JEREMIAH: PROPHETIC STRUGGLES AND CHALLENGES
INTRODUCTION: THE SUFFERING SERVANT’S OUTER AND INNER STRUGGLES
The prophet finds assurance in the midst of doubt, fear and affliction. Jeremiah was appointed by God to be a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5b). His commission was to confront Jerusalem about their sins and to call the m to repentance. The people of Judah had become selfish, worshipped idols, and the leaders rejected God’s law. The nation was deteriorating due to their lack of concern and disobedience towards God and his law. When the LORD came to Jeremiah, he said, “before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (1:5a). Jeremiah responds to this call with doubt. Clearly, he lacked self confidence and felt inadequate (1:6-7) but God gave Jeremiah reassurance (1:8-19), that he would be with him and provide him with what he needed to do His work. Through this, the prophet, Jeremiah, is able to find assurance in the midst of his feelings of doubt and fear towards the LORD’S call and impending affliction and turmoil.
Throughout the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, the prophet encounters many outer struggles as well as inner struggles, most of which are recorded in the book of Jeremiah. The prophets’ outer struggles are a direct result of the backlash that he receives for delivering God’s message of judgment to Jerusalem. He experiences opposition from almost all the people in the Judah. Jeremiah consistently urges the people to repent but no one listens (Jeremiah 7) because they are more enticed by the false prophets who are feeding them good news (14), the opposite of what Jeremiah was preaching. On account of this, the people devised plans to bring him down (11) and he experienced rejection and public ridicule (20). Due to the various opposition that he faced, the prophet also struggled internally with the conflicting emotions that he has concerning the wickedness of the people towards him and as a nation and if God will indeed bring justice (15), and his desire for God to save the people (14). We see Jeremiah suffer internally again in Lamentations as he is sorrowful over the desolation of Jerusalem.
In the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, Jeremiah continuously finds assurance in God in the midst of affliction. Although the prophet is met with constant hostility, resistance and disapproval, and often questions the LORD, his faith remains in Him. The LORD made a promise to Jeremiah that he would rescue him and because Jeremiah knew God’s character, though he lived a life of suffering and endlessly cried out to God, he stood strong in this promise.
OUTER STRUGGLES: A DEFIANT NATION
The people tried their best to ignore Jeremiah’s call for them to repent but the LORD’s message remains the same. Over several years, the LORD sent many prophets to Judah and Israel to warn the people of the coming judgment and to repent. Jeremiah was the last prophet that was sent to deliver this same message but still, the people remained stubborn and refuse to listen (7:24-27). Jeremiah struggled in getting through to such a perverse nation. Jeremiah 14:19-23, is further proof that the people in Judah did not adhere to the words of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah. The people had been doing work on the Sabbath which was supposed to be their day of rest because they no longer revered the Lord but rather, they found making money to be more appealing to them. The message that Jeremiah brought also fell on deaf ears when it came to the leaders of the nation. The kings, namely Zedekiah and Jehoiakim, refused to listen to Jeremiah. Zedekiah only decided to listen when he believed that he could appease God by performing a kind act. He suddenly wanted to press justice for all however, it was too little too late. Again, Jeremiah faces a defiant king when he encounters Jehoiakim. When the LORD instructed Jeremiah to write down on a scroll all that He had spoken to him (36:2), the prophet instructed Baruch his scribe to write them on a scroll and then take the scroll and read it to the people. Instead of obeying, Jehoiakim retaliates by burning the scroll. The prophet’s message went unheard because the people were so far gone that they went out of their way to ignore and even destroy God’s word. However, God’s word cannot be destroyed. The LORD’s instruction to Jeremiah to rewrite the scroll (36:28) is a demonstration of this.
OUTER STRUGGLES: FALSE PROPHETS PREACH GOOD NEWS.
The false prophets of the nation preached good news to the people but the LORD gives truth. Not only were the people and kings rejecting God, but those who proclaimed to be prophets (those who received a divine word from the LORD), were delivering messages of false hope to the people. They were telling the people what they wanted to hear while Jeremiah was delivering a message of judgment and destruction and so, of course they chose to listen to the messages of prosperity. Though Jeremiah denounced these false prophets, they still remained. The comfort that their messages brought, trumped Jeremiah’s message of doom. One of these false prophets was Hananiah, who preached that the yoke of the king of Babylon would be broken, the articles would be returned to the LORD’s house, and the exiles who went to Babylon would return in a matter of two years (28:2-4). What Hananiah did not seem to realize, is that he had committed an offense against the LORD by deceiving the nation and claiming that his false words were given to him by the LORD. Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord would remove Hananiah from the face of the earth and within that same year, Hananiah died (28:15-17), proving Jeremiah to be a true prophet.
OUTER STRUGGLES: PLANS TO BRING DOWN JEREMIAH
The people devise plans to bring Jeremiah down but the prophet stands firm and the LORD remains faithful to his servant. Because Jeremiah was so hated for the message he brought, his own people devised a plan to kill him (11:18-23; 18:18). The people of Anathoth were angry with Jeremiah for rebuking their immorality and showing them that they were wrong. However, the Lord remains faithful to his prophet, assuring him that the men of Anathoth will not go unpunished but he will bring disaster upon them (11:22-23). Jeremiah is threatened with death again when he delivers a word from the LORD in the courtyard in which he proclaimed that if the people did not listen and obey the LORD’s law, then Jerusalem would become an object of cursing and the temple would be destroyed (26:2-6). The prophets, the priests, and all those who heard Jeremiah speak were enraged and wanted him dead because he “prophesied against [the] city” (26:11). However, Jeremiah continued to prophesy and urged the people to repent (26:12-13), then saying, that if they put him to death, innocent blood would be on their hands (26:14-15). Thus, prompting the officials to declare that Jeremiah should not be put to death because he has, indeed spoken in the name of the LORD (and because they didn’t want disaster to come upon them), whilst also remembering that the prophet, Micah was not put to death for bringing forth a similar message. Once again, the Lord keeps his promise to Jeremiah that, “[he] is with [him] to rescue and save [him]” (15:20b-21) by causing the rebellious people, to spare Jeremiah, even if their sparing of him was only because they believed that the act would save them from disaster. Jeremiah’s near encounters with death did not stop there. When the prophet was in the courtyard of the guard, he continued delivering the LORD’s message of sword, famine and plague for whoever stayed in the city (38:1-2). The officials who heard him believe that Jeremiah was only seeking for the ruin of the people and therefore, he should be put to death. So, Zedekiah allowed them to throw him into a cistern and leave him for dead but the LORD had other plans. Ebed-Melech, the Cushite, feared the LORD and stood up against the plot to kill Jeremiah. Ebed-Melech saw the injustice and he went to King Zedekiah and pleaded for the prophet’s release which was granted. The people were determined to put Jeremiah to death for speaking the truth but Jeremiah remained faithful and passionate towards his commission and for that, the LORD remained faithful to him and saved him from the plans of his enemies.
OUTER STRUGGLES: SOCIAL REJECTION AND PUBLIC RIDICULE
The nation rejected and ridiculed Jeremiah for his message, yet his faith remained in God. When the priest, Pashhur, heard Jeremiah’s prophecy (19), he chooses to have him beaten and locked up but Jeremiah still, boldly delivers a message of disaster and death to the priest for his evil doing and his false prophecies but that is not all. Jeremiah’s complaint to God in 20:7-18, shows us the faith that the prophet still has in the sovereign LORD. Though Jeremiah cried out in despair, he remembers that the LORD is with him and begins to give praise to him. Despite the disapproval of the people, Jeremiah’s faith and passion for God’s commission remained so strong that even when he tried to withhold God’s word for a while he couldn’t because it became like a fire in his bones (20:9), and our desire to share God’s word should be the same. Jeremiah is again beaten and imprisoned when he is accused of deserting to the Babylonians (37:11-21) and then out into the courtyard of the guard. In chapter 15, the prophet cannot comprehend why the people oppose him and mock him (15:10) and he asks the LORD to “revenge [him] of [his] persecutors” (15:15) who rejected his message and hence, rejected and mocked him leaving him alone (15:17). Thus, the prophet prayed to the LORD to bring judgment upon these evil doers. Not as a way to bring vengeance on them but because they would not heed to the call to repent and made a mockery of the message that was sent by the LORD. In spite of his painful and horrific experiences, Jeremiah stood by his mission and stood firm; for the LORD had made him to be, “an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land” (1:18).
INNER STRUGGLES: JEREMIAH WEEPS OVER JUDAH
Jeremiah suffers inner pain for the coming judgment of Judah but the LORD assures the prophet that he will not cast them off. Jeremiah’s suffering was not limited to his outer struggles with the people of the nation. He also suffered actual physical, internal pain due to the grief he felt concerning the coming judgment of Judah. Jeremiah’s care for his people and for the things of the LORD were so great that he suffers immense pain from what he was being told about the judgment of Jerusalem (4:19a). In the second part of this verse, Jeremiah exclaims, “Because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war” (4:19b). This half of the verse implies that Jeremiah literally saw in his spirit, the coming devastation of Judah (4:20-26). Nevertheless, the LORD assures Jeremiah that though the land will be ruined, “[he] will not destroy it completely” (4:27b). While ruin was sure to come, the LORD also promised that those who were faithful would be reprieved.
INNER STRUGGLES: THE SORROWFUL PROPHET
Jeremiah is sorrowful over the coming judgment of Jerusalem and the LORD shares in his sadness. If it wasn’t before, the prophet’s distress was clear now. The prophet said, “when I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me” (8:18). The prophet further explains his sadness in verses 20-21 where he revealed that Judah’s “lovers” (those who they trusted to save them), had abandoned them and did not come to their rescue (8:20). For the desolation that they are about to endure, Jeremiah mourns for his people (8:21). Then, in 4:19, the LORD describes his own sorrow over the state of the nation expressing, “is not the LORD in Zion? Is not her king in her? Why have they provoked Me to anger with their graven images and with strange vanities?” (4:19b). The LORD is saddened that his people have chosen to keep their backs turned away from him. He was willing to forgive them but they refused to return to him. This is also explained in verse 22. The LORD asks, “is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” (4:22a). The balm in Gilead is the LORD. The physician is the LORD. He is the only one who could heal their land. No earthly physician could have done that and since the LORD couldn’t save them because judgment was the only way that they would have returned to him, they were not saved. Here, we see what Jeremiah’s relationship with God was like. The prophet was very Christ-like. In the same way that the LORD mourned for his people, their sins and what would become of them, as did Jeremiah.
INNER STRUGGLES: JEREMIAH HAS CONFLICTING EMOTIONS BUT PLEADS FOR THE PEOPLE
While Jeremiah believed the people to be vile, he still pleaded their case, understanding that he was the one standing between them and their destruction. In chapter 9:2, Jeremiah actually wants to leave the people because they were such an abominable people. However, he could not go because he had a mission. Also 9:1 shows us that he still wept for the people because he truly did not want to see the calamity brought upon them. Therefore, it was most likely challenging for Jeremiah when the LORD told him not to pray for the people anymore because he would not hear them and there was no longer any hope for their deliverance (7:16; 11:14; 14:11). This is probably why Jeremiah still pleads to the LORD for deliverance, associating himself with the people and their sin (14:19-22). Even after the destruction of Jerusalem the prophet prayed for the LORD to help the people (Lamentations 2:20-22) and remains in deep sorrow and distress over the desolation of the nation (Lam.1; 3). The prophet was a man of character, a somewhat Christ-like character. He interceded for the people and associated himself with their sins in the same way that Christ is our intercessor and associates himself with us in our sin. Although the people plotted to kill him and were selfish and sinful, he still continued to urge them to repent and asked the LORD to save them.
INNER STRUGGLES: JEREMIAH’S COMPLAINTS
Jeremiah’s complaints demonstrate his faith in God that he will hear and answer him and God’s patience with us when we cry out to him. While one might view Jeremiah’s complaints to the LORD as the prophet being unbelieving, this is not true. The prophet instead cries out to the LORD because he is the only one who can help him and truly understands his pain. It is apparent that his faith has not been lost but merely diminished as he opens his complaint to the LORD in chapter 12 saying, “righteous are You O LORD, when I plead with you” (12:1). The prophet still demonstrates his belief in the LORD’s goodness even as he is about to cry out to him in pain and sorrow. As Jeremiah cries out to the LORD, he mentions that he wants the people who have done wicked to him to be punished (12:3). Instead of the LORD responding in anger, he gently rebukes Jeremiah. This is demonstrated again in chapter 20, Jeremiah’s second complaint. Although the prophet begins his complaint accusing the LORD of deception and cried out to God because the people were mocking him (20:7-8), in verses 11 through 13, Jeremiah praises the LORD for who he is and what the prophet knows he will do.
CONCLUSION: OUR STRUGGLES AND CHALLENGES AND GOD’S FAITHFULNESS AND ABILITY TO STRENGTHEN US IN THE MIDST OF AFFLICTION
Though our God inspired message may fall on deaf ears, we are to continue to deliver the LORD’s word without deviation. Jeremiah prophesied the destruction of Judah for almost 50 years without ever getting through to anyone. The people were corrupt and only wanted to hear the good news that the false prophets delivered to them. Yet, Jeremiah never stopped preaching the true message of coming destruction to Judah no matter what they really wanted to hear. Today, many Christians seek to appease. Though the message of peace and prosperity may have brought comfort to the people, it created a false hope that drew them further away from God. Jeremiah’s message would have saved the people had they chosen to listen to him. Today, many Christians seek to appease people by telling them what they want to hear even when they know what the truth is. Preachers enter pulpits and feed the congregation false information because they know it will tickle their fancies and will make them popular amongst the people whilst gaining them more followers. However, serving God is not about gaining followers for ourselves or becoming popular by spreading a popular message. Today, it is about spreading the truth of Christ to the nations even when no one wants to hear and even when it is unpopular. A false gospel may cause the attendance in our churches to increase but it will not win souls for the LORD’s kingdom.
We must stand firm in our faith in the midst of affliction. Not only was Jeremiah mocked and rejected, he was thrown into prison, beaten several times, and his own people threatened to take his life for the message that he brought. In spite of this, Jeremiah continued to spread the word. Though he may have stopped for a time, his passion to rebuke sin was so strong that it became “like a fire shut up in [his] bones” and he couldn’t hold it in any longer. We should endeavor to be like Jeremiah. There are some of us who may face very similar trials to what Jeremiah faced and for others what we experience may not be as severe. Whatever we face, we should aspire to remain steadfast in the commission that God has given to us. Jeremiah lived for God and so should we. If our ultimate goal is not to serve the LORD and heed to his call on our lives then what are we living for? We should remember this when we face challenges in our Christian walk.
The LORD shares in our sadness and he understands our pain. If we cry out to him in faith, he will give us assurance in our times of trouble. Jeremiah cried out to the LORD multiple times during his ministry and through his lamentation and prayer we are able to witness how much the LORD sympathizes and empathizes with his people. When Jeremiah cried out to the LORD concerning Judah, he shared in his sadness. The LORD was also deeply hurt by the rebellious nature of the people. Many of God’s people struggle with prayer because they believe that they won’t be heard or aren’t being heard. We often doubt the LORD’s faithfulness towards us even when he has proven himself to us time and time again. Jeremiah is no different. He too waivered in his faith at times, but he never lost faith because he knew the LORD’s character and he believed that he would bring justice on the evil doers. Every time Jeremiah cried out to the LORD, the prophet would be reassured that he was with him; he would strengthen him and avenge him. The LORD will do the same for us. As long as we remain faithful to him, he will be sure to remain faithful to us.