Prophecy and the Prophets

By Barnard C. Taylor

Part II - A Story of the Individual Prophets

Chapter 2



Parallel reading: 2 Kings 22 to 25; 2 Chronicles 34 to 36; Obadiah; Habakkuk; Zephaniah; Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28, 29.

1. Date and Occasion

This prophet began his work among the people of the kingdom of Judah about 627 B. C., in the reign of Josiah, and continued in the reigns of Jehoiakim and Zedekiah till the fall of Jerusalem, 586 B. C. How long he prophesied after this date is not certain, but he delivered some prophecies while in Egypt whither he had gone with the little band escaping from Judah, which had been left at home when the army of Babylon carried away the Jews into captivity.

Jeremiah’s career was thus during the overthrow of Judah. The reforms in the days of Josiah effected little in averting destruction. Jehoiakim and Zedekiah were wicked kings, and their sin was all the greater because the punishment threatened was so imminent. The people generally seem to have been given up to idolatry of all forms more completely than at any other period. The worship of Jehovah was continued, but it ' was perfunctory, not genuine.

It was the Babylonian period, because Babylon was the dominant, threatening, crushing power, having succeeded the Assyrian. The political conditions, so far as they affected God’s people, were practically the same as in the Assyrian period.

2. The Chief Work of Jeremiah

This was to interpret the calamities that were falling upon Judah as the fulfilment of early and repeated threats made by the former prophets. Moses and the prophets had declared that even exile would result if the people persisted in sin. They sinned, and exile was now at hand. Jeremiah was in the midst of the crash, to explain, direct, counsel, warn. He had not only to face the angry defiance of professed loyalists, the party urging an alliance with Egypt, and those urging independence, but had also to advise the king to surrender to Babylon to save himself from destruction by Babylon. No prophet before Jeremiah had such personal opposition to meet, and none showed greater courage. He is called the weeping prophet. He wept over his nation’s sin and fall.

3. The Chief Teaching of Jeremiah

For the most part the views that this prophet got were not new. He got rather a clearer conception of views already given by former prophets. These had seen a future in which God’s people would be punished, and then restored, purified, dominant, and ideally faithful to Jehovah. They did not see a radical change, but a lopping off of dead branches; a purging away of all dross from those already God’s people. Government, political relations, and worship that obtained in their days were so prominently in view, that radical changes to other conditions were not clearly seen by these earlier prophets.

Jeremiah sees government, political relations, and forms of worship breaking to pieces before his eyes. But he does not believe that all is lost, he is rather triumphantly sure of a glorious issue, which will be, not the old conditions restored and bettered, but in reality a new people based on a new covenant. The kernel will germinate though it fall to its death. The essential part will not perish. And this central essential substance will be a new growth rather than a branch. And all this will be the fulfilment of God’s former purpose. In the midst of the terrific storm that has come upon God’s people, Jeremiah looks beyond the ruins. In the flashes of God’s anger he gets views of the calm heavens above it all, and of God enthroned directing all.

4. The General Style of Jeremiah’s Prophecies

There is something of abruptness, a lacking of finish, seen in the messages of this prophet. This was probably due in part to the fact that he was in the midst of the calamities, and his spirit was agitated by what he saw; in part it may be due to the fact that what we have in his book is sometimes but abstracts recalled from the addresses that were delivered orally to the people. Parts of his prophecies were closely connected with his personal experience when persecuted by the Jewish officials. At the outset of his work he saw its difficulties and shrank from it, and during its progress he often longed for release from the cruel strain. He remained steady and faithful to his duty. It was well for him that he knew that God had chosen him for this work, and that he would defend him in it.

5. The Divisions of the Book

We find here no large distinct divisions such as are found in Isaiah. Except one small group of chapters placed at the end of the book, all the prophecies are concerned about Judah, were delivered under practically similar conditions, and they present the same general themes.

There will result some advantage from subdividing the main body of the prophecies, chapter 1 to 45, into smaller groups, and examining the special meaning of each of these.

The first twenty-four chapters differ chiefly from what follows in that they were not so closely connected with the personal experiences of the prophet. The main thought is the punishment that is about to come upon Judah because of her sin. The horrors of the invasion are described, but the invader is not yet at hand. The people are without excuse. The love of Jehovah has been constantly shown them, but they have forsaken Jehovah and become sunken in idolatry. The heart of the prophet is torn at the sight of the sin of Judah and in view of the awful punishment that is coming.

The chapters from 25 to 39 show this in common, that the prophet himself is prominent. His suffering and persecution are not the chief facts given, but they show the occasion of the prophecies uttered during the reigns of the two kings, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. These are not placed in the chronological order of their delivery. Later prophecies are put before earlier ones. Their significance is not affected by this. The personal life of no other prophet enters so much into his message as does that of Jeremiah into his.

Chapters 40 to 45 belong to the time immediately after Jerusalem had fallen, and are concerned with the history of the little company the Babylonians left in the land when they took the rest captive. These Jews purpose going into Egypt. The prophet advises against it.

Chapters 46 to 51 contain prophecies delivered at various times against the outside nations, who are threatened with destruction because of their hostility against God’s people.

6. The Chief Thought in Each Prophecy

Chapter 1 contains the account of Jeremiah’s call to his work. He feels incapable, but is assured of help and safety in danger.

Chs. 2 and 3 give a severe charge against Judah for turning away from Jehovah who had loved her. Israel’s fate had not been heeded by Judah, hence she too must suffer. But her God would take her back afterwards.

Chs. 4, 5, and 6 are of the same general character. Great devastation from an invader from the north is predicted because of the persistent sin of the people. All classes have sinned. All are indifferent about the threatened danger.

f Ch. 7 has an important teaching: The temple because of which they thought themselves safe, since it was Jehovah’s dwelling-place, would itself be destroyed as Shiloh was. Not sacrifices, but obedience and righteousness were required.

Chs. 8 and 9 show the lamentable condition of Judah, and the terrible punishment imminent, including captivity.

Ch. 10 may be compared with ch. 44 of Isaiah, in which Jehovah is contrasted with the wooden idols of the heathen.

Ch. 11 gives the command to Jeremiah to show the people what was demanded by the covenant made with their fathers, and the punishment that would come because they had violated it.

In ch. 12 we have Jeremiah’s perplexity because the wicked flourish, then the prediction that God would give up his inheritance to desolation, followed by an assurance of restoration of his people and the promise that other nations would join them if they would serve Jehovah.

Ch. 13 contains an account of one of those prophetic actions meant to teach a truth. The prophet was to hide his girdle in the ground and afterwards find it soiled. So Judah would be removed into exile and marred. The people would be dashed to destruction like drunken men. Sin was the cause of all this.

In chs. 14 and 15 Jeremiah predicts a great famine and destruction; the false prophets deny that these will come, but they shall depart with the rest into a strange land. Intercession even by the most holy men of God could not avert the calamity, because the people have so wretchedly sinned. In the latter part of ch. 15 we have the discouragement of Jeremiah because of his sad task, but he is assured of help and safety.

Chs. 16 and 17 continue to give threats of captivity, the sin specially named being idolatry. The people have forsaken Jehovah for idols. Jeremiah promises them the favor of God if they will keep his sabbaths, and thus show they are his people doing his will.

Chs. 18 and 19 are connected by the use of one figure, that of a potter making an earthen vessel. God has power to do as he will with a nation. Repentance only can prevent his purpose to destroy a nation. His purpose is to destroy Judah because of her apostasy. Jeremiah’s life is threatened. Then he is directed to break a potter’s vessel in their sight as a sign of their impending fate.

Ch. 20 gives the suffering of Jeremiah caused by his bold speaking.' He thinks his life a failure; the people do not heed him, but reproach, and like Job he wishes he had never been born.

The thought in chapter 21 is simple. Zebekiah, asks the prophet if the Lord will deliver them from the army of Babylon. The answer is, No.

Ch. 22 belongs to the time of Jehoiakim, before the event of ch. 21. Threats are made against the kings of Judah because of their sins that bring desolation upon the land. It is to be noticed that in all this book the chief sin condemned is that of forsaking Jehovah for other gods.

Ch. 23 contains a severe threat against the pastors of the people, which term seems to include both kings and false prophets. The latter are especially condemned because they claimed falsely to have a word from Jehovah. They not only failed to warn of danger, but assured the people of safety.

In ch. 24 under the figure of baskets of figs it is shown that those already taken captive are better off than those left in Jerusalem.

In ch. 25 we have the specific prediction of the fall of Judah because the people have not listened to the prophet and repented. But here occurs the wonderful promise that the destroying enemies shall themselves afterwards be destroyed, and God’s people shall return to their land at the end of seventy years.

Ch. 26 gives the account of Jeremiah’s trial because he had said Jerusalem should fall like Shiloh. He was not condemned to die as some wished.

The figure of the yoke indicating bondage occurs in chs. 27 and 28. Hananiah opposed Jeremiah, and as predicted, died in two months for his false prophecy.

Ch. 29 tells of letters sent between Jerusalem and the captives in Babylonia. Jeremiah says they will not soon return. False prophets there write to have Jeremiah killed for such predictions, God declared that these prophets should therefore perish.

Chs. 30 and 31 belong together. The improbable thing that the Jews would again be gathered to their land is not only predicted, but the prediction was to be written in a book, as a permanent witness to the certainty of God’s word. Not only will they be brought back, but God’s people in that future would have God’s law in their heart under a new covenant. This was the more wonderful prediction as it was made just at the time that Judah’s case seemed the most hopeless. Utter destruction was at hand.

Chs. 32 and 33 belong to the year before the city fell while it was besieged. Jeremiah was in prison. Captivity is sure, yet the prophet was to buy a field in Anathoth, to show that they would come back. And out of his prison Jeremiah predicts the most glorious prosperity and glad joy of his people according to God’s word, and that was as sure as the ordinances of the heavens. Day and night were no more sure.

In reading ch. 34 it must be borne in mind that the besieging army had departed from the city for a time to meet the advancing Egyptians. Before they went Jewish slaves had been set free by their Jewish owners. When the siege was raised the slaves were taken back. Jeremiah repeats his warnings of destruction.

Ch. 35 gives the condemnation of the Jews because they were not so faithful in obedience as the Recha- bites, who obeyed their ancestor in abstaining from wine. The Jews would not obey Jehovah their God.

In ch. 36 we have the account of Jeremiah’s writing all his earlier prophecies, which the king cut and burnt when they were read to him, thinking he could prevent their fulfilment. But the prophet renews his threats.

Chs. 37, 38, and 39 are immediately connected with the city’s fall. Jeremiah’s suffering is described, showing the wickedness of the Jews to the very end.

Chs. 40 to 43 are historical, giving an account of the Jews left in the land.

Ch. 44 contains a prophecy by Jeremiah while in Egypt against the Jews who still sinned in spite of their punishment. Pharaoh himself whom they trusted would be destroyed by Babylon.

Ch. 45 is one of comfort to Baruch the attendant of the prophet.

In the prophecies against the heathen nations recorded in chs. 46-51 it should be noted that all these are to be punished because of their enmity to God’s people, and that along with the threat of punishment there is also a prediction of restoration in the case of all of them except Philistia, where nothing is said about it, and in the case of Edom and Babylon, who would have no remnant, but would be desolate forever. These were the two most uncompromising enemies of Judah.

Ch. 52 gives the history of the fall of the city. It adds an account of the release from prison of king Jehoiachin, who had been taken captive thirty-seven years before.