THE PROPHET JEREMIAH
We know more about the life of Jeremiah than of any of the other Old Testament prophets. He was born in Anathoth, a village about four miles northeast of Jerusalem, the son of Hilkiah, a priest at Anathoth. He was called by God to be a prophet in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah of Judah; this would be 627 B.C. This means that he prophesied about 100 years after Isaiah. Jeremiah says that he was only a “child” when he was called by God. Perhaps this means that he was a young man of about 20 years. His ministry continued until after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. He preached for more than 40 years. His ministry was carried on during the reigns of five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. For most of his career, Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem, but later he was carried off to Egypt where he probably died.
THE TIMES AND MESSAGE OF JEREMIAH
The power of Assyria was failing when Jeremiah began to preach God’s message to Judah. The new superpower was Babylon. Babylon became God’s agent to carry out his judgment on Judah during Jeremiah’s time, just as he had used Assyria to judge the Northern Kingdom of Israel in Isaiah’s time. When Jeremiah began his work, it looked like there was some hope for a religious renewal in Judah. King Josiah was a good king who tried to put an end to idolatry in Judah. But there were no lasting results from his reform. The four kings that followed Josiah were all wicked. Idolatry and all the evil things that go with it flourished. There were even human sacrifices to Baal and Molech (19:5; 32:35). In spite of the sins of Judah, God did not immediately judge his wicked people. He sent his prophet Jeremiah “to uproot and tear down” but also “to build and to plant.” (1:10). In strong law terms, Jeremiah threatened certain destruction for Judah if there was no repentance, but in beautiful gospel terms, he promised God’s grace and deliverance to those who would remain faithful to God. He pointed forward to God’s “new covenant” that he would make through Christ when he would “forgive their wickedness and … remember their sins no more” (chap. 31). How did the people receive Jeremiah’s words? With hard hearts and contempt. The people of his own hometown of Anathoth said to him: “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord or you will die by our hands” (11:21). The priests, the other prophets, and all the other people of Judah likewise threatened him and said: “You must die!” (26:8). When Jeremiah had Baruch, his scribe, write all the words of prophesy which God had given, wicked King Jehoiakim burned the scroll on which they were written. Jeremiah had enemies on all sides for speaking God’s word faithfully, and yet he continued in his God-given call as a prophet. He is an excellent example for all church workers to be faithful in their call no matter how much opposition they may have. God had told Jeremiah: “Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully” (23:28). And he did it. When it was clear that the people would never listen to the faithful prophet, God let his judgment fall “like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (23:29). King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon smashed Judah, destroyed Jerusalem, and the Babylonian Captivity began. Nebuchadnezzar spared Jeremiah and allowed him to remain in Jerusalem. But still his troubles were not over. He was later carried off to Egypt by his own people, who had not repented even in the face of God’s judgment. Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet.” He obviously had much to weep about in that unhappy and wicked period of Judah’s history.
HISTORICAL FACTS RELATED TO THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
(The five kings of Judah during Jeremiah’s career are underlined.) King Josiah rules from 640-608 B.C. He is a good king and tries to reform Judah. Jeremiah is called by God in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign, that is 627 B.C. The Assyrian capital of Nineveh falls to Babylon in 612 B.C. Babylon becomes the world superpower replacing Assyria. Jehozhaz, son of Josiah, becomes king in 608 B.C. at his father’s death. He rules for just three months and is deported to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho. Jehoiakim, brother of Jehoahaz, becomes king in 608 B.C. and reigns until 597 B.C. He is very wicked, opposes Jeremiah, and burns his writings. In 605 B.C. Babylon crushes Egypt at the Battle of Carchemish under Nebuchadnezzar. Also in 605 B.C. Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar and a few Jews, including Daniel, are deported to Babylon. Jehoiachin, son of Johoiakim, becomes king in 597 B.C. But after just three months he is carried off to Babylon, as Jeremiah prophesied. Zedekiah is appointed king of Jedah by Nebuchadnezzar and rules from 597-586 B.C. When Zedekiah rebels against Babylon, the Babylonians come to destroy Jerusalem. Zedekiah is blinded and taken in chains to Babylon. Jeremiah is allowed to remain in Jerusalem. Gedaliah is made governor over the small group of Jews that remain in Jerusalem. When Gedaliah is assassinated, the Jews flee to Egypt and force Jeremiah to go with them. He dies while in Egypt. THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH The 52 chapters of the Book of Jeremiah contain prophetic sermons, autobiographical material (material about Jeremiah’s life), and historical material. Chapter 36 gives us some interesting information on how a prophet’s preachings became recorded into book form. Jeremiah had a scribe named Baruch who wrote down the prophesies of Jeremiah. What Baruch wrote down would no doubt be the first part of our present Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah added to this later. This was the human part involved in the writing of the book. In the whole process the Spirit was directing and causing his thoughts and words to be recorded. When reading the Book of Jeremiah, we should remember that the various parts are not arranged according to the proper order of events; that is, the book is not chronologically arranged. Events during the life of a later king are sometimes related before events in the life of an earlier king.
GENERAL OUTLINE FOR JEREMIAH:
- Prophecies Against Judah and Jerusalem (1-45) (Included is autobiographical material about Jeremiah)
- Prophecies Against Foreign Nations (46-51)
- An Historical Appendix (Addition) (52) (telling of the fall of Jerusalem)
SPECIAL SECTIONS FROM JEREMIAH:
Read Chapter 1 to learn of Jeremiah’s call.
As an example of Jeremiah’s prophetic threats to Judah, read Jeremiah 4:5-9.
Read Jeremiah 7:1-11 as an example of his sermons uncovering hypocrisy.
Read Jeremiah 18:1-12 as an example of a “dramatic parable” or “object lesson.”
See Chapter 46 as an example of Jeremiah’s prophecies against a foreign nation. Read Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Jeremiah 31:31-34 as examples of beautiful Messianic prophecies from Jeremiah.
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