God May Not Be Like We Think

Frustrated, Jeremiah cries to heaven, “You enticed and deceived me, prevailing over me.”  Earlier, God told him this, “I am making you into an iron pillar.”  To be God’s prophet will require him to stand “against Judah’s kings, its princes, priests, and commoners” (1:18).  No, God didn’t mislead Jeremiah but spoke the truth, instead. 

A foreign foe, Babylon, “will take the people captive” and “strike them down with the sword” (20:4).  No one clamors to preach this.  The bringer of this news will bear the people’s anger, who might lash out and kill.  Should we be surprised that Jeremiah bristles at announcing God’s judgment?  Until the prophesied attack, he will appear as a pretender, a phony, for his message is yet to materialize.

Still, Jeremiah enters Jerusalem, declaring those oracles of doom, unleashing God’s pronouncement in the Temple.  The chief administrative officer, Pashhur, regards this as treason.  So, to intimidate and silence this preacher, Pashur shackles him in stocks.  To listen without learning, to attend without apprehending (19:15, 20:1), is the deafness afflicting both he and his people.

Almost as though Pashhur realizes the fallout of his decision, he releases Jeremiah the next day (20:3).  Despite demoralizing him, Pashur’s designs still backfire because Jeremiah will not quit.  No adversary will constrain the Lord’s Word.  All creation’s power and prowess will not frustrate God’s planned purposes. 

Now freed, Jeremiah speaks to both the people and Pashur.  The Lord now names you, not Pashhur, which in Aramaic means “fruitful all around.”  No, his name is now “Magor-Missabib,” “Terror-All-Around” (20:3).  From something delightful to something terrible, Magor-Missabib serves as a prophetic sign, broadcasting God’s disapproval. 

In this troubling reversal, Jeremiah unfetters the fear, so soon to overtake the city.  Wherever Pashur goes, he becomes a walking symbol of a coming catastrophe, of enemy domination.  Right before today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah charged Pahsur of being a false prophet.  The only way Pashur will believe his new name is real is to live through Jerusalem’s destruction.  So, a shameful death in an unknown land awaits this man.

Again, we arrive at the start of our Old-Testament text.  Now, we glimpse at what’s going on between God and Jeremiah.  A lament wails from the man’s lips as he denounces God for deceiving him. 

So Jeremiah isn’t so rude, our translations tone down his words.  Oh, he isn’t bemoaning a mere deception but grieves of sexual enticement (Exodus 22:16, Hosea 2:14) and forcible rape (Deuteronomy 22:25).  Though Jeremiah agreed to be a prophet, after he encounters what this entails, he assumes God seduced him, forcing him to suffer the spiritual equivalent of rape.  The nation’s hatred and God’s neglected promises evoke rage and betrayal.  To Jeremiah, all is bleak and hopeless.

Spent and worn, Jeremiah wants to give up, but when he tries, a compulsion seizes him.  Though he attempts to avoid mentioning God or speak in His name, like cinders smoldering in his bones, God will not let him go.  Too frail and feeble to fight back, the flame is too strong, unquenchable.  Enkindled and uncontrollable in his marrow, Jeremiah cannot contain the sacred Word, burning like a blazing fire.

“No matter what, I can’t win.  For if I speak up, the people burn me outside, but if I keep quiet, God burns me inside.”  The prophet ponders the two alternatives, and neither one works.  Whenever he warns them, Jeremiah receives no support, and, when silent, he experiences no consolation.  All his emotions and senses blame God for this violation, this rape. 

The message will not leave him, nor can he discard its truths.  Now, part of his body, God’s Word is inseparable from his being.  The person and divine message coalesce.  The indwelling Word shapes Jeremiah, his thoughts (15:16), words (1:7-9), and actions (1:7, 2:1).  With no option, he must release the frightening images swirling inside him.

By verse 10, everything appears useless, with his former friends grasping the advantage of the situation.  So, they exult, “We will win” as they brood over their nasty strategies and connive to hand him over to the authorities.

Rejected and ridiculed, Jeremiah blames God, who, to him, is the ultimate manipulator.  Powerless to resist, Jeremiah discovers himself in an unequal contest.  An unpopular prophet with an unwanted message, with an irreversible call.  Trapped, Jeremiah reverts to a three-year-old, complaining and whining, spewing out his twaddle. 

Such blasphemous statements he makes.  Oh, we might recoil at Jeremiah’s self-pity but realize, the core of all self-pity is “self.”  Ah, the worship of self, as Jeremiah thinks he comprehends things better than God. 

Will God smash him down for this?  No!  Of course, Jeremiah should be straightforward but also truthful.  Nevertheless, don’t miss this legitimate truth unfolding—bring your distresses and despairs into your prayers.  For 23 years, Jeremiah’s sermons fell on stubborn ears.  Worn down and broken, he bellowed out his displeasure. 

Without excusing his sin, let us learn our lesson today.  The Church isn’t a gathering of pretenders, where we put on the sham of a victorious life.  Like Jeremiah expressed his discontent, so should we. 

In chapter 15, when Jeremiah complained, God answered. 

Return, I will take you back, and you will stand before me.  Separate what is precious from the worthless and be my spokesman.  The people must turn to you, not you to them….  Though they will rebel against you, they will not defeat you, because I am with you to rescue and deliver you.  [Jeremiah 15:19-20]

Like a mirror, God took Jeremiah’s complaint to reflect what lurked behind his grievances.  “Listen to yourself.  Recognize why you utter such nonsense.”  The Lord didn’t fail Jeremiah.  No, the people plotted against him and slandered him, not God.

Consider why we criticize God.  First, He is too hidden because we can’t spot Him working in our lives.  Well, He’s also too quiet, working His will for us through others, not direct, straight into our minds.  Beyond this, we think Him unfair, perhaps capricious, not consistent in His dealings with us.

Ponder this, if God changes based on our demands, will you now turn into a better person, a more faithful follower?  Don’t react too fast!  Long ago, after Egypt, God acted this way toward His people. 

First, God revealed Himself in a column of cloud by day and fire by night.  On top of Mt. Sinai, God spoke to Moses.  With their ears and eyes, the people cowered from the rumble and feared the crackle and flash of lightning.  Did the Almighty respond as Someone fair and impartial?  Yes!  In the Old Covenant, He punished rebellion and rewarded obedience.

Did Israel become a model community of believers?  No, not during the wilderness wanderings, nor in Jeremiah’s day.  Don’t fool yourself—we are no different.  All too often, we break our heavenly Father’s heart.  Can He not cry to us, “My child, I am so disappointed in you”?

So, what did Jeremiah do next?  Well, he remembered, despairing no more but reaffirming his trust in God, calling Him a mighty warrior.  Though weak and helpless and unable to overcome, he trusts God can and will.  Only God frees the needy from the hands of evildoers.  No more is God the rapist, but now the rescuer.

Real faith confesses the certainty and presence of God in all circumstances, whether we can make sense of things or not.  So, go to God.  Unload, on Him, your pain and protest.  Sound forth your anger and anxiety since doing so is also a form of praise, a remembering of God’s promises nestled in your complaint. 

Like the disenchanted prophet, we need to voice our sadness and setbacks and vent our frustrations.  Though don’t stop, not without discovering the root of your discontent.  Oh, and don’t miss the last, best lesson from Jeremiah’s life.  In the end, God heals the disappointments of those who trust Him.  With God on Jeremiah’s side, not only will his enemies not win, but Jeremiah can’t lose.

Remember that Jeremiah accused God of raping him.  Still, God chose not to walk out on him.  No, He refused to forsake Jeremiah.  First came a rebuke; next, a word of comfort, for God remained with Jeremiah and restored him.  The scheme against Jeremiah failed, for he lived another 20 years, finishing his work in faith. 

Today, Jeremiah’s words live on to inspire us as God’s people.  Another seven centuries will pass, and another will come to communicate the Father’s message.  To a disheartened people, He descended, to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows! 

Never, in such a clear and visible way, did true Divinity reveal Himself.  Not in a pillar of fire, but a man.  Like us, but without sin, His eyes cried tears of compassion, and His arms embraced the untouchables.  To focus us on this reality, Jesus taught His disciples, “The one who has seen me, sees the Father” (John 14:9).

In understandable words, not shrouded or obscured, God proclaimed His plan and His will toward us fallen creatures.  Only He came to seek and save the lost.  To those within earshot, no one spoke as Jesus did!

In Jesus, do we find a fair God?  Yes!  Never, did God unveil Himself to be so fair.  For Jesus carried all our sins and suffered for them, receiving what He warranted because of them.  Now, since God gave Jesus what we deserved, all who are in Christ, delight in God’s pardon and grace.  No wonder Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them!

Every failure of ours, Jesus took, taking them to His cross.  Nailed to the killing wood, He spoke the anguish of our hearts.  “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Soon, Jesus rises from death’s grave—and all our disappointing letdowns find their real reply in the resurrection.  First, in Christ’s conquering of the tomb.  Next, when our Lord returns on the Last Day, to call us from our graves. 

Celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death, for its specter no longer casts its gloom over us.  Oh, this is no fantasy but the most authentic story ever told.  In the Father’s Son, all your frustrations and failures will, one Day, dissolve and disappear.  So be brave, for whatever your difficulties, God is still your fearsome warrior.  So, bring your discouragement and regrets to Him because He will heal you.  Amen. 

Comments

  1. Don Gazdik says

    Nice commentary. I had just looked at this section from Jeremiah last week.

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