As announced at the outset, the writings of Jeremiah take place during the “eleventh year of Zedekiah”, the ruler put in place by Babylon after Babylon conquered Jerusalem. In reading the text of Jeremiah we imagine an elderly prophet, Jeremiah, dictating his life and prophecy to a Jewish scribe. During the first part of the book in the reign of King Josiah of Judah the story is told by Jeremiah, and in the second part the latter story of Jeremiah is told as he is imprisoned and as dark prophecy is foreseen for Israel. Some have ascribed the second part of the book to Baruch, the scribe who announces himself in Jeremiah. In the King James Version here is how Jeremiah introduced himself:
“Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee;
And before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee,
and I ordained thee a prophet unto nations.” (1:4-5).
The Lord speaks to Jeremiah proclaiming how he will bring to justice the fallen northern kingdom of Israel/Judah. He laments the perfect vine that he planted in Israel that is now polluted by the transgressions of the northern kingdom, and he vows to bring them to hell under the rulership of the southern kingdom of Judah. However, even the kingdom of Judah has played the “harlot” and has disobeyed God.
The book of Jeremiah reads like a series of metaphors: the lion coming from his thicket, watchers from a far country, the harvest is past, den of dragons, pen of iron, fenced brasen wall, two baskets of figs, and so on. Much of the book reads with an apocalyptic tone, not unlike Isaiah, as Jeremiah lived through the destruction of Jerusalem. He discusses his testimony: his preachings that Israel has lost its way with the Lord, and as a result Jeremiah is abused and imprisoned (there is a conspiracy against him) and he foretells Zedekiah’s downfall. He writes letters to the exiles in Babylon encouraging them to remain true to the Lord.
How have the Israelites transgressed? They have lifted up unjust leaders, engaged in treacherous dealings, and they have a rebellious heart, false prophets, and so on. In the end there is hope for Israel, according to Jeremiah, as the Davidian line is preserved.
Jeremiah has sometimes been called the “weeping prophet” and it is for his namesake that we derive the word “jeremiad” for a mournful lamentation. Tradition has it that Jeremiah was the author of the books of Kings, Jeremiah, and Lamentations, with the help of his scribe Baruch.
The following is Michelango’s depiction of a somber Jeremiah (between 1508-1512) for his masterful Sistine Chapel ceiling. It is a portrayal of one of seven ‘Old Testament’ prophets painted at the Sistine Chapel. He is seated next to a scroll that reads ‘Alef’ which is meant to showcase the book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible, and he sits in great distress at the destruction of Israel. According to ‘experts’ two women stand in mourning behind Jeremiah, however is it possible that standing over Jeremiah’s left shoulder is a depiction of his scribe, Baruch?
Below we also take note of Rembrandt’s masterful 1630 painting of ‘Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem’. In the distance to the left, which can barely be seen now, a man is clenching his fist. This is Zedekiah, the Babylonian proxy ruler of Judah whom Jeremiah preached against, and who was later blinded by Nebuchadnezzar for leading an uprising against Babylon: