Jeremiah Was a Prophet, Part 4

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Jeremiah’s nickname was “the weeping prophet” for good reason. His message was a miserable one. Remember when the Lord called him to the prophetic ministry?

They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:19. NIV)

The “they” referred to Jeremiah’s people. Not his enemies, but his friends, his family, and his neighbors. “They” would resent Jeremiah’s sermons so much that they would be an almost constant threat to his life. No wonder he would say this:

Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:18. NIV)

In case you think Jeremiah was the only prophet who struggled, don’t forget about Jonah’s experience:

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” (Jonah 4:3, 9. NIV)

And even John the Baptist, while he didn’t want to die, certainly had his doubts when times were rough:

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2, 3. NIV)

Serving the Lord can be one tough gig. It can be costly. For so long, Jeremiah put up with slander and death threats and plots against his life. Surely he could expect some relief! But none came. The rough patch was getting longer and longer. It didn’t help that his sermons were getting more and more harsh. It got to the point where “the weeping prophet” wondered if he should – or even could – keep it up.

The prophet is a jail-bird, Jer. 20:1 – 6.

Here’s the message that got Jeremiah in trouble with Pashhur:

Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the Lord’s temple and said to all the people, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and all the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.’ ”. (Jeremiah 19:14, 15. NIV)

Pashhur was the chief officer of the Temple and he was so outraged at Jeremiah’s sermon, that he got violent and threw him into prison.

When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of 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. (Jeremiah 20:1, 2. NIV)

If you find it hard to believe that a priest – a man of the cloth; a man of God – would react to a Word from God in such a way, don’t be. God’s Word isn’t always a “good word” and sometimes it can be downright inconvenient. Never underestimate human arrogance. We want what we want and we don’t want anything to get in the way, not even God.

It might be significant that Pashhur, this priest, was an Egyptian.

A night in prison might be enough for some preachers to tone down their rhetoric, but not Jeremiah. He pushed the envelope even further – stretching it to the breaking point.

‘”And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’ ”. (Jeremiah 20:6. NIV)

So now we know why Pashhur hated Jeremiah so much. Jeremiah’s truthful Word from God was rubbing against Pashur’s sermons of lies. This Egyptian had been telling the people that Egypt would come to help Judah if Babylon should attack.

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 8:11 NIV)

There’s a high price to pay in being a faithful follower of God, but there’s also a high price to pay in mocking Him. God was going to deal with Pashhur. His name was changed to “Magor-missabib,” meaning, “Terror on every side.” In other words, he would be a terror to himself and all the people who listened to his false prophecies. That was Pashhur’s personal punishment, but that was just the beginning. All of Judah would suffer because of one man’s false prophecies.

For this is what the Lord says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will deliver all the wealth of this city into the hands of their enemies—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. (Jeremiah 20:4, 5 NIV)

The prophet is depressed

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived ; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. (Jeremiah 20:7, 8. NIV)

These are among the most powerful verses in the book. You and I are centuries removed from Jeremiah’s day. We may not be able to relate to Judah and Babylon and Pashhur, but we can certainly relate to what Jeremiah wrote here. Who hasn’t felt like the prophet felt? Who hasn’t felt like they deserved better from God? One scholar thought so, but he made an important observation:

It is significant that Jeremiah’s inner struggles and persecutions never led him to doubt the reality of his divine commission, and his sense of being overpowered by God never made him lose his own personality.

He was right about that. We all feel like Jeremiah sometimes. But we, like he did, should keep on keeping on, never giving up. We may feel like it sometimes, and we may think less than honorable thoughts about God, but in the end, it’s what we do and how we live that counts.  King David had a similar experience with the Almighty:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1, 2. NIV)

Those are terrible things to say about God! But these aren’t:

You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:23, 24. NIV)

Same man, same psalm, different attitude. God knows us and He knows how weak we are. Jeremiah’s experience, like that of David, may have discouraged him and caused him anguish, but he didn’t give up on God. Neither should you. Ever.

But how do you do that? Psalm 42 gives us some help because in it we see some wild mood swings and we see now David worked through his emotions to finally come to the right conclusion:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11. NIV)

Yes, your emotions and your heart will betray you from time to time, but you can’t let them derail your faith. In the end, you have to do what David did – use your God-given ability to reason and think and remember what you know about God. And if you find that hard, just do the right thing in spite of what you may think or feel.

Jeremiah did. But he suffered:

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. (Lamentations 3:1 – 3. NIV)

Actually, Jeremiah was wrong. It wasn’t the Lord, it was the people who did these things to Jeremiah. This was a cry of desperation, though. Jeremiah was not only a prophet, but he represented his people before God, and so when God unleashed His punishment on them, the prophet felt it. It’s hard for us to imagine how he must have felt. He was doing everything right, God wasn’t punishing him, but his feelings were real, and like David before him, he worked through his feelings and because he was a believer, he came to the right conclusion:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21 – 23. NIV)

Some of the most beautiful worship songs we sing were borne out of moments of great desperation, like this one. Life is seldom easy, but if we keep our focus on the Lord, no matter what we may think or feel, we, like Jeremiah, will come to the right conclusion. Our great hope arises out of our darkest experiences.

Hope in the midst of hopelessness

But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked. (Jeremiah 20:11 – 13 NIV)

Most scholars agree that these verses (much of chapter 20) were written just before the fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah, by this time, had yet to experience the darkest moments of his life. He had been beaten, mocked, imprisoned, harassed, separated from his family, had no friends, no reputation, and his beloved city was on the brink of being overrun by Babylonians and steamrolled to the ground. No wonder he wrote what he wrote in the very next verse:

Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! (Jeremiah 20:14 NIV)

Our weeping prophets certainly had his ups and downs, but while his emotions were riding the roller coaster of his life, his spirit was firmly connected to heaven. When Jerusalem finally fell, Jeremiah did not fall with her. The years of trials, loneliness, and solitude had created a faithful servant of God, who had more compassion and empathy than any other prophet. The worst day of his life was the day Jerusalem crumbled but Jeremiah’s faith in God remained intact.

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