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Jeremiah: the Ministry


Reading: Jer.7:1-29

Jeremiah’s Ministry

Jeremiah was called by the LORD to be a prophet with a seriously unpopular message to proclaim. The messages he was given to pass on were for the most part directed to the people of Judah, God’s chosen people. Jeremiah’s task would to call a disobedient nation to repentance and this repentance was not to be in word alone but accompanied with a thorough-going reformation of behaviour and practice.

At the end of the book the focus widens as the LORD spoke to Jeremiah concerning the nations that surrounded Judah and which exercised such an influence upon it.

Often we simply read that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah and then we discover the content as Jeremiah proclaimed the message. But on some occasions we are given more insight into the way in which Jeremiah received these messages and then given precise details concerning where and how he was to proclaim them. Chapter 7 is one of those cases.

An Insight into the Ministry of Jeremiah the Prophet
In this section not only do we discover what the content was of Jeremiah’s message at that particular time but we also find that he was given a number of further instructions about how he was to conduct himself. Some of these instructions find further explanation as Jeremiah was prepared for his difficult and largely thankless task.

Let’s highlight this briefly in the text:

Firstly, a word comes to Jeremiah telling him where to go so that he might proclaim the word that the LORD wants him to deliver:

vv.1-2 "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word...’"

Secondly, the message itself begins with a clear description of those to whom Jeremiah must address this message:

v.2 "Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD."

Thirdly, we have the substance of the message:

vv.3-4 "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. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’"

Jeremiah’s message was fundamentally a call to repentance. The nation had taken a wrong turning (or a succession of such turnings) and done what it should not have done:

vv.23-24 "But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward."

This needed to be tackled. The nation must recognise what it had been doing and deliberately act in a different God-honouring manner. Repentance is not simply a matter of saying sorry – though it does involve that – to be genuine it must be accompanied by the fruit of a new life.

Jeremiah’s words betrayed the fact that there were alternative voices speaking to the men of Judah, there were false prophets out there who were quite prepared to propose another solution than the one the LORD proposed. But theirs was a voice that must not be heeded. Specifically the false prophets were suggesting that because the House of the LORD was in Jerusalem and that the LORD had made promises concerning this House, the Temple, that there really was nothing to worry about – everything would be fine.

The false prophet focused attention on externals and ignored the fact that the LORD looks on the heart. As soon as you start doing that you are in danger – and the message of the false prophets was so comforting with its proclamation of "Peace, peace" – it was what the people wanted to hear, wanted to be reassured with – but this wrong focus did not change the reality that there was no peace to be had.

This call to repentance was supported by promises and warnings – the way in which those who heard Jeremiah’s message and how they responded to it was important. God’s word is not a matter for indifference for it comes with very real and significant consequences.

Fourthly, Jeremiah was given some surprising instruction and some potentially discouraging information:

Jeremiah was told NOT to pray for this people – he was to proclaim God’s word to them but he was not to pray for them:

v.16 "As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you."

The reason for this is that the people were set in their ways and would not pay attention to what Jeremiah had to say: persistent refusal to listen and respond may well give way to an absolute inability to do so! How important it is that those who have ears to hear actually hear!

vv.25-27 "From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. "So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you."

So Jeremiah was not only told what to say but where to say it, to whom to speak and what their response (or lack of response) would be. He was even told not to pray for these particular people.

Now, we need to be careful what conclusions we should draw from such information. The LORD was judicially disciplining his people and was preparing to send them into Babylonian exile. With his plans settled on this course it would be useless for Jeremiah to pray for pardon for them. But we are not called on to judge the state of the people with whom we have contact and neither do we know what the LORD’s immediate plans are for them. If Jeremiah was instructed not to pray he still had to speak and he still would demonstrate strong emotions concerning his people – he did not conclude that he would be justified in becoming harsh and cold towards them and he would speak of his ardent longing for his nation in the moving words of:

Jer.9:1 "Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!"

Further Information concerning Jeremiah and his Messages
Having looked briefly at ch.7 I want us to take a quick look at what I’m going to call acted parables or visual aids.

There were times when Jeremiah received the message he was to proclaim in a dramatic manner and there were times when he was told to make use of visual aids as he proclaimed the word of the LORD.

The LORD God is well able to communicate and has no difficulty in making his servants understand what he wants them to know and can instruct them too as to how to make the message as clear as possible.

We noticed last week that not only did Jeremiah speak the word of the LORD he also wrote it in letter, book and scroll.

In ch.13 the LORD taught Jeremiah lessons about Israel and Judah by telling him to act out a symbolic action or parable. It seems as though this was a message that enabled Jeremiah understand more clearly the people to whom he had generally minister.

Jer.13:1-11 "Thus says the LORD to me, "Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water." So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist. And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, "Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock." So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me. And after many days the LORD said to me, "Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there." Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  

Then the word of the LORD came to me: "Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing. For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen."

In ch.18 we find Jeremiah being sent to the potter’s house where he will learn another lesson. This time he will learn that the LORD has a perfect right to do what he will with his people.

Once again Jeremiah is informed that the people remain stubbornly opposed to the LORD being determined to go their own way and do their own thing!

Jer.18:1-12 "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’

"But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’""

The final example to which I want to draw your attention s found in ch.19. In this particular example Jeremiah is told to make use of a visual aid to drive home the point of the message that he will have to transmit. He is also told exactly where the message is to be given and to whom:

Jer.19:1-2 "Thus says the LORD, "Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you."

It would seem that this time the message is of such an extreme nature that extreme measures are to be used to communicate it well.

The method and the message must go hand in hand!

Jer.19:10-11 "Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury."

One of the lessons that we should learn from this would be the need to make sure that the way in which we communicate the message we have to share is in harmony with the content of that message. For example, if we are speaking about judgment and hell it would be totally inappropriate to do so in a light-hearted and trivial manner.

In all of this we must not forget that Jeremiah’s task would prove to be a thankless one. He would not have the joy of seeing his fellow-countrymen receive his word as they ought and respond properly to it. Indeed Jeremiah’s continued faithfulness to proclaiming the word of the LORD however it might be backed-up would only stir up increasing hostility towards him and lead to his own personal sufferings becoming more and more exaggerated.

And yet Jeremiah went on and on proclaiming the word of the LORD. He was tempted on occasion to stop and not to proclaim the word that had been entrusted to him – he was after all a sensitive man who did not enjoy being derided for his preaching and generally criticized for what he was doing. But he wasn’t able to hold back for very long at all!

Jer.20:9 "If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. "

So he went on and he went on. His comfort and his strength in such demanding circumstances was to be found in the LORD about whom he said:

Jer.20:11 "the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me."

Praise God for his faithfulness to his faithful servants! And may we be numbered amongst them.


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