MBS123 The Call of Jeremiah

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MBS123

THE CALL OF JEREMIAH

By Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION—JEREMIAH 1:1–3

II. THE CALL OF JEREMIAH—JEREMIAH 1:4–10

A. The Omniscience of God—Jeremiah 1:4–5

1. Before Jeremiah’s Conception

2. Before Jeremiah’s Birth

3. The Purpose of Jeremiah’s Sanctification

B. Jeremiah’s Objection—Jeremiah 1:6

C. God’s Answer—Jeremiah 1:7–8

D. A Word of Confirmation—Jeremiah 1:9–10

III. THE VISIONS OF CONFIRMATION—JEREMIAH 1:11–16

A. The Vision of the Almond Tree—Jeremiah 1:11–12

B. The Vision of the Boiling Caldron—Jeremiah 1:13–16

IV. THE CHARGE—JEREMIAH 1:17–19

A. The Charge—Jeremiah 1:17

B. The Promise of Security—Jeremiah 1:18–19

CONCLUSION

Now the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.

Jeremiah 1:4–5

The Book of Jeremiah is a lengthy book that can be divided into four basic units.

The focus of our study is the first unit, chapter 1, which contains the introduction and records the call of Jeremiah to his prophetic office.

The second unit, chapters 2–45, is the largest single division, in which there are prophecies concerning Judah and the Jewish people.

The third unit is Jeremiah 46–51, which has prophecies against the Gentile nations.

And the fourth unit is chapter 52, which is a historical account dealing with the fall of Jerusalem and shows how many of the prophecies of Jeremiah were fulfilled.

I. INTRODUCTION—JEREMIAH 1:1–3

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: to whom the word of Jehovah came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.

According to verse 1, this book was written by Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah. He was from the town of Anathoth, which was within the land of Benjamin. According to the Law of Moses, every tribe had to set aside cities for the Levites to live in. Anathoth was a Levitical city of the Tribe of Benjamin. This does not mean that Jeremiah was a Benjaminite. Since he was a priest, he had to be a Levite.

The Tribe of Levi was not given its own territory in the Land. Instead, the other tribes were told to lay aside certain cities within their tribal territory for the Levites. These Levitical cities within each tribal territory became the home of the Levites, where they became the spiritual teachers of Israel. It was not possible in those days for everyone to have a copy of the Scriptures and the Tribe of Levi was given the responsibility of maintaining the text by making new copies as old ones wore out, and the responsibility of teaching the content of Scripture to the other eleven tribes of Israel. Among the Levitical cities of the Tribe of Benjamin was the town of Anathoth, the home of Jeremiah.

In verse 2, the word of Jehovah came [to Jeremiah] in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. Josiah was the last of the “good kings” of Jerusalem. After his untimely death in battle, all the kings who followed him were wicked men that destined the city to its final destruction.

God did not choose to call Jeremiah in the days of a wicked king; rather, He called him in the days of a good king, a king who was trying to bring the country back to God and to obey the laws of God. Although Josiah was a good king, a king who did right in the eyes of the Lord, nevertheless, because of the sins of Manassah, the nation had already reached “the point of no return.” Judah was already destined for destruction in spite of the efforts of good king Josiah. But because he was a good king, it meant that the destruction would not come in his day. Yet in his day, Jeremiah was called to the prophetic office and given a message that would have ramifications for the whole nation for a very, very long time.

While Jeremiah began his prophecies in the thirteenth year of Josiah, he did not stop with Josiah’s rule but continued through all the days of the following kings according to verse 3: in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, [up until] the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah. Jehoiakim was a king who followed Josiah. He was later deposed and suffered an untimely death. Then Zedekiah was appointed king, and he was the last king of Judah. Jeremiah continued to prophesy throughout the eleven years of Zedekiah’s kingship. Then the kingdom of Judah came to an end. This does not mean that Jeremiah ceased to prophesy with the eleventh year of Zedekiah, for he continued prophesying well beyond that year, because he also prophesied in the days of Gedaliah, the first governor, following Zedekiah. He also prophesied when they went down to Egypt. But the eleventh year of Zedekiah saw the fall of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

II. THE CALL OF JEREMIAH—JEREMIAH 1:4–10

A. The Omniscience of God—Jeremiah 1:4–5

Now the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you; I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations.

The word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah in verse 4, and Jeremiah was chosen in verse 5. Verse 5 makes three statements concerning the call of Jeremiah.

1. Before Jeremiah’s Conception

First, God told Jeremiah: before I formed you in the belly I knew you. This means that even before Jeremiah’s conception, God knew him. How could God know Jeremiah even before he was conceived? God knew him because of His omniscience. Since God knows everything past, present, and future, God can have this kind of prior knowledge. However, the Hebrew word for “knowing” here means more than just prior knowledge. There are two Hebrew words for “knowing.” One means “to know by head knowledge” and the other word means “to know by experience.” The latter Hebrew word is used here. God knew Jeremiah by experience. Even before Jeremiah was conceived in his mother’s womb, God, in His omniscience, already knew Jeremiah and made an intimate commitment to Jeremiah to call him to this prophetic office and to make him the promises in this chapter.

This one statement has implications on abortion. Even before Jeremiah was conceived, he was already viewed as a real person by God. Suppose Jeremiah’s mother had chosen to have him aborted, what would that have done to God’s divine plan and design? Of course, no one can thwart God’s purpose, but the implications that this statement has to abortion are staggering. Jeremiah was already viewed as a person by God before he was even conceived in the womb.

2. Before Jeremiah’s Birth

Then verse 5 states: before you came forth out of the womb I sanctified you. The first statement pointed out that God knew Jeremiah before he was even conceived. This second statement points out that once he was conceived, but before he came out of the womb, God sanctified him. “To sanctify” means “to set apart.” God had set Jeremiah apart to be a prophet prior to birth. So Jeremiah, while he was still a fetus in the womb, was set apart by God for this prophetic office. This statement, like the first one, has negative implications against abortion and that is why many Bible teachers are thoroughly convinced that abortion is murder. So before he was conceived, God knew him, and while he was a fetus in the womb, God had sanctified him for the office of being a prophet and both statements are strong implications against abortion.

There are other passages that show that God controls fetal development. Job 10:8–12 states: Your hands have framed me and fashioned me. Together round about; yet you do destroy me. Remember, I beseech you, that you have fashioned me as clay; And will you bring me into dust again? Have you not poured me out as milk, And curdled me like cheese? You have clothed me with skin and flesh And knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and lovingkindness; And your visitation has preserved my spirit.

God controls fetal development, and God views that fetus as a person for whom He has a plan.

Psalm 139:14–16 states: I will give thanks unto you; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Wonderful are your works; And that my soul knows right well. My frame was not hidden from you, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes did see mine unformed substance; And in your book they were all written, Even the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was none of them.

The psalmist states that even before he had any living days, when he was still merely a fetus in the womb, God had already ordained his steps and directed his ways. Upon conception, that which is in the womb is already a person from God’s perspective; so abortion is nothing less than murder.

3. The Purpose of Jeremiah’s Sanctification

The third statement in verse 5 is: I have appointed you a prophet unto the nations. This statement explains the purpose of the sanctification of the second statement. He was sanctified to be a prophet unto the nations. The Hebrew word for nations is the word that means “Gentiles,” the Gentile nations. Although most of what Jeremiah will have to say in chapters 2–45 concerns the people of Judah, he will also deal with the Gentile nations in chapters 46–51.

Furthermore, he was appointed. The Hebrew word for appointed means “to be appointed for a specific assignment.” The same word is used in Genesis 1:17 where God appointed the sun and the moon for a specific assignment: the sun to rule by day, and the moon to rule by night. In Genesis 17:5, God appointed Abraham for a specific assignment: to be the head of the Abrahamic Covenant. In Exodus 7:1, God used the same word when He appointed Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. In Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah predicts that the Messiah will be appointed by God for the deliverance of Israel and to be the light to the Gentiles. So when God tells Jeremiah that he was appointed, he was not merely appointed to an office, he was appointed for a specific assignment: to be a prophet.

This is very similar to Paul’s own appointment, of which he writes in Galatians 1:15: But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace.

Paul states that from the time that he was in the womb of his mother, God had appointed him to a special calling: to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

B. Jeremiah’s Objection—Jeremiah 1:6

Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I know not how to speak; for I am a child.

Jeremiah’s objection is: Ah, Lord Jehovah! In Hebrew it literally reads, Ah! It is an exclamation of lament. He did not want to be a prophet, and his call to be a prophet made him want to lament. His excuse was: I know not how to speak. The word know means “to know by experience,” he was not experienced in public speaking. The reason he was not experienced in public speaking was: for I am a child. This word does not necessarily refer to one who is merely a little child. The Hebrew word is naar and is used in Exodus 33:11 of someone as old as forty-five. Basically, the word is not child in the sense of age, but rather a child in the sense of experience. This is Jeremiah’s point: he is inexperienced in public speaking.

C. God’s Answer—Jeremiah 1:7–8

But Jehovah said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send you you shall go, and whatsoever I shall command you you shall speak. Be not afraid because of them; for I am with you to deliver you, says Jehovah.

God’s answer was threefold. First, was the negation of Jeremiah’s objection in verse 7a: Say not, I am a child.

Secondly in verse 7b, God spelled out the commission, which had two points: he is to go to whomsoever God sends him; and to speak whatsoever God commands. In other words, experience is not necessary, since he is only to repeat what God says. So Jeremiah’s commission is simple: to go to whomever God will send him and to speak whatever God will tell him to speak.

In verse 8, the third point in God’s answer is to make Jeremiah a promise that is to be the basis of his security. Jeremiah is not to be afraid because of them. He is not to be afraid of those to whom he is being sent because God says: I am with you to deliver you. God made Jeremiah a promise that He did not promise to every prophet. He is promising Jeremiah that he will be protected, and his life is going to be spared. Jeremiah’s enemies will cause him a great amount of suffering: physical harm, mental harm, emotional harm, and spiritual harm. But they will not be able to take his life, though they try on more than one occasion.

D. A Word of Confirmation—Jeremiah 1:9–10

Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in your mouth: see, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.

In verse 9, the Word of God was then put into the mouth of Jeremiah. By touching the mouth of Jeremiah, God signified that the words that the prophet speaks would be the actual words of God, and therefore he is merely repeating that which he has been told to say.

This is similar to Isaiah’s experience when Isaiah was called to his prophetic office in Isaiah 6:6–7: Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin forgiven.

The mouths of both Isaiah and Jeremiah were touched, though for a slightly different purpose. But both were involved in the call to the prophetic office. The touching of the mouth of Isaiah had to do with the removal of Isaiah’s sins and iniquities. Isaiah wanted to be a prophet. In verse 8 of this passage, when the question was raised in Heaven: Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Isaiah immediately responded: Here I am, send me. Isaiah did not react against his prophetic calling. But Jeremiah did react against his calling, so God touched the mouth of Jeremiah for a different reason than Isaiah’s. But the context is similar in that in both cases; it was related to their prophetic calling. For Jeremiah, it meant that God was putting His words into the mouth of the prophet, and the words he will speak are the words of God.

Then in verse 10, there is a declaration that the prophet has been placed in prophetic authority over nations and kingdoms. This authority, given to Jeremiah, is not political authority nor royal authority, and not even religious authority in the sense that he will be ruling religiously over these nations. It is a spiritual authority; specifically, prophetic authority. This prophet has been placed in prophetic authority over the nations and over the kingdoms, and he is to have a twofold prophetic declaration over these nations. There will be a negative message of destruction and a positive message of restoration. The negative side of Jeremiah’s message, the message of destruction, is characterized by four key words: to pluck up and to break down and to destroy and to overthrow. The positive side to Jeremiah’s message, a message of restoration characterized, is by two descriptions: to build and to plant. In discussing the negative side, the message of destruction, there were four descriptive terms, but when He speaks of the positive side, there are only two descriptive terms.

This sets the tone for the book because the major portion of Jeremiah’s message is on the negative side. Both of these aspects are true of both Jews and Gentiles. Jeremiah did not write his book in chronological order, he chose to write his book topically. The prophesies about Judah in chapters 2–45 mention both destruction and restoration. In chapters 46–51, he deals with the Gentile nations, and he deals with destruction and restoration. But Jeremiah majors on destruction and minors on restoration.

III. THE VISIONS OF CONFIRMATION—JEREMIAH 1:11–16

Because Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet, God gave him two visions of confirmation.

A. The Vision of the Almond Tree—Jeremiah 1:11–12

Moreover the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what see you? And I said, I see a rod of an almond-tree. Then said Jehovah unto me, You have well seen: for I watch over my word to perform it.

The vision of the almond-tree is similar to the experience that Amos had in Amos 8:1–3, but for a different purpose. In these two verses, there is a play upon a Hebrew word which is impossible to translate into English with the intent that the author had. This is one of those places where something is lost in translation, so the English does not make sense. God asked Jeremiah: Jeremiah, what see you? Jeremiah answered that he saw an almond-tree. God’s response is: you have well seen: for I watch over my word to perform it. In English there is no connection between the words almond and watch. In Hebrew there is such a connection because the Hebrew word for almond and the Hebrew word for watch have the same root, and they sound almost the same. The only difference is a slight vowel pattern shift.

Verse 11 is the actual vision: What see you? Jeremiah saw a rod of an almond-tree. The Hebrew word for “almond” is shakeid from the Hebrew root shakad, which means, “to be aware,” “to be watchful,” “to be alert.” In Psalm 127:1, it is translated as the watchman. The word shakeid denotes the almond. In the Land of Israel, the almond is the first shrub to awaken from winter. It is the first to flower, and the pink flowers come out before the leaves unfold. They come out as early as January, much earlier than most other things that flower in the Land of Israel. Fruit begins to appear as early as March. So it is like a watchman who announces the coming of spring.

The application is in verse 12. The Hebrew word for “watching” or “to watch” is very similar: shokeid. So shakeid with an “a” means “almond,” shokeid with an “o” means “to watch.” But the root is the same for both the almond and the watcher. In Hebrew it is a play on words which is missed in the English. The point of this play on words is that God watches over His Word to perform it. This is a special promise to Jeremiah that whatever he prophesies, God will make sure that it will be fulfilled.

Jeremiah, true to the prophetic calling, gave two types of prophecies: near prophecies and far prophecies. His near prophecies were fulfilled after a wait of forty years, and he was still living to see the truth of those prophecies. His far prophecies await fulfillment. Some were fulfilled after his death, such as the return from the Babylonian captivity. Others still await fulfillment, such as those of the final restoration of Israel.

B. The Vision of the Boiling Caldron—Jeremiah 1:13–16

The vision itself is in verse 13: And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, What see you? And I said, I see a boiling caldron; and the face thereof is from the north.

What he sees next is that of a boiling, seething caldron. The Hebrew word for caldron is the word sir, meaning “a large pot for boiling pottage,” like the one Jacob used. It is what the sons of the prophets used to cook food in 2 Kings 4:38–41. In Ezekiel 24:3–14, Ezekiel used the caldron in a parabolic way. In this vision, Jeremiah sees a boiling [seething] caldron; and the face [of it] is from the north. In other words, it was coming from the north, tipping southward. It was tipped toward the south, and the contents of the boiling caldron would, therefore, flow from north to south.

The application of the second vision is in verses 14–16: Then Jehovah said unto me, Out of the north evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, says Jehovah; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, in that they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.

The point of verse 14 is that judgment will come against Judah from the north, though at this point no specific nation is named. In fact, this prophecy was fulfilled by the Babylonian conquest, but Babylon will not be mentioned until much later in the book. The vision represents the Babylonian invasion of the Land that will come from the north.

In verse 15, Jerusalem will fall to the invasion from the north. The very fact that the various invading leaders can set up their thrones at the gates of Jerusalem shows that Jerusalem has fallen. This will also be true, he points out, of other cities of Judah. Jeremiah received this call during the reign of a good king, King Josiah, who was spreading the word of the Lord and extending his kingdom almost to what it had been in Solomon’s day. Although Judah seemed to be getting back to a height of power, Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah were destined for destruction.

Then God spelled out the cause of the judgment in verse 16. God said: I will utter my judgments. This is a unique expression found only in Jeremiah. It is also used in Jeremiah 4:12. The cause of this judgment is their wickedness. Their wickedness is evidenced in three ways: first: they have forsaken [Jehovah]; secondly, [they] have burned incense unto other gods; and thirdly, [they] worshipped the works of their own hands. In other words, they were guilty of gross idolatry. In these three ways, they have shown their wickedness, and that is the cause of the judgment. When the judgment comes, it is going to come from the north toward the south. This is the way the Babylonians invaded the Land.

IV. THE CHARGE—JEREMIAH 1:17–19

A. The Charge—Jeremiah 1:17

You therefore gird up your loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command you: be not dismayed at them, lest I dismay you before them.

After receiving two visions of confirmation, he is now given his charge. The point of verse 17 is, “Go and be a prophet.” “Therefore” is always a key word in biblical interpretation. Therefore, in light of the call in verses 4–10; therefore, in light of the confirmations in verses 11–16, “Go and be a prophet; fulfill the commission.”

The commission is spelled out in specific terms. First: gird up your loins, “Get dressed for this occasion because you are going to fulfill this office.” Secondly: arise, speak unto them all that I command you. He is told to fulfill the speaking. The pronoun them refers to Judah and the nations, the two groups over which he is to exercise prophetic authority. Jeremiah is to obey God, be a prophet, and fulfill the commission.

The basis of Jeremiah’s obedience is twofold. First, he is not to be dismayed at them. In light of the promise God made to him in verse 8 and will make to him in verses 18–19, he is not to be dismayed at them. The fact that he does not have to fear his enemies is a good basis for obedience. Secondly, God declares that if Jeremiah disobeys, God will dismay him before them. Jeremiah has this security: if he will obey God and be a prophet, he will be victorious before his enemies. They will never be able to kill him; he will be able to see his prophecies fulfilled and so will they. But if he disobeys or shrinks from his prophetic calling, then he will indeed be dismayed before his enemies.

B. The Promise of Security—Jeremiah 1:18–19

For, behold, I have made you this day a fortified 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 you; but they shall not prevail against you: for I am with you, says Jehovah, to deliver you.

Then God once again promised Jeremiah security in verses 18–19. This promise of security contains three statements. First in verse 18a, Jeremiah will be like a well-protected city, and this is pictured with three descriptive terms. First, Jeremiah will be like a well-fortified city with towers and soldiers on those towers, well-armed and ready to defend. Secondly, he will be like an iron pillar, a pillar that holds the wall and the gates together. Thirdly, he will be like brazen walls, like city walls not made of wood or stone but made of brass, and that much more impregnable.

Second in verse 18b, God spelled out who the attacking enemy will be: the whole land. This will include: the kings of Judah, the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people of the land. Insofar as the kings of Judah are concerned, Josiah never attacked Jeremiah because Josiah was a good king. But the kings who followed him did attack Jeremiah. These included Jehoiahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. One example of kings attacking Jeremiah is in Jeremiah 36:26. The second category of people who will attack Jeremiah, the fortified city, is the princes. These were governmental officials, and they especially attacked Jeremiah in the days of the last king, King Zedekiah (Jer. 38:28). The third category of people attacking Jeremiah are the priests. The fellow priests of Jeremiah, those of his own tribe, will attack him as well (Jer. 26:1–24). The fourth category is the people of the land. The general populace will also attack him (Jer. 44:1–30).

Yet Jeremiah will remain a well-fortified city, and in verse 19 the chapter ends with another promise of Jeremiah’s personal deliverance. Jeremiah is told that they shall attack, but they shall not prevail. God lets Jeremiah know that he should not presume that he will have a life that is free of attacks, and throughout the book he is attacked by one section of the population after another. He should expect to be attacked and be physically hurt. But in the end, his attackers shall not prevail to take his life. The reason is that God is with Jeremiah for the purpose of delivering him from any possible death. Later, Jeremiah gave an account of another prophet of his own time, a prophet who also prophesied against the king of Judah but then fled to Egypt. He was extradited from Egypt, brought back to the king of Judah, and the king of Judah killed him. That prophet did not have the promise from God that Jeremiah had. So Jeremiah will not die a martyr’s death.

CONCLUSION

Jeremiah fulfilled his commission, but not always willingly. Sometimes he argued with God and complained to God. At one point he even accused God of being unfair and God had to discipline him. God warned Jeremiah that if he did not repent, God would remove him from his prophetic calling. Jeremiah did indeed repent, and never used those words again.

Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet” for, throughout the book, he weeps, mourns, and is not happy with the prophecies he has to give. He is not joyful over the coming destruction of his own people, his own nation, though he realized its necessity as he cataloged their sins in chapter after chapter.

In Jeremiah 30–33, there was one small respite, and he mentioned that his sleep was sweet to him. In those chapters he dealt with Israel’s restoration. But that was a minority message for Jeremiah and, for the most part, it was sin and judgment.

Not only did he prophesy of these things, he saw many of them as well. Yet Jeremiah fulfilled his prophetic calling. God has a place for all believers. All believers have been given spiritual gifts, and they all have obligations to build up the Body of the Messiah. Some believers will never see persecution and will live quite well, but other believers are going to suffer. It will be mental, physical, and in other ways, but the promise holds: God will be with the believer. Not necessarily for the purpose of delivering the believer from persecution or death, but to provide the believer with sufficient grace to get him through the trial. Let us be willing to suffer and die, if God so wills it, and great is our reward in Heaven.

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS BIBLE STUDY, DR. FRUCHTENBAUM RECOMMENDS:

MBS124 and 125