One of my favorite scriptures is in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah prophesied in the court of the Lord’s house. The priest, Pashhur, beat him up and put him in stocks. When Pashhur brought Jeremiah out of the stocks, this is what Jeremiah said:
If I say, I will not make mention of the Lord or speak any more in His Name, in my mind and heart it is as if there were a burning fire shut up in my bones. And I am weary of enduring and holding it in; I cannot contain it any longer. Jeremiah 20:9
The following is from the preface of the book of Jeremiah in a friend’s Bible. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of it and I don’t know which Bible it’s from.
Date: 626-586 B.C.
Theme: Failure to Repent Will Lead to Destruction
Key Words: Repentance, Restoration
Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, was a prophet from the priestly town of Anathoth and perhaps was descended from Abiathar. The meaning of his name is uncertain, but “yahweh Exalts” and “yahweh Throws” are possibilities. More is known about the personal life of this prophet than any other in the Old Testament because he has given us so many glimpses into his thinking, concerns, and frustrations.
Jeremiah was commanded not to marry or have children to illustrate his message that judgment was pending and that the next generation would be swept away. His closest friend and associate was his scribe Baruch. Other than this he had few friends. Only Ahikam, Ahikam’s son Gedaliah, and Ebed-Melech seem to qualify. Partly, this was because of the message of doom proclaimed by Jeremiah, a message contrary to the hope of the people and one that included a suggestion of surrender to the Babylonians. In spite of his message of doom, his scathing rebuke of the leaders, and contempt for idolatry, his heart ached for his people because he knew that Israel’s salvation could not be divorced from faith in God and a right covenantal relationsip expressed by obedience.
Jeremiah prophesied to Judah during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. His call is dated at 626 B.C., and his ministry continued until a short time after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The prophet Zephaniah preceded Jeremiah slightly, and Nahum, Habakkuk, and Obakiah were contemporaries. Ezekiel was a younger contemporary who prophesied in Babylon from 593 to 571 B.C.
Jeremiah began his ministry in the reign of Josiah, a good king who temporarily delayed God’s judgement promised because of the frightful rule of Manasseh. Events were changing rapidly in the Near East. Josiah had begun a reform, which included destruction of pagan high places throughout Judah and Samaria. The reform, however, had little lasting effect on the people. Ashurbanipal, the last great Assyrian king, died in 627 B.C. Assyria was weakening, Josiah was expanding his territory to the north, and Babylon under Nabopolassar, and Egypt under Necho, were trying to assert their authority over Judah.
In 609 B.C., Josiah was killed at Megiddo when he attempted to prevent Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of the Assyrian remnant. Three sons of Josiah (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah) and a grandson (Jehoiachin) followed him on the throone. Jeremiah saw the folly of the political policy of these kings and warned them of God’s plan for Judah, but none of them heeded the warning. Jehoiakim was openly hostile to Jeremiah and destroyed one scroll sent by Jeremiah by cutting off a few columns at a a time and throwing them into the fire. Zedekiah was a weak and vacillating ruler, at times seeking Jeremiah’s advice, but at other times allowing Jeremiah’s enemies to mistreat and imprison him
The book consists mainly of a short introduction (1:1-3), a collection of oracles against Judah and Jerusalem which Jeremiah dictated to his scribe Baruch (1:4-20:18), oracles against foreign nations (25:15-38; chs 46-51), events written about Jeremiah in the third person, probably by Baruch (chs. 26-45), and a historical appendix (ch. 52), which is almost identical to 2 Kings 24 and 25. The prophecies in the book are not in chronological order.
Jeremiah had a compassionate heart for his people and prayed for them even when the Lord told him not to do so. Yet he condemned the rulers, the priests, and false prophets for leading the people astray. He also attacked the people for their idolatry and proclaimed severe judgement unless the people repented. Because he knew God’s intentions he advocated surrender to the Babylonians and wrote to those already in exile to settle down and live normal lives. For his preaching he was branded a traitor by many. Jeremiah, however, had their best interest at heart. He knew that unless God’s covenant was honored, the natin would be destroyed. God was also interested in individuals and their relationship to Him. Like Ezekiel, he stressed individual responsibility.
Jeremiah was just a youth when he was called to carry a severe message of doom to his people. He attempted to avoid this task but was unable to remain silent. The people had become so corrupt under Manasseh that God must bring an end to the nation. Defeated and teken hinto exile, they would reflect on what had happened to them and why. Then, after proper chastisement and repentance, God would bring a remnant back to Judah, punish the nations who had punished them, and fulfill His old covements with Israel, David, and the Levites. And He would give them a new covenant and write His law on their heats. David’s throne would again be established, and faithful priests would serve them.
The oracles against foreign nations illustrate the sovereignty of God over the whole world. All nations belong to Him and all must answer to Him for their conduct.
Jeremiah uses many literary styles and devices. His book is the longest in the Bible, and while some chapters are written in prose, most are poetic in form. His poetry is as beautiful and lyrical as any in Scripture. He effectively makes use of repetition, such as the phrase “by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence” (14:12), the threefold “earth, earth, earth” (22:19) and “the temple of the Lord” (7:4), and the words such as “a hissing” (18:16). Symbolism occurs in the use of the linen sash (13:1), the potter’s earthen flask (19:1), and the bonds and yokes (27:2). Cryptograms are used in 24:26 and 51:1,41. Jeremiah is a keen observer of plants and animals (2:21, 23). He has given us many beautiful phrases (2:13; 7:11; 8:20,22; 31:29,33).
Jeremiah saw that religion was essentially a moral and spiritual relationship with God, a relationship that required the devotion of each individual. Each person is responsible for his or her own sin. The new covenant (31:27-40) is the spiritual bond between God and the individual. Ths is the new and unconditional covenant that involves God’s writing the Law on human hearts, the forgiving of iniquity, and the remembering of sin no more. All this was fulfilled in the incarnatin of Christ and in the gospel He preached.
Much of the message of Jeremiah is relevant because it is timeless. Sin always must be punished, but true repentance brings restoration. Our idolatry, which consists of such things as wealth, talent, or position, is called by new names, but the sin is the same, and the remedy is the same. God calls for obedience to His commands in a pure covenantal relationship. Sin requires repentance and restoration; obedience leads to blessing and joy.
Through his action and attitude Jeremiah portrays a life-style similar to that of Jesus. He showed great compassion for his people and wept over them. He suffered much at their hands, but he forgave them. Jeremiah is one of the most Christlike personalities in the Old Testament.
Several passages from Jeremiah are alluded to by Jesus in His teaching: “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?” (7:11; Matt. 21:13); “Who have eyes and see not, and who have ears and hear not” (5:21; Mark 8:18); “Then you will find rest for your souls” (6:16; Matt. 11:29); “My people have been lost sheep” (50:6; Matt. 10:6).
The Holy Spirit at Work
A symbol of the Holy Spirit is fire. God assured Jeremiah, “I will make My words in your mouth fire” (5:14). At one point Jeremiah wanted to stop mentioning God, but “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (20:9). Today we would call this the work of the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah.
Apart from the normal work of inspiring the prophet and revealing God’s message to him, the Holy Spirit is the One to carry out the promise of a new covenant that will put God’s law in the minds of His people and write it on their hearts. The external commands of the old covenant will now be internalized, and the believer will have the power to conform in every respect to the moral law of God. The knowledge of God will be universal, and other peoples will be included in God’s blessing. Under the old covenant forgiveness was promised, but now forgiveness comes with the promise that God will remember their sin no more.