Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the ordinary priests, dwelling in Anathoth of Benjamin (Jer 1:1), not the Hilkiah the high priest who discovered the book of the law (2Ki 22:8); had he been the same, the designation would have been |the priest|, or |the high priest|. Besides, his residence at Anathoth shows that he belonged to the line of Abiathar, who was deposed from the high priesthood by Solomon (1Ki 2:26-35), after which the office remained in Zadok's line. Mention occurs of Jeremiah in 2Ch 35:25; 36:12, 21. In 629 B.C. the thirteenth year of King Josiah, while still very young (Jer 1:5), he received his prophetical call in Anathoth (Jer 1:2); and along with Hilkiah the high priest, the prophetess Huldah, and the prophet Zephaniah, he helped forward Josiah's reformation of religion (2Ki 23:1-25). Among the first charges to him was one that he should go and proclaim God's message in Jerusalem (Jer 2:2). He also took an official tour to announce to the cities of Judah the contents of the book of the law, found in the temple (Jer 11:6) five years after his call to prophesy. On his return to Anathoth, his countrymen, offended at his reproofs, conspired against his life. To escape their persecutions (Jer 11:21), as well as those of his own family (Jer 12:6), he left Anathoth and resided at Jerusalem. During the eighteen years of his ministry in Josiah's reign he was unmolested; also during the three months of Jehoahaz or Shallum's reign (Jer 22:10-12). On Jehoiakim's accession it became evident that Josiah's reformation effected nothing more than a forcible repression of idolatry and the establishment of the worship of God outwardly. The priests, prophets, and people then brought Jeremiah before the authorities, urging that he should be put to death for his denunciations of evil against the city (Jer 26:8-11). The princes, however, especially Ahikam, interposed in his behalf (Jer 26:16, 24), but he was put under restraint, or at least deemed it prudent not to appear in public. In the fourth year of Jehoiakim (606 B.C.), he was commanded to write the predictions given orally through him, and to read them to the people. Being |shut up|, he could not himself go into the house of the Lord (Jer 36:5); he therefore deputed Baruch, his amanuensis, to read them in public on the fast day. The princes thereupon advised Baruch and Jeremiah to hide themselves from the king's displeasure. Meanwhile they read the roll to the king, who was so enraged that he cut it with a knife and threw it into the fire; at the same time giving orders for the apprehension of the prophet and Baruch. They escaped Jehoiakim's violence, which had already killed the prophet Urijah (Jer 26:20-23). Baruch rewrote the words, with additional prophecies, on another roll (Jer 36:27-32). In the three months' reign of Jehoiachin or Jeconiah, he prophesied the carrying away of the king and the queen mother (Jer 13:18; 22:24-30; compare 2Ki 24:12). In this reign he was imprisoned for a short time by Pashur (Jer 20:1-18), the chief governor of the Lord's house; but at Zedekiah's accession he was free (Jer 37:4), for the king sent to him to |inquire of the Lord| when Nebuchadnezzar came up against Jerusalem (Jer 21:1-3, &c.; Jer 37:3). The Chaldeans drew off on hearing of the approach of Pharaoh's army (Jer 37:5); but Jeremiah warned the king that the Egyptians would forsake him, and the Chaldeans return and burn up the city (Jer 37:7, 8). The princes, irritated at this, made the departure of Jeremiah from the city during the respite a pretext for imprisoning him, on the allegation of his deserting to the Chaldeans (Jer 38:1-5). He would have been left to perish in the dungeon of Malchiah, but for the intercession of Ebed-melech, the Ethiopian (Jer 38:6-13). Zedekiah, though he consulted Jeremiah in secret yet was induced by his princes to leave Jeremiah in prison (Jer 38:14-28) until Jerusalem was taken. Nebuchadnezzar directed his captain, Nebuzar-adan, to give him his freedom, so that he might either go to Babylon or stay with the remnant of his people as he chose. As a true patriot, notwithstanding the forty and a half years during which his country had repaid his services with neglect and persecution, he stayed with Gedaliah, the ruler appointed by Nebuchadnezzar over Judea (Jer 40:6). After the murder of Gedaliah by Ishmael, Johanan, the recognized ruler of the people, in fear of the Chaldeans avenging the murder of Gedaliah, fled with the people to Egypt, and forced Jeremiah and Baruch to accompany him, in spite of the prophet's warning that the people should perish if they went to Egypt, but be preserved by remaining in their land (Jer 41:1-43:13). At Tahpanhes, a boundary city on the Tanitic or Pelustan branch of the Nile, he prophesied the overthrow of Egypt (Jer 43:8-13). Tradition says he died in Egypt. According to the Pseudo-Epiphanius, he was stoned at Taphnæ or Tahpanhes. The Jews so venerated him that they believed he would rise from the dead and be the forerunner of Messiah (Mt 16:14).
Havernick observes that the combination of features in Jeremiah's character proves his divine mission; mild, timid, and susceptible of melancholy, yet intrepid in the discharge of his prophetic functions, not sparing the prince any more than the meanest of his subjects -- the Spirit of prophecy controlling his natural temper and qualifying him for his hazardous undertaking, without doing violence to his individuality. Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Ezekiel were his contemporaries. The last forms a good contrast to Jeremiah, the Spirit in his case acting on a temperament as strongly marked by firmness as Jeremiah's was by shrinking and delicate sensitiveness. Ezekiel views the nation's sins as opposed to righteousness -- Jeremiah, as productive of misery; the former takes the objective, the latter the subjective, view of the evils of the times. Jeremiah's style corresponds to his character: he is peculiarly marked by pathos, and sympathy with the wretched; his Lamentations illustrate this; the whole series of elegies has but one object -- to express sorrow for his fallen country; yet the lights and images in which he presents this are so many, that the reader, so far from feeling it monotonous, is charmed with the variety of the plaintive strains throughout. The language is marked by Aramæisms, which probably was the ground of Jerome's charge that the style is |rustic|. Lowth denies the charge and considers him in portions not inferior to Isaiah. His heaping of phrase on phrase, the repetition of stereotyped forms -- and these often three times -- are due to his affected feelings and to his desire to intensify the expression of them; he is at times more concise, energetic, and sublime, especially against foreign nations, and in the rhythmical parts.
The principle of the arrangement of his prophecies is hard to ascertain. The order of kings was -- Josiah (under whom he prophesied eighteen years), Jehoahaz (three months), Jehoiakim (eleven years), Jeconiah (three months), Zedekiah (eleven years). But his prophecies under Josiah (the first through twentieth chapters) are immediately followed by a portion under Zedekiah (the twenty-first chapter). Again, Jer 24:8-10, as to Zedekiah, comes in the midst of the section as to Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jeconiah (the twenty-second, twenty-third, twenty-fifth chapters, &c.) So the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth chapters as to Jehoiakim, follow the twenty-seventh, twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, thirty-third, thirty-fourth chapters, as to Zedekiah; and the forty-fifth chapter, dated the fourth year of Jehoiakim, comes after predictions as to the Jews who fled to Egypt after the overthrow of Jerusalem. Ewald thinks the present arrangement substantially Jeremiah's own; the various portions are prefaced by the same formula, |The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord| (Jer 7:1; 11:1; 18:1; 21:1; 25:1; 30:1; 32:1; 34:1, 8; 35:1; 40:1; 44:1; compare Jer 14:1; 46:1; 47:1; 49:34). Notes of time mark other divisions more or less historical (Jer 26:1; 27:1; 36:1; 37:1). Two other portions are distinct of themselves (Jer 29:1; 45:1). The second chapter has the shorter introduction which marks the beginning of a strophe; the third chapter seems imperfect, having as the introduction merely |saying| (Jer 3:1, Hebrew). Thus in the poetical parts, there are twenty-three sections divided into strophes of from seven to nine verses, marked some way thus, |The Lord said also unto me|. They form five books: I. The Introduction, first chapter II. Reproofs of the Jews, the second through twenty-fourth chapters, made up of seven sections: (1) the second chapter (2) the third through sixth chapters; (3) the seventh through tenth chapters; (4) the eleventh through thirteenth chapters; (5) the fourteenth through seventeenth chapters; (6) the seventeenth through nineteenth and twentieth chapters; (7) the twenty-first through twenty-fourth chapters. III. Review of all nations in two sections: the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth through forty-ninth chapters, with a historical appendix of three sections, (1) the twenty-sixth chapter; (2) the twenty-seventh chapter; (3) the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters. IV. Two sections picturing the hopes of brighter times, (1) the thirtieth and thirty-first chapters; (2) the thirty-second and thirty-third chapters; and an historical appendix in three sections: (1) Jer 34:1-7; (2) Jer 34:8-22; (3) Jer 35:1-19. V. The conclusion, in two sections: (1) Jer 36:2; (2) Jer 45:1-5. Subsequently, in Egypt, he added Jer 46:13-26 to the previous prophecy as to Egypt; also the three sections, the thirty-seventh through thirty-ninth chapters; fortieth through forty-third chapters; and forty-fourth chapter. The fifty-second chapter was probably (see Jer 51:64) an appendix from a later hand, taken from 2Ki 24:18, &c.; 2Ki 25:30. The prophecies against the several foreign nations stand in a different order in the Hebrew from that of the Septuagint; also the prophecies against them in the Hebrew (the forty-sixth through fifty-first chapters) are in the Septuagint placed after Jer 25:14, forming the twenty-sixth and thirty-first chapters; the remainder of the twenty-fifth chapter of the Hebrew is the thirty-second chapter of the Septuagint. Some passages in the Hebrew (Jer 27:19-22; 33:14-26; 39:4-14 Jer 48:45-47) are not found in the Septuagint; the Greek translators must have had a different recension before them; probably an earlier one. The Hebrew is probably the latest and fullest edition from Jeremiah's own hand. See on Jer 25:13. The canonicity of his prophecies is established by quotations of them in the New Testament (see Mt 2:17; 16:14; Heb 8:8-12; on Mt 27:9, see on Introduction to Zechariah); also by the testimony of Ecclesiasticus 49:7, which quotes Jer 1:10; of Philo, who quotes his word as an |oracle|; and of the list of canonical books in Melito, Origen, Jerome, and the Talmud.