Jeremiah and His Times (Jeremiah and Lamentations)
Most of us find our workplaces to be difficult, at least at times. One of the appeals of the book of Jeremiah is that the prophet’s situation was extremely difficult. His workplace (among the governing elites of Judah) was corrupt and hostile to God’s work. Jeremiah was constantly in danger. Yet he could see God’s presence in the most difficult situations. His perseverance reminds us that perhaps we can learn how to experience God’s presence in the most difficult workplaces.
Jeremiah grew up in the small town of Anathoth three miles northeast of Judah’s capital, Jerusalem. While close geographically, the two communities were far apart culturally and politically. Jeremiah was born into the priestly line of Abiathar, but had little standing with the priests in Jerusalem. Solomon had removed Abiathar from authority centuries earlier (1 Kings 1:28 – 2:26) and replaced him with the priestly line of Zadok in Jerusalem.
When God called Jeremiah to be his prophet in Jerusalem, the prophet found himself in the midst of priests who did not accept his inherited priesthood. Jeremiah remained a suspicious and disliked outsider throughout his long career in Jerusalem. Those who face cultural, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious or other prejudices in today’s workplaces can identify with what Jeremiah faced every day of his life.
The Reluctant Prophet's Call and Job Description (Jeremiah and Lamentations)
In his early twenties, Jeremiah received God’s call to be a prophet. The year was 626 B.C., the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign (Jer. 1:2). His job description was to carry God’s messages “over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jer. 1:10). God’s messages given through Jeremiah were not gentle and affirming, for the Jews were coming disastrously close to abandoning their faithfulness to God. God was making an attempt, through Jeremiah, to call them back before disaster struck. Like an outside consultant hired to shake up the status quo in a business, he was called to disrupt business as usual in the kingdom of Judah. Part of his assignment was to oppose the idolatry and evil practices that had become part of worship in Judah.
His prophetic work began under the good king Josiah. It continued through Josiah’s evil successors Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, and through the total destruction of Jerusalem under the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar (586 B.C.). During his four decades as God’s prophet in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was constantly derided, a laughing stock to the citizens of the city. In fact, he narrowly escaped several plots against his life (Jer. 11:21, 18:18, 20:1, 26:8, and chapters 38-39).
Jeremiah did not apply for the position of prophet and we do not read anywhere that he “accepted” God’s call to be his mouthpiece. This is in contrast to Isaiah who, after his vision of God’s holiness and majesty, heard God ask, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Isaiah replied, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). When God informed Jeremiah that he was to be his mouthpiece in Jerusalem, the prophet protested his youth and inexperience (Jer. 1:6-7). But God appears to have overridden that protest by immediately giving him prophetic messages for the people (Jer. 1:11-16). God then followed those messages with instructions, a warning and a promise to the newly minted prophet:
But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. And I, for my part, have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land — against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and 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. (Jer. 1:17-19)
Jeremiah knew from the beginning that his vocation as prophet was a tough one. His assignment would pit him against the whole nation of Judah from the king, princes and priests down to the people in the streets of the city. Nonetheless, he felt a clear calling from God to do this difficult work, and he trusted God to lead him through it.