Book of Jeremiah


Authorship, date, and background This book is named after the prophet Jeremiah (whose name means "Yahweh establishes"), who was born in Anathoth. His father, Hilkiah (not to be confused with Hilkiah the high priest who was associated with the discovery of the Law in the temple in 2 Kings 22-23), was a member of the priestly class. Jeremiah was undoubtedly of the line of Abiathar, who also lived in the territory of Benjamin, and not of the line of Zadok, which started under Solomon in Jerusalem. He was born ca. 652-648 B.C. and began his ministry in 627 B.C. when he was about twenty years of age. He was God's prophet to Judah in its last days before the captivity (627-586 B.C.). He was a reluctant prophet who suffered greatly for his bold pronouncements of coming judgement. Yet he had been called of God before he was born (see 1:4-10). Baruch was his faithful secretary to whom he dictated much of the book we have.

The Septuagint version of this book differs from the Hebrew text in two important regards: the arrangement is different and the Hebrew is approximately 2700 words longer. The text in our English Bibles comes from the Hebrew, which is not arranged chronologically. Baruch probably added details about Jeremiah's ministry as seen by the observation, "Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words" (36:32). Rationalistic scholars claim that parts of the book were not dictated by Jeremiah or written by Baruch. There is no adequate evidence for this assumption. In its written form the entire book can be ascribed to Baruch.

Jeremiah's ministry began when Josiah, who was king, began a reform movement which was not continued by his successors. Jeremiah prophesied under the kingships of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. The latter was to witness the defeat of Judah and the execution of his kin. He was blinded and sent off to Babylonia when Nebuchadnezzar (called Nebuchadrezzar in the King James Version) seized and razed Jerusalem. The Northern Kingdom had already fallen and Judah was now declining.

The period prior to the captivity which began in 586 B.C. was a triangular struggle for world supremacy in Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. Babylonia was able to crush the Assyrian army. In 605 B.C. at Carchemish, Babylon defeated the Egyptians too. Judah was caught in the middle of the warfare since it was in the pathway between Africa and the Middle East. The fall of Judah and the seventy years' captivity were a direct result of Judah's apostasy and refusal to repent.

Characteristics and content Isaiah has been and still is the most universally cherished prophetical book in the Old Testament. The New Testament alludes to it more than 250 times and portions of the book are quoted expressly at least fifty times. It is, perhaps, the richest book of the Old Testament in theological matters concerning God, creation and providence, man, sin, redemption, resurrection, judgement, and the coming Messiah. It is panoramic in its sweep, carrying the reader to the end of the age, when history will be consummated. The immediate message of Isaiah is to show that salvation is based upon the doctrine of grace originating in the power of God the Redeemer, not in man, or his good works. God is holy and will not put up with unholiness in his covenant people. The person and work of Jesus the Messiah is detailed more fully here than any other Old Testament book. Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as the virgin-born child of God, of Jesus as the suffering Messiah, who by his substitutionary atonement makes salvation possible, and of Jesus as the eternal God who is the Prince of Peace.

Among the prophecies in the book are: the pronouncement of the doom of Samaria (the Northern Kingdom), the fall of Assyria (the nation which brings Samaria to its knees), and the judgment of God on the surrounding nations of Babylon, Philistia, Moab, Ethiopia, Edo, Arabia, Tyre, and Jerusalem (which is to go into captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, spelled Nebu-chadrezzar in this version, and be returned to the land after the seventy-year period has elapsed).

Jeremiah is known to us as a weeping prophet. He speaks his word for God against a background of deceptive prophets who, for the most part, tell the people of Judah the exact opposite of what Jeremiah says. Jeremiah claims to be God's true prophet over against the false prophets like Hananiah, who is judged and killed at last by God. Jeremiah wishes to remain silent and prophesy no more. But God's word is like a burning fire and he cannot contain himself. Yet he is threatened by what happens to other true prophets. Uriah is one of them. He flees to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Jehoiakim. Uriah is seized in Egypt and brought back to King Jehoiakim "who slew him with a sword and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people" (26:20-23).

Jeremiah faithfully delivers God's word of doom and judgement to Judah. Nothing moves him from doing this over and over again. He suffers in solitude, agonizes over the gross sins of his countrymen, and feels keenly the awfulness of judgement is sure to come. God promises Jeremiah deliverance. When Babylonia seizes Judah, Jeremiah is not taken captive to Babylon. After the captivity begins, he goes to Egypt to continue his prophetic ministry among a remnant. So far as we know, he dies there among a people who still are unwilling to repent and turn to God for deliverance.