[Last Tuesday, I introduced a new series of posts I’m calling “Tuesdays with Jeremiah” (with a nod to Tuesdays with Morrie). Each Tuesday I hope to post summary reflections on a chapter in Jeremiah’s book. Today, chapter 1.]
Jeremiah was from a priestly family (1:1) but called to be a prophet for God (1:5). God’s call on Jeremiah’s life preceded his birth and was communicated to him while he was still a “child” (young, inexperienced).
His ministry spanned the reign of five Judean kings (Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah), a span of 40 years, beginning during the last quarter of the 7th century BC.
Jeremiah was likely born and raised during the reigns of wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. His ministry begins when Josiah is starting to institute reforms in Judah. Jeremiah’s ministry coincided well with Josiah’s attempt to bring spiritual reformation to the nation—a reformation that evidently was more surface than substance for many in the land.
Jeremiah’s call to ministry (1:5) emphasizes God’s work in creating him (“Before I formed you in the womb”) and selecting him for his life work (“before you were born I set you apart”). Jeremiah echoes the words of David in Psalm 139 regarding God as personally involved in his creation (Psalm139: 13-16) and anticipates the words of Paul who speaks of having been set apart by God from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). God was intimately involved in Jeremiah’s life from it’s beginning, forming, selecting, preparing him to be “a prophet to the nations” (1:5).
God’s sovereign work in Jeremiah’s life included his creation in the womb. This implies that God’s work in us begins before our birth; our lives, in God’s eyes, begin before we are born. God selected the womb Jeremiah would be born in, and the parents who would conceive him. The implications of this are far-reaching: God selected the parents Jeremiah would have, the home he would grow up in. As Jeremiah grew up in the house of a priest (1:1), God placed Jeremiah in a family where he would become very familiar with the roles and responsibilities (and failings) of the priesthood. All this would help prepare Jeremiah to speak to the religious leaders of the nation.
Jeremiah’s ministry is foreshadowed in the call he receives from God in 1:9: “I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Of the six terms used to describe his ministry, the first four are “destructive” and the last two (1/3 of the total) are “constructive.” His would be a ministry heavy on confrontation but leading to consolation.
After calling him to be a prophet and promising to be with him when others oppose him, the Lord reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth. He says, “Now I have put my words in your mouth” (1:9). Whereas the Lord had an angel touch Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal to cleanse his mouth, the Lord Himself touches Jeremiah’s mouth to fill it with His words.
God’s spokesmen don’t get to choose their message. God chooses it and they are to deliver it faithfully, even when that message is one people don’t want to hear because it’s painfully confrontive. God still expects his preachers to speak His words, even when those words are not popular or pleasing to all who hear them; 2 Timothy 4:2 calls Timothy (and all preachers) to “correct, rebuke and encourage”, a phrase that tilts the thrust of preaching towards the confrontational side of things.
Like Moses, Jeremiah is hesitant to embrace this calling; he feels young and intimidated. But as in Moses’ case, God doesn’t accept his excuses as valid, promising to be with him and to protect him. God selects his spokesmen knowing full well their inadequacies and inabilities; his presence and power are more than enough compensation for their shortcomings.
The opening two visions given to initiate Jeremiah into his role as prophet (almond tree and boiling pot) picture his dominant message as being one of impending judgment (1:11-17). These visions also test whether he is able to “see” God’s vision and reflect it accurately (“What do you see, Jeremiah?”).
The almond tree may be a reminder of Aaron’s rod, an almond branch that budded (Numbers 17:8). God is watching over his word, in the sense of insuring that it comes to pass (buds to life). Since the Hebrew word for almond tree is similar to the Hebrew word for “watching”, the Lord may be doing a play on words—perhaps training Jeremiah in how prophetic visions are to be understood.
The boiling pot tilted away from the north pictures the northern kings and armies who will come and attack Jerusalem (1:13-16). The Lord says that this message of impending attack is judgment for Judah’s “wickedness in forsaking me in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made” (1:16). A warning of coming judgment will be a big part of Jeremiah’s message to the nation. This message will not only be unpopular, it will set him apart as a traitor in the eyes of many.
Jeremiah is told to brace himself and to boldly declare the words God gives him to say (1:17). He is not to be intimidated or terrified, or God will allow him to be terrified. God promises to make him a “fortified city”—a picture of protection. But also a picture of a besieged city (as Jerusalem would soon be); the people of Judah (including the kings and priests) would attack him. God promises to be with Jeremiah and to rescue him (1:18-19).