Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 37. Jeremiah (2)
Jer 20:1,2 When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple.
In the previous meditation we considered the nature of Jeremiah’s calling and noted that within it were various indicators that life was not going to be easy for Jeremiah over the coming years. You may wonder why I choose a couple of very negative verses as ‘highlights’ of this book. The answer is that they, with a number of others, show how that early calling was so accurate when it spoke of the rejection he would encounter. The fact that he is still ‘the last man standing’, so to speak by the end of the book, reveals the fact that God’s grace WAS there for him. Perhaps, therefore, rather than an individual verse as a highlight, we may suggest that Jeremiah’s life as a whole stands out above many others and he himself is the highlight of this book, and an example for us of one who stands for the Lord, faithful despite opposition.
We have already alluded to his self-deprecation – “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (1:6) and as the book opens up he is shown to be a very human being (remember ‘prophets’ always are!) with the same sort of questions that you and I have, for example, “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1) i.e. Lord, life so often seems unfair with the unrighteous appearing to prosper. Why do you allow it? The Lord’s answer is to speak of the judgment He will be bringing soon.
On another occasion he complained to the Lord about the life he had been called to: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty. I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (15:16-18) i.e. Lord, I took on board your words and they were a blessing to me. I never joined in with the unrighteous which tended to make me a loner. I have sought to walk the righteous path and yet I seem to be in anguish so much of the time and, Lord, when it comes to you (as the Message version puts it) so often you seem to be nothing but a mirage, a lovely oasis in the distance—and then nothing! He certainly struggled.
And yet the Lord was clearly with him as he faced rejection: “Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me.” (11:18,19) Nevertheless he was a complete mix of emotions. On one hand he was able to declare, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” (17:12) and yet a few moments later he was crying out, “They keep saying to me, “Where is the word of the LORD? Let it now be fulfilled!” (v.15) and then “Let my persecutors be put to shame, but keep me from shame; let them be terrified, but keep me from terror.” (v.18) On the one hand he knew that the Lord was indeed his protection and yet a few minutes later, fear and anxiety seemed to flow back over him like the incoming tide. Does that sound familiar?
Again he records, “They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.” Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying!” (18:18,19) Now note where all these references come – before our starting verse that shows him being beaten and put in the stocks! All his fears were coming true in a physical way. Later we find (37:14-16) he is beaten again and put in prison and later into a cistern (38:6) and restricted by house arrest until the day Jerusalem fell (38:28).
Despite all this he receives amazing Messianic prophecy, for example, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (23:5) and yet immediately afterwards, “My heart is broken within me; all my bones tremble. I am like a drunken man, like a man overcome by wine, because of the LORD and his holy words.” (23:9) It’s almost as if he is saying, ‘I’m seeing so many contradictory things, it leaves me reeling like a drunkard, I don’t know which way to go!’
On the one hand as we look at the life of Jeremiah himself, we see this amazing prophet racked at times by self-doubt and yet upheld by the Lord so he is able to persevere in his ministry, speaking out the word of the Lord to all level of society, including the kings. On a physical level he is beaten, put in stocks and put in prison and yet when Jerusalem finally falls he is saved in a most remarkable manner. You must read 39:11-14 and 40:1-5.
The end gets even more bizarre. A man named Gedaliah is appointed governor of the land for when the Babylonians leave, after Jerusalem’s destruction, and Jeremiah stays there. Gedaliah is assassinated (40:6,7,41:1-). In the shambles that ensues, the people seek out Jeremiah for help and guidance (42:1-3). After waiting on the Lord for ten days (v.7) he receives a word to reassure them that it will be fine to stay there but disastrous if they go to Egypt (v.10-22). Indeed it is a very strong word against going to Egypt; yet his word is utterly rejected (43:1-3) and the leaders took them off to Egypt (43:4-7). When the get to Egypt, Jeremiah gets a further word from the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar would yet come there (43:8-13) and further warned that that remnant that had gone to Egypt would all be destroyed for their rebellion (44:1-14) – and yet this word also was utterly rejected (44:15-19) but Jeremiah keeps on and reminds them that they are there because of their past apostasy (44:20-23) and that yet they would perish when Nebuchadnezzar came and vanquished Egypt (44:24-30). Apart from an Appendix containing a note to Jeremiah’s friend, Baruch, a miscellany of additional prophecies against the nations (from various times during his ministry), and an historical summery at the end, this is the last we hear of Jeremiah.
We have focused in this study on the man himself and his perseverance and his experience that followed exactly what the Lord had said at his calling. To the very end in Egypt, God’s word is rejected but nevertheless Jeremiah kept an open ear to the Lord and brought whatever he was given. It is an amazing testimony of the faithfulness of the man, and as such it stands as a significant challenge to each of us to remain as faithful, regardless of how the people around us respond to us as witnesses to the Lord. May we be that.