Jeremiah—Unpopular Prophet of God’s Judgments
Weekly Bible readings from the book of Jeremiah are scheduled for the Theocratic Ministry School from April 17 through August 21. These three study articles will provide a fine background for understanding the prophet’s writings
“Before I was forming you in the belly I knew you . . . Prophet to the nations I made you.”—JEREMIAH 1:5.
1. (a) In retrospect, how do some view Jeremiah? (b) How did he view himself?
“EVEN in the company of the prophets, Jeremiah towers as a giant.” That comment by a Bible scholar stands in striking contrast to Jeremiah’s opinion of himself when he first received his commission from Jehovah to serve as a prophet to Judah and to the nations. His answer was: “Alas, O Sovereign Lord Jehovah! Here I actually do not know how to speak, for I am but a boy.” Jeremiah was evidently very conscious of his youthfulness, and the challenge of facing the hostile nations seemed too much. Jehovah thought otherwise.—Jeremiah 1:6.
2. How did Jehovah instill confidence in Jeremiah?
2 From Jehovah’s conversation with young Jeremiah, it is clear that he was one of the few men for whose birth Jehovah assumed responsibility. And why did he take specific interest in Jeremiah from his conception onward? Because Jehovah had a special commission in mind for him. Thus, he could say: “Before you proceeded to come forth from the womb I sanctified you.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Then he commanded the youth: “Do not say, ‘I am but a boy.’ But to all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak. Do not be afraid because of their faces, for ‘I am with you to deliver you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.” There was no room here for a halfhearted approach to his assignment. Instead, it called for boldness and trust in Jehovah.—Jeremiah 1:7, 8.
3. Why was Jeremiah’s commission quite a challenge?
3 How impressed and perhaps overwhelmed this young man must have felt at receiving such a direct commission from God! And what a commission! “See, I have commissioned you this day to be over the nations and over the kingdoms, in order to uproot and to pull down and to destroy and to tear down, to build and to plant.” Certainly, the setting of those remarks in Judah about the middle of the seventh century B.C.E. imposed a tremendous responsibility on this budding prophet. He had to face a proud, complacent nation that trusted in its holy city, Jerusalem, and its temple, like a talisman. As he completed his 40-year prophetic ministry in Jerusalem, he would have to present his message during the reigns of five different kings (Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah). He would have to announce unpopular condemnatory judgments to the Jewish and Babylonian nations.—Jeremiah 1:10; 51:41-64.
Why Should Jeremiah Interest Us?
4, 5. (a) Why do the events of Jeremiah’s day concern us? (Romans 15:4) (b) What special application interests us?
4 But we might ask, What do those events back there have to do with us, living here near the end of the 20th century? The apostle Paul gives the answer when reviewing some of the history of Israel in his letter to the congregation in Corinth. He wrote: “Now these things became our examples, for us not to be persons desiring injurious things, even as they desired them . . . and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Corinthians 10:6, 11.
5 The events that took place in Israel and Judah serve as a warning example to the true Christian congregation in this time of the end. We can also see parallels and types that give foregleams of future events. (Compare Jeremiah 51:6-8 and Revelation 18:2, 4.) Therefore, Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry and the events that befell Jerusalem have deep significance for Jehovah’s Witnesses today, especially regarding their activity in the realm of Christendom, as we shall see in the following articles.
Jeremiah’s Fearless Proclamation of God’s Judgments
6. What made Jeremiah’s assignment more difficult, yet what encouragement did he receive?
6 To strengthen Jeremiah for his awesome responsibility, Jehovah further assured him: “You must rise up and speak to them everything that I myself command you. Do not be struck with any terror because of them . . . Here I have made you today a fortified city . . . against all the land, toward the kings of Judah, toward her princes, toward her priests and toward the people of the land.” No doubt about it, Jeremiah was going to have to be like a fortified city in order to face up to the rulers and priests of Judah. And presenting an unpopular and challenging message to the people was going to be no easy task.—Jeremiah 1:17, 18.
7. Why would the Jewish rulers resist Jeremiah?
7 “And they will be certain to fight against you,” warned Jehovah, “but they will not prevail against you.” (Jeremiah 1:19) Now why would the Jews and their rulers want to fight against this prophet? Because his message attacked their complacency and their formalistic form of worship. Jeremiah did not pull his punches: “Look! The very word of Jehovah has become to them a reproach, in which word they can take no delight. For from the least one of them even to the greatest one of them, every one is making for himself unjust gain; and from the prophet even to the priest [the very ones who should have been the guardians of moral and spiritual values], each one is acting falsely.”—Jeremiah 6:10, 13.
8. How were the priests and the prophets deceiving the people?
8 True, they were leading the nation in making sacrifices. They were going through the motions of true worship, but their hearts were not in it. Ritual meant more to them than right conduct. At the same time, the Jewish religious leaders were lulling the nation into a false sense of security, saying, “There is peace! There is peace!” when there was no peace. (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11) Yes, they were fooling the people into believing that they were at peace with God. They felt that there was nothing to worry about, for they were Jehovah’s saved people, possessing the holy city and its temple. But is that how Jehovah viewed the situation?
9. What warning did Jeremiah give the worshipers regarding their temple?
9 Jehovah commanded Jeremiah to take a position in full public view at the gate of the temple and deliver His message to the worshipers who entered there. He had to tell them: “Do not put your trust in fallacious words, saying, ‘The temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah they are!’ . . . It will certainly be of no benefit at all.” The Jews were walking by sight, not by faith, as they boasted in their temple. They had already forgotten Jehovah’s cautionary words: “The heavens are my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where, then, is the house that you people can build for me?” Jehovah, the Sovereign Lord of this vast universe, was certainly not restricted to the confines of their temple, no matter how glorious it might be!—Jeremiah 7:1-8; Isaiah 66:1.
10, 11. What was the spiritual condition of the nation that Jeremiah denounced, and is the situation in Christendom any better? (2 Timothy 3:5)
10 Jeremiah continued with his stinging public rebuke: “Can there be stealing, murdering and committing adultery and swearing falsely and making sacrificial smoke to Baal and walking after other gods whom you had not known, . . . and must you say, ‘We shall certainly be delivered,’ in the face of doing all these detestable things?” The Jews, as God’s ‘chosen people,’ thought he would tolerate any kind of conduct, as long as they were bringing their sacrifices to the temple. However, if they perceived him as a sentimental father pampering a spoiled and only child, they were in for a rude awakening.—Jeremiah 7:9, 10; Exodus 19:5, 6.
11 Judah’s worship had sunk so low in Jehovah’s eyes that the devastating question could be raised: “Has this house upon which my name has been called become a mere cave of robbers in your eyes?” Nearly 700 years later the situation was no better, as Jesus, a prophet greater than Jeremiah, used these very words to condemn the exploitation and commercialism that were being carried on in the rebuilt temple in his time. And the situation today in Christendom is no better.—Jeremiah 7:11; Matthew 16:14; Mark 11:15-17.
Watchmen Ignored, Disaster Foretold
12. How did the Jews react to the prophets that Jehovah sent to them?
12 Jeremiah was by no means the first prophet used by God to warn Israel and Judah of their false course. During the previous hundred years or more, the prophets Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Oded had been sent as watchmen to warn the nation. (Isaiah 1:1; Micah 1:1; Hosea 1:1; 2 Chronicles 28:6-9) How had the majority reacted? “I raised up over you people watchmen, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the horn!’ But they kept saying: ‘We are not going to pay attention.’” (Jeremiah 6:17; 7:13, 25, 26) They refused to pay attention to Jeremiah. Instead, they persecuted him and tried to silence him. Jehovah therefore determined that they would pay the price for their arrogance and disbelief.—Jeremiah 20:1, 2; 26:8, 11; 37:15; 38:6.
13. What was the basis for God’s judgment of the nation?
13 As a reaction to the nation’s rejection of his messengers, Jehovah sent out a call, as it were, to the nations of the earth, saying: “Listen, O earth! Here I am bringing in calamity upon this people as the fruitage of their thoughts, for they paid no attention to my very own words; and my law—they also kept rejecting it.” Why would the nation suffer calamity? Because of their wrong actions based on their wrong thoughts. They rejected Jehovah’s words and Law and followed their own selfish, fleshly inclinations.—Jeremiah 6:18, 19; Isaiah 55:8, 9; 59:7.
14. To what extremes did their false worship go? (Compare 2 Chronicles 33:1-9.)
14 And what were they doing in Judah that called down Jehovah’s wrath? They were making sacrificial cakes to “the Queen of Heaven.” They were pouring out drink offerings to other gods deliberately to offend Jehovah. Therefore, Jehovah asks: “Am I the one they are provoking? . . . Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” (Jeremiah 7:18, 19, New International Version) Yet, their blasphemous misdeeds sank to even lower depths—they set disgusting idols in the house that bore Jehovah’s name. They built altars outside Jerusalem, in the valley of Hinnom, “in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire.” What price would they pay for all their disdain of true worship?—Jeremiah 7:30, 31.
Judah Pays the Price
15. What bad news did Jeremiah have for Judah?
15 By about 632 B.C.E., Assyria had fallen to the Chaldeans and the Medes, and Egypt was reduced to a minor power to the south of Judah. The real threat to Judah would come through the invasion route to the north. Thus, Jeremiah had to give his fellow Jews some bad news! “Look! A people is coming from the land of the north . . . It is a cruel one, and they will have no pity. . . . It is drawn up in battle order like a man of war against you, O daughter of Zion.” The ascendant world power at that time was Babylon. This would be God’s instrument for punishing faithless Judah.—Jeremiah 6:22, 23; 25:8, 9.
16. Why was there no point in Jeremiah’s interceding on behalf of the nation?
16 Was there any point in Jeremiah’s trying to intercede in behalf of his countrymen? Could there perhaps be a compromise on true worship? Would Jehovah perhaps accept half measures and forgive his people? Jehovah’s position was clear. He commanded Jeremiah on at least three occasions: “Do not pray in behalf of this people, . . . for I shall not be listening to you.” In the parallel fulfillment, this grim warning bodes ill for Christendom.—Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11.
17, 18. How was God’s judgment finally executed against Judah?
17 How did matters eventuate for Judah? Exactly as Jehovah had foretold through Jeremiah. During King Jehoiakim’s reign, Judah became a vassal nation to mighty Babylon. Three years later Jehoiakim rebelled. This foolish action led to even greater humiliation at the hands of the Babylonians, who put the city of Jerusalem under siege. By this time Jehoiakim had died and been succeeded by his son Jehoiachin. The Babylonian siege brought Judah to its knees, and Jehoiachin and all the royal family, along with the upper echelons of Jewish society, were taken into exile to Babylon.—2 Kings 24:5-17.
18 What happened to the sacred temple and all its valuable holy ornaments? They certainly did not serve as a lucky charm for Judah. Nebuchadnezzar “brought out from there all the treasures of the house of Jehovah and the treasures of the king’s house, and went on to cut to pieces all the gold utensils that Solomon the king of Israel had made in the temple of Jehovah.” (2 Kings 24:13) Eventually, Babylon’s appointee king, Zedekiah, who was left behind to rule what was remaining in Jerusalem, also rebelled against his overlords. That was the final straw for Nebuchadnezzar. The city of Jerusalem was again besieged, and in 607 B.C.E. it fell to Nebuzaradan and was completely demolished.—Jeremiah 34:1, 21, 22; 52:5-11.
19, 20. What contrast was there in the attitude of Judah and Jeremiah toward the predicted calamity, and with what outcome?
19 What a calamitous debacle for the ‘chosen people’! But how clearly Jeremiah’s judgment proclamations had been vindicated. While the Jews were living in a world of fantasy, believing that no harm could come to them, “calamity howler” Jeremiah had actually been a realist, not a defeatist dreamer. (Jeremiah 38:4; note that the word “calamity” occurs 64 times in the book of Jeremiah.) How accurate Jehovah’s judgment had been: “And you must say to them, ‘This is the nation whose people have not obeyed the voice of Jehovah its God, and have not taken discipline. Faithfulness has perished, and it has been cut off from their mouth.’ And I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of exultation and the voice of rejoicing, . . . for the land will become nothing but a devastated place”!—Jeremiah 7:28, 34.
20 In this tragic way, the proud, complacent Jews had to recognize that their invoking of God and their having a special relationship with him had not guaranteed their salvation. As the prophecy stated: “There was a hoping for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but, look! terror! The harvest has passed, the summer has come to an end; but as for us, we have not been saved!” (Jeremiah 8:15, 20) For Judah it was now a time of reckoning. But the intrepid prophet Jeremiah was protected throughout his career and allowed to finish his assignment. He ended his days in exile, not in Babylon with the disgraced nation, but in Egypt. For over 65 years, he had fearlessly and faithfully proclaimed God’s judgments.
21. What further questions concern us?
21 But now we are interested in knowing what application this life and ministry of Jeremiah has to our times. Who would be the counterpart of Jeremiah in this 20th century? And of Judah and Jerusalem? And what corresponds to the threat coming from the north? Our following articles will examine those questions.
Do You Recall?
◻ How did Jeremiah react to his commission, and what was Jehovah’s answer?
◻ Why are we interested in the events of Jeremiah’s day?
◻ What religious condition did Jeremiah denounce, and in what were the Jews trusting?
◻ What was the final outcome for Jerusalem and Judah?
[Blurb on page 12]
Jeremiah fearlessly proclaimed God’s judgments to the Jewish leaders and to the people
[Picture on page 13]
The women baked cakes to “the Queen of Heaven”