Gleanings in Jeremiah : 2 : Priest and Prophet?
Jer 1:1-3 The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, one of the priests at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. The word of the LORD came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah, and through the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, down to the fifth month of the eleventh year of Zedekiah son of Josiah king of Judah, when the people of Jerusalem went into exile.
In the first study we noted the overall background of the day in which Jeremiah lived, a day initially of decline and then of restoration but then lapsing into decline again. But what about Jeremiah himself? Chapter 1 is all about Jeremiah and it is only when we get to chapter 2 that we will see the message the Lord gives to him, so for now we focus on him and what happens to him, how he responds, and what it teaches us.
He is a priest who lived in a small town a couple of miles, it is thought, north east of Jerusalem. It was clearly a town given to the priests earlier in Israel’s history: “And from the tribe of Benjamin they gave them Gibeon, Geba, Anathoth and Almon, together with their pasturelands–four towns. All the towns for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, were thirteen, together with their pasturelands.” (Josh 21:17-19). In Solomon’s day we find the following: “To Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go back to your fields in Anathoth.” (1 Kings 2:26). There is a strong link between the town and the priesthood.
Now there are three things about priests that are worth noting:
- First, their background – it was hereditary. You were born into a priestly family and if you were a male you became a priest and served in Jerusalem in the Temple.
- The second thing is their role: it was to bring people to God. They would have been those fully acquainted with the Law of Moses because they would need to know all the various requirements in respect of keeping the rules generally, and specifically of administering the Temple worship and sacrificial rules. It is interesting that the other major prophet running parallel to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, is also a priest (Ezek 1:3). So first and foremost, at least as far as Jeremiah would have been concerned, he was a priest because his family was a priestly family. His future, it would seem, is set. Jerusalem is his work place and will be the focus of his life. Well in that respect, it is true for it is going to feature largely in his life but his ministry is going to take him way beyond the confines and comfort and security of the priesthood.
- Third, being a priest would mean Jeremiah had a strong support network behind him of the other priests, his family and extended family, and we so often tend to forget this of him. The priests were set apart by the Law and that no doubt made them feel different.
But if you ask people about Jeremiah they will say he is a prophet and prophets are different to priests. Whereas it is said that priests bring people to God, prophets bring God to the people. Priests focus on administering the word of God, the Law, while prophets administer the now word of God, prophecy, words coming directly from God today, for today. An interesting thing about a prophet also being a priest was that the priests were to be cared for and provided for by the community so they did not have to have some other job to earn an income (see, for example Num 18).
But the big thing that marked the prophet out is that they heard God. In the modern church in the body of Christ, we make distinction between the office of prophet (see Eph 4:11) and the more common ‘prophetic person’, the person who exercises a spiritual gift called prophecy (see 1 Cor 12:10). Even though the apostle Paul encourages us to “eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor 14:1) the reality is that it is God who puts such desires upon our hearts or simply imparts such a gift to us. I remember once, when I was inputting to a small church not too far away and found a leadership team of four, and three of them were struggling with the fourth. I decided to meet with this man one evening and listen to him. After about an hour of talking I said, “I know what is your problem. You are frustrated. If you talk for an hour with most Christians there is something they do not keep on saying, but I have heard you keep on saying, ‘and the Lord said to me’.” The man had a strong prophetic gift which neither he nor the others had recognised and so he kept feeling things about their church which were in fact, guidance from God, but he didn’t recognise it and neither did they. As soon as it was brought out into the open, it could be managed and understood. Prophetic people, and certainly prophets, hear God.
It comes as no surprise to us, therefore, that as soon as we reach verse 4 of this first chapter, we read, “The word of the LORD came to me.” Prophets hear God’s word and this young priest hears God! He’s not just a priest. Indeed the content of the ‘word’ makes that doubly clear for he hears the Lord saying, “”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.” (v.5) Prophetic gifting is not something that everybody has; it is imparted by the Holy Spirit When the apostle Paul speaks about this to the Corinthians, he says it is a manifestation of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7) and one gift is given to one person and another gift given to another person. Yes, we can eagerly desire to be used by God empowered by the Spirit, but He is the one who decides who will be what in the body.
In those words in verse 5 the Lord reveals His pre-knowledge, knowledge about it before it happens, and knowing what we will be like; He opens up areas of service for those who will exercise their free will to make themselves available to Him. As we’ll see when we continue tomorrow, we may have queries about that, but the Lord looks past them and knows what he can achieve through us. The big question is, am I available to the Lord for Him to lead me into whatever area of activity or service He may want for me? For us as Christian believers this pre-knowledge of God still applies – to all of us – for the apostle Paul wrote, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God knew us before we came to Him, and He knows what best ‘fits’ us.
Don’t be limited in your understanding of this. Yes, it can be spiritual gifts and ministries but it may be many other things. Maybe the Lord wants you to be a local or national politician to influence the affairs of the community for good. Maybe He wants you to be an author to bring goodness into the realm of literature. Maybe He wants you to be a scientist to open up further areas of discovery and blessing for the human race. Maybe it’s a social worker who will compassionately care for outcasts. Maybe it’s an office worker who will bring the light and love of God into their office. Maybe it will be to establish a company to provide goods and employment to bless the human race. The list is endless and I hesitate to stop there because you may feel, “well he hasn’t mentioned what I do.” No, and it is impossible to cover every eventuality. All we can say is, are we open to receive the Lord’s guidance, direction, anointing, empowering and wisdom which may be for what we are doing now or for something completely different from what we are doing at present. Rest in His love and direction. Yes, He sees us, knows us and wants to lead us into what best ‘fits’ us. Hallelujah!