Book Reviews

Book Review: The Theology of Jeremiah (John Goldingay)

Jeremiah has long been a book that has both fascinated me and befuddled me. Is there a structure? Who knows. Many commentators have a hard time pinning down Jeremiah’s structure. For being the longest book in the Bible, Jeremiah doesn’t have very many historical dates to help us know when and where his speeches took place. Often they just come to us. John Goldingay, senior professor of OT at Fuller Theological Seminary (and is an enjoyable read), offers us a chance to go past a surface level reading of Jeremiah to understand both his book section-by-section, as a whole, and thematically.  Goldingay understands Jeremiah (the book) not to be a “book” as we might think of it, but more like a “collection of blogposts.” For that reason, Goldgay refers to the book of Jeremiah as “the Jeremiah scroll.” He doesn’t intend to mislead us. His hope in this book is to be able “to point to paths through the forest in a number of ways.”

Part One

Part One looks at

  • Jeremiah, the man: Jeremiah was young when God came to him, perhaps not even thirty (the age a man needed to reach before he could act as priest). The Jeremiah scroll are Jeremiah’s words which express “Yahweh’s word,” and “it speaks in different ways in different contexts” (4).
    • Is Yahweh going to impose terrible redress on Judah, or is he going to restore and bless Judah?
    • Does Yahweh totally dismiss the temple and its worship, or does he affirm the temple and its worship as aspects of the ongoing life of Israel?
  • The Jeremiah scrolls gives answers to these questions in different contexts. Yet the many “words” of the scroll “are all aspects of one ‘word'” (4). The Jeremiah scroll includes Jeremiah’s words, stories about Jeremiah, even stories where Jeremiah doesn’t even appear. Yet “Jeremiah’s life as well as his words express his message” (5). The scrolls collects Jeremiah’s messages from over forty years in different contexts. We don’t have dates for many of them, but “[a]pparently we can learn from the messages and stories without knowing their dates” (6). This is a very good point, for many try to fit his speeches into particular times, but it’s speculation. Jeremiah (or those who collected his speeches) didn’t give us dates, and that means we don’t need to know the dates.
  • Reading Jeremiah forwards and backwards: In Jeremiah 1-25, Jeremiah repeats the same message; the difference is usually the rhetoric he uses (12). The first half of the J-scroll “comprises messages incorporating some stories,” whereas the second half “comprises stories incorporating some messages” (13). Then Goldingay begins at the end of the book and works backwards to look for the theology in the story (15).
  • Themes in Jeremiah 1-25: These themes deal with the exodus (Jer 2-6), the temple (7-10), the covenant (11-13), prayer (14-17), God’s sovereignty (18-20), and government (21-25).
    • In regard’s to God’s sovereignty, Goldingay notes that we won’t find the word “freewill” in the Bible, and neither do the authors “seem agonized by the question” fo sovereignty and freewill. Rather, “they simply assume both that God makes decisions about things and that human beings make their decisions and are responsible for their actions” (43).
    • In regards to governments and justice, Goldingay shows that ancient Near Eastern kings’ responsibility was to “safeguard the nation’s moral and social order,” contra the Western governments which look after the economies and defense of their countries (47). God urged the kings in Jeremiah’s day to “exercise authority with/and faithfulness” (47). Those who had authority/power were expected to use their power in an ethically correct way toward those to whom they had obligations. Those with power are to protect others, not take advantage of them.
  • Themes in Jeremiah 26-52: These themes deal with the reassuring prophets (Jer 26-29), restoration and returning (30-33), what is written (34-36), tragedy and trauma (37-45), Egypt (46-49), and the empire (50-51). Goldingay doesn’t look at every single chapter, but the general theme of those chapters.

Part Two

Part Two covers important themes you come across as you read the Jeremiah scroll section-by-section. These themes reveal Jeremiah’s theology. What does one learn from reading Jeremiah about:

  • God,
  • his people,
  • wrongdoing,
  • what a prophet is,
  • how God makes the future work out for good or for ill.

What we learn about God in Jeremiah is how he is the Master-King, Director-Authority Figure, Teacher-Disciplinarian, Husband-Provider, Creator-Lord. as well as how he is separate from and over and above his world. We learn of his relationship to other nations, other faiths (and how he is greater than their gods)), and members of those nations. But at the end of each of these five chapters, Goldingay compares what we’ve learned with Christian Theology.

In his chapter about God, Goldingay writes, “Systematic theology classically affirms that God is one, and is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, self-sufficient, immutable, and impassible. How would Jeremiah relate to these descriptions?” He then looks at how Jeremiah would affirm each of these attributes while helping us see Jeremiah’s contribution. For example, with God’s impassibility, Goldingay writes, “Jeremiah would affirm that Yahweh is not irrationally or uncontrollably or unpredictably emotional, but he emphasizes Yahweh’s capacity for joy, anger, disappointment, and grief” (90). After noting God’s pain at his people’s suffering (see Jer 31:20), Goldingay writes that it is “hard to be sure when Jeremiah is talking about his own pain and when of Yahweh’s” (90).

Recommended?

This is a very helpful book to help situate you into the Jeremiah scroll as you read through it. Goldingay’s book is concise and he is easy to read. He even includes a comment from his wife. When you wonder if your ministry is bearing any fruit at all, remember that, in the Bible, most people’s ministries don’t bear fruit until after they die. (I don’t remember the page reference and I couldn’t find it when I searched.) But this was actually a very encouraging comment for me. Get this book, and look for his commentary on Jeremiah in the NICOT series coming out later this year!

Lagniappe

  • Author: John Goldingay
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (January 5, 2021)
  • Paperback: 160 pages

Buy this from Amazon or IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

1 comment

  1. Thank you for this book review. It is very informative. I am surprised there is no mention of Covenant as a theme, I don’t have access to the book to see if it’s absence is there or in the review. Jer. chapter 11 is certainly core to the scroll’s message. Thank you again.

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