SoPo Study Series in Jeremiah “Background Material”

Even if you are not planning on attending any of the SoPo Gatherings, you may find this material suitable to aid your own personal study of the Book of Jeremiah.  I pray it is profitable for all who take the time to read it.  Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you all.

The cultural circumstances of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry may not be what you think.  I know a little bit about history, it’s kind of my thing, but until I took a step back and really looked at Jeremiah’s historical circumstances, I had the same old presuppositions that everyone else carries into reading the book.  We all know Jeremiah as the weeping prophet and we assume that everything was so bad during Jeremiah’s day that he had a good reason to cry.  Now I know he saw the destruction of his people and civilization, but it was not that way when he started out.

Jeremiah receives his first revelatory vision while he was a young boy.  We don’t know exactly how old he was, but he was certainly a young teenager or even a pre-teen.  We should assume that Jeremiah was somewhere between eight and sixteen years old.  He was young enough to say he was a “youth” and be afraid no one would listen to him.

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  Then I said, “Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, Because I am a youth.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak.

                                                        ~ Jeremiah 1:4-7 ~

Interesting thing is, when Jeremiah was a very young man, things actually didn’t look that bleak at all.  In fact, Jeremiah’s first vision “came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.”  That would a make Josiah twenty-one years old.  That is significant only because something of great importance had happened three years earlier in the young monarchs life……….a book of the Law had been discovered in the Temple during a renovation project and for the first time since his great grandfather Hezekiah, there would be a King in Judah intent on following God rather than the idols of the people around them.

Hezekiah’s son Manasseh gave evil a whole new twist after dear old dad died.  He erected altars to false god’s inside the Temple, burned at least one of his children in a ritual fire to a god named Molech, put houses for male prostitutes in the Temple for ritual consecration, and much, much more.

He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel.                                                      

                                                      ~ 2 Kings 21:2 ~

 

Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the LORD destroyed before the sons of Israel.

 

Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols;

                                                   ~ 2 Kings 21:9,11

Manasseh brought social injustice and blood-shed to every corner of his kingdom, so much so that God decided that no matter what happened in the near future, Judah would be wiped out.

Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the LORD.

                                                 ~ 2 Kings 21:16

However, the LORD did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath with which His anger burned against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him.  The LORD said, “I will remove Judah also from My sight, as I have removed Israel. And I will cast off Jerusalem, this city which I have chosen, and the temple of which I said, ‘My name shall be there.'”

                                              ~ 2 Kings 23:26,27 ~

Josiah ended the tyranny of idolatry that Manasseh, his grand father had brought onto the Judah, sweeping away the high places, the altars, and the priests of Baal (actually he put them to death with the sword).  He broke down and stamped into powder every idol he could find and cast it into the Brook of Kidron.  He burned the bones of Baal’s prophets on Baal’s altars, which would be a ceremonial desecration in anybody’s book.  He formed a social covenant with God and his kingdom to follow God’s Law and caused the people to stand to it.  He instituted such a Passover that it was said that a Passover like his had not been kept since the days of the Judges.  Josiah’s heart was so pressed into a good place that God said this about him.

Before him there was no king like him who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him.         

                                              ~ 2 Kings 23:25 ~

All of this happened while Jeremiah was a small boy and his dad was a major player in Josiah’s reform.  You see, Jeremiah’s dad was the High Priest during the reforms.  In fact, Jeremiah’s dad was the one that discovered the Book of the Law.

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin

                                                      ~ Jeremiah 1:1 ~

Then Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the scribe, “I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan who read it.  Shaphan the scribe came to the king and brought back word to the king and said, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.”  Moreover, Shaphan the scribe told the king saying, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it in the presence of the king.

                                                    ~ 2 Kings 22:8-10 ~

So what’s the point here?  The point is that Jeremiah begins to proclaim, as a prophet, that God is going to bring the sword, famine, and captivity on the land of Judah while things appear to be going pretty darn good.  I suspect to everyone around him, it appeared that this young punk didn’t know God or His ways at all.  It is curious to me that Jeremiah will pretty much stand all by himself, as a prophet that is, in calling the people to prepare for their very near Babylonian Captivity.  Listen to these passages.

“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely.  “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.

~ Jeremiah 6:13,14 ~

“Therefore I will give their wives to others, Their fields to new owners; Because from the least even to the greatest Everyone is greedy for gain; From the prophet even to the priest Everyone practices deceit.  “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.

~ Jeremiah 8:10,11 ~

 

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.  “When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”  But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.'”  Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.

~ Jeremiah 14:11-14 ~

Nobody but little ole Jeremiah saw it coming, and let me tell you, people weren’t happy with Jeremiah for telling them about it either.  The church in Jeremiah’s day, is, I think, a lot like the one we currently inhabit in our day.  There is a lot of good stuff going on.  There have been wonderful revivals in the near past, and yes the Gospel is being preached, badly sometimes, and mingled with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, but it is out there.  As I said,”there is the appearance of a lot of good”.  But if a Jeremiah arrived on the scene and began to criticize our American way of consuming church, would we really listen?  Or would we say he was just an unhappy, judgmental, naysaying, legalist, who needed to get a little grace, grow up a little bit (after all he was just a kid), and stop thinking so much.  Does the modern day church show the same disdain for their prophets as we will see Judah show to Jeremiah.  That’s a good question and I am not sure I can totally answer that, as I happen to be a prophet so to speak.  I mean, I don’t see visions from God, but I have been told, more times than I can count actually, that I have a prophetic spirit.  Which I think is just a nice way church folks tell you you’re actually a spiritual jerk, but I digress.

I think that is enough for this short introduction to the history and culture of Judah at the beginning of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry.  This creates enough of a backdrop for us to begin to examine the opening chapter of Jeremiah next Sunday night.  To summarize:

~  Jeremiah was a child when he began to receive visions from God.

~  Jeremiah lived on the one hand at the end of a great revival (Josiah’s reign) and on the other hand at the beginning of a great          judgment (Babylonian Captivity).

~  Jeremiah’s prophecies began arriving on the scene and being proclaimed to a group of people doing some pretty good stuff on            the surface.

~ Jeremiah stands nearly alone, beginning as a mere child, and proclaims that famine, sword, and captivity are on the horizon for       God’s people.


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