The Call of Jeremiah
Jer 1:4 And there is a word of LORD unto me, saying,
And there is a word of LORD unto me. A stock prophetic phrase found throughout the prophetic books.
Jer 1:5 `Before I form thee in the belly, I have known thee; and before thou comest forth from the womb I have separated thee, a prophet to nations I have made thee.’
Note the contrast in tenses: “Before I form thee…”, “before thou comest forth.” Using the present tense of future events is typical of prophetic literature. It commuicates the idea that what is being prophecied will come to pass (except when a prophecy is conditional, i.e., wont come to apss if the people repent). Here, the contrast in tenses seems to emphasize the certainty of God’s foreknowledge of the prophet. St Paul tells us that God chose him before his birth to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (i.e., poeple of the nations) in Gal 1:15:16. See also Luke 1:13-17.
Jer 1:6 And I say, `Ah, Lord God! lo, I have not known–to speak, for I am a youth.’
And I say, `Ah, Lord God! lo, I have not known (how) to speak, for I am a youth.’ This reminds one of Moses’ initial response to his call in Exodus 4:10. There Moses claimed to be a poor speaker, here Jeremiah appeals to his youth or inexperience in speaking to men concerning important subjects.
Jer 1:7 And the LORD saith unto me, `Do not say, I am a youth, for to all to whom I send thee thou goest, and all that I command thee thou speakest.
His youth and inexperience are irrelevant where God’s power is concerned. The authority of the word, and, consequently the authority of the one preaching it, comes from the source of the word and the mission, namely God.
Jer 1:8 Be not afraid of their faces, for with thee am I to deliver thee, –an affirmation of the LORD.’
Face is Hebrew idiom for presence, thus the meaning is: “Be not afraid in their presence.”
The phrase With thee I am is not merely a statement of the divine presence. The promise of the divine presence when given in the context of a mission is a promise and guarrantee of divine help and power in the performance of that mission. See God’s promise to deliver St Paul in Acts 26:17.
Jer 1:9 And the LORD putteth forth His hand, and striketh against my mouth, and the LORD saith unto me, `Lo, I have put my words in thy mouth.
God’s striking the mouth of the prophet calls to mind the fact that the angel touched Isaiah’s lips with an ember in Isaiah 6:7. the words “I have put my words into thy mouth” recalls the commissioning of Moses in Exodus 4:10-17.
Words and themes found in verse 7-9 are typical of prophetic call narratives (see Exek 3:1-10; Matt 28:18-20; ect).
Jer 1:10 See, I have charged thee this day concerning the nations, and concerning the kingdoms, to pluck up, and to break down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.’
Jeremiah’s mission is for both Jew and Gentile; and his message is one of both weal and woe. See 18:7-9; 25:15-38; chapters 30-31, 46-51; ect.
Jer 1:11 And the word of the Lord came unto me, asking, “What is it that you see, Jeremiah?” I replied, “I see the staff of a watching tree.”
The word of the Lord came unto me is, as I noted in my previous post on this prophet, a stock prophetic phrase. The prophet speaks on God’s authority, not his own (see 2 Pt 1:21). Jeremiah will have some harsh, brutal words to say against false prophets (see 2:8; 8:10-12; 23:9-40). The word can come to a prophet in a number of ways, sometimes the revelatory phenomenon is described in both oracular and optical terms (see Ezek 1). It’s possible that what Jeremiah sees is a vision, but it is also possible that he is in the fields around his hometown during the blossoming of the watching tree (but see note verse 12). The word which I have translated as staff can refer to a stick or branch, but also a rod or staff. Why I’ve translated it as I have will be noted below, under verse 12. The watching tree is a reference to the almond tree. Almond shaped eyes are a common physiological feature of near eastern peoples, hence the name.
Jer 1:12 And the Lord answered me, saying to me, “You see soundly: for I watch without sleeping to do my word.
You see soundly: for &c. The Hebrew word translated as for serves as a causal conjunctive. Jeremiah has seen correctly precisely BECAUSE the Lord is looking to bring about his word. Had God not called him as a prophet he would not have seen soundly. What Jeremiah saw was the branch (rod, staff) of a watching (almond) tree (vs 11). God (so it seems) is here comparing himself to a rod or staff made from such a tree, and having its fruit (nuts) still on it. In the Scripture, both watchfulness and a rod (staff) are associated with vigilance and readiness (see Ex 12:11. Note: several different Hebrew words are used for rod/staff in the OT).
I watch without sleeping. The Hebrew word שׁקד (shaqad=watching tree) and the word שׁקד (shaqed=to be alert, wakefulness) are from the same root; my translation (adding the words “without sleeping”) has tried to convey the fulness of the latter word’s meaning.
To do my word. “To do” translates the Hebrew word לעשׂתו (asah),which can refer to both human action (or God’s action) or of a tree’s bearing seed or fruit (see Gen 1:11-12). Just as a tree bears fruit (produce) a man produces action. God is watching to do his word because of the evil the people have “done” (see 2:12-13, 17, 23, 28. These verses all employ the word asah, which the NAB variously translates as “done,” “conduct,” “made”).
Jer 1:13 And the word of the Lord came unto me a second time, asking, “What is it you are seeing?” And I replied, “I see a a rapidly boiling cauldron which is turning towards us from the north.”
A rapidly boiling cauldron. “Rapidly boiling” translates a word which means “to seeth,” “snort,” “breath heavily.” Steam rising from a boling pot of water is a fitting image of anger; even today we say “i was boiling,” to denote feelings of anger.
Which is turning towards us from the north. The Hebrew reads literally: “and the face thereof is from the face of the north.” The sentence is somewhat convoluted but makes sense once the significance of the words are known and seen in relation to the image. (1) The cauldron has just bee described as boiling (seething, snorting breathing heavily), hence its face is the open end (i.e., the mouth) of the pot from which its breath (steam) is issuing. (2) The word “face” in Hebrew can mean “towards,” for one can only see another’s face if it is turned towards them. We are to understand then the Jeremiah sees the “face” (mouth) of the cauldron because it is turning (tipping) towards him in the Holy Land. (3) He sees this vision while turned toward (i.e., as he’s facing) the north and seeing the north’s “face.”
1:14 And the Lord said unto me, “from the north evil shall be opened wide upon all who sit in the land.”
The north was the proverbial place from which invasions came. Evil shall be opened wide implies that the coming evil will be full and unrelenting. The boiling cauldron of evil will not just trickle out its contents upon the land. The boiling cauldron is an image of the Babylonian empire, which would invade and destroy the kingdom of Judah (see 4:5-31; 39:1-10).
Jer 1:15 “Because, look, I will beckon all the families of the kingdoms of the north,” says the Lord; “and they shall come, and every one shall set up his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and over against all the walls that surround her, and against all the encampments of Judah.
Because, look, I will beckon. What is about to befall Jerusalem and the entire kingdom of Judah is God’s doing, but he is not its cause (see vs 16).
All the families of the kingdoms of the north…and they shall come, and every one shall set up his throne. “Families of the kingdoms of the north” is probably a reference to the various royal tribes and clans (i.e., minor dynasties) which had joined or been subsumed under the king of Babylon. Essentially, they were minor rulers under him, but as such they were entitled to a share in any booty gained by military victory.
Everyone shall set up his throne at the entrance of the gates. The entrance of the gates of a city was the place where officials conducted trials, heard peoples pleas/complaints, and issued their judgments. In a capital city such as Jerusalem, this would have been done by the king, though he could delegate the authority to others. The fact that foreign potentates are setting up their thrones at the entrances of the city implies that they are sitting in judgment; and indeed they are, for they are God’s instruments of judgment against his people.
Over against all the walls that surround her, and against all the encampments of Judah. The judgment against God’s people takes the form of a siege. This is in accord with the covenant curses promised as punishment should the people of God (who had entered the covenant freely) ever break it (see Deut 28:49-57). All the encampments of Judah probably refers to the many fortified cities which surrounded the capital as added protection against siege.
Jer 1:16 And I will proclaim my verdict against them on account of all their wickedness in forsaking me, and for burning incense to other gods, and for bending the knee to the work of their own hands.
I will prolaim my verdict. Continues the judgment theme mentioned earlier.
All their wickedness. The Herew word for wickedness used here is the same as that used for evil in verse 13. The evil coming from the north is due to the wickedness of the people.
Forsaking me. The Hebrew word עזבוני (azab) means to leave, loosen, abandon, ect. The word is often used in Jeremiah to denote apostasy from God (2:13, 17, 19; 5:7, 19, ect).
Burning incense to other gods. This could also read: “offering burn offerings to other gods.” Other may have pejorative connotations. The Hebrew word isאחרים (acher), which has the proper meaning of “hinder.” It is derived from the Hebrew word achar, to loiter, to be a slacker. When it comes to observing the covenant demands they have become slackers, and now seek after less morally demanding gods.
Bending the knee to the work of their own hands. They prostrate themselves before the idols they have made (see Jer 25:6-7, 14; 32:30). The Hebrew word for work used here is derived from the word לעשׂתו (asah), used by God in verse 12 when he said he was watching to do his word. This work of the people in constructing and worshipping idols is what has led God to do his word (start the process of a reeb, a covenant lawsuit against them.
Jer 1:17 You, therefore, gird up your loins, rise up and speak unto them all that I command you. Do not break down before their faces, lest I break thee down before their faces.
Gird up your loins. In the Bible this is a call to vigilance and action (see Ex 12:11; 1 Kings 18:46; Job 38:3). Just as God is vigilante to do His word (see note under 1:12), so too must the prophet be ready and willing to fulfill his service to God’s word.
Speak unto them all that I have commanded. Recalls the end of Matthew’s Gospel. The phrase or its equivalent is often used in prophetic commissioning texts (see Deut 18:15-20).
Do not break down before their faces, lest I break thee down before their faces. In performing his ministry, Jeremiah is not to fear his enemies, rather, he is to fear God. “If Jeremiah appears before his adversaries in terror, then he will have cause to be terrified of them; only if by unshaken confidence in the power of the word he preaches in the name of the Lord, will he be able to accomplish anything. Such confidence he has reason to cherish, for God will furnish him with the strength necessary for making a stand, will make him strong and not to be vanquished” (Keil & Delitzsch).
Jer 1:18-19 For behold I have made thee this day a fortified city, and a pillar of iron, and a wall of brass, over all the land, to the kings of Juda, to the princes thereof, and to the priests, and to the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee, and shall not prevail: for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee. (Douay-Rheims Bible).
The image stands in marked contrast to that of Jerusalem sieged against in verse 15. In the face of his enemies Jeremiah will be like a heavily fortified city. The passage is reminiscient of Matt 16:16-18).