28 July 2010

Jeremiah 15:10-21

"In your forbearance do not take me away; know that on your account I suffer insult." (v.15)


It was not a good time to be a prophet when God called Jeremiah to the task. Not only was he a mere teenager ("Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy" - Jeremiah 1:6) but also, for most of his 40-year career, the people to whom he spoke lived under the threat of imminent disaster - political and natural. Virtually the first message of God that Jeremiah relays is one of foreign invasion: "Out of the north disaster shall break out on all the land" (Jeremiah 1:14).

Fifteen chapters later, little has changed - except perhaps this... The fates of Judah and of Jeremiah have become inextricably entwined; their experiences virtually indistinguishable. In much of the book of Jeremiah we have to keep asking ourselves, who is speaking? God? Jeremiah on behalf of the people? Jeremiah on his own behalf? When the prophet pleads with God not to take him away, he seems to be talking about an exile that threatens him personally, agonising that his ministry has been in vain.

Yet, when God responds to Jeremiah's distress, it is with words that have universal relevance. They seem to speak to the nation as well as the prophet, offering words of hope to those who start listening to God's word: "If you turn back, I will take you back ... I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked". Nowhere among the prophets of the Hebrew Bible is there anyone who expresses their emotions more openly than Jeremiah. He is a man who shows us how to be honest to God. At the same time, his experience of suffering and rejection seems to mirror the pain of God to such an extent that when we hear Jeremiah's words of complaint, we feel we are hearing God's word too. In Jeremiah, the medium becomes the message.

To Ponder

Think of a time when you have been particularly honest with God about your pain or despair. To what extent did being honest help?

How do you keep an honest and open conversation with God going in the good and mundane times as well as in times of crisis?

To see and hear Jeremiah is to see and hear God. How do people see God in you when you are out shopping, dealing with a stroppy toddler or argumentative teenager, or perhaps finding work difficult?

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.