Bible Reading Notes—Step 6: Week 46

The prophet Jeremiah lived in the very last days of the kingdom of Judah. He was the son of a priest, possibly even the High Priest (2 Chronicles 34:8), and his brother may have been an ambassador to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:3). His work as a prophet began in the days of King Josiah, a king who put in place many much-needed religious reforms. His prophecies continued through the reigns of the next four kings, until finally his prophecies were fulfilled and Jerusalem fell to the invading Babylonian army. If you have a copy of the Bible Planner booklet, there is a chart at the back giving a suggested time-line for the kings and prophets – you can send for this booklet free using any of the email addresses on this site.

Sunday – Jeremiah 1

This first chapter records how God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, when he was still only young. Verses 7 to 9 explains the work of a prophet; he was to speak exactly what God commanded him – God put the words into his mouth (see 2 Peter 1:21). Later in the book, when faced with persecution from the rulers and his relatives, Jeremiah tries to stop prophesying, but finds he cannot – he is compelled to speak God’s words (Jeremiah 20:9). This is the force behind the words we read so often throughout the prophets, “the word of the LORD came to …” and “thus says the LORD…”
The message Jeremiah has to deliver is an uncomfortable one. Because of their wickedness and idolatry, Israel is to be punished (v16). The land is to be invaded from the north (see also 4:6 and 6:1), and foreign rulers will come and set their thrones in Jerusalem (v 15). This message was not popular with the leaders in Jerusalem. God warns Jeremiah that he will need to be strong – like iron and brass – to withstand the opposition he will face (v18). As a visual aid, Jeremiah sees the branch of an almond tree (v11). There is an interesting play on words, for in the original Hebrew language in which Jeremiah prophesied, the word ‘almond’ is the same for ‘ready’ or ‘hasten’ in verse 12, “I am ready to perform my word”.

Monday – Jeremiah 17

In the last section of this chapter, God reminds the people of the law of the Sabbath day, that it was to be a day of rest and not work. If they obeyed this law then they would be blessed, but if they insisted on ignoring God’s commands, then he would bring destruction on them. This clearly is not the only law that the people were disobeying; verses 2 and 3 for example describes their idolatry. Throughout Jeremiah, the prophet declares that the people “follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (e.g. 3:17, 7:24, 9:14, 11:8, 13:10, 16:12, 18:12). Verse 1 describes their sin as being engraved within their hearts.
The heart is where the basic problem of mankind lies. As verse 9 says, “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”. The words of Jesus agree with this: “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:21-23). We have a great tendency to deceive ourselves, to try to make excuses for following our own selfish desires rather than what God wants. We are no different today than the people of Jeremiah’s day. The solution: Psalm 119:11, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you”.

Tuesday – Jeremiah 30

Jeremiah’s message from God was not just a message of doom and destruction. God was certainly going to punish Israel by sending the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and take the people captive. In this chapter, however, there is a message of hope. Israel would not be fully destroyed, like some of the other countries that the Babylonians conquered at that time. Eventually God would cause them to return from captivity (verses 10-11, 18-22), and Jerusalem would be built once again. This is a remarkable prophecy, a prophecy that was understood by the prophet Daniel who prayed for its fulfilment (Daniel 9:2,3). The fulfilment came after seventy years of captivity, when the new conqueror of Babylon, Cyrus king of Persia, made a decree that all captives should return to their homeland. This fulfilment of Bible prophecy is not only documented in scripture itself (e.g. Ezra 1:1-4) but also evidenced by a cylinder engraved with Cyrus’ decree which was found in Babylon and today can be seen in the British Museum.

Wednesday – Jeremiah 31

This chapter continues the prophecy of Israel’s return to their own land. What makes this section of Jeremiah so exciting to Bible students is that the scope of this prophecy goes well beyond the time of the Babylonian captivity. God declares his promise to look after the nation of Israel for ever – they will never cease to be a nation, they will never be cast off by God (Romans 11:1), just as the laws governing the sun, moon, the stars and the sea cannot be broken (verses 35-37). The twentieth century saw yet a further fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy. After nearly two thousand years during which the Jews were scattered into every country of the world, God’s word was fulfilled and they were regathered back to their own land (verse 10, 27-28). Jeremiah 31 is quoted extensively in Hebrews 8:8-12, which explains that following the restoration of the Jews to the land they will ultimately turn back to God who will make a new covenant with them, the covenant established through Christ’s death and resurrection.
We have all witnessed the fulfilment of prophecy in the return of the Jews to the land of Israel. We should now pray for the fulfilment of the remaining section of the prophecy, when God will once again take them for his people at the return of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom of God.

Thursday – Jeremiah 33

The prophecy of the return of the Jews to the land of Israel continues, with further added detail. They are to have a king, sitting on David’s throne, a man who will fulfil the promises made to king David so long before (1 Chronicles 17:11-14) and repeated to Mary in the New Testament by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:30-33). Never since the days of Jeremiah and the Babylonian captivity has Israel had its own Jewish king (Ezekiel 21:25-27). Jesus was described as the ‘King of the Jews’ (e.g. Matthew 2:2; 27:11,9,37) and we await his return to the Earth when he will reign for ever in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (compare also verse 15 with Jeremiah 23:5-8).
There is an interesting description in verse 4 of this chapter, describing how houses were pulled down to fortify the walls of Jerusalem against the Babylonian siege. There is a section of this wall which has been excavated in modern day Jerusalem, called the ‘Broad Wall’, where these houses can be clearly seen.

Friday – Jeremiah 36

There is further archaeological evidence which agrees with verse 26 of this chapter: ancient seals found in Jerusalem bear the names of both Jerameel and also Baruch.
Jeremiah 26 is a terrible witness to how the nation of Israel and the king in particular lacked any respect for God and his word. The word of the Lord that Jeremiah was speaking made them uncomfortable, but rather than repenting and changing their ways they tried to get rid of the problem by destroying the scroll on which the word was written. Whilst we may not go around physically burning Bibles, we need to make sure that God’s word sinks into our hearts and leads to action, not just ignore it if it doesn’t agree with what we want.
The chapter illustrates well the process of ‘inspiration’ – how ‘holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit’ to write down God’s words (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16). The word of God came to Jeremiah (v1) – God spoke his words to Jeremiah (v2) who then spoke them to Baruch (v4) who wrote the words of God onto a scroll. It makes it clear that these are not words of Jeremiah’s own invention, but God-given words, demanding of our every attention and obedience.

Saturday – Jeremiah 38

Like many of the prophets, Jeremiah was hated by many of those he was condemning, particularly the princes and priests, some of whom would have been his own relatives. They put Jeremiah into a dungeon where there was no water and where he sank into the mire. His experience echoes the words of Psalm 69:2-4, 14. Only the compassion of an Ethiopian, a Gentile, saved him from death.
There is sense of irony when, in verse 22, Jeremiah replies to king Zedekiah’s inquiry by saying that it is actually he, the king, who is sinking in mire. Sometimes God’s perspective on a situation can be quite different from our own – from the world’s view it might seem that Jeremiah was in trouble and Zedekiah the king had the power. God saw it differently, however, and brought judgement on Zedekiah – the ‘profane, wicked prince of Israel’ (Ezekiel 21:25). Zedekiah was the very last king of Judah; we read in the next chapter how he fled Jerusalem whilst it was under siege, and that he was caught by the Babylonians and had to watch his sons killed.