Who was Jeremiah?
Jeremiah, nicknamed "the weeping prophet," ministered before the exile, and is considered one of the greatest prophets of Israel.
1. Name and Person
The name of one of the greatest prophets of Israel. The Hebrew ירמיהוּ , yirmeyāhū , abbreviated to ירמיה , yirmeyāh , signifies either "Yahweh hurls" or "Yahweh founds." Septuagint reads Ἰερμίας , Iermı́as , and the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible , 390-405 ad) Jeremias . As this name also occurs not infrequently, the prophet is called "the son of Hilkiah" ( Jeremiah 1:1 ), who is, however, not the high priest mentioned in 2 Ki 22 and 23, as it is merely stated that he was "of the priests that were in Anathoth" in the land of Benjamin In Anathoth, now Anâta , a small village 3 miles Northeast of Jerusalem, lived a class of priests who belonged to a side line, not to the line of Zadok (compare 1 Kings 2:26 ).
2. Life of Jeremiah
Jeremiah was called by the Lord to the office of a prophet while still a youth (Jeremiah 1:6 ) about 20 years of age, in the 13th year of King Josiah (Jeremiah 1:2 ; Jeremiah 25:3 ), in the year 627 bc, and was active in this capacity from this time on to the destruction of Jerusalem, 586 bc, under kings Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Even after the fall of the capital city he prophesied in Egypt at least for several years, so that his work extended over a period of about 50 years in all. At first he probably lived in Anathoth, and put in his appearance publicly in Jerusalem only on the occasion of the great festivals; later he lived in Jerusalem, and was there during the terrible times of the siege and the destruction of the city.
Although King Josiah was God-fearing and willing to serve Yahweh, and soon inaugurated his reformation according to the law of Yahweh (in the 18th year of his reign), yet Jeremiah, at the time when he was called to the prophetic office, was not left in doubt of the fact that the catastrophe of the judgment of God over the city would soon come (Jeremiah 1:11 ); and when, after a few years, the Book of the Law was found in the temple (2 Ki 22 and 23), Jeremiah preached "the words of this covenant" to the people in the town and throughout the land (Jeremiah 11:1-8 ; Jeremiah 17:19-27 ), and exhorted to obedience to the Divine command; but in doing this then and afterward he became the object of much hostility, especially in his native city, Anathoth.
Even his own brethren or near relatives entered into a conspiracy against him by declaring that he was a dangerous fanatic (Jeremiah 12:6 ). However, the condition of Jeremiah under this pious king was the most happy in his career, and he lamented the latter's untimely death in sad lyrics, which the author of Chronicles was able to use (2 Chronicles 35:25 ), but which have not come down to our times.
Much more unfavorable was the prophet's condition after the death of Josiah. Jehoahaz-Shallum, who ruled only 3 months, received the announcement of his sentence from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:10 ). Jehoiakim (609-598 bc) in turn favored the heathen worship, and oppressed the people through his love of luxury and by the erection of grand structures (Jeremiah 22:13 ). In addition, his politics were treacherous. He conspired with Egypt against his superior, Nebuchadnezzar. Epoch- making was the 4th year of Jehoiakim , in which, in the battle of Carchemish, the Chaldeans gained the upper hand in Hither Asia, as Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 46:1-12 ).
Under Jehoiakim Jeremiah delivered his great temple discourse (Jer 7 through 9; Jeremiah 10:17-25 ). The priests for this reason determined to have the prophet put to death (Jer 26). However, influential elders interceded for him, and the princes yet showed some justice. He was, however, abused by the authorities at the appeal of the priests (Jer 20). According to Jeremiah 36:1 , he was no longer permitted to enter the place of the temple. For this reason the Lord commanded him to collect his prophecies in a bookroll, and to have them read to the people by his faithful pupil Baruch (Jer 36; compare Jeremiah 45:1-5 ). The book fell into the hands of the king, who burned it. However, Jeremiah dictated the book a second time to Baruch, together with new additions.
Jehoiachin or Coniah (Jeremiah 22:24 ), the son of Jehoiakim, after a reign of 3 months, was taken into captivity to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, together with a large number of his nobles and the best part of the people (Jeremiah 24:1 ; Jeremiah 29:2 ), as the prophet had predicted (Jeremiah 22:20-30 ). But conditions did not improve under Zedekiah (597-586 bc). This king was indeed not as hostile to Jeremiah as Jehoiakim had been; but all the more hostile were the princes and the generals, who were now in command after the better class of these had been deported to Babylon. They continually planned rebellion against Babylon, while Jeremiah was compelled to oppose and put to naught every patriotic agitation of this kind.
Finally, the Babylonian army came in order to punish the faithles s vassal who had again entered into an alliance with Egypt. Jeremiah earnestly advised submission, but the king was too weak and too cowardly as against his nobles. A long siege resulted, which caused the direst sufferings in the life of Jeremiah. The commanders threw him into a vile prison, charging him with being a traitor (Jeremiah 37:11 ). The king, who consulted him secretly, released him from prison, and put him into the "court of the guard" (Jeremiah 37:17 ), where he could move around freely, and could agai n prophesy. Now that the judgment had come, he could again speak of the hopeful future (Jer 32; 33). Also Jer 30 and 31, probably, were spoken about this time. But as he continued to preach submission to the people, those in authority cast him into a slimy cistern, from which the pity of a courtier, Ebed-melech, delivered him (Jeremiah 39:15-18 ). He again returned to the court of the guard, where he remained until Jerusalem was taken.
After the capture of the city, Jeremiah was treated with great consideration by the Babylonians, who knew that he had spoken in favor of their government (Jeremiah 39:11 ; Jeremiah 40:1 ). They gave him the choice of going to Babylon or of remaining in his native lan d. He decided for the latter, and went to the governor Gedaliah, at Mizpah, a man worthy of all confidence. But when this man, after a short time, was murdered by conscienceless opponents, the Jews who had been left in Palestine, becoming alarmed and fearing the vengeance of the Chaldeans, determined to emigrate to Egypt. Jeremiah advised against this most earnestly, and threatened the vengeance of Yahweh, if the people should insist upon their undertaking (Jeremiah 42:1 ). But they insisted and even compelled the aged prophet to go with them (Jeremiah 43:1 ).
Their first goal was Tahpanhes (Daphne), a town in Lower Egypt. At this place he still continued to preach the word of God to his fellow-Israelites; compare the latest of his preserved discourses in Jeremiah 43:8-13 , as also the sermon in Jer 44, delivered at a somewhat later time but yet before 570 bc. At that time Jeremiah must have been from 70 to 80 years old. He probably died soon after this in Egypt. The church Fathers report that he was stoned to death at Daphne by the Jews (Jerome, Adv. Jovin , ii, 37; Tertullian, Contra Gnost ., viii; Pseudepiphan. De Proph ., chapter viii; Dorotheus, 146; Isidorus, Ort. et Obit. Patr ., chapter xxxviii). However, this report is not well founded. The same is the case with the rabbinical tradition, according to which he, in company with Baruch, was taken from Egypt to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, and died there (Ṣedher ‛Ōlām Rabbā' 26).
3. The Personal Character of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah gives us not only a fuller account of the life and career of its author than do the books of the other prophets, but we also learn more about his own inner and personal life and feelings than we do of Isaiah or any other prophet. From this source we learn that he was, by nature, gentle and tender in his feelings, and sympathetic. A decided contrast to this is found in the hard and unmerciful judgment which it was his mission to announce. God made him strong and firm and immovable like iron for his mission (Jeremiah 1:18 ; Jeremiah 15:20 ). This contrast between his naturally warm personal feelings and his strict Divine mission not rarely appears in the heart-utterances found in his prophecies.
At first he rejoiced when God spoke to him (Jeremiah 15:16 ); but soon these words of God were to his heart a source of pain and of suffering (Jeremiah 15:17 ). He would have preferred not to utter them; and then they burned in his breast as a fire (Jeremiah 20:7 ; Jeremiah 23:9 ). He personally stood in need of love, and yet was not permitted to marry (Jeremiah 16:1 f). He was compelled to forego the pleasures of youth ( Jeremiah 15:17 ). He loved his people as nobody else, and yet was always compelled to prophesy evil for it, and seemed to be the enemy of his nation. This often caused him to despair. The enmity to which he fell a victim, on account of his declaration of nothing but the truth, he deeply felt; see his complaints (Jeremiah 9:1 ; Jeremiah 12:5 f; Jeremiah 15:10 ; Jeremiah 17:14-18 ; Jeremiah 18:23 , and often). In this sad antagonism between his heart and the commands of the Lord, he would perhaps wish that God had not spoken to him; he even cursed the day of his birth (Jeremiah 15:10 ; Jeremiah 20:14-18 ; compare Job 3:1 ).
Such complaints are to be carefully distinguished from that which the Lord through His Spirit communicated to the prophet. God rebukes him for these complaints, and demands of him to repent and to trust and obey Him (Jeremiah 15:19 ). This discipline makes him all the more unconquerable. Even his bitter denunciations of his enemies (Jeremiah 11:20 ; Jeremiah 15:15 ; Jeremiah 17:18 ; Jeremiah 18:21-23 ) originated in part in his passionate and deep nature, and show how great is the difference between him and that perfect Sufferer, who prayed even for His deadly enemies. But Jeremiah was nevertheless a type of that Suffering Saviour, more than any of the Old Testament saints. He, as a priest, prayed for his people, until God forbade him to do so (Jeremiah 7:16 ; Jeremiah 11:14 ; Jeremiah 14:11 ; Jeremiah 18:20 ).
He was compelled more than all the others to suffer through the anger of God, which was to afflict his people. The people themselves also felt that he meant well to them. A proof of this is seen in the fact that the rebellious people, who always did the contrary of what he had commanded them, forced him, the unwelcome prophet of God, to go along with them, to Egypt, because they felt that he was their good genius.
4. The Prophecies of Jeremiah
What Jeremiah was to preach was the judgment upon Judah. As the reason for this judgment Jeremiah everywhere mentioned the apostasy from Yahweh, the idolatry, which was practiced on bāmōth , or the "high places" by Judah, as this had been done by Israel. Many heathenish abuses had found their way into the life of the people. Outspoken heathenism had been introduced by such men as King Manasseh, even the sacrifice of children to the honor of Baal-Molech in the valley of Hinnom ( Jeremiah 7:31 ; Jeremiah 19:5 ; Jeremiah 32:35 ), and the worship of "the queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 7:18 ; Jeremiah 44:19 ).
It is true that the reformation of Josiah swept away the worst of these abominations. But an inner return to Yahweh did not result from this reformation. For the reason that the improvement had been more on the surface and outward, and was done to please the king, Jeremiah charges up to his people all their previous sins, and the guilt of the present generation was yet added to this (Jeremiah 16:11 f). Together with religious insincerity went the moral corruption of the people, such as dishonesty, injustice, oppression of the helpless, slander, and the like. Compare the accusations found in Jeremiah 5:1 ,Jeremiah 5:7 f,26ff; Jeremiah 6:7 , Jeremiah 6:13 ; Jeremiah 7:5 f,9; Jeremiah 9:2 , Jeremiah 9:6 , Jeremiah 9:8 ; Jeremiah 17:9 ; Jeremiah 21:12 ; Jeremiah 22:13 ; Jeremiah 23:10 ; Jeremiah 29:23 , etc. Especially to the spiritual leaders, the priests and prophets, are these things charged up.
The judgment which is to come in the near future, as a punishment for the sins of the people, is from the outset declared to be the conquest of the country through an enemy from abroad. In this way the heated caldron with the face from the North, in the vision containing the call of the prophet (Jeremiah 1:13 ), is to be understood. This power in the North is not named until the 4th year of Jehoiakim (Jer 25), where Nebuchadnezzar is definitely designated as the conqueror. It is often thought, that, in the earlier years of his career, Jeremiah had in mind the Scythians when he spoke of the enemies from the North, especially in Jer 4 through 6. The Scythians (according to Herodotus i.103ff) had, probably a few years before Jeremiah's call to the prophetic office, taken possession of Media, then marched through Asia Minor, and even forced their way as far as Egypt.
They crossed through Canaan, passing by on their march from East to West, near Beth-shean (Scythopolis). The ravages of this fierce people probably influenced the language used by Jeremiah in his prophecies (compare Jeremiah 4:11 ; Jeremiah 5:15 ; Jeremiah 6:3 ,Jeremiah 6:22 ). But it is unthinkable that Jeremiah expected nothing more than a plundering and a booty-seeking expedition of the Scythian nomad hordes. Chariots, such as are described in Jeremiah 4:13 , the Scythians did not possess. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that Jeremiah from the outset speaks of a deportation of his people to this foreign land (Jeremiah 3:18 ; Jeremiah 5:19 ), while an exile of Israel in the country of the Scythians was out of the question.
At all events from the 4th year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah regards the Chaldeans as the enemy who, according to his former announcement, would come from the North It is possible that it was only in the course of time that he reached a clear conviction as to what nation was meant by the revelation from God. But, upon further reflection, he must have felt almost certain on this subject, especially as Isaiah (Isaiah 39:6 ), Micah (Micah 4:10 ), and, soon after these, Habakkuk had named Babylon as the power that was to carry out the judgment upon Israel. Other prophets, too, regard the Babylonians as belonging to the northern group of nations (compare Zechariah 6:8 ), because they always came from the North, and because they were the legal successors of the Assyrians.
In contrast to optimistic prophets, who had hoped to remedy matters in Israel (Jeremiah 6:14 ), Jeremiah from the beginning predicted the destruction of the city and of the sanctuary, as also the end of the Jewish nation and the exile of the people through these enemies from abroad. According to Jeremiah 25:11 ; Jeremiah 29:10 , the Babylonian supremacy (not exactly the exile) was to continue for 70 years; and after this, deliverance should come. Promises to this effect are found only now and then in the earlier years of the prophet (Jeremiah 3:14 ; Jeremiah 12:14 ; Jeremiah 16:14 f). However, during the time of the siege and afterward, such predictions are more frequent (compare Jeremiah 23:1 ; Jeremiah 24:6 f; Jeremiah 47:2-7 ; and in the "Book of Comfort," chapters 30 through 33).
What characterizes this prophet is the spiritual inwardness of his religion; the external theocracy he delivers up to destruction, because its forms were not animated by God-fearing sentiments. External circumcision is of no value without inner purity of heart. The external temple will be destroyed, because it has become the hiding-place of sinners. External sacrifices have no value, because those who offer them are lacking in spirituality, and this is displeasing to God. The law is abused and misinterpreted (Jeremiah 8:8 ); the words of the prophets as a rule do not come from God. Even the Ark of the Covenant is eventually to make way for a glorious presence of the Lord. The law is to be written in the hearts of men (Jeremiah 31:31 ).
The glories of the Messianic times the prophet does not describe in detail but their spiritual character he repeatedly describes in the words "Yahweh our righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6 ; Jeremiah 33:16 ). However, we must not over-estimate the idealism of Jeremiah. He believed in a realistic restoration of theocracy to a form, just as the other prophets (compare Jer 31 through 32, 38 through 40).
As far as the form of his prophetic utterances is concerned, Jeremiah is of a poetical nature; but he was not only a poet. He often speaks in the meter of an elegy; but he is not bound by this, and readily passes over into other forms of rhythms and also at times into prosaic speech, when the contents of his discourses require it. The somewhat monotonous and elegiac tone, which is in harmony with his sad message to the people, gives way to more lively and varied forms of expression, when the prophet speaks of other and foreign nations. In doing this he often makes use of the utterances of earlier prophets.
5. The Book of Jeremiah
The first composition of the book is reported in Jeremiah 36:1 . In the 4th year of Jehoiakim, at the command of Yahweh, he dictated all of the prophecies he had spoken down to this time to his pupil Baruch, who wrote them on a roll. After the destruction of this book-roll by the king, he would not be stopped from reproducing the contents again and making additions to it (Jeremiah 36:32 ). In this we have the origin of the present Book of Jeremiah. This book, however, not only received further additions, but has also been modified.
While the discourses may originally have been arranged chronologically, and these reached only down to the 4th year of King Jehoiakim, we find in the book, as it is now, as early as Jeremiah 21:1 ; Jeremiah 23:1 ; Jeremiah 26:1 , discourses from the times of Zedekiah. However, the 2nd edition (Jeremiah 36:28 ) contained, no doubt, Jer 25, with those addresses directed against the heathen nations extant at that time. The lack of order, from a chronological point of view, in the present book, is attributable also to the fact that historical accounts or appendices concerning the career of Jeremiah were added to the book in later times, e.g. Jer 26; 35; 36 and others; and in these additions are also found older discourses of the prophet. Beginning with Jer 37, the story of the prophet during the siege of Jerusalem and after the destruction of the city is reported, and in connection with this are his words and discourses belonging to this period.
It is a question whether these pieces, which are more narrative in character, and which are the product of a contemporary, probably Baruch, at one time constituted a book by themselves, out of which they were later taken and incorporated in the book of the prophet, or whether they were inserted by Baruch. In favor of the first view, it may be urged that they are not always found at their proper places chronologically; e.g. Jeremiah 26 is a part of the temple discourse in Jeremiah 7 through 9. However, this "Book of Baruch," which is claimed by some critics to have existed as a separate book beside that of Jeremiah, would not furnish a connected biography, and does not seem to have been written for biographical purposes.
It contains introductions to certain words and speeches of the prophet and statements of what the consequences of these had been. Thus it is more probable that Baruch, at a later time, made supplementary additions to the original book, which the prophet had dictated without any personal data. But in this work the prophet himself may have coöperated. At places, perhaps, the dictation of the prophet ends in a narrative of Baruch ( Jeremiah 19:14 through 20:6), or vice versa. Baruch seems to have written a historical introduction, and then Jeremiah dictated the prophecy ( Jeremiah 27:1 ; Jeremiah 18:1 ; Jeremiah 32:1 , and others). Of course, the portions of the book which came from the pen of Baruch are to be regarded as an authentic account.
6. Authenticity and Integrity of the Book
However, critics have denied to Jeremiah and his pupil certain sections of the present book, and they claim that these belong to a later date. Among these Isaiah 10:1-16 , containing a warning to those in the exile against idolatry (and related to Isaiah 40 ff) which, it is claimed, could not possibly in this form and fullness be the work of Jeremiah. Also Jeremiah 17:19-27 is without reason denied to Jeremiah, upon the ground that he could not have thought of emphasizing the Sabbath law. He was, however, no modern idealist, but respected also the Divine ordinances (compare Jeremiah 11:1-8 ). Then Jer 25 is rejected by some, while others attack especially Jeremiah 25:12-14 and Jeremiah 25:27-38 ; but in both cases without reason. On the other hand, we admit that Jeremiah 25:25 and also Jeremiah 25:13 f are later additions.
The words, "all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations," are probably a superscription, which has found its way into the text. In Jeremiah 25:26 the words, "and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them," are likewise considered spurious. Sheshach is rightly regarded here, as in Jeremiah 51:41 , as a cipher for "Babel," but the use of 'At -bash (a cipher in which the order of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet is reversed, taw (ת , t) for 'aleph (א , '), shin (שׁ , sh) for beth (ב , b), etc., hence, SHēSHaKH = BāBHeL , see the commentaries) does not prove spuriousness. The sentence is not found in the Septuagint. The attacks made on Jer 30 and 31 are of little moment. Jeremiah 33:14-26 is not found in the Septuagint, and its contents, too, belong to the passages in Jeremiah that are most vigorously attacked. Critics regard Jeremiah as too spiritual to have perpetuated the Levitical priesthood. In Jeremiah 39:1 , Jeremiah 39:2 , Jeremiah 39:4-10 are evidently additions that do not belong to this place.
The remaining portion can stand. Among the discourses against the nations, Jer 46 through 51, those in Jeremiah 46:1-12 , spoken immediately preceding the battle of Carchemish, cannot be shown to be unauthentic; even 46:13-28 are also genuine. The fact, however, is that the text has suffered very much. Nor are there any satisfactory reasons against the prophecy in Jer 47 through 49, if we assume that Jeremiah reasserted some of his utterances against the heathen nations that did not seem to have been entirely fulfilled. Jer 50 and 51, the discourses against Babylon, have the distinct impress of Jeremiah.
This impression is stronger than the doubts, which, however, are not without weight. The events in Jeremiah 51:59 , which are not to be called into question, presuppose longer addresses of Jeremiah against Babylon. The possibility, however, remains that the editing of these utterances as found in the present book dates from the time after 586 bc. That any influence of Deutero-Isaiah or later authors can be traced in Jeremiah cannot be shown with any certainty. Jer 52 was written neither by Jeremiah nor for his book, but is taken from the Books of Kings, and is found there almost verbatim (2 Ki 24; 25).
7. Relation to the 70 (Septuagint)
A special problem is furnished by the relation of the text of Jeremiah to the Alexandrian version of the Seventy (Septuagint). Not only does the Hebrew form of the book differ from the Greek materially, much more than this is the case in other books of the Old Testament, but the arrangement, too, is a different one. The oracle concerning the heathen nations (Jeremiah 46 through 51) is in the Septuagint found in the middle of Jeremiah 25 , and that, too, in an altogether different order (namely, Jeremiah 49:35 ,46; 50; 51; Jeremiah 47:1-7 ; 49:7-22; Jeremiah 49:1-5 , Jeremiah 49:28-33 , Jeremiah 49:13-27 ; 48). In addition, the readings throughout the book in many cases are divergent, the text in the Septuagint being in general shorter and more compact. The Greek text has about 2,700 Hebrew words less than the authentic Hebrew text, and is thus about one-eighth shorter.
As far as the insertion of the addresses against the heathen nations in Jeremiah 29 is concerned, the Greek order is certainly not more original than is the Hebrew. It rather tears apart, awkwardly, what is united in Jeremiah 25 , and has probably been caused by a misunderstanding. The words of Jeremiah 25:13 were regarded as a hint that here the discourses against the heathen were to follow.
Then, too, the order of these discourses in the Greek text is less natural than the one in Hebrew. In regard to the readings of the text, it has been thought that the text of the Septuagint deserves the preference on account of its brevity, and that the Hebrew text had been increased by additions. However, in general, the Greek version is very free, and often is done without an understanding of the subject; and there are reasons to believe that the translator shortened the text, when he thought the style of Jeremiah too heavy. Then, too, where he met with repetitions, he probably would omit; or did so when he found trouble with the matter or the language. This does not deny that his translation in many places may be correct, and that additions may have been made to the Hebrew text.
IBSE, "Abner" (in the public domain) with minor edits.