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Call of Jeremiah to be Prophet to the Nations (1:1-19)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Related articles

Introduction to Jeremiah Formation of the Book of Jeremiah (ch 36 & 25)
Interpreting OT Prophets Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The Assyrian empire The Babylonian empire

Section outline

1. Superscription (1:1-3)
2. The call of Jeremiah (1:4-10)
3. Two visions (1:11-16)
4. Encouragement for Jeremiah (1:17-19)

1. Superscription (1:1-3)

This is the standard introduction to the prophetical books, and is the key to enable us to understand the historical background of Jeremiah and his ministry. It was probably added by Baruch or a later editor. It contains some personal details about Jeremiah the prophet, confirmation of the divine source of his message, and the historical period of his ministry.

Jeremiah’s name means ‘Yahweh exalts, appoints or sends’, which is a very appropriate name for a prophet, and particularly for Jeremiah (1:7). His father Hilkiah’s name means ‘Yahweh is my portion’. His is an otherwise unknown person. However he cannot be identified with the Hilkiah the high priest during the reign of Josiah (2 Kg 22:8), who discovered the book of the law in the temple, as Jeremiah was not descended from the high priestly family.

Anathoth is about 5 km (3 miles) north-east of Jerusalem, in territory of Benjamin, but allocated to the priests of the Levites (Josh 21:18). Jerusalem could clearly be seen from Anathoth.

The priests of Anathoth were descendants of Abiathar, the priest who supported Adonijah against Solomon (1 Kg 1:5-8). He was later expelled by Solomon to Anathoth and replaced by Zadok (1 Kg 2:26-27), in fulfilment of the word of the Lord to Eli (1 Sam 2:31-36). Jeremiah was a descendant of this exiled priestly family, who were descended from Eli. He had a rich spiritual heritage, but was not part of the official priesthood in Jerusalem.

The dates of his ministry are also given, beginning in the thirteenth year of Josiah, who became king in 640 BC. The thirteenth year was probably the date of his call to be a prophet, which would be around 627 BC. His ministry continued through the reign of Jehoiakim (609 - 598 BC) and continued until the eleventh year of Zedekiah. This was the full length of Zedekiah’s reign (598 - 587 / 586 BC). Almost every word from Jeremiah leads up the captivity and destruction of Jerusalem in 587 or 586 BC. This event was the climax of Jeremiah's preaching, which fulfilled the main message of his ministry. The short three month reigns of Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin are not mentioned here. Jeremiah did continue to bring God’s word to the Jewish exiles in Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem (ch 42-44).

2. The call of Jeremiah (1:4-10)

His call to be a prophet gives Jeremiah's right to speak in God's name. Both he and his hearers would need to know this. It would give him confidence to speak against the false prophets he would encounter in his ministry (eg. ch 26). The call probably formed the introduction to the original scroll read by Jehoiakim. This scroll ended at 23:11, but did not contain everything between.

No spiritual experience is described as in Isaiah or Ezekiel, instead there is a dialogue between Jeremiah and Yahweh, which continues into the two visions. It does not tell us how he received the word of the Lord.

The description of his call is introduced with the words, “The word of the Lord came to me ...”. The Hebrew is, ‘Dabar Yahweh’, which becomes a characteristic introduction to prophetic oracles in Jeremiah. ‘Dabar’ in Hebrew means both words and actions. Through his ministry Jeremiah frequently used symbolic actions to communicate the Word of God. Jeremiah can certainly be titled ‘the prophet of the word of the Lord’. He had no doubt that the words he spoke were from the Lord.

God’s first words to Jeremiah, “I formed you”, “I knew you”, “I consecrated you” (set apart), and “I appointed you” showed his claim on Jeremiah’s life, and gave Jeremiah authority to speak (v4-5). "I knew", (Hebrew ‘yada’) is not only intellectual knowledge, but includes personal commitment and intimacy. Jeremiah had been chosen and shaped for his ministry as a prophet from before the time of his conception.

He had been consecrated, or set apart for God, which is the essential meaning of being holy. He had been appointed for a specific task to be prophet to the nations (Gentiles), not just to Judah. His book concludes with a lengthy section of oracles against the nations (ch 46-51), with a particular focus on Babylon. It was always God's intention for the Jews to be a light to the Gentiles, to bring a revelation of the One True God to the non-Jewish peoples.

A dialogue between God and Jeremiah then follows (v6-7). In a similar way to Moses, Jeremiah was hesitant to accept God’s call on his life, and makes two objections. The first is inexperience, that he does not know how to speak, and the second was his youth, that he was too young (only a boy).

There is a great similarity between this dialogue and the dialogue between Yahweh and Moses. Both objected, saying that they were inadequate for the job, but were both assured that God would make up for these inadequacies (1:6-8, Ex 4:1-17). For both, God put the words in their mouths (1:7,9, Dt 18:18). There are deliberate similarities between Jeremiah and Moses. The main content of his message was to call people back to the covenant of Moses. He is often referred to as the ‘Deuteronomic Prophet’.

God answers his objections in reverse order.

Firstly, Jeremiah is told not to say he is too young (v7-8). He is told by God to go to everyone that he sends him to, and to say what God commands him to say. He is not to be afraid because God promises to be with him to deliver him. Jeremiah is given the assurance of the presence of God with him.

Secondly, he is not to worry about knowing what to say because God will give him the words to say (v9-10). Later Jeremiah recalls when he ate the words of God and they became a joy (15:16).

God touched his mouth, giving him the words to say, and commissioned him to be his prophet over nations and kingdoms. This forms a summary of his message, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). Jeremiah is given authority over nations to proclaim their overthrow before their restoration. He gives a heavy message of judgement which must precede any restoration. These or similar words are repeated through the book. There is a negative emphasis in the whole prophecy. The old and corrupt must be torn down before restoration.

3. Two visions (1:11-16)

Jeremiah is given two visions to support and confirm his call to ministry. No dates are given. They may or may not have been received at the same time as the call. It is likely that there were three separate events, indicated by the phrase "The word of the Lord came to me" (1:4), “The word of the Lord came to me" (1:11), and “The word of the Lord came to me a second time" (1:13). This may have been later than the other two. In each of the visions, a familiar object is used to give a message.

First vision - The branch of almond (1:11-12)

The first vision is reassuring, in response to Jeremiah’s questions before. God will be faithful to perform his Word when Jeremiah speaks it. This is in contrast to the words of the false prophets who Jeremiah will have many conflicts with during his ministry.

Both in Jeremiah's time, and today, starting in late January, Anathoth is covered with almond blossom. It is the first tree to flower in the springtime. The Hebrew word for almond is 'shaqed', which means 'early awakening' or 'watching'. The root of the Hebrew word for almond is 'sqd', so the word for almond 'shaqed' uses the the same consonants as the word for watching, 'shoqed'.

In this passage God uses a play on these two words, "The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 'Jeremiah, what do you see?' And I said, 'I see a branch of an almond tree (shaqed).' Then Yahweh said to me, 'You have seen well, for I am watching (shoqed) over my word to perform it'" (1:11-12). It is very difficult to communicate the play on words when the passage is translated into other languages.

Second vision - The boiling pot tipping away from the north (1:13-16)

The second vision is more ominous. Disaster for Judah will come from the north. Jeremiah saw a large cooking pot, heated on an open fire, but tipped over, so the liquid inside was overflowing. The pot was tipping away from the north (1:14), towards the south, which would include Judah and Jerusalem. This shows the certainty of God's judgement from the north. This is initially rather vague in the book, but later more specifically focuses on Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. In the OT, the north is often used as a description of judgement from powerful enemy empires, which would include Assyria and Babylon. Even though Babylon is actually almost directly east from Jerusalem, the armies would travel along the Fertile Crescent and approach Judah from the north, rather than travelling directly across the desert.

God is calling the tribes of the north against Judah (1:15). These tribes became united to form the Babylonian empire. The armies of the Babylonians will be God's tool to judge Judah. They will set their thrones at the gates of Jerusalem, the place of judgement where the elders of the city met. This disaster is coming because they have broken the covenant and forsaken the Lord by worshipping other gods (1:16). These other gods or idols, which would include Baal, are described as “the works of their hands”.

4. Encouragement for Jeremiah (1:17-19)

The account of Jeremiah’s call concludes with an encouragement and warning for Jeremiah personally. There are three parts of the exhortation (1:17). The first is to “gird up your loins”. He is exhorted to take courage and not be afraid. The second is to “stand up and tell them everything that I command you”. He is to proclaim the word of God. The third is, “do not break down before them”. He is not to be afraid or to fail to proclaim the word. If he is afraid of the people and does not speak, he will have God to fear.

God gives Jeremiah a promise (1:18). God will be his strength and security and give him resistance even though everyone will be against him. We should note the metaphors, saying that God will make Jeremiah as impregnable as a fortress. He will need this promise during his eventful life, facing much opposition.

God is warning Jeremiah that he will receive great opposition (1:19), but God will be with him to deliver him from his enemies. Jeremiah's ministry was continually opposed by false prophets, by different kings and even by his own neighbours.

Related articles

Introduction to Jeremiah Formation of the Book of Jeremiah (ch 36 & 25)
Interpreting OT Prophets Dates of kings of Judah and Israel
The Assyrian empire The Babylonian empire

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Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

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