MAN WITH A MISSION Jeremiah 1
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet. He was called by God to suffer with a people destined for judgment, who persistently rejected the prophet and his message. We may yearn to be commissioned by the Lord for some vital ministry. But Jeremiah reminds us that the spiritually prominent have a price to pay.
Jeremiah was commissioned to communicate the word of the Lord at a critical time in Judah’s history. This chapter reports his call, and provides the key to understanding both the pressures on God’s servant and the promises that sustained him.
Understanding the Text
“Through the reign” Jer. 1:1–3.
The first verses of Jeremiah specify the kings during whose reigns the prophet cried out to God’s people. Jeremiah’s call came during the reign of godly King Josiah, in 627B.C, and the first 10 chapters of this book record messages given during the Josian revival. Chapters 21–39 record messages given during the reigns of evil rulers, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah. In 587B.C Jeremiah was imprisoned for treason, and chapters 40–52 report the culminating events of his life—and of Jerusalem’s fall. Here is a brief chronology of the tumultuous times during which this prophet lived and ministered. 686 Wicked Manasseh rules 648 Josiah born 642 Amon succeeds Manasseh 640 Josiah succeeds Amnon 633 Josiah turns to the Lord Ashurbanipal of Assyria dies 628 Josiah begins reforms Jeremiah begins ministry 626 Nabopolassar becomes king of Babylon 621 Book of Law found in the temple 612 Nineveh, Assyrian capital, taken by the Babylonians 609 Josiah killed in battle Jehoahaz rules three months Jehoiakim placed on throne by Egyptians 605 Egyptians defeated by Babylonians Nebuchadnezzar becomes king of Babylon First Jewish captives deported to Babylon. The group includes Daniel 601 Babylon invades Egypt, is thrown back 598 Jehoiachin becomes king in Judah, but is taken to Babylon in April of 597 597 Zedekiah becomes king in Judah 588 Babylonians begin siege of Jerusalem, on January 15th 586 Jerusalem falls on August 14th. The final deportation takes place The Babylonian governor of Judah is assassinated October 7 The remaining Jews reject Jeremiah’s counsel and flee to Egypt During such times, the Word of God is most desperately needed. But that word, delivered by God’s spokesman Jeremiah, was consistently rejected by Jewish people and their rulers, despite the fact that their world was crumbling around them. We need to be especially sensitive to God’s Word in our own times of stress, even if what we hear condemns our attitudes and challenges our values. Ultimately, God’s Word is intended not to destroy but to heal. “I formed you in the womb” Jer. 1:5. These words to Jeremiah remind us that God is deeply involved in the formation of every human being from conception. On the one hand this is a great comfort. God knew you and me as individuals before we were born. He knew us, loved us, and participated in every stage of our development. The gifts and talents you have were carefully nurtured, even as you developed in embryo. This means that you and I can be glad in who we are. We are the persons that God intended us to be. The abilities we have are His gifts, and He can use you and me to His glory. On the other hand, this verse offers us a challenge. Many are confused by the rhetoric of moderns who place no value on the human fetus, dismissing the unborn as some insignificant part of a mother’s body, as easily discarded as hair that is too long or a broken fingernail. God’s words to Jeremiah, “I formed you in the womb,” confront us with the fact that the unborn child is a separate, individual person, precious to God and with full rights as a separate human being. Perhaps Jeremiah’s example of commitment to an unpopular cause, despite ridicule and abuse from his society, may encourage us to stand with God for, rather than against, the unborn. “I am only a child” Jer. 1:6–8. When God called Jeremiah as a young man in his early 20s, he felt terribly vulnerable and inadequate. He surely had his reasons. Jeremiah grew up in a priestly family during the reign of Manasseh, who had murdered many pious men. He was young and untested, unsure of himself as any young person is likely to be. The thought that God viewed him as special, and had a special mission for him, was overwhelming. It’s appropriate when we approach any ministry to share Jeremiah’s emotions. In ourselves we are inadequate, mere children. The person who approaches any spiritual service with an arrogant self-confidence is sure to fail. We need to grasp, as did Jeremiah, that no matter what natural gifts God has given us, we can do nothing in or by ourselves. In this case, however, Jeremiah’s protests indicate more than humility. The future prophet’s objection was rebuked, as if he were using his sense of weakness as an excuse to refuse God’s call. God responded, “You must go.” Yet, even God’s rebuke conveys a promise. Jeremiah was told not to be afraid, “For I am with you and will rescue you.” When God calls any person to a ministry, He commits Himself to be with that individual. God will be with you as you serve Him, despite your weaknesses, and despite any fears you may have. “Over nations and kingdoms” Jer. 1:9–16. These verses provide a preview of the message that Jeremiah would deliver to Judah. It was an unpopular message, for it conveyed God’s intention to bring a powerful new kingdom from the north down on His people and their land. Jeremiah was told that as God’s prophet he was “over” the kingdoms of this world. That is, they would behave as he announced they would. Most often we think of ourselves as subject to the political powers of the nation in which we live. Jeremiah was reminded that real authority belongs to God—and that a person who proclaims the Word of God is greater than any worldly power. Ultimately the world will submit to God’s authority, and will surely do what He has willed. You and I too live in tension between the powers of this world and the Word of God. If we commit ourselves to do God’s will and to live by His Word, we, like Jeremiah, will be “over nations and kingdoms.” “Get yourself ready!” Jer. 1:17–19 Jeremiah was about to set out on a great adventure. He had been called to live not by the values and beliefs of his society, but by God’s Word. And he had been called to proclaim that Word, whatever the cost might be to him personally. Jeremiah now had to prepare himself: he had to make a firm decision, and commit himself to God’s way only. You and I are challenged to make the same commitment. We are not to drift through life, believing in God but living like men and women of the world. We are to take a stand, as Jeremiah did. We are to make a firm decision to live by, and to witness to, the Word of God. Again God’s challenge is accompanied by a promise. A promise that you and I as well as Jeremiah can claim. “Today I have made you a fortified city. . . . They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you” (vv. 18–19).
The Price of Commitment(Selected passages)
If we glance ahead through the Book of Jeremiah, we learn something of the price that Jeremiah paid because of his complete commitment to God. His message was so unpopular that some men actually conspired to take his life (cf. 11:18–20). Others attempted to neutralize Jeremiah’s influence by slandering him. They said, “Let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says” (18:18). Still others simply ridiculed God’s faithful prophet. This apparently hurt Jeremiah most of all, for he wrote: I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. . . . So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long (20:7–8). Later in his life Jeremiah was imprisoned and his life threatened by Judah’s rulers. He was accused of treason, and considered a national disgrace. None of this was easy for the sensitive prophet. In one passage that captures the despair he often felt, Jeremiah cried out, “Cursed be the day I was born!” And he concluded his cry with this lament: “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” (vv. 14, l8) But Jeremiah did not end his days in shame. His predictions of doom came true, and it was his enemies who were put to shame in the end. Even so, what sustained Jeremiah through the difficult years was not the conviction that he was right, but a deep compassion for those to whom he spoke. Jeremiah warned of judgment—in hope that some would hear, repent, and be saved. “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city,” one of his sermons affirmed. But his hope was that his listeners would “now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster He has pronounced against you” (26:12–13). Yes, if we fully commit ourselves to the Lord there may very well be a price to pay. Yet because God’s Word is true, we will be proven right in the end. And, until then, we will be sustained by the awareness that our faithfulness may be the means of bringing others with us to the Lord.
The rewards of commitment far exceed any cost.