When I look at Jeremiah, I am amazed at the strength of his faith and boldness in God. Here is a young man who sets his heart to fear only God, to speak the truth as God commands, even when men want to hear lies. Jeremiah was witness to the Babylonian capture of Israel, and he saw, many times, the effect of obedience and disobedience to God’s word. The word of God went out, His word did not fail, and there was a call to respond – to hear and obey, or deafen ears for temptation’s sake.
Who was Jeremiah and when did he live? Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, and a descendent of priests living in Anathoth, in the land of Benjamin. He spoke the word of the Lord from the thirteenth year of King Josiah’s reign in Judah until the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in the eleventh year of King Zedekiah’s (son of Josiah) reign in Judah. 2 Kings 22-25 details this time period:
- Josiah reigns for 31 years, finds the book of the law, reads it to the people, restores true worship to Yahweh and finally, dies in battle against Pharaoh Necho, the Egyptian ruler who aided the king of Assyria at the River Euphrates.
- Jehoahaz, his son, is anointed king, does evil the sight of God, sees Pharaoh Necho from Egypt impose a high tax tribute on Judah and is taken into prison at Riblah, in the land of Hamath so he cannot rule in Jerusalem
- Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah is appointed king over Judah by Pharaoh Necho. He taxes the people and pays the Egyptian tribute. When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon invades the land, Jehoiakim becomes his vassal for three years. He then rebelled against Babylon, and Judah was overrun by its enemies (Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites). The Egyptian rule was replaced by Babylonian authority, and Jehoiakim dies. He had “filled Jerusalem with innocent blood”.
- Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, then takes the kingship. However, he is captured by King Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon, along with his wives, officers, valiant men, craftsmen and smiths.
- Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, becomes King and rebels against Babylon. He speaks to Jeremiah a number of times but chooses to ignore God’s warnings. He is taken captive to Babylon, witnesses the murder of his sons and his nobles, has his eyes put out and spends the rest of his life imprisoned in Babylon.
Jeremiah saw the reign of these kings, but through all the violence and war, God kept him safe. Despite the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah had hope because God had revealed to him his promise of restoration. Though men did not always listen to him, God did, and the word of God was more precious to Jeremiah than the praises of men.
In the call of Jeremiah, we see a glimpse of his heart and of his character. First, the Lord confirms His desire for Jeremiah to rise as a prophet, saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you as a prophet to the nations.”
God is very certain of what He is telling Jeremiah. It is not a mistake, it is a God-appointed purpose. Jeremiah mentions that he is only a youth, but God affirms him once again saying:
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I sent you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak.”
God then gives confirmation of the authority He places on Jeremiah:
“Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you… … Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant.”
At this point, God puts forth His hand to touch Jeremiah’s mouth. It is a personal touch from God who says, I am with you in this and I want to you partner with me, to be involved with what I am doing. Age doesn’t matter – what does matter is the heart. Twice, God asks Jeremiah – “What do you see?” Jeremiah answers honestly and says exactly what he sees – an almond tree, then a boiling pot, facing away from the north. He does not attempt to give am explanation to these pictures, but simply answers the question God asks him. God then gives explanation to the pictures. This happens again and again throughout the book of Jeremiah. God speak, Jeremiah delivers the message without alterations, and God gives the explanation.
This is what I see in the preparedness of Jeremiah to be an agent of God:
- He is attentive to the word of God
- He understands the authority of God
- He speaks only what He hears (so he is faithful to the word of God, not assuming to know more, and not speaking less in fear)
- He is in constant communication with God
- He embraces his purpose in God
As we see the journey of Jeremiah from this point, it is clear that he made a choice to follow God’s leading. He said yes to God, and he took hold of those words which were spoken to him concerning his calling. In all the situations he faced, Jeremiah showed an unwavering loyalty to His God and Lord, and God also showed faithfulness to Jeremiah in all He had spoken to Him.
Purpose Greater than Earth
Jeremiah understood the things that were coming, not just on earth, but after he had passed from the earth. In Jeremiah 16, Jeremiah is commanded not to take a wife, and told he would not have sons and daughters on earth. This was in the context of the coming capture of Jerusalem by Babylon – when “the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” would cease. So, Jeremiah effectively stood alone, and boasted solely in the Lord. He didn’t have a multitude of descendants to boast of. God was his treasure, and God was his inheritance.
With Questions and Answers
The life of a prophet is not always easy. In fact, it is riddled with persecution, doubts, and loneliness. Jeremiah had questions, and at times, he fell into despair. Yet, he came to God with his questions and with his feelings. He had an open, honest and constant relationship with God, and God spoke to him. Here are some times when Jeremiah poured out his soul to the Lord:
- Jeremiah 12 – Jeremiah says, “…let me talk with You about Your judgments.” He declares God as righteous and shares his feelings honestly. God answers Jeremiah, giving his thoughts and heart for people. God explains, concerning the nations that those who call upon His name will be redeemed, but those who do not obey, and seek to destroy Israel’s inheritance
- Jeremiah 15 – Jeremiah expresses his dejection, and despair. Yet, He remembers the words God promised Him and cries out to God. He says, “I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone because of Your hand.” Jeremiah’s cry to God is one for assurance – will God still come through for him? God reassures Jeremiah and says, “If you return, then I will bring you back; you shall stand before Me; if you take out the precious from the vile, you shall be as my mouth. Let them return to you, but you must not return to them.” God tells Jeremiah that he will back him up against his enemies so he will not fall. He reminds Jeremiah of the rewards he has in heaven for the set apart life he lives on earth. He also reminds Jeremiah that he has been brought out the world, and that his role is to continue in this way of living. Those of the world would come to him, and see God’s salvation, but Jeremiah must not fall back into the world.
- Jeremiah 32 – Jeremiah asks for understanding when it seemed God had contradicted his word. The word of the Lord, given with the example of Jeremiah buying a field and sealing the deed of the purchase, was that houses and fields would again be possessed in the land. Yet, the city was given into the hand of the Babylonians. God explains His plan, to give the people “one heart and one way, that they [might] fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them”. He affirms that they will cause the captives to return, and that men would again buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses.
Though Jeremiah did not always understand the purpose of everything, he understood that God was good, that God was righteous and that God was approachable. Jeremiah asked, and God answered. Jeremiah cried out to God, and God lavished his love on Jeremiah. Jeremiah trusted in God’s way, and God revealed to him the mysteries of his path.
God’s Word – Sustenance and Joy
In the midst of his despair, Jeremiah proclaims these words in Jeremiah 15:16 –
“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.”
Jeremiah loves the word of God. He knew God’s word was unfailing and he found his purpose in the word of God – he was called by God’s name.
In the same we, we find our purpose in God! His word is unfailing – all his promises, the love that He has for us, his heart of mercy and salvation. As Romans 8:35 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, none of these things can overcome us when we stand upon the solid foundation of God’s word, and what joy and sustenance this gives! Psalm 119 gives us some of the qualities of God’s word. It is described as giving:
- Understanding to live a holy life, in God’s way
- Understanding of the righteous judgments of God
- Delight in God’s mindset, His heart and His purposes
- Counsel of how to walk in the way of God
- Strength to persevere in the way of the Lord
- Knowledge of God’s goodness
- Understanding of treasures more wonderful than those on earth
- Understanding of God’s eternity – he founded the earth and remains alive and true forever
- Life for the soul, rejoicing for the heart
In order to receive these benefits from God’s word, we need to, first know His word. Jeremiah spent time with God, recognising, hearing and responding to God’s word. If we do not spend time with God, how will be recognise His word? If we recognise His word but do not respond, what use is His word? Jeremiah spent time in the presence of God. He was familiar with the heart of God, the eternal, majestic and righteous aspects of His character, and lovingkindness towards all men. That is why Jeremiah recognised the voice of God, and could discern false prophecy. Jeremiah not only recognised the voice of God, he also listened to God’s full message, asked questions when he needed, trusted in the word of God and responded.
Knowledge of God’s Authority, Submission to His Will
Knowing the character of God, and hearing his word were just the beginning. Jeremiah was also obedient to the word of God. This took form in various ways:
- If God asked Jeremiah a question, he answered as much as he could. God did the rest. Jeremiah also spoke to God – there were aspects of praise, worship, doubt, faith, weakness and strength in his prayers to God, but one thing was constant – Jeremiah spent time in constant communion with God.
- At times, God would ask Jeremiah to do something, for example – “Go and get yourself a linen sash, and put it around your waist, but do not put it in water.” [Jeremiah 13:1] More instructions were given after this, but only after the previous instruction was obeyed. Jeremiah responded, and God gave further instruction. In contrast, the Lord gave instruction to the people of Israel many times, but they did not obey. In His mercy, He repeated His words, but gave no further revelation or direction as their hearts were closed to His way. The 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert was a result of their disobedience to God. Their entry to the promised land was delayed by their disobedience to the word of God. They did not trust His authority and did not submit to His will.
- Sometimes, God requires us to wait. There is a difference between service and presumption (More on this here: https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/service-or-presumption/) Taking the example of when God asked Jeremiah to find himself a sash, we see that Jeremiah obeyed the first instruction, then the second was given – to take the sash around his waist and hide it near the Euphrates. He did not have the full meaning of the message God was giving with the sash until many days later, when God again spoke, this time telling him to go get the sash which he had hidden. Jeremiah did not pre-emptively speak out a message, but waited for God’s direction. He respected God’s leadership and did not presume to know everything. Jeremiah waited for God to give His word. In this case, God’s final explanation for sash, now ruined from its time in hiding is this [Jeremiah 13:9-11]: “…In this manner I will ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts, and walk after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing. For as the sash clings to the waist of a man, so I have causes the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to cling to Me… that they may become My people, for renown, for praise, and for glory; but they would not hear.” This revelation of God’s heart is Jeremiah’s reward for waiting.
- God often gave Jeremiah a directive to speak – whether to a particular person, to Israel as a whole, or to people passing through a specific area. God had a plan in his knowledge of who needed to hear a particular word and when. He shared this with Jeremiah and Jeremiah then needed to respond by speaking. When God puts His word in us, we have a responsibility to speak it out. How do we speak, and how do we know the words of God? We have been given these words though the teaching of the Holy Spirit – “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things which spiritual.” [1 Corinthians 2:12-13]
- The preceding response to God’s word, and one which determines our effectiveness when we speak to others is seen in our lifestyle. It is no good speaking spiritual words, or doing charity when our lifestyle does not reflect a constant communion and fellowship with God. Jeremiah’s lifestyle was one of intimacy with and obedience to God. His words was validated by his lifestyle. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9-10 is something I desire in my own life – “…that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…”
In the Boldness of Jeremiah
In order to be bold for God in the midst of a world that despises Him, we need the following:
- Understanding of our purpose in God
- Knowledge of His word which gives us sustenance and joy
- A heart of obedience, that responds to His word
Jeremiah stood firm on God’s word despite the disobedience and persecution of the world around him. He made a decision to say yes to God, even when those around him turned away. He invested in relationship with God, though those around him choose to trust in other things. God upheld not only Jeremiah’s life, but gave him joy and rejoicing even in the darkest times. Jeremiah knew a purpose bigger than himself. He lived for the glory of God, and this glory was given to him also, as God’s presence in the life of Jeremiah was evidenced.