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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

The "words" (Heb. debarim, writings, prophecies, deeds, and events of his life) that follow are those of Jeremiah (meaning Yahweh founds, establishes, exalts, throws down, hurls, or loosens [the womb]). This was a common name in Israel. The Old Testament refers to many different individuals who bore it. His father was Hilkiah (also a common name), who may or may not have been the high priest who found the book of the Law in the temple during Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 22:3-13). Jeremiah’s father was a priest who lived in Anathoth, a village three miles northeast of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin where other priests also lived (cf. Joshua 21:15-19). Thus Jeremiah was a priest by ancestry. The book never refers to him as serving as a priest, and he was often a severe critic of the Levitical priests. According to one writer, the words "to whom the word of the Lord came," and similar phrases, occur 157 times in Jeremiah out of a total of 349 times in the entire Old Testament. [Note: James G. S. S. Thomson, The Old Testament View of Revelation, pp. 60-61. This is about 45 percent of its occurrences.]

Verses 1-3

A. The introduction of Jeremiah 1:1-3

Most of the prophetical books begin with some indication of authorship and date to put them in their historical contexts, and this is true of the Book of Jeremiah.

Verse 2

The word of Jeremiah was the word of the Lord (cf. Jeremiah 1:1). Jeremiah received his first instructions from Yahweh as a prophet in the thirteenth year of King Josiah of Judah’s reign (640-609 B.C.), namely, 627 B.C. (cf. Jeremiah 25:3). [Note: See A Graeme Auld, "Prophets and Prophecy in Jeremiah and Kings," Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 96:1 (1984):66-82, for a study of the history of the terms "prophet" and "prophecy" in the Old Testament.]

Verse 3

Jeremiah also received prophecies from the Lord during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), and until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (597-586 B.C.)-namely, 586 B.C.-even until the exile of the residents of Jerusalem began in the fifth month of 586 B.C. The writer evidently omitted Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin from this list of kings because their reigns each lasted only three months, in 609 and 598-597 B.C. respectively.

"There is particular significance in the reference to the deportation (galut) of Jerusalem. This event was the climax to Jeremiah’s preaching and a demonstration of his authenticity as a genuine prophet of Yahweh, for in that event the basic thrust of his prophecy was fulfilled." [Note: Thompson, p. 141.]

We know from elsewhere in the book that Jeremiah also prophesied after the fall of Jerusalem (cf. chs. 40-44). So the dates in this verse fix the period of Jeremiah’s main ministry and set it in a historical context.

"We only begin to understand the power of Jeremiah’s book if we grasp something of the chaos of his world." [Note: Craigie, p. 5.]

This preface sets the stage for what follows.

Verse 4

The prophet now began speaking to his readers and telling them what the Lord had said to him. Throughout this book, an indication that the Lord had told Jeremiah something is often the sign of a new pericope, as here (cf. Jeremiah 1:11; Jeremiah 1:13; Jeremiah 2:1; Jeremiah 2:4; Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:11; Jeremiah 4:3; Jeremiah 4:27; et al.). These references are not the only indicators of a new section of text, but they usually indicate the beginning or ending of a section when they appear.

Verses 4-10

1. The promise of divine enablement 1:4-10

Verses 4-19

B. The call of Jeremiah 1:4-19

This account of Jeremiah’s call prepares the reader for the prophet’s ministry that unfolds beginning in chapter 2. The events recorded here prepared Jeremiah for that ministry, a ministry that frequently discouraged him and made him wish that God had never called him.

Verse 5

Yahweh knew (Heb. yada’, committed Himself to) Jeremiah before He had formed him in his mother’s womb (cf. Genesis 4:1; Psalms 1:6; Hosea 4:1; Amos 3:2). Jeremiah existed as a human being during his gestation period (cf. Psalms 139:13). God had set him aside (Heb. hiqdish) from all other uses for prophetic ministry even before his birth (cf. Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1-3; Amos 7:10-17). His prophetic ministry would involve many nations (chs. 46-51), not just Judah (chs. 2-45).

"The thought that his very existence was a conscious part of divine purpose and not an incidental biological occurrence must have given him a special sense of destiny. This in turn doubtless contributed to his determination to fulfil his prophetic mission regardless of personal considerations." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 50-51.]

"God identified Himself to be sovereign over Jeremiah in that He (1) foreknew Jeremiah before he was born, (2) had caused him to be born, and (3) had separated him for a holy service. On this basis, He also had the sovereign prerogative to appoint Jeremiah to be a prophet." [Note: Irving L. Jensen, Jeremiah and Lamentations, p. 19.]

Verse 6

When the Lord revealed his calling to him, Jeremiah expressed dismay: first, because he was still a youth, and second, because he had not yet learned how to speak confidently and effectively.

Jeremiah’s age at his call is not clear except that he was a youth (Heb. na’ar, a word that elsewhere in the Old Testament describes children through young men; cf. Genesis 14:24; Genesis 22:3; Genesis 34:19; Exodus 2:6; Exodus 33:11; 1 Samuel 4:21; Judges 8:14). Jeremiah was probably about 20 years old. The estimates of several reliable commentators range from about 16 to 25 years old.

Jeremiah’s response to his call reveals the first of his many similarities to Moses (cf. Exodus 4:1-17). The people to whom they spoke did not believe either prophet, and both men claimed to be inadequate as speakers, to name only two likenesses. Jeremiah’s contemporaries could very well have mistaken him for "the prophet like Moses," which Moses predicted would come after himself (Deuteronomy 18:18).

Verse 7

The Lord refused to accept Jeremiah’s reasons for resisting his call. It did not matter that he was young and inexperienced, because the Lord had called him. He would go where God sent him and say what God told him to say.

Verse 8

He was not to fear the response of his audience, because the Lord promised to be with him and to deliver him from his threatening hearers (cf. Genesis 15:1; Numbers 21:34; Deuteronomy 3:2; Deuteronomy 31:6; Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:9; Daniel 10:12; Daniel 10:19; Matthew 28:20; Luke 1:30; Luke 5:10; Acts 27:24). The Lord always supports the servants whom He sends on His missions (cf. Exodus 3:12; Joshua 1:1-9; Matthew 28:19-20; et al.).

Verse 9

By stretching out His hand and touching Jeremiah’s mouth, the Lord symbolized the transfer of His words to the prophet’s mouth (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18). He also explained the meaning of His act. This was a powerful way of visualizing that the Lord Himself would participate in all that Jeremiah would undertake (cf. Isaiah 6:6-7; Ezekiel 3:1-3).

God uses ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary work if they trust in Him in spite of their fears, obey Him in spite of their inexperience, and proclaim His Word in spite of their feelings of inadequacy. [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 591.]

"The word of God is a power that carries out His will, and accomplishes that whereto He sends it, Isa. Leviticus 10 ff. Against this power nothing earthly can stand; it is a hammer that breaks rocks in pieces, xxiii. 29." [Note: Keil, 1:42.]

Verse 10

The Lord appointed Jeremiah to a position of authority over the nations in the sense that he would announce God’s will for them. He would announce both good news and bad, oracles of judgment and messages of comfort and encouragement. The verbs in this verse anticipate the whole message of this book, as one might expect in an introduction. [Note: See Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, p. 243-44.] Four of them are destructive, and only two are constructive, reflecting the predominantly negative emphasis of Jeremiah’s ministry. The Lord compared Jeremiah’s work to that of two types of workers: a farmer and an architect.

"This is a paradigm of the spiritual life, for God has first to remove the sin before the sinner can begin to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:15; 2 Peter 3:18)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 50. See also Kenneth L. Barker, "Jeremiah’s Ministry and Ours," Bibliotheca Sacra 127:507 (July 1970):223-31.]

". . . the Bible gives us a realistic message that Jeremiah preached into his own days, a message I am convinced the church today must preach if it is to be any help in the post-Christian world." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 36.]

"First, we may say that there is a time, and ours is such a time, when a negative message is needed before anything positive can begin. There must first be the message of judgment, the tearing down. There are times, and Jeremiah’s day and ours are such times, when we cannot expect a constructive revolution if we begin by overemphasizing the positive message. . . .

Second, with love we must face squarely the fact that our culture really is under the judgment of God. We must not heal the sickness lightly. We must emphasize the reality." [Note: Ibid., pp. 70, 71.]

"What we are is God’s gift to us; what we do with it is our gift to Him." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Jeremiah," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 77.]

Verse 11

The Lord directed the prophet to observe the branch of an almond tree. The almond tree is distinctive, as it is the first tree to blossom in the spring in Israel. Many almond trees still grow in Israel, even in the area of old Anathoth, so the tree was probably common to Jeremiah.

Verses 11-12

The vision of the almond tree 1:11-12

Verses 11-19

2. Two confirming visions 1:11-19

The Lord gave Jeremiah two visions to help him appreciate the nature of his calling, two witnesses to his calling. The first one stresses the ultimate effectiveness of his ministry and the second its negative emphasis. The first deals with the time of judgment and the second with the direction and nature of it.

Verse 12

Yahweh explained that He would watch over His word to perform it.

"In a day when the word of the Lord seemed to be forgotten entirely, Jehovah declared, ’I watch over My word to perform it.’" [Note: G. Campbell Morgan, An Exposition of the Whole Bible, p. 321.]

The connection with the almond branch is a play on words. "Almond" is shaqed in Hebrew, which also means "awake," and "watching" is shoqed. The meaning seems to be that just as the blooming of the almond branch announced that spring was near, so the prophet’s word would herald the imminence of what he predicted. The NEB translated the last part of the Lord’s statement in this verse, "I am early on the watch to carry out my purpose."

"Jeremiah’s vision of the ’awake tree’ reminded him that God was awake and watching over His word to make sure it came to pass." [Note: Dyer, "Jeremiah," p. 1131.]

These two verses summarize a central theme of Jeremiah: the inevitable fulfillment of Yahweh’s announcements concerning Judah and the nations.

Verse 13

The Lord directed Jeremiah to view a boiling pot (a cauldron used for cooking or washing, Heb. sir) that was tipped so that it was about to pour its contents out toward the south. The Hebrew clarifies that a strong wind was blowing, thus making the fire under the pot hot, and causing it to boil over.

Verses 13-19

The vision of the boiling pot 1:13-19

This vision may have come to Jeremiah immediately after the preceding one or at some other time.

Verse 14

The Lord explained that the contents of the boiling pot represented an evil that would overflow upon all the inhabitants of Judah from the north. Many of the commentators, and I, believe this refers to Babylon (cf. Jeremiah 25:9; Jeremiah 39), but a few think it refers to the Scythians. [Note: See Harrison, Introduction to . . ., pp. 803-4; Feinberg, pp. 361-62; or Graybill, p. 657, for further discussion of the foe from the north.] The major threat to Judah when Jeremiah began his ministry was Assyria, but Assyria soon declined and Neo-Babylonia took its place. Whereas Babylon (and Assyria) lay to the northeast of Palestine, its invading armies would descend from the north, since the Arabian Desert kept them from advancing directly from the east.

Verse 15

The evil from the north would be many families (peoples) of the kingdoms of the north; it would be a massive invasion. These enemies would invade Judah, besiege Jerusalem, and seek to conquer and rule the land. "Setting a throne" at the gates of Jerusalem is a figure for establishing sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Verse 16

The Lord would use these invaders to judge the Judahites for their wickedness, namely: forsaking the Lord, and worshipping other gods-plus the idols they made with their own hands. These sins demonstrated Judah’s covenant unfaithfulness for which God had promised curses (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68).

Verse 17

Jeremiah was to get to work and announce all of the Lord’s messages to His people (cf. Exodus 12:11; 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 9:1; Luke 12:35; Ephesians 6:14; 1 Peter 1:13). He was not to let fear discourage him from being obedient (cf. Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:6-9; Ephesians 6:10-14), because if he did, the Lord would really give him something to fear. The disobedient believer not only fears people, but he or she also has God to fear because God becomes his or her adversary (cf. Jeremiah 12:5-6; Jeremiah 20:9).

Verse 18

The Lord promised that none of the people of Judah-the kings, the princes, the priests, or the ordinary citizens-would be able to destroy Jeremiah. He would make Jeremiah as impregnable as a fortress, as irresistible as a fortified city, as strong as an iron pillar, and as resistant to attack as a bronze wall. [Note: Thompson, p. 157.] Jeremiah would not be popular in his day. His greatness was "not his fame, but his faithfulness." [Note: Fred M. Wood, Fire in My Bones, p. 24.]

Verse 19

The people of Judah would fight him and try to destroy him, but the Lord promised again to be with Jeremiah and to protect his life (cf. Jeremiah 1:8). The Lord would "rescue" him, as He had rescued the Israelites in the Exodus (cf. Exodus 3:8; Exodus 18:4; Exodus 18:8-10; et al.).

". . . if you are a Christian looking for an easy ministry in a post-Christian culture where Christians are a minority, you are unrealistic in your outlook. It was not to be so in Jeremiah’s day, and it cannot be so in a day like our own." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 37.]

"For Jeremiah as for us, his [God’s] way in general is not to stop the fight but to stand by the fighter." [Note: Kidner, p. 28.]

"Prophets are almost extinct in the religious world today. The modern church is a ’non-prophet’ organization." [Note: Vance Havner, cited by Dennis J. Hester, compiler, in The Vance Havner Quotebook, p. 179.]

"The account of the vocation in Jeremiah 1 has set the stage for reading with understanding the chapters of the book that follow. But now that the stage has been set, the reader must be careful not to forget this account of vocation, for its memory will return to haunt the prophet in later years (and subsequent chapters). The memory will emerge openly in the ’Confessions’ that ensue from later trials, but still its shadow is felt in the last years of the prophet’s life as a refugee in Egypt, cut off from the land in which the call came." [Note: Craigie, p. 18.]

Jeremiah’s calling was not really that unusual. God has also chosen every Christian before the foundation of the world (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:4). He has chosen us to follow Him faithfully (1 Corinthians 6:20). He has also called every Christian to announce His Word (Matthew 28:19). He has called us to follow Him as He leads us through life by His Spirit (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:25). And He has promised to be with us, and to preserve us eternally, even though we live as aliens and strangers in a hostile world (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 8:31-39; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11-12).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-1.html. 2012.
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