Jeremiah 20

Rock bottom

Jeremiah is put in the stocks and beaten, probably whipped, by one of the priests. His humiliation occurs in one of the most prominent parts of the city, next to the temple.

We see his pubic and private response. In public he is unmoved. He continues preaching it from the moment he is released.

Privately he is devastated. He talks about his deep desire to stop preaching, but complains that when he does the message burns in his bones.

This is my favourite part of the chapter and worth a song “burn in my bones Lord!”

He compares himself to a bride seduced under false pretences into an abusive marriage.

He really hits rock bottom with the final miserable poem about wishing he’d never been born.

The language is so extreme. He curses his father essentially for not aborting him as a fetus because if his mother’s womb had been his grave it would have been forever praised instead of cursed.

That’s someone who really wishes they hadn’t been born.

And that’s where he’s left for today. The are 30 more chapters so I’m guessing he carries on.

But it’s worth considering when you let the promptings of the holy spirit slip by, when you don’t say or do that action that would increase God’s grace in someone’s life. You aren’t the first person to ask “why me”? But the question doesn’t justify letting yourself off the hook. Unfortunately,  most likely, it is you.


Jeremiah 19

Continuing the pottery analogy from the last chapter. When clay is on the wheel it can be re-molded, when it is fired and is broken, it is utterly useless. It’s hardness means it can’t change.

So he breaks a pot and gives a sermon.

The locale is Jerusalem’s rubbish dump, which was constantly burning. It was known as the lake of fire, and was an analogy for their notion of hell.

It was also where child sacrifices to baal and molech occurred. So it was a potent reminder of the extent of Israel’s apostasy.

It’s interesting that when a message is really important to God, he often has people communicate it though performance arts: poetry, dramatic object lessons. Jesus told parables and did things like trashing the temple and cursing a fig tree.

And you can’t say God destroyed Jerusalem out of the blue. There are 50 chapters of these warnings in Jeremiah, not to mention Isaiah and Ezekiel.

You warn people because you care what happens to them.

But sometimes when we are hard enough, the only option God’s has is to break us.

Jeremiah 18

There have been a few object lessons in recent chapters, and here God’s right to judge Israel is compared to a potter rethrowing a pot that goes wonky.

The are parallel judgements that follow. They are always in poetic form.

First God pronounces shock at Israel’s inability to repent in the face of the barrage of dire prophesies he has given Jeremiah to say. He confirms its destruction once again.

Then Jeremiah mentions a plot to kill him. There has been one before, don’t know if this is the same or new.

He calls down judgement on the plotters and their families specifically as part of the general judgement.

God’s judgement is justified as the right of the creator, the potter. Jeremiah acknowledges that the ‘time of anger’ is God’s, and his poem is a plea for justice.

He’s not about to grab a gun and shout ‘vengence is mine saith the Lord’ as he mows everyone down like in a Hollywood movie.

He doesn’t implement the judgement, he doesn’t do the judging. He’s God’s mouthpiece. That order is maintained.

However my Christian radar sounded alarm when he wished destruction on the houses of the plotters. After all, Jesus said ‘love your enemies’, ‘turn the other cheek’.

And maybe he was taking it too far here. One thing you learn reading the old testament, even the heros get it wrong sometimes.

He was being self reflective, I think, in the last chapter when he said that the human heart is deceitful and asked God to search it.

But there is a place for asking God for justice. In fact prayer is probably THE place for venting about all the wrongs done to you.

Jeremiah 17

Heart of darkness, never at rest.

Starts by describing the unstoppable, indelible nature of sin. It’s carved deep with sharp diamond, defacing our holiness.

Certainly we’ve spent the whole Bible, since the garden, with a relentless beat of rebellion under all the stories of the great moments and inspired leaders.

The folk religion, the idols, never stop. It’s fruit is human sacrifice, sexual exploitation. Can’t clean that stain alone.

Jeremiah writes the anti Psalm 1. Blessed is the man whose delight is in God. And cursed is the man whose trust is in men, they will wither.

Trust in idols is really trust in men for people who have had the true God revealed. If they choose another ‘god’ they are choosing their own rebellious heart.

Despair comes into Jeremiah’s awareness of the sickness and deceitfulness of his own heart, he asks God to search it. He makes an intensely felt plea for his own mercy and forgiveness. When he asks God for refuge, you sense again how hard he finds his life.

A similar point is made with treasure metaphors, heavenly treasure is like the highest throne, a kingdom of peace that lasts forever.

Those who love earthly treasure are compared the Partridge, which had the reputation of sitting on other birds eggs. Earthly wealth flys away.

Jeremiah is sent to the streets to do the crazy-prophet-with-the-sandwich-board thing again. This time he is to call them to one of the 10 commandments, the Sabbath.

Why that? Hebrews expands the concept, it is God’s rest. Israel’s observing of the Sabbath is a symbol of their rest in God, the end of rebellion, the end of fighting.

There are 3 positive images in this chapter of God’s world: a beautiful tree planted by a river, a kingdom of peace above all others and rest, sweet safe rest.

But always in Jeremiah the bleak conclusion that the people won’t choose life, the message will go unheeded.

Jeremiah 16

Into the accelerating detachment from the fate of the ex-people of God, finally towards the end of this chapter shines a ray of hope.

At the start Jeremiah is told not to marry or have children. Not as a sign like Hosea so much as self protection from the pain coming. Why would you bring children into that?

He is told not to morn with mourners because God has deserted them. He’s told not to celebrate either.

He’s to detach emotionally. Once again there is the vision of bodies not buried, becoming carrion.

But then, then finally, the promise to return the captives. It will overshadow the crossing of the red sea as an act of redemption.

Even here there is an image of fishers and hunters chasing down those who have polluted the land with iniquity, but it is a selective process. A cull rather than wholesale destruction.

The big picture is teaching emphatically to the nations that there is only one God. Those you make yourself don’t count.

Jeremiah 15

God makes it abundantly clear to Jeremiah that there is no way he will forgive Israel. It’s not that Jeremiah isn’t good enough, even Moses and Samuel could not persuade him to relent.

Jeremiah’s misery over his mission reaches fever pitch. He starts to sound like Job, wishing he had never been born and cataloguing all the good he has done in his life to ask what he’s done to deserve such punishment.

God promises to be kind to him eventually, but for now he must be strong like a wall. He must absorb their rejection of the message, he must absorb their attacks on him.

You know that Jeremiah will be brave, he’s in the Bible. You know how it ends. But for us it often doesn’t end that way.

We wimp out. We change the message to fit the people. Or we divorce the message from the people, from any relationship or care. How much does Jeremiah grieve for them!

Jeremiah 14

This chapter is a dialogue of struggle between Jeremiah and God. They are talking about Israel, but to each other.

Jeremiah’s bleak message for the people rips him apart. His epic struggle to obey God is a key theme of the book, and an ironic one.

His love for the people makes it so painful for him to obey God and prophesy doom and gloom for them. Yet that obedience also contrasts so extremely with their disobedience that it helps make the case for the message.

God and Jeremiah are a bit like parents of a wayward child. They are so frustrated that they can’t reach the child, they start to turn on each other.

Here Jeremiah paints to God a vivid picture of how a series of droughts are affecting not just his people but his creatures and creation. There is a strong emotional plea, manipulation even, in it.

He doesn’t promise their repentance as such, he can’t, but he goads God to act because of his character. “Are you a stranger?” he asks, “a visitor, a confused old man? Aren’t you supposed to be a mighty warrior who loves his people?” It’s quite a way to speak to God!

“Nup, not happening” God essentially replies in quite blunt terms. “And stop praying for them.”

Jeremiah tries a different tack, arguing they have been misled by false prophets. He’s implying that it’s not their fault.

God promises the false prophets and the people will perish, and gives Jeremiah a true word to take to them, of them shattered; dead and unburied in the fields of battle, starving and sick in the cities.

Despite God’s prohibition, Jeremiah prays beautifully again for them to close the chapter.

We have a message for our world, the western part of which is experimenting with all sorts of affront to God. That includes some of the “chosen”, evangelical Christians, in my view. We can pray for them all we like, but at some point God wants us to act.

Jeremiah 13

Good for nothing.

God gets Jeremiah to act out a bit of theatre, putting on a noble priestly garment, a sash, which if he wore typical prophet attire would have apparently looked like wearing a cummerbund and a hessian sack. Quite a sight.

He went to the Euphrates, a long way, to the place the invasion would come from, and buried the sash.

Then he traveled back after a few months and dig it up. It was ruined, useless.

In my new job producing materials for churches, I find encouragement from God’s use of illustrative material. But the message is devastating.

They are good for nothing. From the chosen people to useless.

Comparisons go on to be drawn to drunks, ignorant and stupid. And the public humiliation of prostitutes.

All you can do is put it out there. You can’t force people to repent, Jeremiah should convince us of that.

But it’s also a good time to look at the hardness in my own heart. I’ve been struggling in a practical level with lollies and alcohol. I don’t have a huge problem, but do have a bit more of both than is good for me. How hard is self discipline!

Jeremiah 12

Sucker’s to be God’s messenger. Last chapter Jeremiah discovered The was a plot to kill him for speaking God’s word.

This chapter he argues with God’s over the fairness of his message. He asks why God people have to suffer. He’s the meat in the sandwich, but such is his calling I suppose.

God’s answer is a) there are a lot less good people than you think, and b) there will be a restoration and compassion after the invasion.

I’m now being paid to write about God’s work and his nature, it’s an extraordinary privilege for a believer. May I remain faithful and true like Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 11

Jeremiah has a pattern of hope to hopelessness. God starts saying how the people could fix their relationship with him, but then says they won’t.

Here its done with the covenant. He reminds them of it, says that they could still obey him, then says they never have and never will. He emphasises how long it’s been since then, and how now they have “more Gods than cities”.

Proceeding further into the heart of darkness, God reveals to Jeremiah in a poetic section a plot to take his life. For speaking God’s word! The chapter ends with dire predictions of what will become of the plotters.

It’s a chapter of God’s speaking to Jeremiah, not him to the people, except the poetic section in his voice.

Judgement isn’t a big part of theology day to day in churches. Sure is a huge theme of the old testament though.

Though it’s more like a sort a tagging of God’s direction. This book is the five minutes to midnight before Babylon takes Jerusalem – it’s tagging Babylon as God’s agents.

When AIDS hit there were Christians who tagged that as God’s judgement. And there is a way that any death can be seen that way. But we don’t get to do the tagging.

And it’s different now anyway that Jesus has come. That was just an exercise in cruelty.