I'm not a history expert, but I notice a few interesting facts at the beginning of Jeremiah's prophecies.
- In Jeremiah 1:2, we see that Jeremiah began his ministry when Josiah was king of Judah.
- Beginning his reign when he was only eight years old, Josiah "began to seek after the God of David his father" at the age of 16 (2Chron. 34:3).
- Four years later when he was 20, he began reforms in Judah to bring the erring nation back under God's laws.
- Six years later, in the 18th year of his reign, when Josiah was 26, Hilkiah a priest found a "book of the law of the Lord given by Moses." (2 Chronicles 34:14 and 2 Kings 22:8) Distressed by the words he heard from God's book, Josiah spent the rest of his life (13 years) serving God and commanding all in Israel to do so as well.
- Jeremiah's ministry began in the 13th year of Josiah's reign, when Josiah was 21 and had been purging Judah and Jerusalem of their idolatry for a year. You can read 2 Chronicles 33 and 2 Kings 21 to find out the atrocious state God's people had descended to under the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, Josiah's grandfather and father.
Josiah obviously repented and followed God and did his best to see that his kingdom did the same. According to 2 Chronicles 34:32-33, many of the children of Israel did follow the Lord. But look at Jeremiah 3:10. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the LORD.
Many things can be learned from the events in this time period, but one thing that is obvious is the fact that religion can be legislated, but a relationship with God can never be established by legislation. This is true in a kingdom, in a church, and in a family. If the people were truly repenting and following the Lord as Josiah was, Jeremiah's ministry would not have been necessary. We can clean up and sober up. We can stop making excuses and start attending church regularly. We can get out of relationships that are tearing down our faith. we can do all the things we are told to do by our pastors, teachers, and parents. And these are honorable and right things to do. But we must be careful that we are not simply trading one set of behavior patterns for another in order to feel better about ourselves, or to gain the approval of those around us, or even to gain God's approval. Sure, we want God's approval, but that must not be the motive of our obedience. We can wash and scrub (Jer. 2:22) until our fingers are bleached white. That's not enough. We must allow God's Word to peel away the pride that covers our hearts (Jer. 4:4), realizing that the destructive patterns in our lives are not simply bad behavior, but sin (Jer. 3:13) against the God that formed us (Jer. 1:5) and loves us and made a way for us to have a right relationship with Him. We must begin to seek after God (2 Chron. 34:3) with our whole hearts (Jer. 3:10). As leaders and parents, we must be diligent to teach the right things to do, but we must be even more diligent to fall in love with God with all of our heart and soul (2 Chron. 34:31), and let that love permeate our life and our relationships with those whom God has given us the privilege to influence.
Why are you doing what you're doing?