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Jeremiah, the prophet of the broken heart, is the writer of this book. It is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible. Every book in the Bible is remarkable, but this book is remarkable in a very unusual way. Most of the prophets hide themselves and maintain a character of anonymity. They do not project themselves on the pages of their prophecy. But Jeremiah is a prophet whose prophecy is largely autobiographical. He gives to us much of his own personal history. Let me run through this list of facts about him so that you will know this man whom we will meet in this book.
- He was born a priest in Anathoth, just north of Jerusalem (Jer. 1:1).
- He was chosen to be a prophet before he was born (Jer. 1:5).
- He was called to the prophetic office while he was very young (Jer. 1:6).
- He was commissioned of God to be a prophet (Jer. 1:9–10).
- He began his ministry during the reign of King Josiah and was a mourner at his funeral (2 Chron. 35:25).
- He was forbidden to marry because of the terrible times in which he lived (Jer. 16:1–4).
- He never made a convert. He was rejected by his people (Jer. 11:18–21; 12:6; 18:18), hated, beaten, put in stocks (Jer. 20:1–3), imprisoned, and charged with being a traitor (Jer. 37:11–16).
- His message broke his own heart (Jer. 9:1).
- He wanted to resign, but God wouldn’t let him (Jer. 20:9).
- He saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity. He was permitted to remain in the land by the captain of the Babylonian forces. When the remnant wanted to flee to Egypt, Jeremiah prophesied against it (Jer. 42:15–43:3); he was forced to go with the remnant to Egypt (Jer. 43:6–7); and he died there. Tradition says that he was stoned by the remnant.
Jeremiah was a remarkable man. I call him God’s crybaby, but not in a derogatory sense. He was a man in tears most of the time. God chose this man who had a mother’s heart, a trembling voice, and tear–filled eyes to deliver a harsh message of judgment. The message that he gave broke his own heart. Jeremiah was a great man of God. Candidly, I don’t think that you and I would have chosen this kind of man to give a harsh message. Instead we would have selected some hard–boiled person to give a hard–boiled message, would we not? God didn’t choose that kind of man; He chose a man with a tender, compassionate heart.
Lord Macaulay said this concerning Jeremiah: “It is difficult to conceive any situation more painful than that of a great man, condemned to watch the lingering agony of an exhausted country, to tend it during the alternate fits of stupefaction and raving which precede its dissolution, and to see the symptoms of vitality disappear one by one, till nothing is left but coldness, darkness, and corruption” (Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, W. G. Moorehead, p. 9). This was the position and the call of Jeremiah. He stood by and saw his people go into captivity.
Dr. Moorehead has given us this very graphic picture of him: “It was Jeremiah’s lot to prophesy at a time when all things in Judah were rushing down to the final and mournful catastrophe; when political excitement was at its height; when the worst passions swayed the various parties, and the most fatal counsels prevailed. It was his to stand in the way over which his nation was rushing headlong to destruction; to make an heroic effort to arrest it, and to turn it back; and to fail, and be compelled to step to one side and see his own people, whom he loved with the tenderness of a woman, plunge over the precipice into the wide, weltering ruin” (pages 9, 10).
You and I are living at a time which is probably like the time of Jeremiah. Ours is a great nation today, and we have accomplished many things. We have gone to the moon, and we have produced atom bombs. Although we are a strong nation, within is the same corruption which will actually carry us down to dismemberment and disaster. It is coming, my friend. Revolution may be just around the corner. I know that what I am saying is not popular today. We don’t hear anything like this through the media. Instead, we have panels of experts who discuss how we are going to improve society and how we can work out our problems. Today God is left out of the picture totally—absolutely left out. If the Bible is mentioned, it is mentioned with a curled lip by some unbeliever. The ones who are believers and have a message from God are pushed aside. I know that. That is why I say to you that I think we are in very much the same position that Jeremiah was in. For that reason I know this book is going to have a message for us today.
Another author has written, “He was not a man mighty as Elijah, eloquent as Isaiah, or seraphic as Ezekiel, but one who was timid and shrinking, conscious of his helplessness, yearning for a sympathy and love he was never to know—such was the chosen organ through which the Word of the Lord came to that corrupt and degenerate age.”
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:13–14). There was a difference of opinion, and none of them seemed to really know who He was. Folk had some good reasons for thinking He was Elijah and also good reasons for thinking He was John the Baptist. Now there were those who thought He was Jeremiah, and they had a very good reason for believing it, because Jeremiah was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The difference between him and the Lord Jesus was that the Lord Jesus was bearing our sorrows and our grief, while Jeremiah was carrying his own burden, and it was breaking his heart. He went to the Lord one time and said, “I can’t keep on. This thing is tearing me to pieces. I’m about to have a nervous breakdown. You had better get somebody else.” The Lord said, “All right, but I’ll just hold your resignation here on My desk because I think you’ll be back.” Jeremiah did come back, and he said, “The Word of God was like fire in my bones; I had to give it out.” He did that even though it broke his heart. God wanted that kind of man, because he was the right kind of man to give a harsh message. God wanted the children of Israel to know that, although He was sending them into captivity and He was judging them, it was breaking His heart. As Isaiah says, judgment is God’s strange work (see Isa. 28:21).
Jeremiah began his ministry about a century after Isaiah. He began his work during the reign of King Josiah, and he continued right on through the Babylonian captivity. He is the one who predicted the seventy years’ captivity in Babylon. He also saw beyond the darkness of the captivity to the light. No other prophet spoke so glowingly of the future. We will have occasion to see that as we study his marvelous prophecy.
The message of Jeremiah was the most unwelcome message ever delivered to a people, and it was rejected. He was called a traitor to his country because he said that they were to yield to Babylon. Isaiah, almost a century before him, had said to resist. Why this change? In Jeremiah’s day there was only one thing left to do: surrender. In the economy of God, the nation was through. The times of the Gentiles had already begun with Babylon as the head of gold (see Dan. 2).
Characterizing Jeremiah’s message is the word backsliding, which occurs thirteen times. It is a word that is used only four other times in the Old Testament, once in Proverbs and three times in Hosea—Hosea’s message is also that of the backsliding nation.
The name that predominates is Babylon, which occurs 164 times in the book, more than in the rest of Scripture combined. Babylon became the enemy.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 24: Jeremiah & Lamentations. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)