Leading Question: If God knows that our world is falling apart, how can he encourage us?
- Jeremiah 7, Judah on the edge of disaster
- Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah’s secretary
- Jeremiah 43, Taken with Jeremiah to Egypt as unwilling exiles
- Jeremiah 45, A very modest consolation, but still a consolation
The collapse of Baruch’s (and Jeremiah’s) world (Jer 7:1-15). The world of Jeremiah and Baruch was falling apart. They served during the years leading up the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. It was Jeremiah’s task to call a stubborn people to repentance and acceptance of their fate. They didn’t like his message one little bit.
Jeremiah’s temple discourse in Jeremiah 7 provides a vivid example of the kinds of tensions that Jeremiah saw between a people who maintained the outward forms of worship but denied its true meaning by all kinds of deviant behavior:
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ”This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.”
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ”We are delivered!”—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
How does one preach a positive message when the people live a double life? Could Jeremiah and Baruch have done a better job if they had stayed simply with affirmation?
Conditional prophecy to the rescue? If one reads Jeremiah 26, one gets the distinct impression that Jeremiah was offering Jerusalem the hope of restoration, not just hope for consolation in trouble. See Appendix B (Abiathar): Alden Thompson, “Who Can Change the Mind of God?” Signs of the Times, Feb. 1992, 25-27.
Baruch at work (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah 36 is a very revealing chapter when it comes to the role of prophet and secretary working together. Jeremiah was forbidden to enter the temple, so he dictated a message to Baruch who took it to the temple courtyard and read it to the people. The king finally got to hear the message, too, but it didn’t help. Here is the report:
Jeremiah 36:20-26: 20 So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king. 21 Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king. 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. 25 Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them. 26 And the king commanded Jerahmeel the king’s son and Seraiah the son of Azriel and Shelemiah the son of Abdeel to seize Baruch the secretary and Jeremiah the prophet, but the LORD hid them. (ESV)
What are the risks of being employed by a highly unpopular prophet/preacher? It is probably not wise to press the parallel between pastor and biblical prophet. But it is rather legendary for a pastor whose church is floundering to explain the difficulties on the basis that his ministry was “too prophetic.” That line assumes that prophets spend their time condemning. Is that just our opinion? Or can proof be found in Scripture?
Your life a consolation (Jeremiah 45). God told Baruch that he would lose everything except his life. Those words are intended to be a promise: “I am going to bring disaster upon all flesh, says the LORD; but I will give you your life as a prize of war in every place to which you may go.” Is it always a consolation to have one’s life preserved only to see all the pain around?