Jeremiah 1 – The Call of a Reluctant Prophet
Among all the prophets of the Hebrew people none was more heroic than Jeremiah – G. Campbell Morgan.
A. The life and times of the Prophet Jeremiah.
1. (1) Jeremiah and his background.
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin,
a. The words of Jeremiah: This begins a remarkable collection of writings revealed through the Prophet Jeremiah. His 40-year ministry was a tremendous display of faithfulness and courage in the face of great discouragement, opposition, and small results.
i. Jeremiah: “The precise meaning of the name is unknown, with suggested interpretations including ‘the Lord founds.’ ‘the Lord exalts’ and ‘the Lord throws down.’” (Harrison)
ii. “The name Jeremiah was common in Judah. It occurs several times in the OT. At the time of David there were two, and possibly three Jeremiahs among David’s mighty men (1 Chronicles 12:4, 10, 13).” (Thompson)
b. Who were in Anathoth: Since Jeremiah was from a priestly family, it made sense that they lived in Anathoth, which was a small village about three miles from Jerusalem. It was in the land of Benjamin but given over as a priestly city (Joshua 21:18).
i. “From vantage points in Anathoth one could clearly see the walls of Jerusalem. Jeremiah grew up not in the great capital but within sight of it.” (Thompson)
2. (2-3) The times of Jeremiah.
To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
a. To whom the word of the LORD came: Though this book contains the words of Jeremiah, it also contains the word of the LORD. This prophecy, like all inspired Scripture, is both the word of man and the word of God. It is the divinely inspired and infallible word of God but brought through the personality of man.
i. When God uses a person, He does not erase their personality – He wants to use that person’s sanctified personality. “God wanted a man with a very gentle and tender heart for this unrewarding ministry of condemnation. Jeremiah’s subsequent career shows that he had this quality in full measure.” (Cundall)
b. In the days of Josiah: King Josiah was one of the better kings of Judah, zealous for reform. According to 2 Chronicles 34:3, it was in the eighth year of Josiah’s reign that he sought the LORD, and a few years later began an aggressive campaign to purify Israel of idolatry and to return to the LORD.
i. God called these two giants – both Josiah and Jeremiah – to serve Him and His people at the same time. Each supported the other, and though they did not leave behind an enduring transformed Judah, they served God faithfully and removed every excuse Judah might offer for the judgment that eventually came through Babylon.
c. Josiah…Jehoiakim…Zedekiah: In this line of succession of the Kings of Judah, some are left out (Jehoahaz in 2 Chronicles 36:1-2 and Jehoiachin in 2 Chronicles 36:8-9).
i. “Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin were probably omitted in this verse because their reigns were so short, comprising only three months each.” (Harrison)
d. Until the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month: In fact, portions of this book address the period after the captivity (Jeremiah 44). Yet that was only as a postscript to the catastrophic fall of Jerusalem.
B. The call and preparation of the Prophet Jeremiah.
1. (4-5) God’s call to Jeremiah.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying:
“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.”
a. Then the word of the LORD came to me: Jeremiah had a personal encounter with the LORD. He was apparently raised in a godly, priestly home – yet he had to have a personal encounter with God and His word.
i. Because many of his prophecies have echoes and hints of previous prophets of Israel, it seems that Jeremiah grew up knowing God’s word. “His future life and thought were moulded to a large extent by an early acquaintance with the utterances of the eight-century BC prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah, and probably also by the lives and sayings of Elijah and Elisha. ” (Harrison)
b. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…I ordained you a prophet to the nations: Jeremiah was already a young man, but God wanted him to know that his call went back even further than his youth. Jeremiah existed in the mind and plan of God before he ever existed in his mother’s womb. God told Jeremiah this so that he could walk in God’s pre-ordained plan by his own will.
i. This information wasn’t given just to interest Jeremiah or to entertain him. It was given so that he would know God’s will, be encouraged by that, and therefore align his will with God’s revealed will.
ii. “St. Paul speaks of his own call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles in similar terms (Galatians 1:15-16).” (Clarke)
iii. Ancient Jewish legends say that Jeremiah was so called that he was born circumcised and that he came out of the womb prophesying. In fact, as the legend goes, in his out-of-the-womb prophecy he complained of the faithlessness of his mother. When she protested, he had to explain that he meant “mother” as a symbol for Jerusalem.
c. A prophet to the nations: Jeremiah’s focus was upon Judah in the last decades before the Babylonians conquered it. Yet his work as a prophet was not only for Judah, but also for the nations – and for us today.
i. “In this respect Jeremiah was appointed a prophet for a world-wide ministry. This refutes the idea that the work of God’s servants was always provincial. God is the Lord of the nations.” (Feinberg)
2. (6-10) Jeremiah’s objection and God’s response to the objection.
Then said I:
“Ah, Lord GOD!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the LORD said to me:
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces,
For I am with you to deliver you,” says the LORD.
Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms,
To root out and to pull down,
To destroy and to throw down,
To build and to plant.”
a. Ah, Lord GOD! This translates an expression of deep feeling, though the sense is hard to relate in English.
b. Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth: Jeremiah was probably anywhere from 17 to 20 years old at this time. Apparently, he felt that his youth prevented him from being a good or authoritative messenger of God’s word.
i. “Unlike Moses, whose protestations of inadequacy rang a little hollow, Jeremiah really was young, it seems, and inexperienced.” (Kidner)
c. Do not say, “I am a youth”: Though Jeremiah’s protest was true, it was irrelevant – and God did not want to hear it, nor did He want Jeremiah to say it. God insists on His right to call young people and to use them if they will listen to His call and answer it.
i. Do not say, “I am a youth” – because God used David when he was a young man. As a young man David served his father faithfully in the shepherd’s field, killed a lion and a bear protecting the flock, killed Goliath, served King Saul and was a commander in the Israeli army.
ii. Do not say, “I am a youth” – because God filled John the Baptist with the Holy Spirit in the womb (Luke 1:15). You aren’t too young to be filled mightily with the Spirit of God.
iii. Do not say, “I am a youth” – because God used Timothy as a young man, and through the Apostle Paul told him, Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)
iv. Do not say, “I am a youth” – because God used Hudson Taylor as a young man. When he was 17 years old he dared to seek God, and totally surrendered himself to God’s will. Almost immediately he felt a distinct impression that God wanted him to be a missionary to China, and he began to prepare for the mission field by living the kind of life by faith he wanted to live on the mission field and living it right there in England. By the time he was 22, he first arrived in Shanghai.
v. Do not say, “I am a youth” – because God used J. Edwin Orr as a young man. Born and raised in Belfast Ireland, at 21 years of age he left a good paying job in the middle of the Great Depression to tour around Great Britain on his bicycle and tell any who would listen about revival. He trusted God to provide for both him and his widowed mother, and God came through gloriously – it was 10,000 miles of miracle through Great Britain. He wrote a popular book about his adventures in faith – so popular that some youth groups banned the book – they were afraid that their youth might take off on their own bikes without really being called by God.
d. For you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak: God spoke with both encouragement and persuasion to Jeremiah. He protested that he couldn’t go because of his youth but God simply said, “you shall go.”
i. Later, Jeremiah remembered his initial reluctance: Nor have I desired the woeful day; You know what came out of my lips; it was right there before You. (Jeremiah 17:16)
ii. Though reluctant, Jeremiah couldn’t hold back: Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not. (Jeremiah 20:9)
e. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you: Jeremiah had two reasons to be afraid. First, he was young. Second, his message was hard to hear. But the presence of God with him was greater than those two reasons.
i. “His reluctance may have been based on feelings of personal inadequacy when confronted with the almost hopeless task of recalling apostate Judah to a state of true repentance. To make matters worse, at an early stage in his ministry he was forbidden to marry (Jeremiah 16:1-4), and the ominous reasons given made more clear than ever the fact that Judah stood under divine judgment.” (Harrison)
ii. “He shrank from his work again and again; he suffered intensely, not merely from the persecution of his foes, but in his own soul, in his fellowship with God and with his nation; he needed very special Divine sustenance.” (Morgan)
iii. I am with you: “I will not only send thee as other kings do their ambassadors, but I will go with thee.” (Poole)
f. Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth: In his vision, Jeremiah saw the LORD touch him in this personal way. As God touched the mouth of Isaiah at his call to the office of prophet, He also touched the mouth of Jeremiah (though in a different way).
g. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant: As a young man, Jeremiah was an unlikely candidate for such a ministry; yet God knew that Jeremiah had the personality and character to fulfill this call as the years went on.
i. “Jeremiah’s commission set the pattern of his calling, with its four verbs of demolition and its two of renewal.” (Kidner)
ii. “He did comparatively little of this constructive preaching and a great deal of the destructive kind.” (Thompson)
iii. “As Isaiah speaks of the salvation of the Lord, Ezekiel of the glory of the Lord, and Daniel of the kingdom of the Lord, so Jeremiah incessantly proclaims the Lord’s judgment.” (Feinberg)
h. See, I have this day set you: Jeremiah was definitely called, but he did not fulfill his call in his first year – or his first ten years. His 40-year ministry had several different phases, and taken together, they fulfilled God’s call.
i. The first period of Jeremiah’s ministry took place under the protection of the godly king Josiah, who took advantage of turmoil in the surrounding superpowers (such as Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon) to reform the nation and turn it back to the Lord. During this time, Jeremiah went on a preaching tour through the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 11:6). Yet during this time the hearts of the people did not seem changed. He preached for 23 years but no one seemed to listen (Jeremiah 25:3). He even faced many threats against his life (Jeremiah 11:19 and 12:6).
ii. After King Josiah died, things got worse. Jeremiah read a scroll of his collected prophecies to the new king Jehoiakim – and the king took the scroll, cut it in pieces, and threw it in the fire (Jeremiah 36:22-23). In this general period Jeremiah was chained and flogged (Jeremiah 20:2), and survived a close brush with death (Jeremiah 26:10-11).
iii. His most difficult season was under another king, Zedekiah, who was set on the throne by the Babylonians, but didn’t continue to obey them. Jeremiah brought a message from God that must have seemed like madness to his generation. The message was that judgment through the Babylonians was inevitable; and they must prepare for it and submit to it. He wrote to those already exiled in Babylon and told them to prepare for a 70-year exile and to have a peaceable attitude towards Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7, 10). He was regarded as a traitor and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37:11-16).
3. (11-12) Jeremiah’s first lesson in his training as a prophet.
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.”
a. Jeremiah, what do you see? Jeremiah would receive a message to speak, but before he could speak he had to see.
i. “Before you can make an impression upon another person’s heart, you must have an impression made upon your own soul. You must be able to say, concerning the truth, ‘I see it,’ before you can speak it so that your hearers also shall see it.” (Spurgeon)
b. A branch of an almond tree: Jeremiah saw well. He not only understood that it was a branch but was observant enough to know that it was a branch of an almond tree.
i. “Anathoth remains to this day a center for almond growing. The modern visitor to the area in the very early spring is promised the memorable and unforgettable sight of almond trees in bloom.” (Thompson)
ii. This was young Jeremiah’s first lesson in prophetic observance, and the lesson was simple. “We might have thought that, as a preparation for his prophetical work, he would have seen mysterious wheels full of eyes, or flaming seraphs and cherubs, or the wonderful creatures that were caused to appear in the dreams of Ezekiel and the revelation to John. Instead of this, Jeremiah simply sees ‘a rod of an almond tree;’ and, beloved friends, when you look into the Bible, you will see some very simple things there.” (Spurgeon)
iii. The significance of the branch of an almond tree was important in two ways. First, the almond was well known as the first tree to bud in the spring. This indicated that God was ready to quickly fulfill His word, just as the almond tree seems ready to bud.
iv. Secondly, the Hebrew word for almond tree is close to and derived from the Hebrew word for watchful, and this word is used in God’s response to Jeremiah. “These verses contain a play on words that is lost in English but is vital for the force of the vision. The ‘almond tree’ is saqed and God is ‘watching’ (soqed) over his word to fulfill it.” (Feinberg)
4. (13-16) Jeremiah’s second lesson in his training as a prophet.
And the word of the LORD came to me the second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, and it is facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me:
“Out of the north calamity shall break forth
On all the inhabitants of the land.
For behold, I am calling
All the families of the kingdoms of the north,” says the LORD;
“They shall come and each one set his throne
At the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem,
Against all its walls all around,
And against all the cities of Judah.
I will utter My judgments
Against them concerning all their wickedness,
Because they have forsaken Me,
Burned incense to other gods,
And worshiped the works of their own hands.
a. I see a boiling pot, and it is facing away from the north: The idea is of a boiling cauldron that will tip over with its opening facing south. This is a vivid picture of destruction and judgment pouring out upon Judah from the north (out of the north calamity shall break forth on all the inhabitants of the land).
i. The old Puritan commentator John Trapp showed how wrong the allegorical approach to Scripture can be, describing the interpretation of an ancient writer named Gregory: “Gregory moraliseth the text thus: Man’s mind is this pot; that which from the north sets it on fire is the devil, by inflaming it with evil lusts, and then he sets up his throne therein.”
b. They shall come and each one set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem: Jeremiah prophetically saw foreign kings dominating a subservient Jerusalem.
i. “As the gates of the cities were the ordinary places where justice was administered, so the enemies of Jerusalem are here represented as conquering the whole land, assuming the reigns of government, and laying the whole country under their own laws; so that the Jews should no longer possess any political power: they should be wholly subjugated by their enemies.” (Clarke)
c. Because they have forsaken Me, burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands: The main reason for the coming judgment was Judah’s chronic idolatry.
5. (17-19) God commands Jeremiah to be steadfast in the face of coming opposition.
Therefore prepare yourself and arise,
And speak to them all that I command you.
Do not be dismayed before their faces,
Lest I dismay you before them.
For behold, I have made you this day
A fortified city and an iron pillar,
And bronze walls against the whole land—
Against the kings of Judah,
Against its princes,
Against its priests,
And against the people of the land.
They will fight against you,
But they shall not prevail against you.
For I am with you,” says the LORD, “to deliver you.”
a. Therefore prepare yourself and arise: Jeremiah properly saw and understood the two visions. God felt he was ready to go forth (with additional preparation) and to speak to them all that I command you.
b. Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them: God gave Jeremiah the strength he needed – but he had to walk in it. If he did not – if he allowed himself to be dismayed before their faces – then God would dismay Jeremiah before those whom he feared.
c. For behold, I have made you this day a fortified city and an iron pillar: Certainly, Jeremiah didn’t feel like a fortified city or an iron pillar. But God’s word was true, and Jeremiah needed to believe it and act upon it.
d. They will fight against you: This promise of God proved true, but so did the other aspect to the promise. The enemies of Jeremiah did not prevail against him, and he served God with distinction through great trials for 40 years.
i. “To this thin-skinned young man, his description of terms of battlements and heavy metal might have seemed a wild exaggeration, but in fact it proved an understatement. He would hold out against all comers for over forty years, outdoing any fortress under siege.” (Kidner)