A reliable source

The false prophets that assured the people of Judah there was no threat of war with the Babylonians made it difficult for Jeremiah to convince them God was about to destroy their nation. King Zedekiah in particular made a mockery of Jeremiah’s preaching. The king’s bad influence on the people showed evidence that the nation of Judah was beyond hope. It says of king Zedekiah in Jeremiah 37:2, “But neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the word of the LORD, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah.” The Hebrew word hearken, shama means to hear with one’s heart. The king of Judah and his people were spiritually cut-off and no longer responsive to the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah’s situation was becoming dangerous because he refused to lie to the people. It says in Jeremiah 37:11-12, “And it came to pass, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem for fear of Pharaoh’s army, then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to separate himself thence in the midst of the people.” Because he left the city, Jeremiah was accused of deserting and was beaten and put in prison. While Jeremiah was in prison, king Zedekiah came to him secretly and asked him, “Is there any word from the LORD?” (Jeremiah 37:17). Even though Zedekiah didn’t believe Jeremiah’s message, meaning he didn’t act according to what Jeremiah said, the king still wanted to know what was going to happen.

Jeremiah taunted Zedekiah by asking the question, “Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land?” (Jeremiah 37:19). In spite of his lack of faith, king Zedekiah knew Jeremiah was speaking the truth. His own fear over and distrust of what he was being told made the king seek a reliable source of information. In order to ensure Jeremiah would remain available to him, Zedekiah placed him in a safe location. It says in Jeremiah 37:21, “Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers’ street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.”

 

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Spiritual manipulation

One of God’s key characteristics is the reliability of his word. Jeremiah frequently used the phrase “thus saith the LORD” to indicate God’s authority over what he said. As in the creation of the world, God speaks things into being and can cause something to happen by merely saying that it will. Therefore, God only says things that are consistent with his will. God does everything he promises to, because to him, saying and doing are essentially the same thing.

The commandments that were given to the Israelites were like a contract between God and his people that bound their actions together so that an obligation existed whenever obedience or disobedience occurred. If the Israelites kept the commandments, God rewarded them, and if they didn’t, he punished them. So, over time, the Israelites learned how to get what they wanted from God.

Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was told to become a servant to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11). Instead of submitting himself to Nebuchadnezzar’s authority, Zedekiah continually resisted and fought against going into captivity. In his attempt to change the outcome of his situation, Zedekiah used one of God’s commandments to manipulate God’s behavior. Zedekiah made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to let their Hebrew slaves go free (Jeremiah 34:8-9).

Zedekiah’s interpretation of the law was correct in that he understood it was wrong for the Israelites to make slaves of their own people, but the law of liberty or year of jubilee did not mean that letting the people go free would prevent Judah from going into captivity. And yet, God recognized Zedekiah’s  action and told him, “And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbor” (Jeremiah 34:15).

Unfortunately, Zedekiah wasn’t sincere in his effort to follow God’s commandment. When he saw that Pharaoh’s army was coming from Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar’s army stopped attacking Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:5). And so, it says in Jeremiah 34:11, “But afterwards they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and handmaids.”

As soon as Zedekiah thought he got what he wanted, Nebuchadnezzar stopped attacking Jerusalem, he did an about face and recanted his promise to let the Hebrew slaves go free. God responded to Zedekiah’s broken promise by sending Nebuchadnezzar’s army back. He told Zedekiah, “Behold, I will command, saith the LORD, and cause them to return to this city; and they shall fight against it, and take it, and burn it with fire: and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation without an inhabitant” (Jeremiah 34:22).

The last king

King David’s reign began a 400 year monarchy in Israel that ended with king Zedekiah in 586 B.C. Initially, David was told his kingdom would be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:16), but when Solomon became king, God established a conditional covenant with him that stated, “If thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 9:4-5).

After Solomon’s death, Jereboam rebelled and was given rulership over 10 of the tribes of Israel which became the northern kingdom of Israel. The southern kingdom of Judah was left to the descendants of David. The LORD said, “he shall have one tribe for my servant David’s sake and for Jerusalem’s sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel…Because that they have forsaken me, and have worshipped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon, and have not walked in my ways, to do that which is right in mine eyes, and to keep my statutes and my judgments” (1 Kings 11:32-33).

About 588 B.C., king Zedekiah went to Jeremiah and said, “Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us: if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us” (Jeremiah 21:2). King Zedekiah was hoping for a miraculous deliverance from Nebuchadrezzar’s army. Because God had stepped in at the last moment numerous times in Israel’s history, Zedekiah thought it might not be too late to ask him for a miracle. Unfortunately, Zedekiah hadn’t been paying attention to the prophecies Jeremiah had been sharing for more than 30 years.

Zedekiah had actually been appointed to his position of king of Judah by Nebuchaddrezzar (2 Chronicles 36:10). Initially, Zedekiah paid tribute to Nebuchadrezzar, but later rebelled against him and must have thought God would come to his aid. The response to Zedekiah’s petition for help indicated God had switched sides and would be fighting against his own people. Jeremiah stated, “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands, wherewith ye fight against the king of Babylon, and against the Chaldeans, which besiege you without the walls, and I will assemble them into the midst of the city. And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath” (Jeremiah 21:4-5).

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”

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.”