THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
Lesson 1
Part I: Oracles Against Judah and Jerusalem
Chapter 1: The Title and Prophetic Mission

Holy Lord,
The call of Jeremiah to divine service prior to his birth reminds us that You have known us in the womb from the first moments of conception. You have known us and have planned a destiny for us, as You planned a destiny for Jeremiah. We weep when we think of all those babies who were denied the opportunity to fulfill the destiny You designed for them—the doctors with a cure for cancer, the scientists destined to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos, and the righteous men and women destined to be Your partners in guiding future generations. Turn the hearts of those who advocate for the murder of the innocent not yet born and awaken them to the realization of the destiny of eternal judgment that they have chosen for themselves through their participation in unspeakable evil. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Jeremiah, like Isaiah, is one of the major prophets ... He prophesied when Josiah reigned in Jerusalem and Ancus Martius at Rome, when the captivity of the Jews was already at hand; and he continued to prophesy down to the fifth month of the captivity, as we find from his writings... Jeremiah thus prophesied not only in the times of Ancus Martius but also in those of Tarquinius Priscus, whom the Romans had for their fifth king. For he had already begun to reign when that captivity took place.(1)
St. Augustine, City of God, 18.33

INTRODUCTION

The Prophet Jeremiah lived about a century after the Prophet Isaiah. The words of God spoken to the people through Isaiah brought the covenant people of Judah and their king to repentance, saving them from God's judgment in the form of the Assyrians who had conquered the unrepentant Northern Kingdom of Israel. However, God did not send Jeremiah to call the people to repentance but instead to announce that the time for repentance had passed and the judgment that had been delayed had now come in the form of the Babylonians. Therefore, as conquests of the nation of the Assyrians had been the background of Isaiah's prophetic ministry, the background of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry was the nation of Babylon.

The first lines of the Book of Jeremiah identify Jeremiah, the member of a priestly family from the city of Anathoth, as the book's inspired writer. His story is told for the most part as a personal account and contains the legacy of his prophetic ministry in his prophetic "words," in Hebrew dibre (the same Hebrew word begins and ends the book in Jer 1:1; 51:64), and in his prophetic acts. The book begins with Jeremiah's prophetic call in the town of Anathoth, in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, in the thirteenth year of Davidic King Josiah of Judah in c. 627 BC. His story concludes in Egypt where Jeremiah and other refugees from Judah were seeking asylum sometime after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians that took place in the summer of 587/6 BC.

There are two main versions of the Book of Jeremiah: the Greek Septuagint translation (LXX) and the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). These two versions vary more widely than any other two related books in the LXX and MT versions. The Septuagint is shorter by about 2,700 words (Navarre Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, page 289).(2) These missing parts are mostly limited to single words or phrases that are embellishments like "thus said Yahweh" or "oracle of Yahweh" or "the prophet." These are words and phrases that do not materially affect the sense of the passage, and scholars who believe the LXX reflects an older Hebrew text suggest that scribes included the additional words and phrases for clarification.

In addition, the placement of some of the material is at different points in the two versions. In the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), the "oracles against the nations" have been placed at the end of the book in chapters 46-51, while in the LXX they are in the middle of the book in chapters 25:14-31:44. The naming of the nine condemned Gentile nations is also in a slightly different order in the two versions, with the MT naming them in order from south to north. Scholars are not in agreement on which of these two versions of the Jeremiah texts are from the oldest Hebrew tradition. Five fragmented copies of Jeremiah in Hebrew were found among the copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a cache of ancient documents numbering about 900 scrolls (perhaps a thousand once all the fragments are accounted for), most of which are Biblical, and dating from c. 250 BC to 68 AD. Three of the copies of Jeremiah are the longer edition like the MT, but two versions conform to the LXX and are older, dating to c. 175 BC. Our translation in this study is the MT version only because that is the translation used in the New Jerusalem Bible (as in most modern English translations). All Scripture in this study is from the New Jerusalem Bible translation unless otherwise noted.

The Book of Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic books of the Major Prophets with 21,835 words compared to Isaiah's 16,932 words and Ezekiel's 18,730 words.(3) In the Christian canon it comes after the wisdom books and is the second of the prophetic books, coming after the Book of Isaiah and before the Book of Ezekiel. However, in the Hebrew canon it is the first of the prophetic books of the Major Prophets, immediately following 2 Kings, the end of which sets the historical setting for the Book of Jeremiah. Both books have the same ending in 2 Kings 25:27-30 and repeated in Jeremiah 52:31-34, which has led some scholars to conclude that both books were written by Jeremiah.

The major theme of the Book of Jeremiah is Jeremiah's role as God's agent in calling Yahweh's judgment upon the remaining covenant people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah "the Northern Kingdom of Israel having been defeated by the Assyrians and taken away into exile in 722 BC. The focus of Jeremiah's mission is as God's prosecuting attorney, calling a covenant lawsuit (in Hebrew a riv) against the people of Judea who have abandoned the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai and which has resulted in their subsequent deterioration into a sinful, apostasy people.

Jeremiah's name in Hebrew is Yirmeyahu and means "Yahweh will arise." His name prefigures his mission which is the rise of Yahweh in judgment against His apostate people of Judah and their wicked Gentile neighbors. Apostasy is a word whose origin in Greek, apostasis, means "revolt" or literally a "standing-off," and in Latin the word is apostasia, meaning "falling away" or "separation from God." Apostasy in the Old Testament is defined as the result of the total rejection of God's commands and prohibitions of the Law. The Israelites bound themselves to the commands and prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant when they swore the oath of allegiance to worship only Yahweh and to obey all His Laws swearing, "We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey" (Ex 24:7b).(4)

The Role of the Prophet in Salvation History

The religion of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is a uniquely historically based religion. The settings of the Bible books are for the most part historical in that God presents His Divine Presence in the unfolding story of mankind in real places, in real historical events, and in the lives of real people. Many of the events and the rulers, especially in Jeremiah's story, can be verified by the historical record and archaeology.

Biblical history begins with the Creation event. Since God is presented as the author of Creation, Creation is presented as a historical event and not as a natural or mythological or scientific event. Creation is a constitutive historical event in the sense that it is an event that, in the creation of the first human beings, establishes a relationship with God that is based on a mutual obligation. God agrees to care for His human children in the garden Sanctuary that is in the land of Eden, and man for his part agrees to be obedient to God's will and to express gratitude to the Creator-Father. It is an obligation of gratitude, God tells the 6th century prophet Jeremiah, that is required of all members (nations) of the human family, Give them the following message for their masters, "Yahweh Sabaoth, God of Israel, says this: You must tell your masters this: I by my great power and outstretched arm made the earth, the human beings and the animals that are on earth, and I give them to whom I please" (Jer 27:4-5).

For the people of Israel this gratitude is further defined by the Exodus experience in which the Israelites owe God an obligation of gratitude for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is this event that generates an obligation of gratitude expressed by obedience to the Sinai Covenant that separates Israel from the other nations of the earth, establishing a unique relationship between the children of Israel and Yahweh. Gratitude is expressed in obedience to God's will in living according to God's commandments of divine Law. The obedience of faith is the ultimate expression of gratitude for believers in both the Old Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus "He became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation (Heb 5:9).

Biblical prophets are God's voice to the people. In cases when the people have fallen into the sins of apostasy and idol worship, the prophet becomes God's prosecuting attorney in calling a covenant lawsuit against a rebellious and ungrateful covenant people. At the center of the sins of apostasy and idolatry is a failure in remembering God's works and ingratitude for His blessings and acts of mercy. Forgetfulness and ingratitude are at the heart of covenant failure in the past and today. The prophets became God's agents of remembrance in accusing the covenant people of forgetfulness and ingratitude and by recalling God's might acts to the people to combat forgetfulness and to restore gratitude, obedience, and restoration to a covenant relationship between God and His people.

The prophets are also shrewd observers of the political scene that impacts the movement of history in the lives of the covenant people. The prophet Jeremiah, for example, observed the shift in power in the region from the Egyptians and Assyrians to the Babylonians. He was aware of the implications of that shift in power for the future of Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem, the center of worship of the one true God "the Temple of Yahweh on Mt. Moriah.

Jerusalem, formerly called by the abridged name "Salem" in Genesis (Gen 14:18; Ps 76:2; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jewish Wars, 6.10.1 [438]), was located in the highlands in the middle of Judea (Pseudo-Aristeas, 83; Josephus, Jewish Wars, 3:52). Furthermore, it was claimed that Jerusalem was the center of the inhabited world (Ez 5:5), the middle point of the entire earth, and the "navel of the earth" (Ez 38:12; Jewish Wars, 3.52; Jubilees, 8:19), where the last battle for the souls of mankind will take place between the unbelieving nations led by Satan and the righteous of the Church prior to the Last Judgment (Rev 20:7-10). For the Sinai Covenant, it is the one place on earth that God chose as the place where His "name" was to dwell and worship be offered to Him in His holy Temple (Dt 12:10-12; 1 Kng 11:13, 36; 2 Kng 21:7; 2 Chr 3:1; 6:6). It is this city that is the center of Jeremiah's forty-year minister.

In the New Testament, Jeremiah is only mentioned in the Gospel of St. Matthew where the prophet is named three times in Matthew 2:17; 16:14 and 27:9. In his Gospel, St. Matthew uses ten Old Testament quotes which he identifies as passaged that are fulfilled in Jesus' ministry. Two passages from the Book of Jeremiah are classified as two of the ten Old Testament "fulfillment statements" in Matthew 2:17 and 27:9. The three times Jeremiah is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew:

  1. Then were fulfilled the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly; it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they are no more" (Mt 2:17 quoting Jer 31:18).
  2. And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Mt 16:14).
  3. The word spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was then fulfilled: "And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by the children of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, just as the Lord directed me" (Mt 27:9 quoting from Zec 11:12-13 but combining the ideas from Jer 19:1ff and 32:6-15).

The Divisions in the Book of Jeremiah

SUMMARY OUTLINE OF JEREMIAH
Biblical Period #8 The Assyrian Exile of Israel and The Babylonian Exile of Judah
Covenant The Sinai Covenant [& the Davidic Covenant]
Focus Oracles to Judah and Jerusalem Oracles Against the Nations Historical Appendix
Scripture 1:1------------2:1-----------------21:1--------------31:1-------------46:1-------------51:59----52:34
Division

 

Title and Prophetic Commission Oracles of Condemnation

(covenant lawsuit)

of Judah and Jerusalem
Oracles in the last year of Jerusalem Babylonia

conquers Jerusalem
Judgment

on the Gentile Nations
The years after the Fall
Topic The years prior to the fall of Jerusalem The fall of Jerusalem The final deportation and completion of the Babylonian conquest
Jeremiah's call and prophetic mission Jeremiah's life after the fall of Jerusalem
Location Southern Kingdom of Judah: Anathoth and Jerusalem
Egypt
Time Length of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry: c. 628 BC " c. 587 BC
(forty years as the ancients counted)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

Time line (all dates are BC):

722                   642         640          6287         622          609                   605                      598                          587/6
Fall of the Amon Josiah Jeremiah's / Battle of Battle of Jehoiachin 3 mo. Fall of Jerusalem
Northernking king call his/ Megiddo Carchemish* Zedekiah king Exile of
Kingdomof Religious mission death of Josiah 598-87citizens
of Israel Judah reforms begins Jehoahaz king 3 mo.
642-40 Jehoiakim king609-598
* After the Battle of Carchemish, Babylonia is the dominant regional power.

Historical Background

Beginning in the mid-seventh century BC, a three-part contest for regional supremacy was taking place between the neo-Assyrian Empire, the neo-Babylonian Empire and a new, revitalized Egyptian dynasty. For three hundred years the Assyrians, who originated in the North Euphrates Valley with Nineveh as their capital, had conquered the entire region from the Euphrates to the Caspian Sea and from the Levant to the Persian Gulf. Among the conquered nations was the Northern Kingdom of Israel whose entire population was sent into exile in Assyrian held lands to the east and as far north as the Caspian Sea while five Gentile peoples were brought in to inhabit their lands. However, by the late eighth century BC, dynastic rivalries cause the Assyrian Empire to grow weak. The Babylonians, in the South Euphrates Valley, were growing in strength and were ready to throw off the yoke of the Assyrians. Egypt, in the Nile Valley, had been the dominant regional power for a thousand years before the Empire suffered a decline, but a new dynasty was stirred by the desire of reliving past glories. At the mid-point in Jeremiah's ministry, Babylon won the great contest. The Babylonians and Medes broke the power of Assyria at the Battle of Harran (609 BC), and four years later crushed the Egyptians' hopes at the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC). For seventy years, the Babylonians ruled the world of the ancient Near East "the same seventy years that became the captivity and exile of the nation of Judah and the end of the rule of the Davidic kings.

Time line:

Major theme: The pronouncement of Yahweh's judgment against the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the form of a covenant lawsuit.
Sub-themes: 1. Condemnation of Israel/Judah's sins.
2. Judgment of Judah's conquest and exile.
3. God's promised preservation of the faithful remnant of His covenant people.
4. The hope of Judah's covenant renewal and restoration.
5. God's judgment on the hostile Gentile nations surrounding the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

The sub-themes of sin, destruction, hope, and renewal appear throughout the book (Jer 18:7-11; 31:28; 45:4).

Jeremiah carries out his ministry in "words" and "acts." He gives twelve different homilies and performs ten different "works" that are object lessons for the people. These works that God commands Jeremiah to perform are a series of prophetic acts to prophesy future events. In Hebrew this is known as an ot. Jeremiah became a living parable, revealing the sins of the people and foretelling future events.

JEREMIAH'S PROPHETIC LESSONS
SCRIPTURE REFERENCE OBJECT LESSON SIGNIFICANCE
Jeremiah 1:11, 12 Branch of an almond tree Like the almond tree that announces the spring, Jeremiah will announce that God will carry out His threats of punishment.
Jeremiah 1:13 Boiling pot tilting away from the North God will punish Judah with an invasion from the North.
Jeremiah 13:1-11 A ruined linen belt Because the people refuse to listen to God, they had become useless like a ruined linen belt.
Jeremiah 18:1-17 The Potter's Clay God will destroy His sinful people He had created unless they repent before it is too late.
Jeremiah 19:1-12 Broken clay jars God will smash Judah just as Jeremiah smashed the clay jars.
Jeremiah 24:1-10 Two baskets of figs Good figs represent God's holy remnant. Poor figs are the people left behind.
Jeremiah 27:2-11 The Yoke A nation who refuses to submit to Babylon's yoke will be destroyed.
Jeremiah 32:6-25 The purchased field Yahweh commands Jeremiah to purchase a field in the city of Jerusalem just before the fall of the city as a sign that the people will return to their land.
Jeremiah 43:8-13 The Large Stones The stones marked the place where the Babylonian king will set his throne when God allows him to conquer Egypt.
Jeremiah 51:59-64 The Scroll sunk in the river God will also judge Babylonia. The empire will "sink" and rise no more as a regional power.
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016

We should look to Jeremiah as a model of faith and righteousness. In Jeremiah 13:27 Jeremiah asks his people, "How long will it be before you are made clean?" The answer for them and for us is that the "uncleanness" remains so long as we insist on "cleansing" ourselves in an attempt to deal with the consequences of sin instead of submitting ourselves to God in humble repentance. Jeremiah's prophetic message is as relevant today as it was in his time when the covenant people had forgotten God, abandoned His covenant, and replaced right worship with the idolatry of self-worship. Christians today who persist as the "faithful remnant" of the covenant people of Christ Jesus face the same kinds of persecution and rejection Jeremiah faced. Like Jeremiah, we must trust God to protect us, and we must confront evil in society where evil has become the accepted norm.

The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah

In their "one to one" encounters with God, the prophets draw light and strength for their mission. Their prayer is not flight from this unfaithful world, but rather attentiveness to The Word of God. At times their prayer is an argument or a complaint, but it is always an intercession that awaits and prepares for the intervention of the Savior God, the Lord of history.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 2584

Chapter 1: Prophecies Against Judah and Jerusalem in the Reign of King Josiah

Jeremiah 1:1-3 ~ Title
1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests living at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. 2 The word of Yahweh came to him in the days of Josiah, son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign; 3 then in the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the deportation of Jerusalem, in the fifth month.

These verses, probably written by Jeremiah's servant-scribe and disciple, Baruch son of Neriah, give the title of the work, the pedigree of Jeremiah's priestly family, and define the historical extent of Jeremiah's prophetic ministry. A priest name Hilkiah was the high priest during the reign of King Josiah (2 Kng 22:8), but it is unknown if he was the same Hilkiah who was Jeremiah's father. Hilkiah the high priest was closely associated with the royal secretary/scribe Shaphan (e.g., 2 Kng 22:8-10), and those scholars who believe Jeremiah's father was the high priest point out that throughout his ministry Jeremiah had a close association with the Shaphan family (Jer 26:24; 29:3; 36:10-12; 39:14; 40:5, 9, 11; 41:2; 43:6).

Jeremiah had a happy childhood growing up in the priestly town of Anathoth. His upbringing must have been much like that of the prophet Samuel in the household of the high priest Eli at the Sanctuary at Shiloh not far from Anathoth four centuries earlier. According to Jeremiah's own words, he had a loving father who was happy on the day of his birth (Jer 20:15). He writes that his childhood was filled with joy "he had a loving family, and since they were landowners, they were probably well-to-do (Jer 32:9).

His childhood was also must have been happy because the reign of King Josiah was a time of religious renewal for the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The people saw King Josiah as a new David and perhaps the prophesized Davidic descendant who was promised to be the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7:16; 23:5). In c. 622 BC, during a refurbishing of the Temple, the High Priest Hilkiah re-discovered the Book of the Law which led to a national renewal of the covenant with Yahweh (2 Kng 22:8-23:27). Jeremiah must have received his prophetic call at about age 13. If this was the case, it means he was born the year Josiah became king of Judah in 640 BC. At age 13 boys were expected to take up their adult obligations to the covenant, including their attendance at the three "pilgrim feasts" of Unleavened Bread, Weeks, and Tabernacles/Shelters. It was about the same age that Samuel and David were called to divine service. However, Jeremiah would not take up his ministry until the event of the discovery of the Book of the Law of Moses as a young adult, perhaps when he began training for his priestly duties at the Temple. Jeremiah writes about the momentous discovery: When your words came, I devoured them: your word was my delight and the joy of my heart; for I was called by your Name, Yahweh, God Sabaoth (Jer 15:16).

Jeremiah must also have had a close association with the Jerusalem Temple. If his father was an ordinary chief priest, he would have served in the Temple liturgy on all feast days and during his clan's assigned cycle of service. However, if his father was the high priest, he would have lived within the Temple precincts. We do not know what life was like for Jeremiah between his call in 627 BC and the beginning of his ministry in 622 BC, but he probably studied as a student at the scribal school run by the Shaphan family in Jerusalem as he prepared to assume his hereditary role as a priestly descendant of Aaron. After several years in training, he would be ordained and at age 30 Jeremiah would have assumed his priestly role at the Temple.

Jeremiah's close association with the Temple and Temple liturgy may be reflected in Jeremiah's psalms. Jerusalem was the center of the nation's musical tradition built around the rich collection of the Temple Psalms. The singing of psalms was part of daily Temple worship, and Jeremiah is the only prophetic writer to include his own psalms in his prophetic work. In Jerusalem he may also have been influenced by hearing the preaching missions of other prophets of his time, including the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and the prophet Zephaniah who fearlessly proclaimed a coming day of judgment "a Day of Yahweh, during the reign of wicked King Manasseh.

In the early years of his adult ministry, Jeremiah will write "My joy is gone" (Jer 8:18). His mission in calling down God's judgment against his people, prophesizing the destruction of his nation and his beloved Temple, as well as his people's seventy years of exile in a foreign land broke his heart and earned him the title "the weeping prophet." However, Jeremiah is also known as "the prophet of hope" because of the oracles he received from Yahweh promising the preservation of a faithful remnant of Judah and their eventual return to the "Promise Land" after the seventy years of repentance in exile. The word "oracle" comes from the Latin verb ōrāre "to speak" and properly refers to the utterance of a prediction; in Greek it is khrēsmoi (χρησμοί).

Jeremiah's village of Anathoth, in the ancestral lands allotted to the tribe of Benjamin, is the modern day Anata, a village located about four miles (6 km) northeast of Jerusalem.
Question: What is significant about the village of Anathoth and Jeremiah's ancestral connections? See Josh 21:10, 17-18; 1 Kng 2:26-27; 1 Chr 6:60.
Answer: It was among the towns given to the "sons of Aaron" and therefore it was a priestly city. When Solomon became king he banished the deposed high priest Abiathar to Anathoth. That Jeremiah was related to the priestly family of Anathoth suggests that he may have been, like Abiathar, a descendant of the family of priests who were from the Aaronic line of Ithamar, the youngest of Aaron's four sons (Ex 6:23).

Verses 2-3 refer to the period from about 628 BC to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the fifth month of the Hebrew calendar year in the month of Ab (July/August) in 587/6 BC. See a chart of the Hebrew calendar in the charts section of Agape Bible Study.

The four kings of Judah who are mentioned in 1:2-3 are all descendants of the great King David and his son King Solomon (see 1 Chr 3:9-16; 2 Chr 34:1-21; Mt 1:10-16):

  1. King Amon ruled c. 642-640 BC
  2. King Josiah ruled c. 640-609 BC
  3. King Jehoiakim/Jechoniah ruled c. 609-598 BC
  4. King Zedekiah ruled c. 598-587 BC

The passage does not mention Davidic King Jehoahaz who only ruled for three months in 609 BC before being deposed by the Egyptians in favor of his brother Jehoiakim/Jechoniah, another son of King Josiah. King Jehoiachin, son of Josiah, is also not named. He only reigned for three months in 598 BC before the Babylonians replaced him with his uncle, King Josiah's brother Zedekiah. Jeremiah's prophetic ministry spanned more than forty years from the thirteenth year of King Josiah's reign (628/7 BC) until the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BC, but he continued to advise the people after the assassination of the Babylonian governor, and Jeremiah's journey to Egypt with other Judean refugees.

The movement toward divine judgment for the covenant people began when a tax revolt in 930 BC led the ten northern tribes to reject the rule of Solomon's son Rehoboam and to form their own kingdom apart from the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin ruled by a Davidic king. This was the beginning of the Divided Monarchy and the Northern Kingdom's separation from the Law of Moses, worship at the Jerusalem Temple, and ultimately separation from Yahweh. God's holy prophets warned the Northern Kingdom to repent and renew their commitment to the Sinai Covenant. Failure to repent would mean conquest by a foreign power and exile from the land. After the failure of nine different dynasties, God used the Assyrians as His instrument of divine judgment. In 722 BC the Assyrians completed their conquest of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom and took the people away to exile into Assyrian lands to the east. The Assyrians then imported five different Gentile peoples to inhabit the land and these came to be known as the Samaritans (2 Kng 17:5-18, 24-41).

The Southern Kingdom of Judah was also warned by God's prophets not to follow the example of the Northern Kingdom. Good Davidic kings like Hezekiah and his grandson Josiah brought about national repentance, religious reforms, expelled pagan cults, and rededicated the people to God's Law and the commands and prohibitions of the Sinai Covenant "all of which held back God's judgment. However, with the death of Josiah in 609 BC, his sons returned to same wicked practices, and Jeremiah foretold the inevitable coming judgment of conquest and exile at the hands of the Babylonians who had replaced the Assyrians as region's political super-power.

2 The word of Yahweh came to him in the days of Josiah, son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign; 3 then in the days of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the deportation of Jerusalem, in the fifth month.
Verses 2-3 refer to a forty-year period from about 628/7 BC to July 587 BC.

After the Babylonian's victory over the Assyrians in 609 BC (when King Josiah was killed in battle by the Egyptians), Assyrian control over the Levant passed to the Egyptians who had been allies of the Assyrians. Egyptian control would then be wrestled away by the Babylonians in 605 in the Battle of Carchemish, leaving the Babylonians the masters of the Levant. The first act by the Babylonians was to besiege Jerusalem and to replace Judean King Jehoiachin (ruled three months in 598 BC) with their own vassal, his uncle Zedekiah. Jeremiah experienced all these unsettling political events during his ministry.

Jeremiah 1:4-6 ~ Yahweh's Divine Call and Jeremiah's Protest
4 The word of Yahweh came to me, saying: 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations." 6 I then said, "Ah, ah, ah, Lord Yahweh; you see, I do not know how to speak: I am only a child!"

Notice that verses 4-19 fall into what is called a chiastic pattern:(5)

Before God formed Jeremiah in the womb of his mother, God had a plan for him. The use of the Hebrew verb "to know" in verse 5 means "to choose and predestine" (also see Amos 3:2). That plan began to take shape when God consecrated Jeremiah and set him apart for his holy mission in the womb of his mother and made him to be a "prophet to the nations." Jeremiah's mission isn't just to the covenant people of Judah "the scope of his mission is much broader. He is sent to the surviving children of Israel in the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the nine Gentile nations of Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Syria, the Arab tribes, Elam, and Babylon. Similar collections of oracles to foreign nations are found in the books of the prophets Amos (1:2-2:30), Isaiah (chapters 13-13), Zephaniah (chapter 2), and Ezekiel (chapters 25-32).

No other prophet in the Old Testament has the announcement of such a uniquely early appointment.
Question: Compare Jeremiah's announced destiny and divine call to Old Testament agents of God like Moses (Ex 3); Samuel (1 Sam 2:18; 3:1-21); Samson (Judg 13:2-5); David (1 Sam 16:1, 10-13); Isaiah's Servant (Is 44:2, 24; 49:5; 49:1); and New Testament divinely appointed agents like John the Baptist (Lk 1:15) and St. Paul (Acts 9:3-9, 15-16 and Gal 1:15).
Answer: In the Old Testament:

In the New Testament:

We are not sure at what point God selected each of these individuals. Like Jeremiah's selection as God's divine agent the plan could have been in place long before any of them were conceived. But in many ways it must be noted that the description of Jeremiah's selection is more like Jesus Christ whose mission was "marked out before the world was made" (1 Pt 1:20). Jeremiah's mission was marked out before his conception "perhaps as early as the Fall of Adam when the divine plan had the need for divinely ordained prophets to aid God in shaping human history.

Question: Do you notice any comparisons between Moses' family status, divine call and the response to his call compared to Jeremiah's family status, his call, and his response? See Exodus 2:1-10; 4:10; 6:16-20; 28:1; Jer 1:1 and 5-6.
Answer:

  1. God addressed both Moses and Jeremiah directly.
  2. Moses is called as a prophet to the Israelites, but Jeremiah is called as a "prophet to the nations."
  3. Both Moses and Jeremiah were members of the tribe of Levi, but Jeremiah was a descendant of Aaron, Moses' brother. Only descendants of Aaron could serve as priests of the covenant. Moses was a Levite but was designated a prophet and covenant mediator not a priest. Jeremiah is both a priest and a prophet.
  4. Moses and Jeremiah both expressed hesitancy and unfitness for the mission to which God called them because of an inadequacy of speech.

I consecrated you; I appointed you as prophet to the nations.

All God's prophets understood that they were fulfilling a prophecy God made through Moses to the covenant people that other men were going to be sent to succeed Moses and to carry the words of Yahweh to His people (see Dt 18:17-22).
Question: What two warnings are given in those verses and how is Jeremiah's mission different from that of Moses?
Answer: (1) If the people did not listen to the words spoken by God's prophet they would be held accountable. (2) The penalty for being a false prophet whose words did not come true because they were not from Yahweh was death. Unlike Moses who was only sent to the Israelites, Jeremiah's prophetic word is also for the Gentile nations.

The promise in Deuteronomy 18:17-22 will be perfectly fulfilled in God's supreme prophet, Jesus of Nazareth who, like Jeremiah, is God's prophet to Israel first but also, through His Apostles and His Kingdom of the Church, to the nations. In Jeremiah's mission, we can see a foreshadowing of the mission of Jesus Christ:

6 I then said, "Ah, ah, ah, Lord Yahweh; you see, I do not know how to speak: I am only a child!"
Jeremiah protests that he is only an uneducated child without the eloquence of an adult. We don't know how old he was when God called him to his prophetic ministry, but, as mentioned in the introduction, most scholars ancient and modern suggest that Jeremiah was 13 years old, about the same age as Samuel and David when they were called to divine service. It was the age when an Israelite boy began to take on his adult role in the covenant. It would also place the date of his birth at the beginning of the reign of good King Josiah who called his people to repentance, conversion and the renewal of their covenant union with Yahweh "Josiah was the last "good king" of Israel/Judah.

Jeremiah 1:7-10 ~ Yahweh's Reply and Jeremiah's Mission defined
7 But Yahweh replied, "Do not say, I am only a child,' for you must go to all to whom I send you and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of confronting them, for I am with you to rescue you, Yahweh declares." 9 Then Yahweh stretched out his hand and touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me: 10 "There! I have put my words into your mouth. Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Jeremiah's objection is more understandable than Moses' objection because Jeremiah was only a child who had not even begun his priestly training. Moses was eighty years old when he received his divine call to ministry. However, in verses 7-8 God did not accept Jeremiah's hesitation in taking up his divinely appointed mission, just as God did not accept Moses' attempt to decline his mission.

Question: What lesson is there for us in the shared experience of Moses and Jeremiah in attempting to refuse God's call and God's reply to their hesitation?
Answer: When God calls us, He always gives us what we need to succeed.

Question: What assurance does God give Jeremiah in verse 8?
Answer: Jeremiah is not to be afraid because God will protect and rescue him, which suggests God will preserve his life.

10 "There! I have put my words into your mouth.
An angel purified Isaiah's sins by touching his mouth with a burning coal from the heavenly altar to prepare him for his mission (Is 6:6-7). To equip Jeremiah for his mission God reaches out His divine hand and touches Jeremiah's lips as a sign that His words are now in His prophet's mouth.

Look, today I have set you over the nations and kingdoms, to uproot and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
God defines the authority of Jeremiah's mission over nations and kingdoms in three ways:

  1. He has authority to "uproot and knock down" in undermining/judging all previous institutions of authority.
  2. He has authority to bring about the destruction and overthrow those previous institutions of authority.
  3. He has the authority to build up hope and to plant the promises for the future.

Jeremiah 1:11-19 ~ Jeremiah's Commissioning Oracles and the Reasons for God's Judgment
11 The word of Yahweh came to me, asking, "Jeremiah, what do you see?" I answered, "I see a branch of the Watchful Tree." 12 Then Yahweh said, "Well seen, for I am watching over my word to perform it." 13 A second time the word of Yahweh came to me, asking, "What do you see?" I answered, "I see a cooking pot on the boil, with its mouth tilting from the north." 14 Then Yahweh said: "From the north disaster will come boiling over on all who lie in the country, 15 for I am now summoning all the families of the kingdoms of the north, Yahweh declares. They will come, and each will set his throne in front of the gates of Jerusalem, all round, against its walls and against all the towns of Judah. 16 I shall pronounce my judgments on them because of all their wickedness, since they have abandoned me, offering incense to other gods and worshipping what their own hands have made. 17 As for you, prepare yourself for action. Stand up and tell them all I command you. Have no fear of them and in their presence I will make you fearless. 18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you."

11 The word of Yahweh came to me, asking, "Jeremiah, what do you see?" I answered, "I see a branch of the Watchful Tree."
This is the first of ten object lessons God will give His prophet (see the chart earlier in this lesson or handout 3.

In the first oracle, God asks Jeremiah to tell Him what he sees. Standing in his village, Jeremiah sees a branch of the "Watchful Tree." In verse 11, "Watchful," sheqed, is the Hebrew name for the almond tree. It was the first tree to open its blossoms in February as though it was "watching" and ready to announce the coming of the spring.(6) In the Hebrew there is a play on the words "Watchful," the Hebrew name for the almond tree, and God's assurance "I am watching." God, like the almond tree that watches for the spring, has been "watching" over the word He has placed in Jeremiah's mouth, ready to send Jeremiah on his mission at the right time. This oracle, like the second, probably took place at Jeremiah's village of Anathoth where there are still groves of almond trees today.

13 A second time the word of Yahweh came to me, asking, "What do you see?"
This "word" of Yahweh in verse 13 fulfills the promise of verse 12, "for I am watching over my word to perform it." Yahweh asks Jeremiah a second time what he sees. This time he says he sees a pot set unevenly on a fire, tilting to the north and boiling.
Question: What is the symbolic meaning of the boiling pot in the second oracle? See verses 13b-14.
Answer: An invasion of foreign armies is coming from the north.

Yahweh gives Jeremiah the mandate to begin his prophetic ministry. The kettle of boiling water tipped away to the north ready to spill out is the revelation of an enemy ready to attack Judah from the north. Ezekiel is given a similar oracle of a boiling pot as a symbol of disaster (Ez 24:1-14).

Notice that the enemy is not named. There will be a gradual revealing of this enemy from the north:

  1. The threat is announced in 1:13-14.
  2. The threat is actualized in the oracles of 4:5-10:25.
  3. The threat is finally named as "Babylon" in 20:4-6.

God will use foreign nations as His instrument of judgment against Judah because of the people's many sins, including idol worship, just as He used Israel as His instrument of justice against the wicked Canaanites in the conquest of Canaan. In verse 17 God tells Jeremiah to be prepared to go forth to carry His word against the people of Judah.

18 For look, today I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze to stand against the whole country: the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests and the people of the country. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you."
With this word of knowledge from Yahweh is a personal message for Jeremiah to begin his ministry. He must warn the citizens of Jerusalem, but Jeremiah must expect opposition to his message from most of the city's population, led by the political and religious leaders.

Question: Yahweh uses what three metaphors to describe Jeremiah in taking his stand against the nation of Judah?
Answer: Yahweh describes Jeremiah as:

  1. a fortified city
  2. a pillar of iron
  3. a wall of bronze

Question: What four adversaries will Jeremiah face within his own nation?
Answer: He will face:

  1. the kings of Judah
  2. the princes
  3. the priests
  4. the people

In other words, Jeremiah will be against everyone and everyone will be against him. Then in verse 19 Yahweh reassures His prophet again and promises Jeremiah His protection "the opposition against him must not dishearten Jeremiah, They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you, Yahweh declares, to rescue you. Yahweh's promise is that it is to Jeremiah that He will give His divine protection and not to the citizens of Jerusalem. These are the words of Yahweh that sends Jeremiah on a forty-year mission of divine judgment against his own people and the surrounding nations. Jeremiah may have thought of the psalm of David when he heard Yahweh's promise of protection: Yahweh is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? Yahweh is the fortress of my life, whom should I dread? (Ps 27:1). In times of distress, it is a promise we should all recall with hope and faith in the Lord.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
The Israelites in covenant with Yahweh were bound by the blood sacrifice and covenant oath sworn at Mt. Sinai that was ratified in a sacred meal (Ex 24). In the New Covenant in Christ, Christians are bound by their baptismal oath to be obedient to the Word of the Lord who is Christ Jesus. Christians continually demonstrate and renew their oath in the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrament of the sacred meal of the Eucharist. In Latin the word sacramentum means "oath." In the Letter to the Hebrews it is written: ...he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation (Heb 5:9, emphasis added). In John 16:10 at the Last Supper Jesus told His disciples, If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love (emphasis added). And St. John writes in the First Letter of St. John, In this way we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, "I know him" without keeping his commandments, is a liar, and truth has no place in him (1 Jn 2:3-4, emphasis added). What are our obligations as baptized Christians to remain obedient to the eternal Covenant in Christ Jesus? Begin with the five precepts of the Church in CCC 2041-24, but do not end there.

Endnotes:
1. Ancus Martius/Marcius, the legendary fourth king of Rome, is thought to have ruled Rome from 640-617/16 BC. He was succeeded by Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, or Tarquin the Elder, the legendary fifth king of Rome who ruled from c. 617/16-579 BC.
2. Lundbon, however, lists the difference as 3,097 words (Lundbon, Jeremiah 1-20, page 58).
3. Lundbum, Jeremiah 1-20, Anchor Study Bible, page 57, quoting D. N. Freedman, "The Symmetry of the Hebrew Bible," 1992, page 99.
4. Under the Old Covenant Law, the penalty for apostasy from the covenant with Yahweh was exile and possibly death (Lev 18:26-30; 24:16; Dt 17:2-7; 29:24/25-28/29). As applied to Christians, apostasy means a total rejection by a baptized person of the Christian faith he once professed.
5. A chiastic pattern is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then is repeated in reverse or "mirror order." In the pattern, each idea must be connected to its reflection by a repeated word or phrase. The term comes from the Greek letter X which is written as "chi" and pronounced "key." The structure of a chiastic pattern can be expressed by a series of letters with each letter representing a new idea; for example the structure used in Jer 1:4-19 is expressed in the ABBA structure referring to two ideas, A and B, and then repeated in reverse order as B and A. Sometimes another idea is included in the structure in the middle of the repetition, and in that case, the sequence can then be expressed as ABXBA.
6. A wild variety of the almond tree grows in the region of the Mediterranean in parts of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which suggests that almonds must have first been taken into cultivation in this region. Domesticated almond trees appear in the Early Bronze Age c. 3000-2000 BC. The almond branch Jeremiah saw probably looked like this:

Almond blossoms branch

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the catechism citation):

Jer 1:5 CCC 2270

Jer 1:6 CCC 2584*

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.