The book of Jeremiah is a record of the ministry of a prophet, including the calling and the development of a prophet. It shows how God calls a person and waits for the man or woman to rise up in their calling. When the man or woman is ready, God then teaches them what they need to know to fulfill their calling. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet and continued in that calling for fifty years. Jeremiah’s name means "Jehovah throws." The name Jeremiah was quite common, but it was appropriate for him as a prophet because he threw the Word of God out to the people.
Historical Background of Jeremiah
As we begin to take a look at Jeremiah’s life, let’s start in the first chapter of the book of Jeremiah to understand the background of what was going on in Israel at that time.
The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin:
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, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.
At the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, Josiah was king of Judah in the thirteenth year of his reign. Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign and while he was a teenager he began to put in new reforms and tried very hard to rid Judah of idolatry. He discovered the book of the law in the temple, resulting in the celebration of Passover for the first time in many years. Things were going well during Josiah’s reign but when his sons began to reign, Judah was threatened on all sides by the very powerful empires of Egypt and Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, bringing a great majority of the people captive into Babylon.
It is important to understand what was going on at this time because many of the prophecies in Jeremiah highlight these events and much of what Jeremiah said was contrary to the political views of the times. Because the circumstances of the times were so bad, when he spoke he often brought bad news, telling people to repent. He was known as the “weeping prophet.”
The Calling of Jeremiah
God called Jeremiah to be a prophet and then began to teach him how to listen to him. The way God expressed himself to Jeremiah is in the phrase, “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…” (Jeremiah 1:4) What God said to Jeremiah is recorded in verse 5:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.
God told Jeremiah that he knew him before he was born. It must have been very comforting to Jeremiah to understand that. The second thing God told him was that he had set him apart, or sanctified him. There are two aspects of how God ordains a minister, the first of which is a setting apart or sanctifying. Sometimes it is a calling in which a person is chosen to do something specific. The person then must decide whether they will answer the call and perform it. The word “appointed” means ordained or set. It comes from the root word “to give.” The entire life of an ordained minister is a gift from God to other people. Once God has appointed a person, their life is a gift in his eyes.
There is an example in Acts that shows the pattern for God’s calling and ordination.
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.
Right before Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, the Holy Spirit separated them (called them) and began working in them to show them what to do, where to go and how to do it. Acts 13:3 says that hands were laid on them (to bless and commend them to go and preach the Gospel). In the New Testament, the laying on of hands indicates the ordination or appointing. From that time on, both Paul and Barnabas are known as apostles.
The pattern is that first God calls or sets someone apart, the person then must decide to answer the call, a period of preparation and training follows, and then ordination takes place. Any man or woman can have this happen to them without having a title as reverend or pastor. However, there does come a point when others recognize the person’s calling. Jeremiah was at this point in his life. God had already been working with him as a priest in Anathoth. He had grown up surrounded by priests. Jeremiah was familiar with God and God had been preparing him along the way.
But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.
Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.
In verse 7 the word “command” is not an order but a charge. God gave Jeremiah the charge to go where he sent him and to say whatever he commanded. Verse 8 says, “Be not be afraid of their faces.” This is a figure of speech meaning, “Do not be afraid of them.” God is telling Jeremiah that people are going to have all kinds of faces so when he started speaking as a prophet, he would be prepared for every kind of response imaginable. Some would be angry or upset, but he should not to be afraid no matter what the response. Jeremiah was not to be afraid because God said he would be with him to deliver him. The word “deliver” means, “to rescue or snatch out of.” In other records in the book of Jeremiah, there are many examples of times when God literally snatched Jeremiah from very hopeless situations.
God Touches Jeremiah’s Mouth
As a prophet, there are times when the words God gives you burn in your mouth.
And the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.
God touched Jeremiah’s mouth. This could have been a vision or a real, physical touching. Jeremiah knew then that God had given him those words to speak. There are times when individuals can experience a figurative burning in their mouth of words that God is giving them to speak. The calling of Isaiah has a similar expression where an angel came and touched his mouth with a burning coal. Then Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall we send and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here am I; send me,” because God’s words were burning in his heart.
Jeremiah experienced times when he did not want to speak because everyone was against him, but he could not stop speaking, even to those who opposed him. Because the people were so willingly sinful, they found his discourses annoying and irritating. While the false prophets were assuring them of peace, Jeremiah continually urged the people to repent from their wicked ways while their destruction was drawing nearer and nearer. At different points in Jeremiah’s life he must have thought, “Why did you call me to do this? This is a terrible life. I’m always saying things that everyone hates.” In verse 10, God tells him to focus on uprooting, tearing down, destroying and overthrowing as well as on building and planting.
See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy,and to throw down, to build, and plant.
The words that Jeremiah was given to speak told people of the doom they would experience if they continued in what they were doing. This was to have a tearing down effect so the people could repent. This was a difficult charge given by God, but God was there to back him up and deliver Jeremiah out of every situation.
Receiving Revelation in Pictures
Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.
Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.
From the very beginning, God taught Jeremiah how to understand revelation by receiving visions. The first thing God shows Jeremiah is the vision of an almond tree rod. The almond tree is the first plant to bloom in the springtime and signifies that springtime is coming. Jeremiah saw correctly and God explained that he was watching to see that his word is fulfilled and that he would perform his word. The Hebrew word for “hasten” (shaqad) which means watching is similar to the Hebrew word for “almond tree” (shaqed) and it is a play on words. If you watch for the almond tree, spring will come. Receiving a vision is like seeing a picture. The next step after you see the picture is to ask God what it means. The prophecy here means that God is watching over his word to perform it. God is teaching Jeremiah how to be a prophet by showing him a picture then explaining it in a way that he could understand.
And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.
Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.
The next vision is of a seething or boiling pot tilting away from the North. “Seething pot” is the Hebrew word naphach. “Disaster will be poured out” is the Hebrew word kaphach. Both words rhyme, so the emphasis and meaning of the revelation is that disaster would break out or boil over onto Judah from the North. God gave Jeremiah this information with rhyming words so he could understand the truth easily.
Jeremiah’s First Prophecy
For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith the Lord; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.
And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
Verse 15 reveals the first prophecy after Jeremiah had received the picture and understood what it meant. God supplies Jeremiah with the words and he speaks them out. There are three points that he says: the people forsake me, they burn incense to other gods, and they worship what their hands have made. Jeremiah ends up repeating these three distinct prophecies over and over again. In chapter two of Jeremiah, he prophesies:
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Israel was caught in the trap of worshipping Baal. They were so tricked that they were sacrificing their newborn babies and did not think anything was wrong. Forsaking God still takes place in our culture. People think that they have all the answers and go through a process where money and power become their idol. They begin to worship the work of their hands, working 80 hours a week to earn more money. There is no difference in that compared with building an idol of Baal and burning incense to it.
Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them.
The phrase“gird up thy loins” is commonly understood to mean “get ready for action.” When a soldier wore a long tunic, he had to wear a girdle around it and tie up the skirting from the tunic so he would not trip while running. This is a physical action and by doing this, it also means to “rely upon and make something the source of your strength.” The loins are the center of a person’s strength. Ephesians 6:14 says to “gird up your loins with truth,” meaning to make truth and God’s faithfulness the source of your strength. God is telling Jeremiah to get ready but also to make him the source of his strength. Without God as your strength, you will not be able to do what he has told you to do on your own. The NIV translates the latter part of verse 17 as, “Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.” This is a play on words. “Be not dismayed” and “confound” are the same word but in different tenses. Both mean terror or fear. God is saying not to be afraid of them otherwise they will terrify you.
Verses 18 and 19 continue to unfold God’s promise to Jeremiah.
For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land.
And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.
As Jeremiah stands against the whole land, kings, priests, elders and all the rest of the people, God makes Jeremiah like a fortified city with a brazen wall made out of brass and a pillar made of iron. When the people, who are likened to iron, reject what Jeremiah says, the iron does not affect the brazen wall or cause the tower to crumble from attack. God made Jeremiah able to stand against the people’s reactions and not be overcome, and God told him he was with him and would rescue him, or snatch him away from the middle of any situation.
God was faithful to teach Jeremiah how to receive and speak his words. He worked with him along the way audibly and through visions, always supplying what Jeremiah would need to succeed and withstand attack. God’s faithfulness has not changed for his prophets today and will work with every believer to help them grow and perform the job God has for them. We do not need to be afraid because God is the source of our strength. We need to speak the words from God that burn on our lips and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will supply and deliver us from any situation.