"Give Thanks To Jehovah, For He is Good"
Psalm 106:1
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Historical Setting for the Book of Jeremiah

In our Congregation Book study we have been studying the book of Jeremiah with the view of applying what we learn in our own modern day circumstances. I have learned something about the times that Jeremiah lived in and what it must have been like. I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Let's start 93 years before Jeremiah began to serve as a prophet. It was a time of rivalry between the Assyrians, Babylon and Egypt. Assyria had defeated the northern unfaithful ten-tribe Kingdom of Israel, however Jehovah had defended Jerusalem and it's faithful king, Hezekiah, against that Assyrian attack. You can read about how God miraculously took down 185,000 enemy soldiers at 2 Kings 19:32-36. 

After Hezekiah's death, his son Manasseh began to rule. He did not follow his father's righteous ways, but rather Manasseh rebuilt the high places of false worship, that faithful Hezekiah had destroyed.  Jeremiah was probably born during the reign of this bad king. Manasseh set up altars to the false god, Baal and to the "army of the heavens' which worship included astrology. He even set up altars in Jehovah's temple!  Manasseh proved to be a very wicked king, even sacrificing his own son as a burnt offering to a false god.  ..."he did on a large scale what was bad in Jehovah's eyes."  During the reign of this king Judah came under Assyrian political control. (2 Chronicles 33:10, 11) Because of all the wickedness, God said that what happened to Samaria and the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, would also happen to Jerusalem and Judah. (2 Kings 21:1-6, 12-16)

After, Manasseh's death, his son Amon continued leading the nation in false worship. Two years later Amon was murdered and his 8-year old son Josiah inherited the throne.

Josiah unlike, his father and grandfather served Jehovah faithfully and encouraged the people to leave false worship. In his 12th year as king he destroyed the high places, the sacred poles, and the false religious images throughout the kingdom. Then he ordered the temple to be repaired. (2 Chronicles 34:1-8) It was in the 13th year of Josiah's reign that Jeremiah received his commission.  King Josiah continued in his efforts to eliminate idolatry. He even arranged for an outstanding celebration of the Passover. (2 Kings 23:4-25) Jeremiah must have been very pleased to work in this positive atmosphere. Still, it was very difficult to move the people to change their ways. The majority were clinging to the degraded idol worship introduced by Manasseh. True spirituality was very low. Despite all of Josiah's reform the Judeans  proved to be like an unfaithful wife.  They left the pure worship and their God Jehovah and prostituted themselves to foreign gods. (Jeremiah 11:1-3, 13) Jehovah's words through the prophet Jeremiah did not change the Jews as a whole.  Meanwhile, the surrounding nations were fighting for supremacy. The Babylonians with the Medes conquered Assyria. When Egypt came to assist Assyria, Josiah tried to turn the Egyptian army back at Megiddo, but he was wounded there and later died.

 (2 Chronicles 35:20-24)

With the death of King Josiah, the religious and political climate changed. This was a time of worry and international instability.  Josiah's son, Jehoahaz became king, but in just 3 months Pharaoh Necho removed him from the throne and took him to Egypt. Necho enthroned Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah. Jeremiah continued his activity under this unfavorable king.  (2 Chronicles 36:1-4) Jehoiakim practiced idolatry and did what was bad in Jehovah's eyes. (2 Kings 23:36, 37) The Judeans viewed the temple as if it were a 'lucky charm" that would protect them. Jehovah told Jeremiah to go to the temple and condemn the Judeans for the wicked things they practiced: stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying and worshiping false gods. If the people did not heed the warning and repent, Jehovah would forsake his temple.  (Jeremiah 7:1-15, 34; 26:1-6) After you read in your Bible the words Jeremiah was commanded to speak, imagine yourself there. What courage and conviction it would take for Jeremiah to declare this message in public, before prominent and influential people.

How did the religious leaders react to Jeremiah's speech?  Read Jeremiah 26:8-11 for the answer.

While many feel that Jeremiah was a prophet of doom, he also proclaimed a message of hope. Jeremiah foretold that Jehovah would deliver a faithful remnant of Israel from their enemies and return them to their land where they would reside in security. Jehovah would establish a "new" and "indefinitely lasting covenant" with his people . Jehovah would write his law in their heart. He would forgive their errors and remember their sins no more.  Also, Jehovah promised that  a descendant of David would "execute justice and righteousness in the land."  (Jeremiah 31:7-9; 32:37-41; 33:15) These prophesies would come true in the decades and centuries to come, even a fulfillment that touches our lives  and give us hope for a bright future. (Jeremiah 31:31, 33, 34; Hebrews 8:7-9; 10:14-18)

During the end of Jehoiakim's reign the Babylonian and Egyptians fought near the Euphrates River, 370 miles north of Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar won out over Pharaoh Necho, ending Egyptian  power in this region.  (Jeremiah 46:2)  Nebuchadnezzar now dominated Judah. Jehoiakim was forced to be his servant, but after 3 years Jehoiakim rebelled (2 Kings 24:1, 2) Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem.  Jehoiakim appears to have died in this siege.  His son Jehoiachin surrendered to the Babylonians. Nebuchadnezzar stripped Jerusalem  of its riches and took into exile Jehoiachin, the families of the king and of the nobles of Judah, the nation's mighty men, and its craftsmen. Among the exiles were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. (2 Kings 24:10-16; Daniel 1:1-7)

Nebuchadnezzar then left Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, as king of Judah. He was to be the last earthly king of the Davidic line.  Zedekiah  'continued to do what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah." (Jeremiah 52:1, 2) eventually Zedekiah also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. 

Jeremiah's enemies exerted great pressure on him to support the rebellion. (2 Chronicles 36:13; Ezekiel 17:12, 13) Jeremiah urged Zedekiah to submit to Babylon. That was not a popular message, though it was from Jehovah.  What made it even harder to deliver was Hananiah a false prophet who publicly proclaimed in God's name that the Judeans would be freed from Babylonian rule.  Now Judah was divided into those who favored submission to Babylon and those who urged rebellion. Zedekiah rebelled by seeking military assistance from Egypt.  Jeremiah had to contend with nationalistic hysteria of those supporting the rebellion. (Jeremiah 52:3; Ezekiel 17:15) Nebuchadnezzar  returned with his army and besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah's message to Zedekiah was critical at this time. Death awaited those who remained in the city. Those who went out to the Babylonian Chaldeans would survive.  (Jeremiah 21:8-10; 52:4)  The Judean princes struck Jeremiah and put him in the house of detention. (Jeremiah 37:13-15) Jeremiah refused to soften Jehovah's message, so the princes had Jeremiah put into an empty cistern where they hoped he would perish in the mire.  Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian serving in the king's house, rescued Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 38:4-13). Then, in 607 BCE, the Babylonians broke through the walls of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar's army burned Jehovah's temple, and completely destroyed the city, slaughtering the nobles of Judah, chasing after those who tried to escape and capturing them, including Zedekiah. (Jeremiah 39:1-7) Jeremiah's words from Jehovah regarding Jerusalem and the temple all came true. But Jeremiah did not rejoice, rather God's prophet mourned the calamity of his people. You can read how he felt in the Bible book of Lamentations.

What became of Jeremiah?  Some Judeans escaped to Egypt, they forcibly took Jeremiah with them. Still, Jeremiah prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would invade even that country and bring the Judean refugees to ruin. (Jeremiah 42:9-11; 43:1-11; 44:11-13)

So that is a little historical background of what was going on in  the nation of Judah and in the countries around them in Jeremiah's day. I hope it will help you in understanding the word of Jehovah, through his prophet Jeremiah. Do you see any similarities between Jeremiah's day and our day?

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