The Introduction to Jeremiah

1: 1-3

DIG: Why is it significant that Jeremiah is described as a young man? How might this have affected the manner in which his message was delivered? Received? What does God’s decision to use a young man for such a big important task teach us about YHVH? What was Jeremiah’s occupation? What does his name mean? What can you conclude about his family? His hometown? When did Josiah rule? What kind of a king was Josiah? Manasseh? When did Zedekiah reign? How long did Jeremiah prophesy? What was the fruit of his ministry? Who were his contemporaries? How did he die?

REFLECT: Jeremiah never married or had any children. What sacrifices have you made for the Lord in your lifetime? Do you think Yirmeyahu ever resented his sacrifices? Have you resented yours? Why or why not? The prophet proclaimed the word of God through one of the worst times in Isra’el’s history, but he stuck with it. What keeps you ministering through the tough times? Do you stick with it? Why?

These are the words of Jeremiah (1:1a). In most cases the prophets open their books with the singular, “the word of ADONAI,” but in this case he uses the plural because in Yirmeyahu we will have both prophecy (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians) and history (many of the Jews being carried off to Babylon in exile in 586 BC). So the plural words indicate that God inspired both the prophetic and historical sections. The only other prophet that uses this in the plural is Amos (Amos 1:1), and like Jeremiah, his book contains both prophetic and historical sections.

Yirmeyahu was a fairly common name at that time because we know of at least nine other people in the TaNaKh that had the same name. Two of which we find in the book of Jeremiah itself, not counting the prophet. The name Yirmeyahu comes from a Hebrew root that has several options of meaning: to hurl, to exalt, or to appoint. His name is constructed with several of the letters that make up the name YHVH. So his name could mean YHVH hurls, YHVH exalts, or YHVH appoints. And throughout his book there will be emphasis placed on each of these aspects.

The only thing we know about his family is that he was the son of Hilkiah (1:1b), which means YHVH is a portion. In Jeremiah’s day the high priest was named Hilkiah, but it wasn’t the same man because that man lived in Yerushalayim, while the prophet lived in Anathoth. It is not known for sure, but there is an interesting conjecture when David became king of Judah. Abiathar served as high priest until David’s death (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Cv – The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath). But unfortunately he supported Prince Adonijah over Prince Solomon who had received David’s blessing to be king. Therefore, Abiathar was removed from the priesthood (the sole historical instance of the deposition of a high priest) and banished to his home in Anathoth by King Solomon (First Kings 2:26). It could be that Hilkiah, Jeremiah’s father, was a descendant of that exiled priest.

One of the priests at Anathoth (1:1c). The fact that Yirmeyahu’s father was a priest tells us that he was from the tribe of Levi. So Jeremiah was both a prophet and a priest. We also learn from Chapter 16 that he was never married and never had any children (see Co – You Must Not Marry and Have Sons and Daughters).

The name of his hometown, Anathoth, came from the Canaanite goddess Anath. As the wife of Baal, she was one of the most vicious and violent goddesses that the Canaanites worshiped. She supposedly went on a rampage against mankind and no detail was omitted as she strode into battle with her club and bow. “Under Anath flew heads like vultures. Over her flew severed hands like locusts. She plunged knee-deep in the blood of her enemies; neck deep in the gore of the adversary. Anath laughed, and her heart was filled with joy, for she is victorious.”

In the territory of Benjamin (1:1d). Anathoth is about three miles north of Tziyon, and from a hill in the town you can actually see the Holy City. It was a Levitical city for the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 21:18; First Chronicles 6:16). The Levites had no territory of their own and there were too many of them to all serve at the Temple, so they also functioned as the teachers of the TaNaKh for the eleven other tribes of Isra’el. After Moshe finished writing his five books, not everyone would possess a personal copy of them. So the tribe of Levi was not only responsible for preserving the Scriptures, but also for teaching them. Therefore, ADONAI instructed each tribe to assign specific cities within their boundaries that the Levites could live and teach that particular tribe.

Knowing that the fully developed, passionate personality of Jeremiah had a complex and intricate background, we prepare to examine it. But we are brought up short. We are told next to nothing: three bare, unadorned background items – his father’s name, Hilkiah; his father’s vocation, priest; his place of birth, Anathoth. We want to know more.11

Something not mentioned in the book is how Yirmeyahu died. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, Jews who were fleeing the Babylonians took Jeremiah forcefully to Egypt. There is an old Jewish tradition that says that after the Babylonians conquered Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar took Jeremiah back to Babylon where he eventually died. There is also a Christian tradition that says that Jews in Egypt stoned him. But in 1:19 ADONAI promised that He would protect Yirmeyahu, so that tradition cannot be accurate. Most likely the priest from Anathoth died of old age in Egypt.

The word of ADONAI came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah (627 BC) son of Amon king of Judah (1:2). The word (singular) is the normal format for the prophetic setting. Yirmeyahu began his ministry during the reign of good king Josiah. He was a young man, probably between 25 to 30 years old. That means he was born during the reign of one of the most evil kings in the history of Judah. The wicked Manasseh fathered Josiah. It was because of Manasseh’s reign that Yirmeyahu was called to be a prophet to a doomed nation. ADONAI had already decreed the destruction of Tziyon and Josiah’s godly reign merely gave the nation a temporary reprieve, but did not cancel its ultimate judgment.

Therefore, Jeremiah ministered through the reign of Jehoiakim, down until the end of Zedekiah’s reign in his eleventh year (586 BC) when the people of Jerusalem went into exile (1:3). He prophesied a little past Zedekiah, Judah’s last king, to at least 585 BC, and perhaps even to 580 BC. For about 45 years he proclaimed the word of ADONAI, but he failed to get any kind of response among the people of Y’hudah. He was even called a false prophet because 40 years passed before his initial prophesies were fulfilled.

He prophesied after Isaiah, Hosea and Micah. They had already come and gone when Jeremiah was called to ministry. There were, however, other prophets who were his contemporaries. During the early days of his ministry Naham, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, were prophetsand Huldah was a prophetess (Second Kings 22:14-20; Second Chronicles 34:22-28). In the latter days of his ministry he was a contemporary of Ezeki’el and Dani’el.

The phrase when the people of Jerusalem went into exile provides the finishing point of the book. It is an awesome and dreadful formula. It is a clue to the intent of the word of ADONAI and a signal to the nature of the book. The word is on the move toward exile. Nothing more needs to be said. Nothing the kings can do will alter the outcome, and it is as though the die is cast even before Yirmeyahu appears.

Therefore, the book of Jeremiah is an unwelcomed offer. If we enter, we are invited to accompany the painful, genuinely unthinkable process whereby the Holy City is denied its special character and is handed over, by the intent of YHVH, to the ruthlessness of Babylon. Kings, of course, never believe history works that way. Kings imagine that their royal decisions shape history. But Yirmeyahu asserts otherwise. God steers the historical process toward exile. That is where disobedient Judah finally finds herself. No escape is available. In fact, escape is not even hoped for because that would be a hope counter to the sovereign will of the LORD. The ending is now willed through His word. And when it is spoken, the ending will not go away. We only wait and watch for the ending to materialize. Therefore, the book of Jeremiah is a witness to that long and torturous watch.12

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