Select Chapters W/Compare

Book of Jeremiah


Author and Date
The book preserves an account of the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, whose personal life and struggles are shown to us in greater depth and detail than those of any other OT prophet. The meaning of his name is uncertain. Suggestions include "The Lord exalts" and "The Lord establishes," but a more likely proposal is "The Lord throws," either in the sense of "hurling" the prophet into a hostile world or of "throwing down" the nations in divine judgment for their sins. Jeremiah's prophetic ministry began in 626 b.c. and ended sometime after 586 (). His ministry was immediately preceded by that of Zephaniah. Habakkuk was a contemporary, and Obadiah may have been also. Since Ezekiel began his ministry in Babylon in 593, he too was a late contemporary of the great prophet in Jerusalem. How and when Jeremiah died is not known; Jewish tradition, however, asserts that while living in Egypt he was put to death by being stoned (cf. ).

Jeremiah was a member of the priestly household of Hilkiah. His hometown was Anathoth (), so he may have been a descendant of Abiathar (), a priest during the days of King Solomon. The Lord commanded Jeremiah not to marry and raise children because the impending divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation (). Primarily a prophet of doom, he attracted only a few friends, among whom were Ahikam (), Gedaliah (Ahikam's son, ) and Ebed-Melech (). Jeremiah's closest companion was his faithful secretary, Baruch, who wrote down Jeremiah's words as the prophet dictated them (). He was advised by Jeremiah not to succumb to the temptations of ambition but to be content with his lot (ch. ). He also received from Jeremiah and deposited for safekeeping a deed of purchase (), and accompanied the prophet on the long road to exile in Egypt (). It is possible that Baruch was also responsible for the final compilation of the book of Jeremiah itself, since no event recorded in chs. Jer 1 - Jer 51 occurred after 580 b.c. (ch. is an appendix added by a later hand).

Given to self-analysis and self-criticism (), Jeremiah has revealed a great deal about himself. Although timid by nature (), he received the Lord's assurance that he would become strong and courageous ().
In his "confessions" (see ) he laid bare the deep struggles of his inmost being, sometimes making startling statements about his feelings toward God (). On occasion, he engaged in calling for redress against his personal enemies ( see ) -- a practice that explains the origin of the English word "jeremiad," referring to a denunciatory tirade or complaint. Jeremiah, so often expressing his anguish of spirit ( ), has justly been called the "weeping prophet." But it is also true that the memory of his divine call () and the Lord's frequent reaffirmations of his commissioning as a prophet (see :) made Jeremiah fearless and faithful in the service of his God (cf. ).

Theological Theme and Message
Referred to frequently as "Jeremiah the prophet" in the book that bears his name () and elsewhere (). Jeremiah was ever conscious of his call from the Lord () to be a prophet. As such, he proclaimed words given him by God himself () and therefore certain of fulfillment ( ). Jeremiah had only contempt for false prophets () like Hananiah (ch. ) and Shemaiah (. (e.g., ), and others were -- or will yet be -- fulfilled in the long term (e.g., ).

As hinted earlier, an aura of conflict surrounded Jeremiah almost from the beginning. He lashed out against the sins of his countrymen (), scoring them severely for their idolatry ( ) -- which sometimes even involved sacrificing their children to foreign gods (see ). But Jeremiah loved the people of Judah in spite of their sins, and he prayed for them () even when the Lord told him not to ().

Judgment is one of the all-pervasive themes in Jeremiah's writings, though he was careful to point out that repentance, if sincere, would postpone the otherwise inevitable. His counsel of submission to Babylon and his message of "life as usual" for the exiles of the early deportations branded him as a traitor in the eyes of many. Actually, of course, his advice not to rebel against Babylon marked him as a true patriot, a man who loved his own people too much to stand by silently and watch them destroy themselves. By warning them to submit and not rebel, Jeremiah was revealing God's will to them -- always the most sensible prospect under any circumstances.

For Jeremiah, God was ultimate. The prophet's theology conceived of the Lord as the Creator of all that exists (), as all-powerful (), as everywhere present (). Jeremiah ascribed the most elevated attributes to the God whom he served (), viewing him as the Lord not only of Judah but also of the nations ( chs. ).

At the same time, God is very much concerned about individual people and their accountability to him. Jeremiah's emphasis in this regard (see, e.g., ) is similar to that of Ezekiel (see ), and the two men have become known as the "prophets of individual responsibility." The undeniable relationship between sin and its consequences, so visible to Jeremiah as he watched his beloved Judah in her death throes, made him -- in the pursuit of his divine vocation -- a fiery preacher () of righteousness, and his oracles have lost none of their power with the passing of the centuries.

Called to the unhappy task of announcing the destruction of the kingdom of Judah (thoroughly corrupted by the long and evil reign of Manasseh and only superficially affected by Josiah's efforts at reform), it was Jeremiah's commission to lodge God's indictment against his people and proclaim the end of an era. At long last, the Lord was about to inflict on the remnant of his people the ultimate covenant curse (see ). He would undo all that he had done for them since the day he brought them out of Egypt. It would then seem that the end had come, that Israel's stubborn and uncircumcised (unconsecrated) heart had sealed her final destiny, that God's chosen people had been cast off, that all the ancient promises and covenants had come to nothing.

But God's judgment of his people (and the nations), though terrible, was not to be the last word, the final work of God in history. Mercy and covenant faithfulness would triumph over wrath. Beyond the judgment would come restoration and renewal. Israel would be restored, the nations that crushed her would be crushed, and the old covenants (with Israel, David and the Levites) would be honored. God would make a new covenant with his people in which he would write his law on their hearts (see ; see also ) and thus consecrate them to his service. The new covenant was cast in the form of ancient Near Eastern royal grant treaties and contained unconditional, gracious and profoundly spiritual, moral, ethical and relational promises. The house of David would rule God's people in righteousness, and faithful priests would serve. God's commitment to Israel's redemption was as unfailing as the secure order of creation (ch. ).

Jeremiah's message illumined the distant as well as the near horizon. It was false prophets who proclaimed peace to a rebellious nation, as though the God of Israel's peace was indifferent to her unfaithfulness. But the very God who compelled Jeremiah to denounce sin and pronounce judgment was the God who authorized him to announce that the divine wrath had its bounds, its 70 years. Afterward forgiveness and cleansing would come -- and a new day, in which all the old expectations, aroused by God's past acts and his promises and covenants, would yet be fulfilled in a manner transcending all God's mercies of old.