God’s people had now been divided into two countries for over a hundred years. They had both had good and bad kings, but unfortunately, there had been more bad kings than good kings. Many of the people followed whatever their leaders did.
Israel in the north was taken over by the Assyrians. The people of Judah believed they were better than their relatives from the Northern Kingdom. God would surely never allow what happened to them to happen to those living in Judah, where God’s temple was!
But they needed to be warned. God called Jeremiah to preach when he was just a youth-probably a teenager.
“Give this message to the people of Judah,” God said. “Change your ways and start living right, if you want to keep living in your own country. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that because My temple is here in Jerusalem you will always have my protection, no matter what you do.
You need to be fair and honest with each other. I have seen how you take advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows. You have killed innocent people and worship other gods. But if you stop doing these things, I will let you stay in the land I gave to your ancestors and enjoy a long life.
“Yes, I have a special place to be worshiped in Jerusalem, and yes, I have given special blessings to the family of Abraham. I used you Israelites to remove people from this land who had done unspeakable things. But if those people turn to Me and put their trust in Me, I want my people to teach them how to worship Me, so that those nations can be My people, too. My love is for the whole world.”
The people heard Jeremiah’s message from God, but many continued to ignore him. So God told Jeremiah to bring them to the pottery shop and teach them a lesson with a demonstration.
At the pottery shop, Jeremiah pointed to the potter. “Do you see how he chooses what shape to make the clay on his pottery wheel? It is up to him. If it doesn’t come out right, he rolls it up in a ball and starts all over again. God is like this potter. And all of you are like the clay. He is the One who will choose to make our nation strong and safe or allow it to be taken over by our neighbors. If God’s people start disobeying Him and doing evil things, He will stop protecting them.”
Jeremiah called for Baruch to help him write down all God’s warnings on a long scroll and sent him to read it out loud to all the people in the temple.
After Baruch read these words, the king’s officials brought the scroll to king Jehoiakim and told Baruch to go into hiding with Jeremiah, because they knew the king would be angry when he read what Jeremiah had written from God.
One of the officials, Jehudi, read the scroll to king Jehoiakim as he sat next to his fireplace. The king was so furious with what he heard, that every few lines, he would cut off a piece of the scroll and throw it into the fireplace. He had no interest in changing how he lived his life and didn’t believe that anything bad could happen to his kingdom.
But King Jehoiakim was so wrong! King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sent his troops to surround Jerusalem for a year and a half. Cities back then were surrounded by walls. It kept invaders out, but it also kept the people in. They couldn’t get food from the farms outside and they couldn’t run away. They were trapped.
The Babylonian soldiers burned down the Lord’s temple, the king’s palace, and every important building in the city. They even burned down the houses. Then he ordered the Babylonian soldiers to break down the walls around Jerusalem.
The people of Judah were taken away by force. They were spread out all over the Babylonian Empire so that they couldn’t be together as one people. But God had not forgotten His people. He gave Jeremiah one more piece of bad news for them…but it came with a special promise. “You will be in Babylon for seventy years,” God declared. “Babylon will be the strongest nation and will rule over you.”
“But after your punishment is over and you turn back to Me and ask for My help and truly worship Me with your whole heart, I will hear your prayers and bring you back to Jerusalem. For I have plans for you. Plans to help you and not to harm you. Plans that are filled with hope for your future.”