THE VERY REV. E.H. PLUMPTRE, D.D.,
Late Dean of Wells.
INTRODUCTIONTOTHE BOOK OF THE PROPHETJEREMIAH.I. Life.—The materials for a biography of Jeremiah are supplied in his collected writings with unusual fulness. We know more of his personal history than we do of that of Isaiah or Ezekiel, much more than of that of the minor prophets, who have left for the most part only a few chapters as the record of their work. With the help of inferences from acknowledged facts, and of a few fairly authenticated traditions, we are able to enter into the circumstances in the midst of which he worked, and into the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears, of which they were the occasion. Of him it may be said, more than of any other of the goodly fellowship of the prophets, that his whole life lies before us as in an open scroll.
THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET
It will be convenient to arrange the main facts of the history thus laid open to us under the reigns of the several kings with whom he was a contemporary.
1. UNDER JOSIAH (B.C. 638-608).—In the thirteenth year of this king the prophet speaks of himself as still “a child.” That word is, however, somewhat vague in its significance, extending from infancy, as in Exodus 2:6; 1 Samuel 4:21, to adult manhood, as in 1 Samuel 30:17; 1 Kings 3:7. All that it can be held to imply is that the prophet felt himself to be relatively young for the work to which he had been called, that he had not attained the average age of a prophet; and this, it may be inferred, was not far distant from that at which the Levites entered on their work, which varied, at different periods, from twenty to thirty (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 8:24; 1 Chronicles 23:3; 1 Chronicles 23:24). We may reasonably infer, then, from the way in which the prophet speaks of himself, that he was, at the time when he felt himself called to his high and perilous work, somewhere between twenty and twenty-five, i.e., that the first seven, or, it may be, the first twelve years of his life, were passed in the reigns of Manasseh and his son Amon.
He is described, further, as “being the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth” (Jeremiah 1:1). That name, it will be remembered, was borne by the high priest who played so prominent a part in Josiah’s reformation. (2 Kings 22:8.) There are, however, no sufficient grounds for identifying that Hilkiah with the father of the prophet. The manner in which the latter is named, without any mention of special dignity, is against it. The priests of Anathoth were of the line of Ithamar (1 Kings 2:26; 1 Chronicles 24:3), while the high priests, from Zadok downwards, were of the line of Eleazar. The identity of name may, however, be regarded as probably indicating some close connection of affinity or friendship. Other coincidences point in the same direction. The uncle of Jeremiah, Shallum (Jeremiah 32:7), bore the same name as the husband of Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings 22:14). Ahikam, the son of Shaphan, the great supporter of Hilkiah the high priest and Huldah in their work (2 Chronicles 34:20), was also throughout the protector of the prophet (Jeremiah 26:24). The strange Rabbinic tradition that eight of the persons most conspicuous in the history of this period (Jeremiah, Baruch, Seraiah, Maaseiah, Hilkiah, Hananeel, Huldah, Shallum) were all descended from the harlot Rahab (Carpzov, Introd. in lib. V.T. Jerem.) may possibly have been a distortion of the fact that the persons so named were united together, as by community of feeling, so also by affinity or friendship. With regard to two others of the number, we know that both Baruch and Seraiah, who appear as disciples of the prophet (Jeremiah 36:4; Jeremiah 51:59), were sons of Neriah, the son of Maaseiah, and that Maaseiah (2 Chronicles 34:8) was governor of Jerusalem, acting with Hilkiah, Huldah, and Shaphan in the reforms of Josiah.
With these facts we can picture to ourselves some of the influences which entered into Jeremiah’s education, and prepared the way for his prophetic mission. The name given to him by his father, with its significance as “Jehovah exalts,” or “is exalted.” or “Jehovah throws down” (the latter meaning resting on the more accurate etymology), may fairly be looked on as embodying what was contemplated and prayed for as the ideal of his life. It may be noted that the name was common at that time, e.g., in the case of the father of the wife of Josiah (2 Kings 23:31), and of one of the Rechabites (Jeremiah 35:3). That name may be thought of, accordingly, as not without its influence on the prophet’s early years. As he grew to boyhood he would hear of the cruelties and the apostasy of Manasseh and of Amon. For him, as for Isaiah, there would be a training in the law and literature of Israel, in whatever form it then existed, in Job, and Proverbs, and such of the Psalms and the writings of the earlier prophets as were then extant. The so-called Alphabetic Psalms (9, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145) may have helped to form the taste and style which afterwards displayed themselves in the alphabetic structure of the Lamentations. The writings of the greatest of his predecessors, Isaiah, at least, as far as Jeremiah 1-39 are concerned, could scarcely have been otherwise than familiar to him. His early manhood must have coincided with the earlier reforms of Josiah, whose life would seem to have run parallel with his own, each being apparently about the same age when the prophet received his call, Josiah having ascended the throne at the age of eight (2 Kings 22:1). The reverence with which he looks on the Rechabites, the fact that one of those Rechabites bears the same name (Jeremiah 35:3), the probability that one trained in the household of a devout priest would not be unmindful of the teaching of Isaiah (Isaiah 28:7) and Amos (Amos 2:11-12), as to the perils of wine and strong drink, make it probable that he too was one of the Nazarites to whom the latter prophet looked as the strength of Israel, and whom Jeremiah himself names with reverence and admiration (Lamentations 4:7). To such an outward consecration to an ascetic life, the words which speak of him as having been “sanctified from his mother’s womb” (Jeremiah 1:5) naturally seem to point. The child was to be the father of the man, the priestly Nazarite boy was already half-way on the road to a prophet’s work, was already, by God’s calling and election, “ordained a prophet unto the nations (Jeremiah 1:5).
In such a character, reminding us, in many of its features, of the young Timotheus, we find, as might be expected, the notes of the ascetic temperament. He is devout, sensitive, easily depressed and made self-distrustful, kindling all too easily into a bitter and angry indignation, gifted, in a special measure, with the gift of tears. The circumstances of his call imply a previous preparation, as did those of Isaiah’s. He had mourned over his people’s sins, and yearned to bear his witness against them; but then there came the question, which has been asked a thousand times by men of like character, Who is sufficient for these things? The burden of the task of being a prophet of the Lord seemed too heavy to be borne. The answer to this feeling came in the special call, neither to be ignored nor resisted, for the circumstances of which the reader is referred to the Notes on Jeremiah 1. His weakness was to be fortified with a strength higher than his own. As in the case of Isaiah, so also here, it would seem that the call was not followed by immediate prophetic action. Jeremiah is not named in the history of Josiah’s reformation, which he must have watched, however, with intense interest, not, perhaps, without some misgivings, like those which Isaiah had felt during the like work of Hezekiah, as to its reality and inward thoroughness. The prophet’s keen eye, in this as in other things, saw below the surface, and discerned that something more was wanted than the breaking down of idol sanctuaries, or the abolition of the worship of the high places. He looked in vain for the righteousness without which national restoration was impossible. It can scarcely be doubted, too, that he must have seen with some disquietude the foreign policy which led statesmen and people to seek safety, as their fathers had done, in an alliance with Egypt (Jeremiah 2:36). For Josiah personally, who, acting on a different policy, opposed that alliance, and fell in battle against Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29), he would naturally feel a warm and admiring affection, and it is probable that his first appearance as a writer was in the lamentations which he composed on that king’s death, but which are not now extant, their fame having apparently been overshadowed by the greater elegies that now bear that name. Possibly we may also refer to this period some of the earlier chapters of the prophet’s writings, which have the character of a general survey of the moral and religions condition of the people, and to which no specific date is assigned, as in the case of most of the later chapters.
2. UNDER JEHOAHAZ (OR SHALLUM).—The short reign of this king, who was chosen by the people on hearing of Josiah’s death, and deposed after three months by Pharaoh Necho, gave little scope for direct prophetic action. As representing an anti-Egyptian policy, and thus continuing in the line of action which Josiah had adopted, the prophet probably sympathised with and supported him, and the tone of respectful sorrow with which he speaks of him in his exile (Jeremiah 22:10), contrasts strikingly with the stern rebuke which he addresses to his successor (Jeremiah 22:13-19). It lies in the nature of the case, that most of those who were Jeremiah’s protectors in the reigns that followed—Shaphan, Ahikain, Maaseiah, and others—were supporters of his policy at this crisis.
3. UNDER JEHOIAKIM (B.C. 607-597).—The eleven years of this king’s reign were for the prophet a time of conspicuous activity. He found little ground for hope in the Egyptian alliance of which the king was the representative, still less in the self-indulgent and luxurious character of the king himself (Jeremiah 22:13-16), or in the priests and prophets, the Pashurs, Hananiahs, and the rest, who were dominant in his council and his court. For him the rising power of the Chaldæans under Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar was to be accepted, not only as inevitable, but as appointed for the punishment, and therefore for the education, of his people. The King of Babylon was God’s servant doing His work (Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 27:6). To resist him was to resist the ordinance of God. As he had foretold (Jeremiah 46), the short-lived triumph of Pharaoh Necho in the capture of Carchemish was followed by a crushing defeat, which placed Jehoiakim at the mercy of the Chaldaean king, and compelled him to renounce his dependence on the “broken reed” of Egypt, and to accept the position of a vassal king under Nebuchadnezzar. Some of the more striking incidents of this time of conflict call for a special notice. At the opening of Jehoiakim’s reign, the prophet foretells the desolation of the Temple. It should be laid waste, even as Shiloh had been (Jeremiah 26:6). Priests, prophets, people are enraged, and threaten him with death (Jeremiah 26:8), but are foiled by the influence of his lay protectors, who urge the precedent of a like prediction uttered by Micah in the days of Hezekiah, as an argument in his defence (Jeremiah 26:10-18). The fate of a contemporary prophet, Urijah, is recorded by him at this juncture, apparently as showing how narrow his own escape had been (Jeremiah 26:23). The catastrophe of Carchemish naturally led to a fuller utterance. He foretells the seventy years of the captivity (Jeremiah 25:11), and symbolically gives the cup of Jehovah’s wrath to all the nations which, one after another, were to fall under the Babylonian yoke, ending in predicting. under the cypher form of Sheshach, the fate of Babylon itself (Jeremiah 25:17-26). To this period, when the armies of the Chaldæans were driving those who lived in tents of villages to take refuge in Jerusalem, or other fortified cities, we must refer the interesting episode of the Rechabites in Jeremiah 35.
In the same year we have the first indication of the prophet’s work as the editor of his own prophecies. His secretary and disciple Baruch writes, as he dictates, a collection of his more striking prophecies, probably corresponding roughly with the earlier chapters of our present book. Jeremiah himself was hindered, we know not how, whether by illness or by prudence, from appearing in public, but Baruch solemnly read what he had written in the crowded courts of the Temple. Once again priests and prophets were stirred to wrath. The matter came to the ears of the king, who, in his impotent anger, burnt the parchment roll, in spite of the protest of Jeremiah’s friends. Orders were given to arrest the prophet and the scribe; but they again escaped, and re-wrote all that had been destroyed with many like words (Jeremiah 36). The contrasted characters of the two friends—one seeking great things for himself, eager to play a prominent part in the history of the time, the other content, and wishing to make his disciple content, if his life was “given him for a prey”—come out in the interesting episode of Jeremiah 45, which belongs probably to this period.
To this reign we may also probably refer the symbolic teaching which was presented in a somewhat startling form, when Jeremiah, having first been directed to learn the lesson of the potter’s work as a parable of God’s teaching with the nations of the world (Jeremiah 18), was afterwards told to go to the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and to warn king and people of the destruction that was coming upon them by breaking in their presence the potter’s vessel, which was condemned as worthless (Jeremiah 19). This was followed by another outburst of malignant rage on the part of Pashur the priest, from which this time the prophet did not escape. The painful and ignominious punishment of the stocks entered into his soul, and called forth a burst at once of denunciation and passionate despair which, except in Psalms 69, 109, has scarcely a parallel in the literature of the Old Testament (Jeremiah 20).
If we accept the received text and the literal interpretation of Jeremiah 13:1-11, we have to assign to this period of Jeremiah’s life the two journeys to Euphrates which are there narrated. Such journeys were not in the nature of the case improbable. Jonah, and probably Nahum, had already found their way to Nineveh (Jonah 3:3). Manasseh and other members of his royal household had been taken to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11). Over and above the symbolism of the narrative there may have been a personal motive connected with such a journey, the desire to do what he could for his country’s welfare by becoming acquainted with its destined conquerors. Possibly we may trace the special orders which were given by Nebuchadnezzar for his protection (Jeremiah 39:11) to the acquaintance thus begun. If we might assign the visits to a period after the first deportation of Jewish captives to Babylon in the third year of Jehoiakim (Daniel 1:1), we might connect them with the desire to watch over the fortunes of the exiles, and to renew his intercourse with the prophet who was settled with his companions on the banks of Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1), or with Daniel and his friends in the court at Babylon. The fact that the former prophet was with him at Jerusalem during great part of the reign of Jehoiakim, and that his teaching shows many traces of Jeremiah’s influence (comp. in particular Ezekiel 18:2 and Jeremiah 31:29), may, at all events, be noted as throwing light upon the surroundings of the latter’s life, and on the influence which he exercised over his contemporaries.
4. UNDER JEHOIACHIN (B.C. 597).—The short three months’ reign of this king witnessed the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s predictions, in the captivity first of his predecessor, and then of Jehoiachin himself, together with all the officers of their courts and the wealthier part of the population. We may infer, from the fact of his being deposed by Nebuchadnezzar, that he was led by his counsellors (he himself was a mere boy) to enter into intrigues against the Chaldaean sovereignty; and the tone in which Jeremiah speaks of him (Jeremiah 22:24-30) implies that he and the queen-mother—probably the master-mind of the policy of the court (2 Kings 24:15)—were disposed to reject his counsels. In him and in his childless age the prophet saw the close of the dynasty, in the direct line of succession, of the house of David. It is noticeable that Jeremiah, though a priest, escaped the doom of exile which probably fell on his friend and disciple Ezekiel, and the difference in their fortunes may be traced without much risk of error to the prominent part which the former had taken from first to last as counselling subjection, possibly to the personal favour with which he was already regarded by the Chaldæan rulers. The effect of the separation must, however, have added to his sense of loneliness. Not a few of his friends and protectors must have shared in the captivity. He had to fight the battle of his life during his remaining years more single-handed than before.
5. UNDER ZEDEKIAH (B.C. 597-586).—As might be expected from the fact that he had been appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, as likely to be a more submissive vassal than his predecessors, appointed possibly with Jeremiah’s approval, the prophet receives at the hands of this prince, on the whole, a better treatment than at those of his predecessors. The king respects him, keeps his counsel, endeavours to protect him (Jeremiah 37:3-17; Jeremiah 38:16). The very name which he adopted on his accession to the throne, “Righteous is Jah,” or “Jehovah” (2 Kings 24:18), seems to have been intended to identify him with the acceptance of the prophet’s teaching that in “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6) was to be found the archetype and the source of all righteous government. The king, however, was weak and vacillating. The prophet felt keenly that only the most worthless remnant of the people, the “vile figs” of the crop, were left in Judah (Jeremiah 24:5-8). It was to the other remnant in the exile of Babylon that he turned with words of counsel in the letter, which more than any other Old Testament document seems to foreshadow the epistles of the New (Jeremiah 29). Even there also, however, there were false prophets, among whom Zedekiah, Ahab, and Shemaiah were conspicuous, who spoke of him as a “madman” (Jeremiah 29:26), and urged the priests at Jerusalem to more active measures of persecution, not knowing that they were thus drawing upon themselves a quick and terrible retribution.
Soon matters came to a crisis. The apparent revival of the power of Egypt under Apries (the Pharaoh-hophra of Jeremiah 44:30) raised false hopes in the minds of Zedekiah and his advisers, and drew Judah and the neighbouring nations into projects of revolt (Jeremiah 37:5). The clearness with which Jeremiah foresaw the ultimate destruction of Babylon, made him all the more certain that it was not to come at once or through the intervention of Egypt. He appeared in the streets of Jerusalem with bonds and yokes upon his neck, announcing that they were meant for Judah and its cities (Jeremiah 27:2). The false prophet Hananiah, who broke the offensive symbols, and predicted the destruction of the power of Babylon within two years, learnt that a yoke of iron was upon the neck of all the nations, and died himself while it was still pressing heavily on Judah (Jeremiah 28:3-17). The approach of an Egyptian army, however, and the consequent departure of the Chaldæans, made the position of Jeremiah full of danger, and he sought to effect his escape from a city in which he seemed powerless for good, and to take refuge in his own town of Anathoth (Jeremiah 37:12), the men of that city who had sought his life (Jeremiah 11:21) having probably been taken into exile after the first Chaldæan invasion. The discovery of this plan led not unnaturally to the charge of desertion. He was arrested, as “falling away to the Chaldæans,” as others were doing (Jeremiah 37:14), and, in spite of his denial, was thrown into a dungeon (Jeremiah 37:16). The interposition of the king, who still respected and consulted him, led to some mitigation of the rigours of his confinement (Jeremiah 37:21); but as this milder treatment left him able to speak to the people, the princes of Judah, bent on the Egyptian alliance, and counting on the king’s being unable to resist them, threw him into the prison-pit, and would have left him to die there in its foulness (Jeremiah 38:6). From this horrible fate he was delivered by the kindness of the Ethiopian eunuch, Ebed-Melech, and the king’s lingering regard for him, and was restored to the milder custody in the king’s house where Baruch and other friends could visit him (Jeremiah 32:16). The king himself sent Pashur (not the one already named) and Zephaniah, both, it would appear, friendly to the prophet (Jeremiah 29:29), to consult him. The prophet, as if touched by this humility, speaks to the king in gentler terms. Exile is inevitable, but he shall at least “die in peace,” and receive, in marked contrast with Jehoiakim, an honourable burial (Jeremiah 34:3-5). At no period of his life is the prophet truer to his calling. He had before to fight against false hopes of liberation. He has now to contend against the despair which made men lose all faith in the promises of God and in their own future. That danger the prophet was taught to meet in the most effectual way. With a confidence in that future which has been compared to that of the Roman who bought at its full value the very ground on which the forces of Hannibal were encamped (Livy xxvi. 11), he too bought, with all requisite formalities, the field at Anathoth, which his kinsman Hanameel wished to get rid of (Jeremiah 32:6-9), and proclaimed not only that “fields and vineyards should again be possessed in the lands,” but that the “voice of gladness” should once more be heard there, and that under “the Lord our Righteousness” the house of David and the priests the Levites should never be without representatives (Jeremiah 33:21-26). To this period also we may assign the prophecy of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31), which was destined to have so marvellous a fulfilment, and which has fashioned, under the teaching of Him who came to be the Mediator of that covenant, the faith and the terminology of Christendom. His influence may also be traced in the renewal of the national covenant with Jehovah (Jeremiah 34:18-19), princes, priests, and people walking in procession between the two parts of the sacrifice (Jeremiah 34:19), and in the proclamation of liberty to the Hebrew servants and handmaids whom the oppression of the rich had brought into bondage (Jeremiah 34:9-14). The reformation thus effected was, however, only on the surface. Covenant and proclamation were alike disregarded. The law of the Sabbatic year was set at nought as that of the Sabbath day had been before (Jeremiah 17:21-27). The cup of iniquity was full, and the judgment came. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, and it was exposed to all the horrors of famine (Lamentations 2:12; Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:9). At last the city was taken, and the Temple burnt. The king and his princes endeavoured to escape, but were taken prisoners in the plains of Jericho. Zedekiah had to see his children slain before his eyes, and, as if that were to be the last sight he was to look upon, was afterwards blinded, and taken, as Jehoiachin had been, to pass the remainder of his days as a prisoner at Babylon (Jeremiah 52:10-11).
6. AFTER THE CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM (B.C. 586—?)—The prophet and his protectors, who had all along counselled submission to the king of Babylon, had now the prospect of better treatment than their fellows. A special charge was given to Nebuzar-adan to protect the person of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:11), and after being carried to Ramah with the crowd of prisoners, he was set free, and offered his choice whether he would go to Babylon with the prospect of rising, as Daniel and his friends had risen, to an honourable position in the king’s court, or remain under the protection of Gedaliah, the son of his steadfast friend Ahikam, who had been appointed governor over the cities of Judah (Jeremiah 40:1-5). The prophet’s love for his people led him to choose the latter alternative, and the Chaldæan commander “gave him a reward,” and set him free. Then followed a short interval of peace, soon broken, however, by the murder of Gedaliah by Ishmael and his confederates. We are left to conjecture how the prophet himself escaped with life, but the fulness of his narrative of these events leads to the conclusion that he was among the captives whom Ishmael carried off to the Ammonites, and who were released by the intervention of Johanan (Jeremiah 41). Jeremiah was thus deprived of one of his most valued friends, but Baruch was still with him, and it is significant that the people turned to him for counsel. They wanted, it would seem, his sanction to the foregone conclusion that their only chance of escaping the punishment, likely enough to be indiscriminate, which the Chaldæans would exact for the murder of Gedaliah, was in an immediate flight to Egypt (Jeremiah 42:14). That sanction he refused, at the risk of bringing on himself and Baruch the old charge of treachery (Jeremiah 43:3), but the people, bent on following their own plans, forced him and his disciple to accompany them to Tahpanhes. There we have the last recorded scene of the prophet’s life. He once more rebukes the people vehemently for their multiplied idolatries, among which the worship of the Queen of Heaven had been the most conspicuous (Jeremiah 44), does not shrink from again speaking of Nebuchadnezzar as “the servant of Jehovah” (Jeremiah 43:10), and foretells that he will conquer Egypt as he had conquered Judah. After all this all is uncertain. If we were to accept Jeremiah 52 as the work of the prophet, we should have to think of him as living for twenty-six years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Probabilities are, however, against this conclusion, and there is greater likelihood on the side of the tradition, reported by Tertullian (adv. Gnost. c. 8), Jerome (adv. Jovin. ii. 37), and others, that he was stoned to death at Tahpanhes by the Jews whom he had provoked by his rebukes. Most commentators on the New Testament see a reference to this in Hebrews 11:37, just as they refer the words “were sawn asunder to the martyrdom of Isaiah. An Alexandrian tradition reported that his bones were brought to that city by Alexander the Great (Chron. Pasch, p. 156, ed. Dindorf), and up to the eighteenth century travellers were told that he was buried near the pyramid of Ghizeh (Lucas, Travels in the Levant, p. 28). On the other hand, there is the Jewish statement (quoted in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible), that he and Baruch escaped to Babylon or Judaea, and died there in peace. Josephus is silent as to his fate. Other traditions have, at least, the interest of showing the impression which Jeremiah’s work and life left on later generations. His prophecy of the seventy years’ exile, which had at first been full of terror, came to be a ground of hope (Jeremiah 25:11; Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:21). The fulfilment of that prophecy probably impressed itself on the mind of Cyrus. On the return from Babylon his writings were received, probably under Ezra or the scribes of the Great Synagogue, among the sacred books of Israel, and in the Babylonian recension they, and not those of Isaiah, took the foremost place in the company of the prophets, Ezekiel coming between the two. The Jewish saying “that the Spirit of Jeremiah dwelt in Zechariah” bears witness to the influence which the one prophet was believed to have exercised on the mind of the other. The fulfilment of his prediction of the return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity led to his being regarded, so to speak, as the patron saint of his country. It was believed that he had taken the tabernacle and the ark and the altar of incense, and had concealed them in a cave on Mount Nebo till the time when God should gather His people together once again (2 Maccabees 2:1-8). He appeared to Judas Maccabeus as “a man with gray hairs and exceeding glorious,” as one who “prayed much for the holy city,” and gave the hero a “golden sword” with which to “fight the battles of the Lord” (2 Maccabees 15:13-16). He is recognised as having a chief place among the prophets of Israel, sanctified from his mother’s womb (Ecclesiasticus 49:6-7). His authority is claimed for an apocryphal letter to the captives of Babylon, containing a long polemic against the follies of idolatry (Baruch 6). At a later period his name was attached, as in Matthew 27:9, to prophecies from another book in the sacred canon, either as having been their original author, or in the belief that he was the representative of all the prophets of the captivity. In the time of our Lord’s ministry, his re-appearance was expected, like that of Elijah, to prepare the way for the Christ. Some said of Jesus of Nazareth that He was “Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14). Probably he was “that prophet” referred to in John 1:21. The belief that he was the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18, has been held by later Jewish commentators (Abarbanel, in Carpzov, Introd. in V. T. Jerem). The traditions as to his re-appearance lingered even in the Christian Church, and appeared in the belief that he was one of the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3 (Victorinus, in loc.). Yet wilder forms of legends were found in Egypt. It was he who had foretold that the idols of that country should one day fall to the ground, at the presence of the “Virgin and her child. He had played the part of a St. Patrick, and had delivered the region of the Delta of the Nile, where he dwelt, from serpents (Epiphan. de Vit., proph. op. ii. p. 239). He had returned from Egypt to Jerusalem, and had lived there for three hundred years (D’Herbelot, Bibl. Orient., p. 499). The narrative of his sufferings was expanded into a history like that of a Christian martyrdom (Eusebius, Praep. Evang. ix. 39).
II. Character and Style.—In the popular description of Jeremiah as the “weeping prophet,” in the form in which Michael Angelo has portrayed him in the Sistine Chapel, as brooding, with downcast eyes, in sorrowful meditation, we have a true conception of the prophet’s character and life. Of all the prophets of the Old Testament, he would seem to have had the hardest lot of suffering. He was pre-eminently “the man who had seen affliction:” “no sorrow was like unto his sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 3:1). His whole life was spent in what seemed a fruitless strife with the evils of his time. Cassandra-like, he had to utter warnings which were disregarded. Like Phocion, in the history of Athens, he had to counsel submission to an alien conqueror, and to incur the reproach of being treacherous and faint-hearted. Had the horizon of his hopes been that of his own times only, his heart must have shrunk back into despair. That which sustained him was the inextinguishable hope, which he had inherited from Isaiah, of the kingdom of God, the restoration of the true Israel of God, the new and better Covenant, the faith in “the Lord our Righteousness.” In his loneliness and his sorrows, in his susceptibility to intensest suffering and keenest indignation, his nearest parallel in the history of literature may, perhaps, be found in Dante. In him, at all events, the great Florentine found one of the founts of his inspiration, quotes him again and again, both in his poetry and his prose writings, and borrows from him the opening symbolism of the Divina Commedia. (Comp. Jeremiah 5:6 with Dante’s Inferno, c. i.)
To associate the name of Jeremiah with other portions of the Old Testament than those which bear his name, is to pass from the region of history into that of conjecture; but the fact that some commentators (e.g., Hitzig) assign not less than thirty Psalms to his authorship (sc., Psalms 5, 6, 14, 22-41, 52-55, 69-71), indicates at least what were the hymns in his national literature with which he had most affinity, and which exercised most influence on his thoughts and language. The hypothesis of some later critics (e.g., Bunsen, God in History, b. ii. c. 2), who assign the second part of Isaiah to the time of the exile, and to the authorship of Baruch, that Jeremiah was the Servant of the Lord, who is there conspicuous, has a like suggestiveness. Reference to others of the earlier books of the Old Testament canon show parallelisms with the Law, a special prominence being given to Deuteronomy, as, e.g.—
Comp. Jeremiah 11:3-5 with Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 7:12; Deuteronomy 27:26.
Comp. Jeremiah 34:14 with Deuteronomy 15:12
Comp. Jeremiah 32:18 with Exodus 20:6
Comp. Jeremiah 32:21 with Exodus 6:6,
with Job (comp. Job 3 with Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:14), with both parts of Isaiah.
Comp. Isaiah 4:2; Isaiah 11:1 with Jeremiah 33:15
Comp. Isaiah 40:19-20 with Jeremiah 10:3-5
Comp. Isaiah 42:16 with Jeremiah 31:9
Comp. Isaiah 13, 47 with Jeremiah 50, 51.
and with the earlier prophets.
The style of Jeremiah, if less conspicuous for its loftiness and majesty than that of Job or Isaiah, has yet a passionate intensity, a vividness of imagery, a capacity for invective or for pathos, which are not surpassed and scarcely equalled elsewhere, in this also reminding us of Dante. It was characteristic both of the man and of the time that this passionate temperament welcomed, when it uttered itself in the Lamentations, the artificial restraints of the alphabetic arrangement which had appeared before in some of the Psalms, and seems to have been a fashion of the times. (See Introduction to Lamentations.) Connected, perhaps, with this, as concentrating attention upon the alphabet and its possible uses, is Jeremiah’s use of a peculiar cypher writing, the use of an inverted alphabet, known among the later Jews as the Atbash (A standing for T, and B for SH), by which the Sheshach of Jeremiah 25:26 became for the initiated the symbol of Babylon; and the Hebrew letters of “in the midst of those who rise up against’ me” of Jeremiah 51:1, was equivalent to “the Chaldæans,” which accordingly takes its place in the LXX. version.
III. Arrangement.—It is a noticeable fact, as throwing light upon the chances to which even the writings of a prophet may be subject, that the order of the LXX. version of the greater part of Jeremiah is altogether different from that of the Hebrew. Up to Jeremiah 25:13 they agree. From that point onward to the end of Jeremiah 51 the divergency may be presented as follows :—
Jeremiah 27, 28.
It is obvious that the Alexandrian translators must have had before them a MS., or, more probably, a mass of MSS., arranged by them, or for them, in a different order from that adopted by the scribes of Judaea, to whom we owe our present Hebrew recension. It is a natural inference from this (1) that the prophet’s writings were left by him in a scattered, unarranged state, in the hands of his disciples, Baruch and others, and that two of these, or some later scribes, thought fit to arrange them in a different order. It was, so to speak, as if the sermons of an eminent preacher in later times had come to us as they were found in his drawers, unsorted. (2) That the large sections in which the order is the same in Jeremiah 1:1 to Jeremiah 25:13 (Heb.), and Jeremiah 26-45 (Heb.) represent two collections, which contained the chief prophecies that were connected with the prophet’s work in relation to Judah, while the others, bearing chiefly on the heathen nations, were left in a less continuous form, and were arranged by the two editors at their discretion.
It is to be noted that in neither case is the arrangement chronological. To read the prophet’s writings in the order of time, either as regards the facts to which they refer, or the date of their composition, we must adopt an arrangement different from both of those which are now before us. In regard to some of the sections where we have a definite note of time, specifying, if not the exact year, at least the reign to which they of right belong, the task is comparatively easy. In regard to the others, we are in the wider, and therefore more difficult, field of conjecture. Taking the dates given in the Authorised version as approximately right, the following gives the order in which Jeremiah’s prophecies ought to be read in connection with his life, and which has been practically followed in the preceding biography :—
… Jeremiah 1, 2, 3 (probably written later).
… Jeremiah 3-6
… Jeremiah 22, 26
… Jeremiah 11, 12
… Jeremiah 35, 45
… Jeremiah 25, 30, 31
… Jeremiah 18, 19, 20
… Jeremiah 13
… Jeremiah 14, 15, 16, 17
… Jeremiah 7, 8, 9, 10, 47, 48
… Jeremiah 23, 29
… Jeremiah 24, 26, 27 (Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 27:1 is clearly an error of transcription for Zedekiah).
… Jeremiah 28
… Jeremiah 50, 51
… Jeremiah 34
… Jeremiah 32, 33
… Jeremiah 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44
… Jeremiah 21, 37, 38
… Jeremiah 44
… Jeremiah 52 Appendix and historical summary.
The wide divergency of this order from that of either of the two recensions that have come down is not without its teaching (1) as showing that during the length of time over which the prophet’s work was spread but little care was taken by him to provide for their transmission in any definite order. Like a true prophet, he did his work for his own generation, thinking little of himself and his after-fame. Like the Sibyl of classical antiquity, he gave his writings, as it were, to the winds, careless of their fate, and left it to others, through his long career, to collect, copy, and arrange them as they could. (2) As suggesting the probability that what happened in his case may have befallen the writings of other prophets also, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, whose labours were spread over a considerable period of time; and, consequently, as leaving it open to us to deal freely with the order in which we find them, so as to connect them, as we best can, with the successive stages of the prophet’s life.
It need not be inferred, however, from this chronological dislocation, that the order of the chapters in the Hebrew, and, therefore, in the English version, is altogether without a plan. The following scheme gives, it is believed, an adequate explanation of the principles on which the Palestine editor may have acted :—
1. Jeremiah 1-21—Containing probably the substance of the book of Jeremiah 36:32, and including prophecies from the thirteenth year of Josiah (with a long interval of silence) to the fourth year of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah 1:3, however, indicates a later revision, and the whole of Jeremiah 1 may have been added as the prophet’s retrospect of his whole work from this its first beginning. Jeremiah 21 belongs to a later period, but may have been placed here, as connected by the recurrence of the name of Pashur with Jeremiah 20.
2. Jeremiah 22-25—Short prophecies against the kings of Judah and the false prophets. Jeremiah 25:13-14, evidently marks the conclusion of a series, and that which follows (Jeremiah 25:15-38), the germ of the fuller predictions of Jeremiah 46-49, has apparently been placed here, as a completion to that of the seventy years of exile.
3. Jeremiah 26-28—The two great prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 26 belongs to the earlier, Jeremiah 27, 28 to the later portion of the prophet’s work.
4. Jeremiah 29-31—The message of comfort to exiles in Babylon.
5. Jeremiah 32-44—The history of Jeremiah’s work immediately before and after the capture of Jerusalem. Jeremiah 35, 36 are remarkable as interrupting the chronological order, which would otherwise have been followed here more closely than elsewhere. The position of Jeremiah 45 as an isolated fragment, suggests that it may have been added by Baruch at the close of his narrative of his master’s life.
6. Jeremiah 46-51—The prophecies against foreign nations, ending with the great utterance against Babylon.
7. Jeremiah 52—Historical appendix.
IV. Text and Authenticity.—Over and above the variations in order, the LXX. presents some noticeable variations and omissions, which have led some critics to reject some portions of the present Hebrew text as being probably interpolations. Other passages have been questioned on grounds more or less subjective as prophecies after the event, or for other reasons. The limits of this Introduction will not admit of a full description of each portion, but a statement of the objections will, in the one case, direct attention to some striking variations, and in the other, in some instances at least, to parallelisms of some interest. To the present writer, who holds (1) that there are antecedent probabilities in favour of the Hebrew text as compared with the Greek, and (2) that the inspiration of the prophet implies, at least the possibility of a prediction before the event, neither ground of objection seems conclusive.
(a) Questioned, as omitted in the LXX.
-1Jeremiah 10:6-8; Jeremiah 10:10.
-3Jeremiah 27:16-21 (not omitted, but with many variations).
(b) Questioned on other grounds.
-1Jeremiah 10:1-16.—On being the work of a later writer, probably the so-called Deutero-Isaiah. The Aramaic of verse 11 is urged in favour of this view.
-5Jeremiah 39:1-2; Jeremiah 39:4-13.
as having the character of prophecies after the event.
(6) Jeremiah 27-29—As showing, in the shortened form of the name (Jeremiah instead of Jeremiahu), and in the epithet “the prophet,” the work of a later writer.
(7) Jeremiah 30-33—As showing the influence of the Deutero-Isaiah.
(8) Jeremiah 48, for the same reason as (7).
(9) Jeremiah 50, 51.—As being a prophecy after the event, foreign in style and thought to Jeremiah’s writings.
(10) Jeremiah 52—As an historical summary compiled from 2 Kings 25 and other sources by the editor of the collection.
In the notes that follow I have been mainly indebted to Ewald, Hitzig, and Keil, and to the notes on Jeremiah by Dr. Payne Smith in the Speaker’s Commentary, and those by Nägelsbach in Lange’s Commentary, edited by Dr. Philip Schaff. The Introduction is mainly based upon an article on Jeremiah which I contributed to Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, and on the very able dissertation by Nagelsbach in the Commentary just named.
Jeremiah 1:1The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:I.
(1-3) The first three verses contain the title prefixed to the collection of prophecies by some later editor. This title would seem, from its unusual fulness, to have received one or more additions—Jeremiah 1:1 giving the general title, Jeremiah 1:2 the commencement of Jeremiah’s prophetic work, Jeremiah 1:3 the period of his chief activity and its conclusion. Strictly speaking, indeed, we see from the book itself that his work continued after the beginning of the captivity.
The words of Jeremiah.—The more usual title of prophetic books is “the word of the Lord by the prophet,” but the title of Amos (Amos 1:1) is in the same form as this. The Hebrew for “words” has a somewhat wider connotation than the English, and is translated “acts” in 1 Kings 11:41; 2 Chronicles 33:18.
Hilkiah.—Possibly the high priest of that name (2 Kings 22:4; 2 Kings 23:4). See Introduction.
Anathoth.—In the tribe of Benjamin, one of the cities assigned to the priests, apparently to the house of Ithamar, to which Abiathar belonged (1 Kings 2:26; Joshua 21:18; 1 Chronicles 6:60).
That were in Anathoth.—There is no verb in the Hebrew, and the description belongs to Jeremiah individually, not to the priests.
I sanctified thee.—i.e., consecrated thee, set thee apart as hallowed for this special use.
Ordained.—Better, I have appointed, without the conjunction, this verb referring to the manifestation in time of the eternal purpose.
Unto the nations.—i.e., to the outlying Gentile nations. This was the distinguishing characteristic of Jeremiah’s work. Other prophets were sent to Israel and Judah, with occasional parentheses of prophecies that affected the Gentiles. The horizon of Jeremiah was to extend more widely. In part his work was to make them drink of the cup of the Lord’s fury (Jeremiah 25:15-17); but in part also he was a witness to them of a brighter future (Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:39). It is as though he had drunk in the Spirit of Isaiah, and thought of the true prophet as one who was to be a light of the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6).
In this way, seemingly abrupt, yet probably following on a long process of divine education, was the youthful Jeremiah taught that he was to act a part specially appointed for him in the drama of his nation’s history. He could not see a chance in the guidance that had led him thus far. The call that now came to him so clearly was not the echo of his own thoughts. All his life from infancy had been as that of one consecrated to a special work. Could he stop there? Must he not, like St. Paul, think of the divine purpose as prior to the very germ of his existence? (Galatians 1:15.)
I cannot speak.—In the same sense as the “I am not eloquent” of Moses (Exodus 4:10), literally, “a man of words,” i.e., have no gifts of utterance.
I am a child.—Later Jewish writers fix the age of fourteen as that up to which the term rendered “child” might be used. With Jeremiah it was probably more indefinite, and in the intense consciousness of his own weakness he would naturally use a word below the actual standard of his age; and there is accordingly nothing against assuming any age within the third hebdomad of life. In Genesis 34:19 it is used of a young man old enough for marriage. The words are memorable as striking a note common to the lives of many prophets; common, also, we may add, to most men as they feel themselves called to any great work. So Moses draws back: “I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10). So Isaiah cries, “Woe is me! for . . . I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5); and Peter, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Something of the same shrinking is implied in St. Paul’s command to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12). In tracing the whole course of Jeremiah’s work, we must never forget the divine constraint by which he entered on them. A necessity was laid upon him, as afterwards on St. Paul (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The poetry of the symbols is of exquisite beauty. In contrast to the words of terror, in harmony with the words of hope, he sees the almond-bough, with its bright pink blossoms and its pale green leaves, the token of an early spring rising out of the dreariness of winter. The name of the almond-tree (here the poetical, not the common, name) made the symbol yet more expressive. It was the watcher, the tree that “hastens to awake” (shâkêd) out of its wintry sleep, and thus expresses the divine haste which would not without cause delay the fulfilment of its gracious promise, but would, as it were, make it bud and blossom, and bear fruit.
All the families of the kingdoms of the north.—In the Hebrew the words are in apposition, all the families, even the kingdoms of the north. The words point chiefly to the Chaldæans and other inhabitants of Babylonia, but may probably include also the Scythians, who about this time spread like a deluge over Asia Minor and Syria, and penetrated as far as Ascalou (Herod. i. 105).
They shall set every one his throne.—i.e., shall usurp the administration of justice, and set up their thrones of judgment in the space near the gates in which kings usually sat to hear complaints and decide causes (2 Samuel 15:2; Psalm 127:5). In Jeremiah 39:3 we have a literal fulfilment of the prediction.
Against all the walls.—As the previous words speak of a formal usurpation of power, so do these of invasion and attack, the storming of the lesser cities of Judah, while Jerusalem became the centre of the foreign government.
Who have forsaken.—The remainder of the verse gives, as it were, the formal enumeration of the crimes for which Judah was condemned: (1) Apostacy from the true God; (2) the transfer of adoration to other Gods, such as Baal, Ashtaroth, and the Queen of Heaven; sins against the First Commandment; (3) the worship of graven images; a sin against the Second. The sins were of long standing, but the words point specially to the proportions they had assumed in the reign of Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-7).
Be not dismayed.—The repeated calls to courage appear to indicate—like St. Paul’s exhortations to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 6:13; 2 Timothy 2:3)—a constitutional timidity. We must remember, as some excuse for this, that the reign of Manasseh had shown that the work of the prophet might easily lead to the fate of the martyr (2 Kings 21:16). Even Ezekiel, among the remnant of exiles on the banks of Chebar, needed a like encouragement (Ezekiel 2:6).
Lest I confound thee.—The Hebrew emphasises the command by repeating the same words: Be not dismayed, lest I dismay thee.