One of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, Jeremiah was called by God to warn His people of impending judgment upon their land. Because Judah had forsaken God for heathen idols and corrupted themselves by dealing falsely and oppressing the poor, she would fall into the hands of the northern kingdom of Babylon (Jer. 1: 13-15; 4: 6; 6: 22). The woes Jeremiah had to pronounce upon his own people caused him great pain and sorrow because of his love for them.
Called early into office, Jeremiah’s warnings and pleas to Judah to turn back to God fell on deaf ears. Totally rejecting his messages, his enemies opposed the prophet and accused him of treachery and desertion. Sadly, Jeremiah lived to see the siege of Jerusalem (586 BC) and his people taken into captivity – exactly as he had prophesied.
o The despondent prophet
Because of the hostility he faced and the imminent judgment upon his people, the tender-hearted prophet was full of inner conflicts. His many lamentations reflected his deep despair: “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (9: 1 ff; cf. 15: 10; 17: 15-17).
So dejected was Jeremiah that he even cursed the day of his birth (20: 14-18), and accused God of having “deceived” him: “O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. 8 For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily” (20: 7-8). The prophet felt that God’s promises – when He first called him to the prophetic office (1: 6-10) – were as “a deceitful bait to lure him into an office which he never desired” (The New Bible Commentary Revised).
Commenting on the above passage, Albert Barnes explains: “What Jeremiah refers to is the joy with which he had accepted the prophetic office (15: 16), occasioned perhaps by taking the promises in Jeremiah 1: 18 too literally as a pledge that he would succeed … God had taken Jeremiah in so firm a grasp that he could not escape from the necessity of prophesying. He would have resisted, but the hand of God prevailed” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
Throughout his long and turbulent prophetic career, Jeremiah had to confront an idolatrous and morally corrupt people who had rejected God. His many calls to repentance and warnings of God’s impending judgment were ignored. As a result of the nation’s continued disobedience, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, and the people taken into Babylonian captivity.
No other prophet had suffered the way Jeremiah did. For proclaiming God’s truths, the prophet faced opposition from every quarter – the kings he served, his own townsfolk and even his own family. On many occasions, the persecuted prophet became dejected, and complained bitterly when alone with God.
Despite his struggles to do God’s will, Jeremiah persevered in his prophetic office. The threats of his enemies could not silence him. For more than forty years, the prophet preached boldly against the sins of the people and warned them of their impending fall to Babylon.
“Judged by his own estimate of himself, he was feeble, and his mission a failure; really, in the hour of action and when duty called him, he was in very truth ‘a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land’ – Jer. 1: 18” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary).
We thank God for the many precious lessons drawn from the life of God’s faithful and devoted servant. Though entrusted to a seemingly futile ministry, Jeremiah never wavered, nor shirked his prophetic duties. His single-minded determination, despite overwhelming odds, is a precious lesson for all of God’s people.
As we serve the Lord, we may similarly face opposition and ridicule. Like Jeremiah, let us not be deterred. Seek to have Jeremiah’s undaunted and persevering spirit. Like him, let us be true to our calling and give of our best to our Master. May the Lord grant us grace and strength to serve Him faithfully. Amen.