Jeremiah is one of the more challenging books to approach, both for its content, its length, the fact that it is not organized linearly on a specific timeline but rather skips and jumps to different times and places, and the general unfamiliarity of most people with the context that the prophet (and most prophets are written in). Prophets for many people either are considered fortune tellers or their use is limited to foretelling the birth and ministry of Christ in the New Testament, but that is not how even the authors of the New Testament would have seen the prophets. The prophets were:
-re-interpreters of the story and tradition of God’s relation with the Jewish people. Scripture was not fixed at this point, and even scripture is present would be mediated through the priestly and kingly offices (since they would be the literate people- there is no general interpretation of scripture by the majority of the population at this point in history, nor would there be for millennia)
-A voice that often spoke in sharp contrast to the priests and kings of their time. Prophets often deal with not only religious but concrete economic and political injustices. It is a mistake to assume that we can separate religion from political power in the ancient world, they are linked. The prophets become the counter-voice that often (although not always) speaks against power and they often are persecuted for their words and actions.
-The actions and words of the prophets may seem strange to us, and I’m sure that even in their time they were looked upon as abnormal, but they also were seen as having a role. Many prophets came from the priestly side (although not all, for example Amos is not a priest) but they in taking up the call of the prophet may lose the safety of the priestly role they are born into.
Jeremiah is born and does his ministry in a time leading up to the defining crisis of this point of the Jewish story, the Babylonian exile. For a better understanding of that time you may want to look at The Place of Authority A Brief History Part 3a: The Exile, The Crisis of Collapse. Which I wrote as part of a different project but which briefly addresses this part of the story. Being a prophet who is pronouncing the impending destruction of the way that things are is not an easy calling. But enough of that for the moment, let’s approach Jeremiah and walk with the prophet through the destruction and the hope and examine the God who he encounters throughout that journey. This is a long journey, since Jeremiah is 52 chapters long-many of them quite lengthy. I actually wrote the first three chapters prior to the posts on Haggai and Esther and rather than rewrite them, I have left them largely intact (hence they cover larger pieces, sometimes entire chapters in a single post) but since I know this is a long journey I have continued to move forward rather than going back and starting over again. I will attempt to do at least one chapter per week in addition to my other posts (due to the length of several chapters that may be all there is space for).
For me this is a discipline, it is a way of training myself to listen and see better. If you are reading this I hope you are able to benefit from this journey with Jeremiah through the darkness and towards hope. There will be times when the darkness seems overwhelming in this book (it is a book set at the ending of the world that the prophet knew, the ending of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and the taking of the people into exile) and yet in the midst of the darkness, hope will come forth.