Among those who had hoped for a permanent spiritual revival as the
result of the reformation under Josiah was Jeremiah, called of God to
the prophetic office while still a youth, in the thirteenth year of
Josiah's reign. A member of the Levitical priesthood, Jeremiah had been
trained from childhood for holy service. In those happy years of
preparation he little realized that he had been ordained from birth to
be "a prophet unto the nations;" and when the divine call
came, he was overwhelmed with a sense of his unworthiness. "Ah,
Lord God!" he exclaimed, "behold, I cannot speak: for I am a
child." Jeremiah 1:5, 6.
In the youthful Jeremiah, God saw one who would be true to his trust
and who would stand for the right against great opposition. In childhood
he had proved faithful; and now he was to endure hardness, as a good
soldier of the cross. "Say not, I am a child," the Lord bade
His chosen messenger; "for thou shalt go to all that I shall send
thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of
their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee." "Gird up thy
loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not
dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold,
I have made thee this day a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and
brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against
the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people
of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not
prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver
thee." Verses 7, 8, 17-19.
For forty years Jeremiah was to stand before the nation as a witness
for truth and righteousness. In a time of unparalleled apostasy he was
to exemplify in life and character the worship of the only true God.
During the terrible sieges of Jerusalem he was to be the mouthpiece of
Jehovah. He was to predict the downfall of the house of David and the
destruction of the beautiful temple built by Solomon. And when
imprisoned because of his fearless utterances, he was still to speak
plainly against sin in high places. Despised, hated, rejected of men, he
was finally to witness the literal fulfillment of his own prophecies of
impending doom, and share in the sorrow and woe that should follow the
destruction of the fated city.
Yet amid the general ruin into which the nation was rapidly passing,
Jeremiah was often permitted to look beyond the distressing scenes of
the present to the glorious prospects of the future, when God's people
should be ransomed from the land of the enemy and planted again in Zion.
He foresaw the time when the Lord would renew His covenant relationship
with them. "Their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall
not sorrow any more at all." Jeremiah 31:12.
Of his call to the prophetic mission, Jeremiah himself wrote:
"The Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord
said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth. See, I have this
day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to
pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to
plant." Jeremiah 1:9, 10.
Thank God for the words, "to build, and to plant." By these
words Jeremiah was assured of the Lord's purpose to restore and to heal.
Stern were the messages to be borne in the years that were to follow.
Prophecies of swift-coming judgments were to be fearlessly delivered.
From the plains of Shinar "an evil" was to "break forth
upon all the inhabitants of the land." "I will utter My
judgments against them," the Lord declared, "touching all
their wickedness, who have forsaken Me." Verses 14, 16. Yet the
prophet was to accompany these messages with assurances of forgiveness
to all who should turn from their evil-doing.
As a wise master builder, Jeremiah at the very beginning of his
lifework sought to encourage the men of Judah to lay the foundations of
their spiritual life broad and deep, by making thorough work of
repentance. Long had they been building with material likened by the
apostle Paul to wood, hay, and stubble, and by Jeremiah himself to
dross. "Refuse silver shall men call them," he declared of the
impenitent nation, "because the Lord hath rejected them."
Jeremiah 6:30, margin. Now they were urged to begin building wisely and
for eternity, casting aside the rubbish of apostasy and unbelief, and
using as foundation material the pure gold, the refined silver, the
precious stones--faith and obedience and good works--which alone are
acceptable in the sight of a holy God.
Through Jeremiah the word of the Lord to His people was:
"Return, thou backsliding Israel, . . . and I will not cause Mine
anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will
not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast
transgressed against the Lord thy God. . . . Turn, O backsliding
children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you." "Thou
shalt call Me, My Father; and shalt not turn away from Me."
"Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your
backslidings." Jeremiah 3:12-14, 19, 22.
And in addition to these wonderful pleadings, the Lord gave His
erring people the very words with which they might turn to Him. They
were to say: "Behold, we come unto Thee; for Thou art the Lord our
God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the
multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of
Israel. . . . We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us:
for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, from
our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord
our God." Verses 22-25.
The reformation under Josiah had cleansed the land of the idolatrous
shrines, but the hearts of the multitude had not been transformed. The
seeds of truth that had sprung up and given promise of an abundant
harvest had been choked by thorns. Another such backsliding would be
fatal; and the Lord sought to arouse the nation to a realization of
their danger. Only as they should prove loyal to Jehovah could they hope
for the divine favor and for prosperity.
Jeremiah called their attention repeatedly to the counsels given in
Deuteronomy. More than any other of the prophets, he emphasized the
teachings of the Mosaic law and showed how these might bring the highest
spiritual blessing to the nation and to every individual heart.
"Ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk
therein," he pleaded, "and ye shall find rest for your
souls." Jeremiah 6:16.
On one occasion, by command of the Lord, the prophet took his
position at one of the principal entrances to the city and there urged
the importance of keeping holy the Sabbath day. The inhabitants of
Jerusalem were in danger of losing sight of the sanctity of the Sabbath,
and they were solemnly warned against following their secular pursuits
on that day. A blessing was promised on condition of obedience. "If
ye diligently hearken unto Me," the Lord declared, and "hallow
the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the
gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David,
riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of
Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain
forever." Jeremiah 17:24, 25.
This promise of prosperity as the reward of allegiance was
accompanied by a prophecy of the terrible judgments that would befall
the city should its inhabitants prove disloyal to God and His law. If
the admonitions to obey the Lord God of their fathers and to hallow His
Sabbath day were not heeded, the city and its palaces would be utterly
destroyed by fire.
Thus the prophet stood firmly for the sound principles of right
living so clearly outlined in the book of the law. But the conditions
prevailing in the land of Judah were such that only by the most decided
measures could a change for the better be brought about; therefore he
labored most earnestly in behalf of the impenitent. "Break up your
fallow ground," he pleaded, "and sow not among thorns."
"O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be
saved." Jeremiah 4:3, 14.
But by the great mass of the people the call to repentance and
reformation was unheeded. Since the death of good King Josiah, those who
ruled the nation had been proving untrue to their trust and had been
leading many astray. Jehoahaz, deposed by the interference of the king
of Egypt, had been followed by Jehoiakim, an older son of Josiah. From
the beginning of Jehoiakim's reign, Jeremiah had little hope of saving
his beloved land from destruction and the people from captivity. Yet he
was not permitted to remain silent while utter ruin threatened the
kingdom. Those who had remained loyal to God must be encouraged to
persevere in rightdoing, and sinners must, if possible, be induced to
turn from iniquity.
The crisis demanded a public and far-reaching effort. Jeremiah was
commanded by the Lord to stand in the court of the temple and speak to
all the people of Judah who might pass in and out. From the messages
given him he must diminish not a word, that sinners in Zion might have
the fullest possible opportunity to hearken and to turn from their evil
The prophet obeyed; he stood in the gate of the Lord's house and
there lifted his voice in warning and entreaty. Under the inspiration of
the Almighty he declared:
"Hear the word of the Lord, all ye of Judah, that enter in at
these gates to worship the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God
of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to
dwell in this place. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of
the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. For
if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly
execute judgment between a man and his neighbor; if ye oppress not the
stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in
this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I
cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your
fathers, forever and ever." Jeremiah 7:2-7.
The unwillingness of the Lord to chastise is here vividly shown. He
stays His judgments that He may plead with the impenitent. He who
exercises "loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the
earth" yearns over His erring children; in every way possible He
seeks to teach them the way of life everlasting. Jeremiah 9:24. He had
brought the Israelites out of bondage that they might serve Him, the
only true and living God. Though they had wandered long in idolatry and
had slighted His warnings, yet He now declares His willingness to defer
chastisement and grant yet another opportunity for repentance. He makes
plain the fact that only by the most thorough heart reformation could 4
the impending doom be averted. In vain would be the trust they might
place in the temple and its services. Rites and ceremonies could not
atone for sin. Notwithstanding their claim to be the chosen people of
God, reformation of heart and of the life practice alone could save them
from the inevitable result of continued transgression.
Thus it was that "in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of
Jerusalem" the message of Jeremiah to Judah was, "Hear ye the
words of this covenant,"--the plain precepts of Jehovah as recorded
in the Sacred Scriptures,--"and do them." Jeremiah 11:6. And
this is the message he proclaimed as he stood in the temple courts in
the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim.
Israel's experience from the days of the Exodus was briefly reviewed.
God's covenant with them had been, "Obey My voice, and I will be
your God, and ye shall be My people: and walk ye in all the ways that I
have commanded you, that it may be well unto you." Shamelessly and
repeatedly had this covenant been broken. The chosen nation had
"walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart,
and went backward, and not forward." Jeremiah 7:23, 24.
"Why," the Lord inquired, "is this people of Jerusalem
slidden back by a perpetual backsliding?" Jeremiah 8:5. In the
language of the prophet it was because they had obeyed not the voice of
the Lord their God and had refused to be corrected. See Jeremiah 5:3.
"Truth is perished," he mourned, "and is cut off from
their mouth." "The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed
times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of
their coming; but My people know not the judgment of the Lord."
"Shall I not visit them for these things? saith the Lord: shall not
My soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" Jeremiah 7:28; 8:7;
The time had come for deep heart searching. While Josiah had been
their ruler, the people had had some ground for hope. But no longer
could he intercede in their behalf, for he had fallen in battle. The
sins of the nation were such that the time for intercession had all but
passed by. "Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me," the Lord
declared, "yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them
out of My sight, and let them go forth. And it shall come to pass, if
they say unto thee, Whither shall we go forth? then thou shalt tell
them. Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; and such as
are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the
famine; and such as are for the captivity, to the captivity."
Jeremiah 15:1, 2.
A refusal to heed the invitation of mercy that God was now offering
would bring upon the impenitent nation the judgments that had befallen
the northern kingdom of Israel over a century before. The message to
them now was: "If ye will not hearken to Me, to walk in My law,
which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of My servants the
prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them,
but ye have not hearkened; then will I make this house like Shiloh, and
will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth."
Those who stood in the temple court listening to Jeremiah's discourse
understood clearly this reference to Shiloh, and to the time in the days
of Eli when the Philistines had overcome Israel and carried away the ark
of the testament.
The sin of Eli had consisted in passing lightly over the iniquity of
his sons in sacred office, and over the evils prevailing throughout the
land. His neglect to correct these evils had brought upon Israel a
fearful calamity. His sons had fallen in battle, Eli himself had lost
his life, the ark of God had been taken from the land of Israel, thirty
thousand of the people had been slain--and all because sin had been
allowed to flourish unrebuked and unchecked. Israel had vainly thought
that, notwithstanding their sinful practices, the presence of the ark
would ensure them victory over the Philistines. In like manner, during
the days of Jeremiah, the inhabitants of Judah were prone to believe
that a strict observance of the divinely appointed services of the
temple would preserve them from a just punishment for their wicked
What a lesson is this to men holding positions of responsibility
today in the church of God! What a solemn warning to deal faithfully
with wrongs that bring dishonor to the cause of truth! Let none who
claim to be the depositaries of God's law flatter themselves that the
regard they may outwardly show toward the commandments will preserve
them from the exercise of divine justice. Let none refuse to be reproved
for evil, nor charge the servants of God with being too zealous in
endeavoring to cleanse the camp from evil-doing. A sin-hating God calls
upon those who claim to keep His law to depart from all iniquity. A
neglect to repent and to render willing obedience will bring upon men
and women today as serious consequences as came upon ancient Israel.
There is a limit beyond which the judgments of Jehovah can no longer be
delayed. The desolation of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah is a solemn
warning to modern Israel, that the counsels and admonitions given them
through chosen instrumentalities cannot be disregarded with impunity.
Jeremiah's message to priests and people aroused the antagonism of
many. With boisterous denunciation they cried out, "Why hast thou
prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like
Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all
the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the
Lord." Jeremiah 26:9. Priests, false prophets, and people turned in
wrath upon him who would not speak to them smooth things or prophesy
deceit. Thus was the message of God despised, and His servant threatened
Tidings of the words of Jeremiah were carried to the princes of
Judah, and they hastened from the palace of the king to the temple, to
learn for themselves the truth of the matter. "Then spake the
priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying,
This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as
ye have heard with your ears." Verse 11. But Jeremiah stood boldly
before the princes and the people, declaring: "The Lord sent me to
prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye
have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the
voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent Him of the evil
that He hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your
hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. But know ye for
certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent
blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants
thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all
these words in your ears." Verses 12-15.
Had the prophet been intimidated by the threatening attitude of those
high in authority, his message would have been without effect, and he
would have lost his life; but the courage with which he delivered the
solemn warning commanded the respect of the people and turned the
princes of Israel in his favor. They reasoned with the priests and false
prophets, showing them how unwise would be the extreme measures they
advocated, and their words produced a reaction in the minds of the
people. Thus God raised up defenders for His servant.
The elders also united in protesting against the decision of the
priests regarding the fate of Jeremiah. They cited the case of Micah,
who had prophesied judgments upon Jerusalem, saying, "Zion shall be
plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain
of the house as the high places of a forest." And they asked:
"Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death?
did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented
Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them? Thus might we
procure great evil against our souls." Verses 18, 19.
Through the pleading of these men of influence the prophet's life was
spared, although many of the priests and false prophets, unable to
endure the condemning truths he uttered, would gladly have seen him put
to death on the plea of sedition.
From the day of his call to the close of his ministry, Jeremiah stood
before Judah as "a tower and a fortress" against which the
wrath of man could not prevail. "They shall fight against
thee," the Lord had forewarned His servant, "but they shall
not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver
thee, saith the Lord. And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the
wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible."
Jeremiah 6:27; 15:20, 21.
Naturally of a timid and shrinking disposition, Jeremiah longed for
the peace and quiet of a life of retirement, where he need not witness
the continued impenitence of his beloved nation. His heart was wrung
with anguish over the ruin wrought by sin. "O that my head were
waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears," he mourned, "that
I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! O
that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I
might leave my people, and go from them." Jeremiah 9:1, 2.
Cruel were the mockings he was called upon to endure. His sensitive
soul was pierced through and through by the arrows of derision hurled at
him by those who despised his messages and made light of his burden for
their conversion. "I was a derision to all my people," he
declared, "and their song all the day." "I am in derision
daily, everyone mocketh me." "All my familiars watched for my
halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail
against him, and we shall take our revenge on him." Lamentations
3:14; Jeremiah 20:7, 10.
But the faithful prophet was daily strengthened to endure. "The
Lord is with me as a mighty terrible One," he declared in faith;
"therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not
prevail: they shall be really ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their
everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten." "Sing unto
the Lord, praise ye the Lord: for He hath delivered the soul of the poor
from the hand of evildoers." Jeremiah 20:11, 13.
The experiences through which Jeremiah passed in the days of his
youth and also in the later years of his ministry, taught him the lesson
that "the way of man is not in self: it is not in man that walketh
to direct his steps." He learned to pray, "O Lord, correct me,
but with judgment; not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me nothing."
Jeremiah 10:23, 24.
When called to drink of the cup of tribulation and sorrow, and when
tempted in his misery to say, "My strength and my hope is perished
from the Lord," he recalled the providences of God in his behalf
and triumphantly exclaimed, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we
are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every
morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my
soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait
for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him. It is good that a man should both
hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations
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