Jeremiah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Born in Anatoth, a town in the tribe of Benjamin, he was of the priestly line (Jer. 1: 1). Jeremiah was aptly known as “the weeping prophet” because he was a sad spectator of the Jews’ sins and the impending desolations that would befall them.
Jeremiah wrote the longest prophetic book which carried his name, and its sad sequel, Lamentations. As a prophet, he served for more than forty years during the reigns of five kings of Judah – Josiah (eighteen years), Jehoahaz (three months), Jehoiakim (eleven years), Jehoiachin (three months) and Zedekiah (eleven years and five months).
Called early into office, the young prophet’s warnings and pleas to Israel to turn back to God fell on deaf ears. Sadly, he lived to see the siege of Jerusalem (586 BC) and his people taken into captivity. After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was forced to go to Egypt (43: 1ff), where he prophesied for a few years and where, it is believed, he was stoned to death.
o Call to the prophetical office
When Jeremiah was about twenty years old, he was called by God to the prophetical office in the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (627 BC). Apparently, God had appointed him to the office even whilst he was in the womb: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (1: 5). When he protested that “I cannot speak: for I am a child” (v 6), God showed His reluctant prophet in a vision, a view of his mission – to foretell the destruction of both Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians for their sins and idolatry (vv 10-19). Notwithstanding His servant’s objection, the Lord gave him the words to speak: “Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” (v 9).
Because of the catastrophe which would befall Judah, the Lord commanded Jeremiah not to marry lest he be overwhelmed with sorrow should his family fall prey to disease, war or famine and “die of grievous deaths”. God’s judgment would be so severe that many families would be left with no burials – “they shall not be lamented; neither shall they be buried; but they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword, and by famine; and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven, and for the beasts of the earth” (16: 2-4).
In giving him the charge, the Lord told His servant that his message would be one of condemnation and judgment. The young prophet must expect opposition in the course of his ministry as the people “shall fight against thee”. But Jeremiah would be as an impregnable city, fortified with iron pillars and brasen walls for God would defend him from the onslaught of his enemies: “For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. 19 And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (vv 18-19).
God’s call to His servant “came at a most unhappy time in the history of Judah. Both politically and morally, the nation was at a low ebb. God had earlier sent His prophets, but the people would not hear (7: 25; 44: 4)” (Parallel Bible Commentary).
Though Jeremiah initially accepted his prophetic office with joy, he later found it a source of bitter pain and sorrow: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts. I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation” (15: 16-17).
It is interesting that the book of Jeremiah provides a comprehensive account of the life, ministry, personality and feelings of its author – more so than the books written by other prophets. The book reveals his mild, tender and compassionate nature which was a decided contrast to the hard driving message of divine judgment he had been commanded to proclaim.
Jeremiah’s writings reflected his many melancholic thoughts and emotions. “We find him sensitive to a most painful degree, timid, shy, hopeless, desponding, constantly complaining, and dissatisfied with the course of events, with the office which had been thrust upon him, and with the manner of the Divine Providence. Jeremiah was not one whose sanguine temperament made him see the bright side of things, nor did he quickly find peace and happiness in doing his Master’s will. And yet we never find him rebuked, because he was doing his duty to the utmost extent of his powers. Timid in resolve he was unflinching in execution. As fearless when he had to face the whole world as he was dispirited and prone to complaining when alone with God. … His whole strength lay in his determination to do what was right at whatever cost. He made everything yield to whatever his conscience told him he ought to do. Danger, opposition, mockery without; fear, despondency, disappointment within, availed nothing to shake his constant mind. The sense of duty prevailed over every other consideration; and in no saint were the words of Paul in II Corinthians 12: 9 – ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ – better exemplified” (Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible). (… to be continued).