In reading Isaiah, I encountered first-hand the ‘problem’ of the prophetic horizon. That is, there are bits of OT prophecy which refer to events that were fulfilled within a relatively short time of the prophet’s having uttered them (e.g. the exile and the return of the remnant); there are bits that were future to the prophet and are past to us (e.g. the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit); there are bits that are still future for us today (e.g. Messiah’s uncontested rule and reign in the new creation).
In reading Jeremiah, I came face-to-face with another characteristic of OT prophecy: the lack of a coherent plot. Two examples: the material in Jeremiah isn’t laid out in chronological order, and the fall of Jerusalem is recounted more than once (in chapters 39 and 52). I wish I’d had some handbook on how to make sense of it all. When I was more than halfway through, I read in How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth that OT prophecy is to be read and understood in oracles. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.
Understanding the book’s structure is also important, so here’s a rough outline:
|1:1-19||The call of the prophet|
|2:1-29:32||Prophecies to Judah about the coming captivity; Jeremiah’s dialogues with God; acted-out parables of captivity; opposition to the message.|
|30:1-33:26||The Book of Hope: messages of consolation to Judah|
|34:1-36:32||Zedekiah’s treachery; the Recabites’ faithfulness; Jehoiakim burns Jeremiah’s scroll|
|37:1-39:18||The siege and fall of Jerusalem|
|40:1-44:30||The activity of those left in Jerusalem after its fall|
|45:1-5||The Lord’s message to Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary|
|46:1-56:4||Prophecies of judgment against the nations|
|52:1-34||The fall of Jerusalem retold|
Jeremiah, whose name means ‘whom Yahweh has appointed’, prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah in the 7th century BC. By the time he started his ministry, the northern kingdom had already fallen. Those in Judah were confident that they would not suffer the same fate, after all, they had the Temple (Jeremiah 7:4), and hadn’t God decreed that the Davidic dynasty would go on forever? They didn’t listen to Jeremiah as he told them to repent and return to Yahweh—the Hebrew word for ‘repent’/ ‘return’ / ‘turn’ is used 92 times in Jeremiah.
There is much gloom in Jeremiah, but there is also hope. In chapters 30-33, Jeremiah prophesies hope for restoration to the land and hope for spiritual renewal. God will break the yoke of enemy oppressors; He will save His people from exile and will restore the spiritual health of His people.
The last verses of the last chapter likewise point to hope. Jehoiachin, the last real king in the Davidic dynasty (those who came after were puppet-kings of the prevailing regional powers) is released after 37 years of captivity and given a place at the king of Babylon’ s table. The author is saying, “This is the end of the book, but it isn’t the end of the story.” Today, we know that the human lineage of Christ is traced through Jehoiachin (Matthew 1:11). Christ is the Son of David who rules forever on David’s throne, and the one who has rescued His people from their captivity to sin and Satan. Does that make you as excited as it makes me?
Now for my own thoughts.
- I was struck by the similarity in the calls of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah’s mouth was touched (Isaiah 6:7), as was Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 1:9).
- The judgments that Jeremiah and the other prophets prophesied were not new utterances precipitated by Israel’s declension. All they said had already been said in some form by Moses, for example in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy. Look at Jeremiah 44:15-23 and Deuteronomy 4:27-30. How much more should we who have more revelation listen!
- Why is it that the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of Moab, Ammon and Elam, but not of the other nations?
Sources: Bible.org, ESV Literary Study Bible, Christopher Ash, D. A. Carson, David Jackman.