Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:1. Jeremiah] For the meaning of the name, see Intr. ch. 1 § 2 (a).
the son of Hilkiah] The small number of proper names among the Jews made it necessary to add the father’s name for purposes of distinction. Compare the Welsh custom ap-Thomas, ap-Richard, etc. If we were to render it by Ben-Hilkiah we should no longer be in danger of connecting the words that follow with Hilkiah rather than with the name of the prophet himself.
Anathoth] See Intr. ch. 1 § 2 (c).
Benjamin] The territory of this tribe was 26 miles in length by 12 in breadth, and was thus about the size of the county of Middlesex. It was bounded on the south by Judah, on the north by Ephraim, and was for the most part hilly, being crossed by deep ravines which, mounting from the Philistine country on the west, descend precipitously into the valley of the Jordan on the east. The tribe of Benjamin is noteworthy as having supplied the first of the Jewish kings, as well as his namesake “Saul, who is also called Paul,” the great Apostle of the Gentiles.
Ch. Jeremiah 1:1-3. Title
The Title is a composite one: Jeremiah 1:2 probably was intended simply to date the prophet’s call, while Jeremiah 1:3 was added later to indicate that his activity was continued during subsequent reigns (though some of his utterances were delivered after the breaking up of the kingdom, see Intr. i. § 17). The first verse then is the general title of the Book or of some substantial part of it.
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.2. in the days of, etc.] See introductory note.
in the thirteenth year of his reign] c. b.c. 626. The period included in these two verses is one of 40 years, viz. the latter part of Josiah’s reign = 18 years; that of Jehoahaz = 3 months; that of Jehoiakim = 11 years; that of Jehoiachin = 3 months; that of Zedekiah = 11 years. The omission of the names of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin is probably due to the shortness of their reigns.
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. in the fifth month] See ch. Jeremiah 52:12 ff. The city had been captured in the preceding month (2 Kings 25:4; 2 Kings 25:8-10).
Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,4. Now the word, etc.] This preface to the Book forms at once Jeremiah’s plea and his support, the credentials of his mission to which he might refer the people when hostile and himself in seasons of despondency. We have in this section the declaration of God’s purpose concerning him (Jeremiah 1:5); Jeremiah’s protest (Jeremiah 1:6); God’s reply (Jeremiah 1:7-8); the act of divine consecration (Jeremiah 1:9); the nature of the charge itself (Jeremiah 1:10).
4–10. The Prophet’s call and its nature
4–19. Jeremiah’s call
The passage will fall into four sections.
(i) Jeremiah 1:4-10. The prophet’s call and its nature. (ii) Jeremiah 1:11-12. The symbol of the almond tree, shewing that Jehovah is wakeful to perform his word. (iii) Jeremiah 1:13-16. That of the caldron, indicating a threatened invasion of Judah. (iv) Jeremiah 1:17-19. Words of encouragement.
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.5. I knew thee] meaning not mere acquaintance, but choice as a consequence of knowledge. The parallelism of contrast, frequent in the poetical books of the Bible, shews this to be the sense of the word in Psalm 1:6, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish”; cp. Genesis 18:19, “For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord”; Amos 3:2, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities.”
before thou camest forth] Cp. Luke 1:15; Luke 1:35; also Jdg 13:5.
I sanctified thee] i.e. consecrated or set apart for My service. See Exodus 13:2; Leviticus 27:14 ff., and often elsewhere.
unto the nations] See Intr. Jeremiah 2:3 (b).
Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.6. Jeremiah shews that the prophetic office was not one of his own seeking.
Ah] Rather, Alas! The word in the Hebrew expresses not so much an entreaty that things should be arranged otherwise, as a lament that they are as they are; cp. Joshua 7:7; 2 Kings 3:10. Jeremiah’s position is thus different from that of Moses (Exodus 4:10). The latter pleaded inability, “Oh Lord, I am not eloquent,” while the former acquiesces in the appointment, now announced to have been made so long before, deploring only youth and inexperience (cp. Isaiah 6:5; Ezekiel 3:15 ff.), and replies to the Almighty in the same spirit as Solomon at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings 3:7).
Lord God] lit. Lord Yahweh (Jehovah). When the Hebrew word Adônai (Lord), which was ordinarily used in reading as a substitute for Yahweh, immediately (as here) precedes that word, the latter was read as God (Elôhîm), and in such cases is printed in E.VV. in capitals.
I cannot speak] meaning, I have not the powers necessary to win a hearing. For the prophet of those days eloquence, natural or acquired, was as necessary as it is for one who would be a popular preacher or prominent statesman now.
I am a child] meaning, a very young man. The length of Jeremiah’s ministry shews that he was very youthful at its commencement. So Isaiah must have been still a young man when he began to prophesy.
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.7. Here again there is brought out the contrast between Moses and Jeremiah. The former had offered one objection after another (Exodus 3:11; Exodus 3:13; Exodus 4:1; Exodus 4:10; Exodus 4:13), and consequently (Jeremiah 4:14) “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses.” But in Jeremiah’s case encouragement alone was needed, and it is given at once in word and then in act.
Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.8. Be not afraid] Jeremiah had pleaded his youth, but, as the Lord saw, another cause for his shrinking from the task was his natural timidity.
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.9. touched] caused it to touch. An outward symbol of the gift of eloquence, which was being then and there bestowed. The same part of the verb (with a causative force) is used in the corresponding passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:7). On the other hand, in Daniel (Daniel 10:16), where the object was merely to restore the power of articulate speech, the verb is “touched,” not “caused to touch.” The nature of God’s dealing with Ezekiel was distinct from either of these (Ezekiel 2:8).
I have put, etc.] Cp. Deuteronomy 18:18.
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.10. set thee] given thee authority to speak as My representative. It is the same word as that rendered “made governor” in Jeremiah 40:5; Jeremiah 40:7, and “made overseer” in Genesis 39:4-5.
over the nations] So Amos (Jeremiah 1:3 to Jeremiah 2:3) had prophesied concerning non-Jewish kingdoms.
to pluck up, etc.] The prophet is said to do in his own person that which he announces as about to be done by God. Cp. Jeremiah 15:1; Isaiah 6:10; Ezekiel 43:3, where the prophet speaks of the vision that he saw when he “came to destroy the city.” So in profane literature we find prophets spoken of as though they had a share in influencing the course of the future, which it was theirs only to predict. Thus Aeneas to the Sibyl:
“And thou, O sacred maid, inspired to see
The event of things in dark futurity,
Give me what heaven has promised to my fate
To conquer and command the Latian state.”
Dryden’s Vergil, VI. 100–103.
The predominant portion of the prophet’s task was to consist in rebuke and in threatening; while nevertheless out of the ruins a better and more hopeful state of things should arise for Israel.
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.11. I see a rod of an almond tree] The almond tree in Palestine has been compared to the snowdrop with us, as giving one of the first signs of approaching spring. Dr Tristram (Nat. Hist. of the Bible) tells us that at Bethany in the month of January he gathered the blossoms in full bloom. They appear before the leaves open, like those of the peach-tree in England. The Hebrew used here (shâkêd) is not the ordinary word for an almond tree, but a poetical expression, meaning that which is awakening, and referring to the blossoming of this tree as taking place while others are still in their winter sleep. There is a play on the words shâkêd and (Jeremiah 1:12) shôkêd (watching over). Cp. Amos 8:1, where the sight of a basket of summer fruit (kayitz) is to the prophet symbolic of the end (kêtz) which is coming upon his nation.
11, 12. The symbol of the almond tree
It is often supposed that the almond tree and the boiling caldron were seen by the prophet in vision. But it is quite possible that it was an actual almond tree to which Jeremiah’s attention was directed. If so, we may see the prophet musing on the moral deadness and neglect which he beheld around him, as illustrated by nature’s winter sleep. It is borne in upon him, either at the very time of his call or perhaps subsequently, that in spiritual matters no less surely than in nature this state of things must cease. For him “the sight of the tree is more than a coincidence: Nature is a parable of God’s working. Hence he sees in this harbinger of the spring a sign that the hard frost is about to break and new life to spring from the soil.” (Pe. ad loc.)
Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.12. I watch over] The Hebrew word recurs in Jeremiah 5:6, Jeremiah 31:28, Jeremiah 44:27. Here the sense is, The Lord is rousing Himself. The period of trial is rapidly approaching its end, and the punishment so long delayed is about to be at last inflicted.
And the word of the LORD came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.13–16. The symbol of the caldron
13. a seething caldron] An ordinary sight in daily life conveys a message to the prophet. In this second symbol the character of the future in store for the nation is more clearly brought out. The word sîr, here rendered caldron, denotes a large vessel, as it could be used in preparing pottage for a considerable number (2 Kings 4:38). It was also used for washing (Psalm 60:8). The word rendered “seething” (boiling) is lit. blown, i.e. well heated, and so boiling.
the face thereof is from the north] The expression is an awkward one, and the symbol has been explained in two ways. Either (a) the spectator in the south sees the contents of the caldron ready to boil over in his direction, or, perhaps better (with a slight change in the Hebrew), (b) the caldron is thought of as supported by stones on three of its sides, while the fourth, i.e. the north side, is open and is being fed with fuel from that side. If we accept (a), the people in Judaea will receive the boiling contents, if (b), the point will be that the fuel is supplied from the north and employed with hostile intent against the Jews, now themselves figuring as the contents of the vessel. Whichever view we take, an attack from the north is plainly indicated. For the application, as referring to a threatened invasion of Scythian hordes, see Intr. i. § 3. Later, the danger from the north came to be the Empire of Babylon and the symbol would be equally suggestive. In earlier days, Assyrians had come from the north and carried the ten tribes captive. It was thus a region whose associations inspired dread.
Then the LORD said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.14. evil] the evil—the evil which was to be expected, foretold by all the prophets as the result of national sin.
shall break forth] shall be opened, shall disclose itself. But it is best by a slight change in the Hebrew to render shall be blown (as in Jeremiah 1:13), i.e. kindled.
For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the LORD; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.15. all the families of the kingdoms] Probably we should read (with LXX) all the kingdoms, “families” in that case being in the first instance an explanatory gloss, afterwards taken into the text.
they shall set every one his throne] The chiefs of the invading army, having captured the city, will take their places to administer justice, and inflict punishment on the guilty. For this assemblage of nations against Jerusalem, cp. Isaiah 17:12 ff. The gate of the city, or rather a large space in its neighbourhood, was reserved free of buildings, and was the ordinary place at which trials were held and sentences declared. Cp. Deuteronomy 16:18; Deuteronomy 17:8; Ruth 4:1. For the word throne as used to denote the judgement-seat, see Psalm 9:4; Psalm 122:5; Proverbs 20:8. The general sense of the verse is that it is not without reason, or as the blind act of ambitious and more powerful nations, that Jerusalem is to be overthrown. That overthrow will take place as a judicial act, as a consequence of wickedness, and after the case had been duly weighed in the balances.
and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah] As the text now stands, the prophet mingles the two thoughts of a besieging army and of a judicial sentence and its execution. It is in point of fact by the scaling of the walls of Jerusalem and the capture of the other cities of the country that the sentence is to be carried out, and Jeremiah here as elsewhere (see Intr. iii. § 14 (d) and note) breaks off his simile or metaphor with abruptness and takes up anew the literal statement.
And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.16. I will utter my judgements against them] lit., I will speak my judgements with them. An almost identical phrase in the Hebrew occurs again in this book, when Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah “gave judgement upon Zedekiah,” mg. “spake judgements with him” (Jeremiah 39:5); cp. Jeremiah 4:12.
touching all their wickedness] This is defined in the three clauses that follow, (i) the forsaking of the true God, (ii) the sacrificing to other gods, (iii) the worshipping of images.
have burned incense] lit. have caused sacrifices to smoke. The Hebrew word does not necessarily involve the use of incense. See further on Jeremiah 7:9.
Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.17–19. Words of encouragement
17. Thou therefore gird up thy loins] obviously metaphorical. Prepare for energetic action or strenuous conflict. The lower part of the flowing Eastern robe was gathered up in preparation for (i) a journey (Exodus 12:11; 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 9:1), (ii) a race (1 Kings 18:46), (iii) a conflict (Job 38:3; Job 40:7).
be not dismayed, etc.] be not dismayed (lit. broken down, shattered) before them, lest I dismay thee before them. Be not a coward, lest I leave thee to the consequences of thy cowardice. Quail not, lest I let thee quail. Cp. Jeremiah 17:17.
For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen 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.18. a defenced city, and an iron pillar; and brasen walls] Jeremiah was to be fortified by divine strength against the attacks which he would have to confront throughout his prophetic life. The assaults would be severe, and hence the force of the figures under which he is described. Jeremiah would need a pre-eminent degree of strength. Cp. Ezekiel 3:9. The words “and an iron pillar” are probably to be omitted (with LXX), as inconsistent with the idea of a siege. If we retain them, we may explain the sentence as expressing in the strongest manner what is impregnable and cannot be overthrown.
against the kings of judah] Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah.
And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.19. they shall not prevail against thee] When we compare portions of the subsequent history of Jeremiah, we find that in point of fact the prophet was from time to time at the mercy of his foes. The sense therefore here is shall not finally prevail. Before the prophet’s death his cause should be vindicated, his predictions verified, and good seed sown. Cp. the nature of the fulfilment of our Saviour’s prayer in Luke 22:32.