The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel lived and preached during the final days of the kingdom of Judah. They experienced the reforms and renewal of the Covenant under the godly King Josiah and the dramatic spiral of evil and destruction following his death.
Jeremiah is branded as the prophet of doom or the weeping prophet. He was the son of a priest on the career path to become a priest, to serve in the temple of the LORD. Instead God reveal to Jeremiah that he was chosen before he was born to be His prophet to the nations. Jeremiah did not seek this call, rather God chose Jeremiah for his purposes, to announce God’s impending judgment on Judah and to bear witness to the complete destruction of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah is identified as “a youth” in the 13th year of King Josiah who would have been about 21 years old at that time. Jeremiah will serve as a prophet and deliver God’s message for his entire life proclaiming judgement and promising restoration, 41 years in Judah, another 17 years in Egypt then finally killed by his fellow Israelites in Egypt.
Like Moses Jeremiah responds to God’s call by saying he is too young, and that he doesn’t know how to speak well enough to be God’s prophet. The LORD responds by saying, “Do not say ‘I am too young’. But go to whomever I send you and say whatever I tell you.” Then like Isaiah’s call the LORD touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gives him the assurance that He will give him the words you are to speak for me.
It has been about 100 years since the northern tribes of Israel were conquered and deported by Assyria and about 85 years since Isaiah announced to the godly King Hezekiah that Babylon would invade the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah has been dominated by Assyria, but with the rise of the Babylonians they now enjoy their independence, which has allowed for the reforms of King Josiah; the purging of pagan influences, the restoration of the Temple and the renewal of the Covenant. The prophets Zephaniah and Jeremiah supported King Josiah; under his rule Judah was economically prosperous and even began expanding Judah’s influence into the former Israelite territory. Josiah’s reforms died with him, his sons will reign over the collapse of the kingdom of Judah.
After the fall of the Assyria during the reign of Josiah’s sons, Judah becomes a vassal state of Babylon. The kings of Judah repeatedly ignore God’s warnings through Jeremiah, to resist rebellion, to submit to God’s judgment and surrender to Babylon. Instead they conspired against Babylon resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and the deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon.
Remember that deportation and resettlement of Israel was used by the Assyrians as a method to destroy national and ethnic identity. But God will use this political practice to preserve a remnant of God’s people who will be tested and remain faithful. Jeremiah counseled surrender and submission to the coming threat of Babylon, but the kings and crowd branded him as a traitor. His advice against rebellion was intended to keep Judah from being completely wiped out. Jeremiah also announced the limit of God’s wrath; Judah will be in exile for 70 years after that God will make a “new covenant” with Israel and restore them to the Promised Land.
Before the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah preached about God’s accusation against His people using the image of marriage. They are like an unfaithful lover, like a new bride who has abandoned a devoted loving husband to chase after other lovers. They should have acknowledged what happened to her sister Samaria when she was unfaithful and sent away, she chased after other gods and defiled the land. Jeremiah announces that Judah is even guiltier than Israel; the LORD says, “How can I leave you unpunished, Jerusalem?”
Jeremiah declares that the coming disaster will come from the north, he repeats the warnings of coming destruction making it clear that it is God who is sending this calamity. But in the midst of these dire messages, there is a glimmer of hope, “Yet even then I will not completely destroy you”, says the LORD. God will not completely destroy Judah.
The LORD commands Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the temple and declare God’s message to His people. He denounces the false prophets and false priests, they are saying everything is all right, but everything is not all right! The people and leaders of Jerusalem were under the false impression that they were “safe” from Babylon because of God’s presence in His temple in Jerusalem. Jeremiah was persistent in delivering God’s message of coming judgment and the people of Judah responded by plotting against Jeremiah. This set up a long pattern in Jeremiah’s ministry, he delivers God’s message followed by beatings, imprisonment and persecution, Jeremiah responds by praying out his anger, frustration and hate then God sends him to deliver the unwanted message again, we understand why Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet.
Jeremiah uses the object lesson of the potter and the clay to reinforce God’s message, “like clay in the hand of the potter so are you in my hand”; the potter can build them up or destroy them. Followed by, “this is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” After this message the priest Pashhur has Jeremiah flogged and put into stocks in the temple courtyard. Jeremiah denounces Pashhur and reveals that his entire household will go into exile in Babylon and die there. Then Jeremiah falls into great despair saying, “The word of the lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long”, Jeremiah is at his breaking point, he is depressed and curses the day he was born.
Jerusalem is now under siege by Nebuchadnezzar during the reign of Zedekiah the last king of Judah. Jeremiah delivers increasingly dire predictions, “I will kill everything living in Jerusalem, people and animals alike! They will die from terrible diseases. If you stay in the city you will die, whoever surrenders to the Babylonians will live.” However, In the middle of this long awful message, Jeremiah delivers the message of hope: “I, the LORD promise that a new time will certainly come when I will raise up for them a righteous branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the land. Under his rule Judah will enjoy safety and Israel will live in security.”
Jeremiah reveals that Judah will become a wasteland and that the nations will be subject to the king of Babylon for 70 years. But when the 70 years are over, the LORD will punish the king of Babylon and his nations for their sins. At this point the prophet Jeremiah has been delivering God’s message of doom for 23 years. This time Judah responds by killing God’s prophets Uriah and Ahikam, Jeremiah narrowly escapes death then delivers another object lesson. He wears a yoke on his neck and walked around proclaiming the coming destruction. “But if any nation will bow its neck under the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let that nation remain in its own land to till it and to live there, declares the LORD”. Jeremiah delivers the message to surrender; bow your neck to the king of Babylon; serve him and his people, and you will live. But the king and people of Jerusalem refuse to believe Jeremiah; they continued to believe the false prophets who told them the things they wanted to hear.
At this point the prophet Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon; this would have included the prophet Ezekiel. The message was clear, settle down, build houses, plant gardens, marry and grow in numbers, enjoy the peace wait for the LORD to restore the faithful to the Promised Land. Israel’s hope was not in Jerusalem, not in the people still in Judah; Israel’s hope was in the exiles, the faithful remnant. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope. When you call out to me and come to me in prayer. I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you, says the LORD”.
To illustrate this hope for the future God instructs Jeremiah to buy a field while Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah in prison. Jeremiah is told to put the deed to the land in a clay jar and bury it in the field. This illustrated to the people of Jerusalem that at a time in the future, Judah and Jerusalem will have normal life, there will be happy times and sounds of joy in the land.
Once again Jeremiah is sent to King Zedekiah with a message from the LORD. He is told that the LORD will hand over the city to the king of Babylon, that the king will confront the king of Babylon face to face. But you will not die in battle or be executed. Once more King Zedekiah asks Jeremiah to pray for Jerusalem, seeking a different answer from the LORD. Jeremiah’s reply, “Yes, you will be a handed over to the king of Babylon”. Jeremiah is imprisoned in the courtyard, where continues to preach telling all the people that anyone who stays in the city will die but those who go over to the Babylonians will live. So King Zedekiah puts Jeremiah in a cistern to die, but he is rescued by a faithful man and returned to his courtyard prison.
Despite Jeremiah’s warning King Zedekiah attempts to escape during the final days of Jerusalem’s siege. He is captured, his sons, daughters, wives and supporters are all killed in front of his eyes then the Babylonians burn out his eyes and he is taken to Babylon to live out his days in prison.
Jeremiah is released from his prison by King Nebuchadnezzar and chooses to stay in the destroyed Jerusalem under the new governor put in place by Babylon. Eventually, the remnant in Judah rebel and kill the new governor. After this everyone was afraid of what the Babylonians will do in retaliation, they ask Jeremiah about the LORD’s will, should they stay in Jerusalem or should they flee to Egypt. The message remains the same, the LORD says stay in the land, submit to the King of Babylon and you will live, but if you flee to Egypt dread will follow you there. But the Israelites refuse to obey the word from the LORD; instead they force Jeremiah to go to Egypt with them. In Egypt Jeremiah continues to deliver messages from the LORD to God’s people and the nations. Eventually, Jeremiah will be killed in Egypt by the people who do not want to accept the message he is called to deliver from the LORD.
The prophet Ezekiel was among the 10,000 Jews who went into exile in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, 11 years before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. Ezekiel was born the year that King Josiah found the lost book of the Law. He was from a priestly family learning to serve in the temple but when he was 25 years old before he officially became a priest he was taken to Babylon. Instead of serving as a priest in the temple he is called to be a prophet to the exiles; a priest and prophet cut off from the temple and from the Promised Land.
The first 7 years of Ezekiel’s preaching is about the discouraging news from Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel in Babylon deliver the same message from God; Jerusalem will fall to Babylon. God revealed to Ezekiel that Jerusalem would fall at the same time that his wife would die. He was told not to mourn for his wife and that the exiles were not to mourn for Jerusalem.
Ezekiel’s prophecy states, “then they will know that I am the LORD” sixty-five times in his writings. They will know that I am God when Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed. They will know that I am God when the nations are judged. Everyone will know that I am God when I restore and renew the nation of Israel.
God reveals his plans to Ezekiel through “dream visions” which Ezekiel acted out with symbolic acts and parables. There is intentional symmetry in Ezekiel’s prophecy. The vision of the destruction of the temple is balanced by the vision of the restored and purified temple. God’s wrath is balanced by God’s comfort as the good shepherd. Ezekiel is called to be a watchman of the judgement of Jerusalem and a watchman of the new temple and the renewed, restored and fruitful land.
Jeremiah reveals that salvation for God’s people would happen through exile in Babylon. Ezekiel teachings helped the exiles understand this judgment and hope for the future. God preserved for himself a remnant of the faithful who will settle down and study God’s law to understand why this great evil overcame God’s chosen people. Like Joseph in Egypt, the exiles can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. God also preserved through King Jehoiachin the lineage of King David and the Promised Seed, the Messiah. Jehoiachin’s grandson Zerubbabel will eventually become the governor of Judah. “I the Lord, promise that a new time will certainly come when I will raise up for them a righteous branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the land. Under his rule Judah will enjoy safety and Israel will live in security.”
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, Psalm 33:11-21
God’s Promises are true – He will make them happen – Nothing can stop the LORD Almighty!