Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, November 24, 2019
The Book of Jeremiah
The Book of Jeremiah is the twenty-fourth book of the Bible. It has 52 chapters and 1364 verses. Jeremiah prophesied around 626 BC and was still pleading with the people to repent and turn back to God when Jerusalem was overrun by the Babylonians in 586 BC. God instructed Jeremiah to take a scroll and write down the words he would give him aimed at the house of Judah telling the people to repent or face disaster. Jeremiah had a secretary who did the real writing of the words dictated by Jeremiah, Baruch son of Neriah. Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah, kings of Judah, from the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah to the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet. He was called by God with the words, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (1:5 ESV). Jeremiah drew back, pleading, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (1:6 ESV). But God pursued him more until he accepted to speak to the people of Judah on behalf of God.
Jeremiah told the people to come back to God, observe the covenant, and quit worshiping idols, the gods of the neighboring peoples, and concentrate on worshiping only Yahweh. He also preached against social injustice and condemned the greed of priests. The priests did not mobilize the people to worship Yahweh. They caused and condoned a free for all situation to arise where the people worshiped whatever they chose. The temple was desecrated as idols were sacrificed to in it. False prophets flourished prophesying the kind of things the people wanted to hear. Those prophets contradicted Jeremiah’s message of doom and joined in the general chorus of branding Jeremiah a traitor. There were calls for him to be killed. In chapter 26 Jeremiah is arrested and accused of prophesying that the temple would be destroyed. Jeremiah maintained that what he spoke was from God and offered himself to the people to kill him if they wanted, but he wouldn’t change his message.
The most difficult message Jeremiah brought to the nation was the warning to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or else face disaster at the hands of the ruthless Babylonians. Jeremiah said that only putting down their arms and going over to Nebuchadnezzar would save Judah from utter destruction. That message was grossly unpalatable to the king, to his officers, to the military, and to the ordinary people in general and so was ignored. Jeremiah was arrested a number of times and tortured. At one time King Jehoiakim cut up Jeremiah’s scroll as it was read to him and his officials and threw the pieces into the fire section by section and burned the entire scroll (36:19-26). No wonder Jeremiah is commonly referred to as the weeping prophet.
Of course, the people refused to repent and continued to worship all kinds of foreign gods in the hope that those gods would help the nation avert the looming threat from Babylon. The priests didn’t change their ways either, and neither did the false prophets stop speaking sweet messages to the people. The false prophets told the people that God could not destroy Jerusalem the city that housed his holy temple. Jeremiah refuted this and told the people not to depend on the presence of the temple in Jerusalem to defend them while they continued in open rebellion against God (7:1-15). And most definitely the king would not capitulate to Babylon. His officers and the military would not hear of it. The end was inevitable. Judah had reached its pinnacle of sin and could no longer be permitted to stay in the land. Babylon attacked and vanquished God’s holy land, and Jeremiah was vindicated.
There are scholars who think that the book of Jeremiah is not chronologically put together as we have it in the Bible today. The difficulty of such scholars is that they try to de-construct and rearrange and edit the book to suit their literary theories. If Jeremiah is allowed to speak in his own right, the structure of the book makes sense. One of the issues raised is that Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiles in chapter 29 before Jerusalem fell and therefore the chapter is out of order of events. But the chapter appearing where it appears in the book should not be such a surprise. There were already Jewish exiles in Babylon taken in an earlier raid in 605 BC when 10,000 Jews were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 24:12-17). The false prophets both in Judah and in Babylon were saying that the people in exile would return any time soon. Jeremiah told them instead to build homes, marry, and prepare to stay for a long time, 70 years (chapter 29). According to Jeremiah, even the people who were still in Judah as he spoke were soon to join the ones already in Babylon. It makes complete sense that he wrote to the exiles.
Outline of the Book of Jeremiah
1. Jeremiah’s call and mandate (Chapter 1)
2. Declarations of judgment on the nation (Chapters 2 – 25)
3. Declarations of restoration for the nation (Chapters 26– 35)
4. The actualization of judgment on the nation (Chapters 36-45)
5. Declarations of judgment on neighboring nations (Chapters 46-51)
6. The way of transgressors is hard: doom (Chapter 52)
Jeremiah makes some very important prophecies about the future.
1. Jerusalem would fall to Babylon.
2. There will arise a righteous descendant of King David to rule in righteousness.
3. The exile would last 70 years.
4. The Jews would return to Jerusalem.
5. Babylon the conqueror of Judah would be defeated and humiliated in the future.
Read the book of Jeremiah and observe the patience and mercy of God. His judgments do not come until human beings have become stubbornly incorrigible, incapable of amending their ways.