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THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET
Chap. I. i—3. Words of Introduction.
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests 1 that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: to a
Chap. I. 1—3. Words Of Introduction.
1. The words of Jeremiah] A more common introduction to the prophetical books is "the word of the Lord." Certain Jewish commentators have suggested that a different phrase is used here because .the words which follow are not confined to prophecies, but contain as well many notices of the personal history of Jeremiah. This reason would apply also to the opening words of the prophet Amos, where we find a phrase similar to that used here, and again to the opening of Ecclesiastes, in which book the Preacher gives various particulars of his life.
Jeremiah] For speculations on the meaning of the name, see Introduction chap. i. § 2. The derivation proposed by Hengstenberg "Jehovah throws" is unlikely inasmuch as the ill omen which it suggests is hardly in accordance with the fact that the name was far from uncommon. Some other Jeremiahs are mentioned in the Bible, viz.: (1) the father-in-law of Josiah (2 Kings xxiii. 31); (2) the head of a house in Manasseh (1 Chron. v. 24); (3, 4, 5) three mighty men in David's army (1 Chron. xii. 4, 10, 13); (6) the head of a priestly course (Neh. x. 2, xii. 1, 12); (7) the father of Jaazaniah, the Rechabite (Jer. xxxv. 3).
the son of HilkiaK] The small number of proper names among the Jews rendered 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 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 Introduction, chap. i. § 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
whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Aiaorr. king-of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his 3 reign. Ifcafne also in Uie days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah.king "of Judah; unto the end of the eleventh year of Zede&ari ihe.sc5n.of josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
4—10. JereiniaNs Call, i Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
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.
2. came] was. The Hebrew implies more than one Divine communication.
in the days of etc.] For this and the following verse, as in all probability repeatedly altered from the original shape, see Introduction, chap, iii. § 4
in the thirteenth year of his reign] According to the ordinary reckoning, B.C. 629, or perhaps two years later. Josiah had the year before (2 Chron. xxxiv. 3) commenced his reforms. These words, as forming part of the original heading of Jeremiah's prophecies, strictly speaking include only ch. i. 5—iii. 5, there being afterwards many prophecies which refer to other parts of Josiah's reign. Preserved, therelore, through the changes made in the title, they serve to illustrate the alterations which it has undergone. The period included in these two verses is one of <joi years, viz. the latter part of Josiah's reign = 18 years; that of Jehoahaz=j months; that of Jehoiakim=1 1 years; that of Jehoiachin=3 months; that of Zedekiah = ir years. The omission of the names of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin is probably due to the shortness of their reigns.
3. in the fifth month] In this month took place the burning of the city by Nebuzaradan, Nebuchadnezzar's captain. The walls of the city also were then broken down. It had been captured in the preceding month (2 Kings xxv. 4, 8—10). The mourning appointed to take place in the fifth month in memory of the overthrow is mentioned in Zechariah (vii. 3).
4—10. Jeremiah's Call.
4. Then the word, etc.] Here, in accordance with what has been said above, we revert from the title in its present form, adapted and readapted to the later prophecies, to the words which doubtless originally introduced the utterance of'' the days of Josiah.. .in the thirteenth year of his reign" (v. 2). They are at once Jeremiah's plea and his support, the credentials of his mission to which he might refer the people when Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before 5 thou earnest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, 6
hostile and himself in seasons of despondency. They are words that serve to place him from the outset in his true position before his countrymen, as one who spoke in virtue of God's commission, and not of his own choice. We have in this section the declaration of God's purpose concerning him (v. 5); Jeremiah's protest (v. 6); God's reply (vv. 7, 8); the act of divine consecration (v. 9); the nature of the charge itself (v. 10).
5. / knew thee] meaning not mere acquaintance, but approval as a consequence of this. The parallelism of contrast, frequent in the poetical books of the Bible, shews this to be the sense of the word in Ps. i. 6, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish;" and when read in the light of that verse, two other passages (" For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord," Gen. xviii. 19; and "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him, Kahum i. 7) throw light on the expression as used here.
before thou eamest] Compare the promise of the angel to the father of John the Baptist, "he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb " (Luke i. 15); and the yet more mysterious promise made to the Virgin-mother of One greater than John, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" (Luke i. 35). Compare also Judges xiii. 5.
I sanctified thee] Solemn utterances like this have a tendency in Hebrew to take the form of parallel clauses either of similarity of sense as here ('knew—sanctified ), or of contrast, as in the first of the instances above given.
and I ordained thee] I have ordained thee. The verb literally is 'have given.' The absence of 'and' in the Hebrew points to this change from the indefinite to the definite form of the perfect. Thus, while the verbs 'knew,' 'sanctified,' refer to the time preceding the prophet's birth, that which follows relates to the time of his call.
unto the nations] This points out a distinction between the work of Jeremiah as a prophet, and that of many of his predecessors, such as Elijah, or Elisha, whose predictions were concerned with the Jews only. Those of Jeremiah on the other hand had to do with the heathen world of that day as well as with the nations of subsequent ages. He unfolded to them the order of Divine Providence, and foretold the blessings coming on the earth through the Advent of the Messiah (xxiii. 5, xxxiii. 15). The Jewish interpretation limits the reference of the words to judgments on the heathen nations, as contained in xxv. 8, etc. This is proved to be wrong by ver. 10 (which see with notes).
6. Jeremiah shews that the prophetic office was not one of his own seeking.
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 com
8 mand thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces:
9 for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And
Ah /] Rather, Alas! The same word in the Hebrew is used, e. g. Joshua vii. 7; 2 Kings iii. 10, and expresses not so much an entreaty that things should be arranged otherwise, as a lament that they are as they are. Jeremiah's position is thus different from that of Moses (Exod. iv. 10). The latter pleaded inability, "O my Lord, I am not eloquent," while the former acquiesces in the appointment, now announced to have been made so long before, pleads not inability but only youth and inexperience (compare Is. vi. 5; Ezek. iii. 15), and replies to the Almighty in the same spirit as Solomon at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings iii. 7), " I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in."
/ cannot speak] meaning, I have not the powers of oratory necessary to win the attention and so sway the conduct of hostile numbers. For the prophet of those days eloquence, natural or acquired, was as necessary as for one who would be a popular preacher or prominent statesman in our own time.
/ am a child] meaning, a very young man. The same word (na-ar) is used of Joshua (Exod. xxxiii. 11) at a time when we know him to have been forty-five years of age. In the case of Jeremiah, however, the length of his prophetic ministry shews that he must have been very youthful at its commencement. So Isaiah was probably not more than twenty years old when- he began to prophesy.
7. Here again there is brought out the contrast between Moses and Jeremiah. The former had brought one excuse after another (Exod. iii. 11, 13, iv. 1, 10, 13), and consequently, as we read (iv. 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.
8. Be not afraid] This is addressed not so much to the reason which Jeremiah had pleaded, viz. youth, but to that which, as the Lord saw, formed another cause for his shrinking from the task, viz. fear of those whom he was to address.
to deliver thee] Note the form of expression. The promise is not that the prophet in the exercise of his mission shall be preserved unhurt, although we are not without an instance of this sort of interposition (xxxvi. 26), but that he shall be delivered from destruction at the hands of his enemies.
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 (vi. 7), where the solemn inauguration of his ministry is recorded. On the other hand, in Daniel (x. 16), where the object- was the Lord 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 root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.
Ii—19. The Lord shews the Prophet the Vision of (i) the Almond Tree, (ii) the Boiling Caldron. He adds Words of Good Cheer.
Moreover, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
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 (ii. 8).
10. to root out] The prophet is said to do in his own person that which he announces as about to be done by God. Compare xv. 1, "cast them out of my sight;" Is. vi. 10, "Make the heart of this people fat, &c.;" Ezek. xiii. 19, where the false prophets are spoken of as "slaying the souls that should not die " and "saving the souls alive that should not live;" Ezek. xliii. 3, where the prophet speaks of the vision that he saw when he "came to destroy the city." This last is softened off in the margin by the English translators, but quite unnecessarily. 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.
"And thou, O sacred maid, inspired to see
Aeneas to the Sibyl. Dryden's Virgil, vi. 100—103. Three or four words are used to denote destruction, and two follow them implying restoration. This serves to shew that the earlier as well as the more important 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.
11—19. The Lord Shews The Prophet The Vision Of (i) The Almond Tree, (ii) The Boiling Caldron. He Adds Words Of Good Cheer.
11. the word of the Lord came unto me] The prophets' "gift of prophesying was neither permanent, nor the result of their own volition, but wholly dependent on the divine pleasure." Archdeacon Lee, from 1 whom the above quotation is made (Inspiration of Holy Scripture 4th ed. p. 170), instances 2 Kings iv. 27; Acts xx. 22, as proofs of this statement, and goes on to say that there are two. classes of revelations, (i) when the action of the external senses is suspended; (ii) when the prophet is conscious of all that takes place around him. Under the former head come symbolic visions, such as