1 1-2 This is an account of the words and deeds of Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah, one of the priests who lived in the village of Anathoth in the land of Benjamin. The word of the Eternal came to him in a series of messages that started coming to the prophet in the 13th year of Josiah son of Amon, king of Judah. 3 These disturbing and awesome messages continued throughout the reign of Jehoiakim, Josiah’s son, king of Judah, until Jerusalem was captured in the 5th month of the 11th year of Zedekiah, another of Josiah’s sons, who was also king of Judah.
4 And now the fateful day when the Eternal One first spoke to me:
5 Eternal One: Before I even formed you in your mother’s womb,
I knew all about you.
Before you drew your first breath, I had already chosen you
to be My prophet to speak My word to the nations.
6 Jeremiah: Ah, Eternal Lord!
I’m too young and inexperienced to speak for You.
7 Eternal One: Don’t use your youth as an excuse;
you can and will go wherever I send you.
You can and will say whatever I tell you to say.
8 You have no reason to fear the people you speak to,
for I am with you and will defend you.
9 Then the Eternal reached out and touched my mouth, and He gave me His divine message.
Eternal One: Look, I have placed My words in you.
You will know what to say now, for you will be My voice.
10 This very day I appointed you to speak with My authority over nations and kingdoms.
Your word—My word—will have the power to uproot and stamp out;
it will destroy and upend.
And then your word—My word—will rebuild and plant anew.
Nations and empires will now hear Jeremiah’s voice as God’s in these days of painful change. To confirm that Jeremiah has indeed been called to speak for God, two simple visions are given to him, each with an explanation. Both speak of coming judgment and remind the young prophet of his difficult assignment.
11 The word of the Eternal came to me.
Eternal One: What do you see, Jeremiah?
Jeremiah: I see the branch of an almond tree.
Eternal One: 12 That’s right. From this know that I am watching over My word until it is accomplished.
Words are the tools of a prophet. The word of God comes asking the prophet what he sees. He responds that he sees something rather ordinary: an almond tree. God uses this ordinary sight to give him an extraordinary message. There is a play on words here between the Hebrew words for “almond” and “watching,” which sound alike in that language. Jeremiah sees an almond, which is shaped like a person’s eye, and God says He is watching. This playful and clever use of words gets Jeremiah’s attention; it stirs his prophetic imagination so that he will similarly use poetry, wordplay, and object lessons to get the attention of his listeners. Just as the almond tree is usually the first sign of spring, soon the first signs of God’s approaching judgment will appear.
13 Then the word of the Eternal came to me a second time.
Eternal One: What do you see this time?
Jeremiah: I see a boiling pot, tilting away from the north, ready to spill out toward the south.
Eternal One: 14 That is because an evil out of the north will indeed begin spilling onto the people of this land. 15 Watch now, as I summon the clans and kingdoms of the north to march against Judah, rule with power at the very gates of Jerusalem, press in on every side, and vanquish all the cities of Judah. 16 I will declare My sentence for their wicked crimes. My own people have abandoned Me, burning incense to other gods and bowing down to handmade idols.
17 Now stand with courage, and tell the people exactly what I command. Don’t break down in front of them, or I will break you Myself. 18 Remember, Jeremiah, this very day I have made you as a fortress, a column as strong as iron, a wall of bronze able to withstand the attacks of the entire nation of Judah—from her kings and leaders to the priests and people. 19 Eventually, they will all give you trouble, but you will be safe. They will fight you, but they will not win. Remember, I am with you. I promise I will always deliver you.