It’s difficult to get a handle on the book of Jeremiah: it is long, was compiled over Jeremiah’s lifetime, and it covers a wide variety of subjects in a variety of ways. The lessons we get from Jeremiah can’t be easily summarised, but hopefully the following overview will help you to maintain a perspective of the book as you read.
Jeremiah was young and reluctant, but God called him to be a prophet just the same.
He started out as a prophet when Judah was ruled by Josiah, the last faithful king of Judah.
Within two decades of Josiah’s death, Judah was in serious political, social, financial, moral and spiritual decay. Gone were those days when the people of Israel felt the sovereign protection of their God, when
The lions of war were circling, in the form Babylon, Assyria and Egypt. Jeremiah prophesied at various stages during the political turmoil of these times. He watched as Judah tried negotiation, resistance, surrender and duplicity in any attempt to stay afloat, and to somehow protect its borders and national identity.
In the middle of this unrest, Jeremiah was the prophet who recalled the promises God made of old, the blessings and the curses of the covenant with Israel. God used Jeremiah to say, in uncompromising terms, exactly how the people had forsaken God.
The people were becoming godless, forsaking all of God’s commands. They didn’t fear him, respect him or even think of him. They pursued selfish gain and every kind of sin, all of which was the result of people desiring to be rid of God, to rebel.
Jeremiah pointed out to the people cowering before the might of other nations like Babylon that God himself had summoned this “lion” to judge, and pillage and destroy.
God’s people had to learn the hard way that sin, injustice and rebellion are an affront to a holy God. He was sick of the people who turned up to weekly worship but refused to do anything about their sins.
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.
Jeremiah called the people to repent, or “turn away” from their sins again and again…over 100 times in the book. He wept at the stubbornness of people, and the coming judgement that was evidence of their sinful condition. Preaching repentance was just as popular in Jeremiah’s day as it is today. He rattled so many cages that Passhur the priest came and beat him up and put him in the stocks.
Jeremiah faithfully fulfilled his thankless duty, hammering home the message, even as God began to hammer home his judgement. God’s people had to understand the nature, the cost of their rebellion. But in the broken and fractured earth God was digging up, God, through Jeremiah, plants a seed of hope.
Jeremiah foretold a return from exile, when those people who placed their faith in God would make up a “remnant” of Israel. They would be participators in a New Covenant, and live under a wise king: the prophesied Messiah, David’s “righteous branch”.
The old covenant was given to a nation of people who collectively failed to honour it, despite God’s unerring faithfulness and patience. The new covenant would be for those people whose obedience demonstrated that they had faith in God. God’s law, the spirit of the law, would be written on their hearts, and somehow, for those people, God would “remember their sins no more”. The broken, destitute, exiled communities of Israel and Judah would eventually be united in this new covenant community, and fulfill their calling to be the light of the world.