The temple of the Lord had stood in Jerusalem for more than 300 years. The nation was known by God’s name: the surrounding nations had heard of the wonders Israel’s God had worked for them in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in their own land. Israel’s God was a great God, and His throne was in Jerusalem.
Yet they did not follow Him. They worshiped other gods, perverted justice in the land, and ignored His laws. Once in a while, a king, a descendant of David, would turn the people back to God, but the other kings led the people into all kinds of disobedience.
The people have gone far enough. God promised to exile His people from their land if they turned from Him, and now Jerusalem’s time has come. The Babylonians will destroy the city, raze the holy temple, and carry the Jews away.
But even as the Lord plans Jerusalem’s destruction, He sends his people a prophet to warn, challenge, and comfort them. That prophet is a young man named Jeremiah.
Jeremiah ministers to the Jews for about 40 years, and his career is a sad one. He is, for the most part, the only prophet of God in the land: everyone else who claims to have a word from the Lord is a fake.
That’s especially difficult for Jeremiah, because while the false prophets preach peace, safety, and victory over Babylon, Jeremiah insists that the Babylonians will destroy everything. The false prophets tell everyone that God is with His people; Jeremiah tells everyone that God is on the enemy’s side. You can imagine which message is more popular.
Jeremiah endures mockery, imprisonment, kidnapping, and death threats from the people he desperately tries to help.
But God’s word comes true: Nebuchadnezzar defeats the Jews, and carries off the royal family. The temple is destroyed. The city is burned with fire. The Babylonians set up a new governor over the area and go back to their land. They also release Jeremiah from prison and tell him to live a happy life.
But it doesn’t end there. A neighboring nation assassinates the governor, and the Jews are left with two options:
- Stay in their land
- Emigrate to Egypt as refugees
They ask Jeremiah what the Lord would have them do, and He promises them that if they stay in the land of Israel they will flourish. They will live in peace under Babylonian rule, and God Himself will have compassion on them. But if they disobey, God will bring the Babylonians against the Egyptians, and the Jews will perish when Egypt is conquered.
The Jews choose to go to Egypt anyway.
Theme verse in Jeremiah
“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.” —God, to Jeremiah (Je 1:10)
Jeremiah’s role in the Bible
Jeremiah is the second of the Major Prophets. When God had a message for the people, He spoke to them through prophets: men moved by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s words.
Jeremiah is also the longest book of the Bible by word count in the original language.
Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet,” and for good reason. Jeremiah’s message is heartbreaking: the people of God have forsaken Him, and now He will destroy them. And even as Jeremiah preaches to the people, they do not listen. Jeremiah’s tragic writings don’t end in this book, either: the weeping prophet is the traditional author of Lamentations, a collection of funeral dirges for Jerusalem.
Jeremiah mixes prophetic discourse with narrative, and the narratives are not arranged chronologically. He speaks to kings, priests, commanders, and the people, and travels to many nations. As you read Jeremiah, you’ll learn to anticipate Jeremiah’s advice and the people’s response—and you’ll see just how many chances God gives His people to follow His voice and keep His covenant.
But the covenant is broken. The people are broken.
And it’s in Jeremiah that we learn about God’s plan to make a new covenant with His people. His law will be on their hearts, and they will all know Him. He shall be their God, and they shall be His people. He will forgive their sin and remember it no more (Jer 31:31–34). God makes this covenant through Jesus Christ in the New Testament—the book of Hebrews explores this new covenant in detail.
When the prophet Daniel reads the book of Jeremiah (Dan 9), he prays to the Lord on behalf of Israel—and nicely sums up how the book fits into the rest of the Old Testament:
- The Jews were warned that this would happen in the Law of Moses.
- But the kings and rulers did not obey.
- They ignored the prophets.
Although Jeremiah’s messages focus on the coming punishment of Judah, this book is not without hope. Jeremiah promises restoration and return for the Jews, which comes to pass in the book of Ezra. Jeremiah also looks forward to a righteous king from the line of David to arise in the future, and although He has been born (Mt 2:2), the Lord Jesus Christ has yet to take office in Jerusalem.
Quick outline of Jeremiah
- Jeremiah’s teachings: God’s charges against Jerusalem (Jer 1–25)
- The people reject Jeremiah’s message (Jer 26–28)
- Jeremiah’s teachings: Hope for God’s restoration (Jer 29–35)
- The people reject Jeremiah’s message, Jerusalem falls (Jer 36–45)
- Jeremiah’s teachings: God’s wrath against the nations (Jer 46–51)
- Historical Epilogue (Jer 52)