Jeremiah 1:4-10

   Print this page

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Background to the Book of Jeremiah: Historical Background to the Book:

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).

Literary Background to the Book:

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 1:4-10

The call of Jeremiah is preceded by an historical summary detailing in whose reigns Jeremiah prophesied, the place of his origin (Anathoth in the land of Benjamin) and the name of his father (Hilkiah). The verses name the first and last kings kings thereby indicating the length of his ministry covered a period of 40 years (627 BCE - 587 BCE).

Following this prologue which sets the historical period for Jeremiah is a detailed account of his call to ministry. We will deal with this in detail in the next section.

Then come two more accounts of Jeremiah's visions in which God asks, what does he see? The first vision is rather cryptic, but is interpreted by the Lord to indicate that he will be watching to ensure that all he says will occur. As almond blossom heralds spring so God's word will herald judgement on the people and comfort to Jeremiah, and as spring comes forth so will God's word come forth.

The second vision which declares impending destruction on Jerusalem will come true because God has spoken it and Jeremiah will be upheld because God will be with him. The Book of Jeremiah continues with many prophetic oracles emphasising faithfulness of Yahweh, the apostasy of Judah and their subsequent punishment.

Insights/Message of Jeremiah 1:4-10:  Literary structure:

There are similarities and differences in the 'Calls' of the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). They are initiated by God who speaks and informs the future prophet what they will be doing, often with some form of assurance that God will be with them. There is occasionally some form of protest as in the case of Jeremiah.

  • Jeremiah 1:4 ----- God speaks to Jeremiah

  • Jeremiah 1:5 ----- God affirms his intention for Jeremiah to be a prophet was decreed before Jeremiah was even born. His appointment is to the nations

  • Jeremiah 1:6 ---- Jeremiah protests that he is too young

  • Jeremiah 1:7 ---- God answers the protest by repeating the words of Jeremiah back to him with further commands telling him he will go and he will speak

  • Jeremiah 1:8 ---- Words of assurance as to why Jeremiah cannot say I am only a youth.

  • Jeremiah 1:9 ---- The symbolism of God touching Jeremiah's lips is a further reassurance that the words which Jeremiah preaches will be of God. In Isaiah 6:7 the hot coals were used to touch the lips of Isaiah symbolising the cleansing of his lips and forgiveness of sins.

  • Jeremiah 1:10 ---- Gives in summary form the message which will be spelled out in the the rest of the Book of Jeremiah. The nation will be raised up, broken down and then restored. These particular words occur in a number of places throughout the Book indicating a deliberate structuring in its final form.
Message / Theology:

The clear message from God is emphasised by the use of the strong and frequent verbs in v.5 - I formed you, I knew you, I set you apart, I appointed you. Jeremiah had the reassurance all through his ministry that he was called by God to be a prophet. The verb 'to know' has a deeper meaning than simply cognitive knowing and includes relationship knowledge. It is used of close relationship between husband and wife, and between Yahweh and Israel. It is this word that Jeremiah uses back to God suggesting 'he doesn't know' how to speak. He stands in line with Moses who also protested he couldn't do what God asked. As in that case, so also with Jeremiah, God brooks no argument. He is told he will do it and then given the reassurances that God will always be with him.

As we read through the Book of Jeremiah there are times when Jeremiah is very angry with God for appointing him a prophet because he suffers much hardship at the hands of his own people. However, there is a compulsion and a drive to do what God asks after accepting the inevitability of the call.

So, it is today with people who are called to be like the Old Testament prophets, divinely commissioned for the task. Some would prefer not to suffer the ridicule and hurtful words when a message is not acceptable to the hearers.

We note that Jesus stood in line of the Old Testament Prophets, speaking out against the religious leaders of the day, challenging the laws which limit wholeness of life for people or injustices carried on in the name of religion. However, the picture of New Testament prophets in Paul's letters is very different and bears little in common with the Old Testament prophets or even with Jesus himself.

The reassurance for any who have suffered because they proclaim a message which is unacceptable to some, is always the knowledge that God is with them and indeed understands because Jesus has been there and knows from experience.

Resources/Worship for Jeremiah 1:4-10

Worship:  This reading is set out well as a dialogue in the Dramatised Bible and two voices help to make it come alive.

Psalm 71:1-6 is an affirmation of the presence of God and could be said by the people after the sermon if that focus of God's reassuring presence is proclaimed.


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 New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 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: