THE CALL OF JEREMIAH THE PROPHET
Read Jer 1:1-3. This editorial superscription was probably added at the final editing of the book which was first written in an abridged form by Baruch, faithful scribe to Jeremiah. Upon King Jehoiakim's burning of that book, Jeremiah re-dictated it to the scribe, adding further content (Jer 36:1-32). Obviously, since Jeremiah's ministry lasted well beyond the reign of Jehoiakim (Jer 1:3), this could not have been the final edition.The compositional history of the whole work cannot be determined, this is due in part to the fact that the work is not chronologically arranged.
Anathoth was a priestly village located about 4 miles to the northeast of Jerusalem in the tribal territory of Benjamin (Joshua 21:17-19). It was to this city that the famous priest, Abiathar, was banished by King Solomon for his role in attempting to make Adonijah the king (1 Kings 2:26-27; and see 1 Kings 1:5-10; 1 Sam 2:31). Hilkiah, the father of Jeremiah, was either a priest or was of priestly descent and has the same name as the High Priest who figures prominently in the reform movement of King Josiah (2Kings 22:8-23:7). This has led to speculation that Jeremiah was (1), the son of the High Priest; and (2), of the line of Abiathar. There is no substantial evidence to support either point.The ministry of Jeremiah began in the thirteenth year of his (King Josiah's) reign, i.e., 626 BC. It extended even unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive, in the fifth month, i.e., up to at least Jul/August of 587 BC. The book itself indicates that Jeremiah's ministry continued even after Jerusalem's carrying away (i.e., the beginning of the Babylonian exile). Indeed, his ministry continued even after his kidnapping and forced removal to Egypt (Jer 41:11-43:7), for we see him operating in Egypt (Jer 43:8-44:30). Most scholars date the end of his prophetic career to the time frame of 584-580 BC. According to Jewish tradition he was stoned to death.
JEREMIAH FIRST MEETS THE GOD WHO HAS KNOWN HIM FROM BEFORE HIS BIRTH
Read Jer 1:4-5. Jeremiah 1:1 began by describing the contents of this book as the words of Jeremiah, but as the beginning of the next two verses indicate, he was not the source of those words, rather God was, for it (Jer 1:3), that is to say the words of Jeremiah (Jer 1:1), were in fact the word of the Lord that came to him (Jer 1:2).
The fact that the origin of Jeremiah's prophetic words are emphasized in three consecutive verses indicates how important this point is. In his day false prophecy was a major problem, a fact we will see below; but also, the rejection of legitimate prophets was a problem as well, as we will see.
The fact that God knew Jeremiah before forming him in the womb, and consecrated and appointed him a prophet before his birth, strongly emphasizes the fact that Jeremiah is to be regarded as a legitimate prophet. St Paul will speak in similar terms in Gal 1:15 in order to emphasize that his mission and message were not of human origin (see Gal 1:11-24). Jeremiah's being consecrated recalls the announcement of the birth of Samson (Judges 13:5). Some scholars see a connection with Hannah's promise to God concerning the son she hoped to have (see 1 Sam 1:11). There is also a creation motif here, for elsewhere we read that God formed the dry land (Ps 95:5), as he had also formed man from the dust (Gen 2:7). Thus God's sovereignty is being emphasized, a point made a number of times in this book (e.g., Jer 10:23). Isaiah had prophesied that God would call a servant from his mother's womb (Isa 49:2), form a servant in the womb in order to bring Israel back to Him (Isa 49:5); one who would raise up the tribes of Jacob and become a light of salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). This prophecy concerned the Christ (Lk 2:32) and so it is no wonder that our Blessed Lord was mistaken for Jeremiah risen from the dead (Matt 16:14).
JEREMIAH OBJECTS TO GOD'S CALL AND GOD OBJECTS TO JEREMIAH'S OBJECTION
Read Jer 1:6-9. People attempting to get out of a divine calling is rather frequent in Scripture. Moses appealed to his poor oratorical skill (Ex 4:10), while both Gideon and Saul appealed to the insignificance of family or tribe (Judges 6:15; 1 Sam 9:21). Jonah simply fled out of a spirit of nationalism (Jon 1:1-3), surmising--correctly, as it turned out--that the Lord would spare the hated Ninevites (Jon 4:1-2).
To all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. As will become apparent latter in this chapter--not to mention throughout the book--this is a hard demand, but what is essential to it is what follows: Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD. Here we have a statement of both the divine presence and the divine protection; either promise, when used in the context of a bestowal of a mission, is a guarantee of divine help in the performance of that mission (see Matt 28:18-20; Acts 18:10). Jeremiah would need this divine assurance, help and protection, for: I have made you an assayer and tester among my people, that you may know and assay their ways. They are all stubbornly rebellious, going about with slanders; they are bronze and iron, all of them act corruptly (Jer 6:27-28). You shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips' (Jer 7:27-28).
The sending of the prophet with the command and demand that he go and speak places his activity in the realm of real prophecy. His youth (Jer 1:5) is of no consequence when it comes to his mission for the Lord's own hand has put the Lord's own words into his mouth (Jer 1:9-10. See Ex 4:15; Deut 18:18; Isa 51:16).
One of Jeremiah's biggest challenges will be the existence of false prophets and their easy message (a perennial problem til the end of time, 2 Tim 4:3-4). Jeremiah, the sent prophet with God's own word in his mouth (Jer 1:9) will be rejected in favor of those who have sent themselves to speak their own words of comfort--masquerading it as God's word--denying the need for repentance because they deny the concept of divine punishment, saying: You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place. But these are lies that God tells Jeremiah to expose: The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come on this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed (see Jer 14:13-18).
JEREMIAH, A PROPHET OF DOOM, GLOOM AND AN GLIMMER OF HOPE
Read Jer 1:10. Six verbs are used to describe Jeremiah's mission; the first four are negative, while the remaining two are positive. This disparity represents the quantitative content of his message; there is very little that is comforting. It should, however, be kept in mind that the threats of plucking, breaking, destroying, and overthrowing are in reality ordered towards the good, namely, repentance. This is the message of the potter's vessel (Jer 18:1-11) but it is a message that the people refused to take to heart (Jer 18:12). Even the punishment of exile in Babylon is oriented towards this good, a fact Jeremiah pointed out in his letter to the first of the Babylonians exiles (Jer 29:1-15). It was Jeremiah's dark task to prophesy the end of the Old Covenant and the existing Davidic Monarchy; but it was also his glorious task to prophecy the New Covenant and the rise of a new David (Jer 30:1-33:26).
THE ROD OF AN ALMOND TREE AND A BOILING POT
Read Jer 1:11-16. In English there is no logical connection between the rod of an almond tree and God's watching over His word to perform it (Jer 1:11-12). Scholars explain the connection it two ways: 1. there is a word play in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word for "almond" is shaqed, for "watching" the word is shoqed. 2. In the Holy Land the almond tree is the first to blossom after winter and people were accustomed to watch it branches for buds, a sure sign that spring had come. The first connection is certainly likely, but the second is problematic because the Hebrew word translated as "rod" in the RSVCE is maqqel, referring to a cut branch or stick. The point of the vision is to emphasize that God is attentive to the plans which He reveals through his word. His word will come to fruition. The word in context here refers to the prophecy associated with the vision of the boiling pot.
The north was the traditional route of invasion into the Holy Land and so the vision of a boiling pot facing away from the north is very ominous (Jer 1:13). An invading army, like a scalding deluge will soon fall upon the people (Jer 1:14-15). As the text of Jeremiah progresses it becomes apparent that this boiling pot is none other than the Babylonian Empire. The king of Babylon and all the rulers of his satellite kingdoms will invest Jerusalem and the entire land. Jer 1:15 indicates this idea of siege, but it also hints at its success, for in that age it was common for a conquering king to set up his throne in the gateway of a defeated city and pass judgement on the city's inhabitants. Ultimately however, it will be the Lord who is passing sentence because of the people's idolatry (Jer 1:16). Here one might recall and earlier prophecy of Isaiah, who indicated that Assyria would become God's instrument of punishment (Isa 10:5-27). But just as Assyria overstepped its bounds as the Lord's instrument, thus bringing punishment upon itself, so too would Babylon (Jer 50:18-46).
Read Jer 1:17-19. Jeremiah is bidden to gird up his loins. The meaning of this common phrase is lost on people today due in part to the fact that the original meaning of "loins" has been forgotten. Properly speaking "loins" refers to the waist and/or lower back of humans or animals. In biblical times men wore robes of ankle length and this could be detrimental to speed and agility when needed. To "gird the loins" meant to wrap a belt around the waist (loins) and pull the robe up through it until the hem reached a height which would allow the legs to move freely. To gird the loins thus became a metaphor for taking action, and this explains the New Jerusalem Bible's translation of the command: As for you, prepare yourself for action.
The action Jeremiah is to take is to arise and say to them everything that I command you. The connection between Jer 1:17 and Jer 1:7 is obvious. The command to arise contrasts nicely with the words be not dismayed by them (literally in Hebrew be not prostrated before them).
On the day of his calling (this day) Jeremiah was set by God over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow (Jer 1:10); but, in contrast, God also on this day made him a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls. People would fight against him but would not be able to prevail against him, because the Lord had promised: I am with you...to deliver you (Jer 1:19, repeating Jer 1:8).
The people would indeed fight against Jeremiah (Jer 26:7-15; 38:4), and even members of his own family would seek to kill him (Jer 11:19-23; 12:6). He who was known to God before his conception, and consecrated before his birth (Jer 1:5), would lament the day of his birth because he was "a man of strife and contention (see Jer 10:15). He even goes so far as to suggest that God has become like a deceitful brook, and unreliable source of water (Jer 15:18). But the Lord bids him to repent so that he can once again stand and become a fortified wall of bronze (see Jer 15:20-21).
In many ways Jeremiah reminds me of St Peter. Both were impetuous towards the Lord; the former in his complaining, the latter in his boasting. The timid Jeremiah would by grace be made what he was not by nature-he would become like a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall against which people would fight and not prevail (Jer 1:18-19). The vacillating St Peter would become a rock against which the gates of Hades would not prevail (Matt 16:18). Jeremiah's sufferings foreshadowed those of our Lord (compare Jer 26:1-9 with Mk 14:58; 15:29; compare Jer 12:6 with Lk 4:28-29). Like Jesus' death (and because of it) St Peter's death will glorify the Lord (compare Jn 13:36 with Jn 21:19).