Jeremiah was called to the prophetic office at a time when the nation was at a low ebb, both politically and morally. For many generations after leaving Egypt, Judah forsook God and went after the gods of the other nations. Her idolatrous sins were highlighted in Jeremiah 19:4-5: “Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind” (cf. Jer. 32: 35).
In His mercy, God had earlier sent His prophets to call Judah to turn back to Him lest He send judgment upon them: “Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them” ( 7: 25). But God’s people “hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck: they did worse than their fathers” (v 26).
Jeremiah was one of the last prophets God sent to warn His people of impending judgment upon their land. In His call to His servant, God told him that his message would be one of condemnation and doom. God would use the northern kingdom of Babylon as the instrument of judgment against His own people (1: 13-15; 4: 6; 6: 22).
o The prophet’s message
Jeremiah had a turbulent prophetic career. Obeying God’s call, the prophet had to confront a people who had rejected God. He fearlessly denounced Judah’s sins and the evils of idolatry and warned them of the coming Babylonian captivity. He made many references to the worship of heathen deities like Baal and the queen of heaven. He spoke against the sacrifice of their children to some of these heathen deities (7: 18, 31; 19: 5; 32: 35). During his reign, King Josiah had abolished these idolatrous practices which his grandfather Manasseh had promoted. But after the death of the godly king, the nation apostatised and Jeremiah was called upon to warn the people of God’s coming judgment.
Amidst the gloomy background of warning and judgment, Jeremiah also preached a message of hope. Judah’s captivity in Babylon would not last forever: “For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (29: 10).
“Some of the most glorious messianic prophesies of the Old Testament appear in Jeremiah. Like Isaiah a century before, he saw Christ’s day. He saw Rachel weeping for her children while being carried into captivity (31: 15). … His prophecy of the righteous Branch (Chapters 23, 31, 33) is referred to by Zechariah concerning the birth of Christ (Lk. 1: 78)” (Parallel Bible Commentary).
o The “weeping prophet”
Jeremiah was called to a sad, lonely and difficult ministry. He faced great mental anguish because of the hard driving message God had commanded him to proclaim. Knowing what would befall his beloved nation, it grieved the prophet deeply to speak the harsh, prophetic word of God’s approaching judgment (4: 19-26). Sadly, Jeremiah could find no earthly solace as God had forbidden him to marry or have children because of the coming desolations upon the land (16: 2-4).
Aptly known as “the weeping prophet”, Jeremiah witnessed with great sorrow, the impenitence of the people and the subsequent ruin of Jerusalem as she fell to the Babylonians – a sad result of their sinful idolatries and departure from God. Despairing of comfort (8: 18, 21), Jeremiah plunged into seasons of deep grief, weeping for doomed Judah (9: 1; 13: 7) and leaving her to her self-inflicted fate: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! 2 Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them! for they be all adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men” (9: 1-2). He preferred even to dwell in the wilderness in order to avoid witnessing the sinful pollutions of his countrymen.
o The faithful prophet
Jeremiah’s many “confessions (10: 23, 24; 11: 18 – 12: 6; 15: 10-21; 17: 9-11, 14-18; 18: 18-23; 20: 7-18 etc.) show the spirit of a man who was retiring, sensitive, and fearful, yet clung tenaciously to his task in spite of persecution” (ibid). Though mild and tender in nature, God’s faithful servant did not shirk his duties despite the threats of his enemies. For more than forty years, this uncompromising preacher of judgment stood boldly before multitudes, warning both prince and people of the ruin that would befall them.
God had called Jeremiah to a difficult ministry. He had to preach to his own countrymen, God’s message of doom and judgment. This caused him great pain and sorrow. Despite his own struggles, Jeremiah did not give up, but stayed true to his calling. May the life and ministry of this faithful prophet be an encouragement to us. (… to be continued)