JEREMIAH, PART 1

Jeremiah 1:1—10

In 70 AD, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and its inhabitants scattered to the four corners of the world; the result of a terrible judgment of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. But this wasn’t the first time God judged His people, nor was it the first time the Holy City was destroyed. In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and most of Judah’s population was carried off as captives. For a century Mount Zion was little more than a wasteland, inhabited by a variety people; some Jews left behind by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, other people from other countries destroyed by the mighty Babylonians wandered around, settling in and around what was once Jerusalem. What an odd assortment of misfits; a rag-tag-band of fugitives, that now called the Holy City home.

Yet a scant century later, a remnant of exiles returned to what was left of Jerusalem, eventually rebuilding the city and the Temple. But the glory and splendor that was Mount Zion never returned. It won’t be until the dawn of the Millennial Age that the world will see that splendor and magnificence again.

The books the prophet Jeremiah wrote are key in understanding what happened in 586 BC, for they were composed just prior to and during Jerusalem’s destruction. They give us a glimpse into what his world was like and provide key historical data of the period. As Jeremiah’s book comes to an end, so does the very last remnant of what had been David and Solomon’s magnificent 12-tribe kingdom. Reading this part of Hebrew history brings to mind T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men—

This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.

The book called “Jeremiah” is one of five books in the Old Testament we call “The Major Prophets.” They are “major” because of their length. The book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, is quite short, but it is part of the Major Prophets because it serves a kind follow-up to Jeremiah’s main book of prophecy. The shorter prophetic books—and there are many of them—form “The Minor Prophets,” again because of their brevity, not because they are any less unimportant than the Majors.

Though written in the sixth century BC, the books of Jeremiah are vitally important to those of us living in the 21st century. Though ancient, they paint a picture of a society frighteningly similar to ours. Today is a troubling time of sin and complacency, very much like Jeremiah’s day. Apostasy and hypocrisy are seen in seen in ever increasing frequency, just as in Judah of old. The balance of power among the nations was shifting in the sixth century BC, and today nations once thought unshakable are teetering on the brink of economic and moral collapse. Preachers of righteousness are in short supply today; and during Jeremiah’s day, nobody wanted to hear the truth of God’s Word, either.

It becomes painfully obvious as we read the book of Jeremiah that nations rise and fall, not of their own accord, but according to God’s plan. Our destiny as a people in not in our hands, but in God’s. We are living in the last days, and during these last days the message of Jeremiah is timely and inescapable. Jeremiah is sad book to read, not just because it was written during an extraordinarily sad time for God’s people, but because it forces its readers to confront the state of their own lives before the righteous demands of God. But at the same time, the book of Jeremiah is a book of hope that teaches believers that there are better days ahead; there is a Savior coming and a New Covenant is on the horizon. Jeremiah teaches us that for those who hold fast to their faith and serve God to the best of His ability, there is always hope!

As we begin our study of Jeremiah’s great book, we need to look at the man himself. Jeremiah, like the other Old Testament prophets, knew nothing of human ordination. He did not attend a seminary, take ordination exams, and sit before a denominational examination committee before he began his ministry. He also didn’t rush headlong into it. In fact, Jeremiah often shrank from the message he was compelled to preach. But in this, he was in good company! Moses offered God the lame excuse that he wasn’t eloquent enough to preach and Isaiah famously exclaimed that he was a man of “unclean lips” after God called Him to preach. Jeremiah said:

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The great voices for God of the Old Testament were no different than believers today who so often get all tongue-tied as they try to share their faith. Take heart, though, out of our weakness, God ordains strength.

1. Jeremiah’s Call, 1:5

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. 

Jeremiah was born in the small village of Anathoth, about two miles from Jerusalem, in 648 BC. He lived in and his ministry spanned tumultuous times spiritually, politically, and economically. He preached from the days of Judah’s last righteous King (Josiah) to Judah’s last actual King (Zedekiah). He lived long enough to see Jerusalem burned to the ground. All during his life and ministry, Jeremiah came to learn a profound truth: all events on earth, good or bad, are under God’s sovereign control. It is He, not kings or armies, that govern human history.

This sovereign God is also a personal God, and when Jeremiah was about 20 years old, God called him to be a prophet. In fact, in a personal conversation with Jeremiah, God told him that Jeremiah was created and “set apart” before he was born to be a prophet. What a stunning verse: he was called before he was created; set apart before he was even born! God had a plan for Jeremiah just as He has a plan for all of us.

Why did God choose Jeremiah? What was there about this man that set him apart from all others? We aren’t told. God didn’t explain it to Jeremiah and as far as we know Jeremiah never figured it out. God has a sovereign will that makes complete sense to Him, even if it doesn’t to us. Our part is to respect God’s sovereignty, not deny it or frustrate it. We don’t have to understand it to hear it and obey it. Jesus said this:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Notice Jesus said His sheep “listen” to His voice; we don’t always understand completely what He’s saying! We listen and we follow in faith. We should never worry about God’s sovereignty as it concerns us and our destiny:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

When it came to serving God, Jesus never failed. And neither will you if go with God’s flow for your life!

2. Jeremiah’s excuse, 1:6

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Like most excuses God hears from any of His children, Jeremiah’s was just as pathetic. Since when is a 20 year old a child? To Jeremiah, he was highly unfit to be a prophet. He came from a small village, born to a humble priest. But in a humorous turn, Hilkiah named his son “Jeremiah,” which literally means “Whom Jah [God] Appoints.” He certainly lived up to his name! God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet. He didn’t ask Jeremiah or check with him to make sure he had the proper education and credentials! Clearly it is God who does the calling, not any man or organization.

Jeremiah, though he felt under prepared, would come to learn a valuable lesson: our sufficiency is NOT in ourselves but in God:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)

3. Jeremiah’s Commission, 1:7

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

Though Jeremiah felt inadequate and inexperienced, God knew his man better than he knew himself. Rarely does any of us have an accurate picture of ourselves; God does and it’s His opinion that counts. Verse 7 is a rebuke, make no mistake about it. Jeremiah has ONE master and ONE purpose in his life: to go where he is sent and to speak what God wants him to speak.

Jeremiah’s mission was clear, but he needed some encouragement:

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (vs. 8)

When anybody declares the unadulterated Word of God, they will face opposition from all quarters. Jeremiah had much to fear, but God would be with him through it all. It is better to obey God and face trouble in this world than to cave into the demands of this world and face a disappointed God! At a young age, Jeremiah learned a lesson he would carry with him for a lifetime: God’s is always with those who serve Him.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

There is no way the darkness of this world can overtake any believer while the light of God’s presence is in him!

4. Jeremiah’s equipment, 1:9

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

Whom God calls, God equips! This divine touch, which the prophet Isaiah also experienced, serves as a kind foreshadow of the tongues of fire that touched the believers gathered in the Upper Room in Acts. His “touch” and His “words” are vitally connected. With a divine command comes a divine enabling! Jeremiah needed power as all believers need power in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.

God put His Words in Jeremiah’s mouth, which is very poetic way of saying God would simply speak through His prophet. Now, that sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to become a preacher if God personally said, “I will put my words in your mouth?” As they say, however, the Word of God is a double-edged sword, and in Jeremiah’s case, more so! God’s Words in Jeremiah’s mouth were almost exclusively words of doom, gloom, and destruction. Through most of Jeremiah’s ministry, God’s Word was hard to speak and even harder to hear.

5. Jeremiah’s work, 1:10

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gloomier words cannot be found anywhere: uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. That is not an encouraging message to give or hear. Yet, this was Jeremiah’s message from God. Yes, sometimes God’s Word is a big pill to swallow. Sometimes God’s Word is difficult and seemingly not very helpful or positive. It is, nonetheless, God’s Word.

In Jeremiah’s case, destructive work had to be performed before the constructive work could begin: build and plant. A garden must be weeded before it can be seeded! Sin always has to be be dealt with and put away before godly character can be established in a person. This is as true in the case of a nation as it is of the individual. God is about judge Jerusalem because they had been rejecting Him for years and years. God would restore them in time, but first, they had to be broken. It is the good and pure heart that produces good fruit. Jeremiah could preach and preach, sowing the Word everywhere, but if there were no pure hearts to receive it, no good fruit could be produced. This was the situation in Jerusalem. Hearts were not ready to receive the “good” Word of God. Those hard, dry hearts needed to be tilled up like fallow ground, cleaned out and made ready to receive what God wanted to give. In short, the people needed to be either broken or destroyed before God would be able to do anything in His people.

God gave His people every chance. Jeremiah preached for decades, warning them to get right. And he wasn’t alone; other prophets were preaching the same message! Sadly, the die had been cast. Hard hearts make for deaf ears. But God did His part in making sure Jeremiah would proclaim His Word.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5)

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