Like the very last announcement to board a departing plane, Jeremiah’s ministry in these chapters is God’s final call to the kingdom of Judah. If her inhabitants fail to heed God’s words through Jeremiah, the kingdom, her king, and her Temple will all come tumbling down.
Here are some key items to search for as you read Jeremiah 1-29.
- Jeremiah’s call to ministry in Jeremiah 1. Note how God promises that the majority of his ministry will be a preaching of coming judgment (v. 10). God also prepares Jeremiah for the fight that God knows lies ahead—Jeremiah will face stiff opposition but God will be with him (vv. 17-19).
- In Jeremiah 2, observe how God reports on what Judah should have said and did not (vv. 6, 8) or what they did say and should not have (vv. 20, 23, 27, 31, 35). Their speech betrays a heart far from God and full of idols. Jeremiah 2 also contains the fountain-of-fresh-water versus broken-cistern metaphor—Judah’s exchange of her Glory for idols who cannot profit is mindboggling (2:9-13).
- In Jeremiah 3-6 (specifically 3:6-6:30), look for the comparison between Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Keep in mind that Israel has already been carried away captive for her idolatry. Yet—and this is God’s point in these chapters—Judah has not learned from Israel’s mistake. Her inhabitants’ decision to knowingly persist in idolatry has “forced” God to punish her. God would be unjust not to (5:9, 29; also 9:9).
- As you read Jeremiah 7-10 discern how God addresses Judah’s misplaced confidences and how He attempts to refocus her on the duty of obedience to Him. Judah boasts in the Temple as if the building itself is a talisman protecting against divine punishment (7:1-11). What happened at Shiloh is proof positive that God does not hesitate to topple religious buildings if God’s people refuse to obey. Jeremiah 9 makes clear that boasting in wisdom, might, and riches is a misplaced trust. In chapter 10, idols are misplaced confidence—they are manmade and mean nothing to the God who made the heavens and the earth. If you want to boast, boast that you know the Lord (9:23-24). In some ways, what God desires most is a heart to know Him (24:7). Where that exists, all other relational wrinkles will iron out.
- In Jeremiah 11-20, feel the increasing “back and forth” in terms of who is speaking. (You may have already noticed this in 8:13-9:3.) Sometimes God is speaking to Jeremiah. Other times, Jeremiah is speaking to God. Now and again, God delivers a message to Jeremiah for His people. And on occasion, Jeremiah is speaking to God on behalf of the people—either quoting their words (as in 11:19) or grieving over them. Jeremiah’s preaching of Judah and Jerusalem’s imminent destruction is decidedly unnationalistic, and it leads to his being beaten and humiliated by Pashhur the priest (20:1-6). When the heat gets too intense for Jeremiah, his emotions melt and he complains to the Lord about his circumstances. See if you can detect Jeremiah’s five complaints scattered through these chapters and how the Lord responds graciously but firmly to His overwhelmed servant.
- Jeremiah 21-25 confirms to Judah’s kings and prophets that God will not deliver Judah and Jerusalem from Babylon (see 21:1-7). (Like He did for Hezekiah from Sennacherib!) In Jeremiah 22, God assesses three of Judah’s final kings and disapproves of them all. God’s curse against Coniah, also known as Jeconiah, is especially severe (22:24-30). Do not miss the Messianic Branch prophecy in Jeremiah 23:5-8. The term Branch refers to a small sprig, the kind that sprouts from a seemingly dead stump. Although unworthy shepherds (kings!) and false prophets have led God’s people astray and sealed the nation’s doom (see chapter 23), God will in the future raise up a “shoot” to sit on David’s throne and usher in a reign of justice and righteousness. “Behold, the days are coming” is a very common way in which Jeremiah introduces something God will do in the future (7:32; 9:25; 16:14; 19:6; 23:5, 7; 31:27, 31, 38; 33:14; 48:12; 49:2; 51:47, 52). Jeremiah 24 with its analogy of good figs and bad figs paves the way for Jeremiah 25, perhaps the clearest declaration of the seventy years of captivity to Babylon in all of the Old Testament (25:8-14).
- Jeremiah 26-29 brings the prophecies of judgment against Judah to a close. As you read these chapters, hunt for two things: (1) the hostile reactions to Jeremiah’s preaching of Jerusalem’s demise and of a lengthy captivity in Babylon, and (2) the way in which God defends or confirms Jeremiah’s unpopular message. Adverse reactions are humanly understandable: agree with a preacher who tells you to surrender to the enemy battering down your gates? But Jeremiah is right. He speaks for God. Those in Judah and Jerusalem who will survive are those who settle down in Babylon and wait until God’s appointed time of captivity is over (29:1-14). But those who resist Jeremiah and his words preach rebellion against the Lord, and each in turn will face the consequences for what they have done (29:24-32).