God had called Jeremiah to preach a grim message of doom and destruction to His morally corrupt people. Not only had Judah forsaken God for the idols of the heathens, they had also oppressed “the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow” (Jer. 7: 6) and dealt falsely (6: 13).
Another sin condemned by the prophet was the Jews’ exploitation of the poor: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work” (22: 13). Their kings, princes, priests and prophets had led the way in sinning against God and departing from Him.
Jeremiah saw Babylon as an instrument of judgment in the hands of God. In the face of imminent catastrophe, the prophet pleaded for the people to turn back to God: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings” (4: 4). However, his call to repentance and warnings of the coming Babylonian captivity fell on deaf ears – the people continued in their rebellion and sin (5: 20-31).
o The persecuted prophet
Inevitably, Jeremiah’s messages of divine judgment met with resistance from every quarter, including:
The priests and false prophets
Obeying God, the prophet had faithfully called for Judah to repent. If they continued in their disobedience, God would destroy the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem “shall be desolate without an inhabitant” (26: 4-6, 9). The prophet’s harsh message offended the priests and false prophets who sought his life: “Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears” (26: 11).
His townsfolk and family
Jeremiah was branded a traitor by his own townsfolk who threatened to kill him if he persisted in reproving them: “Therefore thus saith the LORD of the men of Anathoth, that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the LORD, that thou die not by our hand” (11: 21). Even his own family conspired against him (12: 6).
Kings and princes
The prophet also faced opposition from the kings he served, one of whom was Jehoiakim. The king’s father, Josiah, was a godly reformer, but Jehoiakim was a wicked and unjust king (22: 13-17 cf. II Ki. 23: 37). When Jeremiah’s message of condemnation and doom was read to Jehoiakim, the latter was so angry that he “cut it (the prophetic roll) with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth” (36: 23). The king even wanted “to take Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet: but the LORD hid them” (36: 26).
Under Zedekiah’s reign, the prophet’s suffering reached its climax especially during the long Babylonian siege. With the approach of the Egyptian army which was coming to relieve Judah, the Babylonians withdrew from the city temporarily. But Jeremiah predicted their return: “And the Chaldeans shall come again, and fight against this city, and take it, and burn it with fire. 9 Thus saith the LORD; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us: for they shall not depart” (37: 8-9).
During the lull, the prophet left Jerusalem for his hometown, but was arrested at the city gate. He was falsely charged for desertion, and imprisoned (37: 12-15). As the siege continued, the princes had the prophet thrown into a slimy cistern (38: 6). But the Lord delivered His servant through Ebedmelech, a royal eunuch who took compassion on him and transferred him to the court of the prison (38: 13).
Despite the persecutions he faced, Jeremiah prayed for his people until God forbade him to do so: “Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee” (7: 16 cf. 11: 14; 14: 11).
Known as “the weeping prophet”, Jeremiah had to proclaim God’s hard message of judgment upon Judah. It was a task he performed with much pain and sorrow because of his love for the people. Although the prophet delivered God’s truths faithfully, his hearers not only rejected his messages of warning and doom, but also persecuted him. He had to endure the opposition of even his own countrymen and family.
Opposition to God’s truths is nothing new. Our Lord Jesus Christ had told His disciples to expect persecution when they preached the Gospel: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (Jn. 15: 18-20).
Today, the heart of man is no different. We live in a wicked and perverse generation that despises God’s truth and light. The Bible warns us that “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Tim. 3: 13). As such, Christians who obey God’s Word and proclaim His truths must expect opposition from a world that hates Christ and His Gospel: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3: 12). Can this be the reason why many Christians are afraid to share the Gospel or be involved in the work of evangelism?
The fear of ridicule and rejection is very real. But the Lord has commanded us: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt. 28: 19-20). The Lord has promised us His presence and power. Like the prophet Jeremiah, let us not fear the faces of men. May we resolve to obey the Great Commission, and warn others to flee from the wrath to come by believing in our Lord Jesus Christ Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn. 14: 6).
(… to be concluded)