Last month's Hebrew Testament readings introduced us to Jeremiah, beginning a nine-week focus on the book that bears his name, along with Lamentations. Readings from both books give us a sampling of the rich images Jeremiah uses—wilderness, fountains of living water, a potter forming clay vessels, the earth laid bare, healing balm, and land to which God holds the deed.
Jeremiah was at work from 628 to 586 B.C.E., during which time the southern kingdom of Judah twice came under threat by the Babylonians. Having been aided by the Egyptians during the first threat in 588, the Jewish monarchs were not able to protect Jerusalem the second time around. In 586, the city was sacked, beginning the second wave of the Babylonian captivity.
Commentators generally agree that Jeremiah's career as a prophet serves as a microcosm of the entire Hebrew Testament. As Elmer Martens writes, "The book of Jeremiah … depicts the alienation of people from God, God's unceasing attempts to bring them back to [Godself], God's judgment on their evil through exile, the delights of restoration, and [God's] actions not only on behalf of the people of Israel but for the benefit of the world of nations."
The very definition of the word prophet means "to speak for." In order to voice authentically God's message, a prophet must not fear intimacy with God, because the prophetic word comes from the mysterious depths of God's own heart. This is why Jeremiah's commissioning includes God's foreknowledge of Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1:5).