It’s not fair

Jeremiah’s job as a prophet to the nation of Judah caused him to be a target of abuse and slander. It says in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.”

Pashur had heard Jeremiah say that God was going to punish the people of Judah because they would not repent. Pashur’s actions gave the people the impression that Jeremiah was lying and was not a true prophet of God. Jeremiah was severely beaten and placed in a torturous device that would have caused him severe pain and discomfort. Pashur’s intention was to scare Jeremiah into silence. Instead, Jeremiah proclaimed:

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

Jeremiah’s bold proclamation was not given as a result of his own strength, but because he feared God more than he feared Pashur. Jeremiah complained to the LORD about the unfair treatment he received. He said, “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah had become a laughing-stock and was mocked for speaking the truth. He was so upset by what was happening, that he wanted to give up his calling (Jeremiah 20:9).

In a moment of complete despair, Jeremiah revealed his feelings of depression and thought of suicide. He openly declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed, cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad…because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave…wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah’s death wish was in part a testimony to the hopelessness of the situation in Judah. Even though Jeremiah would have rather been able to encourage the people of Judah with a message of God’s mercy, he knew their destruction was imminent and all he could do was try to warn them. Showing us that he felt like a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah declared of the LORD, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay”

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Potter and clay

The parable of the potter and clay is a common, and probably the most popular, illustration of God’s sovereign control over mankind. Isaiah used this illustration in his message of doom to the city of Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:15-16). The LORD told Jeremiah, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words” (Jeremiah 18:2). Jeremiah was given a first-hand account of the LORD’s plan to change his people into a different kind of “vessel” for his use. Jeremiah said, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it” (Jeremiah 18:3).

One of the key points in the message Jeremiah received was shown in the actions of the potter. It says in Jeremiah 18:3, the potter “wrought a work.” He was making a valuable object that he intended to sell for money. The Hebrew word translated work in this verse is derived from the root word malak, which means to dispatch as a deputy; a messenger (4397). The purpose of the vessel the potter created was most likely a container for storing and preserving important documents. The LORD was depicting his people as receptacles, perhaps, of the gospel. They were to be used to transport his message around the world. The fact that the vessel was formed on “wheels” indicated the potter was using motion to facilitate the process of his work.

The illustration of the potter and clay may have suggested that Israel was no longer fit to be used by God as messengers of the gospel. After Jeremiah’s life was threatened a second time for speaking God’s word, he was told to “Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom” (Jeremiah 19:1-2), the place where human sacrifices were made. There, he was instructed, “Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:10-11).

The breaking of the clay bottle signified not only the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s temple, but also the breaking of the covenant between God and his chosen people. The Hebrew word used for break in this passage is the same word used in Exodus 32:19 where it is recorded that Moses cast the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments out of his hands when he saw the golden calf that Aaron had made the people worship. The clay bottle, as well as the stone tablets, were not merely broken, but completely shattered. The LORD’s reference to the bottle not being able to be made whole again indicated that the clay bottle also may have signified the heart’s of his people. To be made whole meant you were healed or cured of a disease (7495). Apparently, the hearts of the people of Judah were so hardened toward God that he could no longer cure them of their idolatry.

 

The imagination of the heart

Jeremiah’s message to the people of Judah about obedience to God’s commandments was met with death threats (Jeremiah 26:8). The priests and prophets had been lying to the people about the consequences of their sins and were unwilling to let God’s message interfere with the corrupt practices they had established (Jeremiah 8:11). After approaching the people in the temple, Jeremiah was told to take his message to the streets of Jerusalem. There he was to remind the people of their covenant with God and to warn them that judgment was coming. (Jeremiah 11:6,11).

The LORD’s argument against the people was their stubborn refusal to listen to what God was saying to them. Jeremiah was told, “For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 11:8). Imagination refers to the thoughts in one’s mind. The people had gotten the idea in their heads that idolatry was necessary for their survival. Idolatry had become a way of life for them and they couldn’t imagine giving up that lifestyle.

God described the situation in Judah as a conspiracy (Jeremiah 11:9). What he meant by that was an alliance had been formed between the leaders of Judah and the priests and prophets of the temple that excluded God from the government of his people. Normally, the people were expected to seek God for direction and to thank him for his provision, but instead the people were expected to pay tribute to the king of Egypt (2 Chronicles 36:3) and to mock God for his inability to deliver them from their enemies (2 Chronicles 36:4).

Jeremiah’s frustration and humiliation at being condemned to death for speaking the truth is evident in his statement of rejection. He said, “But I was like a lamb or an ox that is led to the slaughter’ and I knew not that they had devised devices against me saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be no more remembered” (Jeremiah 11:19). In spite of his desperate situation, Jeremiah didn’t lose hope in God. He prayed, “But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart, let me see vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause” (Jeremiah 11:20).

A dangerous mission

At the end of king Josiah’s reign, when Jeremiah was probably in his early thirties, the king of Egypt took control of the kingdom of Judah by taking Josiah’s son Jehoahaz into captivity and by placing his brother Jehoiakim on the throne instead. Jehoiakim was loyal to the king of Egypt and taxed the people in order to pay an annual tribute to him of 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold. In the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign, the LORD sent Jeremiah to deliver a message to the people. It began, “Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD’s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD’s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word” (Jeremiah 26:2)

The LORD was about to give a strong warning to the people of Judah and he wanted Jeremiah to understand that he was not to soften the blow in any way. Jeremiah was to quote the LORD exactly as the message was given to him, speaking word for word what he was told. No doubt, Jeremiah was afraid to confront Jehoiakim, but he understood the seriousness of the situation, and was willing to do what the LORD asked him to. As soon as Jeremiah was finished speaking what the LORD told him to, it says in Jeremiah 26:8, “that the priest and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die.”

Jeremiah displayed great courage in the face of grave danger. When the princes of Judah heard what was going on in the temple, they went to investigate. The priests and the prophets told them Jeremiah should be killed because he prophesied against the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 26:11). The charge against Jeremiah revealed the corruption of the temple priests and prophets. As far as they were concerned, the city of Jerusalem was exempt from God’s judgment. Not only were the priests and prophets willing to ignore God’s message, they were also willing to kill Jeremiah in order to make it look like he was not really speaking for God.

In a strange twist of fate, the princes of Judah defended Jeremiah. It says in Jeremiah 26:16, “Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die: for he hath spoken to us in the name of the LORD our God.” More than likely, the declaration of Jeremiah’s innocence was a result of divine intervention. A prophet named Urijah spoke a similar message to king Jehoiakim and he was hunted down and killed by the king (Jeremiah 26:23). In order to protect Jeremiah, a man named Ahikam became his personal bodyguard. It says in Jeremiah 26:24, “Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shephan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.”

The child prophet

The prophet Jeremiah was unique in that his calling to serve as God’s mouthpiece was not a secondary  occupation that temporarily fulfilled God’s need to deliver a message to his people, but a lifelong vocation that Jeremiah had been specifically created for. God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). The Hebrew word translated formed is yatsar (yaw – tsar´). “Yatsar is a technical potter’s word, and it is often used in connection with the potter at work. The word is sometimes used as a general term of ‘craftsmanship or handiwork’…Yatsar is frequently used to describe God’s creative activity, whether literally or figuratively” (3335).

The prophet Isaiah used the word yatsar in connection with God’s  relationship to the nation of Israel and redemption of his people. In general, it could be said that yatsar refers to someone that has been saved or born again. Isaiah spoke of this when he said, “Bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth: even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (Isaiah 43:6-7). These words were spoken in the context of God’s redemption of his people. Although it could be said that every person is a child of God, only those that have been redeemed or saved go through a transformational process in which they are conformed into the image of Christ. This process is referred to as sanctification. God said of Jeremiah, “before thou comest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee” (Jeremiah 1:5). Therefore, it could be said that Jeremiah was born a fully matured Christian in order to accomplish his vocation as a prophet unto the nations.

One way of looking at a fully mature Christian is to see him as someone that has completely submitted himself to God. He does this because he understands God’s role as Creator and sees himself in the context of a divine order that is intended to accomplish God’s will. Sometimes it is easier for a child to get this perspective than an 80 year old man. When Jesus was a child, he was found in the temple “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Even though Jesus was only twelve, he had the ability to discuss deep theological issues with men that had been studying the scriptures their whole lives. It is possible Jeremiah had this same or a similar capacity and began his ministry as young as 12-14 years of age (Jeremiah 1:6-7).

Jeremiah’s ministry began in 626 B.C., in the fourteenth year of king Josiah’s reign. Josiah was only 22 years old at that time. In the eighth year of his reign, Josiah began to “seek after the God of David his father” (2 Chronicles 34:3) and by the eighteenth year of his reign, he had purged the land of idolatry  and begun a building project to repair the house of the LORD his God” (2 Chronicles 34:8). So, Jeremiah’s ministry started under positive conditions in the nation of Judah. The people may have expected peace and prosperity to return to their nation because they were doing the right things. Unfortunately, time had run out for God’s people and his judgment was inevitable. The LORD warned Jeremiah of an impending disaster that would come soon. Jeremiah received two visions from God about this event (Jeremiah 1:11-14).

Although is must have been difficult for Jeremiah’s young mind to comprehend all that was about to take place, his ability to “see” the future helped him to grasp the situation ahead for Judah and to communicate it clearly. Twice, the LORD told Jeremiah to not be afraid of or dismayed at the faces of those he had to speak to (Jeremiah 1:8, 17). The Hebrew term for face, paneh (paw – neh´) refers to the look on one’s face or one’s countenance (6440). In other words, Jeremiah was going to have to confront some scary people, but God assured him that he would protect him. He said, “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:19).