Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the 13th year of Josiah, king of Judah (Jer. 1:2) about 628 B.C. He gave the people and the kings in Jerusalem the word of the Lord until the city was destroyed in 586 B.C.
Jeremiah’s ministry to Jerusalem thus ran for 43 years, which appears to run parallel to the 43 years from the start of Jesus’ ministry (30 A.D.) to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 and the final battle at Masada in 73 A.D. It was 43 years from 30-73 A.D.
For this reason, Jeremiah’s prophecies were particularly relevant to Jerusalem during the 40-year grace period before the Romans destroyed Judah and Jerusalem. If the people had believed the words of Jeremiah, telling them to submit to the king of Babylon (Jer. 27:12, 13), they might have twice avoided the calamity.
But the people’s refusal to hear the word of the Lord through the prophet during his lifetime was repeated 600 years later in the first century. In both cases, they proved to be “evil figs” (Jer. 24:8) who would not submit to the captivity decreed by God on account of their wickedness.
All of the prophets were agents of God and prophetic types of Christ, each in their own unique way. Jeremiah’s role was to instruct the nation toward the path of the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, the nation chose another path which led to destruction and exile.
Good and Evil Figs
In Jeremiah 24, the prophet had a revelation about two baskets of figs, each basket from a different fig tree. One basket held very good figs, while the other held “evil figs” that were inedible. These represented two types of people in Judah—two types of Jews—one that would submit to the righteous judgments of God, and the other that refused.
In Jesus’ day the same revelation played out with regard to the Romans, whom God had raised up as the fourth beast empire since Babylon to subject the people to captivity. Jesus submitted to the Romans and taught His disciples to do the same—even Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15). The Zealots were those who believed that God wanted Judah to be free and independent and were willing to fight for their freedom. But God was more interested in their submission to divine judgment than with their patriotic fervor.
After the first wave of captives had been exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah wrote a letter to them. Jer. 29:1 says,
1 Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
In part, his letter said in verses 5-7,
5 Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce, 6 take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the welfare of the city [Babylon] where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will have welfare.
In other words, understand that God has decreed a 70-year exile under the iron yoke because of your refusal to submit to divine judgment for your sin. During those 70 years, pray for peace and prosperity for Babylon, because if the city suffers, you too will suffer.
Daniel was the prophet of the Babylonian exile, and only when the 70 years had been accomplished did he pray for deliverance (Daniel 9:2, 3). He did not lead a revolt. He only prayed for God’s deliverance. God raised up Cyrus of Persia to overthrow Babylon, and Cyrus then issued a decree that set the people free.
That is the biblical pattern for us today, for Jeremiah’s advice is just as relevant to us today as it was then. We are now standing at the end of the long tribulation and captivity. If we have been faithful to submit to the judgment of God, we have the right to petition God and to repent on behalf of our nation to set the earth free, even as we as believers have been set free already from the tyrannical power of sin and death (Rom. 7:14, 25; 8:2).
The Good Purpose of Captivity
The most important freedom is inward. Our outward circumstances (captivity to unjust beast systems) is God’s way of correcting us through judgment. The first lesson is to submit to the judgments of God upon the nation in which we find ourselves—as both Jeremiah and Daniel did.
The second lesson is to see by experience the folly and injustice of man’s laws. The third lesson is to learn the laws of God so that we may choose the way of life rather than of death (Deut. 30:19). This, of course, means much more than memorizing the law. The law itself is just an aid to getting to know God Himself. By knowing His mind, we may gain an understanding of the law that is in accordance with His nature and plan, so that we may qualify to rule with Him.
Most Jews and Israelites did not understand or agree with God’s judgments upon them. They thought they could set aside God’s law with immunity. Others thought they could study God’s law with the best and brightest carnal minds, but they ended up only establishing the traditions of men.
Without New Covenant faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, it is not possible to understand the law of God in the way that we should. The reason is because the carnal mind seeks its own way and advantage over others. It is not rooted in life but in death. It is not motivated by love but by selfish desire. Hence, it has a tendency to twist the Scriptures to fit its own agenda.
Jeremiah discovered that the civil and religious leaders in his day were motivated by their carnal minds which were actually in rebellion against God. In fact, all of the prophets found themselves persecuted by their carnally-minded contemporaries. Religion had replaced a true relationship with God, and the prophets were the irritant in society.
Even as the religious leaders of Judah persecuted the prophet Jeremiah, so also did they persecute Jesus for the same reason. Jeremiah told the people in his day to submit to the king of Babylon, and the leaders accused him of treason and sedition. Jesus told the people in His day to submit to Rome, and the leaders rejected Him as the Messiah. They wanted a carnally-minded messiah who would fight against Rome and defeat the Romans with signs and wonders.
The problem was that they wanted to be free of Rome’s captivity without repenting of their carnal religion. In fact, they thought that they were righteous and had no need of repentance. For this reason John refused to baptize some of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Matt. 3:7-9 says,
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance, 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.”
In other words, John said, as long as you rely upon your flesh and do not know that you have need of repentance, do not come to me for baptism. I do not bear witness that your spiritual leprosy has been healed (Lev. 14:1-3). Return to your unclean abode until God truly heals you, and then I will bear witness of your healing through baptism.
The purpose of captivity is to teach us how to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. But the people in Jeremiah’s day thought they had no need of repentance. Jer. 2:35 says,
35 Yet you said, “I am innocent; surely His anger is turned away from me.” Behold, I will enter into judgment with you, because you say, ‘I have not sinned’.”
They thought Jeremiah’s indictment of Judah was a false accusation. The same was true in the days of John the Baptist and during Jesus’ ministry. The flesh continued to strive with the Spirit, each claiming the right to rule. But only one side was right.
Children of the Flesh
Their idea that they were chosen by God on account of their flesh hid the truth that they were children of the flesh and not inheritors of the Kingdom. In Gal. 4:25 Paul says that Jerusalem is Hagar and her children Ishmaelites, or children of the flesh. In Gal. 4:29 he continues,
29 But as at that time, he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
We do not have the earthly Jerusalem as our mother, for Gal. 4:26 says,
26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
In other words, we are the Isaac company, and we have been chosen to be the inheritors of the Kingdom. Those who depend upon the flesh for their “chosen” status are still—by their own words—children of the flesh, Ishmaelites, who persecute the true inheritors.
One of the purposes of the captivity is to teach us to stop depending upon the flesh, the Old Covenant, and the earthly Jerusalem in prophecy. In large part, this was Jeremiah’s message, though it was not fully clarified until Paul did so in his epistles.
Jeremiah 11:14-23 is a passage showing how the people sought the life of the prophet even as they sought to kill Jesus. Notice the parallel. It starts with God telling Jeremiah not to pray for their deliverance. (This prayer ban actually began in Jer. 7:16, after God had rendered His final verdict to forsake Jerusalem as He had forsaken Shiloh earlier.)
Jer. 11:14, 15 says,
14 Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not listen when they call to Me because of their disaster. 15 What right has My beloved in My house when she has done many vile deeds?...
The “vile deeds” were spelled out in greater detail earlier in Jer. 7:9-11, ending with a condemnation for turning the temple into “a den of robbers.” In other words, the temple was a place of safety where robbers could hide from the law.
The same situation was seen in Jesus’ day when He cleansed the temple (Matt. 21:12, 13).
Jer. 11:16 continues,
16 The Lord called your name, “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form”; with the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless.
Olive trees were fruit-bearing trees and were not to be cut down in any siege of a city (Deut. 20:19). But the “tree” in this case had not borne fruit that was fit to eat, and so “its branches are worthless.” Hence, God “kindled a fire on it,” for it qualified only as a fuel tree.
Jesus cursed the fig tree for the same reason (Matt. 21:19). Such spiritual warfare was lawful because the tree was fruitless.
Jer. 11:17 continues,
17 The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering up sacrifices to Baal.
In other words, the fruit of the tree was metaphorically bitter and unfit to eat. Instead of believing the word of the prophet and repenting of their deeds, Jer. 11:18, 19 says,
18 Moreover the Lord made it known to me and I knew it; then You showed me their deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
This reminds us of Isaiah 53:7, where the Messiah was said to be “like a lamb that is led to slaughter.” Obviously, Jeremiah was a type of Christ and so he had to experience the same plot against his life that Christ would experience many centuries later.
We also see from this that the plot was to “destroy the tree with its fruit.” The “tree” in this case was Jeremiah himself. But because Jeremiah was a fruit-bearing tree, it was forbidden in the law to chop it down in time of war.
The law, as we know, prescribes justice in equal measure (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” Exodus 21:24). Furthermore, false accusations were to be judged according to the intent of the evil-doers. Deut. 16 and 19 says,
16 If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing… 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother…
In the case of Jeremiah’s accusers, they plotted to kill him, which the prophet described using the metaphor of chopping down his tree. Apparently, God saw these wicked men as representatives of the nation itself. In other words, their actions were taken as testimony on behalf of the nation they represented. (I have seen such cases many times.)
Jeremiah had been unaware of this plot against his life until God revealed it to him. He then appealed to God for protection and for justice. Jer. 11:20 says,
20 But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tries the feelings [kilyah, “kidneys, reins”] and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You have I committed my cause.
In Hebrew thought, kidneys and heart represent two different ideas. Kidneys with the urinary tract attached appear as “reins” on a horse. Hence, it represented divine guidance. The heart, on the other hand, had to do with one’s character or nature, the seat of one’s intents.
So Jeremiah lodged an appeal in the divine court.
The prophet filed his legal “cause,” asking God to judge the motives of both sides of the dispute and to judge how they were led—either by the flesh or by the Spirit.
Jer. 11:21-23 concludes,
21 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, saying, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, so that you will not die at our hand”; 22 therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, I am about to punish them! The young men will die by the sword, their sons and daughters will die by famine; 23 and a remnant will not be left to them, for I will bring disaster on the men of Anathoth—the year of their punishments.
Anathoth apparently was Jeremiah’s hometown, because he was later asked to redeem land at Anathoth (Jer. 32:7). He had the right of redemption, because some near kinsman lived there and was losing his land through debt.
Anathoth means “answers to prayer.” The location of this plot, then, forms a perfect backdrop to the dispute between the prophet and those who plotted against him. Jeremiah appealed to God in prayer, and we know that his prayer was answered, while his accusers were condemned.
Jer. 11:23 (above) also says about the plotters, “a remnant will not be left to them,” indicating that their entire families would be killed in the siege that was coming. It also has a New Covenant application, suggesting that those who plot against Christ (or His agents, the prophets) are not included in the remnant of grace.
The Prophecies of the Jars
Jer. 18:1-10 gives a prophecy to the House of Israel. The prophet was told to go to a potter’s house, where God would give him revelation. The potter was making a clay jar on his wheel, but because it was flawed, he beat down the wet clay and remolded it into something useful. Jer. 18:6 says,
6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.”
Hence, the so-called “lost tribes of Israel” were beaten down by divine judgment, but God promised to remold them into a useful vessel. They were compared to wet clay.
Then from Jer. 18:11 until the end of chapter 19, the prophet focuses upon the House of Judah and Jerusalem. In the rest of chapter 18 the prophet gives an indictment upon Judah for its sins, and then God tells the prophet to get an old earthen jar to represent the House of Judah.
Jer. 19:1-3 begins,
1 Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. 2 Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom [Greek: gehenna] which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, 3 and say, “Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem…
The prophet was to indict Judah and Jerusalem for sacrificing children in the valley of Ben-hinnom. We then read in Jer. 19:10-12,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you, 11 and say to them, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth [“burning”] because there is no other place for burial.’ 12 This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the Lord, “so as to make this city like Topheth.
Jeremiah gives no word of hope for Jerusalem and its inhabitants but declares only calamity upon it. Calamity did indeed come at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar a few years later. However, in the days of Nehemiah, the city was rebuilt. It was destroyed again in 70 A.D., but it was rebuilt.
The day is coming, says the prophet, that the destruction will be so complete that it “cannot again be repaired.” Hence, while the lost House of Israel will again be found and rebuilt into a new vessel, the House of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, will be like a broken vessel of hardened clay that can never be rebuilt again.
The modern Jewish state which they call Israel, with its capital in Jerusalem, is not the wet clay vessel seen in Jer. 18:1-10. Though it calls itself Israel, it is actually fulfilling the prophecy in Jer. 19. The Israelites were the ten tribes led by Ephraim; the Judahites (“Jews”) are from the southern kingdom of Judah, to which has been added many others over the centuries who have converted to Judaism. They only await the day they fill up the measure of their fathers (Matt. 23:32). Then “Hagar” will be cast out (Gal. 4:30).
The Kingdom will then be reconstructed with the living stones of the remnant that has returned (repented). These are the true Israelites who have been given the name which testifies of the sovereignty of God: Israel, “God rules.”