Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. "Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become a prey? - Jeremiah 2:11–14 (ESV)

The passage above does a good job of summing up the message of Jeremiah. Like the rest of the book, it showcases the offense against Yahweh that the people perpetrated over and over again. Yahweh expresses amazement at the self-destructive choice of Israel to forsake certain salvation and peace with Yahweh for the doomed and miserable choice of going their own way. As a result, although Israel had been personally guided and established by Yahweh, the nation is nevertheless troubled and persecuted like a hunted animal.

Jeremiah ministered during one of the most difficult times in Israelite history. 2 Kings 25 is a helpful chapter for orienting the reader to Jeremiah's life and times. It tells us that after Josiah, Jehoiakim became king in Jerusalem for eleven years, during which time he served Babylon's king Nebuchadnezzar for three years before rebelling and subsequently being defeated and despoiled by a group of Babylonians, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites. Jehoiachin reigned afterward, and Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem during his reign. Jehoiachin gave himself up, and Nebuchadnezzar carried away captives and riches. Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah was made king by Nebuchadnezzar in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, prompting Babylon to besiege and destroy Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and carrying away many captives to Babylon. Eventually, Jehoiachin was released and allowed to sit with the other conquered kings in Babylon until he died.

The Big Idea of Jeremiah

I propose that the big idea of Jeremiah is that Yahweh is righteous and faithful. We read in Jeremiah over and over again how the people fail to live according to the standards of God's righteousness. Nevertheless, God is not unfaithful to his promises but will effect the changes needed in his people that they cannot effect themselves.

An Outline of Jeremiah

Chapters 1-18: Oracles Against Israel

Chapters 1-18 present a series of oracles and prophecies against Israel. They mostly seem to be from the days of Josiah. In them, Yahweh roundly condemns Israel for their repeated rebellion against him. Yahweh goes so far as to prohibit Jeremiah from praying for the welfare of the people (Jer. 14:11-12), tells Jeremiah that even Moses and Samuel would not be able to turn Yahweh to have compassion on them (Jer. 15:1), and says that the sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron and the point of diamond, presumably communicating that it is permanently recorded and cannot be wiped away (Jer. 17:1).

Chapters 18-29: Political Involvement and Persecution

Chapters 18-29 detail many of Jeremiah's interactions with the political and religious leaders of his days, which spanned various kings. Jeremiah speaks to leaders and the people in various ways and formats, communicating Yahweh's words to the people. These messages include words of destruction but also of hope. Jeremiah prophesies that Jerusalem will be destroyed and its people taken to Babylon on one hand, but Yahweh will eventually restore them and do them good on the other.

Chapters 30-45: Miscellaneous Messages Amidst Messy Kingdoms

Chapters 30-45 contain a smattering of Jeremiah's ministry in the midst of the upheaval due to the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In these chapters, we read of such things as the hope of the new covenant that Yahweh will make with his people (Jer. 31:31ff) and also of the special covenant with the Rechabites (Jer. 35).

Chapters 46-51: Oracles Against the Nations

Before Jeremiah reaches its conclusion, there is a fascinating round of oracles directed at and against the enemy nations surrounding Israel, such as Egypt, Moab, Babylon, etc. These oracles serve as a warning to the nations that although they appear to have the upper hand, and although they appear to be superior in power and splendor, Yahweh is not on their side but Israel's. And Yahweh will ultimately prevail. Because Yahweh will prevail, Israel will too.

Chapter 52: Destruction of Jerusalem and Exile in Babylon

Jeremiah concludes with an account of the destruction of Jerusalem and the people's exile in Babylon, except for a few poor people to care for the land.

Benefits of Jeremiah

Jeremiah reads in some ways like a microcosm of the Bible as a whole: God has a people who sin against him despite the harm to their own well-being; God punishes them, and they still do not respond; God saves them anyway, but by the end, the final salvation is promised but not yet accomplished. Perhaps we could say that Jeremiah reads like a microcosm of our lives as well.

Jeremiah shows how appalling sin is to God. We read of Yahweh's responses to Israel's sin, and we should be reminded of our own. It is all too easy to underplay our sin in our own minds, considering and weighing the offense of our sin relative to our own sensibilities and moral standards rather than God's. But God has revealed his standards, and we all fall short.

Jeremiah also showcases how disastrous circumstances can become and yet still be entirely in the controlling hands of God. There are many kings mentioned in Jeremiah, but Yahweh works his will among and through all of them. There is not a single decree, sin, or decision made that thwarts Yahweh's purposes.

Jeremiah motivates us to trust God even, perhaps we should say especially, when we are surrounded by the chaotic consequences of evil. It is tempting to go our own way when the going gets tough, but the best way is always Yahweh's way.

As Christians today, Jeremiah does much to help us to learn to live for God through Christ. There is plenty of fodder for meditation and application, but also motivation for bravery, courage, trust, patience, goodness, and the like. As we read Jeremiah, we can allow our hearts to be filled with gratitude that the God for whom we are learning to live is without a doubt worth it.

On Jeremiah and Living for God Through Christ