Silence?

By Admin | Jeremiah

Nov 27
Silence:

Arguments from silence

Often when we have a pet theory but little evidence, we will use arguments from silence.  We use the fact that something has not been reported as proof that it never happened or that the evidence we have should be ignored.  This is a very weak way of arguing, but sometimes we use it anyway.

However, it is also valuable at times to think of things about which the Bible is silent and what the reasons for the silence might be.  Today we will look at some events or facts which the book of Jeremiah does not mention.

For example, Jeremiah began to prophesy in the thirteenth year of Josiah, yet only two passages in the book can be located with certainty in the time of Josiah, namely the very start of the book (Jeremiah 1:1-2), and then the observations about the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah in Jeremiah 3:6.  It is likely that quite a lot of the first few chapters of Jeremiah is also set in the time of Josiah, but we cannot be sure.

Jeremiah does give specific times for many events, but they are mostly later, during the reigns of Josiah’s sons Jehoiakim and Zedekiah.

So let’s consider some of the things that are not found in Jeremiah.

Josiah

There is no mention in Jeremiah of:

  • Josiah’s age at any time.
  • The discovery of the Book of the Law in the eighteenth year of Josiah (2 Kings 22:8; 2 Chronicles 34:14).
  • Huldah the prophetess and the visit to her by Josiah’s representatives (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22).
  • The glorious Passover held in the eighteenth year of Josiah (2 Kings 23:23; 2 Chronicles 35:19).
  • The death of Josiah while fighting Pharaoh Neco (2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:22-23).
  • Zephaniah, although he was a prophet at the same time (Zephaniah 1:1).

Jehoahaz

Jehoahaz only reigned for 3 months, which is a very short time in Jeremiah’s 40 years of prophesying.  However, Jeremiah only mentions him once, using the name “Shallum” and reflecting on the fact that he had been taken away as a captive and would never return (Jeremiah 22:11-12).  That Pharaoh Neco was his captor and Egypt his destination is not mentioned at all in the book of Jeremiah (see 2 Kings 23:34 and 2 Chronicles 36:4).

Jehoiakim

Several important events occurred during the reign of Jehoiakim.  However, Jeremiah makes no mention of:

  • His appointment as king by Pharaoh Neco and his name being changed from Eliakim to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34; 2 Chronicles 36:4)
  • The first attack by Nebuchadnezzar when Daniel was taken into captivity (Daniel 1:1).
  • The second attack by Nebuchadnezzar during which it appears that Jehoiakim died and his body was thrown outside the gate of Jerusalem (2 Kings 24:6; Jeremiah 22:18-19; 36:30).

General

Jeremiah is a long book and mentions many people, but some of the other prophets of his time are noticeably missing:

  • Daniel (although Daniel refers to Jeremiah)
  • Ezekiel (although Ezekiel refers to Daniel)
  • Habakkuk (very likely to be in the same time)
  • Zephaniah

I find it interesting that the book of Jeremiah does not mention anyone’s age with the exception of Zedekiah, who is described as being 21 when he became king (Jeremiah 52:1).

Why the silence?

There could be many reasons why a writer would be silent on a particular subject or event.  It is also important to remember that the Bible is inspired by God, so it should not be expected to follow the logic of merely human authors.  We cannot know for sure why Jeremiah did not mention the subjects or events above, but here are some suggestions.

Absence?

God appointed Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5), unlike most of the other prophets who spoke just to Judah or Israel.

Jeremiah, God said, would have to go wherever God sent him, and speak to anyone God told him to (Jeremiah 1:7).

The book of Jeremiah reports many messages from God to various nations, and Jeremiah may well have done a lot of travelling around to deliver those messages.  It is hard to see how he could have been a genuine prophet to the nations if the nations never heard his message!  As a result, he could have been absent from Judah for many months or even years during his 40 years of work as a prophet.  The list of nations for which he was given messages is very long and includes Egypt, the Philistines, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Dedan, Tema, Arabia, Elam, Media, Babylon and many other less well-known kingdoms.

We read many times of God telling Jeremiah to go and do something.[1]  Most of these things were in Judah and Jerusalem, but a few involved travelling outside Judah.[2]  One such example is in Jeremiah 25:15-26 where he is told to take the cup of God’s wrath to many different kings (at least 25!).  Although it is not certain how literally we should understand the chapter, if the message was to be delivered at all to these kings, it would have required a lot of work and travel from Jeremiah – much the same as Jonah had to do in visiting just one king.  Jeremiah could easily have been an Old Testament version of Paul the traveller.[3]

Duplication?

An author may try to avoid duplication and therefore leave out references to an event that he or someone else has already dealt with.  However, if this is the goal, authors will still often make a passing reference.

The details referred to above about which Jeremiah is silent are all included in the books of Kings and Chronicles. Thus, suggesting that Jeremiah was avoiding duplication would be a reasonable argument, but not conclusive.

Unimportant?

An author may consider an event unimportant.  The Bible tends to place importance on the message, not the surrounding events.  Events are often only described in enough detail to present the message clearly.

However, Jeremiah had made prophecies that were fulfilled in these events, so it seems unreasonable to then suggest that they are unimportant!

Conclusions

History outside the Bible is normally a very biased presentation by the winners of international rivalries.  Only the Bible reports both the good and the bad from history.  In fact, the Bible contains far more criticism of God’s people than praise.  This is not the way of other histories from the time – or even now.

Sometimes critics of the Bible use silence in the record to argue for their pet theories, but God knows what he wanted to include and why.  Our job is to learn from what he has written.

Jeremiah is the longest book in the Bible and any extra information would have made the book even longer.  The Bible is intended as a manual for life, not a book of history.  Historical details are inevitable in the narrative, but they are not the intention of the book.

I believe that the most likely reason for much of the silence about important events in Jeremiah is because Jeremiah was a prophet to the nations and was therefore absent from Jerusalem for extended periods of time.

For example, I believe it is most likely that Jeremiah was not in Jerusalem during the following events:

  1. The discovery of the Book of the Law.
  2. Josiah’s death.
  3. Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Jerusalem after which Daniel and his friends were taken captive.
  4. Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem after which Ezekiel was taken captive.

As the time for warning many kingdoms ran out once Nebuchadnezzar embarked on his campaign of destruction, we have descriptions largely of events within Jerusalem until its destruction.  Jeremiah was no longer a young man – his work was mostly done.

 


[1] For example: Jeremiah 2:2; 3:12; 13:1, 4, 6; 17:19; 18:2; 19:1-2; 22:1; 28:13; 34:2; 35:2, 13; 39:16.
[2] See Jeremiah 3:12; 13:4, 6-7.
[3] Note that on one occasion Jeremiah was told to pass on the message to nations by giving it to envoys who were visiting Jerusalem (Jeremiah 27:3).

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