Jeremiah 26:23).

As we have seen, for a while it appeared that Judah would continue to be tributaries of a resurgent Egypt. But in a decisive battle in 605 BC at Carchemish, followed by another at Hamath, the Egyptians were badly mauled by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, with the result that Babylon took control of Judah and Jerusalem, and on the surrender of the latter without resistance, deported the first load of exiles to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Judah was now firmly in Babylonian hands.

Judah’s Folly In The Face Of Jeremiah’s Warnings.

It is perhaps understandable, however, that the leaders of Judah were not too happy about paying tribute to Babylon. They had after all hoped that the defeat of Assyria would cause their problems from the north to cease, and they had no real awareness of the might of the Babylonians. Furthermore, in spite of Judean backsliding with regard to the covenant (chapter 26), the belief had grown that the Temple of YHWH was inviolate and that YHWH would never allow it to be destroyed, a belief fostered by its earlier deliverance under Hezekiah (a belief flatly rejected by Jeremiah - Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 26:6). Had it not after all survived when the other great religious centres in Israel and Syria had collapsed and been destroyed? They felt that in worshipping YHWH alongside Baal, they had got the balance right. Thus, in spite of the sacking of Ashkelon (which shook Judah deeply - Jeremiah 47:5-7), and with the encouragement of false prophets, and the political influence of an Egypt which had by then stopped the advance of the Babylonians before they reached the borders of Egypt, inflicting heavy losses on them in a ‘drawn’ battle, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw to Babylon, Jehoiakim finally withheld tribute, very much against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter Jeremiah 25:9-11; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:11). Jeremiah was consequently looked on as a traitor. Humanly speaking we can understand Jehoiakim’s decision. It must have appeared to everyone as though Egypt had demonstrated their equality with, if not their superiority over, Babylon. Babylon would surely be more careful in future.

Jeremiah Puts His Prophecies On Record.

It was during this period that a rejected Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch his ‘secretary’ (whose name has been found on a seal as ‘belonging to Berek-yahu, son of Neri-yahu (Neriah), the scribe’), first gathered his prophecies into a book-roll (Jeremiah 36:2-4), but on these being read to the people by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:5-10) they were seized and cut up by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), who thereby showed his contempt for them. As a result Jeremiah and Baruch had to go into hiding (Jeremiah 36:26). Nothing daunted Jeremiah then wrote down a longer version (Jeremiah 36:28 ff), and meanwhile his efforts to turn the nation to YHWH in the face of persecution were unceasing (sections of chapters 21-49, see e.g. 25-26, 35-36, 45).

The Second Judean Exile, Including The New King Jehoiachin (c. 597 BC).

Inevitably the powerful Babylonians, having recuperated, once again arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, determined to take revenge on Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim apparently gave himself up, along with some of the Temple treasure, probably thereby hoping to preserve his son’s life. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was to carry him off in fetters to Babylon, but although this intention is stated it is never actually said to have been fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:6 ff.; Daniel 1:1-2). Jeremiah may in fact be seen as suggesting otherwise (Jeremiah 22:19). Meanwhile his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin had become king in a city under siege and only reigned for three months, during which time frantic negotiations would have been taking place with the Babylonians. When he did surrender to them he was carried off to Babylon, along with the influential queen mother and further exiles, and even more Temple treasure. He was replaced, at the instigation of Nebuchadnezzar, by Zedekiah, his uncle. (This had no doubt all been part of the agreement reached).

The Third And Final Judean Exile And The Destruction Of The Temple (587 BC).

The reign of Zedekiah was one of continual intrigue, and in the face of it Jeremiah made himself unpopular by constantly warning of the folly of rebelling against the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12-22), only to be seen once again as a traitor and to be harshly dealt with. No one would listen to him as negotiations continued with Egypt, and inevitably, when Zedekiah withheld tribute the Babylonians once again surrounded Jerusalem. After a failed attempt by Egypt to intervene Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah, his sons having been slain before his eyes, was blinded and carried off to Babylon, along with what was left of the paraphernalia of the Temple. Jerusalem itself was sacked. All that Jeremiah had prophesied had come true (these prophecies are intermingled in chapters 21-49, see e.g. Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 23-24, 28-34, 37-39).

The Aftermath.

Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah as governor of what remained of Judah, giving Jeremiah (whom he saw as loyal) the option of remaining in Judah or going with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judah. (See chapters 40-42). But within a short period Gedaliah had been assassinated by ruthless opponents (Jeremiah 41:1-2), and the remnants of the people, fearful of repercussions from Nebuchadnezzar, and against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter 41-42), fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44), rejecting YHWH’s offer of the restoration of the covenant. There Jeremiah prophesied the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8 ff.). He probably died in Egypt. There are two traditions concerning what did happen to him, but neither of them can be seen as reliable. The first was that that he was stoned to death by the people at Tahpanhes in Egypt (so Tertullian, Jerome, and Epiphanius), and the second, in accordance with an alternative Jewish tradition, was that he was finally carried off with Baruch to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of Egypt, in the 27th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We have no way of knowing whether either have any truth in them.

The Message Of The Book For Our Day.

At first sight it might appear that much of Jeremiah’s prophecy has little to do with us. It appears to be directed at a rebellious Judah which was about to suffer awful consequences as a result of their sins, and we may even begin to find the emphasis as almost tedious and unnecessary. Why preserve writings which were so repetitive and emphasised a judgment long past?

The first reason is because they proved true. Jeremiah’s writings were preserved because in the end they provided an explanation of what had happened to Judah. He had proved to be right after all. Thus his promises of hope also became a basis for the future.

The second reason is because they reveal to us the nature of God. They bring out His holiness and the awe in which He should be held. It is true that God is merciful. But only to those who put their trust in Him and walk with Him. For all others He will one day be their judge.

Thus there is also a third reason why we should recognise the book as important and that is because we are in a similar position today. We may not have hanging over us the threat of Babylonian supremacy, but we do certainly have hanging over us the threat of God’s judgment in one way or another. Whether this will come (somewhat ironically) in the form of an Islamic revival or in the form of the effects of climate change or even finally in the form of the second coming of Christ, it is a certainty for the future. And we therefore also need to listen to the warnings of Jeremiah in order to be ready for what is coming on us. It is the same attitude of mind which brought judgment on Judah that is widespread in society today. Our idols may take a different form, but they have equally replaced God as the objects of our worship, and the immorality and unacceptability of many of our lives is clearly reflected in his prophecies. Every chapter should therefore come home to us as a warning to be ready for what is coming, for come it surely will.

(The idea that there will be a second chance after His second coming is based on false exegesis of Scripture and is not to be relied on. The truth is that His coming will call time on any opportunity to repent. Then men and women who have not responded to Him will face only a judgment which will be far worse than anything that came on Judah).

A General Overview Of The Book.

The prophecies of Jeremiah are not presented in strict chronological order, even though those which came in the time of Josiah do appear to come in the first part of the book. The first twenty chapters contain prophecies given partly in the time of Josiah and partly in the time of Jehoiakim, for the message to the people under both kings was very much the same (even though the kings themselves were very different), ‘turn from your idols, and begin to walk in accordance with the covenant, or disaster will come on you’. These chapters may well have made up a good part of the book of prophecies put together by Jeremiah, which was cut up by Jehoiakim, and re-written and expanded by Jeremiah through Barak his amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 36:4 ff). There is no good reason for doubting that all the prophecies which are in the book are genuinely his prophecies. As will be apparent he prophesied over a long period of time, and faced severe difficulties because his message was unpopular, and it is because of those difficulties, emphasised in chapters 26-45, that we know more about him than any other prophet after Moses.

Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in ‘Hebrew verse’ (as with the Sermon on the Mount and with most of the prophets), but we must beware of just seeing it as poetry. The purpose of Hebrew verse was in order to aid memory, and provide emphasis by means of repetition. It did not detract from the seriousness or validity of what was said. It was spoken very directly to the heart.

As will be apparent in the commentary Jeremiah was familiar both with the Law of Moses and the early historical books, which reflect that Law. As a popular presentation of the Law, Deuteronomy, with its emphatic emphasis on blessing and cursing, appears to have been especially influential. But it would be a mistake to ignore the influence of the remainder of the Law of Moses, and especially of Leviticus 26 with its parallel warnings similar to those of Deuteronomy 28. Jeremiah was familiar with the whole Law.

With the above in mind the book can be divided into three main Sections, which are found inserted between an introduction and a conclusion:

1. INTRODUCTION. Introductory opening chapter, which describes Jeremiah’s call by YHWH (Chapter 1).

2. SECTION 1. A number of general prophecies against Judah in the days of Josiah and Jehoiakim, including, in the final chapters, words spoken to Zedekiah (chapters 2-25).

3. SECTION 2. Biographical details from the life of the prophet and details of how he coped with his maltreatment, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath in the rejection of the offer of a new covenant (chapters 26-45).

4. SECTION 3. Prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 46-51).

5. CONCLUSION. Concluding appendix (chapter 52).


Verses 1-3

Introduction.

Jeremiah’s prophecies are introduced in the usual way by naming the kings in whose reigns he prophesied. His initial call came in the thirteenth year of Josiah, at a time when the land was prospering materially. It was five years before the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple (2 Kings 22:8), and was at a time of rampant idolatry in Judah which had become so engrained that YHWH would warn Huldah the prophetess that even Josiah’s reforms would only delay His wrath on Judah (2 Kings 22:16-20). However, the fact that Jeremiah was not the one consulted in respect of the Law Book (it was Huldah the prophetess who was consulted) suggests that he was still not established at the court as a prophet at the time when it was discovered. The very discovery of the Law Book undoubtedly gave impetus to the reforms that were already taking place under Josiah, but it must not be seen as commencing those reforms, for the very fact that it was discovered during major repairs to the Temple demonstrates that reform had already begun, as 2 Chronicles 14:3-4 makes clear. It was found, during this extensive repair work, within the fabric of the Temple. That being so it was almost certainly put within the structure at the time that the Temple was built, that is in the days of Solomon (for such was a general custom of the age), and its discovery therefore caused great excitement. It was a powerful voice from the past, and is quite possibly what was in Jeremiah’s mind in Jeremiah 11:1-10. But although Josiah was a good king, and in responding to it made great efforts to restore Judah and Jerusalem to the true worship of YHWH, their roots had become so badly infiltrated with idolatry and immorality that his reforms were only a partial success. For the truth was that the people themselves were so firmly enamoured of idolatrous worship that they would not give it up easily. This was why Huldah had already warned that while Judah would be spared in Josiah’s day it was already doomed to destruction (2 Kings 22:15-20). The rot had gone too far. It was therefore into such an atmosphere that Jeremiah first came.

It is also then made clear that he continued to prophesy throughout the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin (three months) and Zedekiah, and up to (and beyond) the sacking of Jerusalem, which took place in the fifth month of the year 587 BC (2 Kings 25:8). These were turbulent days with both kings subjected at different times to either Egypt or Babylon and the general leadership divided on what route to take. In the view of many if independence could not be achieved Egypt offered a more ‘friendly’ and less demanding control than Babylon’s. They found it difficult to believe that Babylon was too powerful for Egypt to cope with. But Jeremiah knew it, and made clear that subjection to Babylon was YHWH’s will for the next ‘seventy years’, and while his message continued to make him decidedly unpopular, it would have been well if they had listened for he proved to be right in the end.

Jeremiah 1:1-2

‘The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of YHWH came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.’

The prophecy commences by drawing attention to the fact that Jeremiah was the son of a priest named Hilkiah, but this Hilkiah was probably not the Hilkiah who was ‘the Priest’ in Jerusalem, for he was ‘one of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin’, and thus almost certainly descended from Abiathar (see 1 Kings 2:26-27) and not of the line of Eliezer, through whom the High Priestly descent now came. Jeremiah thus commenced prophesying in Anathoth, a local town north of Jerusalem, in the thirteenth year of Josiah, that is in c. 626 BC. The fact that his prophesying in the reign of Josiah is what is initially described, before going on to mention the later kings as an add-on, is an indication that a good number of his earlier prophecies should be dated in that reign, although apart from the reference in Jeremiah 3:6 it is not possible to discern with any certainty which ones.

‘In the thirteenth year of his reign.’ It is probably no coincidence that this followed shortly on the death of Ashur-bani-pal, the strong Assyrian king who had taken Assyria to its greatest heights, and whose death introduced a rapid downward slide in times of great ferment which would result in the destruction of Nineveh and Assyria within twenty years. Meanwhile Judah would be left largely to itself, but only until the rising power of Babylon and a resurgent Egypt, began to make their presence felt.

Being in a small town in which there were many priests of the unfavoured line Jeremiah would have been brought up to be familiar with what was really true of the hearts of the people outside Jerusalem, and was thus aware that in spite of all Josiah’s efforts, the hearts of the majority of the people were not with him, favouring rather the surreptitious worship of YHWH/Baal in the mountain shrines.

This does serve to bring out that in spite of all Josiah’s genuine attempts to win the people back to YHWH, their hearts remained firmly attached to Baalism, with its excessive sexual overtones, no doubt practised discreetly in the mountain shrines, so that it only required a Jehoiakim for Baalism to become rampant once more. State worship had certainly been purified by Josiah, but it was another matter with the hearts of the people of ‘treacherous Judah’ as God makes clear to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 3:6 ff.). Compared with the attractions of Baal worship, the stern demands of YHWH appeared to be too strict.

Jeremiah 1:3

‘It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, to the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, to the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.’

Jeremiah then continued to prophesy throughout the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, when Baalism was allowed full expression, and right up to the sacking of Jerusalem (and beyond) in 587 BC. Thus he prophesied for over forty years, commencing in the thirteenth year of Josiah (626 BC) and continuing on until the flight into Egypt which followed some time after the sacking of Jerusalem in 587 BC.


Verse 4

The Call Of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4 to Jeremiah 2:3).

Where we have previously learned of the call of a prophet the account has been placed in the midst of the prophecy when the foundations had already been laid (e.g. Isaiah 6; Amos 7:14-16), but in the case of Jeremiah we are given the information from the commencement. This emphasises how important Jeremiah saw that calling to be. Like Paul after him, it was on that that he based his authority, and it was that (and the hand of YHWH) that sustained him through the years (compare Galatians 1:15-17). It may also underline the fact that it was Jeremiah who originally and personally brought his prophecies together.

Like Moses before him (Exodus 4:10) Jeremiah pleaded that he was not eloquent (Jeremiah 1:6), but YHWH firmly pushed his fears aside assuring him that He would be with him in what he was being asked to do (Jeremiah 1:7-8), and while He did not give him an Aaron, He gave him instead a special anointing on his lips (Jeremiah 1:9-10) together with faithful helper in Barak, who was probably his amanuensis as well as his friend. But YHWH did not hide from Jeremiah the importance of the task lying ahead of him, pointing out that he was to have a decisive impact on peoples and nations (Jeremiah 1:10), something which brought out that while the great nations might appear to be in control, it was really YHWH Who directed affairs. To Jeremiah, a man of great sensitivity and comparatively young, it was a great weight to have to bear.

In consequence of this YHWH gave him two symbolic visions. The first vision was by the use of word play, indicating by means of the branch of an almond bush (shoqed) that YHWH ‘would watch over (shaqed) His word and perform it’ (Jeremiah 1:11-12). Every time that he saw an almond bush (and they were everywhere, and developed early) it would be a reminder to him that all that he was saying in prophecy was guaranteed of fulfilment by YHWH. The second was by means of a boiling cauldron pointing towards the north which vividly indicated that it was from the north that judgment would come on Judah for its sins (Jeremiah 1:13-16). And this was because Judah had forsaken Him, rejecting the covenant, and had gone after idols (Jeremiah 1:16).

Then He basically told him to ‘get his sleeves rolled up’ and prepare himself (‘gird up your loins’), and to get stuck into his job (Jeremiah 1:17), assuring him that He Himself would make him like a strong fortress in the face of all opposition (Jeremiah 1:18-19). For his purpose in what was happening was to be to call Israel/Judah back to their first-love that they had initially enjoyed in the wilderness on their deliverance from Egypt (Jeremiah 2:1-3).

Note that in this first passage Jeremiah 1:4 to Jeremiah 2:3) the words ‘the word of YHWH came to me saying’ occur four times, in Jeremiah 1:4; Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13; Jeremiah 2:1 breaking up the passage into four as now described:

· His initial call (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

· The vision of the almond tree guaranteeing YHWH’s watch over His word (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

· The vision of the boiling cauldron with its implications of coming judgment, a message which will result in persecution from his people, a persecution which YHWH will make him strong to endure (Jeremiah 1:13-19).

· And finally YHWH’s call to him to seek to bring the people back to their wilderness first-love (Jeremiah 2:1-3).

As will be seen it is significant that God’s main purpose in what follows, at least initially, was, through His warnings, to bring His people back within the sphere of His covenant love and to restore them to their covenant love. It was only when it was clear that they were obdurate that judgment became a certainty and a necessity, and even then Jeremiah always knew that one day, once they had learned their lesson, YHWH would restore the remnant to the covenant (e.g. Jeremiah 3:14-19; Jeremiah 12:15-16; Jeremiah 31:28-34).


Verse 4-5

Jeremiah Learns That He Was Chosen From Birth To Be A Prophet To The Nations (Jeremiah 1:4-5).

When the ‘word of YHWH’ first came to Jeremiah God informed him that he had been chosen even before he was born in order that he might be appointed as a ‘prophet to the nations’. From the very beginning he was called on to recognise that he was not only a local seer, but was called on to affect the destiny of nations, re-emphasising the fact that YHWH was lord over the whole world.

Jeremiah 1:4

‘Now the word of YHWH came to me, saying,’

When God first spoke to him Jeremiah knew that it was ‘the word of YHWH’, and it made clear to him his privileged status. He was to be God’s direct spokesman. We are never told quite how the word of YHWH came to the prophets, but it was clearly with clarity and certainty. They knew the difference between the word of YHWH and their own ideas. See for one known method Numbers 12:6, but we are given no real grounds, in contrast with Ezekiel, for seeing Jeremiah as having dreams and visions. YHWH’s word probably came to him when in an enhanced spiritual state, but not at his beck and call. He sometimes had to wait for YHWH’s revelation (Jeremiah 42:7).

Jeremiah 1:5

“Before I formed you in the belly I knew you,

And before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you,

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

He learned at that point that YHWH had already ‘entered into a relationship with’ him (for ‘known’ compare Deuteronomy 34:10; Amos 3:2; Genesis 18:19; Psalms 1:6) even before He had formed him in his mother’s belly, and had set him apart to Himself as His holy ‘separated one’, that is, even before he had come forth from the womb. His purpose in doing so was so that he might be YHWH’s appointed representative to the nations. This choosing was a reminder that YHWH’s purposes were not subject to man’s interference or propensities. He shared such a privilege of being chosen from birth both with Moses (something which can be assumed from what happened to him right from birth) who was called to be a prophet to Israel, with Samson (Judges 13:3-5), and with the Apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15), who was called to be a prophet to the Gentile world. But he also shared it with all of those of Israel/Judah who were God’s chosen ones (Isaiah 44:2), something which would result in their reception of the Spirit of God and the transformation of their lives (Isaiah 44:3-5). It is quite clear that these words of Isaiah were not spoken to the whole of Israel, for the large part of them rejected Him. Thus it must have been to the chosen within Israel, the ‘true believers’. It was this conception of the chosen line within Israel, who were the true Israel, that Paul would draw attention to in Romans 9 (see Jeremiah 1:6), a true Israel which would then welcome in Gentiles who would become a part of that true Israel (Romans 11:17 ff.). They too are God’s chosen ones from before they were born (Ephesians 1:4). But not all are called on to bear what Jeremiah would have to bear.


Verses 4-10

Jeremiah’s Initial Call (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

YHWH’s initial call assures Jeremiah that he had been chosen even before he was born, that he need not be afraid that he was still young and immature (around twenty), that He would be with him to deliver him, and that his mouth was ‘anointed’ for his task of preaching to nations and kingdoms over which he has been set.


Verses 7-10

Jeremiah Seeks To Excuse Himself From His God-appointed Task Only To Be Set Right By YHWH (Jeremiah 1:7-10).

Jeremiah diffidently sought to excuse himself from the task to which God was calling him, seeing himself as not mature enough for it, but YHWH pushed his fears to one side on the grounds that because He, God, was with him he had nothing to fear. And He pointed out that this was ‘neum YHWH’, the divine prophetic word and whisper of YHWH that never failed in its purpose.

Jeremiah 1:6

‘Then I said, “Ah, Lord YHWH! behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am a child.”

Jeremiah’s reply was deferential, referring to YHWH as ‘Sovereign Lord’. But he nevertheless humbly pointed to his immaturity and inexperience. He did not feel that he was suited or equipped for the task that YHWH wanted to set him. By ‘a child’ he probably meant under twenty five, the age at which a man could become a Levite.

Jeremiah 1:7-8

‘But YHWH said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am a child,’,

For to whoever I shall send you, you will go,

And whatever I shall command you, you will speak.

Do not be afraid because of them,

For I am with you to deliver you,”

The word of YHWH (neum YHWH).’

YHWH’s response to that was simply that with Him at his elbow he had nothing to fear. Thus he was not to look at his immaturity and inexperience, but was resolutely to obey God and go to whoever He sent him to. Furthermore he was not to be afraid of them (king or prime minister or whoever) because YHWH would be with him to deliver him, and He confirmed that this would be so in accordance with His infallible and invincible word. Note the confidence that Jeremiah could have that his words were not just his own words, but the word of YHWH.

Jeremiah 1:9-10

‘Then YHWH put forth his hand, and touched my mouth, and YHWH said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth,

See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,

To pluck up and to break down,

And to destroy and to overthrow,

To build and to plant.”

Then YHWH ‘put forth His hand and touched’ Jeremiah’s mouth (compare Jesus’ reference to ‘the finger of God’ in Luke 11:20, which has in mind the Spirit of God - Matthew 12:28). We are not told what Jeremiah saw, if anything, only what he was aware of, but he was clearly aware of God’s touch, an indication to him that YHWH would from now on speak through his lips. (It may also have included a purifying element as with Isaiah - Isaiah 6:7). Then YHWH said, ‘Behold I have put my words in your mouth’, thus making him a ‘prophet like unto Moses’, (compare Deuteronomy 18:18), and went on to explain what he was to do. By his words he was to bring judgment on the sinful nations, including his own, while at the same time he was to build up and plant the faithful remnant. For God’s word as building up the latter compare Luke 1:15-17; Acts 22:14-15. But we will later learn that as events would turn out even the faithful remnant were to be removed out of the land (Jeremiah 45:4-5). Thus the building up of them and their planting was to be a spiritual building up and planting. Note the combination of architectural and agricultural metaphors. They were to be made ‘at home’ and fruitful. This same combination of ideas introduces God’s promise of the new covenant with His people which would change their innermost lives (Jeremiah 31:28-34).

Jeremiah’s calling was thus a momentous one, and was enough to quail the stoutest heart. As YHWH’s appointed spokesman he was that day ‘set over nations and kingdoms’. His words against nations and kingdoms, which because they were YHWH’s would be fully effective, are especially found in chapters 46-51, although there are earlier references to it (e.g. Jeremiah 9:25-26). They are a vivid reminder of the prophetic idea that the whole world was under God’s sway. And his appointed task was by his words of power from YHWH to pluck them up and break them down, and destroy them and overthrow them (compare Jeremiah 18:7 where the first three verbs are used in such a way as to include the destruction and removal out of the land of His erring people), and this is in contrast with the building and planting, which was His desire for his people if only they would turn to Him (compare Jeremiah 18:9).

In the latter case what Jeremiah would achieve would be to establish trees of righteousness as a minority within the land (Isaiah 61:3), and to put His word in their minds and hearts within a new covenant (31:28-24), something specifically said to be fulfilled in the birth of the church of our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8). Here then there is the idea of the removal of the sinful majority, and the establishing of a righteous remnant. But it was an attempt that would initially appear to fail, for at one stage he would be called on to produce just one righteous man from the streets of Jerusalem, and could not (Jeremiah 5:1 - although the call was probably intended to exclude those who were in his own circle, who would not need to be sought out, and it did not necessarily refer to some who were in ‘the cities of Judah’ outside of Jerusalem). That is why in the end the land would lie empty (Jeremiah 45:4-5). He was thus called to be mainly the shepherd of a faithless Israel. It was a daunting task. We can compare to it that described of Isaiah in Isaiah 6:9-13.


Verse 11-12

The Sign Of The Branch Of The Almond Tree (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

The first sign was that of the branch of an almond tree, which was an indication and assurance that YHWH would be watching over His word, as spoken through Jeremiah, so as to perform it. The almond tree budded early and was thus a reminder of new life in contrast with the dearth of life preceding it which was the result of the hot summer. It was a constantly renewed reminder that all was well with the world, and that YHWH could make all things new. Its Hebrew name also had the same consonants as the word for ‘watching’.

Jeremiah 1:11-12

‘Moreover the word of YHWH came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond-tree (shoqed).” Then YHWH said to me, “You have seen well, for I watch (shaqed) over my word to perform it.”

The word for ‘rod’ or ‘branch’ can mean a fresh, leafy branch (Genesis 30:37), but the main point here is that it is from an ‘almond tree’. ‘Almond tree’ is shoqed, whereas the verb ‘to watch’ is shaqed. Thus every time that that he saw a fruitful branch of shoqed he was to remember YHWH’s fruitful ‘watch’ (shaqed) over His word. In view of the abundance of almond trees it was intended to be a huge encouragement. It was a guarantee that YHWH would continually remind him that He would not fail in His purpose.

YHWH’s promise to watch over His word would be comprehensive, for His effective word (Isaiah 58:10-13) would produce many effects. It would include His judgment on, and final re-planting once their chastisement was over, of His people, and His judgment on, and final calling of, the nations (compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). It included all His purposes revealed to Jeremiah.


Verses 11-19

YHWH Gives Jeremiah Two Signs, One Of Which Was The Certainty Of YHWH’s Watchfulness Over His Purposes, And The Second A Sign Which Demonstrated The Judgments That Were To Come From The North Because Of Israel’s Idolatry And Unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 1:11-19).

YHWH now gave Jeremiah two signs of what He intended to do. The first sign was a simple branch from an almond tree (shoqed) which indicated the ‘watching’ (shaqed) of YHWH. He would ‘watch over’ His word in order to bring it about. The second was a boiling cauldron with its open part pointing from the north so that its scalding contents could be poured over Judah, indicating the terrible things that were shortly coming on Judah from YHWH. The contrast is vivid. The beauty of the almond tree expressing YHWH’s control over events, and the boiling cauldron emphasising His judgment. At the same time He warned Jeremiah that he was not going to have an easy time of it.

We should, however, note that Jeremiah carefully distinguishes the two signs, the first being introduced with the words ‘the word of YHWH came to me saying --’, and the second with the words ‘the word of YHWH came to me a second time saying --’. The signs are thus deliberately shown to be distinctly separate, each bringing its own assurance.


Verses 13-19

The Sign Of The Boiling Cauldron (Jeremiah 1:13-19).

The second sign was that of a cauldron full of boiling liquid ready to be poured out on Judah from the north, a vivid picture of threatening judgment.

Jeremiah 1:13

‘And the word of YHWH came to me the second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling cauldron, and its face is from the north.”

The second sign was a boiling cauldron ‘blown on’, thus heated by a fierce fire, with its ‘face’ (its opening) opening out from the north, full of scalding liquid to be poured out on Judah, a clear picture of coming judgment.

Jeremiah 1:14

‘Then YHWH said to me, “Out of the north evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land.”

For out of the north YHWH planned that ‘evil’ would break forth on the inhabitants of the land. This would be in the form either of the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both (they were turbulent times). At around this time, according to Heroditus, swarms of Scythians, a fierce warrior people, were flooding the lands north of the Euphrates, coming from the area around the Black Sea, and many believe that they actually reached Judah. Unfortunately they left few historical records so that we are unable to confirm this. Others interpret the words in terms of the Babylonians and their allies. On the other hand we do know that at times Scythians and Babylonians were in alliance together, so that both could easily be in mind.

Jeremiah 1:15

“For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north,” says YHWH, “and they will come, and they will set every one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about, and against all the cities of Judah.”

But what is certain is that what was promised was that an alliance of nations from the north (all the families of the kingdoms of the north) would come up against Judah. And each king of those nations would set up his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and over against its walls all round the city, and against all the cities of Judah. In other words they would be there for siege and conquest, and in order to take jurisdiction over those cities, and would remain until they had succeeded. And every city of Judah would be their target.

Jeremiah 1:16

“And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, in that they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.”

This was because YHWH’s own words of judgment would come against the people of Judah with regard to all their wickedness, and it would be because they had forsaken Him, burning incense to other gods, and worshipping idols which were of their own workmanship, made with their own hands. Note the emphasis on MY judgments. They would proceed from His active word. The worship of Baal and Asherah (Baal’s wife), with its depraved ritual, was taking place in the many high places in the land, and it was offensive to YHWH. It was taking place even in the days of the godly Josiah, although no doubt discreetly in the mountain sanctuaries. We will also learn later of the worship of the Queen of Heaven, the favourite goddess under different names of the nations (Ishtar = Ashteroth). The burning of incense on incense altars was a regular method of offering worship to false gods.

Note the threefold indictment:

1. ‘They have forsaken Me.’ Compare Deuteronomy 28:20; Deuteronomy 29:25; Deuteronomy 31:16 etc. They no longer gave Him full loyalty as their Redeemer in spite of all their formal ritual (Exodus 20:2).

2. ‘They have burned incense to other gods’. Hosea 2:13; Hosea 4:13; Hosea 11:2; see also Isaiah 65:3; Isaiah 65:7. For the worship of other gods compare Deuteronomy 29:26; Deuteronomy 31:16 etc. But for the first reference to burning incense to other gods outside the prophets see 1 Kings 3:3; 1 Kings 11:8 and regularly in 2 Kings. Even in YHWH’s very land, therefore, they were worshipping other gods, contrary to Exodus 20:3.

3. ‘They have worshipped the work of their own hands.’ Compare Isaiah 2:8. They worship what they themselves have made. This is ever the tendency of humanity for thereby they keep it under their control. It is of course contrary to Exodus 20:4-5.

Jeremiah 1:17

“You therefore gird up your loins (tuck your robe in your belt), and arise, and speak to them all that I command you. Do not be not shattered by them, lest I shatter you before them.”

Now, however, YHWH intended to do something about it, and He was calling on Jeremiah to tuck in his robes so that he would have the free movement to go out and speak to the people all that YHWH commanded him. He was effectively telling him to roll his sleeves up. He furthermore warned him that he was not to shy away from them in case YHWH then shied away from him with his being as a consequence made to look a fool and filled with shame and dismay. The verb is strong signifying ‘shattering, breaking in pieces’. He was not to ‘go to pieces’ in front of them. We need not ask what God was indicating that He would do to Jeremiah (perhaps shatter his reputation?) as He had no intention of it being necessary. It was simply an indication to Jeremiah of the urgency of the situation, and of his need to be steadfast. It is a reminder to us that once we are sure of what God wants us to do, we must not hesitate (although it is of course important that our certainty is really from God).

Jeremiah 1:18

“For, behold, I have made you this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and walls of bronze, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, and against the people of the land.”

And the reason why he could be so bold was because YHWH had made him that very day, by calling him and touching his lips, into a fortress, and an iron pillar, and walls of bronze as he set himself against the whole land of Judah, including its princes, its priests and the whole people. In other words He was making him impregnable as he faced up to them all (and he was going to need it). The descriptions are in terms of the strongest materials available at the time. For the iron pillar compare the bronze pillars of Solomon (1 Kings 7:15). Iron would be seen as even stronger. The purpose of cladding stone walls with bronze was in order to indicate strength. It also made them less vulnerable.

YHWH put Jeremiah in no doubt about what he was to face. It would be those in highest authority, those with most religious authority, and those with the greatest influence (‘the people of the land’ in this case probably indicates the influential landowners. We might say ‘the educated classes’). few would be on his side.

Jeremiah 1:19

“And they will fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for I am with you,” says YHWH, “to deliver you.”

However, having been warned that he would not have an easy time with the princes, priests and influential people all fighting against him, nevertheless he was to be assured that they would not prevail against him. And this would be because YHWH would be with him to deliver him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jeremiah-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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