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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
possible opportunity to hearken and to turn from their evil ways.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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; 9:9.
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." Jeremiah 26:4-6.
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 course.
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
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.
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 with death.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 to nothing." Jeremiah 10:23, 24.
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 3:18,