Jeremiah is one of the five books of the Major Prophets, which are called “major” primarily from the standpoint of the length of the prophecies.
Jeremiah was often called the weeping prophet (9:1; 13:17). He began his ministry (at about the age of twenty) under good King Josiah, with whom he enjoyed cordial relations. However, after Josiah’s death, opposition mounted. He barely escaped arrest and was forbidden to go to the temple.
Jeremiah spoke to the nation of Judah during its hardest times. His contemporaries during this time were Habbakuk and Zephaniah (to Judah), Ezekiel and Daniel (to Babylon), and perhaps Nahum (to Nineveh).
In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity, which was about one hundred years before Jeremiah began to preach to Judah. Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry in the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign and continued through the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. He also prophesied during the occupation by Nebuchadnezzar and the exile in Egypt. Jeremiah’s ministry covered about fifty years, and he apparently died in Egypt.
Jeremiah was called by God to warn the people of Judah (the southern kingdom) of impending judgment. The theme that runs throughout the book is that of judgment against Judah. Because of idolatry, the people deserved the punishment of God. Even in his call it was evident to Jeremiah that his message would be one of condemnation rather than salvation (1:10, 18, 19). The people completely rejected not only the message, but the man as well. He was considered a traitor and was persecuted by the mighty and the lowly alike.
It is helpful to realize that the book of Jeremiah does not follow the order in which things happened. Jeremiah and his assistant, Baruch, wrote Jeremiah’s messages on a long scroll. Some Bible scholars have suggested that probably, while writing down one message, Jeremiah would be reminded of another message he had spoken before. The earlier message would then be added to the scroll where he had left off writing. This mixing of early and late messages makes it very difficult to know the order in which his messages were given.
It has been said that Jeremiah was the simplest and grandest of the Old Testament prophets.