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KD OT Lesson 41: Jeremiah 1-2,15,20,26,36-38

Posted by Karl D. on October 29, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Jeremiah (#41)
Reading: Jeremiah 1-2,15,20,26,36-38

PDF Version of Notes

1 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

2 Introduction

The book of Jeremiah’s organizational structure is rather loose. It doesn’t appear to be organized chronologically or by topic. Some parts of the book do have biographical details. For example, there are accounts that touch on or describe conflicts with officials of state (Jeremiah 26, 36-37), priests (20:1-6), and other prophets (28-29).

The book contains both poetry and prose. The prophetic oracles (visions or revelations) are usually poetry. The poetry is concentrated in chapters 1-25 and 46-51. There is a lot of material written in prose (in contrast to the book of Isaiah). There are two main types of prose passages: biographic passages and prose sermons. The biographic sections usually speak of Jeremiah in the third person while the prose sermons sometimes refer to Jeremiah in the first person.1

Thomas Overholt, in the HarperCollins Bible Commentary, notes the following about the uniqueness of Jeremiah:2

Besides the specific content of what is says, Jeremiah’s uniqueness is sometimes evident in stylistic variations on the form. One of these is his use of rhetorical questions, which often set the stage for an accusation against his audience (e.g., 2:11-12, 32; 3:1-5). Like any effective speaker, Jeremiah made use of forms he and his audience were familiar with, but modified them to suit his own purposes.

3 The Superscription

Verses 1-3 of Chapter 1 form the superscription or title page/preface of the book of Jeremiah:

1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: 2 To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 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.

3.1 Just a Tiny Amount of Historical Background

According to the superscription, Jeremiah’s prophetic activity started in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign and lasted until the Babylonian captivity. He prophesied during the reigns of the last four kings of Judah.

  • Time period of Jeremiah’s preaching: 627-587 BCE
  • Some scholars suggest that 627 BCE refers to his birth given verses 4-5 and because his ministry seems very long.
  • Jeremiah’s ministry begins during a period when the Assyrian empire is waning and the Babylonian empire is in ascension. Egypt is still an important foreign power as well.3 During the reign of Josiah things are relatively nice for Judah.

3.2 Revealing Jeremiah

What do you think of the superscription? Does it reveal anything important about Jeremiah?

  • Does the superscription reveal or at least give us some information about how we should read the book of Jeremiah and how we should interpret it?
  • Some scholars have noted that the book of Jeremiah actually has material in it that describes Jeremiah’s prophetic activity post 587 BCE (see Jeremiah 40:1, 42:7, 43:8, 44:1, 24-25) but the superscription ends his ministry in 587 BCE. Is this an important discrepancy? Might there be symbolic or theological reason for slightly truncating the apparent length of Jeremiah’s ministry?
  • What about the length of Jeremiah’s ministry? He prophesied from 627-587 BCE or about 40 years. Is the length important? Does this suggest we should look for comparisons with Moses in what follows? Does it suggest that Jeremiah should be understood as a “New Moses?” It what sense can we talk about Jeremiah as a new Moses?

4 A Call Narrative: Jeremiah 1:4-10

This pericope is often referred to as a “call narrative.” Setting this aside as a kind of literary type allows us to think about the connections we see across the calls of different prophets.

Read Jeremiah 1:4-10

4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee;
and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.

6 Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. 7 But the LORD said unto me,
Say not, I am a child:

for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee,
and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.

8 Be not afraid of their faces:
for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.

9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me,
Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.

10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,
to root out, and to pull down,

and to destroy, and to throw down,
to build, and to plant.

Note, the call narrative starts very much like most of Jeremiah’s revelations: “the word of the LORD came unto me.”

4.1 Foreordination

  • In verses 4-5, what do we learn about the Lord and what do we learn about Jeremiah?
  • We certainly use these verses to help justify or at least support the doctrinal concepts of pre-mortal existence and foreordination. But is that the point of these verses? Is the point of these verses to teach us, as the reader, about the doctrinal concepts of pre-mortal existence and foreordination (and if yes, is it the only reason?) Why does the Lord mention Jeremiah’s pre-birth call?
  • Suppose we just read these verses (4-10) in isolation. Does the narrative by itself indicate that we should understand Jeremiah’s call as foreordained rather than predestined?

4.2 More on Verses 4-5

  • Verse 5 says, “before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” Is sanctified being used in the same way we normally use it today? What might be a better word given the context?
  • Here are verses 4-5 from a few modern translations (do they make more sense given the context?):

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (NRSV)

4 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (NIV)

1:4 The Lord said to me, 1:5 “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you. Before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.” (NET Bible)

  • Verse 5 indicates that Jeremiah is ordain as a “prophet unto the nations.” Are you surprised by a reference to “nations” in the description of his ordination? Could “nations” still only refer to Judah/Israel or should we understand that Jeremiah has a prophetic role to other nations besides Judah?

4.3 Youth

Jeremiah’s response to the LORD raises two connected objections: youth and bad speaking. Does this confirm any of the Moses hypotheses that were raised in the superscription section? Specifically, should see Jeremiah as a new Moses or is that over-inferring?

4.4 Jeremiah’s Mouth

In verse 9 the Lord touches Jeremiah’s mouth:

9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me,
Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.

  • Why does the LORD touch the mouth of Jeremiah?
  • What does the “touching of Jeremiah’s mouth” emphasize or underscore? Does it reveal anything about the relationship between the Lord and Jeremiah? Does it reveal anything about the kind of relationship we can have with the Lord?
  • How do the events of verse 9 change or clarify the rest of the call narrative?
  • Does verse 9 change things for Jeremiah? Does verse 9 in some sense overcome the objections raised in verse 6? If so, how? In what sense?
  • Does verse 9 make verse 10 possible? Are we supposed to notice the differences between verses 6 and 10?

10 See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms,
to root out, and to pull down,

and to destroy, and to throw down,
to build, and to plant.

  • Consider another heavenly visit described in Isaiah 6:6-7:

6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

  • What happened to Isaiah? How is Isaiah’s experience different than Jeremiah’s experience? How are they similar?

5 A Covenant Lawsuit

5.1 Bring the Lawsuit

Read Jeremiah 2:4-8

4 Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob,
and all the families of the house of Israel:

5 Thus saith the Lord,
What iniquity have your fathers found in me,
that they are gone far from me,
and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?

6 Neither said they, Where is the Lord
that brought us up out of the land of Egypt,
that led us through the wilderness,

through a land of deserts and of pits,
through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death,

through a land that no man passed through,
and where no man dwelt?

7 And I brought you into a plentiful country,
to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof;

but when ye entered, ye defiled my land,
and made mine heritage an abomination.

8 The priests said not, Where is the Lord?
and they that handle the law knew me not:

the pastors also transgressed against me,
and the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and walked after things that do not profit.

  • Who is the Lord addressing? Is there anything surprising about who the Lord is addressing?
  • Why might he want to address Jacob and Israel as a whole here? What does it emphasize?
  • How do verses 6 and 7 connect with addressing all of Israel?
  • In these verses what kinds of things does the Lord mention? If I forced you to classify his statements into two bins, what would you name your bins?
  • Why does Israel fail? What concept seems to be at the center of their failure to keep the covenant? Is this message timely?
  • What does “and have walked after vanity, and are become vain” mean in the context of these verses? Does the parallelism give us any hints about meaning? Do the later verses give us any hints?
  • What follows are some modern translation of “and have walked after vanity, and are become vain.” Do they help you understand the passage? Given the context which translation makes the most sense to you?

They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. (NIV)

and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves? (NRSV)

They paid allegiance to worthless idols, and so became worthless to me. (NET Bible)

And followed ‘The Delusion’ and became deluded? (NICOT)

  • Does “seeking after vanities” refer to something specific in these verses? Does “seeking after vanities” apply to us, the modern reader, in a different way or much the same way as the ancient Israelites?
  • Verse 5 clearly highlights the use of rhetorical questions in Jeremiah’s revelations. Notice that rhetorical questions are asked in verses 6 and 8 (as well as 11 and 14 if we look at the whole pericope). How are these rhetorical questions related to each other?
  • Is it fair to say that verse 5 contains the base set of rhetorical questions that proclaim the Lord’s “shock at the ancestors treatment of him”4 and then the rhetorical questions in 6 and 8 explain why their treatment is shocking and appalling? Do you agree with this interpretation? Do you see it differently?

5.2 Summarizing the Problem

Read Jeremiah 2:11-13

11 Hath a nation changed their gods,
which are yet no gods?

but my people have changed their glory
for that which doth not profit.

12 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this,
and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.

13 For my people have committed two evils;
they have forsaken me
the fountain of living waters,

and hewed them out cisterns,
broken cisterns,
that can hold no water.

  • In verse 13, why use the metaphors of living water and cracked cisterns? How are the two metaphors connected and related to each other?
  • J. A. Thompson, in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament, explains the connection between the living water and the broken cisterns as follows:5

The symbolism was clear to the people of Judah. Every landowner would wish to have a flowing spring on his property, which would obviate his having to dig a cistern in the limestone hills. To ensure that it held water he had to plaster the inside with lime plaster. He would then direct rainwater into it when the rain came. But such cisterns built into limestone rock developed cracks and the water seeped out, leaving the farmer without the precious life-giving commodity.

  • How are these metaphors related to the earlier parts of the oracle (2:4-8)?
  • How does verse 12 inform how we should read and understand verse 13?
  • Is the “living water” metaphor being used in the same way as it is used in the New Testament?


1 I adapted my first two paragraphs from Overholt, Thomas W., 2000, “Jeremiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 538-539.

2 Overholt, Thomas W., 2000, “Jeremiah” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 538.

3 O’Connor, Kathleen M., 2001, “Jeremiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 487.

4 O’Connor, Kathleen M., 2001, “Jeremiah” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, 491.

5 Thompson, J. A., 1980, The Book of Jeremiah, Eerdmans, 171.

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