How do you tell someone news that is not too favorable? Suppose a neighbor's house has burned down while they are on vacation, and you need to call them in the middle of the week to tell them. Or suppose there is a death in the family of close friend, and you must make the call. What do you say? How do you say it?
This was the prophet Jeremiah's situation. He had news that was not very favorable. His was news of impending woe, of terror, of violence, and captivity. Such bitter news was he to preach to the rebellious and sinful nation of Judah just before and at the time of the carrying away of this nation into Babylonian captivity.
He was to plead with them to repent of their idolatry, their murder, their sacrificing of their children to Baal, and their sexual sins.
Jeremiah 19:1-2 This is what the LORD says: "Go and buy a clay jar from a potter. Take along some of the elders of the people and of the priests and go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. There proclaim the words I tell you" (NIV)
Jeremiah now brings the charges, which I mentioned earlier, before the nation of Judah. Then he prophesied, Jeremiah 19:3-6; 3 "and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. 4 For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. 5 They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal-- something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. 6 So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call this place Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter." (NIV)
Evidently Topheth was the name of certain high places built in the valley of Ben Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem, on which human sacrifices were offered. Jeremiah predicted that the valley would become known as "the valley of slaughter". From the horror of the fires of its idolatrous rites, and its pollution by Josiah, the valley became a symbol of great burning in connection with sin. The continuous burning illustrated for the Jewish people unending judgment upon the wicked. The Greek term Gehenna (formed from the Hebrew for "the valley of Hinnom") means place of fire and is used twelve times in the N.T. for the place of eternal punishment, the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Those eleven times the word was spoken by Jesus Christ, it was in most solemn warning of the consequences of sin.
Then Jeremiah wraps up his prophesying, Jeremiah 19:11 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter's jar is smashed and cannot be repaired. They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room." (NIV)
Jeremiah 19:14-20:1-2, "Jeremiah then returned from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and stood in the court of the LORD's temple and said to all the people, This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stiff-necked and would not listen to my words.' When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD's temple."
This is the first mention of Jeremiah's persecutions. Earlier, in chapter 11 (verse 18, 19), he had exposed a plot on his life. Now, in chapter 20, he is beaten and placed in stocks. Later, in 32:2, he is imprisoned, and in 37:15, he is falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned. In Lamentations 3:1, Jeremiah cries, "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath." (NIV)
Part of the reason for Judah's prophesied captivity lies in their persecution of the prophets. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16; 15 "The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. 16 But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy." (NIV)
Jeremiah 20:3 The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, "The LORD's name for you is not Pashhur, but Magor-Missabib. For this is what the LORD says: 'I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will hand all Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will hand over to their enemies all the wealth of this city-- all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.'"
By now, Jeremiah is brokenhearted and downcast. He has been slandered, abused, beaten in public, put in stocks like a common criminal - all because he loves his people and loves the Lord. He is merely trying to get the people to repent and turn to God! Because he warned of the coming captivity and punishments, he is hated.
So, Jeremiah cries in chapter 20:7, "O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived." God never deceives His people. Jeremiah thought that God had deceived him because he had failed to understand the full impact of divine revelation concerning impending judgment. Actually God had plainly warned the people of Israel. 2nd Note: Jeremiah is not accusing the Lord of misrepresentation but is giving vent to his great sorrow at the terrible situation in which he finds himself. God has called him to stand alone amid constant opposition, and has gradually led him into the position where He wants him to be - one that involves great misery for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah continues in verse 7, "you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long" ("I have become a laughingstock all the day long" NAS); "everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long." I'm skipping on to verse 10 "I hear many whispering, 'Terror on every side! Report him! Let's report him!' All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, 'Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.'" (NIV) Even his intimate friends and family were watching for him to slip, to fail. They would catch him, expose his folly, and get revenge on him.
9 "Then I say, 'I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,'" (KJV) So, Jeremiah decided to quit the ministry! He had set out to preach for God, but had never thought the hate, abuse, and reproach would come upon him like this. Discouraged, he resolved, "I will not mention God or speak any more in His Name!"
But, something was happening which Jeremiah's discouraged condition could not fully comprehend. (continuing verse 9) "his word is in my heart like a fire" ("a burning fire" KJV), "shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." Although terribly discouraged, Jeremiah could not stop preaching! "I was weary of holding it in ..." Jeremiah 6:11; "But I am full of the wrath of the LORD, and I cannot hold it in. I will pour it out" (NIV) Acts 4:20, "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Even the Apostle Paul was "pressed with the Spirit" (Acts 18:5, KJV). 2 Corinthians 5:14, "For Christ's love compels us" (NIV)
How easily discouraged we become sometimes. Often we become ready to quit. Quit teaching Sunday School, quit serving on committees, quit singing in the choir, quit working in Vacation Bible School or Children's Camp, quit going with the youth on Mission Trips. We're ready to quit witnessing. Quit everything to do with God!
Can we quit and really be satisfied? By personal experience, these verses in Jeremiah demonstrate a "law of God" if you please. Because the Holy Spirit indwells the believer's heart, it is His job and the job of Scriptures to keep us on track. And to make us absolutely miserable when we are off God's path. The Word of God has four things that it will accomplish. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness, and" ("doctrine", KJV) "teaching, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (Note: I have rearranged the four functions of the Scripture. The Word reproves (or brings conviction upon the wayward person), then it corrects (once the person repents of his wayward ways, he can return to walking with God), then It can instruct, then indoctrinate (or teach the major doctrines of the Bible).
That still, small voice creates the "burning fire in our bones" that is weeping, pleading, and compelling us to return, to repent, and to yield to the Lord's control. The misery that is sent to the wayward Christian is intended to cause this return. There is a work that we Christians must do.
Misery comes to those who choose not to respond to the Lord's compelling Spirit. And, there is a fulfillment in a right relationship as result of service to the Lord. This awaits those who return.
If you have strayed away from God's path, won't you return? Do so today! God is waiting to bring fulfillment back into your life.
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May God speak to your heart! Bob Conar