Jeremiah prophesied, and later witnessed, the destruction of Jerusalem. He had the unpleasant task of warning the people of Jerusalem that their enemies were going to win. His neighbors hated him for his message of doom and gloom. In fact, they very much wanted to put him to death for his lack of patriotism. Just imagine, if your country was in the midst of war, how much would you appreciate your neighbor predicting that your country was going to lose? That was Jeremiah’s lot in life, to speak against his own people because of their sin.
Ruin and Waste
The major theme of Jeremiah’s prophecies was judgment. Primarily, judgment against Jerusalem, but also judgment against all the wicked nations of the earth.
There is a common picture we see in this book, the idea that when a city has been judged, it will lie forever in “ruin and waste.” That’s a powerful image. God wants people to know, “Your cities stand strong, beautiful, and organized, but when I bring judgment upon you, wild animals will eventually be the only things that live there.” And he wants them to know, even though their cities seem to stand as monuments to their greatness, eventually, they will lie in ruins as a monument to God’s sovereignty.
Jerusalem, of course, would suffer that fate. The glory of Jerusalem would come undone and the citizens would end up once again as slaves. Israel’s story had been reversed. They had been freed from slavery and come into the Promised Land, but now they were slaves again. Everything had fallen apart. Everything had come undone.
Jeremiah Speaks of “Hell”
It’s interesting that Jesus uses language and images from Jeremiah to warn the people of his day. Jeremiah spoke of a certain valley, “the valley of the son of Hinnom.” In that cursed valley, people had sacrificed their infant sons and daughters to the idol, Molech.
Through Jeremiah, God them that their wickedness would be judged in that very same valley:
This place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth.
When Jesus talked about people being thrown into “hell,” he was using the word, “Gehenna,” which is a reference to this valley. Jesus was warning his people, like Jeremiah, if they continued to reject the word of the Lord, this would be their fate.
Living as Exiles
After Nebuchadnezzar carried off the first wave of exiles, there were still false prophets trying to reassure the people the exile would only last two years. Jeremiah had to send a letter to the people to tell them the exile would be seventy years and most of them would die as slaves in Babylon. What a horrible letter to have to send to your people.
But in that letter, we read how God expected his people to live while they were exiles. Even though they were citizens of Jerusalem, they were supposed to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have babies, and seek the welfare of the city of Babylon. They were supposed to be faithful to their God and a blessing to their captors.
When Peter sent his first epistle, he used this same language to help Christians understand how they are supposed to live in the world. He wrote in 1 Peter 2:11-12:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Christians, living dispersed in the world, are supposed to be faithful to God and a blessing to the nations we inhabit. And just like the exiles in Babylon, we wait with anticipation.
Though most of Jeremiah is doom and gloom, we do get a few glimpses of hope. The Lord says his commitment to Israel is unbreakable. He says it would be easier to break the fixed order of the sun, moon, stars, and roaring waves of the sea than to break his commitment to Israel.
He says, no matter what happens, “the offspring of Israel [will not] cease from being a nation before me forever.” He promises he will restore them to the land and fix their hearts so they will be obedient to him forever, with his law written on their hearts.
Of course, you can see how these promises confused many people in the first century who heard the Gospel. They asked Paul questions like, “Why are you preaching that Israel is cut off? That can’t happen! Why are you preaching that the Gentiles are heirs of the promises God made to us?”
Paul’s answer was shocking. His answer was that God hadn’t rejected Israel at all, but God was remaking Israel. The new Israel was everyone – both Jew and Gentile – who had faith in Jesus. Paul preached that when a person was baptized into Jesus, he became a descendant of Abraham and an heir of the world (see Galatians 3; Romans 4).
This is what the Gospel is all about: Jesus’ followers are Israel and are the ones who will inherit everything God promised to Abraham’s descendants because we are Abraham’s descendants by faith. In the meantime, we are to live as exiles, faithful to our God and a blessing to the nations, while we wait for “the day of visitation.”
I love you and God loves you,