The prophet Jeremiah has often been described as the “weeping” prophet of Judah because of the sorrow he experienced in the course of performing his task. Jeremiah was sent to warn a wayward, rebellious, and impenitent people about the Lord’s coming judgement upon them. A patriotic Jew, but also a tender-hearted man, there were times when Jeremiah felt his prophetic burden was more than he could bear.
His service spans the reigns of the last five kings of Judah, and he chronicles both the devastation of Babylon’s conquest of Judah and his people’s entry into exile. The Lord’s message of impending punishment and captivity was unquestionably hard for him to deliver (because Jeremiah loved his nation); his experience was made worse when king Jehoiakim and his nobles ignored it, and Zedekiah was king he allowed Jeremiah to be imprisoned in a mud-filled cistern by nobles who objected to his message (Jeremiah 38:6-7). The prophet’s anguished description of Jerusalem’s destruction and plunder (in the book of Lamentations) gives a vivid image of the pain he endured.
One of the first points to note about Jeremiah’s prophetic work comes from the commission recorded in chapter 1, and centers around the “positive/negative” proportions of his message. In verse 10, Jeremiah was given the same 2:1 ratio of “negatives” to “positives” that Paul later mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:2. While people prefer “positive, uplifting” words from the Lord instead of warnings or correction, this “two negatives for every positive” relationship simply shows that we need correction and warning, in addition to encouragement in righteousness. Genuinely “balanced” preaching includes correcting both “active wrongdoing” and “failure to do right,” as well as encouragement.
Chapter two highlights (almost at the beginning of Jeremiah’s work) the twofold character of Judah’s apostasy from God. Verses 11-13 show that the people had not merely ignored the Lord’s will (and His warnings); like their ancestors at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32), they had actually substituted “gods” of their own devising in His place! Jeremiah would later note (10:23) that “the way of man is not in [not located in, does not originate within] himself….” As if to add insult to injury, they had “jilted” the true God in favor of idols, just as chapter 2:32 laments!
In one of the most picturesque appeals anywhere in the scripture, in Jeremiah 4:3 the prophet pleads with the men of Judah and Jerusalem to,
“Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns.”
Urging them to serve the Lord, Jeremiah points out here that one of their main problems was their own idleness in matters of righteousness! Like the people of that ancient day, we too are often idle (and therefore, unfruitful, 2 Peter 1:8 – ASV) when we should strive to have the attitude of Jesus (Luke 2:49) and “be about [our] Father’s business.” Note the urgency of God’s words, and the summary of the sad lament found in Jeremiah 4:19-22;
“For My people are foolish, They have not known Me.
They are silly children, And they have no understanding.
They are wise to do evil, But to do good they have no knowledge.”
(emphasis mine, DR)
Jeremiah 6:16 could easily stand as a summary of the prophet’s entire experience with his people, for it reveals the root of their problem; just as our own society insists on setting its own standards for what is “right” and “good,” they too were unwilling to let God to direct their steps.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk
in it; Then you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said,
‘We will not walk in it.’”
– Dave Rogers