More is known about the personal life, feelings and experiences of Jeremiah than perhaps any other prophet. He was a very real man with whom we can identify in many ways. He rode the roller-coaster of his emotions from angst to anger over the people, from fear to faith, and from tears to trust. At one moment he could fearlessly stand and speak for God and at another he seemed to faint under the burden.
His Times Internationally
Jeremiah prophesied in momentous times. The balance of power in the east was changing. The dominancy of Assyria was about to end. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 BC, and in 609 BC the Assyrian army was defeated at Haran.
Babylon was on the ascendancy. In 626 BC, Prince Nabopolassar had defeated Assyria and founded his neo-Babylonish empire. He consolidated power and began to move with military aggression in 616 BC. With the help of the Medes, he defeated and destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC. This enabled Josiah to be rid of the Assyrian yoke of oppression. Josiah increased Judah’s territory north into the territory of Naphtali.
Egypt, neighbor to Assyria, moved into the power vacuum. It did not want a strong Babylon to exist. Pharaoh Neco II had tried to aid Assyria in 609 BC. On the way to the battle, Josiah came out to fight him and Josiah was slain (2Ch 35:20-24). The result was not only the death of Josiah, but now Egypt put its yoke on Judah, appointed Jehoiakim as king and oppressed the nation.
For four years, Egypt and Babylon faced each other in Charchemish until finally, in 605 BC, Babylon defeated Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon on the death of Nabopolassar. Jehoiakim, always astute to the political winds, now aligned himself with Babylon. But when Babylon failed in its invasion of Egypt in 601 BC, Jehoiakim supported Egypt (2Ki 24:1). It was not a wise move.
Enraged by the treason of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar mounted a campaign and invaded the land in 598 BC, and Judah surrendered in 597 BC. Zedekiah was appointed ruler of the nation, and the final phase of the long dark night began.
In 588 BC, a new Pharaoh was named in Egypt and Judah again revolted (2Ki 24:20-25:1). With crushing force, Nebuchadnezzar retaliated, and the city was devastated in 586 BC.
His Times Nationally
It is very difficult to separate the nation’s state of affairs from the spiritual when it relates to Judah. The spiritual condition of the king very often set the tone for the spiritual drift of the nation. Israel had been carried captive by Assyria in the ninth year of Hoshea’s reign, in 721 BC. Judah was now the remnant who was to be a testimony to the nations for God. But failure marked Judah as well. Jeremiah was likely born during the evil reign of Manasseh. It was sometime in his youth that Josiah ascended the throne and became king of Judah. The 31-year reign of the righteous king must have begun with promises and prospects that would have excited the young Jeremiah. With Assyria neutralized, Josiah could expand, throwing off the Assyrian yoke, and move the nation forward.
His tragic end at Charchemish led to four wicked men being placed on the throne as puppet rulers by Egypt first, and then by Babylon. The leaders who followed Josiah gave character to the nation in a sad and debasing manner. Jehoiakim was the king who used the scroll, the Word of God to him, as fuel for his winter fire. Zedekiah, the last of the four, was spineless and wavering. The nation was stamped by the same disregard for the Word of God through His prophet and by the same vacillating, self-serving behavior (Jer 34:8-11).
The nation’s influence, prestige and place as a testimony to God plummeted rapidly after the death of Josiah. The nation’s fortunes reached a low ebb under Zedekiah, until Nebuchadnezzar came and carried the nation away in three separate deportations.
His Times Spiritually
Josiah’s evil predecessors, Manasseh (695-642 BC) and Amon (642-640 BC), had encouraged the people of Judah to depart from the Lord for over 50 years, so wickedness had become ingrained in them. In the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (622 BC), Hilkiah the priest discovered the Law of Moses in the temple. Having read it, Josiah began to institute major reforms throughout Judah. As soon as Josiah was off the scene, however, the nation reverted to idolatry, superficial obedience and devotion, and the evils which had marked them prior to Josiah’s reign. Zephaniah’s prophecy also gives us insight into the lack of genuine recovery of the nation during the reign of Josiah.
Spiritually, things went from bad during the reign of Manasseh to fair during the reign of Josiah to deplorable during the time of the last four kings. Judah had followed her wicked sister, Ephraim, in departing from God and following idols. Ezekiel, though prophesying in captivity, chronicled some of the awful practices going on in Jerusalem at the time (Eze 8,11,34).
His Times Personally
Jeremiah was called by God when he was a youth. Perhaps he was a teenager or maybe twenty. Yet what an awesome responsibility he had and what a place he was to occupy for God. He began his ministry in 627 BC and continued through the fall of Jerusalem and into the movement down to Egypt in 582 BC. Thus, he served for at least 45 years. Contemporary with him in Judah would have been Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Away in captivity at the same time were Ezekiel and Daniel.
It would be difficult to find any other prophet who so prefigured the Lord Jesus. Like the Greater to come, he was a man of sorrows; he knew tears, rejection, misunderstanding by his family, false accusation and other indignities. His was a most unsuccessful ministry. He numbered amongst his converts only Baruch and Ebed-melech. He knew loneliness, being deprived by God of the possibility of marriage.
- Preparation of God’s Messenger (ch.1)
- Prophecies of Judgment (chs.2-20) – Ten messages that are general and undated
- Particular and Dated Prophecies (chs.21-39)
- Plight of the Nation after the Fall (chs.40-44)
- Punishment of Gentile Nations (chs.45-51) – Nine nations
- Performance of God’s Promise (ch.52)
Of Special Note
- The Song of Consolation (chs.30-33)
- The parables of Jeremiah (There are seven parables in his ministry: linen girdle, potter, bottle, figs, yokes, the purchase of a field, stone.)
- Note the recurrence of “I will punish” and “I will restore”
- The introduction of the promise of a New Covenant
- Of the 13 mentions of backsliding in the OT, nine are in Jeremiah and six in chapter 3
- Jeremiah’s “Confessions” (11:18-12:6; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18)
- The pivotal nature of chapter 25