1 - 3 Jeremiah and His Time
1 The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
What we read in this book are “the words of Jeremiah”. There are words that he speaks in the Name of the LORD, words that come from the LORD that he must speak to the people. There are also words that reflect his personal feelings. In all his words we hear a man living in close fellowship with the LORD.
The name Jeremiah (verse 1) means, among other things, “the LORD is exalted”. He certainly shows this in the two books we have of him in the Bible. The Holy Spirit leads him to use the names ‘LORD’, Yahweh, and ‘Lord’, Adonai, over seven hundred times in his prophecy and over thirty more times in Lamentations.
Jeremiah is “the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth”. He is most likely a descendant of Eli and then of Abiathar, who also lived in Anathoth, but was excluded from the priesthood (1Kgs 1:7; 2:26). Anathoth is one of the cities of the priests (Jos 21:18-19).
He is speaking in the days of Josiah (verse 2), who became king in 639 BC. Josiah is then only eight years old. He is a God-fearing king. In the twelfth year of his reign (627 BC), he is then twenty, he begins his clearing work in Israel (2Chr 34:3). A year later, in 626 BC, Josiah is then twenty-one, Jeremiah begins his ministry. He is then a young man of about twenty years of age and will prophesy until the eleventh year of Zedekiah, which is over forty years.
In the year Jeremiah begins prophesying, Assyria is still the reigning world power, but it is already beginning to decline. Babylon is the rising world power. Babylon is the enemy from the north. About him Jeremiah prophesies as an enemy of God’s people, while a great revival under Josiah is going on in God’s people. We read about the revival under Josiah at the end of the second book of Kings and the second book of Chronicles. Jeremiah’s prophecy makes it clear that for the majority of God’s people, revival is only an outward thing. The hearts remain far from God.
Jeremiah prophesies not only during the reign of the God-fearing Josiah, on whose sympathy and protection he can count. He prophesies “also” during the reign of the wicked kings Jehoiakim, Joahaz, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah (verse 3). Zedekiah is the last king of Israel. In the eleventh year of his reign, in 586 BC, he is captured by the king of Babylon and Jerusalem is burned with fire.
Jeremiah prophesies “until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month”, that is, until the great event takes place that he has so often announced. He also prophesied after that (Jer 40:1), but the main subject of his prophecy is to warn of the exile. When that has taken place, his prophetic ministry toward the people is over.
From the thirteenth year of Josiah (626 BC), when he begins to prophesy, to the eleventh year of Zedekiah (586 BC), when Jerusalem goes into exile, are exactly forty years. It has been pointed out that Moses was with the people in the wilderness as a teacher for the same length of time to bring the people into the land as Jeremiah is with the people as a prophet to warn them before they are forced to go out of the land to go into the wilderness of the nations.
4 - 10 Calling of Jeremiah
4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Alas, Lord GOD!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth.”
7 But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
8 “Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you”, declares the LORD.
9 Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me,
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
10 “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To pluck up and to break down,
To destroy and to overthrow,
To build and to plant.”
Although verse 4 is a short verse, what it says is the heart of the prophetic experience. Jeremiah’s calling comes not in a vision, but by hearing the Divine word. It is instructive to compare his calling with that of Amos (Amos 7:10-17), Isaiah (Isa 6:1-10) and Ezekiel (Eze 1:1-3; 2:1-8).
We can notice in verse 5 four actions of God toward His prophet. God has
1. known him,
2. formed him,
3. consecrated him, and
4. appointed him.
It is indeed encouraging for Jeremiah to know that God has specifically equipped him to carry out his mission. The realization of this is not mere knowledge, but the experience of a relationship (cf. Amos 3:2a). God’s claim on his life takes precedence over all other relationships, as we see with the perfect Servant of the LORD, the Lord Jesus (Isa 49:1-5).
Jeremiah’s consecration is that he was set apart for a specific spiritual purpose. That is sanctification. Here we see a biblical linkage of God’s foreknowledge and His sanctification of the servant. It is important to see the order as well:
1. First, he is known by God.
2. Then he is formed by Him in the mother’s womb (cf. Psa 139:13-16). The LORD is therefore his rightful Owner Who can use him as it pleases Him.
3. Next, He consecrates Jeremiah, that is, He sets him apart from all other Israelites.
4. Finally, we hear the purpose of God’s intention and action and that is to appoint him as a prophet.
The emphasis is on the initiative of God and the sovereignty of His choice (cf. Rom 9:21). What God has destined someone to do, He also calls him to do. We see the same thing with John the baptist as with Jeremiah. John too was consecrated before his birth (Lk 1:13-17).
Jeremiah is appointed “a prophet to the nations”. He is appointed a prophet with a worldwide ministry, just as Paul will later be the apostle to the nations (Gal 1:15-16a). It also implies that Israel is in a sense counted among the nations. This is because it has turned away from the LORD so much that it has begun to behave like the nations. If they had separated themselves from them according to God’s intention, they would not be counted among them (Num 23:9b).
What God says here of Jeremiah applies in principle to every believer. Every child of God is known by Him (Gal 4:9a) and is formed, sanctified and also appointed by Him to a specific ministry. Children of God do not blend into the crowd, but every child of God may realize that the attention of God is also directed to him or her personally.
Jeremiah looks at himself and judges himself as not fit for that task (verse 6). We see a similar reaction in Moses (Exo 4:10) and Gideon (Jdg 6:15) when they are called by the LORD (cf. 1Sam 3:15b). Moses also says he cannot speak, but the background with him is unbelief. The LORD also tells Moses that He will put His words in his mouth. Jeremiah says he is too young. The word Jeremiah uses when he says he is “a youth” is the same word said of Zechariah (Zec 2:4).
The similarity between Moses, Gideon and Jeremiah is that they do not consider themselves capable of fulfilling the commission. The reason is that they look at themselves and not at Him Who gives them the commission. It is not about him who is sent, but about Him Who sends.
Jeremiah, with his great sensitivity, was the right person to be a prophet. No one could share in God’s feelings better than him. He has a heart that can sympathize with the condemned. Little could the young prophet at this time suspect how difficult, hopeless and heartbreaking his task would be.
The LORD’s answer basically means that Jeremiah should not think about himself at all (verses 7-8). What he can or cannot do is of no importance. What is important is only what God can and does do (cf. 1Cor 3:7). The servant must only obey.
God never errs in choosing His servants (verse 7). He provides all whom He calls with the strength, courage, and help they need. Moreover, God’s promise of His presence will drive away his fear (cf. Hag 1:13). It is not the custom of earthly princes to go with their envoys. But God goes with those He sends and is with them (Acts 18:9-10a).
Jeremiah’s fear is another cause of his hesitation (verse 8; cf. Eze 3:9). He will be mercilessly opposed and persecuted. But the LORD will protect him from the attacks of his enemies and give him the spiritual courage that he will need so particularly. God provides for all the needs of those He calls into His service (Phil 4:19).
As a tangible proof that the LORD gives Jeremiah the authority for his service, He touches his mouth (verse 9; cf. Isa 6:7). The question is not whether a person can speak well or badly, but whether he has lips touched by God, that is, sanctified lips. These Jeremiah now has. In this way he is inspired to speak God’s truth and the Divine message is made known to him. From this moment on, Jeremiah’s words will truly be God’s words and he will actually be the mouthpiece of God (cf. Isa 51:16; Eze 2:8; 3:4; Exo 4:12; Mt 10:19; Lk 21:15).
Later, God makes His words fire in the mouth of Jeremiah (Jer 5:14). That God will put His words in his mouth is something Moses says of the Prophet God will send in the future (Deu 18:18), which is the Lord Jesus. This is another proof that Jeremiah is a picture of the Lord Jesus as the great Prophet (cf. Jn 12:49).
The plucking up and breaking down is not done by an act, with a sword, but by His word (verse 10). His word, however, is a word that works, that does something, works something. His word, His speaking, is powerful. Jeremiah thinks of himself that he is just a youth, but God places him here above the kings of the nations. He will announce the rise and fall of empires and other kingdoms, not by any authority of his own, but as one who speaks for God.
The content of Jeremiah’s message is one of the most important passages in the book. He must speak of judgment and desolation, of overthrow and destruction. But as great and terrible as God’s judgments are, they are not judgments without mercy, for their purpose is restoration, blessing, and renewal. Therefore, Jeremiah must also speak of that.
God’s purposes in Jeremiah’s ministry are therefore twofold: destructive and constructive. God’s word is accompanied by power so that the prophet will accomplish these purposes (Isa 55:10-11). In Jeremiah’s ministry, the emphasis is undoubtedly on the destructive element. Four verbs are used to express this:
1. “To pluck up and
2. to break down,
3. to destroy and
4. to overthrow”.
Two verbs indicate the constructive and restorative element:
1. “To build and
2. to plant”.
In these activities we see the prophet engaged as a builder and a farmer (cf. 1Cor 3:6-10).
11 - 12 Vision of a Rod of an Almond Tree
11 The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” 12 Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.”
Then in two pictures the LORD gives two confirmations of his calling (verses 11-16). These are the first two pictures of the many pictures we have in this book. They were probably shown to him shortly after his calling. Both visions are uncomplicated and explained, both involve judgment. In order to speak, a prophet, in addition to being able to listen, must also be able to see. A prophet must also be a ‘seer’.
The first picture is that of a rod of an almond tree (verse 11). Jeremiah sees in a vision the picture of a rod of an almond tree. Someone like Jeremiah, who knows Hebrew, immediately understands the meaning. It is a play on words with the word “watchful” for the word “almond” is almost the same as “watchful” in Hebrew. A rod of an almond tree is also a watchful one. While it is still winter, the rod of an almond tree already begins to bloom, giving the message, as it were, that spring will soon come. The tree is also called shekedh in Hebrew, a word that means ‘the hasty tree’.
Just as a rod of an almond tree holds the message of the coming spring, God’s Word holds the message of the coming judgment. The LORD watches over His word to bring judgment on Israel’s sins. He also watches over His word to bless them after the judgment (Jer 31:28).
What the past prophets have said will come, it is about to happen. Judgment is at the door. God is ready to act because He knows the state of the world. The “rod”, maqqel, here symbolizes judgment that will soon come upon Israel (cf. Hab 2:3). This judgment will come through the Lord Jesus (cf. Heb 10:37).
The LORD praises Jeremiah for looking closely and giving a correct answer. He has seen a ‘hasty tree’. God then declares that He is awake to fulfill His word soon and is going to work immediately to do so (verse 12). Jeremiah will prophesy and experience the fulfillment himself.
13 - 16 Vision of the Boiling Pot
13 The word of the LORD came to me a second time saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” 14 Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north the evil will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For, behold, I am calling all the families of the kingdoms of the north”, declares the LORD; “and they will come and they will set each one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all its walls round about and against all the cities of Judah. 16 I will pronounce My judgments on them concerning all their wickedness, whereby they have forsaken Me and have offered sacrifices to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.
The word of the LORD comes to Jeremiah “a second time” (verse 13). That there is mention of a “second time” shows that the first and second visions are closely related. The first deals with the time of judgment, the second with the direction and nature of the coming disaster. Again the LORD asks what Jeremiah sees. His answer is: “A boiling pot.”
That can only mean disaster (cf. Eze 11:3; Mic 3:3). Here it is about Babylon, the great enemy from the north. Although Babylon lies east of Judah, her armies – like all the armies from Asia – will invade Palestine from the north because of the impassable Arabian wilderness. Here this great enemy from the north is mentioned for the first time.
Into the boiling pot will be thrown the disobedient of God’s people. The pot is comparable to the fiery furnace of Egypt (Gen 15:17), where Israel was oppressed so violently and for so long. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, will be the new oppressor. It also refers to the distant future, when the nations will go to war against Jerusalem (Zec 14:1-2).
The LORD explains the vision (verse 14). The boiling pot, appearing with its open side from the north, represents the calamity that will be poured out on the whole land of Judah. In boiling anger the armies of the king of Babylon will come upon the land. That invasion will culminate in victory for the enemy. Jeremiah sees it happening here in a vision.
In reality, nothing is yet seen of the power of Babylon and it will be another forty years before the fulfillment of this vision will take place. But it will happen, for the LORD Himself will call Babylon from the north to go up against His people (verse 15). Nebuchadnezzar’s armies will come and overwhelm Jerusalem. His princes will set their thrones before the gates of the city (Jer 39:3). The gate is the place of public affairs, where justice is spoken (Rth 4:1-10). If the enemy rules there, it means the complete subjugation of the city. The walls will offer no protection whatsoever. What is true of Jerusalem is true of all the cities of Judah.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jeremiah is a preacher of judgment. As Isaiah speaks of the LORD’s redemption, Ezekiel of the LORD’s glory, and Daniel of the LORD’s kingdom, so Jeremiah incessantly proclaims the LORD’s judgment (verse 16). The cause of the judgments, “all their wickedness”, which the LORD pronounces on Judah – and Jeremiah is to communicate them to all the land – has three parts, namely,
1. “that they have forsaken Me and
2. have offered sacrifices to other gods and
3. worshiped the works of their own hands”.
Leaving the LORD opens the door to every form of idolatry, which is the worship of something or someone other than Him. Offering sacrifices to other gods is essentially paying homage to demons (1Cor 10:20). The idols themselves are nothing but works of their hands, pieces of gold or silver or wood or stone. The folly of kneeling down before a piece of material will still be sarcastically brought to the attention of the people by Jeremiah (Jer 10:1-16).
17 - 19 Commission of the LORD
17 Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. 18 Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you”, declares the LORD.
In these last verses of the chapter, Jeremiah is greatly encouraged for his arduous task. He needs this because his message will be neither welcome nor popular with his people. To fulfill his duties, nothing less will suffice than absolute devotion to God and utter reliance on His power (verse 17). He must gird up his loins. This means that he must be willing to serve and nothing must hinder him in doing so.
Next, he must arise, that is take the position of service. Thus he must speak to the people. In doing so, he must not withhold anything, but he must say “all” (cf. Acts 20:27). Every word of God is important. He must also not change anything about it, not use words of his own, words that may sound more pleasant, but must speak what the LORD will “command” him.
Nor should he have any fear of those to whom he is to speak. That would mean that he would allow fear of man to prevent him from fulfilling God’s command. If that were the case, he would have to deal with God Himself, Who would then turn against him. That would be a setback for him with respect to the people to whom he was sent. The fear of the LORD is the best remedy against fear of man.
The LORD then encourages him with the promise that “today”, that is, with immediate effect, He will make him a threefold strength:
1. “as a fortified city and
2. as a pillar of iron and
3. as walls of bronze” (verse 18).
He will need this to bring his message to “the whole land”. The LORD points him to the four groups people of “the whole land”: “the kings of Judah”, “its princes”, “its priests” and “the people of the land”.
Just as he must not withhold a word of what the LORD commands him to speak, so he must not forget or spare a group of people that the LORD lists here. His message will not win him any friends. They will all be against him at one time or another. Who likes a preacher of judgment (cf. 2Tim 4:3-4)?
Yet this one man is stronger than all his enemies combined. The secret of spiritual victory is given in verse 19. He may trust that the LORD is with him and that with Him he will be invincible. In his darkest hours, these words will sustain him emotionally and spiritually. The words “to deliver you” imply that Jeremiah will have a tough ministry. The Lord Jesus also says to us to encourage us in the service we have, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Jeremiah must learn from the beginning to trust in the LORD. He may be assured of invincibility on condition of faith in the LORD, Who is greater and stronger than any power. He will ultimately prevail over all his enemies. The prophecies Jeremiah will utter will also all come true. Then he will also be “delivered” in another sense, namely from false accusations. It will turn out that he is a true prophet of the LORD.