He moved to Jerusalem, where his long career coincided with the decline and end of the Assyrian Empire and the rise of Babylonia. More is known of his personal life than of that of other prophets. He never married, as a sign that children would not survive (Jcr. 16:1-4), and he did not participate in mourning or festive occasions as an indication that in the calamitous future, none would remain to mourn or rejoice (Jer. 16:5-8). His prophecies aroused bitter hostility and there were plots to kill him; he was confined to the stocks in the Temple
for predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and he was tried for blasphemy.
Jeremiah first prophesied in 626 BCE, during the reign of King Josiah, initially speaking out against apostasy and idolatry. He was shocked by the sinfulness of the citizens of Jerusalem and fearlessly spoke out against it. He gave a sermon in the Temple stressing the contradiction between the behavior of the populace and the ideals conveyed by the Temple, and foretold that if they did not repent, the Temple would be destroyed.
On occasion, he made his point by symbolic actions, such as wearing a yoke to indicate the captivity which would be the lot of the people. The priests, as well as the people, were infuriated by his teachings and sought his death. As a precaution, in the year 605 he dictated his teachings to his scribe and amanuensis, Baruch, for the latter to read in public in the Temple. When these were read to the king, Jehoiakim, he had them destroyed column by column. He wished, also, to kill the prophet, but Jeremiah escaped and, foretelling that the king would have the burial of an ass, proceeded to dicate an expanded version of his words.
After Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the aristocracy, Jeremiah remained in Judah, enjoying the respect of the conquerors because of his known pro-Babylonian orientation. He urged those who remained to live in peace, but, after the murder of the Babylonian-appointed governor, Gcdaliah, the community, fearing vengeance, turned to Jeremiah and asked him for divine guidance on whether they should remain or flee for their lives to Egypt. When Jeremiah advised them to stay, his decision was rejected and the people fled to Egypt, forcibly taking Jeremiah and Baruch along with them. Jeremiah is last heard of in Egypt, still condemning manifestations of idolatry and still proclaiming the future victory of the Babylonians, this time against the Egyptians.
Jeremiah’s political views were particularly unpopular. After the first exile to Babylonia in 597, he consistently preached submission to Babylonia, advising those who had been carried off to Babylonia to make the most of their exile and to continue to observe their religion, as God was present in all lands and could be worshiped far from the cultic center in Jerusalem. He regarded the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, as a divine instrument who was executing the will of God. Eventually the Babylonians, for their part, would receive due punishment, but meanwhile they were to be endured. When King Zedekiah decided to resort to arms in a desperate attempt to fight the Babylonians, Jeremiah openly opposed him, warning that the move was destined to be futile and would bring disaster. He was thrown into a damp cistern with the hope that he would starve to death, but was rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch.
It was traditionally thought, though probably erroneously, that Jeremiah was the author of the book of Lamentations and for this reason he received the reputation of a mournful prophet (cf. the English word “jeremiad”). Yet an examination of the book of Jeremiah shows that his basic message is one of hope.
Although condemning the national guilt of his contemporaries, he maintains his faith in God’s power and will to save. He is sure that the worship of God will survive and that eventually the Jews will return to their land, purified and devoted to God. This restoration will encompass not only those exiled in his time but the earlier exile of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom.
He foresees a new covenant being made between God and Israel, and the Law henceforth being written not merely on tablets of stone, but on the heart of every Jew. Jeremiah also stresses the primacy of the ethical law, without which ritual has no meaning, as well as the eternal nature of Israel and its relationship to God.
FROM THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH
• Saying “Peace, peace” — when there is no peace (6:14).
• Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? (8:22).
• Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth” (9:23-24).
• Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do who are accustomed to do evil (13:23).
• Fear not, O Jacob my servant, says the Lord, nor be dismayed O Israel; for lo I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid (30:10).
• In those days they shall no longer say “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” but every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge (31 -.29-30).