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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Contents of the Book

On a first reading, the arrangement of material in the book of Jeremiah is like that of Isaiah and Ezekiel: oracles of doom against Israel, oracles concerning foreign nations, oracles of salvation, and historical narratives. Although the Hebrew text of Jeremiah (the basis of all modern translations) breaks this pattern by placing the oracles concerning foreign nations at the end (46–51), the more original Greek version placed the oracles concerning foreign nations after the oracles of doom against Israel (beginning in 25, 13), so that the original book followed the traditional order.

The oracles of doom against Israel are concentrated in chapters 1 through 25 , though the chapters do not form a coherent whole. There is a common viewpoint in the chapters, but the individual units are quite diverse in content and style. Prose alternates with poetry. Such variety suggests that multiple authors contributed to the section, though one should not conclude simplistically that the poetry comes from Jeremiah and the prose comes from disciples or editors. For one thing, Hebrew poetry is not always sharply distinguishable from rhythmic prose, and, for another, modern translations sometimes do not print poetry in sense lines.

chapters 26 through 34 are concerned with future salvation: 26 through 29 deal with true and false prophets, and 30 through 34 with future salvation. chapters 35 through 45 , all in prose, narrate the sufferings of Jeremiah in the final period of his ministry. The oracles concerning the foreign nations, 46 through 51 , are mostly in poetic form. Chapter 52 , drawn from 2 Kings 24, 18–25 , concludes the book. The following paragraphs examine the sections in more detail.

The commission narrative in 1, 4–10 , is supplemented by two visions followed by a summary of Jeremiah's main themes ( 1, 14–19 ). Chapters 2 through 6 contain separate oracles largely concerned with the Northern Kingdom and the threat of “the enemy from the north” ( 1, 13–15; 4, 6; 6, 1.22 ), the prophet's designation for an invader that was later identified explicitly with Babylon. Chapter 2 is a covenant lawsuit indicting Israel for its lack of love and loyalty to its Lord, and chapter 3 follows with insistent demands for conversion (Hebrew shub, literally “turn,” occurs ten times). Chapters 4 through 6 are a good sample of Jeremiah's preaching. Though some destruction has already taken place, the prophet does not dwell on it as if there is no future. The invasion of Babylon is regarded both as an inevitable historical event and a divine judgment on sin. Chapters 2 and 3 specify Israel's sin as apostasy and idolatry, whereas chapters 4 through 6 specify the sin as social injustice and the corruption of leadership.

These threats and anticipatory laments are interrupted by 7, 1–8, 3, the Temple sermon and related oracles, but reappear in 8, 4–10, 25 with an even greater emphasis on lament. Though several voices interact in the chapters—God, the prophet, the people mourning or praising—a recurring process is discernible, which proceeds from sin to judgment to lament. The people's sin is uncovered; divine judgment will punish it; lament (prayer emphasizing distress) attempts to assuage God's anger, and bring respite and salvation. Chapter 10 attacks other gods and their images. Though using new images and different perspectives, these chapters continue the themes of chapters 2 through 6 : the enemy from the north, the insistence on repentance (“turning”), the people's malicious hearts, the failure of the leaders, and the prophets who speak falsely in God's name.

The long section, Jer 11, 1–20, 18 is a collection of diverse material: laments, oracles, and prophetic actions. Dominating the section are Jeremiah's seven “confessions” (actually petitions making special use of complaints and laments): 11, 18–23; 12, 1–6; 15, 10–21; 17, 14–18; 18, 18–23; and 20, 7–13; 20, 14–18. The usual structure has two parts, the prophet's complaint and the Lord's response. How these laments are to be understood is debated. They are certainly related to the public presentation of the prophet, elaborating the original commission (1) and vindicating the divine judgments in 2 through 10 by portraying Jeremiah as an example of one who has suffered and been upheld by God's mercy. Judgment in the Bible, it must be noted, is a process involving punishment of the wicked and upholding of the righteous. It is a synonym for punishment. Also found within the section are divine oracles (including divine lament, 12, 7–13), prophetic speeches, and prophetic actions. These prophetic actions ( 13, 1–14; 16, 1–13; 17, 19– 27; 18, 1–12; 19, 1–20, 6 ) are interspersed like the “confessions” throughout the section. In this section the earlier emphasis on repentance lessens, and more attention is paid to the negative side of judgment. The section ends with the most despairing of Jeremiah's laments ( 20, 14– 18 ), which demonstrates the prophet's sincerity and also provides a model of the national suffering and vindication awaiting the whole nation.

The next section, Jeremiah 21, 1–25, 38 is concerned with the leadership of Judah at the time of the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. The prophet inveighs against King Jehoiakim for extravagant building projects at the expense of the poor ( 22, 13–19 ) and later dashes royal hopes by declaring that King Zedekiah will fall into the hands of the Babylonians ( 21, 1–10 ). False prophets, a particular problem for Jeremiah, come in for severe attack ( 23, 9–40 ). Chapter 25 has a dual role in the book, concluding the first part of the book by the summary in 25, 1–14 , and pointing forward in verse 13 to the scroll Jeremiah dictated to Baruch in chapter 36 , “Against that land I will fulfill all the words I have spoken against it (all that is written in this scroll [NAB “book”], which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations” ( 25, 13 ).

Jeremiah 26, 1–36, 32 consist of blocks of material (all are in prose except 30 and 31) describing scenes of conflict or comfort. Chapter 26 is a version of the Temple sermon in chapter 7 , reiterating the Jeremianic theme that the only way forward is to allow full freedom to the Lord's work of judgment. It serves as prologue both to Jeremiah's attacks on the foolish utopian schemes detailed in 27 through 29 and to his invitation to genuine hope beyond judgment in 30 through 33 . Like chapter 36, chapter 26 is set in the opening years of Jehoiakim's reign (609); it is probable that these two chapters form a frame around the section in between. Chapter 34 , on the conditional freeing of slaves, provides a negative contrast to the full hearted following of the Lord by the austere Rechabites in chapter 35 . Chapter 36 brings the section to a close, for King Jehoiakim, attempting to destroy the scroll of Jeremiah (probably much of chapters 2 through 25 ), unwittingly insures that the words of the scroll will continue to guide the people even after Jeremiah himself leaves the scene.

A good title for chapters 37 through 45 is “The last days of Judah and the last days of the prophet.” The chaos just before and during the final catastrophe is narrated in 37 through 39. The desperation of the people and King Zedekiah is reflected in his alternately consulting and imprisoning Jeremiah, who nonetheless insists on only one counsel: do not resist, for it is by divine will that the Babylonians will triumph. Chapters 40 and 41 tell of the political changes as Babylon takes over the governance of the land. Jeremiah's counsel to people fearful of further Babylonian assaults that they should remain in the land is ignored. A frightened group of Judeans takes him to Egypt, where his words fall on deaf ears (42–43). The final chapter (45) in the section promises that Baruch will survive, a pointer to the preservation of Jeremiah's words for future generations.

Oracles concerning the nations close the book in the Hebrew version (46–51). Such words are expected, for Jeremiah had been appointed as a prophet to the nations ( 1, 5 ). Various countries are named and come under critique: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Arabian tribes, Elam, and, most extensively, Babylon. Some are long, others are short; some are bitter, others are not; and a few even promise restoration after the judgment. Reasons for the punishment are given for some but not for all. One can surmise that at least some of these nations violated treaties with Israel and Judah, or inflicted grave injuries upon them. Or perhaps Jeremiah simply assumed that the great judgment operative in Judah and Jerusalem must inevitably affect its near neighbors as well.

Chapter 52 , a slightly adapted version of 2 Kings 24, 18–25, 30 , summarizes the Babylonian destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, concluding importantly with the release from prison of King Jehoiachin, the Davidic scion. Jeremiah 23, 5–8 , had spoken about raising up a righteous branch for the house of David, and the editor wants the book to end on a hopeful note.

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