Jeremiah – The Reluctant Prophet

Morning Message – John Cline

Jeremiah 1

A prophet’s life is never easy, but Jeremiah had an especially rough time. Known as the “Weeping Prophet”, Jeremiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during Old Testament times, right before Judah ultimately fell and was led away into Babylonian captivity. God sent Jeremiah to a crumbling nation to warn of their impending demise – a warning they didn’t heed. It’s important to know the history of his people and the context of his ministry in order to understand Jeremiah’s life and prophetic concerns. Three centuries earlier,

King David’s son, King Solomon, ruled over Israel in the 900’s BC.

However, due to Solomon’s sin of turning away from God and allowing the worship of other gods in his kingdom, and, then the choice of an unwise son, Rehoboam, to follow him as king of Israel…

Under Solomon’s son Rehoboam, the 12 tribes of the united Israel split into 2 nations. Ten of the tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel, based in Samaria. The two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) formed the southern kingdom of Judah.

The people of the northern kingdom of Israel erected on Mount Gerizim in Samaria their own temple to YHWH (we recently read about the Samaritan woman at the well who stated such to Jesus) but, they did so only after first building throughout the land hundreds of shrines and altars and poles to numerous other gods. Due to their worship of those other gods, YHWH God sent prophets such as Elijah and Elisha, Amos, Hosea, and Micah to the people in the northern kingdom of Israel telling them to repent, to stop their idolatry and worship of false gods and return to worshipping YHWH only, or else God would lift His hand of protection off them and they would be overrun by the Assyrians and taken away, never to be seen again. But they refused. So,

In 721 BC, the northern nation of Israel was crushed, and its citizens taken away, never to return. They became known as the “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”.

The southern kingdom of Judah survived the assaults of Assyria, though, under the prayerful leadership of King Hezekiah and through the miraculous intervention and rescuing by YHWH God, as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. That was in 721 BC. Unlike Israel which had had only unfaithful and bad kings throughout its existence, Judah’s kings alternated between being faithful and unfaithful, good and bad. It was during the time of a faithful, good king of Judah, Josiah, that a teenager named Jeremiah, who was the son of a priest, Hilkiah, was called by God to be his spokesman, his prophet to the nation of Judah as well as the surrounding nations.

King Josiah, who was a good king (2 Kings 23) discovered Moses’ Book of the law in the Temple, which led to powerful religious reforms in the land (c. 621 BC)

On the world scene, there were three superpowers at war.

In 609 BC, Babylon overthrew Assyria. Egypt came to the defense of Assyria and entered the northern land of Israel which outraged King Josiah of Judah, who, in retaliation, attacked the armies of Egypt on the Plains of Megiddo but was there killed.

In many ways that was a tragedy, for every king after Josiah was bad.

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, was crowned king of Judah but Jehoahaz infuriated the Egyptians, and they took him away to his death in Egypt and made his brother Jehoiakim was made king.

Egypt thought of itself a superpower. However,

The contest for world supremacy ended in 605 B.C when the Babylonians crushed the Egyptian army at the Battle of Carchemish. Judah then became a vassal state of Babylon, and was required to send money, gifts, and taxes to Babylon.

But the Babylonians really didn’t like the nation of Judah.

In 605 BC, under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, Babylon attacked Jerusalem and took into Babylonian exile several of Judah’s leading young men and princes, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, in 598 BC,

King Jehoiakim decided to not pay any more taxes or send money to Babylon, so the Babylonians attacked again, this time destroying the nation of Judah, excluding Jerusalem, and Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, became king.

It is believed that the religious leaders turned Jehoiakim over to the Babylonians, who then killed him, in exchange for peace. But that improved nothing for Jehoiakim’s son, the new king,

Jehoiachin similarly enraged Nebuchadnezzar who himself led the Babylonian army to Jerusalem. They took Jehoiachin, his family, his officials, Judah’s army, and 1,000 craftsmen and artisans into captivity in Babylon. Zedekiah was made king.

Zedekiah was Jehoiachin’s uncle. He was a bad king, an unfaithful person in every way, as well as being deluded, and an unwise fool.

Eleven years later (586 BC), Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who again led his army to Jerusalem, this time totally levelling it. All of Judah was now in Babylonian captivity.

Zedekiah was the last king of the Israelites until King Herod the Great had himself appointed as such by the Romans in the 1st century BC.

Jeremiah was a contemporary with the prophets Zephaniah (his mentor), Habakkuk (who was perplexed by God using Babylon as His instrument of vengeance), Daniel (who was taken to Babylon in 605 BC and lived through the entire 70 years of exile), and Ezekiel (who prophesied from Babylon).

So, Jeremiah was not prophesying in a vacuum. He was not a wolf, a “lone voice crying in the wilderness”, but he often felt alone.

The Book of Jeremiah is in 6 parts: 1. Chapter 1 – God’s call of Jeremiah.

  1. Chapters 2-29 – Prophecies to Judah.
  2. Chapters 30-33 – Prophecies of restoration (e.g. “70 years of captivity”, and, “I know the plans I have for you…”).
  3. Chapters 34-45 – Jeremiah’s personal trials, including his exile to Egypt.
  4. Chapters 46-51 – Prophecies to 9 foreign nations.
  5. Chapter 52 – the Fall of Jerusalem.

And so, let’s turn now to chapter one, the first part of Jeremiah’s book:
The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile. (Jeremiah 1:1-3)
Jeremiah was born to a priestly family in Anathoth, about three miles from Jerusalem. God called him to be a prophet in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah, but he was a very reluctant prophet. He didn’t feel old enough to speak God’s words. He didn’t believe that people would take him seriously. He was probably a teenager at the time of his calling. God explained to him that He always planned for Jeremiah to not just be a priest in a synagogue but a prophet to the nations.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

So, Jeremiah reluctantly accepted his assignment and calling but it was not easy for him. After several years of preaching, Jeremiah’s family turned against him and even plotted to kill him. He was attacked and whipped and put in the stocks by his fellow Jews, threatened by a king, ridiculed, beaten, accused of treason, arrested and put in jail, from whence he was thrown into a deep, empty well. He lived through the siege of Jerusalem but was left there as the rest of his Jewish people were taken away as captives. He went into a different kind of exile, which I explain in a moment. From Jerusalem, he wrote letters to the exiles in Babylon, encouraging them to persevere, and giving them hope. Quite amazingly, this wildly unpopular prophet ended up writing the passage that made him eternally popular and which gave his Jewish compatriots hope during their time of exile in Babylon. Here is what he wrote:

“When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (29:10,11)

It was those two verses, more than any other passages, which sustained the exiles and people such as Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and the prophet Ezekiel in Babylon. The 70 years of captivity followed by freedom and restoration were referred to by Daniel as well as the writers of 2nd Chronicles.

As I mentioned earlier, Jeremiah himself ended up in exile, but not in Babylon. Instead, the supporters of King Zedekiah, who had opposed the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, fled for their lives, going to Egypt, but before they left Jerusalem, they kidnapped poor old Jeremiah and took him into exile with them in Egypt, the place from where he spent four more years prophesying. Jeremiah died in Egypt.

One more piece of irony: for such a reluctant prophet at the start of his ministry, Jeremiah more than proved God correct in His assessment that Jeremiah could and should speak, for the book bearing his name is the longest in the entire Bible. People often mistakenly claim that Psalms is the longest book but, Jeremiah, then Genesis, and then the Psalms, is the correct order for the longest books in the Bible. Back to chapter 1. The Lord gave Jeremiah two visions to confirm his calling.

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” (Jeremiah 1:11,12)

The word for “almond tree” in Hebrew is from the word meaning to “watch” or “to wake”. In Judah, the almond tree’s blooming or awakening was the first sign of spring. The almond branch represented God, a reminder that He/God was awake and watching over His message to bring it to pass.

The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.” The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord. “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.” (Jeremiah 1:13-16)

The Lord’s second confirming vision was of a “boiling pot”, literally a “blown upon” kettle, indicating a wind blowing on the fire to keep the pot’s contents boiling. The pot was facing way from the north, so that its contents were about to be spilled out toward the south, to Judah. Evil from the north in the form of the Babylonians was about to break forth on the inhabitants of Judah. The Lord would allow the Babylonians to succeed – unless the people of Judah listened to Jeremiah’s words and repented of sins such as burning incense to other gods and worshipping idols that they had made with their own hands. If they repented, the judgment would be called off. But, if they did not repent, the judgment from the north would come – as it well did. However, God would protect Jeremiah himself from the assaults of the Babylonians and from the opposition that the Jewish people would give him. God, in the verses you are about to hear, told Jeremiah, “Your own people will attack you. But they will not overcome you.” As the old saying goes, “An army of one will win, if they are fighting for God, because He will be with them.”

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

Four quick takeaways from this opening look at the Book of Jeremiah: 1. His life was rooted in the purposes of God. As we read, ‘The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”’ (Jeremiah 1:4,5). How do you argue with God when He says that to you? God knew him. God knows you! God set him apart for a specific purpose just as God has set you apart for a specific task.

  1. Jeremiah needed God’s help to do his ministry as a prophet. We similarly need help from the Lord to do what He has called us to. God’s authority was behind Jeremiah’s ministry, just as Jesus’ authority has been given to us and is behind us to do his work of spreading the Gospel message. So, you can go in confidence in the name of Jesus, and doing the work he has called you to, and gifted you for.
  2. Jeremiah came to the place where God was everything for him. Are we at that point in our lives, wanting the Lord more than anything? You are not your own, as the Bible teaches. You are not self-made. You are God-made. He chose you, not the other way around. So, with His secure strength and peace in your life, set out to desire Him more than anything else in life. Besides which, He promises to deliver or rescue you from any opposition to you doing His work or speaking His words.
  3. As we read Jeremiah these summer Sundays, you will find the passages gruelling, yet filled with hope. Remember that Jeremiah also wrote the Book of Lamentations, that book of horror and lament, but in it are the most famous and comforting verses in the Bible. We will end today’s sermon with them:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:19-23).

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