In the 7th century BC, the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria and scattered among the nations due to their idol worship, the Southern Kingdom of Judah remained. Yet, while Judah worshiped God in the temple, they did not follow Him in their hearts. Despite warnings from many prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel, Judah strove to be like the great gentile empires and followed their idolatry. They also mistreated the poor and the widows, desiring wealth and corruption. As a result, Judah was conquered by the Babylonian Empire. In the final days of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah was called to condemn their sin and lament their downfall.
Born around 650 BC, Jeremiah was born of the priestly tribe of Levi. Initially, Jeremiah prophesied to King Josiah who listened to his counsels and attempted to reform Jerusalem. However after the death of Josiah, idol worship returned and King Jehoiachin and Zedekiah did not heed Jeremiah’s warnings. Jeremiah would watch the city of Jerusalem be destroyed in 587 BC when Babylon punished Jerusalem for trying to partner with Egypt to overthrow Babylonian rule.
The book of Jeremiah is a compilation of Jeremiah’s sermons, poems, and stories about his life. His scribe Baruch was tasked with compiling the book that we read in the Bible today. Like many other prophetic books, the first part is one of warning to Judah. While the Israelites were worshiping God in His temple, they also were worshiping false Gods in other places. The prophet Jeremiah famously uses the analogy of adultery to describe the action of the people of Judah. The next part of Jeremiah talks about the restoration of Israel and the downfall of the nations, specifically Babylon. There is very little consolation in the book of Jeremiah, but there is a small section where God promises to write His law on the hearts of His people rather than in stone of the Ten Commandments. The book ends with a warning to Babylon. Even though they have been an instrument of God’s justice to Judah, they will fall into destruction because of their wickedness.
Jeremiah is well known for enduring persecution while delivering God’s message. He endured being called a liar, the king burning his writings, being beaten, and put in the stocks. He even was left in a mud pit to die until his sympathizers rescued him. He also was kidnapped and brought to Egypt. Throughout all of this, Jeremiah remained faithful to God, but he often lamented His troubles and the state of Judah. These laments are true prayers, and can be used by people everywhere and in all generations who suffer in the name of God.
Jeremiah is a typological figure of Jesus (as all true prophets are). He specifically reveals the suffering servant role of Christ in being rejected and persecuted by the leaders of Jerusalem. We see both Jesus and Jeremiah enter into prayers of desperation: “Oh Lord you duped me…” (Jeremiah) and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Jesus) in their times of trial. Yet, they remain faithful to God, and God is faithful to them.
We see a particular connection between the book of Jeremiah and the woman caught in adultery in John 8. As mentioned, Jeremiah famously uses the example of adultery to describe the nation of Judah. Through the prophet of Jeremiah, God condemns Judah for their worship of idols. However, when Jesus comes to reveal the full mercy of God to His people, His words to the adulterous woman are “..neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” In the person of Jesus and His true sacrifice, mercy can flow instead of condemnation. Jeremiah shows us God’s justice, Jesus’ sacrifice fulfills that justice, then offers mercy to us.
Finally, we are given a curious snippet of information in Second Maccabees that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant before the destruction of the temple. He took the Ark, the Tabernacle Tent, and the Altar of Incense and hid them in a cave in the Judean hill country. They were to remain hidden until the time that God gathers His people in mercy. This prophecy is fulfilled when Mary, who has conceived the Word of God, the bread from heaven, and the great high priest in her womb, becomes the new Ark of the Covenant and makes haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the same Judean hill country. In the incarnation, Jesus has come to gather the lost sheep of Israel, and His mother is the Ark bringing His presence.
The prophet Jeremiah will die in Egypt. Tradition says that he was stoned in Egypt because of his prophecies, but there is no biblical evidence of this. However, it is a safe assumption that his prophecies did bring about his death for there is no account that he returned from Egypt. Even though Jeremiah never returned to Israel, God would deliver on the promise of bringing Judah back to Jerusalem. The return will be bittersweet because the former worldly glory of Jerusalem and its temple had been lost forever. Yet, as He promised in the prophet of Jeremiah, the restoration to come would be something far greater than Jerusalem’s former glory.