Introduction to the Bible - 24 - Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah
by Arend Remmers
 

Author and Time of Writing
 

The beginning of Jeremiah reads as follows: “The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah” and in chapter 51:64 we read: “Thus far the words of Jeremiah.” In contradiction to these simple introductory and final words of the prophet and in spite of the fact that there is no other prophet in the OT of whom we are told so many personal details regarding his life and service, modern critics of the book of Jeremiah claim that Jeremiah’s prophecies do mostly not originate from himself. And yet there is not one reasonable reason for such doubtful reasoning.

 

Out of Jeremiah’s records we see that he was born during the reign of impious king Manasseh (696 – 642 BC). He originated from the priestly family of Aaron. His hometown was Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, which was not far from Jerusalem (Jer. 1:1). In his very early years he was called by Jehovah to be a prophet (Jer. 1:4-10). This happened in king Josiah’s 13th year, which was in 627 BC (he reigned from 640 – 609 BC). Jeremiah’s service lasted over 40 years till after Jerusalem’s destruction through Nebuchadrezzar in the year 586 BC (Jer. 39). According to Jehovah’s command Jeremiah remained unmarried (Jer. 16:2).

 

To start with, Jeremiah lived in Anathoth. But soon enough the hatred of its inhabitants arose against him (chap. 11:18-23). The prophecies of chapter 1:2ff and 3:6ff were uttered during king Josiah’s time (640 – 609 BC). After Josiah’s death Jeremiah lamented for him (2 Chron. 35:25; compare Jer. 22:10). He prophesied against Shallum (or Jehoahaz) the son of Josiah king of Judah in chap. 22:11.

 

During the following reign of Jehoiakim (609 – 598 BC) Jeremiah prophesied Jerusalem’s doom. This is why the priests wanted to kill him (Jer. 26). In Jehoiakim’s fourth year Jeremiah prophesied amidst other things the 70 years captivity of Judah in Babylon (Jer. 25:11-12; 36:1; 45:1). During this time the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar defeated the Egyptian Empire in the battle of Carchemish (606 BC). Following this Jerusalem was besieged and a part of the inhabitants were brought to Babylon (which was the first deportation to Babylon in 605 BC). Jeremiah now got the task of God to write down all his hitherto existing prophecies into a book. He did this with the help of his secretary Baruch (Jer. 36:1-4). When Baruch had read out these words in the temple king Jehoiakim in fury cut the roll and burnt it (Jer. 36:20-26). Then God had Jeremiah rewrite it all again and Jeremiah added “besides unto them many like words” (chap. 36:27-32).

 

The next king, Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, only reigned for three months and was brought to Babylon in 597 BC (the second deportation). His successor was Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah (597 – 586 BC). Jeremiah gave Zedekiah the advice not to rely on Egypt while opposing to Babylon (Jer. 37:6ff) but to subject to the king of Babylon (chap. 27:12-22). When Jeremiah intended to go to the land of Benjamin he was captured and cast into the dungeon (Jer. 37:11 – 38:6). When finally the Babylonians took Jerusalem Jeremiah was freed out of  prison. He was given the choice to either go to Babylon or to remain in the land (for the king Nebuchadrezzar had given charge concerning him). When Gedaliah (who was appointed governor by the king’s command) was murdered the Jews flew for fear of the Babylonians’ vengeance to Egypt (although Jeremiah had warned them not to do so) and forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them (Jer. 41 – 43). This is were Jeremiah continued his prophetical service in the city of Tahpanhes (Jer. 43:8 – 44:30) and this is where he shall have been stoned to death according to tradition five years after Jerusalem’s destruction. The Bible remains silent regarding the death of this great prophet who lived and served in the last forty years of the kingdom of Judah.

 

Purpose of Writing

 

Jeremiah, the second of the so-called four Major prophets is rightly the so called crying prophet (compare Jer. 9:1.10; 13:17; 14:17; 15:10; 20:14). No other prophet encountered so much opposition and hatred. Although he had to suffer much sorrow by his compatriots during his life Jeremiah was greatly honoured after his death (compare with Math. 16:14). And although Jeremiah constantly lashed the Jews’ unrighteousness and their apostasy off the living God he loved his people up to the end (comp. chap.  17:16; 18:20).

 

The main contents and purpose of Jeremiah’s message are constantly returning appeals to the conscience of Judah’s inhabitants. The messages urged them to recognise their low moral condition and to come back to God from their apostasy off Jehovah as well as from their idolatry. With that Jeremiah constantly bore the threatening judgment of Jerusalem’s destruction before his eyes.

 

But Jeremiah also repeatedly speaks of God’s mercy for His people. The captivity in Babylon shall last for 70 years only (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). After this time the people should return to their land.

 

Finally Jeremiah has a message of consolation, which still remains unfulfilled for it was not yet fulfilled after the 70 years’ captivity. After “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:4-7) Jehovah shall make a new covenant with His people (chap. 31:31-34) and the glorious time of the millennial peace-reign under the Messiah will dawn (chap. 23:5-8; 33:14-18). This hope of future blessing and power of the Spirit of God strengthened and encouraged Jeremiah in his sad service that was rejected by his Jewish contemporaries.

 

Peculiarities

 

a)     Judah’s  70 Years’ Captivity in Babylon

 

In two references, Jeremiah mentions the looming destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people into captivity in Babylon and that the captivity should come to an end after 70 years by the remnant’s return (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). The threatening punishment of God found a fulfilment during Nebuchadrezzar’s reign. During Jehoiakim’s reign Nebuchadrezzar, in 605 BC for the first time, marched up to Jerusalem and brought a number of Jews to Babylon, amongst whom was Daniel (Dan. 1:1).

 

During Jehoiachin’s short reign a second attack took place in 597 BC during which 10,000 people were led captive and brought to Babylon. Under Zedekiah’s reign, finally, Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 586 BC and the remaining people carried off to Babylon. Jeremiah’s prophecy was thus fulfilled (2 Chron. 36:21).

 

In 539 BC Cyrus the king of Persia conquered Babylon and appointed Darius the Median as co-regent (Dan. 5:31). In Darius’ second year (which according to Persian counting was the year one) Daniel understood by the books that the 70 years of the desolation of Jerusalem, whereof the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah the prophet, came to an end (Dan. 9:1-2). This is by the way a clear evidence for the God-given  recognition of the OT’s inspiration before the entire Canon was accomplished! When Daniel was confessing their sin in prayer he received further prophecies through the angel Gabriel concerning the 70 “weeks” of one year each. These weeks would last from the rebuilding of Jerusalem up to the coming of Messiah and to the time of the end (Dan. 9:20-27).

 

The author of Second Chronicles (36:22) and of Ezra (1:1) as well refers to Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the 70 years’ desolation of Jerusalem. Based on king Cyrus’ edict around 42,000 Jews got ready for Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (around 536 BC). The prophet Zechariah (who prophesied shortly after the Jews’ return) likewise refers to the 70 years of Jehovah’s indignation with Jerusalem and with the cities of Judah (Zech. 1:12).

 

Now the question is as follows: from which of Nebuchadrezzar’s three campaigns against Jerusalem are the 70 years to be counted? Some researchers think to start from the destruction of the temple in 586 BC  and then conclude that the number 70 is not to be taken literally as only just 50 years passed by till the return of the remnant in 536 BC. Others (based on Ezra 5:1; 6:14 and Zech. 1:12) want to see the final date around 516 BC when the temple was accomplished to reach the number of 70 years.

 

The easiest and most likely way however is to take the first conquest of Jerusalem in 605 BC as starting point and the return of the Jews in 536 BC as final point in calculating the 70 years (based on 2 Kings 24:1-4 and 2 Chron. 36:20-23).

 

b) The Order of the Chapters in the Book of Jeremiah

 

The contents of the book of Jeremiah are not always written down in chronological order. One generally assumes that the contents of chapters 1 to 20 belong to the time of Josiah’s reign (although his name is only mentioned in chap. 1:1 and 3:6). No dates are mentioned out of king Jehoahaz’ reign.

 

- Chapters 25 to 26, 35 to 36 and 45 to 49 are generally placed into king Jehoiakim’s reign in spite of the fact that only chapters 25, 26, 35, 36 and 45 are dated.

- Chapters 21 to 24, 27 to 34 and 37 to 42 are placed into king Zedekiah’s reign; dates are mentioned in chapters 21, 27, 28, 29, 32, 33, 34 and 37.

- Jeremiah spoke the words of chap. 43:7-8 and chap. 44 in Egypt.

- Chapter 52 is an appendix corresponding nearly word-by-word with 2 Kings 24:18-25, 30. This appendix was added under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, maybe even by the prophet Jeremiah himself.

 

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) omits several verses: chapters 10:6-10; 17:1-4; 27:1.7.13 and in some cases 17-22; 29:16-20; 33:14-26; 39:4-13; 51:44-49; 52:28-30 and other references. The chapters 46 to 51 follow in changed order after chap. 25:13. Many scientists however agree that the Alexandrian translators who were trained in Greek thinking have tried to smooth the difficult construction of the Hebrew book of Jeremiah. The Hebrew Masoretic text of the book which has been preserved therefore deserves clearly the priority.

 

c) Prophetical Symbols

 

We find many a prophetical action or sign with many prophets, for example Ez. 2:8 - 3:3; Hos. 1:2-9; Zech. 11:7-17. But in no other book we will find so many prophetical symbols as in the book of Jeremiah.

the linen girdle (chap. 13:1-11): the rejection of Israel

the potter and the clay (chap. 18:1-10): God’s patience

the earthen bottle (JND: flagon) (chap. 19:1-13): destruction

the yokes (chap. 27:2-11; 28:2.10-14): subjection

the acquisition of a field (chap. 32:6-15): faith and hope

the hidden stones in the brick-kiln (chap. 43:8-13): humiliation

the book cast into Euphrates (chap. 51:59-64): Babylon’s destruction

 

Overview of Contents


I.     Jeremiah 1: The Prophet’s Call


II.  Jeremiah 2-25: God’s Appeal to the People’s Conscience

 

Chapter
  2
 Israel’s Apostasy
 
Chapter
  3
 Announcement of Judgment
 
Chapter
  4
 Call to Repentance
 
Chapter
  5
 Judah’s Hardening
 
Chapter
  6
 Announcement of Jerusalem’s Siege
 
Chapter
  7
 Reasons for Judgment
 
Chapter
  8
 The People’s Lack of Understanding
 
Chapter
  9
 The Prophet’s Lamentation
 
Chapter
 10
 Jehovah and the Idols
 
Chapter
 11
 Israel has Broken the Covenant
 
Chapter
 12
 Jehovah Turns Away
 
Chapter
 13
 Judgment and Captivity
 
Chapter
 14
 The Great Drought
 
Chapter
 15
 The Remnant and Jehovah
 
Chapter
 16
 Expulsion and Return
 
Chapter
 17
 The Remnant’s Position
 
Chapter
 18 – 19
 God’s Sovereignty
 
Chapter
 20
 Persecution of Jeremiah
 
Chapter
 21 – 22
 Judgment over the House of David
 
Chapter
 23
 The Evil Shepherds of Israel
 
Chapter
 24
 The Way of Life and of Death
 
Chapter
 25
 Announcement of 70 Years of Exile
 
Chapter
 26
 Jeremiah in Danger to Life
 
Chapter
 27 – 28
 The Yokes: Subjugation through Babylon
 
Chapter
 29
 Jeremiah Is Comforting the Captives in Babylon
 

 

III.  Jeremiah 30 - 33: The New Covenant and the Reign of Peace

 

Chapter
 30
 The People’s Salvation
 
Chapter
 31
 The New Covenant
 
Chapter
 32
 Jehovah’s Faithfulness
 
Chapter
 33
 Salvation and Praise
 


IV. Jeremiah 34 - 39: Events and Prophecies before Jerusalem’s Fall

 

Chapter
 34
 Jeremiah warns Zedekiah
 
Chapter
 35
 The Rekabites’ Faithfulness
 
Chapter
 36
 Jehoiakim’s Contempt of the Word of God
 
Chapter
 37
 Jeremiah has to go into Prison
 
Chapter
 38
 Jeremiah and Zedekiah
 
Chapter
 39
 Taking of Jerusalem
 

 

V. Jeremiah 40 – 45: Events and Prophecies after Jerusalem’s Fall

 

Chapter
 40
 Jeremiah Remains with Gedaliah
 
Chapter
 41
 Gedaliah is Murdered
 
Chapter
 42 – 43
 The Remnant goes down to Egypt in spite of Jeremiah’s Warning
 
Chapter
 44
 Jeremiah’s Prophecies against Egypt
 
Chapter
 45
 Jeremiah’s Warning for Baruch
 

 

VI.               Jeremiah 46 – 51: Prophecies against the Nations

 

Chapter
 46
 Prophecy against Egypt
 
Chapter
 47
 Prophecy against the Philistines
 
Chapter
 48
 Prophecy against Moab
 
Chapter
 49
 Prophecy against Ammon, Edom, Damascus and other Enemies
 
Chapter
 50 – 51
 Prophecy against Babylon
 


VII. Jeremiah 52, Historical Appendix: The Fall of Jerusalem