Discovering Jeremiah

Jeremiah is the longest prophetic book in the Bible and the second longest book in all of Scripture, behind only Psalms. What is the purpose for this outsized prophetic record?

Background Information

Jeremiah was the son of a priest named Hilkiah, so he would have been raised and trained to be a priest as well (Jer 1:1). He lived in a town called Anathoth, about 3 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s name appears throughout the book as the personal recipient and source of God’s message revealed through this book.

Though Jeremiah was the source for the material in this book, another man named Baruch served as his scribal secretary, writing down much of the message for him (Jer 32:12-13, 16; 36:4-5, 8, 10-19, 32; Jer 45:1-5).

Though some modern scholars have attempted to discredit the authorship of Jeremiah, many sources strongly attest to his authorship. These sources include ancient historical, secular records from Babylon, Egypt, and Persia, as well as other biblical books (2 Chr 36:21; Ezra 1:1; Dan 9:2).

Jeremiah was approx. 20 yrs. when he began his prophetic ministry and he served in this role for the remainder of his life, until approx. 60 yrs. old. When Babylon invaded Judah at last in 586 BC, just as Jeremiah had prophesied, he remained in the land but was eventually deported to Egypt against his will. His ministry concluded by delivering God’s message to those Jews who fled to Egypt to escape God’s judgment (Jer 44:1).  

We commonly call Jeremiah “the weeping prophet” because he experienced an extremely sad, sorrowful life and ministry and prophesied many terrible things to people who refused to listen (Jer 13:17). For this reason, his message exhibited a strong emotional depth of sorrow both for his own personal difficulties and the coming difficulties of God’s people (Jer 12:1-4; 15:10). Despite his generally sad life, he was probably wealthy to some degree, for he was easily able to purchase the land of a deceased relative (Jer 32:6-15).

Altogether, Jeremiah’s message of coming doom and judgment on Israel caused Jewish kings, priests, so-called prophets, other political leaders, and the people of Israel in general to despise him and reject his message. He had no wife or children and was at one point imprisoned in a muddy pit (cistern) below ground, accessed only by rope and with no food or water (Jer 38:1-13). False prophets, whom people respected over him, accused him of being dishonest and of not being sanctioned by God (Jer 29:24; 43:1-3).

After the Babylonian invasion, the Babylonians released Jeremiah from prison and offered him benefits and protection (Jer 39:11-14). Unfortunately, the governor whom Babylon appointed over the region – who was favorable to Jeremiah – was murdered by Jewish dissidents, rebellious Jews deported him to Egypt, where he remained and continued to prophecy until his death, which is unrecorded.

Purpose for the Book

Jeremiah provided this extensive message to Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel which had not yet been invaded or taken into captivity as the Northern Kingdom (northern ten tribes) had been by Assyria. He urged the political and religious leaders as well as the rest of the people, both rich and poor, to turn away from their idolatrous lifestyles and return to God in faith.
If they refused to repent, Jeremiah assured them that invasion and captivity by Babylon would be inevitable. When this would happen, Jeremiah told them to accept this invasion rather than attempting to flee or resist since it would come as God’s judgment and punishment due to their rebellion against him.

Though Jeremiah offered a bleak outlook and a negative message, he also offered hope. He prophesied that their captivity in Babylon would last only 70 years, after which Babylon would be defeated and Israel would return to their land (Jer 25:11, 12; 29:10; 30:1-3ff). What’s more, he also foretold the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). This covenant from God would consist of forgiveness of sin, the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel, and genuine, inward spiritual transformation. This New Covenant finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ and receives significant attention in the New Testament (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25; Heb 9:15; 12:24).

Outline and Content

The material within this book generally follows a chronological, historical progression. Here is how Old Testament scholar, Gleason Archer, outlines the book:

  • Prophecies under Josiah and Jehoiakim (1:1–20:18)
    • Prophet’s call and commission (1:1–19)
    • Sin and ingratitude of the nation (2:1–3:5)
    • Prediction concerning devastation from the north (the Chaldeans) (3:6–6:30)
    • Threat of Babylonian exile (7:1–10:25; the famous Temple Sermon, cf. 26:1-24)
    • Broken covenant and the sign of the girdle (11:1–13:27)
    • Drought; the sign of the unmarried prophet; the warning about the Sabbath (14:1–17:27)
    • Sign of the potter’s house (18:1–20:18)
  • Later prophecies under Jehoiakim and Zedekiah (21:1–39:18)
    • Nebuchadnezzar, God’s instrument to punish Zedekiah and Jerusalem (21:1–29:32)
    • The future Messianic kingdom (30:1–33:26)
    • Zedekiah’s sin and the loyalty of the Rechabites (34:1–35:19)
    • Jehoiakim’s opposition and his destruction of the prophetic scroll (36:1–32)
    • Jeremiah in jail during the siege (37:1–39:18)
    • Prophecies after the fall of Jerusalem (40:1–45:5)
    • Ministry among the remnant in Judah (40:1–42:22)
    • Ministry among the fugitives in Egypt (43:1–44:30)
    • Encouragement to Baruch (45:1–5)
  • Prophecies against the heathen nations (46:1–51:64)
    • Egypt (46:1–28)
    • Philistia (47:1–7)
    • Moab (48:1–47)
    • Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Arabia, Elam (49:1–39)
    • Babylon (50:1–51:64)
  • Historical appendix (52:1–34)
    • Events of the fall and captivity of Judah

Jeremiah provided many prophecies about the future, whether that be future judgment and captivity from Babylon, eventual restoration to the land, or God’s long-range plans of total spiritual transformation and the fulfillment of all his promises in eternity.

He also utilized a variety of object lessons, including: buying, burying, and retrieving a linen sash (Jer 13:1-11), visiting a potter’s house (Jer 18:1-11), wearing a cattle yoke (Jer 27:2-11), and purchasing long-term real estate even though the nation was under siege (Jer 32:6-25).

In addition to these things, this book provides a fascinating variety of autobiographical details from Jeremiah’s life and ministry as well as other interesting historical information about the cultural, religious, and political elements of that period.

Personal Takeaways

Though we do not live in the southern kingdom of Israel during Jeremiah’s lifetime and the onset of the Babylonian captivity, there are many ways that the message of this book can form our faith and influence our lives today. Here are a few examples.

We should speak the truth whether or not it is well received. Though Jeremiah presented the very message of God, offered a message of hope, and spoke from a heart of compassion and genuine sincerity, people still rejected his message and also rejected him. In an even greater way, the same thing happened to Christ. Therefore, we should not be discouraged when we speak the truth in love and faithfulness today and people reject our message and our friendship.

Though God is longsuffering and patient, he does judge sin at the appropriate time. He provided Israel with many warnings, from Moses before they entered the Promised Land all the way through the centuries that they inhabited the land, up through the ministries of men like Jeremiah at the very end. But when Babylon invaded them, God’s judgment was certain, painful, and just as predicted. We can rest assured that God will judge the sin of our world just as swiftly when the right time comes. Even then, his judgement will endure for a fixed and definite period of time and is not open-ended.

Though many of God’s promises are fulfilled through Israel, his plans and heart are for the entire world. As the prophecies of Jeremiah reveal, God both judges and offers salvation to the peoples of the world, not just Israel.

We look forward to a future day when all Israel will be saved and all people will serve and worship God from their heart. This is the promise and hope of the New Covenant. Though Christ’s suffering on the cross and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit provide the foundation for the fulfillment of this New Covenant, the true, full fulfillment of this New Covenant is yet to come. Through the suffering that we endure today, we – like Jeremiah – can look forward with great anticipation to that future and eternal kingdom.

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