"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path". Ps 119:105
MEN OF FAITH: Jeremiah
Jeremiah's work as a prophet began around 630 BC and continued for a known period of forty years up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC and for a short but undefined period in Egypt after that.
His name means `whom God appoints and exalts.' He was a man of intense feeling and sadness for his wayward people. He was probably in the line of Abiathar the priest, who like Jeremiah came from Anathoth. [Jer. 1.1; 1 Kings 2.26]
When Jeremiah was first called to be a prophet, God emphasised his own foreknowledge in selecting him for the work: `Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.' [1.5] Yet his response was, `Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.' [1.6] This answer showed Jeremiah's humility, the first requirement for anyone whom God calls to His service.
Jeremiah was told: `See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.' [1.10] This meant that Jeremiah was appointed to declare that these judgements would come from God. The repetition of these words concerning `the house of Israel and the house of Judah,' [31.27,28] shows that they were judgements intended for Jeremiah's own nation.
There followed two signs, the first for the prophet's own benefit, to help him to overcome his fear and reluctance, and the second as the nation's initial warning of impending wrath: `Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said the LORD unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten (or, watch over) my word to perform it'. [1.11,12]
Yet, so far as can be judged, it was at least eighteen years before there was any clear sign that God was `hastening his word to perform it.' During that time the patience and faithfulness of the prophet must have been sorely taxed. To his contemporaries, living in the peaceful and prosperous era of Josiah's reign, Jeremiah must have appeared a pathetic and ludicrous figure, giving warnings to the people (who had never had it so good) concerning imminent judgment at a time when no trouble was in sight. All were relaxing in easy self-indulgence and selfish materialism. The parallel with the world of 1999 is not to be missed. Yet Jeremiah held on, repeating time and time again the exhortations and warnings that he knew would fall on deaf ears.
Jeremiah must soon have realised that the witness of a true spokesman of God to such an ungodly nation, would create strong reactions and involve him in bitter trials both of faith and physical stamina. The immediate assurance from God was designed to assuage this fear. `Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee.' [1.8] But how often in the days to come Jeremiah must have wondered whether God had abandoned him. [1.17; 11.19; 20.2; 26.8, 9; 37.15; 38.6]
The Scourge From the North
Humanly speaking, this was a daring prophecy for Jeremiah to publish, for during Josiah's reign the northern power was Assyria, now well past its zenith and few would anticipate that Babylon, 270 miles to the south of Nineveh, would become a great scourge invading the land from the north. Jeremiah is at pains to record the literal fulfilment of these words when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. [39.3]
It seems almost impossible to believe that this can be an accurate description of the spiritual condition of the people over whom good king Josiah ruled. But in fact such a censure was well justified; there are several indications of a high degree of religious corruption in the nation. [see especially 2 Kings 23.1-20] It would be a mistake to assume that Josiah's religious enthusiasm carried all the nation with him. It seems much more likely that whilst the king had the support of a minority who zealously and energetically supported the reformation which he sought to carry through, the majority of the nation, including princes, prophets and priests, still adhered to the corrupt ways they had known when Josiah came to the throne. Thus from the earliest days of his prophecy, Jeremiah was in opposition to public opinion and like so many of God's faithful servants, Jeremiah had to realise that the power that was in him was of God and not of himself.
After Josiah's death, the prophet's life was threatened by his enemies [11.19] and they continued to plot against him. [18.18-23] He was reproached and cursed by the people, [15.10] placed in the stocks, [20.2,3] derided, [20.7] defamed, [20.10] put on trial for preaching the word of God, [26.8-24] imprisoned, [chapter 32] falsely accused [37.13-15] and condemned to death. [37.15-21 and chapter 38] However he had foretold from the first that God would preserve him to the end and that he should be treated kindly by the enemy at the latter end. [15.11] - which duly came to pass. [39.11,12,17,18]
The promise of God, `I am with thee...to deliver thee' [1.19] must have been all that Jeremiah had to comfort him on the many occasions when the whole world seemed to be bitterly and very publicly against him. Yet, at the finish, with the cream of the nation in captivity and chaos throughout a ravaged land, with Jerusalem humiliated and the temple plundered and destroyed and himself a protesting helpless refugee among the idols of Egypt, Jeremiah could hardly feel that his life and work had been anything but a failure.
As the prophet told them time and time again, their lives had become one long denial of the God whom they still honoured with their lips. In attempting to make his compatriots see themselves as God saw them, Jeremiah's biggest obstacle was their deep conviction that they were the `Chosen Race' and that therefore they were immune from catastrophe. The conviction that `We be Abraham's seed,' [John 8.33] and the self-assurance that `we have one Father, even God' [John 8.41] like the Jews of Christ's day, imparted to these selfish men of Jerusalem a self-satisfied complacency which neither reasoning, nor appeals, nor downright denunciation, could shake. How similar to the vast majority of mankind today, whose reasoning is:
`God (if he exists) is a God of love, he will not allow any great evil to befall us.'
Like the world with which Jeremiah had to contend, the world at the end of the 20th century is about to learn not only that God exists, but that He will not allow men to flout His Word indefinitely. The greatest catastrophe that the world has ever known is about to befall it. One reason for publishing this magazine is to warn readers of this fact and to point out the way of escape that is only to be found in the Bible.
The Jews of Jeremiah's time actually boasted of the Law which God had given to them, even though they evaded every sanction in it. `How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them?' [Jeremiah 8.8,9] In all this, the Israelites were soothed and comforted by the false prophets in their midst, just as the established churches nowadays seek to appeal to the people, rather than adhering to God's Word. They devise their own brand of Christianity and expect God to accept them.
As Jeremiah said:
Jeremiah was goaded into complaint before God: `Ah, Lord GOD! surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.' [Jeremiah 4.10] Yet it was an alluring prospect which he held out before them: `If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.' [ie to Babylon: Jeremiah 4.1] But they would not have it, preferring to believe the false prophets, neglecting to compare their smooth words with the law of God. Likewise the religious leaders of our time present false doctrines and fail to give a firm lead in morals. There is absolutely no substitute for a personal reading of the Bible!
Judgement to Come
But at the time the prophecy was published, the very details of it seemed too incredible to make sense to men of worldly judgment. So the majority wrote off Jeremiah as a deluded impostor and turned again to their politics and money-making. In the same way many people today live very much for the present, although claiming to be fearful of the future.
Jeremiah repeated the warnings in his home town of Anathoth:
In the following vivid words, Jeremiah described the character of the approaching invader from Babylon and the fear and distress it would bring to his contemporaries:
As the prophet expanded on his theme of invasion from the north, more and more detail was disclosed. Not only Babylon, but also other nations round about would also be glad of the opportunity of plunder. The defeat of the armies of Israel in the field was clearly intimated by Jeremiah; `...thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled...' [4.19,20] It is a picture of an army encampment taken utterly by surprise.
A Doomed City
The siege of Jerusalem itself was foreshadowed. `...gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem - for evil appeareth out of the north, and great destruction - they shall pitch their tents against her round about.' Even the eagerness of the self-confident soldiery is represented: `Prepare ye war against her (ie Jerusalem); arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out. Arise, and let us go by night, and let us destroy her palaces.' [6.1,3-5]
Thus the rank and file of the enemy are pictured as impatient even in the heat of the day, to go on with the destruction of the city. The picture of utter ruin and desolation could hardly have been made more comprehensive:
Faced with the hopeless task of weaning his people from idols and a false way of life, Jeremiah had every reason for making the fullest possible use of all the powers and personal qualities with which God had endowed him.
Remonstrations and incisive appeals, blazing anger and bitter contempt, were all used in turn. Yet almost nothing was achieved. In his early days an influential minority identified itself with the stand he had taken. But these, the `good figs' [chapter 24], were removed in the first deportation to Babylon. After they were gone, the work was even more uphill than before. By the time Zedekiah came to the throne, hardly any rallied to the prophet's cause, a pathetic handful, of little account in the counsels of the nation.
`But they said, We will not walk therein...We will not hearken.' [6.16,17] This stubborn reaction to Jeremiah's appeals to turn to God, was devastating in its discouragement. Such incredible folly made him want to weep: `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!' Jeremiah had an intense desire to have nothing more to do with a people so wilfully blind to their own self-interest: `Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them!' [9.1,2] But his sense of duty kept him at his thankless task and made him willing even to swing to the other extreme of making excuses for the people: `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] Yet this remarkable man continued to do God's work, regardless of the consequences to his own safety. Men can do nothing unless God allows it and ultimately if we are faithful we shall with Jeremiah, find an inheritance in the coming kingdom of God.
The vast majority of our generation are equally guilty in turning their backs on the living Word of God, which is the only way to salvation. The world is about to be overcome by a change even greater than the disaster that befell Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. All the indications are that this catastrophic change will take place very, very soon. Will you be a man or a woman of faith at that time of great change for the world? Or will you ignore the warnings and the wonderful promises contained in the Bible?