Why is Jeremiah out of order?

By Mark Morgan | Jeremiah

Oct 06
Jeremiah; in Greek, out of order -

The book of Jeremiah is not in chronological order.

Many books of the Bible tell us of events that happened during certain years, and sometimes this is refined to the month and day or even the time of day. Other events, however, are reported with very little to locate them in time. The book of Jeremiah includes some passages that are anchored to particular days, while others are not located in time at all. By itself, this would make it hard enough to work out exactly when things happened in Jeremiah’s life, but the situation is worse than that: even the passages with dates are not in order!

Where dates are given in the book, they are dates relative to when they occurred in the reign of a king. Five kings ruled while Jeremiah was prophesying: Josiah – the last good king of Judah – then three of his sons and one grandson. The lengths of the reigns of these five kings are shown in the table below:

King’s name Length of reign
Comments
Josiah 31 years Good.
Jehoahaz (also known as Shallum) 3 months Evil. Son of Josiah.
Jehoiakim (also known as Eliakim) 11 years Evil. Son of Josiah.
Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah and Jeconiah) 3 months and 10 days Evil. Son of Jehoiakim.
Zedekiah (also known as Mattaniah) 11 years Evil. Son of Josiah.

Based on the lengths of reign and the order of the kings, the following table shows in chronological order the passages that have dates associated with them.

Date Passage in Jeremiah Comments/description
Josiah’s 13th year Jeremiah 1:2; (Jeremiah 25:3) As a young man, Jeremiah starts prophesying (when Josiah was 21).
In the days of Josiah Jeremiah 3:6 A comparison of the evil of Israel and Judah.
Jehoiakim’s 4th year (Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year) Jeremiah 25:1-3; 36:1; 45:1; 46:2 Jeremiah warns of 70 years of banishment for Judah followed by the punishment of Babylon. God’s cup of wrath. Baruch writing all the words God had said on a scroll for Jeremiah. Baruch told he would escape the destruction of Judah with his life. A message to Pharaoh Neco.
Jehoiakim’s 5th year, 9th month Jeremiah 36:9 Baruch reads Jeremiah’s scroll first to the people, and then to King Jehoiakim who cuts it up and burns it.
Nebuchadnezzar’s 7th year (Jehoiachin’s 3rd month) Jeremiah 52:28 3,023 Jews into captivity (probably including Ezekiel). Jeremiah 25:1 (see above) tells us that Jehoiakim’s 7th year was Nebuchadnezzar’s 1st year.
Zedekiah’s 4th year Jeremiah 51:59 Jeremiah sends letter/scroll to Babylon.
Zedekiah’s 4th year, 5th month Jeremiah 28:1 False prophet Hananiah prophesied Babylon would be broken in 2 years.
Zedekiah’s 4th year, 7th month Jeremiah 28:17 False prophet Hananiah dies.
Zedekiah’s 9th year, 10th month (10th day) Jeremiah 39:1; (Jeremiah 52:4) Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem.
Zedekiah’s 10th year
(Nebuchadnezzar’s 18th year)
Jeremiah 32:1; (Jeremiah 52:29) 832 more Jews taken into captivity.
Zedekiah’s 11th year, 4th month, 9th day Jeremiah 39:2; 52:5-9 Zedekiah captured, Jerusalem defeated.
Zedekiah’s 11th year, 5th month, 10th day Jeremiah 52:12 Temple and every important building in Jerusalem destroyed.
Zedekiah’s 11th year, 7th month Jeremiah 41:1 Assassination of Gedaliah, the governor appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, and the Chaldean soldiers left behind.
Nebuchadnezzar’s 23rd year
(5 years after Jerusalem destroyed)
Jeremiah 52:30 745 more Jews taken into captivity.
Jeconiah’s (Jehoiachin’s) exile: 37th year, 12th month, 25th day (26 years after Jerusalem destroyed) Jeremiah 52:31 Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) freed from prison. Evil-merodach became king of Babylon in that year.

A quick scan of the reference column above shows that the chapter numbers do not simply increase from top to bottom as they would if the book was in chronological order.

Is there any way to tell what the chronological order is?

No, I don’t think so.

Does it matter?

No, I don’t think so. It may seem to be back-to-front or even circular logic, but if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible – as I do – then the order can’t be important, or we would be able to work it out.

Some people argue that the order was mixed up by accident when the people of Judah made a hurried “getaway” to Egypt, while others say that the order is deliberate, based on themes or categories of events rather than time. The Septuagint translation of Jeremiah may have included an attempt to arrange the book in chronological order (see blog article Jeremiah in Greek).

Why are so many of the prophecies not dated? Well, Jeremiah prophesied for 40 years – it is quite possible that he delivered many of his prophecies on several occasions, maybe even to several different kings.

While writing a Bible-based novel on the life of Jeremiah (Terror on Every Side!) I found it helpful to try to place his book in chronological order, but I don’t have great confidence in many of my conclusions!

Updated 19 June 2020: Suggested chronological order of the book of Jeremiah is my best guess at the book of Jeremiah in chronological order.
Updated 9 July 2020: Added Jeremiah 41:1 to the table of passages in Jeremiah that specifies a date. Also added Jeremiah 3:6, although the date it specifies is very vague.

See also:
The Chronology of Jeremiah: http://nabataea.net/jeremiah.html
The Structure of the Book of Jeremiah: https://transformedblog.westernseminary.edu/2013/10/08/the-structure-of-the-book-of-jeremiah/
The Book of Jeremiah: https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/book-jeremiah
The Marvellous Book of Jeremiah: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/747-marvelous-book-of-jeremiah-the

 

Terror on Every Side!

This article is one of a series of articles on Jeremiah published as back-up material for the Bible-based fiction series Terror on Every Side!
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Terror on Every Side! Volumes 1-5 Cover

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