Jeremiah was born into the family of a priest, a man named Hilkiah. His hometown, Anathoth, was about four miles north and east of Jerusalem.[ii]
Jeremiah 1:2 says, “The LORD first gave messages to Jeremiah during the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah.” The thirteenth year of Josiah was 627 B.C. The Assyrians conquered Samaria in 721 B.C., deporting all its citizens. Therefore, Jeremiah began his ministry approximately 94 years after the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist. Over the more than 40 years of his ministry, Jeremiah saw his beloved country lose power and eventually be conquered by Babylon, and Jeremiah was present when the city of Jerusalem was sacked.
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. Jeremiah’s message brought him sorrow and sadness. Three times, God tells Jeremiah, “Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11) God had decided to judge the nation of Judah because of the evil of Josiah’s grandfather, Manasseh. In fact, God told Jeremiah, "Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn't help them.” (Jeremiah 15:1) This broke Jeremiah’s heart. He continued to mourn for his people and plead with God on their behalf as he delivered God’s message.
King Josiah was a reformer. He zealously purged the land of Judah of idols and God had this to say about him:
Never before had there been a king like Josiah who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since. (2 Kings 23:25)
King Josiah’s reign lasted 31 years. Jeremiah’s ministry started in the 13th year of King Josiah’s reign. Therefore, during the first 18 years of Jeremiah’s ministry, the king and the prophet worked together. These would have been good years for Jeremiah.
However, after Josiah died, Jeremiah’s ministry was tough. He faced opposition, imprisonment and attempts on his life. But, he never lost his tender heart, and he continued to plead with God for his people. He even tried to quit, but God’s Word within him would not let him remain silent. (Jeremiah 20:9)
Jeremiah’s message was primarily of judgment. However, he also brought a message of hope. Jeremiah 31:31 and following announces the New Covenant that God will make with His people.
Jeremiah’s ministry was unique, which is true of all God’s people. Abraham, Moses, David and each person God used had a unique role to fulfill. Before God gave Jeremiah a message for the nations, He gave Jeremiah a message for Jeremiah.
He gave Jeremiah a calling.
First, He said to Jeremiah:
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Let me ask you question. Is Jeremiah the only one of whom God can say, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb?”
In Psalm 139:16, the Psalmist says, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
The truth that God is pointing out to Jeremiah is a truth that should encourage us all. Every person God has made was made for a unique purpose. In Job 10:8 and Psalm 33:15, the Scriptures state that God’s hands have shaped every person. For us believers, Ephesians 2:10 is especially meaningful. It says:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)
Jeremiah did not go out seeking to find God’s purpose for him. God’s purpose found Jeremiah.
We all do what we do because of who we are. If I may use a rather crude example, my dog does not behave like a bird. In a similar manner, a person will behave according to his or her inborn nature. God, who made us, is able to direct our steps.
Therefore, it is more important to seek to know God than to seek to discover His purpose for one’s life.
Throughout Scripture, we have examples of God’s purpose in people’s lives. Abraham, Saul, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Paul are some examples of God calling and setting apart people for His purposes. It is evident that God shaped the individual for the role He intended for each one.
God will show His purpose. Trust God. Pray for His will to be done in all things, and be obedient to what He tells you.
We do not always agree with God. Abraham went from Ur to Haran and stopped there for a while. Moses tried to refuse. Saul hid. Jeremiah said, “O Sovereign LORD, I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!” (Jeremiah 1:6)
Fighting against God’s calling is common.
Jeremiah objected, saying he was too young. Later in his ministry, he complained that it was too hard, God wasn’t fair and that God had tricked him. (fair – Jeremiah 12, tricked – Jeremiah 20:7) It seems that fighting against God’s calling is not necessarily a once-and-done sort of thing. As God’s servant grows, new objections come up.
At one point, Jeremiah says, “Lord, you know what’s happening to me. Please step in and help me.” (Jeremiah 15:15) Then he says, “Why then does my suffering continue? Why is my wound so incurable? Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook, like a spring that has gone dry.” (Jeremiah 15:18) God’s help seems fickle and unreliable, but when God responds, we learn what the problem is. God says:
“If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you!” (Jeremiah 15:19)
Apparently, the problem was with Jeremiah. God used Jeremiah’s “incurable wound” to deal with something in the prophet’s life.
God’s calling, purpose, plan and message run contrary to the flesh. By flesh, I mean merely human desires. We all have appetites and desires. These usually center on self. My purposes and God’s purposes frequently collide and I end up fighting against God. At these times, the flesh must surrender. Negotiating and compromise are not an option. Surrender is the only way through.
These conflicts serve to clarify and confirm both the calling and purpose of God.
God answered Jeremiah’s first objection with “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young.’” Each subsequent objection met with an equally definite answer from God. This is also true of all God’s servants. Over time, God clarifies and confirms His calling.
However, God did address Jeremiah’s concern. Jeremiah said, “I’m too young!” Therefore, the Lord reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said,
Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant. (Jeremiah 1:9-10)
God put His message in Jeremiah’s mouth. Jeremiah’s age had nothing to do with God’s calling. It was not even a matter of whether or not Jeremiah was adequate for the job. His provision, adequacy and strength were all to come from God.
The Apostle Paul spoke of his adequacy for the task God had given him and said,
It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)
There is a great danger of trying to do God’s work in our own strength.
God has shaped us from our mother’s womb for the purpose He has for us. Therefore, it is natural that we should have an aptitude for our calling. One might say it comes naturally to us. However, when we try to do God’s work with human strength, it always meets with disaster.
For example, when Jeremiah suffered his “incurable wound,” he apparently was speaking worthless words and was being influenced by those he was sent to influence. Another example is King Saul. King Saul began well, but then stopped trusting God and let his flesh rule. This ended in his losing the kingdom.
There are two elements to being adequate for the calling of God: Faith and the Word.
It was required of Jeremiah that he trust God and that He faithfully proclaim God’s Word. It is required of all God’s children that we trust Him. We can only do this in as much as our confidence is based on the Word of God. Romans 10:17 explains to us that faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God. This really is the key to being faithful to the calling of God in one’s life, trusting God and being in the Word.
The hymnist said it, “Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.