We continue to explore the theme of Exile and Return by focusing on The Book of Jeremiah. How does Jeremiah fit with the overall historical context of the Old Testament and the minor prophets? What does Jeremiah have to say about the exile Israel is undergoing at the time? The Book of Jeremiah contains three major components: a charge, a verdict, and a restoration. In this episode, we begin by exploring the charge.
Someone recently asked me a question about my lessons. They asked me do you prepare hours and hours, or do you prepare a little bit? How do you do these lessons? And my answer was, “It depends.” Sometimes I’m talking about something I’ve studied for years. Sometimes I’m learning along with you.
Well, with this particular series in general and this lesson in particular, I’m definitely learning along with you because this is an area that I’ve picked around the edges of for years, but never really understood well, this whole major/minor prophets and the exile and return.
So this lesson we’re going to do the book of Jeremiah. I’m going to try to cover the whole book in one lesson. It’s an ambitious project, but we’ll see if it works.
Let me first give you the basic historical context of what’s going on here, and then I’ll talk to you a little bit about this person Jeremiah. And then I’m going to propose the basic lesson of this book is a charge by God, a verdict, and a restoration. That’s the way I’m going to propose we organize the basic message of the book, and that’s how we can cover it in one day.
The Book of Jeremiah is not written chronologically, so it can be a little bit discombobulating if you don’t know what’s going on. So the basic history, the time that we’re in, is important.
Let’s just look at the overall historical context of the Old Testament again.
We’ve got in 2000 B.C., the character Abraham. These are all approximate dates.
So you got Genesis through, basically, Numbers written, first 500 years.
And then you start all the kings. And between the kings and the end of the exile period, you’ve got most the rest of the Old Testament. So you’ve got Saul, David, Solomon. And then the kingdom splits into north and south. And from that point on, for the most part, when you see the word Israel, it’s talking about the northern kingdom with ten tribes; and when you see the word Judah, it’s talking about the southern kingdom with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Around 722, Assyria comes in and captures the northern kingdom. They go into exile, and their return is still pending. We know they will return from the book of Revelation, and God still knows who’s in those tribes; but in many respects, the rest of us don’t.
And then in 700 you have the character Hezekiah, and you have this countdown to the end of the Davidic kingdom. It goes Hezekiah, who was a really good guy, Manasseh, who is one of the very worst, Josiah, who was a great guy. They found the Bible under Josiah. And then Josiah’s three sons, all of which were miserable failures. And then the fall of Jerusalem.
The key dates kind of at the end of all this after Josiah—Josiah dies in 609. In 609, Babylon supplants Assyria and becomes the dominant kingdom on earth. In 605, the Battle of Carchemish happens, and Babylon defeats Egypt because there was a tussle, there’s a power vacuum, and a tussle. Is it going to be Egypt, or is it going to be Babylon that’s the dominant one? And Babylon wins. But it’s not a definitive battle. Egypt’s presence doesn’t go away; it’s just diminished.
So what you see there in this time period of Jeremiah is Judah, 722 happens, so Israel is already under Assyria; and then, subsequently, Babylonian domination. But Judah is like a ping pong ball bouncing between being a vassal of Egypt and being a vassal of Babylon.
And the basic thing that happens in this book of Jeremiah is that Jeremiah’s telling them just submit to Babylon, and you’ll be fine. And they won’t do it. They trust in Egypt. And, hence, the source of their misery. That’s basically what’s going on here.
You can see this in 2 Chronicles 36. Let’s just look at the biblical text here. 2 Chronicles 36:1.
Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah—so this is Josiah that’s died. Josiah died in 609. Babylon is supplanting Assyria, and he ends up in a battle with Egypt, and dies the same year. —and made him king in his father’s place in Jerusalem.
2 Chronicles 36:2. Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem.
Now the king of Egypt deposed him at Jerusalem—so you can see here Egypt is still dominant over Judah at this time. and he imposed on the land a tribute of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold.
This is why the tyrants of the ancient world took countries over so they could get tax revenues, unlike today, of course.
Then the king of Egypt made Jehoahaz’s brother Eliakim king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. And Necho—that’s a pharaoh— took Jehoahaz his brother and carried him off to Egypt.
Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord his God.
Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against him, and bound him in bronze fetters to carry him off to Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar also carried off some of the articles from the house of the Lord to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon.
Now the rest of the acts of Jehoiakim, the abominations which he did, and what was found against him, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel and Judah. Then Jehoiachin, his son reigned in his place.
Jehoiachin was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem three months and ten days. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
At the turn of the year King Nebuchadnezzar summoned him and took him to Babylon, with the costly articles from the house of the Lord, and made Zedekiah, Jehoiakim’s brother, king over Judah and Jerusalem.
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.
He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the Lord.
And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel.
Moreover all the leaders of the priests and the people transgressed more and more, according to all the abominations of the nations, and defiled the house of the Lord which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.
So you can see the kings here are all appointed by either, who or who? Yeah, the pharaoh or the Babylonian king, and it’s kind of flipping back and forth here. So you can see the signs of the times happening as we go here. And you can see that Zedekiah is the recipient of many of Jeremiah’s prophecies, and he did or did not listen to them? Did not listen to them. So that’s basically what’s going on.
We can look in Jeremiah 37:11, and you can see here, from a human perspective, it’s not unreasonable that they would trust in Egypt.
Jeremiah 37:11. And it happened, when the army of the Chaldeans left the siege of Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, that Jeremiah went out of Jerusalem to go do some stuff.
There was actually a siege in 597 that the Egyptian soldiers helped them resist. And you can think of it—Egypt is much closer. Egypt has been a major power for all these years. And if you’ll notice, one of the general themes in the Bible is the scripture always says, “Don’t trust in Egypt.” And they’re always going to Egypt. You notice that? It’s a theme of the Bible. That from which you’ve been delivered, you keep going back to trust in. Have you ever heard that before?
Egypt in the scripture is a—I think even the Hebrew word Egyptian means slavery. And that’s what the symbol of Egypt is in the scripture. Don’t trust in Egypt. And once again, they’re being implored not to do that; but they do.
So that’s generally what’s going on in the historical context. Without that, you’re kind of lost in this book. But with that, I think that’s adequate. You’ll be able to follow just fine.
Again Jeremiah’s not written chronologically, so he’ll bounce around. And so you have to have an idea of this historical context to know where you are in the book.
We’ve talked a little bit about the historical context, now we’ll talk about, who is this person Jeremiah?
Let’s go to the first part of Jeremiah here, Jeremiah chapter one, and let’s get an introduction to this person Jeremiah.
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,
Anathoth is just ten miles or so from Jerusalem, something like that. And his family were priests. That does not necessarily mean that they would be a godly family because, as you’ll see in this book, if you go back and read it, the priests were corrupt as well, in large part. But perhaps they were. We don’t know. What we do know is he was called by the Lord.
So in verse 4, Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
That’s a very amazing verse, isn’t it?
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
Before you were born I set you apart, sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
One of the things we’ll see in this book is—we’re not going to look at the prophecies to the nations; but, Jeremiah prophesied to many nations, not just Judah.
Then said I:
“Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
This word youth can mean young; it can mean servant. Either way, he doesn’t think he really rises to this level of capability.
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.”
Your words are going to be my instrument to alter the course of human history.
Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?”
And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.”
Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.”
The almond tree was sort of the first tree to blossom in the spring. What he’s saying is I’m ready to get going with my actions here.
And the word of the Lord came to me the second time, saying, “What do you see?”
And I said, “I see a boiling pot, and it is facing away from the north.”
Then the Lord said to me:
“Out of the north calamity shall break forth
On all the inhabitants of the land.
For behold, I am calling
All the families of the kingdoms of the north,” says the Lord;
“They shall come and each one set his throne
At the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem,
Against all its walls all around,
And against all the cities of Judah.
I will utter My judgments
Against them concerning all their wickedness,
Because they have forsaken Me,
Burned incense to other gods,
And worshiped the works of their own hands.
“Therefore prepare yourself and arise,
And speak to them all that I command you.
That’s the charge, and the basic message to Jeremiah.
Now Jeremiah’s ministry was a miserable failure from a human standpoint. Let’s look at Jeremiah 25:1.
The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah (which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon), which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying:
“From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty-third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you,
23. If somebody says I worked somewhere 20 years, what do you usually say? You’ve been there a long time, right? That’s been a long time. You might even have a watch if you work somewhere 23 years.
I’ve been doing this for 23 years, but you have not listened. How would you like to give a message for 23 years, and no one listened to you for 23 years?
and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened.
So he’s been diligent. It’s not just that he spoke occasionally. He’s diligently been preaching this message to no avail.
And the Lord has sent to you all His servants the prophets, rising early and sending them, but you have not listened nor inclined your ear to hear.
Verse 5. They said, ‘Repent now everyone of his evil way and his evil doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers forever and ever.
Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you.’
Yet you have not listened to Me,” says the Lord, “that you might provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt.
“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’
This is the boiling pot that’s going to happen.
Now do you think that because Jeremiah was called by the Lord, saw the Lord, got the words of the Lord that that made this easy for him? No.
Let’s look at chapter 20. We can see how very painful this was for Jeremiah. There’s another passage where he says, “I wish I’d never been born, really.” I mean this is very difficult.
O Lord, You induced me, and I was persuaded;
You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.
I am in derision daily;
Everyone mocks me.
For when I spoke, I cried out;
I shouted, “Violence and plunder!”
Because the word of the Lord was made to me
A reproach and a derision daily.
Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
So I’ve had it with this! Why should I be mocked all the time? Why should I just get nothing but grief from anybody?
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not.
For I heard many mocking:
“Fear on every side!”
“Report,” they say, “and we will report it!”
All my acquaintances watched for my stumbling, saying,
“Perhaps he can be induced;
Then we will prevail against him,
And we will take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.
Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail.
They will be greatly ashamed, for they will not prosper.
This is not easy for this guy. Furthermore, if we look in Jeremiah 16:1,
The word of the Lord also came to me, saying,
“You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.”
For thus says the Lord concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bore them and their fathers who begot them in this land:
“They shall die gruesome deaths;
So He’s saying I don’t want you to have a family because of all the nasty things that are going to happen. I want to spare you that.
Here he is, no wife, no family. His only helper is the Lord in this really difficult, difficult job that God gives him to do. And God says I just want you to do what I tell you to do. He’s really an amazing character.
The message of Jeremiah
That’s Jeremiah the person, and that’s the context. Now let’s look at the basic message of the book.
I’m going to propose that there’s three major components that we can use to hang everything else off of: a charge, a verdict, and a restoration. So let’s think of it kind of like a court proceeding. There’s the charge, the prosecution; then there’s the verdict, the sentencing; and then when you get out of jail, there’s a reentry program. That’s kind of the way I’m going to think about this.
Let’s start with the charge. The charge, of course, is sin. Sin is doing two things, twofold: It’s against what God has told us, and it’s against our own self-interest. Most of God’s edicts are don’t hit yourself in the head with a hammer. He wants us to not be self-destructive.
Let’s look at Jeremiah 2:9.
“Therefore I will yet bring charges against you,” says the Lord,
Here are the charges beginning.
“And against your children’s children I will bring charges.
For pass beyond the coasts of Cyprus and see,
Send to Kedar and consider diligently,
And see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
Which are not gods?
But My people have changed their Glory
For what does not profit.
So you’ve gone from something that profits you to something that’s destructive to you.
Be astonished, O heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid;
Be very desolate,” says the Lord.
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
Living waters means running waters.
And hewn themselves cisterns
Which would you rather have, cistern water, stale murky, you know, pigeon poop. Would you rather have that or running water? Which would you rather have? Running water, right?
But they’ve hewn cisterns that are broken and don’t hold water!
That’s the contrast. That’s the basic charge. You’re doing things that don’t profit yourselves.
Let’s look at Jeremiah 7:8, and we can see the source of this.
“Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.
You’re believing a lie. That’s generally what the source of all human misery is.
I’ve used this little outline before that there are three things you can really control if you’re going to live a profitable life: who you trust, the choices you make, and the attitude that you have.
Trusting the wrong thing
What we’re going to see as we go through here is these people are trusting in the wrong things, and that leads to wrong choices. And their basic attitude is, it can’t happen to me. I can escape the consequences of bad choices. It’s going to be very familiar, I think.
The result of this, of course—I’m going to go ahead and give you the verdict, and then we’ll come back and look at some specific charges.
In Jeremiah 9:6.
Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me,” says the Lord.
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts:
“Behold, I will refine them and try them;
I’m going to use another book of the Bible to just expand on this refining concept. Look at Malachi. This is just one of my favorite verses. Malachi 3. Malachi’s right before Matthew.
“But who can endure the day of His coming?
And who can stand when He appears?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
But here’s the cool part:
And like launderers’ soap.
Their refining fire is kind of foreign to us because we don’t refine stuff much anymore. We don’t use metals to trade; we use credit cards. We don’t go and assay the silver and then weigh it and make sure it’s really pure and it’s not full of impurities.
But we understand soap. Why do you use soap if you’re a launderer? To get out the filth and the grease, right?
For He is like a refiner’s fire
And like launderers’ soap.
What he’s saying is, I’m going to give these guys a good scrubbing. Have you ever had a child that pooped their pants, and it got all over everywhere? Then maybe they stuck their hands down in their diaper and wiped it over their face; or they’re in their crib, and they decided to plaster the crib with it? It’s a pretty common occurrence, right?
What do you do when they do that? You take them outside and hose them off, right? And then you put them in the bathtub and dunk them under because you have to clean them off. Well, that’s the basic issue here.
What we’re going to see here is he’s going to say you’re trusting the wrong people, making bad choices, and making bad attitudes.