Holy Fools: Jeremiah

Holy Fools: Jeremiah

Holy Fools: Jeremiah.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” (Flannery O’Connor).

If the biblical world was a classroom, then God’s prophets were the visual aids.  As God’s mouthpieces, they were often called upon to be symbols of His messages. Since they were instructed to be dramatic illustrations of the word of the Lord, the people not only heard the word, they saw the word. So the prophets were often asked to make spectacles of themselves.  Sometimes they went from mouthpieces to megaphones, depending on the message. Thus they were often held up to ridicule and mockery and rejection. Because prophets were obedient to a fairly unpredictable God, they were soon enough dismissed as cranks and eccentrics and not taken very seriously. Prophets were often instructed to be living object lessons, so they had to learn how to swallow their pride and embrace public humiliation. Sure enough, prophets often did things that should be glossed over in Sunday School, if not totally ignored. At times we have to wince when we read of a prophet’s antics, and we want to file it under “Do not try this at home.” We can often take a light-hearted approach to their street theater. In such cases we can take to heart G. K. Chesterton’s words, “He who has the Faith has the fun!” But other times their performance art is not mere comic relief. It is difficult and serious, and definitely not fun. All this translates into God’s biblical prophets being spiritual live wires, engaging personalities, and real characters. The prophets may have struggled at times agreeing to God’s instructions. But in the end they settled into being fools for God.

Jeremiah. He began his holy foolishness as a young man in Jerusalem, and he continued there for 40 years. He was routinely rejected by everyone in his prophetic ministry: Friends, family, neighbors, religious leaders, and even the kings who he served under in the palace. The only king who welcomed Jeremiah was Josiah, a staunch reformer. Otherwise, Jeremiah was rebuffed or ignored through the three remaining kings of Judah during his ministry. Nobody listened to Jeremiah as he preached about God’s judgment, the need for repentance, the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was treated accordingly, having had to endure whippings, being put in stocks, thrown into prison, lowered deep into a dry well. While in the well he was miserable, and he was finally rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch who pulled Jeremiah out of the well with ropes. He was also taken captive and forcibly removed to Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem. It’s difficult to take a light-hearted approach to Jeremiah’s ministry. He wasn’t called the “weeping prophet” for nothing. Read his mournful Lamentations if you’re not convinced. Even with all that, there were times his street theater had a light side. Notice the first object lesson below, and you can see a spark of comedy in the midst of all that tragedy.

  1. God instructed Jeremiah to buy a piece of linen underwear, called a loincloth. This was a very personal piece of clothing, and the request must have seemed out of place to Jeremiah. A loincloth was what you would now call intimate wear. This is like God asking you to go to the store and buy a pair of linen boxers. But God’s instructions didn’t end there. God told Jeremiah to put on the biblical underpants and wear them for a significant period of time, but never wash them. The Lord is making Jeremiah walk around in public, wearing dirty, smelly underwear. Then, God tells Jeremiah, after the specified amount of time, take off the loincloth and bury them behind some rocks near the Euphrates River. After a long time, Jeremiah was asked to uncover that rotten filthy piece of underwear and show the Israelites. Hold them up to the people for close inspection and show them how the underwear was good for nothing, just like them. They have outlived their usefulness. The Israelites saw all of this theater, but unfortunately missed the whole point. (chapter 13).
  2. God told Jeremiah to buy a clay jar on his heavenly expense account, gather a big crowd of Israelites, and take them all to the local garbage dump outside of town. When everybody’s looking, the Lord said, smash the clay jar to smithereens, and warn the people that that is what the Lord is going to do to them. The people wondered, probably, why Jeremiah had to smash a perfectly good clay jar. (chapter 19).
  3. The Lord tells Jeremiah to make a heavy wooden oxen yoke, the kind the oxen would wear when plowing a field or pulling a wagon. Attach leather straps to the yoke, God said, and wear this uncomfortable yoke, fastening it to his neck. Jeremiah had to wear this cumbersome yoke for a few months while he spoke the word of the Lord. A disgusted false prophet nearby finally yanked the yoke off of Jeremiah’s neck and smashed it beyond repair. I guess the prophet didn’t like the message of bondage and captivity that the yoke illustrated. (chapter 27).
  4. When Jeremiah was exiled in Egypt, God asked him to take some large rocks and bury them under the foundation mortar of the Pharaoh’s palace. The Lord made it clear this was to be done in full public view. This was done without the Pharaoh’s permission of course, and the people were by now wondering what strange thing Jeremiah was going to do next. This was an object lesson that Pharaoh wouldn’t have liked… Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon would soon attack Egypt and place his throne on these very rocks buried by Jeremiah. This was a prophetic warning against Egypt, not Israel, which means Jeremiah was an equal opportunity prophet. (chapter 43).
  5. God told Jeremiah to write down every warning of judgment against Babylon that the Lord had told him through the years. Every word. Take a long scroll, Jeremiah, and write it down on both sides if you have to, but go to the trouble of recording everything spoken against Babylon. Then, I want you to give this scroll to a spokesman who is going to Babylon. This person is going to walk the streets of Babylon yelling very loudly everything on that scroll. Make sure everyone has heard these denouncements, God is saying. Then when he is done shouting God’s judgment on Babylon, have this man take the scroll, tie it to a big stone, and throw it into the Euphrates River. Make sure it sinks out of sight in public view. The Babylonians won’t like this, Jeremiah, but that was God’s way of saying that Babylon is going to sink without a ripple and never rise again. (chapter 51).

Jeremiah performed many symbolic actions like these mentioned. His prophetic theater were the signs of what God wanted to communicate. Believe it or not, Jeremiah did everything exactly the way the Lord had instructed. In many ways, since no one would listen to him, Jeremiah could be considered a dismal failure. The unfortunate tradition is that while he was stuck in Egypt, the people finally had enough of his object lessons, and they stoned him to death in that foreign land. But because of his obedience and his martyrdom, I’m sure God considered Jeremiah a rousing success.

If anybody had the right to sing the blues, it was Jeremiah. I can see him sitting in the dirt after the fall of Jerusalem, and singing this classic blues song on his fiddle or guitar.

The David Bromberg Quintet – Why Do People Act Like That (eTown webisode #1123) – YouTube