Sunday School Lesson 41: Jeremiah 1-2, 15, 20, 26, 36-38

TS_scrollHistorical Background

Like Isaiah, the book of Jeremiah is a collection of prophecies edited into a book after the fact rather than one, extended prophecy. It describes itself as a history rather than as a prophecy, though obviously it contains a number of prophecies. But the word history doesn’t mean the same for ancient Israel as it means today. It is closer to our word “story” or “account.”

Much of the background for Jeremiah is covered in the last chapters of 2 Kings and the last chapters of 2 Chronicles. Understanding a rough outline of the history behind the readings in Jeremiah should help make it more understandable. Remember that for a while we have not been studying materials that are chronologically ordered. Below is a chronology cobbled together from various sources. It covers the period from the time of Solomon to the time of Jeremiah. Perhaps it will help you understand better how the things we have been reading are related to one another. In this chronology, kings’ names are in bold and prophets’ names are in italics.

c. 950-980 Abiathar, one of Jeremiah’s great-grandfathers, sides with Absalom in his revolt and is banished to Anathoth, three to four miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Solomon replaces Abiathar with Zadok, from whom all later high priests trace their lineage until a few years before Jesus’ ministry begins.
975 Solomon dies and the kingdom is divided into two: Judah and Israel. The kings of both new kingdoms are wicked.
929 A righteous king in Judah: Asa
873 Jehoshaphat, Asa’s successor reigns righteously in Judah.Elijah’s ministry begins.
837 Joash rules righteously in Judah. He repairs the temple. Later he ransoms Judah from Syria by giving the Syrian king the temple gold and precious things; his servants assassinate him.Syria wars against Israel, taking cities on the border.

Joel prophesies.

c. 850 Elisha’s ministry begins.
826 Hosea prophesiesJonah prophesies.
811 Amos prophesies.
797 Amaziah, Joash’s son, rules righteously in Judah.
c. 795 Israel defeats Judah in battle and plunders the temple and the temple treasury.
792 Uzziah, son of Amaziah, reigns righteously in JudahIsaiah begins to prophecy the year that Uzziah dies.
740 Jotham, son of Uzziah, is a righteous king of Judah.
734 Ahaz, son of Jotham, rules Judah. He is unrighteous, defiling the temple with human sacrifice and changing the temple ritual.
732 Assyria defeats Syria.
730 The Assyrian campaign against Israel begins, taking many captive, particularly from among community leaders.
726 Hezekiah ascends to the throne of Judah and reigns righteously.Isaiah urges Hezekiah not to make an alliance with Egypt against Assyria and, instead, to acquiesce to Assyria’s power. However, most of Hezekiah’s advisors recommend the alliance with Egypt.
722 Assyria completes its domination of Israel.Micah prophesies.
708 Israel rebels against Assyria’s domination, making an alliance with Egypt—against Isaiah’s advice.
697 Menasseh, Hezekiah’s son reigns wickedly: he executes Isaiah, allows idolatry, and offers the human sacrifice of his son to Moloch.
670 The Assyrian-Egyptian war comes to an end with the defeat of Egypt by Esarrhadon of Assyria.
640 Josiah’s righteous reign begins. (He succeeds his brother, Amon, who was unrighteous.)
627 Jeremiah is called to be a prophet while he is still a child.
625 Babylon begins to increase in power.
622 The book of the law is discovered during temple repairs, and Josiah reforms Israelite worship.
609 As a vassal of Assyria, Josiah goes to battle against the Egyptians at Meggido, and he is killed.His son, Jehoahaz, reigns in his stead, but he is wicked.

The pharoah takes Jehoahaz captive into Egypt, where he dies. He makes Josiah’s other son, Eliakim, king of Judah, and changes his name to Jehoiakim to indicate that he is the pharaoh’s vassal. Jeohiakim also rules wickedly.

606 The fall of Nineveh, the capitol of Assyria, defeated by Babylon. Egypt decides to aide Assyria and to strike against Babylon before it can grow further in power.
605 Nebuchadnezzar’s armies defeat Egypt at Carchemish and Babylon becomes the dominant power of the region.Babylon’s armies attack Jerusalem and take thousands captive, including Daniel and Ezekiel.
596 The first downfall of Jerusalem.
598 Habukkuk prophesies.Ezekiel prophesies.

Concerned about rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar sends his armies and confederate armies from Edom, Ammon, and Moab against Jerusalem, Jehoiakim.

Jeremiah delivers a sermon at the temple (Jeremiah 7), accusing the Jews of hypocrisy. He is banished from the temple and persecuted.

The prophet Uriah is executed for preaching the same thing that Jeremiah has been preaching.

Nebuchadnezzer executes Jehoiakim and places his eight-year-old son Jehoiachin on the throne in his stead.

Jehoiachin reigns for three months, giving Nebuchadnezzer all of the temple treasures as tribute. Nebuchadnezzer takes thousands more into captivity, including Ezekiel. In particular he takes captive those from leading familes, the artisans, and the government officials.

Nebuchadnezzar appoints another son of Josiah, Mattaniah, as king, changing his name to Zedekiah to prove that Zedekiah is a vassal. Zedekiah does not rule righteously.

Lehi is called as a prophet and leaves Jerusalem with his family.

c. 590 In spite of his promise of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzer, Zedekiah forms an alliance with Edom, Ammon, Moab, Phoenicia, and Egypt, and they rebel against Babylon.Jeremiah appears in the streets of Jerusalem wearing a wooden yoke around his neck as a symbol that the rebellion will be unsuccessful and Babylon will continue to dominate Judah.
587 Angry at Zedekiah’s perfidy, Nebuchadnezzer takes personal leadership of the Babylonian army and lays seige to Jerusalem. During the siege mothers kill their children to save them from Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Some eat the remains from hunger.During a break in the siege, Jeremiah escapes to his home town, Anathoth. He is arrested, beaten, and thrown into a dungeon. Then Zedekiah summons him to give some word of hope. When Jeremiah cannot do so, Zedekiah keeps him in captivity. Jeremiah continues to prophecy of Babylonian victory, so Zedekiah has him tied up and thrown into a well, left to die in the mud. An African slave rescues him.

Nebuchadnezzer resumes the siege and conquers Jerusalem.

Zedekiah flees and is captured at Jericho. His sons are executed before his eyes, and then his eyes are put out. He is taken to Babylon, where he dies in captivity.

One month after the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar’s army burns the city, destroying the temple and the palaces and tearing down the city walls. The Ark of the Covenant disappears.

Most of the remaining population is taken into captivity. Gedaliah is appointed governor, but he is murdered by an agent of the king of Ammon.

The remainder of those in Judah flee to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them as a hostage.

One of Zedekiah’s sons, Mulek, a baby at the time, somehow escapes execution. With people still loyal to Zedekiah, he makes it to the Western hemisphere. These are the people of Zarahemla later discovered by the Nephites.

As is often the case, when I created the table that made the above chronology possible, some oddities turned up in the result. But they are relatively minor–issues of spacing–so though I apologize, I think they don’t make the chronology unusable.

Study Questions

Jeremiah 1

Verses 1-3: These verses are roughly equivalent to the title and title page of the kind of book that we are accustomed to.

Note that in Hebrew words can be understood to mean “message.”

Why is Jeremiah’s ancestry significant to his prophecy? Why does it matter where he came from? Do his place of origin and his ancestry perhaps tell us something about his relations with the priests in Jerusalem?

FYI: the fifth month would have been August of 597 BC.

Verses 4-5: As in some other prophetic books, such as in much of Isaiah, the words of the Lord in the book of Jeremiah appear in poetry and those of the prophet are in prose. Why do you think that was a standard way of writing prophesy? What is the significance of putting the Lord’s words into poetic form? Compare Jeremiah’s calling to Isaiah’s. How are they similar? How are they different? The word translated “formed” in verse 5 is the word usually used to speak of molding pottery. What does that language suggest? What does it mean for the Lord to sanctify a person? The word translated “sanctified” could also be translated “dedicated.” What contemporary LDS language might be equivalent in meaning? What does it mean to be dedicated by the Lord?

Verses 5-10: What indication does the Lord give Jeremiah about the nature of his calling? If the prophet is the prophet to Judah, why does the Lord say that he has been set over all nations? What does it mean to say that the prophet has been called “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (verse 5)?

Verses 11-14: What is the significance of the symbols Zedekiah is shown in the two visions that he recounts? To what is Jeremiah compared by the Lord? What do these symbols connote? Why would the Lord use symbols like these in calling a prophet?

The first vision (verses 11-12) depends on a word play in Hebrew: shaqed means “almond” and shoqed means “watching.”

What do you understand the first of these two visions to mean? The second vision (verses 13-15) is the image of a large pot for boiling food.

Note that this was the most advanced cooking technology for several thousand more years, a large pot on an open fire, into which one put in to boil whatever one had. Soup/stew is one of the oldest foods.

In this vision, the pot is tipped toward the north and, because of a hard northerly wind that increases the heat of the fire, it is boiling over. How is the vision relevant to the meaning that the prophet explains in verses 15-19?

Verses 15-19: Do verses like these, of which there are many in Isaiah and Jeremiah, have anything to teach us today?

Jeremiah 2

Verses 1-9: When the Lord compares early Israel to Israel in Jeremiah’s time, what differences does he note? Why might he compare the beginning to the end? What does the Lord intend when he describes himself as remembering his youthful love (verse 2)? Who are the pastors if they are not the priestly leaders (verse 8)? Whom does the Lord hold responsible for Israel’s apostasy?

Verses 10-19:

Chittim is Cyprus, to the west; Kedar, the name of a tribe living to the east; Noph is Memphis in Egypt, and Tahapanes, a city on the eastern edge of the Egyptian delta. It may be the city where the Israelites lived during their captivity.

Explain the metaphor in verse 13.

The United Bible Societies’ Handbook on Jeremiah says:

In the land of Canaan where fresh springs of water were not readily available, the people had to depend upon water stored in cisterns. The limestone in which the cisterns were cut was of porous nature, so that it was necessary to line them with a non-porous plaster. But if the plaster cracked, then the water would seep out through the crack into the porous limestone.

What is Judah’s central problem (verses 11 and 13)? Are we ever guilty of the problems mentioned in verse 13? Compare verse 14 with verse 3, and explain the contrast and what it tells us. What does the Lord teach when he says, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee” (verse 19)? Do we often see this in our own lives?

Verses 20-25: To what does God compare Judah (verses 20, 21, and 23-25)? How do each of these comparisons fit?

Verses 26-37: Again, who bears the burden of guilt in Israel (verse 26)? If we apply the same principle to ourselves, what does it suggest about us? What are God’s symbols for the false gods? What new symbolism does he add to the idea of the unfaithful beloved?

Jeremiah 15

Verse 1: Why might God have chosen Moses and Samuel as examples of those who have successfully pled with God in times past? (Cf. Exodus 32:11-32, Numbers 14:13-19; and 1 Samuel 7:8-9 and 12:19-23.) When did they do so? Does the prophet plead for us today? If you say yes, what is your evidence? If you say no, why not? Does it matter that he pleads for us? How?

Verses 2-4: What in store for Israel’s future? Whom does the Lord hold responsible for Judah’s problems? To what event is the Lord referring?

Verses 5-9: What might the Lord mean when he says “I am weary with repenting”?

One modern translation renders this “I can no longer show compassion.”

Why had he instructed Jeremiah not to pray for this people (Jeremiah 14:11-12)? Are there limits to his compassion for his people? How could there be? If there are, how do we avoid reaching those limits ourselves? If there are not, what do these verses mean?

Verses 10-21: If Jeremiah was called while he was still in the womb, what does it mean for him to curse the day of his birth (verse 10)? What do you make of Jeremiah’s “proof” of his righteousness at the end of verse 10? What does it tell us about Israel? What is his complaint (verses 10 and 15-18)? What is the Lord’s response to Jeremiah’s lamentations (verses 11-14 and 19-21)? Why does the Lord require Jeremiah’s repentance (verse 19)? How does this event compare to the Prophet Joseph’s experience in Liberty Jail (D&C 122)? How is the Lord’s response similar? How different? How does it relate to Job’s lamentations? What can Jeremiah’s experience tell us about our own times of depression?

Jeremiah 20

Verses 1-6: Pashur appears to have been the officer in charge of the temple guards. Why would he have arrested Jeremiah? What does Jeremiah tell Pashur will happen to Jerusalem and to Pashur personally (verse 4)? The name “Magormissabib” that Jeremiah gives Pashur probably means “terror on every side.” Is he the terror or is he going to be surrounded by terror? What does it mean to be a terror to oneself (verse 4)? Why is it a curse to be a terror to one’s enemies? Why would Pashur have thought it a curse to be buried in a strange land (verse 6)?

Verses 7-18: What evidence do we have of Jeremiah’s suffering by this time in his life? What do verses 14-18 tell us about his feelings? If being the prophet was so hard on him, why didn’t he just quit preaching (verse 9)? What do you make of his demand for vengeance on his enemies (verse 12)? Is that the way you think of a prophet? If not, how do you explain Jeremiah’s demand?

Jeremiah 26

Verses 1-7: What message was Jeremiah to take to the people in Jerusalem? Where was the message to be delivered? Why there?

Verses 8-16: These verses contain the accusations made against Jeremiah. Review the trial of Abinadi before the priests of Noah (Mosiah 11-17). What similarities do you see, both between the priests in each group and the prophet in each? How do you understand the phrase, “the priests and the prophets and all the people” (verse 8)? Doesn’t “all the people” include the priests, and if it does, then why bother to name them?

Verses 17-24: What type of defense did some of the elders in the land bring in support of Jeremiah? What do we learn about their legal system from this defense–especially in the use of precedent? Note also the reference to the prophet Micah, whose works we studied earlier. What difference do they point out in the case of righteous Hezekiah and that of his wicked descendant Jehoiakim? Concerning Ahikam the son of Shaphan, see 2 Kings 22:3-10, and Jeremiah 36:10, 36:25, 39:14, and 40:5-10.

Jeremiah 36

Verses 1-8: How does this process of receiving and disseminating scripture compare to that during the Restoration? What task was Baruch assigned to do? Why to the temple? To whom can we compare him in the days of the Prophet Joseph?

Verses 9-32: What was the result of the second reading of the Jeremiah scroll in the temple? What was the reaction of the princes (or elders)? What was the reaction of the king? Why does verse 24 tell us that neither the king nor his servants were afraid? Afraid of what? What does their lack of fear show? What did the Lord instruct Jeremiah to do because of the king’s actions? What information was put on the second scroll? Do we have that scroll today?

Chapter 37

Verses 1-11: With this chapter we move to the reign of Zedekiah. According to the Book of Mormon, Lehi is now in the picture, though he is not mentioned by Jeremiah. What seems to be Zedekiah’s feelings about Jeremiah? How are those feelings tempered by the feelings of the people? Note also that the army of Babylon is moving through the streets of Jerusalem and that they flee before the armies of Egypt. Lehi tells us nothing of this, but must have been aware of these armies, unless he had already left. How do the things we have read so far help us understand the first part of 1 Nephi?

Verses 12-21: What charge was made against Jeremiah that caused him to be returned to Jerusalem, beaten, and imprisoned? Why did Zedekiah take him from the prison? How do you account for Zedekiah’s conflicted behavior toward Jeremiah?

Jeremiah 38

Verses 1-6: Why was Jeremiah again returned to imprisonment in the dungeon? What was the condition of the dungeon (it seems to have been a cistern) into which Jeremiah was placed? What were his chances of survival in that place?

Verses 7-13: How did Jeremiah escape from the cistern? Why would Hezekiah have sent such a large body of men to remove Jeremiah from the pit? Did he fear an attempted escape?

Verses 14-28: This meeting between the king and Jeremiah suggests the king’s real feelings and the fear he harbored of his own people. What must have been Zedekiah’s state of mind upon hearing Jeremiah’s message?

To respond to this post, go to Feast upon the Word.