The double-minded man and the spirit-filled man, one and the same person; have we not experienced such a personal struggle within us when we follow the Lord?
Every now and then, when we attempt to serve and follow God, we do so with courage and determination. The conviction in our hearts fuels our steps. We are not easily weakened and neither are we so wobbly that we will be shaken and disturbed.
When we set out for God from the get-go, it is often laced with the boldness to venture forward rain or shine because we know, girded under our breath is His breath and spotting us when we lift the heavy burden is His muscles. Under no circumstances will we scream defeat when we know the Lord is for us.
The same might have been for Jeremiah up until Jeremiah 19 but it was at that time also when we realised that all the speeches that came out from his mouth that were prompted and led by the Lord have been nothing short of negative to the secular society.
To recap, Jeremiah spoke of deaths and destructions that will come to overpower the people in Jerusalem and Judah because they were disobedient in following the ways of God and whenever Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to speak, the pattern of the talking points remained the same – “bad”.
In the previous article, I have asked what would you do if you were asked by God to convey the same kind of “truthful” message to the people around you. What if those messages were of a warning nature that will cause the secular society to stop their tracks and think so deep that they would flinch even at the first sound of it, will you do it? I think most of us will tremble inside, asking if this is what the Lord really wanted us to say.
When I read Jeremiah 20, the reverse had actually happened where destruction dawned instead on the prophet himself and not on the people around him. Pashhur the priest who heard Jeremiah’s “offensive” remarks decided to capture him and sent him for a round of good beating before locking him up in the stocks until the next morning.
To those who have no idea what a stock is, it is a punishment device made of wood to lock someone at their feet so they can’t move (see here). So imagine now, if you were prophet Jeremiah and you have been asked to prophesy in the name of God to His people about a particular message that came straight from the Lord. You may think, “Ah ha, this should be a good message for the people.” But instead of feeling grateful for having heard a divine message from the Lord, they began to harbour resentment and hateful thoughts towards you. And rather than being celebrated, like Jeremiah, you are being embarrassed, tortured and locked up. Imagine now, if you were Jeremiah, how would you have felt?
Jeremiah 20 New International Version
1 When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, 2 he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple.
Like us ordinary men, Jeremiah too had complaints in trying to rise up from his beaten soul. In all likelihood, he must have been bashed up so badly that his body may be bruised and wounded all over, and maybe even bled. He may also have been perspiring profusely the whole time being pounded with no time to catch the next breath while enduring one blow after another. He could have been spun around, punched, kicked and spat on, and he might also have been whipped with abusive tools and equipment throughout the ordeal. Without even a chance to use the gents, he was locked up in the stocks that very night itself.
Physically, Jeremiah must have received the most senseless beatings of his lifetime, much like the open fighting matches in cages we see on the screens these days. Gory, bloody and absolutely nuts. Emotionally, he might have been a wreck too and mentally, lots of questions would have swirled around. Just as how he felt, the details of his thoughts were documented in Jeremiah 20 as he, perhaps finally, asked the Lord why have all these happened to him.
7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
14 Cursed be the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
who made him very glad, saying,
“A child is born to you—a son!”
16 May that man be like the towns
the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
a battle cry at noon.
17 For he did not kill me in the womb,
with my mother as my grave,
her womb enlarged forever.
18 Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?
You know, to stand up for something you believe in is never easy. Before you even see the silhouette of victory, you will first have to face the jeers and the pessimistic taunts. You will also have to withstand the pressure of not seeing the fruit growing despite the earnest and lengthy seeding time you’ve invested into nurturing that mission. What is more painful is when this item is of the Lord but it is not bearing the good results as quickly or as beautifully as we had envisioned it to be. We would then begin to question, and question we will amid the great despair of not seeing the prized promises of God come to pass.
To say that Jeremiah had probably lost all hope at this point is an understatement. That night, after withstanding the most excruciating blows that have landed on his body, Jeremiah might have just retired from the night thinking if it was all worth it.
Reading this now, I’m certain some of our thoughts may have been transported back in time to the painful episodes in the past that seemed insurmountable and overwhelming. Some of these difficult times may have also occurred at the most unexpected moments, like when our unbelieving friends were holding grand and glorious celebrations of their lives but we were relegated to thinking how are we to survive the next day.
At that very moment, we couldn’t help but to think “how is it possible that we as the true believing followers of Christ are suffering in extended periods but our unbelieving friends can go on to enjoy freely without any inhibitions?”
Some of us will also question “if it’s indeed from You Lord, why does it seem like it is not going to pan out successfully as how the pastors and priests have often encouraged us to believe?”
Through these preachings, some of us have unfortunately failed to accept that the greatest honesty within these godly messages is that adversity will come in one season or another and that it is through these challenging times when we get to witness how God’s power will come to secure us. Although easier said than done, most of us would have our faith severely tested especially if we’ve taken blow after blow from the people we were meant to save as “instructed” by God. Would you not cave in then and begin to question the Lord just like Jeremiah did?
I think it is perfectly normal for us to ask God about how we are to navigate from the deepest sorrows of our lives and into the brighter easier paths of tomorrow even if we couldn’t help but to think that what He promised has led us into the abyss instead of paradise. And if we’ve plunged into the deep end, our questions will also be endless, “Why us, why now, why?”
But if you read further into the text, Jeremiah also exalted God and lifted Him up, all this within the same chapter and right after his complaints. As if forgotten about his torturous beatings, Jeremiah suddenly rose up and praised God for being God and trusting Him unequivocally.
11 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.
13 Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.
I reckon as Christians, if we have heard His voice and moved by His leading, we too would be experiencing our very own Jeremiah-episode in fulfilling His mission for us. Like Jeremiah, we would also have been led to answer a call only to find ourselves sent into the “dark place” thinking that it was all going to be rosy and nice when we heard from the Lord. But friends, if you have landed in such a situation, please do not give up. Continue to search on God for answers and let His word inform you that what you’re experiencing may just only be a moment of trial and all will eventually get better when we have completed the journey and its life lessons meant for that very episode.
In writing this series on Jeremiah, I have not yet allowed myself to peruse the subsequent chapters of the book. But I believe some good might come out of it just like some of our personal struggles as “permitted” by God.
In recalling one of the most tragic times of my life, I felt so trapped in my circumstances that I had no one to turn to and no room to navigate from. In those moments and believe it or not, I truly believed that I was qualified enough to redefine the phrase “caught between the wall and a hard place”.
But if we were to frame these hard climbs in a Christianity perspective or in this context, in Jeremiah’s perspective, I believe we must have been called to be in that tight spot for a purpose. In a way, we must come to realise that it could be the platform for us to attain something God had intended for us or in another, the perfect time for us to embrace a new lesson channeled down by God Himself. But if we also allow ourselves to look at it from most Christians’ perspective, these testing times can be the opportunity for us to personally experience clinging on to the promises of God as the only lifeline that can keep us alive.
Speaking of lifeline, it may be apt for us to address this during the pandemic season of Covid-19. Imagine life as someone in the hospitality sector who was already facing our own personal demons and in came the anxiety and fear against Covid-19 from out of the blue. Our thought process may then prompt us to think:
- What will happen to our hospitality business now that endless cancellations have taken place?
- Will I still have my hotel or tourism job tomorrow?
- What would happen to our lives if the persistence of the virus has robbed us from our only income?
- How long will this downward spiral be before we dare scream out to Jesus so He could lift our families up?
For the record, I have just lost a client only 2.5 months into our 12 months contract due to Covid-19*. Am I disappointed? Yes. Did I feel a sense of unjust? A little. How could I ask for the contract to be reinstated as the client had pointed out the reasons that seemed fair and just since they have to let go of people internally seeing that the markets have crashed all over? I am lost for words too. But what I know is that this bout of “beating” is just a temporary dark place for me. I know so because I have experienced God’s fulfilment of His promise in the past and I know God will keep us safe even if the world is headed into a tailspin in the next two years because I have seen how little I have survived on right before some abundance came in the years prior.
I believe Jeremiah was just being human when he voiced his displeasure after the physical torture. The quick turnaround in his speech is evidence that his trust in the Lord is not to be surpassed by any trials he faced on earth. For all we know, Jeremiah might have broken a limb or two from the beatings but he stood strong in the end knowing that the Lord is on His side. So while the hammering can be senseless, the faith Jeremiah has in the Lord is not.
I anticipate the unveiling of a greater discovery in the subsequent chapters to see what the Lord has in store for Jeremiah. I’m betting my next faithful writing that Jeremiah will be informed of God’s mighty plan and that all will pan out alright in the end, even if it meant sending Jerusalem’s and Judah’s wealth to the stronger kingdom of Babylon. Let’s wait and see.
* Article was originally written on 15 March 2020.
Bible reference from www.biblegateway.com