The prophet Jeremiah, whose name means Yahweh exalts, was born around the year 650 B. C. During this time, Judah, the kingdom of the south, had largely turned to idolatry and the religion of its neighbors. The king Josias called for a religious reform, but his efforts alone would not be enough, because the sins of his grandfather had gone too far. The people needed a prophet.
God called Jeremiah at a very young age, probably his late teens. The Lord said to him, “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land - against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the peoples of the land. They will fight against you but not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the Lord.”(1:17-19) At first, Jeremiah resisted the call, repeating what Moses said about not being able to speak. Though maybe reluctantly, Jeremiah did accept. Though there is little to say about Jeremiah’s training, his preaching is always literate and well-spoken.
In the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, he opposed the false teachings and practices of many priests, especially in the sanctuary of Anathoth. Concerned about what will happen to them, the priests of Anathoth conspired to take Jeremiah’s life. However, the Lord intervenes, warning Jeremiah and saving his life. Then when he complains to God about his persecution, the Lord responds, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”(12:5)
As the threat of invasion by the Babylonians became larger, many false prophets began prophesying peace while Jeremiah spoke of chaos and destruction because of the sins of the nation. The Lord told him to make a yoke out of wooden crossbars and straps as a visual confirmation of the fore coming destruction. One of the false prophets, a man named Hananiah, took the yoke off of Jeremiah’s neck and broke it. Jeremiah said to him that he broke a wooden yoke, but an iron one takes its place. Angry at Jeremiah’s preaching, the chief officer in the temple of Jerusalem beat Jeremiah and out him in the stocks, a medieval device of torture, overnight. After this, Jeremiah again becomes upset over the difficulty of professing God’s word, but he said that when he shuts the word out, it burns like a fire in his heart.
After this, the high priest of Jerusalem tried to tell the king that Jeremiah should be killed for discouraging the people and the soldiers by telling them there was no hope and Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians. The king agreed, and his officials captured Jeremiah and threw him into a cistern. There he sank into the mud. Their idea was for Jeremiah to starve to death so that the officials would be innocent. The plan was spoiled by a Kushite who pulled Jeremiah out of the cistern. Though his life was spared, Jeremiah remained imprisoned until Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. The Babylonians released him, showing him great kindness. According to Babylonian edict, he was allowed to choose where he lived.
Being left behind in Judah with the lowest in society, Jeremiah was kidnapped and taken to Egypt. There he was stoned to death by his own countrymen, making him a martyr. Throughout his life, Jeremiah was conflicted with his mission. He felt his fate was intertwined with the nation, thus announcing death to its people affected him a great deal. His reluctance to accept God’s call supports this. He also felt his mission was hopeless, saying, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven through the desert wind.”(10:23) This personal tone in Jeremiah’s speeches was brought about by the pain and suffering he endured while being persecuted. Jeremiah was unique among the prophets. He had a unique literary style, but the main difference is the subject of his preaching. All of Jeremiah’s preaching was based on the doom and the downfall of Jerusalem. Whether Jeremiah’s news was good or bad, he had the courage to do the will of the Lord when no one else would.
“My Wish Learning, The Latter Prophets, Jeremiah” http://texts/bibles/Prophets/Latter_Prophets/Jeremiah.shtml
“Catholic Encyclopedia, Jeremias The Prophet” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08334a.htm (accessed April 10, 2010).
Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A Fitzmyer, Ronald E. Murphey, Jerome Biblical Commentary. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc., 1968
The Adventure Bible. Zondervan, Editor. Grand Rapids: Zonder Kidz, 1989.