II. Historical Setting
Jeremiah's ministry took place during the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah (640-587 B.C.; 1:1-3). He began his prophetic career in the thirteenth year of King Josiah (627 B.C.; v. 2). Most likely Jeremiah, himself a young man, was inspired by Josiah's religious reformation, which aimed to free Judah from the corrupt influences of paganism. The discovery of the “book of the law” in 622 b.c. (2Ki 22-23) gave this reformation a firm theological orientation. Though there are no direct references that connect Jeremiah with Josiah's reform activities, it is likely that the prophet was a strong supporter of this program (11:1-13).
Josiah's reformation was also an attempt to free Judah from over a hundred years of political bondage to Assyria. The rise of Babylon as a world power and the near collapse of Assyria gave Josiah the hope of freedom. His involvement in the power struggle between Assyria and Babylon, however, led him to his untimely death in 609 b.c. in the battle of Megiddo with the Egyptians, who were on their way to assist the Assyrians in recapturing Haran from the Babylonians (2Ki 23:29-30). For the next five years Judah remained a vassal of Egypt. The Babylonian victory over the Philistines in 604 b.c. prompted the Judean king Jehoiakim to transfer his allegiance to Nebuchadnezzer (2Ki 24:1). Judah returned to Egypt in 601 b.c. when Babylon could not break up the resistance of the Egyptian army near the Egyptian border. The Babylonians retaliated against Judah in December 598 b.c. Meanwhile Jehoiakim died, and a few months later, King Jehoiachin, the queen mother, and 10,000 leading citizens were deported to Babylon (2Ki 24:10-17). Zedekiah was placed on the throne as a vassal by the Babylonians. His rebellion in 589 b.c. prompted the Babylonians to march again to Palestine. Jerusalem was placed under siege in 588 b.c. (2Ki 25:1). Though the Babylonians raised the siege in order to meet an Egyptian threat, they returned again and destroyed Jerusalem in July 587 b.c. (chs. 39, 52; 2Ki 25:3ff.). Gedaliah was appointed as governor, who in turn was assassinated by a rebellious group under the leadership of Ishmael (ch. 41). Fearing reprisal from the Babylonians, Gedaliah's friends escaped to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them against his will (ch. 42). The last known oracle of Jeremiah was made from Tahpanhes in Egypt (43:8-13), where presumably his life came to an end.