Jeremiah, “The Weeping Prophet”, is generally credited with writing the book “Lamentations”, which is full of powerful references to tears and to weeping. For instance, Jeremiah prophesied that after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem, the city (which he personified as a once-great princess) “weeps bitterly in the night and her tears are on her cheeks” (Lamentations 1:1-2). A bit lower down we read, “For these things I weep. My eyes run down with water” (Lam 1:16).
What sort of a man was Jeremiah? What do his books tell us about him as a servant of God that might be useful and worthy of emulation by us who aspire to be servants of God today?
God appointed him a prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5) and sent him to the leaders of Judah with unwelcome messages about the coming destruction of Jerusalem and their armies by Nebuchadnezzar, who would be an instrument of punishment in God’s hand. The destruction of Jerusalem? But that was where God resided, in his wonderful Temple! Surely God would not let his Temple be destroyed? And how could God use a cruel and ruthless man like Nebuchadnezzar? And against His chosen people? Unthinkable!
To make things worse, Jeremiah was about twenty years old when God called him into God’s Prophets Service, the original GPS. To find your way in the ancient world, you plugged into that GPS. But which ruler or high official would pay any heed to a prophet who was a youth?
Jeremiah was very brave to convey such unwelcome messages to rulers, high officials and priests. Many prophets had been killed in those times for bearing unwelcome prophecies. Could God not have sent an older prophet of great stature and a proven “track record” to bear His messages to the rulers in a more authoritative way? But perhaps God had done so and those prophets had been killed?
Isn’t it significant that the very first verse of Jeremiah tells us that his father Hilkiah was “one of the priests at Anathoth” (Jer 1:1). After all, for none of the other prophets was it ever mentioned at the outset what his father was. Did being a priest’s son give Jeremiah some degree of protection? However, it was ultimately God who protected him through all the years he served God. We can take comfort in that and put our own fears at rest when we too speak what God places on our hearts and in our mouths.
Jeremiah was no mindless mouthpiece. He even dared to argue with God! “Ah, Lord God! Surely you have utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘You will have peace’; whereas a sword touches the throat!” What an indignant accusation. Do we dare to argue with God and accuse Him of deception? Yet, if our relationship with God is a close and loving one, should we not express what is really in our heart?
Jeremiah was also an Ignored Prophet. Who heeded his prophecies that God was summoning the Babylonians and other peoples to destroy Judah, to wipe out its armies and to burn down Jerusalem in punishment for their sins? Certainly not successive kings of Judah, or their officials and priests; they did not repent. Amazingly, even when Jeremiah’s earlier prophecies were fulfilled, they disbelieved his subsequent prophecies! How frustrated and dejected Jeremiah must have felt. In the eyes of the world Jeremiah was a big flop. But Jeremiah did not give up. We who are called to preach or teach from the word of God will do well to emulate Jeremiah’s patience, perseverance, and refusal to give up in the face of rejection and lack of results. What is important is to do the will of God – and to leave the results to Him.
Several other things stand out in Jeremiah’s two books. One, he must have had a very powerful memory to retain all the things that God told him to say to various people, and to faithfully write them down.
Two, Jeremiah was a poet of great talent. Much of what he wrote is set in poetry. In fact, he was a poet of high intellect, for it took great intellect and imagination to craft acrostic poetry in which the first letter in each successive line followed the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Like Line 1 starting with an A (Aleph) and Line 2 with a B (Beth) and so on. The first four chapters or laments of Lamentations are acrostic, with 22 lines of verse in each, except for the 3rd lament which is specially ingenious. The verses in each stanza there start with the same acrostic alphabet, so there are 66 lines in that chapter, or three times the usual 22 verses. How about that?!