A War of Words: How the Structure of Jeremiah Leads to Its Storyline

raphael-schaller-GkinCd2enIY-unsplashThis post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Jeremiah.


If Jeremiah is structured around the word of the Lord, then it makes sense that the storyline of the book is also tailored to that end. God has called Jeremiah to speak his words to his people. Importantly, that word is not simply a message of comfort; it is a message that tears down and plucks up, a word that destroys and annihilates. Only then, can it build and plant (Jer. 1:10).

In Jeremiah’s call (ch. 1), we have an introduction to the man and his message, and as the visions signal, he will preach a message of judgment that will be rejected by his people. His message will include hope and blessing, but situated in the last decades of Judah’s reign in Jerusalem, his words of hope will all be future, not present. And thus, his words will go to war with his contemporaries. And over the course of his book, he will address the nation (ch. 1–24), the false prophets (ch. 25–34), the king (ch. 35–44), and the nations (ch. 45–52).

As seen yesterday, these four sections are ordered by various literary devices (disjunctive headings and narrative formulas), but they are also forming a storyline of God’s Word. And in his book, A Mouth Full of Fire, Andrew Shead shows how each section takes up the Word of God in order to tear down and pluck up the people of God. In order to understand the message of Jeremiah, therefore, we need to see how the book unfolds. And this is where Shead’s proposal is so helpful. Consider his outline.

A War of Words

After identifying the literary markers in Jeremiah, Andrew Shead offers the following chart (87–88). I have added summary statements in the left column and given each section the bolded title. The right column is a direct quotation (with formatting help at the bottom) from him, as are the quoted statements.

Jeremiah 1–24: God’s War of Words . . . Against Israel

“The Word of the LORD announces Judah’s destruction and its speaker is crushed.”

Jeremiah 1

Israel’s True Prophet


  • Jeremiah’s call and commission as speaker (1:1–10)
  • The word, its speaker and their respective tasks (1:11–19)
Jeremiah 2–6

Israel’s Marital Unfaithfulness

The fruitless appeal to an adulterous wife, to return to her husbands

  • The pleas of a scorned husband (2:1–4:4)
  • The wrath of a warrior aroused (4:4­6:30)
Jeremiah 7–10

Israel’s Temple Idolatry

The tragic corruption of the temple into a doomed pagan shrine
Jeremiah 11–17

Israel’s Covenant-Breaking

The painful consequences of covenant-breaking

  • Covenant-breakers fall under a curse and Jeremiah feels the pain (chs. 11–12)
  • The pride of being God’s people will perish; Jeremiah is preserved (13–15)
  • As a warning to Judah, life in God loses its joy for Jeremiah (16–17)
Jeremiah 18–20

Israel’s Election Rejected

The freedom of God to reject his elect evokes a violent response.
Jeremiah 21­–24

Israel’s Unrighteous Kings

The throne of David in Judah will be vacant

  • Your kings cannot save you; one day God will raise up his own king (21–22)
  • Your prophets cannot save you (23)
  • The kingdom of Judah is past saving; exiles will one day be replanted (24)

Jeremiah 25–34: God’s War of Words . . . Against the False Prophets

“The word of the LORD vindicates its speaker and offers true hope to deaf listeners.”

Jeremiah 25–29

Israel’s Immediate Judgment

True prophecy is tested and found to be on the lips of Jeremiah

  • The true extent of God’s wrath is revealed (25)
  • God preserves Jeremiah and destroys the speakers of rival words (26–29)
Jeremiah 30­–34

Israel’s Future Restoration

A true and revolutionary covenant lies in the future, not the present

  • A radically new covenant emerges from the present darkness (30–33)
  • Its promises lie entirely in the future (34)

Jeremiah 35–44: God’s War of Words . . . Against the King and His Kingdom

“The word of the LORD destroys the nation it created and plants seeds of new life.”

Jeremiah 35–39


The indestructible word exerts its power and the kingdom falls

  • Godly outsiders earn a future by their obedience (35)
  • The word enters in and takes away the king’s future (36)
  • Jeremiah kept safe while the word he speaks tears down the nation (37–39)
Jeremiah 40­–43 The word is silent while the remnant self-destruct
Jeremiah 44 No escape, even back in Egypt: God’s word will stand

Jeremiah 45–52: God’s War of Words . . . Against the Nations

“The word of the LORD sends a tide of judgment across the earth and draws a new nation from the wreckage.”

Jeremiah 45 Baruch, whose scroll preserved the word, will himself be preserved
Jeremiah 46:1–51:58 The word of God tears down the nations and draws Israel, alive, from the jaws of death

  • The word destroys Egypt even as Judah falls; in her destruction lies hope (46)
  • The nations around Judah share her wickedness and her fate (47–49)
  • Babylon dies and the mystery of Israel’s future hope is revealed (50–51)
Jeremiah 51:59–64 Seraiah, whose scroll secures Babylon’s end, ends Jeremiah’s book
Jeremiah 52 Back to the present, where the word of the LORD lives on

From this fourfold storyline we have a unified book and a narrative that progresses from the nation, to the prophets, to the kings, and then to the world. The unity turns on the Word of God, which is found in the mouth of Jeremiah the prophet. And the progressive storyline is found in the way Jeremiah’s words call for a destruction on adulterous Israel, even as it flickers hope for the days that will come after Israel’s destruction.

In truth, Jeremiah is the weeping prophet because he brings a message of dark judgment. In this, his words offer a sobriety test for us today. While his words address a particular people (Israel) at a particular time (7th Century – 6th Century BC), they reveal how God handles the sin. And thus, the world should take notice. And as Jeremiah prophecies, we should take refuge in the new covenant that is promised (Jer. 31:31–34). In fact, there are words of hope sprinkled in Jeremiah’s book, but we will save those for another blogpost.

For today, I offer this outline as a way to get a handle on the large and challenging book of Jeremiah. May the Lord bless you as you read Jeremiah, and may it tear down sin and build up faith.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash