Old Testament Survey
The nation of Israel divided in 975 B.C. Jeroboam I led the ten northern tribes to rebel against King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. The Northern Kingdom came to be known as Israel. Its capital was eventually located in Samaria. All of the kings who ruled over the Northern Kingdom were evil men. Assyria conquered Israel in 721 B.C. Most of the people were taken into captivity. As a nation, Israel never again came into existence.
The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah. It was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Jerusalem, where the temple was located, was the capital of Judah. Although most of its rulers were wicked, a few were faithful to God. Judah became worse and worse. Because of this, God allowed Babylon to conquer it in 606 B.C. Some of the leading citizens, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, were taken to Babylon at this time. When Judah rebelled against Babylon in 596 B.C. others, including Ezekiel, were taken as captives to Babylon. Finally, in 586 B.C. the army of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. Solomons temple was torn down. Most of the remaining people were taken to Babylon. During Judahs last days, Jeremiah served as Gods spokesman to them.
Jeremiah was born during a troubled time in history. Great nations were struggling for control of the world. The powerful Assyrian Empire was slowly dying. Babylon became a superpower when its army conquered Nineveh, capital of Assyria, in 612 B.C. Egypt had been a world power for more than one thousand years. It was striving to maintain its power against threats from Babylon. The little nation of Judah was located between these two superpowers. When the armies from the Babylonian Empire in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley marched to fight the armies from the Egyptian Empire in the Nile Valley, they had to go through Judah. Many times, battles were fought on Judahs territory. Its people suffered greatly as a result. Kings of Judah were tempted to make alliances with either Babylon or Egypt as protection against the other one. Jeremiah and the other prophets warned them to trust in God instead of these alliances.
Spiritually, the people of Judah had sunk very low. After the death of Hezekiah, a good king, his wicked son, Manasseh, came to the throne (2 Kings 21:1-9). Manasseh was followed by his son, Amon, who was also wicked (2 Kings 21:19-22). When Amon was killed by his own servants, his eight year old son, Josiah, was placed on the throne (2 Kings 21:23-26). Josiah was the last of the good kings of Judah. He led the people back to God and His Law (2 Kings 22, 23). Sadly, his reformation was cut short when he was killed in battle at the age of 39 (2 Kings 23:29). Jeremiah was called by God to prophesy during the rule of Josiah (Jeremiah 1:1-10).
Jeremiah was born about 650 B.C. His father was Hilkiah, a priest (Jeremiah 1:1). His home was Anathoth, a village about four miles north of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 1:1). He was very young when called by God to be a prophet (Jeremiah 1:1-10). He was not a poor man for he owned property and had a personal secretary (Jeremiah 32:6-15; 36:4). God told Jeremiah not to marry or have a family (Jeremiah 16:1-4). Jeremiahs name shows he was chosen by God. It means Jehovah has appointed. Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet because he shed tears over the sins of his people. Although he was Gods spokesman for many years, he did not succeed in turning the people back to God. His own family rejected him. He was beaten and put in prison on several occasions (Jeremiah 26:8-11; 32:1-3; 33:1; 37:13-15; 38:6-13). Jeremiah was taken to Egypt by the people who killed Gedaliah, Babylons governor over Judah (Jeremiah 41- 43). When he continued to preach Gods Word, he was stoned to death, according to Jewish history.
A key passage in Jeremiah sets forth the message of the book. In chapter 2, verses 12 and 13, the prophet points out that Gods people had committed two serious sins. First, they had forsaken God, the fountain of living waters. Second, they had hewn out for themselves cisterns - broken cisterns - that cannot hold water. A fountain of living water is a spring that always brings forth an abundant supply of fresh, clean water. God is like this. He is a constant source of blessings. A cistern has no water supply of its own, but is only a storage place for water. A broken cistern would hold no water at all. The people of Judah had come to trust in the idols of foreign nations. These idols were not living, and therefore could bring no blessings. They trusted in their own wisdom and strength. But the only wisdom and strength to be found was in God. They also trusted in their alliances with heathen nations to protect them. But these nations had no power unless God chose to give it to them. Thus, all the things the people of Judah trusted in were empty, just like broken cisterns. Judah had rejected the true God Who alone could bless them. In Gods place they trusted in things which could bring no blessings!
Jeremiahs preaching fell on deaf ears because the people had become very corrupt. The priests and prophets were as bad as the others (Jeremiah 5:30, 31; 8:11,12;23:1-40). Jeremiah pleaded for the people to return to Gods way and walk in the old paths of Gods Law. They refused (Jeremiah 6:16). Then Jeremiah prophesied that one day God would make a new covenant with His people. It would be different from the covenant He had made with them at Mt. Sinai. That covenant was written on tables of stone. This new covenant would be written on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The new covenant is the New Testament, the Law of Christ (Hebrews 8:6-13; 2 Corinthians 3). Jeremiah taught the important lesson that man, by himself, cannot find his way. He must rely upon God and His Word if he would be saved from his sins (Jeremiah 10:23). Jeremiah also prophesied that the Babylonian Captivity would last for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8-13). After that, Gods people would be allowed to return to their homeland.
Gods message to Judah, delivered by Jeremiah, was not popular with the people. On one occasion, King Jehoiakim had Jeremiahs written prophecies read to him. As each part was read, the king took his knife and cut them up. Then he burned them in the fire. He thought he could destroy the Word of God! But Gods Word can never be destroyed (Matthew 24:35)! Gods Word will be the standard by which we will all be judged at the Last Day (John 12:48). God told Jeremiah to write His words on another scroll. He added many more words besides. Because of Jehoiakims lack of respect for Gods Word, God said he would die (Jeremiah 36)!
The book of Lamentations was also written by Jeremiah. He wrote it to describe the terrible destruction of Jerusalem. Some have described Lamentations as a funeral dirge for Jerusalem. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was made in the third century before Christ, Lamentations is called The Tears of Jeremiah. Each of the five chapters of Lamentations is a poem. It shows clearly that God will punish even His own people if they do not repent of their sins.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is a good example for preachers of the Gospel today. Preachers are often persecuted for preaching the truth just as Jeremiah was. Jeremiah sometimes became discouraged, but he never quit (Jeremiah 20:9). Preachers, who truly love God and the souls of men, will never quit (2 Timothy 4:2-5).
Jeremiah was like Jesus in many ways. On one occasion, Jesus asked His disciples, Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? They replied, Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14). Many who saw Jesus were reminded of Jeremiah. Jeremiah loved the people. He was kind, compassionate, and courageous just like Jesus.
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