Yirmiyahu 1-6

As we begin to examine the prophecies of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), we should start by examining the man himself.  Yirmiyahu began his prophecies during the reign of Yosiyahu (Josiah), and continued them into the Babylonian Exile.  Naturally, his writings chiefly concern the conquest of Yehudah (Judah) and the Exile.

By trade, Yirmiyahu was not a trained, professional prophet, but a priest.  Specifically, he was the son of the High Priest Hilkiyahu (Hilkiah), who discovered part of the Law in the Temple treasury during Yosiyahu’s (Josiah’s) reign (Rashi theorized the discovered scroll was Devarim, which I believe is a reasonable guess).  A brother of Yirmiyahu, Azaryahu, succeeded Hilkiyahu to the office of High Priest; and the archaeological record tells us that Hilkiyahu had another son named Hanan, who also served at the temple.  Suffice it to say, Yirmiyahu was a powerful, well-connected man, who had access to sensitive information.  This family will become significant again in the Book of Ezra, as Ezra was the great-grandson of Hilkiyahu, through both the son and grandson who would succeed to the office of Kohen Gadol.  That makes Yirmiyahu Ezra’s great-uncle.

Yirmiyahu’s immediate family provided him with the knowledge, access, and visibility to be taken very seriously by king, prophet, priest, and peasant–and the Chaldeans.  Given Yosiyahu’s young age at accession to the throne (he was 8) and his piety as king, it is reasonable to theorize that Hilkiyahu was involved in the young king’s upbringing and education.  Thus it is reasonable to assume further that Yirmiyahu personally knew the king.  If nothing else, he would have had access to the royal court.  Yirmiyahu’s official position as a priest and his social position, also meant, though, that his prophesying would have been taken by professional prophets as a power grab by the priesthood.  Since he was not a professional prophet, Yirmiyahu also had to concern himself with establishing credibility as a prophet.  Chapter 1 concerns itself with establishing Yirmiyahu’s credentials and the legitimacy of his prophecy (verses 1-12).

Verses 11 and 12 contains a Hebrew pun:

Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying: ‘Jeremiah, what seest thou?’ And I said: ‘I see a rod of an almond-tree.’
Then said the LORD unto me: ‘Thou hast well seen; for I watch over My word to perform it.’

The words for “almond rod”  and “to watch over” are spelled the same, but are vocalized differently.  These verses also pertain to Yirmiyahu’s legitimacy, as almond rods were used when Hashem selected the house of Aharon for his priesthood in Bamidbar (Numbers) 17.  One might say that Yirmiyahu is the almond rod of 1:11.

Verses 13 and 14 also contain similar symmetry, both in construction and between the words “seething” and “breaking forth,” although they concern the content of the prophecy, not the identity of the prophet.  It is worth noting that among the Temple goods were pots for boiling offered meat.  The metaphor seems to be that the People will be resanctified (by being devoted for destruction–a common Torah concept) to Hashem when the Chaldeans “boil over,” sending the Nation into Exile.

Chapter 2 revisits the chosen status of the Nation and its iniquity.  Interestingly, Yirmiyahu chooses to reference imagery previously used by Yeshaiyahu (Yeshaiyahu 5):  the tended vine that yields bad fruit (2:21).

Chapter 3 continues the condemnation of both Israel and Yehudah, comparing idolatry to harlotry, just as Yesheyahu had.  But it ends with the promise that the forthcoming time of trial (the Exile) will bear with it shepherds (prophets) who will teach the people to follow the Law, leading to a time of renewal and prosperity (under Persian rule).

Chapter 4, however, offers the conditions that are almost always present in prophecy.  IF Yehudah will repent AND voluntarily rededicate herself to Hashem, much destruction may be averted.  If not, even the prophets will be astonished at the consequences (4:1-9).  Note that 4:10 is translated thus:

Then said I: ‘Ah, Lord GOD! surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying: Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.’

The word translated as “soul” literally means “throat,” which makes more sense in the context.  Again, in 4:19:

My bowels, my bowels! I writhe in pain! The chambers of my heart! My heart moaneth within me! I cannot hold my peace! because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the horn, the alarm of war.

But a more literal translation of the second half would read as a list:

…because thou hast heard the sounding of horns, the sound of my throat, the blast of war.

The effect is dramatic either way, but I think a more literal rendering is also more clear in meaning and flows better.

Chapter 5 begins with a reference to the story of Sodom, with the promise that Jerusalem will be saved if a single righteo
us man can be found within her gates.  But no such man will be found.  Therefore, Hashem will send the Babylonians to destroy the land (5:14-16), but not the people, because punishment serves no purpose if there is no one left to learn from it (5:18-19).  The rest of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6 deal with the utter corruption of the nation.  Again, 6:22-25 refers to the coming Chaldean conquest.

In all this, Yirmiyahu is highly concerned with the corruption of the prophets and priests for reassuring the populace that all will be well and allowing the people to continue in wicked ways.  The prophets insist that there will be peace when Hashem’s judgment is just around the corner.  As Yehudah will learn, the refusal to assume that Hashem’s judgment is close at hand is a fatal mistake.  And the priests have been complicit in allowing people to believe that all can be made right with frequent and expensive offerings.  Yirmiyahu is the ultimate whistle-blower.


2 thoughts on “Yirmiyahu 1-6

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