Jeremiah prophesied for around 40 years through the reigns of at least five kings of Judah. He was rejected as a false prophet, beaten, and imprisoned for treason. Eventually he was taken, against his will, into exile in Egypt where he eventually died. So let us see what we can learn from Jeremiah.
“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. Also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, up until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, right up to the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.” (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
It is possible that Jeremiah’s father Hilkiah is the same Hilkiah who was High Priest when Josiah was king. The one mentioned in 2 Kings 22 in connection with the book of the law that was found during the refurbishment of the temple. I lean towards this myself, as the timing would seem right. Let’s do a quick overview of those kings mentioned above so that we know where we are historically.
Josiah was a good king; he did many reforms in Judah, and in the former kingdom of Israel which had been taken into captivity some 80 years beforehand, in the days of his great grandfather Hezekiah. When Josiah was 39 he foolishly went up against Pharaoh Neco and died in battle. The people of Judah anointed his 23 year old son Jehoahaz king. However, three months later Pharoah Neco replaced him with his older brother Eliakim whose name he changed to Jehoiakim. Three years later Pharoah Neco and his Assyrian allies lost big time to Nebuchadnezzar at the Battle of Carchemish, and consequently Judah and King Jehoiakim became vassals of Babylon. Jehoiakim was king when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem.
The Book of Chronicles records that Nebuchadnezzar bound Jehoiakim in fetters, to carry him to Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied (Jer 36:30) that he would die without a proper funeral, saying the people would not lament for him and that he would not be buried but that “his dead body would be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.” Josephus records that this is exactly what happened. When Nebuchadnezzar slew Jehoiakim he commanded that his body “be thrown before the walls, without any burial.”
So Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiakin, (also known as Jekoniah), became king and, like his uncle Jehoahaz, only lasted three months before Nebuchadnezzar took him off to Babylon and placed another uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne changing his name to Zedekiah. (I know, the name similarities and changes are quite confusing.) Zedekiah was the king when Jerusalem fell. He made an alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt, but when Nebuchadnezzar heard about it he came back and invaded Judah again and besieged Jerusalem. Zedekiah tried to run away but Nebuchadnezzar caught him at Jericho, killed his sons in front of him and then put his eyes out and took him off to Babylon where he eventually died.
And Jeremiah prophesied through all of that.
When you think about the messages of the true prophets in the Old Testament they are all pretty much the same. In fact, it is the same message that both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke. It is the same message that Billy Graham and other evangelists spoke. And that is: the simple message “repent.” Change your mindset, your attitude and your actions about the things you do because, if you do not, then punishment will follow. And yet alongside this harsh message is God’s love and grace which says, “if you repent, then I will relent.”
Let’s take a deeper look at Jeremiah and his books. Jeremiah is called at a very young age: (Jeremiah 1:4-6) “Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you, and I ordained you to be a prophet to the nations’. Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.’”
What do I know? I’m just a kid! But that doesn’t stop God.
In the next verse we find God saying to Jeremiah, “Go, tell them what I tell you to say. However they will not listen to you. They will fight against you, they will imprison you and destruction will still come to Jerusalem and Judah.” At this point, Jeremiah is possibly feeling a bit like his contemporary prophet Habakkuk who said to God, “Why do you show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance when You don’t do anything about it?” (Hab 1:3-4) I’d be thinking, “What’s the point God? If it’s not going to make any difference why bother?” God’s answer is that He is compelled by His love to give them as many chances to repent as He possibly can.
We need to jump to near the end of the book for some context and then we’ll go back and look at some highlights. Chapter 38 gives us a synopsis of Jeremiah’s message to Judah.
Jer 38:14-24, “Then Zedekiah the king sent and took Jeremiah the prophet to him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD: and the king said to Jeremiah, ‘I will ask you a thing; hide nothing from me’. Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, ‘If I declare it to you, will you not surely put me to death? And if I give you counsel, would you actually listen to me?’ So Zedekiah the king swore secretly to Jeremiah, saying, ‘As the LORD lives, that made us this soul, I will not put you to death, neither will I give you into the hand of these men that seek your life’. Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, ‘Thus saith the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If you will assuredly go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and you shall live, and your house: But if you will not go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you shalt not escape out of their hand’. And Zedekiah the king said to Jeremiah, ‘I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me’. But Jeremiah said, ‘They shall not deliver you. Obey, I beseech you, the voice of the LORD, which I speak to you: so it shall be well to you, and your soul shall live. But if you refuse to go forth, this is the word that the LORD has shown me: And, behold, all the women that are left in the king of Judah’s house shall be brought forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, and those women shall say, “your friends have set you on, and have prevailed against you: your feet are sunk in the mire, and they are turned away back”. So they shall bring out all your wives and your children to the Chaldeans: and you shall not escape out of their hand, but shall be taken by the hand of the king of Babylon: and you shall cause this city to be burned with fire’. Then said Zedekiah to Jeremiah, ‘Let no man know of these words, and you shalt not die’.”
KING: “God, what should I do?”
GOD: “Do this.”
KING: “Um, I’m a little bit scared to do that, God.”
Isn’t that just like us when God asks us to do something? Whatever happened to “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13)? “If God be for us who can be against us” (Rom 8:31)? Do those verses mean nothing? Based on what we just read, do you think Zedekiah believed Jeremiah? I think he did. I think he believed God, he just didn’t trust Him enough.
Jeremiah grew to manhood in the days of Josiah. He saw the high places and groves torn down, he saw the temple restored. He saw, according to 2 Chronicles 35, a Passover the likes of which had not been seen in the land since the days of Samuel, 500 years earlier. When you read Jeremiah you discover the passion he had for God and the things of God. Being a priest he would have been schooled in the history of his nation; the good kings and the bad kings. Most recently Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings ever and his son Amon, Josiah’s father, who was so bad that his own officials turned on him and killed him. But now, under Josiah, things are beginning to happen. God is being honoured again. Judah has turned back to her God… or so he thought, because when Josiah got cocky and ended up being killed in the Battle of Megiddo, everything, as we say in New Zealand, turned to custard. And God says, tell them that unless they repent I will bring severe punishment on them even to the destroying of the temple.
Jeremiah 7:1-14 “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD. 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. Trust not in lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these’. For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If you oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then [and only then] will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, you trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, says the LORD. But go now to my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works, says the LORD, and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you heard not; and I called you, but you answered not; Therefore will I do to this house, which is called by my name, wherein you trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh.”
This, of course, was unthinkable. The temple was there to proclaim the glory of the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob. Everybody in the world knew about the temple in Jerusalem. It was the place where God said to Solomon in 1 Kings 9:3 that He would “place His name there forever.” Surely, He wouldn’t let it be destroyed. And yet slowly and inexorably the conclusion was coming to Jeremiah that that was exactly what was going to happen. God was going to destroy everything the people of Israel held dear in one final attempt to get their attention.
And it worked. After the exile the Israelites never, ever worshipped another foreign god! They were uncompromisingly full-on for Yahweh, as history attests.
What is it that God has to do in your life to get that sort of response? If we really desire to serve and worship the Lord we need the faith and trust of Jeremiah, not the doubt and fear of Zedekiah.
Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because he knew in advance that his beloved temple and holy city would be destroyed, because the people and the kings wouldn’t listen to the message God had for them. And, as I said at the beginning of this article, for his obedience to God Jeremiah was rejected as a false prophet, he was beaten, imprisoned for treason, and eventually he died in exile in Egypt where he’d been taken against his will.
Faithfully doing what God has called you to do does not guarantee that you will have a nice car, and a nice house, and lots of money, and a happy marriage (Hosea) and etc. etc. But that’s not the point. Trusting God and faithfully doing what God has called you to do will mean that when you stand before Him you will hear the words that we all long to hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”