jeremiah Anne O’BrieN
A Bible Study in the book of Jeremiah. We encourage you to pray before you begin reading that the Lord would open your heart and mind to be receptive and responsive to God’s message contained within this study. There may be times when you find it difficult to reconcile God’s truth to your own opinion or worldview,
God’s truth is eternal, it does not change, our understanding of the truth does change as we allow God to work in our hearts and minds. 1
JEREMIAH For many reasons Jeremiah is not an easy book to read or to teach. It is a long book and the prophecies are not all in chronological order. Added to that, the content is largely depressing, with just a few glimpses of hope. And yet it is a book well worth reading because, when read as a whole, it gives us a picture of a faithful and loving God who is perfect love and perfect justice. It reveals to us God’s plan, not just for the Jews but also for the gentiles. I have decided to study the book in themes, rather than chapter after chapter, allowing us to get an overall view in 9 easy-to-follow sessions, as follows: Lesson 1 – An Introduction Lesson 2 – Jeremiah’s call to prophesy Lesson 3 – God denounces the people’s sin Lesson 4 – God denounces the leaders’ sins Lesson 5 – A look at Jeremiah’s heart and feelings Lesson 6 – God’s provision - Baruch Lesson 7 – A look at God’s heart for his people Lesson 8 – A summary of the prophecies Lesson 9 – How Jeremiah impacts on us.
JEREMIAH Lesson 1 Introduction Jeremiah was a young man when God called him to a life of prophecy. He was not to have an easy ministry because for 40 years he would proclaim a message that was exceedingly unpopular and depressing. Imagine if God asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand in front of the cameras day after day and denounce Britain for falling away from God; and then saying that God would use one of the current feared world powers to invade our country, make us exiles and steal all our wealth. Could you see anyone believing him? No-one believed Jeremiah or responded to the words of God that he so faithfully proclaimed. God was ready to forgive and bless, but the people refused to hear the message and repent. In this Book we see two important themes: • The sins and the fate of the nation of Judah • The feelings of the prophet Jeremiah Q. How do you feel if you have to break hard news to someone, especially if they won’t believe you? Historical background The northern 10 tribes of Israel had been carried into captivity by Assyria and widely dispersed. This all happened during the 60 years of Isaiah’s prophecy. The two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin (referred to just as Judah) remained for over 100 years more: 1
720 B.C: The ten northern tribes were taken into captivity 599-586 B.C. The siege of Jerusalem followed by its destruction and the last wave of captives taken to Babylonia. Jeremiah (rightly) predicted a 70 year exile. Jeremiah prophesied against the Jewish theocracy which would be punished through the medium of the Babylonians. He also prophesied against all the other nations. These prophecies are not arranged in chronological order (which makes study more difficult!!). • •
Geographical context See appendix 1. The Assyrians had already exiled the people from the ten northern tribes of Israel and assimilated them into Assyria or dispersed them. They replaced them with people from their empire, who ultimately became known as the Samaritans. When Babylonia succeeded Assyria they carried off the people of Judah to Babylonia, but they eventually returned to their land 70 years later, in accordance with all of Jeremiah’s prophecies.
Biblical and Archaeological texts The events are described in 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Daniel. They are backed up by a large amount of other contemporary evidence including: (see pictures in Appendix 2 – these artefacts can be seen in the British Museum.) • The Lachish letters • Babylonian stone chronicles (Jechoiachin) • Assyrian steles (inscription on a pillar) • Cyrus cylinder instructing the return of exiles If the Bible is verified by historical and archaeological proofs why should we ever doubt the rest of its content and message? Jeremiah’s ministry covered about 40 years. During all that time he was unsuccessful and not listened to, due in large part to the evil in the nation (which filtered down from the men at the top). He was contemporary with Judah’s last four kings.
The kings of Judah JOSIAH Jeremiah is called by God at the close of the reign of the last good king of Judah (the boy King, Josiah – see 2 Chronicles 34v1-7) who was 8 years old and reigned for 31 years. Josiah was successful in bringing some reforms but only because the people loved him rather than loving God. JEHOIAKIM One of Judah’s most evil kings. See 2 Kings 23v37 and Jeremiah 22v13 JEHOIACHIN Also evil, captured by Nebuchadnezzar and taken exile to Babylonia. See 2 Kings 24v12 2
ZEDEKIAH Judah’s last king. He opposed all that Jeremiah prophesied and consequently suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. See Jeremiah 32v3 and 2 Kings 25v7 How is this book relevant to us? This book is about trusting God in a very troubled world. It’s about focussing on God’s promises and not on the problems. It’s about remembering that God has a plan for mankind and he will always find a way to implement his plan. Jeremiah tells us about the rise of Babylonia and how God used this enemy power to fulfil his plans for his people. Historical facts show us how God intervened with acts of nature (including an eclipse in 610 B.C and a mighty flood of the Tigris which destroyed the walls of the city of Nineveh) to allow the Babylonians to overrule Assyria (the previous world power who had dominated Northern Israel). Our God is a BIG God!! He is the God of History.
Jeremiah chapter 1 Lesson 2 In which Jeremiah receives his call to prophesy. Read verses 1-3: Jeremiah was the son of a priest – Hilkiah, from the tribe and territory of Benjamin. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin were all that was left of Israel after the Assyrians removed the 10 northern tribes from their land (see introduction). The good, young King Josiah was on the throne at the beginning of his ministry and verse 3 tells us that Jeremiah continued to prophesy throughout the reigns of Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah; altogether, he was God’s prophet for 30 years. Read verses 4&5: What an amazing affirmation of a person’s value! Creator God knows us even before conception and “knits us” in the womb. This is not a ‘one-off’. We also read how God revealed this truth to King David, Isaiah, Samson, Samuel, Job and the Apostle Paul. Read: Psalm 139v13,15&16; Job 10v8-12 and 33v4; Isaiah 49v1; Judges 13v5; Galatians 1v15 God who knew and called Jeremiah is the same God who knows us from our beginning, and calls us to follow him as disciples. Q. God chose me … How should this make us feel about ourselves and about God? Read verses 6&7: “I am too young”. These words were also uttered by Gideon (Judges 6v15) and David (1 Kings 3v7). Perhaps we are more likely to say, “I am too old”! The point here is that God doesn’t choose people according to our criteria – he is simply looking for obedience. Because, ultimately it is not what we say, but what we allow him to say through us. What becomes apparent in the Book of Jeremiah is that God measures our success by obedience and not by results. God’s instruction was, “Just take my message to the people” and it is the same instruction to us (see Matthew 28v19&20). 3
Q. When given an instruction like this, what is our immediate reaction? Read verse 8-10: Our natural instinct is to be afraid, especially if the message is uncomfortable or challenging or we know that it will not be well received, as Jeremiah did. And God knows that and understands that, because along with the command he gives an assurance, “I am with you”. So that … When we speak to our friends and family about Jesus and they are not receptive; when we plod on for years in a struggling Sunday School or church; when we put on events that bring no fruit – if we are telling people about Jesus then we are obedient to God’s call and he is pleased with us. This is what God wanted Jeremiah to grasp. What we do or say may seem insignificant or even ineffective, but only God knows how it helps towards his goals. Read verses 11-15a: God gave Jeremiah 2 pieces of confirmation: 1. The branch of an almond tree. (Hebrew shaqad which is a play on words – a homograph). The almond tree is the first to bloom, even before the spring arrives, it is ready and waiting. The same word – shaqad – also means “watching”. God was watching the time and judgment was at hand. Judah was about to experience God’s judgment and a new phase in history. 2. The pot that was boiling. Because of their wickedness, Judah and Jerusalem would be overthrown by the enemy from the north. The Jews thought that they had escaped God’s judgment when the 10 tribes from the north were dispersed by the Assyrians. But because of their evil ways God was going to bring a new enemy. The pot was already boiling. The Babylonians were soon to take world power from Assyria. God was telling Jeremiah to prepare the people for judgment. Read verses 15b-16: Here, God tells Jeremiah that the City of Jerusalem will be besieged and gives his main reason: The people had been burning incense to other gods and to gods they had made with their own hands. They worshipped other gods made of wood and stone and had forsaken the one true God. Q. In what ways do people do this today? Read verses 17-19: God repeats his commission to Jeremiah, who by now must be realising what a big deal this is! He will be standing before kings, officials, priests, and indeed the whole land. But – God promised to make him strong to endure the task, he promised to protect Jeremiah and be with him at all times. When God appoints us, he first anoints us and then equips us.
Jeremiah – chapters 2,5,8,25 &18 Lesson 3 In which God denounces the people’s sins
God explains his reasons for impending judgment. God’s judgment is closely related to his righteousness and his faithfulness. Just as a good parent must be true to their word and apply punishment where necessary, so too God will punish Israel – and us – if we do not hear his warnings. However, Jeremiah repeatedly says that judgment would be withheld if the people heed God’s warnings. God is yearning to 4
show grace and mercy but our rebellion gets in the way. Fundamentally God is love and is always waiting for us to repent and to be in right relationship with him. Chapter 2 – THE SIN - SPIRITUAL ADULTERY Read verses 5-9: We can picture God’s broken heart here. Israel, God’s Bride, had once been faithful but now they had strayed. The people, including the priests, had taken all God’s blessings and defiled them. Read verses 10-13: Jeremiah uses a metaphor – the spring and the cistern. The spring represents God’s continuous, fresh, life-giving water. The cistern was is a hand-built water storage facility which could be a tank above ground or more likely a reservoir in the ground. Such was its construction that it was likely to leak and get contaminated and therefore it was not totally reliable. Jeremiah is saying that the Israelites had exchanged God, the Spring of Life, for useless hand-made gods who they could not depend on and who would probably harm them. Q. Do we turn to the spring – the Water of Life – when we are down? Or do we turn to substitutes like food, chocolate, T.V, spending money etc? Read verses 20-25: Here we have a variety of sexual metaphors to show how Israel had adulterated themselves with other gods. Israel was likened to a she camel or a donkey in heat looking for a mate, and none too choosy! (v20,23&24). This is not very complementary! But this is how God sees it when we leave him and turn to other pleasures and means of support. Read verses 32&33: Again we can read between the lines and see something of God’s heart. His bride, Israel, had forgotten her wedding promises and all that was bestowed upon her. Israel had strayed so far that they no longer believed that it was God speaking to them through Jeremiah. Added to their sin of adultery was unbelief, hardened hearts and a refusal to hear what God was saying through the true prophets. Q. Do we always listen and hear what God is saying to us through the sermon or through a prophetic word. Or can we sometimes be guilty of switching off? Chapter 5 – THE SIN - DISHONESTY AND LIES Read verses 1,4&5: Not one person is found to be honest or seeking the truth, not even the leaders. And they weren’t dealing in ordinary lies but they were lying about God. They didn’t like the uncomfortable truth, so they changed it. Read verses 11-13: The people had lied about what God said and what the prophets said. They were scornful of the message and the messenger. They would constantly justify themselves with lies. Read verses 27-31: Through lying and deceit they became rich and powerful. They practised no justice and had stopped helping the orphans and the poor. Even the prophets told lies, they said what the people wanted to hear. And the priests ruled according to their own rules because that’s what the people preferred! Q. Can you think of instances when we might say something to make someone feel better or happier, but it is not in line with God’s truth? Is it easy to point out when someone is wrong and then suggest they repent and know God’s forgiveness? 5
Chapter 8: THE SIN - WORSHIPPING CREATION & NOT THE CREATOR Read verses 1-3: They were into astrology – “served, followed, consulted and worshipped”. God had specifically forbidden this (Deuteronomy 4v19) Read verse 12&13: God will take away the harvest to show that HE is in control of nature. Read verse 20-22: These are Jeremiah’s sorrowful observations on the situation. He asks “why?” but he knows the answer. Jeremiah’s sadness of heart reflects God’s own heart. If only the people would repent he could bring healing to the people. Q. Does this have any bearing on us? Do you think we should come in repentance before we ask God for healing as these verses suggest? See also James 5v16 Chapter 25: THE SIN – REFUSING TO LISTEN Read verses 3-7: For 23 years!!! Jeremiah had been giving Israel the same message (and he still had another 7 to go!). And still the people would not listen and hear what God was saying. We know there will ultimately come punishment, but we cannot say that God has not been patient and faithful. He gave everyone in a whole generation the opportunity to repent. Read verse 11: Ultimately the Babylonians would take the Judaeans captive and their land would become desolate. BUT GOD ALWAYS OFFERS HOPE AND A WAY OUT Chapter 18: THE POTTER AND THE CLAY Read verses 1-6: The potter wants a perfect pot and when it is marred he will work on it until it is how he wants it to be. The potter represents God and the pot is Israel, but the parable also speaks to us. All that God does to us and for us (whether seemingly good or bad) is in order to fulfil his purposes in our lives and to bring us closer to him. If we are repentant and have a soft heart the task of shaping us is easier. If we are hard and unrepentant like the Israelites it will be a much more painful process. Read verses 7-12: How wonderful is God! He never lies, but he will change his mind if we repent – even at the ‘eleventh hour’.
Jeremiah – chapters 6,14,22,26,37&38 Lesson 4 In which God denounces the sin of Israel’s leaders.
So bad was the leadership that even the Book of the Law had been lost. King Josiah brought in reforms, found the Book and had it read to the people. He tore down the pagan worship sites from their midst. But the people themselves had not reformed and the leaders became progressively worse. Consequently, God held them responsible for Israel’s sin. 6
Read chapter 6v13-15: The leaders were pronounced to be unashamedly greedy, deceitful, and covering up the severity of the situation, by putting a spin on the facts by saying there was peace (when Jeremiah was prophesying the imminent outbreak of war). How many times has history repeated itself since then?!! Read chapter 14v14-16: Not only did Jeremiah have to contend with the people and the leaders not believing him, he also had direct opposition from the other prophets!! These prophets were basically making stuff up to please the people and the leaders. No-one wanted to rock the boat, and no-one came alongside Jeremiah (except for Baruch who we will study in a later session). All were afraid. Read chapter 22v13-17: Earlier in the chapter Jeremiah had made it clear that this judgment is against the kings of Israel who had built their palaces on unrighteousness, injustice, extortion and oppression. They had exploited the people and became rich at their expense, lining their palaces with gold and ivory whilst the workers were dying. The sin of the leaders was greater for two reasons: • Because they were rich they had the choice of being kinder and freer with their money • Under God they had a responsibility to the people they served Q. How have you seen history repeat itself in this way? Read chapter 26v4-11: Verse 5 mentions the other prophets that were contemporary with Jeremiah: notably Habakkuk and Zephaniah. And during the exile there was Ezekiel and Daniel prophesying from Babylon. The reaction of the priests and prophets was rather severe, “You must die”! (v8&11). It seems odd that people should think that they can kill off the truth by killing the messenger (giving rise to the saying, “Don’t shoot the messenger”). Q. How do we see this happening in our world today? Read chapter 37v11-21: Jeremiah was arrested and thrown into prison on false charges (rather like Jesus and the apostle Paul, and many Christians today around the world who dare to oppose wrong teaching – or even merely proclaim the truth). They were to learn that you cannot kill off the truth, neither can you lock up the truth. Read chapter 38v4-6: So they thought maybe they could hide the truth by putting Jeremiah into a deep miry, muddy pit and leaving him there to die. Thanks to the bravery of one man, Ebed-Melek, Jeremiah’s life was saved and he was returned to the prison (verses 7-13), otherwise he would have died, such was the wickedness of King Zedekiah. The ongoing message of God’s truth was entirely dependent on Jeremiah staying alive! Read chapter 24 – HOPE AND JUDGMENT Two baskets of figs Read verses 1-3: Judgment came and more was yet to come upon Judah as a whole. No-one in the nation would escape. This was written at a time when there had been a partial exile of Judah. The skilled workers had been taken captive to Babylon, but the evil king Zedekiah and the unskilled people still remained in Jerusalem. Zedekiah was there more or less as a puppet king, thinking the worse was over and that he was lucky to have escaped (he still didn’t believe Jeremiah!). Jeremiah received a further prophecy at this stage involving two baskets of figs: • One basket contained figs good to eat • In the other basket the figs were so rotten they could not be eaten. 7
Jeremiah was about to explain that not everyone was the same in God’s eyes. Some were more culpable than others. The basket of good figs (verses 4-7) The basket of good figs represented the ordinary people who had been exploited and oppressed and not given the truth. They were seen as good. And some translations read, “…I have sent them out of this place for their own good.” (v5&6) God gives them a promise that he will watch over them and eventually bring them back to Judah, to their inheritance. We know that this happened. They were not harmed in Babylon. They and their offspring returned to Judah with Ezra and Nehemiah in 538BC. And from that time on they no longer served other gods and idols again. Q. Why did God see these people as good? Was it because they had had the ability to choose taken away from them in their oppression? How should that make us view similar people groups today? The basket of bad figs (verses 8-10) This basket represented King Zedekiah, the bad leaders, the unholy priests, prophets and scribes – they were all rotten and distasteful. They would not be protected in exile. Zedekiah’s name would be a curse and he would get his come-uppance and eventually be destroyed. Read Jeremiah 52v11 to see Zedekiah’s fate. In the most dreadful of times God is still in control and his word will always come true. See how God’s justice was worked out in the situations we have already read about in this lesson. Also consider God’s love and mercy to the poor, the foreigner, the fatherless, the exploited and the oppressed. God is always good and always just.
Jeremiah- chapters 8,9,13,15,16,20,22&31 Lesson 5 In which we see Jeremiah’s heart Jeremiah, often referred to as the weeping prophet, pours out his heart to God; and reflects God’s sadness for the unfaithfulness of the people. Here we see Jeremiah in his lonely calling: weeping, doubting, discouraged and broken. And yet, in God, he finds hope and the will to persevere. Weeping Read chapter 8v21-9v1: when people that we know suffer and weep, then we suffer and weep with them; even when we know they have brought the difficulties upon themselves. Jeremiah wept for his fellows Jews because his prophetic word told that they would all be taken as exiles to Babylon. He didn’t just pronounce God’s judgment, he felt it (even though he would not be taken exile to Babylon) and he felt the pain of the people, just as God did. 8
Read chapter 9v10&11: Jeremiah also wept for the land, the Promised Land, which would also suffer. No-one would be sent to look after the land (as happened in the Northern kingdom) – the land (including Jerusalem and the Temple) would lay waste and desolate, with no inhabitants. The land was a part of Covenant with the people so not only would they feel cut off from God, but they would also be cut off from the land and the Covenant. There could be no more severe punishment – which is what caused Jeremiah to weep in anguish. (See also chapter 13v17) Doubting: Read chapter 15v18: There were times when Jeremiah felt that God had let him down. He was faithful to God’s word but there was no response from the people. He felt like God had failed him. Although God was using him, he saw no results for all his hard work. Q. Ever felt like that? Ever doubted God because you felt you were doing the right thing and yet nothing has happened? Read chapter 15v19-21: Although doubts are natural and we all have them, God sees them as unworthy. But, as with Jeremiah, he gives us room to voice our doubts and he listens to us. God’s word to us is the same as to Jeremiah: If we repent of our doubts he will make us strong. And although things threaten to overtake us God will be faithful, he will rescue us. Loneliness Read verse 15v17: Because of his call Jeremiah was not able to join in the good times with those around him, because he was all too aware of God’s message of judgment on them. Read verse 16v1-4: Moreover, under God’s instructions, Jeremiah was not to have a wife or family (a very, very unusual thing as family inheritance was seen as a part of the Covenant). This was because God knew what the future would hold. But, of course, it meant that Jeremiah had no-one other than the Lord to console him when he was downcast, no-one to encourage him and no-one to bring happiness into his life. Read chapter 16v5-9: Neither was Jeremiah to go to funeral wakes or family celebrations or wedding feasts. His life was to be lived in a way that the people could see God’s impending judgment. He would have appeared to be a ‘miserable killjoy’ – no wonder he had no friends. (Only one man, Baruch, stood by him and we will look at his life next week). Discouragement Read chapter 20v7-18: Jeremiah had got to the point of saying, “I wish I had never been born” (v14-18)! He felt God had deceived or persuaded him against his will. And whenever he obeyed God all he got was insults. How very, very hard it must have been for Jeremiah for year after year after year – and no-one 9
to put an arm round him or to encourage him. But, look again at verses 11 and 13. As well as dismal prophecy, God gives Jeremiah words of strength and encouragement. Q. Ever felt discouraged and wondered why God has placed you where you are? Let God lift you up with words he wants to speak into your life (consider the following). Hope and Perseverance Read chapter 1v8: Do not be afraid, because God is with you (there are dozens of similar references in the Bible) Read chapter 17v7: We will be blessed if we continue to trust in God and will be able to withstand the heat and the dry times. Read chapter 29v11-13: God has a plan for our life. If we are in his will and trust him then we know that he will be working out all things for our ultimate good - even if it doesn’t feel like it! Read 31v25: God’s promise is to refresh the weary and give us the strength we need to carry on. We should never give up on what God has called us to do, unless He specifically tells us to. God doesn’t measure us by our success, but by our obedience and our trust in Him.
Jeremiah - chapters 32, 36, 37, 43 & 45 Lesson 6: In which we learn about Baruch With no family or friends and scorned by society because of his uncomfortable message, Jeremiah only had one source of help other than the Lord – his name was Baruch. Read chapter 36v1-7; 16-23 & 27-28 We can deduce that Baruch was a Scribe (he wrote down the words spoken by Jeremiah), probably a very educated man, and one who knew the ways of God. Jeremiah trusted him. He was obedient and it seems he was also courageous. He was maybe Jeremiah’s right hand man in what were very difficult times. This was taking place during the reign of the evil king, Jehoiakim (v1). Baruch obediently (and accurately – he doesn’t put any ‘spin’ on it) pens Jeremiah’s prophecy of judgment and bravely reads it to the officials at the king’s court. It was then taken by the leaders and read to King Jehoiakim himself, who showed his contempt for God’s word by burning the columns of the scroll as they were read (v23). But the Word of God cannot be destroyed. God simply instructed Jeremiah to write the words again. Jehoiakim was to suffer a terrible fate because of his attitude to God’s word (v30). Read chapter 45 Verse 1 tells us that this chapter immediately follows the account in chapter 36 (see v1 of both chapters). It shows us that Baruch, like Jeremiah, was full of woe because of the message. It also shows us that he blamed the Lord for his suffering, as did Jeremiah. To bring such a message of judgment weighed heavily on these men who were, nevertheless, obedient to God’s command. They were at 10
times sad, lonely and depressed and yet they never gave up. It appears that Baruch was asking God for some kind of special treatment (v5), an exemption from judgment. But God makes it clear that all of Judah will be judged (and taken captive by the Babylonians). However, he gives Baruch a word of promise, a word of hope, “Wherever you go, you will escape with your life” (v5). Q. Christians are in the world. How much do they suffer the same fate as non-believers? Do we sometimes expect an exemption from suffering, like Baruch? Read chapter 32v6-17 God tells Jeremiah to buy a piece of land in his tribal inheritance of Benjamin. As a near relative it was his right, and also (to a degree) his responsibility, to buy it and keep it as his inheritance in fulfilment of God’s covenant with the Israelites. Jeremiah duly carried out the transaction and entrusted the deeds to Baruch, with the instructions to keep them safe in a clay jar (they had to survive the 70 years of exile). The deeds were like a deposit for the future, a promise that what God had said would come about; Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land (v15). So Jeremiah obviously trusted Baruch – he was a man who would be constant and faithful and trustworthy over the years. 70 years was 2 generations. Jeremiah didn’t even know if he would be alive when the exiles would return from Babylon, but he knew for certain one thing: Nothing is too hard for the Lord (v17) This chapter shows us that there was eventual hope both for the people and for the land. Q. If a prophecy is spoken over your life or the life of the church, how long should you wait for it to be fulfilled? 7 days, 7 years, 70 years ….? Read chapter 43v3,6,7 Baruch was blamed for inciting Jeremiah to speak his prophecies. But even towards the end of the period of prophecy we still see Baruch by Jeremiah’s side, uncomfortable as it is. Following on from God’s promise to protect Jeremiah and Baruch from the judgment, we see them being taken by the army officers to Egypt. The army thought they would be safe in Egypt but Jeremiah had already prophesied that Babylon would overrun Egypt too (read the rest of the chapter). There is no Biblical record of Jeremiah’s or Baruch’s deaths, but other written accounts say that Jeremiah (and by association, Baruch) died in Egypt. They were never part of the exile to Babylon, and in this way God protected their lives. It’s a reasonable supposition that Baruch was responsible for recording all of Jeremiah’s prophecies as he was with him to the end, and that he was, in fact, the editor of this book of Jeremiah. Q. Can you think of one thing that we can learn from Baruch’s long life of service and how it might encourage us today? 11
Jeremiah – chapters 3,5,9,17,31-33 Lesson 7 – In which we learn about God’s heart for his people God is an all-powerful Creator God Read chapter 32v17,18a &27: Jeremiah speaks these encouraging words of praise immediately after God has asked him to buy a field in his tribal land of Benjamin. God was showing him that he had a plan for Israel’s future and that he was in control. Surely if God is creator of all, then nothing is too hard for him to put right. By revealing something of his plan for Israel God instilled confidence in Jeremiah. Read chapter 33v2,3 &6: Again we see promises of restoration and healing for the people – set in the context of God’s almighty power. There is nothing that God cannot do, and these verses show us that He has the power to do anything when we are repentant and humble before him. Q. What is your need? How big is it in comparison to the creation of the world? Can God meet that need? Is there a proviso or qualification? God is Just and Righteous Read chapter 5v26-29: God cannot be righteous and faithful to his word without dispensing justice when it is needed. The people were deceitful, exploitative, oppressive, unjust, and unfair to the poor and fatherless. When people say, “Why doesn’t God do anything?” we can see from these verses that he does – but it is in his own time and his own way. Read chapter 9v23&24: When we know God we understand that righteousness and justice are a part of God’s lovingkindness – in the same way that a child accepts punishment from a loving parent. Time and again the child will be asked to say “sorry” – it’s a part of their growth into an adult who can be a good person in society. In the same way we are sometimes chastened by God and need to be ready to repent – and each time we learn a lesson and grow a bit more in his grace. God desires relationship with us Read chapter 3v19&20: Israel is sometimes referred to as God’s bride in the Old Testament, and sometimes as his children. Here we see both analogies. We also see God expressing joy when the relationship is going well and an inference of sorrow when it is not. Verses 12&13 show us again that all God requires is repentance because even when we are unfaithful he remains faithful (see also 2 Timothy 2v13) Read chapter 31v20: Many a parent can identify with God’s feelings in this verse. We delight in our children, and when they walk away from the Lord we don’t love them any the less. We still have compassion for them. We still yearn for the relationship to be restored. This verse really helps us identify with God’s heart. And if we care about them, how much more does he? 12
God is waiting to show compassion and restoration Read Lamentations 3v22-26 and 31-33: Lamentations was also written by Jeremiah and gives us further insight into his thoughts and feelings during his long times of prophecy. Here we see that above all God is a God of love and compassion and faithfulness. He is always good to those who seek him. He is always waiting (like the father of the prodigal son) for the opportunity to restore relationship with us. Read Jeremiah 16v14&15: Jeremiah pronounces this direct promise that God would restore Israel. God’s ultimate aim when bringing judgment was restoration. Q. How can we know the promise of restoration is for us and ours as well? God is dependable Read chapter 17v7,8 &14: Here we have the picture parable of a tree by a stream whose roots have a constant supply of life-giving water. When we are in the right place we can depend on God for all we need. He is the source and supply for our healing and salvation. It is being in the right place that is important. Compare these verses with verses 5 and 6. God knows us better than we know ourselves Read chapter 17v9&10: It’s easy for us to let other things creep into our lives. We get used to watching “stuff” on TV or the internet, and maybe we accept things that perhaps we shouldn’t. God knows, and in his grace he will nudge us by his Holy Spirit to do something about it. The onus is on us to respond so that we keep our relationship right with him. God always has a future for us – a plan for our lives Read chapter 33v6-11: God had a plan for Israel – good times to come. They could choose to be a part of it or reject it. And he has a plan for our lives too. From Jeremiah we can see that when we reject his plan God doesn’t give up on us. He finds a way to refine us so that he can restore us and work out his purpose in our lives. To summarise: Almighty God, creator of all things: He who is just, righteous, compassionate and dependable; desires a relationship with us; refines us so that he can restore us; and has a future for each one of us as we trust in him. 13
Jeremiah chapters – 25, 46-51, 23, 29-31
Lesson 8 – A summary of the prophecies •
Prophecy directed to the surrounding countries
Messianic Age prophecy
Immediate prophecy Most of Jeremiah’s prophecies related to the time during his lifespan and shortly after. Read chapter 25v11,12 After years of pointing out Israel’s sin (refer to lessons 3 and 4) and explaining God’s desire for restoration if the people would only repent (refer to lesson 7), Jeremiah has to deliver God’s final judgment on Israel. Namely that: The Babylonians would invade the country, take the people away as exiles, and leave the land uninhabited and wasted. But – it would be for a limited period of 70 years, after which time God would punish Babylon. We know that this is indeed what happened and that God used the Persians to defeat the Babylonians and, through King Cyrus, the exiles were encouraged to return to Israel. N.B. Passages in the Book of Daniel and other historical sources (clay tablets, letters etc) support this. In other words, we know the prophecy came about. And in Ezra and Nehemiah we see the Jews returning to Jerusalem and rebuilding. Prophecy directed to the surrounding countries (There’s nearly a chapter for each country, but I’ve just selected a few verses) Egypt Read ch. 46v25&26 Judgment and restoration Philistia Read ch. 47v4&5 Judgment and desolation Moab Read ch. 48v45-47 Judgment and restoration Ammon Read ch. 49v5&6 Judgment and restoration Edom Read ch. 49v16,20-22 Judgment and desolation Kedar and Hazor Read ch.49v32&33 Judgment and desolation Elam Read ch.49v37-39 Judgment and restoration Q. Why do you think some countries were judged and restored whilst others were judged and destroyed? Countries and individuals are judged not only for their sin but also for the way that they have treated God’s people, whether they be Israelites (Jews) or Christians. For example, historically, Egypt gave refuge to many an Israelite during times of trouble or famine and God’s judgment on them was limited 14
for this reason. These chapters show us that God is on our side, even when it has been necessary to use other situations or people to chastise us and refine us. All that he does is for our good. And his judgments are perfect. Judgment for Babylon Read chapters 50&51 (50v2-5) The greatest judgment came to the great world power of Babylon. Although it was by God’s hand that they were used to bring his judgment on Israel, they too would ultimately know his judgment with the land of Babylon brought to desolation. Babylon was one of the glories of the ancient world, its walls and mythic hanging gardens listed among the Seven Wonders. Founded about 4,000 years ago, the ancient city was the capital of 10 dynasties in Mesopotamia, considered one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the birthplace of writing and literature. But following years of plunder, neglect and conflict, the Babylon of today scarcely conjures that illustrious history. (CNN news) Why is Babylon so significant? Just as Israel is a symbol for all God’s people, so also Babylon (in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation) is a symbol of all those who oppose God. So, whilst the actual city of Babylon lays in ruins, the evil power behind it continues. Messianic and End-Times Prophecy A new Covenant Jeremiah 31v31-34 Israel and Judah had broken the Old Covenant but are promised a New Covenant through Jesus Christ which will replace the Old Covenant of Moses. It will be one that is not made with a nation but with individuals bringing personal relationship and forgiveness. Much more is said about this by Isaiah chapter 53, and it is of course explained in the New Testament in greater depth in the Book of Hebrews. The Covenant of Grace would replace the Covenant of Law and it would be open to all people from every tribe and nation. Anti-Semitism Jeremiah 29v18 & 44v8 (N.B. Semitism – Semites – Shemites – those descended from Shem, Noah’s son.) Jeremiah prophesied that the Jews would know persecution wherever they went throughout the world. Because (as explained above) the spirit of Babylon has never died, the Jews would always face opposition and hatred. When we think of anti-Semitism most of us think of the Nazis but a glance at the Wikipedia timeline of anti-Semitic acts throughout history, reveals that hundreds of examples of this behaviour have occurred (in all countries, including our own) since Jeremiah gave his prophecy. Jerusalem rebuilt on its ruins Jeremiah 30v18
As with many prophecies this one can be seen to be fulfilled at different times. After the 70 year exile the people returned and rebuilt the Temple and the City walls, but not all of Jerusalem. In fact it laid waste for hundreds of years until Israel was made a sovereign state in 1948. The prophecy will only be complete when Jesus returns as King to reign and rule from Jerusalem. The Jews will return to Israel Jeremiah 23v3 and 31v7-10 Of huge significance is the fact that the return of Jews to Jerusalem from around the world will be a precondition of the Second Coming of Christ. Since 1948 we are already seeing this happening on an ever-increasing scale. TEL AVIV, Israel -- Cultural differences and leaving family behind can make immigrating to Israel difficult. But more and more Jewish Americans are making Israel their permanent home. Seeing Jewish people return to Israel is like watching Bible prophecy unfold before your eyes. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all speak of the Jewish return to the land. It's an exciting day. Immigrants from North America landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport to make Israel their home. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and government officials welcomed the group. "Only think for a moment about your fathers, your grandfathers, your great grandfathers, all those generations of your families who were dreaming and praying next year in Jerusalem and you did it," Sharansky told the new arrivals. (CBN News) (N.B So far, over 3 million have returned to Israel since 1948) The Second Coming of Jesus Jeremiah 23v5-6a Jesus is of David’s line. He alone is righteous, the Branch, God’s outstretched arm. One day he will rule and reign as King in Jerusalem, bringing perfect righteousness and justice. In that day all Israel will believe in him as Messiah and will be saved, spiritually and physically. (Read the book of Zechariah to get a fuller picture of prophecy.) The final battle Jeremiah 30v4-9 Verses 6&7 indicate that this is the end of things as we know them. Some commentators say that the “time of trouble” could be referring to The Tribulation and others say it refers to the Holocaust. Both could be true. Both usher in the end. But Israel and all God’s people are given the promise, “Do not be afraid” (v10) and “I am with you and will save you” (v11). 16
Jeremiah – Summary and Application Lesson 9 How the Book of Jeremiah impacts on us.
Q. In what ways does God show his faithfulness •
To the Israelite nation
The faithfulness of a loving Father is the theme that permeates this book. At the beginning of our studies I said this is a very difficult and depressing book to read, BUT, the more you read it the more you see of God’s heart, and his compassion and faithfulness to mankind. God is faithful in both love and justice. Q. In what ways does God highlight sin •
In the lives of the Israelites and their leaders
In our lives
God is, above all else, a Holy God. He cannot be touched by sin. And yet, he sent his own perfect Son Jesus into this world to live amongst sinners and to carry the sin of the world upon himself when he died on the Cross. He sends people like Jeremiah (prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists) to make us aware of right and wrong. And he has given us his Word to guide and direct us in His ways.
Q. How does God use prophecy in Jeremiah to speak into our lives
Through prophecy God could speak to the nation, offering them the opportunity to repent and be forgiven. Jeremiah was also given prophecy about the future. Today, God uses Spirit-filled Christians to speak into our lives through a personal word, a prophetic word in church, or through a sermon. And increasingly he speaks to people through dreams and visions.
Q. What is the connection between people who speak out God’s truth and persecution •
For Christians in our world today
We know that Jeremiah suffered verbal and physical abuse from Israel’s leaders and that he was thrown into a pit and imprisoned. He would not “shut up” talking about God’s truth when they asked him to. He said the Word of God was “burning” within him – he was constrained to share the prophecies. It is a sad truth that thousands of Christians around the world are suffering for standing up for God’s truth. If we are not being persecuted, is it because we are too quiet?
Q. What do you understand by Spiritual inspiration •
In the Book of Jeremiah
In our own lives
In Jeremiah there are many references to previous Scripture (Deuteronomy), but there are also 150 prophecies which begin with the words, “the Word of the Lord came …” The prophecies were not “made up” or the figment of Jeremiah’s personal feelings. They were a direct revelation from God. They were inspired by God – in other words breathed into him by God. The Holy Spirit in us means that we can also depend on His inspiration in our lives. When we are with someone who needs help or prayer the Holy Spirit provides us with the words we need. Q. How does Jeremiah remind us of Gods power? •
How did it help Jeremiah get things in context?
How can it help us?
Jeremiah looked to Creation to remind himself, and us, of God’s mighty power and it inspired him to say, “There is nothing too hard for the Lord”. He was talking in the context of God’s work and plan for the Israelite nation which was about to be demolished by the Babylonians. God can bring the hardest of people back to himself, even if it requires desperate measures. Q. Jeremiah’s hope was ultimately to be found in his prophecy that God would raise up a Messiah. But we are living in the Last Days – the Messianic Age. What advantage does this give us? We are privileged to look back on history and see things in the light of the Coming of Christ and his revealed Word in our Bible. We see a God who keeps his Covenant when we keep to our side of it by obedience, we see a God who maintains a remnant, we see a Holy God who demands that a price is paid for sin. We see a compassionate loving God who sent his own Son to pay for that sin. Most of all we see Jesus Christ who triumphed over sin and evil in order to bring us into the presence of a Holy God – a God who loves us as he still loves his chosen nation, Israel, a God who is faithful throughout the ages. Praise His Name!!!
Appendix 1 ASSYRIA Exiles dispersed & Others moved in (Samaritans)
Appendix 2 Archaeological proofs: 1. Babylonian chronicle describing the removal of King Jehoiachin in Babylonia
2. Rations list for King Jehoiachin
3. Lachish letters
Clay tablets with writing in ink), written in Hebrew script, from the 7th century BC, reveal important information concerning the last days of Judah.
They were discovered at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) among the ruins of an ancient guardroom outside the Lachish city gate. Most of the letters were dispatches from a Jewish commander named Hoshaiah who was stationed at an outpost north of Lachish, who was responsible for interpreting the signals from Azekah and Lachish. These final communications confirm what the prophet Jeremiah writes in the Bible. In one of the Lachish Letters Hoshaiah writes that the signal of Azekah can no longer be seen, this suggests that this city had fallen to the Babylonian forces. Jeremiah indicates that Azekah and Lachish were two of the last cities to remain before being captured by the Babylonians (Jer. 34:7). JER 34:7 when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the remaining cities of Judah, that is, Lachish and Azekah, for they aloneremained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah. Jeremiah 34:7 (NASB) 21
4. Assyrian Accounts of the Fall of Israel
5. THE CYRUS CYLINDER Describes the edict by King Cyrus to allow the return of exiles to their homeland â&#x20AC;&#x201C; after the 70 years as predicted by Jeremiah.
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