The prophet Jeremiah is one of the most fascinating people in the Bible. The book named after him contains moments of hope in the midst of tremendous struggle and despair. People often find Jeremiah’s message and personality intriguing, but it’s his call that stands out to many Bible readers.
Some Bible commentators speculate that Jeremiah was in his early 20s when God called him to be a prophet. However, most scholars say there isn’t enough detail in the book to know for sure. A few estimate that Jeremiah was a teenager, while the Hebrew word may suggest someone even younger.
What’s the difference between Jeremiah being “set apart” and his “call” to ministry? What does the Hebrew word “young” mean in Jeremiah 1:6? What do the top commentaries on Jeremiah teach about his age at the time of his calling? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Why Did God Hate Esau? to learn more.
What was Jeremiah’s age when God called him to ministry?
Jeremiah’s ministry was difficult because the message God gave him to speak was unpopular and offensive to many who heard it. When Jeremiah wept in frustration and despair — he is nicknamed “the weeping prophet” — God was present and faithful, providing him with strength and wisdom. From Jeremiah’s perspective, one of the challenges was that he was too young to do what God asked him to do.
What’s the difference between Jeremiah being “set apart” and his “call” to ministry? The book of Jeremiah makes a distinction between when God set apart Jeremiah’s life for ministry and when he made Jeremiah aware of it. God set apart Jeremiah in the womb: “before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). The question many people ask is how old Jeremiah was when God made him aware of his call.
What does the biblical text reveal about Jeremiah’s age when God called him? The book of Jeremiah doesn’t precisely state how old he was when God called him. However, some scholars believe the biblical text may provide a hint that can lead readers to make an informed estimate. The clue is found in Jeremiah’s initial response. When God calls Jeremiah to ministry, the prophet initially protests, arguing that he was too inexperienced.
“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” Jeremiah 1:6
Like the prophet Moses centuries before him, Jeremiah initially responded to God’s call by pointing out that he wasn’t a good speaker. Some suggest that Jeremiah was afraid of public speaking. Others wonder if he didn’t know how to speak the languages of the “nations” (v. 5) that God was calling him to serve. And unlike Moses, who was 40 years old when God called him to ministry, the basis of Jeremiah’s opinion is that he is too young.
Also see Why Did God Choose Abraham? to learn more.
What does the Hebrew word “young” mean in Jeremiah 1:6?
The Hebrew word translated “young” (naar) has a range of meanings that can refer to a “boy” to “young man” or “youth.”
|Part of Speech||Noun Masculine|
|Definition||boy, lad, youth|
|NIV, NLT translation||“young”|
|ESV, NKJV, NASB translation||“youth”|
In God’s response to Jeremiah, he restates that the prophet was indeed “young,” using the same Hebrew word (naar): “But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you'” (v. 1:7). A small number of scholars and commentators speculate that Jeremiah was a grown adult and that he was just exaggerating his youthfulness. Most, however, believe Jeremiah was not a grown adult.
How do other passages in the Old Testament translate the word naar? The word naar appears over 40 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes it’s translated young man (or something similar). Other times its translated “child” or even “baby.” For example, the book of Exodus uses naar to describe Moses as a baby and Joshua as a young man.
- Exodus 2:6, “She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said.”
- Exodus 33:11, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.”
How can readers narrow down Jeremiah’s approximate age? On one hand, Jeremiah was old enough to understand God’s word. Therefore, he wasn’t a baby or a toddler. He also had some awareness of how difficult it would be to do what God was asking him to do. Perhaps this would imply he was at least 10 to 12 years of age. On the other hand, Jeremiah isn’t referred to as a “man,” which likely may suggest he wasn’t 20 years old.
Could Jeremiah have just turned 20 years old? It’s possible, but readers can’t know for sure. It makes sense that God would call him right after he became a “man.” It could also explain why Jeremiah initially hesitated as he wasn’t used to adult responsibilities yet. It may also explain why God responded “don’t say you are too young.”
Also see Why Does God Allow Suffering? to learn more.
What do Bible commentators say about Jeremiah’s age?
Many of the best-reviewed Jeremiah commentaries don’t speculate on his age. Many writers say, although many readers are curious about the prophet’s age, the text doesn’t provide enough information to make even an educated guess. Other commentators say that there is enough information in the Bible to make an informed estimate.
Three of the best Jeremiah commentaries estimate that the prophet’s age was probably in his 20s.
|Bible Knowledge Commentary||“Jeremiah’s age is not given, but possibly he was in his late 20s at this time.” (p. 1130)|
|John MacArthur Commentary||“If as a young man he was twenty to twenty-five years old in 626 B.C., he was sixty to sixty-five in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell (ch. 39), and eighty-five to ninety if he lived to the time of 52:31-34 (c. 561 B.C.).” (p. 848)|
|Expositor’s Bible Commentary||“The Hebrew word for ‘child’ does not connote a precise definition of age, but we may infer from the length of his ministry that Jeremiah must have been about twenty at the time of his call.” (p. 383)|
Why would God call someone who is so young and inexperienced to do such an important job? God would call a young person in order to demonstrate his power in them. If a young person doesn’t have experience, yet succeeds at what God asks them to do, then it must be God’s power at work in them. God often calls those who don’t have the best resume according to the world. Mary, the mother of Jesus, didn’t have an impressive resume either.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” ~ 1 Timothy 4:12, ESV
Also see Why Does God Hate Me? to learn more.
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