Dialogues with Deity

Someone with a military background might balk at this title. No one is permitted to “dialogue” with the Supreme Commander! And here’s the point. It is absolutely, entirely, 100% astonishing to see a human being and DEITY engage in true conversation. This is what the book of Jeremiah chronicles; multiple conversations between Almighty God and his very human spokesperson, Jeremiah.

Value of The Book

In the natural world, things of great value (gold and diamonds) hide in rugged and difficult locations. In Biblical literature, the Book of Jeremiah compares well to those rugged landscapes. Rough, tough reading. And “buried” within the book are insights of tremendous value.

The book of Jeremiah affords the remarkable opportunity to gaze into a dynamic, 40-year relationship; the relationship between a human being and Almighty, Living God.

Dialogues may not dominate the text, but they are present, woven in at appropriate places. They provide meaning, practicality, and embodiment of how God chooses to operate in this world. He works in and through genuine relationships; through true interpersonal communication.

Jeremiah displays the Living God doing this; it is incredible to behold.[1]

The Relationship

Private conversations between God and his spokesperson enter the public domain through Jeremiah’s book. Things aren’t always smooth between the two parties. It is a growing, dynamic, interactive, two-party, give-and-take relationship. Things get turbulent; but they work things out. Insights abound.[2]

Catch the turbulence. Listen to a complaint Jeremiah articulates against his Maker and Commander:

Yet I curse the day I was born!

I curse the messenger who told my father, “Good news – you have a son!” Let him be destroyed… because he did not kill me at birth.

Oh, that I had died in my mother’s womb, that her body had been my grave!” 20:14-18.

What induced Jeremiah to such anger and despair? Is a human being allowed to rail against God?

The following 10 chapters aim for a “full-disclosure” presentation of this God-man, man-God relationship as revealed in Jeremiah’s tome. The disclosure of this relationship is intentional; deliberately included in the text of the book. This explains part of the Book’s non-chronological organization. Relational issues between God and prophet, and between God and the people, take center stage.[3]

God initiates most of the dialogues, others originate from Jeremiah. Note the words, the interchanges, and even the silences (sometimes glaring silences).

The ongoing dialogues in Jeremiah divide into 10 parts:

  1. Conscripted into the Lord’s Army, 1:4-19.
  2. On-The-Job Training, 3:1 – 6:30.
  3. Growing Deeper, 7:1 – 10:25.
  4. Conspiracy Leading to Understanding and Empathy, 11:1 – 12:17.
  5. Sharing in God’s Greater Heart-Pain, 14:1 – 15:21.
  6. Full, Unreserved Compliance, 16:1 – 17:27.
  7. A Most Important Revelation, 18:1 – 20:18.
  8. Theaters of Operation, 24:1-10.
  9. An Adult Prayer, 32:1-44.
  10. Choose Your Zip Code, 39:11 – 45:5.

God and Jeremiah converse back and forth throughout much of the book. Jeremiah’s life and ministry was difficult and confusing, and seemingly without positive results. Through submission and obedience, Jeremiah traded comfort and ease for something much greater – a raw, genuine, developing relationship with Almighty God. We tend to think a “right relationship with God” will make life prosperous and glowing, but the relationship between God and Jeremiah pops this false bubble.[4] “The lasting value of Jeremiah’s book lies … also in its being a wonderful handbook for learning the art of having fellowship with God. Here is personal faith at its highest in the OT.”[5]


[1] “It was the intensely individual, person-to-person experience of God that was Jeremiah’s epoch-making discovery. It was not merely emotional, ecstatic, or mystical; it was a strong, undergirding, and fruitful relationship that engendered profound thought, a social conscience, a high personal ethic, and a comprehensive view of the divine purpose.” White, p. 175.

[2] “The prophet and God are often in lively and urgent communication, with regard to both personal and community matters (e.g., 12:1-6; 15:15-21); though God’s word begins the relationship (1:4-5), both take the initiative in the ongoing interaction. The God of Jeremiah not only speaks, but listens, and is open to taking new directions in view of what is heard (e.g. 18:7-10).” Fretheim p. 6.

[3] This emphasis on relationships cannot be stated strong enough.

[4] “The root of our problem is that we want God to hand us a magic apple and send us on our way. Meanwhile God wants to be generous and share parts of his will with us in the context of an ongoing, loving dialogue. Our hunger to know God’s will is an invitation, placed deep within us, to encounter God and to know his love.” Shallenberger, Larry Divine Intention: How God’s Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook,Kindle Edition, pp. 120-121.

[5] Zondervan NIV Study Bible Commentary Vol. 1, Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994, p. 1155.

Josiah’s Children, Physical and Spiritual

Physical Sons

Josiah was a great man, an outstanding leader, a man of integrity and spirituality. He deliberately and methodically changed a nation. He was a channel of great blessing to a people who were in dire distress. Thank God for such a man.

There is, however, one black mark on Josiah’s record. He failed miserably in the area of raising his own children. We know he had three sons and each of them had a turn on the throne of Judah. None of them followed in their father’s good footsteps.

When Josiah died, the people knew his oldest son, Eliakim, was bad news for the nation. Through a movement of the people, Eliakim was overlooked and his younger brother, Jehoahaz, the middle son, was crowned as the successor to Josiah. The Biblical record sadly tells us: “He did what was evil in the LORD’s sight, just as his ancestors had done.” 2 Kings 23:32. He lasted only three months before he was captured by Pharaoh Neco and taken away to Egypt.

Pharaoh then appointed the older brother to be king. He had his name changed from Eliakim to Jehoiakim (it seems that powerful kings did this to the weaker ones, so that whenever anyone mentions the new name they are reminded of who is really in charge – the one who gave the name). Pharaoh also demanded a large payment in silver and gold. In Jehoiakim’s third year, Babylon came and looted Jerusalem of its wealth and the best of its human resources (Daniel 1:1-4).

Jehoiakim lasted 11 years on the throne. He did terrible things, including burning the word of God (Jeremiah 36). As a result, God allowed for King Nebuchadnezzar, of Babylon, to come and capture him and his wealth and most of the population of Judah and Jerusalem.

Jehoiakim’s son, Jehoiachin, became king but lasted only three months.

The third brother, named Zedekiah, was then made king. He was weak and uncertain of what to do. He asked for advice from the Lord’s prophet, Jeremiah, but he was too weak to follow it. He stayed on the throne for 11 years, but during the last 3 years, Jerusalem was surrounded by the mighty Babylonian armies and the people of Judah were thirsting and starving to death. Even in the very end, he did not turn to God. For some reason, Josiah’s three sons and one grandson who took his place never sought the Lord, never bothered to do what was right and true. This is a very sad end to the Davidic dynasty (though not the very end, since there is still a descendant of David and Josiah who will rule as king (Matt 1:1-16).

Spiritual Children

Josiah’s physical children turned out to be disasters. This type of thing has happened far too many times in the history of God’s people. God does not want us to neglect and ruin our children while focusing only on serving him (1 Timothy 5:8). It is so sad that Josiah caused the nation of Judah to thrive in obedience to God while leaving his sons so ill-prepared to continue his good work.

However, Josiah can be credited with a host of spiritual children who earned their way among the greatest of God’s people.

Jeremiah was the same age as Josiah, but because Josiah made such an early start on his spiritual pilgrimage it is easy to imagine that Josiah’s purity of heart on the throne inspired Jeremiah to give himself completely to God’s service. And that service was reasonably easy while Josiah lived, but it was Josiah’s sons who made life a living hell for him later on (Jeremiah 22:10-11, 18-19; 26:20-23; 36:18-26; 37:11-16; 38:4-6).

Daniel was an outstanding man of God and part of what made him holy and true in a wicked land was the example of a daring, righteous king who reigned when Daniel was born and started school. Daniel was a young man when that arrow struck King Josiah and all of Judah and Jerusalem mourned his death (2 Chron. 35:24-25). Daniel must have received great inspiration from this outstanding king, and when he was caught in the web of Babylonian politics he followed Josiah’s “no compromise” policy completely (Daniel 1:8; 6:3-4, 10-23). Daniel was a superb man who was told by an angel, “The moment you began praying, a command was given … for you are very precious to God.” (Daniel 9:23).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were friends, fellow-refugees, and co-workers of Daniel. They also were born and raised with the righteous king, Josiah, on the throne. They exhibited courage and great faith when they chose to be burnt alive in a huge furnace rather than bow before a false god (Daniel 3:9-20). The True God used them mightily in the foreign kingdom of Babylon (Daniel 3: 21-30).

Ezekiel was in his early twenties when Josiah died. Three years later he was taken to Babylon along with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Ezekiel 1:1-2). He was a priest who was then called to be a prophet (just like Jeremiah). Ezekiel spent his whole adult life in the foreign land but faithfully taught and challenged God’s people to live in obedience to their God. His ministry was an essential part of preparing God’s people to eventually return to their land and worship Him alone.

Conclusion: God used Josiah in a mighty and strategic way to save his people from the total destruction they deserved. Other nations taken captive by Assyria and Babylon never returned to their original land. They lost their national identity and were absorbed by the greater nations. The same should have happened to Judah, but God used an eight-year-old boy, who grew to be an outstanding king and religious leader, who purged the land of idolatry, who restored the Temple and reignited the prescribed worship of the True and Living God. God used Josiah in a mighty way to prepare His people for the difficulties ahead. And with the hard work of Josiah’s spiritual children the nation continued as a united people bound together by the worship of the true God.

This is God’s promise to his people when they were about to be taken away as captives to Babylon. “I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God.  And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.” Jeremiah 32:37-41.Josiah – Chain Breaker is available at all CBM bookshops in PNG, and anywhere in world the through eBook sellers.

The Dust from which Jeremiah’s Scroll Arose

Scholars find the Book of Jeremiah to be an obstinate specimen; disinclined to reveal its progression and inner cohesion.[1]  They say its chronology is messed up.[2] Its themes (supposedly) are limited, overly negative, and too often repeated.[3]  They postulate that many authors and editors at various stages of its development created the garbled, confusing text that we have today.[4] Mountains of ink and paper (and of course time) have been spent postulating which authors/redactors contributed to this portion or that part; and at what time in the text’s evolution.[5]

Such “scholarship” [sorry to be blunt] is built on a scaffold of outdated assumptions and falsehoods.

Please consider a fresh approach.

This book[6] offers an explanation of the structure of Jeremiah’s scroll as seen through the following five assumptions:

  1. The author[7] of Jeremiah was a very adept thinker and writer.[8]
  2. The author of Jeremiah was intentional in his arrangement.[9]
  3. The content, arrangement, and progression of the book was driven by the following motivations:
    1. Driven by the immediate and long-term needs of its target audience: The Jewish captives scattered throughout many nations over a huge geographical area.
    2. Their greatest need (as individuals and especially as communities) was heart-change and life-change through a radical move to repentance and reconciliation with their Living God.[10]
    3. They also had great hurts, and perhaps anger and bitterness, but especially communal shame, through and because of the tragic events that they as a people had suffered. They needed help. Help to face these issues head-on. So that, with God’s help, they could find healing and be restored to spiritual, emotional, and mental health.
    4. They were no doubt confused over what, how and why these tragedies happened. They needed to face these cognitive issues, discuss them thoroughly, and gain an apologetic regarding who they are and especially who their God is.
  4. The author of Jeremiah could organize the material free of restrictions, such as chronology or pedantic progression. His audience was well aware of their long-term and immediate history.[11] So much knowledge was “shared-knowledge” or “common knowledge” among his readers that he could assume their comprehension.[12] Also, the relevance of the messages was unquestioned.
  5. The intended audience read/heard it through radically different eyes/ears than us. They saw and felt everything in 3D. Their wounds were real and emotions raw. Public readings of the lengthy scroll became a momentous event in their lives. The written words spoke to the very heart of their deepest issues and concerns. And it is indeed conceivable that the words in the scroll delivered them from drudgery and hopelessness, and brought them to the light, to purpose, and to the hope of a future community. A community planned and waiting to be actioned by their amazing God.

Greatest Insight

The greatest insight into the organization of the Book of Jeremiah will come through a well-studied and well-prepared empathetic reading of the text. The goal? To crawl into the skin of the original hearers and absorb it through their eyes and ears and needy hearts.

  • What passages of Jeremiah produced the highest interest of the original readers?
  • What passages of Jeremiah incited the greatest pain, shame, and anger?
  • What passages in Jeremiah were the hardest for the original audience to believe?
  • Which passages spoke so loudly they were never forgotten?

It is perhaps not possible to answer these questions with certainty; but keeping these issues in mind while reading the text definitely pays high dividends.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope … I will bring you home again to your own land.” Jer. 29:11-14.


[1] “The modern reader of the Book of Jeremiah is faced at the outset with a difficult task. What has survived is not a book, in the normal sense of that word; it does not move from beginning to end, following a clear logic and inner development. Indeed, the major portion of the substance of this “book” was never designed for the literary context in which it has survived” Craigie, Peter C. et all, p xxxi.

[2] One commentator in his introduction uses the heading: “The Disorder of the Book”.  “No one can pretend that the book of Jeremiah is an orderly book. It could only be made so by severe pruning away of additional material and by drastic rearrangement to present a relatively accurate chronological scheme.” Cunliffe-Jones, p. 15. [Why is chronology so important, Cunliffe-Jones?].

[3] “Parke-Taylor… finds the prose to be “monotonously repetitive” and “pedantic.” Brown, Kindle Location 1974.

[4] “The disorder of the book comes, indeed, from accumulated additional material added without editorial supervision.” Cunliffe-Jones, P. 20.

[5] An example: “This chapter [24] has the form of a prose vision report. Although prose, Mowinckel placed it with his “A” material. Although some commentators have assumed that the passage is Deuteronomistic (Nicholson and Hyatt), and others put it as later (Duhm and May), many take it to be largely Jeremianic (Rudolph, Bright, Holladay). The passage appears to have several later expansions.” Craigie, Peter C., p.357.

[6] The title of the book, when completed, will be Masterful Communication from Deity – The Book of Jeremiah.

[7] Authorship of the scroll is covered in another paper. Basically, it is believed by this writer that almost the entirety of the Masoretic text was composed by Jeremiah and Baruch in Egypt. At a later date, the final 4 verses where added by leaders of the faith community. They were happy to add this addendum, bringing completeness and a final note of hope to the scroll.

[8] Evidence is displayed in each column of the scroll.

[9] He ordered and arranged his material for a Specific Audience. As readers and students of this document, we are obligated as best we can to crawl into the skins of that audience. Hear it with their ears. Evaluate it with their experiences and needs and expectations. And feel its message with their hurting, disillusioned, and needy hearts. The Book of Jeremiah is excellent material for testing (and experiencing) Relevance Theory. (See Appendix ?TBD).

[10] This assumption is made based on the contents of Jeremiah and the Captivity Psalms. See Other Original Documents, pp TBD.

[11] History for these people was not a subject taken in school, it was their binding heritage, their unique identity, their strength for the present and their hope moving forward. History was “taught” through story telling every night around the fires, the elderly teaching the younger ones who there are, where they came from, and where they want to go. Events like Yom Kippur and the Feast of Booths.

[12] The shared cognitive environment was very broad and very deep, and not only knowledge was shared, but also experiences and interests and hopes overlapped greatly between writer and receptors.

Jeremiah – Choose Your Zip Code

Introduction to Dialogue #10

Some may hesitate to call this passage a “dialogue”. But it is included here because God DID speak, Jeremiah DID answer, and the consequences were great. Jeremiah’s last prayer is also recorded. It was offered on behalf of other people. They were anxious and worried, forced to wait ten long days for their answer. These were unusual times.

Flow of Conversation

Easily the strangest “dialogue” of all, the two parties communicate indirectly. God’s “servant”, Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, finds and frees Jeremiah (39:11-14). The Lord speaks through another foreigner to say, “Chose where you will live out the rest of your days.” (40:1-5). Jeremiah remains silent but answers with his feet (40:6). People force the prophet to reengage with Supreme Commander (42:1-3). Who then delays His answer (42:7) but eventually speaks clearly (42:9-22). Which the people reject anyway (43:1-2). Yes, this is a strange dialogue.

We can’t imagine the feelings of loss, devastation, and helplessness as Jeremiah watched the city walls torn down, the palace buildings destroyed, and the Temple of the Lord demolished.
The Babylonian officer in charge of the demolition was Nebuzaradan, a VIP Captain of the army, who received orders directly from King Nebuchadnezzar. He arrived a month after the wall was breached and King Zedekiah was blinded and taken away. Nebuzaradan’s job was to level the city.
Nebuchadnezzar, the Great Emperor himself, was very aware of God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah, and was ready to protect and honor him. This is not so surprising and shows the broad and powerful influence God’s spokesperson had. The Babylonian emperor told his top deputy to find Jeremiah. “See that he isn’t hurt. Look after him well and give him everything he wants.” 39:12.
The text sidetracks a little to show how the Lord remembered the Ethiopian (who saved Jeremiah from the muddy cistern) and promised to keep him safe (Jer. 39:15-18).
Then comes this statement, “The LORD gave a message to Jeremiah after Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, had released him at Ramah.” (40:1). But this was not a direct message (as were all the preceding ones), the Lord used a human intermediary, the foreign Captain himself.
The captain of the guard called for Jeremiah and said, “The LORD your God has brought this disaster on this land, just as he said he would … But I am going to take off your chains and let you go. If you want to come with me to Babylon, you are welcome. I will see that you are well cared for. But if you don’t want to come, you may stay here. The whole land is before you – go wherever you like … it’s up to you; go wherever you like.” 40:2-5.
This was the Lord’s word to Jeremiah. He gives him complete freedom and impels him to make a decision. Will you choose to join the exiles in Babylon or will you choose to remain in the land? You must decide, no one will do it for you.
There is no verbal response recorded in the text. Jeremiah instead spoke with his feet.
So Jeremiah returned to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and he lived in Judah with the few who were still left in the land. 40:6.

Jeremiah’s Decision
The text offers no comment on this decision.
Did he make the “right” (God honoring) decision or the “wrong” (self-serving) decision? What was his thinking and motives? For what reasons did he choose to stay? For selfish reasons? Self-pity? Or to avoid the attention that awaited him in Babylon? We can only speculate, but asking these honest questions brings us “into” the situation, and how the text addresses it.
It seems apparent, though, that he chose to stay among the “bad figs” in the land accursed by God. Perhaps this was motivated by bitterness. He had worked tirelessly, against great opposition for 40 years, motivated by the hope that the holy city and temple could be saved. He gave his all, and it was not enough.


The results
We learn that things turned out horribly for him. There was hope for peace while Gedaliah served as governor, but then he was murdered. Jeremiah was in the hands of this murderer and about to be taken to Ammon.
A rescue mission took place and now there was a diverse group of people under the leadership of the rescuer, Johanan. They felt they should flee to Egypt before the Babylonian armies brought vengeance for the murder of the appointed governor. But they decided to ask Jeremiah to check what God thought about their plans.
Then all the guerrilla leaders, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people, from the least to the greatest, approached Jeremiah the prophet. They said, “Please pray to the LORD your God for us. As you can see, we are only a tiny remnant compared to what we were before. Pray that the LORD your God will show us what to do and where to go.” 42:1-3.
Jeremiah agreed to enquire.
“All right,” Jeremiah replied. “I will pray to the LORD your God, as you have asked, and I will tell you everything he says. I will hide nothing from you.” 42:4.
They promised to do whatever the Lord said.
Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD your God be a faithful witness against us if we refuse to obey whatever he tells us to do! Whether we like it or not, we will obey the LORD our God to whom we are sending you with our plea. For if we obey him, everything will turn out well for us.” 42:5-6.
But, the Lord did not answer quickly. Think of the times Jeremiah received almost immediately a “Word of the Lord.” But here a whole week went by without an answer. These are people living in fear; fear for their very lives. Eight days, no answer. Nine days, no answer.
The Lord’s spokesperson did not receive a word from him until the 10th day. Jeremiah was not in close fellowship with his God at this point of his life. Anger, bitterness, disappointment raged in this heart.
During this long wait the distraught seekers made up their own minds what to do. Jeremiah finally delivered a detailed, lengthy, well documented “word from the Lord” on the 10th day (42:7-22). But by now the people were prepared to go completely against the Lord’s instructions. They went to Egypt where God’s wrath awaited, and they forced Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them.
The Lord gave a few more messages to his spokesperson for the hearing of those in Egypt, but they were only messages of judgement that the people refused to hear. (43:8-13, 44:1-14, 44:20-30).

Conclusion
Jeremiah was forced to choose his own zip code. He could not blame God for that choice, the results that followed were entirely upon himself.
Jeremiah’s time in Judah and Egypt were, for all we can see, a waste. There is nothing good that came out of it.
The other place Jeremiah could have taken up residence had hundreds of thousands of the Lord’s “good figs.” The Lord’s heart, the Lord’s favor, and the Lord’s future plans were with those exiles. His seasoned spokesperson could have had (and I would say “should” have had) a strategic impact among those favored people.
But this was a choice Jeremiah had to make himself: To set aside his heart-pain and be willing to offer himself as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord, for the sake of his captive people.

Jeremiah was overcome by tragedy. But his amazing, longsuffering, relationship-driven God was not done with him. It would seem clear that God’s spokesperson, and the spokesperson’s scribe were in Egypt for some length of time. And as their hearts softened, as they allowed their loving God to renew their strength, they took the opportunity to work together in constructing this amazing, lengthy, full-disclosure scroll that we now know as The Book of Jeremiah.

Conclusion: Waves of Opposition

Few on planet earth endure a range of hardships like Jeremiah.

  • Death threats from family and townsfolk.
  • Angry, anonymous mob demanding death by stoning.
  • Public whipping and a night in stocks.
  • Months of work destroyed and need to flee.
  • Strange acted-out dual leading to death.
  • Cast into a stinking muddy pit.
  • Forced to make a repulsive purchase.

One episode remains. Something entirely different. In this one, Jeremiah becomes somewhat a trouble maker.

Jeremiah the Tempter

Jeremiah sought out the leaders of a certain family clan and invited all the men to join him inside the temple. At the appointed time they came. Jeremiah had reserved a room and set it up to host them. He welcomed them in the traditional way with cups and jugs of wine.

All the social norms, all the accepted behavior, etiquette, decency, in that day placed a strong obligation on these guests to receive the drink with gratitude. The host honored them by going personally to invite them. The host prepared everything in advance. They came as guests and were obliged to return honor to their host. Refusing the welcoming drink is a breach of etiquette, an unforgivable offense. But this is what they did. They brought shame on Jeremiah by refusing his welcome. In normal circumstances, Jeremiah would be hotly offended.

The problem? These men, along with their whole clan for generations, were under oath to not drink from the fruit of the vine. They were teetotalers from birth to death. Even God’s spokesperson in a private temple room would not get them to change.

Jeremiah breathed a sigh of relief. The Recabites’ unswerving obedience to their forefathers became powerful ammunition for rebuking the populace and the leaders of Judah.

Come and learn a lesson about how to obey me. The Recabites do not drink wine to this day because their ancestor Jehonadab told them not to. But I have spoken to you again and again, and you refuse to obey me. Time after time I sent you prophets, who told you, “Turn from your wicked ways, and start doing things right. Stop worshiping other gods so that you might live in peace here in the land I have given to you and your ancestors.” But you would not listen to me or obey me. The descendants of Jehonadab son of Recab have obeyed their ancestor completely, but you have refused to listen to me. Jer. 35:13-16.

A Clear Contrast

The contrasts are powerful:

In terms of loyalty, the Almighty, Living, Covenant God of Israel is certainly worthy of greater allegiance than any ancestor.

In terms of self-help, the benefits derived by obeying their Covenant God are exponentially greater than the Recabites were to gain through family loyalty.

But in all the places Jeremiah journeyed, and rebuked, and called for change, the people spat in his face, refusing to listen. The Recabites proved noble, all the others were ignoble.

“My people are foolish and do not know me,” says the LORD. “They are stupid children who have no understanding. They are clever enough at doing wrong, but they have no idea how to do right!” Jer. 4:22.

Therefore, their land will become desolate, a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will shake their heads in amazement. Jer. 18:16.

I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there. Jer. 19:8.

These are the people Jeremiah spent 40 years trying to educate, awaken, and rescue from the consequences of their folly.

Respect

It is unfortunate that Jeremiah’s most famous title among popular circles is “the weeping prophet.” There is even the term “jeremiad” coined in his “honor.” Yes Jeremiah wept, but not out of self-pity and weakness. His weeping spawned out of concern for his people. He joined the “Weeping God.”

Now, Jeremiah, say this to them: “Night and day my eyes overflow with tears. I cannot stop weeping, for my virgin daughter – my precious people – has been struck down and lies mortally wounded.” Jer. 14:17.

This point is stated well by Paul House, “This emphasis on his weeping may mislead readers regarding his toughness. Jeremiah was a determined, dedicated, long-suffering, and visionary follower of God. His courage and stamina serves as examples to even the most faithful of all God’s embattled servants.”[1]

God’s spokesperson, Jeremiah, deserves a gold medal. As a man, servant of The Most High, citizen of a small, troubled nation, an activist for social concern,[2] and a bastion of hope for the future – very few human beings should stand in honor with him. God gifted us not only with a historical record of Jeremiah, we also have his writing in which he expresses many of his feelings and thoughts in an ongoing communication with his Divine Commander.

This is the focus of the third and largest section of this book, Dialogues with Deity. It is up next.


[1] ESV Study Bible. Crossway Bibles, Wheaton IL, 2008, p. 1364.

[2] This is covered in Appendix 8, Spokesperson’s Social Concern.

Reluctant Landowner

Below is one more expression of Creative Nonfiction. It starts with a newspaper article, leading to three very different “Letters to the Editor.” We then peek into Jeremiah’s personal memoirs of the event. Things conclude with “A word from heaven” of what may have been the Lord’s thoughts on the whole thing. Enjoy!

Jerusalem Post

Freedom for All [well almost all]

After many long months of total lockdown, the city gates were open yesterday to the relief of the entire population of Jerusalem. The rumors of help from Egypt would seem to be confirmed as the only possible reason for Babylon to suddenly drop their month’s-long siege and depart the city. This help from our southern neighbor will come at a cost, but such philosophical thoughts were pushed aside as the population rushed out of the city walls in a desperate search for water and food.

A couple of the city’s residents, unfortunately, where trampled underfoot at the city gates and did not survive to enjoy the long-sought freedom. But apart from this, the citizen’s behaved lawfully as they scavenged through neglected gardens and raided fruit trees for anything nourishing and edible. The gates were closed again at sundown and the residents enjoyed a peaceful night.

In a related incident, one criminal added to his long rap-sheet of arrests and beatings and imprisonments. It seems that the cantankerous, old prophet, Jeremiah, was up to more of his shenanigans. He was apprehended trying to leave the city in hopes of catching up with his friends, the Babylonians. For years now, this renegade priest and prophet has been predicting doom for our beloved city (including the Temple and Palace) at the hands of these enemies, saying all sorts of nasty, unnecessary things and upsetting the populace. But now his prophecies had gone amuck. When he saw the Baboons leaving, it must have been too much for the old man; too hard to watch his prophecies flop. He attempted to run after them, but was grabbed by the alert guardsman named Irijah ben Shelemiah.

The clever old man attempted to argue his way out of the arrest with some ridiculous explanation about just wanting to see land he recently bought. A wire must be loose in his head because no one would believe such an outlandish claim. A prophet of doom buying real estate in a doomed land! What will this eccentric think of next! The argument was solved when Irijah took the perpetrator to the royal officials and they had him whipped and beaten and imprisoned. Such treatment has done little in the past to deter this windbag prophet, but the prison he is in now is the worst of the bunch. He won’t last long, and he won’t be causing any more trouble. [Jer. 37:11-16].

Letters to the Editor (two days later)

Letter #1

Let him rot

Dear editor,

Please let me express my opinion in your newspaper. That traitor in Jonathon’s house (the worst prison in the land) can just rot there forever. Yes, that man speaks only poison and doesn’t deserve to live. As a court recorder I want to take this opportunity to list his crimes. Surely all can agree he deserves to die.

As far back as the reign of King Josiah this man was saying our nation would be completely destroyed. These are his own obscene words: “The enemy will break open the graves of the kings and officials of Judah, and the graves of the priests, prophets, and common people of Jerusalem. They will spread out their bones on the ground before the sun, moon, and stars – the gods my people have loved, served, and worshiped. Their bones will not be gathered up again or buried. But will be scattered on the ground like manure.” [Jer. 8:1-2] Who in his right mind would compare the bones of our nobles to manure?

He compared our beloved nation to his own dirty underwear, and a perfectly good clay pot that he smashed to pieces in the eyes of all [Jer. 13:1-9; 19:10-11].

He has been saying that Babylon will deport all of us out of our land for a period of 70 long years [Jer. 25:11].

He wore a cow’s yoke around his neck for months and spoke to the ambassadors of our allied countries, telling us all to forfeit our sovereignty and bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar [Jer. 27:1-13]. This is outright treason! He then went public with it and was allowed to live and further spread his propaganda.

He has repeatedly expressed his belief that our glorious temple will be demolished and the “City of David” destroyed [Jer. 26:1-9]. Surely we noble citizens should not have to put up with such pessimistic, cynical, contrary preaching. Does he even know what he is saying?

My considered opinion is this, let this troublemaker rot in jail till the day he dies. Then proclaim a national holiday.

Signed,

Unhappy court recorder

Letter #2

Loose wires

I am writing in regard to the news article in your paper where it states that my cousin, Jeremiah ben Hilkiah, has some wires loose in his head for saying he recently bought land and wanted to see it.
I, Hanamel ben Shallum, want to set the record straight and also call on you (the Jerusalem Post) to do a better job of investigative reporting. Get your facts straight! My cousin was indeed speaking the truth. The person he bought land from was me. I approached him at the court of the king’s guard where he was held prisoner and asked if he would buy the land since he has the right of first ownership. I was surprised that he had been expecting me and was prepared to buy it without further explanation. He paid 17 shekels of silver. We signed all the necessary paperwork and the transaction was competed in the eyes of official witnesses [Jer. 27:9 -12]. The land is in Anathoth, only a few kilometers away from Jerusalem. Had you or the royal officials simply investigated his claims the record is there for all to see.

I do, though, want to comment more on my cousin. We as his family are very ashamed of his behavior over these past decades. He is so different from the rest of us. He does many crazy things and doesn’t care what people think. He is guided by one thing and one thing only – the word and instructions of his God. At times our close relatives truly wanted him dead [11:18-21], but their plots failed and we have come to pretty well ignore him. And this headache won’t last much longer. He is old. He never married. Has no children. And even the land he bought will come back to me when he dies.

Thank you,

H.b.S.

Letter #3

Most Loyal Subject

I take exception to your front-page article last Tuesday and its strongly biased description against the greatest of men, Jeremiah, the true prophet of the Living God of Israel. Yes. I may be a foreigner, but I have spent decades studying the unique religion and lifestyle of you Jews, and I must say that you are surely a most privileged people. Your history is full of miracles that no idol could perform, yet the majority population seeks only a life of ease and comfort, while true spirituality is non-existent.

This is what makes Jeremiah so great. He is in daily touch with the Living God and speaks with authority the message that you all hate to hear. There is no one more loyal to Jerusalem than Jeremiah. He is the only one willing to stick his neck out to try and save the city. None of you are willing to heed the call for repentance. This is the only way to save your city and nation. Rather than take note of this truly great man, you have subjected him to ridicule, humiliation, beatings, imprisonments, and yet he continues to speak God’s truth for the good of all you Jews.

I want to state it for the record that Jeremiah, God’s Spokesperson, is the most loyal of all the king’s subjects. He rises above everyone else in his efforts to save Jerusalem and Judah. He does this for the good of you all.

Respectfully yours,

E.M. [Jer. 38:7-13]

Jeremiah’s memoirs

Beaten and arrested again

Perhaps I should have known I wouldn’t get very far. I was still angry over this whole “landowner” incident. After all, it was God himself who forbade me to marry and have children – so why should I buy land? It was God who put me on public record time and time again saying Babylon would destroy this place and take everyone captive. Then, by telling me to buy the land, He made me look stupid, irrational, and incompetent in the eyes of all. “There’s that big-mouthed Jeremiah contradicting everything he ever said!”

There wasn’t any need for me to see the land, but the walk through the open spaces to Anathoth sounded like a good change from the cramped-ness and hostility of the city.

Wish I was immune to the pain by now, but this flogging was extra bad. I’d like to complain to my God, but he sure hasn’t been sympathetic in the past [Jer. 12:2, 5-7; 15:15-19]. My wounds must be infected in this damp, infested hole. Fever will set in soon. I won’t last long [Jer. 37:16, 20].

Penning off,

Jeremiah ben Hilkiah

A word from Heaven

I have asked much from my servant, Jeremiah. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He had good reason (humanly speaking) to be upset when I told him to publicly purchase his cousin’s land. He has no use for it: He will be wandering and homeless for the rest of this life. I have forbidden him to marry [Jer. 16:1-4], so he has no heir. To the eyes of all the people, this purchase makes no sense. However, Jeremiah needs to know, all my people need to know, that I AM NOT DONE WITH ISRAEL AND JERUSALEM. The greatness of the past is NOTHING compared to the greatness that is YET TO COME [Jer. 32:36-44; 33:6-9, 14-26]! I know what I am doing!

I left the choice of leaving the city up to him. Could have prevented anyone from recognizing him, but I chose not to interfere. He has been so loyal to me and I wish the suffering could end, but even darker days lay ahead. I am genuinely proud of him. He has learned to look beyond his personal suffering to see the greater suffering that I endure [Jer. 14:17; 8:21-9:2].

Because of his faithfulness, the account of his obedience and the power of his words will last through all of time, and many will line up in heaven to meet him. It is he who announced the purpose and length of my people’s captivity [Jer. 24:4-7; 25:11-12]; it is he who will introduce the New Covenant [Jer. 31:31-34; 32:40-41]; and it is to him that my Son while on earth will frequently be compared [Mat. 16:14].

I have prepared for Jeremiah, my faithful servant, an eternity of reward. He has surely earned the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” And why not? At the resurrection of the dead I will give this very portion of prime land to my faithful servant to be enjoyed by him – and his large host of spiritual offspring – forever! [Jer. 32:40-41].

Things to Note

1. It is important to know this story because the events here are tied to very important revelation from the LORD. The Lord wasn’t playing games or just “testing” his spokesperson. The land purchase was a very significant prophetic “sign.” This will be dealt with in more detail later.[1]

2. We should not assume that everything Jeremiah did, and all the suffering he underwent, was the perfect will of God. Jeremiah was human. There is nothing in the Biblical text to indicate the Lord wanted him to leave the city and go view his land. Did he pray about it and receive a “yes” answer? We have no way of knowing. There is another incident in Jer. 19:14 – 20:2 that might be a clearer case of him suffering for going beyond what he was told. This was dealt with already and was probably a matter of anger getting him into trouble. Jeremiah’s complaint at that time was answered by God only with silence.[2]


[1] This will be given special attention in the third book in this series, Paradigm-Shifting Communiques from DEITY – via Jeremiah.

[2] And in still another instance, the LORD verbally chastised him, “This is how the LORD responds: ‘If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you!’” Jer. 15:19. But with the complaint about the land purchase the chastisement came as silence, unresponsiveness, as if he is saying, “your words are not even worthy of an answer.”

Stuck in the Mud

Introduction

The following event is another true story. The 100% accurate account can be found at Jeremiah 38:1 – 13. This elaborated account is presented through the eyes of an unnamed “participant”.

Unnamed Palace Servant

I was on my knees busily polishing the marble floor when my top boss came marching past. Worry etched his extra-dark face as he headed off to Benjamin Gate where King Zedekiah sat, enjoying the fresh air.

Has Ebed Melech been summoned by the king? Has this good man offended His Majesty? But this is not proper protocol, what was his hurry? My boss must be panicked about something and seeks help from the king.

Peeking around the corner I could see I was right. Mr. Melech was in animated conversation with King Zedekiah himself. What could be so important?

He bows to the king and turns to come back, so I rush back to work. As he entered the palace he called my name and barked out, “Put that stuff away, we have to rescue the Prophet!”

I was confused but followed his orders. I put the polish and cloths in their proper place while Mr. Melech rounded up two others[1] and grabbed a rope from the storeroom. He threw it to me and without explanation he went downstairs. I am confused. He came back up carrying a bunch of old rags and worn-out clothes and he barked, “Let’s move it!”

Now I am totally confused. Rope, old clothes, big hurry to “save” the prophet. What will Boss Melech come up with next?

We marched to the temple yard with no chance for conversation.

My boss stops and calls down into the dark, damp cistern of the king’s son.[2] “Are you O.K., sir?”

The faint answer returns, “The Lord lives.”

Mr. Melech grabs the rope from me, ties up some of the cloths, and lowers it down the cistern.

“Put these rags and cloths under your arms.” He called down, “When we pull you out, these rags will pad your underarms and the ropes will not hurt you.”[3]

So, we pulled the prophet out. He was covered by smelly mud from waist to feet. How did he manage to breath down there? Who could have done this to such a man of God? Has he been down there all night?

We helped him get washed off and gave him a change of clothes. He gulped down water and tried to swallow some bread, then fell into exhausted sleep almost in our arms.

“What happened, Mr. Melech?” I asked as we cleaned the rope and removed the dirty rags. “Who could do such a terrible thing?”

So he told me the story.

He was in the king’s palace inspecting the rooms when he heard several nobles talking and laughing. He listened in and learned that they had reported Prophet Jeremiah to the king (no doubt speaking lies and false accusations). The king told them they could do whatever they saw fit. So they were laughing at the old prophet floundering in the mud “where all unclean animals (pigs) belong.”

So this explains the worry etched on Mr. Melech’s face as he rushed to see the king. But what made him, a foreigner from Ethiopia, care so much to risk his job, and maybe his life, to save him? So I pondered this old man, Jeremiah.

He is called “The Prophet.” Respected by most people but hated by a few. Unfortunately, these few are the ones in power. Jeremiah has been speaking on God’s behalf for 40 years. He has been beaten, jailed, ridiculed, and now thrown into a muddy cistern for his faithful service to the Living God. I decided then and there that if anyone is looking for a hero, brave and true, this is the man! Praise the Living God!

Things to Note

1. At the beginning of the Biblical account, four palace officials are mentioned by name. They were obsessed with permanently closing God’s spokesperson’s mouth. This is what they said to King Zedekiah, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!” 38:4.

They admit that they have just “a few fighting men” while thousands of professional, fully armed enemy soldiers surround the city. On what source were they placing their hope for deliverance?

2. This story portrays Zedekiah as the wimpy king he was. He answered the four men’s request with these words: “All right. Do as you like. I can’t stop you.”38:5. But when another man makes a contrary request he does a 1800 turn: “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies” (38:10).

3. Ebed-Melech was a brilliant thinker. He approached the king as if the king didn’t know what was happening, saying, “these men have done a very evil thing.” Then, he mentions that Jeremiah might starve to death and added the strange words, “For almost all the bread in the city is gone.” There was a reason for this comment. King Zedekiah had recently made a very specific, unconditional promise that was now in danger of being forgotten, because Jeremiah was now “out of sight, out of mind.”

“The king also commanded that Jeremiah be given a loaf of fresh bread every day as long as there was any left in the city.” 37:21. Ebed-Melech indirectly called the king’s attention to this promise while not directly confronting his superior. This spurred the king’s action. Well Done E.M.


[1] Some manuscripts say “3 men”, some say “30 men.” The king was a weak leader. He wanted to assist this upright man to rescue the prophet, but he was not strong enough to confront the men who did the imprisoning. If he authorized “3” men, it means it was for a quick, stealth mission. If he authorized “30” men, it was intended as a show of force in case of confrontation.

[2] The ownership of the cistern is quite a remarkable detail. “It belonged to Malkijah, a member of the royal family.” Jer. 38:6. No one would want a human being (especially one of note) dying in their cistern, even if it was no longer used. This may have been a reason for King Zedekiah’s about-face and call to action. Had the officers intended to insult the king and his family?

[3] Nice little tidbit of information.

Prophets’ Showdown

Babylonian Chronicle – News Release

The people of the small vassal territory of Judah have long earned their reputation as shallow, fickle and even silly. Here is the latest news from our unfortunate correspondent assigned to their capitol city, Jerusalem.[1]

Verbal Duel by Two Prophets

The prediction of a Jewish but pro-Babylon prophet, Jeremiah ben Hilkiah, in Jerusalem, came true recently when another Jewish prophet, Hananiah ben Azzur, also of Jerusalem, suddenly died.[2]

Here are the details as best we can figure them out.

Prophet Hananiah had been boldly (and ludicrously) prophesying that “the yoke” of Almighty Babylon over tiny Judah would end within two short years; all the prisoners would return; and their failed king (of a mere three months), Jehoiachin, would re-establish himself on Judah’s puny throne! To demonstrate his prophecy, he broke a wooden yoke that Prophet Jeremiah had been carrying around for months on his own neck. “What!” (you say)? You may want to read the above paragraphs again before you continue reading. These “prophets,” are revered leaders among the Jewish people and here they are acting like spoiled toddlers!

Prophet Jeremiah (remember, he is the one who survived while the other one is dead) had been making a spectacle of himself by carrying this wooden oxen’s yoke on his shoulders. He did this in loud and public demonstration, urging Judah to surrender and submit to the authority of His Excellency, King Nebuchadnezzar. (We, of course, support his message and commitment, while his methodology leaves much to be desired).

It seems the prophet (with shoulders locked in the yoke) interrupted some high-level strategy meetings of ambassadors from five other nations.[3] Such meetings seem rather suspicious from our standpoint and perhaps should be investigated, but the prophet promised that voluntary submission to us would save the nation of Judah and the other nations as well.

The prophet was announcing repeatedly that their king, Zedekiah ben Josiah, should surrender and submit himself and their tiny nation to the yoke of Babylon. (Don’t resist the inevitable, you fools!).

This continued and escalated to the above-mentioned clash. The two prophets had a huge verbal boxing match in the middle of their temple, both prefacing their contradictory statements with the words: “The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says:”[4] It appears obvious that these Israelites and their prophets are a greatly confused people.

Wisecracking Jeremiah said, “Amen! May your prophecies come true!” But everyone knows he is publicly guaranteeing the opposite – that we are going to quash the little bug of Judah. But maybe among these people it is ok to say one thing and still agree with the opposite.[5]

After Hananiah broke the wooden yoke off of Jeremiah’s neck, fiery Jeremiah spoke even more boldly. He said to him, “You have broken a wooden yoke, but you have replaced it with a yoke of iron. The Lord says, ‘I have put a yoke of iron on the necks of all these nations, forcing them into slavery under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control!’” (Three cheers for Jeremiah!!!)

This prophetic showdown reached its climax two months ago, when Jeremiah said, “Listen Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, but the people believe your lies. Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You must die. Your life will end this very year[6] because you have rebelled against the Lord.’”

And sure enough, the news of Hananiah’s sudden death has caused panic and paralysis among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. It seems that this news has also been relayed to the surrounding countries and they too are trembling.

Further investigation has revealed that prophet Jeremiah has often been accused by his fellow countrymen as a traitor. They accuse him of accepting bribes from Babylon to push a pro-Babylonian policy. However, Jeremiah is a man of great integrity who can neither be bought nor swayed by threat. This is shown by the fact that his preaching has often brought peril to his own life, but he will not compromise.

Prophet Hananiah’s sudden death has proven to the inhabitants of Jerusalem that Jeremiah is a true and genuine prophet of God.

An autopsy was performed on Hananiah but failed to reveal the cause of death. Many religious leaders in Jerusalem believe that his death is attributed to making false prophecies in the name of Israel’s God.

Things to Note

1. Indeed, the cause of death was Divine judgement, a judgement Hananiah should have known was coming, Duet 18:20-21. Both men claimed to be speaking the words of “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (Jer. 28:2, 27:19). Only one could be speaking the truth.

2. Hananiah’s death was a God-given prophetic sign that should have stunned Zedekiah and all the people, causing them to submit to the call of surrender and be spared from death and destruction. But this sign, like so many others, was rejected outright.


[1] Obviously, a foreign correspondent is going to have biases and slanted agendas in what they write for their own people.

[2] Details of this spectacular showdown can be found in Jeremiah 27 and 28.

[3] Jer. 27:3-6.

[4] Jeremiah 27:4, Hananiah 28:2, Jeremiah 28:14.

[5] This is correct. Jeremiah was on public record repeatedly announcing the upcoming destruction. However, his heart favored the opposite which is what his nemesis was announcing.

[6] Poor Hananiah won’t live long enough to see his prophecies “fulfilled.”

Broken Pot, Night in the Stocks

Jeremiah’s most barbed and exacting statements are recorded in chapter 19. The episode is not dated, but it could have been soon after Temple Mob incident.[1]

Jeremiah was somehow able to persuade leaders of the people and leaders of the priests to follow him to the loathsome “garbage dump”, the place called Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom.[2] What he said to get them there we do not know.[3] We do know he carried a brand new clay pot[4] and spoke harsh words of condemnation.

Listen to what the prophet said on the LORD’s behalf:

I will bring a terrible disaster on this place, and the ears of those who hear about it will ring! 19:3.

For Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness. The people burn incense to foreign gods – idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah. And they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children. They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing! 19:4-5.

The time is coming… when this garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth… but the Valley of Slaughter. 19:6.

I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals. 19:7[5].

I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity.[6] All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there. 19:8.

I will see to it that your enemies lay siege to the city until all the food is gone. Then those trapped inside will eat their own sons and daughters and friends. They will be driven to utter despair. 19:9.

While the leaders watch, he raised the clay pot and forcefully smashed it to the ground, shattering it to pieces beyond all hope of repair. Then he continued to speak:

Then say to them, “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: As this jar lies shattered, so I will shatter the people of Judah and Jerusalem beyond all hope of repair. 19:11a.

They will bury the bodies here in Topheth, the garbage dump, until there is no more room for them. 19:11b.

This is what I will do to this place and its people, says the LORD. I will cause this city to become defiled like Topheth.” 19:12.

And in all of this prophetic message no escape clause is either stated or inferred. After he was done, he left them and returned to Jerusalem.[7]

The prophet was held in high enough regard that he was not lynched on the spot. But he returned to the city and repeated some of the words at the front of the temple for everyone to hear. Was he asking for trouble?[8] This is when a certain priest’s anger boiled over.[9] He lashed out and insulted and physically abused the prophet to the fullest measure allowable in his situation.

An Eyewitness Account[10]

Why did I stay and watch? The scene is now indelibly imprinted in my brain. Every time I close my eyes I see the pain, anguish, blood, and the flies. I hear shrieks of pain, and groans of the prophet and also the insults, jeers, and hatred of priests and temple officials. It was all so horrible.

Stripped of his clothes, his hands were tied tightly to a post. They whipped, and whipped, and whipped him without mercy. After 20 or 25 lashes he was so weakened that his legs could no longer support him; his weight hung by his wrists tied to the post. At some point, I can’t say when, the groans ceased. Later still, I can’t recall when, the involuntary jerks also stopped. Still, the lashes came and came, reaching the maximum allowed of 39.

Certainly other men have been whipped, but never had I seen it done with such vengeance, such malice as this.

His limp body was then dragged a short distance, raised up, and placed in stocks[11].

I feel absolutely awful; dirty, no, filthy on the inside.

How I wish I could have drummed up the courage to go forward and give him a sip of water. I should have given him a little soup for nourishment. I wish I could have been by his side, swatting away the flies, chasing the pesky dogs away through the night; do whatever I could to help him survive. But I, like everyone else, let fear of the priests rule my behavior. It was the Priest in charge of the Temple who charged him and punished him without a trial. And as far as I know, God’s prophet was alone the whole night in those stocks.

Horrible, cruel inhumanity; this great and noble man treated in such a way as to become a household joke.[12]

The stories and laughs continue around nightly fires in all directions.

We all failed this upright spokesman for God.

Who will defend this most noble man?

Things to Note

1. The Lord had his spokesperson round up some dignitaries and take to them to the heart of the worst cesspool of pagan practices. Located outside the wall, just below the holy Temple. He spoke the harshest, most damning words. He made the point by smashing the perfectly good clay pot into pieces (who cares if some pieces shatter into the faces of these dignitaries). There was no harsher confrontation Spokesperson could offer.

2. Demonic[13] idols called for the murder of beautiful innocent children; and the people and priests were answering that call.

3. As offensive as the words about cannibalism of children sounds (19:9), this was nothing new to the priests and leaders. It is the bottom rung on the ladder, the deepest, severest level of punishment prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 27:16, 18, 21, 24, 28-29). It was absolutely, unequivocally avoidable. And the prophet’s words should have shaken them into recognition of their precipitous condition. But their hearts were stone cold.

4. This telling of the events assumes that Jeremiah acted on his own volition and not under God’s command when he repeated the private words (from the valley) to the general public in front of the Temple. Commentators are divided on this.

For example, Michael Brown states, “We can assume that he does this at the Lord’s bidding, since on other occasions the Lord sent him to the temple to deliver messages (see, e.g., 7:1; 26:1 – 2); moreover, it is difficult to imagine that Jeremiah would take it on himself to do this on his own, as he would be asking for the very trouble he so wishes to avoid (see, e.g., 15:10; 20:9).”[14]

People in the Bible were flawed humans just like us, not bigger than life. It is very possible that anger overcame this fiery man, and he maybe went a step further than directed.

Reasons for this opinion are as follows:

A. The Lord gave specific instructions regarding what was to be said and done before a specific group of people. The instructions did not include the temple and the common people.

B. The speech at the Temple did not honor the Lord, it only berated the leaders.

C. The speech at the Temple did not serve a purpose. Rather, it prompted an “I feel sorry for myself” lament that any man or woman can easily succumb to.

D. Jeremiah went too far in his personal, self-centered lament. These words are not God-honoring:

O LORD, you misled me, and I allowed myself to be misled. You are stronger than I am, and you overpowered me. Now I am mocked every day; everyone laughs at me. When I speak, the words burst out. “Violence and destruction!” I shout. So these messages from the LORD have made me a household joke. Jer. 20:7-8.

Yet I curse the day I was born! May no one celebrate the day of my birth. I curse the messenger who told my father, “Good news – you have a son!” Let him be destroyed like the cities of old that the LORD overthrew without mercy. Terrify him all day long with battle shouts, because he did not kill me at birth. Oh, that I had died in my mother’s womb, that her body had been my grave! Why was I ever born? My entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame. Jer. 20:14-18.

These words are a true and Biblical (therefore Divinely Inspired) record of what Jeremiah felt and prayed, but Spokesperson was caught up in himself and felt he was under a landslide, even though in the middle of these two quotes above he expressed the highest of praise (verses 11-13). He was complaining about problems he had brought upon himself and was blaming his Commander for it.

5. Commander saw it fitting to answer his spokesperson with complete silence.


[1] It was during Jehoiakim’s reign that the authorities most clearly opposed the purposes of God and would have elicited such strong rebuke (however, there may be other reasons to place this closer to the final destruction). Much of the first audience of the book would have recognized the time clue given in 20:1, but we don’t have the data to interpret it.

[2] People groups throughout history in all parts of the world value and protect their children. Children hold the future. The practice of child sacrifice was demonic insanity. That the Lord’s people did this, and did it just outside the temple walls, shows how hard those demons were working. King Manasseh took the lead in this, murdering even his own sons, the princes of the land, and only a son of his old age survived to succeed him (2 Chr. 33:5-6). Manasseh would have had many more sons before his 45th birthday, he was 45 when his successor, Amon, was born.

[3] The text leaves this question unanswered, “Why would these VIPs follow him to a despicable place like that?” Perhaps two things are involved: First, he was doing something unusual by carrying this brand-new clay pot and he must have expressed urgency. Secondly, they perhaps figured he was going there to denounce the foreign, idolatrous priests. Something they could support. They could let him be the spokesman (and suffer any reprisals) while they looked on from a distance. Fretheim believes they hoped to entrap the prophet, “No question is raised whether these leaders will accompany him; unbeknownst to them, they will function as witnesses, though they may think they can entrap him.” Fretheim, P. 282. But things went otherwise.

[4] It is curious to note that during the span of his ministry the Lord told Jeremiah to buy three things. A linen ephod (13:1), this clay pot (19:1), and a piece of land (32:8-12). The Lord instructed Jeremiah to abandon the ephod and it was completely ruined (13:3-7), to smash the pot (19:10), and even the land was seen by the prophet as a public insult (32:25).

[5] The leaders would not have felt comfortable from the start, but they could still have been trying to attribute the evil to others (i.e. foreign priests). However, by verses 6 and 7 there is no denying that all the harsh words are pointed against them and they are being blamed for the horrible plague of war that is soon coming.

[6] This is a superb translation of the Hebrew phrase.

[7] Another question is, “why were there no physical reprisals for such offensive statements against the leaders and the priests?” They must have been livid at his words, but Jeremiah actually trapped them in their own pride and heaped shame on them. They went to this horrible place feeling offended by the idolatry (including child sacrifice) and feeling prideful condemnation against the idolaters. Jeremiah, however, shifted the blame for the evil upon “the leaders of the people and the leaders of the priests” for allowing these horrific practices to continue right outside the holy city. They were truly guilty and had no way to deny it.

[8] Jeremiah was human, very much a man. Going to that horrible place, speaking such sharp words and smashing the pot as a visible demonstration of wrath, only elicited a “ho-hum” response. He was angry! Is it surprising if he failed to ask his God for permission, and he went on to give his scathing message for the general population to hear? This is the kind of response the human beings have to such frustrating situations.

[9] It was bad enough that Jeremiah criticized the group there in the ugly valley, but it was a greater offence (in the eyes of the priests) to publicly shame the priests in front of the “much inferior” common people. Pashhur was not carrying out a personal vendetta so much as acting on behalf of the whole class of priests.

[10] This again is creative nonfiction in action.

[11] Stocks are very intentionally a public punishment. “Individuals are to be placed in the stocks (a wooden framework with holes for head and hands), which would expose him to public ridicule and contempt.” Fretheim p. 408.

[12] Jer. 20:8. This was indeed the intent of the public shaming.

[13] Biblical writers unequivocally accept the existence and extensive activity of demons on earth, Due. 2:17, Psa. 106:37, 1 Tim. 4:1, Jam. 3:5.

[14] Brown, Kindle Location 9491.

Jeremiah’s Early Naivety

Everyone grows up in social, moral and religious environments. It’s natural to accept one’s surroundings as the norm.[1] Same for young Jeremiah. A godly king was ruling on the throne. King Josiah removed the idols, purified the temple and reestablished God’s law as the focus of civil and religious life. From outward appearances the nation was in good spiritual shape; far better than before. And young Jeremiah was oblivious to what lurked under the surface until forced by his Commander to face the facts.

The Challenge

Early on, God gave a challenge to his rookie prophet with a hefty reward if successful. Perhaps he could set aside his mantle and retire before he hardly even started!

“Run up and down every street in Jerusalem,” says the LORD. “Look high and low; search throughout the city! If you can find even one just and honest person, I will not destroy the city.” 5:1.

Wow. No destruction. Life as we know it goes on. “The pot boiling in the North” can be dismissed, if only Jeremiah can find one person of integrity.

But no. Not even one just person. So, empty-handed and out of breath he kind of blames God[2] and says:

“LORD, you are searching for honesty. You struck your people, but they paid no attention. You crushed them, but they refused to be corrected. They are determined, with faces set like stone; they have refused to repent.” 5:3

Rationalization

Jeremiah thinks harder and has a brilliant thought: The common people simply don’t know better, they are ignorant, can’t expect too much from them. But the leaders know God’s ways; surely some must qualify as “honest”.

Then I said, “But what can we expect from the poor? They are ignorant. They don’t know the ways of the LORD. They don’t understand God’s laws. So I will go and speak to their leaders. Surely they know the ways of the LORD and understand God’s laws.” 5:4-5.

The Discovery

However, his naivety quickly becomes obvious. The leaders are detaining the people in ignorance and disobedience.

“But the leaders, too, as one man, had thrown off God’s yoke and broken his chains.” 5:5.

The young man is hit with a jarring truth. These fellow priests and prophets are acting all righteous and godly, but “Their rebellion is great.” 5:6.

To understand the book of Jeremiah, we must meet a truly evil people.

Jerusalem “is wicked through and through. She spouts evil like a fountain.” Jer. 6:6-7.

To understand the book of Jeremiah, we must meet a ferocious God.[3]

So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “I will pour out my terrible fury on this place. Its people, animals, trees, and crops will be consumed by the unquenchable fire of my anger.” Jer. 7:20.

Family

The result of standing on the side of truth and righteousness, and speaking the forceful words of God, was that Jeremiah made many enemies. He spoke publicly. He spoke privately. He confronted sins that were hidden and sins that were public.

His family turned against him and literally wanted him gone:

The men of Anathoth… wanted me dead. They had said, “We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the LORD’s name.” 11:21.

Even your brothers, members of your own family, have turned against you. They plot and raise complaints against you. Do not trust them. Jer. 12:6.[4]

Co-workers

The prophets and priests, who should have been his allies, also worked to get rid of him:

The priests and prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. 26:11.

Kings and Palace Officials

Even kings saw him as a pesky nuisance and wanted him gone:

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! … This man is a traitor!” King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like.” 38:4-5.

Summary

This is the environment, the severity of conflict that Jeremiah endured. It stretched his coping powers to the limit. He suffered battle scars. He ended up saying,

“I am hated everywhere I go. I am neither a lender who threatens to foreclose nor a borrower who refuses to pay – yet they all curse me.” Jer. 15:10.

The rest of this section focusses on these battles or escapades and their resultant scars. Jeremiah recorded these episodes not to gain notoriety or sympathy for himself, but for the truths they reveal about the wickedness of the people and leaders, and the incredible longsuffering of his God.


[1] The old “Frog in a pot” syndrome.

[2] “You struck your people… You crushed them…” i.e. Your strategy only made things worse!

[3] But Divine anger is a vastly different breed from human anger, so different that it deserves an entirely different term.

[4] For a Jew in Jeremiah’s day, rejection by your family had to be the severest of hardships. Everyone grew up among a very large extended family which provided a sense of stability, longevity, and belonging; a safety net no one wanted to be without.