Jeremiah

Introduction

When Manasseh and his son were on the throne, the southern kingdom of Judah arguably went through its darkest period. They took the nation to appalling depths from which it never really recovered. Nevertheless, in these dark days there were at least two bright spots that lightened the increasing gloom. Firstly, Josiah was born into the wicked family of king Amon, Manasseh’s son. He was destined to be an influence for good in years to come, when he sat on the throne. Elsewhere, probably a little later, a boy was born into the priestly family of Hilkiah, who did not follow his father into the priesthood, but was called to be a prophet of the Lord. Jeremiah was to be one of the most influential prophets to leave his mark on the page of Israel’s history, both in word and in writing. When these two were working in tandem there was hope for the kingdom; however, when Josiah passed away it was clear that his reforms had not touched the hearts of the people. Jeremiah lived on to see the tragic end of the kingdom. He shed many tears during his ministry and the book of Lamentations shows that the final fall of Jerusalem broke his heart. Later, he was forcibly taken to Egypt by a fleeing remnant of Jews. An ancient tradition says that he was finally stoned to death, but there is no conclusive proof for this.

Purpose of the book

First, Jeremiah impressed upon his readers the truth of the sovereignty of God. There must have been many times when the faithful remnant of Jews in Jerusalem and Judah seriously questioned whether the Lord was in control of events. When Babylon was at the height of her powers, it must have seemed as if she was invincible and that she controlled the affairs of Judah. It would have taken great spiritual discernment to see the hand of the Lord behind the events. Jeremiah was, of course, one such person. He saw that the Lord was using Babylon to chasten His people and her ultimate fall would prove this to be the case.

Second, a leading theme in the prophecy is the judgement of the Lord. Jeremiah showed rebellious Judah that they could not play fast and loose with God and escape the consequences. He made it abundantly clear that they would reap what they sowed. In His sovereignty, He used the Babylonians to chasten them. This did not, of course, absolve the Babylonians from responsibility and that, ultimately, they would experience ‘the vengeance of the Lord’. Indeed, they went too far, and the Lord condemned them for so doing.

Third, even though Jeremiah’s prophecy is predominantly dark with judgement, he was exercised to show that there was a future for Israel and Judah. The Lord always has a faithful remnant, however dark the days become. Even though Judah had given up on Him, He would never forsake them. After the pain, suffering and tears, there was hope. He spoke about the new covenant that the Lord would write upon the people’s hearts. He looked forward to the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus, when Israel would be the head of the nations again, and not the tail, Deut. 28. 13. He spoke of the Lord’s mercies; indeed, He gave the nations space for repentance. He would even have healed Babylon, but she would not be healed.

Fourth, Jeremiah’s prophecy is replete with honesty about his spiritual journey. He did not ‘pull the wool’ over his readers’ eyes. He told them of his struggles and heartache to make sense of it all. He wrote about his periods of depression, when he felt that it was impossible to go on. He portrayed a God who does not save us from trials and tribulation, but delivers us out of them, cp. 2 Tim. 3. 10, 11, and cares for us through them.

Analysis of the Book

Chapter/s Theme
Chapter 1 Jeremiah’s call
Chapter 2 to Chapter 20 Prophecies during the reigns of Josiah and Jehoiakim
Chapter 21 to Chapter 39 Prophecies up to the fall of Jerusalem
Chapter 40 to Chapter 45 Prophecies after the fall of Jerusalem
Chapter 46 to 51 Prophecies about the nations - Egypt, Philistines, Moab, Babylon
Chapter 52 Postscript: Zedekiah and the fall of Jerusalem Jehoiachin’s freedom - hope for the future

Dates and historical setting of the book

Jeremiah prophesied during the days of good king Josiah. He enjoyed a happy relationship with him. His ministry also continued into the reigns of the final kings of Judah, namely, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. These were disastrous times and culminated in the defeat of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hands of the Babylonians, and the carrying away of the people into seventy years of exile.

Author

There are no legitimate grounds for challenging the fact that Jeremiah was the author of this prophecy. It would be difficult to read the first chapter of the book and disagree with this fact. He was of priestly descent, 1. 1; however, there is no evidence that he ever functioned as a priest. His home was in Anathoth, which was a Levitical town. He was not permitted by God to marry, 16. 2. A survey of his life and times will show conclusively the reasons for this command by the Lord. The unpopularity of his message with most of the kings and the people meant that he often lived a very lonely life, accompanied only by Baruch, his scribe. He, no doubt, knew and had some fellowship with Zephaniah and Habakkuk. One of the remarkable features of his prophecy is, unlike other writing prophets, he ‘wore his heart on his sleeve’. He reveals the struggles that he had, even during times of great despondency, 20. 7-9.

The book’s message for today

First, Jeremiah teaches us how important it is to be called to specific service for the Lord. He could so easily have ‘drifted’ into the work of a priest. It would have fitted in to what he knew by growing up in a priestly family, and, probably, it was expected by his family that he would follow this pathway. Indeed, it would have been a much easier track to tread. However, he was sensitive to the Lord’s voice and made the life-changing decision to be where He wanted him to be. He challenges us to be exercised about where the Lord would have us to be, and what He would have us to do in service for Him.

Second, Jeremiah inspires us to be faithful in our preaching, whoever the audience might be. His audience ranged from kings on thrones to the ordinary man and woman in the street; however, he never ceased to declare the whole counsel of God. He could so easily have ‘tickled people’s ears’, gone along with the crowd and had an easy life. However, he could have said with Paul, ‘For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God’, Acts 20. 27. It might not be palatable to people today to preach sin, repentance, and judgement, but Jeremiah teaches us that these are vital ingredients of the Lord’s message to rebellious men and women.

Third, Jeremiah’s journey through life reveals that ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’, 2 Tim. 3. 12. He was abused verbally and attacked physically. Are we prepared for such a journey? We will only be prepared to suffer for him tomorrow, if we are prepared to live for Him today!

Fourth, the word of God is timeless; therefore, the major themes in Jeremiah’s teaching are as relevant today as they ever were. The godless world in which we live needs to hear of a God of judgement, who calls upon men and women to repent, or face the consequences. Believers also need constant reminders of the need to walk in obedience to His word, or else they too will feel His chastening hand in their lives. The call to repentance is not to the sinner alone! Arrogant and proud men and women need to be told, time and time again, that God is in control of the affairs of men. However, the message must always be tempered with grace, mercy and hope for the future for those who walk in obedience to Him.

Fifth, Jeremiah’s experiences encourage believers to be honest with the Lord. Like him, we often do not feel ‘on top of things’ and, on occasions, depression can set in. Jeremiah travelled a lonely path, which was often devoid of fellowship with others. He lived in the real world, and he ‘was a man subject to like passions as we are’, Jas. 5. 17. However, when he was perplexed and depressed, he took it to the Lord, and found ‘grace to help in time of need’, Heb. 4. 16. We must do the same!

[Extracted from Old Testament Overview, Volume 5, Kings and Prophets Part 2 published by Precious Seed Publications]

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