Jeremiah/his life and times
"The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to
the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear My words. Then I went
down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And
the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made
it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word
of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this
potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye
in Mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a
nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy
it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will
repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall
speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it,
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the
good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now therefore go to, speak to the
men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD;
Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now
every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good" (Jer
The predictions made by Yahweh's prophets are often
conditional, not absolute. Just as a potter exercises his prerogative to reshape
his work, God as the Master Potter may choose to do the same -- He may not
completely destroy His work. Yahweh may change His purpose with reference to His
people when they change their conduct either for good or bad. In other words,
the purpose of "prediction" can be to affect the conduct of the people to whom
the "prediction" is given. If disaster is prophesied, it is a warning to turn
from sin. If blessings are spoken of, it is to encourage the people to maintain
an affection and loyalty for Yahweh.
Jeremiah was born approximately in the year 645 BC, in the
reign of Manasseh. Judah had been a vassal of the Assyrian Empire for about 100
In the year 745 BC Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), ascended the
Assyrian throne. As he advanced toward the west, Rezin (of Damascus) and Pekah
son of Remaliah (of Israel) joined forces to repel him. They sought Judah's
help, but Judah wisely refused. However, Ahaz against Isaiah's protest sent a
large sum of tribute to Tiglath-pileser III to enlist his aid against Rezin and
Pekah. With that gesture, Judah became dependent upon Assyria.
Tiglath-pileser III crushed the combined forces of Rezin and
Pekah in 732, taking Damascus and large portions of Israel. Because she was a
vassal, Judah was saved from the succeeding ravages of Shalmaneser V (727-722)
and Sargon II (722-705) as they invaded what was left of Israel (Ephraim) and
destroyed the capital city of Samaria (721). Judah's price was high -- not only
was she a pawn to a foreign power, but she was forced to recognize Assyria's
gods in the Temple.
Hezekiah reversed the policy of his father, increasing his
efforts toward independence, while at the same time undertaking sweeping
religious reforms. However, when Sennacherib came to the throne (705-681),
things came to a head; Hezekiah openly rebelled against the proud Assyrian.
Sennacherib invaded Judah, reduced Judah's fortified cities, and slaughtered or
deported a large number of their population. Only a last-minute angelic
intervention spared Judah from complete overthrow at that time, and Sennacherib
returned to other pursuits. The capital was spared and Hezekiah retained his
throne, but the efforts for independence were short lived. When Hezekiah died,
his son Manasseh declared himself a loyal Assyrian vassal. Hezekiah had reigned
Sennacherib's successors, Esarhaddon (681-669) and
Asshurbanipal (669-627) conquered Egypt; during Manasseh's reign (697-642) the
Assyrian Empire reached its greatest physical expansion. It is no wonder the
Egyptians kept things stirred up in the area of Palestine -- they did not want
to become subject to the Assyrians.
Under Manasseh's reign, altars to the Assyrian deities were
erected within the temple confines; pagan practices of all sorts were given free
rein, the fertility cult with its ritual of sacred prostitution being tolerated
in the temple (2Ki 23:4-7; Zep 1:4). There was a general aping of foreign
fashions and ways (Zep 1:8) along with enormous interest in the occult. But the
most barbarous of all was human sacrifice -- with possibly even the king taking
the lead (2Ki 21:6). It is possible that with the passage of time, the people
worshipped the Assyrian gods and Yahweh side by side, without recognizing that
they were doing wrong. The inevitable result of such widespread apostasy is
found in Zep 1:9; 3:1-7. Those who dared to protest were dealt with severely
Assyria began to spread herself thin as a result of her
conquests; she could not protect her borders. She was being threatened by
various Indo-Aryan peoples to the north and the east. Chief among these were the
Medes, who had pestered Assyria for over 200 years, and were now becoming
potentially dangerous. Along the northern frontier, hordes of barbarians
(Cimmerians and Scythians) were now established. Asshurbanipal found himself in
trouble midway in his reign: Egypt, so recently conquered, could not be held.
Psammetichus (664-610) of Egypt withheld tribute and seceded from the empire,
because of Assyria's weak situation.
Asshurbanipal's brother, who had been appointed deputy king of
Babylon, rebelled against his brother in 652 BC, aided by Elam. (Manasseh may
have also rebelled at this time, thus explaining 2Ch 33:11-13). After a two-year
siege, the rebellion was controlled. In 640, Asshurbanipal began his march to
revenge. He conquered Elam, the Arab tribes and reasserted his authority in
Palestine. He died in 627.
Manasseh's son Amon reigned for two years and was assassinated
(642-640). Josiah, age eight, was placed upon the throne. When Asshurbanipal
died (627), there was a dispute for his throne between his two sons. This
plunged Assyria into civil war, leaving her very weak. Babylon took advantage of
this whole set of circumstances and sought her freedom. Nabopolassar (626-605)
took the throne from Assyria in 626. In 628 BC, Josiah had denounced the
Assyrian gods, in effect declaring Judah's independence; Assyria, torn with
civil strife, ceased to exercise even normal control over Palestine. With Judah
now truly free for the first time in over 100 years, Josiah could now carry out
his reform measures.
It might be well to have the following in our minds before we
- 645 BC: Jeremiah ("he whom Yahweh raises up") is born.
- 639: Josiah
("Yah heals" or "Yah is the foundation") begins his reign, at age 8.
Josiah serves the God of David.
- 627: Josiah begins his reform.
Jeremiah is called to the ministry.
- 621: The Great Reformation.
Josiah dies; Jeremiah, who has been silent for 13 years, resumes his
- 608: Jehoahaz ("Yah has seized or laid hold of") begins a reign
which lasts for 3 months.
- 608/597: Jehoiakim ("Yah will raise")
- 597: Jehoiachin ("Yah will establish") reigns for 3
- 597/586: Zedekiah ("Yah is righteous") reigns.
- 586: Jerusalem
and Zion razed to the ground, the people taken into captivity -- Jeremiah under
inspiration writes the Book of Lamentations.
Jeremiah's life is one of the loneliest and saddest in
Scripture. His personal experiences were bitter; the message of disaster he had
to proclaim was depressing and unwelcome; and the times in which he lived were
of unparalleled calamity. His cause was lost from the beginning, because the
people would not hear him. He was everywhere hated and misunderstood. While
intensely loving and grieving for his countrymen and his nation, he was despised
and persecuted as an enemy and a traitor.
In a period of forty short years Jeremiah witnessed a
temporary resurgence of true worship, saw it fall victim first to Egypt
(Josiah's death), then to Babylon and finally watched it destroy itself while
trying to break free from Babylon. His books reflect the tragic drama of the
situation. Out of his agony, the agony of his people, comes the somber note of
When Jeremiah began his ministry, he and Josiah were about the
same age. It is truly touching, watching these two young men -- king and prophet
-- laboring to turn the nation to righteousness as the smoldering judgments of
God hovered over the land; just as two young men -- a prophet and a king -- John
and Jesus, did in the days of the nation's final judgment.
It is notable that Jeremiah's ministry began just forty years
before the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple by the
Babylonians, as recorded in the Lamentations. We remember that Jesus began his
ministry just forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of
the Temple by the Romans. In each case we see a period of final probation given
to the city.
Jeremiah's mission was to witness for God against apostate and
worldly Judah. But his work was not only as a witness of condemnation; it had a
far more glorious purpose. It was to encourage and strengthen the scattered,
faithful remnant -- of his own day and of all the ages since, And in our present
time of crisis for the Truth, and imminent judgment, its message of comfort has
great and sustaining power.
When the terrible judgments came, it would appear that God had
completely rejected Israel, and that all hope was gone. But the lonely prophet
with his message of eventual glory was a symbol that God was still concerned
with them although they had been unfaithful, and his prophecies gave comforting
assurance that those who held fast would never be forgotten, and that, though
these dreadful evils should come, the latter end would be blessing and
The name Jeremiah has become in the world proverbial for a
pessimist. But we should know Jeremiah better than this. The world hates those
who call attention to its wickedness and folly, and who raise their voice to
warn of the judgments that will come upon it. But the duty of the watchmen is
clear, whether in Jeremiah's day or ours:
"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people
their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa
Jeremiah found he could not hold back: He must speak as God
"Then said I, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His Name.
But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was
weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jer
The Jews of Jeremiah's day are typical of human nature in
every age. They recognized that he was sent by God, yet they still blindly hated
him for his faithful testimony, and resented his forebodings of judgment.
Jeremiah lived in the day of the formation of the great image of Nebuchadnezzar
(Dan 2) -- the kingdom of men; we live in the days of the end of this great
image, and the time heralding the construction of that great Kingdom of God.
People do not change -- they do not really want to hear about the end of this
system, because they think it would mean the end of pleasure for them; they are
sometimes willingly ignorant of the true pleasure that awaits those who serve
the true King.
When the Book of the Law was discovered in Josiah's reign, it
is likely that he read of the evils which Moses had recorded would come about if
the Jews neglected God. He sent to inquire of God what he might do to avert this
judgment. God's answer was that it was too late; the calamities were on the way.
However, because Josiah was faithful and God-fearing, they would not come in his
day. Thus the first fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning a
northern invader, may have been averted because of Josiah and the resurgence in
his day of Judah's right worship. (The Scythians passed by Palestine. However,
the Babylonians would not.) While he lived Josiah indeed did God's will, so that
"All his days the children of Israel departed not from following the Lord" (2Ch
Not only did he cleanse Judah, but he was also instrumental in
reducing idolatry in Israel.
As a result of what he read in the book, Josiah kept a last,
great Passover feast in Jerusalem. The Passover was serene and peaceful, for it
commemorated God's blessings upon His children, and deliverance from slavery.
But God's blessings and forbearance were to cease, and Judah was to be delivered
into slavery again. God had taken the yoke of Egypt from Israel's shoulders, and
was about to replace it with the Babylonian yoke of iron because of their
disobedience (Lam 1:14).
Though for a time there was a great show of piety on the part
of the people, they failed to be truly transformed by God's Word. It appears
that the reform only brought about a superficial righteousness or change. God is
not and will not be mocked by hypocritical worship. The people had once more
rallied around a human leader and failed to recognize their true leader -- God.
When Josiah died the people once more turned from Yahweh. Josiah met his death
thirteen years after the great Passover at the hands of Pharaoh Necho. Josiah
delayed Necho long enough to prevent him from arriving in time to assist Assyria
in recovering from Babylon, in a sense sealing Judah's fate (God-decreed) as an
imminent victim of the newly arrived power (Babylon). God's Word also states
that the righteous Josiah had been taken away from the evil to come -- a very
sobering warning, had the Jews listened (2Ki 22:18-20).
It is recorded that Jeremiah renews his ministry by lamenting
for Josiah. Well he might, for he above all others would realize that with
Josiah's death, the last curtain fell on the happiness and well-being of Judah.
The nation now had 23 appointed years of existence left -- and they were to be a
terrible 23 years. The most prominent part of Jeremiah's ministry now begins. He
seems to have enjoyed an easy enough life up till now, but now he finds himself
at increasing variance with the nation and its rulers as they head down the road
The people made Jehoahaz, Josiah's son, king -- but he lasted
only three months. The king of Egypt took him prisoner and set up his brother
Jehoiakim in his stead. He reigned for eleven years, and Jeremiah had much to do
with this ungodly, hateful man. In the first year of this reign, God commanded
Jeremiah to stand in the temple court and proclaim to all the people that came
there, that unless they put away their wickedness God would make the Temple a
desolation and the city a curse.
"I will make this city as Tophet (byword, contempt)... the Valley of Slaughter"
The fifth year of Jehoiakim was the first year of
Nebuchadnezzar, and a very significant year. Jeremiah tells the people that they
have not hearkened to the Lord (Jer 25:3). Judah now has eighteen years left. At
this time Jeremiah understands that the captivity is to last for seventy years,
to fulfill the "sabbaths" which Judah has profaned.
Jeremiah is commanded to write these things in a book, and his
faithful aide Baruch does so and delivers it to Jehoiakim. When a few sentences
are read, the king seizes the book and begins to tear the pages, and cut them
with a knife, and cast them in the fire. The same is to be done to the children
of Judah themselves, as Ezekiel prophesied (Eze 5) They were so set in their
ways that Jeremiah records:
"Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king nor any of
his servants that heard all these words" (Jer
This seems to be the point at which the nation's doom was
finally sealed. Each step of wickedness led them deeper and deeper into the
Because of his prophecy, Jehoiakim seeks out Jeremiah, but the
"Lord hid him" (Jer 36:26). At this time, Jeremiah rewrote his book, this time
"adding many more words" to his book (Jer 36:32). For his insulting manner,
Jehoiakim receives the message that he is to be given the burial of an ass, Now
that his final written testimony of God has been nationally rejected, a new
phase begins. Jeremiah is commanded to keep himself separate from this people,
as a witness of their rejection by God. He is forbidden to join with them either
in mourning or in feasting. He found himself in the same isolated position as
the faithful find themselves in the world today. God often used the personal
lives of the prophets in this way -- as living examples and object lessons. Like
Jeremiah, God's people today are required to manifest a striking difference in
their lives from the surrounding world, so that they will be unmistakable
beacon-lights of the Truth. The way may seem hard, often demanding, but the
believer must remember God's words of encouragement --
"Be not afraid of their faces: I am with thee to deliver thee" (Jer
Jeremiah was told that the people would not hearken, but would
simply intensify their anger and resentment against him. Finally, the time came
when he was forbidden to pray for them (Jer 14:11,12). It had now come to this!
All opportunity for the nation has passed; they are doomed. However, there would
always be a remnant drawn out, so Jeremiah continued to preach and
Nebuchadnezzar has made his first invasion, and still they do
not listen to Jeremiah. In addition to this, Jehoiakim's reign was troubled with
plundering by the surrounding nations. God slowly reduced Judah to ashes --
Jehoiakim along with it. He dies and suffers the final indignity of an ass'
burial. Jehoiachin reigns for three months and is carried away captive to
Babylon. But in that three-month period he leaves behind a definite record: he
did evil in the sight of God.
Finally comes Zedekiah -- weak, cowardly, evil Zedekiah --
called by Ezekiel a "profane, wicked prince". Zedekiah was not as bitter toward
Jeremiah as Jehoiakim had been, but as disasters came upon Judah with increasing
frequency, he came to hate Jeremiah.
The better and more righteous of the people had been carried
to Babylon, as was shown in the vision of the figs (Eze 24). The very good figs
are those like Daniel whom God had caused to be taken to Babylon, to escape the
final dreadful days of the city. If we are found watching we will escape the
final days of judgment on this wicked age. Jeremiah sent a letter to the
captives in Babylon (Eze 29), telling them to seek the peace of the city, and to
wait patiently upon God, to pray to Him and trust in Him. His words here are
certainly for our benefit, for we are in practically the same position in the
world today -- "strangers and pilgrims", with "no continuing city." While the
false prophets are promising peace and safety and revival in two or three years,
Jeremiah promises the captives that they are to be in captivity for seventy
years -- but also that God will bring about a reversal, a return. God would not
cast off His people forever.
In the final years of the kingdom, Zedekiah plots with Egypt
against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar decides that there is only one solution --
complete destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. His army comes and besieges
Jerusalem; the details of the suffering are to be found in Lamentations.
Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah; God's answer is harsh:
"Deceive not your selves... the Chaldeans shall fight against this city, and
take it, and bum it with fire" (Jer
Jeremiah is then cast into a filthy dungeon (after being
beaten), where he remained many days. We are now in the ninth year of Zedekiah.
The city has eighteen months left. Again Zedekiah asks:
"Is there any word from the Lord?"
Again the answer comes:
"Thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon" (v
Jeremiah was released from the dungeon, but again the princes
demand that he must die. He is lowered into a cistern, and left there to die.
(He must be about sixty years old at this point.) He is then rescued by
Ebedmelech, Zedekiah's servant; and he stays in the prison court for the
remainder of the siege. Here he witnesses the happenings of which he writes in
Lamentations. The Babylonians enter the city and destroy the Temple -- which had
become a symbol of lip-service and outward ceremony (let us learn the lesson
here). Later, against his will, Jeremiah is taken to Egypt by the few who remain
in the land. We are not told in Scripture how, when, or where he dies.
"Jeremiah, your long sleep is nearly over. The satisfaction of duty done was
always yours, but soon you will see and know an even higher reward for your
steadfast service. Soon you will see your wayward nation turned from the error
of their ways and gathered again from all countries to the Land of their
fathers. Soon they will rejoice in the New Covenant which you foretold, and
honouring their King as 'The Lord our Righteousness.' Not long, now, Jeremiah,
and you will wake and behold, your sleep will be sweet unto you!" (HAW).The people had rejected the admonitions of the
The Kingdom of God on earth is rent. The glory departs Israel,
only to return momentarily in the person of Jesus Christ at his first advent.
The long Gentile night has begun.
"A characteristic of all the prophets of Israel is their dependence on Scripture
already in existence in their day. But -- in this respect Jeremiah surpasses all
the rest – and this not simply because there are 52 chapters in the book
bearing his name.
"His great love was the book of Deuteronomy. There are very few of his chapters
which do not carry some echo of that Scripture. It is commonly assumed (without
proof) that the Book of the Law discovered in the temple by the high-priest
Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father, was Deuteronomy. Some might be inclined to cite
Jeremiah's constant dependence on it as evidence for that conclusion.
"His other great mainstays were the Psalms and Isaiah. Of course he would grow
up familiar with the former because of his intimate acquaintance with the temple
service. The latter is not quite so expected. In fact, if the theorists about
post-Captivity Deutero-Isaiah are to be believed, his citation of anything from
Isaiah 40-66 is plain impossible.
"There is, of course, the possibility that Second Isaiah is quoting Jeremiah?
No, there isn't. It is Jeremiah and not the other, who has the habit of
copiously alluding to or quoting from Scripture. And an examination of how these
contacts between the two prophets occur (eg, Jer 11:19; 10:3-5,8,14) soon makes
plain which comes first, the hen or the egg.
"A personally compiled list, certainly incomplete, yields these figures about
Jeremiah's use of earlier books of the Bible: Gen – 8; Exo – 6; Lev
– 6; Num – 3; Deu – 40; Kings – 5; Psa – 27; Isa
– 36; Hos – 8; Amos – 5; Oba – 4; Mic – 5; Nah
– 2; Hab – 1" (HAW).