Jeremiah the Prophet
I wonder when the last time was that you heard a sermon about the prophet Jeremiah. He wasn’t a particularly upbeat guy, and the book that bears his name is know as one of the most depressing. I wouldn’t be surprised if you couldn’t tell me a thing about Jeremiah—the man or the book—because I know I never heard much about him, except two things.
- Jeremiah was a prophet in the last days before the Babylonians captured Jerusalem.
- Jeremiah was known as “the weeping prophet” because of the tragic nature of his message.
Other than that, I didn’t know anything about Jeremiah as a person or what he did. I’m still no expert on Jeremiah, and I’m going to spend some more time studying him. I can tell you he’s much more interesting than he gets credit for.
Believe it or not, Jeremiah is the longest book in the entire Bible. It contains about 33,000 words in the original language. The book of Psalms (which we might assume is the longest) has about 3,000 fewer words. The fact that God preserved such a long book tells me that we’d get a lot out of reading it and studying it.
This evening, I want to introduce you briefly to Jeremiah the man and to the book which bears his name.
Who was Jeremiah?
Jeremiah was most famously a prophet, but he was also a priest.
“The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.” (Jer 1:1)
The priests descended from the tribe of Levi, and more specifically the sons of Aaron: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. The whole tribe of Levi was unique in that they were the only tribe whom God did not give a region of land as an inheritance. Instead, they were given a few cities scattered throughout the other tribes’ land in Canaan.
Out of all the Levites, the priests were given a total of thirteen cities in the regions of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin (Josh 21:13). The twelfth city was the city of Anathoth, where Jeremiah was from.
At this point, we might assume that the other inhabitants of Anathoth, being of priestly descent, were supportive of Jeremiah and his preaching. But, just as Jesus Himself found to be true, “a prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household” (Matt 13:57). The men of Anathoth not only opposed Jeremiah, they plotted to kill him (Jer 11:21).
Jeremiah refused to stop preaching.
He was still a young man at the time, but his faith was strong. He told God what he feared. He asked God to protect him and execute vengeance upon them. God promises to stop them and even to punish them, but He warns Jeremiah,
“If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,
then how can you compete with horses?
If you fall down in a land of peace,
how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
For even your brothers and the household of your father,
even they have dealt treacherously with you,
even they have cried aloud after you.
Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you.” (Jer 12:5-6)
Just like we discussed this morning, Jeremiah suffered relatively mildly early on compared to the things he eventually endured. If he did not learn to withstand when the persecution was mild, he would suffer devastation later.
Jeremiah began his ministry during the reign of the good king Josiah. If Josiah was a good king, surely Jeremiah’s message was accepted during those days, right? Seems like it anyway. Josiah at least would have listened and had a good relationship with Jeremiah, but he inherited a kingdom which Manasseh and his son Amon had completely paganized for more than fifty years. Josiah was a good king and his reforms pleased God, but they were too late to fix the deep-set corruption.
As a result, Jeremiah’s ministry ultimately spanned about forty years. If he began prophesying about the age I am now, he concluded at sixty-five, well-worn out with age and abuse, in an Egyptian prison.
He endured beatings, multiple imprisonments, constant rejection, and endless discouragement.
Why did Jeremiah keep preaching?
I want you to notice what God told him when he first called him to be a prophet.
“Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
‘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.’
Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord GOD!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
because I am a youth.’
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.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD.
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.
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.'” (Jer 1:4-10)
God called Jeremiah for two purposes: to tear down the wickedness and sin, and to build up hope and faith. This was primarily for God’s people in Judah, but it was also for the nations around them.
Most of Jeremiah’s preaching directed toward the leaders of Judah: the princes, the prophets, and the priests. Of course, Jeremiah was intimately familiar with two of these categories himself, and he especially held them to God’s standard.
“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for gain,
and from the prophet even to the priest
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
but there is no peace.” (Jer 6:13-14)
As he goes on, Jeremiah dismisses numerous false prophets and priests who claim to speak and to work for God, yet are false. He curses Pashhur the priest after he puts Jeremiah in the stocks (Jer 20); he curses Hananaiah the prophet after he claims that God will not destroy Jerusalem (Jer 28). He deposes both Shemaiah the prophet and Zephaniah the priest after they try to usurp God’s anointed priest, Jehoiada (Jer 29:24–32).
Jeremiah continually tries to warn the children of Judah of the punishment that awaits them if they don’t repent. Unfortunately, even the times that they do listen, it doesn’t last. In Jeremiah 34, King Zedekiah command the people to obey God’s seventh year laws and free their servants. They did…only to take them all back immediately.
As a result, the Babylonians come and take the nation away. Jeremiah is freed by the Babylonian captain and allowed to go wherever he chooses…and he chose to stay in the land. Unfortunately, his countrymen then kidnap him to Egypt and throw him in prison, where he dies.
The perseverance of Jeremiah is amazing to read about. He never stopped preaching the truth, no matter what it cost him—but we’ll remain silent for fear of awkwardness.