O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. – Jeremiah 20:7-8 ESV
Being a prophet of God was not an easy task. While it was a job that came with a certain amount of power and authority, prophets were far from popular. They didn’t get invited to a lot of parties. They could count their number of friends on one hand. Their role as spokesmen for God put them in an awkward place socially. Their God-given responsibility was to warn the people about the coming judgment of God and to call them to repentance – not exactly a popularity-producing message. Prophets tended to be lonely and had to suffer the rejection and ridicule of the very people they were trying to save. They were most often misunderstood and frequently mistreated. And Jeremiah was no exception. “Jeremiah was hated, jeered at, ostracized, continually harassed, and more than once almost killed” (John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 313, 314). But in spite of all the difficulties they faced, the one thing each of the prophets enjoyed was a close relationship with God. They heard from Him regularly and dialogued with Him freely. The loneliness and isolation of their job produced in them a dependence upon God that few others have ever experienced.
The prayer of Jeremiah above came about after an unfortunate incident that took place between he and Pashtur, a priest and the chief officer over the house of the Lord. Jeremiah had come to the temple to prophesy and had warned the people, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words” (Jeremiah 19:15 ESV). It seems that Pashtur didn’t like what Jeremiah had to say, so he “beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 20:2 ESV). Upon his release the next day, Jeremiah had some less-than-comforting words from God to share with Pashtur. “And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely” (Jeremiah 20:6 ESV). It was this uncomfortable confrontation that led to Jeremiah’s prayer.
He was tired and frustrated. No doubt he was still feeling the effects of the beating he had suffered at the hands of Pashtur. Jeremiah was faithful to his calling, but he was still human. He had feelings. He longed for a normal life. But Jeremiah felt deceived and betrayed by God. For years he had done what God had called him to do. He had faithfully and boldly warned the people, but no one had repented. No one had returned to God. His message had fallen on deaf ears. And Jeremiah felt like a failure. He was nothing more than a laughingstock, a social pariah, and, in his own estimation, a lousy prophet. He sarcastically boiled down the essence of his message to the words, “Violence and destruction!” He was the perpetual bearer of bad news, and he was feeling defeated and more than a bit depressed by it all. But God had warned Jeremiah that his job was not going to easy. On the day God called him, Jeremiah had been told, “And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:18-19 ESV). God’s word had proved to be true. They had fought against Jeremiah. He had faced all kinds of opposition. But God was also true to His word because He was still with Jeremiah. He had not left or forsaken him. No one, including Pashtur, would be able to prevail against Jeremiah, because God was with him. He would deliver him.
The role of the faithful servant of God is not an easy one. To live your life set apart for His use and to speak His truth in a culture that does not want to hear it, will not result in popularity. Jesus warned us that the world would hate us. Paul warned that the day would come when people would much rather have their ears tickled with falsehood than hear the truth of God. And the sad thing is that this has become a reality within the church today. Those who attempt to speak the truth of God to the people of God will often find their words falling on deaf ears. Their message of repentance will be rejected by many who call themselves chosen by God. And they will find themselves competing with others whose messages are far more palatable. But this is nothing new. Jeremiah faced the same problem. God had already warned the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13-14 ESV).
The days in which we live call for God’s people to live differently and distinctively. We cannot afford to blend in with the culture around us. We have been called to be salt and light. We have been given a message to share that involves dealing honestly with sin and the need for repentance. We are ambassadors for God. Our task will not be easy. Our message will not always be accepted or appreciated. There will be days we feel like giving up. But we must remain faithful, trusting that God will be with us and that He will deliver us.