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An Introduction to the Book of Jeremiah

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I. AN INTRODUCTION TO PROPHETIC LITERATURE

A. The Identity of a Prophet:

1. Prophets were known by several terms--both Greek and Hebrew:

a. The Greek term that our English term comes from is profhvth"1 (prophetes) meaning one who proclaims and interprets divine revelation.2 It is descriptive of one who speaks forth God's word.3

b. The Hebrew terms used for a prophet are primarily ayb!n* (nabi) 4 which is probably descriptive of "one called" to speak for God5, and ha#r)h* 6 (hroeh, English "seer") which was what prophets used to be called in Israel before Samuel (1 Sam. 9:9) because they saw visions

c. Other terms for a prophet included, "man of God," "watchman," "messenger of YHWH", and "man of the Spirit"7.

2. Prophets had characteristics which were similar and distinct of their contemporaries of the Ancient Near East:

a. Similar Characteristics with the ANE8:

1) Sometimes they were identified with ecstatic experiences (1 Sam. 10:11--although this may be sarcastic)

2) Prophets spoke to Kings to encourage them or with criticism

3) Prophets spoke concerning military matters or building projects

4) Prophets received their messages through dreams, visions, trances, or ways that were not stated

b. Dissimilar Characteristics with the ANE9:

1) Biblical prophets were certain of their individual calls from YHWH (cf. Isa. 6; Jer. 1; Ezk. 1; Jonah 1, et cetera)

2) Biblical prophets were holy men who were "moved by the Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21)

3) Biblical prophets were usually identified with self-control when under revelation10

4) Biblical prophets were usually accused of antiritualism rather than with concerns of ritualism

5) Biblical prophets were concerned with far reaching messages of exile and destruction

6) Biblical prophets often spoke to the people as well as the kings

7) Biblical prophets (especially the classical prophets [see below] spoke upon the basis of the Mosaic Covenant11 (by which God chose a people to reveal himself and to carry out his plan in history)

8) Biblical prophets included an eschatological aspect to their messages whereby their totally sovereign God would unveil portions of His final stage of history12

B. Classification of the Prophets13: The prophets may be identified within three basic categories--(1) pre-monarchy14, (2) pre-classical15, (3) classical16--as the following chart unfolds:17

PERIOD

FUNCTION

AUDIENCE

MESSAGE

EXAMPLES

PRE-MONARCHY

Mouthpiece-lead

People

Nation guidance, Maintenance of justice, Spiritual overseer

Moses

Deborah

PRE-CLASSICAL

Mouthpiece-adviser

King and court

Military advice, Pronouncement of rebuke or blessing

Nathan

Elijah

Elisha

Micaiah

       

Transition:

North-Jonah18

South-Isaiah

CLASSICAL

Mouthpiece-social/spiritual commentator

People

Rebuke concerning current condition of society; leads to warnings of captivity, destruction, exile, and promise of eventual restoration, Call for justice and repentance

Writing Prophets

Best example: Jeremiah

C. The Message of the Prophet:

1. Most of the classical prophetic writings were a historic collection of sermons during turbulent times in Israel's history with a message to the problems of the nation19

2. The historic messages were collected and arranged in book form thereby being intended for later generations of Israel and of those until God's purposes in history are accomplished20

3. The following graph portrays four basic categories of prophetic oracles:21

ORACULAR CATEGORIES

DESCRIPTION

PREEXILIC EMPHASIS

POSTEXILIC

EMPHASIS

INDICTMENT

Statement of the offense

Focus primarily on idolatry, ritualism, and social justice

Focus on not giving proper honor to the Lord

JUDGMENT

Punishment to be carried out

Primarily political and projected for near future

Interprets recent or current crises as punishment

INSTRUCTION

Expected response

Very little offered; generally return to God by ending wicked conduct

Slightly more offered; more specifically addressed to particular situation

AFTERMATH

Affirmation of future hope or deliverance

Presented and understood as coming after an intervening period of judgment

Presented and understood as spanning a protracted time period

Religious: now

Socioeconomic: Potential

Political: Eventual

4. Messages Concerning the Future:

a. Prophecy certainly was a message to a historical people

b. Prophecy was also a message to a historical people in view of God's ongoing redemptive purpose; therefore, it unveiled God's sovereign plan and intentions

c. In what is usually called "predictive prophecy" the "predictive" element was attached to the present situation.

d. While the human author most probably understood the historical message which he was giving, only the Divine Author could fully know the final referent if the message spoke of the future. Nevertheless, the final referent would not (and could not) contradict the historical message of the human author.22

e. Since Jesus Christ is the center of God's salvation history, all prophecy somehow relates to Him.

II. AUTHOR: The prophet Jeremiah ( hymry ) meaning "Yahweh establishes" or "throws/lays a foundation" with the assistance of his servant, Baruch

A. The author was "Jeremiah son of Hilkiah" (1)

B. Jeremiah was commanded to write down the words which the Lord had given to him (36:1-3)

C. Jeremiah used a scribe named Baruch the son of Neriah to write down his dictation (36:4)

D. The scroll was read before king Jehoiakim and destroyed by him, but another scroll was made through Baruch the son of Neraiah (36:32)23

E. It is probable that chapters 26--52 were appended to 1--25 by Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah, after his death24

III. THE LIFE OF JEREMIAH

A. Ministry under Josiah:

1. Jeremiah began his ministry at about age twenty in the thirteenth year of Josiah (626 B.C.)

2. He was of a priestly family (living in Anathoth25 about three miles NE of Jerusalem) and came to Jerusalem for the annual feasts

3. He may have been well off financially since he bought the estate of his bankrupt kinsman without difficulty

4. Josiah offered protection to Jeremiah and good relations

B. Ministry after Josiah's Death:

1. Jeremiah was persecuted by the rise of an idolatrous faction in Judah

2. Jeremiah was still protected some by god-fearing elders and princes after his messages against the nation in 7--10

3. When Jeremiah was forbidden to enter the temple precinct, he sent Baruch as his spokesman to proclaim prophecies which he dictated to him

4. King Jehoiakim destroyed Jeremiah's dictated prophecies

5. King Zedekiah allowed the nobles to arrest Jeremiah as a traitor urging the nation to submit to Babylon

6. King Zedekiah was also fearful of Jeremiah because of the fulfillment of his past prediction concerning the Chaldean invasion of 598 so he rescued him and kept him safely hidden until the fall of Jerusalem

C. Ministry after the Fall of Jerusalem:

1. Although Jeremiah was offered a place of honor by the Babylonians for urging the Jews to submit to them, he chose to stay with his people in Palestine and minister to those who remained after the deportation

2. After the murder of Gedaliah he was taken off to Egypt by fugitive, remnant Jews who refused to experience Nebuchadnezzar's reprisal

3. Jeremiah lived a few years in Egypt and then died there

IV. DATE: 627/26 until shortly after 586 [582?]

A. Jeremiah was commanded by God to write down all the words which He had spoken to him in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah (605 B.C.) 36:1-3

B. Jeremiah's call came in 627/26 B.C. two years after the young26 king Josiah reached the age of twenty (626 B.C.) and in the same year that Assyria's last great king, Ashurbanipal, died leading to the establishment of an independent Babylonian state which would grow to overtake Judah

C. After the death of Josiah his sons ended his religious reforms, plotted against Babylon and were finally defeated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

1. The second deportation occurred in 597 under Jehoiakim's rebellion; included in this deportation were Jehoiachin (Jehoiakim's son) and the prophet Ezekiel

2. The third deportation occurred in 586 under Zedekiah's rebellion with the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah prophesied between 597 and 586 that this further judgment was coming upon the people, but they refused to believe him and submit themselves to God's plan

D. Although Jeremiah was offered a place of honor by the Babylonians for urging the Jews to submit to them, he chose to stay with his people in Palestine and minister to those who remained after the deportation

After the murder of Gedaliah, Jeremiah was taken off to Egypt by fugitive, remnant Jews who refused to experience Nebuchadnezzar's reprisal

Jeremiah lived a few years in Egypt and then died there.

V. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND:27

A. Josiah brought about the final spiritual revival for Judah when he came to the throne in 622 B.C.

B. The Assyrian Empire Fell

1. The Assyrian power rose with Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser II (859-824 B.C.)

2. Tiglath-pileser III (Pul in the Scriptures) began a group of conquerors who took Syria and Palestine including Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C. who began the deportation of Samaria), Sargon II (722-705 B.C. who completed the deportation of Samaria), Sennacherib (704-581 B.C. who attacked king of Judah, Hezekiah [Josiah's father]), and Esarhaddon (681-669 B.C. who led campaigns against Egypt)

3. Esarhaddon's son, Ashurbanipal (669-631) ruled much of the upper Egyptian city of Thebes, but his decline and that of Assyria's soon followed

4. Nineveh, the capital, was destroyed in 612 B.C.

5. Assyria's army was defeated in 609 B.C. at Haran

6. What was left of Assyria's army went to Carchemish (just west of the Euphrates River and north of Aram)

C. The Neo-Babylonian Empire Arose

1. Merodach Baladan was a Chaldean and father of Nabopolassar and grandfather of Nebuchadnezzar. Merodach Baladan sent ambassadors to Hezekiah (Isa 39; 2 Ki 20:12-19)

2. In October 626 B.C. Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians outside of Babylon

3. In 616 B.C. Nabopolassar expanded his kingdom, and in 612 B.C. he joined with the Medes and destroyed Nineveh

D. A Realignment of Power in 609 B.C. and later

1. Judah: When Assyria fell and Babylon arose, Judah, under Josiah, removed itself from Assyria's control and existed as an autonomous state until 609 B.C. when it lost a battle with Egypt on the plain of Megiddo

2. Egypt:

a. Attempted to expand its presence into Palestine with Assyria's troubles

b. Egypt joined with Assyria to fight the Babylonians at Haran

1) Judah tried to stop Egypt's (Pharaoh Neco II) alliance but was defeated on the plain of Megiddo with the loss of their king, Josiah (cf. 2 Chron 35:20-24)

2) The Assyrians lost their battle with Babylon (even with the help of Egypt) and disappeared as a power in the world, and Egypt retreated to Carchemish as the dividing line between Egypt and Babylonian

3) Egypt ruled Judah:

a) Egypt (Necho) replaced Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, after three months with Jehoiakim (who was another son of Josiah) as a vassal king (2 Ki 23:34-35)

b) Egypt (Necho) plundered Judah's treasuries

c) Egypt (Necho) took Jehoahaz into captivity in Egypt

E. In 605 B.C. other changes of power occurred:

1. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish

2. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians rather than the Egyptians and became Nebuchadnezzar's vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1)

3. Nebuchadnezzar had to return to Babylon with the death of his father, Nebopolassar

4. Nebuchadnezzar solidified his rule by appointing vassal kings and taking hostages; Daniel was taken as a part of this deportation (Dan 1:1-6)

F. In 601 Egypt defeated the Babylonians

1. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, switched loyalty from Babylonia to the Egyptians (2 Ki 24:1)

2. On December of 598 Babylonia made an attack on Jerusalem leading to Jehoiakim's death and the surrender of the city by his successor, Jehoiachin, in March of 597

3. Nebuchadnezzar, replaced Jehoiachin after only three months of reign, deported him and 10,000 other leaders28 from the city, looted the city, and placed Zedekiah Judah's vassal king (cf. 2 Ki 24:12-16)

G. Zedekiah was a weak king who repeated the errors of those before him; he was convinced by Egypt to revolt with a coalition of other states (Tyre and Ammon) against Babylon (588 B.C. against the advise of Jeremiah) and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

H. Evil-merodach (Ewal Marduk) restored Jehoiachin on the 27th day of the 12th month of the 37th year of the captivity (506 B.C.; cf. 2 Ki 25:27)

VI. DATING JEREMIAH'S PROPHECIES:29

VII. MT and LXX

A. It is possible that an earlier edition of Jeremiah's written by Jeremiah was published in his lifetime in Egypt; this edition was 25% shorter than the MT and was used by the Septuagint30

B. The Masoretic Text seems to be based upon a larger, posthumous collection of Jeremiah's words which were compiled and rearranged in a more logical order (by Jeremiah's servant, Baruch?)31

C. The following table compares the MT with the LXX32

MT

LXX33

1:1--25:13

1:1--25:13

25:14--45:5

32:1--51:35

46:1--51:64

25:14--31:44

VIII. PURPOSES

A. To warn of impending judgment for Judah

B. To exhort people (and specifically Judah) to repentance and the obedience of YHWH's word

C. To precipitate judgment by confronting Judah's response to her final warnings and pleas for repentance

D. To predict, warn, and historically record the fall and hope of Jerusalem, as well as, its surrounding nations due to their disobedience to Yahweh's word


1 BAGD, s.v. "profhvth"", p. 723.

2 Ibid.

3 Hill and Walton seem to be correct in distinguishing the biblical concept of forthtelling from the common concept that a prophet foretells the future since a prophet only speaks God's plans and intentions, and since God's plans are not predictions so much as pre-stated certainties from the sovereign of all causation (A Survey of the Old Testament, pp. 314-315.

4 BDB, s.v." ayb!n* ", p. 661.

5 La Sor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, p. 298-299; R. K. Harrison, Introduction, pp. 741-742. See also Exodus 4:15ff; 7:1).

6 1 Samuel 9:9; Isa. 30:10; BDB, s.v. " ha#r) ", p. 909 meaning one who sees (perhaps a vision) from har.

7 La Sor, Old, p. 298.

8 Prophets were known in the Mari tablets of the eighteenth century B.C. and in the Neo-Assyrian Empire during the days of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal (681-633 B.C.) See Hill and Walton, A Survey, pp. 309-310.

9 Much of this information comes from Hill and Walton Survey, p. 311.

10 La Sor, Old, p. 300; See R. K. Harrison's extended discussion and bibliography, Introduction, pp. 752-754

11 The judgments were restatements of the covenant curses (Lev. 26; Deut. 27-28); YHWH would determine the time of the judgments as the Judge, and the judgments would be executed by foreign nations. Only through a New Covenant (Deut. 30; Jer. 31) could the nation be restored after they fell under judgment (Elliott E. Johnson, "Elements of Recognition", Dallas Theological Seminary, p. 53).

12 Some central passages which speak to this theme are found in the words of the prophet Isaiah (41:21-24; 43:10-13; 44:6-11; 45:20-21; 48:3-7.

Post-exilic prophets had the days when YHWH would complete his program ("latter days", or "those days") as a central focus (La Sor et al, Old, p. 304.

The Day of the LORD (Day of YHWH) would be the time when YHWH would consummate his judgment and blessing.

13 La Sor et al offers a complete list with central passages, Old, pp. 301-303.

14 These are Deborah, Samuel (although Samuel is transitional as the last of the judges and the first of the monarchical [pre-classical] prophets).

They were called prophets because: (1) they were chosen in order to received revelation, (2) Moses is the prototype of a prophet [Deut. 18:18; 34:10], (3) Samuel marked a time when prophecy resumed [1 Sam. 3:7-9]. See La Sor et al, Old, pp. 300-301.

15 These are scattered throughout the historical books including oracles by Nathan, Elijah, Elisha.

16 These are most commonly identified with the "writing" prophets from the eighth through fourth century B.C. primarily including those who wrote books (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Obed, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi).

17 Hill and Walton, A Survey, p. 311.

18 Jonah is unique because it does not contain a collection of prophetic oracles to the nation, but is narrative about the prophet.

19 Elliot E. Johnson, "Principle of Recognition", Class notes, Dallas Theological Seminary, p. 52.

20 Ibid.

21 Hill and Walton, A Survey, pp. 313-315.

22 The Divine Author would use the human author to communicate His message often with a reference beyond the conscious awareness of the human author.

This might be illustrated as follows: If I say to my daughter, "I don't love kisses from anyone as much as from you", there would be limits to my statement (e.g., it does not include my wife). Yet, If someone brings a child to me and says, "Did you mean more than Alice?", I would say, "Yes, even though I did not have Alice in mind when I made that statement, Alice does fit with what I have said." I am speaking as the "human author" here. But if my sayings were inspired, God would say, "Yes, and Alice is specifically whom I had in mind!"

Since the message is the Divine Author's message, there are at times references beyond (but not in conflict) with the human author's awareness.

23 Perhaps this was what is now commonly known as book I--Ten Messages of Judgment against Judah (1--25).

24 For discussions of those who question the prophet as author see LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 409-10; Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 370-72.

25 This was a priestly city given to the descendants of Aaron by Joshua (cf. Josh 21:15-19). Although Jeremiah was of a priestly line (like his contemporary Ezekiel (Ezk 1:3) and Zechariah (Zech 1:1; cf. Neh 12:1, 4, 16), we are never told that he entered the priesthood in Jerusalem.

26 LaSor et al suggest that Jeremiah was also probably young when he received his calling being born shortly after 650 B.C. (Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 404).

27 This was adapted from Charles H. Dyer, "Jeremiah," The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1125-27, and Homer Heater, Jr., "Notes on the Book of Jeremiah," unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990), 101-105.

28 Perhaps Ezekiel was one of those deported during this second deportation. He would have begun his prophetic ministry five years later.

29 The chart is from Charles H. Dyer, "Jeremiah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I:1126. Dyer notes three observations about these prophecies: (1) there is no chronological consistency, (2) Jeremiah's messages were given during difficult times of stress, upheaval, and need like during King Josiah's reforms (1--6; 11--12), during Nebuchadnezzar's rule (7-10; 14-20; 22:1-19; 26), the first and second deportations to Babylon, the plot to rebel against Babylon, and the final deportation to Babylon, (3) the book demonstrates multiple stages of growth. Concerning number three he writes, "That is, Jeremiah, at different stages of his ministry, collected his prophecies and rearranged them in a definite pattern (cf. 25:13; 30:2; 36:2, 32). Jeremiah could have completed the final form of chapters 1--51 after he was taken hostage to Egypt (cf. 51:64). But what about chapter 52? Jeremiah 52, nearly identical to 2 Kings 24:18--25:30, was written sometime after 561 B.C. when King Jehoiachin was released from prison in Babylon (Jer. 52:31). Apparently this last chapter was appended to Jeremiah's prophecies by the same writer who compiled the book of Kings. The chapter was added to show that Jeremiah's words of Judgment had been fulfilled and that Jehoiachin's release foreshadowed God's promises of restoration and blessing" (Charles H. Dyer, "Jeremiah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, I:1123-25).

30 Heater writes, "The LXX text of Jeremiah is one eighth shorter than the Hebrew text underlying our English translations. In addition there is somewhat of a different arrangement of material (e.g., the oracles against the nations are situated in a different place than in the MT). Qumran fragments support a reading unique to the LXX and lead to an inference that there was a Hebrew Vorlage (or underlying text) for the Greek translation. But we must stress that it is only an inference since all we have are a few fragments (4QJer). I believe we must deal with these differences as text critical problems (some want to talk about a developing canon, but canon speaks of the book, whereas textual criticism speaks of the changes in the text). See Homer Heater, Jr., "Notes on the Book of Jeremiah," unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990), 105.

31 Archer affirms, "In this connection, note that 36:32 indicates that a second preliminary edition was published in the reign of Jehoiakim, and it is therefore reasonable to assume that Jeremiah kept adding to these earlier sermons the messages the Lord gave him in the reign of Zedekiah and in the period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 370).

32 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 370.

33 LaSor et al affirm, " A likely explanation is the editors' desire to shape the book according to the patterns of Isa. 1--39 and Ezekiel: oracles of doom against Judah, oracles of doom against the nations, and oracles of hope for Judah. This stylized arrangement argues against priority of the LXX structure" (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, 410).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines