What was the role of the prophets, how do they fit into the big picture story of the Bible and what makes Jeremiah unique?
About 2 years ago, we began a journey of studying the bible from Genesis to Revelation focusing on the big picture story of the entire Bible. Often, we focus on a chapter or verse in the Bible and fail to see how everything fits into the bigger picture or perhaps, like me, we never grew up learning about the unified story of the Bible.
It is kinda like being zoomed in to Street View of Google earth and not realizing your place in the rest of the globe.
Many people try to summarize the big picture to help keep it in focus. That can be SUPER helpful! Most common is this one: Creation -> Fall -> Redemption -> Restoration (or Re-Creation)
This is a really good, brief summary of the big picture story. But where would the “Prophets” fit into this?
A simplified outline of the message of the Bible will always leave something out. When you try to consolidate a few thousand pages of text to 4 words, let’s be real and admit that some things will be missed.
The majority of the OT fits between the Fall (Genesis 3) and Redemption (the Gospels). So what do we do with all of that?
That is the story of the continued, perpetual fall of mankind. This part of the story establishes the need for redemption to come from someone bigger than us humans. It teaches the depravity of a people group who refuse to follow God’s ways and the compassion of a Creator God that is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem his creation.
The prophets are a window into the continued effects of the fall and the persistent mercy of God to reach out to his creation to redeem and restore it. Jeremiah is one of those prophets.
We just finished reading about the prophet Jonah. Jonah was on the scene around 780-760BCE, so he was a pre-exile prophet.
Around 740 (so about 20 years after Jonah) Shalmaneser conquered Samaria, the capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel and the first deportation of exiles took place.
2 Kings 18:9–12 (NLT) — 9 During the fourth year of Hezekiah’s reign, which was the seventh year of King Hoshea’s reign in Israel, King Shalmaneser of Assyria attacked the city of Samaria and began a siege against it. 10 Three years later, during the sixth year of King Hezekiah’s reign and the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign in Israel, Samaria fell. 11 At that time the king of Assyria exiled the Israelites to Assyria and placed them in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. 12 For they refused to listen to the Lord their God and obey him. Instead, they violated his covenant—all the laws that Moses the Lord’s servant had commanded them to obey.
NOTE: vs12 is a great reminder of how this is all one big story…
Jeremiah was an Exile prophet. He began his ministry around 630BC, AFTER the Assyrian exile, and was on the scene for about 50 years! He was there to witness Judah, the Southern Kingdom, go into exile.
However, it was NOT the Assyrians that took Judah into exile, it was Babylon. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar II took thousands of Judean residents as captives to Mesopotamia in three deportations: 605, 597, and 586 BC. The third deportation took place when Jerusalem, its walls, and the temple were destroyed.
Daniel was around when Jeremiah was preaching, and his book, which we already studied, took place from within the Babylonian exile. Daniel was one of the first groups from Judah that were taken into exile.
We read in 2 Kings 25 of the Babylonian Exile in which the temple is destroyed, the kings palace burned and the walls destroyed and burned. The city of God and the temple of God were both completely destroyed, and the people of God were taken into exile.
2 Kings 25:8–12 (CSB) — 8 On the seventh day of the fifth month—which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, a servant of the king of Babylon, entered Jerusalem. 9 He burned the Lord’s temple, the king’s palace, and all the houses of Jerusalem; he burned down all the great houses. 10 The whole Chaldean army with the captain of the guards tore down the walls surrounding Jerusalem. 11 Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guards, deported the rest of the people who remained in the city, the deserters who had defected to the king of Babylon, and the rest of the population. 12 But the captain of the guards left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and farmers.
Jeremiah was a prophet during the Assyrian exile and through the Babylonian exile:
Jeremiah 1:1–3 (NLT) — 1 These are the words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests from the town of Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. 2 The Lord first gave messages to Jeremiah during the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah. 3 The Lord’s messages continued throughout the reign of King Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, until the eleventh year of the reign of King Zedekiah, another of Josiah’s sons. In August of that eleventh year the people of Jerusalem were taken away as captives.
The intro of the book gives the historic setting, so you know a few things as you read it:
The idea of being “called” by God is something that I remember hearing about in college. “God is calling me to ….”
Like the other prophets, (cf 1 Sam 3) Jeremiah, seemed to have a very specific calling from God.
Jeremiah 1:4–5 (CSB) — The word of the Lord [Yahweh] came to me: I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
God selected Jeremiah before he was born. Jeremiah was hand-picked, handmade by God for this particular time and mission. This is a theme we see during the exile:
Esther: “who knows if you were appointed for such a time as this”
But we also see this kind of appointment in the person of John the Baptist. In Luke chapter 1, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, a priest, that he will have a son that is called by God to lead people to the Messiah, and that child would be filled with God’s spirit from before birth.
God’s calling is obviously NOT based upon anyone’s accomplishments! God chooses whom he pleases.
He selected Jeremiah before he was born, and he selected John the Baptist before he was born. It is obvious that they had no time to prove their worth to God or establish a name for themselves. God choses and appoints whomever he wants because it is about HIS name, not ours – his reputation, not ours that ultimately matters.
Where Jeremiah’s appointment is not like most prophets is that he was to be a prophet “to the nations”. Not JUST the Jews, but all the nations of his day. This is something that we read about throughout the book. He not only prophesied against Judah, but also the enemies of the Jews and even the Babylonians.
And, like many of the prophets, Jeremiah was not sure that God picked the right guy:
Jeremiah 1:6 (CSB) — 6 But I protested, “Oh no, Lord God! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.”
It is believed that Jeremiah was about 20 years old at this time, and that is his only protest.
It is not uncommon for the people that God calls to feel uncertain or even unqualified for the work God appointed them to do. Actually, it can be a very healthy thing, lest we feel that we can accomplish the work of God on our own strength.
Jeremiah 1:7–8 (CSB) — 7 Then the Lord said to me: Do not say, “I am only a youth,” for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you. 8 Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to rescue you. This is the Lord’s declaration.
Yahweh responds with a trifecta of certainty:
So, this calling is similar to that of Jonah – go to the nations, speak God’s message. However, Jeremiah is the prophet who asks a question but then obeys. This is what was expected of Jonah.
God often invites our questions and reassures us. It seems to be his character is to want to teach us about him and strengthen our trust in him.
Yahweh, God does not get angry; he explains the plan again and gives words of reassurance.
Perhaps the only non-reassuring but maybe reassuring part of this message is the “I will rescue you” line.
Yes. It is. During a time of much death, Jeremiah lived to be at least 70 years old! Throughout the book of Jeremiah, you read about threats on his life and God protecting him.
Jeremiah seemed to have a few different messages. What can make Jeremiah a challenge to read is that it is not a chronological narrative. It is a record of several messages that are reiterated at different times and often with different language in an effort to get through to the people.
One message was to Judah and the residents of Jerusalem. This message was introduced in Chapter 2 and is repeated throughout the book.
Jeremiah 11:1–11 (CSB) — 1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Listen to the words of this covenant and tell them to the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem. 3 Tell them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Let a curse be on the man who does not obey the words of this covenant, 4 which I commanded your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the iron furnace.” I declared, “Obey me, and do everything that I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God,” 5 in order to establish the oath I swore to your ancestors, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is today.’ ” I answered, “Amen, Lord.” 6 The Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: ‘Obey the words of this covenant and carry them out.’ 7 For I strongly warned your ancestors when I brought them out of the land of Egypt until today, warning them time and time again, ‘Obey me.’ 8 Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart. So I brought on them all the curses of this covenant, because they had not done what I commanded them to do.” 9 The Lord said to me, “A conspiracy has been discovered among the men of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem. 10 They have returned to the iniquities of their ancestors who refused to obey my words and have followed other gods to worship them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah broke my covenant I made with their ancestors. 11 “Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I am about to bring on them disaster that they cannot escape. They will cry out to me, but I will not hear them.
To Judah the message is very similar to what we read in Malachi:
Since we have covered quite a bit of that already in Malachi I will leave that for now. Though what seems “odd” in Jeremiah are phrases like, “I will not hear them” and “do not pray for them”. As you read this book, se how often phrases like this appear.
But Jeremiah also has a message to the nations regarding the wrath of God that will be poured out on them. Jeremiah emphasizes a theme that will be very significant when we get to the new testament, both in the gospels and in Revelation.
Jeremiah 25:15–17 (CSB) — 15 This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from my hand and make all the nations to whom I am sending you drink from it. 16 They will drink, stagger, and go out of their minds because of the sword I am sending among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink from it.
Jeremiah 25:27 (CSB) — 27 “Then you are to say to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Armies, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk, and vomit. Fall down and never get up again, as a result of the sword I am sending among you.’
The “cup of God’s wrath” is the punishment and destruction of the nations that oppose God. While this may seem harsh, the bigger story of the Bible reminds us of the fall of man, the tower of Babel, of people choosing to be God and choosing to rebel against God, their creator.
I think one of the key verses regarding the punishment of the nations is this one:
Jeremiah 25:28–29 (CSB) — 28 If they refuse to accept the cup from your hand and drink, you are to say to them, ‘This is what the Lord of Armies says: You must drink! 29 For I am already bringing disaster on the city that bears my name, so how could you possibly go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth. This is the declaration of the Lord of Armies.’
IF God is a God of justice, then rebellion much be reproached (Flood, Exile, “Cup of Wrath”).
Reading this storyline, it really ought to make us pause and think:
“What keeps mankind from following God?”
A God that blesses people, chooses people, provides for, protect and guides people is certainly the type of God you would want to follow?
Yet, even today, people find ways to blame God for the injustice in the world. Still today, people choose to believe that the things that are created are of more value than the Creator.
According to Jeremiah, it is heart issue [Jeremiah 3:10, 17; 4:4, 14, 18; 5:23;7:24; 9:14, 26; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12, 17:5,9; 18:12; 23:17; 48:29; 49:16] At least 18 times he makes this point!
Jeremiah 11:8 (CSB) — 8 Yet they would not obey or pay attention; each one followed the stubbornness of his evil heart…”
Jeremiah 17:9–10 (CSB) — 9 The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it? 10 I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give to each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve.
What about you and me?
From the very beginning, God has reminded us of what we are capable of:
Genesis 6:5 (CSB) — … human wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every inclination of the human mind was nothing but evil all the time
So, if a global reset (flood) was not able to fix things, and the selection of a special people who have a special relationship with God, with a temple where God’s glory actually dwells, was not able to keep things fixed, what is the hope?
Jeremiah 29:11–14 (CSB) — 11 For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place from which I deported you.”
There is always hope. Amen?
Jonah was sent to Nineveh because God wanted to offer mercy – that is why Jonah did not want to go. God sent Jeremiah to Judah because he wanted to offer mercy and hope.
The message of Jeremiah is one of coming destruction because of the same pride and arrogance that began in the garden and that every one of us struggles with today. We all deserve destruction because of our pride and arrogance against God, but God, who is rich in mercy, offers a way to avoid the punishment. Not that we earn our way into his favor, but in his mercy, he offers it if we simply humble ourselves before him.