Today is our last free day in the Book of Jeremiah. As we wind down our reading of the prophetic book let’s take as look at a few things. First of all, there is the prophet Jeremiah himself. He is often called the weeping prophet because he shared his personal struggles as he delivered God’s messages. He was born in Anathoth, near Jerusalem, during the reign of Manasseh. His father was Hilkiah of the tribe of Benjamin. Jeremiah received his call to prophetic ministry during the 13th year of Josiah’s reign which was 627 B.C. At first Jeremiah wanted nothing to do with his call but God assured him that He would tell him what to say, and guide and protect him despite opposition. Jeremiah spent his entire ministry preaching to the people of Judah and Jerusalem to repent of their sins of idolatry and return to the Lord. There would be severe consequences otherwise. He was hated by Judah’s leaders, some even going so far as to try to kill him. The interesting thing is, King Nebuchadnezzar knew of Jeremiah and was favorably disposed towards him. What the people did not recognize was, God’s Word cannot be silenced. Jeremiah lived long enough to see the prophecies he had brought to the people from the Lord, fulfilled. Some may look at his ministry and call him a failure but in reality, it was a resounding success. He was obedient to the Lord to the end. Jeremiah remained faithful to his God. He may not have seen the fruit of his labor for the Lord, but in his struggle to remain faithful to the Lord in a world that has turned away from the Lord, countless people spread over every generation have found refuge and solace in his words.
Another major player in this book is Baruch. He was the son of Neriah, and a royal scribe in Jerusalem. He served as a secretary for Jeremiah. His brother Seraiah was a staff officer in Zedekiah’s administration. In 605B.C., during Jehoiakim’s reign Jeremiah and Baruch were hidden from arrest and while they were hidden Jeremiah dictated to Baruch the messages he had given to the people. Not only did Baruch write them down but he also went to the temple and read them to the people. The people and leaders were shaken by what he shared but when the scroll of messages was read to the king he was furious, refused to listen or believe, and as sections of the scroll where read, he took a knife, cut the sections of scroll off and threw them into the fire. Baruch went back into hiding where Jeremiah dictated the messages once again and Baruch wrote them down. He was discouraged and ready to give up but God comforted Baruch with the assurance of protection, and cautioned him not to seek great things for himself because Jerusalem would be destroyed. When that happens he remained with Jeremiah, ending up in Egypt. Just like Jeremiah, we do not know how or when Baruch died. God told him not to seek great things but his legacy was in the same book as Jeremiah, a book that warns of judgement and eloquently expresses the hope for the new covenant.
Covenants play a huge role in the Book of Jeremiah, both the old and the new. The central issue in the Lord’s relationship with Israel was whether the covenant made at Mount Sinai was still valid. The people of Israel had broken this covenant countless times. In the politics of the ancient Near East, covenant agreements were common. When one of the parties in a covenant broke the terms of the agreements, the result was usually war. The Sinai covenant was unique because one of the parties was the Lord, and this covenant required both parties to seal the agreement with solemn oaths of faithfulness. The Lord always remained faithful. The people…not so much. Literally, for centuries the Israelites swung back and forth between the worship of the Lord and worship of Canaanite deities. When the people did repent and return to the Lord, He graciously took them back. By the 700’s the people had become firm in their idol worship. So the Lord used the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom and take many into captivity. At the time of Jeremiah’s ministry the southern kingdom found itself in the same place and worse. The Lord charged these people with adultery for violating their marriage covenant with Him. Judah and Jerusalem were torn apart and the temple was destroyed. Not only did the people’s behavior cut the heart of the Lord but so did the punishment He had to use to get their attention once again.
In the middle of the gloom and doom Jeremiah prophesied about a new covenant. This would be like no other covenant. This is not to say the old covenant was flawed. In fact it was the people who were flawed, and disobedient. The other point is this: God had never intended for the Sinai covenant to bring salvation. Forgiveness of sins has always been God’s gracious gift to those who have humbled themselves before Him in faith. The law was the oaths the Lord gave us, showing us how to walk through life and how to live. So, the problem was not in the covenant but in the people’s response. The problem was the people’s hearts were hardened against the Lord but they were open to the pagan gods and idols. Countless prophets could not change the people. Only God can change hearts and minds, so a new covenant was needed. And because every single one of us is born in sin, the change could not be left up to us. This had to come from the Lord. With the new covenant the very Spirit of God would enter people’s lives in order to assure their adherence to the covenant. No longer would intermediaries be needed between the Lord and His people. The Spirit would teach the people the knowledge of God, a knowledge that would be evidenced by faith, obedience, and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy of the coming new covenant by His redemptive work on the cross. While Jesus was on earth He instructed His disciples in His Father’s ways but after He ascended into Heaven the Spirit of God was poured out on the believers gathered in Jerusalem, fulfilling the promise spoken by Jeremiah. What we saw with the old covenant came from Exodus 6:7, “I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God…your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt.” And then this: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. Old covenant and new covenant promises.
We have also seen what happens when there is an invasion. In the ancient world, invasions by foreign powers was fairly common. But when they occurred they brought greater hardship and terror. If the invaders succeeded what followed was staggering. There was destruction and suffering as the victorious invaders killed the adult men, raped the women, enslaved the children, plundered all that was valuable, and destroyed everything else. The threat of invasion brought shear terror. At the time of Jeremiah the people of Judah and Jerusalem were living under the shadow of the Babylonians, under constant threat of hostile conquest. Over a century earlier the same thing had happened to the northern kingdom, but it didn’t t seem to affect the behavior of those living in Judah. In times when invasion was a threat, people were likely to turn toward anything they could to bring relief. The residents of Judah and Jerusalem looked in many places but they never turned to the Lord, who would have protected them. Hezekiah had done this over a century earlier and the Lord had responded. But now the people had become even more distant from the Lord and He had reached the point where the people needed to be disciplined. The Babylonians would take care of that.
And one more set of thoughts. Our God is unique. Jeremiah knew that and communicated that to the people. He testified that the living God is creator of all things, including time and space. God is not part of nature; He created and rules nature. This means He cannot be divided into any number of gods and goddesses. Those who believed in many gods identified their deities with the natural world and as a result, they easily misunderstood the nature of the one true God. The nature deities and their images were false, lifeless, and immobile. These gods could not communicate with people or relate to individuals. They could not even move about under their own power, because they had none. The Lord God is unique, different than false gods. As creator, God stands wholly apart from the things He has created. He has always existed as the living God, the intelligent designer who declared that the universe should function according to His laws. He is the living God of love, holiness, justice, and power. As the one true living God, the Lord relates to His specially made humans on a personal basis, despite His otherness. He reaches into the lives of individuals and reveals His will so that each person can understand His desires and respond to Him. The Lord who created all things, seeks an intimate relationship with each one of us.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W