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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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The Prophet Jeremiah was of the sacerdotal race, being, as he records himself, one of the priests that dwelt at Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin, a city appropriated out of that tribe to the use of the priests, the sons of Aaron, Joshua 21:18 , and situate, as we learn from St. Jerom, about three miles north of Jerusalem. Some have supposed his father to have been that Hilkah, the high priest, by whom the book of the law was found in the temple in the reign of Josiah: but for this there is no better ground than his having borne the same name, which was no uncommon one among the Jews; whereas, had he been in reality the high priest, he would doubtless have been mentioned by that distinguishing title, and not put upon a level with priests of an ordinary and inferior class. Jeremiah appears to have been very young when he was called to the exercise of the prophetical office, from which he modestly endeavoured to excuse himself by pleading his youth and incapacity; but being overruled by the divine authority, he set himself to discharge the duties of his function with unremitted diligence and fidelity during a period of at least forty-two years, reckoning from the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign. In the course of his ministry he met with great difficulties and opposition from his countrymen of all degrees, whose persecution and ill usage sometimes wrought so far upon his mind, as to draw from him expressions, in the bitterness of his soul, which many have thought hard to reconcile with his religious principles; but which, when duly considered, may be found to demand our pity for his unremitted sufferings, rather than our censure for any want of piety and reverence toward God. He was, in truth, a man of unblemished piety and conscientious integrity; a warm lover of his country, whose misery he pathetically deplores; and so affectionately attached to his countrymen, notwithstanding their injurious treatment of him, that he chose rather to abide with them, and undergo all hardships in their company, than separately to enjoy a state of ease and plenty, which the favour of the king of Babylon would have secured to him. At length, after the destruction of Jerusalem, being carried with the remnant of the Jews into Egypt, whither they had resolved to retire, though contrary to his advice, upon the murder of Gedaliah, whom the Chaldeans had left governor in Judea, he there continued warmly to remonstrate against their idolatrous practices, foretelling the consequences that would inevitably follow. But his freedom and zeal are said to have cost him his life; for the Jews at Tahpanhes, according to tradition, took such offence at him that they stoned him to death. This account of the manner of his end, though not absolutely certain, is at least very probable, considering the temper and disposition of the parties concerned. Their wickedness, however, did not long pass without its reward; for, in a few years after, they were miserably destroyed, by the Babylonian armies which invaded Egypt according to the prophet's prediction, Jeremiah 44:27-28 .

The idolatrous apostasy, and other criminal enormities of the people of Judah, and the severe judgments which God was prepared to inflict upon them, but not without a distant prospect of future restoration and deliverance, are the principal subject matters of the prophecies of Jeremiah; excepting only the forty-fifth chapter, which relates personally to Baruch, and the six succeeding chapters, which respect the fortunes of some particular Heathen nations. It is observable, however, that though many of these prophecies have their particular dates annexed to them, and other dates may be tolerably well conjectured from certain internal marks and circumstances, there appears much disorder in the arrangement, not easy to be accounted for on any principle of regular design, but probably the result of some accident or other, which has disturbed the original order. The best arrangement of the chapters appears to be according to the list which will be subjoined; the different reigns in which the prophecies were delivered were most probably as follows: The first twelve chapters seem to contain all the prophecies delivered in the reign of the good King Josiah. During the short reign of Shallum, or Jehoahaz, his second son, who succeeded him, Jeremiah does not appear to have had any revelation. Jehoiakim, the eldest son of Josiah, succeeded. The prophecies of this reign are continued on from the thirteenth to the twentieth chapter inclusively; to which we must add the twenty-second, twenty-third, twenty-fifth, twenty-sixth, thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth chapters, together with the forty-fifth, forty- sixth, forty-seventh, and most probably the forty-eighth, and as far as the thirty-fourth verse of the forty-ninth chapter. Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, succeeded. We read of no prophecy that Jeremiah actually delivered in this king's reign; but the fate of Jeconiah, his being carried into captivity, and continuing an exile till the time of his death, were foretold early in his father's reign, as may be particularly seen in the twenty-second chapter. The last king of Judah was Zedekiah, the youngest son of Josiah. The prophecies delivered in his reign are contained in the twenty-first and twenty-fourth chapters, the twenty-seventh to the thirty-fourth, and the thirty-seventh to the thirty-ninth inclusively, together with the last six verses of the forty-ninth chapter, and the fiftieth and fifty-first chapters concerning the fall of Babylon. The siege of Jerusalem, in the reign of Zedekiah, and the capture of the city, are circumstantially related in the fifty-second chapter; and a particular account of the subsequent transactions is given in the fortieth to the forty-fourth inclusively. The arrangement of the chapters, alluded to above, is here subjoined: 1-20, 22, 23, 25, 26, 35, 36, 45, 24, 29-31, 27, 28, 21, 34, 37, 32, 33, 38, 39, from the fifteenth to the eighteenth verse, 39, from the first to the fourteenth verse, 40-44, 46, and so on.

The prophecies of Jeremiah, of which the circumstantial accomplishment is often specified in the Old and New Testament, are of a very distinguished and illustrious character. He foretold the fate of Zedekiah, Jeremiah 34:2-5 ; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21 ; 2 Kings 25:5 ; Jeremiah 52:11 ; the Babylonish captivity, the precise time of its duration, and the return of the Jews. He describes the destruction of Babylon, and the downfall of many nations, Jeremiah 25:12 ; Jeremiah 9:26 ; Jeremiah 25:19-25 ; Jeremiah 42:10-18 ; Jeremiah 46, and the following chapters, in predictions, of which the gradual and successive completion kept up the confidence of the Jews for the accomplishment of those prophecies, which he delivered relative to the Messiah and his period, Jeremiah 23:5-6 ; Jeremiah 30:9 ; Jeremiah 31:15 ; Jeremiah 32:14-18 ; Jeremiah 33:9-26 . He foreshowed the miraculous conception of Christ, Jeremiah 31:22 , the virtue of his atonement, the spiritual character of his covenant, and the inward efficacy of his laws, Jeremiah 31:31-36 ; Jeremiah 33:8 . Jeremiah, contemplating those calamities which impended over his country, represented, in the most descriptive terms, and under the most impressive images, the destruction that the invading enemy should produce. He bewailed, in pathetic expostulation, the shameless adulteries which had provoked the Almighty, after long forbearance, to threaten Judah with inevitable punishment, at the time that false prophets deluded the nation with the promises of "assured peace," and when the people, in impious contempt of "the Lord's word," defied its accomplishment. Jeremiah intermingles with his prophecies some historical relations relative to his own conduct, and to the completion of those predictions which he had delivered. The reputation of Jeremiah had spread among foreign nations, and his prophecies were deservedly celebrated in other countries. Many Heathen writers also have undesignedly borne testimony to the truth and accuracy of his prophetic and historical descriptions.

As to the style of Jeremiah, says Bishop Lowth, this prophet is by no means wanting either in elegance or sublimity, although, generally speaking, inferior to Isaiah in both. His thoughts, indeed, are somewhat less elevated, and he is commonly more large and diffuse in his sentences; but the reason of this may be, that he is mostly taken up with the gentler passions of grief and pity, for the expression of which he has a peculiar talent. This is most evident in the Lamentations, where those passions altogether predominate; but it is often visible also in his prophecies, in the former part of the book more especially, which is principally poetical: the middle parts are chiefly historical; but the last part, consisting of six chapters, is entirely poetical, and contains several oracles distinctly marked, in which this prophet falls very little short of the lofty style of Isaiah. But of the whole book of Jeremiah it is hardly the one half which I look upon as poetical.

Jeremiah survived to behold the sad accomplishment of all his darkest predictions. He witnessed all the horrors of the famine, and, when that had done its work, the triumph of the enemy. He saw the strong holds of the city cast down, the palace of Solomon, the temple of God, with all its courts, its roofs of cedar and of gold, levelled to the earth, or committed to the flames; the sacred vessels, the ark of the covenant itself, with the cherubim, pillaged by profane hands. What were the feelings of a patriotic and religious Jew at this tremendous crisis, he has left on record in his unrivalled elegies. Never did city suffer a more miserable fate, never was ruined city lamented in language so exquisitely pathetic. Jerusalem is, as it were, personified, and bewailed with the passionate sorrow of private and domestic attachment; while the more general pictures of the famine, the common misery of every rank, and age, and sex, all the desolation, the carnage, the violation, the dragging away into captivity, the remembrance of former glories, of the gorgeous ceremonies and the glad festivals, the awful sense of the divine wrath heightening the present calamities, are successively drawn with all the life and reality of an eye-witness. They combine the truth of history with the deepest pathos of poetry.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Jeremiah'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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