JEREMIAH 1, 2 and 3
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations”. This was the word of the Lord to Jeremiah when he was called by God in the thirteenth year of King Josiah. (Jeremiah 1:5) The phrase “I knew you” means much more than “I was aware of your existence”; it describes a deliberate sovereign choice by God to bring Jeremiah into a covenant relationship with him. The word translated ‘knew’ is also translated ‘chosen’ in Genesis 18:19 and Amos 3:2. God goes on to say that he set Jeremiah apart for his purposes, and he appointed him as a prophet to the nations – all before God had formed him in his mother’s womb.
The second half of verse 5 is a classic example of Hebrew parallel poetry – where meanings, rather than words, are made to ‘rhyme’ – which explains and completes the first half. We learn from verse five that it is God who chooses us, God who determines our roles in live in order to serve his purposes, and God who forms us in womb to bring us into existence; all these decisions were made before Jeremiah existed and probably before the beginning of time. Amazing!
Notice also that God does not give Jeremiah an amazing vision like Isaiah’s (see Isaiah 6) or Ezekiel’s, but simply brings his word to his heart and mind.
Here is some background to the prophetic book of Jeremiah:
o Jeremiah contains 52 chapters of prophecy and history in the longest book in the Old Testament. Written on the eve of Judah being taken into captivity by Babylon, it warns of disaster and offers the nation a last-minute reprieve, one that Judah fails to accept.
o Jeremiah lived from 650 BC until about 600 BC (fifty years), prophesying to Judah during the reigns of five kings, beginning with Josiah. Called by God when aged 21, he was quiet, shy, passionate, and willing to suffer in his obedience to the Lord. He was told by God not to marry, and his own relatives all rejected him. He spoke on one single theme of judgment and was known as the ‘weeping prophet’. Later, after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, he wrote the Book of Lamentations, swiftly switching his style from warning to mourning!
o Jeremiah’s message has two parts: warnings of destruction and promise of restoration. The book is not arranged chronologically but is divided into prophecy and then history (the Fall of Jerusalem). In the middle (Chapters 30-33) is the ‘Book of Consolation’ – looking into the more distant future to Jesus and the New Covenant. The more immediate command from God was not to resist the now-inevitable Babylonian captivity, but to repent and to avoid utter destruction (which the Jews refused to do). Key Verses: 1:10; 3:12, 22. The key word of the whole book: ‘Return’.
Like Moses, Jeremiah (aged 21) says he is not up to the task and far too young! God replies that He will be with him to rescue him – so don’t be afraid – and He then puts his words into Jeremiah’s mouth. He proceeds to issue the prophet with his ‘job description’! The rest of the chapter contains visions and warnings to encourage Jeremiah’s obedience. If you don’t think the God has a sense of humour, look at 1:11-12: God makes a pun! (This scripture clearly justifies every painful attempt at humour that I have ever spoken!). The Hebrew word for ‘Almond Tree’ sounds like the word for ‘Watching’.
In Chapter 2, God compares his people to the young bride of a madly-in-love bridegroom, represented by Him. He speaks of early love and devotion on both sides. Later in the chapter, he is angry and distraught that his bride has become a prostitute, offering herself to false, rival gods instead. “Has a nation ever changed its gods?”, the Lord asks rhetorically; ‘No’ is the expected answer! Have you noticed how, in our world today, the ungodly societies are very faithful and very constant towards their false religions and their false gods? Their people don’t seem to get bored or restless or tempted to change religion – they just follow the tedious, repetitive ritualistic formulas of their forefathers. Their young people never seem to rebel or deliberately choose a different faith to their parents. Why? Because the forces of darkness leave these people alone, since they are already walking in darkness; it is only Christians who are tempted to become dissatisfied with their faith; they are in the ‘firing line’ of the forces of evil. Only the power of the Holy Spirit restrains this corrosive impulse.
Further into Chapter 2, God compares allegiance to one’s God (or god) as a need for obtaining water in the desert: the people have forsaken the spring of living water (the Lord) and dug cisterns of their own (their false gods / idols) that don’t even work. Later on, they choose to drink water from the Nile (Egyptian gods) or the Euphrates (Assyrian or Babylonian gods), rather than drink from the wonderful ‘spring’ that he already been given them.
Finally, in Chapter 3, the Lord describes how he has divorced faithless Israel and faithless Judah on the basis of their ‘adulteries’ with the Canaanite gods and idols. There is also implicit teaching that ‘divorce’ is permitted in the case of adultery, followed by remarriage; this is backed up with the words of Jesus in the New Testament – in Matthew 6 and Matthew 19. Furthermore, according to God’s treatment of Judah and Israel, it would seem to be forbidden for a man to divorce his wife, marry another, and then attempt to divorce her and return to the first wife. (Vice versa with husbands, of course.)
Israel and Judah (at different times) have finally ‘blown it and God is essentially promising to begin again with a remnant out of the nation who will be faithful to him, and around whom he will build a new nation. This is a Messianic passage of prophecy and is more likely to be referring to the new Bride – the church.