The Call of Jeremiah (1:1–19)
1–3 These verses constitute a brief introduction to the entire book. Jeremiah, a priest by birth, became a prophet by calling. He ministered during the last four decades of Judah’s history as a nation, beginning partway through the reign of the godly King Josiah. Jeremiah supported Josiah in his attempts to reform the nation; but after Josiah’s death, his two sons Jehoiakim and Zedekiah opposed further reforms and withdrew royal support from Jeremiah himself. Jeremiah’s public ministry ended with the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., when its remaining citizens were forced into exile by the Babylonians.1
4–8 The Lord’s word came to Jeremiah. Whether audibly or inaudibly, God communicated His word directly to Jeremiah through the HOLY SPIRIT. God told Jeremiah that he had been set . . . apart from before birth (verse 5) and appointed to be a prophet to the nations2 (see Psalm 139:14–16; Isaiah 49:5; Galatians 1:15–16; Ephesians 1:4).
The Lord told Jeremiah that he was to do and say whatever the Lord commanded, and He added: “Do not be afraid . . . for I am with you” (verse 8). The Lord equips and empowers us to carry out whatever He asks us to do.3 If the Lord is with us, we have all we need to do His will (Matthew 28:20).
9–10 Then the Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth (verse 9)—perhaps in a vision (see Isaiah 6:6–7)—and He put His words into Jeremiah’s mouth. In so doing, the Lord in effect “anointed” Jeremiah to be His prophet, to speak His words, to be His mouthpiece.
Then the Lord gave Jeremiah authority over the nations of the world (including Judah) to uproot . . . tear down . . . destroy . . . overthrow . . . build . . . and plant (verse 10). Note that the first four actions relate to judgment, and the last two actions relate to restoration. Here in the very beginning of the book we see the two sides of Jeremiah’s ministry: to pronounce JUDGMENT, and to promise restoration. But as we shall see throughout the book, Jeremiah’s major focus was on judgment.
11–16 The Lord then gave Jeremiah two visions to assure him that his call was genuine. In the first vision, Jeremiah saw the branch of an almond tree; in Hebrew, the words “almond tree” sound like the word “watching.” The vision meant that the Lord was indeed watching to make sure that Jeremiah’s prophecies would come to pass.
The second vision Jeremiah saw was of a large boiling pot tilting toward the south. The “boiling pot” signified disaster. It would be poured out on Judah from the north, where God was about to summon the northern kingdoms4 to attack Judah (verses 14–15).
In verse 16, the Lord says that through Jeremiah He will pronounce . . . judgments on His people, using the Babylonians as agents of judgment. The SIN for which His people were being punished was, above all, the sin of idolatry,5 the sin of forsaking God and worshiping idols—things their hands have made. It was this sin more than any other that broke the covenant between God and His people; indeed, His people had been engaging in idolatry ever since the covenant was established (see Exodus Chapter 32).
17–19 The Lord gave a final exhortation to Jeremiah, telling him that he would be like a fortified city and a bronze wall (verse 18)—able to withstand all the attacks of the leaders of Judah. The Lord didn’t promise that Jeremiah would escape being attacked, only that he would prevail against his attackers. And indeed that promise came true: Jeremiah ultimately prevailed over his enemies and saw the fulfillment of his prophecies—thus proving himself to be a true prophet of God (see Deuteronomy 18:22).
Modern Christians may look back at Jeremiah and think that he was a special and unique case that has nothing to do with them. In one sense he was indeed special and unique. But in another sense, the Lord dealt with Jeremiah just as He deals with believers today. When we study the Bible, we are not only studying ancient history; we are studying ourselves.
Just as Jeremiah was “set apart” before he was born (verse 5), so are we. Just as Jeremiah was given gifts and talents even when he was in the womb, so are we.6 Just as Jeremiah felt inadequate to carry out God’s commission (verse 6), so should we. If we enter God’s service with self–confidence, we will not bear spiritual fruit; our confidence must be in God alone. Just as Jeremiah was appointed over nations (verse 10), so are we; we who faithfully proclaim God’s word and obey His commands have a spiritual authority greater than any power on earth. And just as Jeremiah was challenged to “get himself ready”—to commit himself totally to the Lord (verse 17)—so are we. And if we commit ourselves to obey the Lord, we shall also receive from God the same promise that Jeremiah received: “I am with you” (verse 9). As we study this marvelous book, may the Lord speak to us as He spoke to the prophet Jeremiah.7