Two important things are woven into the fabric of this entire prophecy.
One concerns the fate of the nation, and the other concerns the feelings of the prophet.
And both of them are instructive.
A devotion introduction for August
Imagine yourself as that preacher. Imagine how you would feel when no one listens to you and persecution hounds you every step of the way. You feel abandoned, and alone; all your friends turn from you. And if you try to quit, and refuse to be this kind of a preacher, you find that you cannot quit — that the word of God burns in your bones and you have to speak whether or not you want to.
Now, perhaps, you can understand why Jeremiah, of all the prophets, was unquestionably the most heroic. Isaiah wrote more exalted passages and perhaps saw more precisely the coming of the Messiah and the fullness of his work. Other prophets speak more precisely concerning some of the future events that were to be fulfilled, but Jeremiah is outstanding among the prophets as a man of heroic, dauntless courage. For many years he endured this kind of persecution in his life without quitting. As you read through this book you can see that here is an amazing man.
Jeremiah lived in the last days of a decaying nation. He was the last prophet to Judah, the southern kingdom. Judah continued on after the ten tribes of the north had been carried into captivity under Assyria. (Isaiah prophesied about sixty years earlier than Jeremiah.) Jeremiah comes in at the close of the reign of the last good king of Judah, the boy king Josiah, who led the last revival the nation experienced before it went into captivity. This revival under King Josiah was a rather superficial matter; in fact, the prophet Hilkiah had told him that though the people would follow him in his attempt to reform the nation and return to God, they would only do so because they loved him and not because they loved God.
Jeremiah, then, comes in right in the middle of the reign of King Josiah, and his ministry carries us on through the reign of King Jehoahaz, who was on the throne only about three months. And then came King Jehoiakim, one of the most evil kings of Judah, and then the three months' reign of Jehoiachin who was captured by Nebuchadnezzar and taken into captivity in Babylon. And Jeremiah was still around at the time of Judah's last king Zedekiah, at the end of whose reign Nebuchadnezzar returned, utterly destroying the city of Jerusalem and taking the whole nation into Babylonian captivity.
Jeremiah's ministry covered about forty years, and during all this time the prophet never once saw any signs of success in his ministry. His message was one of denunciation and reform, and the people never obeyed him. The other prophets saw in some measure the impact of their message upon the nation — but not Jeremiah. He was called to a ministry of failure, and yet he was enabled to keep going for forty long years and to be faithful to God and to accomplish God's purpose: to witness to a decayed nation.