Like Moses before him, Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet of Jehovah. God called him by saying, “Before I formed you in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah’s response was, “… Oh Lord, Jehovah: behold, I know not how to speak, for I am a child” (Jer. 1:6). Jehovah’s response was, “Say not, I am a child, for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go and whatsoever I command thee, thou shalt speak. Be no afraid because of them: for I am with thee to deliver thee” (Jer. 1:7-8).
It is not known exactly how old Jeremiah was when his call to be God’s prophet came. He dates his prophecies from the thirteenth year of Josiah (Jer. 1:2), and since Josiah’s reigned for thirty-one years (2 Chron. 34:1) Jeremiah prophesied eighteen years of Josiah’s reign. Since he identified himself as a “child” when God’s call came to him (and the word “child” is used to describe an infant of three months [Exo. 2:6] to the period of manhood, but not yet able to take full responsibility [1 Sam. 17:23]) such variation makes it impossible to know his exact age. Likely he was fifteen or sixteen years old when God’s call came to him. His prophecies continued through Josiah’s son Zedekiah when the Davidic monarchy came to an end through the havoc brought about through Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Judah, destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and the final exile of the remaining Jews (including Zedekiah) to Babylon. This occurred about 586 B.C. We have little knowledge of what prophecies he may have received after he was carried into Egypt. We also do not know when or how he died. What we do know is that although he was reluctant when God’s call came, he never looked back. Despite the trials and persecution he experienced, God was faithful to His word. He delivered Jeremiah out of them all.
Jeremiah was of the priestly class and he lived in Anathoth, a village of Benjamin. He is only mentioned briefly in the historical books of the kings. Second Chronicles records that “Josiah’s death was lamented by Jeremiah” (2 Chron. 35:25), but nothing is said of any interaction between Josiah and Jeremiah. Of the three major prophets of the exile (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) and the years which led to it, Jeremiah was the older of Daniel and likely Ezekiel as well. Jeremiah’s writing was known to Daniel (Dan. 9:1-2), but whether Daniel personally was acquainted with Jeremiah we do not know. Ezekiel makes no mention of Jeremiah so whether either Jeremiah or his writings was familiar to Ezekiel is not known — but likely his writings were.
Jeremiah was called to be a “prophet to the nations” and so he was. Chapters 46-51 lists nine prophecies in which twenty nations are mentioned. But Jeremiah’s prophecies were primarily for Judah, both her king and people. The message Jeremiah was commanded to give Judah was that defeat, destruction, and exile were inevitable. Judah should submit to Babylon’s yoke. This message was highly unpopular, but it was unchangeable with God. She had turned her back on God to idolatry, and God’s wisdom and justice determined that exile was the only cure for it, as well as punishment for her sins for having “forgotten God which gave them birth.”
In his message, Jeremiah urged Judah not to resist Babylon but to surrender. He indicated that by peaceable surrender the nation could escape more pain and death for its’ inhabitants, and possibly could avoid the destruction of both their temple and city. However, Jeremiah’s message was rejected and false prophets assured the nation that the fate Jeremiah predicted would not be their lot. They would escape as they had so many times in years before. Jeremiah’s words were true, however, and Judah was carried into captivity.
Still, while exile was inevitable, there was a rainbow promised them: the exile would not be permanent, they would return to their homeland and God revealed how long their bondage would be. Thus we read “and the whole land shall be a desolation, an astonishment and the nation shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:11). Coupled with the prophecy from chapter 25 is the comforting one giving in chapter 29:10-11: “Áfter seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end.”
There was also another promise the Jews could look forward to. Jerusalem would be destroyed but after a time she would be rebuilt. However, Babylon, her oppressor and slave master, would suffer a similar fate. She too would be destroyed, but unlike Jerusalem which would be rebuilt, Babylon would never be rebuilt! “Thou shalt be desolate forever, saith Jehovah” (Jer. 51:26). And, to emphasize the certainty of that prophecy, one of the most unusual but graphic illustrations was acted out by a messenger of Jeremiah, named Seraiah, to illustrate that prediction. Jeremiah sent Seraiah to Babylon with the prophecy and other proclamations against the city written in a book, and Seraiah was to publicly read the Lord’s pronouncement. Then, as he stood by the river Euphrates, he was to tie a stone to the scroll from which he had read and cast it into the river and say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise again” (Jer. 51:63-64).
Seraiah did as Jeremiah instructed. Jerusalem had not been destroyed at the time Seraiah read the prophecy against Babylon, but in a few short years would be. But she was rebuilt and exists today. And Babylon? She was a thriving, bustling city, the capital of the world at that time. Where is she today? She is gone forever. “So shall my word be that goeth forth from my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but It shall accomplish that which I please and prosper in the thing whereunto I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Such is our evidence 2,600 years after Jeremiah’s prediction that “Forever O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Psa. 119:89).