Eli T. Evans
Jeremiah couldn’t have been born at a worse time. In days past, God might have raised him up as a warrior to lead His people into battle against invading world powers, but in Jeremiah’s day, the people won’t repent, and God won’t intervene to save them. Everything in the young prophet’s topsy-turvy world is turned upside down.
To begin with, Jeremiah is a foreigner in his own land. Because of his true call from God, he is an outsider in the midst of a nation consumed by idolatry and false prophecy. He’s not so much a prophet of Israel as “a prophet to the nations” (Jer 1:5; compare 25:15–29 and chapters 46–51). Indeed, whenever he speaks to his own people, “they will not listen.” God promises to make him an “iron pillar and bronze walls” and declares that he will be attacked, but his enemies “shall not prevail” (Jer 1:18–19; 15:20). Jeremiah’s enemies are not the Assyrians or the Babylonians, but his own people. The real issue is that Israel has become foreign to itself—and thus estranged from God: “I have forsaken my house. ... My heritage has become like a lion in the forest; she has raised up her voice against me; therefore I hate her” (Jer 12:7–8).
Jeremiah is made a foreigner because God’s people are acting like pagan foreigners. Pashhur, a priest and chief officer of the temple, should have been Jeremiah’s ally. Yet, upon hearing Jeremiah’s declarations of impending doom, Pashhur orders the prophet to be beaten and put in the stocks. These actions prompt a personal word from Yahweh: Pashhur will be renamed “Terror on Every Side.” He will witness the invaders murder all of his friends while he and his family survive, only to die in captivity (Jer 20:1–6).
Most distressing of all, God is not on His people’s side. During the siege of Jerusalem, Yahweh speaks through Jeremiah to proclaim that surrender is the only way to survive. This turns the normal pattern of Scripture on its head: Do not surrender or run away because God will be with you. But this time, God isn’t with them. He swears to “turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands,” and worse, “I myself will fight against you” (Jer 21:4–5). Jeremiah is put in the tenuous position of prophesying Judah’s surrender because God is on the Babylonians’ side.
In the midst of all this, foreigners are the people who act with compassion and restraint. Deeming Jeremiah’s dissent as unpatriotic, the temple officials make their case to King Zedekiah: “He is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city” (Jer 38:4). Jeremiah doesn’t even support the troops! With the king’s consent, the officials throw Jeremiah into an abandoned well (Jer 38:6). The only person who comes to Jeremiah’s aid is a foreigner—Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch. He intercedes with the king on Jeremiah’s behalf and personally oversees Jeremiah’s release from the well. While Pashhur received a personal prophecy that his lineage would end in captivity, Ebed-melech gets a personal prophecy of deliverance. Of all the people in Jerusalem, only this kindly foreigner receives any assurance of salvation (Jer 38:1– 13; 39:16– 18).
Although Jeremiah’s world is turned upside down, one thing never changes: God Himself. His character remains unmoved, His integrity unimpeachable. Although God’s people have forsaken Him—and He them—His anger won’t last forever. In Jeremiah 29, Yahweh declares that He “has plans for welfare and not for evil, to give [the people] a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). This reverses His earlier “plans” against them (Jer 18:11)—plans against the city “for harm and not for good” (Jer 21:10; 39:6). God does not change His mind completely, but He remains constant in His personality and attributes (see Jer 18). In the end, God reverses the reversals and establishes a new covenant with His people.
The new covenant isn’t really new—except that it is. The law was always meant to be written on the heart (Jer 31:32; compare Deut 6:6–7; Psa 37:31; Ezek 36:26– 27); Israel and Judah were always meant to be God’s people, and He their God (Jer 31:32; Gen 17:7); and He always intended to forgive their sins (Jer 31:34; Exod 34:6–7). Calling this a new covenant is an ironic jab at Judah’s broken faith in Him. It is new to them because they aren’t really His people. Nevertheless, God says this new covenant is “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers” under Moses. Hebrews 8 reiterates this theme, saying that Christ’s mediation of the new covenant makes the old one “obsolete” (Heb 8:13). Ultimately, the difference between old covenant and new is not the terms, but the conditions: The relationship between God and His people doesn’t rest on the faithfulness of the people, but on the faithfulness of God, perfectly revealed in Christ.