The Book of Jeremiah is certainly an interesting book. There is so much happening in it. As I said earlier the prophet Jeremiah is a prophet with a personality. Jeremiah has been handed the task of delivering God's message. But, Jeremiah has a question or two for God along the way.
"You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jeremiah 12:1) Jeremiah has a private moment with God. His question is simple and one that many perhaps still ask today. Why do bad people seemingly get by with what they are doing? Well, God answers Jeremiah and assures him that the day will come when God will "uproot them from their lands." (Jer.12:14) But, what Jeremiah may not have been ready to hear is that "after I (God) uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to his own inheritance and his own country." (Jer.12:15) Yes, God is a righteous judge, but God being righteous means that even though God acts sternly at times, God is also merciful. Sometimes we don't deal that well with God's mercy. We want the bad people to pay. Now, don't get me wrong, I truly believe in justice. But, if God destroys as readily as we at times expect God to, then what is God at risk of doing? Jonah, (we will look at later down the road) wanted Nineveh destroyed and became angry with God when God spared the city. God asked Jonah about his "fit" he was throwing and said ["Hey, do you not realize"] (my paraphrase) that "Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?" (Jonah 4:11) Yes, God's real desire is that the people will repent and turn to him.
Well, God still has a job for Jeremiah. Keep in mind he is unpopular from the beginning. Guess what? He doesn't gain popularity anytime soon. Have you ever heard the saying; "I would rather see a sermon anytime than hear one?" I'm not sure who said it, and I think it has been credited to a couple of early church fathers. But, a sermon lived is far better than a sermon preached any day. We call that "practicing what we preach." (That's not just for preachers) Well, Jeremiah becomes a living sermon.
"Then the word of the Lord came to me: 'You must not marry and have sons and or daughters in this place." (Jer.16:1) Jeremiah is forbidden to marry. He is told that he will not have any children. I want you to keep this in mind. Remember, he was anointed a prophet long before he was even born. Was he forbidden to marry because he was a prophet? I would argue that he was not forbidden to marry simply because he was a prophet. That is not God's reasoning here. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament speaks on the subject of marriage. While Paul was not believed to have been married (at least not at the time of his ministry) he was not opposed to marriage. (Contrary to popular belief. And I will attempt to prove that when we get to his letters) No, Jeremiah was forbidden to marry and have children because he was sending a message to the people by way of his life. In other words, his life will become a symbolic act. By his own life of celibacy and childlessness Jeremiah's life underscores the coming death and destruction that will face the parents and their children. Jeremiah is not even allowed to mourn, signifying that burial will be denied the dead.
Now, if you believe that is bad, well it never gets any easier for Jeremiah. Keep in mind that this book deals with the period around the exile. The Judeans have been exiled to Babylon. (not all of them, but a great number) Now, with that in mind, Jeremiah is not the only prophet at work in Jerusalem giving council. There are others at work, but not necessarily doing God's work. But, that doesn't stop them from speaking "in God's name."
"Do not listen to the words of the prophets who say to you, 'You will not serve the king of Babylon,' for they are prophesying lies to you. 'I have not sent them,' declares the Lord. They are prophesying lies in my name..." (Jer. 27:14) What was the message of these prophets? Well, apparently there was a revolt within the Babylonian army in 594 BCE. With this revolt came optimism that subjection to Babylon may be coming to an end. These prophets were telling the people that their oppression was about over. Well, God sends Jeremiah to discourage such optimism. How does Jeremiah deliver the message? Jeremiah acts out his sermon. He takes an ox harness (yoke) and puts it on his shoulders to represent oppression and submission to Babylon. By doing this he is saying that the yoke of Babylon would endure for a long time to come. Then in Chapter 28 the prophet Hananiah (false prophet) took the yoke, broke in in two, and proclaimed that within two years the yoke of Babylon would be broken and the people would return home. But, Jeremiah said otherwise. What did Jeremiah do next? He wrote a letter to the exiles. (He was in Jerusalem) telling them to believe and expect the worst. (Wow! What an optimistic prophet!) He told them to not expect a speedy return home, but instead they should build themselves permanent homes in Babylon, raise families there and get on with their lives. (chapter 29)
"This is what the Lord says: 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place." (Jer. 29:10) Jeremiah was not all doom and gloom. He preached and believed that Yahweh would eventually restore the people in their own land. But, a generation would pass away first. The seventy years is the typical lifespan of an Israelite. (See Psalm 90:10)
Tomorrow, we will continue looking at the prophet Jeremiah. We will look more at the prophet himself. I hope you are having and will have a great Wednesday. -Pastor Rick