The Book of Jeremiah was written in the sixth century BC, and the author was the Prophet Jeremiah himself. Jeremiah lived from approximately 640 BC to 570 BC in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and was a contemporary of Ezekiel, who lived in Jerusalem at the time. The Midrashim states that he is a descendant of Rahab. His mission was to the people of the Southern Kingdom, and it spanned through five Kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehhoiachin, and Zedekiah. Jeremiah began his writings shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC.
Jeremiah’s main message was to declare to the people of Judah that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to their negligence with regard to the Law. Judah had slipped into idolatry, and as a result, was under God’s judgment. The Temple was considered the locus of God’s presence among the people, and being the center of the life of Jerusalem, the tendency in the Kingdom was to find an unhealthy sense of security in the Temple’s presence. The mindset of many in Jerusalem was that they were invincible. In many ways, the Temple had become a “talisman” that people believed to be a protection for the city, and obedience the Law had become secondary and optional.
By forsaking the Law and looking solely to the Temple for security, Jerusalem had been unfaithful to God in committing idolatry. Jeremiah 7:3-4 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’” The people of Jerusalem had also succumbed to the influence of their pagan neighbors and had begun to worship false gods. In Jeremiah 7:9, God indicts Israel for their harlotry: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?”
The tendency towards the worship of idols and false Gods was something Israel had struggled with since its earliest times. When Moses came down off of Mount Sinai, holding the stone tablets in his hands, the Children of Israel had made a golden calf to worship. They slipped into idol worship despite God’s hand having guided them out of Egypt. In seventh and sixth century BC Jerusalem, the condition was very similar. They had the Temple in their presence and had been protected by God for hundreds of years, yet they still had the tendency to forget God and His commandments.
In Jeremiah 3:1, God compares Judah to an unfaithful wife. However, He also issues a call that is prominent throughout Jeremiah: a call to return. “They say, ‘If a man divorces his wife, and she goes from him and becomes another man’s, may he return to her again?’ Would not that land be greatly polluted? But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me,’ says the Lord.” God says something very similar in Jeremiah 4:1: “’If you will return, O Israel,’ says the Lord, ‘Return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, then you shall not be moved.’”
God’s call for Judah to return demonstrates His willingness to forgive and receive. Unlike the man who is unwilling to forgive his wife who has been unfaithful, God is perfectly willing to forgive Judah, as long as they repent. He does not want to punish or destroy Jerusalem. Instead, He desires them to return and enter into a real and abiding relationship with Him. Christ shows this desire for Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37 in the New Testament. He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”
Christ follows this statement with something that is further reminiscent of Jeremiah’s prophecies. In verse 38, He says, “See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” This is virtually identical to what Jeremiah told Judah. Jeremiah told Jerusalem that they needed to repent and return to the Lord in obedience, and if they refused, the Temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would be taken captive. First century Jerusalem was in a very similar situation. The people were living in a horribly sinful state. Many had forgotten God’s Law. Others had taken it and twisted it into an unbearable yoke that choked the hearts of men, leaving them unable to truly come to God in love. Some trusted that the Temple made their city invincible. Christ came to them and delivered a message about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In Mark 23, He says, “Do you see these great buildings [the Temple]? Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down.”
The similarities between Jeremiah and Christ are unmistakable and make it quite clear that Jeremiah typologically points forward to what was to come in Christ. In Jeremiah 1:5, God states that He knew Jeremiah and called him before he was born. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” In the LXX, Psalm 109:3 has the Father speaking typologically of Christ in a very similar fashion. It says, “I have begotten You from the womb before the morning star.” Hebrews 5:5 quotes Psalm 2:7 speaking about Christ: “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”
Jeremiah prefigures Christ in His role as the suffering servant. Christ was rejected by His people because of His message. John 1:11 says, “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” Christ Himself said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” [Luke 9:58]. Christ told the Apostles of the world’s hatred for Him, and warned them that they too would be hated. Jeremiah was hated by his people as well. His life was threatened, and He was warned by the Lord. Jeremiah 11:21 says, “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life, saying, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, lest you die by our hand’— therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will punish them . . . “.
Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Jeremiah 25:8-9 says, “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations.’” Christ also prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In Matthew 24:15-18, Christ says, “’Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.’”
Christ and Jeremiah cared greatly for Jerusalem, and they both wept over its coming destruction. Luke 19:41-42 says, “Now as He [Christ] drew near, He saw the city [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.’” In Jeremiah 9:1, Jeremiah says, “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” Jeremiah was greatly pained over the message he had to deliver to Judah. He loved them and did not want to see them destroyed. His living among them made it even more difficult, for his message was to his neighbors, friends, and loved ones.
Despite the pain that Jeremiah’s mission brought him, he always remained faithful to God in delivering the message. He was obedient and took to heart that God had called him “before he was born”. God had chosen him, and the message he delivered was not “his message”, but was instead, God’s message. Jeremiah was merely the mouthpiece. Jeremiah makes this clear throughout the book with his continual use of the phrase “the word of the Lord”. Jeremiah refers to the message which he is bringing as “the word of the Lord,” not the word of Jeremiah. Jeremiah receives the word of the Lord, and he relays this word to its intended recipients.
God’s call for Judah to “repent and return” is followed by promise that points forward to Christ.: the promise of a New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31-33 says, “’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,’ says the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” This promise of a New Covenant applies not only to Judah, but also to Israel, and in consequence of God’s declaration throughout the Book of Jeremiah of His universality, it applies to all nations. God is not only the God of Israel and Judah. He is the God of all nations, and He demonstrates His universality in His commissioning and use of other nations in His judgment of Judah, e.g., Jeremiah 27:6-7, and His declaration that His judgment applies to all nations, e.g., Jeremiah 25:13-38. It is in this universality that we hope. We trust that God is the God of all and that He shows mercy to all who come to Him in repentance and humility, seeking a relationship with Him through the merits of His Son, our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.