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.

Wave after Wave of Opposition

Last section, Stumbling onto the National Stage, emphasized a major tragedy. The death of King Josiah brought stark repercussions to the nation and God’s Spokesperson. The “glory” days of Josiah were swallowed up by the “gory” days of his four offspring. A mere twenty-two years of compromise caused total failure of the state, and deportation of its citizens.

After Josiah’s funeral, opposition comes to Jeremiah in waves.

“Conflict” in the book of Jeremiah is not just a series of random events. It is an environment within which the prophet lives and breathes daily. Always swimming upstream. Continually walking a steep incline. It took extra-human effort to trudge on.

This level of conflict was disclosed when God first enlisted Spokesperson:

You will stand against the whole land – the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you… 1:18-19.

Former prophets faced similar opposition,[1] but Jeremiah experienced an acute dosage to the point of inhumane abuse.[2] This was due to the obstinate rebellion of God’s people, and unrelenting efforts by God and his Spokesperson to win them back.

This section presents several major events in Jeremiah’s life. Let it serve as a window to understanding the oppressive environment in which he lived, served, and wrote. The man’s strength of purpose and character shine bright amidst the darkness surrounding him. He withstood each opposition and fulfilled his duties as the true spokesperson for God.

This section includes seven parts:

  1. His Early Naivety
  2. Temple Mob Pacified[3]
  3. Broken Pot, Night in Stocks
  4. Prophet on the Run – Burnt Scroll
  5. Showdown of Two Prophets
  6. Stuck in the Mud
  7. Reluctant Landowner

“Conflict” is an amazing and enlightening storyline woven throughout the book of Jeremiah. The man is caught in the crossfire between truly obstinate people and their ferocious, unyielding God. Jeremiah is attacked by family, common people, fellow priests, fellow prophets, and by the kings and their officials. He is threatened, mocked, whipped, put in stocks, beaten, thrown in jail, had his hard work destroyed, and was even thrown into a muddy pit to die.

The Book of Jeremiah gives us a portal or window not only into the events of the day, but also deep into the heart and thoughts of God’s abused Spokesperson.

“Among the most moving – and startling – passages in Scripture are Jeremiah’s forthright complaints to God, his tender confessions and prayers, mingled with expostulation and challenge, protesting God’s having snared him into a prophet’s responsibilities, tensions, and anguish.

Yet for over forty years Jeremiah maintained his obedience, reiterated his message, and fulfilled his mission.”[4]


[1] See Exo. 5:20-21; 6:9; 14:11-12; 16:2-3; Num. 14:1-4; 1 Kin. 18:4a; 19:2; 2 Kin. 17:13-14; Mat. 23:20, 37; Luk. 11:50; Act 7:52.

[2] Perhaps the worst two physical abuses inflicted on Spokesperson were the night in the stocks and imprisonment in a muddy cistern. Both occasions are covered later in this section.

[3] This story, along with the next five in this section, is told using the genre of Creative Nonfiction. If you are new to this genre, please see Appendix 1. What is Creative Nonfiction? The Bibliography includes resources that explain, regulate and teach these techniques. But the Biblical record is what really counts and should always be both the first and last words studied.

[4] White, p. 11.