Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have not loaned, nor have men loaned to me; yet every one curses me. – Jer 15:10
The time has come for me to wrestle with a passage that to a large extent defined my life for far too many a year. Though I’m still in process, I’ve seen major victory over it now and would like to shed some light on it. And in doing so I want to nail this thing down for good, and grab the final victory over it.
Jeremiah was called as a youth to be a prophet of the Lord. His path was not to be easy. Israel was in severe decline, and had indeed stepped so far away from the Lord that it became Jeremiah’s task to proclaim God’s judgment on her: she was to be conquered and taken away by the fierce Babylonians. As you can imagine, this was an unpopular task. While there were plenty of false prophets about, telling the people they could live ungodly lives and still enjoy God’s favor, and making Jeremiah’s life quite unbearable, the job-application line for faithful prophets, who would proclaim the true message of God, wasn’t long at all.
That’s quite a burden to place on a young man. Jeremiah seems to have had no collegial, idyllic “school of the prophets” experience, or any honeymoon period. He just got right into it, and soon began mixing it up with the false prophets whose prestige and perqs he threatened. Jeremiah must have been cut from some very extraordinary spiritual stock for the Lord to entrust this heavy burden to him. He has always been an inspiration to me.
But somewhere down the line it all got to be a little too much for Jeremiah. He is known as the “weeping prophet” because of his lamentations over the destruction of his people. And considering the brutal blood persecution the Israelites were about to suffer, and the life-threatening opposition Jeremiah was already suffering from his own people, who can blame him for bouts of depression and despondency?
But the cares of the world, if unchecked, will grow around us like weeds around the Word in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. Jeremiah made the mistake of getting wrapped up in his own emotions, losing the perspective of God’s calling on his life. So here Jeremiah is feeling sorry for himself and regretting his own birth. Let’s look at the rest of his complaint to the Lord.
O LORD, You know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on those who seek to hurt me. Do not take me away in Your long-suffering; know that for Your sake I have suffered rebuke.
Your words were found, and I ate them; and Your Word was to me the joy and gladness of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Jehovah, God of hosts.
I did not sit in the circle of mockers, nor rejoice; I sat alone because of Your hand; for You have filled me with indignation.
Why has my pain been without end, and why is my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You surely are to me like a deceitful brook, waters that cannot be trusted. – Jer 15:15-18
Jeremiah appeals to the Lord for vindication – no, even stronger, he wants vengeance on his enemies. This can be dangerous ground. As Christians, we can pray for God’s strong hand to come on people we know are doing wrong, to bring them whatever they need, including chastisement, to bring them to repentance.
For the grief according to God works repentance to salvation, not to be regretted, but the grief of the world works out death. – 2Cor 7:10
It’s only godly sorrow we are allowed to pray for. We need to be careful about slipping into self-righteous condemnation of others, because that’s exactly what we tend to do when we become preoccupied with ourselves.
Now Jeremiah turns his attention – and accusations – to the Lord himself. Jeremiah has lived a separated life. He was faithful to his call. It hasn’t been easy. He’s seen no fruit – no one’s changed, all still oppose him. What’s the sense in continuing? All this pain and sorrow, and nothing to show for it!
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