Jeremiah — The Grieving Prophet
Written within the final generation of Judah’s existence as a nation before they were deported to Babylon, the book of Jeremiah delivered a message of judgment from God on the stiff-necked Hebrews who occupied the southern portion of ancient Israel. It also offered hope to those who would repent and put their trust in the God who was willing and able to save them through the trials to come.
With remarkable precision, in Jeremiah 1:1-6, the author identified himself as follows:
- Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, a priest
- A resident of Anathoth (a couple of miles north of Jerusalem)
- Ministering between Amon’s son Josiah’s 13th year as king, until the fall of Jerusalem in the 11th year of Zedekiah’s administration
- Called as an unmarried young adult
Designated by YHWH as a “prophet to the nations” (v. 5), Jeremiah was given authority not only to share God’s plan for his own people, but also for those surrounding Israel. Often called the “weeping prophet,” for twenty years Jeremiah delivered the Lord’s messages with tears of compassion, grief and frustration to whomever YHWH sent him. His secretary, Baruch, faithfully transcribed Jeremiah’s messages from the Lord—not just once, but at least twice—thanks to a stubborn king who burned the copy that was delivered to him (Jer. 36:27-28). Jeremiah was ridiculed, despised, plotted against and even imprisoned. Many times he expressed his discouragement to the Lord and his desire to be released from his unpleasant responsibility. Nevertheless, he never quit doing what God commanded, and he never lost faith.
According to Jeremiah 36:1-3, the first half of his book was recorded during the fourth year of Jehoiakim—which scholars date around 605 B.C. [p. 213, Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, © 1996, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.]. The second half was compiled over the following 20-25 years. Nelson’s further notes, “Jeremiah was a contemporary of Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Daniel and Ezekiel” [p. 215]. His ministry spanned the years around 627-580 B.C. He prophesied when Judah was threatened by Assyria and Egypt, then during the Babylonian invasion, and finally in Jerusalem and Egypt after the fall of Judah.
The book is not arranged chronologically, but seems to be more topical. It deals first with God’s proclamations to Judah, then His messages to the Gentile nations surrounding it. The final chapters—most likely added by someone else later—describe the fall of Jerusalem and what befell the survivors thereafter.
Jeremiah Chapter 1
Beginning in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign over Judah—after the king began to seek YHWH, but before the temple renovation began (See 2 Kings 22:1-7)—the Lord appeared to Jeremiah, the son of a priest in Anathoth (Jeremiah 1:1-2). According to Joshua 21:13-19, this was one of the cities allocated to the descendants of Aaron from the territory of Benjamin. Jeremiah continued to hear from YHWH until the deportation of Judah to Babylon in the eleventh year of King Zedekiah (Jer. 1:3).
From this we know the prophet’s ministry lasted at least the 41 years between 627 and 586 B.C., during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. Jeremiah witnessed the reforms of the last of Judah’s “good” kings, the excesses and removals of his sons and grandson, and the fall of Josiah’s corrupt and double-minded son, King Zedekiah.
God called Jeremiah by telling the young man He had known, set apart and appointed him to be a prophet—even before he was born (vv. 4-5). Jeremiah objected, saying he was too young to speak for God (6). YHWH told him not to worry about his age, “For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7, NKJV). He need not fear those to whom the Lord sent him, considering God’s promise, “I am with you to deliver you” (v. 8).
In Jeremiah 1:5, YHWH says He appointed Jeremiah “as a prophet to the nations.” So he was more than an ordinary prophet called to speak to God’s people. Verse 7 in the Septuagint uses the Greek verb, exapostello, which is related to the New Testament word for apostle. According to Strong’s Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, it means “send forth/away.”
In a manner akin to His calling of Isaiah, the Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “I have put My words in your mouth” (9). He then gave the prophet great authority over the foreign people groups and kingdoms of the Middle East, appointing him “to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (10). So Jeremiah was not only a communicator and envoy, but also had the power to execute the will of the Lord who sent him.
YHWH gave His new prophet two simple visions to start with. The first was a picture of the branch an almond tree. Modern day readers miss the significance of both this image and the word YHWH gave to Jeremiah. After the young man answered the Lord’s question, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” with “…an almond branch,” YHWH praised him for seeing correctly (Jer.1: 11, ESV). Then He explained, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (v. 12).
In the Hebrew language, the word shaqad, translated “watch over,” comes from the word, shaqed, or almond. This evolution occurred because the seed of an almond is shaped like an open eye! The Lord used this symbol show that He was certainly going to see that His proclamations through Jeremiah and other prophets would be carried out.
The second vision consisted of a boiling pot, facing away from the North (13). God explained that it represented an invasion from that direction, which He would send against all the cities of Judah (14-15).
The Lord told Jeremiah, “prepare yourself and arise” (17). He was instructed to repeat everything God commanded, or else YHWH would give him good reason to be afraid. The Lord said He would make His prophet like “a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against” the leaders and citizens of Judah who might oppose him (Jer. 1:18, NIV). Their opposition was inevitable, since God was confronting a people who had forsaken YHWH to worship other deities (vv. 16 & 19).
The first chapter concludes with this encouragement from the Lord: “They will fight you, but they will not defeat you. I am with you, and I will rescue you” (Jer. 1:19, GW).
Jeremiah Chapter 2
The Lord sent Jeremiah to declare publicly in Jerusalem His indictment of Israel. The prophet gave a history lesson reminding the people of how God married their ancestors in the wilderness (Jer. 2:1-2).
In verse 3 from the Lexham English Bible, we learn that, while they were there, “Israel was holy to Yahweh, the first fruit of his produce. All those who ate it were held guilty; disaster came to them.” This compared God’s people to the special offering of the earliest crops meant exclusively for God and His priests (Exo. 23:16-19, Lev. 2:12-16 & 23:17-20, Num. 18:8-13, Deu. 18:3-4). It was an affront to Him for anyone else to partake of the harvest before giving Him His due.
Next, God asked what fault they found in Him, that they forgot their Spouse and went after worthless idols instead (v. 5). He led them out of Egypt, through a desert land “of drought and the shadow of death,” where no one else lived “into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness” (Jer. 2:6-7, NKJV).
Once considered “holiness to Yahweh,” His people defiled the land and made it an abomination through their idolatry (vv. 3 & 7). Neither the priests, judges, rulers nor prophets did what they were supposed to. They did not know their God or keep His law, but “walked after things that do not profit” (8).
To the ends of the earth no other nation had traded its gods for some other deity—even though their gods weren’t real. “Yet, my people have exchanged their Glory for something that doesn’t help them” (Jer. 2:10-11, GW). To illustrate this defection, YHWH said His people had committed two evils: They had abandoned the Lord, their fountain of living water, and they’d built broken cisterns that could hold no water instead (v. 13)!
Then God gave the people a glimpse into their future. He showed His prophet the plunder of his people, the land laid waste and its cities burned and emptied (14-15). Because they trusted Egypt and Assyria, rather than God, they were bringing calamity upon themselves (16-18).
YHWH said to His unfaithful bride, “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backsliding will rebuke you…” (Jer. 2:19, WEB). They would see for themselves how bitter it was to forsake the commander of heaven’s armies. Over and over, God had rescued His people from bondage, yet they continued their lifestyle of spiritual prostitution (v. 20). Reminiscent of Isaiah 5:1-7, God talked about having planted a “noble vine” of high quality stock that turned into “the degenerate plant of an alien vine” (Jer 2:21, NKJV). Regardless of how hard the people of Judah tried to wash themselves, there was no way to remove the stain of her iniquity from God’s sight (v. 22).
Then YHWH compared the people of Judah to a camel or a wild donkey in heat for the way they had gone after foreigners and their gods (23-25). He said they felt no more remorse for their actions than a thief who’s only ashamed he’s been caught (26)!
What logic is there in calling a block of wood one’s father, or a pillar of stone your mother (27)? The only time Judah turned to YHWH was when they were in trouble, so He was determined to leave them to their impotent gods this time (27-28).
God had tried to correct His people, but they killed His messengers (29-30). They consistently resisted and rejected God (27, 31 & 32). Though she tried to make herself presentable to attract other allies, Israel’s skirts were stained with the innocent blood of her poor (33-34). Because she claimed innocence despite it all, God foretold the shame of abandonment and exploitation by the nations in which she trusted (35-37).
Jeremiah Chapter 3
God’s edict against the kingdom of Judah continued from chapter to through the first several verses of this chapter. He pointed out that, even in their own culture, the Jews understood how disgraceful it was for a man to take back his wife after they’d divorced and she’d been with another man. Yet they expected YHWH to take them back after they had committed spiritual adultery with many gods (Jer. 3:1)! They polluted their land by prostituting themselves with false gods at the top of every hill in Judah and Israel (v. 2). Because of her flagrant sins, YHWH resisted His nation’s appeals for favor and withheld the rain from His once-fertile land (vv. 3-5).
A new prophetic message begins in verse 6. YHWH referred to Israel and Judah as two unfaithful sisters—both married to Him. First He said that Israel went and played the harlot “up on every high mountain and under every green tree” with the northern kingdom’s idolatry (Jer 3:6-7, NKJV). So He divorced Israel and put her away, by sending that nation into captivity under Assyria (v. 8).
Judah saw this, but followed suit with idolatry of her own. That land was defiled by this spiritual adultery and only pretended to follow God (9-10). The Lord told the Judeans that the land of Israel, whom they had snubbed for years for their idolatry, was more righteous than Judah because of her pretense and treachery (11)!
YHWH appealed to the northern kingdom to return to Him and acknowledge her idolatry, so He could bring them back from their captivity and give them good leaders (vv. 12-15). He said the Ark of the Covenant—Israel’s traditional symbol of God’s presence—would no longer be the center of their religion. Instead, the nations would be drawn with the Hebrews to worship YHWH Himself and no longer “follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (16-17). Israel and Judah would “come together out of the land of the north” where they’d been exiled and return to their homeland (18).
Jeremiah 3:16 foretold that the Ark of the Covenant would be taken from Israel, yet the people would not remember, miss or try to replace it. This was apparently fulfilled, as the Apostle Paul later wrote in Hebrews 9:1-5 that no one in his day had seen or could describe the ark anymore.
As long as they persisted in apostasy, it was impossible for God to bless Israel (v. 19). He reminded her again of her treachery and foretold the weeping of the Israelites “on the desolate heights” for having perverted their ways and forgotten YHWH their God (21).
Just as He does to every human being who falls away from Him, God urged, “Return, you backsliding children, And I will heal your backslidings” (Jer. 3:22a, WEB). He won’t just forgive what we have done; He’ll fix what makes us broken and causes us to fall back into habitual sin!
In hope of this restoration, He prophesied through Jeremiah that they would return, acknowledging Him as YHWH their God (v. 22b). They would admit the vanity of their tumultuous activities on the hills and mountains and recognize “…Truly the salvation of Israel is in Yahweh our God” (23). Just as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 foretold for Israel if she forsook Him, the curses against their families and all they had worked for were devoured (Jer. 3:24). In abject humiliation their response would be, “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our disgrace cover us. For against Yahweh our God we have sinned,” from their earliest beginnings until the present, “we have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh our God” (Jer. 3:25, LEB).
Jeremiah Chapter 4
From the nation’s inception, God intended Israel to be an example to other people. In Jeremiah 4:1-2, He promised that, if they returned to Him and got rid of their false gods, Israel would dwell in security with truth, justice and righteousness, and other nations would trust in YHWH, as well.
Next, YHWH focused His attention on the men of Judah and Jerusalem, urging them, “Break up your fallow ground, and don’t sow among thorns” (Jer. 4:3, WEB). Those of us who have grown up around agriculture know that fallow ground is hard and resistant to seeds, due to its extended lack of cultivation. It has to be plowed before it can be planted. In Matthew 13:22, Jesus explained regarding the parable of the sower that thorny soil represents a heart infested by “the worries of life and the deceitful pleasures of riches,” which choke out God’s word so it is unproductive (GW). From this we might infer that God wanted the Jews to stop pursuing other things but prepare their hearts to receive His instruction.
This is confirmed in Jeremiah 4:4, where God said, “Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, and take away the foreskins of your heart…lest my wrath go out like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” As the Apostle Paul explained in Romans 2:28-29, God wants His people not only to be marked physically as His, but to lead the kind of lifestyle that honors Him and His righteous code of conduct. When we live contrary to His word, it proves we are the people of God in name only and we deserve destruction for living no better than those who don’t belong to Him!
God warned that He was preparing an invasion against Judah from the north (Jer. 4:5-6). Babylon was described as a lion coming to lay waste the nations—including Judah (v. 7). All the people would put on sackcloth and wail; the kings, noblemen, priests and prophets would be mortified (8-9).
At that point, Jeremiah interrupted, protesting to YHWH Adonai that He had deceived the Jews by letting them believe they would have peace. Yet He was bringing a sword against their very lives (v. 10).
Without missing a beat, the Lord went on to say that the invasion would be swift and powerful like a whirlwind (11-13). But then comes the cry, “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?” (Jer. 4:14, ESV).
Can you hear the Father’s heart in that statement? How many of us have dealt with unruly children while driving on vacation or to a celebration with family, saying, “Don’t make me stop this car!” The last thing we want to do is to delay our trip and discipline our children. We want to bless them, to take them to do something we will all enjoy. But as long as they are disrespectful toward us or each other, they’re just asking for trouble.
Likewise, as long as the nation continued in her rebellion, Judah’s doom was certain. Her wickedness and bitterness would bring down punishment upon her. (vv. 16-18)
Again, channeling the conflict in God’s own heart, Jeremiah cried,
O my soul, my soul!
I am pained in my very heart!
My heart makes a noise in me;
I cannot hold my peace,
Because you have heard, O my soul,
The sound of the trumpet,
The alarm of war. (Jer. 4:19, NKJV)
In His anger against an unfaithful bride, YHWH was proclaiming doom and destruction. Nevertheless, Jeremiah voiced God’s mercy toward His children, not wanting to destroy but to cherish. He identified so completely with His own that He described His tents being plundered by the enemy He was calling to destroy them (vv. 20-21). He called them foolish, silly children who don’t know or understand their Father. “They are skillful in doing evil, but they don’t know how to do good” (Jer. 4:22, WEB).
Using the exact verbiage of Genesis 1:2, God said He saw the earth “without form and void,” and heavens that had no light (Jer. 4:23). He foretold a time so unstable that the mountains were undulating, so both man and bird fled (vv. 24-25) In His anger against their sin, YHWH was going to break down their cities and turn His once-fruitful land into a wilderness (26).
Even though He was going to make the whole area desolate, God wasn’t going to destroy it completely (v. 27). Even though it pained Him to do so, the Lord was determined and would not change His mind. The earth would mourn and the sky turn black, but destruction was coming and the cities of Judah would be abandoned (28-29).
God said no matter how appealing Judah tried to make herself to her allies, “Your lovers despise you. They seek your life” (v. 30). She would bewail her fate, spreading her hands and saying, “I am done in! My life is ebbing away before these murderers!” (Jer. 4:31, NET)