The prophet Jeremiah

Superpowers, refugees and a brand new start

From Sunday August 23rd we will be having a short sermon series on the prophecy of Jeremiah. This is a brief introduction to Jeremiah, the troubled times he was living in, and the difficulties which his message had to address.

Jeremiah was a prophet for over forty years, some six hundred years before Christ. His message was so unpopular that he was repeatedly harassed and arrested, and at one point he was even thrown into a disused cistern and left for dead. He persevered with his message though, which proved to be true in the disasters it foretold for Israel, and which pointed towards God’s new covenant with his people when his law would be "written on their hearts" rather than taught from outside.

Jeremiah was prophesying at a time of enormous upheaval in the Middle EaSt Three super-powers were battling it out to be top dog, and the northern part of Israel had already fallen into Assyrian hands. The southern part was sandwiched between Egypt and Babylon, and was clinging on to independence by dallying between them and claiming allegiance now to one and now to the other. Internally it had five different kings even during Jeremiah’s time. It was weakened by corruption and idolatry, was blind to the true menace of the nations on its doorstep, and was ignoring God’s offer of pardon and renewal. Even attempts to reform Israel’s religious life had done more harm than good, because they had concentrated on the institutional life but didn’t reform the heart.

During Jeremiah’s ministry, Babylon finally triumphed as the super-power and besieged Jerusalem, sending the people into exile in Babylon. The king of Babylon, Nebuchadrezzar, put a new king (Zedekiah) in place in Israel, but he rebelled against Babylon and allied himself with Egypt. This prompted another Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, as well as the advance of the Egyptian army. Jeremiah’s advice was to surrender to the Babylonians - because they were going to win anyway.

Much of Jeremiah’s prophecies concern these political upheavals, and their role in God’s purposes for re-establishing his people’s true faith. They’re sometimes difficult to follow because they aren’t in chronological order - but then, they were written, destroyed, re-written and edited in a state of constant turmoil and danger! But it’s clear that even in his awareness of the terrible fate that awaits Israel (exile in Babylon was even worse than slavery in Egypt because they’d already been given the promised land) Jeremiah’s message always has glimpses of hope - the promise of forgiveness and restoration, learning in exile to worship free from dependence on the Temple, and the beautiful commitment of God to the new covenant. " I will be their God and they shall be my people...they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (31.33,34).

George Morley
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th June 1998