Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Jeremiah Essays: Jeremiah—Not just the Weeping Prophet

Josiah's Reforms

This post begins a series of essays that will work sequentially through the book of Jeremiah. This is not to say that Jeremiah is not a book that deserves a complete analysis, but it is ground that has been covered by many people—and sometimes a slightly higher level can offer perspectives that a detailed look cannot. And so it is my plan to work through the book and comment on passages that I find particularly interesting and instructive.

I just googled using the phrase "weeping prophet." As I predicted the first entry was about the prophet Jeremiah. There were some 710,000 web pages found by the search, but after only 782 pages, Google announced that the remaining 99% were just repeats. The vast majority of those 782 pages referred to Jeremiah.

So who am I to downplay this popular title?

It is not that Jeremiah did not weep. It is rather that "weeping prophet" belies the strength and fortitude that was the foundation of this prophet. It belies the reasons for those painful moments when he wept. It belies the connection with the Lord of hosts who cried with Jeremiah, but held resolute in purpose to eradicate a nation that He claimed as His own.

Here is Jeremiah weeping:

"Oh that my head were waters And my eyes a fountain of tears, That I might weep day and night For the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert A wayfarers' lodging place; That I might leave my people And go from them! For all of them are adulterers, An assembly of treacherous men. They bend their tongue like their bow; Lies and not truth prevail in the land; For they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:1-3, NASB 95)

Did that last line catch you by surprise? Are these the words of Jeremiah or the Lord? Surely it is Jeremiah who speaks, "Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers' lodging place that I might leave my people and go from them!" And just as surely it is the Lord who speaks, "For they proceed from evil to evil and they do not know Me." There are times throughout the book that Jeremiah, in speaking for himself, also speaks for the Lord. His feelings and emotions are God's feelings and emotions. There is weeping, but it is combined with a grim determination that there is a hard task to be done to rescue the children of Israel from an idolatry that has left them only a generation from losing the knowledge of God.

Many a fire-and-brimstone preacher could benefit from the tears of Jeremiah/God over the message that Jeremiah delivered. Many a hell-fire-and-damnation revivalist could benefit from a heart that cries because it has been pushed to the limits where mercy will do more harm than good. There is no joy in judgment; only grim necessity.

But here is my main point. Designating Jeremiah as the weeping prophet obscures his authority and iron-clad strength of will and determination to perform God’s hard and difficult calling. Jeremiah’s ministry covered a period of over 40 years. Nobody liked his message. He met daily opposition to a message of coming destruction, opposition to his message in the days destruction was at hand, and opposition to his message after the destruction was complete. He faithfully stayed on task and message. His designation as the weeping prophet completely fails to communicate this most important side of the man.

It is better to see Jeremiah as the prophet of authority, because that is what the Lord gave him:

Then the Lord stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me, "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

And it is certainly proper to think of Jeremiah as the prophet of iron and bronze, because that was how God equipped him:

"Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, or I will dismay you before them. Now behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze against the whole land, to the kings of Judah, to its princes, to its priests and to the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:17-19)

So as I develop these essays, you will see the tears. But you will also see the authority and the fortitude of Jeremiah. He is the prophet to whom I would bestow the most honors. He had the most difficult message and he delivered it day in and day out for over 40 years. Come along with me and get to know the man and his message better.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>