Reading the Old Testament, particularly the prophets, can be hard for Christians in the 21st century. Actually, reading and studying it isn’t the problem. It’s reading it devotionally and trying to find out what God is trying to tell us today. Sometimes, I think there isn’t a particular application for today from a particular passage. And that’s OK. We read it and try to understand how it fits into the trajectory of God’s plan to redeem humanity.
Today, though, I came across Jeremiah 20:9 “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire. a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” What a great verse! Jeremiah has just been beaten, put in stocks and then released from stocks the next day. Now he’s complaining to God about how he’s been treated. In the verses before this, he tells God, “Hey, God, I’m trying to do what you tell me, but all I get is insult and reproach! What’s up with that?”
And then we get to verse 9. Jeremiah says that “No, I’m not going to speak God’s word anymore.” Which is totally reasonable in my eyes. After all, Nobody is paying attention and they keep doing mean and rotten things to him. So, turn your back on them and keep God’s word to yourself, Jeremiah. That’s what I’d do!
But then Jeremiah speaks from his heart. “No, I can’t actually do that because God’s word is like a fire in my bones. I can’t keep it inside me – I must tell them.” And here’s where Jeremiah and I would part company because he’s a hero of God and I’m a total wimp. I’d be off stage left, but Jeremiah says that the truth is that he may want to leave and that God’s people don’t deserve God’s work, but Jeremiah is compelled to tell them. Compelled. He cannot just ignore the words God has put in his heart.
And then Jeremiah complains some more. And then we get verses 11-13.
But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
their dishonor will never be forgotten.
12 Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.
Jeremiah goes back to what he knows to be true of God. God will prevail and will sustain His prophets. No matter how rotten Jeremiah is feeling (and I’m betting it’s pretty rotten given the beating and stocks), he goes back to the solid truth of God’s promises. And the next several verses are Jeremiah complaining again. And I’m right there with him. But, notice that God never gives up on Jeremiah even when Jeremiah complains to God about how he’s being treated and “nobody loves me, everybody hates me”. God is big enough to handle our petty complaints. And then God turns us back towards the truth of His love and grace, if we’ll see it – like Jeremiah.
I really resonate with Jeremiah’s statements of having God’s word “shut up in [his] bones” like fire. I’m not there yet, but I want to be. I also really feel for Jeremiah when he goes from wanting to give up to saying that God’s word is like fire. I’m that way sometimes. I want to just give up on the whole God thing one minute, but yet know I can’t because it’s so much a part of me and it’s true and real.
I think there are plenty of gems to learn from this passage of Jeremiah, but the one I take away tonight is that even the “great men of God” like Jeremiah went from wanting to run away to feeling like shouting the good news from the mountaintops in the space of a few seconds. And that God still used him. God used Jeremiah in a big way that we still read about 3000 years later. Maybe he wants to use me like that or maybe he wants to use me in my small town of 2000 people in a way that most people will forget. Either way, I want to be obedient. And I’ll try to keep the complaining down to a minimum.
What do you get from this passage of scripture?