Jeremiah was assigned the difficult task of prophesying to God’s people during the dark days following the Assyrian captivity of Israel. As a prophet, Jeremiah opposed his contemporaries. They continuously heralded messages of peace and the Lord’s favor when the Lord had clearly said that He was going to discipline His people for their idolatry. Since Judah was headed in the same direction as Israel—who had already been carried into captivity—why did Judah’s prophets lie, Jeremiah asked (Jer 8:8-11; 14:13-16; 23:9-40). What was the result? These false prophets (Jer 26:7-19) and those of Jeremiah’s own city attempted to kill him (Jer 11:18-23). Every assassination scheme was thwarted but Jeremiah had to endure both physical persecution at the hands of Pashhur the priest (Jer 20:1-6) and social ostracism mandated by King Jehoiakim (Jer 36:1-5, 20-26).
The Lord’s call on Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 1. Though Jeremiah was young and perhaps given to timidity, God commanded him, “Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you…Look, I have filled your mouth with My words. See, today I have set you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant” (Jer 1:8-10; Jer 18:7-9; 24:6; 31:28). Unlike his colleagues, Jeremiah would speak the word of the Lord and none other—even if it was unpopular and fell on deaf ears. That would be the case for Jeremiah, as the Lord informed the prophet in chs. 2-3.
Jeremiah 1-3 introduces several themes that shape the storyline of Scripture:
(1) Israel as the firstfruits of the nations and Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection. This concept of firstfruits is an agricultural metaphor identifying the first of something to be followed by more of the same kind (see Exod 23:16, 19; 34:26). The firstfruits are akin to the cream of the crop, the best in quality of what would come. In Jer 2:3, the prophet reminded his audience of their glorious heritage in the exodus, when “Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of His harvest. All who ate of it found themselves guilty; disaster came on them.” In Rom 11:16, Paul recognized Israel as the firstfruits of peoples God had chosen but went on to note that through their faith in Christ, people from all nations would share in the holy status of Israel. Paul wrote that Jesus’ resurrection was the firstfruits of the kind of resurrection that all believers will enjoy in the new creation (1 Cor 15:20).
(2) God’s grace to Judah and to outsiders. In Jer 2:13, the prophet confronted Judah for their idolatry. Judah pushed away the Lord and seized as objects of worship things that had no ability to help. Jeremiah spoke God’s word, “My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” When Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4, He asked the woman to give Him a drink. When she responded with dismay that a male Jew would have anything to do with a female Samaritan, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water” (John 4:10). Jeremiah accused Judah of forsaking the gift of God’s grace and Jesus offered God’s grace to a foreign woman.
(3) The endurance of the prophets and Christians. In Jer 2:30, Jeremiah condemned Judah for killing the messengers the Lord sent to her. At the outset of His ministry, Jesus proposed that His followers should rejoice in their suffering for the kingdom at the hand of the Jews (Matt 5:10-12//Luke 6:22-23). Jeremiah said that false prophets enjoy the praise of the people (Jer 6:13-15) and Jesus said that the same was true in His day (Luke 6:26). Paul likewise recognized that those who followed Jesus would be persecuted, telling the Thessalonians, “For you brothers became imitators of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, since you have also suffered the same things from people of your own country, just as they did from the Jews. They killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us” (1 Thess 2:14-15).
(4) The expansion of God’s dwelling place. In Jer 3:16-17, Jeremiah prophesied a future day of restoration when, following a period of discipline, the Lord would gather His people to Jerusalem. The city of their dwelling, Jeremiah said, would be called, “The LORD’s Throne” (Jer 3:17) and all nations would be gathered to it. In Revelation, John described the New Jerusalem as the place of God’s dwelling with His people from all nations (Rev 21:1-4, 22-27).