Jeremiah: Outline and Exposition
- INTRODUCTION (1:1-19)
- Superscription (1:1-3)
- Jeremiah’s Call (1:4-19)
- DIVINE JUDGMENT ON JUDAH AND JERUSALEM (2:1-25:38)
- Early Reproofs and Admonitions (2:1-20:18)
- Judah’s guilt and punishment (2:l – 6:30)
- The sin of the people (2:1-37)
- Unfaithfulness to their covenant God (2:1-13)
- The consequences of Israel’s apostasy (2:14-19)
- The degenerative nature of Judah’s sin (2:20-28)
- The sure judgment of God (2:29-37)
- The prophet’s plea for genuine repentance (3:1-4:4)
- The requirement of alteration of life (3:1-5, 19-20)
- Apostate Israel and unfaithful Judah (3:6-11)
- A plea for repentance and a promise of restoration (3:12-18)
- The necessity for sincere repentance (3:1-4:4)
- The coming judgment (4:5-6:30)
- The enemy from the north (4:5-31)
- Reasons for Jerusalem’s ruin (5:1-31)
- Recapitulation (6:1-30)
- The sin of the people (2:1-37)
- Judah’s false religion and its consequences (7:1- 10:25)
- Religious rites versus right relationships (7:1- 8:3)
- The Temple sermon (7:1-15)
- Prayer prohibited for a profligate people (7:16-20)
- Cultic conformity versus constant obedience (7:21-28)
- Abominations in the Temple and in the land (7:29-8:3)
- An incorrigible people and their inevitable fate (8:4-9:22)
- The unnaturalness of backsliding (8:4-7)
- Wisdom and the Word of God (8:8-13)
- The coming invasion (8:14-17)
- The prophet’s feelings (8:18-9:9)
- A wail for the destruction of Judah (9:10-22)
- Truths from contrasts (9:23-10:16)
- Earthly versus heavenly glory ( 9:23-24)
- Flesh versus heart circumcision (9:25-26)
- Idols versus the true God (10:1-16)
- The coming calamity: lament and intercession (10:17-25)
- Religious rites versus right relationships (7:1- 8:3)
- Jeremiah’s confessions and Judah’s approaching doom (11:1-20:18)
- Jeremiah and the covenant (11:1-12:17)
- Judah’s violation of the covenant (11:1-17)
- Jeremiah’s confession (11:18-12:6)
- A divine lament (12:7-13)
- The divine purpose (12:14-17)
- Parables and warnings (13:1-27)
- Parable of a linen loincloth (13:1-11)
- Parable of the wine jars (13:12-14)
- A warning against pride (13:15-17)
- A lament for the royal family (13:18-19)
- Jerusalem’s incurable sickness and its punishment (13:20-27)
- Prophecies concerning a drought: God’s rejection of his people’s appeals (14:1-15:4)
- The drought described (14:1-6)
- People’s confession and appeal to God (14:7-9)
- God’s rejection of the appeal (14:10-18)
- A second confession and appeal (14:19-22)
- God’s final refusal (15:1-4)
- Prophecies and prayers in poetry and prose (15:5-17:27)
- Judah’s winnowing and Jeremiah’s woes (15:5-21)
- Warnings and promises (16:1-2)
- Miscellaneous Materials (17:1-27)
- Parables, proclamation, and persecution (18:1- 20:18)
- The parable of the potter (18:1-12)
- The unnaturalness of Judah’s sin (18:13-17)
- A plot and a protest (18:18-23)
- The parable of the broken flask (19:1-15)
- Persecution and protest (20:1-18)
- Jeremiah and the covenant (11:1-12:17)
- Later Prophecies of Jeremiah (21:1-25:38)
- Zedekiah’s request and Jeremiah’s reply (21:1-10)
- The fortunes of the Davidic dynasty (21:11-23:8)
- Message of the royal house of Judah (21:11- 22:9)
- Messages to individual kings of Judah (22:10-30)
- Message about the future of the Davidic dynasty (23:1-8 )
- A polemic against false prophets (23:9-40 )
- Their lascivious (profane) conduct (23:9-15)
- Their lying communications (23:16-32)
- A perversion prohibited (23:33-40)
- A vision of two baskets of figs (24:1-10)
- The vision (24:1-3)
- The vision interpreted (24:4-10)
- A summary warning to Judah and the nations (25:1-38)
- Judgment on Judah (25:1-14)
- Judgment on the nations (25:15-38)
- Judah’s guilt and punishment (2:l – 6:30)
- Early Reproofs and Admonitions (2:1-20:18)
- EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF JEREMIAH (26:1-45:5)
- Prior to the Fall of Jerusalem (26:1-38:28)
- Conflicts with religious leaders (26:1-29:32)
- The temple sermon and Jeremiah’s arrest (26:1-24)
- Summary of the sermon (26:1-6)
- Jeremiah’s trial for treason (26:7-24)
- The yoke of Babylon (27:1-28:17)
- Message to neighboring kings (27:1-11 )
- Warning to King Zedekiah (27:12-15 )
- Warning to priests and people (27:16-22)
- Conflict with Hananiah (28:1-17)
- Letters to exiles in Babylon (29:1-32)
- A general letter to all exiles (29:1-23
- A specific letter to Shemaiah (29:24-32)
- The temple sermon and Jeremiah’s arrest (26:1-24)
- The book of consolation (30:1-33:26)
- Superscription (30:1-3)
- From tragedy to triumph (30:4-31:1)
- Jacob delivered from a day of distress (30:4-11)
- The healing of Zions wounds(30:12-22)
- The intents of the Lord (30:23-31:1 )
- Restoration reemphasized (31:2-40)
- Restoration dramatized (32:1-44)
- Reiteration of restoration, and future rejoicing (33:1-26 )
- Counsel for kings (34:1-38:28)
- Counsel concerning Babylon (34:1-7)
- Counsel concerning slaves(34:8-22)
- Counsel concerning Rechabites (35:1-19)
- Counsel preserved in a book (36:1-32)
- Further counsel concerning Bablyon (37:1- 38:28)
- Conflicts with religious leaders (26:1-29:32)
- Jerusalem’s Fall and Jeremiah’s Fate (39:1-40:6)
- The sack of the city (39:1-10)
- The safety of the prophet (39:11-14; 40:1-6 )
- The deliverance of Ebed-melech (39:15-18)
- Events After the Fall of Jerusalem (40:7-44:30)
- Jeremiah and the remnant in Judah (40:7-43:7)
- Jeremiah and the remnant in Egypt (43:8-44:30)
- Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Egypt predicted (43:8-13)
- Idolatry of the Egyptian remnant condemned (44:1-30)
- Postcript (45:1-5)
- Prior to the Fall of Jerusalem (26:1-38:28)
- JEREMIAH’S PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE NATIONS (46:1-51:64)
- HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT (52:1-34)
Similar to other books of the prophets, the book of Jeremiah begins with a title or superscription. It is readily apparent that these verses were not written by the prophets themselves but are later additions by scribes or editors. Nevertheless, they constitute some of the oldest commentary on the prophetic utterances; hence the information contained therein cannot be ignored.
The opening verse not only gives the prophet’s name, Jeremiah, but also his place of birth, Anathoth of the land of Benjamin, and his father’s name, Hilkiah. Various explanations have been given for the meaning of the name Jeremiah for example, “Yahweh establishes, appoints,” or “Yahweh shoots, hurls.” The latter meaning is more probable. His name then would fittingly refer to the thunderbolts of divine truth the prophet was to deliver to an apostate nation, or just as appropriately describe the career of one hurled into the swirling vortex of one of the most catastrophic periods in the history of the ancient world.
Jeremiah’s father, Hilkiah, was of the priests who were in Anathoth (v. 1). Some have identified him as the priest by the same name who figured prominently in the discovery of the book of the law in the Temple during the reign of Josiah, king of Judah (see 2 Kings 22:4), but the weight of evidence is against it. It is true, however, that Jeremiah was of a priestly family. Apathoth, his birthplace, was a priestly city dating back to the time of Joshua (Josh. 21:18). Yet there is no evidence that Jeremiah ever filled the priestly office or followed the priestly tradition. In fact he was often in opposition to, and opposed by, the priests of his day. Clearly then his perspective and spirit lay with the prophetic pattern and tradition.
Perhaps the primary function of the title verses is to set forth a central note of the book: God speaks to men through men, The words of Jeremiah…to whom the word of the Lord came (v. 1). Throughout the book this “theme-note” is found: “The word of the Lord came to me”; “Thus said the Lord to me”; “Thus says the Lord.” The period of time during which the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah began in the thirteenth year (ca. 627 B.C.) of Josiah, king of Judah, and concluded with the eleventh year (ca. 586 B.C.) of Zedekiah, Judah last monarch before captivity in Babylon. Although Judah had three other kings during this interval, two of them, Jehoiahaz and Jehoiachin, are omitted here, probably because each reigned for only three months, hence were not considered worthy of mention.
Jeremiah’s Call (1:4-19)
The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah revealed to him that he had been chosen by God as his spokesman even before birth. Four active verbs fittingly describe God’s part in the process –formed, knew, consecrated, and appointed (v. 5). The significance of this unveiling of God’s purpose for Jeremiah was an indication of the vastness of the task to which he was called. Immediately he was confronted with the immense demands of his calling. He was appointed a prophet to the nations (v. 5c) and appointed (set) over the nations and over the kingdoms and his commission was to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant (v. 10). The two closing terms indicate that the ultimate purpose of Jeremiah’s ministry was to be constructive; but by far the greater part of his work was to be of a destructive nature.
The reaction of the prophet to the reality of a ministry of such magnitude and character was not the “I will” of Isaiah but the “I cannot” of a tender and timid person. Jeremiah felt completely inadequate for the task. Two obstacles in particular seemed insurmountable: his lack of eloquence and his youth, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth (v. 6). God refused to accept Jeremiah’s protestations of inadequacy and sought rather to equip him for the ministry to which he was calling him. Three elements of Jeremiah’s equipment are indicated (vv. 7-9).
First, there is a conviction of divine authority. The twice repeated “you shall,” of the solemn charge –you shall go, and you shall say (v. 7) – swept aside the young prophet’s feelings of inadequacy, and made it clear to him that here was a decree charged with the authority of the Lord. It therefore demanded unquestioning obedience and the cessation of further controversy. A second element in the prophet’s equipment is a consciousness of God’s presence. As the previous verse (7) indicates the divine authority behind his going and his speaking, so this verse (8) guarantees the divine presence with him in the discharge of his duties. This will be true for with you I (am) to deliver you, declaration (of) Yahweh (v. 8b). The Hebrew word order emphasizes the fact of God’s presence with Jeremiah.
A final element in Jeremiah’s equipment for ministry is the divine communication of power. The Lord put forth his hand and touched the prophet’s mouth, saying, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth (v. 9b). This communication of the word of the Lord in symbolic act was not so much to purify, as was true with Isaiah (cf. Isa. 6:7), as to empower and inspire. It was an endowment meaning nothing less than the bestowal of the gift of prophecy. God’s grace specializes; with Isaiah grace was cleansing, with Jeremiah it is empowering.
Following soon after his call or perhaps complementary to it God confirmed his word to Jeremiah by means of two visions, a command, and a promise (vv. 11-19). Jeremiah’s first vision, that of an almond tree (v. 11), is reassuring. The meaning of the vision is explained by God: I am watching (wakeful) over my word to perform it (v. 12). There is a pun on the Hebrew word for “almond tree” (shaked) and the verb (shoked) “to watch” or “to wake” (different in one vowel point but similar in sound). The almond tree was the first tree to “wake up” (bloom) in the early spring. Thus Jeremiah is assured that God is awake, alertly watching to see that his word is performed.
The second vision, characterized by an ominous note, introduces the political implication of divine judgment – the kingdoms of the north whose identity is debatable. In this vision Jeremiah sees a boiling pot, facing away from the north (v. 13). God then explains the significance of the vision. An enemy from the north will invade Judah (vv. 14- 15) because Jeremiah’s countrymen have forsaken the true God and are worshipping idols (v. 16). Traditionally this foe from the north, one of the most prominent themes in Jeremiah, has been identified with the Scythians, a nomadic people of somewhat mysterious origins. This view has no biblical and little reliable extra-biblical support. More probably, his reference is to the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem some forty years after Jeremiah’s call. Since Judah was bounded on the east by desert and the west by water any invader, other than Egypt to the south, would come from the north (cf. Ez. 26:7). Whomever the prophet had in mind as the evil “out of the north,” he regarded them as the instrument of God’s purpose to punish Judah for her infidelity and apostasy.
The young prophet now stands before his Lord, called, commissioned, and confirmed by the “watching” God who is awake to perform his word of judgment in the advance of ruthless northern powers. Jeremiah becomes painfully conscious of how his own people will react when such a message is delivered. His sensitive spirit recoils in horror, but a command from God fortifies him for what lies ahead. But you, you shall gird up your loins, you shall arise and you shall speak to them all that I myself shall command you (v. 17, lit.). Although the first three verbs are in the Hebrew imperfect, they have here the force of an imperative. The girding up of the loins is an oriental idiom meaning to prepare for action by gathering up the skirts of the flowing robe. God’s command to Jeremiah for action in announcing his word is followed by his promise to the prophet of strength commensurate with his task. This promise is repeated in three vivid metaphors: I make you…a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls… (v. 18). Like a fortified city the prophet will be kept secure; like an iron pillar he will be made strong, and like bronze walls he will be able to resist attack.
But God promised the prophet more than strength for the battle. He also promised him deliverance in the midst of battle. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail…for I am with you…to deliver you (v. 19). This of course did not mean that Jeremiah would escape ridicule, suffering, and defeats. It did encourage him to believe that in his darkest hours the Lord would be with him and empower him to accomplish his holy mission. It did embody the truth, “every man is immortal until his task is done.”
DIVINE JUDGMENT ON JUDAH AND JERUSALEM (2:1-25:38)
Early Reproofs and Admonitions (2:1-20:18)
Judah’s (Israel’s) guilt and punishment (2:1-6:30 )
The phrase word of the Lord introduces a series of prophecies extending through chapter 6, which come largely from Jeremiah’s early ministry. This section is composed of a collection of oracles in both prose and poetry, and although somewhat repetitious, a progression of thought is discernable: the faithlessness of God’s people, the nature and necessity for true repentance, and the certainty of God’s judgment by means of a foe from the north, if such repentance is not forthcoming. A question of nomenclature arises in this section from the fact that some of the oracles relate to “Israel,” some to “Judah,” and still others to both kingdoms under the single designation, “Israel.” When the distinction is clear (e.g. 3:6-11), “Israel” refers to the Northern Kingdom and “Judah” to the then existing or Southern Kingdom (e.g. 4:5). Attention should be directed to Jeremiah’s effective use of a literary form current among his countrymen. This form is utilized in a unique way in 2:1-4:4 where the lawsuit motif is predominant. The setting is a courtroom. As both plaintiff and prosecutor God takes Israel to court. (God may also serve as judge.) The heavens constitute the jury since they were witnesses to Israel’s original covenant with God (see Ex.19:1-6). The prophet is the divinely-appointed messenger who speaks for the plaintiff (God), as he announces the indictment against Israel.
The sin of the people (2:1-37)
This chapter, composed of a series of brief oracles perhaps uttered at different times in the earlier years of Jeremiah’s ministry, exhibits a remarkable coherence. Its interest centers around a single subject, the sin of God’s people. As stated above the literary form used is that of a “covenantal” lawsuit.
Unfaithfulness to their Covenant God
In this striking section the prophet vividly contrasts Israel’s past faithfulness with her present infidelity – an infidelity manifested primarily in two forms, apostasy and idolatry. God remembered the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride (v. 2). Using the figure of marriage (as did Hosea), Jeremiah recalls the early days at Sinai when Israel followed her husband (Yahweh) not for selfish advantage, but out of sincere affection and love. She had followed him while still in the wilderness, in a land not sown (v. 2). In those days she was holy to the Lord (v. 3), dedicated to him as were the “first fruits” of the harvest (Lev. 23:1-14).
In contrast to the somewhat “idealized” devotion to God of Israel’s youth or early days, the prophet now describes her later defection (vv. 4-13). He begins the further indictment of all Israel with a probing question: What wrong did your fathers find in me…and became worthless (v.5)? The question implies an emphatic negation. The fault is not with God but with Israel. They have become worthless because the object of their worship is worthless. (Jeremiah’s favorite word for idol means literally, “nothingness,” “emptiness.”)
Then Jeremiah challenges Israel’s memory of God’s gracious provisions for them on their journey from Egypt and after their settlement in Canaan (vv. 6, 7). This was done to show that God had not broken his covenant with the people. It was they who had defiled my land (v.7) by their sensual attachment to the immoral Baal cult which they had encountered there.
Consequently God will continue his indictment of Israel even to your children’s children (v. 9). What Israel has done is amazing and without precedent. Go from the west to the east and seek to find a nation that has changed gods, even though they are no gods (vv. 11, 12) -have no substance, no real existence. Yet Israel has exchanged her glory (the presence of the true God) for that which does not profit (v. 12).
In view of Israel’s unnatural crime, unparalleled even among the heathen, that of changing their gods, the heavens are commanded to be appalled…be shocked, be utterly desolate (v. 12). Following his command to the heavens the prophet’s charge of covenant breaking comes to a climax in v. 13, one of the truly great verses in the book of Jeremiah: Two evils my people have committed: me they have forsaken, a fountain of waters living to hew out for themselves cisterns, cisterns broken that not they can hold the waters (lit. trans.). Israel’s defection then is a fact fit to shock the heavens. Though the gods the nations worshipped were no gods at all, their worshippers remained true to them. Yet Israel who knew the true and only God had exchanged her worship of him for profitless idolatry. The nations are guilty of one evil, idolatry; Israel is guilty of two, apostasy and idolatry.
Jeremiah could not have made use of a more meaningful metaphor to picture the guilt of his people. Fresh, ever flowing springs were scarce in arid Palestine, but how refreshing and life-giving were the few to be found! In contrast cisterns were a common sight; at least one to every household where water was caught and stored. But even the best, those of solid rock were subject to cracking and loss of contents. If by constant care they retained the water collected from clay roofs and brackish soils, it often had the color of weak soapsuds, the taste of the earth or the stable, and sometimes contained worms. Often in times of greatest need the cistern developed cracks and leaked itself dry. The metaphor then was a vivid way of telling people to whom water was so precious that they were committing suicide by leaving the living God and making their own impotent idols. To leave a flowing fountain and its fresh, sparkling waters for the stagnant water of a cracked cistern is unreasonable and beyond understanding. Such cisterns can never satisfy and will ultimately run dry. But a flowing fountain is ever present, and a gracious invitation is ever extended (cf. John 4:14; Isa. 55:1; Rev. 22:17).
The consequences of Israel’s apostasy (2:14-19)
This prophecy continues the accusation begun in 2:1-13, with an emphasis on Israel’s suffering as the result of her apostasy. It begins with three pointed questions (v. 14). The answer to the first two is, “No. He is a son, God’s first born son.” (Ex. 4:22). It was God’s design that Israel have dominion and not be held in servitude. Then how explain the hardship pressed upon God’s covenant people by the Assyrians (v. 15) and Egyptians (v. 16)? The answer to this third question is given in v. 17, in the form of another question. The explanation of Israel’s becoming prey to Assyria and Egypt is her apostasy.
The degenerative nature of Judah’s sin (2:20-28)
In this section the prophet points to the length and depth of Israel’s depravity-a depravity resulting from her idolatrous worship. It is deep-rooted and of long standing. This principle is graphically set forth by the use of seven figures of speech, a quantity indicative of emphasis rather than repetition.
The first figure is that of an ox which has broken its yoke and burst its bonds (v. 20a). Israel, like a stubborn ox, had broken the yoke (covenant obligations) placed upon her by the Lord.
The second figure is that of an unfaithful wife who has forsaken her husband to commit adultery with numerous lovers (v. 20c). Israel, wedded to the Lord, had left him and was worshipping the Baals of the land upon every high hill and under every green tree (v. 20c).
The third figure is that of a choice vine which has become degenerate (v. 21). The prophet looks back to the time of Israel’s planting, wholly of pure seed (cf. Isa. 5:1-7). From such seed it was unnatural for other than good fruit to have been produced. Just so it is abnormal for Israel to sin against God.
The fourth figure is that of an individual washing himself with lye and –much soap but failing to remove the stain .of your guilt (v.22). Israel’s sin was too deeply ingrained to be removed by the strongest cleansing agent. Here Jeremiah introduces a central emphasis of his: cleansing from sin must come from within; soap (outward ceremony and the like) will not remove its stain.
In v. 23a the prophet expresses his amazement at their denial of defilement and reminds them to look at your way in the valley. The reference is to the valley of Hinnom located to the south of Jerusalem. There cultic prostitution may have been practice, and there child sacrifice was definitely performed (cf. 7:31, 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10).
The fifth figure is that of a restive young camel interlacing her tracks (v. 23b). This is the picture of a young camel that has separated from the herd and is wandering aimlessly, crisscrossing her own path, with no definite pattern in her actions. Just so Israel, having forsaken her covenant God, rushes about in confusion, indecision, and frustration in pursuit of false deities.
In perhaps the most bitter of his indictments Jeremiah describes the depth of Israel’s degeneracy as he likens her to a wild ass, in her heat racing here and there, seeking and not needing to be sought by her male counterparts (v. 24). So strong is Israel’s idolatrous passion that she too runs after her lovers, the false gods.
The final figure is that of a thief who is caught in the act and is not permitted to keep what he has stolen but is overcome with shame (v. 26a). Moral shame is hardly meant here but rather a feeling of frustration, disappointment, even bitterness and despair. Such will be the shame of all (v. 26b) who have turned their back to the Lord and who say to a tree you are my father and to a stone, you gave me birth (v. 27a). Yet when trouble comes they turn back to God and cry, save us (v. 27b), to which he chides them, where are your gods that you made…if they can save you (28a). There certainly are enough of them for as many as your cities are your gods, O Judah (v. 28b).
The sure judgment of God (2:29-37)
These verses in a highly argumentative tone declare that Judah has no just complaint against the Lord, but is without excuse and deserving of his judgment. The Lord of the covenant could rightly declare: “You have no case against me, but I have one against you.” Jeremiah continues the Lord’s case against his people in the verses which follow (29-37).
The prophet’s plea for genuine repentance (3:1-4:4)
The requirement of alteration of life (3:1-5, 19-20)
Some would have 3:1-5 conclude the previous section rather than begin a new one. This is done for two reasons. First, there is no heading for 3:1, thus indicating that it follows v. 37 of the previous chapter (2). Second, the interpretation of vv. 1-5 coincides more nearly with the emphasis on Israel’s sin and its judgment found in chapter two. The present position (beginning a new discussion -3:1- 4:4) seems preferable due to the implied emphasis on the need for genuine repentance, the major emphasis of the remaining verses in this section. In these verses (1-5) Israel is depicted as a wife who has been unfaithful to her husband, the Lord. This was a characteristic thought of Hosea, an earlier prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Just as an unfaithful wife, who had been divorced and married again, could not remarry her first husband (cf. Deut. 24:1- 4), so Israel could not expect to be restored to divine favor and fellowship with God. To do so would be an “abomination” to the land (Deut. 24: 4). Yet Israel seemed to think that she could return to God anytime she chose. Had she not recently spoken to God in such endearing language as, My Father you are the friend of my youth (v. 4), while at the same time ardently devoted to other gods? Thus you have spoken, but you have done evil (v. 5). Israel’s lip and life were not in alignment.
Verses 19-20 of this chapter (3) continue the thought of verses 1-5. In tender and touching fashion God states that he had it in mind to treat Israel as sons, which he did as he gave her a privileged position among the nations and a pleasant land, a heritage most beautious. As a caring father he naturally expected a response from his sons commensurate with his concern for them. Israel, however, behaved as an adulterous wife and forsook her husband. Note the use of the plural sons and the singular wife to designate Israel. “The nation, as individuals, were Jehovah’s apostate children (sons); as a community, his faithless wife.”
In the face of such flagrant faithlessness how can Israel seriously consider a return to God that requires no radical change of heart and life? Israel must recognize that the only way for a sinful people to return to a right relationship with God is through genuine repentance. Such is the implied emphasis of these verses (1-5; 19-20), a truth further developed in the remainder of this section (3:6-4:4).
Apostate Israel and unfaithful Judah (3:6-11)
These verses in prose obviously break the continuity between verses 1-5 and verses 18-19. The fate of the northern kingdom of Israel (cf. 2 Kings 17:1-12) lay heavy upon the heart of Jeremiah, for although his birthplace was located on the very border of Judah, he was a northerner, a Benjamite. In this brief section the prophet contrasts Israel with Judah, showing that the latter is more guilty than the former, because Judah had failed to heed the warning example of her adulterous sister’s fate.
A plea for repentance and a promise of restoration (3:12-18)
Following Jeremiah’s pleas for repentance there comes a promise which includes several elements. Genuine repentance will result in restoration of a purified remnant, I will take one from a city and two from a family and . . . bring you to Zion (v. 14b). From this remnant a new people will be developed, and their kings (shepherds) will feed the nation with knowledge and understanding (v. 15).
In further profile of the promise a new order of spiritual living will come into being in that day, resulting from a new relationship with God. Religion will no longer be a matter of forms and symbols, but an experience of the heart. Even the ark of the covenant, the most sacred symbol of God’s presence in Israel, will no longer be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again (v. 16).
In these verses (14-18) one finds a hint of Jeremiah’s idea of the “new covenant” (31:3lff). Under this covenant all may have an intimate, firsthand knowledge of the Lord. This will result in a more spiritual conception of God among the people.
The necessity for sincere repentance (3:21-4:4)
Various approaches have been advanced in the interpretation of these verses. Some suggest that the repentance described in vv. 21 and 22b-25 is real repentance on the part of the people. Others are persuaded that the penitence is superficial, a feeling only of regret or remorse. Still another view is that Jeremiah, imitating a liturgical confession of sin, is contrasting a shallow “turning” (vv. 22b-25) with the true “turning” (22a; 4:1-4) that God requires. The present writer views this entire section (3:21-4:4) as containing the necessary steps along the pathway to a real repentance -one which results in the divine forgiveness.
Jeremiah describes what is not yet a present situation with his people, but is confident he will hear the voice of unfaithful Judah in sincere repentance and solemn supplication to her covenant God. This repentance will result not from the misery of misfortunes but because they have perverted their way . . . forgotten the Lord their God (v. 21b). The realization of wrongdoing is the first step on the road to repentance. To their remorseful realization the Lord responds with a clear call to repentance and a promise of help and healing: Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness (3:22a). The Lord lovingly takes back to himself his unfaithful people, provided they genuinely repent.
Judah is not now repentant. Stubbornly she had said, “We will come no more to thee” (2:31). But God’s patient ear waits for the first sound of Judah’s penitent voice. Jeremiah has no doubt that God will hear it. The prophet senses that deep within the heart of his people there is an innate longing for something better than worship at the high places – fellowship with the living God. And Jeremiah’s confidence is not without reward. Judah will return saying, Behold, we come to thee; for thou art . . . our God” (v. 22b). They will come, for at last the people will recognize that their help is truly in the Lord our God, not the Baals of the delusive hills and orgies on the mountains (v.23).
As Israel’s confession continues she is overwhelmed with a sense of shame because of her worship of the shameful thing (idols), a worship which had cost our fathers dearly in terms of flocks and herds and even sons and daughters [child sacrifice] (v. 24). This sense of remorse is so strong that Israel will lie down, covered with a ragged cloak of dishonor, and confess: we have sinned against the Lord. . . we and our fathers (v. 25).
From the above confession it would seem that a more complete acknowledgement of sin could hardly be possible, hence Israel’s repentance (turning) was complete. However the verb “return” (Heb. shub) carries not only the idea of turning from but turning to. The Lord desires to make plain to Israel the one whom she must turn to now that she had purposed to turn from the Baals: If you return O Israel says the Lord to me you should return (4: la).
Furthermore, the genuineness of this turning (repentance) must be shown not merely by lip profession but by life practice as well. So the Lord calls on Israel to remove your abominations from my presence and do not waver (v. lb). Israel must forsake the idols and remain unswerving (not waver) in her determination to return to the true God.
Repentance as described above (vv. 1-2) will be demanding and in order to make plain to the people the kind of repentance needed, Jeremiah uses two figures. The first is taken from the farm, Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns (v. 3). Fallow ground is unplowed ground · that has become hardened by the sun or covered over with briars and bushes (cf. Hos. 10:12). In order to be fit for farming such soil must be cleared off and broken up. Only then does it have the possibility of productivity. Just so the soil of Judah s soul had become fallow, overrun with the thorns ad weeds of unconfessed sin, unreal worship, and uncommitted living. These must go! It is vain to think that righteousness and a true relationship with God can flourish in the midst of such hindrances.
Jeremiah’s second figure is taken from the Jewish custom of circumcision, a purification rite of initiation into the religious community. It was an act of dedication signifying the removal of impunity so that one was more qualified to become a member of that community. The prophet was well aware that many individuals bore this external physical mark of Judaism, cutting away the flesh of the foreskin who in no way qualified in character and spirit as a bona fide member of the congregation of the Lord. Such external action as the cutting of the flesh was not enough. Rather there is need for an inner, spiritual cutting that penetrates the deepest recesses of the human heart. The alternative to such genuine repentance, according to Jeremiah, is utter ruin: lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it (v. 4b).
It is of some significance to note that in the prophet’s use of the two figures calling for real repentance he identifies the agent of the action in both as men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem (v. 3a). Did he imply or mean that man was capable of breaking up the fallow ground or circumcising the foreskin of the heart? In light of the relationship between sin and the human heart (see 4:4, 14; 5:23; 7:24; 17:9) in the prophet’s messages one can only conclude that he believed any change in the heart must be the result of God’s work. Jeremiah was certain that God alone, could cleanse and make new the moral springs of a man’s life, but by what method he was to do it and at what infinite pain to himself the prophet was not privileged to discern.
The coming judgment (4:5-6:30)
After a clarion call for real repentance, the next logical step is to depict the judgment that will inevitably come if the people do not return to God in sincere repentance. This Jeremiah does in 4:5-6:30, sounding again the note struck in 4:4b. It is significant that the prophet portrays this coming judgment in a series of eight poems centered around the coming of a foe from the north against Judah. The poems are: 4:5-10, 11-18, 19-22, 23-28, 29-31; 5:15-19; 6:1-8, 22-26.
Whatever can be said otherwise about the beauty and brilliance of these poems, the emphasis is not upon the description of the foe to the point of identity, but rather upon the sin of Judah in forsaking God.
The enemy from the north (4:5-31)
This section contains five of the eight poems treating the coming of a foe from the north against Judah. Their arrangement is logical, describing in successive steps the foe’s advance against Jerusalem from the initial warning of danger to the death knell of the city.
Reasons for Jerusalem’s ruin (5:1-31)
It is interesting to note that while the emphasis of chapter 4 was on the enemy from the north, here it is on the enemy from within. A more terrible indictment of a people can scarcely be found.
Following a description of the corruption of Jerusalem (vv. 1-9) and the issuance of a call to the destroyer to come upon Judah (vv. 10-14), even a foe from the north (vv. 15- 17), this chapter comes to a rather dramatic conclusion as the prophet pictures “an appalling and disgusting situation” in the land (vv. 30, 31). Perversity has taken hold of prophets, priests, and people. Every stratum of society is infected with moral rottenness. From the center to the circumference of Israel’s society spiritual perversity has permeated the nation’s life. The consequence is certain, apart from a radical change, castastrophe. As the chapter ends the problem pressing in so insistently upon Jeremiah is, what will you do when the end comes? The prophet was concerned that, when the catastrophe did come, his people would survive as a believing people of God. This indeed was the very purpose of his ministry.
This chapter effectively summarizes what Jeremiah has emphasized throughout the previous verses (4:1-5:31) of this section. The prophet continues to alternate between the description of corruption found in Judah and Jerusalem and the coming of God’s instrument of their punishment – the foe from the north (vv. 1-8, 22-26). However, two significant ideas are presented for the first time: the prophet’s attitude toward the sacrificial cultus (v. 20; expanded in 7:21-28, see comment there) and his function as an assayer (tester) of his people (vv. 27-30).
Chapter 6 and the section of which it is a part (4:5- 6:30) are brought to a fitting climax by means of a metaphor taken from the mining industry. In ancient times lead mixed with silver ore was fused into a molten mass in a superheated furnace. When a current of air was forced upon the mass, the lead, serving as an oxidizing agent, floated off the alloys leaving the pure silver. Based upon his knowledge of this process, Jeremiah feels that God has called him to be an assayer and tester among my people. . . know and assay their ways (v. 27). A new dimension has come to the fore in the prophet’s ministry. Not only is he to exhort and warn, but he is to test and to attempt to refine his people.
Judah’s false religion and its consequences (7:1-10:25)
There is an obvious break between the prophecies recorded in chapters 2-6 and those found in chapters 7-10.
While there is continuity in the repeated emphasis on the central theme of the earlier chapters – Israel’s violation of her covenant with God and her coming punishment if she fails to repent – there is nevertheless a very definite break. This section lacks the poetic language of chapters 2-6, having instead a “Deuteronomic flavor” and a heavy prose style much like a sermon. In addition there seems to be a shift in chronology. If, as is generally agreed, chapters 7 and 26 refer to the same “temple sermon,” the time involved is in the early reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, following the death of Josiah his father (ca. 608 B.C.) . The material in chapters 2-6 is generally thought to record the early preaching of Jeremiah; more specifically between his call (ca. 626B.C.) and the reform movement by Josiah (ca. 622 B.C.). Hence there is a timespan of at least 14 years between Jeremiah’s early prophecies (2-6) and his messages of this section (7-10), a significant period in Judah’s history.
Religious rites versus right relationships (7:1-8:3)
The Temple Sermon (7:1-15)
As previously indicated this experience of the prophet is the same as that recorded in chapter 26. There the emphasis is upon the consequences to Jeremiah resulting from his sermon; here the point of concern has to do with the content of the sermon.
There had developed in Judah the feeling that their security lay not so much in their relationship to God and his covenant demands as in the fact that his house (Temple) was in their midst. Did not God himself dwell in the Temple? And had he not personally intervened on a previous occasion to save Jerusalem and his abode (2 Kings 19:25)? So the people thought they could repeat, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord (v. 4) and by this magic formula prevent any and all disasters.
In view of this false feeling of security Jeremiah is commanded to stand in the gate of the Temple and warn the worshippers not to trust in such deceptive words. Rather, they must amend their ways and deal justly with their fellowman (v. 5), if they expect God to permit them to remain in the land given to their fathers (v. 7).
Jeremiah charges further that the people are treating God’s covenant with them as a license for immoral living, are repudiating the ten commandments, and then are coming to his house saying, we are delivered (vv. 8-10). By such actions they have made God’s house a den of robbers (v.11). Because they have done so God will destroy the temple at Jerusalem as he did Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first (v. 12; cf. Josh. 18:l; I Sam. 1:3; 4:3ff.). Finally, as the result of Judah’s trust in temple ritual rather than in a true relationship with her covenant God, Jeremiah announces God’s purpose concerning her, I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all. . . Ephraim (v.15). The reference here is to the exile of the Northern Kingdom, which had already occurred (721 B.C.), and is also a prediction of the coming exile of Judah.
Prayer prohibited for a profligate people (7:16-20)
The very people in Judah who were trusting in the temple were also worshipping the queen of heaven and other gods, openly, in the streets of Jerusalem. All members of the family were involved (v. 18). In so doing they are provoked (not I) to their own confusion (v.19). Idols are always empty (nothingness), and those who worship them deliver (provoke) themselves to emptiness or confusion.
Such apostasy and idolatry were so deeply entrenched in the nation’s life that the people had already passed beyond the possibility of repentance. For this reason, the Lord forbade the prophet to pray for them (v. 16), and in his prohibition the certainty of judgment was made clear, Therefore. . . Behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out (v. 20).
Cultic conformity versus constant obedience (7:21-28)
The close proximity of Jeremiah’s protest against burnt offerings and sacrifices with his denunciation of worship of the queen of heaven, has the effect of reducing these to the same level as the idolatrous worship of a foreign god referred to above (vv. 17-19). Jeremiah, however, was not the first prophet to denounce the Hebrew sacrificial system (cf. Amos 5:21-25; Hos. 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Isa. 1:11-15). How are such passages to be interpreted? Among scholars there is a rather wide difference of opinion. It ranges from that of the prophet’s absolute repudiation of the sacrificial system to that of assigning it a secondary role and giving emphasis to God’s demand for obedience.
When Jeremiah declared, thus says the Lord of hosts. . . I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings, and sacrifices (vv. 21-22), what did he mean? Was he denying that sacrifices were ever instituted as a definite part of the historical relations between God and his people, or was he emphatically affirming their secondary role in the relationship? It seems clear to this writer that he was insisting, as did other Hebrew prophets, that the fundamental requirement of Israel’s covenant relationship with God was obedience to him. Stated another way, it was righteousness, not ritual; a righteousness resulting only from living in a right relationship to God, practically expressed in obedience to his commands. Only as they obeyed God’s voice could his people fulfill their part of the covenant. This Judah has failed to do, even as their fathers had failed (vv. 24-26). As the result of such failure, Jeremiah saw clearly that truth (faithfulness) had perished from among the people as though it were cut off from their lips (v.28).
Abominations in the Temple and the land (7:29- 8:3)
Jeremiah again attacks the people for their apostasy and idolatrous practices. He specifically charges the people with two evils: abominations in the temple and child sacrifice in the valley of the son of Hinnom (vv. 30-31). The abominations were the idols in the Temple introduced by Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1-9). The practice of child sacrifice was observed by Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings16:3; 21:6). Because of the enormity of these evils destruction will come upon Judah, and the valley of Hinnom, where they slaughtered their own children, will become the valley of Slaughter, in which they themselves will be slaughtered at the hands of the invading enemies (v. 32).
An incorrigible people and their inevitable fate (8:4-9:22)
There begins with this section – and extending through 10:25 – a series of undated oracles of varying lengths, which seem to have little sequence with what precedes or follows them. However they do carry the same general theme – the arraignment of the house of Israel for judgment. Their location here supports the present writer’s thesis that Jeremiah’s prophecies were compiled topically rather than chronologically. Most of the section is in poetic form, and it contains a variety of literary forms, moods, and circumstances. Regarding this section (8:4-10:25) one writer has stated: “We . . . encounter some of the loveliest poetry that Jeremiah . . . wrote and some of his profoundest theological reflections.”
The unnaturalness of backsliding (8:4-7)
It is only natural for one to get up after a fall, to return to the right path after he has strayed. Yet wicked Judah continues her path to destruction and refuses to return to God. Rather than repenting the nation stubbornly rushes headlong into sin like a war horse into battle (v. 6).
Again Jeremiah contrasts the conduct of his people with that of migratory birds (v. 7). These birds are faithful to their migratory instincts but God’s people are unfaithful to the laws that govern their being. They seem oblivious to the divine, ordinances, although God’s law is written in the very sinew of their being. Why? This was the burning question of the prophet’s heart. To him the persistence of the people in their apostasy and perverseness was both unnatural and incomprehensible.
Wisdom and the word of God (8:8-13)
These verses are loosely connected to the preceding (vv. 4-7) by the relationship between ordinance (v. 7) and law (v. 8). While the previous passage deals with all the people of Jerusalem, this one is addressed to the spiritual leaders, especially the wise men, scribes, and prophets. Stung by the prophets’ charge in v. 7, these leaders may have replied, ‘We are wise. We do know how God rules in the affairs of men. We have it in a book.” But in what respect are they wise? They pervert the law of the Lord by the false pen of the scribes (v. 8) for their own advantage, and they reject the very word of the Lord (v. 9) spoken by the prophet. How then can they claim to have wisdom? There is no wisdom apart from a willing response to his will revealed and recorded – and a ready response to the revelation of his will through his spokesmen.
The coming invasion (8:14-17)
This brief poem echoes the previous poems concerning an enemy from the north. In vv. 14-15 people of the rural areas are speaking. It is a call to escape the enemy by fleeing to the fortified cities. But even there they will perish for God has determined it because of their sins.
The prophets feelings (8:18-9:9:1) This section is composed of two poems that form a complete contrast. Each deals with the inner feelings of one who was experiencing conflicts of the soul. In the first (8:18- 91l) the prophet expresses a sensitive and tender compassion for his people whom he dearly loves. In the second poem (9:2-9) he expresses a feeling of strong revulsion toward his people and desires to be done with them. It does not necessarily follow that the poems were composed at different times or, if they were not, that the poet suffered from a split personality. No definite historic a situation or incident is known for either poem, though both are usually assigned to the early years of Jehoiakim’s reign.
Jeremiah’s compassion, 8:18-9:1. The true prophet s ministry to his people, as God’s spokesman, is found, not only in his denunciation of their sins, but also in his identification with them in every distressful situation that arises. Jeremiah was no exception. What he sees concerning his people and their fate is so terrifying and inevitable that he is heartsick. He hears the cry of his people from the length and breadth of the land (v. 19). They want to know why God has forsaken them: Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her king not in her (v. 19a)? The Lord answers immediately with an inquiry as to why they have provoked him with their idolatry (v. 19b) .
Their questions answered, the people lament, the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved (v. 20). For the full force of this lament one must know that the harvest and the summer were two different seasons. The former was the time for the gathering of the grain; the latter for the ingathering of the summer fruits. Harvest lasted from April to June. If one of these harvests failed, the other was normally a success. If both failed, famine faced the people. The statement was probably a popular saying or proverb used in daily life when a situation was met from which no escape or deliverance seemed possible. By its use Jeremiah pictures the people of Judah as having missed one opportunity after another to repent and be saved from coming judgment. Now stark tragedy faces the nation. The proverb speaks of wasted opportunity. There does come a time when it is too late!
After voicing his passionate grief a second time (v. 21), Jeremiah poses three searching questions (v. 22). Is there no balm in Gilead? The expected answer is, Yes. Gilead was known for its medicinal herbs and the balm from resin of the storax tree. Is there no physician there? Again the answer is, Yes. Gilead was also known for its physicians. Why then has the health of . . . my people not been restored? There is but one answer. The people have not called on the right Physician. They have neglected the one sure source of a cure. On the physical level there was a source for healing. But Gilead’s balm and her doctor’s care were not sufficient for the deep wound carried by the prophet’s own people. There could be no renewal of Judah’s health as long as her heart remained rebellious and unregenerate.
The deep tragedy of it all causes the shepherd heart of the prophet to break under his load of grief, and the compassionate cry bursts from his lips, Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for . . . my people (9:1). (It is this lamentation that gained for Jeremiah the title, “the weeping prophet,” a gross error and one to be avoided.)
Jeremiah’s revulsion, 9:2-9. In this poem one finds an emotional attitude which is just the opposite of the preceding one. Both are necessary to Jeremiah’s total outlook. In part he is completely identified with his people and enters into their problems and perplexities as seen above. But he is also estranged from them. In disgust and horror at their stubborn sinfulness he desires to remove himself from them.
However deeply Jeremiah may have entered into the agony of Judah’s suffering (8:18-9:1), he made no effort to gloss over her gross wickedness. This was so deeply ingrained that flight to a traveler’s hut in the desert, with all of its discomforts, seemed preferable to the daily facing of degradations in Jerusalem, where men were all adulters and traitors (v. 2). Their true character is more clearly delineated in the following verses (vv. 3-6, 8). All are traced to their true source; they do not know me, says the Lord (3b, 6b). The lack of a right relationship with God always results in wrong relationships with men. So God must refine and test (v. 7a; cf. 6:27-30) Judah. He cannot let her go unpunished (v. 9).
A wail for the destruction of Judah (9:10-22)
This passage in both poetry and prose deals with the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah, especially the former.
Truths from contrasts (9:23-10:16)
This section contains three passages – 9:23-24; 9:25-26; 10:1-16 – about which there is much difference of opinion concerning authorship, relationship to each other, and their relation to the larger body of material in their context. Three comments may prove helpful. First, since we are dealing with an anthology (collection) of Jeremiah’s oracles which some editor has brought together according to his scheme, it is not always possible to determine Jeremiah’s thought processes or the logic behind his arrangement of the material. Second, the truths emphasized in these separate passages most certainly agree with the central emphasis of his thought found elsewhere in the book. Third, there is a theme or central emphasis common to all three passages, namely, “wisdom versus stupidity.”
Earthly versus heavenly glory (9:23-24)
In these two verses Jeremiah raises and answers a question of supreme significance. In what dare a man glory? Is there an honest renown? Will a man who is truly wise lay claim to fame? The world through the ages has glorified the scholar (wisdom), the warrior (might), and the man of material means (wealth). But are these the men who would make the Lord’s “Hall of Fame?” Scarcely, for that which the world glorifies is transient and offers no solid basis for a lasting security. Therefore, Let not . . . man glory in his wisdom . . . his might . . . his riches (v. 23). Rather let him. . . glory in this, that he . . . knows me . . . the Lord who practices kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth (v.24)
Flesh versus Heart circumcision (9:25-26)
Jeremiah has previously called for a circumcision of the heart (4:4). He has also stated that the ears of his people are uncircumcised (6:10). He now charges that, like pagans, they are also uncircumcised in their hearts (v. 26). The men of Judah do not have that knowledge of God described m vv. 23-24. Therefore they are uncircumcised spiritually, even if circumcised physically. All men whether in Judah, Egypt, Ammon, Moab, or the desert who fail to acknowledge the claims of the God who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness, are truly uncircumcised in heart. Judah then was no different from the pagan nations that surrounded her. Consequently she could only expect God’s punishment.
Idols versus the true God (10:1-16)
One commentator has stated that this poem bristles with such technical difficulties that one is in danger of overlooking its depth and sublimity. Any serious reader will note that this section disrupts the continuity between the end of chapter 9 (v. 26) and 10:17, and will be somewhat puzzled at its placement.
The prophet’s “satire on idolatry” contains three main thoughts. The first is the warning to Judah not to copy the customs of neighboring nations. One such practice was superstitious terror at certain phenomena of the heavens and the belief in heavenly deities, outside the control of God, which were thought to cause them (vv. 1-3a).
A second emphasis is on the powerlessness of idols. They are things that men make and do things to, rather than what (who) can make or do things to men. An idol is no more than a piece of wood, covered with precious metal; like a scarecrow it can do neither evil nor good (vv. 3b-5). In essence an idol is nothingness, vanity (hebel, v. 3a). A final emphasis of the poem is the contrast between the living God and impotent idols. This “hymn of praise to the Lord” (vv. 6-16) sharply contrasts the majesty of God and the futility of idols. They are lifeless things, fashioned by men, while the living Lord is the creator and governor of the universe, whose power is shown by his rule over nature and the nations.
The coming calamity: lament and intercession (10:17-25)
Vv. 17-22 are an imaginary dialog between Jeremiah and the mother city – Jerusalem. The prophet commands the inhabitants who are under siege to prepare for the long journey into exile, for God is about to sling them out of the land (v. 18). In reply the city laments that her pain is as that of a mother whose tent (home) is destroyed and whose children have been taken by death or captivity (vv. 19-20). This affliction is due to lack of the knowledge of God (stupidity) on the part of the shepherds (rulers) of Judah (v. 21). Therefore a tumult and a great commotion is heard out of the north country. The invader is coming from that direction to make the cities of Judah a desolation (v. 22).
The terror of immanent judgment drives the prophet to prayer – intercessory prayer, on his own behalf as well as on behalf of his people. He is struck with the frailty and impotence of the human race. He admits for himself and for all men that man is a finite, dependent creature, that more than human wisdom is needed to guide his course; that it is not in man . . . to direct his steps (v. 23) . Realizing that the way of man is not in himself and that when he fails to recognize this reality his way is perverted, Jeremiah becomes aware of the need for God’s correction (i.e. discipline, reproof, guidance). But aware of his own frailty and sinfulness as compared to the holiness and majesty of God, he begs that God will not correct him in justice (i.e., what is due), but that in wrath he will remember mercy (v. 24). Jeremiah’s intercession closes with a petition for God to pour out thy wrath upon those nations that have devoured Jacob (v. 25).
Because of the vindictive spirit expressed in these words some have denied them to Jeremiah (but cf. 11:20; 12:3; 15:15; 17: 18; 18:19ff.). Should one read twentieth-century morals into Jeremiah’s day? Furthermore he considered Israel’s enemies as the enemies of God and thus felt justified in praying for their destruction. The Psalmist had a similar idea (cf. Ps. 79:6-7; 69:18-28).
Jeremiah’s confessions and Judah’s approaching doom (11:1-20:18)
The task of outlining the previous sections of Jeremiah is relatively easy. The present section (11:1-20:18) is more difficult due to the exceedingly diverse nature of its contents. The material is definitely lacking in chronological sequence and any outline based on a topical arrangement of materials is likely to give an appearance of unity that is not actually present. There is readily observable, however, a shift from the discourse form of chapters 2-10 to a predominately narrative treatment in the present section. Interwoven with the narrative of the personal experiences of Jeremiah are further severe pronouncements of God’s judgment upon Judah. In fat, “Jeremiah’s confessions and Judah’s approaching doom” might well serve as the theme for the entire section. By Jeremiah’s confessions reference is made to the prophet’s prayers, meditations, or dialogs with God which surfaced in times of great crises in his life. They have long been called the “confessions of Jeremiah” and are worthy of serious study. For the deepest understanding of the prophet such a study is obligatory.
Jeremiah and the covenant (11:1-12:17)
Perhaps the major problem of this section, at least for commentators, is the meaning of the expression this covenant found in vv. 1, 6 and 8. Does the term refer to the covenant made under King Josiah (2 Kings 23:1-3) following the discovery of the book of the law (2 Kings 22:8) which added strength to Josiah’s reforms, or is it a reference to the ancient Mosaic Covenant made at Sinai (Ex. 19-24)?
Much of the debate concerning this question seems unnecessary, for the two covenants are essentially the same. Deuteronomy contains the only extended exposition of Israel’s covenant faith in the Old Testament. That faith goes back to and is grounded in the Exodus event, the holiest and most pivotal event in Israel’s experience. It is reasonable to conclude then that the words this covenant refer to the Mosaic Covenant of Sinai, as renewed in 622 B.C. under the guidance of Deuteronomy and the leadership of Josiah.
Judah’s violation of the covenant (11:1-17)
Jeremiah reminds the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem of the covenant which the Lord had made with their fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (v. 4a). They were to obey his commands; but they did not obey or incline their ear (v. 8a). Therefore they suffered punishment. Likewise, the current generation of Jeremiah’s people has broken my covenant which I made with their fathers (v. 10), and has served other gods. They too must suffer punishment (v. 11). Israel, once called a green olive tree, fair with goodly fruit, will be consumed by fire (v. 16), because of her apostasy.
Jeremiah’s confession (11:18-12:6)
This is the first of Jeremiah’s several “confessions.” Some consider the passage to consist of two separate confessions. However it seems preferable to treat it as one, with the story of the prophet’s mistreatment ( 11:18-23) serving as a back ground, followed by Jeremiah’s protest and God’s reply ( 12:1-6) .
As indicated the background for Jeremiah’s complaint is maltreatment at the hands of those who heard his words against them. A plot to kill him was perpetrated by men from his place of birth, Anathoth. It was a plot that involved members of his own family (see 12:6).
Jeremiah’s reaction to the attempt to murder him is to pray for God’s vengeance upon those involved (v. 20b). This is the first of several of Jeremiah’s imprecations against his personal enemies. Deeply disturbed by the threats on his life, the prophet carries his complaint to God (12:1-4). He confesses his faith in God’s integrity, Righteous art thou, O Lord (12:1), but admits his perplexity and distress at what is happening. Why does the way of the wicked prosper. . . ? Thou plantest them . . . they grow (12: lb-2a). It seems that God is on the side of the wicked. The name of God is on their lips but far from their heart (12:2b). How can a righteous God allow such things to persist? The patriarch Job had a similar problem (cf. Job 21), and so has many a good man since Job’s day (cf. also Psalms 37 and 73).
Jeremiah receives a reply to his questions quite different from what he expected. Certainly it was not what he wanted, but it was what he needed. God’s reply does not give the prophet a direct answer to his questions, but he receives something better – a call to courage of soul as he is confronted with still more difficult days of ministry. Through the use of two “picture-images” God challenges his spokesman (12:5). If the prophet is facing defeat now in his race with men, what will be the outcome when he runs against horsemen? If he has fallen down in a safe land (hometown of Anathoth), what can he expect to do in the lion-infested jungle of the Jordan (his coming trials in Jerusalem)? The import of God’s questions startled the prophet; the worst is yet to come! Nevertheless, he is challenged to heroic action and made to see that there is no place in his ministry for bitter sulking.
A divine lament (12:7-13)
In his poem Jeremiah interprets the mind of God from his own experience. Not Jeremiah alone but God also is pained by the destruction of Judah. Not only Jeremiah but God also is hostile to Judah’s wickedness. In fact the prophet’s experience in the previous section (12:1-6) may well be the basis for his voicing the Lord’s lament. The prophet knew the pain of rejection by his own family. God also experiences great sorrow when his own reject him and suffer inevitable retribution. This poem is ample evidence of his agony
The divine purpose (12:14-17)
An amazing truth is stated in these verses – amazing for Jeremiah’s day and perhaps even for today. God has a purpose for all peoples – even the enemies of his own. All peoples have a place in God’s redemptive plan. The extent to which they participate is dependent upon their response to him.
Parables and warnings (13:1-27)
This chapter contains five brief passages related by subject matter even if composed at different times. The theme of a pride soon to be humbled is evident throughout.
Parable of a linen loincloth (13:1-11)
This parable, as does every parable, contains one central idea or truth. The general truth is that everything of use has a function. The function of a loincloth was to cling to the loins of its wearer. The waistcloth of the parable was spoiled when it was hidden in a cleft of the rock (v. 4). It was no longer useful; hence it was cast aside. Just so the chief glory and purpose of Judah was to cleave to the Lord. But they refused, choosing rather to cleave to other gods. Therefore, like the loincloth, they are spoiled and have become good for nothing.
Parable of the wine jars (13:12-14)
A second parable of the prophet is also in prose. In it Jeremiah gives the first sketch of his image of the “cup of the wine of wrath of God” which the nations are to drink (see 25:15-28; 51:7). Perhaps at a sacrificial feast, where drinking was common, the prophet quotes a popular (among drinkers) proverb or a portion of a drinking song, popularly meant to express confidence in future prosperity. To Jeremiah’s simple assertion, every jar will be filled with wine (12a), the people (or some individual) scornfully reply, “we know that every jar will be filled with wine” (v. 12b). To which the prophet rejoined that just as the jars are destined to be filled with wine, so all the inhabitants of Judah will be filled with drunkenness (judgment) and dashed one against another until destroyed ( vv. 13-14).
A warning against pride (13:15-17)
This brief poem expresses both the prophet’s message and his feelings. It takes up the thought of pride in v. 9 and calls upon Judah to surrender her arrogance and to give glory, i.e., “the worship of true obedience” to God, lest he turn the light to darkness (vv. 15-16). The light of hope for Judah is fast fading. Repentance is possible, but time is short. Give glory to God before it is too late. This is a matter of deep distress for Jeremiah. His soul weeps in secret and his eyes run down with tears at the prospect of captivity for his people.
A lament for the royal family (13:18-19)
This short lament is addressed to the king (Jehoiachin) and the queen mother (Nehushta). The occasion is the captivity of 597 B.C.; whether it is before or following the king’s capture by the Babylonians is difficult to determine (see 2 Kings 24:1-16). Jeremiah calls on the young king and the queen mother to accept their predicted disaster with humble dignity and grace (v. 18).
Jerusalem’s incurable sickness and its punishment (13:20-27)
Jerusalem, personified as a woman, is called to look upon the enemy from the north and to give an account of her stewardship of the flock entrusted to her (v. 20). What will she say and feel when her “friends” become her master (v. 21)? If she should inquire as to why all this has happened to her, inform her that it is due to the magnitude of her iniquity that she is subjected to the shame of a harlot (v. 22, 27a).
In fact the city is so accustomed to do evil that it is second nature with her. Can the Ethiopian change . . . or the leopard (v. 2.3)? One might as well expect the Ethiopian to change the color of his skin and the leopard his spots as to expect the inhabitants of Jerusalem to exchange their vile and evil habits in their own power. There is here no teaching of fatalistic inevitability, no denial of man’s freedom to choose, but rather an acknowledgment of man’s moral perversity – a condition no man can change within himself but only in the power of God.
Prophecies concerning a drought: God’s rejection of his people’s appeals (14:1-15:4)
This section has been called “the liturgy of the great drought.” This natural calamity called to the prophet’s mind a more significant national catastrophe – captivity (cf. Joel 1-2); These words may have been spoken in the Temple in a time of prayer during a crisis resulting from a severe drought. The time is uncertain.
The drought described (14:1-6)
These verses are a descriptive masterpiece. In vivid colors the artist depicts a scene of national disaster. The entire country is desolate. The black robes of mourners are a common sight. All the cisterns are without water. Men and beasts alike are desperate and dying from thirst (vv. 1-6).
The people’s confession and appeal to God (14:7-9)
In this “communal lament” the people confess sins and cry out to God for help ‘in a time of severe need. There is some difficulty, however, in assessing the sincerity of their confession. On the surface at least there is much that is positive about their prayer: confession of sins (v. 7), recognition of God’s lordship, and acknowledging him as their hope and deliverer (v. 8a). But there are negative aspects as well, e.g., the why of vss. 8 and 9 which seem to point an accusing finger at God. One writer capsules the negatives of the confession by commenting that it is interesting to observe the people do not inquire, ‘Why are we letting God down?” but, “Why is he letting us down?”
God’s refection of the appeal (14:10-18)
The Lord sees through the thin veneer of Judah’s pretended repentance. Their plea is therefore rejected.
A second confession and appeal (14:19-22)
It is instructive to compare this confession and appeal with the first one (vv. 7-9). Here as in the first sins are con fessed. In both God is acknowledged as the “hope” of Israel (Judah). But the most significant similarity between the two is the strong stress placed on the Lord’s obligations to Judah and the tendency to overlook their own obligations to their covenant God.
God’s final refusal (15:1-4)
In 14:19a the people had posed the question to God, Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Now (15:1-4) there comes a stern, uncompromising “Yes,” an answer which reinforces that given in 14:10-12. The people are rejected once and for all; not because God is reluctant to forgive and heal, but because they have rejected him. The people have not repented as had Israel in the days of Moses and Samuel (cf. Num. 14:13ff.; I Sam. 7:3ff.); consequently there is no hope; only pestilence, the sword, famine, and captivity await them (v. 2). Judah’s doom is sealed!
Prophecies and prayers in poetry and prose (15:5- 17:27)
Perhaps the reader is becoming familiar with the “patch work” pattern of arrangement which is characteristic of the book of Jeremiah. Such an arrangement is readily apparent in this section of the book. One finds here a miscellaneous collection of prophecies and personal experiences which are rather loosely connected but which have three things in common with each other and with the wider context. First, they probably originate in the reign of Johoiakim. Second, they emphasize Jeremiah’s increasing isolation and personal suffering. Third, they reiterate the certainty and severity of the coming judgment on Judah due to her sin.
Judah’s winnowing and Jeremiah’s woes (15:5-21)
Judah’s winnowing, 15:5-9. These five verses form a poetic lament. Realizing that his sinful people will be ill-used by all the kingdoms of the earth (v. 4), Jeremiah breaks forth in lamentation, bewailing the fact that no one will have pity on Jerusalem and no one will ask about your welfare (v. 5). And even more distressing to Jeremiah are God’s threats of judgment on Judah because of her sin. These threats are introduced through the use of a forceful figure, that of winnowing (v. 7a). One who is familiar with the process will realize the impact of the metaphor. God will take his people (the chaff) to the gates of the cities, and with his winnowing fork toss them into the air, and the wind will carry them into captivity.
Jeremiah’s woes, 15:10-21. This is the second of the prophet’s several “confessions,” and it gives us the most poignant disclosure of the very depths of his soul found in any of them. His feeling of complete isolation from the one who had promised to help him is never again expressed in such bold and uncompromising fashion. Verses 13-14 are probably out of context in this setting. Since they are repeated in 17:3-4 further comment will be made at that point. The reason for their inclusion here is not clear.
Jeremiah is so painfully perplexed by the fact that faithfulness to his calling has exposed him to the hostility of his people, he bemoans his birth (v. 10a). To the prophet such hostility is incomprehensible. Why has everyone turned against me? Is my strength sufficient to withstand the opposition (v. 12)? Of the several interpretations of this verse (12) the one given better fits the context: Can iron (Jeremiah’s strength) break iron from the north and bronze (the strength of Jeremiah’s opponents – his own countrymen)?
The point seems to be that iron from the north (Black Sea region) was usually hard. How can Jeremiah in his own strength resist the hardness of those to whom he must proclaim God’s word?
At verse 15 the prophet’s prayer (lament?) turns to petition for God to remember him – for this is what he lives by – and to visit him for blessing and strengthening, and to take vengeance on his persecutors. Then the prophet protests that his proclamation of God’s message of judgment has alienated him from others. He has been denied the privilege of fellowship with friends. He has had to sit alone because he was under divine constraint for his special task (v. 17). Finally Jeremiah closes his prayer (complaint) with the desperate cry, “Why?” He has reached the depth of human endurance – “A woe of soul never ceasing,” like unto the persistent physical pain of an incurable illness. God’s response to Jeremiah’s prayer is both prompt and pointed. As in 12:5 God’s word comes to him not to comfort but to challenge. It begins with an implied rebuke. Jeremiah had often called on his people to repent and return to God. Now God calls upon the prophet to, practice what he has preached. He is guilty of bitterness and rebellion, sins which brought him close to losing sight of his divine commission and his confidence in the one who had called him. Jeremiah needs then to turn back to God (repent) and to renew his trust in him.
One further step is necessary if Jeremiah is to continue as God’s mouthpiece – shall be as my mouth: utter what is precious, and not what is worthless (19b). The prophet must rid himself and his message of all that is unworthy.He must discriminate between what is precious and what is worthless; discard the worthless and dedicate the precious to the Lord. The assayer (tester) himself is not all pure metal (cf. 6:27). The dross must be removed. If Jeremiah will sincerely take these two steps, several beneficial results will obtain in his prophetic ministry (vv. 19c-21).
Warnings and promises (16:1-21)
Jeremiah’s life a warning, 16:1-13. The prophet was called upon to pay a heavy price in his ministry as the Lord’s spokesman to a rebellious people. In the previous chapter (15) mention is made of his isolation from his countrymen, all of them curse me (v. 10) and his loneliness, I sat alone (v. 17). This chapter (16) presents a progressive withdrawal of the prophet from various activities of social life.
A promise of return from exile, 16:14-15. These verses are almost an exact equivalent of 23:7-8, where they seem to fit more neatly into the context. In this chapter (16) they do appear to interrupt an argument which is concerned with the judgment that will fall on the people of Judah in their land. Nevertheless, Jeremiah looks beyond the enveloping gloom of the coming captivity and sees a miracle greater than the Exodus event. God will bring a repentant and renewed people out of Babylonian bondage back to the land of their fathers.
Miscellaneous materials (17:1-27)
This chapter has been referred to as a “miscellaneous file.” Many commentators call attention to its heterogeneous character and its lack of unity with the context. One expositor of note disagrees and indicates that a look beneath the surface reveals “a dynamic relation of the chapter to its context and of the different parts of the chapter to each other.
The nature of Judah’s sin, 17:1-4. Judah’s sin is deeply ingrained. A pen of iron and a point of a diamond are used to emphasize this ingrained quality. The iron stylus and the diamond were used for engraving on the hardest substances known to the ancient world. The prophet declares that the sin of Judah is so indelibly inscribed upon the tablet of their heart that ordinary means will not suffice to remove it. This picture coincides with much of Jeremiah’s teaching. Judah’s sin is deep-rooted and ineradicable short of a radical change as the prophet later describes (31:33, 34).
A psalm of contrast, 17:5-8. In a manner similar to Psalm 1, Jeremiah contrasts the character of a man who trusts in man with one who trusts in the Lord. The contrast is carried out by likening each to a particular kind of tree. The man who trusts in flesh (man) and turns away from God is like a desert shrub. It dwells for a time in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land, obviously produces little or no fruit, and soon dries up.
The man who trusts in God is like a tree planted by water(s). It flourishes, does not fear when heat comes, has green foliage, and bears fruit continually. The Lord says, cursed is the former (man), but blessed is the latter.
The prophet and heart disease, 17:9-10. These verses might well have followed verses 1-4 with their discussion of Judah’s sin. Although cast in a different literary form (that of a proverb), they seem to continue that discussion.
To grasp the meaning of these verses one needs to recall the Hebrew custom of using certain physical organs to symbolize the various activities of man’s inner life. For example, the heart was considered as the organ of reason, intelligence, will. Likewise, the kidneys (KJV, “reins”) were regarded as the seat of the innermost emotions.
Jeremiah declares the heart (the source of action, will reason) of man is deceitful (treacherous) and desperately corrupt (diseased, incurably ill). The prophet, looking into the very depths of his heart, Judah’s heart and the human heart, realizes there is indeed something wrong with man – something that only God can understand. He can understand for he is constantly searching the mind (Heb. heart) and constantly trying the heart (Heb. kidneys).
Proverbs and partridges, 17:11. Based upon a popular belief that the partridge takes over and hatches the eggs of other birds, Jeremiah proclaims the truth that riches dis honestly acquired will soon vanish. As the birds hatched by their foster mother soon abandon her, so the man who gathers his wealth unjustly will find that it soon leaves him, and at his end he will be a fool. Fool, not in the sense of lack of intellect but lack of moral understanding (cf. Ps. 14:1; Ps. 49:10).
The true place of sanctuary, 17:12-13. It is not enough to interpret the words of these verses simply as an affirmation of the Temple at Jerusalem. To do so fails to give proper meaning to the word sanctuary. As used here it is far more than a place of worship; it speaks of refuge, safety, security. God’s glorious throne, a symbol of his sovereign authority over all, is declared to be man’s refuge and security whatever the threat or peril.
A prayer of petition, 17:14-18. These verses constitute another of Jeremiah’s “confessions” presented as an individual lament. It opens with a petition and an expression of praise. This is followed by a statement of his particular trial (ridicule by his hearers), and concludes with a prayer for personal deliverance and for judgment on his enemies. (This is the third of the prophet’s four “confessions.” See comment on 11:18-12:6; 15:10-21).
The sanctity of the Sabbath, 17:19-27. Although these verses seem unrelated to the remaining material of chapter 17, their position here is justified by the relationship of the episodes which follow in chapters 18-19. This incident introduces a trio of symbolical acts taking place in different parts of the city of Jerusalem (see 18 lff; 19:lff.). There is a sharp difference of opinion as to the authenticity (belonging to Jeremiah) of these verses (19-27).
Parables, proclamation, and persecution (18:1-20:18)
These three chapters are closely related and form an editorial unit, though somewhat loosely connected. The unit contains valuable materials of differing types and comes most likely from the reign of Jehoiachin. In the first chapter Jeremiah uses the figure of clay in the potter’s hand to depict not only the sovereignty but also the patience, grace, and love of God (ch. 18). In the second, the potter’s broken bottle is indicative of the coming destruction of Judah (ch. 19). The third records the subsequent suffering of the prophet and his pathetic complaint (ch. 20). Other brief but pertinent portions of material are interspersed among these chapters.
The parable of the potter (18:1-12)
The sight of the potter molding and reshaping his vessels of clay impressed Jeremiah’s mind with the truth that the “divine potter” is absolutely sovereign over all the nations of the earth and that he can deal with each according to his sovereign will. If Judah (or any nation) disobeys he will punish; if they repent he will· restore. As he watches further the prophet is impressed that God, like the potter before him, is purposeful, patient, and persistent in his dealings with Judah. God will do to his people what the potter does with a piece of pottery whose pattern has been marred in the making. The exile will not be the end. Captivity will not mean doom but discipline. And through this discipline God will fashion another vessel fit for carrying forward his purpose for all mankind. The realization of these truths insured the entry of a new element in the prophet’s message and initiated a new epoch in his ministry. It is time now for him “to build and to plant” (1:10).
The unnaturalness of Judah’s sin (18:18-17)
As earlier Jeremiah had contrasted the constancy of nature relative to the migratory habits of birds (8:7) with the inconstancy of the covenant people in their obedience to the revealed law of their being, so here the consistency of snow on the craigs of Sirion (Mount Hermon) and cold flowing streams from the mountains is contrasted with the inconsistency of Israel in walking the ancient roads (vv. 14, 15; cf. 6:16). Incomprehensible!
A plot and a protest (18:18-28)
The reply of the people to Jeremiah’s message concerning the divine potter, We will follow our own plans (18:12), is reasserted in another way by the leaders of the nation – in particular the religious leaders, priests, prophets and sages. To these men the prophet was an intruder into a field that rightfully belonged to them. So they plotted to disregard his words and to smite him with the tongue (v. 18), i.e., by premeditated libel they would undermine his influence.
Such is the situation which introduces the vindictive lines of 18:19-23, the fourth and harshest of Jeremiah’s “confessions.” Convinced that the leaders are determined to kill him, the prophet voices his fears and the bitterness of his soul. First, he pleads that he has desired only good for those plotting against him (vv. 19-20). Next he prays that God will utterly destroy those opposing him (vv. 21-23). The words found in this imprecatory prayer are the most bitter to be found in the entire book and portray a spirit of unrestrained vindictiveness which presents a problem for many. Several scholars have classed vv. 21-23 as “secondary” non Jeremiahic) material for they hold it “unworthy of Jeremiah.” From the Christian point of view, there is of course no justification for the prophet’s attitude toward his enemies – certainly not in the light of the teachings of Christ (cf. Matt. 5:44f.; 6:12; Luke 23:34) . This writer has no desire to defend such a venomous spirit, but perhaps a suggestion at this point will prove helpful. First, one must realize that Jeremiah, though a servant of the Lord, was a human being- at times very human. When this fact becomes real and it is associated with the rigors and misunderstandings, not to mention torture (10:1-6) of his ministry, one can understand (but not justify) his bitter feeling. Second, Jeremiah had no clear concept of a future life. He did however have a firm faith in the righteousness and justice of God. It was only logical then that he think in terms of earthly retribution. He was certain God would judge and punish accordingly, but he saw it as having to be done in this life, since in his theology there would be no judgment after death.
The parable of the broken flask (19:1-15)
The clay in the hand of the potter can be molded, marred and reshaped (18:1ff.), but the vessels which the potter has finished cannot be repaired if broken. It is good for nothing and will be cast aside. This is the parable the prophet is commanded to enact in order to stamp upon the mind of his rebellious and impenitent people the coming destruction of both Jerusalem and Judah. Accompanied by some of the leaders of the city including priests, the prophet descends to the valley of the son of Hinnom (cf. 7:31-32; 2 Kings 23: 10). There he charges them with their apostasy and predicts that Jerusalem will suffer slaughter, hunger, and untold horrors at the hands of her enemies (vv. 4-9).
In his hands the prophet holds a potter’s vessel of hardened clay. In the presence of witnesses he dashes it to pieces as he boldly proclaims: Thus says the Lord of hosts: So will I break this people . . . as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended ( v. 11). Jeremiah then departs from the valley of Hinnom for the temple area where in the courts of the Lord’s house he again preaches essentially the same sermon (vv. 14-15). From the events which follow it is clear that some at least got the point, including a Pashur the priest.
Persecution and protest (20:1-18)
Persecution, 20: 1-6. The signal for open persecution of Jeremiah was given when Pashur, the chief of the temple police, seized the prophet, beat him, and placed him in the stocks – a doubly difficult instrument of punishment. During the day Jeremiah was exposed to public view and to the humiliating taunts and insults of spectators. He also experienced excruciating physical pain from sitting all night in a cramped position. These verses provide a context altogether fitting as the background for the prophet’s fifth and final “confession” which follows.
Protest, 20:7-18. One expositor calls this poem “One of the most powerful and impressive passages in . . . the prophetic literature . . . which takes us not only into the depths of the prophet’s soul, but into the secrets of the prophetic consciousness.” The poem is composed of two parts: vv. 7-13 and 14-18. The two are quite dissimilar, especially in the final note sounded. In vv. 7-13 the prophet attains the lofty peak of praise for victory won. In vv. 14-18 he descends to the deepest depths of despair experienced in any previous confession (cf. 11:18-12:6; 15:15-18; 17:14- 18; 18:19-23). Because of this radical dissimilarity some consider the parts as two separate confessions uttered at different times.
There are those, however, who view 20:7-18 as a single confession composed of two parts. They account for the sharply contradictory moods ending the two in several ways. Some feel that Jeremiah never overcame the darkness of his soul, but rather walked the road that led to a deeper despair. Yet, in spite of this, perhaps driven by the compulsion of a divine call, he was obedient to that calling. Others account for the widely differing moods of the two parts on the basis of the prophet’s unique personality. Jeremiah was by nature shy and sensitive, impatient and impulsive, and subject to times of elation and dejection. Though courageous he was at times tom by a sense of inadequacy as well as by an inner conflict between natural inclinations and a sense of divine vocation. Contradictory moods then were a constant pattern of the prophet’s experience.
Later Prophecies of Jeremiah (21:1-25:38)
It is clear that a new section of the book begins here. The transition of thought and time is abrupt and without explanation. Timewise, one is transported from the early years of Jehoiakim’s reign to the latter part of Zedekiah’s reign – a span of some twenty years. During the preceding chapters Jeremiah has denounced and warned the people of Judah; now his rebukes are directed primarily to the guilt of the kings, princes, and false prophets of the nation. Again the topical emphasis rather than chronological sequence is the organizing principle of the material.
Zedekiah’s request and Jeremiah’s reply (21:1-10)
Zedekiah, weak-willed and vacillating, came to the throne of Judah in 597 B.C. at the pleasure of the Babylonian monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. Throughout his reign Zedekiah was pressured by members of the nationalistic party to revolt against his Babylonian overlord and give allegiance to the Pharaoh of Egypt – a move strongly opposed by Jeremiah (see 27: 12-15). Eventually Zedekiah, yielding to both internal and external (Egyptian) pressures, revolted against Babylon in late 589 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar promptly marched his army westward and upon reaching Judah soon eliminated her fortified cities. By January of the next year (588) Jerusalem was under siege. It was probably shortly prior to the siege that the event of these vv. 1-10 occurred. Zedekiah, distraught by the enemy’s advance, sends a delegation to seek advice (deliverance) from the prophet. His reply is startling in its severity. There is only one possible means of escape – submission to the enemy.
The fortunes of the Davidic dynast y (21:11-23:8)
This section does not logically follow vv. 1-10 and undoubtedly comes from a different period in the prophet’s life. The word house occurs frequently, sometimes in the sense of “dynasty” and sometimes of “palace.”
Message to the royal house of Judah (21:11-22:9)
Jeremiah addresses the whole house of David relative to the responsibilities of all good kings. He insists that justice is to be executed as a daily practice (in the morning) and that the king is to deliver from the hand of the oppressor those who are weak and helpless. The royal house is warned that God’s wrath will come upon them as an unquenchable fire if they fail to rule with justice and equity (vv. 11-12).
Messages to individual kings of Judah (22:10-30)
These verses contain oracles against three of the five kings who ruled Judah during Jeremiah’s ministry. The first and last of the three, namely Shallum (personal name) or Jehoahaz (throne name) and Coniah4 ruled only three months each and received scant attention from the prophet. The third king of this group, Jehoiakim, was the most wicked and ruthless of the three, and Jeremiah’s harshest charges are hurled at him.
Message about the future of the Davidic dynasty (23:1-8)
The section (21:11-23:8) on the fortunes of the dynasty of David began with a general statement. It is entirely fitting that it closes with another of a general nature. In this passage Jeremiah gathers up all that he had spoken concerning the kings of Judah in a concluding statement which exposes them as unworthy shepherds. The prophet charges them with failure to attend (take care) of the flock of God, and warns that God, will attend to (take care of) them for their evil doings.
Jeremiah’s denunciation of evil rulers serves also as a forecast of the destruction of Judah. Her kings have led the nation down the road to ruin. But in the prophet’s words concerning the end of the nation there is a definite note of hope. He looks beyond judgment and discerns that God’s redemptive purpose in judgment will be accomplished.
A polemic against false prophets (23:9-40)
It has become clear by this point in the book that Jeremiah suffered many trials in his prophetic ministry. Doubtless one of the greatest was the problem of combating the evil influence of prophets and priests of his day and the pain he suffered as he saw the result of their leadership in the life of his people. He has little to say concerning priests; he has very much to say against the prophets (false) especially their lascivious (profane) conduct (vv. 9-15) and their lying communications (vv. 16-32).
A vision of two baskets of figs (24:1-10)
This incident occurred in 597 B.C. or shortly thereafter (see II Kings 24:8-17). There were at that time two groups of Judahites – those who had been exiled and those remaining in Palestine. Those in exile were from the upper classes of Judah’s society, but God had punished them with captivity. Those left in Palestine were primarily from the lower classes, but God had blessed them as they had survived the judgment and escaped exile. Right? Let Jeremiah’s vision answer the question.
The vision (24:1-3)
Jeremiah sees two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord (v. 1). The position of the two baskets – before the temple – is of crucial import. It strongly suggests that the central meaning of the vision is religious (a matter of relationship) rather than regional or yet moral, in the sense that one group is more or less sinful than another. (Chapter 29 should be read in conjunction with this chapter.)
The vision interpreted (24:4-10)
The good figs represent the exiles in Babylon (vv. 4-7). The bad figs symbolize the remnant remaining in the land of Judah and the Jews living in Egypt (vv. 8-10). The distinction is not a moral one, as though the exiles were less sinful than those who remained in Judah. Nor is it a matter of cultural preference based on the fact that it was the elite of the land who were exiled and the lower classes who remained. The difference in the two groups is found in the response each was making to God and his actions in history. The response of the group in Babylon is indicated by the words they shall return unto me with their whole heart (v. 7c). Through the discipline of suffering and hardship the exiles would learn God is not bound to institutions and forms. He can be found wherever men search for him with all their heart (cf. 29: 13).
On the other hand those left in Jerusalem, despite their possession of the book of the law, the presence of the Temple, and the preaching of faithful prophets, had little time for anything but their own carnal pleasures. Basking in the idolatry of the Temple and the supposed inviolability of the city, they substituted the rituals of religion for a direct relationship with God. These are the bad figs.
A summary warning to Judah and the nations (25:1-38)
The dating of this section is precisely given as the fourth year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian monarch, namely 605 B.C. The battle of Carchemish was also fought that same year. It was an engagement which was a pivotal experience in Jeremiah’s ministry and a turning point in the history of the entire Near Eastern World. Nebuchadnezzar’s decisive victory over the Egyptians established Babylonian supremacy over the Mediterranean World. It also meant that Jeremiah’s predictions of the coming foe from the north were moving toward fulfillment. It is hardly surprising that a new note of urgency entered the prophet’s preaching. God’s judgment was moving ever closer. It was repentance now or never, not only for his own people but for other nations as well.
Judgment on Judah (25:1-14)
In a few verses (3-7) Jeremiah gives a summary of his messages for the first twenty-three years of his public ministry. During these years he had persistently urged his people to turn from their evil way and wrong doings that they might dwell upon the land given . . . to your fathers. But the covenant people just as persistently had refused to listen and had lusted after other gods. Since Judah has ignored God’s warning, judgment will be her lot at the hand of his servant Nebuchadnezzar. (He was a servant in the sense of vassal, not worshipper.)
Judgment on the nations (25:15-38)
Jeremiah looks beyond Judah’s punishment and sees the time when all nations will be brought before the judgment bar of God. (Was not Jeremiah a prophet to the nations? See 1:10.) He is commanded to take the cup of the wine of wrath, and make all nations . . . drink it (v. 15), beginning at Jerusalem and concluding with Babylon.
EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF JEREMIAH (26:1-45:5)
These chapters have been captioned “The Biography of Jeremiah.” This is valid only to a degree for one does not find here a chronologically arranged account of the life and work of the prophet. Rather, what is found are memoirs (most probably by Baruch) of Jeremiah’s martyrdom, beginning with his “temple sermon” (608 B.C.), and continuing to his activity in Egypt (586 B.C. and beyond?). Interwoven with Baruch’s narratives are prophecies in differing forms and one significant insertion, commonly called “the book of comfort” (chs. 30-33). Although his biographical material begins with chapter 19, chronologically it is initiated with chapter 26. All of this material is written in the third person.
- Prior to the Fall of Jerusalem (26:1-38:28)
- Conflicts with religious leaders (26:1-29:32)
- The temple sermon and Jeremiah’s arrest (26:1-24)
As previously indicated (see comment on ch. 7) there are two versions of this sermon. In chapter 7 the emphasis is on the content of the sermon. Here the emphasis is on the reaction to the sermon and Jeremiah’s treatment resulting from that reaction.
Summary of the sermon (26:1-6)
Jeremiah is commanded to stand in the court of the Temple and warn the people that if they refuse to listen to God, walk in his law, and heed his servants the prophets, then he will destroy the Temple as he had previously done to Shiloh, and make Jerusalem a curse.
Jeremiah’s trial for treason (26:7-24)
The response to the prophet’s sermon was dramatic. Immediately priests, prophets, and people seize him to put him to death (v. 8). Before a court, hastily convened by govern mental personnel (princes), Jeremiah defends himself in such convincing fashion that the princes and the people counsel his acquittal. This recommendation was strengthened by certain of the elders who cited an historic precedent. The prophet Micah, about a century earlier, had prophesied essentially the same thing that Jeremiah had said (Mic 3:12). But King Hezekiah and the people had heeded his word, and Jerusalem had been spared. This testimony with further help from an apparently influential prince in the king’s court was sufficient to deliver Jeremiah from immediate danger.
The yoke of Babylon (27:1-28:17)
Chapters 27-28 are closely related, concerned with the same historical situation, and the same symbol – a yoke. Both chapters are in turn related to chapter 26 as they reflect the increasing antagonism between Jerusalem and the false prophets.
Message to neighboring kings (27:1-11)
In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Egyptian territory “from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (2 Kings 24: 7) and set up puppet rulers over it. Several of these rulers were threatening to revolt against the Babylonian monarch and had sent envoys to the court of Zedekiah to enlist his support. Jeremiah opposes such a plan and appears before them wearing a plowman’s wooden ox-yoke on his shoulders, a symbol of their submission to Babylon. The envoys are to take back to their respective rulers the warning that the sovereign Lord of the universe had given their nations unto the land of Nebuchadnezzar; those who refuse submission will perish. The prophet further warns the envoys against listening to the lies of those prophets who say, You shall not serve the king of Babylon (v. 9). Rather submit and survive.
Warning to King Zedekiah (27:12-15)
It is not clear whether this message was delivered to Zedekiah in conjunction with the one given to the envoys. It is however the same message: submit to Babylon, for it is the will of God; the only alternative is death. Do not heed the counsel of false prophets. If you do, a tragic fate is in your future.
Warning to priests and people (27:16-22)
These words of warning to priests and people are spoken by Jeremiah to nullify the predictions of false prophets that vessels taken from the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar will shortly be returned. The prophet again denounces such prophecies as lies. He further warns that the vessels now remaining in the Temple will be carried to Babylon and remain there until I . . . bring them back (v. 22).
Conflict with Hananiah (28: 1-17)
This chapter continues Jeremiah’s conflict with the false prophets. It is further related to the preceding chapter by its use of the yoke as a symbol of subjection to Babylon. Although the text is largely self-explanatory, the chapter itself is a significant one. Not only are further examples shown of Jeremiah’s unflinching courage in dashing the false hopes of his people and in facing the false prophets, but one also finds here an ever-expanding concept of God and of the real meaning of religion. For the prophet real religion is centered in relationship, not rituals. True faith is not limited by geographical locality or dependent upon conformity to a cult. One can find and know God anywhere if he seeks with all his heart. Jeremiah is but a step from the individual aspects of the “New Covenant” (cf. 31:31:ff.).
Letters to exiles in Babylon (29:1-32)
The Book of Consolation (30:1-33:26)
These chapters contain the vast majority of Jeremiah’s utterances of a consistently hopeful nature and are appropriately called the “Book of Consolation:” Although some limit the length of this book to chapters 30-31, the theme of a confident hope is so strong throughout the four chapters that for this and other reasons majority opinion favors including chapters 32-33. The events described in chapters 32 and 33 are precisely dated (32: lf; 33:1) in the tenth year of Zedekiah during the siege of Jerusalem (cf. chs. 37 and 38). Chapters 30 and 31 are not so readily dated, and have been assigned to periods dating from the time of Josiah
(638-608 B.C.) to the governorship of Gedaliah following the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.). While the date of composition cannot be fixed with absolute certainty, one close to that given for the other two chapters seems reasonable. Relative to tone, mood, viewpoint and subject matter, the four chapters have much in common, even though the first two are primarily in poetry, while the latter two are mainly prose.
The opening verses (1-3) of chapter 30 not only serve as an introduction to the entire unit (chs. 30-33) but also state its theme, the glorious future of God’s people: For behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah . . . I will bring them back to the land (v.3) . The major divisions of this unit follow: From tragedy to triumph (30:4-31: l); restoration reemphasized (31:2-40); restoration dramatized (32:1- 44); and reiteration of restoration, and future rejoicing (33:1-26). Only that part of the second division dealing with God’s new covenant with his people (31:31-34) is included in this exposition.
In the promise of a new covenant (31:31-34), the “noblest of Jeremiah’s prophecies,” one meets, “the Gospel before the Gospel.” Though some doubt or deny Jeremiah’s authorship of these verses, this writer agrees with one scholar that its authenticity “ought never to have been questioned.” Bright further states: “It represents what might well be considered the high point of his (Jeremiah’s) theology. It is certainly one of the profoundest and most moving passages in the entire Bible.”
The background to the announcement concerning a new covenant is the old covenant entered into by God and Israel at Sinai (Exod. 19-24). Basic to that agreement was the concept of God as sovereign Lord of the covenant who required Israel to obey certain agreed upon stipulations. Failure to do so would result in God’s judgment. Israel’s history from the time of Moses was one of persistent failure to live up to the terms of the covenant. They had not simply refused to obey the law and to acknowledge the Lord’s sole sovereignty, but were actually incapable of such obedience (13:23a). Then how can a holy God continue his relationship with a sinful people? The answer is found in the concept of a new covenant whose very nature will be a guarantee against its failure. A new covenant was needed because the dynamic of the old one was not sufficient to enable them to live up to its demands, despite the fact that God had performed mighty acts of deliverance on their behalf and was a husband unto them (v. 32).
The new covenant, like the old, will be rooted in and rest on the divine initiative. The verbs, I will make . . . I will write . . . I will be (v. 33), all emphasize the fact that the covenant God is again taking the initiative in dealing with his people. Though Israel has been unfaithful to her covenant obligations, God has not forsaken her and again in sovereign grace comes to his people, not requiring but offering. The old covenant was inadequate. It could not be renewed; it must be replaced with something better.
While there is continuity between the old and the new, there is also discontinuity. There is something new; not so much in its substance as in its springs of action. Under the old covenant the people were expected to obey the law. However God’s law as an external code had no power within to elicit a full and free response from the people. But the time is coming when the desired dynamic will be available: Says the Lord, I will put my law within them . . . will write it upon their hearts (v. 33b).
Jeremiah, more than any other prophet discovered and developed the truth that it is the heart which must be properly related to God if life is to be vital and fruitful (e.g., 3:10, 17; 4:4, 14; 5:23; 11:20; 17:1, 5; 24:7 ). In light of his constant and continuous emphasis upon the heart, it is not surprising that Jeremiah’s interpretation of the ultimate in transformed character is a changed heart. God will write his law (“the revelation of his order of life for his people”) on the heart, not on tablets of stone.
The basis for this inner illumination and transformation is a knowledge of God, for they shall all know me (v. 34). Knowing God’s will and doing God’s will are both dependent upon knowing him. For Jeremiah knowing God meant a direct, dynamic intimate fellowship with him; obtained not by ceremony or creed but through contact and communion.
But how does a sinful man enter into such fellowship with a righteous God? One further act of grace on God’s part is necessary: For I will forgive their iniquity, and . . . remember their sin no more (v. 34). There can be no meaningful fellowship with God apart from his forgiveness of sins. Jeremiah has made frequent mention of man’s stub born and wicked heart and man’s inability to change it. God is the only one who can deliver man from his predicament. How he will do it is not Jeremiah’s to say. But he can and he will.
God not only forgives but he forgets our sins. To have the burden of guilt removed and to be set free from sin gives the forgiven one a new sense of worth and creates within the desire to be of real worth. Forgiveness also creates in the heart of the forgiven a keen sense of gratitude from which emerges an obedience which obeys, not through fear of penalty, but through a surge of love. Herein lies the dynamic in the new covenant which makes possible an obedience to the law (will) of God – a dynamic which was almost if not completely lacking in the old covenant.
The “Book of Consolation” then may well be described as an extended development of Jeremiah’s commission given to him when initially called by God: I have set you . . . over nations and . . . kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant (1:10). Heretofore, most of his prophecies have dealt with breaking up and destroying. In contrast these chapters (30-33) emphasize that God’s ultimate purpose is to build and to plant. Jeremiah’s ministry is now becoming complete.
Counsel for kings (34:1-38:28)
These chapters contain numerous incidents and messages from Jeremiah’s life and ministry that are directed primarily to Judah’s kings. On an occasion or two the people are ad dressed, but even then it seems that the prophet hopes to gain the attention of the king. It will be observed that the material relates to different periods in the prophet’s life and lacks chronological order in its arrangement. Only one event in this unit will claim attention here – the preservation of Jeremiah’s counsel to a king in a book – chapter 36.
This is “an intensely interesting and tremendously important” chapter. For one thing it is unique in that it contains the only definitive account in the Old Testament of the writing of a prophetic “book.” It is significant also for its additional emphasis on the dangers encountered by Jeremiah in his prophetic ministry (cf. 20: lff.). Furthermore the events of this passage mark a turning point in the prophet’s public ministry for the Lord. To this point in his career he was known only in a very small nation of the Near East. By putting his proclamations in “print” he is destined to influence the nations. From now on Jeremiah belongs to the ages.
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim Jeremiah is commanded to record his prophecies given over a period of more than twenty years (627 B.C.-604). This was done either because neither king nor people was heeding his oral utterances or because he was debarred (v. 6) for some reason and not permitted to preach in public. So Jeremiah calls for Baruch, a scribe, and dictates as he writes on a scroll of parchment. Then on a certain feast day when the Temple is crowded with worshippers, Baruch is sent by the prophet to read from the scroll of prophecies which had been recorded.
A messenger reports the substance of the prophecies to a number of princes in conference at the king’s palace. They send for Baruch and ask him to read the scroll in their presence. This done the princes report the existence of the scroll containing the prophet’s words to Jehoiakim. The king immediately sends for the scroll and orders it read before him. He listens with insolent contempt until three or four columns are read, then with his knife cuts them off and tosses them in the fire. This action is repeated until the entire scroll is consumed.
Jeremiah has accomplished his purpose – king, princes, and people have again heard God’s word. Nor is the scroll really lost. The word of the Lord comes to the prophet, hiding from the king’s wrath, telling him to “recreate” the burned scroll, adding to it bitter words of judgment against Jehoiachin (vv. 30f.), and many similar words (v. 32).
Jerusalem’s Fall and Jeremiah’s Fate (39:1-40:6)
The sack of the city (39:1-10)
Similar accounts of the city’s destruction are given in chapters 52 and 2 Kings 25 (cf. 2 Chron. 36:17ff.). After some eighteen months of siege (January 588 B.C. – July 587) a breach was made in the city walls, and officers of the king of Babylon entered and set up a military government to control the city.
Meanwhile Zedekiah and his men of war had fled from the city by night hoping to escape the Babylonian army. But they were caught and brought before Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah, an important city north of Damascus. There Zedekiah’s sons and nobles were slain before his eyes. Then his own eyes were punched out and he was put in chains and taken to Babylon. About a month later the city was demolished (cf. 39:1; 52:4, 12), and most of the people were carried to Babylon.
The safety of the prophet (39:11-14; 40:1-6)
The two accounts of Jeremiah’s treatment pose problems for some, but they are not insolvable. Are the two accounts contradictory stories of the same event or separate accounts of the same event? The writer holds to the latter. The difficulty stated another way is, How can the prophet be bound in chains in Ramah (40: 1) when he was freed from the court of the guard some time earlier (39:14)? Is it not possible that Jeremiah, after having been released by order of Nebuchadnezzar through Nebuzaradan (39:11), was picked up on the street by Babylonian soldiers and with other prisoners taken to Ramah, the processing point for deportation to Babylon?
At Ramah he was again released by order of Nebuzaradan, and given a choice of going or remaining in Palestine with his people. To Jeremiah’s credit, whatever the reason(s), he chose the latter. Once the choice was made the prophet is given a supply of food and a present and sent on his way to dwell among his people in the home of Gedaliah at Mizpah (40: 6).
The deliverance of Ebed-Melech (39:15-18)
Events After the Fall of Jerusalem (40:7-44:30)
This section traces the experiences of Jeremiah and the Jews left in Judah from the departure of the exiles for Babylon until the time of Jeremiah’s last prophecy in the land of Egypt. As long as he remained in Judah Jeremiah continued to counsel his people against fleeing to Egypt to escape the Babylonian yoke (40:7-43:7). When taken to Egypt, probably against his wishes, he warned the exiles there of God’s coming judgment upon them because of their worship of idols (43:8-44:30).
Thus ends the last recorded words of perhaps Israel’s greatest prophet. No more is known of him. Tradition holds that he was put to death by his own people. In the light of Jeremiah’s life and ministry it is not surprising that some in Jesus’ day thought that he (Jesus) was the prophet come back to life. Fitting tribute has been paid the prophet in describing him as the “most successful ‘failure’ of biblical days, and in many ways the most Jesus-like man in the Old Testament.”
JEREMIAH’S PROPHECIES CONCERNING THE NATIONS (46:1-51:64)
This section with its own superscription (46:1) doubtlessly claimed an independent existence before being combined with other prophecies of Jeremiah. It contains a collection of his prophecies against foreign nations. Although Jeremiah’s first duty was to his own people, he was ordained a prophet to the nations as well (1:5, 10). This sense of obligation to other nations was characteristic of Hebrew prophecy (see, e.g., Isaiah 13-23; Ezek. 25-32). In the Septuagint the oracles of this section follow 25: 13a where, in some respects, they fit better. However, when inserted there they do disrupt the thought sequence. There are widely different views concerning the date and authorship of these chapters.
With regard to content the entire section is concerned mainly with God’s judgment on pagan nations, a judgment portrayed primarily in terms of war. It is significant, however, that the emphasis is consistently upon the activity of God. It is his sword that rages among the nations. Human agents play only a minor role (cf. 49:30). It should be further noted that destruction (judgment) is not the sole emphasis. Interwoven with extended pictures of judgment are announcements of restoration – for Israel (46:27f; 50:4, 19, 34) and for the nations (46:26b; 48:47; 49:6).
It is not surprising that Egypt is the first nation mentioned in this section. This was prompted not alone by memories of the patriarchs, Israel’s oppression there, and the Exodus event, but also by the personal experience of the prophet. At the hands of his own countrymen Jeremiah had suffered persecution, ridicule, beating, and imprisonment for his determined opposition to Judah’s policy of seeking alliances with the idolatrous Egyptians.
Neither is it surprising that the prophecy concerning Babylon is the last and longest of Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning the nations. In the light of 25: 12, 26 and 29: 10 it is most fitting that the prophet’s last prophecy against foreign nations should end with an oracle against Babylon. In fact it is not only fitting but necessary to the completion of his entire prophetic ministry. As to the length of this oracle this is due to the tremendous influence of Babylon on the world of Jeremiah’s day.
One might with reason question the purpose of these prophecies to foreign nations, since it was highly unlikely that any of the nations addressed would ever know of them. While this was true there were benefits to be derived from these prophecies by Israel herself. First, it was necessary for Israel to learn that their God was not limited to a people or a place, but rather was the sovereign Lord of the universe. This was especially needful on the part of those in exile. If their God were also the God of the Babylonians, then he was also in Babylon and they could worship and call upon him there. In the second place, these prophecies emphasized the righteousness and holiness of God. Israel’s God was a moral God who demanded obedience to his moral laws wherever men were found. Finally these prophecies would call Israel to a greater accountability to God because of her greater privilege of knowing him and of having his law. If God judges those who know neither him nor his law, how much more severe will be his judgment upon those who are his people and possess his law.
HISTORICAL POSTSCRIPT (52:1-34)
The prophecies of Jeremiah conclude with the concise statement, thus far are the words of Jeremiah (51:64b). To that completed scroll some editor has added a historical postscript containing essentially the same material as 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 (cf. Jer. 39) with one principal omission (2 Kings 25:22-26) and one important addition (vv. 28-30).
Why this historical postscript has been attached to the prophecies of Jeremiah continues to be a matter of debate. Since the bulk of the material is found in Second Kings and the prophet’s name is not once mentioned, the location of this final chapter is a bit unusual. Several factors however lend an appropriateness to its presence. In the first place the very heart of Jeremiah’s message of judgment has been his prediction of the destruction of the sacred city of Jerusalem. This final chapter fittingly and finally vindicates those words concerning the fate of Jerusalem and Judah.
Another element prominent in Jeremiah’s preaching was the promise of restoration. Judgment is certain; exile is sure; but it is not the end. God still has a purpose for his people. The realization of this promise may have seemed tortuously slow to the exiles in Babylon. But when the exiled king, Jehoiachin of the Davidic dynasty, was released by Evil merodach after thirty-seven years of imprisonment, the exiles saw in it a sign of better days ahead, a foregleam of the fulfillment of promises made by Jeremiah of a glorious future for the people of God. Thus the book ends on a note of hope, although a muted one.
Southwestern Journal of Theology
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