How to Read Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Jeremiah, a Major Prophet, is an anthology of warnings to Israel about the coming exile, a message that both tears down and builds up. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of Jeremiah, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video.

Now that you have an overview of  Jeremiah in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Jeremiah. Read how God promises a new covenant that will come and change everything in Jeremiah 31:31–34. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Jeremiah 31:31–34.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV)

The New Covenant

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: God will make a new covenant with His people that is different than the first.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Jeremiah 31:31–34? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) God will make a new covenant with His people that is different than the first, written on hearts and not tablets. (Interpretation) Israel has only failed repeatedly at keeping up their end of the covenant. They are unable to keep the Commands God has given or to love Him. God’s new covenant will be altogether different, and they will be obedient to God from the heart. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Jeremiah 31:31–34? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Jeremiah? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: God keeps His covenant faithfully. Israel is unable to keep the covenant. God tells of a New Covenant that is coming. Jesus introduces the New Covenant, sealed with His blood. Hebrews discusses the new and better covenant. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and makes us obedient from the heart. 

Contextualize: What themes does Jeremiah 31:31–34 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Jeremiah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Humanity is unable to make itself right with God by obedience, incapable of honoring God and keeping covenant. God has faithfully kept His promises, and continues to move forward with His plan to fully redeem and restore mankind to relationship with Himself. I am a participant in the New Covenant. Because I can’t make myself acceptable to God by my obedience, Jesus has accomplished this for me and become the sacrifice on my behalf. 

The Holy Spirit lives in me, is transforming my heart and growing a love and obedience to God within me. Today, I can rest assured that God is still faithfully keeping His New Covenant, His Spirit working in me and transforming me. I can ask Him to make me obedient from the heart and thank Him for doing for me what I cannot do for myself.

Apply: How does the truth from Jeremiah 31:31–34 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Jeremiah to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Jeremiah, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Jeremiah this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.