1, 2. (a) What vision did Jeremiah have that set the theme for his prophetic declarations? (b) Why should you be interested in Jeremiah’s message?
“WHAT are you seeing?” God asked his newly commissioned prophet. “A widemouthed cooking pot blown upon is what I am seeing,” answered young Jeremiah, “and its mouth is away from the north.” That vision gave an early indication of the sort of declaration that Jeremiah would make. (Read Jeremiah 1:13-16.) The figurative cooking pot was being blown upon, not to cool it, but to intensify the flames underneath. Yes, Jehovah was foretelling that trouble, like a scalding liquid, would pour from this pot onto the land of Judah because of the prevailing unfaithfulness. Why do you think the pot’s mouth was tilted southward? It meant that trouble would come from the north—Babylon would invade from that direction. And so it proved to be. During his years as a prophet, Jeremiah witnessed successive outpourings from this boiling cooking pot, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem.
2 Babylon is no more, but you have reason to be interested in Jeremiah’s prophetic messages. Why? Because you live in “the final part of the days” when many claim that they are Christians; yet they and their churches do not have God’s favor. (Jer. 23:20) In contrast, like Jeremiah, you and your fellow Witnesses are preaching a message not only of judgment but also of hope.
3. (a) How is the material in the Bible book of Jeremiah arranged? (b) What is the objective of Chapter 2 of this volume?
3 Jeremiah likely dictated his account to a secretary in the latter part of his prophetic career, rather than recording events as they happened. (Jer. 25:1-3; 36:1, 4, 32) The book is not in chronological order because Jeremiah arranged many parts of it according to subject. Thus, you should find it useful to get an overview of the historical backdrop of the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations and the order in which events occurred. Note the chart on page 19. Your knowing who was king of Judah at what point and, in some cases, what was going on in and around Judah will enable you to understand better what Jeremiah said or did. And you will be better prepared to benefit from God’s messages for His people as proclaimed by Jeremiah.
JEREMIAH IN HIS HISTORICAL SETTING
4-6. What was the situation of God’s ancient people in the decades preceding Jeremiah’s prophetic career?
4 Jeremiah prophesied during a period of turbulent changes. It was a time of rivalry between Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt. Some 93 years before the start of Jeremiah’s prophetic career, Assyria defeated the northern ten-tribe kingdom of Israel and deported many of its inhabitants. At that time, Jehovah defended Jerusalem and its faithful king, Hezekiah, against Assyrian assault. You will recall how God miraculously slew 185,000 enemy soldiers. (2 Ki. 19:32-36) One of Hezekiah’s sons was Manasseh. Jeremiah was likely born during Manasseh’s 55-year reign, a time when Judah came under Assyrian political control.—2 Chron. 33:10, 11.
5 Jeremiah wrote the books of 1 and 2 Kings, in which we read that Manasseh rebuilt the high places that his father had destroyed. Manasseh set up altars to Baal and to the army of the heavens, even in Jehovah’s temple. And Manasseh spilled much innocent blood, having his own son offered as a burnt sacrifice to a false god. In sum, “he did on a large scale what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes.” Because of all that wickedness, God decreed that calamity would come upon Jerusalem and Judah, as it already had on Samaria and Israel. (2 Ki. 21:1-6, 12-16) After Manasseh’s death, his son Amon continued his father’s idolatrous practices, but soon things would change. After two years, Amon was murdered, and his eight-year-old son Josiah came to the throne in 659 B.C.E.
6 During Josiah’s 31-year reign, Babylon began to gain the upper hand over Assyria. Josiah saw in this situation an opening to regain Judah’s independence from foreign domination. Unlike his father and grandfather, Josiah served Jehovah faithfully and instituted major religious reforms. (2 Ki. 21:19–22:2) In his 12th year as king, Josiah destroyed the high places, the sacred poles, and the false religious images throughout his kingdom and thereafter ordered that Jehovah’s temple be repaired. (Read 2 Chronicles 34:1-8.) Interestingly, it was in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign (647 B.C.E.) that Jeremiah was commissioned as God’s prophet.
How might you have felt had you been a prophet in Jeremiah’s day?
7, 8. (a) How did King Josiah’s reign differ from those of his predecessors, Manasseh and Amon? (b) What kind of person was Josiah? (See the box on page 20.)
7 While the temple was being restored, in the 18th year of good King Josiah’s reign, the high priest found “the very book of the law.” The king had his secretary read it to him. Josiah recognized the errors of his people, sought Jehovah’s guidance through the prophetess Huldah, and urged his subjects to keep God’s commandments. Huldah informed Josiah that Jehovah would bring “calamity” on the Judeans on account of their unfaithfulness. However, because of Josiah’s good attitude toward pure worship, that calamity would not come during his lifetime.—2 Ki. 22:8, 14-20.
8 King Josiah renewed his efforts to eliminate all the trappings of idolatry. This drive even took him into territory once occupied by the northern kingdom of Israel, to pull down the high place and the altar at Bethel. He also arranged for an outstanding celebration of the Passover. (2 Ki. 23:4-25) Think how this must have pleased Jeremiah! It proved difficult, though, to move the people to change their ways. Manasseh and Amon had introduced the people to degraded idol worship, so spirituality was at a low ebb. Despite Josiah’s reforms, God moved Jeremiah to point out that the Judeans’ gods were as many as their cities. The prophet’s fellow countrymen were like an unfaithful wife—they had left Jehovah and prostituted themselves to foreign gods. Jeremiah declared: “As many altars as the streets of Jerusalem you people have placed for the shameful thing, altars to make sacrificial smoke to Baal.”—Read Jeremiah 11:1-3, 13.
9. The last years of Josiah’s reign were marked by what international events?
9 Just as Jeremiah’s delivering of such messages did not change the Jews, so it did not alter the fact that surrounding nations were jostling to gain ascendancy. In 632 B.C.E., the combined forces of the Babylonians and the Medes conquered Nineveh, the Assyrian capital. Three years later, Pharaoh Necho of Egypt led his army north to assist the beleaguered Assyrians. For reasons not stated in the Bible, Josiah tried to turn the Egyptian forces back at Megiddo, but he was mortally wounded. (2 Chron. 35:20-24) What political and religious changes would this sad event bring to Judah? And what new challenges would Jeremiah face?
A CHANGE OF RELIGIOUS CLIMATE
10. (a) In what sense were the times following Josiah’s death similar to our times? (b) How can you benefit from examining Jeremiah’s conduct?
10 Imagine how Jeremiah must have felt on learning of Josiah’s death! Moved with grief, he chanted dirges over the king. (2 Chron. 35:25) This was already a time of worry, and international instability brought pressure on Judah. The rival powers—Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon—were jockeying for control of the region. And the religious climate within Judah had changed with Josiah’s death. That was the end of a regime essentially favorable toward Jeremiah’s activity and the beginning of a hostile one. Many of our brothers in modern times have experienced a similar change, from relative freedom of worship to persecutions and bans. Who knows how many of us might soon experience similar changes? How might that affect us? What might we have to do to maintain our integrity? With those questions in mind, it will be encouraging to note the challenges that Jeremiah met successfully.
11. What developed in Judah after the death of Josiah?
11 The inhabitants of Judah put Josiah’s son Jehoahaz on the throne in Jerusalem. Jehoahaz, also known as Shallum, reigned for just three months. When Pharaoh Necho returned south after fighting the Babylonians, he removed the new king and took him to Egypt, and Jeremiah declared that Jehoahaz would “return no more.” (Jer. 22:10-12; 2 Chron. 36:1-4) In his place, Necho enthroned Jehoiakim, another of Josiah’s sons. Jehoiakim did not imitate his father’s good example. Far from continuing his father’s reforms, he practiced idolatry.—Read 2 Kings 23:36, 37.
12, 13. (a) At the start of Jehoiakim’s reign, what religious climate prevailed? (b) How did the Jewish religious leaders treat Jeremiah?
12 At the start of Jehoiakim’s reign, Jehovah told Jeremiah to go to the temple and roundly condemn the Judeans for their wickedness. They considered Jehovah’s temple to be a talisman that would protect them. Yet, if they would not abandon their “stealing, murdering and committing adultery and swearing falsely and making sacrificial smoke to Baal and walking after other gods,” Jehovah would forsake his temple. And he would do the same to the hypocrites who worshipped in it, just as he abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh in the days of High Priest Eli. The land of Judah would “become nothing but a devastated place.” (Jer. 7:1-15, 34; 26:1-6)* Think of the courage Jeremiah needed to declare that message! Likely, he did so in public before prominent, influential people. Some brothers and sisters today have likewise felt that they needed a measure of courage to share in street witnessing or to address wealthy or important people. We can, though, be sure of this: God’s support for us is certain, just as it was for Jeremiah.—Heb. 10:39; 13:6.
13 Given the religious and political climate prevailing in Judah, how would the religious leaders react to Jeremiah’s speech? According to the prophet’s own account, “the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of [me], saying: ‘You will positively die.’” They were livid, declaring: “To this man the judgment of death belongs.” (Read Jeremiah 26:8-11.) Jeremiah’s opponents, however, did not prevail. Jehovah was with his prophet to deliver him. As for Jeremiah personally, he did not allow the opponents’ menacing appearance or numbers to frighten him. Neither should you.
How would you contrast conditions during the reigns of Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah? What lesson might you find in how Jeremiah faced his challenging assignment?
“YOU MUST WRITE . . . ALL THE WORDS”
14, 15. (a) What work did Jeremiah and his secretary, Baruch, begin in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign? (b) What kind of person was Jehoiakim? (See the box on page 25.)
14 In the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim, Jehovah told Jeremiah to write down all the words that Jehovah had spoken to him since the days of Josiah. Jeremiah thus dictated to his secretary, Baruch, all that God had told him in the preceding 23 years. His messages of judgment involved some 20 kings and kingdoms. Jeremiah commanded Baruch to read this scroll aloud in Jehovah’s house. The objective of this effort? “Perhaps those of the house of Judah will listen to all the calamity that I am thinking of doing to them,” said Jehovah, “to the end that they may return, each one from his bad way, and that I may actually forgive their error and their sin.”—Jer. 25:1-3; 36:1-3.
15 When a court official read the scroll to Jehoiakim, the king cut it up and burned it. He then ordered that Jeremiah and Baruch be brought before him. “But Jehovah kept them concealed.” (Read Jeremiah 36:21-26.) Because of Jehoiakim’s thoroughly bad attitude, Jehovah, through his prophet, declared that the king would have “the burial of a he-ass.” He would be ‘dragged about and thrown away, out beyond the gates of Jerusalem.’ (Jer. 22:13-19) Do you think that this graphic prophecy could be dismissed as an exaggeration on Jeremiah’s part?
16. Jeremiah proclaimed what positive message?
16 Despite having to deliver such messages of judgment, Jeremiah was not a prophet of doom. He also announced a message of hope. Jehovah would deliver a remnant of Israel from their enemies and restore them to their own land, where they would dwell in security. God would establish “a new” and “indefinitely lasting covenant” with his people and write his law in their heart. He would forgive their errors and remember their sins no more. Moreover, a descendant of David would “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jer. 31:7-9; 32:37-41; 33:15) These prophecies were to have their fulfillment in the decades and centuries to come, even a fulfillment that touches our lives and can brighten our everlasting future. But back in Jeremiah’s day, Judah’s enemies continued their maneuvers.—Read Jeremiah 31:31, 33, 34; Hebrews 8:7-9; 10:14-18.
THE RISE OF BABYLON
17, 18. What international events marked the last years of Jehoiakim’s reign and that of Zedekiah?
17 In 625 B.C.E., the Babylonians and Egyptians fought a decisive battle at Carchemish, near the Euphrates River some 370 miles (600 km) north of Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar vanquished Pharaoh Necho’s forces, ending Egyptian power in the region. (Jer. 46:2) Nebuchadnezzar now dominated Judah, and Jehoiakim was forced to be his servant. After three years of vassalage, however, Jehoiakim rebelled. (2 Ki. 24:1, 2) In response, Nebuchadnezzar and his army marched into Judah in 618 B.C.E. and surrounded Jerusalem. Try to picture how turbulent a time that was, even for God’s prophet Jeremiah. Jehoiakim apparently met his end during the siege.* His son Jehoiachin surrendered to the Babylonians after occupying Judah’s throne for just three months. Nebuchadnezzar stripped Jerusalem of its riches and took into exile Jehoiachin, the families of the king and of the nobles of Judah, the nation’s mighty men, and its craftsmen. Among the exiles were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.—2 Ki. 24:10-16; Dan. 1:1-7.
18 Nebuchadnezzar now made Zedekiah, another of Josiah’s sons, king of Judah. He was to be the last earthly king of the Davidic line. His reign ended when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in 607 B.C.E. (2 Ki. 24:17) The 11 years of Zedekiah’s reign, though, were marked by great social and political tensions in Judah. Clearly, Jeremiah had to trust implicitly in the One who had commissioned him as a prophet.
19. How did Jeremiah’s contemporaries react to his message, and why should that interest you?
19 Put yourself in Jeremiah’s place. Since Josiah’s time, Jeremiah had seen political upheaval and spiritual deterioration among God’s people. However, he knew that things would get worse. The people of his hometown told him: “You must not prophesy in the name of Jehovah, that you may not die at our hand.” (Jer. 11:21) Even when Jeremiah’s prophecies came true, the Jews said: “As regards the word that you have spoken to us in the name of Jehovah, we are not listening to you.” (Jer. 44:16) Yet, people’s lives were at stake, just as they are today. The message you proclaim is from Jehovah, just as Jeremiah’s was. That being the case, you can fortify your zeal for the ministry by examining how Jehovah protected his prophet during the period leading up to Jerusalem’s fall.
What can we learn from Jeremiah’s attitude during Jehoiakim’s reign? Jeremiah pronounced what outstanding prophecy that reaches our time?
THE CLOSING DAYS OF A DYNASTY
20. Why was Zedekiah’s reign particularly difficult for Jeremiah? (See the box on page 29.)
20 Perhaps the hardest years of Jeremiah’s prophetic career were during Zedekiah’s reign. Like many of his predecessors, Zedekiah “continued to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” (Jer. 52:1, 2) He was a subject of the Babylonians, and Nebuchadnezzar made him take an oath in Jehovah’s name that obliged him to submit to the king of Babylon. Despite that, Zedekiah eventually rebelled. Meanwhile, Jeremiah’s enemies exerted great pressure on him to support the rebellion.—2 Chron. 36:13; Ezek. 17:12, 13.
21-23. (a) What opposing factions could be found in Judah during Zedekiah’s reign? (b) How was Jeremiah treated because of his stance, and why should that interest you?
21 Evidently early in the reign of Zedekiah, messengers arrived in Jerusalem from the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, and Sidon. Perhaps their aim was to get Zedekiah to join a coalition against Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah, however, urged Zedekiah to submit to Babylon. In line with that, Jeremiah presented the messengers with yoke bars to picture that their nations too should serve the Babylonians. (Jer. 27:1-3, 14)* That stance was not popular, and Jeremiah’s role as a spokesman with an unpopular message was made no easier by Hananiah. He was a false prophet who publicly asserted in God’s name that the Babylonian yoke would be broken. Jehovah’s word through Jeremiah, however, was that within a year, the impostor Hananiah would die. That is what occurred.—Jer. 28:1-3, 16, 17.
22 Judah was now split into opposing factions—those who favored submission to Babylon and those who urged rebellion. In 609 B.C.E., Zedekiah did rebel by seeking military assistance from Egypt. Jeremiah then had to contend with the nationalistic hysteria of those supporting the rebellion. (Jer. 52:3; Ezek. 17:15) Nebuchadnezzar and his armies returned to Judah to quell the revolt, conquering all the cities of Judah and again besieging Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s message to Zedekiah and his subjects at this critical time was that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians. Death awaited those who remained in the city. Those who went out to the Chaldeans would survive.—Read Jeremiah 21:8-10; 52:4.
23 The princes of Judah claimed that Jeremiah was throwing in his lot with the Babylonians. When he stated the truth, the Judean princes struck him and put him in the house of detention. (Jer. 37:13-15) Jeremiah would still not soften Jehovah’s message. Therefore, the princes persuaded Zedekiah to put Jeremiah to death. They put the prophet into an empty water cistern where he could have perished in the deep mire. But Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian serving in the king’s house, rescued Jeremiah. (Jer. 38:4-13) How often Jehovah’s people in modern times have faced perils because of their conscientious refusal to get involved in political controversies! Clearly, Jeremiah’s experience can fortify you to face trials and overcome them.
24. Describe the events of 607 B.C.E.
24 In 607 B.C.E., the Babylonians finally broke through Jerusalem’s walls, and the city fell. Nebuchadnezzar’s forces burned Jehovah’s temple, demolished the city walls, and slaughtered the nobles of Judah. Zedekiah attempted to flee, only to be captured and brought before his conqueror. Zedekiah’s sons were slaughtered before his eyes, and then Nebuchadnezzar had him blinded, bound, and led away to Babylon. (Jer. 39:1-7) Yes, Jeremiah’s words regarding Judah and Jerusalem had come true. Rather than rejoice, God’s prophet mourned the calamity of his people. We can read his sentiments in the Bible book of Lamentations. We should be deeply touched as we read that book.
ACTIVITY AMONG A REMNANT OF JUDAH
25, 26. (a) What events followed the fall of Jerusalem? (b) How did Jeremiah’s contemporaries react to his message after Jerusalem fell?
25 What was happening to Jeremiah as these dramatic events unfolded? The princes of Jerusalem had imprisoned him, but the conquering Babylonians treated him kindly, freeing him. Later, Jeremiah got mixed in with some Jews being taken off into captivity, but he was released. There was yet more for him to do in God’s service; he still had work to do among the survivors. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor over the conquered land, promising the remaining Judeans peace as long as they served him, the king of Babylon. Some malcontent Jews, however, assassinated Gedaliah. (Jer. 39:13, 14; 40:1-7; 41:2) Jeremiah urged the remnant of Judeans to keep dwelling in the land and not to fear the king of Babylon. Their leaders, however, called Jeremiah a liar and fled to Egypt, forcibly taking along Jeremiah and Baruch. Yet, Jeremiah prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would invade and subdue even that country and bring calamity on the Judean refugees.—Jer. 42:9-11; 43:1-11; 44:11-13.
26 Once again, the response of Jeremiah’s fellow countrymen was not to listen to God’s true prophet. Why? “From the time that we ceased to make sacrificial smoke to the ‘queen of the heavens’ and pour out drink offerings to her,” they reasoned, “we have lacked everything, and by the sword and by the famine we have come to our finish.” (Jer. 44:16, 18) What a sad reflection of the spiritual state of Jeremiah’s contemporaries! On the other hand, how encouraging it should be to us to know that an imperfect human can remain faithful to Jehovah despite being surrounded by the faithless!
27. What do we know about the final years of Jeremiah’s prophetic career?
27 The last event that Jeremiah recorded—the release from prison of Jehoiachin at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor, Evil-merodach—is dated 580 B.C.E. (Jer. 52:31-34) By this time, Jeremiah must have been about 90 years old. We have no reliable information concerning the end of his life. It is likely that he lived out his final years in Egypt and died faithful there after some 67 years in special service to Jehovah. He served during years when true worship was promoted as well as during many years when apostate worship was all around him. He did find listening ears among some God-fearing people. The majority, though, rejected his messages, even displaying outright hostility. Did that make Jeremiah a failure? Far from it! Right from the beginning, Jehovah had told him: “They will be certain to fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for ‘I am with you.’” (Jer. 1:19) Our commission as Jehovah’s Witnesses today is like that of Jeremiah. So we can expect the reception to be similar. (Read Matthew 10:16-22.) Therefore, what lessons can we learn from Jeremiah, and how should we approach our ministry? Let us consider these questions.
What happened to Zedekiah and his subjects who rejected Jeremiah’s message? What is your view of Jeremiah?
Daniel 1:1, 2 says that Jehoiakim was given into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand in Jehoiakim’s third year, apparently of his vassalage. This may mean that the king died during the siege, which ultimately succeeded. There is no Biblical confirmation of Josephus’ report that Nebuchadnezzar killed Jehoiakim and had his body thrown outside Jerusalem’s walls without a burial.—Jer. 22:18, 19; 36:30.