Jeremiah: Setting the Stage
These are the words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests from the town of Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.
Today I begin to focus on the Old Testament book of Jeremiah in the Daily Reflections. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I go back and forth between the Old Testament and the New, varying the genres as I go. So far I’ve covered Genesis, Matthew, Isaiah, Romans, Exodus, and Mark. So it’s time for the next prophetic book from the Old Testament, namely Jeremiah.
The first verses of Jeremiah set the stage for his prophetic ministry. Verse 1 identifies him in ways valued in the culture of ancient Israel: family, priesthood, town, and tribe. Verse 2 clarifies the source of Jeremiah’s prophecies: “The LORD first gave messages to Jeremiah.” It also specifies the time when the word of the Lord first came to Jeremiah: “during the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah,” which would have been some time in 627 B.C.
This was almost a century after the Assyrians had destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel (in 722 B.C.). The southern kingdom of Judah continued on, though it continually flirted with idolatry rather than remaining faithful to the Lord. During the reign of Josiah, however, there was a season of spiritual and ethical reform, in response to the discovery of a part of the Jewish Law. Yet Judah did not continue on the straight and narrow path, in spite of Jeremiah’s prophetic messages that continued to be delivered throughout four decades.
Thus, during one of the last years of Jeremiah’s ministry, “the eleventh year of the reign of King Zedekiah” (1:3), Jeremiah watched as “the people of Jerusalem were taken away as captives” (1:3). The time of divine discipline began as the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon.
Knowing the context for Jeremiah’s prophecies will help us to understand them. It also prepares us for the bad news that fills the pages of this book. Jeremiah often delivered God’s words of judgment and warning to the Jewish people. Yet, interspersed within the bad news we will find some of the most hopeful and visionary passages in all of Scripture.
As we allow the Word of God through Jeremiah to speak to us, we will be warned about the folly of our sinful choices. We will be encouraged to turn again to the Lord. And we will be prepared to understand more profoundly the meaning of God’s new covenant through Jesus the Messiah. In fact, Christians cannot really understand the message and ministry of Jesus apart from knowledge of Jeremiah. Thus, our reflections on Jeremiah will help us to live more fully as followers of Jesus.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Why is it helpful for you to know the historical context of the biblical writings? Do you have any initial impressions of Jeremiah and his message
PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for choosing to communicate with your people through Jeremiah. Even though my situation is different from that of his first audience, I can nevertheless hear your word to me through this prophetic book.
Thank you, dear Lord, for speaking to your people in ways we can understand. Help me, Lord, to rightly understand what you were once saying to your people through Jeremiah. And help me to grasp what you are saying to me today. Give me ears to hear your word and a heart ready to receive it.
I pray in the name of Jesus the Messiah. Amen.