When Jeremiah is called by God to prophesy to Judah about their coming judgment, he says, “Alas, Lord God!” He was worried merely about not knowing how to speak, but his “Alas!” foreshadowed the much greater difficulties ahead of him. He would soon be hated, maligned, and threatened with death. And he would do all of this alone, having been commanded by God not to marry or have children as a prophetic image of God’s coming destruction of the sons and daughters of the people of Judah (Jer. 16:1–4).
As he watches the nation he loves face terrible judgment for the evil they have done (and continue to do) as a result of their rejection of God, his grief is unimaginable. It pours off the pages of his writing, and the rawness of it is almost too much to bear.
From the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, we learn something crucial: Speaking the truth is not always fun. In fact, it’s often the opposite of fun, especially when it’s done out of love and a desire to warn and save…and the very people you love and are trying to warn and save hate you for it. From the words of Jeremiah:
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.
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.”
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. (Jer. 20:7–11)
It’s because of Jeremiah’s obedience and love of God, goodness, and truth that he cannot hold in his words of warning, but those same words are also the cause of his grief, and he suffers for them. So throughout the book, Jeremiah moves constantly between grief at the loss of his nation, anger at the people’s unrepentant, persistent evil (including their persecution of him for speaking the truth), a desire for their just judgment, and praise of God: “There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due!” (Jer. 10:6–7). In Jeremiah, we’re given an honest look at love mixed with confusion and pain:
Your words were found and I ate them,
And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;
For I have been called by Your name,
O Lord God of hosts….
Why has my pain been perpetual
And my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream
With water that is unreliable? (Jer. 15:16–18)
Yet despite his distress, he remains faithful. Plenty of “prophets” at the time took the easy way out and told the people what they wanted to hear, but Jeremiah could see beyond his immediate situation to the end: “But the Lord is with me like a dread champion; therefore my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.” He came to the same conclusion as Asaph, the writer of Psalm 73:
When I pondered to understand [the seeming success of the wicked],
It was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction….
When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced within,
Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
Here, it is the understanding of the end of man—both the justice of final judgment for those who fight against God and the glory of eternity for those who love him—that gives strength.
Since human nature has not changed, if you are telling of all his works to those who have rejected him, pain and confusion born out of love for God and neighbor are likely ahead of you, as well. But God—the strength of your heart and your portion forever—has taken hold of your right hand. You are with him now, and afterward he will receive you to glory.
May we all take this to heart and persevere.