Chapter Fourteen - Isaiah Through Lamentations - Before the Captivity

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As a result of this chapter, you should be able to:

  1. discuss some of the Old Testament concepts of prophet and prophecy;
  2. discuss the authorship and background of the book of Isaiah and Jeremiah;
  3. summarize the basic messages of Isaiah and Jeremiah; and
  4. explain briefly the significance of Lamentations.

This chapter is divided into the following four major parts:

  1. the prophetical books of the Old Testament;
  2. Isaiah;
  3. Jeremiah; and
  4. Lamentations.

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1. THE PROPHETICAL BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

1.1 Location of the Prophetical Books in the Old Testament Canon

Seventeen prophetical books are in the Old Testament of our English Bible. These are written by sixteen different prophets. The prophecies were written over a period of more than four centuries, from about 840 B.C. (Obadiah) to 420 B.C. (Malachi). The prophetical books are usually classified as major or minor works. These categories designate relative length, not relative importance. The works of the three major prophetsˇXIsaiah, Jeremiah, and EzekielˇXare each longer than all the writings of the minor prophets considered collectively. The book of Lamentations is usually included with the major prophets because it is closely linked to Jeremiah. The book of Daniel is often included with the major prophetical works, as well. We may classify the prophetical books as follows:

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5 12
MAJOR PROPHETS MINOR PROPHETS
Isaiah Hosea Jonah Zephaniah
Jeremiah, Lamentations Joel Micah Haggai
Ezekiel Amos Nahum Zechariah
Daniel Obadiah Habakkuk Malachi

Comparison the four major prophets is illustrated in below table:

(Source: Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, New International Version, Chicago: Moody Press, 1994 Edition, by Charles C. Ryrie)

Comparison of the Four Major Prophets

ˇ@ Isaiah Jeremiah Ezekiel Daniel
PROPHESIED TO: Jews in Judea Jews in Judea & Captivity Jews captive in Babylon Jews captive in Babylon & Gentile kings
CONCERNING: Judah & Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1; 2:1) Judah & Nations (Jeremiah 1:5, 9-10; 2:1-2) The whole house of Israel (Ezekiel 2:3-6; 3:4-10, 17) Israel & Gentile Nations (Daniel 2:36ff; 9)
DURING THE REIGNS OF: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah (kings of Judah) Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah (kings of Judah) Zedekiah (king of Judah); Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon) Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah (kings of Judah); Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon)
DATES: 740 - 680 B.C. 627 - 585 B.C. 592 - 570 B.C. 605 - 536
HISTORICAL SETTING: 2 Kings 15-21; 2 Chronicles 26-30 2 Kings 22-25 Daniel 1-6 Daniel 1-6

Why the prophetic books were placed at the end of the Old Testament Scriptures is not known. The location of the prophetical books in the Old Testament canon by chronological order is illustrated in below chart:

(Source: Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, New International Version, Chicago: Moody Press, 1994 Edition, by Charles C. Ryrie)

Location of the Prophetical Books in the Old Testament Canon by Chronological Order

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The location of the prophetical books in the Old Testament history is illustrated in below chart:

(Source: Jensen's Bible Study Charts, Moody Press, 1981 Edition)

Location of the Prophetical Books in the Old Testament History

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1.2 The Prophetical Office

Since the remainder of the course concerns prophetical literature, it would be helpful to examine the nature of the prophet's work and the distinctive character of his prophecy.

1.2.1 The origin of the prophetical office

The office of prophet probably originated around the time of Samuel, who founded and presided over various schools of young prophets ("company of the prophets," 1 Samuel 19:20). These prophets are also classified as oral prophets.

1.2.2 The term "prophets"

The Hebrew word is "nibba" means to summon, announce and call.

1.2.3 Other titles applied to the prophets

The prophets of the Old Testament were sometimes designated by other titles. Of these, the three most frequently used were:

  1. "man of God"ˇXsuggesting an intimate spiritual relationship;

  2. "seer"ˇXsuggesting perception of the true, and insight into the invisible things of God (cf. 1 Samuel 9:9); and

  3. "servant" of Jehovah.

The prophets were also known as messengers of Jehovah, men of the Spirit (cf. Hosea 9:7), interpreters and spokesmen for God.

1.2.4 Message of the Prophets

The prophet was primarily a spokesman for God to the people of his generation. The prophet was a forth-teller as well as a fore-teller. Much of his ministry had little to do with predicting the future. It involved admonishing the people for their sins as well as revealing events to occur in the future. The message of the prophets include:

  1. instruction of the great truths about God and man;

  2. warning and appeal to those living in sin;

  3. comfort and exhortation to those trusting and obeying God; and

  4. prediction of events to come.

1.2.5 Characteristics of prophecies

His prophecies were short-range as well as long-range. Many times fulfillment of the prophecies occurred within the prophet's own lifetime. Other prophecies related to the future or the remote future. Short-range prophecy was a means of determining the validity of his calling. All the prophecies of a true prophet of God must come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). If the prophet was wrong in only one utterance, it was an indication that he was not a true prophet.

The prophet's message was to be in harmony with other revealed truth (Deuteronomy 15:1-5). This was another characteristic of a true prophet.

1.3 The Oral and Writing Prophets

All of God's prophets shared the same purpose for which they were divinely called. Some of these, now referred to as the writing prophets, were chosen of God not only to a public-speaking ministry, but also to be the authors of the inspired canonical books of prophecy. The others, now referred to as the oral prophets, ministered mostly by the spoken word.

1.3.1 Oral prophets

The Bible records the names of only a few of the oral prophets, examples are as follows:

  1. Ahijah;

  2. Iddo;

  3. Jehu;

  4. Elijah;

  5. Elisha;

  6. Oded;

  7. Shemaiah;

  8. Azariah;

  9. Hanani;

  10. Nathan of Gad;

  11. Micaiah;

  12. Eliezer

  13. Jahaziel; and

  14. Huldah.

Which of these names do you recognize? You may want to look up the unfamiliar names in a Bible dictionary for a brief description of their part in Bible history. Most of these prophets ministered before the appearance of the writing prophets.

1.3.2 Writing prophets

The writing prophets, in addition to composing their prophecies in written form, also had a wide ministry of speaking at public gatherings in the Temple or on the streets. For future generations of God's people, however, their major work was in their writing.

It is also helpful to group the prophetical books according to their relation to the captivity (exile). The last three books of the Old Testament describe events that happened after the captivity (post-exilic). Ezekiel and Daniel describe events during the captivity (exilic). All the other books may be classified as pre-captivity (pre-exilic). See below table and chart for illustration:

(Source: Exploring the Scriptures, Chicago: Moody Press, 1981 Edition, p. 125, by John Phillips)

The Writing Prophets

B.C. Pre-captivity Captivity Post-captivity
9 Joel
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Jonah
Amos
Hosea
8 ISAIAH
Micah
Nahum
Zephaniah
Habakkuk
7 JEREMIAH
Obadiah EZEKIEL
ˇ@ DANIEL
6 ˇ@ ˇ@ Haggai
Zechariah
5 ˇ@ ˇ@ Malachi

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 322, by Irving L. Jensen)

Three Periods of the Prophets

1.4 Studying Bible Prophecies

When you read a book of prophecy, various things should be kept in mind. Some of these are briefly described below.

1.4.1 The immediate setting

Be acquainted with the political and religious conditions which prevailed at the time any given prophet was speaking. For most of the prophetic books this can be ascertained by reading in the books of Kings and Chronicles the history of the kings who were ruling at any particular period. For example, the first verse of Isaiah gives the names of the four kings who were reigning while Isaiah was prophesying. By turning back to the historical books and reading the accounts of these reigns, one can realize the evils which existed and against which Isaiah was thundering. The setting of foreign powers also throws light on the prophetic books. For each book you will want to know something of the surrounding nations, especially those vying for world suzerainty. The three reigning world powers during the years of the prophets were:

  1. AssyrianˇXup to 612 B.C. (fall of Nineveh)

  2. Neo-BabylonianˇXup to 539 B.C. (fall of Babylon)

  3. PersianˇXup to Malachi (and beyond)

1.4.2 The God of history

You will appreciate and understand more of the historical movements of the prophets' days if you always keep in mind that human history is in the sovereign hands of an omniscient, omnipotent God. Everything transpires either by His permissive or directive will. He foreknows every event before it becomes history, and on many occasions He gave such prophetic revelation to His prophets to share with the nations.

1.4.3 The chosen nation

Israel was God's elect nation, called into being by His sovereign decree, and preserved through the ages (sometimes in a very small remnant) in fulfillment of His covenant originally made with Abraham.

1.4.4 The four prophetic points

The utterances of the prophets, for the most part, centered around four points in history:

  1. their own time; 

  2. the threatening captivities (Assyrian and Babylonian), and subsequent restoration;

  3. the coming of their Messiah (i.e. the first coming of Christ); and

  4. the Millennium (i.e. the second coming of Christ).

This is illustrated by below chart.

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 325, by Irving L. Jensen)

Four Prophetic Points

 

It was as though the prophet were on some high eminence (see A on the Chart) looking off into the distance and speaking of what he saw. Most often he saw the sins which prevailed in his own day, and spoke of them (see 1 on the chart). Then he would look off to the day when the nation would be taken out of their land into captivity. He also saw an eventual re-gathering of the Jews from the captivities (see 2). At times the Spirit enabled him to look further into the future and foretell of the coming Messiah (see 3). Occasionally he saw still further into the future, and spoke of a glorious time of restoration and peace coming to God's people in the Millennium (see 4).

In order to get the true meaning of the words of a prophet, one must determine in each individual utterance which of these four events is his subject. The very language of the prophet and the context in which he speaks the words usually indicate this. For example, read Isaiah 53 and determine to which of these four points in history the prophet is referring.

1.4.5 Two Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ

When a prophet speaks of Christ, he refers to Him in either of His two comings:

  1. in the first coming, as the suffering Messiah (e.g. Isaiah 53); or

  2. in the second coming, as the reigning Messiah (e.g. Isaiah 11).

The prophets were apparently not aware that a long interval of time would transpire between Christ's manifestation in suffering (first coming) and Christ's revelation in glory (second coming). His suffering and His reigning appeared to them to be very close in time. The student of prophecy must keep this in mind when he studies the predictive sections of the prophetic books.

1.5 The Audience of the Prophets

Most messages of the Old Testament prophetic books were addressed to the generations of God's people who lived approximately between the years 840 and 420 B.C.. The ten tribes,
known specifically as the kingdom of Israel, lived in north Canaan (New Testament areas of Samaria and Galilee) before they were deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The other two tribes, known as the kingdom of Judah, lived in south Canaan before they were taken captive by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. This is shown on below Map.

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 320, by Irving L. Jensen)

Audience of the Prophets

The people of God were not always divided into two camps. The split of the kingdom came at the end of Solomon's reign, Jeroboam I being the first king of the north, and Rehoboam the first king of the south. This story is recorded in 1 Kings 12-16. Recall your earlier studies of these tragic years of the people's history.

1.6 The Approach of Liberal Theologians to Biblical Prophecy

The prophet of God was carefully distinguished from the soothsayers of the day. The Old Testament Scriptures clearly differentiate between them. This is especially significant since many liberal theologians believe that the prophetic office in the Old Testament rose out of the system of the occult. They explain it to be an outgrowth of heathen soothsaying.

Fulfilled prophecy is a convincing argument in support of the supernatural character of the Old Testament. Those who do not accept a supernatural explanation for the fulfillment of prophecy usually offer a naturalistic explanation for it. Some claim that prophecies were vague generalities, written in such a way that anyone could claim fulfillment of them. And, admittedly, some Old Testament prophecies arc general in nature (e.g.. Genesis 3:1). But many prophecies are so specific that there is only one possible fulfillment (cf. Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2).

Another naturalistic explanation of fulfilled prophecy is the theory of artificial fulfillment. According to this theory, someone familiar with prophetic writings schemed to "fulfill" a prophecy. Thus, fulfilled prophecy would be seen to result from human ingenuity rather than from divine intervention in human history Of course, this would be inadequate to explain the nature of the fulfillment of prophecies which involve cities or entire nations (e.g., Isaiah 13:19-22; Ezekiel 26:3-5; Obadiah 1:2; Micah 1:6).

This theory has been used to explain Jesus' fulfillment of messianic prophecy. It is mentioned several times in the gospels that Jesus consciously acted to fulfill recorded prophecies (Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 14:2; Luke 18:31-34; John 19:28). But to explain this as artificial fulfillment would entirely discount Jesus' deity. As God incarnate, Jesus deliberately fulfilled prophecy in accordance with Jeremiah 1:12, which states. "I watch over my word to perform it."

Some who deny the supernatural character of prophecy hold that prophecies did not predict history, but, rather, recorded it. A major difficulty with this explanation is that it requires a radical re-dating of many prophetical books, as we will see.

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2. ISAIAH: THE SUFFERING AND THE GLORY

2.1 Introduction

Isaiah is the first of four prophets known as the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel).

2.1.1 Name

The name Isaiah translates a short form of the prophet's Hebrew name, Yeshaiah. The long form, which is how his name appears in his book and in all other Old Testament references, is Yeshayahu. This is a compound name having such meanings as "Jehovah saves," "Jehovah is salvation," and "salvation of Jehovah."

Surely the prophet was given this name by divine design. Whenever people mentioned his name, they were audibly reiterating the great theme of his message. In the book which he wrote, two of his favorite words are those translated "he shall save" and "salvation."

2.1.2 Author

Some liberal critics support the theory that the prophecy of Isaiah is not the work of a single author. It is popular to attribute most of chapters 1-39 to the historical Isaiah who lived in the 8th century B.C., while chapters 40-55 are usually considered to he the work of a "Second Isaiah," or Deutero-Isaiah, who lived around 540 B.C.. A "Third Isaiah," or Trito-lsaiah, was responsible for chapters 56-66. The third author supposedly lived around 460-445 B.C. This theory is proposed because there are differences between chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66, and it is assumed that one man could not have written both sections.

The underlying problem should he noted here. Liberal theologians will not believe that Isaiah, who lived in 722 B.C.. could prophesy so accurately concerning the exile which occurred over a century later, even mentioning a leader of the time, Cyrus, by name.

The explanation for this accuracy is the supernatural nature of the prophecy. God empowered Isaiah to supernaturally predict these events. The issue is settled in John 12:38-40, in which Christ quotes from "Second Isaiah" as well as "First Isaiah," attributing both quotations to the same individual.

(Note: For further discussion on this matter, please read the course, Isaiah, Section 8 of Chapter 1: Introduction to the book of Isaiah.)

2.1.3 Isaiah the man

The writer is Isaiah the son of Amoz. Who Amoz was is not known, although there have been some conjectures linking him with the royal family of Judah. Certain rabbinic commentators noted the tradition that Isaiah's father, Amoz, and King Amaziah of Judah (796-767 B.C.) were brothers, thereby making Isaiah of royal descent (See the commentaries (Hebrew) of Rashi and David Kimchi on Isaiah 1:1).

He was a scribe, implied by 2 Chronicles 26:22, where the writing of Uzziah's court history is attributed to the prophet Isaiah, a practice the Chronicler knew about in the case of other prophets (Rehoboam - Shemaiah the prophet, 2 Chronicles 12:16; Abijah - Iddo the prophet, 13:22; Jehoshaphat - Jehu, 20:34). As a scribe he would also be responsible for educating the children of the royal court, perhaps explaining what is meant by his "disciples" (8:16).

Isaiah was married. Isaiah had at least two sons, for two names are given: Shearjashub (7:3) and Maher-shalalhash-baz (8:3). Both of whom had symbolic names:

  1. Shearjashub means "a renmant will return"; and

  2. Maher-shalal-hash-baz means "the spoil speeds, the prey hastes."

From Isaiah 1:1 we learn that most of the prophet's public ministry took place during the reigns of these kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah and Manasseh. See below charts for the relationship between Isaiah and kings:

Relationship Between Isaiah And Kings

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Hosea and Micah were contemporary prophets with Isaiah (cf. Hosea 1:1 and Micah 1:1). Isaiah prophesied during the last 17 years of the Northern Kingdom. His message, however, was primarily to the Southern Kingdom. When Israel's throne was tottering because of sin, Judah also was following her sister kingdom in the downward path.

Isaiah was bold, fearless and absolutely sincere. He talked to his fellow countrymen in plain language, showing them how they looked in God's sight. Isaiah was stern and uncompromising when the occasion demanded, but he also had a tender heart. He warned of judgment because he loved his people. Isaiah was also a man of great spirituality and strong faith. Associating so intimately and constantly with God, he had no place for worldiness and doubt. He saw men and things from God's point of view, in the light of eternity.

According to rabbinic tradition (Talmud), Isaiah was sawed in two by the wicked King Manasseh (cf. 2 Kings 21:16; Hebrews 11:37).

2.1.4 Historical background and date of composition

Isaiah had a long ministry which began in the year of Uzziah's death (740 B.C.), and probably continued into the reign of Manasseh (696-642 B.C.). He prophesied in the Southern Kingdom at the time the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria (722 B.C.). Read 2 Kings 14-21 for the historical setting of Isaiah. The historical background of  Isaiah is illustrated in below chart:

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 327, by Irving L. Jensen)

Historical Background of Isaiah

Several foreign nations are involved in Isaiah, and it would be helpful to list them at this point.

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NATION CAPITAL
Judah Jerusalem
Israel Samaria
Syria Damascus
Assyria Ninevah
Babylonia Babylon

2.1.5 Message of the book

The message of Isaiah is too comprehensive to summarize in one statement, 1 Peter 1:11 describes how the Old Testament prophets spoke of "the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow them." The content of Isaiah may be summarized in these two great themes of prophecy. Isaiah stresses present suffering and future glory. The Messiah who came to suffer at His first advent will return in glory at His second advent. This pattern is also true for Israel. The prophet Isaiah reveals that Israel will experience suffering, but will be ultimately glorified. We will see these two conceptsˇXsuffering and gloryˇXinterwoven throughout this lengthy prophecy.

2.1.6 Outline of the book

The book of Isaiah divides naturally into two main sections, chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66. In the first section, Assyria is the most prominent world power. In the second section, it is Babylonia.


1 - 39 40 - 66
Judgment of God Comfort of God
God's Condemnation of Sin God's Comfort for His Saints
Assyrian Menace Babylonian Threat
Looks Toward the Captivity Looks Beyond the Captivity

It is also important to note that chapters 36-39 are unique in that they form a historical bridge between the first and second parts of the book. The preceding chart may be further broken
down as follows:

Chapters 36-37 record an Assyrian invasion of Jerusalem and, thus, are connected with the first part of the hook. Chapters 38-39 record a Babylonian visit and pave the way for the second section in which Babylon plays an important role.

2.2 Condemnation by God (1-35)

The first chapters of Isaiah form a unit which may be divided into three main parts:

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1 - 6 7 - 12 13 - 35
DENUNCIATION OF SIN DELIVERANCE IN THE MESSIAH DESTINY OF THE NATIONS
3 Sermons Isaiah's Call Immediate and Ultimate Gentile Powers and Israel

Chapters 1-6 contain Isaiah's denunciation of his contemporary society. The section entails three great sermons he preached, culminating with his call to service. Chapters 7-12 are often called the "Book of Immanuel" because they contain the great messianic prophecies. The present national jeopardy of Israel finds its ultimate answer in the Messiah's advent and the establishment of His kingdom. Chapters 13-35 illustrate that Cod will judge not only Israel's sin, but the sin of Gentile nations as well.

2.2.1 Denunciation of sin (1-6)

The first five chapters contain three sermons and conclude with God's call to Isaiah in chapter 6. The first sermon describes Judah's corruption (l:l-31). It presents a scene similar to a courtroom, involving God and His people. The charges against Israel are ingratitude (1:2-3), iniquity (1:4-9) and empty ritualism (1:10-17). Israel is characterized by religious ritualism, but there is little practical righteousness. The only cure is a confession of sin so that God can cleanse the people (l:18ff.).

The second sermon (2:1-4:6) begins and concludes with a vision of Israel's millennial glory. In the middle of the sermon, the sins of the nations are enumerated. Israel is charged with wide-spread pride (2:6-22), weak rulers (3:1-15) and worldly women (3:16-4:1).

The third sermon is a parable of a vineyard that is the object of God's special concern. God protects and cares for the vineyard and expects great things from it, but it is unproductive. Israel is the unproductive vineyard. She has not produced fruits of righteousness, but, rather, greed, drunkenness, and injustice,

Isaiah's call from God is recorded in chapter 6. He is impressed with the holiness of God and, consequently, he confesses his own sin. Then God calls him to service and Isaiah responds unreservedly. He has heard the voice of the King (6:5) and he cannot refuse. God reminds him that his task is beset with difficulties because the people are spiritually insensitive (6:9-13). This experience was the turning point in Isaiah's life. It explains the emphasis throughout the book on the nature of sin as well as on the holiness and sovereignty of God.

2.2.2 Deliverance in the Messiah (7-12)

The circumstances which form the background of this section are described in 7:1-10. King Ahaz of Judah fears an invasion by Israel and Syria, In this situation, Isaiah tells Ahaz to trust God during the impending political crisis, advice that Ahaz finds difficult to follow. The subject of this lengthy section is God's dealings with the nations. The remainder of the section describes the defeat of Israel's political enemies.

In 7:11-12:6, we have a description of the defeat of Israel's greatest political threat, Assyria. In 9:8-10:34, there is a description of the Assyrians marching through the land, bringing judgment. God then explains that the Assyrians themselves will be punished for their wickedness.

Israel's problem in this section is the danger she faces from her political foes. The section is interspersed with messianic prophecies. Complete and permanent deliverance for Israel will come only with the advent of the Messiah. In 7:14, there is the promise of a deliverer who will be virgin born. In 9:1-7, He is described as God's SonˇXthe Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace. In chapters 11-12, there is a description of His millennial reign. Nature is at rest, knowledge of God is universal, and the nation Israel is re-gathered and exalted.

In summary, God is impressing Israel that deliverance for the nation will come through the Messiah (not through political alliances) and that political deliverance is dependent on spiritual cleansing. Only when Israel faces up to the sin question will her political problem find solution.

2.2.3 The destiny of the nations (13-35)

The subject of this lengthy section is God's dealings with the nationsˇXthe Gentile nations surrounding Israel (13-23) and Israel herself (24-35).

It is significant that the discussion of the Gentiles begins with Babylon and ends with Tyre. These two cities appear to represent certain characteristics of the world system which oppose God. Babylon often symbolizes religious apostasy and Tyre depicts godless commercial tendencies. Chapters 17-18 of the book of Revelation deal with both the religious and commercial aspects of godless society just prior to Christ's coming to earth. Romans 12:1-2 is a reminder that we are not to identify with the godless attitudes toward life which have produced this society.

Isaiah 14:12 has been understood by many to be a description of the fall of Satan. As in Ezekiel 28:12-19, it appears that more than just an earthly monarch is described. The earthly king of Babylon is depicted as fallen, just as Satan fell when he sinned against God. The two descriptions merge into one. This is logical, since Satan is the "power behind the throne" in Babylon.

Chapters 24-35 concern God's dealings with Israel. The chapter subjects alternate between the Tribulation and Millennium in the future, and sin in the present. These chapters may be summarized as follows:

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24 The Sorrows of the Tribulation
25 - 27 The Songs of the Millennium
28 - 33 The Sins of the People
34 - 35 The Summary of Israel's Future

Chapter 24 presents a scene typifying the Tribulation period. The earth is barren and impoverished as a result of the plagues that afflict it. Cosmic disturbances affect the equilibrium of the solar system and cause the earth to reel as a drunken man (24:20).

Chapters 25-27 comprise three songs of praise to God for what He accomplishes on behalf of His people in the Millennium. God is seen to be a protecting influence against the ravages of storm, heat, and drought (25:1-12). God is the one who provides peace to the weary individual and also to the war-torn world (26:1-12). Israel is portrayed as a productive vineyard that fills the earth with fruit (27:1-13).

Chapters 28-33 are concerned with the present sins of the people. The section consists of a series of three sermons preached by Isaiah, emphasizing the following topics:


28 Drunkenness
29 Hypocrisy
30 - 33 False Alliances

In chapter 28, God attributes many of the sins of Isaiah's troubled days to widespread drunkenness in high places. Prophet and priest alike have impaired judgment due to alcoholic addiction. This affects their decisions on the national level and results in a dangerous political agreement that Isaiah calls "a covenant with death and with sheol" (28:15).

The theme of chapter 29 is found in verse 13: "This people draw nigh unto me with their mouth ... but have removed their heart far from me." Their hypocrisy had brought about a condition of insensitivity which is depicted as drunkenness and sleep (29:9-10).

Dependence on ungodly nations for security is again discussed in chapters 30-33. Israel runs to Egypt in a time of trouble rather than depending on God. Egypt helps "in vain," however, and is likened to a huge monster (Note: Rahab was a mythical sea monster.) that is unable to move. Rather than make temporal alliances, Israel is to look to the true King who would appear in His beauty and reign in righteousness (33:17).

Chapters 34-35 present an eschatological summary of what was discussed in chapters 24-33. Chapter 34 centers on the Tribulation period in general and the Battle of Armageddon in particular. Chapter 35 summarizes the blessings to come in the Millennium. The wilderness and desert will blossom as a rose (35:1). Physical infirmities will be removed (35:5) as the blind receive their sight and the deaf will be made to hear.

2.3 Historical Interlude (36-39)

Chapters 36-59 form a historical bridge between the two main sections of the book of Isaiah. These chapters relate Hezekiah's behavior in several crises. Chapters 36-57 concern the first part of the book and the Assyrian menace. Chapters 38-39 relate to the second part of the book, anticipating the rise of Babylon as a world power. The events of chapters 36-39 are also narrated in 2 Kings 18-20 and 2 Chronicles 29-32.


36 - 37 38 - 39
Political Crisis Personal Crisis
Assyrian Threat Babylonian Peril
Hezekiah's Faith Hezekiah's Foolishness

2.3.1 Hezekiah's political crisis (36-37)

The Assyrian army under Sennacherib has advanced through the land of Judah and besieges Jerusalem. This event fulfills many of Isaiah's early prophecies which are recorded in the first part of the book. Hezekiah views the matter and wisely "spread it before Jehovah" (37:14). Isaiah comes with a word of reassurance that God has heard Hezekiah's prayer. God sends a supernatural plague through the Assyrian army which kills 185,000 men and alleviates the danger to Judah (37:36-38).

2.3.2 Hezekiah's personal crisis (38-39)

Hezekiah's illness is described in chapter 38. He is told to set his affairs in order, since he "will die and not live." Hezekiah refuses to accept this pronouncement as final and prays for an extension of his life. God prolongs his life fifteen years and gives Hezekiah a sign in moving the sundial back ten degrees. Whether Hezekiah's request for a longer life pleased God is not certain. We do know that God honored his request.

Chapter 39 contains the last episode in this section of the book. Visitors from Babylon arrive and Hezekiah willingly shows them all the Temple and its treasures. God rebukes Hezekiah for his lack of caution and declares that someday these same Babylonians will destroy the Temple. The historical interlude which began with an act of faith ends with an act of foolishness.

2.4 The Comfort of God (40-66)

Chapters 40-66 may be divided into three main sections.

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40 - 48 49 - 57 58 - 66
Father Emphasized Son Emphasized Holy Spirit Emphasized
Supremacy of God Salvation of God

Glory of God

Chapters 40-48 emphasize the greatness of God the Father in contrast to the impotence of the false gods of Babylon. Chapters 49-57 demonstrate the work of the Son as "the Servant of Jehovah." Chapter 53, which portrays the Suffering Servant, is the key chapter in this section. Chapters 58-66 show the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in relation to Israel's future blessings.

2.4.1 The supremacy of God (40-48)

Chapters 40-48 may be subdivided to reflect the following emphases:

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40 - 41 God's Person
42 - 45 God's Program
46 - 48 God's Punishment

God's Person is presented in chapters 40-41. He is the One who is able to preserve Israel through this time of trouble. The section begins (40:1-11) with a promise of comfort. It is important to remember that this final section was written with a view of the Babylonian captivity. The point is that God, as a unique person and power, is able to comfort the Jews in captivity and ultimately deliver them from it. God is greater than their circumstances; Israel, therefore, should not fear or become discouraged (40:27-31). In chapter 41, He is named as the one who controls history and fulfills prophecy with absolute accuracy.

God's program is described in chapters 42-45. Here we see how God accomplishes redemption and deliverance for His people. In chapter 42 is the first of the "servant songs" which are found in Isaiah. Chapter 42 presents a contrast between Israel the unfaithful servant and Messiah the faithful Servant. God will accomplish through Messiah the Servant what Israel failed to doˇXdeclare God to the nations. Israel herself is in need of redemption because of her disobedience. God's complete provision for Israel's redemption is described in chapters 43-44.

Chapter 45 begins with a prophecy concerning Cyrus and his part in the return of Israel to the land after the captivity. Cyrus is spoken of in 45:1 as "the anointed one" or, literally, the messiah. Cyrus is designated a messiah because God would use him to deliver Israel. Cyrus was to deliver Israel from the bondage in Babylon, but the Messiah will deliver Israel from the bondage of sin. God emphasizes this point repeatedly through these chapters. Israel's basic problem is not the bondage to Babylon; it is the bondage to sin.

God's punishment is emphasized in chapters 46-48. God will punish Babylon (46-47) because of her wickedness. The Babylonian idols are derided for their impotence in chapter 46. The destruction of the Babylonian Empire is predicted in chapter 47. Babylon is represented as a half-naked slave girl grinding in the dust (47:1-2). God will also reprimand Israel (48). He had given Israel great opportunities. She could have enjoyed peace like a river and righteousness like the sea, but she preferred to turn away from God.

2.4.2 The salvation of God (49-57)

This section emphasizes God's work in redeeming Israel through the Servant. It may be summarized as follows:

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49:1 - 52:12 The Redeemer
52:13 - 53:12 The Redemption
54 - 57 The Results

The redeemer is described in 49:1ff. through a series of servant songs. In 49:1-4 is a section which describes the work of Messiah the Servant. He is conscious of God's hand upon Him from birth. He is prepared and protected by God. His mission is one of outward discouragement and disappointment, but God will use it. In chapter 50, Israel's disobedience is once again contrasted with the Servant's obedience. The remainder of the section is an admonition to awake and follow this faithful Servant (51:lff.).

The redemption (substitutionary work) of the Servant is described in detail in 52:13-53:12. This is the culmination of the servant songs and is undoubtedly the most graphic prophecy of the suffering and death of Christ in the entire Old Testament.

The results of the Servant's work are seen in chapters 54-57. Chapter 54 is a chapter of exultation and rejoicing because of the certainty of God's promises of salvation. Chapter 55 gives the invitation to come and freely partake of God's offer. Chapters 56-57 warn Israel of divine condemnation because of her apostasy and idolatry.

2.4.3 The Glory of God (58-66)

This final section of the book of Isaiah emphasizes the glory of Israel's future hope. This hope will be realized in the Millennium (cf. 58:8, 10; 60:1, 7; 62:2). The section emphasizes that heartfelt repentance is a prerequisite for forgiveness (58-59). A catalog of Israel's sins is given and God condemns the formalism in her worship. God is explaining that Israel's millennial blessings will not come until Israel is purged of her sin.

When Israel returns to God, restoration is promised (60-66). We catch glimpses of eternal glory which begins in the Millennium and continues on into the eternal state. The capital of the millennial kingdom is described in chapter 60. All the children of Israel will have returned to Jerusalem. The King Himself is pictured in chapter 61, in which predictions concerning His first and second comings are merged in one passage (61:1-3). Conditions are further described in chapters 62-66. The book of Isaiah concludes with a contrast between the eternal bliss of the redeemed and the everlasting torment of the lost (cf. 66:22-24). Concluding these great prophecies of salvation, Isaiah reminds us that there are only two alternativesˇXeternal salvation with the Redeemer or eternal punishment without Him.

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3. JEREMIAH: THE WEEPING PROPHET

3.1 Introduction

Isaiah had foretold the judgments which were coming unless the nation turned to God; Jeremiah's particular mission to Judah, toward the end of his career, was to notify the nation that their judgment was at hand, that God had rejected them (at least for the present), and that nothing now could save them from the punishment they so fairly deserved.

3.1.1 Name

The name Jeremiah translates the Hebrew word yirmeyahu, to which has been assigned the literal meaning "Jehovah throws." On the basis of this, various translations have been made, such as "Jehovah establishes," "Jehovah exalts," "Jehovah is high," and "whom Jehovah appoints." Any of these names would have been appropriate for the prophet called to such a ministry as his.

3.1.2 Author

The first verse of the book of Jeremiah indicates that the content is the work of Jeremiah the prophet. Many liberal theologians deny that the entire book is the work of one man. Two factors arising from the nature of the prophecy itself have raised important questions concerning the authorship of the book:

  1. The prophecies are not in chronological order. This gives the impression that the parts of the book form a collection of miscellaneous prophecies by different writers.

  2. The Septuagint version of Jeremiah is approximately one-eighth shorter than the Hebrew text, omitting many of the repetitions which are in the Hebrew copy. It is also arranged differently. This has caused some critics to conclude that there are two different recensions, or revisions, of Jeremiah's original writings.

The lack of chronology in the prophecy may be explained in that the book was written in several stages. Jeremiah had a long prophetic ministry, and prophecies grouped together at different times throughout his ministry would have the appearance of a composite work. The grouping of the prophecies is by subject matter rather than chronology in some cases.

The problem involved with the Septuagint text is more difficult. It is possible that there was another inspired version of Jeremiah's prophecies which preceded the present version of the Hebrew text. Some scholars believe that the Septuagint version may have been translated from this edition. Others think that the Septuagint translators tried to make what seemed to them a more logical arrangement of the prophecies. It is not possible to arrive at any certain conclusion about the relationship of the Greek version to the Hebrew text. In general, however, the Hebrew text is superior. It should be remembered that after his first edition was burned by Jehoiakim, Jeremiah dictated to his scribe Baruch all the words he had previously written, "and there were added besides unto them many like words" (Jeremiah 36:32); i.e., a new and enlarged edition was produced. There is, therefore, no compelling reason to deny that Jeremiah is the author of the entire prophecy and that Baruch edited the prophecy under his direction.

3.1.3 Jeremiah the man

The prophet Jeremiah often called the "weeping prophet" (9:1; 13:17), the "prophet of loneliness" or the "reluctant prophet" (1:6). He was commanded not to marry (16:2). Yet for more than 40 years he faithfully proclaimed God's judgment on apostate Judah, all the while enduring opposition, beatings and imprisonment (11:18-23; 12:6; 18:18; 20:1-3; 26:1-24; 37:11-38:28).

Jeremiah began his ministry at about the age of twenty-one under good King Josiah, with whom he enjoyed cordial relations. After Josiah's death, opposition to the prophet mounted. He barely escaped arrests, was forbidden to go to the Temple, and had to deputize Baruch, his secretary, to deliver his prophecies. King Jehoiakim destroyed Jeremiah's written predictions (which the prophet rewrote, 36:22ff.). King Zedekiah permitted nationalistic-minded nobles to imprison Jeremiah; then he reduced the punishment. When the forces of Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Jeremiah was freed and given the choice of going to Babylon or remaining in Jerusalem. He chose the latter but was soon abducted and taken to Egypt by Jews who fled there rather than face Nebuchadnezzar. In Egypt Jeremiah prophesied a few more years and apparently there he died.

The book of Jeremiah is more autobiographical than any other prophetical book. It describes the feelings of Jeremiah as he watched his nation totter on the brink of destruction and then fall. Jeremiah's two dominant traits were compassion and courage. His compassion is evident in his soliloquies, which express intense emotion (e.g., 8:21-9:1). Jeremiah wept over the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel as Jesus would six centuries later (Matthew 23:27-39). He experienced more deeply than any other Old Testament saint the meaning of "the fellowship of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). He grieved primarily for the spiritual sickness of his people, not for his own plight. His heart was broken by that which also broke the heart of God.

Jeremiah was a man of courage. Although he was subject to periods of great depression, he never gave up. He was often mistreated and his life was frequently in danger, but he refused to cease proclaiming his unpopular message. Jeremiah's ministry was not one that brought great results. In fact, the state of the nation worsened while he was preaching. The life of this courageous, compassionate man is a reminder that God does not measure the worth of our service in terms of our human definition of success.

3.1.4 Historical background and date of composition

When one reads the history of the times in which Jeremiah lived (2 Kings 22-25), he does not wonder that God would no longer bear with His people. Through Isaiah, God had said all He could say to keep them back from ruin, but they would not hearken. So when Isaiah's voice was still, there was virtual silence on God's part for about sixty years. Scarcely had Isaiah and good King Hezekiah died when idolatry and numberless heathen abominations began to flourish in the land under the reign of Manasseh, one of the worst of Judah's kings. One of Manasseh's gravest sins was to desecrate the court of the Temple by building altars to Baal, and to set up a graven image in the holy house where God had set His name (read 2 Kings 21).

The moral condition of Judah in the days of Jeremiah is described by the prophet in 5:31: "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!" For fifty years blasphemous insults to God were heaped up by king, priest and people, until the climax was reached, and Judah's doom was irrevocably sealed. Although the judgment was postponed for a while because of the tender heart and righteous life of King Josiah, twenty-five years after his death the kingdom of Judah was a thing of the past.

About sixty years after Isaiah's death, God called Jeremiah, a young man of about twenty-one, to the difficult but urgent task of proclaiming His word to Judah on the eve of national disaster. Jeremiah began to prophesy during the latter part of Josiah's reign. Many of the prophecies in the first sections of the book reflect this period." Josiah had played a major role in a great spiritual revival which occurred in the early part of his reign. As the case often is, however, the results of the revival were not lasting. Some of Jeremiah's earlier prophecies indicate that the revival did not really change the heart of the nation.

Josiah's death proved the superficiality of the revival. After his death, the people reverted to their idolatrous ways. A line of impotent, godless kings occupied the throne of Judah. The nation had no spiritual leadership from the time of the reign of Jehoahaz, who was deposed after three months, through the reign of Zedekiah. Jeremiah sternly rebuked both the people and the kings for allowing such backsliding. The following charts show the chronological sequence of rulers during Jeremiah's ministry.

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 338, by Irving L. Jensen)

Jeremiah and His Contemporaries

Jeremiah remained in the land after the city of Jerusalem was captured. When the governor, Gedaliah, was slain, Jeremiah was taken to Egypt, the probable place of his death. Judah was wedged between powerful Egypt to the south and the newly emerged Babylonian Empire to the north. It was difficult for the kings of Judah to avoid giving allegiance to one particular power, since both Egypt and Babylon used Palestine as a bridge. On several occasions Jeremiah rebuked the kings for their entangling political alliances. Read 2 Kings 24:1-25:30. This passage reports the fall of Jerusalem, which is the tragic event of Jeremiah's prophecy.

3.1.5 Message of the book

The fundamental message of the book is the certainty of God's judgment. This applies to Judah (1-45) and also to the Gentile nations (46-51). The sign of the boiling cauldron in chapter 1 illustrates this. A boiling cauldron would simmer slowly and then boil over without warning. In the same sense, God's judgment would be sudden. The fact that it had not been executed did not mean it would never come (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-10). It was just a matter of time until the boiling point would be reached. Jeremiah lived to see the cauldron of judgment boil over to destroy Judah.

However, the prophet did not only preach judgment. Often he voiced God's invitation to return to Him: '"Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD; 'I will not look upon you in anger'" (3:12). That was his message of conditional, immediate restoration. He also spoke of the more distant future, prophesying preservation of a remnant, the initiating of a new covenant, and the coming of a Saviour. Though he did not prophesy as much as Isaiah did on this subject, his prophecies were just as strong and clear. (Read such passages as 23:5-6; 31:31-34; 32:37-41.)

Many symbols appear in the book of Jeremiah. The main ones involve actual experiences of Jeremiah, where God was teaching him, and thus Judah, some vital spiritual truths.

Jeremiah, like his predecessor Isaiah, foretold the sure restoration of God's people to their land. But passages like Jeremiah 30:3; 31:8-30, 31-37; 32:36-44; 33:6-18 indicate that the return from Babylon at the end of the seventy years was not considered as a complete fulfillment of these prophecies. The prophet had a greater restoration in view, a fuller and more complete fulfillment of the prophecies. In the above passages, both Israel and Judah are mentioned as returning. The gathering is spoken of as being not only from Babylon, but from all nations of the earth. Also, references to the new covenant, great prosperity and blessing, and deep penitence and obedience of the people, speak of a still future time.

What is the basis for such a bright hope for God's people in the end times? The question is answered in various Scriptures, one of them being the words of God Himself recorded in the book of Jeremiah:

"I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel!" (31:3-4)

Israel has a future, spoken of by Paul in Romans 11, only because of the unchangeable, unfathomable, eternal love of God.

3.1.6 Applications

The sixth-century B.C. book of Jeremiah is important for the twentieth-century world because the similarities between Jeremiah's day and today could hardly be stronger. As in Jeremiah's day, this is a time of deep sin; apostasy and hypocrisy abound; the balance of power among nations totters precariously, and alliances change with apparent recklessness from decade to decade; God's heralds are in a lonely minority; and the rumblings of doomsday, like an approaching avalanche, get louder by the minute. During these last days of the Church on earth, the Christian will find in this ancient book a timely message and many answers to questions about God's ways in the world today and tomorrow.  

3.1.7 Outline of the book

The many prophecies emphasizing this theme may be outlined as follows:

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1 2 - 33 34 - 44 45 - 52
His Preparations His Prophecies His Experiences Three Supplements
The Man The Message The Man

3.2 Jeremiah's Preparations (1)

3.2.1 The circumstances (1:1-3)

The prophecies in the book of Jeremiah are rooted in a specific historical situation. The opening paragraph presents the historical background of the book. It is a reminder of the darkness of the times in which Jeremiah was called to prophesy. It was a day when Israel desperately needed a voice crying out as a spokesman from God.

3.2.2 The call (1:4-10)

God informs Jeremiah that He chose him for this task before he was born. This is an Old Testament presentation of the principle expressed in Ephesians 2:10, that we are created for good works which God planned for us to do before we ever existed. The fact that God has sovereignly made a plan for our lives should be a reassuring truth for any servant of God.

Jeremiah is hesitant and expresses his sense of personal inadequacy. He feels incapable of meeting such a great task. God calms his fears with promises of His divine presence (1:8) and His divine message (1:9-10). The language of verse 10 emphasizes the nature of Jeremiah's message. It is a message of doom (to pluck up and break down), but it is also a message of deliverance (to build and to plant). These two themes are clearly delineated in chapters 2-33.

3.2.3 The confirmation (1:11-19)

Jeremiah's call is confirmed by two signs: the sign of the almond tree and the sign of the boiling cauldron. The word "almond" in Hebrew connotes "awake." The almond tree is the first tree to awake from winter inactivity. The significance of this is that God is awake, and watches over His word to perform it. Jeremiah's people may be asleep, but God is wide awake. He will fulfill His word. The boiling cauldron from the north describes God's fulfillment of His prophecies of judgment. The Babylonians would invade from the north and destroy Jerusalem before Jeremiah's own eyes.

3.3 The Prophecies (2-33)

This lengthy section contains a series of messages delivered by Jeremiah during his long ministry. Many of these prophecies are not in chronological order. They are grouped together according to subject matter. Interspersed throughout the section are soliloquies which describe the personal feelings of Jeremiah. He is a man who is emotionally involved with the message and who is deeply disturbed when the people do not respond. The section contains two main emphases: imminent doom and ultimate deliverance.

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2 - 29 30 - 33
Impending Doom "to break down" (1:10) Ultimate Deliverance "to build" (1:10)

3.3.1 Messages of impending doom (2-29)

The first series of messages is directed at the people in general and depicts the conditions of society as a whole. The second series is directed more specifically to the civil and religious leaders.

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2 - 20 21 - 29
Sins of the People Sins of the Leaders
Four Sermons Five Signs Civil Religious

3.3.1.1 Sins of the people (2-20)

Four sermons and five signs are recorded. These give a representative sampling of what the people heard and saw during Jeremiah's ministry. The sermons may be titled as follows:

  1. A Description of Judah's Backsliding (2:1-3:5). God describes the nature of Israel in her unrepentant state of sin (Baal worship) through a series of analogies. Israel is like a faithful bride who has become an unfaithful wife (2:1-3; 3:1-6). Israel is like a people who abandon a fountain of fresh, clear water for a cracked cistern that is full of holes (2:13). God planted Israel as a choice vine, but Israel has grown wild as a vineyard does when it is left untended (2:21).

  2. The Doom of the Northern Kingdom (3:6-6:30). Much of the second sermon is a repetition of the first. Judah should have learned from the demise of Israel in the north (3:8). When the Northern Kingdom apostatized. God brought the captivity. And He warns that He will deal in the same way with Judah.

  3. The Depth of Judah's Idolatry (7-10). This sermon is an indictment of the Temple worship, preached in the gate of the Temple. Chapter 26 is a sequel to it, recording the negative reaction Jeremiah encountered. There are several themes in these chapters. The people of Israel are rebuked for inconsistent behavior. They demonstrated this inconsistency by worshiping the "queen of heaven" in the Temple (7:18). They supposed that God would bless them just because they had the Temple and observed the Temple ritual (7:3-11). Their insensitivity to sin is also treated in this sermon. God listens carefully for some expression of remorse and repentance from them, but He hears none (8:6). The leaders are seen to be unable to offer adequate solutions to Judah's problems. In 8:9-11, those who say "peace, peace" are compared to doctors who unwittingly treat a deadly disease as a surface wound. What Judah really needs is the balm of Gilead, administered by the Great Physician (8:22).

  4. The Desecration of God's Covenant (11-12). The message of the fourth sermon is that Israel has not kept God's law. The opening verses of this passage (11:1-8) summarize the content of this sermon. Jeremiah's personal response to the Lord's message (12:1-4) is typical of feelings he expresses throughout these sermons. He wonders why the wicked prosper and are happy. God replies that conditions will become worse, not better (12:5-6). The nation has repeatedly declined God's calls to repentance. Now it is even too late for Jeremiah's prayer (11:14).

The sermons are followed by a series of signs or visual aids which reinforce the messages of the sermons:

  1. The Linen Girdle (13). Jeremiah is told to hide a linen girdle by the Euphrates River. When he retrieves it, he finds that it is marred and useless (13:1-7). God wanted Judah to cling to Him as a linen belt clings to a man. Judah refused to cling to God and became as useless as a rotten, dirty piece of clothing.

  2. The Drought on the Land (14-15). The sign of the drought follows naturally from the first sign. God withholds material blessings from Israel because of her sin. Famine will be the result of this judgment, contrary to the predictions of the false prophets who testify that prosperity and plenty are ahead.

  3. The Unmarried Prophet (16-17). God instructs Jeremiah not to take a wife during these days of judgment (16:1-2). The inhabitants of the land were going to die in great numbers and Jeremiah would thus be spared the loss of his family. The reason for such a judgment is given in chapter 17. The people had desecrated the Sabbath.

  4. The Potter's Vessel (18). Chapters 18 and 19 announce two signs that stand in close relationship to each other. The sign of the potter's vessel in chapter 18 is prophetic of Israel's destiny. Jeremiah watches from the doorway of the potter's house as the vessel is formed, marred, and then remade. Israel was made by the sovereign hand of God, and God Himself would break Israel because of her sin. But Israel still had a future. God would remake the nation and bring the people back from captivity.

  5. The Broken Bottle (19). The sign of the earthen bottle in chapter 19 has a similar message. God instructs Jeremiah to gather the elders of the people and then smash the earthen bottle before them. The sign of the potter's vessel in chapter 18 showed that God will ultimately restore the nation. The earthen bottle refers to the generation of Jeremiah's day. There is no hope for them. They cannot be made whole again (19:11). There is hope only in the promises made to future generations.

Chapter 20 concludes this section of the book. Jeremiah is seized by Pashhur, one of the leaders, and is thrown into stocks. Jeremiah is grieved by this action because it brings reproach on God's Word (20:8). He is tempted to cease preaching, but the Word of God is "fire in his bones" (20:9). He is impelled to continue because of the very nature of his message.

3.3.1.2 Sins of the Leaders (21-29)

The civil and religious leaders are now singled out for censure.

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21 - 22 23 21 - 29
Civil Leaders Religious Leaders Civil Leaders

In chapters 21-22, there is the reply to a request by Zedekiah for information about the future of Jerusalem (21:1-2). Jeremiah rehearses the sins of previous kings and points out that it is too late for God to intervene in grace. The greedy Jehoiakim is especially singled out as being guilty of injustice and unrighteousness. It will not be long until the throne of David is empty and Judah will have no king at all (22:30). The religious leaders receive Jeremiah's wrath in chapter 23. Ungodly pastors and prophets do not feed the people, but lead them astray. Chapters 24-29 record the increasing opposition of the leaders to Jeremiah (cf. 26:1-8; 28:1-5).

3.3.2 Messages of ultimate deliverance (30-33)

The attitude in this section changes to hope. Although the nation will presently crumble. God promises ultimate restoration.

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30 - 31 32 33
Pattern of Restoration Proof of Restoration Promise of Restoration

3.3.2.1 Pattern of restoration (30-31)

The captivity in Babylon and return to Palestine represent the pattern of Israel's future. Although these chapters obviously refer to the imminent Babylonian captivity, the language of the prophecies makes it clear that they do not refer exclusively to it. The captivity and restoration foreshadow the Great Tribulation and the restoration of Israel in the Millennium. The Tribulation is described in 30:7 as the "time of Jacob's trouble." It will be a time of unprecedented disaster for Israel, but Israel will be preserved through it (30:7, 11).

The hope of restoration is based on another great covenant of the Old TestamentˇXthe New Covenant. The terms of the New Covenant are given in 31:31-40. Eternal salvation and forgiveness are promised for all Israel in a coming day. The disobedience of Israel in Jeremiah's day did not cancel these promises. They are based on the faithfulness of God and are unconditional in nature. The sun and moon will fall from the sky before these promises would be set aside (31:35-37).

3.3.2.2 Proof of restoration (32)

Jeremiah performs a symbolic act to further demonstrate the certainty of restoration. He is told to purchase a plot of ground in Anathoth, exercising his right as a kinsman-redeemer. This seems a foolish gesture, even to Jeremiah, since the Babylonians were already at the gates of the city. Jeremiah protests (32:25) and God explains the purpose of this transaction. The people will return to the land and buy and sell property again (32:42-44). Jeremiah's act is to be a symbolic act of faith. It is meant to show that in the midst of disaster there is hope. God will perform a miracle and bring His people back. There is nothing too difficult for God (32:26-27).

3.3.2.3 Promise of restoration (33)

The promise of ultimate deliverance is repeated in chapter 33. God's covenant can never be broken. Judah is about to lose her king, but the Davidic line will never be destroyed. In a coming day, David's throne will be occupied by Christ Himself (33:17).

3.4 Jeremiah's Personal Experiences (34-44)

Jeremiah's personal experiences are recorded in this section. Once again the negative reaction that he encountered upon presenting the truth is very evident.

3.4.1 Before the fall of the city (34-36)

Chapters 34-36 mainly concern Jeremiah's relationship with Zedekiah and Jehoiakim on the eve of coming destruction. The vascillating character of Zedekiah is described in chapter 34. When the Babylonians threaten the city, Zedekiah frees all the slaves in keeping with divine precept. But when the danger is temporarily averted, the people who had been liberated are pressed back into slavery.

Zedekiah was a compromiser, but Jehoiakim is blatantly contemptuous of spiritual matters. When Jeremiah's prophecy is read in his presence, he shreds it with a knife and throws it into the fire (36:20-26).

Jehoiakim's blasphemous treatment of God's Word did nothing to change the truth of the message which he found so unpleasant. And today it is popular to cut out of the Bible the parts we do not find palatable. But the fact that we do not find certain Scriptures to our liking does not invalidate them.

3.4.2 During the siege of the city (37-39)

Jeremiah is imprisoned several times during the last days of Zedekiah's reign. His exhortations to submit to the Babylonians are considered treasonous by his enemies (37:13-15). He almost loses his life as a result of the ill treatment he receives. In the meantime, Zedekiah continues to consult Jeremiah secretly to see if God has altered His intentions (37:17ff.; 38:l4ff.). Zedekiah has repeatedly violated God's principles; yet he entertains the vain hope that his story may have a happy ending. Jeremiah warns him that there is no hope. Chapter 39 relates the capture of the city. Zedekiah is led off to Babylon in disgrace.

3.4.3 After the fall of the city (40-44)

The final events in Jeremiah's ministry illustrate the people's complete rejection of him and his ministry. His accurate prediction of the fall of Jerusalem apparently has little effect on them. After Jerusalem is razed, Jeremiah remains in Palestine. The Jews take him along in their flight to Egypt, contrary to his wishes. Apparently he died there. His ministry closed in a strange land, and he was surrounded by a group of people who continued to refuse God's Word.

3.5 Supplements (45-52)

These final chapters of the book of Jeremiah are not arranged in chronological order.

3.5.1 A word to Baruch (45)

Baruch was a scribe to whom Jeremiah dictated many of his prophecies. Baruch also had become discouraged about the condition of the nation and the opposition he faced along with his master. He is encouraged by God and also warned. He is not to seek great things for himself. Because of his faithfulness, God will spare his life.

3.5.2 A warning to the nations (46-51)

This section contains warnings of judgment to nine of the surrounding Gentile nations, beginning with Egypt and concluding with Babylon. These chapters are a reminder that the destiny of all nations is in God's hand, and He will punish the nations which oppose Israel. The key thought of the passage is expressed in 46:28: "I will make a full end of all the nations whither I have driven thee; but I will not make a full end of thee."

3.5.3 The fall of Jerusalem (52)

Additional details concerning the destruction of the city are related in chapter 52 (cf. 39). This chapter concludes the book of Jeremiah and forms a historical introduction to the book of Lamentations which follows. It is a fitting conclusion to Jeremiah's prophecies because it constitutes a final reminder that Jeremiah was proven right. Despite the ridicule of false prophets and the penknife of an ungodly king, God's Word was accurately fulfilled. As the sign of the almond tree indicated at the beginning of the book. God watched over His Word to perform it (1:12).

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4. LAMENTATIONS: THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD

4.1 Introduction

The book is closely connected to Jeremiah, since both were written by the same author and both are concerned with the destruction of Jerusalem. The book is a funeral dirge, expressing the anguish of the Jews over the ruin of their capital city and Temple.

4.1.1 Name

Two of the most common titles assigned to this book in Hebrew Bibles are:

  1. Ekhah. Translated "Ah, how," or "Alas," this is the opening word of chapters 1, 2 and 4. Note how the word is translated in your English Bible at these places.

  2. Qinoth. Translated "Lamentations," or "Elegies," this is a title representing the content of the book and the melancholy meter of its five poems. The Qinoth title was retained in the Greek Bible (the Septuagint), with the Greek translation Threnoi ("lamentations," from threomai," to cry aloud"). This was carried over into the Latin Bibles as Liber Threnorum ("Book of Lamentations"), and thence into the English Bible as Lamentations.

4.1.2 Author

As to authorship, the evidence points strongly, though not conclusively, to Jeremiah. Such evidence includes the following:

  1. The Septuagint introduction to the book: "Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said."

  2. Hebrew and Gentile tradition.

  3. Similarities between Lamentations and poetical portions of Jeremiah (cf. also 2 Chronicles 35;25).

  4. The writer was an eyewitness of Jerusalem's destruction, with sensitivity of soul (cf. Jeremiah 9:1; 14:17-22), and ability to write.

4.1.3 Historical background and date of composition

The fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. is the historical event common to the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Jeremiah prophesies and anticipates the fall, and Lamentations looks back at the holocaust in utter distress. Knowing from his prophecies how Jeremiah wept over his people before judgment fell, it is not difficult for us to imagine the depths to which his soul sank in utter grief as he watched the holy city burning and his people being ravished. Lamentations reveals something of the pathos of that experience.

(Source: Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, p. 351, by Irving L. Jensen)

Historical Background of Lamentations

Lamentations was very likely written soon after 586 B.C., while memories of the appalling siege of Jerusalem were still fresh. Some think that the author wrote chapter 5 a little later than the first four chapters, "when the intense anguish of the catastrophe had given way to the prolonged ache of captivity."

4.1.4 The place of the Lamentations in the Bible

In the threefold Hebrew Bible (Law, Prophets, Writings), Lamentations appears in the last part, in a section called Megilloth. Recall that the Megilloth is a group of five Old Testament books which the Jews read publicly on national holidays. Lamentations is read on the ninth day of Ab (about mid-July), the anniversary of the destructions of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and A.D. 70.

In some ancient versions of the Bible, Lamentations appeared as an appendix to Jeremiah, and often was not included in the listing of the Old Testament books. In our English Bible, Lamentations very appropriately follows the book of Jeremiah. The translators of the Greek Septuagint (100 B.C.), recognizing its Jeremianic authorship, also placed it here.

4.1.5 Literacy style

Lamentations is a set of five elegies (melancholy poems), the first four of which follow an acrostic pattern (first letter of lines, or groups of lines, representing each of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet).

The poetic meter is described as a limping meter, with three beats in the first line trailing away in a mourning two-beat line. When publicly read, the chanting of the Hebrew text gave support to the mood of the words.

Many poetic styles and devices appear in these poems. Vivid imagery is perhaps the most prominent one.

One of the distinctive features of the book is the acrostic format of chapters 1-4. In chapters 1, 2, and 4, each verse begins with a word whose first letter is successively one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 3 has sixty-six verses, each successive letter of the alphabet having three verses allotted to it instead of one.

Various views are held as to why the author used this acrostic device. Among them are:

  1. as an aid to memorization;

  2. as symbol of the fullness of the people's grief (i.e., from A to Z); and

  3. to confine the expression of boundless grief by the limiting device of acrostic.

4.1.6 Purpose

The key thought of the book may be expressed in the words of Hebrews 12:6: "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." In the midst of sorrow Israel is to recognize that the Babylonian captivity comes from God's chastening hand. It is not an indication that God has forgotten the Jews, but that He loves them.

4.1.7 Message of the book

The message of Lamentations is threefold:

  1. Mourning over Jerusalem's judgment for sin. Most of the book presents this. Compare Jesus' mourning over Jerusalem in Luke 13:34-35 and 19:41-44.

  2. Confession of sin (1:8; 3:59; 5:16).

  3. Ray of hope (3:21-32; 5:21). Only one who saw into the far-distant future could speak of hope. Babylon was the conqueror now, and Jerusalem the vanquished; in that future day, it would be glory for Jerusalem and desolation for Babylon. With such a hope, the author could exclaim, "Great is Thy faithfulness" (3:23b).

4.1.8 Outline of the book

Each chapter is a lament in itself, written in acrostic form. The chapters contain 22 verses, one verse for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The third chapter is the only exception, since the acrostic is repeated three times and thus contains 66 verses. The dirges may be titled as follows:

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1 2 3 4 5
Plight of Jerusalem Anger of Jehovah Grief of Jeremiah Demise of Jerusalem Prayer of Jerusalem

4.2 Plight of Jerusalem (1)

Two voices are heard: the voice of the prophet and the voice of the city. The prophet speaks in verses 1-11, describing the scene of desolation. The city is like a widow bereft of her friends and left completely alone (1:1-2). The people are reminded that sin is responsible for this condition (1:5), which is the chastisement of God.

The city speaks in verses 12-22. The passers-by do not comprehend the depth of her sorrow and there is no one to comfort her. The chapter ends with a prayer affirming the righteous character of God in this situation.

4.3 Anger of Jehovah (2)

The consequences of God's anger are evident in a graphic portrayal of the ruined city. The walls are destroyed and the gates are buried in the rubbish. Many of the people have been slaughtered and children are dying of starvation, which is viewed as a fulfillment of God's Word (2:17).

4.4 Grief of Jeremiah (3)

The first part of chapter 3 is a cry of despair by Jeremiah (3:1-18). He feels like a blind man who stumbles in darkness (3:2). He cries to God in prayer but God does not answer (3:8). The tone changes in verses 19-39, which form a song of hope. God demonstrates faithfulness in the very fact of chastisement (3:23). His chastisement is always tempered with compassion and is never administered willingly (3:32-33). Verses 40-66 constitute a prayer of confession. This passage teaches us that instead of complaining about our plight we should search our hearts, confess our sins, and return to the Lord (3:40-44).

4.5 Demise of Jerusalem (4)

This chapter repeats a description of the siege, when the people waited in vain for help of deliverance (4:17).

4.6 Prayer of Jerusalem (5)

Jerusalem prays to God in the midst of her terrible plight and asks God to remember her. The inhabitants have lost all their tangible and temporal possessions, such as homes and families. In this situation they remember that God is sovereign and does not change (5:19-20).

4.7 Application

The book of Lamentations teaches certain principles which find application in the lives of believers today:

  1. When chastisement comes, we should acknowledge it for what it is. We often ignore chastisement, failing to recognize that God is dealing with us. In Hebrews 12:3-11, there is pertinent instruction concerning this.

  2. God is sovereign and faithful in chastisement. We often feel that adversity means that God is indifferent. The truth is just the opposite. We should remember the context of the often repeated verse, "Great is thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:23). This verse speaks of God's faithfulness and love in chastisement.

  3. We should submit willingly to the chastening of the Lord. God has something to teach us in every chastening experience. We can begin by searching our hearts for indwelling sin which is always the cause of chastening (3:40).

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5. REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDATION FOR FURTHER STUDY

  1. Jensen's Survey of the Old Testament, Chicago: Moody Press, 1978 Edition, by Irving L. Jensen.
  2. Exploring the Scriptures, Chicago: Moody Press, 1981 Paperback Edition, by John Phillips.

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