Who is Prophet Jeremiah?
Jeremiah (the prophet)
JEREMIAH (the prophet) jĕr’ ə mī ə (יִרְמְיָ֖הוּ, LXX ̓Ιερεμίας, G2635, Jeremias, meaning Yahweh establishes). Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom (Judah) during the last forty years of its existence (627-586 b.c.). He lived through the period of the disintegration of the kingdom, witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and spent the remaining years of his life in Egypt.
Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, a kohen (Jewish priest) from the Benjamite village of Anathoth. The difficulties he encountered, as described in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, have prompted scholars to refer to him as "the weeping prophet".
Prophet Jeremiah Timelines
Chronology for Jeremian times (686 B.C.-586 B.C.).
Political and religious conditions.
About the mid-7th cent., when Jeremiah was born, the kingdom of Judah was at a very low point religiously as well as politically. Following the era of Hezekiah’s extensive religious reformation and successful resistance of Assyrian aggression, Judah was plunged into ominous reverses when Manasseh became sole ruler after Hezekiah’s death in 686 b.c.
Religiously, Manasseh plunged Judah into gross idolatry similar to that which had prevailed in the northern kingdom under Ahab and Jezebel. Altars to Baal were erected, and asherim were built. Moloch, the Ammonite deity, was acknowledged by the sacrificing of children in the Hinnom valley near Jerusalem. Worship of stars and planets was instituted. Official approval was given to astrology, divination, and occultism. The Temple itself was desecrated with graven images of Asherah, the wife of Baal. God was openly deified at altars in the court of the Temple where the host of heaven was worshiped (cf. Jer 19:13).
Innocent blood was shed under the rule of Manasseh. It is likely many prophets and pious leaders who raised their voices in protest were silenced by death (2 Kings 21:16). The tradition that charges Manasseh with the martyrdom of Isaiah may be correct since this prophet is mentioned no more after the death of Hezekiah. If the report of Sennacherib’s death is acknowledged by Isaiah (37:38), then Isaiah lived at least until 681/80 b.c. With the martyrdom of the righteous God-fearing people, it is quite likely that the copies of the law were neglected and possibly destroyed. The religious feasts and seasons must have been curtailed, and it is doubtful that the law was ever publicly read to the people during the reign of Manasseh.
Politically, Assyria extended its domination of the Fertile Crescent and reached its pinnacle of wealth and prestige under Esarhaddon (681-668 b.c.) and Ashurbanipal (668-633 b.c.). Esarhaddon rebuilt the city of Babylon, which his father had destroyed in 689 b.c., resubjugated Tyre in 678, occupied Memphis in 673 b.c., and captured Tirhakah. Among the twenty-two kings he brought from the Hitt. country on a compulsory visit to Nineveh in 678 b.c., Esarhaddon lists Manasseh. By 663 b.c. the city of Thebes was sacked by the Assyrians, but the little kingdom of Judah continued without destruction under the shadows of the Assyrian advance. It may have been that Manasseh subsequently involved Judah in the rebellion of the Moabites and Edomites against Assyria. Afterwards he was taken as a prisoner to Babylon (2 Chron 33:10-13) and then released after his repentance. During the last half of the 7th cent., Assyria was weakened by rebellions throughout the kingdom, esp. in Babylon. After the death of Ashurbanipal in 633 b.c. the kingdom declined rapidly and terminated with the destruction of Nineveh by the coalition of the Medes under Cyaxares and the Babylonians under Nabopolassar in 612 b.c.
In the course of these developments throughout the Fertile Crescent the little kingdom of Judah had three decades of relative freedom, c. 640-610 b.c. When Manasseh died in 642 b.c. he was succeeded by Amon, who was slain by his servants after a two-year reign. This left the throne to eight-year-old Josiah. As he grew to manhood and assumed leadership Josiah had the opportunity to develop religious and political policies without interference from the surrounding nations, esp. Assyria, which had exerted a continual influence upon Judah for over a cent.
Josiah reacted against the apostate conditions that had prevailed under his predecessors. At the age of sixteen, or about 632 b.c., he began to seek after God, turning away from the idolatry that surrounded him. In 621 b.c. while the Temple was being repaired the “Book of the Law” was found. Greatly concerned, Josiah sponsored an observance of the Passover that was unsurpassed in the history of Judah. Drastic measures were taken to rid the land of idolatry. Pagan practices were abolished, asherim were demolished, chambers of cult prostitution were renovated, horses dedicated to the sun and chariots in the Temple entrance were destroyed by fire. Manasseh’s altars were destroyed and high places remaining from the Solomonic times were demolished and desecrated with dead man’s bones.
Priests appointed by former kings but committed to idolatry were removed from office. This terminated the burning of incense to Baal, the sun, moon, and stars. Josiah, however, made material provision for the support of these men who could no longer serve as priests.
The political leaders associated with Josiah may have had aspirations of gaining control of the area that formerly constituted the northern kingdom to re-establish the Solomonic kingdom boundaries. How far these hopes were realized is not delineated in the scriptural accounts, but the religious reformation did extend into the northern tribes. People from numerous cities responded to invitations extended by Josiah and joined in the festivities in Jerusalem as well as the reformation program throughout the land.
The era of religious and political optimism was suddenly terminated in 609 b.c. when Josiah was fatally wounded in his attempt to stop Necho of Egypt at Megiddo. After three months, Necho returned from his military expedition to the Euphrates where he temporarily stopped the Babylonians and took Jehoahaz captive, enthroning Jehoiakim in Jerusalem as king of Judah. Since Josiah as king had prompted the religious reformation, it is likely that many leaders in Judah supported him primarily for the sake of expediency. Under Jehoiakim the Godfearing people and prophets such as Jeremiah faced opposition repeatedly and even martyrdom.
Politically, the fortunes of Judah waned rapidly. In 605 b.c. the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish so that they withdrew to the borders of Egypt. Babylonian domination of Pal. included Judah so that in 605 b.c. Jehoiakim yielded tribute and royal hostages, among whom was Daniel, to Nebuchadnezzar. In 601 b.c. the Babylonian advance was temporarily stopped on the borders of Egypt, which may have encouraged Jehoiakim to resist the Babylonians in 598 b.c. Before the latter came to Jerusalem, Jehoiakim likely was killed and was succeeded on the throne by his son Jehoiachin for only three months. The Babylonian armies arrived in Jerusalem by the spring of 597 b.c., taking the king with at least ten thousand captives to Babylonian exile. Zedekiah, another son of Josiah, was left to rule in Jerusalem, but his rebellion ultimately resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586. This represented the most extensive and severe judgment upon the nation of Israel in OT times. With the people in exile, the Israelites were regarded as a byword among the nations from the human perspective.
Biography of Jeremiah
Jeremiah was born into the priestly family of Hilkiah, who is not to be confused with Hilkiah the high priest in Jerusalem associated with the discovery of the law in the Temple (2 Kings 22; 23). The city of Anathoth, though near Jerusalem, was within the borders of Benjamin and assigned to the Levites under Joshua (Josh 21:18). Abiathar, who served as priest under David, resided in Anathoth (1 Kings 2:26). It is quite reasonable to conclude that Jeremiah was from the Abiathar lineage of priests and not from the Zadokite line that had been instituted under Solomon in Jerusalem.
The birth of Jeremiah, c. 652-648 b.c., may not have attracted as much attention as the birth of Josiah in the royal family. Living only about two and a half m. from Jerusalem, Jeremiah may have followed with keen interest the coronation and reign of Josiah, who grew to young manhood about the same time.
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