Jeremiah was known as the "Weeping Prophet" and would have, although long dead, been a significant prophetic voice in the days of Jesus.
To understand the book is to know the prophet and his times. Jeremiah became a prophet in 627 B.C. and ministered for over four decades. His ministry stretched from the revival of Josiah to some time after Judah was exiled to Babylon. Jeremiah was a prophet, a preacher, and a praying man.
Jeremiah was born the son of the priest, Hilkiah, who was probably the priest who, during the repair of the temple, found the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:3-14; 1 Chronicles 6:13; 9:11; 2 Chronicles 34:14-22).
On finding the book, Hilkiah gave it to Josiah, the king of Judah, which began a season of spiritual renewal. Ezra claims Hilkiah as an ancestor (Ezra 7:1), which would have made Jeremiah a distant relative. It was Jeremiah who prophesied Judah's captivity would last seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11,12; 29:10).
Jeremiah would have witnessed:
a) The Reign of Josiah (640 to 609 B.C.)
b) Judah's Spiritual Reformation Under King Josiah
[This was when Jeremiah's dad found the Book of the Law under some debris in the temple (621 B.C.). This was also the season when the law was read to Josiah with its blessings and cursings, leading to the temple's being repaired and places of idol worship destroyed.
It was the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign when, as a youth, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah was no doubt an active prophet during the reformations of King Josiah as he began to purify the land of its idolatry. The first eighteen years of Jeremiah's life no doubt would have been devoted to Josiah's efforts to restore Judah to Yahweh.
Jeremiah was so deeply grieved by King Josiah's death (2 Chronicles 35:25) that he wrote a national lament, which became to Judah a national song and would have no doubt secured fame for Jeremiah.]
c) The Deposing of Jehoahaz (609 B.C.) to Egypt (Jeremiah 22:11-12; 2 Kings 23:30-34)
[Jehoahaz was installed as king after Josiah's death, but his reign only lasted three months. He was called to meet with Pharaoh Neco and then taken to Egypt, where he was kept until the day of his death.]
d) The Reign of Jehoiakim (609 to 598 B.C.)
[Pharaoh selected Jehoahaz's brother, Jehoiakim, to reign in his place. Egypt kept Judah under the tyranny of immense taxes until they were defeated by the Babylonians. Once the Babylonian power had weakened Egypt, Jehoiakim switched his loyalties to Babylon and was able to remain enthroned for another seven years. The years of Jehoiakim's reign were the worst years of Jeremiah's life. He lived in constant danger and spent some of those years in prison.]
e) The Reign of Jehoiachin (597 B.C. to 598 B.C.)
[This included the taking prisoner of Jehoiachin and the royal court to Babylon, including Daniel and his friends, along with 10,000 exiles (589 B.C.).
It was during this time when the city was sacked, the palace plundered, and the treasuries of the temple looted, with all taken to Babylon. It was Jeremiah who prophesied that Jehoiachin would not have one of his descendants sit on his throne (Jeremiah 22:24-30). Jeremiah prophesied this against the backdrop of other prophets, claiming that he would be restored to the throne within two years (Jeremiah 28:2-4). It was during this time when the second group of exiles was taken to Babylon, with Ezekiel among them.]
f) The Installment of Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's Uncle, by Babylon (597 B.C.)
[This was the last king of Judah to sit on the throne in Jerusalem. He reigned for eleven years. His advisers ever urged him to rebel against Babylon, but Jeremiah urged him to surrender to Babylon. The king formed an alliance with Egypt, leading to Jerusalem's being besieged and then destroyed (586 B.C.).]
g) The Destruction of Jerusalem (596 B.C.)
[Once Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and hauled away her captives, Jeremiah was offered royal sponsorship to live in Babylon, where he could have lived out his life in ease. Jeremiah refused and remained in Judah with the impoverished remnant who were left in their land abandoned and without adequate government and protection.]
h) The Installment of Gedaliah
[Gedaliah was installed as governor of Judah by Babylon (40:5). Once the Babylonian army left, Gedaliah was eventually killed by Ishmael, who also slaughtered some worshipers and took others hostage. The hostages were eventually recovered, but the remnant left in Judea feared the reprisals of Babylon for killing their governor, so they decided to flee to Egypt. Jeremiah encouraged the remnant to stay in the land, but this fell on deaf ears (Jeremiah 42:1-22). The remnant with Jeremiah went to Egypt, and there Jeremiah finished up the last part of his ministry to the nations (1:5; 46-51).]
While Jeremiah may not have seen all the devastation covered in chapters 46-51, he certainly warned of its coming. His national prophecies included Judah, Egypt, Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Syria, Arabia, Elam, and Babylon.
Why Was Jeremiah Called the Weeping Prophet?
Jeremiah was first confronted with the vivid prophetic vision of the destruction of the land of Judah and the brutalization of the people about to be dealt with by Babylon (Jeremiah 9:1; 13:17).
Jeremiah's message of national destruction and judgment was hated and rejected. His close friends and even family became schemers to slaughter him (Jeremiah 11:19-21; 12:6; 26:7-9).
Because Jeremiah's words did not come to pass immediately, he was branded a false prophet and a joke—his reputation foul and ruined (17:15; 20:7-8).
Because of the great disaster coming upon Judah, Jeremiah was not allowed to marry (16:2-4). He was not allowed to attend any celebration event. Jeremiah was under a divine and prophetic ban to keep isolated from gatherings. His absence at celebrations was to serve as a continual prophetic sign of impending danger and judgment. He was banned from attending funerals, again as a prophetic act, announcing a day was coming when death would be so common that even funeral arrangements could not be made for all the dead.
Once, when Jeremiah was prophesying, the priest had an officer arrest him and had him beaten and put in stocks (20:1-3). As soon as Jeremiah was released the next day, he continued prophesying.
At one point when Egypt was coming to help Judah fight off Babylon, Babylon retreated for a short while. Jeremiah was then going out among the people to receive some offerings from those who personally supported him when he was caught, accused of treason and conspiracy, and thrown into an underground dungeon. The place was so wretched that Jeremiah thought he was going to die there (37:1-21).
Just a short time later, Jeremiah was again accused of treason for prophesying Babylon's ultimate victory and for discouraging the hearts of the soldiers. Jeremiah was then thrown into a vile cistern deep with mud. Jeremiah would have died there except a black slave who heard doubt it and had him saved (38:1-13).
The Book of Jeremiah
Jeremiah, in word count, is the largest of all the prophetic books. It is not written in chronological order, and when it comes to type of literature, it has a bit of everything. It is a bit autobiographic, a bit poetic, a bit historical, a bit prophetic, and a bit of personal messages. No doubt Jeremiah and his secretary Baruch wrote this book a piece here and then a piece there, due to the tempestuous times in which Jeremiah lived.
Eventually, the manuscript they had been working on was burned by King Jehoiakim. Jeremiah then handed Baruch another scroll on which to take his prophetic dictation (Jeremiah 36:32). Jeremiah dictated to Baruch all the words in the scroll that had been burned, with some additions.
Finally, we know some of the events of the book took place after the death of not only Jeremiah but possibly even Baruch, dating the complete editing of the book somewhere after 550 B.C.
No doubt the purpose of the book was to reveal the covenant-keeping God in the midst of a covenant-breaking people and to reveal the true King and Lord over every nation.
Jeremiah Called (1)
Judah and Jerusalem Judged (2-25)
Historical Events Associated with Jeremiah's Life (26-45)
Jeremiah's Ministry to the Nations (46-51)
Historical Postscript Concerning the Fall of Jerusalem (52)