Category Archives: Jeremiah

Two-sided picture

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah might have been forgiven for thinking God had a grudge against him when God chose him to be a prophet. But when many supposed God to be dead or slumbering, Jeremiah had to tell them that, far from it, God was active, chastening his people in the presence of their oppressors. In all that was happening to them, hard though it was to accept or understand, God was working his purpose out. Jeremiah was certain that he was entrusted with a Word from the Lord and that he must proclaim it. Nevertheless there were occasions when he wished, as did The Great Messenger still to come, the Lord Jesus, that God would take the cup from him. There is a passage in the story of his life and mission that explains his dilemma, described as “one of the most impressive and most revealing passages in all the writings by the prophets”.

If I say, I will not make mention of Him, or speak any more in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jeremiah 20: 9)

Here, in Chapter 20, the soul of Jeremiah is exposed and disclosed in his bleakest and darkest hour. He curses the day he was born. He is driven to the depths of despair. He was flogged and put in the stocks and thrown into a pit – and this is just part of the mockery and suffering he endured, the cost of loyalty to his Calling. Derision is hard to take, worse than violent blows, and few can cope with it. Jeremiah began to think himself a failure. He blames God for getting him into this sorry mess. God is still the subject of blame.

But there is another side to his story. There comes a time when Jeremiah is in prison and, during this time, he does a very unusual thing. From his cell in a city besieged, and his hopes daily diminished, Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. He was a native of Anathoth and the land, left in the hands of his cousin Hanamel, Jeremiah had a right to purchase. Jeremiah bought it and in a single act reveals the religion of a Great Heart. Jeremiah had every reason to think that his incarceration was nothing less than a life sentence. What was a man in his position wanting to do with a piece of land? Folk must have concluded that he was completely round the bend. There was every possibility that in a few years there would be no Hebrew land left. But Jeremiah bought a field in Anathoth. In Jeremiah’s darkness a light shone, admittedly at times a mere flicker, but still a glimmer of hope – a light that cannot be quenched. The troubles he had seen and borne made him conscious of a resource in God, providing us with a double-sided picture of a true man of God whose faith sustained him. He does not warrant the reputation that has pursued him down the centuries. A pity there would appear to be very few babies who are given his name.

In a German concentration camp, imprisoned because he would not compromise his faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the cost of discipleship (for him it was martyrdom) and there is a prayer to which Jeremiah could subscribe – to which hopefully we might say Amen however we might be confused by God.

In me there is darkness – but with thee there is light – I am lonely but thou leavest me not –I am restless but with thee there is peace – in me there is bitterness but with thee there is patience – thy ways are past understanding – but thou knowest the way for me!

An investment in faith

When I was christened in the parlour of our ground floor flat, common practice in those days, I was given a family name – another not uncommon practice. I was ‘John Gordon’ after my father, Gordon my mother’s surname. My wife was also given family names and so were our two daughters. That was just the way it was done then, unlike today when little bairns have fancy and unusual names. Once upon a time it was the normal thing to give a child a biblical name. They still do it, although parents and offspring may not be aware of it – it’s just a nice name. In the olden days to which I refer there was no question that a biblical name was the name of a character who, for one reason or another, had come down to us as part of biblical history. So we have our Adams, our Jacobs and our Sarahs, our Ruths, our Marys. In the deep south of the USA and in African countries people are proud to be a Moses, even an Ephraim, Ebenezer or Naomi or Leah and such like. I should not imagine anyone opting for Jezebel!

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremiah by Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

There is another name that may not be contender. Calling someone a Jeremiah is no compliment. All down the centuries, Jeremiah is denounced as the great pessimist of Old Testament times. His reputation is that of a ‘dismal Jimmy’, a melancholy sort of guy – one reason why we can thank our lucky stars our parents did not have us christened ‘Jeremiah’. However, thus far there is no suggestion that we have met up with the real Jeremiah. A more detailed portrait of this man of God, this great prophet, would reveal that he is much maligned, misunderstood and misrepresented. In his biography, the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, he is shown to have been a given very difficult assignment by God. For 40 turbulent years he gave himself to the service of the Lord, a vocation not marked by outstanding success. So much militated against him.

In the early days, Manasseh was king and the Bible has little good to say about him. With Manasseh around, Jeremiah was on a hiding to nothing. Certain of the Word given him by the Lord, Jeremiah showed tremendous courage in the face of such opposition and persecution. Jeremiah was the king’s thorn in the flesh, especially when he made it clear that God was on the prophet’s side. Religiously the king was a dead loss, a corrupter, schemer who indulged in his personal whims and fancy to shape Hebrew religion as he pleased. Dr Norman Snaith, who taught me Old Testament in College, did not spare the king. He tried to make our hair stand on end with indignation at the thought of Manasseh’s prostitution of religion. He accused him of every abominable thing he could think of introducing in the Temple. Although never a lover of priestly religion, Dr Snaith had some harsh things to say of those who tolerated the variety of dark superstitions initiated by Manasseh in the temple, despoiling the pure religion of Jeremiah, for which Jeremiah vigorously campaigned. He denounced those whose preaching was false, those who proclaimed all is well when there was no peace. Jeremiah was well aware that his message was not popular. Society was corrupt and Jeremiah dare not ignore it. He did not have a growing movement of supporters. Instead he was headed for defeat, imprisonment, death, exile. Few listened, few heeded, but Jeremiah continued to fulfil his calling. He is misunderstood and misnamed, so much so that few babies are named after him.

Jeremiah will be back next time.