Introduction to the Book of Jeremiah

Jeremiah and the Potter
Jeremiah and the Potter. Illustration by William Hole (1846 - 1917).

Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images

God's patience with his people had come to an end. He had rescued them many times in the past, yet they forgot his mercy and turned to idols. God chose young Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah of his coming judgment, but nobody listened; nobody changed. After 40 years of warnings, God's wrath came down. 

Jeremiah dictated his prophecies to his scribe Baruch, who wrote them on a scroll. When King Jehoiakim burned that scroll piece by piece, Baruch recorded the predictions again, along with his own comments and histories, which accounts for the scrambled order of the writing.

Throughout its history, Israel had flirted with idolatry. The book of Jeremiah foretold that sin would be punished by the invasion of foreign empires. Jeremiah's prophecies are divided into those about a united Israel, about the southern kingdom of Judah, the destruction of Jerusalem, and about surrounding nations. God used the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Judah then destroy it.

What sets the book of Jeremiah apart from other prophets is its intimate portrayal of a humble, sensitive man, torn between his love of country and his dedication to God. During his life, Jeremiah suffered crushing disappointment, yet he fully trusted God to return and rescue his people.

The book of Jeremiah is one of the most challenging reads in the Bible because its prophecies are not arranged in chronological order. What's more, the book wanders from one type of literature to another and is filled with symbolism. A good study Bible is crucial to understanding this text. 

The doom and gloom preached by this prophet may seem depressing but is offset by predictions of a coming Messiah and a New Covenant with Israel. That Messiah did appear hundreds of years later, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Points of Interest

  • Jeremiah is the second longest book in the Bible after Psalms and is the only Old Testament book that explains its own origin.
  • Jeremiah is called the "weeping prophet" because his heart broke over Judah's sins. In Hebrew, his name is Yirmeyahu or Yirmeyah, which means "he whom Yahweh will establish or lift up."
  • Showing people their sins brings persecution. Jeremiah was denied marriage, whipped and put in stocks, rejected by his own family, taken to Egypt against his will, nearly killed by a wild mob, flogged and thrown into prison, and cast into a filthy cistern.  

Key Characters

Jeremiah, Baruch, King Josiah, King Jehoiakim, Ebed-Melech, King Nebuchadnezzar, the Recabite people.

Key Verses

Jeremiah 7:13
While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. (NIV)

Jeremiah 23:5-6
"The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness." (NIV)

Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Jeremiah

  • Jeremiah's Call by God (1:1 - 19).
  • Warnings to Judah (2:1 - 35:19).
  • Jeremiah's Persecution and Suffering (36:1 - 38:25).
  • Fall of Jerusalem and Consequences (39:1 - 45:5).
  • Prophecies About the Nations (46:1 - 51:64).
  • Historical Appendix (52:1 - 34).