Jeremiah 1–6: Broken Cisterns & Living Waters

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 13: Friday

The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of Yahweh came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign.  And it came in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the exile of Jerusalem in the fifth month.
Jeremiah 1:1–3 LSB

Friday’s Bible reading of Jeremiah 1–6, begins the book of prophecy of the man known as the weeping prophet. In his opening words Jeremiah tells us who he is and gives us a careful record of when the word of the Lord came to him, and the three major kings during his time as prophet to Judah.

As a broad background to Jeremiah’s time, after the death of King David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two. Jeroboam, who was not a son of Solomon, led a rebellion against Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and took with him the ten northern tribes to establish the northern kingdom that became known as Israel; none of the kings of Israel fully followed the Lord, and their history is rampant with wicked­ness. The southern kingdom was called Judah, and it encompassed the tribes of Judah and Benjamin as well as the Levites and those from other tribes who supported Rehoboam (cf. 1 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 11). In Judah the kings were of David’s line, and they were a mix of good and wicked kings.

God sent prophets to both kingdoms, but the rebellion of the northern kingdom of Israel led to their judgment, and they were defeated and deported by the Assyrians in 722 BC.1 Jeremiah began to prophesy during the final days of Judah, and Judah’s continued rebellion led to God’s judgment of that nation. In 605 BC, it came under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Judah’s king, Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, his household, captains, officials, craftsmen, and smiths were deported in 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah king in place of Jehoiachin, but his rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar led to the burning of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and those who remained were taken captive into Babylon. (cf. 2 Kings 24–25).2 The chart is a broad overview of the history of ancient Israel to the time of Christ.

Derek Kidner describes the world into which Jeremiah was born:

“In the last decade of the longest, darkest reign in Judah’s history, two boys were born who were to be God’s gifts to a demoralized and damaged people. The reign was that of Manasseh, a half-century of deliberate reversion to the deities of Canaan and Assyria, to the black arts of magic and necromancy, to human sacrifice (even to the king’s own family), and to such travesties of justice that, in the language of 2 Kings 21:16, ‘he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another’ with ‘innocent blood’.

“The two new lives in question were those of Josiah, born in 648 BC, and Jeremiah, perhaps his slightly younger contemporary… As reforming king and outspoken prophet, these two were to give their country its finest opportunity of renewal and its last hope of surviving as the kingdom of David.”3

Kidner also describes the times of Jeremiah’s years as God’s prophet:

“The time span tells its own story of endurance, in the the prophet’s forty years or more of preaching (627–587 BC and beyond); but there was more to it than length. It covered one of the most tempestuous periods when the world at large goes into convulsion: in this case with Assyria’s empire falling apart, and Egypt fighting in vain to keep Babylon from picking up the pieces — among them, ominously, was little Judah. At home, too, the three kings named kere, Josiah the reformer, Jehoiakim the tyrant and Zedekiah the weathercock, touched three extremes of royal character that created changes in the spiritual climate which were fully as violent as those of the political time.”4

There were two other kings during Jeremiah’s years as prophet, but they each only reigned three months. When Kidner says its was a tempestuous period, he’s not exaggerating.

640–609 BC Josiah
609 BC Jehoahaz (Josiah’s son, aka Joahaz/Shallam:  3 months)
609–597 BC Jehoiakim (Josiah’s son, aka Eliakim)
597 BC Jehoiachin (Jehoiakim’s son, aka Coniah/Jeconiah: 3 months)
597–586 BC Zedekiah (Josiah’s son, aka Mattaniah)5

To help a bit more with the timeline of Jeremiah, here are the main divisions Gleason Archer gives for the book:6

Jeremiah 1:1–20:18
Prophecies under Josiah and Jehoiakim

Jeremiah 21:1–39:18
Later prophecies under Jehoiakim and Zedekiah

Jeremiah 40:1–45:5
Prophecies after the fall of Jerusalem

Jeremiah 46:1–51:64
Prophecies against the heathen nations

Jeremiah 52:1–34
Historical appendix (events of the fall and captivity of Judah)

Given the world into which God called him to prophesy, Jeremiah surely needed this assurance from God that He had formed him, knew him, and set him apart to be His prophet.

Now the word of Yahweh came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1:4–5

Kidner comments:

“To be told, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, was to be given at once a new centre of gravity, away from his sole self and from the confines of the immediate scene, back to the Creator himself and to the master-plan. The very expression, I formed you, brought its own hint of the potter’s care and skill…lest it should ever seem to Jeremiah that his sensitive and vulnerable nature was a cruel accident. He was handmade for his task…

“…The rest of the verse [I have appointed you a prophet to the nations] will be specific to him, but the New Testament speaks to every Christian in terms that are comparable to those we have seen: ‘For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son …’ (Rom. 8:29). These are terms which are meant to reassure and reorient us, no less than those that Jeremiah heard: not invitations to puzzle out the relation of time to eternity, or of human choices to divine. The warmth of God saying to us as to Jeremiah, in effect, ‘I have always known you, and my hands have formed and fashioned you‘, is too magnificent to dissipate in speculation. An answering warmth of gratitude, in awed acceptance, is the only fit response.

“Then with a second Before…, to underline this deliberate choice, the words, I knew, are amplified with I consecrated and I appointed, relating Jeremiah first to his Lord and the to his world. Long before this, God had said these two things about the temple servants, explaining their consecration and their commission in strong, simple terms: ‘I have taken them for myself … and I have given [them] as a gift to Aaron and his sons …’ The same word, ‘given’, is used of Jeremiah here, rightly translated appointed (for Hebrew closely connects the acts of giving, placing and appointing). It completed God’s act of taking or consecrated his servant, for he takes in order to give, in the many sense of that word. This incidentally, corrects any tendency to think of sanctity too introspectively; and it is borne out by our Lord’s description of himself as ‘consecrated and sent’ (Jn. 10:36), and by his words, ‘for their sake I consecrate myself’ (Jn. 17:19).”7

Jeremiah was dismayed.

Then I said, “Alas, Lord Yahweh!
Behold, I do not know how to speak
Because I am a youth.”
But Yahweh said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares Yahweh.
Jeremiah 1:6–8 LSB

Kidner comments:

“God’s reply has something for others besides Jeremiah, for it is typical of his approach to human misgivings. What Jeremiah had said about himself might well be true (God did not deny it) but it was not the point. The proper question was not, ‘Who am I to do this?’ but ‘What are my instructions? Where am I posted? And will God be with me?’ God’s reply (7-8) put the whole matter on the right footing and related it to its true centre” the master, not the servant.”8

In chapter 2, Jeremiah contrasts God’s faithfulness with the faithlessness of the house of Jacob.

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
And be horribly afraid, be very devastated,” declares Yahweh.
“For My people have done two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.”
Jeremiah 2:12–13 LSB

Jeremiah prophesied after Isaiah did, and when the people heard these words of Jeremiah, Isaiah would have already recorded the invitation in Isaiah 55 for everyone who was thirsty to come to the waters of the living God.

Chapter 3 is a litany of the evils of ‘faithless Israel’ and ‘treacherous Judah’ as they went after other gods. God says to them return,:

“Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will shepherd you on knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 3:15 LSB

In chapter 4, God continues to call His people to repentance and describes the destruction that will come upon Judah from the north. In chapter 5, He says

“Yet even in those days,” declares Yahweh, “I will not make you a complete destruction. It shall come about when they say, ‘Why has Yahweh our God done all these things to us?’ then you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken Me and served foreign gods in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.’”
Jeremiah 5:18–19 LSB

Jeremiah writes in chapter 6:

To whom shall I speak and give warning
That they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
And they cannot give heed.
Behold, the word of Yahweh has become a reproach to them;
They have no delight in it.
Jeremiah 6:10 LSB

As a new Christian, the book of Jeremiah was one of the first books of the Bible I read. Jeremiah 2:13 and 6:14 made a strong impression on me because it so aptly described my experience of growing up in a liberal church.

“For My people have done two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.”
Jeremiah 2:13 LSB
“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them,
Everyone is greedy for gain,
And from the prophet even to the priest
Everyone practices lying.
They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.”
Jeremiah 6:13–14 LSB

I had heard so much false teaching prior to believing in Christ, and I knew it had never helped me or answered my questions. When I became a Christian, I knew that I knew the living God, and I recognized the difference between those broken cisterns of the past and the fountain of living waters.

Derek Kidner gave his commentary, The Message of Jeremiah, the subtitle Against wind and tide. If you’re familiar with The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, you may recognize it. He explains it in his preface:

“…a preface also gives me room to put the subtitle, ‘Against wind and tide’, into its context. It comes, of course from The Pilgrim’s Progress, at the point where Christian overtakes Mr By-ends. That easygoing character admits his difference ‘in two small points’ from ‘those of the stricter sort’ — those who ‘are for hazarding all for God at a clap’. ‘First’, he says, ‘we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when Religion goes in his silver slippers…’ To this Christian replies, ‘If you will go with us, you must go against wind and tide; …You must also own Religion in all his rags, as well as when in his silver slippers; and stand by him, too, when bound in irons…

“Such — initially under bitter protest, but with no turning back — was the hard pilgrimage that Jeremiah accepted, lending its own depth to his message. To study that life and message we can well be invited in John Bunyan’s words:

Who would true valour see,
Let him com hither.
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.9

God sent Jeremiah with these words. As you read through the book, you will see this play out:

“Now, gird up your loins and arise and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you before them. Now behold, I have given you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests, and to the people of the land. And they will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares Yahweh.”
Jeremiah 1:17–19 LSB

Kidner writes:

“…the stern call came with — as ever — an equally strong promise: in this case a triple guarantee of survival. To this thin-skinned young man, his description in terms of battlements and heavy metal might have seemed like a wild exaggeration, but in fact it proved an understatement. He would hold out against all comers for over forty years, outdoing any fortress under siege; and his strength would be not the inert solidity of iron, but the courage of a frail man’s hard-won convictions.

“The climax of God’s charge put frankly the two sides of what awaited him: They will fight against you; but … I am with you — for God does not cut the know. For Jeremiah or for us, his way in general is not to stop the fight but to stand by the fighter. He is forming a company of veterans, ‘called and chosen and faithful‘, of whom he can say that he ‘is not ashamed to be called their God.’.”10

Those are encouraging words. Even as God knew Jeremiah, God knows us. Even as God promised to be with Jeremiah, God will be with us. Jeremiah responded with obedience. So should we.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cistern in Nachal Secher wadi, Israel: Zipi Or Meir. (CC BY-SA 3.0).
Chart by Dee Alberty: (Original title: The Period of the Judges in Old Testament History).
1, 2J. G. Baldwin, “The History of Israel,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 23–24.
3,4,7,8,9,10Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah: Against wind and tide (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1987) 13, 23-24, 25-26, 26, 7, 28.
5Kings & reigns: “History of Israel Timeline,” taken from The New International Inductive Study Bible (Precept Ministries, Chattanooga TN: 2009).
6Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Press, Chicago IL: 1974) 359–360.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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