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. One was a picture of an almond branch to signify the Lord’s readiness to fulfill previous prophecies (11-12). The second vision consisted of a boiling pot, facing away from the North (13). God explained that it represented the 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).