Sunday, April 15, 2012

We are starting a new study this week. We will study the book of Jeremiah the prophet. It might be a bit long, but it should be rewarding.

Jeremiah 1:1-9

The Autobiography

Jeremiah served as God’s prophet to Jerusalem in its last days before defeat by Babylon and exile. The first nine verses of the book serve as an introduction to Jeremiah’s life. It is a short autobiography. What does it tell us?

First, it tells us that Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah. It shows us he was a real person with a lineage know to his original readers. He was not a fictional character.

Second, Jeremiah was a priest. As a priest, he knew the law of the covenant. He taught it and participated in leading worship.

Third, Jeremiah lived in Anathoth. This little town was located about three miles north of Jerusalem. Joshua allotted the land in the area to the tribe of Benjamin, but he allotted the town to the priests, the descendants of Aaron. (Joshua 21:18) Aaron was Moses’ brother and the first high priest.

The first three verses frame the time period of Jeremiah’s ministry. Verses 2 and 3 tell us Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah.

Verse 2 says Jeremiah began to receive the word of the Lord in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. We can use that to date his ministry. Josiah began to reign in 640. Therefore, Jeremiah became a prophet in 627, which about the same time Josiah began his reforms. Jeremiah’s preaching was not popular with the people or the priests, but Josiah probably protected him. They both wanted to return Judah to faithful observance of the covenant with God.

Josiah was killed in battle with the Egyptians when he tried to cut them off from aiding the Assyrians against the Babylonians. Josiah was the last faithful king of Judah. His successor Jehoiakim was not faithful to the covenant and led Judah to further decline. It is no surprise then that Jehoiakim hated Jeremiah and his preaching.

Jehoiakim ruled from 609 to 598. He resisted Babylon and turned to Egypt for help. Babylon invaded in 605 and took captives into Exile, including Daniel and his friends. (Daniel 1:1-2) They invaded again in 597 and took more captives, including Ezekiel.

Zedekiah succeeded Jehoiakim. Babylon attacked again, destroyed Jerusalem and took all but the poorest into exile. Jeremiah stayed with the exiles.

Under the governor, some other Jews revolted and had to flee to Egypt for safety. They took Jeremiah with them against his will. It is the last we hear of him in the book.

The Style of the Book

The book is somewhat complicated. It contains several types of literature including autobiography, poetry, written records of oral sermons, written sermons, history, messages to individuals and condemnations of foreign nations.

To complicate matters further, the book is not arranged in chronological order. Likely the writings were composed at various times in Jeremiah’s ministry, collected and put in this form. The original audience was likely the Jews in exile. Remember Daniel referred to reading it to know the time of the end of the exile. (Daniel 9:2) Those Jews would know their history well enough to understand when each part was written.

Jeremiah is very theological. He presents God as sovereign, promise\covenant keeping and gracious to the repentant. He presents man as sinful, both Jew and Gentile. He shows God will judge sin. He shows that man’s sinful heart will not and cannot obey God. Therefore, God will bring a new covenant in which he will change the hearts of men and women.

There are other themes, but we will talk about them when we come to them.

Having introduced himself and the time period in which he served, Jeremiah discussed his call. This is found in verses 4 through 10.

The first thing that we learn, and that Jeremiah learned, is that God chose Jeremiah to be his prophet before Jeremiah was conceived and born. The Lord told him “before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. (5) The Sovereign Lord decrees what will happen in the future. He knows it because he decrees it.

In Isaiah 46:9-10, the Lord said “I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying my counsel will stand and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

Yet, God did not just know about Jeremiah. He knew Jeremiah. Before the time he did it, God purposed that Jeremiah would be born, would serve him as a prophet and be consecrated to him. God used three different words to make his point here: knew, consecrated and appointed.

I believe the word “knew” here means not just knew of, but, in effect, chose. God chose or purposed that Jeremiah would be his prophet before Jeremiah was born. He emphasized that by saying he appointed him. He also consecrated him, or set him aside to be a prophet. All of this was done by God in his will and for his purpose before Jeremiah had a will.

Jesus said he was consecrated and sent. (John 10:36)

It reminds me of Paul’s calling. Paul said God “set me apart before I was born” in Galatians 1:15. And of course Paul referred to God’s choosing of all believers in this fashion: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” Ephesians 1:4. In Romans 8:29 he said “for those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”. God did not make anything up as he went along. He had a purpose to accomplish before he ever made the world and knew how he wanted to do it.
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