“Correct the way you have been living and do what is right.”
The seventeen Books of Prophecy record the messages of the writing prophets (those whose messages are preserved in writing) God raised up to speak for him following the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The failings of the Divided Kingdom Era prompted God to speak to Israel in the north and Judah in the south. They continued to speak to God’s people for over 400 years, including the exile to Babylonia and the return to the Promised Land. (1 Kings 12-Esther)
Studying the Prophets of Israel presents unique interpretative challenges. We must keep in mind the number one principle of interpretation—the Bible can never mean what it never meant. When we place the prophets in their proper literary and historical context a pattern emerges. We begin to see the prophets as Covenant Enforcer Mediators. (Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 167)
The prophets spoke for God to His people concerning the enforcement of terms of their covenant relationship with God. Each spoke to a specific generation of Israel or Judah to enforce the conditional covenant (Mosaic) in the context of the unconditional covenants flowing from the Abrahamic Covenant. Their message can be summed up in these sentences: You are mine! (Unconditional covenants, Romans 11:29). Walk with me and I will bless you. Walk away from me and I will call you back to myself through loving discipline. (Conditional covenant, Romans 9-11)
Under discpline from God, Judah is only seconds away from destruction. Jeremiah is called by God to the undesirable task of preaching repentance and doom to an affluent and self-satisfied, even smug generation of God’s people. In the book bearing His name, Jeremiah forces his countrymen to recognize their sin and begs them to turn back to God. A flood of judgment is coming and Jeremiah proclaims that message faithfully for forty years. They respond by intensely persecuting the prophet and he experiences deep sorrows at their hands: opposition, beatings, isolation, and imprisonment. The Babylonian army invades; discipline falls; and God’s justice and holiness are vindicated though it breaks Jeremiah’s heart.
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah the priest and lived just over two miles north of Jerusalem in Anathoth. God often led him to teach through object lessons—the rotten sash, the wine bottles, his single existence, the potter, the broken flask and many others. He was threatened by his neighbors in Anatoth, tried for his life by the prophets and priests of Jerusalem, put in stocks, forced to flee from an evil king, publicly humiliated by a false prophet, and thrown into a cistern. He lived during a time of wickedness in Judah, punctuated only by the reforms of Josiah. When Babylon conquered Assyria, he warned the kings of Judah against resisting God’s vessel of judgment. His prophetic contemporaries were Zephaniah and Habakkuk in the South, Nahum who prophesied against Ninevah, and Daniel and Ezekiel in Babylonia.
The theme is found in the object lesson at the potter’s house: A marred piece could be repaired while still wet (18:1-4), but once dried, a ruined vessel was fit only for the garbage heap (19:10-11). God’s warning is clear—Judah’s opportunity for repentance would soon pass. Patient but holy, God restrains His hand of judgment even during the times of Manasseh, the most wicked king in Judah’s history. He completely and enthusiastically served the Assyrians. Under his powerful pagan influence, Yahweh became merely one of many gods. The king built altars to astral deities in the Temple area itself. The old Canaanite fertility cults revived and cult prostitution was practiced inside the Temple. Even child sacrifice was resumed. Still, God held His judgment. Good king Josiah brought revival, but the roots of evil were too deep. After his death the people returned to paganism. Jeremiah then warned that the Babylonian captivity was inevitable, but he also proclaimed God’s gracious promise of hope through a new covenant (31:30-34). The New Covenant would give God’s people a new nature so that they could succeed where they had failed under the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.
Jeremiah is not easy to arrange. Four divisions are evident: the call of Jeremiah (1), the prophecies to Judah (2-45), the prophecies of the Gentiles (46-51), the fall of Jerusalem (52).
I. JEREMIAH’S CALLING Jeremiah is called and set apart before birth to be God’s prophet. His call to tell the truth to a stiff-necked people intimidates Him but God promises to put His words in His mouth. Jeremiah accepts the call by faith (1).
II. PROPHECIES TO JUDAH Jeremiah’s message to his countrymen comes through a variety of parables, sermons, and object lessons. His life literally becomes a living, daily illustration to Judah (2-45).
A. CONDEMNATIONS OF JUDAH In a series of twelve graphic messages, Jeremiah lists the causes of Judah’s coming judgment. He points out an alarming reality: The gentile nations are more faithful to their false gods than Judah is to her Living God (2-25).
B. CONFLICTS OF JEREMIAH Because of his message, Jeremiah suffers misery and opposition. He is rejected and persecuted by the political and religious establishment. The affluent population hates him and even friends from his hometown reject him (26-39).
C. FUTURE RESTORATION OF JERUSALEM The prophet assures the nation of restoration and hope under a new covenant. A remnant will be delivered and there will be a coming time of great blessing (30-33).
D. PRESENT FALL OF JERUSALEM Jeremiah once again comes under severe persecution and is expelled from the Temple. He sends his assistant, Baruch to read his messages to the people. Pleading with his countrymen to go into exile voluntarily, they resist Jerusalem’s collapse and captivity to the end. Nebuchaneezer establishes a puppet governor over the city and Jeremiah urges the people to stay put. They panic, running to Egypt for refuge and taking the unwilling prophet with them (34-45).
III. CONDEMNATION OF THE NATIONS A series of nine oracles against nine nations: Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus (Syria), Arabia, Elam, and Babylon. Only Egypt, Moab, Ammon, and Elam are given a promise of restoration (46-51).
IV. THE FALL OF JERUSALEM In this historic supplement, Jerusalem is captured, destroyed, and plundered. The leaders are killed and the captives taken to Babylon. Jeremiah’s forty year declaration of doom is finally vindicated in an event so significant to God that it is recorded four times in the Scriptures (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39, 52).
Messiah: Christ is clearly seen in chapter 23. He is the coming Shepherd (1-8) and the righteous Branch who “shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; Now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (5-6). He will bring in the new covenant which will fulfill God’s covenants with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-8), Moses and the people (Exodus 19:5-7; Deuteronomy 28-30), and David (2 Samuel 7:1-17).
IV. Jeremiah and You: Jeremiah assures God’s people that God is patient and kind but warns that there comes a time when we “cross the line.” After that, there is the sure prospect of cleansing judgment—our only hope for a fresh start with God. Parallels with Hebrews 6:1-12!
1. Who does God not allow to go on to maturity? (3) The generation of Jeremiah who shamed the name of the Lord. Likewise, in the church age believers who fall away in such a manner as to shame the name of Christ (v 4-6) will be reckoned with severely. They may have forfeited the privilege of moving on to maturity.
2. What must God do to these who are not capable of growth through repentance?
Take them into exile to purge sin from their hearts and give them a fresh start (Jeremiah 52, Zechariah, Haggai). Likewise, for New Testament believers he may bring such dramatic discipline (burn the field) to purge sin from their hearts to give them the gift of the possibility of a fresh start (v 7-8).
3. What is the warning?
Turn to God before it is too late (Jeremiah and Hebrews). Do not become sluggish (like the generations that did not inherit the promises) but imitate those who did through faith and patience (v 9-12).