The prophets had been giving Judah warning for hundreds of years yet YHWH always protected Jerusalem. Would Babylon be any different than Assyria? Jeremiah’s warnings did not fit the way the people of Judah saw YHWH or themselves, but no matter. He would be vindicated soon enough.
Jeremiah is the twenty-fourth book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible, it is part of the Nevi’im, the “Prophets.” Jeremiah is also considered the second of the “major prophets.” The book of Jeremiah is the compilation of the word of YHWH to Judah through Jeremiah, a priest of Anathoth, from the days of Josiah until the days of Zedekiah kings of Judah, and a narrative of the destruction of Jerusalem and its immediate aftereffects (Jeremiah 1:1-3; ca. 627-584 BCE). The book of Jeremiah pronounces the final condemnation of Judah for their persistent sin and provides a way forward for the Judeans during their exile.
The book begins with God’s call of Jeremiah as a prophet and a sign of the impending judgment of Judah from the north (Jeremiah 1:1-19). YHWH then makes His opening denunciation of Judah for their idolatry and unwillingness to turn to Him while extending mercy if they would just repent (Jeremiah 2:1-6:30). Jeremiah is then told to stand at the gate of the Temple and declare God’s judgment against the Temple and the people of Judah: YHWH has saved them before despite their sin but will do so no longer (Jeremiah 7:1-10:25).
Judah has broken covenant with YHWH; Jeremiah sees the wicked prosper, and God reminds him that His judgment is coming (Jeremiah 11:1-12:17). Jeremiah is then told to go and ruin a loincloth to represent the ruin of the pride of Judah; its people will be exiled, and the present drought is a foretaste of the difficulties to come (Jeremiah 13:1-14:12). Lying prophets will be exposed; YHWH will not relent of the promised disaster (Jeremiah 14:13-15:9). Jeremiah agonizes over his alienation among his own people, yet YHWH exhorts him to press on despite the present difficulties, for there is hope after the destruction takes place (Jeremiah 15:10-16:21). Until then, however, Judah’s sin remains; they have not kept the Sabbath, and judgment is coming (Jeremiah 17:1-27). The potter has control over the clay; why can YHWH not have His rightful control over Judah (Jeremiah 18:1-17)? Jeremiah is to break a flask and declare the breaking of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 19:1-15). Yet Jeremiah faces opposition for the people reject the fundamental basis of his declarations, and he despairs (Jeremiah 18:18-23, 20:1-18).
Jeremiah then has specific warnings for the king and the house of David, condemning them for their faithlessness and promising the coming of the righteous Branch (Jeremiah 21:1-23:7). Jeremiah also has sharp words for the lying prophets and the burden of Judah (Jeremiah 23:8-40). YHWH considers the first wave of exiles as good figs while those who remain are as bad figs; the people will experience seventy years in exile, having drunk the cup of YHWH’s wrath (Jeremiah 24:1-25:38). When Jeremiah compares Jerusalem to Shiloh, he is accused of treason and barely escapes death (Jeremiah 26:1-24). Hananiah contradicts Jeremiah when the latter exhorts Judah to bear Nebuchadnezzar’s burden; Jeremiah’s word against Hananiah comes true (Jeremiah 27:1-28:17). Jeremiah writes to the exiles, encouraging them to settle in and prepare to stay for awhile and contradicts his opponents (Jeremiah 29:1-32).
In the midst of such trial Jeremiah is given reason for hope: restoration of Israel and Judah, a new covenant, and the future Davidic ruler, illustrated by Jeremiah’s purchase of a field during the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 30:1-33:26). As the end draws nigh for Jerusalem and Judah the prophecies of Jeremiah to Jehoiakim and Zedekiah are set forth; the obedience of the Rechabites is highlighted; Jeremiah is accused of weakening morale, is cast into a cistern, and is rescued by Ebed-melech the Cushite (Jeremiah 31:1-38:28).
Jeremiah then provides the narrative of the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:1-18). As others are exiled to Babylon Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem; Gedaliah son of Ahikam is made governor but then killed in a conspiracy (Jeremiah 40:1-41:18). The Judahites who survived the conspiracy, afraid of Babylon, wish to go to Egypt; Jeremiah warns them against it but they deny the faithfulness of his words (Jeremiah 42:1-43:3). Jeremiah departs with the remaining Judahites to Egypt but he denounces their faithlessness and warns them that Nebuchadnezzar is coming for Egypt as well (Jeremiah 43:4-13). In Egypt Jeremiah denounces the Judahites for serving the “queen of heaven” and they defend their idolatry (Jeremiah 44:1-30). Baruch, Jeremiah’s secretary, obtains his life as a war prize for his faithfulness (Jeremiah 45:1-5).
The prophecies of Jeremiah conclude with nation oracles: Egypt (Jeremiah 46:1-47:28), Philistia (Jeremiah 47:1-7), Moab (Jeremiah 48:1-47), Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6), Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22), Damascus (Jeremiah 49:23-27), Kedar and Hazor (Jeremiah 49:28-33), Elam (Jeremiah 49:34-39, and an extended and vituperative condemnation of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:1-51:64). The book concludes with a retelling of the 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 narrative of the end of Jerusalem as a vindication of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jeremiah 52:1-34).
Jeremiah was given an unpleasant task and charged to tell inconvenient and unflattering truths to Judah. We hear his agony and distress in his words. To Judah he sounded treasonous; he was vindicated, but such was cold comfort for everyone involved. Six hundred years later Jesus of Nazareth had a similar unpleasant task, told similar unflattering truths to the Jews; He sounded treasonous yet was vindicated as well. Let us learn from Jeremiah and Jesus, truly trust in God in Christ even when the message is less than pleasant, and be rescued from this crooked generation!
Ethan R. Longhenry