Sometimes when we have a pet theory – but little evidence! – we use arguments from silence. We might argue that since something has not been reported as happening, this is proof that it never happened. Of course, it’s not really proof, because many things that happen are never reported in history. Arguments from silence don’t prove anything, however it is valuable at times to observe things about which the Bible is silent and ponder what the reasons for the silence might be. Let’s look at things missing from Jeremiah – events or facts which the book of Jeremiah does not mention.
As one example, Jeremiah prophesied for 18 years in the reign of King Josiah – almost half of his work as a prophet! Yet only two brief passages in the entire book can be located with certainty in the time of Josiah. We can guess that a lot of Jeremiah is set in the time of Josiah – but we cannot be sure.
Jeremiah does give specific times for many events, but most of those are 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.
There is no mention in Jeremiah of:
Jehoahaz only reigned for 3 months, which is a very short time out of Jeremiah’s 40 years of prophesying. Jeremiah only mentions him once, calling him “Shallum”, and observing that he had been taken away as a captive and would never return (Jeremiah 22:11-12). Jeremiah doesn’t mention that it was Pharaoh Neco who captured him and took him to Egypt (see 2 Kings 23:34 and 2 Chronicles 36:4).
Several important events occurred during the reign of Jehoiakim. Yet the book of Jeremiah makes no mention of:
Jeremiah is a long book and mentions many people by name. However, other famous prophets of his time are missing from the book:
I find it interesting that the book of Jeremiah never mentions anyone’s age except to say that Zedekiah was 21 when he became king (Jeremiah 52:1).
There could be many reasons why a human writer would not mention a particular subject or event. And we also have to remember that God inspired the Bible writers for long-term reasons, not just to provide interested readers with a thorough historical record! If God inspired the writers of the Bible (and I believe that he did), then we can’t expect the choice of content to follow the logic of merely human authors – or the expectations of readers. We can’t know for sure why Jeremiah didn’t mention the subjects or events above, but here are some suggestions about why the things missing from Jeremiah may be missing.
God appointed Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5), unlike most of the other prophets who spoke only to Judah or Israel.
God said that Jeremiah would have to go wherever God sent him, and speak to anyone God told him to speak to (Jeremiah 1:7).
The book of Jeremiah reports many messages from God to various nations. 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. He was given messages for a very long list of nations including 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. Most of these things were in Judah and Jerusalem, but a few involved travelling outside Judah. For example, God tells him in Jeremiah 25:15-26 to take the cup of God’s wrath to many different kings (at least 25!). We can’t be sure how literally we should take this chapter, but if Jeremiah delivered the message to those kings at all, it would have required a lot of work and travel – 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.
To avoid duplication, an author may omit 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.
An author may consider an event unimportant. The Bible tends to place more importance on the message than on the surrounding events. Events are often only described in enough detail to present the message clearly.
Yet these events fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecies, so it seems silly to suggest that they were unimportant!
Outside of the Bible, ancient history is a very biased presentation of what happened, written by the winners of international confrontations. 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 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 Hebrew Bible. Any extra information would have made the book even longer. The Bible is 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 the silence about important events in Jeremiah is that God made him a prophet to the nations. In doing his job, he could have been absent from Jerusalem for long periods of time.
For example, based on things missing from Jeremiah, I believe it is most likely that Jeremiah was not in Jerusalem during the following significant events:
Finally the time for warning various kingdoms ran out because Nebuchadnezzar had embarked on his campaign of destruction. From that time on, Jeremiah mostly describes events in Jerusalem – until its destruction. Jeremiah was no longer a young man and his work was mostly done.
This article on things missing from Jeremiah is one of a series of articles on Jeremiah. We publish these as back-up material for the Bible-based fiction series Terror on Every Side!
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|↑1||The first verses of the book (Jeremiah 1:1-2), and later observations about the unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 3:6).|
|↑2||See 2 Timothy 3:16-17. John makes the same point about his gospel in John 20:30-31.|
|↑3||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.|
|↑4||See Jeremiah 3:12; 13:4, 6-7.|
|↑5||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).|