Date: Sixth Century B.C.
The prophet Jeremiah is one of the best-known figures in the Old Testament because of the biographical detail to be found in his book. In most other instances the man is subordinated to the message so that little is known about the preachers as individuals. In Jeremiah’s case, his life was so woven into what he said that it is hard to separate the two.
Jeremiah lived during the darkest days of Judah’s history, spanning the reigns of five kings, and ending with the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. He called for a national renewal of faith during the days of Josiah (640-609 B.C.) and was partly successful. When Josiah was killed in battle, he was succeeded by a king who submitted to international blackmail. Jeremiah continued his stern message of repentance, urging the people to accept the heavy hand of God as punishment for their sins. For this he spent many of his remaining years in jail. When the nation finally fell to the Babylonians, Jeremiah was spared and allowed to live in the rubble that was Jerusalem, where he continued to preach. Ultimately carried off to Egypt as a hostage, he died in exile.
Theological Themes in the Book of Jeremiah
Jeremiah the prophet is a triumph of faith and courage. In the midst of terrible difficulty, he spoke with conviction and strength. He was virtually the only one who saw clearly what was going on. His dedication to the call of God was such that he never wavered. Because of this, he is a monument for all times of how to live when darkness surrounds us.
The foundation of Jeremiah’s message was his conception of God as sole creator and ruler of all that is. God acts according to his own will, he knows human hearts, he helps those who trust him, he loves his own. He demands that his people respond with obedience and faith. Because God knows what he is doing, the desperate situation in which Judah found itself was not outside God’s knowledge or plan. If the people of Judah would only accept God as Lord, God would show himself as their deliverer in due course.
A second point stressed by Jeremiah was human responsibility to God. The people had no one to blame but themselves. They were trying to put the blame on their parents, the surrounding nations, the prophets who pointed out their faults, or even on God, but never on themselves. Jeremiah wanted them to see that restoration can come only when we are able to accept the fact that we are accountable for our own lives. Granted that all those things might be factors that influence us, they can never be used as excuses for our wrongdoings.
Jeremiah also urged Judah to trust in God alone. For too long the people had been trusting in their military abilities, their money, or even their own religiosity. They thought that mere attendance at religious services was enough to make them pleasing to God. It was a rude shock to be told that God was not impressed with how much money they had or whether they “went to church” or not. God would allow no rivals, Jeremiah said.
Finally, Jeremiah opposed the false religion and preachers of his own day. Truth must exist within our hearts. Someday God would make a new covenant with his people (31:31), which would write the law inside their lives, not on tablets of stone. Jesus came to introduce that new covenant and establish true religion forever.
Outline for the Book of Jeremiah
- The call of Jeremiah Jeremiah 1:1-19
- The sins of Judah outlined Jeremiah 2:1-13:27
- Jeremiah’s ministry to Judah Jeremiah 14:1-33:26
- Jeremiah and the last days of Judah Jeremiah 34:1-19:18
- Jeremiah after the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah 40:1-41:18
- Jeremiah in exile in Egypt Jeremiah 42:1-52:34