Jeremiah the Prophet by Brian Rainey

The book of Jeremiah takes pains to depict Jeremiah as a legitimate prophet of the Israelite god, Yahweh. In Jeremiah’s time, Judah was a nation divided over foreign policy and religion, and prophets with opposing messages claimed to speak for Yahweh (Jer 28). According to the book of Jeremiah (our only source of information about him), it was Jeremiah’s determination to preach the word of Yahweh despite opposition that established his authenticity. He forcefully asserts the truth of his denunciatory prophecies against the optimistic predictions of other prophets, whom he accuses of prophesying lies (Jer 23:9-40).

Yahweh designates Jeremiah a “prophet to the nations” (Jer 46-51) and commissions him to pronounce judgment against not only Judah but also other nations: “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer 1:10).

When appointed, Jeremiah, like many biblical figures, professes his unworthiness. As Moses claims to be “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exod 4:10), so Jeremiah exclaims, “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jer 1:6). Because Jeremiah’s prophetic career might have spanned as much as 40 years, he may indeed have begun prophesying while young (Jer 1:2-3). But like other biblical figures, Yahweh promises to help him overcome his inadequacies and his opponents (Jer 1:7-9).

Jeremiah warns that Yahweh will bring disaster on Judah because the people rebelled against Yahweh by worshipping other gods, by pursuing policies hostile to Babylon, whose dominion Yahweh had ordained, and by allowing widespread social injustice (Jer 22:8-9).

Jeremiah’s condemnatory prophecies and his pro-Babylonian stance earn him many enemies. Some ridicule him and others even plot against his life (in his own hometown of Anathoth, no less; Jer 11:18-23). Jeremiah is beaten and imprisoned and his writings are destroyed (Jer 20:1-6, Jer 36:20-26, Jer 37:11-16). He narrowly escapes death at the hands of a mob of religious officials and other prophets (Jer 26). Jeremiah’s perilous career places him in the company of several other biblical prophets (Jer 26:20-23), and his willingness to prophesy despite antagonism is poignantly highlighted in several passages, sometimes called the Confessions of Jeremiah, in which he laments his persecution, often in the style of the Psalms.

A public showdown between Jeremiah and Hananiah, a rival prophet, dramatizes the battle over true prophecy (Jer 27-28). Using a wooden yoke around his neck as a prop, Jeremiah tells his audience at the Jerusalem temple that Judah must submit to Babylon to survive. But Hananiah, who seizes Jeremiah’s yoke and smashes it, counters that Yahweh has broken the “yoke” (that is, the “power”) of Babylon and will restore Judah’s fortunes in two years. The confrontation with Hananiah is just one example of Jeremiah’s dramatic use of props, symbolic acts, public performances, and other forms of “guerilla theater” to convey the divine word (see, e.g. Jer 19).

Though Jeremiah stresses that Yahweh will “pull down” and “pluck up,” he also shows that Yahweh will “build” and “plant.” Calls to repentance and promises of deliverance often dot Jeremiah’s warnings. Additionally, the book contains two chapters, appropriately known as the Book of Comfort, devoted to the promises of a new covenant and restoration (Jer 30-31).

Brian Rainey, "Jeremiah the Prophet", n.p. [cited 30 Nov 2022]. Online:


Brian Rainey

Brian Rainey
Associate Professor, Princeton Theological Seminary

Brian Rainey is associate professor of Old Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

An inspired message related by a prophet; also, the process whereby a prophet relates inspired messages to others.

The act of relating a prophecy, or inspired message.

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Jer 28

Hananiah Opposes Jeremiah and Dies
1In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, the proph ... View more

Jer 23:9-40

False Prophets of Hope Denounced
9Concerning the prophets:
My heart is crushed within me,
all my bones shake;
I have become like a drunkard,
like one overcome b ... View more

Jer 46-51

Judgment on Egypt
1The word of the Lord that came to the prophet Jeremiah concerning the nations.2Concerning Egypt, about the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egyp ... View more

Jer 1:10

10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Exod 4:10

10But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of sp ... View more

Jer 1:6

6Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

Jer 1:2-3

2to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.3It came also in the days of King Jehoia ... View more

Jer 1:7-9

7But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,8Do not be afra ... View more

Jer 22:8-9

8And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, “Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?”9And they will answ ... View more

Jer 11:18-23

Jeremiah's Life Threatened
18It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
then you showed me their evil deeds.19But I was like a gentle lamb
led to the ... View more

Jer 20:1-6

Jeremiah Persecuted by Pashhur
1Now the priest Pashhur son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things.2Th ... View more

Jer 36:20-26

Jehoiakim Burns the Scroll
20Leaving the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, they went to the court of the king; and they reported all the words to ... View more

Jer 37:11-16

Jeremiah Is Imprisoned
11Now when the Chaldean army had withdrawn from Jerusalem at the approach of Pharaoh's army,12Jeremiah set out from Jerusalem to go to th ... View more

Jer 26

Jeremiah's Prophecies in the Temple
1At the beginning of the reign of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came from the Lord:2Thus says the Lord: S ... View more

Jer 26:20-23

20There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in ... View more

Jer 27-28

The Sign of the Yoke
1In the beginning of the reign of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord.2Thus the Lord said to me: ... View more

Jer 19

The Broken Earthenware Jug
1Thus said the Lord: Go and buy a potter's earthenware jug. Take with you some of the elders of the people and some of the senior pri ... View more

Jer 30-31

Restoration Promised for Israel and Judah
1The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:2Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words th ... View more

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