Jeremiah: Historical Background: Pause For Reflection
I would like to take some time to reflect on the experiences of the average citizen of Judah during these tumultuous times. They, as did all the people of the area, knew that they lived at the whim and whimsy of those in power. Their King may have been a vassal to an even more powerful King, but he was still their King and possessed absolute power over them.
They were people who did not have much. They had to struggle to survive. They lived hand to mouth. Food, especially during times of military conflict, was scarce. They were accustomed to doing as they were told by those in power just to survive. Most were simple people and followed whatever religious beliefs they were instructed to accept.
In order to fully appreciate the audiences addressed by the great prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, and others, we must understand how difficult it was to just survive during those times. We must understand when the prophets spoke to those in power and when they were addressing the simple people. We must understand that during these times of such political instability and constant war, the people were no longer accustomed to great miracles. All the stories of the Bible, the teachings of the great destiny of Israel, and God’s active involvement in the life of His people, were distant memories and esoteric ideas to people who lived in a generally barren area and struggled to live one day to the next.
They were already exiles in their own land. In fact, those who were exiled to Babylon were able to live a better quality of life than what they had in Israel.
Jeremiah had to speak to those in power. He had to create a different vision for those who ruled over this tiny and weak kingdom so that the powerful would reconnect with God and influence their subjects to change their ways. Jeremiah spoke to the leaders. He was a threat to them. He challenged their practical decisions and warned them that they would be destroyed. His, was a voice that no one in power wanted to hear.
It was not the sins of the people that led to the destruction, but the leaders’ failure to listen to the prophets, reconnect with Israel’s great mission and inspire the people to return to God. The leaders chose to accept the military and political realities of their times, rather than lead the nation guided by the voices of the prophets who spoke for God. They rejected the spiritual vision for their practical considerations, and ultimately lost everything.