The longest Bible book after the Psalms bears the name of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived in the last days of the Two Tribes Kingdom. Despite the threat from Babylon, Judah and Benjamin refused to repent and turn to the Lord. Therefore, the judgment of God could not fail to come. Jeremiah was called by the Lord to announce this judgment and give the people of Judah a last chance. His prophecies and events from his life can be found in the Bible book Jeremiah. In this article we want to focus on the second aspect: Jeremiah’s life.
Who was Jeremiah? Jeremiah was of priestly descent. He was the son of Hilkiah and he lived in Anathoth, in the territory of Benjamin (Jeremiah 1:1). Jeremiah 1:1 also states that he served during the time of King Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. He experienced the fall of Jerusalem and the Judean people taken captive to Babylon (Jeremiah 39). Jeremiah himself remained behind with a remnant of the people in the land of Israel. But after an assassination attempt on the Babylonian governor Gedaliah, the remaining people fled to Egypt and took Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43). Jeremiah probably died in Egypt.
So much for the bare facts. It goes without saying that the shocking message Jeremiah had to deliver and the poignant events that followed did not leave the prophet unmoved. This is already evident in the first chapter. God called Jeremiah to be a prophet in 627 BC: “Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Then I said, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (Jeremiah 1:4-6).
Jeremiah is not objecting to his calling here, but he is struggling with his age. Probably he was not even an adult then. But just as Moses was once equipped for his task (see Exodus 3:7-14; 4:1-17), the Lord is also making Jeremiah fit for a life as a prophet. Jeremiah would have a hard time, but God promised to be with him (Jeremiah 1:8).
Struggle and suffering
Jeremiah lived in Anathoth, a village a few miles northern to Jerusalem. Thus, he lived close enough to the capital to know what was going wrong there, but still at a somewhat safe distance. After Jeremiah was called a prophet, he went to preach the words of God in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 2:2) and even in the temple (Jeremiah 7:2). Jeremiah’s words were not taken to heart. The inhabitants of Jerusalem turned against him (Jeremiah 26). Even in his home village he was not safe (Jeremiah 11:21-23). Only two people responded positively to Jeremiah’s message. These were Baruch, the scribe, and Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian eunuch.
All the resistance Jeremiah faced, as well as the weight of the pronouncement of judgment he had to make, did not sit well with the prophet. Jeremiah was fiercely challenged and he wrestled with God over his calling. The sections describing Jeremiah’s struggle (Jeremiah 11:17-23; 14:17-22; 15:10-21; 18:18-23; 20:1-18) are among the most moving passages in this book.
Jeremiah wanted to give up his prophetic ministry: “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, Violence and destruction! For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, I will not mention Him, or speak any more in His name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:7-9). So even though one half in Jeremiah was wanting to stop, he could not, because the word of the Lord was driving him.
The end of Judah
God did not abandon His promise to Jeremiah nor forsake His prophet. Jeremiah was threatened with death (Jeremiah 26) and had to contend with false prophets (Jeremiah 28). However, when he was imprisoned during the siege of Jerusalem and thrown into a mud pit, God sent a man to rescue him (Jeremiah 38).
Jeremiah was then given better living conditions and there he remained until the Babylonians took Jerusalem in 587 BC. His life was spared and he was allowed to remain in Judah. However, when the governor of the Babylonians was murdered, things went wrong again. The remaining Judeans completely ignored Jeremiah’s message and fled to Egypt. They forced Jeremiah to go with them. In Egypt, Jeremiah still prophesied fervently against idolatry. After that, the biographical data stops. It is likely that Jeremiah died in Egypt, after forty years of faithful service.
If we can learn one thing from Jeremiah, it is undoubtedly his faithfulness. Despite facing more opposition than any other prophet, he continued to obey God. Paul therefore took Jeremiah as an example for his own ministry (Galatians 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 3). Jeremiah’s message that he had to pass on from God has been preserved in the book named after him. Therefore, even today we can read about the reality of God’s wrath over sin, and of God’s faithfulness to the covenant He once made with Israel.