CLICK HERE to read Jeremiah 1.
In the Bible, the book of Jeremiah comes right after the Book of Isaiah, and most believe he also wrote the historical books of 1 and 2 Kings and also Lamentations. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all considered Jeremiah to be one of the major prophets. Jeremiah’s writings are unique in that he focused a great deal on the individuality of one’s relationship with God, as opposed to the impact of national and governmental choices and consequences.
Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָה) means “Jehovah exalts”. He was from the village of Anathoth, which we know from Joshua 21 and 1 Chronicles 8 was one of the cities given to the Levite tribe for the care of the kohen (priests), and a suburb of Jerusalem. Jeremiah himself was a priest and the son of a priest, from a wealthy family, and had a happy childhood (verse 1). However, adulthood was a harsh reality. By the time he was grown, and should have taken his turn as priest to serve in the temple and do the sacrifices as those before him, the people had fallen away. The government was doing false sacrifices, priestcraft, and idol worship, and the true priests were no longer allowed to perform temple ordinances.
Jeremiah was called as a prophet in 626 B.C. to speak out against these things (verse 2). He was known as “the weeping prophet” because of such despondency in the experience of being a Prophet at the time the people no longer want prophets. He was one of the final prophetic voices, after that of Isaiah, and witnessed the destruction of his people – and even the temple (verse 3). This was his prophetic calling: not to warn the people and call them to repentance as Isaiah had, but to inform them their chosen destruction had arrived and remind them why.
Jeremiah had some help: Baruch is a character that comes up often in his writing, and we know from his writings and from Josephus as well that this was his scribe, an editor of sorts, as well as a friend. Baruch was also the brother of the chamberlain to the king of Judah (Hezekiah), which gave Jeremiah access to the king even though he was more distanced geographically and culturally than was Isaiah. This Baruch guy is really important, actually, even risking his life several times to deliver Jeremiah’s prophecies to the people. He struggled because he knew that Joshua served under Moses before he was called, and Elisha studied under Elijah before he was called, and he was studying under Jeremiah but not being called. He was sad and frustrated and not understanding what He had done wrong. The Talmud speaks of this part of the story, and explains that the Lord told Baruch he had done nothing wrong – but the people had already chosen destruction, and so did not need a prophet. How can there be a shepherd when there are no sheep? Yet Baruch remained true and faithful, enduring even through exile in Babylonian captivity, and was in the end called as the prophet to the people. It was there in Babylonia that Ezra, the prophet who brought the people back to Jerusalem and re-introduced the Torah to the Israelites, studied under Baruch! So it was Baruch who did, indeed, prepare the people to return to the Lord – even to Jerusalem. Sadly, Baruch was not able to see this restoration as he was too old to return with the people – but he knew it happened and got to see it fulfilled, and played his role in its fulfillment once the people were finally ready.
With the true priests rejected from society, and priestcraft taking over the holy sites and the temple itself, Jeremiah needed a direct calling from the Lord to know he had the authority to prophesy to the people (verse 4). The Lord explained (verse 5):
Before I formed thee in the belly
I knew thee; and
before thou camest forth out of the womb
I sanctified thee, and
I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
This is a classic example of the ABABC poetic form:
A: Before I formed thee in the belly
B: I knew thee: and
A: before thou camest forth out of the womb
B: I sanctified thee, and
C: I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations
The A’s emphasize timing, that all this was done antemortally, and the B’s emphasize qualification, that it has been declared so by God. This answers Jeremiah’s question of authority, for it is in the Lord’s timing and by His authority that Jeremiah is called to be a prophet. It also parallels Abraham 3:22-23:
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; “And God … said: These I will make my rulers; … and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.”
It means that Jeremiah was chosen for this role, even qualified for this role, before he was born. It means that he was prepared for this role before he was born, during premortality. It means he was ordained to this role before he was ever born – ordained via ordinances performed with covenant making premortally (see also Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:4; Alma 13:3; D&C 93:29; D&C 138:56).
That’s a lot to soak in, though, and Jeremiah was measuring by mortal years, claiming he was too young and inexperienced and without capacity to be a prophet (verse 6).
The Lord both corrects and comforts him, saying that he is authorized as a prophet and so he must fulfill those premortal covenants by actually doing the job. He must testify what the Lord tells him to say, and he must go where the Lord says to go (verse 7). Being a Prophet is that simple, and all of us are called to be prophets (lowercase “p”) by testifying of Christ (see Revelation 19:10).
The Lord also tells reassures Jeremiah, telling him not to be afraid (verse 8). Jeremiah doesn’t need to be scared about who to help, because the Lord will tell Him. He doesn’t need to be anxious about what to say, because the words will be provided by the Spirit. He doesn’t need to worry about those who persecute Him because the Lord will fight those battles for him (see also 2 Chronicles 20:17; D&C 98:37; and D&C 105:14).
Then, similar to Isaiah’s experience of the vision of being cleansed by coals in his mouth, the Lord reaches out and literally touches Jeremiah’s mouth and promises that He has given him words (verse 9).
The Lord then teaches Jeremiah to look, showing him his role as Prophet and teaching him how to do this task, explaining how “to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (verse 10). The Lord will call His people back as He has promised, but they first must be cleansed. Like a garden full of weeds, nothing good can be planted until the weeds are cleared out. This is prophetic not only to Jeremiah’s day, but also to ours – when the wheat and tares can no longer grow together, the Earth must be cleansed before the Righteous shall reign.
In this way, Jeremiah’s role as prophet was different than Isaiah. Isaiah was called to urge the people to repentance, warning them of the captivity that would come if they do not repent. Sometimes the people listened to him, and crisis was averted – or at least delayed. But these years later, the people are no longer repenting. Destruction has arrived, and it is Jeremiah’s job to explain this to the people, to help them understand that this justice must be served because they have denied mercy. His job is to reveal their sins and explain the calamities as consequences of their choices.
Understanding these things, the Lord then gives Jeremiah a vision and asks him what he sees (verse 11). Jeremiah sees “a rod of an almond tree”, and the Lord confirms this is correct (verse 12).
To understand this, we have to go back to a story in Numbers 17. The children of Israel had been naughty, fighting over who had stewardship over the tabernacle. Each of the twelve tribes brought a rod to Moses, who “laid up the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle”. The next day Moses went back into the tabernacle, “and, behold, the rod of Aaron for teh house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” (verses 7-8). Only the Levites had been chosen to hold the priesthood.
So when the Lord gives Jeremiah a vision of “a rod of an almond tree”, the Lord is confirming to Jeremiah that he has been given the right and authority of the priesthood despite what the government has told his city of priests who are no longer allowed to perform ordinances at the temple.
When Jeremiah understands this, the Lord then gives him a second vision. This time Jeremiah sees “a seething pot” that faces north (verse 13). The Lord confirms this is correct, and explains that evil will come from the north to destroy Jerusalem (verse 14). In the past, in the days of Isaiah, even when the northern tribes were attacked, the southern tribe of Judah did repent in time to escape the same level of destruction. But now the Lord is warning that because the people are no longer repenting, the consequences are about to boil over like a giant pot. The destruction of the northern kingdoms is going to spill over into the southern kingdom of Judah, and they also will be destroyed (verse 15).
The Lord also explains why, giving Jeremiah the clear understanding that he will have to deliver to the people. The people have been wicked, and forgotten God (not repenting), and “burned incense unto other gods”, and worshiped idols (verse 16). The burning incense is not just about smelly smoke, but is an idiom referring to prayer and meaning that the people are actually praying to false gods.
These are the things Jeremiah needed to know: that he was prepared premortally for his calling (as we all are), that he has the right and authority to fulfill his calling by the power of the priesthood, that the Lord Himself has called him, what the message is to give to the people, and how to explain them why this is the judgment against them.
Prepared by these things and the blessing of the Lord, Jeremiah is ready to go. The Lord tells him, “arise, and speak” (verse 17). The Lord tells him to be brave and bold, as a testimony against Judah – even against the king and princes and government (verse 18). The Lord warns him that the people will turn against him, but reassures him that they will not prevail (verse 19).
For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.