This short series of posts during my year-long journey of lessons from The MANual, my NIV Bible for Men, continues with two books on the prophet Jeremiah.
As you read in the Introduction to The Prophets, people who told of coming events in the Bible are generally divided into two groups: “Major” prophets and “Minor” prophets. These “Latter” Prophets each have separate books, where stories of others who also revealed God’s messages (like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and David) are scattered within the History Books of the Old Testament.
My last post covered Isaiah, who some consider the greatest of all the major prophets. Jeremiah is right up there though since he wrote both the longest book of the prophets, but also provided a second book called Lamentations; both of which I cover in this post.
After King Solomon’s death, the united kingdom of Israel split into rival northern and southern kingdoms. This was a chaotic time politically, morally, and spiritually. As Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon battled for world supremacy, the southern kingdom of Judah found itself caught in the middle of the triangle. Judah was sliding quickly toward destruction by these outside powers. First Assyria, then Egypt, and then eventually conquered by Babylon, Judah needed a prophet to call them back to God.
Jeremiah’s two books focus on one event – the destruction of Jerusalem. The first book predicts it, and the second looks back on it.
The (first) Book of Jeremiah
The 52 chapters in the book named after Jeremiah contains 33,002 words (compared to 25,608 words in 66 chapters of Isaiah). As with almost every book of the Old Testament, its purpose was to urge God’s people to turn from their sins and urge them to come back to God.
The book of Jeremiah is a combination of history, poetry, and biography. Its first 45 chapters are about God’s judgment of the people of Judah. The last 7 chapters are prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem and God’s judgment on all the foreign nations.
Men of God: Jeremiah
Jeremiah knew what lay ahead for his country and the capital, the “city of God” and it made him weep. He was from the town of Anathoth, four miles north of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom. He was a young, hesitant man, who experienced deep spiritual struggles regarding the adequacy of his call to prophecy and throughout his ministry. Jeremiah spoke with such deep emotion that he is known as the “weeping prophet.”
Jeremiah began to prophesy about 626 B.C. at just twenty years of age and ministered through his entire adult life and the reign of the last five kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He experienced the call from God when The Lord gave him the message, ”I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (1:5). We’ve heard that same call to David (Psalm 139:15-18) and to Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1, 5). Each was told God knew them before they were born and called them for a specific purpose.
- Why do you think God placed you where you are now?
- What is His purpose for your life?
Jeremiah became an outspoken prophet against the national policy of Judah after the death of Josiah in 609 B.C. For 40 years, he served as God’s spokesman and condemned Judah for its love of other gods and its faithlessness. He found himself repeatedly addressing a nation hurtling head-long toward judgment from God. Jeremiah recited the nation’s history to remind them of God’s faithfulness. He wanted to make sure they did not forget God and to emphasize His unfailing love for them. He also reminded the people they were close to God at one time.
But nobody listened.
Because Jeremiah’s messages held little weight with the people, his prophecies reveal a substantial amount of emotional depth and sorrow over the plight of God’s people or his own troubles (Jeremiah 12:1–4; 15:10). Jeremiah was rejected by his neighbors (11:19-21), his family (12:6), the false priests and prophets (20:1-2, 28:1-17), his friends (20:10), his audience (26:8), and the kings (36:23).
Throughout his life, Jeremiah stood alone, declaring God’s message of doom, weeping over the fate of his beloved country. His prophecies were unpopular with the military and the revolutionists fighting the Babylonians. He was thrown into prison (37) and into a cistern (38). Conspirators kidnapped Jeremiah against his will to Egypt (43) where they stoned him to death
I’ve written before that pride is the root cause of all the Biggest Challenges Men Face. Jeremiah writes in chapter 44 that we have forgotten (or chose to ignore) the sins of our ancestors due to pride so we grumble and complain like the people of Israel when things didn’t go as we want.
- What things have you been complaining about this week?
- How does your self-serving attitude affect how you live?
Jeremiah prophesied in the final years before the exile of God’s people to Babylon so its understandable why so much is about judgement. Just as Jerusalem received its punishment, all the foreign nations were certain to get theirs as he described in chapters 45-52) with messages to Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar & Hazor, Elam, and Babylon.
However, there’s an element of grace present in these chapters. The final portions of Jeremiah’s first book provide a clear glimpse of the new covenant that would restore God’s people once Christ came to earth.
Jeremiah’s second book, Lamentations, is known as the “book of tears.” At just 5 chapters and 2,320 words, it reflects his deep grief of looking back on the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.
The first four chapters are an acrostic poem meaning each converse in each chapter begins with a successive letter of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The third chapter is actually a triple acrostic with 66 verses, with the first three verses begin with the equivalent of A, the next three with B, and so on.
After Jeremiah mourns for Jerusalem (1:1-22), God guides him to proclaim that Judah would suffer famine, foreign conquest, plunder, and captivity. The prophet spoke of God’s anger at their sin (2:1-22).
Every sin has a consequence. Some immediate; some show up later. If you abuse drugs or alcohol, your body will pay the price. Cheat on your wife and your relationship with her and your children will suffer. If you cook the books at work, you’ll be fired or even sent to jail.
You may convince yourself that you can get away with something. Instead of confessing and repenting, you breathe a sigh of relief. But don’t be fooled. Sooner or later, consequences await you.
- Be honest. When you feel guilty when you sin, do you tend to hide from it? Why is it good to confess and repent of your sins?
- Who are the people who speak to you about the consequences of your sins?
In the middle of Lamentations there is a ray of hope. Jeremiah realizes that the Lord’s mercy had prevented total annihilation. He saw God’s judgement but also God’s steadfast love, written famously in verse 3:23, “Great is his faithfulness, his mercies begin anew every morning.”
Chapter 4 warns us not to assume that when life is going well, it will stay that way. Jeremiah wanted Judah against asking Egypt for help in fighting the Babylononian army but then Egypt retreated (Jeremiah 37:5-7). In chapter 5, Jeremiah pleads for mercy and restoration for his people.
God Buddy Focus
Jeremiah looked totally ineffective in the world’s eyes. The political and religious leaders did not accept or follow his advice but he successfully completed what God gave him to do. Temporal measures like popularity, fame, or fortune do not defined our success. When we faithfully do the work God calls us to do, we are successful in His eyes, even when the world thinks otherwise. Know that God knew you before you were born and has a plan for your life. Fulfill His covenant and He will protect you from your enemies.
Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations also reminds us of the bitter suffering the people of Jerusalem experienced when sin caught up with them. God turned away from them because of their sin but never abandoned them. He promised to restore them if they returned to Him. In our grief and suffering, we should remember to turn toward God not away from Him. In our sin, we should return to Him for forgiveness. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22)
This week, discuss these questions in your group:
- How does the world define success?
- Do you have some Christian guys – a prayer group or accountability partner, with whom you can discuss your fears and sins?
- In what ways can you cultivate a life of accountability to God through your GodBuddies?
My next post covers the last two major prophets: Ezekiel and Daniel.