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Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry overlapped those of Nahum, Zephanaiah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Huldah, around the time the southern kingdom of Judah went into exile after wavering between alliances with either Assyria or Egypt. Jeremiah was dubbed The Weeping Prophet for good reasons; his entire adult life was spent delivering harsh, negative truth to his people, and such a life and mission invites personal attack. It’s a very biographical book, in that it continually tells of the prophet’s own feelings and experiences, and the tragedy of being denied the companionship and acceptance he always wanted, along with the refusal of Judah to repent. By the world’s standards he was an abject failure, but by spiritual standards he was a hero.

Jer. 1

This book focuses almost exclusively on Jerusalem and the consequences of being unfaithful to God. Like the book of Proverbs, it’s more a collection of oracles than a developed or chronological theology, so there’s a lot of repetition for emphasis. We should also be aware that this book has the most variations between the Hebrew and Greek texts, though it doesn’t impact any significant theological teachings.

It starts off with a familiar phrase in verse 5, before I formed you in the womb, I chose you. But like any familiar phrase, it’s rarely understood and often twisted. It’s a couplet, so we have to take both lines together, and the choosing was for a task, not salvation. God knew Jeremiah’s character and personality, and raised him up to do a certain thing, at a certain time, for a certain people, in a certain place.

His response to God’s calling, which likely came when he was a young adult, was humble and realistic. But God’s response was for him to be brave, because God would go with him. That should be all any of us needs, but we’re often afraid of what God might ask of us. Do we really trust him if we’re afraid to give him complete control of our lives?

Then Jeremiah is given a vision, where God gives the meanings of the symbols, which all have to do with impending doom on Judah. So Jeremiah is ordered to bring the message to them, and it comes with a serious threat from God if he doesn’t carry it out. It’s very much like one many parents have used: If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you a reason to cry! He could expect to be attacked, but God had commissioned him, so there would be no excuse to be afraid of the attackers. It’s never wise to rush into a hostile environment without God’s sanction, but it’s also not wise to fail to go there if God has ordered you to.

Jer. 2

Ch. 2 begins with God lamenting the good times when the people of Jerusalem were faithful and could be blessed. But then God asks what he ever did to deserve their unfaithfulness, their idolatry and ingratitude. So he presents his case against them and their descendants: Who else among all the nations of the world has dared to change gods? It was a foolish trade.

After calling heaven and earth as his witnesses in verse 12, God then rebukes Judah in for its dependance upon alliances with foreign nations, who only turned on Israel and destroyed it. The chapter goes on to describe Israels idolatry and stupidity, and how it eagerly pursued its enemies’ favors. God says in verse 28, let the “gods the people chose come to their aid”, yet all the punishment in the world had failed to make Israel come to its senses. It had gotten to the point in verse 33 where God said that prostitutes could learn a thing or two from Israel!

Jer. 3

God says that a man can’t take back a divored wife who had married someone else. Some conclude from this that God could not have divorced Israel, even though it’s clearly stated in Isaiah that he did. Yet even here, since Israel had been a prostitute and was thus defiled beyond repair, God eventually takes them back. Some translations have the end of verse 1 as a plea for them to return, but it’s more accurately rendered as in the NET Bible, What makes you think you can come back to me?

But rather than God violating his own laws, he shows a degree of mercy not seen in Israel, and remember that those laws are by God, not for God. The purpose of the law was to keep men from treating women as worthless toys, which could never be the case with God. And we see in Hosea 2:16 and 3:3 that God ordered the prophet to take back his unfaithful wife, as a picture of God’s great mercy in spite of Israel’s great shame. So the principle behind the law stands, and God himself does not violate that principle by taking back sinners who repent.

Then after more rebukes for Israel’s lust for false gods, God explains that this is why their land had been experiencing famine, though Israel still didn’t learn the lesson, to the point of being so deluded as to think God would just overlook their continual habit of sinning.

Verse 6 begins another message, where God tells Jeremiah that though Judah saw what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel it didn’t repent, which is even worse since it had seen that and still didn’t care. So God orders Jeremiah to shout to his people in the north to come back, but only after admitting and repenting of their idolatry. Blessings would come to those who did so, but by the description it’s about the Millennium, when the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah are reunited and the nations bring them tribute. There is no way to turn from a land in the north to the land God gave as a permanent possession into an allusion to Christian salvation, since the north has no meaning as a spiritual condition.

Verse 19 is still God speaking, and he expresses his deep disappointment in Israel for throwing away the bliss they could have had in exchange for many false gods, to whom the people cry and moan for help.

Jer. 4-5

Now God gives them the ultimatum that they have to completely rid themselves of those disgusting idols before he will take them back. Then another message comes, warning the people of Judah and Jerusalem to make their choice quickly, because disaster is about to strike from enemies to their north. Then as Jeremiah hears this he cries out to God, but the message of doom continues, interrupted several times by Jeremiah’s expressions of despair.

In ch. 5 God asks if even a single honest person can be found, and if so, God would spare the city— but there isn’t even one. So the hope was that only the poor and ignorant were this way, because they didn’t know what God wanted of them, yet even those who knew God’s commands very well ignored them.

Skipping past more indictments against Israel and Judah, in verse 15 God pronounces judgment via an ancient nation from far away, which commentators believe was Babylon. Even so, God will spare a remnant, because he promised Abraham he’d be the father of many, and when God makes promises he keeps them. In the mean time, the people will be deported to the land of the foreign gods they loved so much. But the whole case against them is summed up in verse 31: The prophets lie, the priests replace God’s authority with their own, and the people love it that way. Are we any different? Many Christians choose pastors to rule over them and browbeat them for any disobedience; many citizens choose despotic leaders and keep re-electing them to abuse them more. We love the familiar and traditional more than the sensible and responsible, because we don’t care who rules over us as long as the hamster wheel keeps turning.

Jer. 6-7

Ch. 6 begins another round of dire warnings, and then after another prophetic message, Jeremiah asks God what good it does to sound warnings at all. But he’s tired of holding in the message, so he’s commanded to vent it anyway, though it will do no good. The passage goes on to show how, at every turn, the people rejected every blessing they could have had, without shame or remorse in spite of everything that had happened and was about to happen.

In ch. 7 God has Jeremiah give more warnings in the very gates of the temple, which the people considered proof of their invicibility. Then we see a passage Jesus quoted when he drove the merchants out of the temple, which shows at the very least that he had no problem with the God of the Old Testament, as the critics love to claim. They were doing the same thing in his day that they were doing in Jeremiah’s day: only giving lip service to God while committing every imaginable sin.

In verse 16 we see a very surprising thing: God tells Jeremiah to stop praying for them! 1 John 5:16 says something very similar: Do not pray for the sin that leads to death, which isn’t identified, but the point is that we shouldn’t try to find out! Even God loses patience, and when he does, there is no stopping the consequences.

But who is the queen of heaven in verse 18? It’s at least a false goddess according to the context, but it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Constable’s Notes’ opinion is that it referred to the Babylonian goddess Astarte or Ishtar, whom the people of Judah worshiped during the reign of Manasseh.

Now let’s skip down to verse 31, to a place called the Valley of Ben Hinnom. This was where the people were actually offering their own children as burnt sacrifices to Molech, which God certainly never told them to do. But before we look at some details, we should ask ourselves if our apathy toward abortion is any better, since collectively we barely offer a weak protest.

This is the place Jesus called Gehenna, which he used as an illustration of eternal torment. In this context, the place where the people were murdering their children would become a mass grave for the murderers. The fact that they would never be properly buried was considered a terrible curse, which will happen again to the Two Witnesses of Rev. 11:9 and to the Gentiles in Rev. 19:17,21.

Jer. 8-10

Now as if that hadn’t been enough humiliation, God says that later on the invaders will dig up the bones of the dead to be scattered and left out in the elements, so they can worship the sun, moon, and stars one more time. Even so, God says that the few survivors will wish they had been among the dead. It doesn’t get much worse than all that. Then after more expressions of exasperation, God says that even animals have more sense than his people. The teachers of the law had twisted its meaning, as many have done to the Bible over the centuries.

In ch. 9 we see where Jeremiah got his nickname the weeping prophet, and then it’s back to God lamenting that he has to punish his people, and the warnings continue through the end of the chapter and into ch. 10.

But notice in 10:3 the details of making an idol: Cut down a tree, shape it, decorate it with silver and gold, set it on a stand, and then worship it. What does that sound like to you? If you said Well, a Christmas tree, but we don’t worship it, remember that gifts are also placed under it, and the materialistic frezy of buying the gifts seems to be the most religious thing we westerners do these days. We mean well (hopefully), but sometimes we should stop and think about what we’re symbolizing or honoring. The passage goes on to contrast these worthless idols with the one true God.

Verse 16 states that God says his name is Lord of Heaven’s Armies. This presents a problem for what is called the sacred name movement, which insists that we call God by the Hebrew name Yaweh (or Yahua, or similar). Shouldn’t they now say the Hebrew for Lord of Heaven’s Armies, and then use something else out of respect, the way the Hebrews have always done? Again, what makes a name sacred is who is meant.

Jer. 11-13

Then it’s back to a description of impending doom, and another message to remind the people of Israel of the covenant they agreed to so long ago, which they repeatedly violated. Again Jeremiah is told not to pray for them, and again God demands to know why the people think they have any right to be in his temple.

But then Jeremiah is shown that the people are plotting to kill him for all these messages of doom that God made him say to them. In their eyes he was a traitor, a doom and gloomer, an ant at their picnic. So now that it’s personal, Jeremiah turns from weeping to let ’em have it! I think shooting the messenger is the most ancient of sports, which is why it’s no fun to be the messenger. But there will be a day of reckoning for the shooters, per vs. 23.

In ch. 12 Jeremiah asks the question we all ask, Why do the wicked prosper? But though he wishes death upon those who want him dead, he doesn’t take matters into his own hands but rather waits for God’s vengeance. Though his own family had turned against him, God cautions him in not to trust those who seem nice on the surface, because things are about to go from bad to worse. Yet again, God also promises that the invading forces will be punished as well for their own sins, once God has used them to punish his people for their sins. Notice also that God will allow a surviving remnant even for them, but only of those who turn to him. And those who do will be considered part of his people.

In ch. 13 God has Jeremiah live out an object lesson, which was a common practice for the Old Testament prophets. But in verse 23 we see what seems to be an overtly racist statement: Can the Ethiopian change the color of his skin? The word for Ethiopian or Cushite was a derogatory term meaning burnt face, so it’s clearly about people with black skin. But what God is really saying is that this is what people say, and God would ask them what they think these Ethiopians are supposed to do to avoid being mocked for this. We know this is the meaning because of the next rhetorical quesion about how leopards can’t change their spots. God made both the way they are, so who is anyone to mock on that basis? And the point in this context is that sinning had become so deeply embedded in the nature of his chosen people, they could no longer repent. The New Testament equivalent of this concept is seen in 1 Tim. 4:2 regarding those whose conscience has been seared as with a hot iron.

Jer. 14-16

The text continues the details of what will happen to such people, including famine. Then the focus turns to the people’s love of false prophets, which is often true of Christians today, who have no discernment because they can’t be bothered to study the Bible or listen to those who have.

In verse 17 we see that it isn’t just Jeremiah who’s weeping, but also God himself, because the people he loves only hate him in return and must be sent away. Jeremiah begs God to remember his covenant and spare Jerusalem, but it was Israel and Judah who broke it. This is a common attitude against Christians today; people say we’re intolerant and judgmental, but it’s the critics who have those faults. Of all the faith communities in the world, ours is the one most others unite against, because they cannot tolerate salvation by faith in Jesus alone, or anyone defending the Bible instead of bashing it.

In ch. 15 God says that even if Moses and Samuel stood before him to plead for mercy for Israel, God would not grant it nor feel any pity for them because their sin was so bad. Whether that brought any comfort to Jeremiah we don’t know. But as the passage continues, we see that it’s God who has the right to ask why and to be given pity. Then God rebukes Jeremiah, not for whining about how he has had to suffer for the messages he brings, but for actually implying that God had been remiss in allowing it to happen. We have to be careful as well not to cross that line. And we haven’t been made to suffer to the point Jeremiah was.

Ch. 16 where God tells him not to marry and have children in Israel. But the reason of course is that the land was about to be devastated, which Jeremiah knew, as opposed to our situations where we don’t have any warning about the future for our personal lives. He wasn’t even allowed to mourn the dead or sympathize with the grieving. And then we see that in spite of all they’d done, the people have the audacity to ask God what they’ve done to deserve the punishment! Yet God still gives the hope of return from exile, distant though it was at that time, and then it’s back to warnings of doom through ch. 17.

Jer. 17-20

Critics love to taunt, See, your God is so weak and narcissistic that he lashes out at people just for not loving and obeying him! But who are they to talk, since they too lash out and oppress those who don’t accept or agree with them? As Jesus said, the wicked only love those who love them, so what right do they have to condemn God for what they themselves do? We should also tell the critics that Israel had agreed to obey and serve God but broke their promises— not to mention that they were burning their own children in sacrifice to other gods. Even the most jaded anti-Christian should demand the death of those who do such things.

Verse 19 focuses on an example of that broken covenant, the people’s abandonment of the Sabbath Day. Again, this was God’s covenant with Israel, and we’re not Israel.

In ch. 18 comes another real-life object lesson for Jeremiah to carry out: He was to observe a potter, who on occasion would give up on a piece he was making and form it into something else. The lesson was that Israel should have known its place as the clay and not the potter, such that they had no right to complain if he changed his treatment of them for their faults and unworthiness to be blessed. In fact, they would become an object of horror and disgust for their grievous sins.

Then after more pleas from Jeremiah for God to protect him, in ch. 19 it’s another object lesson involving a jar of clay. But critics love to twist verse 9 into the Bible condoning cannibalism, though of course it does no such thing. The people will be so starved and desperate as to eat their own children and each other. This is a curse from God, not an endorsement of evil. Then in verse 10 Jeremiah is to break the jar, to illustrate what’s about to come upon all these proud sinners, who among their other sins have been worshiping the stars. As with other such passages, remember this when the critics say Christians are sun worshipers just because sun sounds like son in English.

In ch. 20 we see that Jeremiah was flogged and locked up in stocks for speaking truth that nobody wanted to hear. The stocks were designed to keep a prisoner in an uncomfortable position in view of the public, so it added insult to injury, which is hard to take when you’ve done nothing to deserve it. So we can sympathize with Jeremiah when he reminds God that he had to push him to accept being a prophet. It was the mockery and ridicule that hurt him most, but he could no more hold back from giving God’s messages than he could hold back fire. If only Christians had that same problem holding back the Gospel.

We can also sympathize with what he said in verse 10 about his so-called friends who watched him closely to find an excuse to denounce and betray him. Yet like Jeremiah, we should cling all the more to God during such times, so that our suffering won’t be in vain and the wicked will get what they’ve earned. Yet again, we can sympathizw when Jeremiah wavers between singing God’s praises and wishing he’d never been born.

Jer. 21-29

Ch. 21 begins with a message from God after King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to ask God for help when Jerusalem was under seige by Babylonian forces. But since God ordered Babylon to do this, he himself would be fighting against Jerusalem rather than helping it. But in verse 8 God offers mercy to anyone who surrenders to Babylon. Such people would be considered traitors by the people of Jerusalem, but not by God. Sometimes our choices aren’t any easier, but we need to be sure of God’s will as much as possible. Then in verse 11 God turns to the royal court and admonishes them to stop being corrupt, but they keep refusing.

In ch. 22 God gives one more warning, and in verse 10 he says not to weep for the dead king but the surviving king, who will never see his homeland again. More dire predictions follow, including the exile of Jeconiah in verse 24.

In ch. 23 the rest of the leadership is indicted and judged, and in verse 5 we see another Messianic prophecy for the future Millennium. Verse 9 turns to false prophets and corrupt priests and the grief they’ve caused to God. This goes on for quite a while, and in verse 35 God rebukes people who say his messages are burdensome.

In ch. 24 Jeremiah is given a vision to show that it’s the exiles who are the good people, and the ’patriots’ who are bad, because they wouldn’t heed the warnings. In ch. 25 Jeremiah is given another prophecy against Judah, because of their repeated rebellion, and the duration is given as 70 years. This is what Daniel would later read and lament about, as you can see in Dan. 9:1-2. Yet another vision comes in 25:15 about the nations being made to drink from the wine of Gods wrath, which is referenced in Rev. 14:10. Then we see a long description of what this means through the end of the chapter.

Ch. 26 begins another message, but they chose again to shoot the messenger. A court is hastily convened, and at least they allowed Jeremiah to make his defense. As a result, we seen in verse 16 that they relented from killing him. Ch. 27 revisits the issue of surrendering to Babylon via another object lesson, and it applies not only to individuals but also to nations. The people are also warned to ignore the false prophets who keep telling them everything will be all right. But in ch. 28 one such false prophet is named and confronted. Jeremiah tells him that the temple will indeed be restored, but not until after the 70-year exile is completed. And in 28:17 the false prophet died.

In ch. 29 Jeremiah sends out a letter to the exiles in Babylon, and he tells them to settle down because they’re going to be there a long time. They’re also to do what they can to ensure and promote the prosperity of the city they live in, because God has plans to bless them in the future. Wherever we live, we should pray for peace.This never means wishing an evil government well, but only for them to let us live, as the scriptures also say in 1 Tim. 2:1-4.

Verse 8 repeats the warning against false prophets and the required exile, and verse 11 is the popular scripture about God’s plans to prosper his people. But remember the context; this is a specific prophecy to a specific people at a specific time. Certainly we can all take comfort in such passages, but they aren’t meant to be guarantees of deliverance, since we don’t have direct prophecies for us as individuals.

The rest of ch. 29 are more words to the exiles, including using the horrible deaths of the false prophets as proof and a reminder that God means what he says. Then we’re given the text of an exchange of letters.

Jer. 30-52

In ch. 30 God tells Jeremiah to write this all down for the future. Then God addresses both Israel and Judah, and verse 7 is where we first see the phrase about the time of Jacob’s Trouble, which is to be followed by the Millennial Kingdom. See the link in the description for more detail as to how Jacob’s Trouble, the Great Tribulation, and the Day of the Lord all overlap. God has to punish his people for their sins, but in the end a remnant will repent and be blessed.

The blessing portion continues into ch. 31, and in verse 10 we see that this must be literal, not the least of which reason is that the people who were scattered will be gathered, and that has never been a description of the church. But suddenly, in verse 15 all the happy talk reverses in a familiar Messianic passage referenced in Mat. 2:17-18 when Herod killed all the baby boys in Judah. Certainly it was to be fulfilled in the near future to this context in Jeremiah, but prophecy often goes through many cycles over time. But in verse 16 God comforts Rachel after they repent, because they will not be exiled or lost forever. And as we read the rest of the passage, we can’t miss the fact that God has, and will, never replace the nation of Israel.

But what is the meaning of the end of verse 22? Commentaries offer various guesses, but it seems to me that the word there for encompass or protect should be understood as a figure of speech meaning to court or woo, since in this context it’s Israel finally reaching out to God, instead of God reaching out to Israel. This turnabout would be unprecedented.

Verse 23 continues describing the Millennial Kingdom, and verse 29 matches Ezekiel 18 regarding the fact that we don’t inherit guilt. But verse 31 is where we see mention of a new covenant— with Israel and Judah during the Millennium, not with the gentiles or the whole world, and in that time people won’t even suffer the consequences of other people’s sins. Constable’s Notes spends a lot of time arguing for the church being in this new covenant, but the text here is very specific.

Ch. 32 covers a time when Jeremiah was in custody for all the negative prophecies. Then he’s given assurance that God is still speaking to him, and then he’s told to buy a parcel of land, the reason being given in verse 15: to serve as a witness that in the future, people will again settle in the land. Then Jeremiah prays to God about all this, and in verse 26 God answers by reassuring him that everything will happen just as prophecied.

In ch. 33 the prophecies are repeated, and in verse 14 we see another Messianic prophecy about the Millennium. But notice the next message starting in verse 19: Only if day and night stopped revolving would God ever break the covenant he made with David and the Levites. Remember that this covenant was specifically for them and concerned the land and people, and that after the Millennium there will be no more night. So this is a specific and limited covenant, not an eternal one with everyone.

In ch. 34 it’s back to the impending exile to Babylon, but a new sin is being committed: The people had promised to release their slaves but enslaved them again later. So God sarcastically offers the slavers their own freedom: to choose the manner of their death.

In ch. 35 a contrast is made between unfaithful Judah and a tribe called the Rechabites, whose devotion to their ancestor Jonadab never waivered for 200 years. God promises to reward their faithfulness. In ch. 36 Jeremiah is told to write down everything he’d been given to prophesy, to be read to all the people in the temple. But after a private reading to the officials, they tell him and the reader to hide, and they themselves hide the scroll before telling the king what it said. But the king had them bring the scroll anyway and burned it as it was read.

In ch. 37 Jeremiah is falsely accused of desertion, then flogged and confined. After a long time the king asks him for a word from God, but then Jeremiah demands to know why he had been arrested, and the king sees to it that he is treated well as long as possible. In ch. 38 he’s falsely accused of treason and thrown into a cistern, where he sinks into the mud at the bottom. But an Ethiopian, not any of his own people, has him rescued. (Did we mention he’s called the Weeping Prophet?) But the king summons him again, and he repeats the dire prophecies.

In ch. 39 the siege finally begins. But Zedekiah tries to escape rather than surrender as Jeremiah told him, so he and his family come to a violent end. Jeremiah himself is treated kindly by the Babylonians, and then the kind Ethiopian is told he’ll escape and not be harmed.

In ch. 40 we see that Jeremiah was released and permitted to return to Judah, and a small province is set up for the poor survivors. Then in ch. 41 we see a murder plot, an ambush, and a rescue. In ch. 42 the survivors ask Jeremiah to pray for them, and God grants them safety if they listen to him and stay where they are. But in ch. 43 they do exactly what they said they wouldn’t: go to Egypt. In spite of all the times Jeremiah has been proven right, they still call him a liar. And the warnings God gave if they did are repeated.

The warnings continue into ch. 44, where in verse 17 we see another reference to the Queen of Heaven. Ch. 45 is a brief message to Jeremiah’s friend Baruch, and then ch. 46 begins a warning to Egypt concerning Babylon. But verse 27 turns back to distant hope for the remnant of Israel, and then it’s back to judgment in ch. 47, this time against the Philistines.

In ch. 48 it’s Moab’s turn, and it goes on for quite a while. Ch. 49 turns to Ammon, then Edom, then Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, and Elam. Then in ch. 50 it’s back to Babylon, and we see the same idea as expressed in Rev. 18:4, for the people of Judah to get out of Babylon so they don’t suffer its judgments. The judgment is specifically aimed at Babylon’s gods, which God calls piles of excrement many times in Ezekiel. Though this prophecy wouldn’t be completely fulfilled at that time, it will be in the future.

This long oracle continues into ch. 51, where we see phrases used in Rev. 16:19 and 18:6: that Babylon will be paid back for all her sins, and that she would drink from the cup of God’s wrath. The final chapter, 52, makes no mention of Jeremiah but simply records some final details about events during the reign of Zedekiah.

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