Jeremi’ah (whom Jehovah has appointed) was “the son of Hilkiah of the priests that were in Anathoth.” Jer. 1:1.
1. History.—He was called very young (b.c. 626) to the prophetic office, and prophesied forty-two years; but we have hardly any mention of him during the eighteen years between his call and Josiah’s death, or during the short reign of Jehoahaz. During the reigns of Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin, b.c. 607–598, he opposed the Egyptian party, then dominant in Jerusalem, and maintained that the only way of safety lay in accepting the supremacy of the Chaldeans. He was accordingly accused of treachery, and men claiming to be prophets had their “word of Jehovah” to set against his. Jer. 14:13; 23:7. As the danger from the Chaldeans became more threatening, the persecution against Jeremiah grew hotter. ch. 18. The people sought his life; then follows the scene in Jer. 19:10-13. He was set, however, “as a fenced grazen wall,” ch. 15:20, and went on with his work, reproving king and nobles and people. The danger which Jeremiah had so long foretold at last came near. First Jehoiakim, and afterwards his successor Jehoiachin, were carried into exile, 2 Kings 24; but Zedekiah, b.c. 597–586, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, was more friendly to the prophet, though powerless to help him. The approach of an Egyptian army, and the consequent departure of the Chaldeans, made the position of Jeremiah full of danger, and he sought to effect his escape from the city; but he was seized and finally thrown into a prison-pit to die, but was rescued. On the return of the Chaldean army he showed his faith in God’s promises, and sought to encourage the people by purchasing the field at Anathoth which his kinsman Hanameel wished to get rid of. Jer. 32:6-9. At last the blow came. The city was taken, the temple burnt. The king and his princes shared the fate of Jehoiachin. The prophet gave utterance to his sorrow in the Lamentations. After the capture of Jerusalem, b.c. 586, by the Chaldeans, we find Jeremiah receiving better treatment; but after the death of Gedaliah, the people, disregarding his warnings, took refuge in Egypt, carrying the prophet with them. In captivity his words were sharper and stronger than ever. He did not shrink, even there, from speaking of the Chaldean king once more as “the servant of Jehovah.” Jer. 43:10. After this all is uncertain, but he probably died in Egypt.
2. Character.—Canon Cook says of Jeremiah, “His character is most interesting. We find him sensitive to a most painful degree, timid, shy, hopeless, desponding, constantly complaining, and dissatisfied with the course of events, but never flinching from duty. . . . Timid in resolve, he was unflinching in execution; as fearless when he had to face the whole world as he was dispirited and prone to murmuring when alone with God. Judged by his own estimate of himself, he was feeble, and his mission a failure; really, in the hour of action and when duty called him, he was in very truth ‘a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land.’ ch. 1:18 He was a noble example of the triumph of the moral over the physical nature.”
(It is not strange that he was desponding when we consider his circumstances. He saw the nation going straight to irremediable ruin, and turning a deaf ear to all warnings. “A reign of terror had commenced (in the preceding reign), during which not only the prophets but all who were distinguished for religion and virtue were cruelly murdered.” “The nation tried to extirpate the religion of Jehovah”; “Idolatry was openly established,” “and such was the universal dishonesty that no man trusted another, and society was utterly disorganized.” How could one who saw the nation about to reap the awful harvest they had been sowing, and yet had a vision of what they might have been and might yet be, help indulging in “Lamentations”?—Ed.)