Part 1: Jeremiah 1-25
The word of Jehovah, as we are told in Jeremiah 1, came unto Jeremiah, saying, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee." "I ordained thee," it is carefully added, "a prophet unto the nations." Why unto the nations? This special commission brings before us a peculiarity of Jeremiah's service which we shall find abundantly verified in this book. Although he was a Jew himself and even a priest and although the Jews in Jerusalem have an immense place in his prophecy, the nations also are given great prominence.
Nay, further, we shall find that when the coming judgment of the nations is declared, Jerusalem is put among them as the very first of the nations to be judged. If the Jews did not rise morally above the nations from whom He had separated them, why should God continue to treat them as His own people by a special title? If they surrendered all that was distinctive by lapsing into Gentile idolatry, God would not support them in such false pretensions.
Hence, when the cup of vengeance is in the hand of the Lord (Jer. 25), to give to the nations in His judgment, the Jews come as the first of the nations, not for blessing but for chastening and punishment. Jeremiah, accordingly, was ordained a prophet unto the nations, because the peculiar feature of his prophecy is that Jerusalem is given a priority of judgment when God takes up the world to deal with its sins. This priority is very strikingly shown in Jeremiah 25, but the same thread of truth runs through the whole of the book from beginning to end.
This unusual commission brings out Jeremiah's timorous spirit. "Then said Jeremiah, Ah, Lord Jehovah! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child." Jehovah's answer is, "Say not, I am a child." This was not at all the question but who was sending him. If royal authority chooses a man according to its own wisdom to be its servant, its ambassador, it is of no importance to others who the ambassador is, but what is the power that sends him; and those that despise are not despising the man, but despising the authority that appointed him. Jeremiah was meant to feel that Jehovah was calling him to this office.
"Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith Jehovah. Then Jehovah put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant."
The meaning of this commission is that Jeremiah was chosen to be the announcer of the troubles and judgment that were coming upon all nations. God therefore, as He surely would accomplish every threat that Jeremiah pronounced upon them, speaks of the prophet as if he were pulling down and planting and building and destroying according to the prophecies that God gave him to utter.
Now this was an extremely painful task to Jeremiah. I think myself that of all the prophets, greater or smaller, that were employed, there never was one to whom it was a greater trial to pronounce judgment than to Jeremiah. He was a man of an unusually tender spirit. He shrank from the work to which he was called for the very reason he was called to it.
Jeremiah was, in a certain sense, to harden himself, not as if he did not feel, but going through the depth of the feeling of what was the import of his prophecies. He was to be the simple vessel and channel of what God put into his lips. Hence, therefore, in this prophet was a heart full of agony at all that he had to announce, but a mouth that spoke boldly whatever God put into it.
Such was the character of Jeremiah, and the first chapter shows it. Hence we find two visions together. Jehovah says, "Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said Jehovah unto me, Thou hast well seen; for I will hasten My word to perform it," alluding to the early blooming of the almond tree.
"And the word of Jehovah came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north." This is an allusion to the great northern enemy of Israel that was employed not only to put down Judah but also to put down the nations.
Jeremiah first to last dwells very much upon Babylon. Babylon was this northern power that is in the mind of the Spirit of God throughout. It is not the Assyrian. The Assyrian was northern too, but the Assyrian power was now destroyed, and it is only in the latter day that Assyria will rise again. But meanwhile Babylon was the great power that overshadowed the earth, and Jeremiah accordingly draws attention to this new kingdom. "Then Jehovah said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land."
Therefore he was to gird up his loins and arise and speak unto them: "For, lo, I will call all the families of the kingdoms of the north, saith Jehovah; and they shall come, and they shall set every one his throne at the entering of the gates of Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah. And I will utter My judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken Me and have burned incense unto other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands. Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee: be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith Jehovah, to deliver thee."