Jeremiah: The Reluctant Firebrand (Part 1)

645BC?Born0 yrsJer 1
628BCCalled to service171
*610BC?‘Jerusalem Bible Class’36?
609BCDeath of Josiah
The potter and the clay
Depression
3715
18
20
606BC70 years captivity prophecy4125
603BCJehoiakim burns the scroll4436
596BCTravels to Babylon with linen girdle5113
592BCLetter to Babylon5529
587BCFirst imprisonment
In the dungeon
Prophet buys a field
6037
38
32
585BCJerusalem destroyed
Taken to Egypt
6239
43
583BC?Death64

Imagine, for a moment, a Jerusalem Bible Class in around 610BC. Maybe it’s even a special weekend. The room is very full and some of the people in it will be world famous in the next few years – some still are, 2600 years later.

The teenagers are seated together, with some very serious Bible students among them, and some not so serious as always. Two particularly stand out, Daniel and Ezekiel. Only just teenagers, they are already committed to the Truth and hang on every word spoken. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are also there and also very committed. They will later become more famous under different names.

There are many couples too, some young, some not so young. Jair and his fiancé are seated together, and soon they will be married. They will experience the difficult times ahead in Jerusalem, but will also experience the joy of a baby son, Mordecai. Jair’s father, Shimei, is there too and other members of the extended family. One day, far off in the future, a niece named Hadassah will be born into the family and she too will become more famous under a different name.

Some officials are also at the Class. Seraiah, the son of the high priest, is seated with his wife. He will later take on the position of high priest himself in Jerusalem’s dying days, but in those same days they will also welcome a baby son, Ezra. Seraiah’s future grandson will one day be high priest in Jerusalem, but so much will happen between now and then. So much suffering and despair.

Royalty is in attendance. Josiah, the great king, is seated amongst the congregation. He also hangs on every word spoken. Sadly his two sons aren’t there; they’re not really interested. His grandson, Jeconiah, sits with his grandparents. He’s only seven and tries to look interested, though he’d rather be with his uncles. But one far off day he too will have a grandson, who will recapture the faith of Josiah. His name will be Zerubbabel and he will work closely in the ecclesia with Seraiah’s grandson, Joshua.

The speaker for the weekend is a man of faith, known and respected by all of them, and loved by most. He is Jeremiah, the priest of Anathoth. He is trying to turn a nation around, one prophecy at a time. His message is challenging – considered way too negative by many. But he is also trying to prepare an ecclesia for 70 years of captivity.

If such a class did take place, within a year of it, most of Jeremiah’s hopes were dashed. King Josiah was dead. Within 12 years, most of the young people in the audience had been taken to Babylon in chains. Within 24 years everyone was gone, either dead, murdered or slaves in Babylon. Only Jeremiah remained faithful in Jerusalem.

If ever anybody earned the right to write a book called Lamentations, it was Jeremiah. The poor man! In so many ways his lonely life seemed a litany of let-downs, by courtiers and countrymen alike. And yet, because of him, more perhaps than any other single person, the worship of the God of Israel survived the Babylonian captivity and continued right through to the birth of Jesus.

At just 17 years of age, when a young man’s thoughts turn to many things, Jeremiah was told that God had known him since before he was born and that He had chosen him to be His special prophet to the world.

“Sorry, but I’m too young and I hate speaking in public,” came the reply.

So Yahweh did something remarkable, something even the venerable prophet Isaiah hadn’t experienced in quite the same way. God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gave him effectively the voice of God – at 17 years of age.

From then on for the rest of his life he gave himself totally to the calling he received. He experienced depression, isolation and heartbreak as well as imprisonment, exile and strange international missions. It was a life of crushing loneliness, too. At God’s insistence he had no wife, and for many years no friends. It was a life that produced an astonishing character of faith, as God knew it would. Can you picture Jeremiah? See his sternness and veracity, his loyalty and courage, his sadness and tenderness? that he was maybe not always physically courageous, but always spiritually heroic? Beneath the hard words lay a sensitive nature that may shrink from suffering, may even be inclined to take flight. But when the Word of Yahweh comes, he consults not with flesh and blood, not even his own, but proclaims its message loudly – whatever the consequences.

Jeremiah found God irresistible

At 37 years of age, he suffered a mid-life crisis that was devastating and real. After Josiah died, Jeremiah’s life would never be the same. His first 20 years of service were spent under the rulership of a godly king with whom he was absolutely like minded. The next 24 years were spent under the collective sceptres of one of the most corrupt, weak and godless groups of kings in history, certainly in Judah’s history. They were the sons and grandson of Josiah. Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah cost Judah their religious heart, their kingdom, their land and for most of them, their faith. They very nearly cost the seed of Abraham their existence as a separate people. For a time, just one man stood in the way of total disaster: Jeremiah. As his faithful friends, young and old, were gradually taken prisoners into foreign lands, eventually he was the only one left. The only one in Jerusalem!

What God wanted from Jeremiah was a huge ask – by any measure He required implicit obedience, high courage, unfaltiring speech. Kings, princes, priests, people were all arrayed against him, but God made him invincible. When God’s Words were on his lips, he couldn’t be debated, bribed or beaten into submission. It led him for the most part into cavernous personal valleys and troughs, literally once to the bottom of a cesspool. Occasionally he experienced spiritual peaks that few have ever experienced, before or since. From one of them he was shown the Son of God himself, a righteous Branch, a King who would reign and prosper, whose name would be Yahweh Our Righteousness.

He saw the dark valley he called the “time of Jacob’s trouble”, but he also stood on the summit that said, “though I make a full end of all nations, yet will I not make a full end of thee”.