Jeremiah’s task was an unenviable one. One of the final prophets before the exile, he was commissioned to remonstrate with God’s people for forsaking Him and to warn of their impending judgement. As a genuinely caring man, he did so faithfully, with tenderhearted compassion. Sadly, God’s people had become comfortable in their idolatry and accustomed to the false assurances of Jeremiah’s contemporaries. They were determined only to hear what suited them, and Jeremiah’s message did not suit.
While the book of Jeremiah is not short on oracles, a significant part of the prophet’s ministry entailed dramatic portrayals of God’s Word to His people. It’s interesting to speculate on the reason for this, but presumably, the rediscovery of the Book of the Law some five years after Jeremiah’s call (2Ch 34) was a great influence upon the young prophet.
Centuries earlier, Moses, an equally reticent prophet, had experienced the Lord’s power in the wilderness, and subsequently demonstrated it dramatically to his brothers in Egypt (Exo 4). Later, he delivered the terms of the covenant, accompanied by blazing fire, darkness, gloom, a tempest, the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them (Heb 12:18-19). Ultimately, as they approached Canaan, Moses instructed that on crossing the Jordan they were to assemble in the plains of Shechem, in the vicinity of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, where they were to rehearse the promised blessings of obedience and the certain curses of disobedience. The two mountains served as monumental reminders of the choice the people must make.
Just as the Lord’s lessons had been visually reinforced as He brought the people into the Promised Land, so Jeremiah’s warnings were similarly graphic as he foretold their imminent expulsion from it. His action sermons remain instructive today and are the subject of the studies which follow in this series.
Although notoriously difficult to analyse the structure of his book, it is relatively easy to appreciate the sensitivity and sincerity with which Jeremiah ministered. Like Moses, this gentle man was pressed to the limit. Perhaps the prophet’s enacting of these messages intensified the personal burden he carried for his people.
The voice that Adam heard as God called him in the garden echoes through the ages. He still calls us to salvation, sanctity (holiness), submission, suffering and service. Although not strictly within the scope of this study, the graphic nature of Jeremiah’s call helps set the tone for what follows.
God Calls in Particular Circumstances (Jer 1:1-3)
This was not an easy time to be a prophet of the Lord. Jeremiah was likely born during the latter part of the reign of Manasseh, a wicked man who returned to the hideous idolatry of his late grandfather, Ahaz. Both sacrificed their own children in the fires of their insatiable pagan gods. As a young man living in the outskirts of Jerusalem, he would certainly have known how Manasseh had been bound in fetters and deported unceremoniously to Babylon, where he was humiliated and afflicted by his captors. In Babylon, Manasseh sought the Lord and was mercifully saved because of this experience. In the goodness of God, he was restored to the throne in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah must have grieved that, rather than producing humility, this experience fuelled a growing sense of impunity among the people. Although they had witnessed their northern neighbours being carried away to Assyrian exile, their nearness to the temple and its service increasingly made them feel immune to the judgement of God. On Manasseh’s death, his son Amon continued in the earlier evil ways of his father, and after a couple of decades of reform during the reign of Josiah, the downward spiritual spiral continued until at last the threatened judgement came.
These were the circumstances in which God called his man.
God Appoints Particular People (Jer 1:4-5)
Although coming from a priestly family, Jeremiah was apparently not serving as a priest, perhaps indicating that he had not yet attained the required age of 30 (Jer 1:6). There may also be a hint of stigma attached to the reference to his birthplace and hometown, Anathoth, since it was to there that the High Priest Abiathar was banished for his disloyalty to Solomon at the time of Adonijah’s attempt to seize the throne.
In any case, Jeremiah was not raised up because he was “well-connected.” And though, unlike some of us, not troubled with an inflated sense of his own importance, the Lord assured him that He had known, consecrated and appointed him to be a prophet – before He formed him in his mother’s womb (Jer 1:5)
While it is appropriate to remember and follow the faithful example of those who have gone before, the work of God today does not belong to dynastic families nor influential assemblies. It is encouraging to remember that the Lord is sovereign in His choice of those who will serve Him. They are neither qualified by earthly ties, nor disqualified for the lack of them.
God Supplies Particular Grace (Jer 1:6-9)
The Lord did not accept Jeremiah’s protest of inadequacy. Just as later the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Co 12:9 ESV), so Jeremiah was commissioned with the personal promise of God’s power (Jer 1:7), presence and protection (v8).
God Apportions Particular Work (Jer 1:10)
As we read the book of Jeremiah, we begin to appreciate that the task was truly a formidable one. The Northern Kingdom had already been rooted out and pulled down, and the prophet’s immediate assignment was to warn Judah of their impending doom. In preparation, the vision of the almond branch (Jer 1:11) guaranteed the certainty of God’s Word, and the boiling pot assured him of the character of God’s Work (Jer 1:13). Yet the scope of his ministry extended beyond even that. He was appointed a prophet to the nations. At a time when empires were competing for world dominion, Jeremiah was tasked to tell the nations that the Lord is over all.
My brother or sister, if the task before you seems intimidating, take courage that He is still in control. If you feel inadequate, remember that the Lord who called you to serve Him knew every intricate detail of your person before He formed you in the womb. Do not be overwhelmed; He has promised to be with us – until the end of the age.