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1. The public life of Jeremiah, author of the Book which bears his name, embraces a period marked by political and social changes of no ordinary character, and the Book itself displays to us the circumstances and relations of the people of the time to a degree which the writings of none of the other prophets can approach. The events, of which the detailed narrative is here given, affected both the Jewish people, to whom it was his lot to declare the will of God, and the neighbouring nations, on whose relative strength and disposition, favourable or the reverse, then depended the prosperity and even the existence of Judaea as a nation. We shall therefore take in order
The few notices which we possess of Jeremiah anterior to
his call to public office as a prophet; The political condition of neighbouring nations, so far as
it affected Judaea; The social condition of Judaea at the time of the prophet's
His call and subsequent history.
2. Notices of Jeremiah before his call to prophetic office. Chap. i. i gives us (a) his name, (b) his parentage, (c) his
descent, and family dwelling-place.
(a) In the Hebrew his name takes the form Yirmyahu, or (shortened) Yirmya. Its meaning has not been reached with any certainty. Conjectures are,
i. that of Geseniusl,'appointed of Jehovah.'
ii. that of Hengstenberg', 'Jehovah throws,' thus tracing the origin of the word as a Jewish name to the opening of Moses' song of triumph (Exodus xv.) on the occasion of the overthrow of the Egyptians, 'the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea,' and further making the individual application in the prophet's case to be the work which (chap. i. 10) was specially given into his charge. "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 plant3."
iii. That of Simonis4, 'exalted of the LORD;', i.e. (i) the Lord's exalted one, 'Jehovah shall exalt,' or (ii) the Lord's (i.e. the greatest) exaltation, compare Moses 'exceeding fair,' marg. fair to God (Acts vii. 30). This is at least as good as either of the former.
We have the name several times in the enumeration of David's mighty men.
(6) We are told (chap. i. i) that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah. The same is the name of the high-priest, who in the eighteenth year of J osiah's reign, and therefore five years subsequently to Jeremiah's call (chap. i. 2), discovered the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord (2 Kings xxii. 8). Were we sure that these two notices refer to one and the same person, we could with more certainty picture to ourselves the character of Jeremiah's bringing up, and the nature of the influences which would be brought to bear upon him from the fact of his father's holding not only the chief position in religious matters but also the foremost place in the reforms instituted by Josiah. And although Hilkiah seems to have been not an uncommon name
1 'Jecit; id est, collocavit, constituit.' He refers it to a Chaldee root, occurring Dan. vii. 9, 'I beheld till the thrones were (cast down, A. V. or) set' (Thesaurus, sub v.).
3 Christologie des a. B. (Clarke's Library), 11. 361. "He who bore _ it (the name) was consecrated to that God who with an Almighty hand throws to the ground all His enemies."
3 But see note on chap. i. 1.
4 Onomasticon, p. 535.
at the time1, there is some amount of probability in this conjecture. The respect with which the prophet was as a rule treated by the princes and by the successive kings of Judah (chaps. xxxvi. 19, 25, xxxviii. 8—10), as shewn in particular by the contrast between the treatment with which he met and that which fell to the lot of Urijah (chap. xxvi. 23, 24), accords with this view, as does the fact that Baruch, a man of good birth2 and brother of Seraiah, who held high office in Zedekiah's court (chap. li. 29), was willing to be in his employ as scribe. The remaining part of the opening sentence of the Book of Jeremiah has indeed been adduced as an objection. For
(c) it is there stated that Jeremiah was (not only a priest, but) of the priestly city of Anathoth. The priests were not distributed over the country, but lived together in certain cities which with the lands in their neighbourhood had been assigned to their use. From thence they went up by turns to minister in the Temple at Jerusalem. Thus the religious instruction of the people in the country generally was left to the heads of families, until the establishment of synagogues, an event which did not take place till the return from the captivity, and which was the main source of the freedom from idolatry that became as marked a feature of the Jewish people thenceforward as its practice had been hitherto their great national sin.
Anathoth is mentioned as a city of the priests in Joshua xxi. 18. At the end of David's life also we read that Abiathar the highpriest, after the failure of Adonijah's attempt to obtain the throne of Israel, retired to Anathoth3. Now Abiathar's descent from Aaron was through Ithamar (this younger branch of Aaron's descendants seem to have possessed the office from the time of Eli to that of Abiathar only), while Hilkiah, the high-priest of Josiah's time, traced his lineage through Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the elder son of Aaron (1 Chron. vi. 4—13). Hence it has been inferred that Hilkiah would not be connected with
1 Comp. chap. xxix. 3. Hilkiah, father of Gemariah an envoy sent by Zedekiah to Nebuchadnezzar.
2 According to Josephus 'one of a very eminent family,' Ant. x. 9 § 1 (Whiston's Edition, 1864).
3 1 Kings ii. 26.
Anathoth. In reply, however, it has been pointed out that there is nothing to shew the impossibility or even improbability that descendants of both sons of Aaron should dwell in the same priestly town, and that it is even likely that the dominant family would secure for its high-priest a dwelling in a place so conveniently adjacent to Jerusalem1. And further we may notice that Hilkiah is not the only name which is common to the historical and to the prophetic record of these times. Shallum is uncle of Jeremiah (chap. xxxii. 7), and Shallum is also husband to Huldah the prophetess (2 Kings xxii. 14); and again, Ahikam the son of Shaphan, joined with Hilkiah the high-priest and others as one of Josiah's chief supporters in his work of external reformation, can scarcely be any other than Ahikam son of Shaphan, who in the reign of Jehoiakim protected Jeremiah, when the elders of the land were compassing his death.
Jeremiah speaks of himself at the time of his call as a child (chap. i. 6), and although the expression might be taken merely to signify a sense of incompetence for the work to which he was being summoned, yet it was probably not without a literal fitness, as we find him apparently in full vigour of manhood for the space of forty years from that date.
3. The political condition of neighbouring nations so far as it affected Judaea.
The position of Judaea exposed it to attack from Egypt on the one side, from the eastern empire of Nineveh on the other. It was not strong enough to cope with either of these without the countenance, if not active support, of the other kingdom, and therefore the problem which it had to solve was, with which of these it should throw in its lot. In the time of Isaiah,
1 'Anata,' on a broad ridge 1\ hours N.N.E. from Jerusalem. The cultivation of the priests survives in tilled fields of grain with figs and olives. There are the remains of walls and strong foundations, and the quarries still supply Jerusalem with building stone. Grove, Art. in Smith's Biil. Diet. It was discovered by Dr Robinson who tells us (Researches, I. p. 437, 3rd edition) that it seems to have been a walled town and a place of strength, but is apparently not directly mentioned by any writer since the days of Jerome. His party found the fragments of a column or two among the ruins.
whose prophecies terminated in the reign of Hezekiah, that prophet had earnestly dissuaded his countrymen from an Egyptian alliance. "Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord...that walk to go down into Egypt and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt. Therefore shall the strength of Pharaoh be your shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt your confusion...For the Egyptians shall help in vain, and to no purpose" (Is.xxx. i—7). The same in substance was said by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, to Hezekiah through his messenger Rabshakeh (Is. xxxvi. 5, 6). Hezekiah's reliance on God and his prayerful spirit were presently rewarded by the miraculous overthrow of Sennacherib's host (Is. xxxvii. 36) and the violent death, thirteen years later, of their leader, who was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon. This destruction of Sennacherib's army in the 14th year of Hezekiah (b. C. 693)1 secured Judaea against the fate which had befallen theNorthern kingdom at the hands of Shalmanezer. There was no important expedition made against Palestine during Esarhaddon's reign (B.C. 679—666) except that which he early undertook against Jerusalem in vengeance for his father's overthrow. This resulted in the removal of Manasseh, Hezekiah's son and successor, as a captive to Babylon"; but Manasseh was soon allowed to return, and seems to have been left in peace during the rest of his reign, Esarhaddon finding troubles nearer home quite sufficient to occupy his attention. His son Assurbanipal made expeditions into Egypt, which he divided into twelve small principalities, thus delivering Judaea from all present fear from that quarter. He is thought to have been 'the great and noble Asnapper' (Ezra iv. 10) who brought over various tribes and settled them in the cities of Samaria, but, although the king of Judah is mentioned in the recently-discovered Assyrian inscriptions, yet
1 So Neteler in examination of Schrader's 'Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament' as quoted in the Introduction to the Book of Jeremiah in the Speakers Commentary.
Esarhaddon was the only king of Nineveh who lived at Babylon. This shews the accuracy of the sacred record. He dwelt there for the last eleven years of his life, and there died.