I strongly believe that one of the Biblical areas most churches tend to neglect is the writings of the great prophets of Israel. When one contemplates that the prophets comprise over twenty percent of Old and New Testaments combined, it can be seen as a rather large omission on the part of our pastors and teachers. And yet I am hard-pressed to select a more relevant portion of Scripture for our day; a section of the Bible that speaks to our nation's moment in history and our window of opportunity as the church. If we are indeed to be the preserving salt to our decaying culture as our Lord intended, we need the timeless, and timely, message of the prophets.
Let us endeavor, then, to continue together to correct this oversight and supplement our Biblical knowledge by undertaking a brief survey of the prophet Jeremiah. As I've spoken with many people and taught over the years, I have come to the realization that many of us have never even opened the book of Jeremiah. In fact, in many Bibles, the pages are still stuck together! Take a moment before continuing and run a maintenance check — make sure all your Bible's pages in Jeremiah are free and clear!
I have called this study "weeping for the disobedient," and in fact, Jeremiah is often called "the weeping prophet." This is because the main concern of the book is Jeremiah's continuing prophecy of God's judgment against Judah. He denounced Judah in order to warn them to stop being disobedient to the Mosaic Covenant. If they would not return to the Lord, the people of Judah would be exiled. Of course, as we know, the Jewish people did not turn back to the Lord and were exiled to Babylon by the end of Jeremiah's ministry. This is why he wrote the book of Lamentations; because he grieved over the destruction of his people as they had not heeded his message.
Jeremiah is perhaps the most autobiographical book within Scripture. Jeremiah reveals more personal details concerning his life and inner feelings than any other of the prophets. Some of his writing resonates with the stark emotional force of several of the more vivid, personal psalms. The book of Jeremiah is composed of many literary styles, however, ranging from history to prophecy and spans several decades of Jeremiah's life and ministry. One interesting feature of the book is that, unlike most Biblical books, there is a marked lack of chronological arrangement. The author has arranged the material in a logical, progressive pattern, to advance the overarching theme of God's judgment on the disobedient nation. Even in the midst of this theme, however, the pattern of Jeremiah's work, like other Old Testament prophets, also encompasses the tempering of final judgment with the promise of their eventual restoration to the land.
The Hebrew name "Jeremiah" means, "the Lord exalts" or "the Lord throws down". This seemingly contradictory, dual nature of the name can be seen in the message of the book. The prophet grew up in a priestly home, and the book records that he was called to be the Lord's messenger while still a child. He was appointed by God to "pluck up and break down, destroy and overthrow, and also to build and plant". How's that for a mission statement?! Jeremiah's message was primarily of judgment to a disobedient and unfaithful nation. However, it was also one of hope, comfort and promise of restoration with their God, Who had promised never to completely reject His chosen.
The historical period Jeremiah encompasses is that of the book of Kings of Judah and Israel, approximately 600 BC. You will remember that at this time, several centuries after David and Solomon ruled a united Israel, the nation had split into northern and southern kingdoms. The southern kingdom is called Judah, and it is here that our weeping prophet ministered. Judah's gross disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, their rampant idolatry, injustice and sinfulness, occurred within a context of religious renewal under the good King Josiah. In the aftermath of one of the most exciting times of actual religious reformation came a disastrous period of rebellion against the Lord. This is the backdrop for the prophet's dramatic ministry and message of impending doom on a hypocritical nation.
Now that we have laid our groundwork for our study of Jeremiah's message, I'm afraid I will have to leave you in suspense until next month. Between now and then, though, be sure and read through the first ten chapters of the book. I know that the prophets can seem a little intimidating, but just jump in — the water's fine! Next time we will see what the weeping prophet had to say to a backsliding nation.