THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET JEREMIAH.
JEREMIAH was of the sacerdotal race, being the son of Hilkiah, one of the priests, who dwelt at Anathoth, a city in the tribe of Benjamin, situate, according to Jerome, about three miles north of Jerusalem. He was appointed to the prophetic office from his mother’s womb, and was called to the exercise of it when very young; namely, in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign, the year of the world 3375, and six hundred and twenty- nine years before Christ. He continued to prophesy more than forty years; namely, till after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, which happened in the year of the world 3416, and he died, as is generally believed, in Egypt, two years afterward; into which country, after the desolation of Judea, he followed the remnant of the Jews. In the course of his ministry he met with great difficulties and opposition from his countrymen of all degrees, whose persecution and ill usage sometimes wrought so far upon his mind, as to draw from him some expressions, in the bitterness of his soul, which many have thought it difficult to reconcile with the sacredness of his prophetic office; but which, when duly weighed, may be found to demand our pity rather than censure. He was certainly a man of unblemished piety, and conscientious integrity; a warm lover of his country, whose miseries he pathetically deplores; and so affectionately attached to his countrymen, notwithstanding their injurious treatment of him, that he chose rather to abide with them, and undergo all hardships in their company, than separately to enjoy a state of ease and plenty, which the favour of the king of Babylon would have secured to him. The time and manner of his death are very uncertain. The current tradition indeed among the Jews and Christians is, that he was stoned to death by the Jews of Tahpanhes, offended by his warm and continual remonstrances against their idolatrous practices: but this account, though not improbable, considering the temper and disposition of the parties concerned, is not, however, absolutely to be relied on. If true, their wickedness did not long pass without its reward; for, in a few years after, those Jews were miserably destroyed by the Babylonian armies, which invaded Egypt, according to the prophet’s prediction, Jeremiah 44:27-28.
Jeremiah being ordained, as we find, Jeremiah 1:5, to prophesy, not only to the Jews, but also to other nations; to go to all to whom God should send him, and to speak whatsoever he commanded him; he accordingly not only uttered prophecies against God’s chosen people, but also against the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Idumeans, the Syrians, and other nations, and, in a more particular manner, against the Babylonians. The prophecies against these foreign nations are placed by themselves, beginning at the 46th chapter. The foregoing chapters relate to the Jews, being reproofs of their wickedness, exhortations to repentance, and denunciations of God’s judgments, if they continued obstinate; and, in particular, an express denunciation, that they should come under subjection to the Chaldeans, and be carried captives to Babylon; but with a promise annexed, that after the expiration of just seventy years, they should be released from their captivity, and come back again to their own country. There are likewise some prophecies concerning particular persons, as against Pashur, Shallum, Jehoiakim, Coniah, Hananiah, and Zedekiah; and also some concerning the coming of Christ, the calling of the Gentiles to the knowledge of the true God; and of the new covenant which God would make with Israel. With the prophecies is interspersed the history of some affairs, particularly of the treatment Jeremiah met with from the Jews; and of the taking of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. As to the style and genius of this prophet’s writing, the character given thereof by an acknowledged critic, a character to which every reader of discernment will heartily subscribe, is as follows: “Jeremiah is by no means wanting, either in elegance or sublimity, although, generally speaking, inferior to Isaiah in both. Jerome has objected to him a certain rusticity in his diction, of which I must confess I do not discover the smallest trace. His thoughts, indeed, are somewhat less elevated, and he is commonly more large and diffuse in his sentences; but the reason of this may be, that he is mostly taken up with the gentler passions of grief and pity, for the expression of which he has a peculiar talent. This is most evident in the Lamentations, where those passions altogether predominate; but it is often visible also in his prophecies, in the former part of the book more especially, which is principally poetical; the middle is for the most part historical; but the last part, consisting of six chapters, is entirely poetical; and contains several oracles distinctly marked, in which this prophet falls very little short of the lofty style of Isaiah. But of the whole book of Jeremiah it is hardly the one half which I look upon as poetical.” Lowth, de sacra Poesi Hebræorum, Prælec. 21.