Jeremiah 1:1-19

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The prophetic work is designated as the “words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah” or, according to the Septuagint, “the saying of God that came to Ieremias the [son] of Chelkias.” Possible meanings for the name “Jeremiah” are “YHWH loosens” (either the womb or from the womb) and “YHWH founded.” Jeremiah’s father was Hilkiah, one of the priests who were in Anathoth. Hilkiah may have been a descendant of Abiathar in the line of Ithamar. A possible connection of Hilkiah to Abiathar is the reference to the Levite city of Anathoth in the “land” or territory assigned to the tribe of Benjamin. (Joshua 21:17, 18; 1 Chronicles 6:60; 24:3, 6) It was to Anathoth that Solomon sent Abiathar when he deposed him as priest for having supported Adonijah in succeeding David as king. (1 Kings 1:7, 11; 2:22, 26, 27) Anathoth has been linked to a site less than three miles (under five kilometers) northeast of Jerusalem. (1:1)

The “word of YHWH” (“God” [LXX]) came to Jeremiah “in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of [Josiah’s] reign.” This was about 42 years before the Babylonians captured and destroyed Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah. (1:2)

In the decades that passed, the “word of YHWH” (or prophetic messages) came to Jeremiah. This happened in the “days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem [or the exile of surviving inhabitants of the city] in the fifth month.” The fifth month (Ab) corresponds to mid-July to mid-August. Based on the preponderance of extant ancient sources, the commonly assigned date is the year 587 or 586 BCE. (1:3)

Jeremiah is represented as declaring, “And the word of YHWH came to me, saying” (1:4), “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you; and before you came forth from the womb, I consecrated you; a prophet to the nations I made you.” Before his birth, Jeremiah was known to YHWH as the instrument he would use as his prophet to his people and also to announce prophecies regarding other nations. YHWH consecrated Jeremiah or set him apart for his service. (1:5)

Jeremiah felt unqualified, inadequate, and too young to fulfill a commission as a prophet. He said, “Ah, Lord YHWH!” (“[You] the One Who Is, Sovereign, Lord!” [“O Sovereign, Lord!” (Rahlfs’ printed text)] [LXX]) “I do not know how to speak [publicly as required from a prophet], for I am [but] a boy.” (“I am [too] young.” [LXX]) (1:6)

YHWH’s response to Jeremiah’s objection was, “Do not say, I am a boy [(too) young (LXX)], for all to whom I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.” This made it clear to Jeremiah that he would function as the instrument for proclaiming YHWH’s message as his sent one. (1:7)

Jeremiah was not to be afraid of the people regardless of their response, for YHWH would be with him to deliver him (evidently from those who would be hostile to his prophesying). These words gave him the assurance that he had the support and help of YHWH in his role as prophet. (1:8)

To reassure Jeremiah that he would not be inadequate for the prophetic office and to make it clear to him that he would not have to decide on or to formulate what to say, YHWH put forth his hand (possibly through the agency of an angel), touching Jeremiah’s mouth, and telling him, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth.” (1:9) “See,this day I have set you over nations and over kingdoms, to uproot and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” What Jeremiah would be announcing about nations and kingdoms would take place. They would be powerless in preventing the unerring fulfillment of the prophetic message. Therefore, Jeremiah would be over them, for his proclamations of YHWH’s judgment against nations and kingdoms would point to their being uprooted, broken down, destroyed, and overthrown and would be so certain to take place that the announcements about it could be equated with its being carried out. Jeremiah also was “to build and to plant,” and this would be by proclaiming messages that provided a basis for hope in a restoration to a thriving condition from a state of ruin and desolation. (1:10)

The “word of YHWH” came to Jeremiah with an initial question, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” He replied, “I see a branch of an almond tree” (shaqéd [a “waker” or an “awakening one”]). (1:11) “You have seen well,” was YHWH’s response, “for I am watching [shoqéd] over my word to perform it” (“my words to perform them” [LXX]). This interchange involved a wordplay. Two similar-sounding words (shaqéd and shoqéd), each one with a different meaning, convey the message. In Israel, the almond tree is among the first fruit-bearing trees to bloom after a period of dormancy in the winter and so is an “awakening one.” YHWH was keeping awake or watching over the “word” or message he had made known to Jeremiah and would see to it that it was fulfilled. Apparently this wordplay involving an almond branch served to make a lasting impression on Jeremiah’s memory. (1:12)

For a second time, the “word of YHWH” came to Jeremiah with an initial question, “What do you see?” According to a literal rendering of Jeremiah’s response, he saw a “blown pot.” This could mean that the pot with the fire used to heat it was blown upon by wind or by moving air from bellows. According to the Septuagint, the cauldron was “being heated.” Jeremiah also observed that the “face,” opening, or top of the pot was “away from” the north or tilted southward. This suggested that the boiling contents of the pot could spill out or be poured out toward the south. (1:13)

YHWH explained to Jeremiah the significance of what he saw. “From the north, evil [or calamity] will be opened up [or poured out] on all the inhabitants of the land” (the land of Jeremiah’s people). Military forces from lands at a considerable distance to the east of the territory of the kingdom of Judah would invade from the north, for they would avoid crossing the inhospitable desert that stretched many miles westward from their eastward location. Therefore, the coming disaster is represented as proceeding from the north. (1:14)

YHWH purposed to use armies that would be invading from the north to punish his wayward people. “For look, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north” (“of the earth or land” [LXX]), says YHWH, “and they will come and will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem and against all its walls round about and against all the cities of Judah.” Whereas the invaders would be acting according to their own desires, they would be carrying out the punishment that YHWH had determined to befall his unfaithful people. Therefore, his words represent him as doing the summoning of the attackers, and their coming was certain to occur because he had purposed it. The victorious leaders of the military campaign would seat themselves at the gates of Jerusalem and decide the fate of the surviving inhabitants. All the fortified cities of Judah would fall before the invaders. Neither the walls of Jerusalem nor those of any of the other cities would save the people from siege and conquest. (1:15)

When expressing his judgments against the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the other cities in the kingdom of Judah, YHWH provided the reasons for the punitive action. It was “for all their wickedness,” forsaking him, burning incense to other gods, and bowing down to the “works of their hands,” or worshiping idols. (1:16)

Jeremiah was told to “gird up [his] loins,” or to prepare himself for the activity that his commission required, to arise, and to tell the people all that YHWH had commanded him. YHWH continued to speak to him, “Do not be shattered by them, lest I shatter you before them [literally, their faces].” Jeremiah was not to allow the people to intimidate him, causing him to weaken before them and, out of fear, to stop proclaiming the message he had been commissioned to declare. The serious consequence for permitting himself to be shattered or broken would be that YHWH would break him, rejecting and punishing him before the people as an unfaithful prophet. In the Septuagint, the concluding admonition to Jeremiah and attributed to the Lord is, “Do not be afraid before their face [or before them] nor be terrified before them, for I am with you to deliver you.” Although Jeremiah would face intense hostility, he could be certain of YHWH’s aid and that he would not have his life cut short. (1:17)

YHWH assured Jeremiah that he would make him strong like an unconquerable walled city, an iron pillar, and copper walls. “And look! I — I make you this day a fortified city and an iron pillar and copper [or bronze] walls against all the land, against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, and against the people of the land” (or the rest of the populace, not including the rulers and priests). (1:18) YHWH would make him strong for the intense pressure that would be brought to bear against him. Rulers, priests, and the people generally would fight against Jeremiah, but they would be unable to prevail against him, for YHWH promised to be with him and to deliver him. Jeremiah would prove to be unconquerable. (1:19)