Kings and generals are in the foreground; priests and charlatans provide the people with the kind of truth they want to hear. Wars and famines have brought people to their knees: who is carrying forward the mission of Israel, the instrument of God in the world?
God looks for someone to whom he may give authority not over Israel, but over all the nations, and he entrusts him, not with the mission to speak, but to uproot and destroy, to build and to plant. In a word, God gives him the mission to speed up history. This man will be Jeremiah, a boy from Anathoth, who comes from a family of priests.
It was Jeremiah who has pronounced the discourses found in this book, but it is also he who lived the events as witness to God. He cooperated with God – the word should not frighten us – in his supreme decisions which gave direction to history.
If indeed history is the result of many known and unknown forces, it is God who draws everything together and guides events in such a way that one fails while another succeeds. God is at work in history through the works, words, writings and prayers of countless people. He also stirs up more profound forces that shake up lifeless hearts and strengthen the yearning for justice in the world. In the spheres of activity which God has reserved for himself, only those who totally surrender to him are able to cooperate with him.
God’s friends share in his sovereign rule over events: Abraham (Gen 18:16), Moses (Ex 32:14), the martyrs (Rev 20:4). Jeremiah, the quiet and peaceful lad from Anathoth became one of them because he was emptied of his own will to such an extent that God revealed to him his jealous love for Israel and his anger over sin. So he was able to utter condemnations of Israel which would become reality and to foretell the times of the New Covenant.
The Jews of later times believed that, after his death, Jeremiah was present before God in ter ceding for them (2 Mac 2:1 and 14:14). When prophets after him spoke of a suffering Savior, they remembered Jeremiah’s trials.
Between Isaiah’s last prophecies (690 B.C.) and Jeremiah’s call from God (around 626) there is a span of sixty years, almost fifty of which correspond to Manasseh’s reign. This ruler per sistently offended the faith of the Jews (2 K 21). Then in 640 a child, Josiah, came to the throne and the embers of faith were slowly rekindled.
This was the time when the discovery of the Book of the Law brought about a religious renewal, Josiah’s Reform (2 K 22). A few years before that, God had called Jeremiah.
Then, the events which followed and which Jeremiah witnessed, took a tragic turn. They are related in 2 Kings 23:25 and repeated in Jeremiah 39.
Outline of the Book of Jeremiah
It is difficult to say who drew up the book of Jeremiah and how. It seems that Baruch, the “secretary”, meaning the chancellor of the king, had an important part in it, and that Jeremiah himself dictated much of it to him. Various indications suggest that there has been a fusion of two texts which are partly overlapped.
The book has four parts:
– Prophecies against Judah and Jerusalem: chapters 1–25.
– Prophecies against the nations. Announced at the end of chapter 25, they form chapters 46–51.