Oracles of judgment and restoration regarding Judah and Israel
The message of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet
The word of God comes to young Jeremiah in seemingly good times around 627 B.C., when King Josiah of Judah is instituting reforms and the nation is returning to God. But Jeremiah’s is an age of great upheaval.
The Assyrian Empire that conquered Israel is giving way to a new world power—Babylon. Many find themselves caught in the chaos of these changes, including Judah, her leaders, and her capital, Jerusalem.
Because Judah compromises her devotion to God in exchange for mundane treaties with stronger, pagan nations and attractive pagan cults, her days are numbered. Such is the unpopular message Jeremiah is called to proclaim.
Jeremiah dares to speak truth to power—in his own country and beyond. He confronts kings and calls out religious leaders for their empty worship and soothing lies. He holds nothing back in his condemnation of those who abandon God for the worship of pagan idols.
These prophecies are difficult to hear and hard to deliver. The strong rebukes and warnings of disaster are spoken by a man sometimes called “the weeping prophet.”
So vivid and personal are his messages from God that it is clear they are based on a robust, ongoing dialogue between God and His reluctant prophet. Jeremiah invites his audience into such a personal and authentic relationship with God.
Israel’s Past, Present, And Future
The book consists of many different kinds of literature: autobiography, discourses, sermons, and historical narratives. The story does not unfold in a modern, chronological way.
Instead, it flashes back and forth among Israel’s past, present, and future; between local and international concerns; between declarations of doom and assurances of hope.
This collection of oracles and events from the prophet’s life are best understood as reflections on the turbulent times in which Jeremiah and his secretary, Baruch, lived.
The Prophet Of The New Covenant
As an old man, the horror of his predictions comes true before his eyes. Jerusalem falls to Babylon in 586 B.C., and God’s rebellious people are scattered and taken into exile.
Considered a traitor by many contemporaries, Jeremiah still has great faith that his people will survive and one day return to live in the land of promise.
For this reason, Jeremiah may be best known as the prophet of the new covenant, a promise which not only comforts the exiles in his day but later inspires the followers of Jesus as amazing events unfold before their eyes.
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Nations and empires will now hear Jeremiah’s voice as God’s in these days of painful change.
To confirm that Jeremiah has indeed been called to speak for God, two simple visions are given to him, each with an explanation. Both speak of coming judgment and remind the young prophet of his difficult assignment.
Words are the tools of a prophet. The word of God comes asking the prophet what he sees. He responds that he sees something rather ordinary: an almond tree. God uses this ordinary sight to give him an extraordinary message.
There is a play on words here between the Hebrew words for “almond” and “watching,” which sound alike in that language. Jeremiah sees an almond, which is shaped like a person’s eye, and God says He is watching.
This playful and clever use of words gets Jeremiah’s attention; it stirs his prophetic imagination so that he will similarly use poetry, wordplay, and object lessons to get the attention of his listeners.
Just as the almond tree is usually the first sign of spring, soon the first signs of God’s approaching judgment will appear.
Israel’s plan to submit herself to the authority of a stronger pagan nation in return for protection makes no sense to an objective observer, much less to God Himself.
During the long history of this nation, her troubles have often resulted from a stubborn refusal to trust God. They have a habit of looking elsewhere — to anywhere or anyone but God — for relief, of turning to nations that are never constant friends.
For example, when the Assyrian Empire was conquering the region 100 years earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel attempted to ward off the threat by making treaties with other nations.
Despite their feeble plans, Israel fell in 722 B.C. to Assyrian might and cruelty. Now God points out to Judah’s leaders in the Southern Kingdom how useless it is to align with either Egypt or Assyria when the punishing Babylonian army is on the horizon.
It doesn’t matter how powerful her allies may seem; once the covenant with God is broken, Israel must pay for her infidelity.
From the beginning, the covenant between God and His people is clear. They are to worship and trust Him alone.
They are to remain true to His teachings. So when God sees His people worshiping idols made of stone and wood, when He sees them participating in demeaning sexual practices with prostitutes as part of local fertility rites, it is too much.
The people of Judah have been unfaithful in nearly every way imaginable. They have witnessed what happened to the adulterous Northern Kingdom of Israel.
But somehow, these stubborn people think they are special, even immune to such disaster. They think if they say the right prayers in the right ways to the right God from time to time, then all the blatant violations of God’s covenant will be ignored.
The prophet Jeremiah sees it all differently. God will send out a message to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom, which He still calls Israel. For decades, those people have been scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire to the north, while their land has been under enemy occupation.
But despite the tribes’ faithlessness, these many years later, the God of mercy offers to restore them. In the midst of divine judgment, God utters words of hope; but this hope, this restoration, is only found in true repentance.
The warnings now climax with a vision of invasion and destruction that is almost more than the young prophet can bear. Still God instructs Jeremiah to speak these words of terror, and this prophet who loves the people he has been called to chastise struggles with his mission.
In the midst of this painful vision, Jeremiah begins to wonder aloud to the very God for whom he speaks. As he proclaims, he prays. As he waits for answers, the words of devastation continue.
God, through His prophet, speaks about the ills of a greedy people who have forgotten how much the poor and orphaned matter to Him. The stench of injustice has become unbearable.
For God, it is time to act. As the swirling clouds gather to form a storm only Jeremiah sees on the horizon, the destruction of Jerusalem seems at hand.
This ancient city, this storied place, is on the brink of a disaster beyond imagination. God is raising up an army from an ancient nation, known for its power and cruelty.
For the prophet of God, the minutes are blurring into seconds. There seems to be little time to run and hide as the city will soon fall into the hands of those who mean her harm.
Many people in Judah keep going through the motions of worship; they offer sacrifices and incense to the one True God. They speak superficial words when they think it counts, and they give Him extravagant gifts.
But the prophet knows the mind of God, and God is not impressed with any of it. Empty worship is meaningless. In fact, empty worship may do more harm than good.
These gifts and actions, it seems, have no meaning unless the hearts of the people are attuned to God, unless they are willing to hear and do what God asks. Obedience, you see, is better than sacrifice.
As clear as God’s pronouncements have been, there must be a moment of decision. The warnings are all invitations for the people of Jerusalem to return to the God who loves them. But their fate is up to them; it is their choice.
At this place of decision, long overdue, Jeremiah voices the fear in the hearts of those who hear of the impending attack. Speaking for the nation, he once again responds to God’s awesome decree.
One of the most important and difficult messages Jeremiah ever delivers is given at the entrance to the temple.
In the seventh century, the problem isn’t that people are refusing to worship, for the crowds continue to form at the temple in Jerusalem, but that they are embracing a superficial form of worship.
They are acting as if their motives do not matter; their immoral behavior seems to be of little or no concern. As long as they have the temple — with its rituals and rich history — they believe they are immune to anything.
As long as they have the building in their midst, they seem to think they have God — as if He could be contained in this beautiful and storied structure.
Imagine the scene as this bold prophet speaks to the crowds streaming into the temple area. Imagine how startling these words sound to people who think religious activity and merely showing up at the temple will protect them.
Listen now as Jeremiah preaches strong words about the dangers of worship gone bad.
Generally, prophets are called to speak to people on behalf of God (prophecy) and to speak to God on behalf of the people (intercession).
But in this stinging message, God tells Jeremiah not to waste his breath by praying for the people because He will not hear the prophet’s pleas.
God is determined to right His people’s wrongs with punishing fury. God’s honor is at stake, and so is His people’s future.
The powerful and beautiful rituals God gave the Hebrews in order to shape them as individuals and as a community have become nothing more than empty rites that God cannot tolerate.
Some people in the land believe they know God’s ways, but they don’t. In fact, the ways they twist God’s words and perform empty rituals only make things worse.
Over and over again, prophets such as Jeremiah have attempted to describe the devastation that will result from the actions of those who refuse to listen to and really know God.
As the invading army comes across the borders, some realize that what God has said — what the prophet has spoken in His name — is all coming true.
God may long to bring His people close, to forgive and restore them, but it will not happen. They have refused both His forgiveness and His final warning, and so the enemy from the north is on the move.
Circumcision is supposed to be a sign of God’s covenant with the people of Israel, but it has become a mark on the body that has little to no effect on how God’s people live. Now God speaks a rather shocking message.
Judgment is coming on all nations — those inside and those outside the covenant — whose people are not distinguished by a mark that truly matters.
God calls this judgment the circumcision of the heart — a strange phrase indeed. The difference is between the inside and the outside, the superficial and the real.
God has had enough, the prophet says, of those who go through the motions, confident in their wisdom, strength, and wealth. God wants a people who are truly devoted to knowing and honoring Him.
These words are directed at a nation that cannot remember the beauty and power of true worship; instead, her people are always drifting toward profane and useless practices that leave them empty and far from the God who loves them so.
The warnings against idolatry, no matter how many times or how loudly they are offered, always seem to fall on deaf ears. But now the judgment is close at hand. The enemy first seen in Jeremiah’s visions is drawing closer. The dreaded hour of judgment is coming.
At this point in the prophecy, Jeremiah reveals a bit of his private struggles. Because he has faithfully delivered God’s messages to the nation, people from his hometown are scheming against him.
They would like nothing better than to silence God’s mouthpiece… permanently. God, however, lets Jeremiah in on the plot. Wisely, Jeremiah puts his trust in God to protect and defend him.
Jeremiah’s complaint is a common one; it is as old as civilization itself: Why do the wicked prosper? Why do good people have to wait for God’s justice?
God doesn’t shrink back from such questions, and He does not punish those who dare ask them. In fact, Scripture invites us to ask God the hard questions through Jeremiah’s example.
The answers to hard questions are never easy. In fact, as Jeremiah will soon discover, his troubles are only beginning. God calls him again to endure.
This is the first of several symbolic actions or prophetic dramas in the book.
God made Israel and Judah to stick close to him — as close as an undergarment — but because they disobey Him and refuse to live within the bonds of the covenant, God will bury them in exile, and they will be ruined.
The calling of God has left Jeremiah with a loneliness he can hardly bear. The words he must deliver, the sins he continually confronts, and the future God has revealed to him — they all lead to an unbearable isolation.
God has heard the lonely cry of His prophet, and He has offered encouragement and a promise to strengthen Jeremiah. At this point, Jeremiah is enduring the pain with his assignment. In fact, in this agony, he openly questions and accuses God Himself.
The loneliness Jeremiah has already endured is indeed painful. Surely he wants just one companion in whom he can confide; even that would be something. If only he could find solace in a loving spouse! Certainly society is composed of husbands and wives; even the worst people have families, while Jeremiah is alone.
It now becomes clear that this isolation is his life’s calling. He is banned not only from starting his own family, but from being with others.
He cannot enter into the sorrow of his people’s grief or enjoy any celebration in the community. To abstain from both the sorrow and joy of those around him ensures Jeremiah’s isolation.
But it also raises important questions with painful answers. As always, God anticipates these questions.
The strong words of Jeremiah and the warnings from God are difficult to hear.
But it seems when evil is entrenched in a life, when people stubbornly persist in their wicked ways, such words are not just difficult, they are infuriating.
The people of Judah now conspire again to silence this outspoken prophet.
Jeremiah now performs yet another symbolic act. The prophet’s words and sermons are sometimes forgettable; but people cannot forget what they see, hear, smell, and taste.
The message registers loud and clear. Standing with community and religious leaders amid the broken pottery shards (that’s what “potsherd” means), God has a strong word for these people.
The time of being shaped and re-formed on the potter’s wheel has passed. Like the clay jar Jeremiah is holding, the people’s hearts are hardened. A more drastic measure will now be taken.
It is no coincidence that God leads them to stand in this valley of refuse — this place sometimes called Topheth. It is where the horrors of human sacrifice occurred. It is where God’s vengeance would be remembered.
The people take these words and actions seriously because they understand something about the power of words and actions.
In other words, Jeremiah isn’t just acting out another object lesson for the people; this is God’s declaration that the time has truly come for judgment to begin.
God’s words, when spoken by His prophet, create this new reality. When the clay cannot be reworked, more drastic measures are taken. Judah will now be broken.
 How wild and raw are the emotions of Jeremiah in these days of anticipation! The pain and embarrassment of being publicly punished, the betrayal of his friends, and the ridicule of so many lead to an honest longing for vindication.
But there are moments when God’s sustaining love fills the prophet with joy. His are not the rants of a madman. He expects to be vindicated. God has called him to speak truth to powerful people, and those words are becoming reality.
To this promise, Jeremiah clings. But as emotions often do, this sense of resolve again evaporates, leaving the painful awareness of his calling. He must continue to speak hard and frightening words to a people he still loves.
He will soon witness the destruction of a country and city he still loves. At times, his task is almost unbearable; but as always, Jeremiah remains honest in his dealings with God who calls him into this role. Sometimes, pouring his heart out is all he can do.
 How time changes things! Jeremiah, the rejected prophet, is now being petitioned by those in power.
The same man who has been arrested and abused for prophesying God’s judgment is sent a request from the king himself because the words of Jeremiah are indeed coming true before the people’s eyes.
Jerusalem now faces certain siege by the Babylonian king. Out of desperation, the same leaders who tried to silence the prophet are now asking him to speak up for them — to God!
The shepherd-leaders and shepherd-teachers of God’s people have misled them, and the results have been disastrous. Now God intervenes.
God Himself, personally, gathers His exiles from wherever He scattered them and places them under the guidance and tutelage of new shepherds, responsible leaders who will bring them home once again safe and secure.
As if that is not enough, God will fulfill the covenant He made with King David hundreds of years earlier and establish a righteous branch of David to reign from Jerusalem. This king will be everything the earlier kings of Judah were not: just, fair, and wise.
The restoration of God’s exiles and the installation of this new king — God’s anointed — will be so glorious, so momentous that it will change the course of history. It will surpass God’s rescue of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.
Jeremiah’s prophecy of this coming king inspires many to look and long for God’s Anointed One, His Messiah, from among the sons of David. Indeed, some of the earliest followers of Jesus will find in Him the fulfillment of these hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
Prophets stretch the meanings of words in order to instruct and challenge their audiences. Although it’s difficult to appreciate in translation, in the following passage Jeremiah uses an important Hebrew word that has a double meaning.
It means “message,” as in the message from God that he is about to declare, but it also means “burden”; therefore, the “message” he receives from God — the “message” he must now declare — is a “burden” both to hear and deliver.
As the message goes out of Jeremiah, others use this word to ridicule him and minimize what God is saying. In this passage, God makes it quite clear what He thinks of these mocking and sinful people.
In 597 B.C. the dreaded King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has Jehoiachin, king of Judah, deported to Babylon. Along with the king, he takes many skilled laborers and craftsmen to help with the great building projects of his empire.
While the loss of powerful and talented men is a tragedy, it will not be the end of Judah’s troubles. The prevailing thought of those who remain in Jerusalem is that they have indeed avoided God’s judgment while those in exile are being punished. This shortsighted perspective is corrected by a vision given to Jeremiah.
The judgment of God is drawing near. Although Babylon is His instrument of judgment, this empire is not immune to His justice; she, too, will answer to God for her brutal treatment of God’s people. And so the focus of the prophecy shifts from Judah’s pain to the destruction of this now-emerging world power.
The next three chapters are a collection of stories and prophetic sayings from the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah, who suffers from the same weaknesses and mistakes as his predecessors.
These are challenging times for Judah: Jerusalem has already been invaded once by Nebuchadnezzar. It was then that the previous king was deported, along with thousands of necessary leaders, to Babylon.
The people long for freedom from this empire and yearn for the day when the exiles will return home. But this new king, Zedekiah, does not lead his people back to God as they live through this time of judgment.
Rather, he listens to false prophets and is eventually convinced by the surrounding nations to join a coalition that will attempt to revolt against Nebuchadnezzar.
This mistake will lead to the siege of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and to the destruction of the city itself in 586 B.C.
During these restless years leading up to that revolt, Jeremiah continues to take the unpopular side on this very public debate.
Now that Babylon is a part of God’s plan for Judah, it is critical for the king and his people not to revolt against the empire.
These are indeed difficult days for Judah. In 598 B.C. her king was deported to Babylon along with thousands of Jerusalem’s key citizens; their capture tore the nation apart. But God has not forgotten those in exile.
It is during this period of separation that Jeremiah writes a letter to those who were taken to this foreign land. For many reasons, relations between Judah’s new king, Zedekiah, and the ruler of Babylon are strained; so messengers are sent back and forth in an effort of diplomacy.
It is through these men that the prophet of God is able to communicate with those held captive in Babylon. Jeremiah’s message to them is the same as to those remaining in Judah: do not revolt against Babylon, for this season of judgment will be longer than others are telling you.
In the midst of the struggle, he calls those who are far from home to trust God and His timing. Unfortunately, such words are received no better by those in exile than by those who hear them in Judah.
Jeremiah’s letter is not well received by those in exile. They choose instead to listen to the empty promises of false prophets.
One such prophet, Shemaiah, becomes so angry with Jeremiah’s correspondence that he writes back to the priest Zephaniah in Jerusalem. In this letter, he complains of Jeremiah’s prediction of a long captivity and urges the priest to punish the prophet.
Hopefully this embarrassment will silence him. While Zephaniah does not place Jeremiah in shackles, he does read Shemaiah’s letter aloud to Jeremiah (and no doubt to others) in Jerusalem.
The words of Jeremiah are often dark prophecies of destruction, for Judah willingly betrayed and disobeyed God. Clearly, a major aspect of his call is foreshadowing the coming judgment of God. But in the following oracles, Jeremiah delivers a strong message of hope to those in exile.
The next three chapters are often called the “Book of Consolation.” Tucked in the middle of vivid declarations of God’s punishment of the unjust, these promises speak of hope and restoration. These, too, are part of the prophet’s message.
The setting is Ramah, a village a few miles north of Jerusalem, where exiles are assembled before the long march to Babylon.
Later the prophet himself will spend time in this refugee camp awaiting his own exile ( 40:1 ).
For now, he paints the picture of Rachel, one of the matriarchs of this nation, weeping for her children as they head off into captivity.
Jeremiah receives God’s messages in a variety of ways. In this dream-vision, he sees the future for his people. This is a sweet comfort and a welcomed contrast to other messages of doom and judgment.
But as Jeremiah will see, God’s message of consolation is not only a hope of restoration for one rebellious nation, but a promise for all people. Jeremiah is perhaps best known as the prophet of the “new covenant.” According to the prophet, God is about to establish a new relationship with a new people.
It will be unlike any earlier agreement. It will not be written on stone tablets that can be broken or on scrolls that can be lost or forgotten or even burned ( 36:23 ). No, this covenant between God and humanity is so intimate that it is to be written on the heart.
Even as words of hope and consolation are offered, the stark reality of the present looms large. The Babylonian army is near. The siege of Jerusalem is now under way. It is a dark time in the land; there is much fear, and many have questions as the capture of the capital city is now a certainty.
Again, Jeremiah must live out his faith in front of a people who have abandoned God. He is under arrest and being questioned by King Zedekiah.
Though the details surrounding his imprisonment come in chapter 37, once again it is an unpopular message that makes Jeremiah a most unpopular prophet.
But he willingly lives out his faith in an attempt to offer an unreceptive audience hope. As strange as the other assignments given to Jeremiah may seem, this one may be the most difficult to understand.
A rotting linen belt (chapter 13) and a shattered clay jar (chapter 19) — these were at least vivid pictures of the people’s rebellion and God’s judgment.
But now, in the face of certain captivity and ruin, Jeremiah is instructed to do a most absurd thing: he is to purchase a piece of property with his money.
Given its location, this plot of ground may even be under Babylon’s control. Why this apparent waste of money? To show the people that one day this land of promise will again be theirs.
Time is growing short; the city is being squeezed, and the dreaded enemy is one step closer to victory. Some hope Egypt might come to Jerusalem’s rescue, but nothing can stop her inevitable defeat.
In these dark days just before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah is still a prisoner of the king. People come to Jeremiah as he sits shackled in a courtyard, surrounded by guards.
In this humiliating scene, another message comes to the prophet from God. Once again, Jeremiah is looking past the city’s present despair to a future God is showing him: one day God will restore Jerusalem and the people of Israel.
In Jeremiah’s time, the agreeing parties affirm the terms of a covenant by participating in an ancient ritual. They gather in a sacred place, cut an animal in half, and pass between the two parts.
These ritual actions depict an implicit threat that if either covenant partner violates this agreement, he will become like the sacrifice and suffer the consequences of death and dismemberment. It is hard to imagine people taking such solemn ceremonies lightly, but they do. They always will.
The next two chapters are a flashback to earlier times and circumstances. Jehoiakim is in the last years of his reign as king of Judah. Babylon, along with Aram, is raiding Judean villages. These raids cause many to seek refuge in Jerusalem, which is not yet under attack.
Among those who run to the capital city is a nomadic clan known as the Rechabites. Their customs are simple and austere; their lifestyles are not suited to city living. However, they now find themselves in Jerusalem. Their faithfulness to those strict customs is held up as an example for the rest of Judah.
It is 605 B.C., many years before the siege and fall of Jerusalem. But the increasing power of Babylon is casting its shadow across the region. Egypt has been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar at the battle of Carchemish. The warning signs are clear — Judah is at risk and must heed the words of God’s prophet while there is still time.
The following is an account that takes place during this pivotal time, when Judah still has hope. But the reaction of King Jehoiakim — perhaps the fiercest opponent to Jeremiah’s ministry — begins to seal not only his own fate but also his people’s.
If they had hope, it quickly fades with his arrogant and outrageous actions. The lesson for this evil king and his people is clear: The power of God’s word always prevails, even when others attempt to destroy it.
Many years have now passed since Jehoiakim’s arrogant scroll-burning incident, but the prophecies against him and his people are coming to pass: Babylon is now exerting its power in the land, and Jehoiakim’s legacy has indeed crumbled.
His own son Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah) has already been sent into exile by the Babylonians in 598 B.C. In his place, Nebuchadnezzar has placed Zedekiah on the throne of Judah.
This new king has pledged to remain loyal to Babylon in exchange for the crown. And while he is not as arrogant and openly rebellious as Jehoiakim, in his own weak way, he, too, disobeys God.
At times he seems genuinely interested in the words of Jeremiah, but he never shows the courage necessary to obey God during this dramatic time.
Throughout his 11 year reign (597-587 B.C. ), Zedekiah is unable to stand up to his advisors and at one point agrees to break with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, siding instead with the pharaoh of Egypt.
This sets in motion the final retaliation of the Babylonians, including the siege and destruction of Jerusalem.
Sometime later Zedekiah summons Jeremiah. This will be the last encounter between prophet and king. Will the king finally respond with courage and faith to the word of God?
Despite decades of warnings from a faithful prophet who has the courage to speak truth regardless of the consequences, Jerusalem and her leaders continue to disobey God.
And now Jeremiah’s dreaded predictions come true. After a long siege that leaves the city weak and impoverished, the walls of Jerusalem are breached.
In the aftermath of war, confusion and mistakes are rampant.
Nebuchadnezzar himself has ordered that Jeremiah be placed in the care of Gedaliah (39:11–12), but some incompetent staff member has sent Jeremiah to be processed for exile in Babylon.
It falls to Nebuzaradan to try to fix the mistake, before it is too late.
What little hope there is for a relatively peaceful future in Judah quickly vanishes with the massacre at Mizpah.
The Babylonians show leniency in allowing Gedaliah — one of their own — to rule over this region, but that will change. There will be a response from Nebuchadnezzar.
It will be swift and brutal. The question on the minds of those still living in the land is this: how can we escape the vengeance of Babylon?
Johanan, by default, has become the new leader of these people. Although he quickly decides the next move, both he and this remnant of Judah hope it is not a mistake.
Egypt is not where Jeremiah or Baruch want to be, especially since God clearly tells these Judeans — survivors of the Babylonian attack on their land — not to go there. After all these years, Jeremiah again delivers a difficult message to an unreceptive people, this time in Egypt.
And once again, he is instructed to act this message so that all can see and clearly understand. Many years have passed since Jeremiah told God he was too young to be His prophet; but here he is, an old man, still performing strange and difficult feats to make His point.
Some time has now passed since the Judeans who were not deported to Babylon fled to Egypt in a kind of self-imposed exile.
Their reason for leaving Judah and settling in Egypt is fear — fear of reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar for the assassination of Gedaliah.
Against the protests of Jeremiah, the people settle down in Egypt.
Ironically, as they escape the wrath of the dreaded Babylonian king, they foolishly ignore the wrath of God that follows their complete disregard of His prophet.
Jeremiah now delivers what will be his last recorded message to these faithless Judeans who have settled in Egypt.
To the very end, Jeremiah speaks out against the injustices and infidelities of his countrymen who keep turning to other gods.
His words are strong, and Jeremiah lives to see many of his painful prophecies come true.
What remains in the following chapters are words surely spoken before the prophet was an old man in Egypt: first is a brief message for his scribe Baruch in the heartbreaking aftermath of the burning of the scroll (36:1–8) and the terrible judgment then declared on Judah; second is a series of declarations or oracles against the various nations surrounding Judah in these historic times.
Prophets often speak against foreign nations. God is not neutral to the designs and practices of outsiders.
These first oracles are directed against the nation of Egypt, who fought and lost the Battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. Though the fallout was not immediate, this battle was the undoing of Egypt.
Babylon is now clearly the dominant world power, and Nebuchadnezzar is her despotic and cruel ruler. But as powerful as he is now and is destined to become, the Babylonian king is only an instrument in the hand of God.
By continuing to oppose Babylon and fostering ill-fated political alliances with other nations, Egypt is, in effect, opposing God Himself. God will accomplish what He sets out to do — and all will answer to Him — for God is the God of all history and sovereign over all rulers.
Between Egypt and Babylon are several smaller nations whose futures hang in the balance. To whom will they submit in the coming years? The first of these smaller states to receive a word of judgment is Philistia.
At one time a formidable foe of Israel, this nation has seen its power and influence slowly weakening for the last 400 years, since the time of the great King David. In these days of political intrigue, it is likely that the Philistines have entered into a treaty with the city-states of Tyre and Sidon to the north.
These allies are among those considering standing up to Babylon (27:3). Perhaps it is this rebellion against God’s greater plan to use Babylon that is the reason for this judgment, or perhaps it is something else He sees in these people who live along the coastal plains of the Mediterranean. Whatever the case, it is God, the mighty warrior, who now moves against the Philistines.
Long is the history between Ammon and Israel, and many are the conflicts between them. In Jeremiah’s day, Ammonite raiders have taken land originally meant for Israel, specifically the tribe of Gad. Along with other nations, the Ammonites have conspired against Babylon.
After the fall of Jerusalem, the king of Ammon hires the assassin, Ishmael, to kill Gedaliah at a pivotal moment in the relationship between Judah and Babylon.
Time and again, this proud nation defies the God of Israel and His people. They put their trust in their god, Malcam, and they find security in the mountainous region where they live.
Like the relationship between Esau and Isaac — the twin ancestors from whom Edom and Israel descend — relations are often stormy between these two peoples. It is no secret that the Edomites hate the Israelites and often rejoice in their troubles.
But it is pride that ultimately is Edom’s undoing, for they cannot imagine any enemy penetrating their mountain fortresses. They, too, are part of the council of nations that consider standing against Babylon (Jeremiah 27).
As always, Jeremiah instructs that such resistance is an affront to the God of Israel who is using Babylon to accomplish His purposes in history.
 Damascus has long been at odds with Israel and Judah, and she controls caravan routes in the region. But she must also submit to the sovereign power of the Eternal.
Babylon is a dominant world power in Jeremiah’s time that God uses to accomplish His purposes. The prophet says that even Babylon will answer to God. East of Chaldea, the Persian Empire will take over the region and conquer Babylon.
This time the Persian King Cyrus will be used by God to alter the course of events. Jeremiah now conveys his firm belief that it is the God of Israel — not kings and their armies — who shapes history. He delivers a strong message from God concerning Babylon (who oversteps her bounds in the treatment of Judah and the other nations).
Intermixed is Jeremiah’s message of hope for those in exile. One day, the people of Judah will return home from Babylon. Those who make the journey will find that God never stops loving them, even as He disciplines them.
This strongly worded message about Babylon is the last of the oracles against the nations. Such is the message that the prophet Jeremiah is called to give — even while Babylon’s power is at its height.
And so in 594 B.C., before the final fall of Jerusalem, the prophet to the nations delivers this prophecy to the exiles already in Babylon and — if they choose to listen — to the Babylonians themselves.
Jeremiah instructs an assistant to the king of Judah to take this oracle to Babylon and read it aloud. As if that is not enough, he then instructs the man to perform a symbolic act — the sort of thing Jeremiah himself would do if he were there.
His willing accomplice will dramatize the ultimate sinking of the Babylonian Empire by fulfilling the prophet’s strange request.
Jeremiah’s words are often not “his” words. Early in life, his mouth is touched by God, and from then on the prophet is God’s mouthpiece to the world.
Jeremiah thinks with God’s mind and speaks with God’s voice when the world around him is crumbling (1:9–10). In many ways, he sees the world as God sees it and then shares those visions, no matter the cost.
His ministry spans five kings of Judah, few of whom bother to listen to him. He survives public ridicule, loneliness, and attempts on his life.
He witnesses his beloved Jerusalem fall just as he predicts. But he knows the faithfulness of God. The Eternal has promised to sustain him through a difficult life, and so He does.
Years later, during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Evil-merodach (562–560 B.C.), hope emerges. The exiled king Jehoiachin is shown kindness; it seems God has not forgotten them.
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