The last lesson we did was on Josiah. If you’ll remember he was a king of Judah—the Southern Kingdom, which at this point in the Bible is the only kingdom that remains. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians and many of the people were removed to other lands. So Judah is all that is left of what was once the combined nation of Israel that once upon a time was ruled by David.
The conquering of Israel was allowed to happen because they had turned their backs on god, the kings and the people were all worshipping other gods like Ba’al and Asherah instead of the God of Israel. A similar thing was happening on Judah, but when Josiah became king he decided to renovate the Temple. And when he did so they found a book of torah, probably Deuteronomy, and when it was read to all the people they reformed their ways.
For a time. But they quickly slipped back into their old way, after Josiah died, of worshiping other gods.
Why was this so easy for them? Well remember we’ve talked about before in this class the idea of “monolatry.” What does that mean? Well in modern day, most of us believe that God is the only God and all other gods are false, or not real. But that’s not how the ancient world worked. In the ancient world they thought all the gods were real, but the idea was that only the God of Israel was worthy of worship. So even a good, God-following Israelite would believe Ba’al and Asherah and other Canaanite and Babylonian gods were real, they just knew that their God was better and the only one worthy of their attention.
We can actually see this idea pop up in a lot of placed in the Old Testament—the classic example being the opening of Job, where God is described as being the highest God at a council of many gods. That’s just how people in the ancient world thought. All the gods were real, but since the God of Israel told them not to worship other gods, they were just supposed to focus on him, only worship him, and just leave the other gods be.
In a society with monolatry like this, it’s easy to slip in to just worshiping every god, to cover all your bases. So people would worship Ba’al, Asherah, and the God of Israel. But is the God of Israel okay with that? Okay with being worshipped as just one of many gods? No! The first two commandments are literally about this. In Exodus 20:2-5, when God gives the ten commandments he says:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God
Do not have any other gods, he says. Do not have idols—that is objects that represent gods or things worthy of worship. Don’t worship any other god or idol, God says, because he is a jealous God. He wants to be the only God in their eyes. But that was something people in the ancient world really struggled with. Because isn’t it easier, they might think, if it hasn’t rained in a while, to cover all your bases and sacrifice to both the God of Israel and Ba’al? That way you’ve got two weather gods working for you! But the God of Israel doesn’t roll like that.
But the people keep slipping back into this thought process, and demoting God basically, as just another god in the ancient pantheon. And God is not happy about it.
And because of this judgement is still coming for Judah.
Today we’re flipping forward to the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is not a history, like Samuel or Kings, though it does contain some history. It’s a book of prophecy, written in part by the prophet Jeremiah and in part by some ancient scribes and historians. Alright someone please read Jeremiah 1:1-3.
1 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, 2 to whom the word of the Lord came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
These verses tell us who we’re talking about and when things are taking place. So Jeremiah is a priest from the lands of Benjamin, so in Judah. And God started talking to him in the 13th year of Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah is a prophet to Judah for a long time, starting when Josiah is king and going through the exile.
Just a bit of forewarning: the book of Jeremiah is not a happy book. It’s about a really dark time in the history of Judah. And Jeremiah is going to spend most of his career warning people it’s coming and then dealing with the repercussions when it actually happens. This is not a happy time.
Someone please read Jeremiah 1:4-10.
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lordsaid to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
This is actually a pretty famous section of text that I’ve heard quote a lot. So let’s break it down. This is basically Jeremiah’s first recorded encounter with God. God shows up and is like, “Hey Jeremiah, before you were even a twinkle in your parents’ eyes, and at that time—before you even existed—I planned for you and for you to be a prophet to the world!”
It seems that at the time of this interaction Jeremiah is very young, because his response is, “Umm, God? I’m like a kid. Soooo you probably don’t want me speaking to all the nations.”
But God is having none of that. God is like, “Psh, you may just be a kid, but I am God. And I’m never going to leave you hanging. So don’t be afraid and do what I say.”
God goes on to say, “I am giving you the words, and I appoint you over all nations, as my prophet, as a representative of me.”
It doesn’t matter if your only a kid, God can and does use you. Sometimes you may feel like you should do something or say something, but then you’re like, “I’m just a kid, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.” But here, even though Jeremiah is just a kid, God is giving him prophetic authority over all nations. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid, or very old, or like Moses have trouble talking, God will and can use you to accomplish amazing things!
In Jeremiah’s case, God is going to use him to warn Judah that some pretty terrible things are coming. Someone read Jeremiah 1:14-16.
14 Then the Lord said to me: Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the inhabitants of the land. 15 For now I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, says the Lord; and they shall come and all of them shall set their thrones at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its surrounding walls and against all the cities of Judah. 16 And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have made offerings to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands.
God tells Jeremiah what’s up, almost right away. He tells him that out of the North—i.e. the lands of Assyrian and Babylon—disaster is coming for Judah. And those kingdoms are going to take over even Jerusalem, because Judah has turned it’s back on God.
On the one hand, at least Jeremiah has no expectations that things are going to be nice and dandy while he’s prophet. On the other hand, this is a doom and gloom message. If I was Jeremiah I wouldn’t be excited that I was going to go around telling people about destruction coming. And I might be scared—what will people do to me when I tell them this is going to happen? But God anticipates that and follows up. Someone read Jeremiah 1:17-19.
17 But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18 And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.
God tells Jeremiah to put on his big boy pants, stand up, and tell the people of Judah everything God is telling him. He’s not to break down before them, even though the news he is going to tell them is terrible. But God doesn’t expect Jeremiah to rely on his own strength, God has fortified Jeremiah—he’s made him a fortress to stand against everyone in the land. Because when you’re the bearer of bad news, people have a tendency to shoot the messenger, but God will not let that happen. Because God has Jeremiah’s back, and he will keep him safe through everything.
I feel like this would be really tough news to take as a kid. God’s like, “Hey kid, people are going to hate you your entire life, but I have your back!” I mean it’s good that God has his back, there is no better person, but I don’t know about you, I’d feel pretty awful to know that for my entire life I would be the bearer of bad news that would turn people against me.
On the other hand, this is bad news that *doesn’t have to happen.* The whole point of having prophets warn of what is coming is that it gives people the opportunity to repent. God is warning Judah over and over, so that they will stop their wicked ways and turn back to him, and then God would avert the coming disaster. And warn them God does.
Most of the first half of the book of Jeremiah is that warning, over and over again. Someone read Jeremiah 7:1-7.
7 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you[a] in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is[b] the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”
5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
God’s message isn’t just doom and gloom, that the destruction is inevitable. His message is “amend your ways,” “turn back to God,” and “repent” and none of this has to happen! He even gives them concrete tasks they can do.
Act justly to one another. Do not oppress the alien—meaning foreigner in the land. Don’t oppress orphans and widows, who were the most vulnerable in the land. Don’t shed innocent blood. And don’t worship other gods.
This is good advice to even us today. We still struggle to act justly to one another, to love each other, to not oppress each other. But this is so important. And it’s basically God telling them what Jesus tells the people in the Gospels. The most important thing is to love God and love each other. If we can do that, then everything else will work itself out.
But we fail over and over to do that. The Israelites fail over and over to do that. It’s hard. We live in an unjust world. But even that phrase, “we live in an unjust world” doesn’t give credit where it’s due. It’s not the earth that is somehow unjust. It’s us—people. We are unjust. We are unmerciful. We are unkind. We are not gentle with each other. We are not forgiving. The world is unjust because people aren’t just.
If you’ve tuned into the news at all this week, you can see it. People do harm to each other. We don’t want justice. We want to do things our own way and look out for ourselves.
And Judah has fallen into this exact same trap.
But they have a chance. God is warning them. They can turn back. So he sends Jeremiah out to warn them.
He’s not well received.
Someone turn to Jeremiah 26:7-11.
7 The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the Lord. 8 And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! 9 Why have you prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.
10 When the officials of Judah heard these things, they came up from the king’s house to the house of the Lord and took their seat in the entry of the New Gate of the house of the Lord. 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.”
Jeremiah tells everyone God’s message but when they hear him they don’t repent, they aren’t convicted of their own wrong doing. Instead they want to kill him, as if he would be the one bringing this disaster on them and if they murder him that will avert disaster.
The priests and prophets of Jerusalem all say they want Jeremiah to die, because he has spoken ill of Jerusalem. They are in denial. They want to think Jeremiah is crazy and bringing down curses on Jerusalem and killing him will fix it. But it won’t.
Someone read Jeremiah 26:12-15.
12 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the Lord who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the Lord sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”
Jeremiah knows God has his back, God has already told him that. And he has faith. So he’s not backing down from his words. He doubles down on his message, calling for them to repent. God has sent him to convict them of their wrong doing, so that they can repent, change their ways, and obey God. If they do so the disaster will be averted. If not, disaster is coming.
As for Jeremiah himself, he tells them to do what they will with him, but if they’re going to kill him for this bad news he has then they will have innocent blood on their hands.
Someone read Jeremiah 26:16-19.
16 Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve the sentence of death, for he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.” 17 And some of the elders of the land arose and said to all the assembled people, 18 “Micah of Moresheth, who prophesied during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah, said to all the people of Judah: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts,
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’
19 Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!”
The people decide that Jeremiah does not deserve a death sentence for merely relaying God’s words. After all, they point out, his words are similar to that of a previous prophet, Micah, who was prophet during a previous king who said that Jerusalem would becoming a heap of ruins. And that king—Hezekiah—didn’t put Micah to death. Instead they listened and the disaster was averted!
This seems to be a good sign, the people seem to be listening to Jeremiah and understanding what is coming. They are acknowledging through harkening back to the story of Hezekiah and Micah what is happening now, and what could be done. They could just repent, and turn back to God, and everything would be fine.
Let’s see if that’s how this goes. Someone read Jeremiah 26:20-24.
20 There was another man prophesying in the name of the Lord, Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-jearim. He prophesied against this city and against this land in words exactly like those of Jeremiah. 21 And when King Jehoiakim, with all his warriors and all the officials, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Uriah heard of it, he was afraid and fled and escaped to Egypt. 22 Then King Jehoiakim sent[a] Elnathan son of Achbor and men with him to Egypt, 23 and they took Uriah from Egypt and brought him to King Jehoiakim, who struck him down with the sword and threw his dead body into the burial place of the common people.
24 But the hand of Ahikam son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah so that he was not given over into the hands of the people to be put to death.
The story shifts a little bit and tells us about another man, Uriah, who is also prophesying like Jeremiah, warning of what is to come. But when the king hears his words the king isn’t moved like the people were for Jeremiah, and he wants to put Uriah to death.
Uriah—unlike Jeremiah—doesn’t stand his ground. He feels to Egypt. But the king sends men after him into Egypt to capture him and bring him back. And then he is put to death.
So while Jeremiah seems to be having some success other prophets send to give the same message are not. Some people seem like they’re changing their mind but the entire kingdom has not, and certainly not the king. This isn’t a good sign. This isn’t the nationwide, communal repentance that God is looking for.
Things aren’t looking good for Judah.
And that’s where we’re going to stop for today. We’ll continue the story of Jeremiah next week.