Prophet Jeremiah: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
By Dr. Paul Kattupalli
Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. Today I would like to share a few thoughts from the book of Jeremiah. Our generation does not take prophets seriously, but I think we can learn many valuable lessons from their lives and teachings. Abraham Heschel was a prominent Jewish theologian of the 20th century. He wrote many books focused on Old Testament prophets. Just the titles of his books evoke great emotions in our hearts. One of his books is titled God in Search of Man. He talks about ‘divine pathos the sorrow of God as he follows the people who abandoned him and rejected him. Herschel wrote, “The prophets are some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived….as if the words gushed forth from the heart of God, seeking entrance to the heart and mind of man.”
Words from the heart of God seeking entrance to the heart and mind of man: The prophets of the Bible have a lot of wisdom to offer to our generation. Even Greek philosophers borrowed from Old Testament prophets. When Lord Jesus was living in this world, a Jewish thinker lived in Alexandria. His name was Philo; we call him Philo of Alexandria. He claimed that Greek philosophers must have read the writings of biblical prophets. Christian apologist Justin Martyr also reported that the wisdom of Plato was borrowed from Moses and other prophets of the Old Testament. If Socrates and Plato could learn from the prophets, I am sure we can learn a lot from them.Let us read a few verses from Jeremiah chapter 1:“The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child, but the LORD said unto me, say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy.
“The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month. Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child, but the LORD said unto me, say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy.”
Who was Jeremiah? He was born as a priest, but God called him to be a prophet. He was born in a small town, Anathoth, located 3 miles from Jerusalem. The Assyrian Empire came and terrorized the Levant for a while. Then, a new Empire came to prominence, the Babylonian Empire. King Nebuchadnezzar came and conquered Judah. Jeremiah was going to see terrible things: the Fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, and the deportation of Jews to Babylon. He prophesied to the kings of Judah, from the 13th year of King Josiah, that is 627 BC to the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. From King Josiah to King Zedekiah, Jeremiah preached to five kings of Judah. In chapters 1 and 2 of Jeremiah, God exposes the sins of Judah, and in chapters 3 and 4, He asks Juda to return. In chapter 7, we see Jeremiah going to the temple in Jerusalem and preaching to the crowd. People were happy in temple worship and sacrifices. Jeremiah gives them a rude awakening. He tells them, ‘your rituals and sacrifices do not satisfy God because your conduct is unethical’. The Law of God demanded exclusive monotheism, and also ethical monotheism. You worship God alone and you practice His laws in your life. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy: What you believe and how you behave. Israel failed in both respects. They joined foreign gods to their worship and they failed in their conduct. In chapter 18, God sends Jeremiah to potter’s house. God asks, ‘O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel’. It’s a powerful metaphor that shows God’s relationship with Israel. He has been shaping this nation since its inception.
The land is full of false prophets who are giving a false sense of peace and perfection to people. But God told them their true condition: “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:11). They interpreted the silence before the storm as peace and tranquility. People are not interested in listening to Jeremiah because they loved false prophecies of fraudulent teachers. In chapter 20, we see one of these fraudulent teachers getting Jeremiah beaten, arrested and incarcerated. Today we have archaeological evidence for things mentioned in the book of Jeremiah. Irish archaeologist Robert Macalister (1870 – 1950) went to City of David literally with a spade in one hand and Bible in the other hand. He made excavations that unearthed many structures dating back to the time of Jeremiah and the Fall of Jerusalem. Later excavations around the City of David in Jerusalem brought out more than 50 bullae with Hebrew names written on them. A bulla is a clay sealing. On one of these bullae, archaeologist Yigal Shiloh found a bulla with the inscription: belonging to Gemaryahu ben Shaphan. Shaphan and his sons were mentioned in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24; 36:10-12; 39:14; 40:5; 43:6). Shaphan was the scribe in the Temple of Solomon. When the High Priest Hilkiah discovers the Scroll of the Book of Moses, he gives it to the scribe Shaphan, who opens it and reads in the presence of King Josiah. Shaphan’s sons were also active in the ministry. Jeremiah 36:10 reads, “Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the LORD, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the LORD’S house, in the ears of all the people”. So, this bulla, with Shaphan’s name on it, was discovered in a home destroyed in 586 BC when Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. In 2007, British Museum in London announced about a clay document dating from 595 BC. It describes a gift of 1.7 lbs. of gold to a Babylonian temple by a chief eunuch named Nabu-sharrussu-ukin. The Book of Jeremiah mentions the official, as Nebo-Sarsekim. He accompanied the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar when he marched against Jerusalem in 587 BC. These amazing archaeological discoveries showing us the trustworthiness of the Bible as an accurate historical document. In 597 BC, the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and confiscated sacred objects from the temple. They deported some leaders, deposed the king and replaced him with a king of their own choice. The false teachers started ‘Resistance’ movement against the Babylonians. But Jeremiah wore a yoke, like an ox and told the people, ‘resistance is futile, submit to Babylonians’. But the people did not listen to Jeremiah. They resisted Babylonians. In 587 BC, Babylonians returned, besieged Jerusalem for 18 months, destroyed it and took many Jews into exile. Jeremiah into Egypt: Jeremiah stayed in Jerusalem after Babylonian invasion. After a few years, he went to Egypt with some exiles. Babylon invaded Egypt in 568/67 BC. Rabbinic history claims that Jeremiah was taken captive to Babylon. So, Jeremiah’s ministry that started in Judah, continued in Egypt and later in Babylon. No matter where he was taken, Jeremiah was preaching the Word of God. No matter what circumstances he found himself in, he was preaching the Word of God.
So, you see, Jeremiah was living through a very distressing period in Jewish history. Israel became unfaithful to God. God described His relationship with Israel in marital terms. He married Israel to be his faithful wife, they walked through the wilderness for 40 years, life was hard but God took care of Israel like a caring husband. But after setting in the promised land, Israel became unfaithful to God. Israel, once a virgin consecrated to God now became a promiscuous wife. It went after foreign gods like Baal, Molech, and Astar. Why did Israel come to such a sordid state of affairs? God chose their patriarchs. He revealed His uniqueness to their fathers. He saw their pain in Egypt. He sent them Moses to liberate them from Egypt. He did miracles during their exodus. He gave them the Law. He led them for 40 years in the wilderness. He rained down manna on them, a daily miracle to feed them. He lived among them first in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple Solomon built. He gave them a promised land that was fertile and productive. He gave them festivals. He gave them offerings. He gave them kings. He gave them priests. He gave them prophets. Yet, they refused to obey God. They refused to honor Him. They refused to worship Him They turned their hearts towards pagan gods and goddesses borrowed from neighboring cultures. Their hearts filled, not with guilt, but with ingratitude. They complained, ‘God did not do much for us’. How did they come to such an ungrateful condition? Jeremiah says, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9)
The most deceitful thing in our world is our own heart. Many times, we blame everything in our world, our society, our politicians, our institutions, our economy, our education, and we fail to see the pretensions of our own hearts. We are no different than Israelites around Jeremiah. We enjoy many blessings from God, and then when a calamity hits us, we say, ‘This God thing did not help me much in my life. Many a Sunday, I should have gone for fishing instead of going to Church to worship God’. We say, ‘I wasted a lot of time for God, and got nothing in return’. We fail to sing, ‘When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done’. Can you sing that song in your disappointment today? We feel like ‘maybe it’s time that I should try something other than God, something other than Jesus’. We forget the faithfulness of God and turn to pagan ideas. Today we have Christians who believe in karma and reincarnation. Israel embraced pagan gods and pagan ideas. Kings of Judah had no gratitude towards God. They started to worship foreign gods introduced to them by their pretty wives. Recent excavations around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem revealed remains of Israelite houses dating to 8th and 7th centuries BC. Archaeologists found clay figurines in some of these homes. These clay figurines almost always portray a woman naked to the waist and cupping her breasts under their hands. So, today we have archaeological evidence for the pagan practices carried out during the time of Jeremiah. It started with King Solomon. He built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem. He married many foreign, non-Jewish wives. They turned his heart away from Lord God Jehovah. This is the same man who wrote, ‘Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain’ (Proverbs 31:30). Our hearts are so deceitful, that many times we fail to practice what we preach to others. What started with Solomon did not stop with Solomon. The Kings of Judah and of Israel, almost all of them followed that tradition, marrying pagan wives. Soon, Jerusalem and Samaria were filled with idolatry and pagan sacrifices. Many Christians do the same mistake in our time. For beauty, for love, for money, for ethnicity, for social status, for a job, for simply getting married; they married unbelievers. Soon they forget Lord Jesus Christ; they stop going to church. They stop reading the Bible. The Kings of Judah and of Israel did the same mistake. They led people under their rulership towards idolatry. One person’s negligence: sometimes it costs just his life, sometimes just his family, sometimes just his community, sometimes even a whole nation. Last week, I heard about a truck driver who stopped by the roadside and drank a lot of alcohol. After a few hours, he lost his senses to intoxication and drove his truck over people attending a roadside fair. Fifteen people were crushed under the tires of his truck and lost their lives. One man’s intoxication made many orphans and widows in that one neighborhood. Sometimes, negligence could affect a whole city. Many years ago, a poisonous gas leaked out of a big pesticide factory in India, in a city called Bhopal. Sixteen thousand people died in that incident caused by the negligence of a few factory workers and their managers. Sometimes, negligence could affect whole nations, remember Chernobyl. Before I write a prescription, I always check the allergies of the patient. If I prescribe penicillin to a patient who is allergic to penicillin, that might lead to the death of that patient. Our negligence will impact the lives of other people. The negligence of Kings of Judah led their nation away from God to their spiritual death. They left God, but God did not leave them. He sent them Jeremiah: ‘Jeremiah, go and preach to my people. Go and warn the kings of Judah. They defiled this land with idolatry, pagan sacrifices, sexual immorality, violence, and injustice. If they do not seek forgiveness, if they do not repent of their sins, if they do not change their ways, I will punish them through the King of Babylon. God listed their sins, let me read from Jeremiah chapter 7:
“For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the LORD: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it.And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.” Jeremiah 7: 30 – 32
They had the Temple of God on Mount Moriah. They did not think, ‘let us leave it to Jehovah. Let us keep it sacred. We can do our pagan rituals away from the temple’. They were offering pagan sacrifices right in the Temple consecrated for Jehovah. They built high places, they kept male prostitutes, they kept female prostitutes, sexual immorality also became an offering to a god or a goddess, but unwanted pregnancies unwanted babies started to irritate them. They came up with a wicked idea: let us build altars in the valley of Ben Hinnom; let us burn our sons and daughters on the altars. Our gods will be satisfied with the blood of our children and we don’t have worry about how to raise these children.
The God of the Bible created human beings in His image. That is why human life is sacred, human life is so precious and unique among all living things. That is why He prohibited all human sacrifices. He called Abraham to offer Isaac on Mount Moriah. But at the last moment, he stopped Abraham, he did not let Abraham sacrifice his son. God was making a statement about Himself, ‘Abraham, unlike every god you saw before, unlike every god you worshiped before, I do not require human sacrifice’. Almost all ancient religions practiced human sacrifice. Hinduism practiced human sacrifice even after Indian subcontinent came under British Empire. The Aztecs in Mesoamerica used to worship sun god. They would build altars to the sun gods, tie their victims on their top, tear their chests, pluck out their hearts and raise their hearts towards the sun in obeisance. You know, at one point, Tenochtitlan was far more advanced than London or Paris. People were enjoying a very good quality of life, they were living in well-built cities, drinking bottled water. Tenochtitlan was rife with altars to the sun god, sacrificing human beings. Tlaloc god was fond of boys and girls. They would offer sacrifices on their altars and then feed their cats with the hearts of sacrificial victims. But thank God, the gospel of Lord Jesus put an end to human sacrifices in Mesoamerica. Israelites were living like Aztecs 600 years before Christ. They were practicing human sacrifices. They made gods out of the sun and other natural objects. They forgot their Creator and started to worship creatures. Many years ago, I went to see one of my friends in India. He was worshiping sun god. I asked him, ‘Why are you worshiping the sun?’ He said, ‘Sun is the source of all blessings. We get light from the sun, without light we cannot see, without light, we cannot have plants, we cannot have food. Sun comes every day without fail. What’s wrong with worshiping such an orderly object?’ I saw a clock on his wall. I asked him, ‘Is the clock working well?’ He said, ‘Yes’ it works fantastically. I asked him, ‘the orderliness of a clock: does it reflect the greatness of the clock or the clockmaker who made the clock?’ He said, ‘clockmaker’. I said, ‘the clock reflects the wisdom of the clockmaker, doesn’t the sun reflect the wisdom of the Creator who made the sun?’ Sadly, our society is committing the same mistake. It is worshiping the sun, instead of God who made the sun. It is worshiping the earth, instead of God who made the earth. It is worshiping the nature, instead of God who made the nature. Israelites also committed the same mistake. They abandoned the Creator God who brought them into existence. They abandoned the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, who made them His chosen people who sanctified them with His Word. They started to worship nature instead of their Creator. God came down to rebuke them. Let me read from Jeremiah 19:5-6:
“They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter.”
The Israelites were offering their children to gods and goddesses that they made with their own hands. They called it worship, but God called it to slaughter. Many times, we give names to things according to our own worldview. But God confronts us and tells us what those things should be properly called. When I was a medical student and later a resident, I used to order ultrasounds for our pregnant patients. Among ultrasounds I observed, I still remember a few. I saw one fetal ultrasound in which I saw a fetus sucking its thumb, I saw a heart pumping blood. It’s an image I can never forget: a fetus sucking its thumb. Today we have people who say that fetus should not be considered a human being. Sucking a thumb: Is that not human? A heart beating: Is that not human? A brain forming: Is that not human? A face smiling: Is that not human?
God told Jeremiah,
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5
Before you were born, I knew you. Jeremiah, I ordained you as a prophet unto the nations. The sanctity of human life is a product of Judeo-Christian worldview. Naturalism cannot put any uniqueness on human life. Evolutionary psychologist Sarah Baffer Hrdy (b.1946) did some research on langur monkeys in India. She found out these monkeys practice infanticide. Based on these findings among primates, Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, now advocating infanticide for human beings. He argues, if monkeys our relatives can practice infanticide, why not us? That is where evolutionary naturalism ultimately leads us: utter disregard for human life. We teach Darwinism to our children and when they attack each other like monkeys, we wonder, what’s wrong with them.
God told them their evils. Let us see Jeremiah 2:13:
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
First, they forsook God, and then they built cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Our society is no different today. It has adopted naturalistic materialism as its thrusting worldview. Reductive materialism suggested chemical activism as the solution for every problem under the sun. Recently, a young man walked into my office. He said, ‘Doctor, I want to hurt people around me, I want to hit people, can you prescribe me a medication to make me less violent?’. I was looking for the door, just in case if he attacks me’ Can you prescribe me a medication to make me less violent? This is the thinking that pervaded our generation. We want a pill to fix everything, from warts to violence. Anxiety, try a benzodiazepine. Depression, try a SSRI drug. Unhappy, try marijuana. Fatigue, try an amphetamine Erotic? Take a birth control pill and engage in relationships. This chemical activism; people are thinking about a pill for every problem. Please note those words: The first evil was forsaking God. God is the fountain of living waters God is the fountain of life. Today our communities are abandoning God, and we can see a culture of death descending on our neighborhoods. There is an opioid epidemic destroying thousands of young lives every year. There is a heroin epidemic enslaving millions of lives. There is pornography epidemic destroying marriages and families. There is suicide epidemic going on, an unprecedented number of college students committing suicides in our time. There is an STD epidemic going on, millions are infected with sexually transmitted diseases. There is physician-assisted suicide, if you are tired of your life, we will make sure a doctor is ready to help you end your life. A culture of death reigning on our society. Millions of abortions, that we don’t have a population even at replacement level. Many of our communities today will disappear soon unless they depend on immigrants or refugees. Our communities have such low demographics that soon Muslims outnumber Christians. Churches are being transformed into mosques in record numbers. Omar Mateen (1986 – 2016) was a Muslim terrorist who described himself as Mujahideen, a soldier of Allah. On June 12, 2016, he killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in America history. He regularly prayed at The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce. This mosque is a converted church. The Muslims bought this church and converted it into a mosque in Fort Pierce, Florida. So, you see our churches are literally transforming into jihad preaching mosques right in front of our eyes. In the city of London, during last one year, over 500 churches were closed and 460 mosques are opened, many of them former churches. The Israelites forsook God and the temple of Jehovah was transformed into a temple of Molech. We are seeing something similar happening in our time. Then God said, the second evil was the Israelites hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Once we leave God, no matter how many cisterns we build for ourselves, they are not going to hold any water. Politicians, media, and academia have no solutions. We used to have a time when there were Christian right and Christian left. They used to exchange their ideas using respectful language without using profanities. Today, people like Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert they resort to profanities to express their views. They can hardly complete a sentence without an expletive. They remind me the words of the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 3, “Their throat is open sepulcher, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness, there is no fear of God before their eyes”. It’s the Word of God that gives life. Under King Josiah, High Priest Hilkiah accidentally discovered the Book of Law. Josiah read the Law, tore his clothes and humbled himself in the presence of God, and reformed the nation. Reformation comes only with the restoration of the Word of God.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Lord Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of the Word of God. May I ask you today to open your heart to Jesus and to invite him into your life as your Lord and Savior.