Introduction to Jeremiah




The book and prophet Jeremiah hold at least two great distinctions among all the Old Testament prophets. (1) This is the longest Prophetic Book in the Bible (1,364 verses). (2) Jeremiah’s life is more fully described than any of the other fifteen writing prophets. Into the tumultuous times of the last half of the seventh century and the first quarter of the sixth century BC, came this prophet bearing a word from God for the stubborn people of Judah. The book’s contents span roughly from 640 to 580 BC.

Nabatean cistern north of Makhtesh Ramon, southern Israel. Jeremiah uses the image of a broken cistern to symbolize gods who cannot create and sustain life.

Nabatean cistern north of Makhtesh Ramon, southern Israel. Jeremiah (2:13; 4:3) uses the image of a broken cistern to symbolize gods who cannot create and sustain life.


AUTHOR: Jeremiah was a priest from the town of Anathoth (1:1). At the Lord’s command, he neither married nor had children because of the impending judgment that would come upon the next generation. His ministry as a prophet began in 626 BC and ended after 586 BC. He was a contemporary of Habakkuk and possibly Obadiah.

BACKGROUND: The book of Jeremiah discusses the last days of Judah. King Hezekiah reigned for forty-two years (729-686 BC) and began to reverse Judah’s spiritual bankruptcy. But when Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, came to the throne, idolatrous and superstitious cultic practices and rites came back like a flood. Manasseh’s son Amon ruled for only two years (642-640 BC). He also reinstated idol worship as the official religion of Judah (2Ch 33:22-23).

Amon’s eight-year-old son, Josiah, succeeded him on the throne. This lad “walked in the ways” of the former King David. When he was eighteen years old (622 BC), he called for long-delayed repairs to be made to the temple. During this work, a copy of the law of Moses was found. On the basis of hearing this word, the young king and all his people renewed the covenant with the Lord. However, this reformation failed to overcome the effects of the wickedness Manasseh and Amon had instituted.


Jeremiah is the prophet of the “word of the Lord” (1:2). Of the 349 times the OT uses the phrase “thus says the Lord,” Jeremiah accounts for 157 of them. But this prophetic word that Jeremiah spoke was more than an objective revelation from God to the nation; God’s words were to be joy and food for Jeremiah’s own soul. As 15:16 states, “Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart.” However, God’s word was sometimes a burden to the prophet. He sometimes grew tired of bringing God’s message of judgment to an unresponsive people.

The people felt immune to any threat of divine judgment, but Jeremiah repeatedly warned them about the vanity of their reliance on ritual and external formalism. The prophetic word of God was to make the people blush and turn away from meaningless outward piety.


The best known passage in Jeremiah is the new covenant text in 31:31-34. Not only is it the largest OT text quoted in the NT (Heb 8:8-12; 10:16-17), but arguably better than any other passage it links God’s ancient promises to Eve (Gn 3:15), Abraham (Gn 12:1-3), and David (2Sm 7:16-19) with NT assurances that God in Christ grants believers new hearts, salvation, and fellowship with him.


One date rings throughout the entire book of Jeremiah: “the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah, king of Judah.” That year, 605 BC, brought major change to the political situation of the Near East. Both Egypt and Assyria were defeated at the battle of Carchemish (46:2-12; 2Kg 24:7; 2Ch 35:20). Nebuchadnezzar ascended the throne of Babylon. In that same year God instructed Jeremiah to put his prophecies into writing—a final test of King Jehoiakim’s responsiveness to the word of God.

This significant dateline, “the fourth year of Jehoiakim,” was placed at 25:1; 36:1; and 45:1, thereby dividing the prophet’s book into three main sections: the prophet’s faithfulness in carrying out God’s commission (chaps. 2-24), the fierce opposition to his ministry (chaps. 25-35), and the collapse of Judah (chaps. 36-45).

The book of Jeremiah includes poetic sections (especially in chaps. 2-25) and prose accounts as well. Critical scholars generally say that the poetry is Jeremiah’s and the prose is either the work of his friends or a person who is labeled a Deuteronomic writer (so designated because the prose sections are said to reflect the book of Deuteronomy). But we may ask, Could not Jeremiah have written in both poetic and prose form? There is no reason to suppose he was incapable of writing in both forms.


I.Prologue: Jeremiah’s Call and Vision (1:1-19)

II.Jeremiah Calls for Repentance (2:1-25:38)

A.Six early messages (2:1-20:18)

B.Four indictments on Israel’s leadership (21:1-24:10)

C.Judgment against the nations (25:1-38)

III.Jeremiah Stands Firm Despite Harassment (26:1-36:32)

A.The temple sermon repeated (26:1-24)

B.The yoke of Babylon (27:1-22)

C.The false prophet Hananiah (28:1-17)

D.Letters to the exiles (29:1-32)

E.The book of consolation/comfort (30:1-33:26)

F.Judgment for Zedekiah (34:1-22)

G.The obedience of the Rechabites (35:1-19)

H.The writing and rewriting of the scroll (36:1-32)

IV.Jeremiah Sees Destruction Ahead (37:1-45:5)

A.Jeremiah and King Zedekiah (37:1-21)

B.Jeremiah rescued by Ebed-melech (38:1-28)

C.Jeremiah’s fate at the fall of Jerusalem (39:1-18)

D.Post-fall Judah and Governor Gedaliah (40:1-41:18)

E.Jeremiah asked about going to Egypt (42:1-22)

F.Jeremiah’s counsel and God’s word rejected (43:1-44:30)

G.Summary: God’s word to the scribe Baruch (45:1-5)

V.Prophecies against the Nations (46:1-51:64)

A.Egypt (46:1-28)

B.The Philistines (47:1-7)

C.Moab (48:1-47)

D.The Ammonites (49:1-6)

E.Edom (49:7-22)

F.Damascus (49:23-27)

G.Kedar and Hazor (49:28-33)

H.Elam (49:34-39)

I.Babylon (50:1-51:64)

VI.Epilogue: The Fall of Jerusalem (52:1-34)

650-625 BC

Under Ashurbanipal, Assyrians capture and destroy Babylon. 649

Birth of Jeremiah 640?

Ashurbanipal (668-629) rules over a declining Assyrian Empire that experienced revolts (642) and contributed to the assassination of Amon of Judah (641) and the rise of Amon’s son Josiah (641-609).

Initial reforms of Josiah 631

Jeremiah is called to be a prophet; he warns of an invasion from the north. 626

625-605 BC

Second phase of Josiah’s reforms when the book of the law is found in the temple 622

Under Nabopolassar (626-605), Asshur and Nineveh fall, marking the end of the Assyrian Empire. 612

Babylonians and Medes take Harran from what remained of Assyrian forces. 610

Jeremiah’s temple sermon 609

Josiah killed by the Egyptians at Megiddo 609

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz II, succeeds him and is deposed; he’s replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. 609

605-600 BC

Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and leads citizens of Judah into exile. 605, 597, 586, 582

Jehoiakim makes a decision to turn from his alliance with Egypt and submit to Nebuchadnezzar. 604

Jehoiakim ignores Jeremiah’s warning and turns back to Egypt for support after Egypt defeats Babylon at Migdol. 601

A reinforced Babylonian army approaches Judah; Jehoiakim dies. 598

600-575 BC

Jehoiachin succeeds his father, Jehoiakim, and reigns three months and ten days. 597

Jehoiachin and Judah’s queen mother are brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. 597

Zedekiah succeeds Jehoiachin; reigns 597-586

Ezekiel is exiled in Babylon. 597