We noted earlier the chiasm of the book of Jeremiah included oracles and events in Jeremiah’s life with the book coming to a climax with the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-33). Thus the oracles against Judah are answered by oracles against the nations and the events of victory in Jeremiah’s life (ch.26-29) will be answered by events of defeat in Jeremiah’s life (ch.34-45). In this post we are going to look at the end of the oracles against Judah and continue with the events of victory in Jeremiah’s life. In the next post we will move on to the Book of Consolation at the center of the prophetic book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 24 is a prophetic vision. There is a historical introduction: “After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, YHWH showed me this vision:”
The vision was of two baskets of figs.
The vision: The two baskets of figs were placed before the temple of YHWH. One had very good figs (like first-ripe figs) but the other had very bad figs (so bad they could not be eaten).
The interpretation/explanation: The exiles from Judah will be regarded as the good figs but King Zedekiah and the remnant that stayed in the land and those who went to live in Egypt would be regarded as the bad figs.
The good figs: “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am YHWH, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”
Note that it begins with their restoration to the land, includes build up and plant language, includes the giving of a new heart for the purpose of knowing God.
The bad figs: “I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine and pestilence upon them until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.
Note that it ends with their utter destruction off the face of the land but also mentions their forced exile in the middle. Includes the theme of the people becoming a reproach/byword/curse.
This chapter takes place chronologically before the previous one. The historical setting: “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (that was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem:”
It is a sermon following the example of Deuteronomy. “For 23 years, from the 13th year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of YHWH has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although YHWH persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, ‘Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that YHWH has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm’” “Yet you have not listened to me, declares YHWH, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm. Therefore thus says YHWH of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares YHWH, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.”
Later in this paragraph Jeremiah prophesies that the nation of Judah will be in captivity for 70 years and then the king of Babylon and nation of Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, would be punished for their iniquity.
The chapter has an international focus as it stresses that all of the words that Jeremiah prophesied against the nations would be fulfilled and then the king of Babylon would be punished. The image of drinking the cup of wrath is used to make this point.
The next chapter goes back three years before the previous one to the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim. It instructs Jeremiah to preach a sermon in the pattern of Deuteronomy to the people. YHWH tells him, to speak “all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be that they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds” (Jeremiah 26:2-3).
“If you will not listen to me, to walk in my Torah that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 26:4-6). See also Jeremiah 7:12.
The reason for pointing to Shiloh is that Shiloh was the first major place where YHWH made His name to dwell (it was the location of the ark, etc.) and if it could be destroyed and left as a ruin then so too could Jerusalem and the temple there.
That the place of worship at Shiloh was destroyed is not mentioned in any of the earlier books but presumably happened when the Philistines took the ark and possibly again later.
In words eerily similar to what the religious leaders said about Jesus, the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people: “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” And not just the city but the Temple!
“This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” (Matt 26:61). “He deserves death” (Matt 26:66).
But then Jeremiah was spared because the officials and all the people told the priests and the prophets that he does not deserve the sentence of death because he spoke in the name of YHWH our God and because they remembered a prophecy of Micah to the same effect. Micah had prophesied that Jerusalem would become a heap of ruins if they did not repent, but the people repented and YHWH relented. Jeremiah said the same was possible here – if they repented then YHWH would relent.
The chapter ends by recalling another prophet who was not so “lucky” – He prophesied similar words to Jeremiah’s against the city and land and King Jehoiakim sought to put this prophet to death. The prophet fled to Egypt and the king sent a couple people to bring him back. The king killed this prophet and dumped the body “into the burial place of the common people.” The prophet’s name was Uriah the son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. Then the text says, “But the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over to the people to be put to death” (Jeremiah 26:24).
Chapter 27 moves forward to the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah.
Making sense of the chronology of the book is nearly impossible. It is all mixed together.
The closest to a pattern one can see (ignoring chapters that do not fit) is the following:
In the 4th year of Jehoiakim (ch.25)
Beginning of the reign of Zedekiah (27)
10th year of Zedekiah (32)
Shut up in the court of the guard (33)
In the 4th year of Jehoiakim (36)
Beginning of the reign of Zedekiah (37)
In the 9th year of Zedekiah (39)
Jeremiah released from chains (40)
In the 4th year of Jehoiakim (45)
The chronology remains a mystery to me. It does not appear to help us outline the book or to see its structure. Normally when there is a chronology like this it would point to a chiasm but there does not appear to be any chiasm revealed by the dates provided — instead you need to refer to the chiasm I mentioned in opening this post.
When we get to chapter 36 we will see the reason for this mess.
Back to chapter 27. The text continues Jeremiah’s attack on the false prophets. It begins by telling the surrounding nations that they should not make an alliance against Nebuchadnezzar. They will serve him and his son and his grandson until judgment would come upon Babylon when the king of Babylon will become a slave. And if you refuse to serve Nebuchadnezzar then you will be punished with the sword, famine, and pestilence. The false prophets say, “You shall not serve the king of Babylon.”
“For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares YHWH” (Jeremiah 27:10-11).
To Zedekiah king of Judah he said the same thing (Jeremiah 27:12-15) and to the priests and to all this people he gave the same message (Jeremiah 27:16-22).Jeremiah 28The next chapter begins by saying it is the same year “at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah.” This is further spelled out as “in the fifth month of the fourth year.”
The chapter relates to us a false prophet, “Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon” who spoke to Jeremiah in the temple with the priests and people present. And Hananiah prophesied that the yoke of the king of Babylon was broken and within 2 years the vessels of the temple taken to Babylon would be returned and Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim too.
Jeremiah replied to this false prophecy this way: “Amen! May YHWH do so; may YHWH make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of YHWH, and all the exiles. Yet hear now this word that I speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people. The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that YHWH has truly sent the prophet” (28:5-9).
Then the prophet Hananiah did a prophetic sign to demonstrate what would happen. He “took the yoke-bars from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke them.” And he explained it saying, “Thus says YHWH: Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” And the text says, “But Jeremiah the prophet went his way” (Jeremiah 28:10-11).
Then the word of YHWH came to Jeremiah and He told him to go tell Hananiah that the wooden bars may be broken but he has made in their place bars of iron. Thus on the neck of all these nations would be an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar. And Jeremiah went and told the prophet Hananiah: “Listen, Hananiah, YHWH has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says YHWH: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against YHWH.’” (Jeremiah 28:15-16).
And the text tells us, “In the same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died” (Jeremiah 28:17). This would have been 2 months after the prophecy was made. How fitting given that Hananiah said Nebuchadnezzar would be broken in 2 years.
The next chapter is a letter to the surviving elders of the exiles, to the priests, prophets, and all the people, Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. The text further tells us that it was after King Jeconiah was taken into exile along with the queen mother and many others – especially the skilled laborers. “The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:3).
The content of the letter is worth spending some time reviewing.
He tells the people: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to YHWH on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
This should be understood in contrast to chapter 16. There Jeremiah was told not to take a wife and have children because the sons and daughters that are born in the land of Israel would die of deadly diseases and perish by the sword and famine and never be buried.
But in the land of Babylon the people of Israel would multiply. This is not meant to be understood, as many modern commentators argue incorrectly, as saying that the people of Israel should intermarry with unbelieving Babylonians.
The false prophets were lying to the people in exile and telling them not to get comfortable because they would be going back to the land of Israel soon. By contrast, Jeremiah reminds them that it will be 70 years. “When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares YHWH, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you” (Jeremiah 29:10-12). This too is in contrast to how he would not listen before.
The next verse has the heart theme: “You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares YHWH, and I will restore your fortunes (return from exile language) and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares YHWH, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
The image of the bad figs and its lesson is also repeated in this chapter. The letter sums up many of the things we have seen over the last several chapters.
Jeremiah mentions in the letter two false prophets by name: Ahab the son of Kolaiah and Zedekiah the son of Maaseiah. Jeremiah tells us that Nebuchadnezzar will strike these false prophets down – apparently burning them to death. The reason? “Because they have done an outrageous thing in Israel, they have committed adultery with their neighbors’ wives, and they have spoken in my name lying words that I did not command them,” says YHWH (Jeremiah 29:23). “An outrageous thing in Israel” is language from Genesis for those who have done something beyond the pale (always including sexual sin).
The rest of the chapter responds to another false prophet – Shemaiah of Nehelam. The verdict: “He shall not have anyone living among this people, and he shall not see the good that I will do to my people, declares YHWH, for he has spoken rebellion against YHWH” (Jeremiah 29:32). This was the punishment for the false prophet and his descendants.
Thus Jeremiah 26-29 shows us the prophet Jeremiah in victory.