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Jeremiah at the Potter's house

Jeremiah wrote Jeremiah between 627 and 586 B.C. In Hebrew, Yirmeyahu or Yirmeyah means “Yahweh Throws” or “Yahweh Appoints.” Descendant of Eli and Abiathar, Jeremiah lived in Anathoth, about two and a half miles northeast of Jerusalem. Most likely he dictated to his scribe Baruch, who may have contributed to the book’s narratives. The final chapter, which begins with the words “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah” describes events that occurred long after Jeremiah’s ministry.

Jeremiah incorporates more biographical and historical information into his book than any other prophet. Beginning in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign, he preached reform to Judah’s last five kings in the final 40 years of its history. After following God’s call to Jerusalem, Jeremiah traveled around to preach in several cities. The first of many attempts on his life awaited him in Anathoth, so he moved to Jerusalem, but his prophecies about the temple’s destruction angered the priests and false prophets and they tried to kill him. The princes defended him, though he remained in prison until Nebuchadnezzar freed him after Jerusalem’s destruction.

Jerusalem's Fall

Zedekiah taken captiveDuring this time, Assyria, Egypt and Babylon battled for dominion. Under Ashurbanipal (669-627 B.C.), Assyria’s power peaked. Eight-year-old Josiah (640-609 B.C.) succeeded Amon to the Judean throne and, abolishing idolatry and repairing the temple, achieved a reform that rivaled Hezekiah’s. Babylon, under Nabopolassar, overthrew Nineveh in 612 B.C., and destroyed Assyria. When Necho II of Egypt killed Josiah in battle at Megiddo in 609 B.C., all Judah mourned their last righteous king’s death. To replace him, they chose Jehoahaz, probably because he favored Babylon. He reigned for only three months before Necho deported him to Egypt, placed Jehoiakim on the throne, and required a large tribute of Judah. Egypt wanted to recover its former power, but in the 605 B.C. battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Necho and Babylon became the world empire. Nebuchadnezzar then invaded Palestine and took some nobles captive (including Daniel and his three friends).

Jehoiakim’s rebellion in 598 B.C. incited a second Babylonian invasion which resulted in his death. Jehoiachin replaced his father but also reigned for only three months before the Babylonians deported him and 10,000 captives (including Ezekiel). Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as puppet king over the poor who were left; Judah’s entire upper class was now in Babylon. Despite Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah joined several nations to rebel against Babylon. A 30-month siege of Jerusalem ensued. In 586 B.C. the Babylonians at last breached Jerusalem’s walls, burned the city, and took captive nearly all who remained. Gedaliah became governor over the remnant and headquartered in Mizpah. Jeremiah joined them there and after Gedaliah’s murder, went with the remnant to Egypt.

The Weeping Prophet

The weeping prophetSome describe Jeremiah as a heartbroken prophet with a heartbreaking message about Judah’s last days as a nation. After Josiah’s death, the people almost completely discarded God’s commandments. God had cautioned that idolatry would result in punishment; after having delivered Judah numerous times, He now warned them of imminent judgment. But beyond the destruction Jeremiah foresaw the reunion and prosperity God intended for Judah and Israel. God attempted to woo the Jews back into a love-relationship with Him. When that failed, He allowed Babylon to chastise them for their rejection of Him. Though his countrymen persecuted him, Jeremiah tempered his harsh message with compassion.

Today, Jeremiah assures us that sin will not go unpunished. But we may look forward to Jeremiah’s promises, unfulfilled in Judah, to be fulfilled in us. We will someday inherit the Promised Land and live in peace and prosperity.
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