Jeremiah has been referred to as the “weeping prophet.” The message of warning and woe God gave him is heartbreaking, but it also contains a message of hope.
Jeremiah was born in the village of Anathoth, where his father was a priest (Jeremiah 1:1). The town was in the territory of Benjamin, which was part of the southern kingdom of Judah.
The Hebrew name Jeremiah may mean “the Lord exalts” or “the Lord establishes” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary), and it may refer to the fact that Jeremiah was one of the few people mentioned in the Bible as being sanctified (set apart) by God before his birth for a special mission and purpose (1:5).
Jeremiah’s ministry began in the 13th year of King Josiah (1:2) and continued during the last five kings of Judah—a period of about 40 years. Josiah was one of Judah’s most righteous kings who implemented various reforms. When he died, Jeremiah lamented bitterly for him (2 Chronicles 35:25). After Josiah, four unrighteous kings ruled, namely Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and, lastly, Zedekiah, who was on the throne when the Babylonian forces destroyed Jerusalem and burned the temple.
Jeremiah’s book is the longest of the prophetic books, longer than Isaiah or Ezekiel. The 12 Minor Prophets combined are a third shorter.
A summary of Jeremiah’s life
Collins Bible Companion states in its introductory comments on Jeremiah: “Jeremiah lived through the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. He consistently warns of impending disaster, brought about by the nation’s neglect of true religion, its turning to pagan practices and its social injustice. Its blind trust in its covenant relationship with God is a delusion, as are its false prophets with their message of peace. But no one listens to the prophet. He is heart-broken and argues with God about his seemingly impossible mission to make people listen.”
Because of his dire predictions against Judah, Jeremiah was continually subjected to persecution, ridicule and hostility from kings and rulers, and he was even cast into a dungeon filled with mire or sewage (Jeremiah 38:6).
Jeremiah was not the only prophet of his day, as Habakkuk and Zephaniah were among his contemporaries. He also overlapped the time of Ezekiel, who was in captivity in Babylon. It is striking that the substance of the messages both Jeremiah and Ezekiel proclaimed was similar, despite the fact that one prophesied in Palestine and the other in Babylon.
Historical background of Jeremiah
During Jeremiah’s ministry, in 612 B.C., Assyria fell to Babylon, which became the dominant military power. Nebuchadnezzar’s army partly destroyed Jerusalem in 604 B.C. and took people captive to Babylon in the first of three main removals. The second group of exiles was taken to Babylon in 597 B.C., and the third and final removal occurred around 586 B.C. when Jerusalem was burned and destroyed.
During these invasions Jeremiah was divinely protected and given freedom and supplied with provisions by the captain of the invading army (40:2-5). King Nebuchadnezzar not only spared his life, but ensured that he was well provided for (39:11-14).
Later Jeremiah was taken against his will, together with his secretary, Baruch, and the daughters of King Zedekiah (of King David’s dynasty) to Egypt (43:5-7). However, they escaped and returned to the land of Judah (44:28). Their ultimate fate is not clearly recorded in the Bible.
Jeremiah was appointed “a prophet to the nations” (1:5) and to “all the kingdoms of the world” (25:26). He was especially sent to both Judah and Israel (30:4). Even though a large part of his message was directed to the people of Judah, he was also instructed to prophesy to the nation of Israel. This is of special significance since the northern 10 tribes of Israel were punished and taken captive in 722 B.C., about 100 years before Jeremiah began his ministry.
Why is this fact significant?
It is illogical to imagine that his prophecies refer to ancient Israel prior to Israel’s captivity in 722 B.C. That would be similar to a prophet predicting World War I or World War II long after they occurred.
Passages in Jeremiah clearly refer to the period just before the return of Christ at the end of this present era of man’s rule. It is evident that there is a warning message for the modern descendants of the people of Israel. Through Jeremiah, God warns our modern-day nations that rejecting God and biblical teachings would lead to moral and spiritual debasement and would exact a terrible penalty.
The lamenting prophet
Jeremiah is often characterized as a cheerless doomsayer with a pessimistic prophetic message. This is a one-sided impression that is not based on the entire contents of the book. He faithfully proclaimed the message that God gave—a warning message of impending punishment unless the people repented of their willful disobedience.
However, Jeremiah’s message also contained remarkable and joyous prophecies of mercy, deliverance and an abundant life for all. He foretold a time when the Messiah would return to abolish human suffering, wars and misery. Through Jeremiah, God revealed the way to the change of heart that will make a world of peace possible. Jeremiah was an Old Covenant prophet with a New Covenant heart.
Jeremiah is pictured as a person who wept and mourned over the wickedness and unrepentant attitude of his people (see 9:1, 10; 13:17; 48:32); however, his sorrow was not a weakness but an indication of a spiritually strong and mature individual. Jeremiah was in good company, as Jesus Christ Himself is described as a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Furthermore, Christ stated, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
Outline of Jeremiah
Below is a brief outline of the book of Jeremiah:
Chapters 1-39: Prophecies before the fall of Jerusalem.
- Chapter 1: Jeremiah’s call and commission.
- Chapters 2-10: The sins of the people and God’s judgment.
- Chapters 11-20: Jeremiah in despair; he seeks answers from God.
- Chapters 21-29: Jeremiah and the leaders of the nations.
- Chapters 30-33: Restoration promised.
- Chapters 34-39. The kingdom of Judah disintegrates.
Chapters 40-52: Prophecies after the fall of Jerusalem.
- Chapters 40-45: The foolish leaders of Judah; Jeremiah taken to Egypt.
- Chapters 46-51: Judgment against the nations.
- Chapter 52: Appendix: the fall of Jerusalem reviewed.
False sense of security
The people of Judah failed to learn an important lesson highlighted in chapter 7. The word from God was clear: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place’” (verse 3).
The Jews were under a false impression that just because the temple of the LORD was in the middle of Jerusalem, they were entitled to “trust in lying words,” to “steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely” and at the same time “come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name” (7:8-10).
This attitude suggests religious hypocrisy.
In effect, they were saying: we call ourselves godly, but we don’t want God to tell us what to do or how to live. This approach demonstrates what Christ said in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not … done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
In writing to Titus, the apostle Paul stated: “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16).
God is the Potter, and we are the clay. The clay has no right to demand anything of the potter; and if the potter wants to remodel the clay, that is entirely up to him.Merely displaying an outward show of Christianity without submitting to the will of God is hypocritical and unacceptable in His sight.
The Potter and the clay
In chapters 18 and 19 Jeremiah employs the analogy of the potter and the clay to illustrate a fundamental biblical principle. God is the Potter, and we are the clay. The clay has no right to demand anything of the potter; and if the potter wants to remodel the clay, that is entirely up to him.
In like manner, we should be willing to have God reshape us according to His will and purpose. We serve a loving and compassionate God, and whatever shape He decides to mold us into will only be for our benefit. God will bless those who respond positively (Jeremiah 18:8-11).
Some important passages to study
Listed below are some important scriptures from the book of Jeremiah that warrant further study.
Rejection of God and the Scriptures
- 5:3: “They have refused to receive correction.”
- 6:15: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No!” (see also verses 10, 13-19).
- 7:28: “This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the LORD their God nor receive correction” (see also verses 23-27).
- 8:10-11: “Everyone deals falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace.”
- 9:3: “They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil.”
- 16:12: “Each one follows the dictates of his own evil heart.”
- 32:23: “They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do.”
- 5:15-17: Israel will be oppressed by a powerful and cruel nation.
- 8:15: “We looked for peace, but no good came.”
- 9:15-22: God describes a time of great sorrow.
- 23:1-40: God identifies false prophets and pronounces judgment against them.
- 30:7: “The time of Jacob’s trouble.”
Call for repentance
- 10:24: “O LORD, correct me.”
- 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (see also verse 10).
- 18:6-8: Those who repent will be blessed.
After Christ returns, blessings will abound
- 3:17: The nations will gather at Jerusalem in peace.
- 6:16: God offers “rest for your souls.”
- 31:31-34 and 32:39-44: God institutes a New Covenant.
- 33:6-26: God extends mercy and a time of restoration.
- 46:27: “No one shall make him afraid.”
- 50:5: “Come and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant.”
Have we forgotten God?
Biblical prophecies reveal that one of the major reasons punishment is pronounced on people who claim to follow God is that they have forgotten Him. God states through Jeremiah: “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number” (2:32; see also 13:25; 18:15).
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln eloquently stated the following in a proclamation in the midst of the Civil War on March 30, 1863: “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand, which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.”
As a keen student of the Bible, he may have reflected on the following scriptures in Deuteronomy 8: “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today. … If you by any means forget the LORD your God, … I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish” (verses 11, 19).
Are we guilty of forgetting the God we claim to worship? Is there a progressive deterioration of our moral fiber as we forget the One who gave us our resources in the first place? Unless this trend is reversed, the consequences are unthinkable.
One final thought
Although Jeremiah proclaimed a sad message about sin and punishment, he also conveyed the real hope of God’s great plan.
What thoughts occupy the mind of God when He considers us?
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
As God announced: “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Since God has given us free will, it behooves each of us to seriously consider what choice we will make!
To learn more about Jeremiah, read the article “Jeremiah the Prophet.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.