MJL for My Jewish Learning described Jeremiah in the Old Testament as one of the Bible’s major prophets. Jeremiah’s emotionally-driven messages were collected in the biblical book taking his name.
MJL said Jeremiah’s prophecies were “Among the most stark and pessimistic in all of biblical literature, were aimed as a rebuke to Jews, who had surrendered to idolatry and depravity.”
Even the prophet’s name has come to symbolize Jeremiah’s commitment to delivering crucial but unpopular messages from the Lord to the Land of Judah during a dire and sinful time for the nation once chosen by God.
The English word “jeremiad,” translates as complaint or lamentation – a derivation of this prophet’s name.
Jeremiah was born to a priestly family in Anathoth – a Levitical city given to the children of Aaron in the tribe of Benjamin. Jeremiah’s ministry began in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah, who ruled the land of Judea in the seventh century BCE.
Jeremiah had been selected to be a prophet in one Israel’s wickedest eras and he didn’t have a choice in the matter.
“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. Then I said, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for am only a youth. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say I am only a youth’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go and whatever I command you, you shall speak.” Jeremiah 1: 4-7.
Jeremiah lived during the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylonia – a kingdom to the east of Israel and built upon the banks of the Euphrates in modern-day Iraq.
Jeremiah is known for his invectives directed at the people of Israel for being unfaithful. The prophet gave Israel a series of warnings about the imminent destruction of their civilization if they didn’t correct their paths.
Jeremiah is especially known for speaking against child sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem as by commanded God and recorded in Jeremiah 7:1-20 – this practice would poison Israel’s relationship with God.
When Jeremiah preached God’s message, he was arrested, beaten and dumped into a pit. King Zedekiah – the last ruler of Judah – imprisoned Jeremiah for warning the people about the fall of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah suffered for daring to speak the truth.
Jeremiah spent the rest of his life as an exile in Egypt. In Jewish tradition, Jeremiah authored of the Book of Lamentations as an outcast. Lamentations is the unhappy recounting of the destruction of Jerusalem and is traditionally read on the fast day of Tisha B’av.
Early sections of Jeremiah contain imageries of death and dispersion, but Jeremiah’s writings are hopeful too, especially towards the end of his book. Throughout Jeremiah’s prophetic warnings, his book contained promises about how returning to God could lead Israel to divine blessings.
Jeremiah also said God would honour his covenant with the Jewish people in the years ahead. Jeremiah even bought a field as the armies of Babylon were invading Jerusalem – a bad and untimely investment perhaps, but a sign intended to represent hope in God’s faithfulness.
The Book of Jeremiah reiterated God’s promise to redeem the people of Israel and restore them to their ancient land as the book concluded.
Who are the Jeremiahs today? The scientists warning about climate change, those who speak out against systemic racism, the activists who talk of economic and social injustices, the public health officials advising the public to be careful throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – these are examples of modern-day Jeremiahs.
Jeremiahs are the courageous souls in society who are challenging others with important but uncomfortable messages about repentance and renewal in dangerous times.
However, God is faithful. He’ll go out of his way to protect his followers and prophets. Before Jeremiah set out to the Land of Judah to preach God’s word, the Creator said: “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 1:8.