Jeremiah – “I have put my words in your mouth”

The mouthpiece of Yahweh to his people

Glazed-brick panel from the Throne Room of Nebuchadnezzar II

Jeremiah was called to be a messenger for God in his youth, and charged to go to whoever he was sent, boldly speaking as commanded (Je 1:7). From the outset, Jeremiah was informed that the fulfilment of his commission was to be outworked in a perilous and frightening context; although he is told not to give way to fear nor back away from firmly sharing the thoughts of Yahweh with his people (Je 1:8, 17-19). He is assured that his God is with him – “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth…” (Je 1:9) and in the subsequent record of Jeremiah’s words and actions we have the account of a man attempting to faithfully communicate the word of his God whilst enduring many trials of a painful and personal nature.

Essentially, Jeremiah’s message as revealed in his words to the people are to be understand as representing the heart and mind of Yahweh himself. Through Jeremiah, Yahweh is going to confront his people with their sins. He is going to explain why judgment is coming upon them. He is going to encourage them to submit to his just punishments and is going to hold out the opportunity for personal reconciliation with God to individuals that are minded to repent and humble themselves before him.

Jeremiah was called upon to prophesy for God during the last days of Judah’s sovereignty. He began prophesying during the reign of a Yahweh orientated king – Josiah (Je 1:2). He endured the grief of Josiah’s early death (2 Chr 35:25) and suffered while he watched the sons of Josiah refuse to follow their father’s example, leading lives of wickedness instead (2 Chr 36:5, 9, 12).

Sin and Judgment
From the very beginning of Jeremiah’s calling, he is clearly informed that ‘disaster’ and ‘judgment’ is coming upon the land (Je 1:14). As Jeremiah’s message unfolds, it is revealed that the judgment intended is foreign invasion and captivity at the hands of Babylon (Je 4:7, 16-18, 5:14-18, 9:16, 21:3-7). Jeremiah was called to communicate this message in a context where the concept of coming judgment was doubted, denied, and ridiculed (Je 14:13, 17:15-18, 23:17). Jeremiah is compelled to inform his audience that the reason for impending divine judgment was their sins.

As Lundbom1 points out: ‘behind all of Jeremiah’s talk about sin and judgment lies a broken covenant…’ The covenant Yahweh made with Israel at Sinai had as its cardinal principle the concept of utter faithfulness to Yahweh alone – ‘you shall have no other gods before me’ (Ex. 20:3) and it was to this that the nation had given its unanimous and solemn assent (Ex 24:3,7). Jeremiah reveals to the people that it is this historical commitment for which they are being called to account (Je 7:22-26, 11:4-8). The sin that Jeremiah highlights repeatedly is the idolatry of God’s people – ‘…they have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands…’ (Je 1:16 cp. 2:8, 11, 23, 26-28) In the context of the covenant, the people’s pursuit of foreign gods is called ‘adultery’ (Je 3:6, 9, 9:2) and is set forward in the text as the primary reason for the coming judgment (Je 5:19, 7:17-20).

Submission and Humility
Jeremiah consistently communicates that the imminent doom of the nation is certain (Je 14:11-12, 15:1, 21:10) and so one of his key messages becomes advice to submit to God’s judgments.
The submission called for becomes explicit – the people are to surrender to the invaders in recognition of the righteousness of God’s judgment – ‘…he who goes out and surrenders… to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live…’ (Je 21:9) but those who resist God’s judgments will be destroyed. During Jeremiah’s period of service, he did see Babylon begin to lead people into exile (Je 24:1) and Jeremiah’s message to the exiles is to urge them to reconcile with the reality of their situation – they are, in fact, exactly where God wants them. They are encouraged to make the best of their circumstances – ‘…build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce…’ (Je 29:5). They are encouraged to have families and contribute to the cities in which they now live, not allowing themselves to be deluded into thinking that their exile will be short (Je 29:6-9).

More broadly, Jeremiah’s advice is for individuals to return to their God, repenting of their individual sins. They are to ‘acknowledge their guilt’ (Je 3:13), ‘wash from evil’ and remove their ‘wicked thoughts’ (Je 4:14). Those who would be wise are called upon to make Yahweh and his character their renewed focus and delight (Je 9:23-24), caring for ‘the fatherless and the widow’ and pursuing themes of ‘justice and righteousness’ (Je 22:3).

Hope and Restoration
Although Jeremiah’s message was essentially a negative one set against a bleak landscape of national unfaithfulness and inescapable judgment, his prophetic mission also involved communicating themes of hope and restoration.
Israel is assured that Yahweh is ‘merciful’ and ‘will not be angry forever’ (Je 3:12). Amid assurances that his people will go into exile, Yahweh also communicates that he intends to return his people to their land – ‘…I will bring them back to their own land…’ (Je 16:15, 24:6, 29:10).
We are informed that despite his people being unfaithful to the covenant, Yahweh intends to remain faithful to his people, restoring them after having repaid them for their sins (16:18). Jeremiah’s message indicates that their experiences will ultimately reconcile them to their God; causing the people to know their God in a deeper and more profound way than ever before (Je 16:21, 24:7).

Jeremiah also brings a message for his people that although God has used unfaithful nations to judge his people, he intends to punish them also after a designated period of time – ‘…after seventy years… I will punish the king of Babylon… for their iniquity…’ (Je 25:12-13).

Summary
Jeremiah’s task was to be the mouthpiece of Yahweh to his people, who were about to experience an outpouring of his anger in unmistakeable and devastating fashion. Jeremiah’s task was to confront them with the reality of this impending judgment as well as the reasons for it. As much as his message was unwelcome and elicited behaviour which caused Jeremiah great personal difficulty and anguish, he was also tasked with communicating God’s faithfulness to his people and their ultimate destiny of peace and reconciliation with him.

Footnotes

  1. Jack R. Lundbom, “Jeremiah, Book of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 718.