This book is a mixture of verse and prose, of history, poetry, and biography. Sometimes the prophecy is woven directly into the historical narrative. And speaking of historical narrative, here’s a timeline of the major prophets that might be useful:
Isaiah’s ministry, 740-681 B.C.
Israel (northern kingdom) falls, 722 B.C.
Jeremiah’ ministry, 627-586 B.C.
Judah (southern kingdom) falls, 586 B.C.)
Ezekiel’s ministry, 593-571 B.C.
Daniel’s ministry, 553-536 B.C.
I wonder if any other people has a history of prophets — or their equivalent — who are famous and revered for telling that people that they are behaving badly. That the Jews do is much to their credit, as it shows a sense of perspective and modesty.
There’s no great surprise in the specific sins that are condemned. In chapter 11 it’s lamented, for example, that Baal is worshiped by the Jews in Jerusalem. No duh. See, e.g., 11:13. Some sins (theft, murder, adultery, perjury) are listed at 7:9; again, no surprises.
But no matter: The most important things we might learn from reading about fulfilled prophecy/predictions are that, as I wrote in my Notes on Daniel: “First, if the future can be accurately foretold, it shows that someone — namely God — is in control and must have a lot of power and intelligence, to understate grossly. Second, the presence in the Bible of accurate prophecy is a powerful apologetic tool, as Blaise Pascal emphasized in his Pensees.”
I don’t read Hebrew, so this may not be a fair observation, but I did find the text of Jeremiah more powerful and moving than Ezekiel. Here are some examples:
“‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, / And before you were born I consecrated you'” (1:5); and “‘For I know the plans that I have for you … plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope'” (29:11). That latter passage continues, “‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart'” (29:12-13). This is God speaking to Jeremiah, but we hope it’s true for everyone.
Here’s another great passage (9:23-26):
23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.
25 “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised— 26 Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
On the other hand, this was a bit eyebrow-raising and not really in a good way (“Do it to the Gentiles, not to us!”):
I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself,
Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps.
24 Correct me, O Lord, but with justice;
Not with Your anger, or You will bring me to nothing.
25 Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You
And on the families that do not call Your name;
For they have devoured Jacob;
They have devoured him and consumed him
And have laid waste his habitation.
Here are some other famous excerpts:
- 6:14 and 8:11 — “Peace, peace — but there is no peace”
- 8:20 — “And we are not saved”
- 8:22 — “no balm in Gilead”
- 13:23 — “‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin / Or the leopard his spots?'”
- 31:29-30 — “‘In those days they will not say again, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, / And the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.'”
- 33:9 — “fear and tremble”
- 33:15 — “‘”I will make a righteous Branch spout from David’s line”‘”
- 46:18 — “‘Carmel by the sea'”
And some trivia: Chapter 45 contains only five verses — it’s Jeremiah’s message from God to Baruch — and, excluding the Psalms, is the second shortest chapter in the Bible (the shortest is the three-verse final chapter of Esther). On the other hand, chapter 51 is the sixth longest chapter in the Bible.
- “Aliens” continue to be protected, too (7:6).
- I hereby nominate the waistband metaphor at 13:1-11 as the Bible’s oddest.
- In 51:8-9, Jeremiah almost sounds like he feels sorry for Babylon (Stockholm syndrome?!).
- Wikipedia says “Jeremiah is mentioned by name in Chronicles and the Book of Ezra.” It also says, “The understanding of the early Christians that Jesus represented a ‘new covenant’ (see I Corinthians 11:25 and Hebrews 8:6-13) is based on Jeremiah 31:31-34, in which a future Israel will repent and give God the obedience he demands” (footnote omitted). And if you don’t like Wikipedia, my NIV study Bible seems to support the “new covenant” point, also citing Hebrews 8:6.
- My NIV study Bible also notes (at 26:20-23), “Uriah is an otherwise unknown prophet who was executed for faithfully proclaiming God’s words. This shows us that God has had other prophets whose words are not included in the Bible.”