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God can do the same in our lives. As God guides us, he can break the old and transform it into something new. Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us, frees us from sin and leads us into new life. God does not want us to keep living in old ways. All who are in Christ are made new. So may we ask the Holy Spirit to shape us to become vessels for him.
And now we enter chapter 20. This chapter begins with Jeremiah being arrested. It’s in this kind of difficult environment that Jeremiah served as a prophet of God. The rest of chapter 20 is Jeremiah’s prayer in response to his time of trial.
Let’s start by reading verses 1 and 2: “When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord’s temple.” Jeremiah’s prophecy about God’s nearing judgment on Jerusalem was overheard by Pashhur, the official in charge of the temple. It seems Pashhur had authority to arrest people who spread wrong teachings. He is introduced as a priest and overseer, and one who strongly opposed Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been relentless in prophesying calamity on Jerusalem. But Pashhur seems to have listened to false prophets.
Now let’s read verse 3: “The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, ‘The Lord’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side.’” The expression “Terror on Every Side” describes how, when God’s judgment comes, even people who are watching from the sides will be afraid. Perhaps Jeremiah had been criticized for spreading fear around through his constant message of judgment. He then prophesies that Pashhur will be surrounded with terror for having listened to the wrong voices. Tragically, Pashhur will be taken into exile to Babylon, and there he will die. Not only him but also the people around him and the people he loves will be taken captive. That is what verse 6 says. No doubt, terror is approaching Jerusalem.
From verse 7 onwards, the rest of this chapter is Jeremiah’s prayer. It’s a prayer that speaks deeply to our hearts. How difficult it can be to serve God in times of war or conflict. Recently I read in the news about persecution and oppression in the Russian Orthodox Church. Priests were arrested simply for saying that war is bad. It was similar in Japan during the war. Christians in Japan knew how difficult it was to speak God’s Word. The prayer in this passage reflects the conflict within Jeremiah’s heart. Let’s look at it closely.
In verse 7 he says, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.” When Jeremiah spent a day in the stocks, he was ridiculed by the people passing by. We see the bitterness of his heart here. “I am ridiculed all day long,” he laments. On top of that he complains to God, “You misled me!” Perhaps he also meant, “God, you betrayed me!”
In verse 8 he says, “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.” The words “violence and destruction” refer to his message of Judah’s destruction by Babylon. Most of Judah’s people and their leaders did not listen to him.
Next, in verse 9 he says, “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.” People were not listening to Jeremiah, but even when he thought he would stop prophesying, he just could not keep God’s Word hidden in his heart.
Verse 10 implies that Jeremiah’s opponents were waiting for him to make a mistake, so they could take revenge on him. But Jeremiah says in verse 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.” Because God is with Jeremiah, his enemies will one day be put to shame. Verse 12 says, “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.” Jeremiah ends his first prayer here by surrendering his feelings to God.
In verse 13, a new section begins where Jeremiah praises God. “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”
However, from verses 14 to 18, Jeremiah curses the day he was born. This is an odd change, isn’t it? Verse 14 says, “Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!” Here, I believe Jeremiah is talking about God’s promised destruction of Jerusalem. The people of Judah were going to be conquered and oppressed by Gentiles. Imagining that reality, Jeremiah wishes he had never been born. He ends his prayer with these words in verse 18, “Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?”
These feelings came out of his difficult experience as a prophet. He feels this way not out of despair for himself but out of a sense of mission and concern. He cared about the people of Judah and couldn’t bear to think of their suffering.
Our human understanding is limited, while God is eternal and all-powerful. We cannot fully understand God’s plans. He is a God who allows us to experience difficulties, but redeems our suffering to bring something good. And while God gives us trials, he also enables us to bear our trials. I pray we may keep believing that God makes all things good in his time. (Reference: Romans 8:28, 1 Corinthians 10:13.)