Background on Jeremiah

Background of Jeremiah: (compiled notes from the NIV Study Bible Notes & Life Application Bible Notes)

The book preserves an account of the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, whose personal life and struggles are known to us in greater depth and detail than those of any other OT prophet.  His ministry was primarily in Jerusalem and spanned the years from 626 B.C.  to sometime after 586 B.C.  Jeremiah was commanded by God not to marry and raise children because the impending divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation (16:1-4).  Jeremiah began prophesying in Judah halfway through the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.) and continued throughout the reigns of Jehoahaz (609), Jehoiakim (609-598), Jehoiachin (598-597) and Zedekiah (597-586).  It was a period of time when the doom of entire nations – including Judah itself – was being sealed.  The power centers of imperial giants of Egypt, Assyria and Babylon were shifting, causing upheavals in the smaller nation states in the area.

During that tumultuous time, King Josiah of Judah was killed near Megiddo in 609 at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco II (2 Ch 35:20-24), and Jeremiah, who had found a kindred spirit in the godly Josiah lamented his death (2 Ch 35:25).  Josiah’s son Jehoahaz (also known as Shallum), ruled for just 3 months before Neco (the Egyptian Pharaoh) put him in chains and made Eliakim, another of Josiah’s sons, king and renamed him Jehoiakim.  This change of kings marked a significant turning point in the court’s attitude toward Jeremiah, as Jehoiakim was relentlessly hostile toward Jeremiah.  From that point on, Jeremiah would be persecuted and imprisoned, enjoying only brief moments of freedom.

Around this time, in 605 B.C., the Egyptians were crushed at Carchemish on the Euphrates by Nebuchadnezzar (46:2), the newly appointed ruler of Babylon.  Then Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C., humiliating Jehoiakim (Da 1:1-2) and carrying off the first set of Israelites into exile.  This is when Daniel and his three friends were taken (Da 1:3-6).  Later, in 598-597, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem again and eliminated Jehoiakim.  Jehoiakim’s  son Jehoiachin ruled Judah for only 3 months (2 Ch 36:9).  Jeremiah foretold that Jehoiachin and his followers would be captured (22:24-30), a prediction that was later fulfilled (24:1; 29:1-2).  Then Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle and a son of Josiah, was renamed Zedekiah and placed on Judah’s throne by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. (37:1; 2 Ch 35:11-14).  Zedekiah was a weak and vacillating ruler who sometimes befriended Jeremiah and sought his advice but at other times was unwilling to protect Jeremiah and allowed the prophet’s enemies to mistreat and imprison him.  Near the end of Zedekiah’s reign, Jeremiah entered into an agreement with him to reveal God’s will to him in exchange for his own personal safety (38:15-27).  But the “protection” provided by Zedekiah was virtually a house arrest, which lasted until Jerusalem was completely captured by Babylon in 586 B.C. (38:28).  At the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, Nebuchadnezzar executed Zedekiah’s sons in front of him and then blinded him (39:1-7).

Overall structure: chapter 1 is Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet.  Then chapters 2 through 39 are prophecies about Israel and Judah.  The basic theme of his message was: “Repent and return to God, or His judgment will come.”  But then, because the people rejected this warning, Jeremiah moved to predicting specifically the destruction of Jerusalem (which was fulfilled in 586 B.C., described by chapter 39).  Chapters 40-45 describe events following Jerusalem’s fall, and the book concludes with prophecies concerning a variety of nations (chapters 46-52).

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