Jeremiah 1-4…The young prophet.
Despite brief revivals under kings such as Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah, division and decline marked the history of God’s old covenant people after David (1 Kings 15:9–15; 2 Kings 18:1–8; 22:1–23:25). Following Solomon’s death, the one nation of Israel was split in two—the northern kingdom, Israel, and the southern kingdom, Judah (1 Kings 12:1–24). God sent prophets to both nations to warn them of the judgment they faced if they would not turn from their idolatry, and both nations refused to repent of their apostasy. Finally, the Lord executed the covenant curse of exile upon both nations. Assyria conquered Samaria, Israel’s capital, in 722 B.C., and Babylon conquered Jerusalem, Judah’s capital, in 586 B.C.(Deut. 28:58–68; 2 Kings 17:6–23; 25:1–21).
About forty years before Jerusalem fell to Babylon, God raised up the prophet Jeremiah to plead with the people for their repentance. Ministering during the waning days of Judah, Jeremiah prophesied during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, which encompassed the years 627–586 B.C. This was a tumultuous time for the covenant community. Internationally, Assyria was weakening rapidly, and it fell to the Babylonian Empire in 612 B.C. At home, Judah’s relationship with God initially seemed to be improving. Good king Josiah was spearheading a return to the pure worship of Yahweh by removing idols and celebrating a grand Passover (2 Kings 22:1–23:25). Yet this was short-lived, and the people returned to their sins after Josiah died in 609 B.C. Judah became a political football, with Egypt and Babylon both laying claim to the country’s treasure (2 Kings 23:28–24:1a). The Chaldeans (Babylon) and other peoples — Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites—attacked Judah, and Babylon invaded Jerusalem several times. The city finally fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.(2 Kings 24:1b–25:21). Through tears, Jeremiah warned the Judahites repeatedly to repent during this period, but they refused, and Josiah’s successors opposed the prophet bitterly (Jer. 32:1–3; 36).
Jeremiah 1 describes his call to ministry, which occurred when he was just a young man (Jer. 1:6–8). Yet the Lord determined to issue this call long before Jeremiah was born, even before he was an idea in his parents’ mind. When God formed the prophet in His mother’s womb, He had already purposed to send forth His word through Jeremiah (vv. 4–5). Jeremiah’s ministry was ordained in eternity past.