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The Man

Jeremiah was a member of a priestly family living in Anathoth, a town given to the priests of the tragic Ithamar family which was the subject of a divine curse delivered to Eli (1 Sam. 2:27-36; the connexion between Eli and Ithamar can be traced from 1 Samuel 14:3, 22:10, and 1 Chronicles 24:1-6). The prophet was an outstanding member of his family, untouched by the unfaithful character of many of his forbears (e.g. Abiathar, 1 Kin. 1:5-7; 2:26). He does not appear to have had any priestly duties to perform but was free to devote his whole time to his God-given work. He was divinely marked out for the prophetic office before his birth and when but a youth he received his assignment, one of the most difficult ever given to a servant of God (Jer. 1:5,17-19). His natural timidity caused him to recoil from the task of speaking the word of God to an idolatrous and rebellious people but God touched his mouth and said, "Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth: see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms... to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to~ plant" (1:9,10). He well knew how barren the soil was upon which he had to work and in his subsequent experience there were times when he would have refrained from utterance had not the very power of the message overcome him (20:7-9).

His intense love for Jerusalem, the house of God and the people of God is clearly conveyed to us in his life and writings. God would chastise His people for their sins and Jeremiah was His mouthpiece; because of this he was misunderstood by his fellow-countrymen and lived a life of sadness and alienation from them. He lived to see the beautiful city and Solomon's magnificent temple destroyed and the divine services brought to an end. All that was left for him was to weep; weep more bitterly than he had done many years before at the death of good king Josiah (2 Chron. 35:25). It is not surprising that he is sometimes called the weeping prophet and perhaps that is why the Lord Himself was thought by some to be Jeremiah (Matt. 16:14).

His Times

About one hundred years before Jeremiah began his prophecy the northern kingdom of Israel was overthrow~ by the Assyrians. From that time, until its fall, Jerusalem underwent repeated attacks, first by the Assyrians, then by the Egyptians and finally by the Babylonians. During this disturbed period it was Judah's repeated experience that peace and safety resulted from trust in God but the lesson was never properly learnt. Even when Jeremiah came to underline God's message time and time again there was no response from a people hardened in sin.

Soon after the prophet began his public ministry Josiah, Judah's last good king, was killed in battle when he unwisely attacked the Egyptian army passing through on an expedition to the north. Josiah's successors were weak and evil men whose counsellors were unable to read the signs of the times to discern that the hand of the Lord was against them. The people were steeped in idolatry as the result of Manasseh's long, wicked reign and their return to the Lord under Josiah had been superficial (3:6-11). The mass of the people resumed their idol-worship when they were no longer influenced by the fine example of that godly king. Such was the dark background to Jeremiah's forty years' witness to an unresponsive people.

His Message

Apart from the occasional mention of millennial restoration, the bulk of Jeremiah's prophecies to his own countrymen are to be viewed in the light of the divine pronouncement of judgement on Judah and Jerusalem uttered during the reign of wicked king Manasseh. At that time an ingrained tendency to idolatry seemed to grip the hearts of the people and an obstinate refusal to repent manifested itself. All divine warnings were ignored until at last there was no remedy. "Behold, I bring such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle... I will cast off the remnant of Mine inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies" (2 Kin. 21:12-14). Such words were obviously no call to repentance and restoration, the time for this was past. It was an irrevocable pronouncement which would in some measure affect even the most faithful. Jeremiah himself was to suffer with his erring brethren. It was for this reason that, in its main trend, the prophet's message did not offer salvation to the nation for repentance, although a measure of blessing was indicated for the exercise of faith. Continuance of the divine gifts of peace and prosperity had been forfeited because the covenant condition of obedience to God's word had been broken for years without number. The long-suffering of God had at last come to an end. The same principle operates in every age. The present offer of eternal salvation by the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God to the sinner will soon end because of man's continued intransigence. May the solemn warning be taken to heart; divine judgement, although delayed, is inevitable!

One of the major themes of this prophecy was that the threatened Chaldean invasion would soon materialize. The enemy would come against Jerusalem and destroy it (1:15; 25:9-11; 13:23,24; 15:1-6). Jeremiah stressed the impossibility of God changing His mind. But there was a way of escape. Those who stayed in the city and fought against the enemy would suffer starvation, pestilence, the sword and death, whereas those who surrendered, although losing their liberty, would be safe in the hands of the Chaldeans (21:4-10). But there were many false prophets who insisted that the Lord would save Jerusalem and the captives previously taken would return (28:1-4). Jeremiah firmly contradicted these falsehoods, predicting the early death of Hananiah, a prominent false prophet. This came to pass, showing to all that Jeremiah was a prophet of the Lord (see Deut. 18:21,22).

An outstanding phase of the prophet's life, closely linked with his Spirit-given part in the writing of Holy Scripture, was the dictation of his prophecies to Baruch the scribe, who subsequently read to the people in the house of the Lord what was thus written. The significance of the message was not lost on the princes, who commanded Baruch to read it again to them. They realized that they had heard the word of God and knew it would anger the king whose ungodly behaviour was being so obviously condemned. So they told Baruch to go into hiding with Jeremiah while they read the book to the king. In foolhardy defiance of the word of God the ungodly king quickly cut it with a knife and burnt it in the fire (chapter 36). His hostility towards the Scriptures of truth is strongly contrasted with the attitude of his father Josiah in similar circumstances; he was commended by the Lord on account of his tenderhearted concern that the word of God should be implicitly obeyed (2 Chron. 34:18-28). But Jehoiakim's action could not thwart divine judgement. Jeremiah and Baruch were further commissioned by the Lord to re-write what had been destroyed, adding "many like words".

Besides prophesying to his own people, Jeremiah was given a message to the nations round about. Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Babylon were all included in a series of oracles which listed their misdeeds and described their imminent punishment. For some, including Israel, millennial restoration is prophesied (46:25-28; 48:47; 49:6; 49:39). But for Babylon there was no such promise, she would be desolate for ever (51:59-64) as is also foretold in Revelation 18:21-24.


As might be expected the true prophet's message of doom to the Jewish people was unpalatable to them and objectionable to their rulers. Suspected of being in league with the enemy, Jeremiah was subjected to frequent persecution. Quite early in his ministry a plot was laid against him by his own family in Anathoth, but a divine warning enabled him to escape (18:18-23). On another occasion Pashhur, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, struck the prophet and put him in the stocks for the night (20:1-6). Later, when at the command of the Lord Jeremiah stood in the court of the Lord's house proclaiming that God would make the place like Shiloh and the city a curse, he was adjudged worthy of death. He was publicly tried, but the influence of Ahikam the son of Shaphan saved him that day.

For a time Jeremiah was kept in prison in the court of the guard (32:1,2; 33:1). This was in the reign of Zedekiah when the city was invested by the Chaldeans and starvation for all was looming (37:21). The princes of Judah hated the prophet and obtained the weak king's consent to throw him into the lowest dungeon. There, sinking in mud, he would have been left to languish and die had it not been for the courageous and godly Ethiopian, Ebed-Melech, who persuaded the king to change his mind and order Jeremiah's rescue, which was accomplished under the Ethiopian's wise direction. Although remaining in custody in the court of the guard, Jeremiah was not allowed by the Lord to starve like the rest of the people, he was allotted a daily loaf of bread while food lasted. He was kept there in safety until the city was taken, when he was released by the Babylonian captain and well treated (40:14).

After the fall of Jerusalem the prophet was allowed to remain in the land with others whom Nebuchadnezzar chose to leave behind. However, intrigue, bloodshed and continued rebellion against the word of the Lord resulted in their going down into Egypt to escape the wrath of the now all-powerful Chaldeans. Jeremiah was forced to go with them and in Egypt he continued to remind the people of their misdeeds and consequent divine judgement. The destruction of their city seemed to have had but little effect upon their evil minds for they still persisted in burning incense to the queen of heaven in what they thought was the safety of Egypt. But Jeremiah's word from the Lord was that the Chaldeans would soon destroy Egypt and engulf them as well (ch. 44).

The prophet seems to have ended his days in obscurity in Egypt, perhaps deeply affected by the sad issue of his life's work. Few seemed to have listened or taken his message to heart. He had experienced many disappointments. He had made many enemies and few friends. All the doom he had foretold had been enacted before his eyes.

Reviewing his life, we too may wonder whether it was a failure. But it was the Lord who had said at the beginning, "I watch over My word to perform it" (1:12). With such a promise in mind we look a little deeper and consider events the prophet did not live to see. The Jewish exiles in Babylon studied his writings, particularly those which dealt with the return of a faithful remnant to Jerusalem after serving the Chaldeans for seventy years (29:10). Daniel was prominent in this exercise (Dan. 9:2), probably influencing many of his fellow Jews who, few in number but revived in spirit, undertook the long journey back to the beloved city to rebuild the house of God. So the prophet's faithfulness to the word of God had at last begun to bear fruit and God-fearing men and women have ever since found spiritual profit in the writings of Jeremiah.