The Prophet Jeremiah [17]
Jeremiah lived through all of the events that we have recently witnessed in this narrative. Indeed, he played a role in some of these great events, crying out to the people to be submissive to God, penitent in their hearts and to cease sedition against an enemy that was willing to destroy all hopes of peace. But he was not alone in his prophetic work. God called forth many other prophets at this time to preach penitent fidelity to his love and covenants. Among the prophets contemporary with Jeremiah we find the names of Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Lehi and Ezekiel and others.

So with this historical framework let us explore more fully the life of Jeremiah, the times in which he lived and the timely and timeless message he has left for the ages. A summary of Jeremiah’s life in the context of national and international problems raging during his lifetime is best expressed in the words of John Bright:

No braver or more tragic figure ever trod the stage of Israel’s history than the prophet Jeremiah. His was the authentic voice of [the] Mosaic [covenant] speaking, as it were, out of season to the dying nation. It was his lot throughout a long lifetime to say, and say again, that Judah was doomed and that that doom was [Jehovah’s] righteous judgment upon her for her breach of covenant.

Thanks to a wealth of biographical material in his book, the story of Jeremiah’s life is better known than that of any other prophet. Born toward the end of Manasseh’s reign in the village of Anathoth, just north of Jerusalem, he was still a lad[18] when he began his career five years before the lawbook was found in the Temple (ch.1:1f., 6). He was of priestly stock, his family possibly tracing its descent from the priesthood of the ancient Ark shrine at Shiloh—which might help to explain Jeremiah’s profound feeling for Israel’s past, and for the nature of the [Mosaic] covenant…Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah…[assailed] the paganism that Manasseh had fostered, [which] helped to prepare the climate for more thoroughgoing reform. Though it is unlikely that Jeremiah participated actively in the reform itself, he certainly must have approved of its eradication of pagan practices and its attempt to revive the theology of the Mosaic covenant. He both admired Josiah greatly (ch.22:15f.) and, as that king pushed his program of reunification, hoped for the day when a restored Israel would join Judah in the worship of [Jehovah] in Zion (ch.3:12-14; 31:2-6, 15-22). But, as we have also seen, he soon had misgiving. He saw a busy cult, but no return to the ancient paths (ch.6:16-21); a knowledge of [Jehovah’s] law, but an unwillingness to hear [Jehovah’s] word (ch.8:8f.); and a clergy that offered the divine peace to a people whose crimes against the covenant stipulation were notorious (chs.6:13-15; 8:10-12; 7:5-11). He realized that the demands of covenant had been lost behind cultic externals (ch.7:21-23), and that the reform had been a superficial thing that had effected no repentance (chs.4:3f.; 8:4-7).

Jeremiah, who was early haunted by that premonition of doom which ultimately became well-nigh his entire burden, found his disillusionment complete under Jehoiakim. As that king allowed the reform to lapse, Jeremiah began to preach the nation’s funeral oration, declaring that, having revolted against its divine King (ch.11:9-17), it would know the penalties that [Jehovah’s] covenant holds for those who breach its stipulations. The humiliation of 609…[was] something the nation brought on itself by forsaking [Jehovah] (ch.2:16). But that punishment, he warned, was only provisionary, for [Jehovah] was sending “from the north” the agent of his judgment, now seen as the Babylonians (e.g., chs.4:5-8, 11-17; 5:15-17; 6:22-26), who would fall upon the unrepentant nation and destroy it without remnant (e.g., chs.4:23-26; 8:13-17).

Standing thus in the theology of the Mosaic covenant, Jeremiah rejected the national confidence in the Davidic promises utterly[19]. He did not, to be sure, deny that those promises had theoretical validity (cf. ch.23:5f.), nor did he reject the institution of the monarchy as such. But he was convinced that, since the existing state had failed of its obligation, neither it nor its kings would know anything of promises (chs.21:12 to 22:30): [Jehovah’s] promise to it was total ruin! The popular trust in [Jehovah’s] eternal choice of Zion he branded a fraud and a lie, declaring that [Jehovah] would abandon his house and give it over to destruction, as he had the Ark shrine of Shiloh (chs.7:1-15; 26:1-6).

The persecution that such words earned Jeremiah, and the agony it cost him to utter them form one of the most moving chapters in the history of religion. Jeremiah was hated, jeered at, ostracized (e.g., chs.15:10f., 17; 18:18; 20:10), continually harassed, and more than once almost killed (e.g., chs.11:18 to 12:6; 26; 36). In thus dooming state and Temple, he had, as the official theology saw it, committed both treason and blasphemy; he had accused [Jehovah] of faithlessness to his covenant with David (cf. ch.26:7-11)! Jeremiah’s spirit almost broke under it. He gave way to fits of angry recrimination, depression, and even suicidal despair (e.g., chs.15:15-18; 18:19-23; 20:7-12, 14-18). He hated his office and longed to quit it (e.g., chs.9:2-6; 17:14-18), but the compulsion of [Jehovah’s] word forbade him to be silent (ch.20:9); always he found strength to go on (ch.15:19-21)—pronouncing [Jehovah’s] judgment. Yet when that judgment came, it brought him the deepest agony (e.g., chs.4:19-21; 8:18 to 9:1; 10:19f).

After 597, when it seemed that judgment had been accomplished and wild hopes of speedy restoration were abroad, Jeremiah continued his monotone of doom. Seeing no sign that any lesson had been learned, or any repentance effected by the tragedy, he declared that the people—what a twist on Isaiah’s theme (Isa. 1:24-26)!—were refuse metal which could not be refined (Jer. 6:27-30). Indeed, it seemed to him (ch.24) that the best fruit of the nation, and its hope, had been plucked away, leaving only worthless culls. Yet, when (594) hope flared that Jehoiachin would soon return, Jeremiah denounced it and, wearing an ox yoke on his neck (ch.27f.), declared that God himself had placed Babylon’s yoke on the neck of the nations, and that they must submit to it or perish.

When final rebellion came [c.587 BC], Jeremiah unwaveringly predicted the worst, announcing that there would be no intervening miracles, but that [Jehovah] himself was fighting against his people (ch.21:1-7). When hopes soared as the Egyptians advanced [against Judah’s overlord Babylon] (ch.37:3-10), he dashed them without pity. He even went so far as to advise people to desert (ch.21:8-10)—which many did (chs.38:19; 39:9). For this, he was put in a dungeon where we very nearly died (ch.38). The Babylonians finally released him and, thinking that he had been on their side (ch.39:11-14), allowed him to choose between going to Babylon and remaining behind. He elected to stay (ch.40:1-6). But after Gedaliah’s assassination, the Jews who fled to Egypt took [Jeremiah] with them against his will; and there he died. The last words reported from his lips (ch.44) were still of judgment on his people’s sin. [20]

I realize that this is a hefty amount of historical material that does not initially seem to be of the greatest spiritual worth.


However, when we have a clearer understanding of the history of God’s people and the choices of righteousness or wickedness that they made and the consequences for such choices, we can look at our own lives and find relevant application and hopefully, as in the words of Moroni, be wiser than they were.[21] An additional benefit to all of this historical background is quite important to our understanding of the Book of Mormon. When we remember that Lehi and his family were contemporaries of Jeremiah and lived in Jerusalem at the same time, we recognize that all of this history is a backdrop for the Book of Mormon. We now begin to have a very clear picture of the world in which Lehi, Sariah, Nephi, Sam, Laman and Lemuel lived. We also have a better understanding of what they thought, knew and experienced and thus what they brought with them over to the New Promised Land.

Jeremiah and His Message
This particular lesson is only specifically focused on four of the more than fifty chapters in the Book of Jeremiah (16; 23; 29; 31). Even though we will not be able to completely treat the power and fullness of Jeremiah’s message we have sufficient historical backdrop to deeply explore any of the chapters and those chapters that we will discuss will give us sufficient taste of his message and words. My approach will be something akin to a commentary, which by its nature hopes to explicate specific passages, and with a little creativity can highlight common themes across several passages. Before looking at the specific passages we should mention a few themes that cut across the pages of Jeremiah: Israel is a covenant people; God will gather his covenant people both as individuals and as a group; covenant relationships are sacred and binding.

Jeremiah 16
Jeremiah 16:1-9
In these verses the Lord commands Jeremiah to speak out against getting married, mourning for the dead, or participating in celebrations and feasts. At first glance we might be somewhat confused why the Lord would speak against those things that deal with the bonds of loving family relationships. It is not that God despises marriage or that participating in the acts of remembering dead ancestors are worthless[22], but God wanted his people of Judah to understand how serious and immanent the threat of destruction was. His people had every need to repent; the day of repentance is not a day of festivals, celebration and mirth. Additionally, by telling the people not to contract marriage covenants the Lord was warning that destruction would come swiftly and soon by the hand of the Babylonians.

Jeremiah 16:10-13
How unfortunate it was that when Jeremiah preached the message of repentance to the people of Judah they responded,

[Why] hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God? (v.10)

This is akin to the insolent response of a certain group of Nephites in the Book of Mormon during the reign of wicked king Noah. When Abinadi was sent among that people to call them to repentance they bound him in anger and brought him before king Noah with accusation and feigned innocence saying,

O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man? And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain. And behold, we are strong, we shall not come into bondage, or be taken captive by our enemies; yea, and thou hast prospered in the land, and thou shalt also prosper. Mosiah 12:13-15

Perhaps we should not be entirely surprised at such gross wickedness born of ignorance among these Nephites for we read in the following passage that such sinful audacity was modeled by king Noah himself:

Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction? Mosiah 11:27

We should pause for a moment to consider if we are like these Nephites in any way. Do we believe that we are safe and secure from bondage because we are strong or because we have mighty cities and armies? There is only one sure path to safety and security: “Our safety lies in repentance. Our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God.” [23]

Like the Nephites of old we also see in verses 10-13 of chapter 16 that Jeremiah’s generation of Israelites had done worse than their fathers! Instead of worshipping dumb idols they had turned to worshipping the vain imaginations of their own hearts! They trusted in themselves and not in the almighty power of God. Do we do this today?

Jeremiah 16:14-21
Though harsh the condemnation of the prior verses, the everlasting kindness and mercy of our God shines through as He promises to gather in his people in love, offering them the terms of temporal and spiritual salvation. These verses describe some of the ways in which God will seek out his people. The Lord knows his people, he knows where and how to find them and they will ultimately know that the Lord is God.

Jeremiah 23
Jeremiah 23:1-8
When righteous king Josiah was killed in battle against the Egyptians at Megiddo (609 BC), his son Jehoiakim (also known as Eliakim) came to throne after his older brother Jehoahaz ruled for a short three month period. Jehoiakim, as we learned earlier, stopped the religious reformation which his father had instituted and instead returned to the old ways of paganism while wickedly practicing social injustice against his own people. Jeremiah spoke out in righteous anger against this wickedness declaring that such iniquity would not go unpunished. Following these condemnations Jeremiah spoke forth words of redemption and promise, saying that eventually a righteous heir to the throne of David would rule over Israel. Jesus Christ is that heir and we are His people who have Him as our King.

Jeremiah 23:9-40
Not only did Jeremiah have to deal with the iniquity of state sponsored wickedness during the eleven-year reign of king Jehoiakim, Jeremiah had to constantly battle against false prophets and against the charges that he was a false prophet. Apparently during Jeremiah’s time, there were those who believed that they could simply say, “thus saith the Lord” and that the message they had to deliver would then be automatically authenticated by God himself. Many arose in the days of Jeremiah as self-proclaimed prophets, leading the people astray with flatteries and lies, claiming that they spoke for God. These false prophets were in reality servants of the father of all lies who was the one they had chosen to follow. The mighty prophet Nephi once spoke about such false messages, false prophets and the people who gave heed to such deceit:

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.


 

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! 2 Nephi 28:20-29

We learn from the words of Jeremiah that God promises to destroy such false prophets.[24] What is interesting about God’s promise to destroy false prophets is that the Lord had told his people that they can detect false prophets in the following way: if a prophet prophesies falsely he will die. The people of Israel understood this and often endeavored to bring this to pass of their own doing. In other words, if a prophet came to them with a message that they did not want to obey they believed that they simply needed to kill the prophet to “fulfill” the words of God that a false prophet will die. Thus they could deceive themselves, through their own murderous act, that the prophet who had called them to repentance was simply a false prophet. This did indeed happen in the days of Jeremiah and so he had every reason to fear for his life:

And there was also a man that prophesied in the name of the LORD, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, who prophesied against [Jerusalem] and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah: And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt; And Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt…And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king; who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people[25]. Jeremiah 26:20-23

On several occasion the people also sought the life of Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 26) and this is akin to what happened to the righteous Abinadi in Book of Mormon. Both came to the people of God calling them to repentance. In both instances the people were angry and brought railing accusations against the prophet while clamoring for the king to put the prophet to death.

Jeremiah 26:8, 21
8 Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die…
21 And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death

Mosiah 11:26-28
26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto [the people] they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said…
28 I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him.

Fortunately Jeremiah was spared, but Abinadi was not. His fate was similar to the prophet Urijah who died at the hands of a wicked king and wicked people to seal the witness of his testimony.

Jeremiah 29
Jeremiah 29:1-9
Jeremiah directs this message to the Jews already in Babylon. We remember that an initial deportation of Jews occurred in 597 BC (the full destruction of Jerusalem took place ten years later). He tells the Jews in Babylon to build houses, plant gardens and move forward with life. Why? In essence, his message indicates to them that they will be in bondage for a long time. Jeremiah again admonishes the people to turn away from false prophets.

Jeremiah 29:10:19
In these verses Jeremiah speaks forth the words of comfort and promise that one day the people of God will be returned and restored into their lands of inheritance. Jeremiah reminds the people of the loving mercy of God who sends true prophets unto them to teach them the things of truth.

Jeremiah 29:20-32
Unfortunately, however, Jeremiah had to once again contest against false prophets who had appointed themselves as spokesman for God, leading the people away with vain and flattering lies.

Jeremiah 31
This is a chapter of restoration and thus it speaks of how all of the mighty promises from the ancient days will be fulfilled in the Lord’s due time. All of the beautiful symbols of life, prosperity, peace, joy and happiness are employed throughout this chapter and God’s everlasting mercy and kindness[26] is redolent throughout. The Lord promises to establish a new, solemn and binding covenant with his people Israel. Just as he had delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage with a covenant, so too would God deliver his people from Babylonian bondage with a new covenant. And we are children of the covenant. God will deliver us still with a covenant and a promise which cannot be broken except through faithlessness and disobedience.

In these troubled times may we see the relevance of Jeremiah’s timely and timeless message today for our lives and by so doing reap the ripe fruit of this life’s purpose that “men are, that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:25

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