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Old Testament Notes

The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah

Jeremiah was active as a prophet before, during, and after the Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. This was a time of great turmoil, which is reflected in the structure of the Book as we have it now. The chapters do not always follow the chronological order, but give the impression of being a collection of prophecies, warnings, and history which was put together from whatever material survived the Fall of Jerusalem. The present Hebrew text (the Masoretic text) and the present Greek text (the Septuagint) contain much the same material, but give it in different order. The total impression is one of chaotic society, trying to rescue Jeremiah's words after the Fall of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 1:1 - Hilkiah, meaning "God is our portion" was the name of several men in the Old Testament. It is probable that Jeremiah's father was not the same as the Hilkiah who was the father of Eliakim who went out to talk to the Assyrians for Hezekiah (II Kings 18:18) because we are told that he was "of the priests which were at Anathoth" rather than Jerusalem. Anathoth was one of the cities given to the Priests by Joshua (Joshua 21:18, I Chron. 6:60), and was the town to which Solomon banished Abiathar the Priest (I Kings 2:26); it is about 3 miles north-east of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 1:2-3 - Josiah reigned ca. 641-609 BC, so the thirteenth year of his reign would be ca. 628 BC. Josiah had a treaty with the Assyrians, and had to fight for them against the Egyptians. He was killed in battle by the Egyptian pharaoh Necho. The people chose Josiah's son Jehoahaz as the next king, but he only reigned for 3 months before being taken as a prisoner to Egypt. Pharaoh Necho then made another of Josiah's sons, Eliakim, king of Jerusalem, and made him change his name to Jehoiakim (one of the ways a superior power made it clear that he was in charge was to make his vassals change their names). Jehoiakim reigned ca. 609-598 BC and became a vassal of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon for a few years, but then joined in a rebellion against him. When Jehoiakim died, his son Jehoiachin became king at the age of 18, but only reigned for 3 months before Nebuchadnezzar invaded in retaliation for the rebellion and took Jehoiachin as a prisoner to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then made Jehoiakim's brother, Mattaniah, king of Jerusalem, and made him change his name to Zedekiah. After reigning for 9 years, Zedekiah broke the oath which he had made to Nebuchadnezzar (and in which he had invoked God as a witness). Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah again, and beseiged Jerusalem for 2 years, until the city fell in 586 BC. Zedekiah had to watch as his sons were killed, then he was blinded and taken as a prisoner to Babylon. We do not know what happened to Zedekiah after that, but there is a record that Jehoiachin was released from prison after 37 years, and kept as a hostage at the Babylonian court. (II Kings 23:29 - 25:30)
Jeremiah 1:6 - "I am a child" probably meant that Jeremiah was a young man.
Jeremiah 1:11-12 - the Almond is one of the first trees to bloom in Spring - God was going to reveal things that would happen very soon.
Jeremiah 1:14 - the Assyrian invasion came from the north.
Jeremiah 2-5 - idolatry, and oppression of the poor were going to bring judgment on Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 6:1 - the tribe of Benjamin had remained with the tribe of Judah when the northern kingdom split from Judah. Now they are warned to try to escape.
Jeremiah 6:6 - one of the seige techniques then in use was to cut down trees and try to pile them against the walls of the city under siege, so that the invaders could either climb up them or run battering rams up them. If that failed, the trees could be set on fire to try to burn the walls down.
Jeremiah 6:22-23 - a description of the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 7 - Jeremiah's sermon on the steps of the Temple. Many of the Priests and people were trusting in the Temple to keep them safe no matter what they did - they thought that God would never let His Temple be destroyed, and so would keep Jerusalem safe.
Jeremiah 7:12 - Shiloh had been the first place in Israel where the Tabernacle was kept (Joshua 18:1), and was the center for worship at the time of Eli (I Samuel 1-3), but because of the corruption of worship there, God allowed the Philistines to destroy it completely.
Jeremiah 7:15 - reference to the deportation of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was dominated by the tribe of Ephraim.
Jeremiah 7:18 - whole families were taking part in the rituals of the goddess Ashtoreth.
Jeremiah 7:31 - Tophet in the valley of Hinnom was the place where children were burned to death as sacrifices to false gods.
Jeremiah 8:2 - to be unburied was a sign of great shame - it meant that no-one cared enough about one to bury one.
Jeremiah 8:7 - the migrating birds knew instinctively when to fly north or south, but the people did not have enough sense to do what was right.
Jeremiah 8:22 - Gilead was a region east of the Jordan, where the tribes of Reuben and Gad settled and kept cattle. Evidantly the region was famous for a particular ointment (balm), but no-one today knows what it was made of.
Jeremiah 9:25 - the people thought that it was enough just to be circumcised, and did not bother to keep the terms of the covenant for which circumcision was a sign of obedience. So God was going to treat them like all the other nations which did not obey Him.
Jeremiah 10:2 - the other nations used astrology to try to predict the future.
Jeremiah 10:3-5 - Jeremiah points out that idols can neither speak nor walk, and asks why the people think that an idol could do anything to help them.
Jeremiah 11:1-8 - a reminder of the Covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20)
Jeremiah 11:14 - God tells Jeremiah that things have got so bad that it is no use praying for the people any more.
Jeremiah 11:19 & 21 - Jeremiah's home town was Anathoth. The people there did not like his call to repentance, and threatened to kill him.
Jeremiah 12:1 - Jeremiah is struggling with the thought that the wicked appear to prosper, while the good people, including Jeremiah himself, are treated badly.
Jeremiah 12:15 - God promises that after the people have been taken away captive, He will eventually bring them back to their land.
Jeremiah 13:1-11 - Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and some of the other prophets not only spoke words of prophecy, but also acted out little dramas to bring home to the people what their message was about. In this case, God was saying that He had wanted Israel to be as close to Him as a loincloth is to the man wearing it, but that the people had soiled themselves by worshipping other gods.
Jeremiah 14:22 - "the vanities of the Gentiles" were the idols and false gods that other nations worshipped. None of them could cause the rain to fall, so Jeremiah pleads with God to save the land.
Jeremiah 15:4 - see II Kings 21 and II Chron. 33 - Manasseh led the people into idolatry, and burned his children as sacrifices to other gods.
Jeremiah 16:1-4 - God told Jeremiah not to marry or have children - those who had a wife or children would soon be mourning their deaths from famine or warfare.
Jeremiah 16:14-15 - God promises again that He will eventually bring the people back from exile.
Jeremiah 17:5 - the king and people were trusting that other people, such as the pharaoh of Egypt, would help them, rather than trusting in God
Jeremiah 17:19 - Jeremiah was to stand at the gateway into the city, and preach to the people who were bringing things into the city on the Sabbath, telling them that they were supposed to be worshipping God rather than working on the Sabbath.
Jeremiah 18:1-10 - another prophecy which was backed up by visual imagery - just as a potter could decide that a pot wasn't shaping properly, and could break it down and re-shape it, so God could break down the pride of Israel until they repented.
Jeremiah 19 - another acted Prophecy. Jeremaih was to take a pottery bottle and ask the leaders of the nation to go with him to the valley of Hinnom, also called Tophet, just outside Jerusalem. The valley of Hinnom was the place where children had been sacrificed to other gods. There, Jeremiah was to smash the bottle, and tell the watchers that God was going to smash the nation because of their continuing wickedness.
Jeremiah 20:3 - "Magor-missabib" mean "fear round about". Because Pashur had been pretending to prophesy, but had been telling lies and misleading the people, he was to see the people being killed by the Babylonians and would then be taken as a prisoner to Babylon, where he would die.
Jeremiah 20:7-18 - Jeremiah was facing a crisis - he had been trying to warn the people, but they laughed at him and wouldn't listen, so he decided not to prophesy any more. However, he found that he could not remain silent, and even though he wished he had never been born yet he still had to keep on with his mission.
Jeremiah 21 - Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was already attacking Judah, so Zedekiah wanted to know if God would perform a miracle and save Jerusalem from the Babylonians. God's answer was that those who surrendered and went to Babylon would be allowed to live, but those who stayed in the city and tried to fight would be killed.
Jeremiah 22 - This prophecy dates from the time of king Jehoahaz (also known as Shallum), king Jehoiakim (also known as Eliakim) and king Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah, or Jeconiah) - see II Kings 23:31-24:16 and II Chron. 36:1-10. Jehoahaz was taken as a prisoner to Egypt, where he died. Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin were taken as prisoners to Babylon, where Jehoahaz died and where Jehoiachin was kept in prison for 37 years. Jeremiah had told them to rule with justice and righteousness, but they preferred to build big palaces and rule with violence.
Jeremiah 23:8 - another promise that God will bring the Jews back from exile.
Jeremiah 23:9-40 - there were some who claimed to be prophets, and who were telling the people that it was OK to do whatever they wanted, and that God would look after them because they had the Temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah tries to warn that these are false prophets.
Jeremiah 23:11-12 - God declares that the Exile will last 70 years, and at the end of that time Babylon itself will be detroyed and the Jews will return home, as in fact happened.
Jeremiah 26:1 - Josiah was killed in battle against Pharaoh Necho, Jehoahaz was taken prisoner to Egypt, and Jehoiakim began to reign, around 609 BC.
Jeremiah 26:6, 9 - see note on Jeremiah 7:12
Jeremiah 26:18 - see Micah 1:1 & 3:12
Jeremiah 26:24 - Ahikam the son of Shaphan had served king Hezekiah, and was evidently a godly man (II Kings 22:12 & 14
Jeremiah 27:1-15 - another acted out prophecy - Jeremiah told all the nations between Babylon and Egypt that if they submited to Babylon they would survive; if they tried to fight, the Babylonians would destroy them.
Jeremiah 27:16-22 - some of the false prophets were saying that the Temple treasures, which had been taken to Babylon at the time of the first invasion, were going to be brought back soon. Jeremiah told them that it was a false promise, and that the rest of the treasures would also be taken away (as happened).
Jeremiah 28:1 - Zedekiah started to reign ca. 597 BC, so the fourth year would have been 593 BC.
Jeremiah 28:6 - Jeremiah wished that Hananiah's prophecy was true, but he knew that it was false.
Jeremiah 29:1-3 - Jeremiah sent a letter to those who had already been taken as prisoners with Jeconiah (also known as Jehoiachin) to Babylon in 597 BC (Ezekiel was amongst that group of prisoners). He encouraged them to settle in the land and pray for it, as they were going to live there for 70 years. Even amongst the Babylonian captives there was a false propher, Shemaiah the Nehelamite, who tried to undermine Jeremiah's work.
Jeremiah 31:15 - Rachel was the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. She died in childbirth (Gen. 35:16-20), and was regarded as one of the "mothers of the nation". Arab ladies still go to her tomb to pray when they want a baby, or when they are expecting a baby.
Jeremiah 31:18 - Ephraim had been one of the main tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel. They had already been taken into captivity.
Jeremiah 32:1 - the tenth year of Zedekiah was ca. 587 BC. Jerusalem was already under seige by Nebuchadnezzar, and would hold out for about another year (II Kings 25:1-3).
Jeremiah 32:7-15 - by buying the land Jeremiah showed his belief that God would indeed bring the nation back from captivity and exile.
Jeremiah 32:36-44 - God's promise of restoration and renewal.
Jeremiah 34:7 - Lachish was one of the fortified cities which held out for some time against the Babylonians. In the ruins of this city, archaeologists have found some of the messages which were sent from outlying companies of watchmen to the military garrison in Lachish, reporting on the fall of other cities, and how they could no longer see the signals from those cities. The messages were written on pieces of broken pottery, and so survived until today. They are known as the Lachish Ostraca - an ostracon is a piece of pottery with writing on it.
Jeremiah 34:8 & 11 - because Jeremiah had been preaching that it was wrong to make slaves of other Jews, and that God would punish the king and nobles for doing so, the king and others set their Jewish bond-servants free - but then changed their minds and enslaved them again.
Jeremiah 34:13-15 - a reminder of the original law which specified that a Jewish bond-servant should be set free after seven years' service (Deut. 15:12-14).
Jeremiah 34:17 - because the king and nobles enslaved the poor, they too would be enslaved by the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 34:18-19 - "passed between the parts of the calf" - they had taken part in a solemn covenant with God, that they would keep His law, and set their slaves free. As a sign of such a covenant, a calf would be killed and cut into two pieces along the spine. The halves would be laid parallel to one another, and those making the covenant would walk between the halves. As part of the oath they took, the people would say "If I break this covenant, may God treat me like this calf has been treated."
Jeremiah 35 - a prophecy from the time of Jehoiakim (609-598 BC). The Rechabites were a family whose forebears had taught them to live as nomads, after the manner of Abraham (and like present-day Bedouin). One of their elders told them they were not to drink wine. They were only in Jerusalem because the Babylonians had made it unsafe for them to live in the wilderness with their tents and flocks. Jeremiah contrasted the faithful way the Rechabites kept their promises, with the unfaithful way the rest of the people broke their promises to God.
Jeremiah 36:1-8 - the fourth year of Jehoiakim was ca. 605 BC. Jeremiah was told to make a written copy of his warnings and prophecies, and to have his disciple Baruch read it to the people.
Jeremiah 36:9-32 - the fifth year of Jehoiakim was ca. 604 BC. Baruch read Jeremiah's prophecies to the religious leaders and nobles.
Jeremiah 36:10 - Gemariah was evidently a popular name at that time. (see Jeremiah 29:3 for another man named Gemariah). This one was a scribe, who appreciated Jeremiah's ministry. His brother Ahikam had protected Jeremiah on another occasion when the people wanted to kill him (Jeremiah 26:24). His father, Shaphan, had been one of Josiah's ministers (II Kings 22:8-14).
Jeremiah 36:12 - Elnathan the son of Achbor had been sent by Jehoiakim to bring the prophet Urijah back from Egypt. Jehoiakim then killed Urijah. (Jeremiah 26:22-23)
Jeremiah 37:5 - The Egyptians were fighting the Babylonians for control of the land between Egypt and Mesopotamia - this included Judah. Chaldean at that time was another name for Babylonian. Because the Egyptians were attacking, the Babylonians had to break off their hostilities towards Jerusalem and concentrate on the Egyptina army.
Jeremiah 37:6-10 -The people in Jerusalem were hoping that the Egyptians would beat the Babylonians. Jeremiah had to tell them that the Egyptians were going to be beaten, and the Babylonians were going to come back and destroy Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 37:11-15 - because Jeremiah went on a visit to the land just north of Jerusalem one of the army captains thought he was trying to join up with the Babylonians, and reported him as a spy, so the princes put Jeremiah in prison.
Jeremiah 38:5 - Zedekiah was a young man in his early twenties who was not a strong enough character to stand up against his chief ministers and advisers.
Jeremiah 38:6 - the dungeon was probably an old cistern which had been used for storing water. There was no longer any water in it, just a layer of mud on the bottom.
Jeremiah 38:7 - the name Ebed-melech means "servant/slave of the king" - this was probably not his original name, but one he had been given when he was sent or sold to the king. He had more courage than all the free men in the court.
Jeremiah 39 - Jerusalem was under seige for two years, from 588 to 586 BC, until there was no food left and the people were starving to death. At the end of that time, king Zedekiah and some of the people tried to escape secretly from the city, but they were caught by the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 39:14 - the Babylonians thought that Jeremiah was on their side because he had been warning everyone that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians if the people did not repent and reform their ways.
Jeremiah 39:5 - Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was appointed as local governor by the Babylonians, and the capital was moved from the burned out city of Jerusalem to the town of Mizpah. Gedaliah's father and grandfather had been ministers for king Josiah (II Kings 22:3, 8-14).
Jeremiah 39:11-12 - when the Babylonians first invaded Judah some of the people fled to other countries for safety; now that things were more stable they began to return.
Jeremiah 39:14 - Ishmael the son of Nethaniah was a descendant of king David, and so probably fancied that he could become king of what was left of Judea. He joined in a plot with the Ammonite king to kill Gedaliah and take control of Judea (II Kings 25:25).
Jeremiah 41:1 - to sit down to a meal together was a sign of trust and friendship, so Ishmael's treachery was made even worse.
Jeremiah 41:17-18 - the survivors were afraid that the Babylonians would blame them for Gedaliah's death, so they decided to flee to Egypt for protection.
Jeremiah 42:1 - Johanan the son of Kareah had tried to warn Gedaliah about the plot to assassinate him (Jeremiah 40:13-16), and had rescued the people from Ishmael (Jeremiah 41:11-14). Now he became one of the leaders of the people.
Jeremiah 43:7 - Tahpanhes (now the archaeological site of Tell Defenneh) was a town on the river Nile, in the Delta region, which the Pharaohs of Egypt had fortified as a stronghold to protect Egypt from invasion by the Assyrians and (later) the Babylonians. Johanan and the people are behaving like Zedekiah, and trusting in political and military alliances rather than in God.
Jeremiah 44 - Jeremiah's warning to the Jews who went to Egypt.
Jeremiah 44:17-19 - the "queen of heaven" was one of the titles of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Jeremiah 45 - a special warning and promise for Baruch, dating from the time when Jeremiah asked him to write out his prophecy and read it to king Jehoiakim and the people (Jeremiah 36). Baruch's family was prominent in Jerusalem, his brother Seriah was a prince (Jeremiah 51:59), and Baruch may have had political ambitions which were not going to be fulfiled if Jerusalem fell. Archaeologists have recently found a couple of clay seals, one with Baruch's name and title, and one with Seriah's.
Jeremiah 46 - a warning for Egypt, also dating from the fourth year of Jehoiakim (ca. 605 BC).
Jeremiah 47 - a warning for the Philistines, who were also caught between Egypt and Babylon. Although they had been subdued by David and the later Israelite kings, there were still groups of ethnic Philistines living along the Mediterranean coast.
Jeremiah 48 - a warning for Moab, the land east of the Dead Sea. Nebo was the mountain upon which Moses stood to look into the Promised Land (Deut. 34:1-6)
Jeremiah 48:7 - Chemosh was the sun god. "Shemesh" is Hebrew for "sun".
Jeremiah 49:1-6 - a warning for the Ammonites. They lived east of the Jordan, and had taken back some of the land which the tribe of Gad had taken from them. They, too, were going to be invaded by the Babylonians.
Jeremiah 41:7-22 - a warning for Edom. The Edomites were descended from Esau (Genesis 36) and so were related to the Jews, but they were at enmity with them. They were also going to come under attack from Babylon.
Jeremiah 49:16 - the capital of the Edomites was at a place now called Petra, which is carved out of solid rock cliffs, and which can only be approached by a very long narrow canyon. The Edomites thought that no enemies could possibly find them and get through the canyon.
Jeremiah 49:23-27 - Damascus was the capital of Syria, and controlled one of the main east-west trade routes. It was also in the direct path of the Babylonian army. Many of the kings of Damascus had been named Ben-Hadad, which means "son of Hadad". Hadad was the god of the storm, one of their chief gods.
Jeremiah 49:28-33 - Kedar was a tribe of Ishmaelites. Hazor was a fortified city in control of much of the region north of the Galilee; it was conquered by Joshua, and later became one of the strongholds of the northern kingdom of Israel. It, too, was in the way of the Babylonian army.
Jeremiah 49:34-39 - Elam was a land east of the Tigris, in Mesopotamia. Assyria had conquered Elam, but the Elamites often tried to regain their freedom from Assyria, and, later, Babylon. The Elamites had joined with the Assyrians in attacking Israel aand had carried away some Israelites to the land of Elam (Isaiah 11:11, 22:6). The capital of Elam was called Shushan (or Susa) and became the winter palace for the Persian empire (Esther 1:2).
Jeremiah 50:1 - 51:8 - Jeremiah's prophecy that Babylon would be destroyed.
Jeremiah 50:2 - Bel was another version of Baal, the god of thunder. Merodak was another version of Marduk, who was the chief god of Babylon,
Jeremiah 50:3 & 9 - the Babylonians were indeed attacked and taken over by Persians and others from the north.
Jeremiah 51:63-63 - another "acted" prophecy
Jeremiah 52 - a summary of the reign of Zedekiah and the Fall of Jerusalem.

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: April 9, 2008

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