The opening chapters of Jeremiah set the tone for the mission and message of the prophet.
Jeremiah’s Commission (1:4-19)
Many of the prophets in Scripture recount a formal calling or commission (such as Moses in Ex. 3-4; Isaiah in Isa. 6; Paul in Acts 9). Jeremiah’s call is reminiscent of these other prophetic commissions.
Notice that Jeremiah responded to his call as Moses did to his – offering excuses (1:4-6). But the Lord assured Jeremiah He would deliver him, and placed His hand on His mouth, indicating that Jeremiah would speak by the Lord’s command (1:7-10; see 2 Peter 1:20-21).
The call of Jeremiah concluded with two visions which set the tone for his message. First, an almond branch (saqed), indicating that God was watching (saqad) over His word to perform it (1:11-12). Second, a boiling pot facing away from the north, indicating that disaster will be let loose from the north (1:13-14). Other than Egypt to the southwest, any enemy that attacked Judah would have to come from the north due to the Arabian desert.
The call of Jeremiah concluded with assurance from God that although Jeremiah’s message would be difficult for the people to accept, that God would fortify him for the task (1:15-19).
Preacher of the Covenant
Prophets were more than spokesmen for God – they were prosecutors. In 2:9, the Lord says, “Therefore I still contend with you.” A better translation would be, “I bring charges against you” (TNIV). The Lord through His prophet was presenting an indictment against Israel (see also Micah 6:1-2).
The basis of this indictment is the Law, the covenant God made with Israel. Notice that in 2:12 the Lord calls on the heavens as witness. The heavens and earth were the witnesses of the covenant God made (see Deut. 32:1; also Isaiah 1:2).
The covenant not only contained the laws Israel was to follow, but also a list of penalties – curses – in the event that Israel broke the covenant. These are listed in Deuteronomy 28. Notice for example in Jer. 3:3 that the rain has been withheld from the people – one of the very curses listed in Deut. 28:23-24.
Look for this sort of language all through Jeremiah as he presents the divine indictment and announces the curses that will befall the nation.
The Sin of Idolatry
These opening chapters also highlight the fundamental sin Israel is guilty of – idolatry.
- · Has a nation changed its gods? My people have! (2:10-11).
- · Two evil, forsaken me and hewed out broken cisterns (2:12-13).
- · Trees and stones are called father and mother (2:26-28).
Unfaithfulness to God also led to mistreating those made in His image. Two sins are mentioned in these chapters:
- · Their sword devoured the prophets (2:30).
- · The murdered the guiltless poor while claiming it was defense against theft (2:34; cf. Ex. 22:2).
The Bride Turned Whore
Since God’s covenant with Israel was to be a mutual relationship of exclusive commitment, a fitting way to illustrate this covenant was in terms of marriage (as in Ezekiel 16 and 23). There was a time when Israel loved the Lord like a young bride loves her husband (2:1-2). But the once loving virgin has forgotten its Husband “days without number (2:32).
But Israel became unfaithful – not just guilty of adultery, but so driven to sell itself out to the gods of the other nations the only image that could capture the depravity of the people was that of whoredom.
- · Bowed down on the places of pagan worship, the high hill of the high places and the green tree of the Asherah (2:20).
- · Impulsively going after other gods like an animal in heat (2:23-25).
- Played the whore with many lovers, yet desires to return to God after divorce (3:1-5; cf. Deut. 24:1-4).