Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should have a special interest in the life of Jeremiah because of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon account begins in 600 B.C., when Lehi is called to warn the inhabitants of Jerusalem concerning its destruction. (See 1 Ne. 1:18.) It says there were many other prophets in that same year warning the people that unless they repented the city would be destroyed. (1 Ne. 1:4.) Jeremiah had been ministering to the Jewish people for about 30 years at that time and was certainly one of these many prophets. In fact, as the scriptures indicate, he was probably the chief prophet of this time period.The people's response to Jeremiah was anything but positive. The men of Anathoth, Jeremiah's home town, sought his life (see Jer. 11:21), leading him to cry unto the Lord to know why the wicked prospered. (See Jer. 12:1.) He further lamented over his being born "a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth." (Jeremiah 15:10.) His enemies devised ways to oppose his counsel and sought to take his life. (Jer. 18:18, 23.)
Jeremiah was taken before the princes of Judah and accused of being "worthy to die" for having prophesied against Judah. But as he faced his accusers in the temple courtyard, Jeremiah fearlessly repeated his prophecy. His life was spared, however, because of the intervention of a high-ranking officer. (See Jeremiah 26.) Jeremiah was placed in stocks overnight for prophesying against Jerusalem and all Judah's cities. (See Jer. 19-20.) This was a punishment to bring public scorn and ridicule upon an offender. It was apparently effective in Jeremiah's case, because he said he would refuse to speak in the name of Jehovah (that is, to prophesy) anymore. However, the Spirit acted so strongly upon him that he could not restrain himself. The actions of the people around him further precipitated his return to the Lord, as he realized that the Lord was with him and that his enemies would be confounded. Jeremiah still cursed the day he was born.
At the beginning of Zedekiah's reign, Jeremiah went into the land of Benjamin to purchase some land. He was there arrested and accused of deserting to the Chaldeans. In spite of Jeremiah's denial, he was beaten and put in prison, where he remained for "many days." The prison is described as a dungeon with "cells" (KJV marginal note). This is the incident to which Nephi refers in trying to convince his older brothers that they were hearkening unto the word of the Lord in leaving Jerusalem. (See 1 Ne. 7:14.)
Zedekiah then sent for Jeremiah and asked if the Lord had any word for him (Zedekiah). Jeremiah took this opportunity to ask why he had been imprisoned, and he asked that the king not send him back to the dungeon where he had been kept. Zedekiah commanded that Jeremiah be placed in the court of the prison and given a daily ration of bread as long as there was bread in the city. This was a big concession in light of the treatment he had received in the past. (See Jer. 37:11-12.)
While Jeremiah was given this freedom, he still continued to prophesy. Certain princes, therefore, went to the king and said that Jeremiah was weakening their soldiers' morale and should be put to death. The spineless Zedekiah relented to their wishes, and Jeremiah was lowered into a dungeon of mire, into which he sank. While there, he had no water. Again someone interceded for Jeremiah, and the king allowed him to be confined to the court of the prison until Jerusalem was taken. The deplorable conditions of the miry dungeon are shown by the number of men employed in pulling Jeremiah out of the prison and the method they used. (See Jer. 38:4-13, 24-28.)
We cannot be certain how long Jeremiah was incarcerated, but it seems from the fragmentary account, that he spent nearly the entire 11 years of Zedekiah's reign in confinement in the court of the prison. This conclusion is drawn from the fact that Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah; Jeremiah was already in prison when Nephi and his brothers returned to get the family of Ishmael, and he was not released until the city fell to Babylon in the 11th year.
At the time of Jerusalem's destruction, Nebuchadnezzar gave Jeremiah the opportunity to go wherever he wanted, and he chose to stay among the people in his own land. (See Jeremiah 40.) Following some internal problems, the people desired to go to Egypt, but Jeremiah prophesied against that action. They disregarded Jeremiah's prophecy and went into Egypt, taking the now aging prophet with them. (See Jeremiah 41-43.) It is not known how long they remained in their homeland before going to Egypt, or how long Jeremiah was in Egypt, because this episode concludes the record of the life of the prophet from Anathoth.
There is no record of his personal afflictions or trials after he had chosen to remain in Judah with his people, but certainly his life was one of persecution and discouragement. However, the assurance that what he was doing and what he had done were commanded by the Lord must have been the consolation that kept him going and enabled him to endure to the end. Jeremiah was a major figure among the people of Judah and Benjamin. His role may be compared to that which Isaiah played before the ten tribes were taken captive.
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of the future restoration of Israel, and these prophecies are being fulfilled in this day. Jeremiah's prominence is also indicated in the Book of Mormon. He is the only prophet named among the many who preached in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Further, one of the 12 disciples (apostles) chosen by the Savior from among the Nephites was named Jeremiah. (See 3 Ne. 19:4.) That the name of this great prophet had been passed down among the Nephites demonstrates their reverence for him. Although he was an Old Testament prophet, to the Latter-day Saint, the name of Jeremiah should also be closely associated with the Book of Mormon.
There is also another close association that members of the Church should have with Jeremiah. Three of his prophecies of the future restoration of Israel speak specifically of the Latter-day Saints. This first one is:
"Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion:
"And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding." (Jer. 3:14-15.)
These two verses were among President John Taylor's favorite scriptural passages; seldom did he give a discourse without quoting and commenting upon either or both of these verses. There are more than 20 speeches in Journal of Discourses in which they are quoted.
The gathering together of Israel "one of a city, and two of a family," was to be fulfilled in "the day in which we live," according to John Taylor. (JD 18:208.) He said further that "through the operation and influence of the Spirit of the living God, manifested through the priesthood, God ministers on the earth, you have been brought together as you are today." (JD 19:302.)
President Brigham Young said: "I have preached the Gospel to hundreds of thousand of them
the Christian worldT. Did they believe? If they did, they did not yield obedience. They would contend and argue against the truth, but only one here and another there, or as it is written, `one of a city, and two of a family;' or, to reverse it, one of a family and two of a city.' "
Elder Theodore M. Burton emphasized blood lineage as the factor that causes the gathering of "one of a city, and two of a family":
"Because Jeremiah the prophet understood that blood lineage is more important than other factors in bringing in people to the truth, he wrote the following revelation
quotes Jer. 3:14-151T.
"Everybody knows that more people live in a city than live in a family. Why then didn't the Lord say two of a city and one of a family? It was because of this promise of priesthood heritage. The family to which we belong is more important than where we live." (Conference Report, April 1975, pp. 104-105).
A second prophecy concerning Latter-day Saints is found in Jeremiah 16:14-15:
"Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;
"But, the Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers."
This prophecy is repeated in Jeremiah 23:7-8. The exodus of more than 2 million of the house of Israel from bondage was an event spoken of for thousands of years, and it is still referred to by believing Jews and Christians as one of the Lord's greatest miracles for His people. The verse that follows describes:
"Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks." (Jer. 16:16.)
First the Lord will send for many fishers; then He will send for many hunters. Fishing in the days of Jeremiah was done with nets and schools of fish were caught. In the early days of the Church, the missionaries went to the various locations and preached to congregations, or invited all interested people to assemble in the local schoolhouse, church, or community hall. Ofttimes whole groups of people were converted. Wilford Woodruff's experiences in England give great examples of this. (He baptized over 1,800 souls in eight months.) The following excerpts show how the fishing symbolism was applicable:
"In the evening I again met with a large assembly of the Saints and strangers, and while singing the first hymn the spirit of the Lord rested upon me and the voice of God said to me
:T `This is the last meeting that you will hold with this people for many days.' I was astonished at this, as I had many appointments out in that district. When I arose to speak to the people, I told them that it was the last meeting I should hold with them for many days. They were as much astonished as I was. . . . In the morning, I went in secret before the Lord, and asked Him what was His will concerning me. The answer I received was that I should go to the south; for the Lord had a great work for me to perform there, as many could were waiting for His word. . . .
"I also rejoiced greatly at the news Mr. Benbow gave me, that there was a company of men and women - over six hundred in number - who had broken off from the Wesleyan Methodists, and taken the name of the United Brethren. They had forty-five preachers among them, and for religious services had chapels and many houses that were licensed according to the law of the land. This body of United Brethren were searching for light and truth, but had gone as far as they could, and were calling upon the Lord continually to open the way before them and send light and knowledge, that they might know the true way to be saved. When I heard these things I could clearly see why the Lord had commanded me, while in the town of Hanley, to leave that place of labor and go to the south; for in Herefordshire there was a great harvest-field for gathering many saints into the Kingdom of God.
"Mr. Benbow . . . had in his mansion a large hall which was licensed for preaching, and he sent word through the neighborhood that an American missionary would preach at his house that evening. As the time drew nigh, many of the neighbors came in, and I preached my first gospel sermon in the house. I also preached at the same place on the following evening, and baptized six persons, including Mr. John Benbow, his wife, and four preachers of the United Brethren. I spent most of the following day in clearing out a pool of water and preparing it for baptizing, as I saw that many would receive that ordinance. I afterwards baptized six hundred persons in that pool of water." (W.W., pp. 116-117).
Later Elder Woodruff returned to Herefordshire and, after viewing the great progress which had taken place there, recorded that he "then lay down to rest and dreamed of catching fish." (W.W., p. 127.) How appropriate for the past events!
The hunting period would follow the fishing period of missionary work. Hunting is done on a one-on-one basis. Jeremiah's prophecy is thus noting a change from the teaching of groups to the teaching of individuals or families, as is presently done.
According to Oliver Cowdery, the angel Moroni, when he appeared to Joseph Smith, quoted Jeremiah 16:16 as one which was soon to be fulfilled:
"And thus shall Israel come: not a dark corner of the earth shall remain unexplored, nor an island of the seas be left without being visited; for as the Lord has removed them into all corners of the earth, he will cause his mercy to be as abundantly manifested in their gathering as his wrath in their dispersion, until they are gathered according to the covenant. He will, as he said by the prophet, send for many fishers and they shall fish them; and after send for many hunters, who shall hunt them; not as their enemies have to afflict, but with glad tidings of great joy, with a message of peace, and a call for their return." (Messenger and Advocate, April 1835, p. 111).
A third prophecy of the Latter-day Saints was also quoted by the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith as to be fulfilled soon.
"For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God
"Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither.
"They shall come with weeping, and with supplications, will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of water in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel and Ephraim is my firstborn." (Jer. 31:6, 8-9)
Elder LeGrand Richards commented on these and following verses:
"Properly understood, the prophet Jeremiah here wrote a portion of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approximately 2,500 years before it occurred, and while but briefly stated, it is very accurate.
"This was a cry from `the watchmen upon mount Ephraim . . . Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God.' This has nothing to do with Judah as the prophet further indicated: `For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.'
" `Shout among the chief of the nations.' The elders of the Church were sent in 1846 to Great Britain, the Scandinavians countries, Germany, and other chief nations, and gathered in many concerts to Nauvoo, Illinois.
" `I will bring them . . . a great company shall return thither.' This was something the Lord was going to do. Note that Jeremiah does not say that they will return hither, to the place where this prediction was made, but thither, to a distant place. He understood that Joseph was to be given a new land in the `utmost bounds of the everlasting hills.' " (See Gen. 49:22-26; Deut. 33:13-17.)
A "great company" was to "return thither," and with them "the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together," and "they shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them." About 20,000 Latter-day Saints were driven out of Nauvoo, and with them "the blind and the lame, the woman with child." They did not leave their beautiful homes because they wanted to; hence they came weeping and with supplications unto the Lord, and He healed them as He had promised.
"I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble." In their trek from Nauvoo across the great American desert to the Great Salt Lake Valley, the Saints traveled about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), along the North Platte River, as Jeremiah had seen.
"Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion." The Tabernacle Choir, composed of 375 voices, was organized shortly after the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. They have been heard "from the crossroads of the West" by peoples worldwide, by way of radio, television, and recordings, and have performed in concerts in the United States and many other lands. This represents but a small part of the singing that is done "from the height of Zion."
Where else in all the world and in all the annals of history can you find a fulfillment of this prophecy of Jeremiah? He may have seen more when his prophecy was uttered than has already been fulfilled, but one could scarcely hope to find a more literal fulfillment than in the gathering of the Latter-day Saints to the valleys of the mountains in these latter days. (See A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, pp. 224-228).
There are other prophecies of Jeremiah that relate to the latter-day restoration of Israel. As we search his words we are able to understand the background from which the Book of Mormon came as the prophecies shown to him of these latter days.