During Josiah's reign, God called Jeremiah to be His prophet. King Josiah was the grandson of Manasseh, the most evil king of Judah. Under Manasseh's reign, Judah did more evil in the sight of the Lord than under any other king before him. Manasseh reversed the reformations of his father, Hezekiah, re-instated pagan worship, and built altars to Baal in every corner and high place of Judah. He practiced witchcraft, divination, consulted mediums, and desecrated the things of God by erecting a carved image in the temple. And throughout his evil escapades, Manasseh seduced all of Judah to follow in his footsteps. Josiah, however, made right the wrongs done by Manasseh, tearing down the high places, and turning the nation back to God. But his reformations only lasted until his death.
Josiah's three sons, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, along with his grandson, Jehoiachin, all succeeded him on the throne. But all proved to be weak replacements for their determined, God-fearing forefather. Under these kings, the entire nation spiraled into a black hole of jaded foreign alliances, and increased rebellion and idolatry. Their evil influences over the people eventually sealed the fate of Judah. It was this end that Jeremiah warned against.
God's judgment is described in graphic detail in the book of Jeremiah: I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his friend in the siege and in the desperation with which their enemies and those who seek their lives shall drive them to despair. (19:9)
Likewise, the fate of the next generation was certain: They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth. (16:4)
Nonetheless, Jeremiah endured endless persecution and abuse, as well as tremendous heartache over the condition of the people. Although he came to be known as the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah prophesied that a day was coming when weeping would end and God's people would no longer fall under the hands of their enemies. A Branch of Righteousness was coming, from the line of David, One who was unlike the wicked leadership of Judah. (23:5-6)
God had not forgotten His promise for a Redeemer, the Promised Seed of Genesis. But in the meantime, Jeremiah mourned over how vulnerable the people of Judah were; they were sheep guided by corrupt and self-seeking shepherds. Like a lamb to the slaughter, they were led right into their destruction.
As recorded throughout the book of Jeremiah, the prophet gave scathing rebukes to the various kings, priests and false prophets who continually ruled the people with deception and malice. And though Jeremiah was a youth when God called him to preach his message of repentance, he displayed courage beyond mere human capability. He used various props to perform vivid imagery and demonstrations, adding emphasis to his messages of impending doom. He both buried and uncovered a linen sash to illustrate God ruining the tremendous pride of Judah. By breaking an earthen flask, he demonstrated God dashing Judah and its inhabitants to pieces. And by wearing a wooden yoke, he showed that the surrounding territories, including Judah, were going to be submitted to the Babylonians, the new upcoming world power.
Throughout Jeremiah's ministry, he shed many tears for the people of Judah, knowing that they could not escape destruction without an upright covenant relationship with God expressed by obedience. It was to this end that Jeremiah prayed, interceding for the people, and speaking truth despite the intense persecution he experienced. Unfortunately, his efforts did not bring about reformation in Judah, and God eventually handed them over to the Babylonians. The next book, Lamentations, shares the agony and anguish that Jeremiah experienced over the destruction of the beloved city of Jerusalem.