1, 2. Why do you have confidence in what you read in the Bible?
“THERE exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Prov. 18:24) Have you experienced the truth of those inspired words? You can trust what a real friend says. When he tells you something good or explains what he will do, you believe it. If he points out something needing adjustment, you likely accept it and act accordingly. He has proved over time that he has your interests at heart, even when offering you counsel. He wants you to succeed, and you want the same for him so that your friendship will last.
2 In many respects, you find such friends in the men whom God used to write the books of the Bible. What you hear from them, you can believe. You are sure that what they say is for your good. The ancient Israelites should have felt that way about the “men [who] spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) The one whom God used to write the largest prophetic book was Jeremiah, who also wrote Lamentations and two other Bible books.
3, 4. How do some people view the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, but why is that a misconception? Illustrate.
3 You may have noted, though, that some Bible readers tend to view Jeremiah’s writings as ‘not for them.’ They may imagine that the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations offer only dire warnings and grim predictions.* But is that a realistic view of Jeremiah and Lamentations?
4 Granted, what Jeremiah wrote presents frank assessments, yet you know that at times a friend also does that. Even Jesus spoke out when his friends, the apostles, displayed wrong attitudes; he plainly corrected them. (Mark 9:33-37) Nonetheless, Jesus’ main message was positive, showing the way to gain God’s approval and future happiness. (Matt. 5:3-10, 43-45) It is similar with Jeremiah’s writings, which are part of “all Scripture” that is beneficial for “setting things straight.” (2 Tim. 3:16) Jeremiah did clearly state God’s view of those who claimed to serve Jehovah but who deserved to reap the consequences of their bad ways. Still, the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations contain a message of hope and show how our future can be blessed. Jeremiah included prophecies about how God’s dealings would develop, and today we are directly involved in the fulfillment. Furthermore, you will find in those two books statements that are positive and encouraging.—Read Jeremiah 31:13, 33; 33:10, 11; Lamentations 3:22, 23.
5. How can we benefit from Jeremiah’s writings?
5 Both our present happiness among God’s people and our prospects for the future are linked to things that Jeremiah wrote. Our unified brotherhood is an example. His writings will help us to strengthen that brotherhood and to apply the apostle Paul’s counsel: “Brothers, continue to rejoice, to be readjusted, to be comforted, to think in agreement, to live peaceably; and the God of love and of peace will be with you.” (2 Cor. 13:11) Jeremiah’s writings also relate directly to the message we preach. While we tell others about the last days and warn of the approaching end of this system, our message is still positive, offering a basis for hope. Moreover, what Jeremiah wrote is very useful in practical ways. Our situation finds many parallels in his life and in his message. To appreciate that, consider the background and assignment of this exemplary prophet to whom God said: “Here I have put my words in your mouth.”—Jer. 1:9.
6, 7. Why can we be sure that God was interested in Jeremiah, and into what situation was he born?
6 A husband and wife awaiting the birth of a child think often about their future son (or daughter). What will he be like, and what will he do in life—his interests, career, and accomplishments? Your parents likely thought about those things. It must have been similar with Jeremiah’s parents. However, his case was special. Why? The Creator of the universe was particularly interested in Jeremiah’s life and activities.—Read Jeremiah 1:5.
7 Yes, before Jeremiah was born, God used His foreknowledge. He took special interest in a boy who would be born into a priestly family living north of Jerusalem. That was in the middle of the seventh century B.C.E., not a happy time in Judah because of the bad rulership of King Manasseh. (See page 19.) During much of his 55-year reign, Manasseh did what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. Thereafter, his son Amon followed a similar course. (2 Ki. 21:1-9, 19-26) A dramatic change came about with the next Judean king. Yes, King Josiah searched for Jehovah. By the 18th year of his reign, Josiah had cleansed the land of idolatry. That must have pleased Jeremiah’s parents; it was during Josiah’s reign that God commissioned their son.—2 Chron. 34:3-8.
Why do you have reason to be interested in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations?
GOD CHOOSES A SPOKESMAN
8. What was Jeremiah commissioned to be, and how did he react?
8 We do not know Jeremiah’s age when God told him: “Prophet to the nations I made you.” He might have been close to 25 years old, the age at which a priest could enter the first phase of his service. (Num. 8:24) In any event, Jeremiah responded: “Alas, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah! Here I actually do not know how to speak, for I am but a boy.” (Jer. 1:6) He felt reluctant, perhaps thinking he was too young or unqualified for the serious responsibility and the public speaking required of a prophet.
9, 10. Under what circumstances did Jeremiah take up his commission, but why, in time, did his assignment prove to be daunting?
9 Jeremiah was commissioned during the time when King Josiah was eliminating detestable false worship and promoting true worship. However much interaction there was between Jeremiah and Josiah, the climate was clearly favorable for a true prophet. Zephaniah and Nahum also served in Judah early in Josiah’s rule.* Huldah the prophetess did too, but she foretold bad times ahead. And Jeremiah lived to experience them. (2 Ki. 22:14) In fact, at times, such friends as Ebed-melech and Baruch had to rescue Jeremiah from certain death or protect him from vengeful enemies.
10 How would you feel if God said that you were specially commissioned as a prophet to deliver a strong message? (Read Jeremiah 1:10.) Consider just one example of what Jeremiah had to declare. In 609 B.C.E., Babylonian forces were moving toward Jerusalem. King Zedekiah sought a favorable message from God through Jeremiah. But that is not what God had for that king.—Read Jeremiah 21:4-7, 10.
A HUMAN LIKE US
11. Why might Jeremiah have found it difficult yet reassuring to carry out his assignment?
11 Imagine that we had to deliver scathing denunciations and judgments against wicked kings, corrupt priests, and false prophets. Jeremiah had to do so. But we have God’s backing, and so did Jeremiah. (Jer. 1:7-9) God showed confidence in young Jeremiah, emboldening him with the words: “I have made you today a fortified city and an iron pillar and copper walls against all the land, toward the kings of Judah, toward her princes, toward her priests and toward the people of the land. And they will be certain to fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for ‘I am with you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘to deliver you.’”—Jer. 1:18, 19.
12. What are some reasons why we can identify with Jeremiah?
12 No one need think of Jeremiah as some incredibly formidable person. He was a human like us. Moreover, it is significant that though Jeremiah lived in another era, he faced situations similar to those we face. We interact with various types of people in our daily life and congregation activities, even as Jeremiah interacted with those around him. This all relates to what we might learn from Jeremiah, who, similar to the prophet Elijah, was “a man with feelings like ours.” (Jas. 5:17) Consider some examples of what we can learn from Jeremiah.
13, 14. Why may some Christians relate to Jeremiah’s experience with Pashhur, as depicted on page 10?
13 Over the years, have you not had ups and downs? So did Jeremiah. On one occasion Pashhur, a prominent priest, assaulted Jeremiah and had him put in stocks. For hours, he was confined in a wooden frame that may have held his feet, hands, and neck, forcing him into a distorted posture. In addition to the pain, he must have had to endure ridicule heaped on him by opposers. Do you think that you could bear up under malicious ridicule, even physical mistreatment?—Jer. 20:1-4.
14 Given Jeremiah’s situation, it is not surprising that he felt moved to say: “Cursed be the day on which I was born! . . . Why is it that I have come forth from the very womb in order to see hard work and grief and that my days should come to their end in mere shame?” (Jer. 20:14-18) Clearly, he knew what despair was. Have you ever felt so despondent that you doubted your worth, what you were accomplishing, or even whether there was much point in going on? All who have ever had such feelings can benefit from a better understanding of Jeremiah’s experiences and of how things worked out for him.
What impresses you about Jehovah’s commissioning of Jeremiah? Why can you identify with Jeremiah?
15. Why can we benefit from noting the changes in mood that Jeremiah experienced?
15 The expressions of despair that we read at Jeremiah 20:14-18 follow right after the prophet spoke about singing to Jehovah and praising him. (Read Jeremiah 20:12, 13.) In your case, have you at times noted rather quick changes in your emotions? You were very happy, and then your mood changed to one of discouragement. Likely all of us can profit from analyzing Jeremiah’s experience. It is clear that he had normal human feelings, as do we. So we can probably benefit greatly from examining the actions and reactions of this man whom the Creator was able to use mightily as a spokesman.—2 Chron. 36:12, 21, 22; Ezra 1:1.
16. Jeremiah’s marital status may be noteworthy to whom?
16 Another reason why some identify with Jeremiah relates to his marital status. What was it? God gave Jeremiah an unusual and perhaps challenging direction: Do not marry. (Read Jeremiah 16:2.) Why did Jehovah tell Jeremiah that, and how did it affect him? What is there in this account that might resonate with brothers and sisters who do not have a mate, whether by choice or because of circumstances? In fact, is there something in God’s statement to Jeremiah that Witnesses who are now married should ponder? And what of married couples who do not have “sons and daughters”? How can the account of Jeremiah help you?
17. The prophet’s words found at Jeremiah 38:20 may cause us to think of what?
17 It is interesting that at one point Jeremiah urged the reigning Judean king: “Obey, please, the voice of Jehovah in what I am speaking to you, and it will go well with you, and your soul will continue to live.” (Jer. 38:20) This account offers excellent guidance about our interaction with others. That includes dealings with people who are not yet walking in Jehovah’s ways but whom we may be able to help. Also, Jeremiah’s actions toward those who were obeying God is a practical pattern for us today. Yes, we can learn a great deal from Jeremiah.
WHAT IS TO COME?
18, 19. What are some ways in which the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations could be considered?
18 This volume will help you to examine the Bible books of Jeremiah and Lamentations and to learn from them. How? Under inspiration, the apostle Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16) That includes the two books just mentioned.
19 Of course, the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations could be approached beneficially in various ways. For instance, one might study those two books verse by verse, seeking to understand the background or import of each verse. Or one could concentrate on valid parallels—individuals and events described in Jeremiah and Lamentations set alongside or contrasted with modern equivalents or developments. (Compare Jeremiah 24:6, 7; 1 Corinthians 3:6.) Another mode might be to study the historical setting and events illuminated by these two books. (Jer. 39:1-9) In fact, to an extent, some of such information is necessary for any rewarding examination of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Thus, Chapter 2, “Serving in ‘the Final Part of the Days,’” will help us to get an overview of what the historical period that Jeremiah lived through was like and how God’s guiding hand came into play.
20. What approach to the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations will we take in this volume?
20 But the main thrust of this volume is different. We will approach the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations as gifts from God to help us live as Christians today. (Titus 2:12) We will realize even more than ever that these two books contain abundant information that is “beneficial for teaching.” They offer practical advice and examples that can enable us to be competent and equipped as we face life’s challenges. That is the case whether we are single, married, elders, pioneers, breadwinners, housewives, or students at school. Each of us will discover in these two inspired books divine help to be “equipped for every good work.”—2 Tim. 3:17.
21. Why are you looking forward to the study program to follow?
21 As you consider each chapter in this volume, look for points that you can use. There is no doubt that the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations will underscore what Paul wrote: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.”—Rom. 15:4.
As respects your daily life, what might you learn from studying the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations?
A number of languages use the word “jeremiad,” meaning “denunciatory complaint” or “angry tirade.” The Washington Post newspaper described a film on ecological and climate change as an “inconvenient jeremiad.”
Later in Jeremiah’s prophetic career, other prophets were his contemporaries: Habakkuk, Obadiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel. Jeremiah had served some 40 years when calamity came to Jerusalem in 607 B.C.E., and he lived for over 20 years after that.