In order to properly understand Jeremiah you need to be familiar with the history in which he prophesied. Israel as a nation began at Mount Sinai with the giving of the law. This is when God made the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into “His” people as a nation. Their history then moved into the conquest and settlement period under Joshua. After they failed to completely conquer the land the twelve tribes entered into a period known as Judges. During this period Israel continually rebelled against God bringing judgment in the form of outside powers subjugating the tribes. The tribes would then repent and ask God to intervene which he did by raising up judges to free then from their bondage. The next phase of their history involved the United kingdom under three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. Solomon’s son Rehoboam brought about the rebellion of the 10 northern tribes who chose Jereboam as their king and split the monarch into “Judah” and “Israel”.
The 10 northern tribes “Israel” never were faithful to God and never had a revival as a result. They were conquered by the Assyrian’s in 721B.C. and were absorbed into the Assyrian Empire. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin “Judah” did repent several times and as a result held out against conquest until 605 B.C. when they became a vassal nation under Babylonian rule. Judah rebelled again in 598 B. C. and again in 587 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the temple.
Jeremiah prophesied during these final years of the nation of Judah. The major powers during this period were Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Judah was located right in the middle of these three empires.
Jeremiah was born during the reign of the evil king Manasseh who’s father brought reform to Judah, but his son destroyed all the reforms even to the point of placing other God’s in the temple itself. Manasseh was followed by king Josiah who took the throne when he was eight years old. During Josiah’s reign reform again happened when the book of the law was discovered in the temple during it’s cleansing and Josiah made every effort to follow the law of God. This was the only time in the history of the nation that the law was followed so closely and as a result the nation prospered under his 31 year reign. Jeremiah began his prophecy during the reign of this good king in the year 627 B.C.. Josiah died in battle when he challenged Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt when he came north to conquer the Assyrian’s whose empire what in decline. God told Josiah not to go into battle but unfortunately he disobeyed and as a result lost his life. He was followed on the throne by Jehoahaz who only lasted 3 months before Pharaoh Neco II replaced him with a more favorable king Jehoiakim who pledged allegiance to Neco. It was during the reign of Jehoiakim that much of the book of Jeremiah was written.
After the defeat of Egypt by Babylon in 605 at the battle of Carchemish Jehoiakim switched his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar and remained on the throne until he once again rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. He died prior to the defeat and was replaced by Jehoiachin who ruled for only 3 month before the fall of Jerusalem at which time he was taken to Babylon as prisoner. Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah (Mattaniah) on the throne in his place.
Zedekiah joined Pharaoh Hophra in a revolt and this lead to the complete destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of most of the Jews in 587 B.C.. Nebuchadnezzar then dissolved the nation and created a Babylonian province placing Gedaliah as Governor. Jeremiah was one of those not deported and after Gedaliah was assasinated he was forced to go to Egypt where he died.
The period of time covered by Jeremiah is filled with intrigue and destruction. He is called the “weeping” prophet because of the message of doom he gave. Not only does the book contain the doom of Judah, but it also tells us of a future time when the nation will return and be blessed. The book is not in chronological order so it is at times difficult to determine what the exact time frame is, but it is also a book written for our times. Today’s world is much like the world Jeremiah lived in and can be very helpful in our understanding of the world today.