Jeremiah 1: Taming the Love of Dominion
The days of Hezekiah, of Isaiah and Micah passed. Other kings followed, as the time drew near when Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and more and more of the people were taken as captives to Babylon. The last kings in Jerusalem were Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. During this time, Jeremiah was the Lord's great prophet. He was given his choice by the king of Babylon to go with the captives or to stay in Jerusalem, and he chose to stay. He was afterward taken by some of his countrymen with them to Egypt, where he died. In Jer. 1:1-3, you find mention of the kings in whose time he lived and prophesied, also in the first verse of other chapters. You will notice that the chapters are not always in historical order. Chapters relating to the days of Zedekiah come before chapters relating to the days of Jehoiakim. Chapters 32 and 34 are later than chapter 36. We need a little knowledge of these last kings in Jerusalem and of the destruction of the city and the going into captivity as the background of Jeremiah's life and work.
Learn what you can about Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest of Anathoth, a town a little north and east of Jerusalem. (Jer. 1:1) The same chapter tells us of his call to be a prophet of the Lord and of the Lord's strengthening him for his work. They were sad and strenuous days in which Jeremiah lived and worked. See, if you can, Michel Angelo's picture of Jeremiah, a very sad, strong figure. Jeremiah boldly rebuked the people and the kings. He urged them, too, to yield to Nebuchadnezzar and not to make a hopeless resistance. This gave cause for his being put in prison. (Jer. 37, 38) Some words of Jeremiah are addressed to the people in Jerusalem in the last days, and some to the captives far away, and some to other nations. His last days were in Egypt. (Jer. 43)
The prophecy by Jeremiah contains so many details of his history that we are able to form a good estimate of his character and life. He was born at Anathoth, a village situated about three miles northeast of Jerusalem, in the tribe of Benjamin. (Jer. 1:1; Josh. 21:18) He was very young when called to the office of prophet (Jer. 1:6), "in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign," that is in 727 B.C. His work continued in Judah until the captivity "in the eleventh year of Zedekiah" - in 686 B.C. That was the year of the second deportation. A third and final deportation took place five years later in 681 B.C. (Jer. 52:28-30) The remnant of Jerusalem fled to Egypt, carrying Jeremiah with them. (Jer. 43:6) According to tradition, he was stoned to death there. Whether this is true or not, his life was that of a martyr. The people of Anathoth sought to slay him. (Jer. 11:18-23) Yea, his own family endeavored to kill him. (Jer. 12:6; 20:10) The chief priest put him in the stocks for pronouncing judgment against Judah in the temple court. (Jer. 19:14; 20:2) He was greatly disturbed by the false prophets and priests of the time ridiculing his counsel to the people. (Jer. 32) King Jehoiakim sought to arrest him. (Jer. 36:26) When the city was invested by the Chaldeans, Jeremiah tried to leave it but was intercepted at the gate, charged with the intention of desertion, and put in prison. (Jer. 37:11-15) Zedekiah, being anxious to know the issue of the siege, released him. Jeremiah prophesied adversely and prayed not to be put in prison. The king placed him in the court of the prison. But the princes were wroth, and demanded his execution. The king granted their request. They cast him into a dungeon to perish by starvation. From this dreadful death he was rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch by means of a cord made of "old cast clouts and old rotten rags." (Jer. 38)
Jeremiah was of a timid disposition. When the Lord ordained him to be a prophet, he said. "Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child." Compare this answer with that of Isaiah. (Isa. 6:3) In Isaiah's case, the impure lips were cleansed by the touch of a live coal from the altar in the hands of one of the seraphim. In Jeremiah's case, the Lord Himself put forth His hand and touched his mouth, imparting power to utter the Divine message. Isaiah's mission was to harden the hearts of the people, lest they be converted, even until the land be desolate. (Isa. 6:10) The word to Jeremiah was "to root out, and to pull down, and destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." The tender-hearted man shrank from the duty imposed upon him. His sensitive nature was keenly affected by the way in which he was derided and mocked. He would fain have silenced the Lord's message of "violence and spoil." But the words were in his heart "as a burning fire shut up in his bones," and he could not withhold their utterance. (Jer. 20:7-9) They burst forth with power. They are laden with sadness. How could it be otherwise! The nation was on the very verge of ruin, in the greatest depths of wickedness. The prophet felt the burden of its sinfulness so heavily that he could have wept day and night for his fallen people. (Jer. 9:1) Hence he is sometimes called the weeping prophet. The pained heart is manifest throughout all his denunciations. He suffered for the people. But he resented their persecutions, and invoked the Divine vengeance upon his enemies. (See especially Jer. 18:18-23.) In this he was like King David (1 Kings 2) but unlike the martyr Stephen, whose last words were, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." (Acts 7:60) The weak human nature of the prophet makes its appearance. We sympathize with him. The burden was too great. He gave way under it. Only the Lord, who said, "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do" could have given Stephen the ability to overcome resentment, and likewise impart to every human being now the power to love in place of hating his or her enemies. (Matt. 5:38-48)
Jeremiah has long been recognized as a type of the Lord. And he is. "The like as is represented by Joseph, is also represented by Jeremiah the prophet" in that he was put into a pit without water. (A. 4728) His sufferings represented the sufferings of the Christ. The words regarding the call (Jer. 1:4-8) refer to the Lord, "who is there meant by Jeremiah; He will be born, that He may teach all men Divine truth." (P.P.) This is His message of truth in a sadly perverted state of the church. (Verses 1-3) Looked at individually, it is a time when people have become conscious of the violent way in which evil attacks their faith, and temporarily holds them captive, taking away their power to live freely the heavenly ideal. It is a state of great humiliation—the human is so active, the Divine seems altogether absent. The word of the prophet comes with Divine power to uncover the evil of falsity, destroy it, and then build up the waste places. (Verses 9-10) The purport of this revelation of truth is further explained in the two visions that follow. First comes the vision of the rod of the almond tree, which signifies the power which lies within the perception of interior truth. (A. 5622) This the Lord will guard that it may be fulfilled. Verse 12 ought to be translated, "Thou hast well seen, for I watch over My word to perform it." (R. V.) The Hebrew word for almond tree means "watchful." The spiritual life given by the Lord to humanity makes us alert to the presence of evil. We are not admitted into an interior life unless we are prepared to watch and preserve the truths revealed to us. (P. 221) But these interior truths have been perverted. (Verse 13) The seething pot denotes doctrine infused with passion, and thus perverted. (A. 10105) Evil lusts warp the judgment. The north, whence the enemy is to come, is the region of obscurity. The enemy is undoubtedly the Babylonians - the love of self. (Jer. 25:9) From this source spring falsities that threaten the destruction of the church in people (verses 14-15) and also lead to idolatrous worship. (Verse 16) "The Lord will admit these evils and falsities to fight against Himself, and they will succumb, because the Divine is the Lord's." (Verses 17-19; P.P.) Likewise the Lord permits us to enter these states - allows us to be tempted by fleshly lusts - and furnishes the truth which shall disclose them. In that truth is His presence, and in that Divine presence is power to save us. "They shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee."
The comment upon our chapter in Swedenborg's Prophets and Psalms opens several interesting lines of thought. Throughout the comment on Jeremiah in that book, the literal conditions of Jeremiah's time are shown to picture spiritual conditions of a church which is near its end through rejection of the Lord and of His truth of life. The treatment of Jeremiah pictures the treatment of the Lord. How strikingly the rejection of His truth, both in mind and heart, is pictured in the cutting and burning of the roll in our chapter! The comment of Prophets and Psalms upon Jeremiah 1 says, "The perverted state of the church (is described), verses 1-3; concerning the Lord who is (represented) there (by) Jeremiah, that He will be born in order to teach all men the Divine Truth, verses 4-8; that the Lord will permit them to fight against Him and that they will be subdued, because with the Lord is the Divine, verses 17-19."