By these standards, Jeremiah was a miserable failure. For 40 years he served as God’s spokesman to Judah; but when Jeremiah spoke, nobody listened. Consistently and passionately he urged them to act, but nobody moved. And he certainly did not attain material success. He was poor and underwent severe deprivation to deliver his prophecies. He was thrown into prison (chapter 37) and into a cistern (chapter 38), and he was taken to Egypt against his will (chapter 43). He was rejected by his neighbors (11:19-21), his family (12:6), the false priests and prophets (20:1-2; 28:1-17), friends (20:10), his audience (26:8), and the kings (36:23). Throughout his life, Jeremiah stood alone, declaring God’s messages of doom, announcing the new covenant, and weeping over the fate of his beloved country. In the eyes of the world, Jeremiah was not a success.
But in God’s eyes, Jeremiah was one of the most successful people in all of history. Success, as measured by God, involves obedience and faithfulness. Regardless of opposition and personal cost, Jeremiah courageously and faithfully proclaimed the word of God. He was obedient to his calling. Jeremiah’s book begins with his call to be a prophet. The next 38 chapters are prophecies about Israel (the nation united) and Judah (the southern kingdom). Chapters 2–20 are general and undated, and chapters 21–39 are particular and dated. The basic theme of Jeremiah’s message is simple: “Repent and turn to God, or he will punish.” Because the people rejected this warning, Jeremiah then began predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. This terrible event is described in chapter 39. Chapters 40–45 describe events following Jerusalem’s fall. The book concludes with prophecies concerning a variety of nations (chapters 46–52).
Jeremiah had a compassionate heart for his people and prayed for them even when the Lord told him not to do so. Yet he condemned the rulers, the priests, and false prophets for leading the people astray. He also attacked the people for their idolatry and proclaimed severe judgment unless the people repented. Because he knew God’s intentions, he advocated surrender to the Babylonians and wrote to those already in exile to settle down and live normal lives. For his preaching he was branded a traitor by many. Jeremiah, however, had their best interest at heart. He knew that unless God’s covenant was honored, the nation would be destroyed. God was also interested in individuals and their relationship to Him. Like Ezekiel, he stressed individual responsibility.
Jeremiah was just a youth when he was called to carry a severe message of doom to his people. He attempted to avoid this task but was unable to remain silent. The people had become so corrupt under Manasseh that God must bring an end to the nation. Defeated and taken into exile, they would reflect on what had happened to them and why. Then, after proper chastisement and repentance, God would bring a remnant back to Judah, punish the nations who had punished them, and fulfill His old covenants with Israel, David, and the Levites. And He would give them a new covenant and write His law on their hearts. David’s throne would again be established, and faithful priests would serve them. The oracles against foreign nations illustrate the sovereignty of God over the whole world. All nations belong to Him and all must answer to Him for their conduct.
As you read Jeremiah, feel with him as he agonizes over the message he must deliver, pray with him for those who refuse to respond to the truth, and watch his example of faith and courage. Then commit yourself to being successful in God’s eyes.