I have never been to Israel, and have no burning desire to go. But, if I did, I would want to visit Anathoth. It was there that my Old Testament hero was born.
Called as a young man to leave an obscure, restricting, yet predictable ministry of maintaining the status quo (he grew up in a family of priests and was destined for the priesthood), he became the sensitive prophet to a nation set on a course leading to judgement.
Commencing 60 years after the death of the great evangelical prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah for more than 40 years preached God’s Word. His proclamation spanned the reign of five kings.
His commission was to root out and pull down, to destroy and throw down, and then to build and plant. He was to go where God would send him, to speak what God would tell him, and not be afraid of the people.
Jeremiah would have preferred to be out of the limelight, living a simple country life. But he had to die to his own desires and go where the Lord would have him go.
He did not relish being a public prophet and shrank from preaching an unwelcome message to his own people. He spoke against the priests, the prophets, the princes and the people, who were all following their own ideas and wicked ways.
Idolatry, immorality, ungodliness and unrighteousness were the rampant features of the day. Jeremiah had to preach the certainty of God’s judgement because of sin, yet he laced his message with the tenderness of God’s eternal and boundless love.
There were solemn chidings mingled with the offer of glad tidings. Jeremiah’s own love for his own lost people shines through: ‘O earth, earth, earth, hear the Word of the Lord!’ But the people did not want to listen to the Word of the Lord.
Jeremiah’s message was rejected: his life constantly threatened; his written message cut to shreds and burned by the Jewish king. He was thrown into a miry dungeon; suffered desperate loneliness, wishing he had not been born; was told not to marry; was accused of being a traitor to his country and a false prophet in the pay of his enemies.
Angry crowds clamoured for his life, and he lost his home, his friends and his supporters as he was carried against his will to Egypt. Yet he never lost the sense of God’s presence with him, nor his sense of call from God.
There are times in which sermons, lectures and publications are not sufficient to communicate necessary truth. At such times, the doggedness and sufferings of faithful Christians become part of truth’s proclamation (Colossians 1:24-26).
He was a true prophet, who not only had something to say, but had to say it. His were no slippery words — like the ones we usually hear from the clergy in parliament or on the media today — nor diluted messages, spoken to tickle the ears of the listener. He refused to placate the establishment by interpreting God’s words in new, politically correct ways.
Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is an example to us. He felt deeply all that he preached. Eavesdrop into his burden: ‘Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people’.
Jeremiah really believed what he proclaimed. He felt it. The message was Jeremiah. It had captured him and was like a fire burning in his bones; he had to speak. Proclamation was not a hobby; it was his life.
God and his Word were what defined him. He was not in ministry ‘for the ride’, but everything about Jeremiah was fine-tuned to get out God’s message.
I esteem his faithfulness. Even his own villagers plotted to kill him. He felt as though he was a docile lamb being brought to the slaughter, as they devised schemes to silence him, but still he prophesied faithfully.
Time and again, we read that ‘the Word of the Lord came to Jeremiah’; and he in turn went to the people who didn’t want to hear it and spoke what he had heard.
Everyone mocked him; he was in daily derision of the people. But the Word was in his heart like a burning fire, shut up in his bones. He was weary of holding back, so he lovingly continued to preach.
Jeremiah was strategic in maximising the number of his hearers. Three times each year, Jewish men were required to go to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts.
It seems that it was on these occasions that Jeremiah stood by one of the gates that led to the temple courts and preached. The people’s sin was so great that Jeremiah was instructed by God not to pray for them, but he still preached.
He did not keep the Word of God within the security of four walls, but went to where the people were and spoke. Jeremiah spoke prophetically of Jesus and his kingdom (23:5-6; 31). What an example of faithfulness to the Lord and his Word!
Jeremiah was called to proclaim to his generation. I keep reminding myself that it is to this current generation that we are called to proclaim. How I long for Jeremiah’s tenderness, as well as his commitment and faithfulness to the Word of God and his calling!
The author is an itinerant evangelist and a member of the Association of Evangelists