THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET JEREMIAH.
The prophet Jeremiah, a native of Anathoth, a town situated a little over three miles northeast of Jerusalem, within the boundaries of Benjamin, was born shortly before Josiah became king. He was a member of a priestly family, and God called him to be a prophet when he was still a very young man. He witnessed the great reformation in the eighteenth year of Josiah, whose death he lamented. During the early years of Jehoiakim's reign he was in danger of losing his life on account of his faithful preaching. He was threatened even by his townsmen and opposed by his own family. He was obliged to endure many other indignities and adversities, not only under the reign of Jehoiakim, but also under that of Zedekiah, the climax of his sufferings being reached when the armies of the Chaldeans approached the city. After the capture of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was taken in chains as far as Ramah, but released by Nebuchadnezzar's general. He lived with Gedaliah, the governor of the country, for a while, but after the assassination of Gedaliah was carried to Egypt by force. He continued to preach and prophesy in Egypt, predicting the conquest of the country by Nebuchadnezzar and warning the Jews to abstain from idolatry. He seems to have died in Egypt, according to tradition having been stoned to death by his own countrymen.
As the brief outline of Jeremiah's life shows, the period of Jewish history in which he lived was the critical time preceding the nation's doom. Only one of the five kings under whom Jeremiah prophesied was a pious ruler. The people became guilty of gross idolatry and, as they relapsed into paganism, of immoral practices. Covetousness, dishonesty, murder, adultery, stealing, false swearing, and other sins were prevalent throughout the nation. Year after year Jeremiah came with messages from God, whose mercy and compassion sought to turn His people to repentance, but the moral corruption was too great, and the people refused to obey. They preferred to listen to various false prophets, who predicted peace and prosperity. But though the work of Jeremiah, to all outer appearances, was vain, it resulted, in fact, in a clearing of the situation, since, as a consequence, the true Israelites were preserved in faith. In spite of all the trying experiences, therefore, which Jeremiah, naturally of a mild, sensitive, and retiring disposition, had to undergo, he remained faithful to his task as a prophet of the one true God. He ever found comfort and strength in the promise which the Lord had given him at the beginning of his labors: "Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee…. They shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee."
The arrangement of the Book of Jeremiah is topical rather than chronological. It may be divided into two large groups. The first division contains the introduction and the prophecies concerning Judah, together with some historical matter, chaps. 1-45; the second division contains ten prophetical discourses concerning nine foreign nations, together with a final historical account concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the release of Jehoiachin. A more detailed division of the book yields the following outline: prophecies belonging for the most part to the reign of Josiah, chaps. 1-6; prophecies belonging probably chiefly to the reign of Jehoiakim, chaps. 7-21; prophecies probably belonging to the reign of Jehoiachin, chaps. 22 and 23; prophecies and events in the reign of Zedekiah, chaps. 24-39; history and prophecies under Gedaliah's administration and in Egypt, chaps. 40-44; group of prophecies against heathen nations, chaps. 46-51; historical conclusion, chap. 52. As stated above, however, this division is only general.
There are several notable prophecies in the Book of Jeremiah, some of them being veritable gems of epigrammatic utterance. But the most beautiful passages are the Messianic prophecies concerning the Lord, our Righteousness. Cp. chap. 23, 5-6; 30,9; 33. The prophecy of the New Covenant refers to the days of the New Testament, which began with the coming of Christ. Chap. 31, 31-34. 1)