Lamenting to God:
Jeremiah Goes too Far
Jeremiah 15:1-21; 20:1-18
The people of Judah had become so entrenched in sin, there was no return. Not even Moses nor Samuel, who both had not only served as mediators between God and Israel, but had successfully negotiated with God to relent of his intent to destroy them, could deliver them from their doom (Exodus 32:11-14, 30-35; Numbers 14:13-25; 1 Samuel 12:19-25). Their sins were unpardonable. Their hearts were stone and their will belonged to their base desires, but these faithless men and women were Jeremiah’s people.
“Stop this talk about destruction and death!” was Jeremiah’s plea to God. His emotions would get the best of him. He would be crushed under the weight of despondency and push God too far. He would cross a line with his Maker.
For forty plus years Jeremiah would prophesy. Beginning about 625 BCE, his prophesies would come to fruition in 587/6 BCE. It would take about forty years before his predictions of destruction would come to pass. Forty years of being the subject of ridicule and jeers from his own people and friends. Years of promises of an end that would seem to take forever to transpire. An end that he did not even want to see manifest itself in the way he knew it would. How could God have him endure such derision for so long? “Peace” his opponents cried, and from the way things went, destruction was not in their future. Even after Babylon’s presence and assaults prior to their downfall, Jerusalem seemed to endure (see Introduction). Certainly all those narrow escapes proved that God would not let them fall. After all, they had the temple. Jeremiah’s message was ridiculous to those in Judah, to say the least, and treason. Jeremiah felt God had given him a message without fruition. He felt his words fell helpless as he spoke. Why had God deceived him into committing to such a tortuous ministry?!
God demanded that Jeremiah repent and do his job. He was called to serve God in these desperate times and preach a message of doom. Hope was for the distant future, but destruction was on the horizon. Jeremiah was chosen for his role as prophet and, as a prophet, his duty was to preach God’s message despite how his people would react and how he felt about God’s actions personally. Jeremiah’s duty was to do his job the way God intended for it to be accomplished.
Questions for Study and Discussion
1. What is the basic message in Jeremiah 15:1-9? Why would he mention Moses and Samuel in verse 1 (see the first paragraph in the introduction to this section above)? Why did God refuse to show compassion (Jeremiah 15:5-6)? What does this say about the nature of God? How did Jeremiah respond to this message in 15:1-9 (see 15:10)?
Moses was the prophet from whom all other prophets would proceed
(Deuteronomy 18:15). Jeremiah would follow this line of prophetic tradition. Prophets would not only be the harbingers of God’s messages but mediators, raising intercessory prayer on Israel’s behalf. Both Moses and Samuel were successful in achieving peace between God and the people. Judah, however, was so corrupt, not even these two great prophets could succeed in obtaining forgiveness and adverting destruction. God had enough. His compassion had run out (15:6) and he was tired of forestalling punishment. God refused to let his people abuse his gracious nature. He loved them, but demanded that he be loved by them. They failed in their covenant obligation, this they failed to love him. Jeremiah’s relentless prayers for forgiveness and hope were ignored. His response to God’s plan was despair and woe. He wished he had never been born. Note: The legal terms in verse 10 “strives and contends” indicate that Jeremiah saw himself embroiled in a legal/ covenantal conflict, bringing accusations against the defendant, Judah, on behalf of the plaintiff, Good. Jeremiah had never offended nor had he neglected his obligations to anyone, the intention of “I have neither lent, nor have men lent money to me”. There was no reason for anyone to hate and persecute him (“curse” in 10) but he became the object of scorn and ridicule among his own countrymen. His ministry was tearing him up inside and his life was filled with anguish.
2. What were the circumstances in 20:1-6? What complaint did Jeremiah make in response to his beating in 20:14-18?
The chief official of the temple, Pashhur, had overheard Jeremiah sermon in the court of the temple (19:14-15). His duty was to maintain order in the temple and Jeremiah was a troublemaker. Jeremiah stood in the Benjamin gate, probably a gate located in the northern portion of the walls surrounding the temple. Pashhur had Jeremiah beaten (the Greek versions indicated that Pashhur himself “struck him (Jeremiah”) and placed him in the stockade (or a small confined prison cell). Jeremiah’s response to this offense came in the form of a prophesy. God would change Pashhur’s name to Magor-missabib (3), meaning “a terror all about”. His actions would lead to both his and his family and friends ruin. Terror would be all about them. They would be taken into exile to Babylon and die there. Apparently, Pashhur was a prophet as well as a chief officer (6). He however was a false prophet, his message was in opposition to God’s true purpose. This is just one example of the resistance Jeremiah met during his ministry. This resistance would weigh heavy on Jeremiah. His loyalty to his people would be challenged by his loyalty to God. Jeremiah would curse the day he was born, wishing he had never been given life. He walked a fine line with his request. Cursing God or one’s parents warranted the death penalty (Leviticus 20:9; 24:10-16). Here, he does not curse God or his parents, but he cursed the man who told his father a son was born and the day in which he was born. He desired that anyone bearing the news of his arrival to his father would become like the cities, probably Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed by fire from God, and never have a moment of peace (16). In verse 17, the intense anguish he was suffering led him to wish he was aborted in the womb by the man announcing his birth. Had that happened, God’s plans for him would have been thwarted and his calling avoided.
3. Compare Jeremiah 15:10; 20:14-18 to 1:5. In what way was this a rejection of Jeremiah’s calling? What do we learn about Jeremiah here? How do you feel about what Jeremiah is saying?
God had prepared Jeremiah for this ministry both before he was conceived and while he was in the womb (1:5). In 15:10 and 20:14-18, this time of preparation was regarded as offensive to Jeremiah. If it were up to him, he would have had God erase him from existence. He would chosen not to be chosen.
Jeremiah was no different than any other human being. His devotion to God and his concern for his people tore him apart. He struggled to keep his ministry focused, but his personal ties with the people of Judah would drag him down into a state of depression and despondency. Fading into nothingness was preferable to preaching death and destruction to his own people. This book gives us a unique insight into the struggle of the prophets. It exposes the raw emotion of Jeremiah’s wrestling with his desire to do God’s will verses his desires to be accepted by his own people and save them from the impending destruction. It reveals to us the frailty of these faithful men in their work to preach a message they could not and, for many, would never be able to understand. The battle for Jeremiah was not just against the corruption of his day, but the internal conflict raging in his own heart that could easily turn him from his calling. He loathed his responsibilities, he despised his message, but he loved God. That love would win in the end, but not without an ulcer-producing, distressing clash of conflicting commitments.
There will come a time in nearly every believer’s life that he or she must decide to follow popular beliefs that oppose the truth of God’s revelation, especially when it is our own loved ones/ friends who stand in opposition to God. This rejection of the world’s beliefs could easily lead to insults and/ or a loss of relationship(s).
4. God stated he would deliver Jeremiah from his state of depression and from the hands of his enemies for a “good purpose” (Jeremiah 15:11). What is this purpose? In what way was this good?
I must admit that this verse is very difficult to interpret. The main issue is in the translation. No one really agrees what the original text was. The NIV’s interpretation remains as one of the most feasible translations. The other possible translation is: “I swear that I have served you well”. This oath would be God’s defense of his own actions. He had intervened over and over again on behalf of Jeremiah against his enemies. He had driven his enemies to despair on Jeremiah’s behalf, so that they were forced to depend on him. Accepting the NIV, the interpretation differs: “I will deliver you for a good purpose”. God would intervene on Jeremiah’s behalf against his enemies so that he could continue to preach judgment! That would be the “good” here, proclaiming the message of God, blessings or curses. It would still be deemed “good” because it was God’s word. Messages of judgment were “good” because they were God’s words.
5. In both cases, what did Jeremiah ask God to do on his behalf (Jeremiah 15:15; 20:11-13)? How had his own people responded to him (Jeremiah 15:17; 20:7-10)? Why would Jeremiah be mocked about his message? In what ways might Christians be mocked for similar reasons (2 Peter 3:1-13)?
Jeremiah wanted vengeance (15:15; 20:12). This meant he wanted God to intervene and put an end to the evildoers plaguing his life. Jeremiah wanted vengeance immediately (15:15). He did not want God to be patient with his opponents, but to act quickly before they killed him. He wanted justice in his own lifetime because he wanted to see it. He needed proof of God’s concern for him. He wanted his “ruthless warrior” (20:11) to rain down retribution on those who opposed him. Jeremiah knew that those who opposed him opposed God. His call for vengeance was not rooted in sinful hate, but a desire to root out the evil that plagued the people of Judah and openly opposed the will of God. Jeremiah wanted them disgraced and humiliated. He wanted them to fail in their work (20:11).
The major point of contention was not just that Jeremiah preached the destruction of Judah, but that it seemed like nothing was happening to prove Jeremiah’s prophesy would ever come to fruition. In 20:10, his opponents called him “Magor-missabib”, or “terror all around”. Later, this name would be used by his opponents to describe Jeremiah (20:10). They were constantly looking to undermine the integrity of his message. They mocked and laughed at him and ostracized him (15:17; 20:7-8), not believing that anything would or could happen to them. They had the temple and it was still standing. Jerusalem was still standing. None of Jeremiah’s predictions had come true. So why believe him?
In 2 Peter 3:1-13, Peter warns his readers of a similar problem. The coming of the Lord would not be immediate, but still a reality. The Lord would come when he deemed the time right. In the meantime, his followers would be mocked for their message. Unbelievers would ridicule them for their persistence in promising a day that never seemed to come. Many Christians had fallen asleep (died: v. 4) and the Lord still had not yet come. They argued that since creation, the world has been the same, running stable and unchanged. Nature would keep the world on its current path. To Peter, nature was not enough to sustain the world. Much like the view today that the world is subject only to science and natural order, the opponents of Peter believed in a closed system. Its course was fixed. To Peter, the world was God’s. His intervention was essential to the created order, keeping the moral order in check as well as the natural order. These two were inseparable in the eyes of the prophets as well. Even time was subject to God’s sovereignty. The world may scoff at God’s delay in his promises, but God does what needs to do when he needs to do it (see Galatians 4:4; 2 Peter 3:8-9, a quotation of Psalms 90:4). The course of history and the movement of time were governed by God. The end will come when God determines the time is right. In the meantime, God’s desire that all men be saved manifest itself by the work of the Spirit within the believer in preaching the message of the kingdom. If we preach repentance and live godly and holy lives, we may even “hasten” the Lord’s return (2 Peter 3:12).
We do not live within a world that readily accepts the reality of his coming. The reality is, we live in a society that mocks that message, rejecting the notion of Jesus Christ as the one who rose from the dead and will one day will return to not only save his own, but condemn those who have opposed him.
6. In light of the previous questions, how did Jeremiah believe God had deceived him (Jeremiah 15:18; 20:7-8)? In the end, why did Jeremiah continue to preach despite his intense desire not to continue his ministry of judgment (Jeremiah 15:16; 20:9)?
Scoffers and persecutors were relentlessly pursuing Jeremiah. His own friends (20:10, literally “every person of my peace” or everyone who seeks peace with me) were his worst enemies. They had rejected his friendship because of his strong condemnation of their way of life. The wanted him to fail. This rejection was too much. And worse, his talk of destruction and violence were still just words (20:8). The temple, the city, and the people were still standing. Why would anyone believe him when nothing he had predicted had come true. Has God “deceived” him, like finding a dry stream when seeking water (15:18). The stream promised water, but delivered nothing. Is this how the promise of God worked? The word in 20:7 translated as “deceive” verges on blasphemy. It is used in Exodus 22:16 to describe the seduction of a virgin. In Judges 16:5, it describes Delilah’ “enticement” of Samson. Jeremiah saw himself as one seduced by God to fulfill his calling. How could he go on?
In the end, he found his conviction to God overpowering his commitment to his friends, family, and people. In 20:9, he said he tried to hold it in, refusing to preach. The longer he did, the desire to do God’s will consumed him. The Spirit within him drove him to his true purpose in life: condemning his people in the name of the Lord. Like a fire it consumed him, eating him up inside until he proclaimed the message. It was “shut up in his bones”. He had eaten God’s words (15:16), internalized them, and made them such a part of his life that any refusal to proclaim them to his fellow countrymen resulted in suffering. To preach would end in suffering, but not to preach would end in the worse kind of suffering: the guilt from failing to heed God’s calling. What a miserable life. Yet, what a fulfilling one. Jeremiah’s hope for a peaceful and stress free life would not be found in this life.
7. How did God respond to Jeremiah’s complaint (Jeremiah 15:19-21)? Is it possible to go too far in one’s complaint to God? Why or why not?
God called for Jeremiah to “return”, or in the NIV “repent”. If Jeremiah returns from his current course of bemoaning his condition and accusing God of misleading and seducing him and refocuses his efforts on proclaiming the word of God to the people, God would make him like an impregnable fortress. None of his enemies would overcome him. However, Jeremiah would not be spared beatings, imprisonment, and even being kidnapped and forced to leave his homeland. He would suffer, but God would not let his servant fall at the hands of his enemies. He would survive and preach the message of God. The piling on of words in verses 20-21 are vital. “Save you”, “deliver you” (twice), and “redeem you” all point to God’s gracious hand protecting Jeremiah from harm. He would be “my spokesman” God said(19), if he turned from his current course. We must be careful and choose our words when speaking to God carefully even in times of turmoil and distress. God is gracious, but he will not be insulted without consequences.
8. How should we see Jeremiah in this dialogue? What do these stories say to us about our own ministries and our view of God’s will? What do they say to us about our role in the kingdom of God?
Emphasize the human element of these passages. Focus on the weight of responsibility placed on Jeremiah’s shoulders and his conflict with his commitments. Remind everyone that when we ask God to use us in his kingdom, there may be some of us called to this kind of ministry. Are we willing to risk all and ask God to take us where he needs us? Who among us would be willing to take on this kind of service? Be careful when you choose to become God’s servant. His grace is free, but the work in his kingdom demands everything we are. It is costly.
Church of Christ
5120 Franklin Road
Nashville, Tennessee 37220
Phone: (615) 832-2541
Fax: (615) 832-2583