This article gives an outline of the book of Jeremiah, with a special focus on the themes of this book, such as judgment and restoration. This is expressed through symbols, opposing false prophets, and the prophecies about the Messiah.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2014. 3 pages.

An Overview of the Book of Jeremiah

Back in 2005, early in my ministry in Pukekohe, I preached through the proph­ecies of Jeremiah in a series of twenty sermons.1Some sermon series are more challenging than others; that one was particularly so, but I also found it very profitable. Part of the difficulty of preach­ing this book is understanding Jeremiah’s historical situation and then making appropriate applications from events that happened 2,600 years ago! The historical background will be covered in another article, as will Jeremiah as a person, and the role of the Old Testament prophets. My purpose is to give you an overview of this book.

Introduction🔗

I have already mentioned two of the challenges of preaching through Jeremiah. Another is the sheer size of the book; it is the largest book in the Bible containing more words than any other! Yet another challenge of reading and preaching Jeremiah is the depress­ing tone and subject matter as much of it is about God’s judgement on the rebellious and sinful nation of Judah. Having said this, there are also many memorable and encouraging passag­es in this book as well as wonderful promises of God’s mercy and grace.

Jeremiah had a long ministry that spanned 40 years of prophesying, be­ginning in the 13th year of Josiah in 627 BC and continuing through the reign of another four kings until the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC during the reign of Zedekiah.

Half of the book is written in Hebrew poetry and the other half in prose, but these two writing styles are mixed up throughout. It also contains laments, narrative, biography, acted parables and symbols.

An outline🔗

Biblical scholars have found it very dif­ficult to analyse the structure of this book. Part of the problem is that it is a collection of prophecies given during the prophet’s long ministry. The general flow of the book is chronological, be­ginning with the call of Jeremiah and ending with the destruction of Jerusa­lem. However, the structure of the book is topical rather than chronological; that is, it is arranged according to subject matter rather than according to when the prophecies were uttered. The arrange­ment of material is not always neat and ordered. For instance, chapters 1 to 25 are largely prophecies of warning and judgement but included with these are messages of hope. Chapters 30 to 33 are known as the Book of Consolation, but in these words of comfort and hope are also warnings of doom and destruc­tion. One commentator, J A Thompson, explains that the book “was the result of a long and complex process. It is a col­lection of collections which were brought together by more than one hand over a period of time.” 2There is, however, a structure.

Most books begin with an introduc­tion and end with a conclusion. This book is no exception. Chapter 1 intro­duces these prophecies with the call of Jeremiah to be a prophet and with a summary of his message; “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). These words of the Lord outline the themes of judgement and restora­tion that are expanded in the rest of the book. Chapter 52 concludes with a description of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple; the judgement God threatened came to pass. Yet the themes of hope and restoration also come through in this conclusion as Je­hoiachin was released from prison, an event that anticipates the release of the people of Judah from exile and their return to their own land.

The main part of the book may be outlined as follows:3

  1. Declarations of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem; 2-25
  2. Declarations of restoration for Judah and Jerusalem; 26-35
  3. The judgment on Judah and Jerusa­lem; 36-45

Declarations of judgment against foreign nations; 46-51

Jeremiah’s prophecies were addressed to the people of Judah and Jerusalem warning them of God’s coming judge­ment on their idolatry and evil and urging them to repent of their sin. He also prophesied a return of the people from exile and a restoration to their land. Those who compiled these prophecies into the scroll of Jeremiah addressed this message to the Jews who were in exile in Babylon; they wanted them to under­stand why they were in exile and to en­courage them to put their hope in God who would fulfil his promises of resto­ration. It is significant that the brightest section of this book, the Book of Con­solation, which promises a return from exile, is placed just before the account of the destruction and fall of Jerusalem.4Clearly God wanted to encourage the exiles to look forward in hope!

Symbols🔗

God revealed his truth to Jeremiah and the people of Judah through spoken words, but also through physical symbols – visible illustrations of spiritual realities. In one of these God instructed the prophet to purchase a linen belt and to wear it around his waist. Later God told him to go and hide that belt in a crevice in the rocks and then, many days later, to retrieve it; but by this time is was ruined and completely useless. This was a picture of how God had bound his people to himself but how they had worshipped other gods. In response God would ruin the pride of Judah and Jeru­salem so they would be like that linen belt – completely useless! (13:1-11).

Another well known symbol in this book is the potter and the clay (18:1­ 18). In response to God’s command Jer­emiah went down to the potter’s house and watched him working there. The pot was marred in the potter’s hand so he formed it into another pot. The lesson for Judah was that just as the potter controls what he does with his clay so the Lord is sovereign over what he does with his people.

Chapter 19 records another symbol, again using a clay jar. This time Jer­emiah was instructed to buy a jar, gather some of the elders and priests, proclaim Judah’s sins and God’s judg­ments, and then smash the jar as a dra­matic picture how God would smash the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem (19:10f).

In the Book of Consolation (chapters 30-33) we have an account of God’s in­struction to his prophet to purchase a plot of land in his hometown of Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel. It was a most disadvantageous time to purchase land because he was in prison and the Baby­lonian army was besieging the city. Jere­miah, however, obeyed God’s command and purchased the land as a symbol that God would fulfil his promise to bring his people back from exile; “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (32:15).

Prophecies against the nations🔗

Having proclaimed many prophecies against Judah for her sins and having warned her of God’s coming judgement Jeremiah also proclaimed God’s judg­ments against the foreign nations. These are recorded in chapters 46 to 51. God had used some of these nations to carry out his judgement against Israel and Judah, but these nations would them­selves be judged. The prophesies show that the Lord was not only the God over Israel but was Lord over all the nations of the world and that their destiny too lay in his hands.5

True and false prophets🔗

A common theme in the prophets of the Old Testament is the contrast between the prophets who are true to God and who faithfully proclaim his word, and the prophets who are false and pro­claim their own ideas. This theme is clearly expressed in this book. Jeremi­ah complained to the Lord about the prophets; “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace’, they say, when there is no peace”. (6:14). The false prophets kept telling the people; “You will not see the sword or suffer famine” and prom­ised “lasting peace in this place”. In re­sponse the Lord said,

The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds ... I did not send them.Jeremiah 14:14f

On another occasion the Lord ex­pressed his profound grief that “Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness” (23:11) He warned the people of Judah; “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (23:16). They had not “stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear his word” (23:18) In response the Lord warned them that he would cast them out of his presence and bring on them “everlasting disgrace – everlasting shame that will not be forgotten” (23:39).

There is an application here for us in the 21st century because there are false prophets today in the church who proclaim their own ideas rather than the word of the Lord, who promise peace when the Lord warns of destruction, who prophesy lies rather than speaking the truth from God’s word.

Prophesies about the Messiah🔗

A brief introduction to this book would not be complete without reference to prophesies Jeremiah gave about the Messiah. The entire Old Testament pointed ahead to the Lord Jesus, includ­ing, and even especially, the prophets, including Jeremiah. The people of Judah in exile looked forward in hope to their return to their land. But the greatest promises pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who was the final and full hope of Israel. Jeremiah did not have as much to say about the Christ as Isaiah, but he did look ahead to his coming. One such prophecy is sobering as it predicted the weeping of the women of Judah after Herod murdered the baby boys in Bethlehem (31:15). Another is a glorious announcement about the Lord Jesus;

The days are coming de­clares the Lord, when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, A King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land ... This is the name by which he will be called; The Lord our Righteousness.Jeremiah 23:5f

And yet another is the wonderful promise of the new covenant that God will make with his people, a promise fulfilled in the person and work of the Lord Jesus and in the coming of the Holy Spirit in this New Testament age.

Jeremiah is not the easiest book of the Bible to read, partly because of its size, and partly because of its content, but it is fascinating, profitable and ap­plicable to our day and age.

Endnotes🔗

  1. ^ You can find these sermons on the RCNZ website in both written and audio form – rcnz.org.nz
  2. ^ JA Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1980. P. 32
  3. ^ This outline follows that of S. Jonathan Murphy in Bibliotheca Sacra (July-September 2009, pp. 306-18) and that of the NIV Study Bible 1985, p. 1118.
  4. ^ Irving L. Jensen, Isaiah/Jeremiah – a self-study guide, p. 81.
  5. ^ JA Thompson, p. 687.

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