Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentI. THE PART OF JEREMIAH IDENTIFIED WITH THE SCROLLF1 JER. 1:1--20:1-18F2
THE CALL AND COMMISSION OF JEREMIAH
Chapter summary: the general title (Jeremiah 1:1-3), Jeremiah's call to the prophetic office (Jeremiah 1:4-10), the two visions of the almond tree, and the boiling caldron (Jeremiah 1:11-16), and the assurance to Jeremiah of Divine protection (Jeremiah 1:17-19).
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: to whom the word of Jehovah came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
There were five kings of Judah during the time period mentioned here; but the names of Jehoahaz and Jeconiah are omitted because each of these kings reigned only three months. If we calculate the length of Jeremiah's ministry only from the data mentioned here, it was exactly forty years and six months (Under Josiah, 18 years; under Jehoahaz, three months; under Jehoiachim, 11 years; under Jeconiah, three months; and under Zedekiah, 11 years).F3
"However, the later chapters (Jer. 40--41) record events that happened several years after the destruction of Jerusalem,"F4 indicating that this summary occurs in Jeremiah before the book was completed, pertaining not to all of the book, to part of it. This supports the view of some scholars that Jeremiah's ministry lasted perhaps as long as fifty years.
Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah
(Jeremiah 1:1). The Hebrew form of this name is Ben-Hilkiah, which according to the Dean of Canterbury made it improper grammatically to insert the further identification of Hilkiah as `the High Priest.'F5 This writer also answered other objections to understanding this Hilkiah as the High Priest who discovered the Book of the Law in the temple, pointing out that for ages this has been the understanding of the identity of Jeremiah's father. Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Kimchi, and Abravanel,F6 are among the ancient scholars cited.
Another objection based upon the supposition that the "High Priest" who discovered the Book of the Law `probably' lived in Jerusalem is trivial. Jerusalem was only three miles from Anathoth! Besides, the record here was not speaking of the residence of Hilkiah, but of ancestral connection. Christ was born in Bethlehem, but he was nevertheless called "Jesus of Nazareth!"
In the thirteenth year of his reign
(Jeremiah 1:2). This is generally agreed by scholars to have been the year 627-626 B,C. Ash, a dependable scholar, mentions a plausible theory that this was the birth of Jeremiah instead of his call, based upon the truth that God called him while in the womb. This theory is rejected here because of the plain words of the text.
To whom the word of Jehovah came. It also came ..
(Jeremiah 1:2-3). These are, perhaps, the most important words in this paragraph:
"This word came to Jeremiah by means of inspiration, and is neither the product of a reflective musing as to what his calling was to be, nor the outcome of an irresistible impulse within him to come forward as a prophet. It was a supernatural divine revelation vouchsafed to him, which raised his spiritual life to a state of ecstasy, so that he both recognized the voice of God and felt his lips touched by the hand of God (Jeremiah 1:9). Further, he saw in spirit, one after another, two visions, which God interpreted to him as confirmatory tokens of his divine commission."F7
Now the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child. But Jehovah said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.
The foreknowledge of God is clearly stated here, revealing that, long before Jeremiah was born, God knew him and selected him as the great prophet who would announce the final judgment upon Judah and condemn all of the wicked nations on earth.
I know not how to speak, for I am a child
This reluctance on Jeremiah's part is similar to that of Moses when he was called to deliver Israel from Egypt. God overruled his objection, "On the grounds that authority resides not in the person of the messenger, but in the Divine commission!"F8 Jeremiah's plea that he was only a child was overruled by God who commanded him not to say that. As a matter of fact, scholars place his age at the time given here as being about twenty years of age. "The very same words were applied to Solomon after he was anointed king about the age of 20!"F9
We should not believe that Jeremiah's timidity and hesitation in the acceptance of so formidable a task were a sign of inability upon his part. They were due to a recognition of the nearly impossible difficulty of the assignment.
Be not afraid because of them; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith Jehovah. Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth: see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.
Jehovah. touched my mouth ..
(Jeremiah 1:9). The Holy Bible reveals that nothing is more powerful than the touch of the Lord's hand. Our Saviour blessed the children by a touch, placing his hands upon them (Luke 18:15); he cured all kinds of diseases by a mere touch, sometimes even by the touching of his garment (Matthew 2:8,15); and he even raised the dead, taking the deceased daughter of Jairus by the hand (Luke 7:14).
To pluck up, to break down, to destroy, to overthrow, to build and to plant
(Jeremiah 1:10). These six mighty infinitives outline the scope of Jeremiah's commission, which was very largely one of destruction; but as indicated by the last two, giving ground for hope following judgment.F10
The situation which called for such drastic action upon God's part was the result of the general moral decay and apostasy which had engulfed, not merely Judah, but the whole world as well. When the first general apostasy came upon mankind, God's answer was the Great Deluge. The second such defection from the knowledge of God resulted in God's choice of a Chosen People who were commissioned to preserve and propagate the knowledge of the true God until the times of Messiah; but in that mission Israel utterly failed; and in the awful conditions in the times of Jeremiah, God would respond by the abrogation of the covenant with the Once Chosen People, and the final termination of their status of enjoying God as their husband. Their kingdom, and their favored status ended in the Babylonian captivity. Henceforth, Judah would continue as God's protected servant until Messiah should be born and cradled in the manger at Bethlehem! But all of the glorious promises to the patriarchs would be fulfilled in a "righteous remnant" who would form the nucleus of the New Israel in Christ; and all racial considerations on God's part disappeared forever! Four times the New Testament declares that, "There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles" (Acts 11:12; 15:9; Rom. 3:12; and 10:12).
Verses 11, 12
Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond-tree. Then said Jehovah unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I watch over my word to perform it.
The meaning of this vision turns upon the fact of the almond-tree being the first one that puts out blooms in the spring. JKP translated almond-tree here as "`The early-awake tree'; the Hebrew word translated `almond' means this."F11 Thus, the revelation to Jeremiah was that, just as the almond tree in bloom signified the near-approach of spring, so God was soon to bring his word to pass.
And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a boiling caldron; and the face thereof is from the north. Then Jehovah said unto me, Out of the north evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith Jehovah; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.
A boiling caldron
(Jeremiah 1:13). This boiling caldron was something similar to an old fashioned washpot; and its being tilted toward the south indicated that the disastrous judgments upon Jerusalem would come from military expeditions attacking from the north. Some think there may be a reference here to the Scythians; but we explored this possibility in the Introduction and rejected it. The meaning was that the great Babylonian power at the north of Palestine would soon be directed against Judea.F12
It may be objected that Babylon, strictly speaking, was not actually north of Judea; but military actions against Jerusalem invariably came from that direction. Herodotus informs us that the Babylonian assault against Jerusalem indeed came from that direction.
"Strictly speaking, the Babylonians were an eastern people from the point of view in Palestine; but the caravan-roads which the Chaldean armies had to take entered Palestine at Dan and then proceeded southward."F13
Evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land
(Jeremiah 1:14). A better word than `evil' in this place would be `calamity.' The Hebrew word often means `misery,' `distress,' or `trouble,' as well as `evil.' F14 `The inhabitants of the land' is a reference to the population of Palestine.
The fulfillment of this prophecy that foreign kings would set up their thrones in the gates of Jerusalem is recorded in Jer. 39:1-4.
Regarding verse 15, RKH pointed out that it is in no sense compatible with the theory that the passage here applies to a Scythian invasion.F15 There is no evidence whatever that any Scythian king ever set his throne in the gates of Jerusalem; but "All the princes of the king of Babylon came in, and sat in the middle gate" (Jeremiah 39:3); and the very next verse names no less than six members of the royalty who did so, "along with all the rest of the princes of the King of Babylon!" This of course, explains the use of the plural "kings" in the prophecy (v. 15).
Dummelow explained the purpose of kings sitting in the gates thus:
The function of administering justice was exercised by the king himself; and the neighborhood of the city gate was the ordinary place at which trials were held. The prophecy states that here then the rulers of the invader's army will sit in judgment on the conquered people.F16
And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, in that they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
The boiling caldron was poised to spill all of its devastating consequences upon the Once Chosen People, but such drastic action was not due to caprice or accident on the part of the Lord. The people of Judah deserved the frightful punishment which fell upon them. When the wickedness of any people or nation has reached a certain point, God will no longer tolerate it. That fact lies behind the fact that the ancient peoples of Canaan were conquered and destroyed by Israel under Joshua. Let anyone read the record of the ruthless destruction by which Israel, under the blessing of God, wrested Palestine away from those who once lived there; and why? Their wickedness had gone beyond the suffering limits of the grace of God. Now, when Israel herself had become even worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezek. 16), it was righteous and just that the same punishment should fall upon them.
When Israel entered Canaan, they had been commanded to destroy all of the shrines, pillars, and images erected to the honor of pagan gods and to exterminate their evil worship; but Israel had not done this. Instead, they had revived all of the old pagan debaucheries and even expanded them; and under such circumstances, judgment, of necessity, fell upon the apostate people, only a `righteous remnant,' continuing in the worship of the true God.
Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a fortified city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee.
Gird up thy loins
(Jeremiah 1:16). This is the equivalent to the modern admonition for one to roll up his sleeves and go to work. The loose robe-type garment generally worn was shortened and made less cumbersome by tightening the thong usually tied around the middle.
Although Jer. 1:5 had made the fact of predestination a sure factor in Jeremiah's life, Jer. 1:17 "Enunciates the requirement of obedience. The prophet who is ashamed to stand forth with the word will soon have no word to proclaim; but the Lord of the word can make his servant impregnable, unlike the disloyal state of Judah."F17
Against the people of the land
(Jeremiah 1:18). The Anchor Bible renders this `The landed gentry'; because this is a technical term for the important landholders.F18
The manner in which God did indeed protect and bless Jeremiah is truly amazing. In spite of being sentenced to death, the king of Judah was powerless to execute the sentence. "The astonishing thing is that Jeremiah lived as long as he did. How long he lived is an unexplained miracle of history."F19
It happened to Jeremiah, exactly like it happened to God's "Two Witnesses" in the Apocalypse. God said. "I will give power unto my ... witnesses. These have power ... to smite the earth as often as they will ... and when they have finished their testimony ... the beast ... shall overcome them and kill them" (Revelation 11:3,6,11). So it was with Jeremiah who was immune to every danger until his work was done; and then "the beast" (Apostate Judah) put him to death by stoning; but Jerusalem nevertheless continued in captivity until her sentence ended.
Footnotes for Jeremiah 1
1: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), p. 23. We have followed Keil in all of these major divisions of the prophecy.
2: R. K. Harrison, Jeremiah in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, p. 47. This author differed from Keil by including chapter 1; but such variations are of more academic than practical concern. Most Biblical books do not lend themselves to classical outlines.
3: E. Henderson, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1851), p. ix.
4: James P. Hyatt in the Interpreter's Bible, p. 797.
5: Scribner's Bible Commentary (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), p. 311.
7: Keil, p. 39.
8: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 629.
9: John W. Haley, Examination of Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: B. C. Goodpasture, 1951), p. 270.
10: Donald Wiseman, Jeremiah in the New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 819.
11: JKP, p. 29.
12: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 458.
13: The Pulpit Commentary, p. 2
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 660.
15: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, footnote on p. 52.
16: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 458.
17: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 629.
18: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), p. 6.
19: Raymond Calkins, Jeremiah the Prophet (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1930), p. 23.