Jeremiah prophesied in Judah leading up to and including the Babylonian captivity. He preached under constant threat of imprisonment, torture, and death. He was a contemporary of the prophet Lehi, who was led out of Judah to the Americas by God. Lehi’s descendants compiled the Book of Mormon. Lehi says there were many prophets in Judah at the time, preaching repentance to the people.
When the Lord called Jeremiah, He said something interesting:
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.
This is the doctrine of “fore-ordination,” a doctrine of the Mormon Church. Mormon doctrine teaches that we lived with God as spirits before the world was created. In this pre-mortal realm there were some who were noble and great, whom the Lord fore-ordained to be leaders in the mortal world. Fore-ordination is quite different than “predestination.” To be predestined is to fulfill a role with no choice in the matter. To be fore-ordained means to be set apart and called, but such a calling is dependent upon two things: continued personal worthiness, and choice. Free agency to choose is always guaranteed. The revelation that the Lord gave to Abraham, recorded in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, gives us further information about the pre-mortal existence:
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abraham 3:22, 23).
The Lord gave Jeremiah a vision of an almond branch. In the Holy Land, almond trees actually blossom in December, the earliest of all food-bearing plants. Thus, Jeremiah’s prophesies would come to quick fruition.
Like many Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah used imagery to lay bare the sins of Judah. One repeating image is portraying the covenant between Israel and the Lord as a marriage vow, with the Lord as the bridegroom, and Israel as the straying wife, who has become a harlot, chasing after idols. Like other prophets before him, Jeremiah interrupts his prophecies of destruction to reassure the Israelites and citizens of Judah that at the end of time the covenant would be reestablished and they would become a holy people, accepted by the Lord.
The Lord enumerated the many sins of Judah, and Jeremiah called them to repentance, lest they be overrun by Babylon. The Lord, through Jeremiah, portrayed the conquerors as lions, dry wind, and a whirlwind of chaos. In typifying the unrepentant people of Judah, Jeremiah said they lacked compassion, prostituted themselves, had rebellious hearts, and indulged in dishonorable business practices (Jeremiah 5). They had rejected every word of God, everyone was covetous and dishonest. The people had also desecrated the temple. Although they honored the temple still, they had corrupted temple practices and turned them to worshiping of the heavens, in the style of the Babylonians. Jeremiah 9 contains Jeremiah’s moving lament for the lost of Judah and Israel.
Jeremiah 10 shows the idiocy of idol-worship. Men set to building or forming an object made of wood or stone. When it is finished, they worship it and attribute to it supernatural powers that can save them or bring them good fortune.
Jeremiah 13 contains the famous image of a leopard that cannot change its spots ( vs. 23). This is saying that Israel is so entrenched in wickedness that it will not change. The society is ripe for destruction. When wicked behavior becomes the social norm, no one can see the evil in the behavior. Thus, no change can be accomplished.
When the Lord determined to destroy the Kingdom of Judah, He did not just use the Babylonians to do it. There was a terrible drought in the land, during which nothing would grow and which affected animals as well as the people. Wild animals came into the city looking for food, and often, the food was human.
To complicate Jeremiah’s task, there were many false prophets in the land, prophesying peace and the success of alliances with Egypt and other nations. Even the kings preferred to listen to the good news and lock Jeremiah up where he couldn’t be heard. In Jeremiah 16, the Lord lists some things Jeremiah would be forbidden to do. He was not to marry or father children (perhaps this is figurative); he is not to lament the fallen of Judah; he is not to feast with friends in Jerusalem (but rather to avoid looking like he’s celebrating). Jeremiah was to explain the reasons for his behavior to the people.
Jeremiah 19 describes Judah as a hopelessly broken vessel. Verse 9 predicts the cannibalism that occurred during the siege. Jeremiah was put into stocks on the temple grounds. But he was driven to continue in his calling. He predicted that only if the people repented would the house of David continue to rule. But if the people did not repent, the house of David would become a desolation. Indeed, the house of David never ruled again in Judah after the captivity.
Jeremiah 24 presents a parable of “good figs” and “bad figs.” The good figs had already been carried away in the first Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. These were the best and the brightest of Judah’s citizens. They were protected in Babylon. During the next siege, however, those who were more wicked were taken. They were treated violently and suffered much. Also, many were destroyed during the three sieges mounted by Babylon.
Jeremiah 25 questions who will suffer the Lord’s fury. Judah wants to rely on the arm of flesh, seeking protection from Egypt, but Egypt will also be destroyed and scattered. The prophecy also deals with Armageddon in the future. It shows Judah that the wicked nations will not escape the Lord’s wrath.
Jeremiah 26 deals with another prophet, a contemporary of Jeremiah. Urijah fled to Egypt for safety, but was sent back to Jerusalem and killed by the king. Jeremiah 27 displays the faulty order of the chapters of Jeremiah, for they are not chronological. This chapter was written later, probably during the reign of Zedekiah. Zedekiah listened to false prophets who promised safety from the Babylonians. In chapter 28, the false prophet Hananiah says that Babylon’s strength had been broken, an untruth. Jeremiah called for repentance, but also for submission and surrender to Babylon. For this, he was imprisoned. But in chapter 32, he predicts Judah’s return to Jerusalem.
At the beginning of the siege, the Judahites released their slaves, but later they rounded them up and re-enslaved them, bringing further condemnation from the Lord. In Jeremiah 36 we see that Jeremiah’s words were written down even as he preached them. Lehi’s family carried with them some of those words when they fled into the wilderness, later to be led to the Americas. They had the scriptures through the time of King Zedekiah.
The Judahites, including the kings, considered Jeremiah subversive for preaching surrender. Egypt moved northward and looked like she would fight the Babylonians but her troops withdrew. All of Jeremiah’s prophecies had come to pass, but still Zedekiah preferred those of false prophets. Zedekiah almost delivered Jeremiah up to death, but in the end released him from prison. At the final siege of Jerusalem, Zedekiah’s sons were murdered before his eyes. Then Zedekiah was blinded by his captors, carried to Babylon, and assassinated. With only the biblical scripture at hand, we would think that this was the end of Zedekiah’s family, but the descendants of Lehi in the Americas happened upon a group of people there who called themselves “Mulekites.” One of Zedekiah’s sons, Mulek, had escaped and had also been led away by the Lord to the Americas. The record of these Mulekites is part of the Book of Mormon. (See Omni 1.)
After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was set free and allowed to remain behind. Because of unrest, the remaining citizens asked Jeremiah to pray and ask the Lord whether they should stay in Jerusalem or depart. The answer was that they should stay. Instead, the Jews departed for Egypt, carrying Jeremiah and Baruch, his scribe, with them. Jeremiah had prophesied that they would meet the same fate in Egypt, and indeed, there was drought, and the Babylonian armies laid siege to Egypt too, destroying all in their path.
*Parts of this article were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.