Jeremiah is living in the final days of Judah (Jeremiah 11:1-20). Things are changing quickly as the threat from Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar grows daily.
In Jeremiah 1, we learn that Jeremiah is a priest from Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. This is the place where the descendants of Eli were exiled when Solomon booted them out of the priesthood.
Being told that Jeremiah comes from Anathoth is a way of drawing our attention to the ministry of Samuel and the destruction of the tabernacle of Shiloh in Samuel’s day.
In Jeremiah 7, 12, and 26, God warns the people that what He did to His House, the Tabernacle, and the Priesthood at Shiloh, He will now do to His House, the Temple at Jerusalem.
God accuses the priests in Jerusalem of adultery. They are like Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas. He says that this word about the destruction of the temple will make the ears of everyone who hears, tingle, just as the warning of Samuel to Eli had done.
At the end of Jeremiah, Zedekiah the King loses his sons and has his eyes are poked out, just as Eli, having been made blind, loses both of his sons.
The message to Judah is clear. Shiloh is happening all over again.
God accuses Judah of going after other gods and behaving like a faithless bride in His House. Therefore, she will be cast out and the House, which has become defiled, will be destroyed.
It’s under these circumstances that Jeremiah is called to be a prophet of the Lord. Like Samuel, Jeremiah is consecrated in the womb.
Like Samuel, who rises from the grave to give a final warning to Saul, Jeremiah, who has been thrown and left for dead in a pit, is lifted out in order to give one final warning to Zedekiah.
Just as Jeremiah is a new Samuel, so Zedekiah is a new Saul and we have come full circle.
But Jeremiah is not a bystander watching the death and devastation of Judah. Like Jesus, he weeps over Jerusalem and the judgement that is upon her.
And though Jeremiah weeps, God tells him (Jeremiah 11:14) that he must not pray for Jerusalem.
This helps explain Jesus’ words in John 17:9 where Jesus says not only that He is praying for His disciples and those who would believe through them, but that He is decisively not praying for Israel, whose house, Jesus tells us through tears, will be left desolate because of her unbelief.
The Lord had planted and built a House for His Name in Jerusalem, but now He was kindling a fire from which He would not turn back (Jeremiah 11:16).
At the end of chapter 11, Jeremiah has the unhappy task of bringing this warning to the men at Anathoth.
Just as the men in Nazareth will try and throw Jesus of a cliff, the men at Anathoth respond by plotting to kill Jeremiah. The idolatry of Isaiah and Jeremiah’s day was like that of Jesus’ day. “Well did Isaiah prophecy of you saying…” (Matthew 15:7-9).
It wasn’t that they had forsaken religion. The Temple was never more lively. They offered up their sacrifices to the Lord, but then went next door and did the same to Baal.
And in between times they went out and robbed, defrauded, and oppressed their neighbour. They prayed long prayers and then devoured widows’ houses. (Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 7:4-11).
It’s not surprising then, that Jesus was mistaken by many, in Matthew 16:14, as a resurrected Jeremiah.
Most of the time, the prophecies to Israel end with a note of promise, but here at the end of this prophecy (Jeremiah 12:13) the only assurance Jeremiah gets is that (as in Jesus’ day) it’s going to get a lot worse.
Against the false prophets who are prophesying peace, who believe that God would never forsake His own House, God tells Jeremiah that the exile in to Babylon will happen and that it will be long.
Israel, if they are wise, is to go quietly and bear the indignation of the Lord.
This is the message of Jeremiah 24 in which Jeremiah has the vision of the baskets of figs.
This vision comes shortly after Nebuchadnezzar’s second invasion in which he carts of the king of Judah (Jehoachin) and many of the Jews, including Daniel.
Good figs, bad figs (Jeremiah 24:1-3). The judgement upon Judah has created two groups.
One group living in the land under Zedekiah, the other represent the people who go into exile. The question is, which basket is which?
Much like those people who stay loyal to bad churches, the people who remain in the land believe that they are the true Israel. It’s the land of blessing!
But Jeremiah sees things differently. Those who submit to God’s discipline have chosen the way of life.
Israel has become like Egypt: A place of plagues, pestilence, famine, and death (Jeremiah 21:6).
The Good Figs represent those who are making the Exodus from Israel which has become like Egypt. But the Bad Figs don’t want to hear this and it’s easy to understand why.
With Babylon laying siege against Jerusalem, everyone is calling for an ecumenical barn dance. The thing to do, they say, is not surrender, but to all work together. Jeremiah’s word is divisive. (Jeremiah 38:4)
For Moses, the hope of Israel comes from fighting against Canaanites. For Jeremiah, Israel’s hope will come by surrender to God’s chastisement. Likewise, Jesus, while talking to Moses and Elijah, describes His death on a cross outside Jerusalem as an Exodus. But it’s also a chastisement that will bring life to the world.
Finally, in Jeremiah 51:35, we read that, just as Jonah, as a picture of Israel, is devoured by a great fish, Nebuchadnezzar is a sea monster who will devour the people of God.
But, eating Israel is a dangerous thing.
In Jeremiah 2:1-3, Jeremiah has described Judah as the first fruits of His harvest. And the first fruits are Holy Things which belong to the Lord and to His Priest.
And, so Jeremiah tells us that in time, Babylon, who has devoured Holy Food belonging to the Lord, will also be given the cup of the Lord’s Wrath to drink, causing her to spew the people back on to the Land.
In writing to the Good Figs, Jeremiah tells them that in the meantime they are to go and seek the Peace of the City (Babylon).
He tells them that no matter how bad things may look, those who have been plucked up will be replanted. He even promises to give these exiles a new heart, a heart that is no longer deceitful.
In Jeremiah 29, while in Exile, Jeremiah says that they should continue as usual. They should build and plant, have children and multiply and seek the welfare of Babylon.
Do you see the ministry of the Church in these words from Jeremiah?
In carrying out their ministry of building, planting, multiplying, and seeking the welfare of Babylon, they will even find Babylon, like Egypt in the days of Joseph and Moses, turning to the Lord in repentance, as will later happen to Nebuchadnezzar himself.
This is possible because Jesus would come and drink the cup of God’s Wrath. Not only for this remnant of Israel, but for a multitude of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
That cup, having been drunk by Jesus, now means that we are able to sit with Him and drink the cup of a New Covenant.
It’s a cup of blessing. God has not poisoned the children’s cup.
So, as we drink it we have peace with God, the forgiveness of sins.
And with this cup, we are called to bless and baptise the nations in Jesus’ Name. (1 Corinthians 11:26). That is to say, we build, we plant and we seek the peace ( salvation) of our neighbour.