“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:7)

Pastor Ino

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“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:7)

From this week, we will begin a series on the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived during the time when Judah, the kingdom in southern Israel, was conquered.

The book begins with this verse: “The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin.” Anathoth was a village about 4 kilometers north of Jerusalem. Jeremiah grew up in this poor village as the son of a priest. Verse 2 says, “The word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah.”

King Josiah is known for the religious reforms he carried out in Judah. This is recorded in the book of 2 Kings chapters 22 and 23. In contrast, Josiah’s grandfather, King Manasseh, was known for being one of the most evil kings. 2 Kings 21:16 records that “Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood . . . besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit”. According to tradition, it was Manasseh who had prophet Isaiah killed. He reigned for 55 years. As a result, the kingdom of Judah deviated more and more from the laws of God and fell back into idol worship. It was in this kind of spiritual environment that Josiah became king at the age of 8 and reigned for 31 years, during which he instituted many reforms. During this reign of Josiah, Jeremiah received God’s call to be a prophet.

Today, we’ll read together about Jeremiah’s call, and there are a few points I would like us to take away from his story. Let’s turn to Jeremiah chapter 1.

Verses 4 to 8 are the words of God to Jeremiah. Verse 5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” I knew you, consecrated, and established you, God says to Jeremiah. “I knew you” is a phrase also spoken by God to Abraham in Genesis 18:19, where it is translated as “I have chosen him”. These words imply that Jeremiah is “chosen” and will be raised up in close relationship with God.

Likewise, God knows each of us. And God wants to raise up each believer in the same way as Jeremiah. Just as God established his prophet in Judah, a land defiled by the evil of Manasseh, He also wants to consecrate and establish us in this land as light of the world and salt of the earth. Today, injustice is everywhere. But may our faith in God grow, and may we be the light of the world and salt of the earth.

Moving on, God has more to say in verse 7. “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” This reminds us that God is a God who speaks and who sends. In Jeremiah’s case, he was sent to announce a harsh prophecy: that Jerusalem would be destroyed. God told Jeremiah not to be afraid of speaking this judgment on the people of Judah who had worshipped idols and committed many sins. Speaking boldly is a prophet’s job.

Like Jeremiah, we are called to believe what God says, to be led by the Holy Spirit, and be willing to speak the words God gives us in the place we live. Now, looking at verses 9 and 10: God touches Jeremiah’s lips and said “I have put my words in your mouth,” a symbol of appointing him as prophet. God wants Jeremiah to speak and not be held back by fear. God’s Word has the power to uproot, destroy, build, and plant.

Next, God shows Jeremiah a few visions. The first is an almond tree branch. The Hebrew word for “almond tree” sounds like the word for “watching”. God was saying that he would closely watch Jeremiah’s steps. It was an assurance for Jeremiah. God knew all of Jeremiah’s suffering and concerns as a prophet. I think it is wonderful that we can live under the watchful care of our God. The second vision, in verse 13, is a boiling pot. The pot is tilting towards Jeremiah from the north, symbolizing Babylon’s army that would invade Judah. Babylon would carry the people of Judah away as captives. The reason for this is given in verse 16: “I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.” God’s plan would be carried out. The southern kingdom of Judah would be judged for their sins.

And yet, because God loves his people, he would forgive those who repent. He was already preparing a new era for his people. The book of Jeremiah also records this. Let’s briefly look ahead to Jeremiah 31. Verses 3 and 4 say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love . . . I will build you up again, and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.” Jeremiah 31:13 talks about Israel’s restoration when God makes a new covenant with them. In other words, Jeremiah prophesied not only judgment but also the accompanying restoration, and also the coming of new era.

Going back to Jeremiah chapter 1, verses 18 and 19 tell us that God made Jeremiah, who grew up in a poor village, into a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. The Word of God spoken through Jeremiah would stand against the kings of Judah, the officials, and the priests. It was a promise that no one would overcome Jeremiah as he spoke the words entrusted to him. This was God’s promise to the young Jeremiah. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we learn that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In this manner, Jeremiah’s words have prevailed.

To summarize, God knows each of us and has chosen us to live as the light of the world. In my previous sermon, I spoke on Isaiah 66, where a key verse was 66:2: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” As believers, we should tremble at His word. And at the same time, His word is our strong pillar by which we live. May we be people who listen and obey His word and are able to share it powerfully with others.

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