The Theology of Jeremiah, John Goldingay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.
Summary: A survey of the life of Jeremiah, the composition of the book, and the theological themes running through it.
The book of Jeremiah is a formidable book to study. It is a long book, one John Goldingay likens to a series of blog posts stitched together into a scroll, the contexts of which are not always apparent. It covers over forty years. Its author was reviled by many, ending up carried off to Egypt while many of his people were relocated to Babylon and those who remained in Judea struggled to eke out an existence.
This book is not a commentary to unpack the tough textual questions (the author has written one of these as well). Rather, what John Goldingay does is help us see the forest instead of just the trees, as well as the rivers, fields and hills. He looks at Jeremiah’s life and literally overviews the book forward and back. Then he considers the major theological themes running through the book.
He begins with Jeremiah’s life and the kings during whose reigns he prophesied largely unheeded (apart from Josiah). Goldingay stresses how he both embodies the faithfulness to which Israel was called, and in the treatment of Israel, he reflects how they are in fact treating God. He considers the composition of “Jeremiah,” originally a scroll of messages read to and burned by Jehoiakim, subsequently a scroll Goldingay believes his followers compiled of his messages in the years following his exile and after his death. He takes a retrospective view of Jeremiah’s life that he believes reflects the retrospective vision of the scroll of Jeremiah. He then traces the themes of the various sections of the two parts, chapters 1-25 and 26-52. He walks through various divisions that he singles out with “Begins with: Think About…” and then walks through the section concluding with a section outline. For example Jeremiah 2-6 is “Begins with: Think About the Exodus” the subject of chapter 2 followed a call to turn back to God in chapter 3, warnings of devastation in chapter 4, condemnation of their unfaithfulness and injustice to the poor in chapter 5, and warnings of devastation from the north because they have been judged and found wanting in chapter 6.
The second part of the book centers around biblical theology, considering five theological ideas and how they are unpacked in Jeremiah. They are:
- The People of God
- Being a Prophet
- The Future
The chapter on the people of God is rich with reflection on all God wanted (and wants) for his people. a possession belonging to God, a household, a community, a country and domain, a city and also a sabbath resting place. God wants for them well-being and good leadership. The chapter on “wrongdoing” delineates the ways God’s people turn from him. The chapter on being a prophet includes a striking list of the qualities of prophets evident in Jeremiah the man and the book: do they say the opposite of what we think? do they get attacked by the people of God and especially their leaders? do they love the people of God? and do they intercede? to name a few. Each of the chapters reflects on the implications of these themes in a Christian context.
This book is both concise (140 pages plus a page of commentary recommendations and scripture index) and rich. Leaving exegesis to the commentaries, Goldingay helps us make sense of the whole scroll, the collection of messages (blog posts) over 40 years, the section themes, and the larger theological themes. This is invaluable for anyone studying, teaching, or preaching this book who has to make sense both to oneself and others the message of the sections of the book and the recurring themes of the whole. This helps us move from the information of exegesis to the formation we long for in our lives and those with whom we share this rich and complicated text called Jeremiah.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.