Jeremiah revealed far more about his own thoughts and feelings than any other Old Testament prophet. He had the unenviable task of announcing divine judgement on the kingdom of Judah. His message concerned the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people to Babylon. He is often referred to as Jeremiah the weeping prophet, a bearer of bad news. Was he really just a prophet of doom?
A Few Facts about Jeremiah
There are a few facts about Jeremiah that we can glean from Scripture. These provide some background and reveal something of the man behind the words. The book of Jeremiah begins with his family history, that he was a Levite and from a priestly household.
“The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.”Jeremiah 1:2
Anathoth was a town a few miles north of Jerusalem. This was one of four Levitical towns in the tribal territory of Benjamin. When the land of Canaan was being allocated to the different tribes, the Levites did not receive an area of their own. Instead, they were dispersed throughout the land of Israel and were given specific towns to live in.
Was Jeremiah Married?
Jeremiah remained single throughout his life. God clearly commanded him not to marry and have a family. This was because divine judgement was imminent. Jeremiah’s life, as well as his words, served as a witness to the people. The next generation born in Judah, and particularly in Jerusalem, would be at best swept away into captivity.
“Then the word of the LORD came to me: “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place.”Jeremiah 16:1-2
God gave Jeremiah clear and graphic images of what the consequences would be of the people’s continued rebellion. Children would die – there would be famine, and deadly diseases due to the attack and siege of Jerusalem. The coming invasion meant that adults and children would die through battle and would not be mourned.
How Long Was Jeremiah A Prophet?
There is some dispute among Biblical scholars of the exact date when Jeremiah’s ministry began. But it is clear from Scripture that he was commissioned by God as a prophet when he was a young man. Jeremiah’s ministry was lifelong and covered the reign of the last five kings of Judah.
“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”Jeremiah 1:4-6
How Old Was Jeremiah When He Died?
The Biblical facts about Jeremiah do not include the specifics of how and when he died. What we do know from Scripture is the last word and account of his life are given during exile in Egypt. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonians appointed a governor over those who remained in the city. But after only three months he was murdered.
Then the remnant of the Jewish people fled to Egypt fearing reprisals from Babylon. But this was in disobedience to God’s word. Jeremiah, and his faithful secretary Baruch, were forcibly taken to Egypt by their own people. By this time Jeremiah would have been an old man facing the long hard road into exile.
“ …Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah…. And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the LORD…”Jeremiah 43:5-7
Jewish tradition places Jeremiah’s death in Egypt.
Why Was Jeremiah Called The Weeping Prophet?
Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet simply because he cared about the people of Judah, even though they rejected him. He knew them and lived among them. Jeremiah was not harsh in prophesying, but spoke the truth regarding God’s judgement. In many passages of Scripture Jeremiah reveals his inner struggle. He was angry at the people’s persistent sin but also suffered anguish regarding the horror of the coming judgement.
Jeremiah the weeping prophet experienced times of real despondency. In his writings he is honest in expressing his feelings to God. Jeremiah often poured his heart out to God expressing his doubts and fears through the persecution that he suffered. His own family turned against him, he was physically beaten, whipped, and even imprisoned for a time. The people did not want to hear what Jeremiah had to say and often tried to silence him.
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Jeremiah the weeping prophet, was viewed by his own people as a prophet of doom. On one occasion his secretary, Baruch, wrote Jeremiah’s words on a scroll for the king. But this was thrown in the fire and destroyed as the king totally rejected God’s word. Jeremiah was not dispassionate but was moved and hurt by the people’s persistent rebellion.
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ Therefore hear, you nations; you who are witnesses, observe what will happen to them. Hear, you earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law.”Jeremiah 6:16-19
Theme of Jeremiah
The book of Jeremiah is not easy to grasp and understand. Historically the time that he lived in was politically complex. But is the theme of Jeremiah, solely one of disaster, destruction, and death?
Jeremiah was God’s prophet, and he faithfully declared God’s word of judgement to His people. But there was also a message of repentance with hope of future restoration. Jeremiah prophesied the nations forgiveness by God. He spoke words of life and hope for the immediate future, with glimpses of what was to come, and still to come, with the promise of Messiah.
“This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”Jeremiah 29:10-13
Jeremiah is an example of a man who faithfully fulfilled his calling. Success in life is often measured by earning power, popularity, or influence. But, in God’s kingdom faithfulness and obedient service are the witness of a life lived well.
Jeremiah’s life story may not immediately seem like an encouraging message. At the beginning of his ministry he felt inadequate and made excuses, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But God did not accept Jeremiah’s excuses as valid. He told him not to say he was too young, or to be afraid, or terrified of the people.
God would be with Jeremiah, and He would put His words in his mouth. God further revealed that He would make Jeremiah, as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. These three images portray security, dignity, strength, and impregnability. God would provide Jeremiah with all that he needed to fulfill his calling.
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The Message of Jeremiah
There is a message for us today in the story, and experiences, of Jeremiah. We may have excuses of our own for avoiding living the best life that God has prepared for us. Our excuses may be, “I am not qualified, I am too busy right now, it’s too difficult, or it’s too demanding for me.” Or we may have other variations of our own. God’s call on our lives may not seem as important as Jeremiah’s. But God does have a unique plan and purpose for each one of us, where He has placed us.
“There is an enormous gap between what we think we can do and what God calls us to do. Our ideas of what we can do or want to do are trivial; God’s ideas for us are grand. God’s call to Jeremiah to be a prophet parallels his call to us to be a person.”Eugene Peterson
Our call may be to continue, persistently, sowing love into a difficult relationship. Or to continue quietly living out our faith in a family who mock and ridicule. Or maybe to care and look after a seemingly unappreciative family member. There are many difficult challenges where God has placed us and called us to be His faithful witnesses.
In the same way, we can be assured that God will strengthen us to be all that He has called us to be. We may feel that we cannot do what God asks us to do. To keep on loving, to keep on showing grace and kindness, to keep on being patient, in those difficult situations, with impossible people. But it is there that we too learn to depend on God…
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:9
Jeremiah persisted, delivering God’s message faithfully, in the strength that God provided. A lifetime of obedient service, truly living life at its best!
I pray that we will be open to God’s call on our lives. That we will listen for His assurance that He will help us become the people that He has called us to be. And to persist and to pursue living our lives for God’s best….
Jeremiah The Weeping Prophet?
In his book ‘Run with the Horses – The Quest for Life at its Best,’ Eugene Peterson does not try to explain or develop the national and political situation of Jeremiah’s lifetime. Instead he has selected, in rough chronological order, those passages that tell something of Jeremiah’s personal life story. Eugene Peterson challenges our view of Jeremiah the weeping prophet. Instead he draws us to reflect on Jeremiah’s goodness, his virtue, and his excellence.
This commemorative edition includes a new preface and a six session Bible study guide. There are open, study, and application questions to assist in delving in and drawing out the most from the text.
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