The Disturbing Commission

Jeremiah 1

I. Historical Background

The book begins with a claim that these words are from Jeremiah himself and that they report the words given to him by the Lord (1, 2). He then gives the times of his reception of words from the Lord.

A. He identifies the kings under whom he served as a prophet:

Josiah [killed at Megiddo [2 Kings 23:29] in an attempt to interfere with Egypt’s initiative against Assyria]; then his sons Jehoahaz, who reigned for only three months, and Jehoiakim appointed by Neco of Egypt. Jehoiakim reigned 11 years and “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” He died before he was to be exiled to Babylon and was replaced by his son Jehoiachin who was deported to Babylon. Jehoiachin was replaced by Zedekiah, his uncle and a son of Josiah.  Zedekiah rebelled, saw his sons executed just before being blinded and was taken in chains to Babylon (See 2 Chronicles 36:12). Thus Jeremiah prophesied during one of the most confusing and tumultuous times in the history of the nation.  

B. Which nations challenged Israel’s independence during the years of Jeremiah?

Assyria, Egypt, Babylon the power of Assyria, who had taken the northern kingdom into captivity and earlier had threatened Jerusalem was diminishing; Egypt for a while held Judah in fief until Babylon broke its power (2 Kings 24:7). 

C. Other prophets were contemporary with Jeremiah. 

1. Zephaniah prophesied during the days of Josiah, early in the time of Jeremiah.. Like Jeremiah, Zephaniah looked to a thorough chastening of the remnant; he combined prophecies of utter destruction (Zeph 1:2-3; 17, 18) with judgmental chastening of certain aspects of the life of Israel (1:3-13). He also proclaimed the promise of a restoration (3:14-20). 

2. Habakkuk – He dealt with the evil of Judah (1:1-4), saw God’s intent to punish by means of the Babylonians, (1:5-11) and was astounded by this apparent moral ambivalence (1:12-17). God assured Habakkuk that in all of his dealings with Judah, he acted with absolute justice. His punishment of Judah by the hands and arms of evil Babylon was the implementation of pure justice. The Lord also would see to it that Babylon received justice for the Holy One of Israel. Seeing even further into the future, Habakkuk learned that and that he would cover the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord (1:14). In the tumult of the nations and the gross insecurities of life, even while rampant injustice operates among men, “the Lord is in his holy temple.”

D. What is the leading theological idea in Jeremiah?

Jeremiah discloses the eternal, immutable, and perfect nature of the covenant according to which God operates among his people. Jeremiah demonstrates the need for further expression of it in a new manifestation. This new revelation of more complete covenantal provisions consummates its natural moral requirement of a genuine heart for God on the one hand and the necessity of forgiveness on the other (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The need for both of these had been gradually unfolded in God’s covenantal dealings with Adam (Genesis 3:21; 4:6), Noah (Genesis 6:5-8; 8:21), Abraham (Genesis 15:18:17-19), Isaac, Jacob , Moses (Deuteronomy 6; 10:12-22; 30:11-20), and David (2 Samuel 7:8-16; cf. Jeremiah 33:14-22). 

E. Who was Jeremiah? 

1. He was son of Hilkiah, the priest, possibly from the family of Abiathar exiled by Solomon (1 Kings 1:7, 19; 2:26, 27) to Anathoth. 

2. Jeremiah began to prophesy in the 13th year of reign of Josiah [ca. 626 B. C.] throughout the time of Judah’s tumultuous conflicts with Egypt and Babylon and finally was taken into Egypt [587] by the party that executed Gedaliah, governor by appointment from Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah continued to preach and prophesy there.

II.  Jeremiah’s Call (1:1-10). 

[Compare Moses (Genesis 3:6, 15), Joshua (Joshua 1:1-9), Gideon (Judges 6:11-22), Samuel (1 Samuel 3), David (1 Samuel 16:6-13), Elisha (1 Kings 17:1-7; 18:1), and Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-13)].

A.   Delineation of the times of his prophetic work.  He prophesied during the days of Josiah, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah, during the invasion of Babylon, and in Egypt during his exile.

B.  God’s declaration of his eternal purpose (4, 5).

This is an appointment for service. Such an appointment is not always for salvation, but in the case of Jeremiah, as in Paul’s, they were simultaneous and effectual. In defending his apostleship in the face of false teachers, Paul probably had in mind Jeremiah’s call when he wrote, “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, etc.” (Galatians 1:15). In this passage we see both the bestowal of saving grace and the revelation of truth about Christ. Paul’s vocation included his eternal safety in Christ and his temporal witness and suffering for Christ. In like manner, Jeremiah’s call was not dependent on his will but on God’s good pleasure: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” God knows [sets his heart upon] his elect before the foundation of the world; he consecrates them (cf. Galatians 1:15) and appoints them to particular service. God consecrated him—that is, set him apart in granting the necessary gifts of prophetic utterance. He also appointed him for the specific task of prophesying to the nations. He prophesied concerning Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Babylon, and Egypt.

C. Jeremiah’s Objection (6)

He contended that his youth disqualified him from knowing what to say. He assumed that experience would make him more qualified to understand and speak wisely. His call was extraordinary, however, and did not necessitate the experience and training normally set forth in the New Testament as necessary for gospel ministry. He would speak by direct revelation (“Whatever I command you, you shall speak.”). His youth meant that he would be able to have several decades of continuous witness and would see his prophecies come to pass.  

D. God’s response (8). 

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” The promise to deliver meant that he would experience opposition and even attempts on his life and that God would sustain him even in those times to continue his witness against the refusal of Israel’s king and [false] prophets to believe the Word of God. When Paul faced opposition from the Jewish leaders of the synagogue at Corinth, intriguingly similar to the opposition feared by Jeremiah, God said to him, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent, for I am with you and no one will attack you to hurt you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10).

III. God’s Commission  9, 10

A. God’s initiative in putting his words in Jeremiah’s mouth (9)  cf. Isaiah 6:6

We must never doubt that God can do this, and often has done it. It was part of the promise that Christ gave to his disciples [Matthew 10:19] and what Paul was confident God had done through his own preaching (Galatians 1:11, 12). 

B. God points to six actions to be accomplished by the word of God; The six are distributed into two couplets of destruction and one couplet of reconstruction.

1. Jeremiah’s words will announce to the nations the need for elimination of what exists and the establishment of something new. These messages are in preparation for the announcement of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31). Jeremiah will pluck up and break down by his message of sin and hypocrisy. He will destroy and overthrow by his words of the certainty of coming judgment. Then he will build and plant by the prophecies of grace and renewal.  An example of how these polarities are stated we find in 32:24: “As I have brought calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good I have promised.”

2. This dynamic is consistent with the Law/Gospel rubric in the Bible as well as the method of sanctification. We need to see ourselves as shattered and as dead by sin but made alive and redeemed only by the grace of Christ whose effectual work is applied by the effectual work of the Spirit. 

      • This relation is clearly argued in Romans 3:20,21: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed … through faith in Jesus Christ.” Also see Romans 7:7-9 for the killing effects of the law followed by the affirmation, in 8:1,4, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, … that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Paul gives a quick summary in Galatians 2:19, “For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.” The gospel minister follows the call of Jeremiah: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). 
      • The Christian life consists of a constant putting off the old man and its actions and putting on the new man. It means correcting the old mind captive to Satan, this world, and the flesh and putting on a new mind reclaiming the divine image of true knowledge and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9). Our situation truly is desperate, and the destructive powers of the word will always accompany those truths that build up.  We “lay aside every weight” as we “look to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1f). We resist conformity while we seek transformation (Romans 12:2).
      • Both volition and righteousness are set to this pattern by Scripture. The volition is thoroughly dominated by corruption until given spiritual life by the Spirit. Calvin wrote, “Man is not possessed of free will for good works, unless is assisted by grace, and that special grace which is bestowed on the elect alone in regeneration” (Institutes 2:11:6). Man’s unrighteousness has him under condemnation until God clothes him in the righteousness, and consequently the merits, of Christ. Again, as Calvin wrote, “He will be justified by faith, who, being excluded from the righteousness of works, apprehends by faith the righteousness of Christ, invested in which, he appears, in the sight of God, not as a sinner, but as a righteous man” (Institutes 3:11:2).
      • Jeremiah’s commission follows the pattern of the operation of revealed truth: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

IV. Two Visions

A. God gives Jeremiah a similphonic symbol, an almond rod.

The word for almond sounds like the word for watching. God is watching over his word –He will bring to pass all that he has told Judah through the prophets. God’s predictions are not based merely on his omniscience concerning the tendencies of human behavior, but on his all wise decree concerning the governing of the world for his glory. He watches over his word to bring it to pass (Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 42:5-9; 43:10-13; 44:6-8; 45:22). “And new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9b). 

B. The Boiling Pot

The nations [specifically Babylon] that invade and repress Judah will be a manifestation of God’s boiling anger against Judah. Biblical revelation shows us that some judgment is for utter destruction in such cases as Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:23-25) or Nineveh (Nahum 1:14, 15; 2:13; 3:15, 17). Other judgment is not for utter destruction but to purify the godly, purge from them the ungodly, and give clarity both to God’s purpose and the holiness of his character. See verse 16 “I will declare my judgments against them for all their evil in forsaking me.” These kinds of judgments will be prominent as Jeremiah reveals God’s anger and his mercy in the succeeding chapters of Jeremiah. See 12:15, “And it will come about that after I have uprooted them, I will again have compassion on them;” also 32:42, “Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them.”

V. God’s promise of strength—17-19

A. God gives a command and a threat (17).

God’s commands always arise from his righteousness and are designed to manifest his glory. Disobedience or failure to act necessarily involves commensurate punishment. “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16). Jeremiah is commanded to speak to them all that he reveals; he is not to be dismayed or God will dismay him before them. That the message of God is offensive to every stuck-up generation should not make us dilute the full truth of both judgment and the sinner’s absolute dependence on divine mercy and Christ’s righteousness for salvation. This is Jeremiah’s call not to be ashamed of the gospel (Cf. Romans 1:16, 17; Philippians 1:19, 20). 

B. A promise of strength (18). 

He will speak to every level of society and will be a fortified city against them:  Kings, officials, priests, and people must hear this message and all of them, even his own family will ridicule him, oppose him, seek to silence him, and plot even murder against him (cf. Isaiah 6:8-13). 

C. A promise of strong but futile opposition (19); this must be put in the context of the Bible’s relentless presentation of the certainty of the perishing of this age and the infinite superiority and incorruptibility of the eternal inheritance.

See Jesus’ words in Luke 10:17-20, Paul in 2 Timothy 4:18 and Peter in 1 Peter 1:3-7, At times Jeremiah felt that his adversaries had the upper hand (Jeremiah 36, 38, 43). For a striking example of Jeremiah’s triumph through the Word see Jeremiah 28:5-17. We can hear the words of Jesus in the future, “And, Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

VI.  Biblical connections and Personal Exhortation

A. Israel is an example of the biblical truth of total depravity: 

Andrew Fuller points to Israel as a clear demonstration of the universal truth of total depravity.  “I consider this nation as designed of God to afford a specimen of human nature.  The Divine Being singled them out, crowned them with goodness, strengthened them with the tenderest encouragements, awed them with the most tremendous threatenings, wrought his wonderful works before their eyes, and inspired his servants to give us a faithful history of their character. . . . Excepting the conduct of a few godly people among them, which, being the effect of Divine grace, argues nothing against the doctrine in question, it is a series of rebellion and continued departures from the living God.” [Fuller Works, 2:663]. 

B. Jeremiah’s ministry will illustrate the necessity of an omnipotent internal operation of the Spirit for the production of an obedient heart. Jeremiah’s clarity, passion, compassion and solemnity in declaring what he knew God had said convinced none to repent, but he was met only with anger and resistance. His own experience demonstrated the mercies of the new covenant (See Jeremiah 32:33, 36-42). 

C. Jeremiah’s commission illustrates the effectual power of God’s will as expressed through his revealed word (cf. Hebrews 4:12, 13; James 1:17, 18; 1 Peter 1:23-25).

“The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; … Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth; … having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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