Background to the Book of Jeremiah
Historical Background: Jeremiah began his ministry in Jerusalem around 627 BCE and he witnessed the final years of Jerusalem before it fell to Nebuchadrezzar in 597 BCE. While there may be some dispute about the exact dating of his call that is what the author of the Book of Jeremiah wanted us to accept. Jeremiah was a young man who protested to God when he was called (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and who later made bitter lament to God about the way he was treated by colleagues. He came from a priestly family from the town of Anathoth, a few kilometre north of Jerusalem and formerly in the territory of Northern Israel.
He was well aware of the traditions from the northern tribes rather than the southern tradition as the prophet Isaiah. The king at the time of the first part of Jeremiah's prophecies was Josiah who had instituted reforms to purify the worship practices in 621 BCE. He did this by removing the local shrines and their sacrifices, outlawing the country Levites from presiding over sacrifices (at local shrines) and made Jerusalem the only place in which sacrifice could be made. Because the Levites gained their livelihood from this practice he made laws which dictated they had to be cared for by the local people (Deuteronomy 14:27-28). The reign of King Josiah was relatively peaceful from the ravages of the superpowers - Assyria, Babylon and Egypt - which gave him the opportunity to instigate his reforms based on the Book of Deuteronomy. Josiah got caught up in a war with Egypt in 609 BCE and was killed when he tried to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of the Assyrians in their last ditch stand against the upcoming power of Babylon (and was killed in battle in 609 BCE). The situation of Jerusalem rapidly deteriorated from this time with a quick turnover of kings and the continued rise of Babylon. Josiah's son Jehoahaz was sent in bonds to Egypt after three months. His brother Jehoiakim took the throne and from a vassal of Egypt he became a vassal of Babylon in 604 BCE. Jehoiakim died in 598 BCE (or assassinated) and his son Jehoiachin had been on the throne for three months when Nebuchadrezzar took Jerusalem in 597 BCE. He deported Jehoiachin, the Queen mother, state officials and took enormous booty including the temple vessels and treasures, but did not destroy the city or temple (Thompson: 24).
Jeremiah's preaching appears to indicate that the reforms had been unsuccessful because his preaching is calling the people back to faithful worship of Yahweh. He prophecies the impending fall of Jerusalem with all its horrific implications. The people refused to believe him because they thought that Jerusalem would always be safe, as indeed, Isaiah had told them 110 years previously. After 598 BCE Jeremiah suffered personally because he was prophesying exile for 70 years and this was an unpopular message. Zedekiah (uncle of Jehoiachin) supported rebellion against Babylon and Nebuchadrezzar came and destroyed Jerusalem after a terrible siege. The city was destroyed, including the temple and further officials taken into exile. The Governor set up by the Babylonians was assassinated in 582 BCE and further deportations occurred. Some Judeans fled to Egypt before the arrival of Nebuchadrezzar taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 42).
We don't know the precise process whereby the book was formed from the oral traditions into the final form we have now. It appears to be in blocks of material which are deliberately structured to reinforce the message. Chapters 1-29 depict the divine judgement on Judah and Jeremiah's controversy with false prophets: chapters 30-33 make up the Book of Consolation: chapters 34-45 depict events around the fall of Jerusalem: chapters 46-51 contain the oracles against the nations and the final chapter parallels 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 which tells us about the final fall of Jerusalem.
The Greek translation of the Book of Jeremiah is shorter by one seventh which is unusual as the Greek translations are usually longer. The Hebrew and Greek translations were both circulating in Israel at the time of the Qumran community. Whether there was a shorter Hebrew version which is now represented by the Greek and this was later expanded into the Hebrew edition of the Book is a matter of some debate. The arrangement of the blocks of material are different in each edition with the Oracles against the Nations to be found in the Greek edition in chapters 26-32. The Greek edition names Jeremiah as the prophet four times whereas the Hebrew edition names Jeremiah as the prophet thirty times.
The book is a mixture of poetry and prose. It appears to many scholars that much of the prose is preaching on aspects of Jeremiah's oracles from the poetry. This preaching has many similarities to the theology and language used by the Deuteronomistic writers. Whether the Deuteronomists took Jeremiah's oracles and use them as a basis for preaching God's word to a later situation we can never be certain. However, the message and language of the prose sections are compatible with Deueteronomic thought. For example, the message to the exiles was the need to believe in the true prophets like Jeremiah. He is held up as an excellent example. Another message was to explain that they were in exile was because they had been disobedient and therefore lost the land. Yahweh had been faithful to them and they had failed to keep their side of the covenant as depicted in Exodus 19.
Context of Jeremiah 33:14 – 16: (What's Happening in the Literature around Jeremiah 33:14 – 16)
These verses are part of the Book of Consolation (Jeremiah 30-33) in which God offers to save them and bring them back into the land. He says that their guilt is great which caused the exile, but now Yahweh will restore their health. God will make a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31 - 34) which is unconditional and written on their hearts unlike the old Mosaic covenant. It appears at the beginning of Jeremiah 33 that Jeremiah is shut up in the court and God speaks to him with further reiteration of the promises made earlier in the Book of Consolation. Included in the promise are the words of vv.14 -16 which state that a righteous branch will spring forth from David. The two oracles which follow this promise amplify how certain it will be that God's promises of a house of David will be fulfilled. The second of the oracles (vv.23-26) states that the people are saying that Yahweh has rejected Israel and Judah. They feel despair that they will ever be a nation again. However, God as Creator will never reject Jacob's descendants or fail to choose a leader from among David's descendants. the section Jer 33:14-26 is absent in the LXX.
Insights/Message of Jeremiah 33:14 - 16
The verses in the Lectionary reading come in the second of the prophetic oracles which begins by stating that Yahweh is speaking (v.14). This declaration gives greater authority to the words which follow. God will not only restore the land and the cities to life and fullness, he will restore a line of David. These verses are based on Jer 23:5-6 and reaplied to a new situation. for example, Jerusalem has Israel in v.6 and the use of 'Levitical priests' in the following verses. Jer 23:5-6 is followed with judgement againt the prophets whereas the context here is hope and assurance about a future house of David.
For a moment try and imagine what it was like for those who were going through this devastating experience together with the loss of everything which had been promised by God. They lost the temple, the city of Jerusalem was in ruins and the last king had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Their God appeared less powerful than the other gods around. There would have been feelings of despair, anger, hopelessness, guilt, shame and maybe rejection of Yahweh as their God.
Jeremiah speaks these words of hope into this situation. Notice that restoration is no longer dependant now on their behaviour, but entirely through the grace of God ("I will fulfil", "I will cause",). God will be merciful and do all the restoration, they simply have to accept what is being offered. Even although matters look bleak with the remaining Davidic king (Jehoiachin) in prison, God will restore the line of David. To emphasise that God is able to keep his promises he calls upon his work as creator to give them the assurance that he will restore their fortunes and the line of David. Interesting to note that Jerusalem will be given the title, the Lord is our righteousness.
If we look back at what happened after their return from exile we find there was a governor for a while who might have had some Davidic blood (Zerubbabel), but it was the Priestly families who became the dominant rulers, politically and religiously 5th BCE.
The oracle was one of hope to a people in despair who had lost everything and could rely only on the grace of God. Jeremiah was not envisaging the future as far forward as Christ: he was wanting to give a strong message of hope which would become reality in his time. However, the Christian church applied these prophecies to Christ as the one who was of the Davidic line. In this time of Advent we celebrate again the grace of God in sending his son to bring new revelation. It is important to be reminded that God does not abandon us in times of hardship and despair and there are many parts of our world which are experiencing such times. It is well noting that David will rule with righteousness as the Lord is our righteousness - a reminder to us and to our leaders how important righeousness must be in the way we live and lead.
I am unsure how this fits with the apocalyptic message set in Luke 21:25-36 which speaks of the second coming. The material in Jeremiah is prophetic and not apocalyptic. The former speaks of events which will happen on earth in the near future and apocalyptic is associated with end of world events, of disaster and war. It could very easily be describing the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. However, the writer is still wanting to offer hope as does Jeremiah, but using a different medium.
OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading Luke 21:25-36 contain several allusions from the Old Testament that describe future prophetic events - Joel 2:30-32, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Haggai, Amos, Psalms, Daniel & Zechariah. These are all now in the context which announces the coming of the Son of God using this particular genre of apocalyptic literature. Other literary forms are also used in the New Testament such as the annunciation stories in Luke. There is no one way of announcing the coming of Christ and it will depend on the audience and the background of the writer which form of literature he is inspired to use. There are a number of references to fig trees in the Old Testament. Luke has added the phrase - 'and all the trees;' implying that any tree could show the start of summer by the showing of new leaves. May be this addition serves to widen the implication that this prophecy is wider that just Israel, which could be the case if fig tree was the only tree mentioned. The same pun on Hebrew words for 'end' and 'summer fruit' is used in Amos 8. Jesus uses the Old Testament language to affirm his own prophetic announcement of Lorship.
Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 33:14 – 16 (Worship and Ways to present Jeremiah 33:14 – 16)
I think it is essential to put Jeremiah 33:14-16 into the context in which it was intended and help congregations to understand that the Book of Consolation was an incredible message of hope to a people who had lost everything and were feeling abandoned in exile. If the verses are taken out of context it is very easy to impose meaning on the text which fails to take into account its original audience. We must treat the text with integrity before asking the question: how does this speak to us in a Christian context? We can then see for Christians how it has been fulfilled in the coming birth of Christ.
The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Jeremiah, the author is R.P.Carroll, 1989.
The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the 1990's is more up to date than some earlier works.
Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile & Homecoming. Cambridge: W.B.Eerdmans, 1998.
Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1986.
Clements, R. E. Jeremiah. Int. Atlanta: John Knox, 1988.
Holladay,William L. Jeremiah 1 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 1-25. Herm. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
---. Jeremiah 2 : A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah: Chapters 26-52. Herm. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989.
Keown,Gerald L. Jeremiah 26-52. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1995.
Jones, Douglas Rawlinson. Jeremiah. NCB. [London]: Marshall Pickering; Grand Rapids, Mich. Eerdmans, 1992.
McKane, William. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 1, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah I-XXV. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1986.
---. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Vol 2, Introduction and Commentary on Jeremiah XXVI-LII. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996.
Miller, Patrick D. The Book of Jeremiah. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001
Thompson, John A. The Book of Jeremiah. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich. W. B. Eerdmans, 1980.
The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989
Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: