|Topical Bible Study||December 1962|
The People in God’s Plan—Lesson XVII
The Prophet Jeremiah
JEREMIAH served the Lord as a prophet during the distressing years leading up to the overthrow of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and the carrying away of the people into captivity. He began his ministry in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, and continued it until the beginning of the captivity. (Jer. 1:1-3) However, Jeremiah was not taken to Babylon, but sometime after the captivity began, was taken into Egypt by a small group of Israelites who had been left in the land, continuing there to prophesy.—Jer. 43:1-8
By nature Jeremiah was not a courageous man. He hesitated to accept the commission of the Lord to serve as a prophet, explaining that he was but a child. (Jer. 1:4-6) However, the Lord reassured Jeremiah by the promise that he would be with him, and that he would be able to prophesy whatever he was commanded.—Jer. 1:7-9,17-19
In the Lord’s commission to Jeremiah a very interesting and meaningful viewpoint is brought to our attention. The Lord told Jeremiah that he had set him over nations and kingdoms “to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.” (Jer. 1:10) Actually Jeremiah did none of these things. The evident reference is to the fact that the Lord would use him to prophesy concerning destruction, and planting, and building. From the way the Lord states the matter it would seem that he considers those whom he uses to forecast events, to that extent to have participated in them.
The Prophet Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, and the subsequent seventy years of the desolation of the land and Israel’s captivity in Babylon. (Jer. 25:11,12) He also foretold the return of the people to their own land following the seventy years.—Jer. 29:10
In exercising his commission to prophesy destruction, Jeremiah foretold that Babylon and other nations would be destroyed. (Jer. 25:12-29) However, Jeremiah’s prophecies concerning the overthrow of Babylon have a larger fulfillment in the destruction of a symbolic, or mystic Babylon, referred to in the Book of Revelation. This symbolic Babylon is likened to an unchaste woman, and is pictured as ruling over the “kings of the earth.” (Jer. 25:29; Rev. 17,18) This symbolic Babylon is in reality the apostate church.
Chapters 50 and 51 of Jeremiah’s prophecy seem to refer particularly to the destruction of symbolic Babylon, from which the Lord’s people are urged to flee. (Jer. 51:6,7; Rev. 17:4; 18:4) Symbolic Babylon is depicted as dwelling, or sitting, upon many waters, and the prophecies show that the Lord’s judgments against her will mean her end.”*—Rev. 17:1; Jer. 51:18
* “The Battle of Armageddon,” pages 37 through 46.
Just as Jeremiah foretold, literal Babylon became a desolation, and we are confident that in God’s due time his prophecies concerning symbolic Babylon—the false, professed Christian churches—will also become equally desolated. It will be thereafter that the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, for the Lord will turn to the people a pure language that they may all know and unitedly serve him. (Isa. 11:9; Zeph. 3:8,9) This will be after Satan’s social order is destroyed.
As we have seen, Jeremiah foretold the going into captivity of Israel, the destruction of literal and symbolic Babylon, and also the destruction of other ancient nations. However, he was also used of the Lord not only to forecast the return of Israel to their land following the seventy years of captivity, but also to forecast a much more far-reaching return of captives down here at the end of the present age, a return from their scattering among all nations.—Jer. 16:14-17; 31:28
The Prophet Jeremiah also foretold that during the kingdom age the Lord would make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. (Jer. 31:31-34) He explained that this new covenant would be unlike the original Law Covenant in that its law would be written in the hearts and in the “inward parts” of the people rather than on tables of stone. This implies the restoration of the people to the original perfection and godlikeness in which they were created. This New Covenant will become so effective that it will no longer be necessary to teach the people concerning God, for all will know him from the least even unto the greatest.
Jeremiah foretold that in “those days” in which Israel is restored, and the New Covenant is made, the proverb would no longer be used, “The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Instead, every one who then dies shall die for his own iniquity. (Jer. 31:29,30) In this, Jeremiah is explaining that the condemnation to death which came upon the whole human race on account of the original sin of Adam, will be set aside, since the penalty will have been paid by another, even Jesus, who gave his flesh for the life of the world. All, in other words, will be saved from the original condemnation to death, enlightened, and given an individual opportunity to obey the divine law and live forever.—John 6:51; I Tim. 2:3-6
Jeremiah was also used of the Lord to prophesy the resurrection of the dead. The Old Testament Scriptures speak of the dead as being “captives”—captives, that is, in the great prison of death. Their release from the captivity of death is described as a bringing again of their captivity. Under this symbol, Jeremiah forecasts the resurrection of the Moabites, the Elamites, and the Ammonites.—Jer. 48:47; 49:6,39
God also used Jeremiah to prophesy the awakening of children from the sleep of death.” In this prophecy the state of death (Jer. 31:15-17) is poetically described as “the land of the enemy.” The prophecy speaks of a weeping mother who had lost her children in death, and refused to be comforted. In the New Testament this is applied to the mothers whose children were killed by Herod in his attempt to destroy the child Jesus. (Matt. 2:18) However, the application of the prophecy is not limited to these particular mothers, for we know that all children, as well as grown-ups, not only of Israel, but of all nations, are to be brought back from “the land of the enemy,” and that the work of their mothers in connection with them will be richly rewarded.
The Lord also used Jeremiah to teach important lessons concerning the divine attributes. One of these is brought to our attention by the prophet in a lesson he learned from observing the ways of a potter. (Jer. 18:1-10) This lesson shows that the Lord reserves to himself the right to change any arrangements he might make in the event that those to whom he has made promises of blessings, or threats of punishment, change their attitude toward him. This reminds us that there are conditions of faithfulness attached to the promises of God; and that God is capable of exercising mercy when he notes a changed heart condition on the part of those who have been disobedient to him.
Jeremiah foretold the captivity of Israel in Babylon, but looked upon this from one standpoint as being an act of mercy on the part of Jehovah. The sins of the nation had been such that God would have been warranted in accomplishing its complete destruction. But for the Lord’s mercy, he wrote, they would have been consumed. Reflecting on this, Jeremiah wrote of the great faithfulness of the Lord. (Lam. 3:22-26) “It is good,” he wrote, “that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”
During what period did Jeremiah serve the Lord as a prophet? Was he taken captive to Babylon?
Was Jeremiah a courageous man by nature? What assurance did he receive from the Lord?
In what sense was Jeremiah used to “pull down and destroy,” and “to build and plant”?
What did Jeremiah prophesy concerning Jerusalem and the Israelites?
What did Jeremiah prophesy concerning Babylon and other nations?
Do Jeremiah’s prophecies respecting Babylon refer exclusively to ancient, literal Babylon? Explain.
What is the symbolic Babylon of the Bible, and when is it destroyed?
When will the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth as the waters cover the sea?
What greater return of Israelites from captivity among the nations did Jeremiah forecast?
What did Jeremiah prophesy concerning a “New Covenant”? What will be the condition of the people throughout the earth when this foretold New Covenant becomes fully effective?
Explain the meaning of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the time when those who eat a “sour grape” will have their own teeth “set on edge.”
Explain how Jeremiah foretold the awakening of the dead.
How did Jeremiah comfort mothers who have lost their children in death?
What important lesson did the Lord teach concerning himself, as recorded by Jeremiah in chapter 18 of his book?
Explain the manner in which God’s mercy is shown by Israel’s captivity in Babylon.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT THOUGHTS
Jeremiah was used of the Lord to prophesy the seventy years captivity of the Israelites in Babylon; and their return from this and subsequent captivities. He was also used to foretell the destruction of both literal and symbolic Babylon. Jeremiah prophesied the making of the “New Covenant,” and the resurrection of the dead, both children and adults. He was also used to call attention to God’s great mercy, and his faithfulness to his people.