The book of Jeremiah is the longest book of the Bible. To many, it is also one of the saddest and more arduous books of the Old Testament. It is the second of the latter prophets of both the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. “The book of Jeremiah is about Yahweh’s goodness and His people’s refusal to follow His ways (Jer. 6:16).” It also depicts the narrative of Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” as he persists in his prophetic call notwithstanding indifference and antagonism.
The book of Jeremiah is divided into three main sections; chapters: 1-25; 26-45; 46-52. Each section has its own theme and representation of the whole narrative. This essay will examine a passage in the first section of the book of Jeremiah 20:7-18. “It is one of four passages usually considered as Jeremiah’s ‘confessions’ (11:18-12:6; 15:10-21; 17:5- 18; 20:7-18), in which he complains to God about his suffering because of the prophetic role God has placed upon him from before he was even born.” This last portion is often referred to as Jeremiah’s last confession.
The last confession of Jeremiah shows how one can be faithful to the Lord by confessing frustrations with His sovereignty while suffering persecution and isolation due to ministerial service. The exegesis that follows will examine the historical-cultural relevance of Jeremiah as well as its literary makeup and context; followed by a detailed grammatical analysis and its pertinent application to modern Christendom.
Historical – Cultural Context
The historical-cultural atmosphere of the ancient world is significant in determining the meaning and theology of Jeremiah. F.B. Huey writes; “Jeremiah can never be understood apart from the historical currents that swirled about him from the time of his childhood until those tumultuous events that took him to Egypt after forty years of faithfully proclaiming God’s words.” The following section will expound on the authorship, origin, audience, and occasion for the chosen passage.
There is little doubt that Jeremiah is the executive author of the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is identified as the son of Hilkiah (1:1), of the priests who were at Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin. Some scholars claim that his father was the same high-priest Hilkiah who found the book of the law in the temple (2 Kings 22:3) in the fifteenth year of Josiah. It is never said if Jeremiah was ever a priest, and he was forbidden to married. Very little is known about how the prophet made a living.
The writings were most likely composed originally through the oral tradition of ancient Israel. “Jeremiah patterned his style after the poetic and prose sections of Deuteronomy, which he heard for the first time when it was read publicly during Josiah’s reform. As Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch probably had a part also informing the written style transmitted to us.” Chapter thirty-six of the book of Jeremiah attributes the work of a scribe named Baruch who aides in the compilation of said writings. Some scholar argues that the ultimate completion of the book of Jeremiah (including the last chapter) was not codified until after the exile, known as the Deuterocanonical period.
Therefore, one can attach multiple sources of scholarship for the makeup of this book. One difficult factor in examining the book of Jeremiah is due to how it was compiled. “Many scholars feel that the book is an anthology of selected sayings from Jeremiah (or his disciples) that were later collected and arranged, often rather haphazardly.” This has drawn some skepticism as to who the original author is. Starting in the late nineteenth century certain critical-source scholarship began to dissect and analyze the book of Jeremiah with more skeptical eyes, but little, to no, consensus have been acknowledged that overturns the authorship of Jeremiah as the source.
The time and place of Jeremiah are integral to the narratives and meanings of its various messages. The prophet’s ministry begins in Judah and ends with its fall.
Jeremiah’s ministry begins at a very young age where he is called to prophetic ministry; “And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘I knew you before I formed you in the womb, and I sanctified you before you came out; I established you as a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:4-5). The book of Jeremiah introduces the width and breadth of the ministry of the prophet in the opening of his book; “And it happened in the days of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, the king of Judah, until the eleventh year of Zedekiah, son of Josiah, the king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month” (Jeremiah 1:3).
Jeremiah begins with his introduction and call, at a very young age and spans the concluding last five decades of Judah’s history. The ministry of Jeremiah is demarcated by three distinct periods of time: 627–609 BC – from the beginning of his call to the demise of King Josiah; 609–597 BC – from Josiah’s passing to the extradition of King Jehoiachin to Babylon; 597–587 BC – the reign of King Zedekiah to the fall of Jerusalem. The idolatry, apostasy, and blasphemy of Judah play such a fundamental role in the ministry of Jeremiah that reading scripture without respect to the downfall of his surroundings would greatly diminish the power and purpose of his message.
The bulk of the book of Jeremiah is aimed at the Jewish people living in Judah. “Jeremiah was born and raised in Judah under Assyrian domination during the reign of wicked King Manasseh (687–642 BC).” Manasseh’s kingdom would not have been impregnable to pagan influence from the Assyrians. In the following passage Huey chronicles the plight of ancient Judah just before the ministry of Jeremiah:
Manasseh could not have been unaffected by the pagan religious practices fostered there. Early in his reign Manasseh began reintroducing and multiplying the paganism his father, Hezekiah, purged from Judah. He rebuilt the high places Hezekiah had destroyed, erected altars to Baal, and made an Asherah pole. He worshiped all the starry hosts and built altars to pagan gods in the temple itself. He offered his own son as a burnt sacrifice and practiced sorcery and divination (2 Kgs 21:2–9; 24:3–4; Zeph 1:4–5).
This sets the stage for King Josiah’s reformation and the induction of Jeremiah’s ministry to purge the evils of Judah and restore purity to Yahweh’s people. Unfortunately, that did not occur and with the death of Josiah (609 BC) and the accession of Jehoiakim, with whom Jeremiah fought bitterly over the coming years; he stood as the only spokesmen for the Lord.
The literary context of the book of Jeremiah is difficult to analyze for various reasons. Its aforementioned makeup and composition are more of an anthology or a collection of collections. “In fact, Jeremiah is not really a ‘book’ in the sense that most readers today would normally describe a book—it has neither an overall orderly arrangement nor clearly defined contextual settings for interpreting many of its individual parts.” Chapter thirty-six tells the reader that after twenty years of preaching God calls Jeremiah to collect his sermons, essays, and poems and commit them to write, which he did with the help of the scribe Baruch. Baruch also compiled stories of Jeremiah as well. This makes pinpointing a specific genre for this book complex.
The literary structure of Jeremiah is a bit easier to analyze. It has a certain cadence, or flow, utilizing the many genres within this large book. “As is well known, the book of Jeremiah is not put together according to a chronological arrangement, and it is only with difficulty that we can uncover even a topical arrangement of the sayings and deeds recorded in it.” Most scholars agree that there are three basic literary methods used throughout the book of Jeremiah. “They are (1) the poetic oracles, most from Jeremiah himself; (2) biographical prose narratives about events in the life and time of Jeremiah; and (3) sayings and prose discourses akin to the style and vocabulary found in Deuteronomy and the Historical Books (the so-called Deuteronomistic history).” These concepts are interwoven throughout the various structures of Jeremiah to convey the theological message of God’s call to the Hebrews.
The book of Jeremiah consists of many different genres. What is a consensus is that the writings of Jeremiah are masterfully written with varying techniques used to convey his protestations to the people of Judah? “Studies point to Jeremiah’s mastery of such techniques as chiasmus, inclusio, wordplay, repetition, assonance, and alliteration.” All these rhetorical structures are used throughout the book to engage the audience. In addition to rhetorical devices, the book of Jeremiah consists of poems, sermons, poems, essays, and historical narratives.
The last confession of Jeremiah is a specific genre. Its composition is that of poetic lament, similar to the Psalms or Lamentations. “It is generally agreed that the passage seen as Jeremiah’s final ‘Confession’ (Jer. 20:7-18) is made up of two sections: Vv. 7-13, a ‘lament,’ analogous in form and language to those found in the Book of Psalms, and a ‘curse’ (Vv. 14-18).” The use of such poetry is often strategically used in Hebrew literature to convey a sense of “woe” or dread for either current conditions or calamity that is to come (cf. Jer. 1-10). This is found throughout the entirety of the Old Testament. “The high proportion of first-person speeches, dialogues, laments, and exclamations imbue this and other sections of Jeremiah with a distinctive emotional and expressive quality.” Whereas much of Jeremiah is prophetic poetry about the fall of Judah, God’s faithfulness to His people, and future restoration; Jeremiah 20:7-18 is first-person poetry lamenting the prophet’s anguish and despair about his personal struggle in ministerial service.
Exegetical Analysis of Jeremiah 20:7-18
The events just prior to this passage is important in understanding the passage. It comes after the conflict that Jeremiah had with the Pashhur. He was a priest in Judah (v.1) that had Jeremiah beaten, persecuted, and jail (v.2). When released, Jeremiah warned Pashhur of how God’s wrath will punish him, his family, friends, and all of Judah by the hands of Babylon (v.3-6). “Since Jeremiah 20:14-18 is a curse poem, the Confession itself is found in Jeremiah 20:7- 13.”
God’s Word is Bittersweet: v.7-8
(7) O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you were mighty, and you have prevailed. I have become as a laughingstock every day; I continue to be mocked.
The passage opens with a woe lament as to the realization that Jeremiah was deceived by God. The use of the word “deceived” is striking in the first part of his confession, it is used twice in verse seven and once in verse ten. The “gecl [German Common Language Version] has ‘You deceived me, Lord, and I let myself be deceived,’ which is the best way to interpret the Hebrew text.” This word had a different meaning in the ancient language. “‘Deceive’ is used in the OT as a technical term for the seduction of a maiden by a man (Exod. 22:16; cf. Ezek. 14:9, where it is translated ‘persuaded’; and Judg. 16:5; 1 Kgs 22:20, ‘lure’).” This changes the connotation of the passage. He is admitting that God has finally, through much humility (laughingstock) and persecution (mocked), brought Jeremiah to his breaking point where he can now fully understand what he is being used for. “But in his hurt and confusion, Jeremiah lashed out at God and accused him of forcing him against his will to be a prophet.” This shows the spiritual brokenness of Jeremiah, in addition to his physical exhaustion.
(8) Because I will laugh with my bitter word. I will call upon faithlessness and misery, because the word of the Lord has become a reproach to me and a joke my whole day.
The wording of this opening phrase is telling. The ESV has: “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’” Prima facially, it might seem like a completely different translation, but it tells the audience that he is struggling with the bittersweet truth of God’s sovereign reign. It is in this struggle that Jeremiah cries out in anguish because it seems as if all his toil is a joke.
This verse speaks of the dichotomy of prophetic authority. “The issue of prophetic authority is at the heart of Jeremiah’s multiple conflicts with political and religious leaders, other prophets, and the people.” Authority requires recognition and Jeremiah’s frustration with God’s people is unrequited. Here he shows that the people have not taken him seriously and he is utterly saddened that the truth of God’s word has become a reproach upon him.
The Irresistible Call of God: v.9-10
(9) And I said, “I will ⌊never⌋ name the name of the Lord, and I will no longer speak in his name.” And it became like a kindled fire burning in my bones, and I have become weak everywhere, and I have not been able to bear up.
Dismayed by the negative effect of his prophetic ministry, Jeremiah wants to quit. “He had faithfully warned them of the coming violence and destruction, but his reward was only their insults. Discouraged, Jeremiah considered withholding God’s Word to avoid persecution.” This was problematic because God would not allow him to quit. This shows how the sovereign will of God will not be thwarted (cf. Job 42:2). Although Jeremiah wanted to quit, God would not have it; he crippled the life of Jeremiah in his disobedience. Jeremiah is unable to withhold the calling God has placed on his life.
(10) Because I have heard the blame of many gathered ⌊around on every side⌋: “Gather together, and let us gather together against him, all men who are his friends! Watch his intention, whether he shall be deceived, and let us prevail against him and take our vengeance upon him.”
Notice the use of the word deceived here, again, in the text. The irony of this is that those who are persecuting Jeremiah are representatives of the temple clergy. “These upright and godly members of Judah are the ones who are laughing at and mocking the prophet. They are the formal, institutional, representation of the Lord on earth, and because of their persecution and scorn it appears that the prophet has been abandoned and ‘deceived’ by the Lord.” It is his colleagues and friend who wish him failure and harm. Sometimes the enemy is not who appears to be evil, evil can come from within.
Here Jeremiah is prophesizing as to the thoughts and wishes of the apostates. They too wish Jeremiah would cease being the spokesmen for the Lord, and he too can fall. Then they can enact their vengeance upon him. This all hinges on Jeremiah’s withholding message of the Lord (v.9). It is an indictment of all who hate God, they hunger to see the righteous fall.
God, The Avenger: v.11
(11) But the Lord is with me, just as a powerful warrior; ⌊therefore⌋, they pursued and were unable to perceive. They were put to extreme shame because they did not perceive their disgraces, which will ⌊never⌋ be forgotten.
Here the confession starts to turn from deeply dark to victorious. The Hebrew word dread is best translated as “ruthless, cruel, fierce, i.e., pertaining to acting very harshly toward another, implying usually a great deal of force or might is applied, instilling terror or fear in the object.” God is the great avenger, capable of writing all the wrongs, avenging Jeremiah’s plight, and bringing to pass His divine will. “Verses 7 and 1 1 are linked by the power of God in overcoming the prophet and the corresponding power of God to overcome Jeremiah’s enemies. If God can act with such crushing force against His prophet, surely that a force can work against his enemies.”
God, Faithful and Just: v.12-13
(12) O Lord, who approves what is righteous, who understands ⌊the innermost thoughts⌋, may I see your vengeance among them, because I have revealed my please to you.
The confession ends on a more victorious tone in verses 12 and 13. “Though real and dreadful, Jeremiah’s despair is not a constant characteristic: he can at times be full of hope (see, e.g., 11:20, 17:12–13, 20:12–13, 26:15) and even amid strife and pain speak of YHWH’s words as his ‘joy and delight’ (15:16).” This is a hopeful call to God’s justice; Jeremiah is calling for God to enact vengeance on those who wish to thwart God’s will. “because I have revealed my please to you” is a loyalty pledge to the Lord. The ESV uses: “for to you I have committed my cause. Jeremiah is pleading fidelity to the will of Yahweh, and in return is exhorting God to enact His just will on the people of Judah.
(13) Sing to the Lord! Praise him, because he has delivered the life of the poor from the hand of evildoers.
Verse 13 rounds out the confession portion of Jeremiah 20:7-18. It culminates in concluding issues present throughout the first six verses. “Verses 7-13 do comprise elements of the individual lament, but the distinction between 7-9 and 10-13 must be upheld. There are two distinct laments, one against Yahweh’s vocation and one against the animosity of his opponents. Only the second complaint finds a conclusion in verses 11-13.” This conclusion resolves Jeremiah’s plight against humanity. It shows his belief that God will, in the end, prevail and establish His just and sovereign reign over all who do evil. This does not resolve the individual, and theological, the problem is Jeremiah suffering in service to His will.
Jeremiah Despises His Life: v.14-15
(14) Cursed be the day in which I was born! May the day on which my mother brought me forth not be longed for!
This latter portion of the last confession reads more like cursed poetry. Jeremiah is lamenting about the regret and pain associated with his suffering. It is not meant as a curse in the sense to harm others. It reads more as “woe is me” (cf. Jer. 45:3).
(15) Cursed be the person who brought the good news to my father, saying, “A boy was born to you!” and being glad.
It is important not to conflate these two verses with other forms of curses in the Old Testament. Once again, Jeremiah is deeply confessing his pain and suffering for the call that God has placed on his life.
Willing Sacrifice: v.16-17
(16) Let that person be like the cities that the Lord overthrew in anger and did not feel regret. Let him hear a cry in the morning and a loud noise at noon
The cities that the Lord overthrew without regret are Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 19:24-28).
(17) because he did not kill me in the womb, so that my mother would become my tomb for me, or her womb perpetually pregnant with me.
“In the womb. מרהם. Comp. Job 3:11.” Jeremiah is the sacrifice. Much like Job, the sacrificial suffering of Jeremiah’s ministry is not without purpose.
No Place for Jeremiah: v.18
(18) ⌊Why is it that⌋ I have come forth from the womb to see troubles and toils, and my days continued in shame?
The last portion of this lament is open-ended. It is meant to be so. “What emerges most powerfully, and surprisingly, is that verses 7-11 and 14- 1 8 are actually inverted images of each other. In 7- 11, Jeremiah is the ravished woman who must give birth to an unwanted child, and who struggles in vain to hold it in. In 14-18, Jeremiah himself is the ‘unwanted child’ that tries to remain locked up, buried in the womb, never to come out.” This is Hebrew imagery at its finest. What does it mean to give birth in a world that is torn between truth and idolatry? For a great prophet of the Lord, it means living in a world that is not your own, God’s kingdom is not of that world (cf. John 18:36).
Jeremiah 20:7-18 is a striking indictment on the Christian leadership of the modern age. The historical-cultural parallels are still here, even though the pagan worship of today looks different it still is rampant. Today people worship celebrities, much like Judah of old. The modern priesthood of today advocates LGBTQ, feminism, equity, etc. All these motifs contradict biblical doctrine, much like the priesthood of Judah that persecuted Jeremiah. In America, certain denominations war against conservative (fundamental) traditions and openly (via social media) persecute sound theology. Society, as a whole, strides so arduously to separate church and state that the state now has become what many worships, replacing God with the government.
What the last confession of Jeremiah teaches us that a life of service unto the Lord is a life of sacrifice. God does not guarantee a large and efficient church. God does not guarantee congregational expansion. Let no one forget, Jeremiah’s ministry spanned over four decades with less than a handful of converts. What preacher or pastor today, in this modern world, would continue his/her ministry with the same results?
Like Job before him and Christ after him, and the apostles after Christ, the truth of God’s salvation bears a sacrificial walk. No guarantees of success and wealth and even safety are afforded. What is offered is that God will avenge all and win, His will be done.
Lastly, a confessional relationship with the Lord is cathartic. Israel means wrestling with God and that has theological implications. The Christian faith is built on skepticism, not cynicism. This is often overlooked or brushed aside as questioning. Notice that, unlike Job, Jeremiah is not met with a scathing answer by God. Abraham questioned God (Gen. 18:16-33), Moses questioned God (Exodus 3&4), Christ even questions His father (cf. Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane). A confessional walk with the Lord is a humble walk; “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV)
In conclusion, Jeremiah 20:7-18 is a difficult passage to interpret but holds a wonderful theme of honesty, devotion, and sacrifice. It shows how church leadership can be humble and confessional in great tribulation at the hand of God’s sovereign will in the course of ministerial service. Its hermeneutical conclusions show that trials and persecution are never guaranteed in this life while serving the Lord and struggling with that issue is both humbling and inevitable. Those who pick up the mantle of leadership should never measure his/her success by worldly measurements. God sets the metrics for success; “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV).
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Hildebrandt, Samuel. “‘Woe Is Me!’: The Book of Jeremiah and the Language of Despair.” Journal of Biblical Literature 139, no. 3 (2020): 479–97. doi:10.15699/jbl.1393.2020.3.
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Lewin, Ellen Davis. “Arguing for Authority: a Rhetorical Study of Jeremiah 1:4-19 and 20:7-18.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 10, no. 32 (June 1985): 105–19. https://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a6h&AN=ATLA0000947919&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Lindberg, Rebekah J. “’The Pain of Being Faithful to the Word of the LORD’: An Exegetical Study of Jeremiah’s Confessions.” Digital Commons @ SPU. Last modified January 1, 2015. https://digitalcommons.spu.edu/spseminary_etd/2/.
Magonet, Jonathan. “Jeremiah’s Last Confession: Structure, Image, and Ambiguity.” European Judaism 32, no. 1 (1999): 303–18. doi:10.3167/001430099782385209.
Magonet, Jonathan. “Jeremiah’s Last Confession (Jeremiah 20:7-18).” European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe 32, no. 1 (1999): 46-55. Accessed April 4, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41443444.
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Strong, James, Francis Brown, James A. Swanson, Christo Van der Merwe, and Robert Baker Girdlestone. Old Testament Hebrew Core Collection. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997.
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. an Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
Ellen Davis Lewin, “Arguing for Authority: A Rhetorical Study of Jeremiah 1:4-19 and 20:7-18,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 10, no. 32 (June 1985): pp. 105-119, 106.
 Samuel Hildebrandt, “‘Woe Is Me!’: The Book of Jeremiah and the Language of Despair,” Journal of Biblical Literature 139, no. 3 (2020): pp. 479-497, https://doi.org/10.15699/jbl.1393.2020.3, 479.
 Rebekah J. Lindberg, “’The Pain of Being Faithful to the Word of the LORD’: An Exegetical Study of Jeremiah’s Confessions,” Digital Commons @ SPU (Seattle Pacific Seminary, January 1, 2015), https://digitalcommons.spu.edu/spseminary_etd/2/, 69.
 Lewin, “Arguing,” 108.
 Lindberg, “’The Pain of Being,” 84.
 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
 Magonet, “Jeremiah’s Last Confession (Jeremiah 20:7-18),” 50.
 Hildebrandt, “‘Woe Is Me!’, 493.
 L. C. Bezuidenhout, “Sing to Jahweh!. Cursed Be the Day on Which I Was Born! A Paradoxical Harmony in Jeremiah 20:7-18,” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 46, no. 3 (1990): pp. 359-366, https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v46i3.2323, 362.
 Lange, A Commentary, 190.
 Magonet, “Jeremiah’s Last Confession (Jeremiah 20:7-18),” 54.