GOD’S MESSENGERS WRESTLE WITH THE SUFFERING AND ABUSE ASSOCIATED WITH FAITHFULLY PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD
You would think that faithfulness to God in a difficult ministry setting would fortify God’s servant with special confidence and a sense of God’s favor and presence. But such is not always the case. Sometimes the messenger of God can succumb to deeply conflicting emotions that cause him to question the value of his calling. Is it really worth it to continue serving God when all I see around me are stubborn, unrepentant hearts and fierce opposition and treachery from even my closest friends? Did God sucker me into this Christian calling and sell me a bill of goods?
Wiersbe: This is the last of Jeremiah’s recorded laments; it’s a human blending of grief and joy, prayer and despair, praise and perplexity. When you call to mind the sensitive nature of this man, you aren’t surprised that he’s on the mountaintop one minute and in the deepest valley the next. Jeremiah, however, lived above his moods and did the will of God regardless of how he felt. In this honest expression of his deepest emotions, the prophet dealt with three important concerns: God’s call (vv 7-9), his daily peril (vv. 10-13), and his inner despair (vv. 14-15).
GOD’S MESSENGERS WRESTLE WITH THE SUFFERING AND ABUSE ASSOCIATED WITH FAITHFULLY PROCLAIMING GOD’S WORD
I. (:7-10) GOD’S MESSENGERS SUFFER GREATLY FOR THEIR FAITHFULNESS TO GOD’S WORD
A. (:7-8) Faithfulness to God’s Word Brings Abuse and Perplexity
“O LORD, Thou hast deceived me and I was deceived; Thou hast overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, because for me the word of the LORD has resulted in reproach and derision all day long.”
Parunak: At first, he is “persuaded” (not “deceived”) by the Lord. “You persuaded me to be a prophet, and your arguments prevailed against me.” Suggests that he was willing at the time, though perhaps not as perceptive as he should have been about the problems he would face. But there is no complaint against the Lord here.
Alternative: word has connotation of being deceived and seduced – some combination of these ideas here.
Mackay: Jeremiah expressed strong reservations about his suitability and capacity (1:6), but the Lord persuaded him, that is, “overcame his initial reluctance”. Looking back, Jeremiah is saying that if he had known what he now knew about what being the Lord’s prophet entailed, he would have protested more strongly, he might even have said “No”. It was one thing to have been warned – which he was; it was another to grasp the full extent of the experiences those warnings conveyed.
B. (:9-10) Faithfulness to God’s Word Requires Expression – Despite the Abuse
“But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,’ Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. For I have heard the whispering of many, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!’ All my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say: ‘Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him And take our revenge on him.’
Longman: It is harder for him not to speak than to speak, a classic case of being “between a rock and a hard place.” [1 Cor. 9:16]
Feinberg: For Jeremiah the word of God was a reality, not the product of his thinking. It demanded expression in spite of opposition and derision. So great was this compelling force of the revelation that he never doubted its reality.
Ryken: This is another familiar text from Jeremiah that is usually taken out of context. It is often used as an inspirational verse for preachers. And so it is. The Word of God is like an unquenchable, uncontainable fire in the bones of the gospel minister. . .
When Jeremiah spoke about the fire in his bones, however, he was not speaking about the pleasures of ministry. He was not testifying to the delights of preaching in the Holy Spirit. He was not saying that his heart was aflame with the gospel. Rather, his heart burned with judgment. The fiery word in his bones was law rather than grace. He was not eager to preach but reluctant, for he knew that judgment would pour out as soon as he opened his mouth. Jeremiah would have given anything to have a mute ministry, but the Word of God would not allow him to remain silent. The fire in his bones inevitably blazed forth from his lips.
Constable: The prophet knew that the people were complaining that all he ever talked about was coming terror. He had become a “Magomassibib” (terror on every side) of sorts himself (cf. Jeremiah 20:3), and the people may well have applied this nickname to him. They felt someone should denounce him for speaking so pessimistically and harshly about their nation. Even his trusted friends had turned against him and were hoping that he would make some mistake so they could discredit him for his words. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered similar opposition (cf. Mark 3:2; Mark 14:58; Luke 6:7; Luke 14:1; Luke 20:20).
II. (:11-13) GOD’S MESSENGERS CAN COUNT ON ULTIMATE DELIVERANCE AND VINDICATION
A. (:11) Shout Victory Over Disgraced Persecutors
“But the LORD is with me like a dread champion;
Therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.”
Parunak: The Lord is compared with “a terrible warrior.” He is often called a “warrior,” but this is the only time he is described as “terrible,” an adjective that otherwise is reserved for the wicked and the foreign nations. The point is that he can pay back in kind whatever Jer’s enemies dish out to him.
Mackay: When the Lord acts to vindicate the word he has sent through Jeremiah, then he will remember what the prophet’s persecutors had done and he will permanently show them up for what they are. They will experience “disgrace of perpetuity” which would last throughout their lives and beyond.
Christine Cuendet: Parallels exist between Deuteronomy 10 and verses 11-13 of Jeremiah 20. Jeremiah understood that God promised good to Israel if they would obey him, as in Deuteronomy 10:12, where they are admonished to fear the Lord, walk in obedience to him, love him, serve him with all their heart and soul, and observe his commands and decrees.
B. (:12) See Vengeance on Persecutors
“Yet, O LORD of hosts, Thou who dost test the righteous, who seest the mind and the heart; Let me see Thy vengeance on them; For to Thee I have set forth my cause.”
C. (:13) Sing Praise for Deliverance
“Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers.”
Adam Clarke: He was so completely delivered from all fear, that although he remained in the same circumstances, yet he exults in the Divine protection, and does not fear the face of any adversary.
III. (:14-18) GOD’S MESSENGERS STRUGGLE EMOTIONALLY WITH THE BURDEN OF THEIR CALLING
“Cursed be the day when I was born; Let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, saying, ‘A baby boy has been born to you!’ And made him very happy. But let that man be like the cities which the LORD overthrew without relenting, and let him hear an outcry in the morning and a shout of alarm at noon; because he did not kill me before birth, so that my mother would have been my grave, and her womb ever pregnant. Why did I ever come forth from the womb to look on trouble and sorrow, so that my days have been spent in shame?”
Constable: Jeremiah bewailed the fact that he ever came out of his mother’s womb, since his life had been so full of trouble, sorrow, and shame. Jeremiah 20:17-18 are another indication that human life exists in a mother’s womb before birth. Jeremiah existed as a person in his mother’s womb.
Wiersbe: “Why came I forth out of the womb?” is an easy question to answer: because God had a special purpose for your life and designed you to fulfill it (Jer. 1:4-5; Ps. 139:13-16). God makes not mistakes when He calls His servants, and we should take care not to question His wisdom. All of us have had times of discouragement when we’ve felt like quitting, but that’s when we must look beyond our feelings and circumstances and see the greatness and wisdom of God. As V. Raymond Edman, former president of Wheaton College (Ill.), often said to the students, “It’s always too soon to quit.”
Kidner: What these curses convey, therefore, is a state of mind, not a prosaic plea. The heightened language is not there to be analysed: it is there to bowl us over. Together with other tortured cries from him and his fellow sufferers, these raw wounds in Scripture remain lest we forget the sharpness of the age-long struggle, or the frailty of the finest overcomers.
Mackay: The anguished cries of Jeremiah (and of Job before him) uttered in the face of the perplexities of life are not to be condemned as unworthy. Tension, stress and frustration are part of the inevitable consequences of living in this warped and sinful world. Situations have to be faced that pose problems of severe agony, intensified in the experience of the righteous sufferer by the fact that the face of God is often hidden at such times.
Ryken: We must recognize the confusing, almost schizophrenic nature of the Christian life. We are at one and the same time saints and sinners. Although our sins are forgiven, we continue to sin. One minute we praise, and the next we curse; one moment we rejoice in Go’s plan, and the very next we resist his will. . .
Jeremiah knew the trouble of persecution, the sorrow of watching his people reject God’s Word, and the shame of public humiliation. All this suffering placed a giant question mark over his existence. Though he was strong in his faith, there were times when he had more questions than answers. On this occasion he questioned his creation, his salvation, and his vocation. . .
Jeremiah raced his troubles back to the womb. But he did not go back far enough! God could trace his promises back before the womb. He’d had a purpose for Jeremiah’s life since before the beginning of time. The prophet needed to be reminded that from all eternity, the Lord had set him apart for salvation and ministry.