The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The text is Jeremiah 1:4-10 (17-19) and constitutes what is usually referred to as the “call” of Jeremiah. In Old Testament Hebrew language, it might be more appropriate to refer to this event as the “sending” of Jeremiah in much the same way as other prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel are sent. The date of this “sending” of Jeremiah is around 627 BC. The Assyrians are the big-dogs on the block, but things are beginning to unravel for them. As the Assyrians weaken a new foreign power arises—the Babylonians.
Jeremiah is the son of a priest and his call is unique in the Old Testament as it is a call which takes place before he is even born. No other prophet in the Old Testament is like this. However, it should bring to mind the last of the Old Testament prophets who is actually located in the New Testament—John the Baptist—who leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of the pregnant mother of his LORD. Jeremiah is not simply God’s response to an immediate concern, but rather a part of His plan from the time He was knit in his mother’s womb and before.
Another important aspect of this pericope is the motif of presence/real presence of the LORD. Not only does the LORD tell Jeremiah not to fear (the most uttered divine command in the OT) He also tells him, “I am with you”. This motif begins in the Garden of Eden where God and man dwell together, walk together, etc. until they are separated by the Fall into sin. From that moment on God has been about the work of restoring the relationship between Him and man. He does this by establishing His presence with His people again and again… and finally, in the incarnation itself. A true Epiphany moment.
This presence is indeed a real presence as the LORD reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth. He then proclaims He has put His words in the mouth of His young prophet. This is a consistent part of several sending narratives (Isaiah; Ezekiel) where the LORD touches and prepares the mouth/lips of His prophets. The LORD cleanses, prepares and fills the mouths of His prophets, so they might be able to proclaim the holy words of the LORD.
1:4-5 בְּטֶרֶם (be-Te-rem) from: טֶרֶם (teh-rem) “before”
אצורך (אֶצָּרְךָ) (etx-tza-re-Cha) root: יצר (yaw-tsar) Qal: “to create; to form; fashion” The better use in this context is “form; fashion”
בַבֶּטֶן (vab-Be-ten) from: בטן (beh-ten) “womb”
יְדַעְתִּיךָ (ye-da-Ti-cha) root: ידע (yaw-dah) Qal: “to know” This verb is used to indicate an intimate, personal relationship between God and man.
מֵרֶחֶם (me-Re-chem) from: רחם (rekh-em) “womb”
הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ (hik-dash-Ti-cha) root: קדשׁ (kaw-dash) Hiphil with verbal suffix: “to cause to be holy; to consecrate” “I caused you to be holy; I consecrated you”
1:6 אֲהָהּ] (a-Hah) “Alas!; Ah!”
דַּבֵּר (da-Ber) Piel infinitive: “to speak”
נַעַר: (Na-ar) “youth; young man” NOT “a child”
1:7 אֶשְׁלָחֲךָ (esh-la-Cha-cha) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Qal: “to send”
תֵּלֵךְ (te-Lech) root הלֵך (haw-lak) Qal imperfect: “to go”
1:8 אַל-תִּירָא, מִפְּנֵיהֶם; (al ti-Rah mip-pe-nei-Hem) Literally: “Do not be afraid from the face of them” Translated: “Do not be afraid of them/before them”
לְהַצִּלֶךָ. (le-hatz-Tzi-le-cha) root: נצל (naw-tsal) Hiphil infinitive with suffix: “to save; rescue; deliver”
1:9 וַיִּשְׁלַח (vai-yish-Lach) root: שׁלח (shaw-lakh) Qal: “to send” In the Hebrew, one “sends forth their hand (stretches out)”
נָתַתִּי דְבָרַי בְּפִיךָ (na-Tit-ti de-va-Rai be-Fi-cha) “I put my words in your mouth” The idea of giving Jeremiah the words to say. See also the New Testament where the admonition to not worry about what to say in front of rulers and princes, the words will be given to you (see Mark 13:11).
1:10 רְאֵה (re-Eh) Qal imperative: “see”
הִפְקַדְתִּיךָ (hif-kad-Ti-cha) root: פקד (paw-kad) Hiphil: “to set; to place” “I have/will caused
you to be set”
לִנְתוֹשׁ (lin-Toosh) root: נתשׁ (naw-thash) Qal infinitive: “to pluck up; pull out; drive out”
וְלִנְתוֹץ (ve-lin-Totz) root: נתץ (naw-thats) Qal infinitive: “to tear down; pull down; to break down”
וְלַהֲרוֹס (ve-la-ha-Ros) root: הרס (haw-ras) Qal infinitive: “to overthrow; to tear down; to throw down”
וְלִנְטוֹעַ (ve-lin-To-a) root: נטע (naw-tah) Qal infinitive: “to plant”
As I prepared to preach this text I focused on the theme, “The LORD is With Us”. Therefore, we need not fear even in the face of what may seem like insurmountable odds. I began as follows:
There once was a man wandering around one night in the darkness. He was not on familiar ground, nor were the moon and stars visible to light the way. He wandered across a field and suddenly fell off a cliff. Wildly he flung his arms about trying to find a hold, grabbing for anything—a terrible feeling—and then he felt his body scrape against a tree limb and in desperation he grabbed hold. The tree held, and he held, but he found himself dangling in the darkness. Now what? He was in total darkness and did not know he was hanging from a tree limb one foot from the ground. He cried out in despair for help, and out of the darkness came a voice. And the voice said, “Let go.
Whoa! What does he do? Does he trust this voice? Trusting in things or people is never easy. It is never easy to trust unless we are absolutely certain, absolutely positive of the outcome. Would he let go of the tree? No other voices, no other options, no other hope—but the fear!
The fear of following; the fear of hearing; the fear of being called upon to trust… welcome to Jeremiah. The fear the LORD will call upon us to trust Him, to follow Him, to listen to Him, to hear His Word, to have His Word placed in our mouths that we might proclaim. We are afraid… afraid to trust, afraid to let go, afraid to follow the LORD.
Concordia Theology: Various resources from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to help you proclaim Jeremiah 1:4-10 (17-19).