Christian Churches of God
Jeremiah Warns Judah
(Edition 1.0 20090304-20100508)
Jeremiah was given the commission of warning the kingdom of Judah of God’s impending judgment against them for their idolatry and disobedience to His Laws. As we will see these warnings went unheeded. This paper has been adapted from chapters 144-148, Volume VI of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Jeremiah Warns Judah
We continue here from the paper The Decline of Judah (No. CB150).
Jeremiah was probably only in his late teens when God first contacted him, telling him that long before he was born God had chosen him to be a prophet to warn many nations of their wrong ways and what would come to pass unless they turned to observing God's Laws.
"But how can I speak to nations?" Jeremiah asked. "I am only a child”.
"You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you," God told him. "You are not to fear anyone. I won't allow harm to come to you."
Obviously in a vision, Jeremiah then felt his lips being touched, and the Lord's said to him, "Now I have put words in your mouth". "Today, I am setting you over the nations and kingdoms with the power to root out and destroy, but I shall also give you the power to plant and build."
This meant that Jeremiah was to do far more than warn Judah and other nations of calamities to come. God would also reveal, through Jeremiah, where the captive and scattered House of Israel would again be started as nations, eventually, in other parts of the world (Jer. 1:1-19).
In time, with the passing of generations, many Israelites forgot their identity. Migrating among other nations, ever-increasing numbers came to regard themselves as Gentiles. Through Jeremiah and others of God's servants who would be born much later, the Creator planned that the Israelites of the ten-tribed House of Israel would eventually recognize themselves and no longer be lost, and would remember the commission their ancient ancestors had been given and the covenant between their people and God.
Jeremiah spent his early years in the priests' town of Anathoth, only a few miles north of Jerusalem. Because of being bothered by people who despised and troubled him, he moved to Jerusalem. There he could be lost in the non-religious crowd instead of being conspicuous in a small ministerial town where many priests were growing lukewarm and didn't like to have a zealous prophet around. Jeremiah became respected in Jerusalem having already gained the friendship of some of the more upright men of King Josiah's acquaintance.
Jeremiah's first major trouble during Jehoiakim's reign came about when he was told by God to go to the Temple and warn all who came there that unless they would live by God's Laws, God would cause Jerusalem to become as ravaged as the ancient town of Shiloh, the town where the Tabernacle was set up when Israel first came into the land of Canaan (Josh. 18:1; Ps. 78:60; Jer. 26:6). Shiloh had been destroyed by the Philistines hundreds of years before Jeremiah's time (1Sam. l 4:10-12).
"God has told me that unless the people of Judah repent of their evil ways and wholeheartedly return to obeying Him, this city will soon become a place that will be spoken of only with scorn, ridicule and contempt!" Jeremiah warned the crowds who came to the Temple to try to make themselves right with God by making token offerings and pausing for what would appear to be periods of prayer or religious reflection.
This was too much for many in authority who had long tired of what they called "Jeremiah's prophecies of doom." Self-styled prophets of God and many of the people, and even priests at the Temple, joined in seizing Jeremiah and accusing him before the multitude.
"You have uttered curses against Jerusalem and the Temple of God!" they shouted angrily. "For this reason you deserve to die!"
When the king's counsellors heard about Jeremiah being held by the priests and others, they immediately arranged for a quick trial. Then the priests and prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city” (Jer. 26:1-11).
"Why should any of you speak against God?" Jeremiah asked in his own defence. "It was God who sent me to the Temple to warn of trouble to come. Why not obey God and thus avoid the evil things that will otherwise come to you? Do what you will with me, but if you kill me you will bring greater disaster on yourselves and the people of Jerusalem because of unjust treatment of one of God's chosen servants."
Again the priests and the people demanded the prophet be put to death. Then some of the elders of the land stepped forward and said to the entire assembly:
"Other prophets have made dire predictions and they weren't executed for their remarks. Why should Jeremiah be the exception? When King Hezekiah heeded the warning of the prophet Isaiah, and called on God, remember how God spared Hezekiah and the nation? Wouldn't it be wise for us to do as Hezekiah did?"
The most influential man speaking for Jeremiah was Ahikam, the son of Shaphan who was a friend of Hilkiah, Jeremiah's father (Jer. 26:11-19, 24). Reluctantly, the envious priests and self-appointed prophets bowed to the will of the counsellors, and Jeremiah was released.
At the same time a prophet named Urijah had publicly declared essentially the same things Jeremiah had stated. He, too, was being sought after to be punished by death for making gloomy remarks about what would happen to Jerusalem and the Temple. Having heard that Jeremiah had been arrested, and that he would share Jeremiah's fate, Urijah lacked the faith that God would protect him, and managed to escape from Jerusalem and reach Egypt, where he succeeded in hiding for a time. Jehoiakim, king of Judah, was so angered that a prophet he disliked should evade a trial that he sent men to Egypt to ask King Necho to find Urijah and turn him over to the emissaries from Judah. Necho cooperated. Urijah was found, given over to the men of Judah, and slain as soon as he was brought back to Jerusalem. If he had joined Jeremiah to face his accusers, probably his life would have been spared (Jer. 26:20-23).
In those days, King Jehoiakim heavily taxed his people to enable him to pay the high tribute demanded regularly by the king of Egypt (2Kgs. 23:31-35).
Meanwhile, Jeremiah continued his warnings. Some people considered him a traitor to his country because he spoke of Babylon as a greater power than Egypt, and therefore a greater menace to Judah. This greatly irritated the king, who owed his office to the ruler of Egypt, whom the Jews were expected to look up to as the most powerful of rulers.
In the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign, God told Jeremiah that he should write down all the warnings He had given Jeremiah to speak to the public and declare them all again at one time to the people at the Temple. Jeremiah dictated them to his secretary, a man named Baruch, who wrote them on a heavy scroll.
"Perhaps when people hear at one time all of the calamity I plan to bring on them, they will turn from their wicked ways and their sin," the Lord said to Jeremiah (Jer. 36:1-3).
God didn't require that Jeremiah should be the one to again warn the people at the Temple. The prophet was relieved. He knew that the scheming priests and false prophets, especially those from Anathoth, his hometown, would seek his life if he appeared again at the Temple (Jer. 11:21). God had told Jeremiah not to fear anyone, but he had been staying out of sight, knowing it would be unwise to deliberately go about and tempt his enemies.
Jeremiah then told his secretary to go to the Temple on the special fast day and read aloud all that was written on the scroll. Perhaps he thought that on such a solemn day some might repent and be spared from the misery God was going to bring on Judah.
Baruch complied and did everything Jeremiah told him to do. When Michaiah, a grandson of Shaphan, heard all the words of the Lord from the scroll, he went down to the king's house, where all the officials were sitting, and told them about the terrible things Baruch had said would come on the nation.
All the officials sent Jehudi to ask Baruch to come and read his scroll to them. So Baruch was brought to them and he read the scroll. They were so alarmed at what he read that they told Baruch that he and Jeremiah should go and hide. They knew the false prophets and some priests would be angered by Baruch's reading all of Jeremiah's warning prophecies to the people at the Temple. While Baruch hurried back to Jeremiah, the officials went to the king and reported everything to him. However, they left Baruch's scroll in the office of Elishama, the king's secretary (Jer. 36:1-20).
Then the king sent Jehuda to get the scroll and when he returned, Jehuda read it to the king and all the officials standing by him. Whenever the reader had read through only three or four columns of Jeremiah's warnings, Jehoiakim got up and cut the scroll with a knife and threw it into the fire. Then three of the officials present tried in vain to persuade the king not to burn the scroll but he wouldn’t listen. Eventually, the whole scroll was burned (Jer. 36:21-26).
The three officials who were concerned about the scroll were Elnathan the son of Achbor, Gemariah the son of Shaphan (Achbor and Shaphan were conscientious officials whom good King Josiah had sent to confer with the prophetess Huldah; Jer. 36:12,25; 2Kgs. 22:12-14) and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, who was probably the same Shemaiah who had contributed many cattle to Josiah's great Passover sixteen years earlier (2Chr. 35:9).
Then Jehoiakim sent three of his officers to arrest Jeremiah and Baruch, but the two were nowhere to be found. God had caused them to be warned and had provided a secret place for hiding (Jer. 36:25).
Jeremiah and Baruch didn't waste their time while in hiding. At God's command they began to prepare another scroll. This one contained more details and added predictions, including one that had to do with Jehoiakim.
"Because the king of Judah has followed idolatry and has spurned my warnings, he shall soon become a victim of the Babylonians," God told Jeremiah. "Later, he shall come to a shameful death. For him there will be no royal burial. His body shall lie outside the walls to be covered by frost at night and bloated by festering heat in the daytime. I shall also punish his descendants, his servants and all the people of Judah who have refused to listen to me" (Jer. 36:27-32).
For a long time the prophet and his secretary managed to remain concealed from the king. When the added prophecy concerning his death eventually reached Jehoiakim, he was angrier than ever and sent his men even outside of Jerusalem to look for Jeremiah and Baruch.
Meanwhile, the Egyptians were not victorious over the Babylonian king, as they had hoped to be. Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neco and the Egyptians at the battle of Carchemish and again at Hamath (cf. 2Kgs. 23:29; Jer. 46:2).
In the eighth year of Jehoiachim’s reign, King Nebuchadnezzar came against Judah and required tribute from Jehoiachim and threatened to war against him if he refused. So Jehoiakim became his vassal for three years, but he changed his mind and stopped paying Nebuchadnezzar when he heard the king of Babylon had made an expedition against the Egyptians (2Kgs. 24:1; 2Chr. 36:5-7; Dan. 1:1-2). However, the Egyptian king did not march out from his country again because the king of Babylon had taken all his territory from the Wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates River (2Kgs. 24:7).
Jehoiachim would have been disappointed that he had no help from Egypt. Jeremiah had warned them about relying on Egypt and how they would be overthrown by Babylon. Since they had forsaken God for idols, God was not helping Jehoiakim and his people (Jer. 22:1-19).
God had said it would happen, and so it occurred one day when the Lord sent Babylonian, Syrian, Moabite and Ammonite raiders against Jehoiachim. They were sent to destroy Judah according to God’s command, in order to remove them from His presence (2Kgs. 24:2-4).
During this time, and for quite a while afterward, Jeremiah remained concealed, except to reliable friends. Several old family friends had repeatedly befriended Jeremiah – Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and several sons and grandsons of Shaphan the Scribe (2Kgs. 22:8-13; Jer. 26:24; 29:1-3; 36:11-13, 25). The king no longer sought Jeremiah with his former fervour, although if any had come face to face with the prophet, they would have arrested him.
Jehoiakim was thrown against the wall and then they dragged his broken body outside the gates like a dead beast without allowing a funeral to be held, much less a royal burial, just as the prophet Jeremiah had predicted (Jer. 22:1-19; 36:27-31). Thus ended, at age thirty-six, the life of a king who chose to ignore God and live according to his cruel, selfish and pagan desires (2Kgs. 24:5-6; 2Chr. 36:5-8).
This was far from the end of trouble from the Babylonians, who didn't feel that matters could be settled simply by a king's death. Many Jewish nobles and men of high rank and ability were also put to death. More than three thousand others were taken captive and forced to march to Babylon, hundreds of miles distant (Jer. 52:24-28). The stronger ones were made to help carry valuable items plundered from the Temple. Among the prisoners was the prophet Ezekiel, who was then very young (cf. Ezek. 1:1).
Jehoiachin, eighteen-year old son of the late king, was immediately made the next ruler of Judah. The Babylonians impressed on the young new king the necessity of his regarding them as absolute conquerors of Judah, and himself completely subject to the will of the king of Babylon. In spite of the circumstances, Jehoiachin followed in his father's idolatrous ways and showed only disdain for Jeremiah's warnings and advice.
However, the king of Babylon began to fear that Jehoiachin might revolt against him because he had killed his father. So he sent an army to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. Nebuchadnezzar also came to the city while this was going on. King Jehoiachin, his mother, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him, in order to spare the city.
As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the Temple and from the royal palace. He also took all the gold articles that King Solomon had made for the Temple of the Lord. He carried all Jerusalem into exile: officers and fighting men, craftsmen and artisans – a total of ten thousand. Only the poor people of the land were left.
Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon thus fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy (Jer. 22:24-27). Next, he made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place and changed his name to Zedekiah (2Kgs. 24:8-13; 2Chr. 36:9-10; Ezek. 1:1-3).
Convinced that Judah would turn out to be a profitable vassal nation under Zedekiah's rule, the Babylonians and their allies went away. At last it was possible to learn the extent of loss of people and property to the invaders. At least eight thousand men and about two thousand women and children had been taken captive. Seven thousand of the men were young soldiers who could be used at hard labour. A thousand were skilled workers in many crafts, especially smiths, so they couldn't make more armaments for Judah. The Babylonians had purposely chosen these capable men to deprive Judah of leadership in order to better please King Nebuchadnezzar (2Kgs. 24:14-17; Jer. 29:1-2).
Soon a few neighbouring nations, including Egypt, heard what had happened to Judah. Their leaders were quite concerned that Judah's army hadn't been used effectively. They sent representatives to Jerusalem to try to convince Zedekiah that their nations intended to stand fast against Babylon and, if Judah would join them, the combined forces of the western nations could successfully hold out against any attacks by Babylon.
Despite what had occurred in his country, Zedekiah began to seriously consider what these men had to say. It was so difficult for him to come to a decision that he sent for his prophets to ask their advice. He knew about Jeremiah, but because he continued in idolatry practiced by the kings preceding him, he didn't want anything to do with a prophet of God.
"Egypt is growing in strength," the false prophets reminded their king. "So are the other nearby nations. It would be wiser to be friendly with neighbouring nations than try to please one so distant."
Jeremiah was perturbed when he heard how the king's prophets had advised him, and how Zedekiah had decided to stop sending tribute to Babylon. He sent a message to the king, telling him that his prophets were wrong, and that it would be a fatal move for Judah to break the agreement with the Babylonians (Jer. 27:1-22). The king's prophets were naturally angered at Jeremiah's warning to Zedekiah, even though Jeremiah was ignored. One of them, Hananiah, publicly declared at the Temple that God had spoken to him there, assuring him that Babylon had passed the peak of power, would rapidly weaken from then on, and within two years wouldn't have enough strength to ward off nations that attacked. Furthermore, Hananiah contended that God had told him that Jehoiachin and all the Jewish prisoners would be returned to Judah, along with all the treasures that had been taken from the Temple (Jer. 28:1-4).
"Under these circumstances, what foolishness it would be to continue sending our much-needed wealth to a pagan nation hundreds of miles away!" Hananiah shouted to the crowd. "If Jeremiah, who calls himself a prophet, wants to be a subject of King Nebuchadnezzar, we'll not prevent him from walking to Babylon!"
Now that Jehoiakim was dead and Jehoiachin taken captive, Jeremiah was again free to come and go as he wished. God had instructed him to make wooden yokes, or collars, symbolical of servitude, to send to the heads of the nations that wished to rebel against Babylon. They were to be reminders that they were going to remain as vassals to Babylon or be punished by God through the Babylonians. Jeremiah was told to wear one of the collars as a reminder to everyone who saw him (Jer. 27:2).
Jeremiah was in the Temple when Hananiah made his speech. In spite of his being the object of laughter caused by the false prophet's closing remark, he walked up to speak to Hananiah.
"I wish you were right. It would be good if our people could return and the Temple properties were restored. A prophet will prove to be a true one if he teaches what is in Scripture and if he warns of an event and the event comes to pass at the given time. I say that Babylon won't fall for many years, but will in fact once again take Jerusalem. As for our people who have been taken away, they shall remain slaves for many more years!" (Jer. 28:5-9,13,14).
Hananiah glared at Jeremiah then reached out to vigorously yank the wooden collar from the prophet's neck and smash it on the floor.
"Nebuchadnezzar's yoke of bondage on all nations will be broken like that within two years!" he called out to the crowd as Jeremiah walked away.
At another time when Hananiah was at the Temple trying to convince more people that God had revealed the future to him, Jeremiah stood up and accused him of lying. He declared that God would punish him by taking his life within a year. Hananiah made a great display of indignation to try to hide his embarrassment and fright. Within less than two months Hananiah was dead. Many people, including the king, were sobered by this event (Jer. 28:1,10-17).
Nevertheless, Zedekiah persisted in turning against Babylon and continuing in idolatry. Meanwhile, Jeremiah faithfully kept on informing the people of dire warnings from God. He also wrote letters to the Jewish captives in Babylonia, encouraging them to keep up family life and bring up children for a time when liberation would come (Jer. 29:1-14).
In the tenth year of Zedekiah, the army of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem. The king had confined Jeremiah in the courtyard in the royal palace of Judah. Zedekiah did not like what Jeremiah was prophesying against Jerusalem and himself if he chose to fight against Babylon (cf. Jer. 32:1-5; 26-36a).
With the city on the brink of disaster, God once again instructed Jeremiah to warn Zedekiah of what would soon happen.
"God has sent me to you with more reminders of what is about to occur," Jeremiah began. "He wants you to be convinced that because of our national sins, the Babylonians will succeed in entering and burning this city and slaughtering many. You shall attempt to escape, but you shall be captured and taken by King Nebuchadnezzar, who will send you to Babylon to die. Perhaps you will be relieved to learn that you will be afforded an honorable and ceremonious funeral -- in Babylon. It would be wise to consider these things. There is still time to save many lives by surrendering to the Babylonians" (Jer. 34:1-7).
The immediate future appeared so dismal that many people began to repent of their wrong ways and to try to make up for them at the last moment. One matter that especially reached the Jewish conscience was the over-holding of servants. One of God's laws was that bondservants should have their freedom after six years of service (Deut. 15:12-15). Many masters had held their servants well past the release time, even though Zedekiah had made a public reminder that they should be given their freedom in the seventh year, which was in progress at that time. Almost overnight there was much relinquishing of servants, but afterwards they changed their minds and again enslaved those they freed (Jer. 34:8-11).
Therefore, the Lord again spoke through Jeremiah of the terrible punishment awaiting Judah (cf. Jer. 34: 8-22). However, neither King Zedekiah, his officials, nor the people of the land paid any attention to the words spoken by the Lord through Jeremiah (Jer. 37:2).
Nevertheless, Zedekiah sent two men of high rank and reputation to Jeremiah with a message. "Please pray the Lord our God for us".
Meanwhile, Pharaoh’s army had marched out of Egypt, and when the Babylonians heard this report about them, they withdrew from Jerusalem.
Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of me, Pharaoh’s army, which has marched out to support you, will go back to Egypt, then the Babylonians will return and attack this city; they will capture it and burn it down” (Jer. 37:3-8).
Jeremiah in Prison
After the Babylonian army had withdrawn, Jeremiah started to leave the city. He had important business to take care of in a small town close by. As he approached the gates, the captain of the guard arrested him and said, "You are deserting to the Babylonians!"
"Not at all," Jeremiah said. "I am not deserting to the Babylonians."
However, the guard would not listen to him and brought him to the officials. They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned and he remained so for a long time (Jer. 37:11-16).
Then King Zedekiah sent for him and asked him privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
“Yes,” Jeremiah replied. "God told me again that the Babylonians will surely capture you!"
"What great offense have I committed against you or anyone in Judah that I should be imprisoned?" the prophet asked. "Was it wrong of me to stand against your lying prophets, who insisted that Nebuchadnezzar would never come against Judah? Because I have tried to help Judah by proclaiming God's warnings, why should I die in the filth of the dungeon below the house of Jonathan the court scribe? I've not asked for any favours before, my king, but now I'm entreating you to spare me from being sent back to a place where a human being can't live very long!"
King Zedekiah then gave orders for Jeremiah to be placed in the courtyard of the guard and given bread each day until all the bread in the city was gone (Jer. 37:16-21).
As Zedekiah expected, the princes of Judah who had hoped for Jeremiah's slow death in the dungeon were quite irritated on learning what the king had done. They came to him to complain that the prophet's continued statements about a Babylonian victory were spoiling the Jewish soldiers' will to fight.
"This man should be put to death," they told the king. "As long as he is alive, whether in or out of prison, he'll have an undermining effect on the morale of our army. He is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.”
Zedekiah had enough worries without being at odds with his counsellors, the princes. He wanted to spare Jeremiah because he secretly feared God, but at the same time he wanted to avoid trouble by not offending the princes.
"He is in your hands,” the king answered. “I can do nothing to oppose you.”
Therefore, they lowered Jeremiah by ropes into a cistern that had no water in it, only mud; and Jeremiah sank into the mud (Jer. 38:1-6).
Meanwhile, the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, when Ebed-Melech went and said to him, “These men have acted wickedly in what they have done to Jeremiah. He will starve to death in the cistern where they have thrown him.”
Then the king commanded Ebed-Melech, “Take thirty men and lift Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.” This he did, and Jeremiah was removed from the cistern and he then remained in the courtyard of the guard (Jer. 38:7-13).
Later, Jeremiah was taken to a room in the Temple, where Zedekiah was waiting to talk privately with him.
"You've told me before what you believe will take place here soon," the king said. "Now I'm asking you to tell me again, including anything that's new or anything you've withheld, and what I should do."
"I've angered you many times by what I've said," Jeremiah answered. "If I say anymore, how do I know you will not kill me? As for advice, you won't accept any from me."
Zedekiah said secretly to Jeremiah, "I swear that no matter what you have to say, I will not put you to death". "Neither will I turn you over to anyone who seeks your life. May God end my life if there is no truth in what I say."
Then Jeremiah decided to give the king a complete account of what would soon happen.
"What I have to say isn't anything I've made up," the prophet explained. "This is what the one and only God has revealed to me. To begin, King Nebuchadnezzar is no longer in Judah. He and part of his army have gone to the city of Riblah in Syria. The whole Babylonian army has defeated the Egyptians, who have fled back to their country. The victors haven't pursued them because they are anxious to return here and continue the siege of Jerusalem.
"You would be wise to go out and surrender to Nebuchadnezzar's generals. If you do, you will save your life and the lives of many others, and the city won't be burned. If you don't, the enemy will break down the walls, pour into Jerusalem and set fire to it. Many people will be slaughtered. Many will be captured -- including you and your family!" (Jer. 38:14-18).
"Months ago I turned against the Babylonians," Zedekiah said. "Now if I suddenly surrender, and have to join my countrymen who are already prisoners in Babylonia, they may mistreat me."
"If you surrender, that won't happen," the prophet pointed out. "If you refuse, you will be mocked by the women of your harem, who will seek safety by willingly turning themselves over to Babylonian officers. The children you have had by these women will become slaves to the enemy!"
Then Zedekiah said, "Don't tell anyone else what you have told me today. Keep silent about these things, and I'll keep my promise that you won't die by my order or at the order of the princes. If they ask you if you talked to me, and tell you that they'll see that you live if you tell them what we talked about, tell them that you wanted me to spare your life, and I promised that you wouldn't be taken back to that dungeon under Jonathan's house."
Jeremiah's guards, waiting at a distance, approached and escorted the prophet back to his cell. It wasn't long before he was visited by the princes, who had been informed of his meeting with Zedekiah, and who hoped to learn if he had made any kind of contact with the Babylonians through Jeremiah.
"Tell us about the conversation you had with the king at the Temple, and we'll do what we can to see that you are freed from this place," one of them told Jeremiah.
"I told the king that I don't deserve to be put back in a dungeon where it isn't possible to keep on living," Jeremiah answered. "He assured me that I wouldn't die by his hand or yours."
So they said no more to him, for no one had heard his conversation with the king. Thus Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard until the day Jerusalem was captured (Jer. 38:19-23).
We will continue with this Bible story in the paper The Fall of Jerusalem (No. CB152).