This post is a part of a read-through series where I am reading through biblical and extra-biblical literature based on a couple of timelines I compiled. If you would like to join me on this journey the timelines are available, as well as my prior posts, which give slight historical background, a literary synopsis, and interesting observations for each text.
The book of Jeremiah is a massive work of ancient literature. The final form of the text was compiled in the middle of the 6th century BCE after the destruction of Jerusalem’s wall and temple in 586 BCE at the hands of the Babylonians. Jeremiah was from a family in the priestly caste and grew up just south of Jerusalem. He did not want to be a prophet who preached the doom of Jerusalem. Because of this he challenged God’s goodness and even tried to keep silent about the messages God gave to him. Eventually, after years of obedience to God in preaching, Jeremiah recognizes the people of Jerusalem simply reject the teachings of God and he accepts that God must punish the people of God to teach them, discipline them, and purify Israel.
There is a lot to the book of Jeremiah. Much more than I am able to provide in an overview synopsis. For a more in-depth study of the Jeremiah text I recommend James E. Smith’s The Major Prophets. Smith provides an affordable and worthwhile overview of major themes and sections of Jeremiah that balances academic rigor while making the information accessible enough for preachers and Sunday school teachers.
Below are the twelves themes from Jeremiah that presented themselves to me in the most interesting ways. The references below are by no means extensive enough to be comprehensive of all the interconnections to other Old Testament texts or even internally in Jeremiah. These texts are simply examples that express the observation I am making.
- The mercy that God offers to his people is not passively received but must be intentionally seized upon. The gratuity of God’s action is that he offers us this gift of salvation at all.
- There are texts that deliberately prioritize the Babylonian exiles over the Jews left in Jerusalem. Those Jews left behind by the Babylonians to care for the land ended up abandoning the land, even as Jeremiah told them not to, and went to Alexandria.
- There are a plethora of similarities and allusions to earlier prophetic texts. Such as Nahum’s depiction of nations shamed as female genitalia made public and like a whore in 13:26-27. Joel’s image of the nations as locusts in 46:23 and (with Nahum) lions in 50:17. Habakkuk’s representation of the nations as wilderness in chapter 17. There is a parallel to Zephaniah’s use of human sacrifice in chapter 46:7-12. Jeremiah 23:14 and 50:40 references Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning of utter, divine destruction just as Nahum used them, but Jeremiah adds that the cities are condemned on account of their sexual sin of adultery and their empty life of selfishness and lies. Lastly, we find an interesting quotation from the book of Micah in 26:18.
- Jeremiah 10:11-15 and 16:14-21 continues the prophetic theme introduced by Habakkuk that idols are empty things without value to worship. The nations worship these idols and profit nothing. There is no benefit to the worship of the false gods. Put another way, there is no knowledge of the Creator gleaned from the worship of the idols even if they may be connected to some transcendental truths about the creation.
- A major image Jeremiah tries to project to his audience is that the sin of humanity, both the people of God and the nations, effects creation. Our sin has cosmic influence, polluting the good land God has provided. As the Creator god he allows the consequences of our sin to effect things beyond ourselves, including the gifts he has provided. Jeremiah expresses this destruction of the land in the same language of un-creation as Joel. Jeremiah seems to even go so far as to show the story of Israel’s chosen status in Abraham and Moses being reversed. This might be one of the first clues that the story of Israel was being understood as recreation of the fallen creation.
- There is a strange reality spoken of by Jeremiah about those who are considered false prophets in Jerusalem. Chapters 8:8-13 and 14:13-18 make clear the priests and prophets in Jerusalem believed they were teaching the Scriptures rightly and they were having genuine existential experiences. Those who were leading Israel into destruction were sure of their beliefs based on spiritual experiences and readings of their texts. This is an unbelievably foreboding warning to all exegetes and charismatics in our contemporary age! The culturally desired answers that seem to come out of the Scriptures, even if coupled with experiences that actually seem to be interaction with God may not actually the truth that is from God. The fundamental difference between them and Jeremiah, or any prophet right with God, is their faithful obedience to what has been revealed before. These false priests and prophets did not believe God would discipline the people for idolatry, but the history of Israel should have taught them the opposite. They refused to listen, learn, repent, and obey, and therefore, while the words they used were from Scripture and they believed their experiences were from God, they were spiraling into destruction away from God.
- I found it interesting how an Ethiopian eunuch’s faithfulness to God’s prophet in Jeremiah 38 is a judgment on Jerusalem’s temple system and leaders by being a public contrast to their disobedience and evils towards Jeremiah. Could this theme be a secondary echo in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip in Acts 8?
- The parallels between the destruction of Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51 to Babylon’s downfall in Revelation 17-18 are worth working through. There are also slight differences, such as what the cup is and whose hand it held in. There is no good End for the nations who do not worship God; another parallel to Zephaniah’s and Habakkuk’s understandings of eschatology.
- Jeremiah offers Israel hope in his remnant theology. This remnant theology uses language similar to Joel’s Spirit renewal in the midst of judgment and Zephaniah’s purification of Israel through judgment. Remnant theology seems to be a synthesis by Jeremiah of prior prophetic teachings on judgment and renewal based on trustful hope in God as the Creator god. This begins to sound very similar to Habakkuk’s preaching, which Jeremiah would have personally witnessed in Jerusalem parallel to his own ministry. Closely tied to remnant theology, and in many ways being born out of it, is Jeremiah’s theology about the restoration of the land and all creation. As the remnant of Israel is restored by God the land and all creation are restored with the people of God. The blessing of being a purified people is complimented by the Creator as he creates for them a blessed land and creation for them to thrive within. In every way a new creation is formed by God through his act of future salvation, which is assured now that judgment has begun.
- Jeremiah 36 gives an illuminating account about how some prophetic texts would have been composed and distributed in the ancient world. They were accounts of visions or messages from God that were written and sent to the authorities or individuals they were addressed. A second copy would then be made as a record in case the first was destroyed and for the people of God to have a copy of God’s declaration for the future. There are also a number of hints to the composition of sections of Jeremiah occurring after the initial sequence of events the section is depicting, allowing for theological interpretation of the events to occur from the perspective of the prophet. Even some, such as chapter 52, showing later additions to the main body of text.
- These last two observations are more personal and are based on my own enjoyment of the text of Jeremiah. I found it relieving, in the midst of such judgment and disappointment, that God and Jeremiah could have a sense of humor. The couple of places this shines through the strongest are in 34:17 and 37:16-17. In 34:17, God is unhappy that the prophets keep proclaiming that Jerusalem will be free from the oppression of Babylon so he declares through Jeremiah they will be free indeed—free to die by the sword and in suffering! In 37:16-17, Jeremiah has been unjustly placed in the dungeon and the king comes to him secretly asking if there is a message from God to which Jeremiah says, “There is! You will fall to Babylon.” The same message he has been proclaiming for years.
- After such a long journey through Jeremiah my favorite text ended up being 10:23-24:
I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
That it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O LORD, but in justice;
Not in your anger,
Lest you bring me to nothing.
Close to this text is 17:9-10 about the heart’s deceitfulness and the need to trust God to lead us, and 30:23-24 where God says the people of God will only understand the anger of God at the End of all things when its purpose has been fulfilled. A stark reminder that I cannot find the answers of divine salvation for the cosmos within myself. If I try look within for answers I will simply find nothing because that is where humanity is from and it is where we return if the Creator does not renew and sustain us by his own life.
 4:10, 12:1-4.
3:6-4:4, 15, 29, 34-35, 36:1-3.
 24, 39-44.
 5:23-25, 23:16-40.
 4:19-26, 12:1-17.
 5:10, 31:1-40.
 23:1-8, 30:1-31:40, 32:36-33:26.