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BIBLE CHARACTER: Jeremiah

Known as “The Weeping Prophet” – but he was more than just that!

 

If you were asked to summarize the prophet Jeremiah in just a few words, you might possibly refer to him as “the weeping prophet”. Tears are the one thing that many people associate with Jeremiah – but there is a lot more.

 

It is not surprising, of course, that Jeremiah knew sadness because he was living at a very difficult time. The ten tribes forming the nation of Israel had already gone into captivity in Assyria on account of their gross idolatry. The smaller kingdom of Judah had not experienced this fate, but sadly the people had not learned from what had happened to Israel and were doing the very same thing. Actually, what was being done in Judah was worse because the people were being hypocritical at the same time – and hypocrisy is something that God cannot stand (Jer.3:6-11). False prophets were active, proclaiming messages of peace when there was no peace (6:14). Unless there was genuine repentance, Judah would face captivity too. The Lord was grieved for His people. “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of  living waters,” He declared, “and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (2:13).

 

All of this is something familiar to us today. Britain has forsaken the Lord and has turned to other religions and forms of spirituality, and to materialism, in an attempt to find satisfaction. Into this situation in Judah some 2,500 years ago God sent a man. His name was Jeremiah, meaning “Jehovah made him great” or “Jah is exalted” perhaps. Both interpretations are true in the sense that it was the Lord who made him a “great” prophet – and Jeremiah certainly does exalt the Lord in his book.

 

Michael Griffiths, one-time Director of OMF, said: “The Christian… is never to be merely a stuffed specimen in a glass case; he is to be a working model.” Jeremiah is not “a stuffed specimen” – interesting, but out of touch and not of very much use to us today. Although he lived many centuries ago, Jeremiah was very much like us, and the world of his day was not altogether unlike our own.

 

HIS COMMISSION FROM GOD

“I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer.1:5).

Jeremiah was qualified by birth to be a priest because his father was one. He lived in the territory of Benjamin during the reign of each of Judah’s last five kings. Under Josiah’s leadership there had been a brief revival when a copy of the Law was found, but it was short-lived and the spiritual temperature soon began to drop. In the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah (1:1-2). Yet, although Jeremiah’s commission came in that year at a specific moment in time, it was actually rooted in eternity. Long before he was conceived God “knew” him and set him apart for the work he was to do (1:5). Similarly God has a plan and purpose for the lives of each of His children today. Although chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (as Ephesians 1:4 teaches) we are responsible to discover the work that the Lord wants us to do.

 

Jeremiah was to be a prophet to the nations. His ministry was to be one of condemnation, for God’s people had forsaken Him and had become idolatrous (1:16). Although God had sent His messengers to warn them, they had refused to listen (7:25-26) preferring the false prophets who professed to bring messages from God (29:8-9). Such voices can still be heard in the Church today – where preachers who proclaim messages that their listeners want to hear are afforded a welcome and find ready hearers.

 

Into this atmosphere of disregard for God’s Word Jeremiah arrived – commissioned to be a prophet of God. Not only was he to be a forth-teller of God’s truth, he was also to be a fore-teller in true prophetic ministry. Two initial visions were given to him (1:11-15) to prepare him for his life’s work. First, God showed him the branch of an almond tree indicating new life that was about to burst forth. Next, he was shown a boiling pot facing away from the north and tipping towards the south. It signified the judgment that would arrive when Babylon invaded Judah and dealt with the inhabitants of the land because of their sin. Jeremiah was the divinely-appointed messenger who would announce that coming judgment.

 

Faced with this commission, initially Jeremiah felt that it was entirely beyond his ability. “Ah, Lord GOD!” he exclaimed sadly, “I cannot speak: for I am a child” (1:6). Feeling inadequate is one thing; being unwilling is another. When God calls someone to serve Him He always equips that person for the tasks that lie ahead. In Jeremiah’s case the Lord gave him the words to speak by touching his mouth (1:9). Jeremiah was simply to be a mouthpiece – speaking the words that the Lord had commanded him to deliver (1:17).

 

In addition to this, he was assured of the Lord’s presence with him. The faces of his listeners might be off-putting (and preachers can still find this!) but the Lord was with His servant and would deliver him from danger (1:8). The divine presence would actually make Jeremiah strong, and his enemies would be unable to withstand him (1:18-19). Jeremiah needed that! He was being sent to a people who were not even going to listen to him (7:27).

 

What a discouraging task faced him – enough to dampen the most enthusiastic soul! But God had promised to be with him, whether he faced kings, princes, priests, or the common people of the land, and that was enough. As 2 Corinthians 3:5 states: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves… but our sufficiency is of God.” If the commission comes from Him, He will see us through.

 

 

HIS COMMUNION WITH GOD

“O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge…” (16:19).

Jeremiah expressed his utter dependence upon the Lord. “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (10:23). He knew that his own wisdom and resources would utterly fail.

 

Dr. Stephen Olford (a well-known preacher himself) has told of being in a prayer meeting with a famous evangelist immediately before a packed meeting. Being the last person to leave the prayer room, Dr. Olford shook the evangelist’s hand to encourage him – only to find that it felt as if he was gripping a cold, wet fish! The words “Please pray for me; I don’t think I am going to make it tonight,” expressed an utter sense of need from one who dared not stand alone before an audience of thousands. Many preachers have known a divine enabling that took them far beyond what they could have done in their own natural strength.

 

Another thing that Jeremiah knew he needed was discipline. “O LORD,” he prayed, “correct me, but with judgment; not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to nothing” (10:24). How frail he felt before the Almighty! He knew that he needed changing and confessed that he was like the clay in the Potter’s hand. He was also a humble man who identified himself with his people. He was not above them and superior. He knew his failings and readily admitted with his people, “We have sinned against Thee” (14:7). The sin was his as well as theirs. A relationship existed between them and their God. They were called by His name and needed His help. “Leave us not,” the prophet pleaded (14:9).

 

In his communion with the Lord, Jeremiah found great delight. “I am called by Thy name, O LORD God of hosts” (15:16) he exclaimed. Indeed it is a marvellous thing today to realize that if we are saved we have been brought into a living relationship with the Lord and have become His children through faith in Jesus Christ. This should never cease to amaze us and should cause praise to well from our hearts. Jeremiah loved the Lord’s “words” and fed upon them, finding them to be the joy and rejoicing of his heart (15:16).

 

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt.4:4). Still today we need to feed upon that Word daily. Vance Havner said, “One man with a glowing experience of God is worth a library full of arguments.” If we would be effective for God and find strength to continue in His service we need the constant and dynamic first-hand communion with Him that Jeremiah knew.    

 

 

HIS COMPASSION FOR HIS PEOPLE

“Call for the mourning women… that our eyes may run… with tears” (9:17-18)

We must not think that Jeremiah wept because he was sentimental. Rather, he was called by God to weep. He had compassion for his people as he thought of their future – and in this respect was like the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

During a time of shortage Oliver Cromwell sent his soldiers into a cathedral to look for treasures that could be melted down to use as money with which to pay his army. One of them returned and reported, “The only silver we can find is in the statues of the saints.” Cromwell replied, “Good; we will melt the saints and put them into circulation.” How the saints of God need melting today so that their treasures, talents, and time might circulate in blessing to others!

 

Jeremiah’s compassion was seen in a patient love for his people. Time was running out; they were not saved. He was pained beyond measure by their hurt.   There seemed no balm in Gilead, no doctor to effect a recovery for them. He could weep day and night for them (8:20-9:1). He knew only too well what would happen as the invading armies of Babylon arrived with the inevitable destruction and plunder that would follow (4:19-21). Yet there were times when Jeremiah longed to be away from it all. If only he could escape from the sinful people and find a place in the wilderness (9:2)! He knew contrasting emotions – one moment praising the Lord, the next despairing and regretting the day of his birth (20:13-14).

 

Why did he fluctuate in his moods like this? Surely it was because of the pressure that he was under. He felt that although he was guilty of no misconduct “every one” cursed him (15:10). In spite of the good that he had sought to do, the people he was trying to help were intent on digging a pit to trap him (18:20). But underneath all the fluctuations his compassion remained unquenched. He had a genuine love for his people.

 

However, it must be understood that Jeremiah’s love and compassion were not at the expense of truth. He had been told to speak to “all the cities of Judah” and not to diminish a word from the message (26:2). Nothing less than the unchanging truth of God must be preached by the man of God. He must not restrict the sphere of his service, nor must he tone-down the divine communication entrusted to him.

 

Bishop J.C. Ryle said, “We have the truth and we need not be afraid to say so.” Jeremiah would have agreed with that! He knew what it was to suffer for the truth. Being threatened with death (26:8,11) did not deter God’s faithful servant. Having penned his message he found that his book was torn apart page by page by the arrogant King Jehoiakim and thrown into the fire, yet it was patiently rewritten by Jeremiah and his loyal colleague Baruch. He was beaten, imprisoned in a dungeon, and incarcerated in a cistern with thick mud at the bottom into which he sank – and all of this for speaking the truth.

 

It was enough to make the man dispirited. If anyone had reason to give up then surely it was Jeremiah. He could vouch for the accuracy of 2 Timothy 3:12 where we read that those who will live godly lives shall suffer persecution. This man was constantly oppressed by a people who were out of touch with their God. He was even prepared to seal his testimony with his own blood if necessary as he placed himself in the hands of his persecutors (26:14). Yet Jeremiah did not give up and remained faithful to his calling – although he was so very human. He was motivated throughout by his love for the Lord and for the Lord’s people for whom he wept constantly. “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!” he exclaimed (9:1).

 

 

THE WEEPING PROPHET

A fine summary of Jeremiah’s life written by J.G.S.S. Thomson can be found in the I.V.P. Bible Dictionary.

 

Jeremiah was a man of marked contrasts. He was at once gentle and tenacious, affectionate and inflexible. In him the frailties of the flesh contended with the energies of the spirit… He insisted on repentance from a people who were incapable of contrition… Those whom he loved hated him. A loyal patriot, he was branded a traitor. This prophet of undying hope had to exhibit the fallacy of his people’s hope.

 

As far as Jeremiah was concerned, his commission from God required serious attention. In spite of all the afflictions he encountered along the way he persisted in his calling. He knew the blessedness of a communion with God which motivated him in his work. Amazingly he was ever moved with tender compassion for his unresponsive people.

 

Service for the Lord is never easy. The Apostle Paul stated, “The more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.” Yet he could also say, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Cor.12:15). We need the spirit of Jeremiah – being faithful to the Lord even if we are hated for it. Of one thing we can be sure: it will be worth it all one day when we meet the Lord.

 

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,

Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;

One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,

So bravely run the race till we see Christ.”

 Esther Kerr Rusthoi