The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah,
(Jeremiah 1:2 NIV)
Jeremiah’s ministry began during the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign around 627 BC. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king, so he was about 21 years old when Jeremiah began his ministry.
2 Kings chapters 22 – 23 tell the story of Josiah’s reign, including his national reforms to remove all foreign gods from the land. The 2 Kings passage tells us that Josiah reigned for 31 years, and “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” (v. 2)
Josiah did much to remove the outward manifestations of the foreign gods from Israel. While Josiah sought the Lord, his sons who followed him “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (2 Kings 23:32, 37)
In the eighteenth year of King Josiah’s reign (five years into Jeremiah’s ministry), the high prest found a book of God’s Law in the temple. They brought the book to Josiah and read it to him. When Josiah heard the reading, he tore his clothes and wept, because he realized that they as a nation were far from God.
It was in this context of national revival that God pronounced His judgments on His people. While Josiah was removing the external worship of foreign gods, the inward hearts of the Israelites were still far from God.
Here is what one commentator said of the situation in Josiah’s and Jeremiah’s day:
“The reformation had wide popular and official backing. It appealed to long thwarted nationalistic and religious instincts. What Jeremiah’s attitude to it was we cannot be certain. He may have initially supported it; if so, he was soon to be disillusioned. You can legislate for reform, you can call a nation to an act of national repentance, only to find that, after the emotional excitement of the mass rallies has passed, you are left with an enlightened statute book and a people basically unchanged. Certainly after the death of Josiah in 609 BC, Jeremiah found himself increasingly alienated from the resurgent nationalism of the day; that it was a religious nationalism only made it the more dangerous. He protested against political and religious policies which he proved powerless to change and which signed the death-warrant of his people. Accused of being a traitor to his country and his country’s religion, he bore a costly witness to unpalatable truths in the midst of national tragedy which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. By doing so he was able to act as midwife at the birth of a faith which enabled his people to see in their own tragedy the working out of the purposes of their God. When other nations perished, their gods tended to disappear; when Judah perished, new faith rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Jerusalem. If this was the Lord’s doing, His agent was Jeremiah.”
(Davidson, Robert. “Jeremiah, Volume 1”. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press (1983), pp. 9-10. )
May our outer actions never be far from the inner state of our hearts, and may both be diligent seekers of the Lord our God, His truth embodied and lived out in Jesus Christ.