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Exegesis of Jeremiah 1:4-10

Biblical Text

The Call of Jeremiah
The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

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“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant (1 Jer. 3:16 New International Version).”

Rationale

I chose the passage from the Book of Jeremiah because I was genuinely interested in the Biblical interpretation of life’s purpose. Though many passages concern the same subject, it is Jeremiah 1:4-10 that may appear the most relatable to the young reader. In my life, I have lived through many moments of doubt when I felt unworthy of doing what I was supposed to do. So was Jeremiah who first rejected his calling, appealing to his youth and immaturity. The passage is remarkable in how it teaches us to trust the Lord who knew us even before we were born and whose guidance can help us overcome any obstacles.

Summary of Content

The Book of Jeremiah is the second book of Prophets in Prophets in the Old Testament. It is said that the Book of Jeremiah is authored by Jeremiah himself while in the Jewish tradition, the prophet was assisted by his scribe and disciple Baruch ben Neriah. Jeremiah answered God’s call to be His prophet in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign which was around 627-626 B.C. His active years spanned between 627 and 587 B.C. when Jerusalem was sieged and captured by Babylonians, so it is safe to assume that the book was written sometime during that period. The book’s composition combines three types of materials: poetic, narrative, and biographical that are likely to have come from different circles and sources. Below is the outline of the book with the number of chapters given in parentheses:

  1. Jeremiah’s call during King Josiah’s reign (1);
  2. Prophecies to Judah and Jerusalem before Zedekiah’s reign (2-20);
  3. Prophecies during Zedekiah’s reign (21-29);
  4. Prophecies about the future of 12 tribes and Judah’s near captivity (30-39);
  5. Prophecies to those who survived the destruction of Jerusalem (40-42);
  6. Prophecies during Jeremiah’s last days in Egypt (43-51);
  7. Fulfillment of prophesied destruction of Jerusalem (52).

The events of the Book of Jeremiah are set during a turbulent time in Judah’s history. Indeed, the prophet lived in times of political, social, and cultural upheaval and was subject to oppression and ostracism. It is not coincidental that Jeremiah is often referred to as “the weeping prophet,” as his laments are an integral part of the book. In his lifetime, the prophet witnessed the reign of four kings – Josiah (640–609 B.C.), Jehoahaz (609 B.C.), Jehoiakim (609–598 B.C.), Jehoiachin (598–597 B.C.), Zedekiah (597–586 B.C.) (Brown and Ferris 2017). During those four volatile decades, Babylon emerged as a regional superpower, usurping Assyria and Egypt. Josiah, Judah’s last virtuous king, died on the battlefield fighting Egyptian armies. In an attempt to gain control over Judah, Egypt made Jehoahaz and then Jehoiakim kings, expecting them to submit to its will. As Egypt and Assyria became usurped, Jehoiakim showed obedience to Babylon in 605 B.C. and maintained his power over Judah. That same year, Babylon accepted exiles from Judah, which included Daniel and his companions. However, eventually, Jehoiakim revolted against Babylon, causing a siege and capture of Jerusalem. During the invasion, the King was killed, giving way to young Jehoiachin.

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From a religious standpoint, Judah’s society was also fairly volatile. There were two opposing religious parties that did not peacefully cohabitate (Brown and Ferris 2017). The priesthood, the aristocracy, and the mass of people in Judah were worshipping Yahweh. People believed that there was a covenant between God and them, which ensured divine protection for Judah. However, in exchange, Yahweh’s worshippers had to make sacrifices and keep up feasts with splendor. At the same time, their religion did not address immorality, so the majority of Judah condoned corruption and oppression of the poor. The second religious party was the prophetic party that emphasized the moral element of religion. They rejected ceremonies and procedures and focused on the old Hebrew doctrine that allowed them to conclude that Yahweh was not only a moral but the only God.

Summary of Research

Jeremiah 1: 4-10 is an obviously prophetic call story where God calls and the prophet objects but eventually submits to His will. In this passage, some compelling details have been interpreted in modern research. BibleHub (n.d.) discusses the nature of the call and concludes that it was a revelation, introducing new knowledge into human consciousness. In the Bible, it is not uncommon for the chosen people to hear the Lord’s call in an ecstatic or trance-like state or dream of a divine encounter. However, the text of Jeremiah 1: 4-10 implies no such thing. The prophet-to-be is wide awake and fully conscious.

A distinctive element of Jeremiah’s story is God’s omniscience of his life plan. The Lord says that even before the prophet was conceived in his mother’s belly, He knew him, and not only that – He appointed him to serve a purpose. Jeremiah is set apart by God to be his messenger during the volatile times at Judah (BibleStudys, n.d.). The commentary source also points out that Jeremiah was anointed as a prophet not only to his home country but also to foreign nations. This fact signifies the importance of the mission that God has assigned to his prophet.

What is interesting is the intention that God has when calling young Jeremiah. As explained by Enduring World (n.d.), even before the divine encounter, the prophet-to-be had been raised in a godly, priestly family. It is suggested that Jeremiah had been familiar with God’s word and was aware of other prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. Therefore, he had a background that would already make him inclined to seek God’s grace. Yet, the Lord came to him not when he was a child but when he was a young man. It was done so that Jeremiah could exercise his own will when responding to God’s calling.

Relevance to the Rest of the Bible

The story of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is relevant to the rest of the Bible, and its themes even find reflection in the New Testament. Firstly, the theme of God’s purpose is one of the most ubiquitous and distinct in the whole Bible. The first book of the Prophets includes the following words uttered by Isaiah, Jeremiah’s predecessor: “Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name (Is. 49:1 New International Version).” Interestingly enough, in the New Testament, Paul comes to a similar realization as he says: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16 New International Version).” These passages show that God works all things in a person’s life and conveys to him or her what his true calling should be.

At first, Jeremiah is taken aback by God’s call, but his rejection is motivated not by impiety but by the fear that he will not fulfill His will due to his young age. The theme of unworthiness is not uncommon: in fact, many other Biblical characters felt as if their mission was too challenging. For instance, when Moses is ordered by God to bring Israelites out of Egypt, he exclaims: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex. 3:11 New International Version)?” Yet, God’s presence and provision help Jeremiah and many others on their journey. This sentiment can be found in the New Testament: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God (Cor. 2:3-5 New International Version).”

Conclusion

The passage that I have chosen for this assignment turned out to be deep and multifaceted. After completing the exegesis, I was left with more questions than answers. First and foremost, Jeremiah 1:4-10 encouraged me to think about whether humans can truly exercise free will. On the one hand, the prophet is anointed by God and set apart to fulfill His mission. This mission is not easy or even truly socially rewarding since Jeremiah goes through many hardships and faces oppression and misunderstanding. Yet, he obeys Lord and overcomes his fears to realize the divine plan. Yet, on the other hand, God still gives Jeremiah the freedom of choice to either reject or accept his calling. Therefore, I wonder to which extent Lord determines what happens to us and to which extent we have the agency to steer the direction that our lives take.

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When reading Jeremiah 1:4-10, I could not help but think of a controversial social issue that is abortion. Again, in my opinion, there is a clash between God’s will and the human will. Indeed, God may know every soul before it is even embodied in the human world and before it leaves the mother’s womb as a baby. In this case, abortion is immoral, and no virtuous Christian should condone this practice. However, when it comes to having offspring, humans do have the freedom to do family planning and make adjustments to their timeline. In this case, I would want to further inquire about how much free will we can exercise when it comes to starting a family and taking control of reproduction.

References

Bible Hub. n.d. Jeremiah 1:4. 2020. Web.

BibleStudys. n.d. Jeremiah Chapter 1. 2020. Web.

Brown, Michael L., and Paul W. Ferris. 2017. Jeremiah, Lamentations. Zondervan Academic.

Enduring World. n.d. Jeremiah 1 – The Call of a Reluctant Prophet. 2020. Web.

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