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!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.