Low Moments: Jeremiah

Low Moments: Jeremiah

Low Moments: Jeremiah.

The Hebrew Bible is the most realistic book ever written. Christians might call it the Old Testament, but the stories contained within it are anything but old in the sense of outdated, hobbled by age or past their prime. These old stories remain relevant because of their inclination to show everything there was to see about its characters. The Jewish Scriptures are totally transparent, revealing the people at their high points, low points, and everything in between. Its writers had nothing to hide, evidently, and was all about real life in all its glory and all its failures. There were five biblical heroes who were revealed as all too human, all of them at low points during their life with God. These five all asked to die, they requested that the Lord take their lives. But God refused to take the lives of Moses, Elijah, Job, Jeremiah and Jonah. God had more for them to do, and anyway it was unthinkable. Of course God wouldn’t take their lives when they were at such low moments. Anyone who has ever reached their limit, who has had enough, can learn from these five real life episodes of faithful people at their lowest.

“I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth. Oh, that I had died in my mother’s womb, that her body had been my grave! Why was I ever born? My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow and shame.” (Jeremiah 20:14, 17, 18).

Spiritually speaking, Jeremiah was an astounding success story. He remained faithful to God’s calling during his entire forty years as prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah. Humanly speaking, though, Jeremiah was a dismal failure. Despite his consistent prophetic efforts as God’s spokesman, the nation refused to listen throughout his ministry. The people stubbornly refused to turn from their sins of idolatry and immorality. The people ignored his words all forty years, and the consequences were dire. He prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed because of their sinfulness, and his prophecies came true. Tragically, Jeremiah was witness to the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, and the people exiled into enemy territory. But all was not lost. Jeremiah also predicted that after the destruction and captivity, God would send a Messiah with a new covenant and an eternal hope. Despite his frequent gloom and doom, Jeremiah’s faithfulness and hopefulness makes him the ultimate success story.

“The Lord gave me this message: ‘I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.’ ‘O Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!’ The Lord replied, ‘Don’t say, I’m too young, for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!’ Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth!’” (Jeremiah 1:4-9).

When Jeremiah was still a young lad, he received a very specific calling on his life. God had his hand on Jeremiah’s life before he was even conceived. Evidently there was only one man for the job, and that man was Jeremiah. He was afraid of the assigned mission because of his youth and inexperience. But God didn’t give up, and finally convinced Jeremiah he was the chosen “prophet to the nations.” His initial reluctance reminds one of Moses at the burning bush. There were excuses put forth about his inadequacy, but the Lord prevailed in His divine appointment. God reached out and touched Jeremiah’s mouth, and put His words into Jeremiah’s mouth. Moses had Aaron to help him communicate, but Jeremiah was all alone. But God was enough. Jeremiah depended on the Lord’s sufficiency during his decades of lonely ministry to stubborn people. His fearfulness quickly turned into the fearlessness that only comes in faithful trust in God.

But Jeremiah did have his moments of despair and shame. In chapter 20 we see him arrested by a high official in the Temple because of his prophecies, and Jeremiah was whipped and then put in shackles. He was placed in prison overnight, and it was during that time in prison that Jeremiah had his moments of doubt and sorrow, and he felt like giving up. Jeremiah had a death wish at this point and wished he’d never been born. While he was in stocks in full public view, the people humiliated him, ridiculed him, and continually made a mockery of his prophetic work for the Lord.

At his lowest point here, he even accused God of being the source of all his troubles. He said that God had enticed him into the ministry, He had seduced him and was overpowered into this mission to Judah. He denounced God for having fooled him into being a mouthpiece for God in this rebellious and belligerent nation. He felt duped by God and that God was responsible for all his misfortunes. He was in the throes of despair at this point. The NJB said that this moment was “the climax of his spiritual suffering.” Let’s hope so.

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 pictures 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.