Book of Jeremiah: Background, Message & Theology

The book of Jeremiah is one of the big books in the Old Testament. This can bring much confusion. There are several things which can confuse us to understand Jeremiah. First thing is we are not from the time of Jeremiah though we have some history. there is no one from Jeremiah’s time whom we can ask the questions. Second is Jeremiah was written in a different form. Most of the books are written in the form we are familiar with. But what was the real form and real style we really don’t know. However, in this article we will explore the things from the Jeremiah based on some of the scholar’s research. Paper will be about Jeremiah; his call, his message, his theology, his work and his context.

The call of Jeremiah 

In the Bible, we can find many men and women who received the clear message of Yahweh. Every prophet needs to have a call from God in order to claim their message is from God. Unless they have a clear call, people would doubt what they said. Jeremiah comes from a priestly family (Jer. 1:1) which lived in Anathoth. J.A. Thompson said in his commentary on Jeremiah, “The clear consciousness of a call came to Jeremiah in the form of a dialog.” It was important for Jeremiah to have such a call from Yahweh since he was to encounter other prophets during the long years of ministry.

The prophetic call of Jeremiah in his book begins with God. God calls His people in many ways. Here, God had called Jeremiah from the moment of his conception (1:5) perhaps earlier. God knew Jeremiah and set him apart for a particular job to be a prophet. The Hebrew verb Yada (know) gives the meaning of intellectual knowledge to personal commitment. Here, this Hebrew word translated as ‘knew’ refers to the closest relationship. It has the idea of something deep and intimate and includes personal commitment.

Jeremiah seems to avoid the call (1:6) for he was young. Where we can see God’s response which contains encouragement (vs. 7-8). But together with warning and finally after warning and encouragement there we can find some kinds of the commissioning. This includes the action and the role and the call is finally completed.

Context

As I already mentioned, to know something better we must know the context. The context, in what kinds of the social train there was and how the political situation was going on. Same time we also have to know what kinds of religious practices people were having there. Jeremiah’s history would help to unveil the true meaning of a particular thing. Hence, this article contains the social, political, and religious conditions.

Political Background of the Book of Jeremiah

When God called Jeremiah, Josiah was on the throne of Judah for 12 years. Josiah brought the reform to Judah during his period (638-608). The impulse to reform was happened by the discovery of the book of the Law by Hilkiah in the LORD’s Temple. Jeremiah was already in his prophetic ministry when he saw. There was political unrest among the nation. Babylonia had already defeated Assyria and Judah was vassal to Babylonia. In 608 BC Josiah was killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29) in an abortive attempt to resist Pharaoh Neco. Jeremiah mourned in the death of Josiah (Jer. 22:10a) of whom he thought kindly (22:15f).

After Josiah, Jehoiakim came. In his reign (607- 597 BC) an event of great political significance occurred. First Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem in 605. And in 597 again he attacked because of the rebellion of Jehoiakim against Babylonia. The same year Jehoiakim died as Jeremiah predicted (Jer. 22:8, 36:27-32). And after him his son Jehoiachin succeeded in 597 BC and reaped what his father had sown. Nebuchadnezzar took the youthful king in captivity. Now there was no king in Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed new king Zedekiah Josiah’s youngest son and uncle of Jehoiachin. He also opposed Babylonia, though Jeremiah had said him to take it as a punishment of Yahweh (Jer. 27:12-15). So Babylonia attacks Judah. And after that final attack happens and Judah falls. Now Judah becomes the province of Babylonia.

Religious Background of the Book of Jeremiah

There was political unrest in the time of Jeremiah. The people of Judah had lost the Book of the Law (book of Moses). The people were incorrigibly corrupted, insensible to God’s offer of pardon, and oblivious to the menace of an invincible enemy. Chapter 1- 6 describes how corrupted they are and how disobedient they are. In the reign of Josiah, Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the process of rebuilding the temple.

The book of the Law was lost from the 70 years. Now King Josiah knew how wrong they were. Josiah tore his cloth knowing this truth and Jeremiah saw that event. Now the king brings reform to the Nation. There was now spiritual revival; spiritual growth was there. But later in the time of Jehoiachin, Babylon attacked Judah.  Babylon exiled many people including Jehoiachin, many soldiers, aristocracy, and artisans implies the temple was plundered (2 Kings 24:10-16).

Message of Jeremiah

God called Jeremiah for His great task. He elected him as an active prophet and not as a passive prophet. Jeremiah preached the message in his early years. He preached that disaster is coming from the North upon Israel. Israel has forsaken the worship of Yahweh their God. She given herself up to the worship of Baal and defiled herself in His eyes.

Speech Forms in Jeremiah’s Message

God called Jeremiah in his early age. He actually had prepared him before his birth. God assigned him to do His work. We can see the confession, oracle of judgment, and hope speech forms in his message.

The Confession in Jeremiah’s Book

The confession of Jeremiah appears at different places within the book of Jeremiah (11.18- 12.6; 15.10-21; 17.14-18; 18.18-23; 20.7-18). If we look at God’s reaction we find that the first confession is followed by a response that is encouraging and reassuring. We cannot experience the future in advance. If we knew gloomy or depressing facts about the future we would brood on them. If we have the knowledge to know the future, we would not be surprised by it.

We are supposed to do what God tells us. Many times we do ahead hoping good would come and that time if we find nothing is happening as we hope and more worst would come. It would be hard for us. And perhaps the same things were happening on Jeremiah12. The pattern used in Jeremiah’s confession is similar to the traditional pattern of laments used in Israelite worship. Since the liturgical form of worship developed to express the feelings of the worshipers, it is quite possible that behind the confession patterns lies either Jeremiah’s own anguish or that of an individual or group representative of him. It may happen as some psalms may first have been composed out of the individual experience and then been used in public worship because they expressed a mood felt by many.

We found Jeremiah in many places criticizing the leaders of Judah for their mistakes (6.13;8.8f). Now he complains that God has let him down by not fully warning him of the difficulties. He was doing it by giving him a message to deliver that has not proved true. Jeremiah felt that God was a deceiver (15.18; 20.7) who promised but did not keep them.

Oracles of Judgment in Jeremiah’s Book

Jeremiah in his book, has used some vocabulary to give a wide range to describe the misdeed of Israel. Among them, we can find avon (guilt or iniquity), rebellion, hhattath (sin), raa (evil). The people were described as having a stubborn and rebellious heart. The evil deeds which Israel did were of two broad classes. The worship of false gods, and the perpetuation of personal and social sins of an ethical and moral kind. Naturally, then the inevitability of Judgment was prominent in Jeremiah’s message. Punishment on God’s hand took many forms. Like drought and famine (5.24;14.1-6), invasion from foreign powers (1.13-16;4.11- 22). 15 There would be an assured restoration after the Judgment. When Israel turned from their evil ways and turned to Yahweh with all their hearts they would find that Yahweh yearned for them and would have mercy on them (31:20).

Oracles of Hope in Jeremiah’s Book

Jeremiah’s message pointed more beyond judgment to a future hope. He purchased the field of his cousin Hanamel in Anathoth. Doing so, he wanted to demonstrate his faith in Yahweh’s plans for future restoration. In the famous passage in 31:31-34 describing the New Covenant, Jeremiah brings the thinking of new hope. New covenant not like the Old one but New would be written on the people’s hearts. Jeremiah also gave expression to messianic hopes. God would raise up a righteous branch for David who would deal wisely and perform justice and righteousness in the land (23.5-6;33.15-16).

Theological Message of the Book of Jeremiah

The thought and faith of Jeremiah are so intimately interwoven that it is impossible to isolate one from another. He emphasized that knowledge of God is Know God. In Jeremiah, the theology of the Word reaches its culmination. At the time when he was called the divine word was placed in his mouth. And those words are extended to the nation and kingdoms. In Jeremiah, we can see the sovereignty of Yahweh.

Yahweh’s control was in the life of the people and the life of the prophets. Jeremiah has to say concerning Israel whether in judgment, exhortation, or promises he speaks to the people. The history was in his control. The nation is also under Yahweh’s gracious sovereignty.

Though Nebuchadnezzar was his servant (27;6). Yahweh created the earth and all the living creatures which inhabit it (27; 5). It is, therefore, he governs as he will (27.4-11). Yahweh revealed his holy will through the Torah and in the ministry of the priest and the prophets. But it was ignored (2.5). They rejected the glory and went to the other gods (2.6-8).they did sin against God and the consequence of sin is Judgment.

Yet Yahweh’s desire is always that his people turn from the past ways and return to him. And there Jeremiah brought the hope of restoration and he brought the idea of Eschatology there will be the New Covenant which is not like the old one. It will be engraved on the hearts of the people of Judah and Israel. And they shall know Yahweh for Yahweh will forgive their iniquities.

Conclusion

To sum up the greatness of the book of Jeremiah, several things should be stressed. Jeremiah was prophets of God, who speak the oracles of judgment, sin, repentance and hope. Jeremiah was called by the Yahweh he was from the priestly family background. He experienced the fall of Assyrian empire and the rise of the Babylonian emperor.

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