June 25, 2022 - Jeremiah

Click here for:  Audio file of this message


Today, here at the end of our series on Latter-day Prophecy, we’re going to take a look at Jeremiah. I saved Jeremiah until last because I find hardly any prophecy in Jeremiah that has not already been fulfilled. Actually, that’s a good thing: Jeremiah made no predictions that have not come true in some way, shape, or form. So while Jeremiah may not give us any events for us to look forward to, Jeremiah does give us a wonderful picture of how prophecy functions as the word of God, both predictions and proclamations from God of truth that only God can make.


Prophecy is more than just prediction. If God’s going to update and reissue his Law, or if God wants to give us God’s spin on why some disaster has happened, God’s going to issue that word through a prophet who can be trusted, a prophet who has authority to speak for God.


The best example is the New Covenant announced by God in Jeremiah 31. God says it won’t be like the old covenant from when they came out of Egypt, the one they broke. Instead, God says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall anyone teach their neighbor or anyone their brother, Know the Lord, for they shall all know me… for I will forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more.” Here is our Biblical basis for what God has done for us in Christ. Jeremiah does not make this up; Jeremiah is delivering a brand new word from God.


Over and over again, Jeremiah predicts that “Judah shall be totally carried away captive.” (Jeremiah 13:19) When asked, “Why has the Lord pronounced this great evil upon us?”, God says, “It is because your ancestors have forsaken me… and have gone after other gods… and because you have behaved worse than your ancestors… Therefore I will cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your ancestors.” (Jeremiah 16:10-13)


In chapter 19, Jeremiah goes to the place where they burn children in sacrifice outside Jerusalem in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. There Jeremiah smashes an earthen jug and says, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts: So shall I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it cannot be mended.” God says they’ll have to bury people in this valley till there’s no room left to bury them, and all the royal houses where they burned incense to the stars and poured out drink offerings to pagan gods shall be defiled just like this valley where they burned children in sacrifice, the place that becomes the name for hell: Gehenna.


In Jeremaih 25, in 605 BC, God declares that because Judah has stubbornly refused to obey, God will bring Nebuchadnezzar the new king of Babylon against them and will “utterly destroy them, and make them an object of horror and hissing and an everlasting disgrace.” Then Jeremiah gives the famous prediction (given several times) that Judah will serve the king of Babylon for 70 years, after which God will punish Babylon and make them an everlasting waste.


In chapter 26, just a few years before, God tells Jeremiah to stand right in the Temple courtyard and warn the crowd that if they won’t obey, “Then will I make this house like Shiloh (meaning: I will destroy it), and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” When the people hear this, they grab him and declare, “Thou shalt surely die!” But then the princes of the people say, “This man does not deserve to die, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God. Micah the prophet said the same, more than 100 years ago. Did King Hezekiah or the people put him to death? We are about to bring great evil upon ourselves!”


Jeremiah makes some very specific short term prophecies where his accuracy as a prophet can be tested. In Jeremiah 22, Jeremiah condemns King Jehoiakim: “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by injustice, who makes his neighbor serve him without wages, and does not pay him for his work!... With the burial of an ass he shall be buried, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah says it again in Jeremiah 36:30: “His dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.”


That is a remarkable prediction! Did this really happen? The Bible gives us no record of Jehoiakim’s burial. That’s unusual; he’s the only king who died in Judah about which nothing is said about his burial. It is highly unlikely that this prediction would have been preserved for us (twice!) unless it really happened, proof that this prophecy came from God.


Jeremiah also predicts in 22:11-12 that Shallum (otherwise known as Jehoahaz), the son of Josiah who was dethroned by Pharaoh and taken away to Egypt, shall not come back: “He shall return here no more, but in the place where they have carried him captive he shall die, and he shall never see this land again.” Jeremiah’s prediction proves true.


Also in the last 7 verses of chapter 22, Jeremiah predicts that Jeconiah (otherwise known as Jehoiachin), who was also imprisoned and taken to Babylon, shall not return to his homeland. Jeremiah asks, “Is this man Coniah a despised broken pot, a vessel no one wants? Why are he and his seed hurled out and cast away into a land they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord: Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days, for none of his seed shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.” Jeconiah never does regain his royal throne, literally speaking.


But let’s put that together with another prophecy of Jeremiah which we need to hold in tension with this prophecy. God says in Jeremiah 33:17: “David shall not lack a man to sit on the throne of Israel.” God says it again in verse 21 and in verses 25-26: Only if I could break my covenant with day and night could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne. How do we explain this? We also have to consider that Jeconiah’s grandson Zerubbabel does serve as governor of Judah after the exile, and that in 140 BC, the Maccabees put descendants of David on the throne of a kingdom they established for about 100 years. How does this square with Jeremiah’s prophecy about Jeconiah?


Because I believe the Bible to be authoritative for my faith, I would argue that God never recognized Zerubbabel or the Maccabean kings as successors to David’s royal throne. Jeconiah himself would probably agree: none of these guys is my replacement as Judah’s king. So how is Jeremiah’s prediction fulfilled that “David shall never lack a man to rule on his throne”? We believe that Jesus is that descendant of David who rules and will rule on David’s throne forever. To me, the best way to answer the question whether both of Jeremiah’s prophecies have been fulfilled is the answer that uses all the puzzle parts. For me, Jesus is the answer that puts all the puzzle parts together in place. I trust the Bible, I conclude that God’s promise to David will continue, but not in the same way that it did before. God puts a far better man on his throne.


False prophecy becomes a bigger issue for Jeremiah than for any prophet before him. Yes, Elijah proved the prophets of Baal to be false. And yes, Ahab even had prophets of the Lord who proved to be false. But false prophets become a major obstacle to God’s truth in the days of Jeremiah. Prophets who claim to speak in the name of the Lord declare to the first group of exiles that were taken away in 597 BC that their exile will be short, and that God will soon bring back the vessels from God’s house that the king of Babylon took away. Here the issue of who is telling the truth becomes a real contest. Whom shall the people believe: Jeremiah, or the opposing prophets? Both cannot be true. One party or the other party must be lying.


In Jeremiah 28, soon after King Jeconiah and the first batch of exiles are taken away, a prophet named Hananiah says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within 2 years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house… I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah… and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon.” What an amazing prophecy! But is it from God? Will this happen?


Jeremiah says, “Amen! May the Lord do so!” I wish! But it ain’t going to happen.  In verse 15 Jeremiah says, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: I will cast you off the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have spoken rebellion against the Lord.” In less than 2 months, Hananiah dies, and nobody and nothing comes back from Babylon for almost 60 years. I think we can see who passed the true prophet test.


In chapter 29, Jeremiah names 3 more false prophets who are in Babylon. He says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Let not your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams they dream, for they are prophesying to you a lie in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.” What they’re telling you is not just a debatable opinion on which we can agree to disagree. It is a “falsehood.” Public opinion may have demanded the promise of a short exile, but God says that claim is a flat-out lie.


Jeremiah predicts that 2 of those who are prophesying a lie in God’s name shall be slaughtered by Nebuchanezzar. Their names will become part of a curse: “May the Lord make you like Zedekiah and Ahab, whom the king of Babylon roasted in the fire.” They’ll be the main course at their own barbecue! And God says through Jeremiah that the third false prophet, Shemaiah, shall never see the good that God will do to his people in the future.


Chapter 29 has a letter that God commands Jeremiah to send to the exiles in 594 BC. Around the end of 595, there was an attempted coup in Babylon. Some of the kings who serve the king of Babylon get together to decide whether or not to pile on to the revolution. Zedekiah king of Judah decides not to rebel (not this time, at least!). So he sends a diplomatic letter to King Nebuchadnezzar to reassure him of his loyalty.


Meanwhile, God tells Jeremiah to write a letter to the exiles from Judah and mail it in the same diplomatic mailbag. God tells Jeremiah to tell the exiles: Don’t join the revolution! God then directs Jeremiah to push the envelope and give the exiles some revolutionary advice, advice that totally contradicts the position of the so-called prophets in Babylon. “Seek the welfare (or well-being or shalom) of the city where I have exiled you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.” Seek the shalom of the Babylonian regime who ripped you out of your homeland, and pray for their welfare and not for their downfall. Don’t join the revolution. Only as Babylon thrives will you thrive.


Who would have imagined how faithfully the exiles from Judah would take Jeremiah’s message from God and put it into action? Recently, scholars have published a pile of clay tablets, written in the Babylonian language, but which contain business documents written by exiles from Judah with specific dates on them, from the period just after the Persians took over Babylon (“17th day of Addaru, 10th year of Darius”). In the space of 75 years, these exiles from Judah have gone from ditch diggers to become landowners and moneylenders. We already knew from previous discoveries about the Jewish business men known as the Murashu brothers of Nippur. But these new tablets are from a town called Al-Yahudu: “City of Judah.”


Who could have made this up? Here we have a town full of former exiles from Judah who have climbed the economic ladder, who have named their town after their homeland. They’re doing business in the Babylonian language, they’re using Babylonian contract law with each other, but their names are Hebrew names. You may not recognize the name Yarim-Yama, but what if I told you that was the Babylonian way to spell “Jeremiah”? The tablets from Al-Yahudu are full of familiar names like Haggai, Zechariah, Zedekiah, Berechiah, Hananiah, Jonathan, and 70 other names that contain the name of the God of Israel! One of those names even takes the name Belshazzar and replaces the pagan god Bel with the sacred name of God! “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” Here are exiles who did so!


Jeremiah has to deliver a lot of bad news to his audience. But as we just saw, Jeremiah also gives us a number of positive prophecies. In Jeremiah 31:37, God says, “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored (the presumed answer is no), then I will reject all the offspring of Israel because of all they have done, says the Lord.” Despite all that God has said through Jeremiah, God has not rejected Israel.


God also promises that the Babylon exile will not last forever. Both in Jeremiah 16:14-15 and 23:5-8, God says that the days are coming when people will no longer say, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.”


Jeremiah 31 also predicts that the city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt after the exile bigger than anyone could have imagined back then, particularly westward. Modern west Jerusalem stretches for miles, all the way up to Gibeah of Saul. It also includes the “valley of dead bodies and the ashes” (Gehenna). But what about the prediction in the final verse that the city “shall not be plucked up nor thrown down any more forever”? Don’t assume that Jeremiah’s vision is about the first rebuild. Here could be Jeremiah’s one prediction that was not fulfilled until today.


We find another bold positive prophecy in Jeremiah 32, where Jeremiah is being held in prison during the siege of Jerusalem. God commands Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s field. Why would you ever buy real estate at a time when God has clearly told you that your nation will be taken into exile? To do so would require still another act of faith. But Jeremiah obeys. He gets witnesses to come to the jail to witness the deal, weighs the money on scales, signs the open and sealed copies of the deed, and puts them in a clay jar so that they will last a long time. Why? Because God is promising that one day, "houses and fields shall again be bought and sold in this land."


In Jeremiah 23:5-6, we read: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will dwell in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” Here we have a prophecy of the Messiah. The name is one of his titles, a name which proclaims that our righteous standing with God is not in our own goodness, but in the righteousness of this man. We’ll find him on the Roman census rolls under the name Yeshua of Nazareth, son of Joseph.


God says in Jeremiah 27:6, “I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, my servant,” and any nation that will not serve him “I will punish.” Jeremiah urges Judah’s final king, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him and his people, and live! Why will you die?” Jeremiah says in 38:2, “Thus says the Lord: Whoever remains in this city shall die by the sword, famine, and pestilence, but whoever goes out to the Chaldeans shall live, and shall have his life as a prize of war.” Just before the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah tries to warn the king that if he does not surrender, the Babylonians will burn down the city, but not if he surrenders. Not surprisingly, when Jerusalem falls, the king of Babylon orders his commander to treat Jeremiah well, and let him go where he wants. No one can accuse Jeremiah of stirring up rebellion against Babylon.


Jeremiah’s message about submitting to Babylon raises the issue of patriotism. Does God expect us to love our country? What does it mean to love our country? Does that mean “My country, right or wrong”? Can we love our country but hate what it does? Why should we prioritize the needs of our own country over the needs of others? At what point do we cross the line into disloyalty to our country? Can it be patriotic to surrender to the rule of another country, like Jeremiah did? What does the Bible teach us about all this? We’ve got a lot to talk about! Join us as we talk about patriotism next time on Biblical Words and World!