23 March 2011

Jeremiah 18:18-20

"Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them." (vv. 19-20)


Jeremiah is often called the weeping prophet as he speaks of the failings of the society around him. He is prophet at a very difficult time in the life of the nation; he witnesses the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians and the consequent exile of the leaders of the people. He sees the suffering of the people as a result of their willingness to take on the ways of the people around them, and many of his prophecies are directed at the leaders of the people. He sees God's hand in these great events of history.

In this passage we have the leaders responding - verse 18 is a short narrative to make sense of the next prophecy. The leaders consciously turn deaf ears to Jeremiah and instead listen to others (probably priests) who say something rather easier to hear. In verse 20 we get a glimpse of the agony it can be to seek to follow faithfully in God's way, and speak out about it, when the norms of the society you are in reflect a very different approach to life. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced a similar dilemma in Nazi Germany.

So Jeremiah appeals to God for justice for himself. There is almost an innocence in the reaction of the prophet and he almost seems surprised that the leaders should respond as they do to his tirade against them. But his reaction comes from his knowledge of God as a God of justice. How can God stand by and see such injustice? The question is one that lives with Christians throughout our lives, and yet it is also a question that finds its answer somewhere in the coming of God himself, in his Son to live on earth and to face the consequences.

To Ponder

Is it best to keep quiet as a Christian - turn a blind eye to injustices in the world, to avoid the type of reaction Jeremiah gets?

When is it right to seek peace and reconciliation rather than controversy and challenge?

Bible notes author

The Revd John Howard

John Howard is a minister in the Methodist Church, at present serving as the chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District. He is married to Mary with three adult children, and has just become a grandfather for the first time.