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Major Prophets

Jeremiah

Jeremiah prophesied primarily to Jews in Judah, but also to those in captivity during the reigns of kings Josiah to Zedekiah of Judah, around 627 to 585 B.C. He is often called the ‘weeping prophet’ because of his situation and two references to weeping, one his own and the other in the Septuagint introduction to Lamentations. The book of Jeremiah mixes prophecy and historical narrative, but not all in chronological order. The following is in the order presented in the Bible.

Jeremiah’s calling

[1] God speaks to Jeremiah, calling him to service and telling him the nature and difficulty of His message to the people, but at the same time giving him Encouragement.

Israel’s sin and its consequences

[2-6] Jeremiah’s first message to all Israel is to remind them of their original state, and how they have turned to sin and forsaken God. He tells Israel of their greatest sin, unfaithfulness to God through their consistent worship of pagan gods, which are many, and appeals to them to return to their God. He then focuses his message on Judah, warning them that the consequence of ignoring his plea will be an invasion from the north, first of the land of Judah, then the city of Jerusalem. An attempt is made to find an example of truth and justice among the people, but none is found and punishment is inevitable. All warnings have been ignored. Consequently, His people will be left to suffer the invading army with Jerusalem coming under siege.

Messages given at the temple gate

[7-10] Jeremiah stands at the temple gate and warns the people concerning their hypocritical worship, telling them it amounts to a false religion and is worthless. He points to the destruction of Shiloh (where the tabernacle was first established) as an example of how the temple is not necessarily safe just because it’s the temple. Furthermore, God declares their places of pagan worship will become known as the ‘Valley of Slaughter’, because their dead will be buried there until the place becomes filled with their bones. The religious leaders are no better, having deceived the people by their own sin and driven by self interest. Jeremiah laments over the sin of his people and the coming judgement, then admonishes them for their love of idols. He warns of the coming destruction, but also prays for God’s wrath to come.

A broken covenant

[11-13] Jeremiah is told to remind Judah of their covenant with God, given at Sinai and still existing, a covenant they have persistently broken with their sin and idol worship. God tells Jeremiah not to pray for Judah now as He will not listen to such prayers. God lets Jeremiah know that the men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, plot to kill him because of his prophecies, but tells him that He will punish them and not even a remnant will survive. Jeremiah questions God, asking why the wicked always seem to prosper. God tells him that this is the way of the world, and there is worse to come, but He will punish the wicked and restore the repentant. Jeremiah is given instructions concerning a linen belt, but doesn’t realise he is enacting a parable. God explains to Jeremiah that the belt put around his waist is like the nation Israel bound to Himself, but like the belt that rots, she will become completely useless because she has not listened to Him. God tells Jeremiah to give the people another prophecy concerning the fate of Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah pleads with the people to pay attention, not to be arrogant, and to give glory to God before He brings judgement. If they do not listen, he will weep bitterly because they will be taken captive.

A drought

[14-15] There is a severe drought and the people plead to God, having been duped by false prophets into believing God will listen to them and save them from it. Jeremiah’s prayers for the people are to no avail and he is filled with self-pity, but God encourages him and renews his confidence as His spokesman.

Disaster and comfort

[16-17:18] God forbids Jeremiah to marry because of the disaster that will come upon the land. He is also forbidden to take part in any mourning for the dead or to associate with the people, as His blessing, love and pity have been withdrawn from them. Even so, God still speaks of a time of restoration.

The Sabbath

[17:19-27] Judah’s sin is great, but God still offers an alternative to judgement if they will only return to Him. Jeremiah is to remind them of their failure to keep the Sabbath, symptomatic of their disobedience, and tells them how they might be restored as God’s people if they would only again hallow the Sabbath.

Lessons from the potter’s house

[18-19] Jeremiah is sent by God to a potter’s house where the potter is seen discarding an unsatisfactory pot, then proceeding to make a new one to his satisfaction. This, God explains, is how Israel is to Him; He will discard and re-mould as He sees fit, according to their faithlessness. The people again plot against Jeremiah, but this time Jeremiah prays for their punishment. God now instructs the prophet to purchase a clay jug from the potter and take some elders to the Valley of Ben Hinnom. There he is to prophesy concerning the disaster to come upon Judah, then smash the clay jug as a symbol of Judah’s destruction.

Jeremiah and Pashur

[20:1-6] When Jeremiah returns to the temple and continues to prophesy, the priest Pashur has him put in the stocks. The next day, when Pashur releases Jeremiah, he foretells Pashur and his family’s exile and death in Babylon.

Jeremiah complains to God

[20:7-18] Jeremiah’s situation is causing him considerable distress, so much so that he complains to God. He was chosen to give God’s message to Judah, but everyone is against him to the extent that he doesn’t want to give the message, yet the need burns within him. His distress is so great that he wishes he had never been born. No reaction from God is given.

Condemnation of kings, prophets and people

[21-24] It is now close to the time of Judah’s exile. Zedekiah turns to Jeremiah hoping for some word that God will save them, but there are no words of comfort forthcoming, only a prophecy of Zedekiah’s defeat. Jeremiah also prophesies judgement against three evil kings of Judah: Jehoahaz (Shallum), Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin. (These three preceded Zedekiah.) The leaders are rebuked for their misrule, but the return of a remnant is spoken of, not just for this present time, but also for the distant future when Jesus will sit on David’s throne. False prophets are now singled out and their judgement foretold. These are prophets who speak prophecies and oracles as if they were sent by God, but were not. God shows Jeremiah two baskets of figs. One contains very good figs, representing the good exiled from Judah whom God will restore after the exile. The other contains poor figs, too poor to be eaten, representing those who will not return from the exile.

The Babylonian Exile

[25-29] Jeremiah reminds the people he has been prophesying to them for twenty-three years, but they have not listened. Consequently, God is going to use Nebuchadnezzar, who He refers to as His servant, to conquer Judah and take the people into captivity in Babylon for seventy years.   God now tells Jeremiah to take His cup of wrath to the nations, to be a symbol of God’s judgement on them. Jeremiah is to announce that divine judgement. Judah is to be judged first; then a list of other nations to be judged is given, beginning with Egypt and ending with Babylon (Sheshach is the place referred to, but is a Hebrew cryptogram for Babylon). Now, early in Jehoiakim’s reign, when God had instructed Jeremiah to preach in the temple courtyard, not omitting a single word He had given him, the people turn against Jeremiah. They seize him with the intent to kill him, saying his prophecy is against the city and warrants his execution. Some speak in support of Jeremiah, pointing out that Micah had prophesied against Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah, but he had not been put to death. Ahikam, a court official, also supports Jeremiah and so he is spared. The Babylonians have now taken some of Judah captive and placed Zedekiah on the throne as a vassal king. Jeremiah is instructed by God to walk the streets wearing a wooden yoke as a symbol of submission, and to tell the people not to resist the Babylonians. He is also to warn them against listening to prophets who tell them otherwise, as these prophets are not from God. One of the false prophets is Hananiah whose prophecy directly contradicts Jeremiah’s. Hananiah even takes the wooden yoke from Jeremiah and breaks it in front of the people in symbolic support of his own prophecy. Jeremiah later tells Hananiah that he will die that very year for his false prophecies, which he does. Jeremiah sends a letter to the first exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to settle and live normal lives. They are to build houses, eat of the produce of the land, have sons and daughters, give their sons and daughters in marriage and to multiply, not decrease. They are not to listen to false prophets, as God is going to restore them to Judah in seventy years. Shemaiah then sends a letter from Babylon to Zephaniah opposing Jeremiah, but Zephaniah shows Jeremiah the letter. Jeremiah sends another message to the exiles, telling them that because Zephaniah is a false prophet God will punish him, and he will not have any descendants surviving to see the restoration.

Promises of restoration

[30-33] At this point, God tells Jeremiah to write all the words He has given him. Then we have the statement: For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. God’s message of restoration follows with His declaration of a new covenant (31:31–34), quoted in its entirety in Hebrews 8:8–12. When Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is confined to the courtyard in the royal palace, he receives a word from God that he must buy a field from his cousin when asked to. He is to draw up the title deeds, properly witnessed and sealed, and place it in an earthen vessel for safekeeping. This Jeremiah does, but is puzzled by it and so asks God in prayer why this had to be done. God tells Jeremiah that the deed represents the assurance that He will restore His people to the land, when they will again prosper and buy and sell property. God then speaks further to Jeremiah, reasserting His promise of restoration, both for these times and for the time when Jesus will sit on David’s throne.

A warning to Zedekiah

[34] Jeremiah warns Zedekiah that Jerusalem is soon to be taken and that it is his destiny to be taken captive. Perhaps hoping for a reprieve, Zedekiah orders that all slaves should be freed according to God’s law. The order is obeyed, but only for a time, as those freed are soon brought back into slavery, evoking God’s condemnation of their masters as law-breakers.

The Rechabites

[35] Looking back in time to the earlier siege of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is told to summon the Rechabites to a temple side room to be given wine to drink. When offered the wine, the Rechabites refuse it, referring to a command of their forefather Jonadab to live as nomads, not to plant fields and not to drink wine. It was fear of invading armies, Chaldean and Syrian, that had brought them to Jerusalem. Here, their obedience to the command of their forefathers puts Judah to shame for their lack of obedience to God, and the Rechabites are rewarded with a promise of survival.

Jeremiah’s sufferings and persecutions

[36-38] Still looking back to Jehoiakim’s reign, Jeremiah is told to write down everything God had spoken to him concerning Judah. Jeremiah dictates all the words to his scribe Baruch, who writes them on a scroll. The scroll is later first read to all the people, then the officials and finally to King Jehoiakim. However, after each section of the scroll is read to the king, he cuts it off and burns it. The king orders the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they are in hiding and cannot be found. Jeremiah is told to produce another scroll, exactly as the first, then to give the king a word from God declaring his fate. We now return to the reign of Zedekiah. Zedekiah had not taken any notice of Jeremiah’s words, but now sends for him, asking him to intercede for him in prayer to God. At this time Jeremiah was free to come and go among the people, and the Babylonians had withdrawn from the city because the Egyptian army was marching to support Zedekiah. Jeremiah is instructed by God to tell Zedekiah that the Egyptian army will return home, after which the Babylonians will return and capture Jerusalem. After the Babylonians have withdrawn, Jeremiah attempts to leave the city on business, but is accused of leaving to join the Babylonians and is thrown in prison. Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah and asks privately if there is any word from God, to which Jeremiah tells the king he will be handed over to the king of Babylon. Jeremiah is not sent back to the dungeon, but is confined to the prison courtyard where he will have more freedom. Hearing that Jeremiah was continuing to prophesy, some officials petition the king to have Jeremiah put to death because his words are discouraging the soldiers. Zedekiah does not oppose them and Jeremiah is thrown into acistern where he is left to die. Later, Ebed- Melech, one of the king’s officials, persuades the king it would be wrong to allow Jeremiah to die. He is rescued and returned to the prison courtyard. Zedekiah again asks Jeremiah for a word from God. Jeremiah repeats the prophecy concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the need for Zedekiah not to resist capture. They agree their conversation is to be kept private, and Jeremiah is permitted to remain in the prison courtyard where he stays until the day Jerusalem is captured.

The fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath

[39-45] The Babylonians return to lay siege to Jerusalem, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign the city is taken. Zedekiah flees the city, but is captured and taken to Nebuchadnezzar, who slaughters his sons before his eyes and kills all the nobles of Judah. Zedekiah’s eyes are then taken out. He is shackled and taken to Babylon. Nebuzaradan is the commander of the imperial guard and knows of Jeremiah’s prophecies and the reason for Judah’s fate. He finds Jeremiah in chains and releases him, giving him freedom to go wherever he pleases, including the choice of going to Babylon under his care. Jeremiah chooses to go to stay with Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had appointed governor over Judah, to be amongst the people left behind. Gedaliah gives assurances to the Jews that they will be safe settling under Babylonian rule, and that they are to live and harvest as normal. Their harvesting is successful, producing an abundance of wine and summer fruit. Gedaliah is told Baalis, king of the Ammonites, is sending Ishmael to kill him, but he doesn’t believe it and even entertains Ishmael and the ten men with him. While they are eating, Ishmael and the ten men get up and kill Gedaliah. They then kill all the Jews with him at Mizpah and all the Babylonian soldiers there. Fearing reprisals, the people prepare to flee to Egypt. In fear of their fate, Jeremiah is petitioned to speak to God so they might know what to do. They declare their willingness to obey God’s command. However, when Jeremiah later tells them they are to stay in Judah and not to go to Egypt, they say it is a lie. They go to Egypt as far as Tahpanhes, taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them. The Jews in Egypt turn to idolatry and ignore pleas from Jeremiah to repent and return to God, sealing their fate, which is that Nebuchadnezzar will overrun Egypt and the Jews will perish by the sword or famine. Only a tiny remnant of refugees will survive. Jeremiah gives a message from God to his scribe, Baruch. If Baruch does not seek anything great for himself, then God will ensure his safety for the rest of his life.

Jeremiah prophesies against the nations

[46-51] Returning to an earlier time, Jeremiah prophesies against Egypt, followed by some words of comfort for Israel. He then prophesies against Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, Elam, then Babylon.

The fall of Jerusalem repeated; Jehoiachin’s later release.

[52] Zedekiah rebels against Babylon and enters into an alliance with the king of Egypt, resulting in a siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. This lasts for eighteen months, which causes a great famine in the city. The city is overcome and Zedekiah and his household try to escape, but are captured and taken prisoner. He is made to witness the killing of his sons; then his eyes are gouged out. He is then put in chains and thrown in prison where he stays for the rest of his life. The city is later burned, including the temple. All the temple furniture is taken and the people taken captive in three waves over a period of several years. When Nebuchadnezzar is succeeded by Evilmerodach, Jehoiachin, now about fifty-five years old, is released from prison and made king above the lesser kings in Babylon, a position he holds until his death.