Learning from Jeremiah
Guest Column Erroll Hulse
At times of acute need God has called and commissioned leaders of extraordinary ability and tenacity. Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah are examples.
These leaders of exceptional spiritual stature guided God’s people. They kept them informed of his will and purpose and made sure that hope was not extinguished.
The prophet Jeremiah was born in about 640 BC. He ministered in Jerusalem during the period leading up to the invasion of the Babylonian army, which besieged and then destroyed the city of Jerusalem. In 587 BC the temple was burned down and the people taken into exile in Babylon.
Jeremiah was forbidden to marry (16:1). The reason was clear. Appalling times of disaster and upheaval lay ahead (16:3-4). Ultimately Jeremiah was taken against his will into Egypt, in which nation, tradition maintains, he died a martyr.
Jeremiah experienced the pain of preaching to a rebellious people who were hostile to him and his ministry. His enemies were many (1:18) and included those in his home village of Anathoth, some of whom conspired to assassinate him (11:18).
Suffering but faithful
Jeremiah was beaten twice and put into the stocks. He was thrown into a cistern to die but was saved by a black man called Ebed Melech (chapter 38). However, he was assured that he would be like a fortified city. He was enabled to resist opposition like a bronze wall (1:18). The people preferred the teaching of false prophets, liars who gave them false hope.
The book can be studied in three parts – God’s warnings to Israel and Jeremiah’s battle to bring Israel to repentance (a battle that fails), chapters 1-45; messages of hope and comfort falling within the latter section, namely chapters 31-33; prophecies against the nations, chapters 46-51.
Jeremiah, more than any other prophet, described his personal spiritual anguish. The German word for excruciating spiritual tribulation is anfechtung. That word is appropriate to describe Jeremiah’s experience (see especially 20:7-9).
At one stage King Jehoiakim confiscated Jeremiah’s writing and systematically burned his scrolls. Thereupon, together with his lifelong helper and scribe, Baruch, Jeremiah rewrote everything (chapter 36). His writings form the longest book in the Bible.
How did Jeremiah persevere? The book of Lamentations is attributed to his pen. There we read, ‘I say to myself, The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’ (3:24).
If the triune Jehovah is your portion, you have a refuge and strength by which you can endure your afflictions. There is no portion to be compared with the Lord. Be sure that he is your portion. Then like Jeremiah you will persevere in days which may be as discouraging as his.
The author is associate pastor at Leeds Reformed Baptist Church, UK. He is editor of Reformation Todayand helps spearhead pastors’ conferences for southern Africa. His best known book is Who are the Puritans? And what do they teach?