Jeremiah prophesied for eighteen years during the reign of Josiah, then during the reigns of the [last] four kings of Judah, till after the capture of Jerusalem and the end of the kingdom. He was thus about a hundred years later than the prophet Isaiah. His home was in the village of Anathoth, a few miles north of Jerusalem, and he was by birth a priest. It is possible, though not certain, that his father, Hilkiah, was the High Priest who discovered the book of the Law in the Temple during the reign of Josiah (see the Cambridge Bible for Schools). In any case, the discovery had as marked an effect upon the ministry of the young prophet as upon the conduct of the young king. Jeremiah, no doubt, strengthened Josiah's hands in his work of reform and against forming an alliance with Egypt. Though Jeremiah had many enemies, God gave him some true friends, from Josiah the king down to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian who rescued him from the dungeon [38:7-13].
In such troublous times as these, Jeremiah lived. The life of the nation from the time of Manasseh, the grandfather of Josiah, was corrupt in the extreme. The reforms of Josiah seemed only to touch it on the surface, and temporarily; after his death the nation sank back into the worst forms of idolatry and into every kind of iniquity. Jeremiah's mission was to endeavour to turn his people back to their God. During the reign of Josiah, he began to prophesy the dreadful calamity threatening from the North, unless they would repent. Judah's salvation was still possible, but each year her guilt became heavier and her doom more certain.
The Lord raised up Nebuchadnezzar to execute His judgment upon Judah. He gave him universal dominion, and even called him ''My servant''. It was because God revealed this to Jeremiah, that we find him advocating submission to Nebuchadnezzar, and it was for this that his people accused him of treachery. After the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was given his choice whether he would go to Babylon or remain with the remnant that were left in the land. He chose the latter. Days of darkness followed. Jeremiah exhorted his people to obey the voice of the Lord and remain in the land, and not to flee to Egypt. But they refused to obey, and they carried Jeremiah with them into Egypt, where, tradition says, he was stoned to death.
''His ministry was one of admonition and antagonism. Against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes, against the priests, against the prophets was he to stand. He was to gird up his loins and arise, and speak all that God commanded him. He was to be the solitary fortress, the column of iron, the wall of brass, fearless, undismayed in any presence; the one grand, immoveable figure who pursued the apostatising people and rulers, delivering his message in the Temple court or the royal chamber or the street, whether they would hear or whether they would forbear. In consequence he was the prophet of unwelcome truths, hated of all, but feared as well by all. It was a mission requiring courage, faith, strength, will; a mission no weakling could fill, no coward would undertake. Jeremiah is one of the very great men of the world.'' [Outline Studies, Moorehead]
To Jeremiah was committed the hopeless task of trying to bring back his people at the eleventh hour. He prophesied the seventy years' servitude of the Jews to Babylon, urging them to settle down to the life of that city and to seek its peace. He prophesied as certainly the restoration of his people and the unalterable love of God to them. At the very time of the siege of Jerusalem, and from his prison cell, Jeremiah, at the bidding of the Lord, purchased a field from his cousin Hanameel as a proof that Israel should be restored to their land.
In all these places, the negative is not a literal negative at all, but is a strong and striking form of the comparative. In this form, or figure, the negative does not exclude the thing denied, but only implies the prior claim of the thing set in opposition to it (Rev. James Neil).
The essence of the covenant He made with them at Sinai was obedience: ''If ye will obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own possession'' [Ex 19:5, RV]. The appointment of the Levitical Law was a part of the obedience which formed the essence of the covenant.
At the very time that David's throne was imperiled, and justice and equity almost unknown, the prophet announced the coming of a King of the House of David, a righteous Branch, who should reign and prosper, and execute judgment and justice in the earth. ''In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS'' -- Jehovah Tsidkenu [Jer 23:6]. In this majestic name the Godhead of our Saviour is predicted, and, as a descendant of David, His humanity.
''Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.
Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our God'' (3:22).
As we read on, a scene rises before us. We see Jeremiah in prison. The rulers have bound him that they may be no longer troubled by the word of the Lord. God tells him to take a roll [ie., a scroll] and write in it all the words that He had spoken unto him from the days of Josiah unto that day. We can picture the prophet in the dimly lighted dungeon, with his faithful friend Baruch at his side, busily writing down the words on the roll as the prophet spoke them. ''And Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which He had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. And Jeremiah commanded Baruch, saying, I am shut up; I cannot go into the house of the Lord; therefore go thou, and read in the roll, which thou hast written from my mouth, the words of the Lord, in the ears of the people, in the Lord's House upon the fasting day.'' What Baruch holds in his hand, and what he reads in the ears of the princes, priests, and people, are ''the words of the Lord.'' The roll is long. It contains every prophecy which Jeremiah has uttered up to that time. But none of the words, many as they are, are given as his words. They are, all of them, God's words.
But this is not all. After Baruch had read the roll to the people, he was sent for by the Royal Council and commanded to read it to them. The great officials of Jerusalem said to Baruch, ''Tell us now, How didst thou write all these words at his mouth?'' Then Baruch answered them,
''He pronounced all these words with his mouth,[Afterwards, the rulers] brought the roll to the King.
and I wrote them with ink in the book.''
Here another scene rises before us. We are no longer in the dark dungeon, but in the winter palace of Jehoiakim, surrounded by all the magnificent luxury of an Eastern Court. When the monarch had heard three or four leaves of the roll, he had had enough. He asked for the roll, cut it in pieces with a penknife, and cast it into the fire that was upon the hearth. ''It was his last chance, his last offer of mercy: as he threw the torn fragments of the roll on the fire, he threw there, in symbol, his royal house, his doomed city, the Temple, and all the people of the land'' (Speaker's Commentary).
Jeremiah and Baruch were ordered to be taken, and would, no doubt, have been treated with ferocity, ''but the Lord hid them.'' And now in their seclusion, another task was [given to] them. The Lord commanded Jeremiah to take another roll, and to write in it ''all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and there were added besides unto them, many like words.'' Other words were added, but the body of the sacred book was word by word the same as the first. [The Inspiration and Accuracy of the Holy Scriptures, pp. 44-47, Urquhart.]
Man may cut God's Word to pieces with the penknife of his intellect. Like Jehoiakim, he may cast his hope of salvation in the fire. But ''the word of the Lord endureth for ever'' and by that word shall he be judged in the last day (1Pet 1:25; John 12:48).
As we have already seen, he contemplates speaking no more in the name of the Lord, ''But,'' he says, ''His word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay [ie., I was unable to maintain silence]'' [Jer 20:9]. With such a fire burning in his heart, is it any wonder that the Lord's promise was fulfilled, ''Behold, I will make My words in thy mouth fire''? [5:14]. The Lord also promised him, ''If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth'' [15:19]. ''Thy words were found,'' he says to the Lord, ''and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart'' [15:16]. In his prayers to God, Jeremiah reveals the secret workings of his heart. He was emphatically a man of prayer, a man who understood the meaning of communion with his God.