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Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of the last five kings of Judah.
Jeremiah was born in the village of Anathoth, situated north of Jerusalem in the territory of Benjamin (Jer. 1:1-2). He was called to the prophetic ministry in the 13th year of Josiah's reign, about 627 B. C. He must have been a young man at the time, since his ministry lasted for about 40 years-through the very last days of the nation of Judah when the capital city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 587/586 B. C.
Jeremiah's call is one of the most instructive passages in his book. God declared that he had sanctioned him as a prophet even before he was born (Jer. 1:5). But the young man responded with words of inadequacy: "Ah, Lord God!" (Jer. 1:6). These words actually mean "No, Lord God!" Jeremiah pleaded that he was a youth and that he lacked the ability to speak. But God replied that he was being called not because of age or ability but because God had chosen him.
Immediately Jeremiah saw the hand of God reaching out and touching his mouth. "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth," God declared (Jer. 1:9). From that moment, the words of the prophet were to be the words of God. And his ministry was to consist of tearing down and rebuilding, uprooting and replanting: "See, I have this day set you over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant" (Jer. 1:10).
Because of the negative nature of Jeremiah's ministry, judgmental texts abound in his book. Jeremiah was destined from the very beginning to be a prophet of doom. He was even forbidden to marry so he could devote himself fully to the task of preaching God's judgment (Jer. 16:1-13). A prophet of doom cannot be a happy man. All of Jeremiah's life was wrapped up in the knowledge that God was about to bring an end to the holy city and cast off His Covenant People.
Jeremiah is often called "the weeping prophet" because he wept openly about the sins of his nation (Jer. 9:1). He was also depressed at times about the futility of his message. As the years passed and his words of judgment went unheeded, he lamented his unfortunate state: "O Lord, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me" (Jer. 20:7).
At times Jeremiah tried to hold back from his prophetic proclamation. But he found that the word of the Lord was "like a burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jer. 20:9). He had no choice but to proclaim the harsh message of God's judgment.
Jeremiah did not weep and lament because of weakness, nor did he proclaim evil because of a dark and gloomy personality. He cried out because of his love for his people and his God. This characteristic of the prophet is actually a tribute to his sensitivity and deep concern. Jeremiah's laments remind us of the weeping of the Savior (Matt. 23:37-39).
As Jeremiah predicted, the nation of Judah was eventually punished by God because of its sin and disobedience. In 587 B. C. Jerusalem was destroyed and the leading citizens were deported to Babylon. Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem with a group of his fellow citizens under the authority of a ruling governor appointed by Babylon. But he was forced to seek safety in Egypt after the people of Jerusalem revolted against Babylonian rule. He continued his preaching in Egypt (Jeremiah 43--44). This is the last we hear of Jeremiah. There is no record of what happened to the prophet during these years of his ministry.