Jeremiah was a mighty man of God, a towering figure in the late history of the Kingdom of Judah. He was also considered a traitor to his beleaguered nation at one of the most awful times in their history. How did he endure in ministry over 40 years when it seemed the whole world was against him?
By Mark D. Harris
Prominent anti-Christians argue that religion is dangerous because it creates certainty. Several years ago, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC hosted an exhibit that read “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” Pressure is overwhelming to “go with the flow.” Confidence in one’s convictions, when they differ from certain politically acceptable convictions of others, is condemned. This censure is so much the stronger when the opinions held seem to contradict “science,” whether or not they do. Someone said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes, think with their own minds, and feel with their own hearts.”
But it is not enough to be certain. Many Christians know the truth and yet do not speak it or practice it. Many think the Truth, speak the Truth, and act in Truth for a season, perhaps several years. But like Demas they start strong and then fade away. Some modern Christian celebrities have renounced their faith. To endure in service is to know, speak, and do, consistently and faithfully, for a lifetime.
Jeremiah was a prophet of God, tasked with proclaiming God’s message to an obstinate and unrepentant people. Known as the “Weeping prophet,” Jeremiah endured much in his service, but never quit. What can we learn from him? Let’s look at a brief summary of his ministry:
- Jeremiah had an unmistakable call from God during the reign of Josiah, the last good king of Judah (627 BC, Jeremiah 1:1-10). Jeremiah got his message and his mission directly from God, and he knew it.
- He suffered through the tragic and unexpected death of his friend and royal protector, King Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:20-27, 609 BC).
- Under Jehoiakim (609-598 BC), Jeremiah’s message became unpopular. He foretold that his nation would be destroyed by the Babylonians (i.e. Jeremiah 26, 36). The cause of Judah’s destruction was their own sin. They could not blame anyone but themselves.
- Jeremiah’s faithful colleague, Uriah, was hunted down and slain by the Judean military (Jeremiah 26:20-24).
- Assyria and Egypt were beaten by Babylon at Carchemish (605 BC). Judah’s protector, Egypt, was gone. The time seemed ripe for the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy against Judah.
- Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem but only took away exiles (such as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego), about 10,000. He did not destroy the city but returned to Babylon. God’s judgement was delayed, and Jeremiah seemed to be wrong. People mocked prophesies and prophets (Ezekiel 12:21-28).
- The Babylonians returned to Jerusalem in 598 BC after King Jehoiakim refused to pay tribute. Nebuchadnezzar exiled Jehoiakim and destroyed much of Judah but did not destroy Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar put Zedekiah, another of Josiah’s sons, on the throne. Jeremiah told his people to submit to Babylon.
- Other prophets, seemingly just as holy, prophesied victory for Judah, not defeat (Jeremiah 27:9-11, Jeremiah 28). They, of course, were lauded.
- In 588 BC, though Zedekiah had sworn allegiance to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, he rebelled. Political pressure from the Egyptians, who wanted to reassert their authority in Palestine, swayed the weak Jewish monarch. The King’s own council helped pushed him into this disastrous decision.
- When the Egyptians advanced into Palestine, the Babylonian Army broke their siege of Jerusalem to deal with Pharaoh. It looked like Jeremiah was wrong (Jeremiah 37:1-10).
- Jeremiah’s pronouncements of doom frightened some people into defecting to the Babylonians. Others grew in their fear. The leaders in Judah, responsible for the defense of the nation, felt that Jeremiah was a traitor (Jeremiah 37:11-21).
- Jeremiah was imprisoned in a dungeon and later dropped into a cistern. Both would have been fatal. He was nearly executed several times.
- After the fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah was captured by the Babylonians but spared and released.
- Later, he kidnapped by the remaining Jews in Judah and taken to Egypt where he lived out his days.
Zedekiah was weak. Zedekiah didn’t even have the strength to disagree with his own advisors (Jeremiah 38:4-5). Simultaneously, Zedekiah recognized Jeremiah as a man of God and asked him to pray for him. The king repeatedly asked Jeremiah for advice, and then promptly disregarded whatever advice the prophet gave.
Yet despite these obstacles, and with the occasional wavering that comes from being human, Jeremiah remained confident in his mission and his message for four decades. How did he endure?
- Jeremiah had been called of God.
- The events in Scripture cover a long time. Jeremiah’s ministry spanned from 627 BC to just past the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC), from age 20 to his early 60s. Jeremiah did not try to do everything at once but understood God’s call to ministry over the long term.
- He renewed his call with regular communication with God and with other faithful people (Jeremiah 32:16).
- Jeremiah was not making only spiritual but also physical pronouncements. His preaching was packed with meaning which was immediately pertinent to what his listeners would do.
- Jeremiah kept his way pure. He obeyed God; even accepting His rebuke when he had to (Jeremiah 15:15-22).
- His message was of destruction for sin, but salvation for repentance (Jeremiah 31).
Jeremiah was ministering to Judah as a nation, a political entity, so his example does not perfectly fit our modern situation. Nonetheless, we can evaluate our service, and our endurance in service, in light of his. How do our lives compare to Jeremiah?
- Do we have a clear, unmistakable call from God?
- Does God give us our messages, every message, to every people, every day?
- Do we stick with popular messages, those designed to please people?
- Do we remind people that their problems are often related directly to their own sin?
- If we proclaim judgement, do we waver when God’s justice seems delayed?
- Do we allow other people with other opinions to sway us into disobedience to God?
- Are we willing to preach that things will not go well for our nation?
- Do others see our loyalty as first to God and only much later to other things, even if we might be called traitors for it?
- Have we suffered for our message? Are we willing to?
- Do we apply Scripture directly to what is happening in our lives and our society today? Are we afraid of taking positions on important things in our culture? Do we worry about our tax-exempt status as a church? What about trouble with the law?
Belief + Doubt does not equal sanity. Rather, belief in the truth of Jesus Christ + joyful obedience to His will equals life now and life everlasting. Every part of our lives, and every moment, is subject to His loving control. We must believe and keep believing.
I see many older women, but few older men, in church every Sunday. Some have died but some have fallen away, discouraged with unfulfilled dreams, broken promises, and the inevitable decay of life. Jeremiah followed God for his whole life. He bent but did not break under the trials of life. Perhaps we would do better to shift into a lower gear to climb life’s mountains of struggled. Perhaps we should strive to be the tortoise, not the hare, in the race of life. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus never leaves us, and He takes the smallest seed of faith and makes it into a flower garden of glory. With all our flaws and failures, He gives us joy.
 Jehoahaz and Jehoiachin were also kings of Judah but their short reigns are not included.