MINISTRY DISCOURAGEMENT BOTTOMS OUT IN SELF PITY UNLESS WE FEAST ON GOD’S WORD AND HOPE IN HIS PROMISES
It is easy to become discouraged in ministry – especially when one is largely ministering on his own without the support of fellow team members. Jeremiah faces an extremely discouraging ministry challenge. He has been commissioned to preach a message that promises impending destruction, captivity and deportation – sprinkled with assurances of God’s covenant blessing on a future remnant. It has become evident that God’s patience and forbearance have reached the breaking point. Judah is beyond the point of recovery. The sword of the guillotine hanging over the head of the nation is about to fall. In addition, even his own neighbors have turned against him and are cursing him for bringing this unpopular message. His heart grieves for both national sin (with which he identifies) with its consequences and for his own personal suffering. This passage provides insight into his self-talk and his quarrel with God as he wrestles with his situation and receives encouragement from the God who commissioned him for service. There is some parallel here to dealing with the 5 stages of Grief:
denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance
[cf. experience of Elijah in I Kings 19:4]
MINISTRY DISCOURAGEMENT BOTTOMS OUT IN SELF PITY UNLESS WE FEAST ON GOD’S WORD AND HOPE IN HIS PROMISES
I. (:1-9) MINISTRY EVALUATION — FACING REALITY – THINGS LOOK VERY BAD
Not saying that we should deny reality and look at ministry through rose-colored glasses. We need to be honest in our evaluation.
A. (:1-4) Ministry Has Not Produced Positive Results –
Judgment and Destruction Rather Than Blessing and Edification
1. (:1) Don’t Waste Your Breath Praying for Them – Send Them Away
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!’”
Same instruction that the Lord had given in Jer. 14:11
Not the answer to prayer that Jeremiah expected from his godly prayer at the end of chap. 14
Mackay: noted figures from the past who had acted as intercessors on behalf of the people, and been instrumental in averting the Lord’s judgment from coming upon them. Moses is twice specifically described as praying to God on behalf of others (Num. 21:7; Deut. 9:20), and in other passages intercession is clearly implied (Exod. 32:11-14, 31-34; Num. 14:13-19). So too Samuel is three times described as praying to the Lord for others (1 Sam. 7:5; 12:19, 23). Moses and Samuel are also mentioned together in Ps. 99:6 as individuals whom the Lord had answered when they called on his name, and they are linked in a similar way in Ezek. 14:14.
Language of the Exodus is reversed here – “send them away”
2. (:2-3) Destined for Death and Destruction – No Hope of Escape
“And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Those destined for death, to death; And those destined for the sword, to the sword; And those destined for famine, to famine; And those destined for captivity, to captivity.’ ‘And I shall appoint over them four kinds of doom,” declares the LORD: ‘the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy.’”
2 lists of 4 destinies / dooms:
1) death 1) the sword to slay
2) sword 2) dogs to drag off
3) famine 3) birds of the sky
4) captivity 4) beasts of the earth to devour and destroy
Mackay: It is a picture of horrific and unmitigated slaughter.
Cf. Lev. 26 for similar list of multiple disasters due to sin
3. (:4) Designated as an Object of Horror
“And I shall make them an object of horror among all the kingdoms of the earth because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem.”
Nation of Israel was intended to be a trophy of God’s glory and grace that would attract the other nations to the worship of the true God
Thompson: The responsibility of Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for at least some of Judah’s apostasy is referred to. Various passages in 2 Kings refer to the wickedness of this king (2 Ki. 21:10-15; 23:26; 24:3). . . Manasseh was the most syncretistic of all he Davidic kings and had a profound influence on the nation (2 Ki. 21).
Parunak: Though Manasseh removed the pagan altars from the temple, there is no record that he destroyed them, and in fact they must have survived, for Josiah later destroyed them, 2 Kings 23:12.
B. (:5-9) Mission Field Littered with Lost Causes
1. (:5) Forgotten and Abandoned
“Indeed, who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
Or who will mourn for you,
Or who will turn aside to ask about your welfare?”
Mackay: There is probably a conscious contrast with the scene in Ps. 122:6-9 which focuses on prayers for the peace (salom) of Jerusalem. Here there is so little concern for her that people cannot be bothered to spare a moment to ask how she fares.
2. (:6-7) Rebellious and Unrepentant
“’You who have forsaken Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘You keep going backward. So I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am tired of relenting! And I will winnow them with a winnowing fork at the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children, I will destroy My people; They did not repent of their ways.’”
Agricultural metaphor of the winnowing fork so that the chaff would blow away
3. (:8-9) Distressed and Dismayed / Shamed and Humiliated
“’Their widows will be more numerous before Me than the sand of the seas; I will bring against them, against the mother of a young man, A destroyer at noonday; I will suddenly bring down on her anguish and dismay. She who bore seven sons pines away; Her breathing is labored. Her sun has set while it was yet day; She has been shamed and humiliated. So I shall give over their survivors to the sword before their enemies,’ declares the LORD.”
Images of a widow (bereaved of her husband) and a mother (bereaved of her children)
II. (:10-11) MINISTRY LAMENT – “WOE IS ME” – SELF PITY
A. (:10) Undeserved Rejection
“Woe to me, my mother, that you have borne me as a man of strife and a man of contention to all the land! I have neither lent, nor have men lent money to me, Yet everyone curses me.”
Mackay: Lending and borrowing are frequent sources of strife, but Jeremiah presents himself as not having engaged in activity that gave rise to this ordinary sort of trouble.
Jeremiah is definitely down in the dumps and in need of encouragement
B. (:11) Hopeful Response
“The LORD said, ‘Surely I will set you free for purposes of good; Surely I will cause the enemy to make supplication to you In a time of disaster and a time of distress.’”
Better times lie ahead;
Cursing by your own people will be turned around to such an extent that even your enemies will at some point seek you out for assistance
Constable: Jeremiah would emerge from this catastrophe a tower of strength. The Lord had similarly encouraged His prophet previously (Jeremiah 12:5-6), after he had voiced his discouragement the first time (Jeremiah 12:1-4). And He would do so again, in the next pericope (Jeremiah 15:15-21).
III. (:12-14) MINISTRY GROUND ZERO – EXPERIENCING GOD’S FIRE
A. (:12) Powerless to Fight Back
“Can anyone smash iron, Iron from the north, or bronze?”
Somewhat cryptic – inability of Jeremiah to defeat the strong invading enemies that will be coming from the north
B. (:13) Plundered of Resources and Valuables
“Your wealth and your treasures I will give for booty without cost,
Even for all your sins and within all your borders.”
Mackay: “Wealth” refers to the resources at the disposal of an individual or nation. “Treasure” refers to valuables that are kept securely locked up. Both are divinely bestowed on the enemy as plunder/booty when they ransack the land. To the ancient mindset, the shame of being pillaged was as great as, if not greater than, the actual physical loss and abuse. This was because such a tragedy was interpreted as proving the ineffectiveness of one’s gods to intervene, or else that those affected have been rejected by their gods.
C. (:14a) Deported Into a Foreign Land
“Then I will cause your enemies to bring it into a land you do not know;”
D. (:14b) Torched by God’s Wrath
“For a fire has been kindled in My anger, It will burn upon you.”
IV. (:15-18) MINISTRY AMBIVALENCE – GOING BACK AND FORTH
Def. of Ambivalence = simultaneous and contradictory attitudes and feelings
A. (:15) Protestation and Petition
1. Remember Me
“Thou who knowest, O LORD, Remember me, take notice of me,”
2. Repay My Persecutors
“And take vengeance for me on my persecutors.”
3. Remain United with Me
“Do not, in view of Thy patience, take me away;”
4. Reward My Loyalty
“Know that for Thy sake I endure reproach.”
Mackay: the scorn and contempt displayed towards Jeremiah as a result of his fulfilling the commission the Lord has given him (Ps. 69:7).
B. (:16) Inspiration and Identity = Heart of the Passage = Basis for Encouragement – FEAST ON GOD’S WORD
1. Nourishing Value
“Thy words were found and I ate them,”
2. Joy and Delight
“And Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;”
Constable: When the priests discovered God’s Word in the temple during Josiah’s reign (2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 23:2), Jeremiah had consumed it. He may have had a deep appreciation for God’s Word even before that event. Whenever Jeremiah began to relish God’s Word, it had become his delight and a joy to his soul (cf. Ezekiel 2:8 to Ezekiel 3:3; Revelation 10:9-10), in contrast to the majority of people who despised it (Jeremiah 8:9). The Lord’s words included His messages to the prophet, as well as His written Word. Jeremiah’s love for the Word was a result of God’s initiative-because Almighty Yahweh had called him to Himself (cf. Jeremiah 1:4-10).
3. Mark of Identity
“For I have been called by Thy name, O LORD God of hosts.”
Doesn’t immediately answer all of his perplexing questions or solve all of his problems
C. (:17) Isolation and Indignation
“I did not sit in the circle of merrymakers, nor did I exult. Because of Thy hand upon me I sat alone, For Thou didst fill me with indignation.”
D. (:18) Pain and Perplexity
1. Perpetual Pain
“Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?”
2. Deceptive Perplexity
“Wilt Thou indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?”
Mackay: Everyone in Palestine was familiar with the wadi which would be full of water during the rainy season, but soon dried up and had no flow of water in hot weather. Jeremiah, however, was the one who had been sure that the Lord was a fountain of living water (2:13), not like the heathen gods who could not be relied upon.
V. (:19-21) MINISTRY RENEWAL – GOD WILL DELIVER
A. (:19) Formula for Restoration
“Therefore, thus says the LORD,”
1. Return to God – Expecting fellowship and encouragement
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;”
2. Refine Speech – Focusing on what has value
“And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become My spokesman.”
Mackay: refers to content of his speech … worthy not worthless
3. Resist Compromise
“They for their part may turn to you,
But as for you, you must not turn to them.”
Thompson: The main thrust of the line is clear. The people are dependent on Jeremiah to hear God’s word, but Jeremiah has no need to heed anything they say to him.
Constable: The Lord replied that if Jeremiah would turn to Him, he would find restoration and renewed strength to stand for his God. Jeremiah had been calling the people to repent, but he needed to repent of his self-pitying attitude (Jeremiah 15:15-18). If he would purify himself inwardly (undergo a refining process), the Lord would continue to use him. Some of the people might turn to follow Jeremiah, but he must not turn to follow them. He must lift them up, and at the same time, not allow them to drag him down.
Bo Lim: God reminds Jeremiah that the suffering he has experienced is as advertised. Jeremiah then, is not to crumble in the face of adversity but rather redouble his commitment to his prophetic vocation. Persecution has not derailed God’s promise to deliver and vindicate (verse 20), and God reminds Jeremiah that his perseverance is the very vehicle by which the people are won over to repentance (verse 19). In the midst of injustice, Jeremiah is not to allow evil to overcome good.
Jeremiah 15:15-21 teaches that honesty and faithfulness in the midst of suffering are the hallmarks of prophetic ministry. The prophet’s recommitment to his initial calling is the means by which God effects redemption in the world and reaffirms the promises of deliverance.
B. (:20a) Fortification Against Enemies
“Then I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze;
And though they fight against you, they will not prevail over you;”
Completely reverses the thrust of vs. 12 where the enemies of Judah could not be defeated
C. (:20b-21) Favor of God in Accomplishing Deliverance –HOPE IN GOD’S PROMISES
“’For I am with you to save you
And deliver you,’ declares the LORD.
So I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked,
And I will redeem you from the grasp of the violent.”
Similar to the assurances given to Jeremiah in his initial commissioning to ministry
Thompson: Here then was a summons to turn again to renewed service for Yahweh accompanied by a reaffirmation of Yahweh’s promise made to him at the time of his call. It was this strong assurance that enabled Jeremiah to continue his service for Yahweh down the years.