The Book of Jeremiah – What Does It Tell Us? (Part 2/2)

Last updated on April 24, 2024

This is Part Two of our article on the Book of Jeremiah. In it, we will discuss chapters 26-52. In Part One, we left Jeremiah with warnings being issued to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, and to false prophets, in particular. The emphasis was on how much God values obedience. Obedience produces blessings (17:7), whereas there are no blessings for those who continue to sin (5:25). Note: this applies (not only) to the afterlife, but also to our lives in the here and now. The book also teaches us that God doesn’t ‘owe’ mankind anything. In 18:1-12 God indicates that He is free to ‘start again’ with the Israelites as a people, if they do not conform to his wishes – like a potter can shape a new vessel from the clay he works with.

1. What is the second half of the Book of Jeremiah about?

The entire Book of Jeremiah is a constant repetition of God warning His people – and His people constantly ignoring His words. In the second half of the book, the repeated warnings ultimately result in the fulfillment of God’s judgment: the people of Judah being exiled, and the city of Jerusalem destroyed. It is important to note that Jeremiah spent 40 years (!) warning the Israelites and advising them how they might escape the worst of the judgment, even though they are certainly guilty of idolatry and have definitely earned their punishment.

God’s reluctance to bring about the fulfillment shows His loving patience. God the Father knows that His children must be punished and that He cannot refrain from punishing them, but He is still looking to ‘ease the pain’ for them: exile, rather than death. Sadly, Jeremiah’s writings show that many preferred to ignore the warnings.

In chapters 26-52, images prophesied in earlier chapters return, such as the ‘good figs’ (which will thrive and be protected) and the ‘bad figs’ (which will experience God’s wrath), introduced in a vision in 24:1-10. The disobedient people of Judah are told to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and spend seventy years in captivity in Babylon. If they accept this fate obediently, they will survive. For the ‘bad figs’, who ignore God’s words, death will follow. And not just for them: Jeremiah announces the destruction of Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar, Hazor, Elam, and even Babylon itself (chapters 46-51). Many of these were named as the recipients of the ‘Cup of the Lord’s Wrath’ (25:15-26).

2. ‘Live report’

Jeremiah’s account records the events as they unfolded, in compliance with instructions issued by God in 30:2. The Book of Jeremiah effectively gives us a ‘live report’ of events taking place over 2,600 years ago, which is one of the reasons why the book is so long. This means we also get to read about the personal danger Jeremiah finds himself in. In chapter 26, God instructs him to address the people. “It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds,” He says (26:3) The message isn’t well received and Jeremiah only narrowly escapes the death penalty. We will later read how he is arrested and survives an attempt on his life (38:6).

Whilst Jeremiah is punished for telling God’s truth, God punishes the false prophets for telling lies. In chapter 28, when Jeremiah has already been prophesying for over 30 years and King Nebuchadnezzar has already invaded Judah, a false prophet named Hananiah makes an appearance to claim that peace is imminent. This is, of course, a lie, and Hananiah dies later that year (28:17). Another false prophet, called Shemaiah, sends letters containing lies to cause unrest and to thwart Jeremiah’s mission. Shemaiah, too, is punished by God. Those who placed their trust in the words of false prophets can also expect judgment (29:15-23).

3. Promises of God

Jeremiah also sends a letter, but it contains a promise rather than a lie: those who are already in Babylon are to remain there and seek peace, to receive blessings. “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (29:12-14).

Chapters 30 and 31, in particular 30:18-22 and 31:31-40, are a wonderful listing of God’s promises to Israel and Judah, notably the introduction of a NEW covenant, in 31:31-33, which can only be broken if someone disrupts the sequence of night and day (33:20). This clearly means that no-one can break this covenant.

Jeremiah is ordered to symbolize God’s promises by purchasing a field in occupied Israel whilst he himself is still in prison (for prophesying) and the siege of Jerusalem is ongoing, to demonstrate that good fortune will return. But the most wonderful promise is the repetition of 23:5-6: in 33:14 God promises that He, “will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” This Branch, as mentioned before, is Jesus Christ.

4. Much left to be said

In the remaining chapters of Jeremiah, some of the more notable events are:

  1. Under King Zedekiah, the people waste another opportunity to win back God’s favor when they fail to free their slaves (34:17). The king himself ignores a personal warning and promise issued in 38:17-23.
  2. Jeremiah meets the Rechabites (35:1-10), a group of people who are obedient, contrary to the Israelites, who are not;
  3. Jeremiah is ordered to write a scroll and present it to King Jehoiakim, who promptly rejects and burns it, upon which Jeremiah is ordered to write a new scroll, together with Baruch the scribe. Note that Jeremiah records this event in chapter 36, but it happened before Zedekiah became king;
  4. The Babylon army, known as the Chaldeans, leaves Jerusalem when the news comes that the Egyptian army is on its way (37:5). When Jeremiah goes to warn the king (Zedekiah again) that the Chaldeans will return, he is arrested, locked up (37:16) and thrown into a muddy cistern. An Ethiopian eunuch named Ebed-Melech rescues him (38:7-13), just in time for the fall of Jerusalem. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, God’s servant for the duration of the exile, orders his guard to keep Jeremiah safe (39:12); Ebed-Melech is also saved (39:17), as is Baruch.
  5. The Chaldeans take most of the people in exile but leave a man called Gedaliah in charge as governor. Gedaliah is killed (41:2) when he refuses to believe that the Ammonites have plotted against him. Hundreds of others are killed as well.
  6. The leader of the killers, Ishmael, takes captive the residents of Mizpah, where Gedaliah had lived, with the intention of taking them to the Ammonites. They escape, however, and want to go to Egypt. Jeremiah warns them: if they remain in Mizpah, God will let them live in peace, if they go to Egypt, they will be killed there by violence or famine (42:10-16). Of course, they do not listen. The women in particular, are keen to continue with their idolatry, as they are convinced that this will keep them safe, in Egypt (44:16). In response, God sends Nebuchadnezzar to Egypt (44:30).
  7. In the remaining chapters, we read how Nebuchadnezzar destroys the Philistines (ch. 47), the Moabites (ch. 48), the Ammonites, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazor, and Elam (ch. 49). Finally, Babylon itself (ch. 49) is destroyed by the kings of the Medes (51:11), as punishment for its idolatry and cruelty (50:18, 51:24).
    Of the above, Moab, Egypt, Ammon and Elam are promised restoration.
  8. Of course, the time has now also come for the restoration of God’s people. In 50:20, He promises them, “In those days and in that time, declares the Lord, iniquity shall be sought in Israel, and there shall be none, and sin in Judah, and none shall be found, for I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant.

5. In conclusion

The words of Jeremiah end in 51:64, just after he orders Seraiah, the son of Neriah, to read and dispose of a scroll describing the destruction of Babylon. But that is not the end of the book, as we are given, in chapter 52, an account of the miserable fate of King Zedekiah who ignored God’s words, and the good fortune of King Jehoiachin who had waited patiently in Babylon – albeit that he had to spend 37 years in exile.

The Book of Jeremiah is not easy to read and many people will find it tempting to skip a lot of the content, having appreciated its main themes of repentance, obedience, and judgment. But if you are currently reading Jeremiah; want to persevere, and find the text difficult to understand, why not refer to a contemporary Bible translation online? There is wisdom in looking up different versions for insight. Remember too, you can always pray for wisdom and the Lord will give it to you! (James 1:5).

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