What is the Message of the Book of Jeremiah?

Jeremiah's Message

So how would you summarize all of what we’ve considered in the summaries of Jeremiah 1-6, 7-2021-2627-29, 30-35, and 36-52?

In other words, what is the book of Jeremiah really about?

Punishment?

Is it about punishment?

It is. But there’s more to it than that.

After all, we see in Jeremiah 36-52 that both Ebed-Melech and Baruch are singled out for reward in this book – not punishment.

And if the book of Jeremiah could be summed up in the concept of punishment, then where would the Book of Encouragement fall? Much of that section is not about punishment. It’s about deliverance and restoration.

(Un)Faithfulness?

What else? The unfaithfulness of Judah and the faithfulness of God? Those concepts are surely here as well.

But these concepts don’t justify the presence of – for example – the prophecies to the nations.

So, punishment is prominent. God’s faithfulness is on display. His people’s unfaithfulness is also very apparent. But I think these concepts don’t fully describe this book and convey its message.

Authority

So let me propose something. Everywhere I look in the book of Jeremiah I see one thing. God’s authority. His authority and control of every situation. And not only his control of the current situation in Jeremiah’s day – but his control of the future.

Think about it…

  • God sovereignly calls Jeremiah to be his spokesman.
  • God has the authority to call his people to account for their abandoning him.
  • God has authority to dole out punishment for those who reject his authority.
  • Interestingly enough, God’s authority even allows for people to reject that authority!
  • But the people who do reject his authority meet with a bitter end.
  • While those who submit to God’s authority live and are blessed.
  • In Jeremiah’s day the nations of the world had long ago thrown off God’s authority.
  • But God is still ultimately in control and he would punish those nations that rebelled against his authority.
  • And what do you know – the very last chapter of this book shows the blessings of one of those kings who actually submitted to God’s authority. King Jeconiah submitted – however imperfectly – to that one authoritative command of God about going over to Babylon. And as a result Jeconiah lived.

So, then I think that God’s authority is undeniably at the heart of this book. And our responsibility as creatures of this sovereign king is to submit to that authority. And we see several instances in this book in which someone actually gets it right and submits to God’s authority. And the result is – life.

And so, I think that’s the message of the book of Jeremiah. Submit to God’s Authority and Live.

A Summary of Jeremiah 36 – 52

Jeremiah 36-52

Jeremiah 36–45 | The Bitter End

Now, I have labeled Jeremiah 36-45 as The Bitter End.

What we have in these 10 chapters is generally chronological with a few flashbacks. And it details the temporary end of the nation of Judah’s occupation of the Promised Land at the hands of Babylon.

Within this section I see 6 sub-sections.

Jeremiah 36 | Jehoiakim Didn’t Tremble at God’s Word

First, Jeremiah 36 shows us that King Jehoiakim Didn’t Tremble at God’s Word.

God sends his message of punishment to the people in the days of Jehoiakim in hopes that the people will repent and he could spare them.

Jeremiah somehow by this time is not allowed into the Temple. So he sends the message with Baruch his scribe. On a fast day a few months later Baruch gives the message to the people.

The people hear but we don’t know their reaction. The officials hear and tremble. They relate the message to the king… who burns it up.

God promises then to bring all the punishment that was contained in that burned-up message.

Jeremiah 37–39:14 | Zedekiah Wavers

The second sub-section jumps forward quite a bit to Zedekiah’s reign. This sub-section chronicles the Wavering of Zedekiah in Jeremiah 37-39:14.

Zedekiah wavers between protecting Jeremiah and handing him over to his enemies. In addition, Zedekiah is faced with trusting God and going over to the Babylonians. But he won’t do it.

As a result he ultimately witnesses the murder of his children and then experiences the blinding of his own eyes. Ultimately Jerusalem is taken by Babylon and all the people – besides the poorest of the poor – are exiled.

But Jeremiah is treated well.

Jeremiah 39:15-18 | Flashback: Ebed Melech Saved by Faith

At the end of Jeremiah 39 there’s an interesting flashback. And it seems that the message of this flashback in Jeremiah 39:15-18 is Ebed-Melech Saved by Faith.

As opposed to Zedekiah’s terrible and yet merciful fate, Ebed-Melech who helped Jeremiah and trusted God is promised deliverance.

So, that’s the third sub-section of this Bitter End of Judah.

Jeremiah 40–43 | Gedaliah / Johanan

Then fourth, in Jeremiah 40-43 we have The Gedaliah/Johanan Fiasco.

After deporting most of the Jews from the land Babylon appoints Gedaliah to govern Judah. But one of the king’s relatives kills him and takes the captives to the nation of Ammon. Johanan rescues them and brings them to Bethlehem intending to escape to Egypt. They ask God’s counsel – “should we go to Egypt or stay in the Promised Land?” – while fully intending to go to Egypt. God and Jeremiah rebuke them for this. But the remnant won’t listen and they proceed to Egypt. God sends word in Egypt to Jeremiah that he will send Babylon against Egypt.

Jeremiah 44 | To the Jews in Egypt

The fifth sub-section — which consists of Jeremiah 44 — is God’s Message to the Jews in Egypt.

God sends a message to the Jews who rebelled by going to Egypt. They will meet their end there. God would rather have them repent and stop worshipping idols.

However, Israel doesn’t care what God wants and defies God’s message as delivered through Jeremiah. So God will overthrow all of Egypt on account of his rebellious people there.

Jeremiah 45 | Flashback: Baruch

Then we have one last flashback in Jeremiah 45. And in this shortest chapter of Jeremiah, we see Baruch Rewarded with Life.

At the end of this main section that details the historical catastrophe that came upon the Jews for their disobedience, we’re brought back to the 4th year of Jehoiakim and we’re reminded of a promise that God made to Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe.

It turns out that Baruch was seeking great things in a society that was crumbling to pieces. And so God told him to stop doing that, since God was going to uproot the whole nation in which he lived. But God would deliver Baruch.

Jeremiah 46–51 | Prophecies Concerning the Nations

Then in Jeremiah 46-51 we have Prophecies Concerning the Nations.

God foretells the destruction of 8 nations at the hands of Babylon. Finally he tells of the future destruction of Babylon at the hands of the Medes.

And as I mentioned before, the end of chapter 51 ends the “words of Jeremiah”.

Jeremiah 52 | God’s Promises Fulfilled

And then the absolute last section of this book. Jeremiah 52. It’s the Conclusion: God’s Promises Fulfilled.

All of what God spoke through Jeremiah concerning the punishment of Judah came to pass. Jerusalem was taken. Zedekiah and the Jews were exiled. The city was burned with fire. But the one king who had willingly gone over to Babylon – Jeconiah – was eventually treated well in captivity.

A Summary of Jeremiah 30 – 35

Jeremiah 30-35

Jeremiah 30–34:7 | Book of Encouragement

And at this point — having summarized Jeremiah 1-6, 7-20, 21-26, and 27-29 — you need to admit that things are looking pretty bleak. Sin has brought God’s punishment and no one is getting out of this unscathed.

But this is exactly where God nuances his tone a bit. In Jeremiah 30-34:7 God still does recognize his need of judging the sinful rebels in Judah. But he looks beyond that immediate judgement to a time of restoration. And it’s for this reason that these 4-plus chapters are often called in the academic literature on Jeremiah the Book of Consolation or the Book of Encouragement. And within this larger Book of Encouragement there are a few sub-sections.

Jeremiah 30:1-3 | Introduction

Jeremiah 30:1-3 serve as a short introduction to this Book of Encouragement.

Jeremiah 30:4-31 | Concerning Israel & Judah

Following that to the end of chapter 31 we have Encouragements Concerning Israel and Judah. God gives prophecies of future restoration and a new covenant with Israel and Judah in the midst of his current punishment for their sin.

Jeremiah 32 | Jeremiah Redeems a Field

Then in Jeremiah 32 we have a story about Jeremiah Redeeming a Field.

As a continuation of the book of consolation, Jeremiah is told by God to buy a field in Anathoth from his relative – though Jeremiah himself is in prison. God is signifying by this that in the future God will restore Judah to its land and that people will buy fields once again.

This is all in the context of the last year before Jerusalem was taken by Babylon.

Jeremiah 33 | David, Levi, & Jacob Will Never End

Next in Jeremiah 33 God promises that David, Levi, & Jacob Will Never End.

Jeremiah – still imprisoned like he was in the last chapter – receives word from the Lord that God will restore Judah. In particular, he will restore the cities of Judah and preserve sons of David and sons of the Levites to minister to himself.

Also promised – just like in chapter 23 – is the coming of the Righteous Branch of David.

Jeremiah 34:1-7 | Zedekiah Will Not Die

And the last part of this Book of Encouragement is in Jeremiah 34:1-7 where God says that Zedekiah Will Not Die.

In the midst of the great siege of Babylon against Jerusalem, God sends Jeremiah to King Zedekiah to relay a message. The message is that God will not allow Zedekiah to die. Zedekiah will lose to Nebuchadnezzar, but he will live and even have a decent burial.

And that ends the Book of Encouragement.

Jeremiah 34–35 | Promise Keeping

Then in the rest of Jeremiah 34 and to the end of 35 we’re taught The Importance of Keeping Promises. And this breaks into two sub-sections.

Jeremiah 34:8-22 | Jubilee Covenant Violated

First in Jeremiah 34:8-22 we see The Jubilee Covenant Violated.

King Zedekiah and the officials in Jerusalem apparently released their Hebrew servants in keeping with the law of Jubilee. But it seems that when Nebuchadnezzar left briefly they took their servants back by force.

God was not pleased that they broke the covenant they made with their former servants in keeping with Jubilee. So God promises to destroy them.

Jeremiah 35 | Rechabites

And then the second section that teaches the importance of keeping promises – Jeremiah 35 where we see the Rechabites’ Obedience.

In contrast to the broken covenant of Zedekiah’s day just previously related, the Rechabites obeyed a relatively obscure command of their ancestor to not drink wine. They serve as an example to Judah of how to obey.

And yet Judah has not obeyed God like the Rechabites obeyed their ancestor. So God needs to punish Judah. But the Rechabites will always have someone to stand before God as a result of their obedience.

A Summary of Jeremiah 1 – 6

Jeremiah 1-6

I trust that if you’re reading this, you’re already convinced that the book of Jeremiah is worthy of our study. So now we’ll work to break up the book into its narrative units.

And by the way the book of Jeremiah is notoriously difficult to break up into units. But here we go – giving my best to give a breakdown of this book.

1:1-51:64 Jeremiah’s Words

Let’s start with Jeremiah 1:1. Jeremiah 1:1 starts a unit that runs all the way to Jeremiah 51:64. That’s most of the book. But at Jeremiah 51:64 you have this assertion – “Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” And then you have the final chapter – chapter 52 that we’ll get to. So from Jeremiah 1:1 – Jeremiah 51:64 you have the words of Jeremiah.

And within that 51 chapter section you have thankfully smaller sections.

Jeremiah 1 | Intro & Jeremiah’s Commissioning

Jeremiah 1:1-3 contains an introduction that just explains who’s speaking and when. Then Jeremiah 1:4 to the end of the chapter is basically Jeremiah’s commissioning from the Lord to be a prophet to the nations.

Jeremiah 2:1-3:5 | God Forsaken, Judah Unshaken

In Jeremiah 2:1-3:5 we have what I’ve labeled God Forsaken, Judah Unshaken. Here’s a summary of that section.

Chronic spiritual unfaithfulness from Israel has led to God’s chastisement which was intended to produce repentance in Israel. But it has not produced that intended response. In fact, Israel has constantly done evil at the very same time that she pretends as if nothing is wrong. And instead of returning to the Lord, Israel seeks help from Egypt and Assyria to deal with their problems. Because of this total lack of repentance, God will have to send Israel into exile.

That’s the first major section of this book after the intro and commissioning. We’re off to a sobering start!

Jeremiah 3:6–6 | Future Restoration, Current Punishment

From Jeremiah 3:6 to the end of chapter 6 we have a message of Future Restoration but Current Punishment.

Here – in the days of Josiah, God holds out the possibility of restoration and blessing for Israel and Judah if they only repent. But as things are currently, God simply cannot bless them but must rather punish.

This shift in extremes causes Jeremiah to accuse God of deception. God ignores Jeremiah’s comment and continues to foretell punishment for Israel’s continued disobedience. God accuses Israel of chronic falsehood and adultery (spiritual and physical) and yet they continue their meaningless religious exercises. For this there must be punishment unless they repent.

The prophets have played a devastating part in perpetuating the falsehood and they will be dealt with.

God threatens an invasion from a northern enemy and the eventual exile of his people.

God can’t find one good man in the whole nation that would cause him to relent, but he will continue to use Jeremiah as his spokesman, despite his earlier outburst.

Reasons to Study the Book of Jeremiah

Reasons to Study Jeremiah

Why should we as New Testament Christians study the Old Testament book of the Jewish prophet Jeremiah? I have several reasons.

Jeremiah is Scripture

The normal answer of 2 Timothy 3:16 applies here, of course. The book of Jeremiah is part of the all Scripture which is inspired or breathed-out by God. And because of that, it’s profitable for us to know and believe and practice.

Jeremiah is Applicable

But beyond that and probably because of that first point, the book of Jeremiah is very much applicable for us today.

Judah Was Greatly Blessed by God

Jeremiah was ministering in a culture that had seen great blessings from God. The Jews had God’s Scripture, his ministers, and times of prosperity sent by him.

Our western culture is similar. Beyond the material blessing with which God has showered us, he’s also sent religious revivals in times past. He’s allowed us great access to his word. He’s given us good ministers.

We’re blessed, just like — and maybe more so than — the nation of Israel was in the Old Testament.

Judah Rebelled Greatly Against God

But amazingly, Jeremiah also found himself in a day of almost total apostasy. God’s people were in bad shape. True and undefiled religion had fallen upon hard times in his days.

And we find ourselves in exactly that position. You do believe that, don’t you? We’re in the midst of a nation that is openly antagonistic to God — on the one hand — or at best a nation that holds to a form of godliness but denies its power.

Apostolic teaching is mocked.

Just like happened to Jesus on the Sea of Galilee after casting out the legion of demons from that man, our leaders have urged God out of our presence.

Judah Deserved Punishment

And any time you have a nation which has been given unusual blessings — and has responded with unusual rebellion against the giver of all of those gifts — you are going to have punishment. That’s obviously what Jeremiah was living in and experiencing. God was punishing his nation.

And again we know what that’s like. We are a nation that is experiencing God’s punishment.

Our nation seems more divided than ever. Do you think that just happens? No, it’s a result of the Lord letting us go to have our own way.

The church is less and less influential. The church is more and more worldly and – for the purpose of glorifying God in this world – near worthless. The salt has by-and-large lost its savor.

Sexual perversion. Infanticide. Economic instability. Threats of violence at home and abroad.

Unless we’re all a bunch of atheists reading this, we cannot deny that God is in some way or another bringing these things to this nation because of our rebellion against him.

Let’s Learn from the Past

And this is why the book of Jeremiah is so helpful to us. How did the godly Jeremiah respond to the troubling realities of his day? We’re experiencing some troubles that are strangely similar to what Jeremiah experienced. Maybe the way that Jeremiah responds to these things can inform our response.

Maybe the progression (or regression) of things in Jeremiah’s day will inform our thinking regarding what to expect in the coming days.

And I hope that all of it moves us to trust the Lord more and walk with him closer.

Jeremiah is Biographical

The book of Jeremiah is so biographical. It seems that he expresses so much more of his experience and his feelings about what’s going on around him than his fellow-prophets.

For example, we don’t really know much about how Isaiah felt about certain things happening around him. Ezekiel is similar.

But there’s something about the book of Jeremiah that just seems to let us in more on the author’s thoughts and emotions.

Jeremiah is Structured as Narratives

And here’s my theory on why that is — why the book of Jeremiah seems so personal. Why it draws the reader in so much.

I think it’s because it’s structured like a narrative — a story, or rather a number of different stories.

In Jeremiah we’re given details about people and places and events. We’re often given plot lines with good guys and bad guys. There are stories with climaxes. There are scenes and characters and actions. And that — in a nutshell — is a story.

The book of Jeremiah is not all stories, though. There are long stretches of straight prophetic utterances. But even most of those long utterances are framed within the structure of a story — with plot or characters or a scene which is set for us.

Conclusion

So, for all these reasons and more we should be encouraged concerning the value of studying the book of Jeremiah