The courage, devotion, and faithfulness of Jeremiah as a man of God, and as a prophet, demands awe and admiration. Known as the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah was given the unenviable task of pronouncing Gods’ judgment upon the people of Israel. Specifically, Jeremiah was the last prophet of Judah before its destruction, and the exile to Babylon. Because Jeremiah wept over his people, as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the image of the prophets as stern, cold, and heartless, must be reconsidered. The prophets were men of like passion as we are.
The prophets of God could be harsh in their language. The message they delivered could be terrifying. But as sensitive individuals, the prophets were haunted by the judgments they pronounced, and did not want others to perish. Jeremiah took no delight in giving bad news. The great Dutch artist, Rembrandt, captured the sorrow of Jeremiah in his masterpiece, “Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem” (1630). In the portrait, the prophet leans heavily upon the Scripture. His head rests on his left hand. The background is a mixture of darkness and light. The city of Jerusalem is in flames. But there is no joy on the face of Jeremiah. He is desolate. The sadness of Jeremiah should be felt in all Christians who consider the ruin of souls. Those who reject God’s grace and mercy, those who refuse to come to Christ for salvation, will suffer the eternal judgment of God. But there is to be no joy in that thought.
Jeremiah was about 20 years old when he was called to be a prophet. The record of his call is preserved. “Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 5 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.” (Jer. 1:4-5)
It is ironic that Jeremiah was ordained “a prophet unto the nations”, since most of his ministry focused on the city of Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah. His ministry would last about 50 years from the time of his calling. Jeremiah was from the tribe of Benjamin, which is significant, for many centuries later, another descendent from the tribe of Benjamin would be ordained, not as a prophet, but as an apostle to the Gentiles. Paul is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. The ministry of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, as a prophet to the nations, anticipates the ministry of the apostle Paul. If there is a consistent theme to the call of Jeremiah to minister to the nations, and the call of Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles, it is that the gospel is a universal message. It always has been, it always shall be. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
When Jeremiah received his call to the ministry, he was hesitant to embrace his Divine commission. “Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child.” (Jer. 1:6) Throughout his ministry, Jeremiah would continue to be a reluctant prophet. He had a right to be reluctant. The work of the ministry is an awesome task. Far too many young men rush into the ministry for the wrong reasons. Soon, they become disillusioned, discouraged, and depressed. There must be a divine compulsion if a man is to embrace the call of God on his life.
When Jeremiah protested he was too young, the LORD rebuked Him. “But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. 8 Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. 9 Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. 10 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.” (Jer. 1:7-10)
The same thing had happened to Isaiah. When he was given the grim task of announcing Divine judgment on Israel, Isaiah was reluctant. Nevertheless, he was compelled to speak for the Lord. And so the prophets, like Paul, obeyed their heavenly calling. Jeremiah went and pulled up the roots of apostasy in Judah in order to plant good gospel seed. He tore down the false and corrupt religious edifices that religious, but godless men had constructed, in order to rebuild a good, godly, and just society.
In order to enforce his ministry, Jeremiah had to go and speak, not to the kings of the land, as Isaiah had done, but to the religious leaders. Jeremiah had to speak to the priests and to the gilds of prophets in those days. “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. 4 Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.” (Jer. 7:1-4)
By standing before the gates to the sacred Temple, Jeremiah was a Prophet-Reformer. He was not a revolutionary, but he was a reformer. The prophets did not try to throw out the past, and all that God had instituted, but to redeem the present. Jeremiah wanted to get rid of the ritualism, externalism, and formalism that had come to characterize worship. It is possible for people to grow comfortable in religious rituals whereby they worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him. The gospel is designed to penetrate into the heart. There is to be a palpable love for God that swells in heart in the hour of worship.
The prophets did not get rid of the forms, the rituals, or the externals. Rather, they called the people to remember the spiritual realities to which the external activities were suppose to point.
People were called to repent of allowing the external rituals to be the extent of worship. No! No! The spirit of man is designed to touch the Spirit of God for God is Spirit, and He seeks souls to worship Him in spirit and in truth. So Jeremiah went to the Gates of the Holy Temple, and called upon people to mend their ways, and not to trust in lying words.
The lying words were a formula that was recited: “This is the Temple of the Lord. This is the Temple of the Lord. This is the Temple of the Lord.” It was a ritual without any corresponding religion. It was a form of godliness without any power. It was mindless chatter. Repetition in Hebrew literature signified emphasis. When something is of great importance, in Hebrew literature, it was said twice. But the people in Jerusalem, in the days of Jeremiah, were repeating religious formulas three times. The people were being hypocritical to the superlative degree, to the third degree. The LORD was not impressed.
At one point Jeremiah would tell the people to go to Shiloh, and observe what had happened their when religious rituals lost their spiritual significance. Shiloh had once been a religious sanctuary. But then it became associated with iniquity, and was reduced to ruins. That is what happens when people forget the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord leaves the holy sanctuary and sin settles in. In 1833, the First Baptist Church in Washington, DC constructed a house of worship. Later, the church building was sold to John T. Ford. In 1861 the doors of Ford Theater opened. On April 14, 1865, while a comedy was being performed, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. It happens. A holy place can become a house of horrors.
Jeremiah told the people of Judah to go to Shiloh, and behold the carnage, and then come back to the Holy City, and to the Temple. Shiloh is what Jerusalem will look like when God is finished with His judgment. The response to Jeremiah’s prophesies was predictable. Those who heard Jeremiah speak were incensed with him. They rose up in fury and wrath against the messenger of God. They rejected his message. The priests and the religious leaders could not believe the audacity of Jeremiah saying that God was going to destroy His own chosen people.
Because he was human, because he was a sensitive man, Jeremiah felt the pains of being rejected. It was hard on him. In his pain, Jeremiah cried out to the Lord. “O LORD, thou hast deceived [induced] me, and I was deceived [persuaded]: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.” (Jer. 20:7) Jeremiah was hated by the people, by the priests, and by the false prophets of his day. His message was too negative. It was too harsh. It was too critical. It alarmed people, and scared them. Such a message had to be stopped. The messenger had to be silenced. “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.” (Jer. 20:8)
Because his soul was sensitive to the social rejection of him and his message, Jeremiah determined he would not speak any more, but then, he found he could not keep silent. “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jer. 20:9)
Every discouraged pastor needs to visit this passage, for the work of the ministry is hard. People are very critical of pastors. It takes a lot to keep going. What compels a good man to continue in the work of the ministry is the divine fire shut up in his bones. He cannot keep silent. He must speak the word of the Lord, with hope in the promise of God. “But the LORD is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten.” (Jer. 20:11)
Jeremiah continued to speak the message that God gave him, and he continued to do so with a broken heart. “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness. 10 For the land is full of adulterers; for because of swearing the land mourneth; the pleasant places of the wilderness are dried up, and their course is evil, and their force is not right.11 For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, saith the LORD.” (Jer. 23:9-11)
What made Jeremiah’s ministry more difficult is that as he called people to repentance and reform, profane false prophets and priests came behind him to proclaim a false message to God’s people. They said in essence that Jeremiah was wrong. God loved His people and had a wonderful plan for their lives. All would be well. God loves people the way they are. Jeremiah was disrupting the unity of the Church.
The popular message of the false prophets and priests were filled with false hope. “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jer. 8:11)
The voice of Jeremiah was being drowned out by the false prophets, who were telling people exactly what they wanted to hear. But they were prophets of deceit. What was Jeremiah to do? The Lord answered that inquiry. “I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26 How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; 27 Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal. 28 The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? Saith the LORD. 29 Is not my word like as a fire? Saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:25-29)
The Divine solution to false prophesy is this. “Let the false prophet speak.” The Divine counsel to a Divinely called messenger is this. “Speak the Word of God faithfully.” There is no need to try to silence the false prophet, and for a good reason. The Word of God is like a fire. It purifies the truth. The Word of God is like a hammer. It can break in pieces the any doctrinal error or ungodly message.
Let the man of God preach the Word of God, faithfully and then watch the power of that Word. Here is the promise of God. “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” (Jer. 23:5-6)
God told the people that God promised them a New Covenant, and a new beginning. Oh, it was still true that the Temple would be destroyed. It was still true that the people would be cast off for their wickedness. It was still true that the people would go into captivity. But, it was also true that God was going to send a Righteous Branch, a King to reign over His people. That Righteous Branch, that King, is none other than Jesus Christ.
Jeremiah believed his own message. Prior to his own captivity, Jeremiah invested in real estate in Jerusalem. He believed he was coming home again, according to promise. It is true. You can go home again, if God has promised that would happen.