Rise Above Discouragement

 

Week of August 19, 2012

 

Bible Verses:  Jeremiah 20:1-13.

 

Lesson Focus:  This lesson is about honestly dealing with the discouragement and doubts we will experience as we serve the Lord.

 

Expect Discouragement:  Jeremiah 20:1-6.

 

[1]  Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. [2]  Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD. [3]  The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, "The LORD does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror On Every Side. [4]  For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword. [5]  Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. [6]  And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely."  [ESV]

 

The dismissal of Jeremiah’s message and the physical abuse of the Lord’s messenger by one of the top officials of the Temple hierarchy is as significant a development in the ministry of Jeremiah as King Jehoiakim’s burning of the Scroll in chapter 36. The one encapsulates the rejection of the Lord and His warnings by the religious authorities of Jerusalem just as the other dramatically sums up the rejection by the political authorities. The Temple, the place of the Lord’s presence, has become the scene of defiant repudiation of the Lord, and there can be no doubt that Jerusalem is doomed. Pashhur’s opposition to Jeremiah can be seen as an attempt by the Jerusalem establishment to silence an unwelcome, critical voice. Pashhur embodies and expresses the viewpoint of the ecclesiastical authorities who were satisfied on theological and political grounds that existing conditions in Judah should, and would, be preserved. Jeremiah was claiming that he had a divine warrant not merely to challenge the complacency of the consensus, but also to predict the overthrow of the status quo. The official point of view was that such a revolutionary voice upset the equilibrium of the nation and introduced a note of divisiveness just when internal unity was most needed in the face of massive changes and uncertainty on the international scene. Now was the time to deal with Jeremiah. He had been uttering similar predictions for years and nothing had ever come of them. In the face of a national crisis nothing must deflect the nation from supporting the powers that be.

 

[1-6]  The narrative of chapter 20 follows on from chapter 19: note these things at the end of 20:1. The priest Pashhur had a name that was common in Jeremiah’s day. Chief officer denotes the official whose duty it was to maintain order in the Temple precincts. This made Pashhur an important figure in Jerusalem, someone who would have access to royal circles. Pashhur heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, and took offense at what he was saying. Pashhur had authority over conduct in the Temple and had Jeremiah beaten. We have here the first use of Jeremiah the prophet, the title does not occur in chapters 1-19, but is used 31 times in the rest of the book. The title is used here to indicate the clash between the priest and the prophet; the priest who turns out to be himself a false prophet [6] against the true prophet who might have been a priest; the officer/overseer of the Temple of the Lord over against the one whom the Lord had appointed as overseer over nations and kingdoms [1:10]. Pashhur took further action also: he put him in the stocks. The Hebrew word for stocks was generally held to refer to a framework that held the hands, feet, and neck so that the body was twisted and contorted into an unnatural position, causing pain. This was also done in an exposed public place to humiliate the victim. In this case the public place was the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. Jeremiah was released the next day probably because a night’s detention was considered sufficient punishment. But Pashhur found out that his action had not caused Jeremiah to become apologetic or to modify the message he proclaimed. Instead, speaking not out of personal spite at the injury done to him, but as the Lord’s representative who had been commissioned to deliver precisely the message that he had, Jeremiah supplies that message to Pashhur personally, giving him a new name: Terror On Every Side. Giving a new name was a significant event, denoting a change of status or purpose. When it is divinely bestowed, it incorporates a prophecy of what the Lord will ensure will happen. Pashhur, epitomizing the Temple establishment, is going to be a reminder to others of terror to come, and will be one surrounded by horror on all sides. Pashhur is no longer to be fruitful on all sides, but to be its victim and the one in association with whom suffering comes to others. The reason for this name change is then explained in 20:4. Terror here refers to a source of terror. Whenever his friends saw him they would remember this name and the prophecy associated with it, and, no matter what outward face they would put on the situation, they would inwardly shudder as they contemplated what it foretold. But Pashhur is not going to witness the success of the policy he promoted. Instead he is told that his friends will fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. His friends will die in battle, and he will witness it and experience the trauma. Mention is then made of Babylon for the first time in the text of this book, as the foe from the north is specifically identified. Indeed, Babylon is named four times in 20:4-6 to emphasize that all that Jeremiah had repeated over the years was coming true. Judah is not going to enjoy peace; rather the Lord’s devastating judgment is going to fall on it through the instrumentality of the king of Babylon. The possessions of the people will be subject to enemy depredation just as much as their persons. Wealth in 20:5 refers to material possessions which are stored up and constitute the strength or reserves of a country. The accumulation of terms emphasizes the inclusiveness of the spoil that will be taken away. The focus then reverts to Pashhur personally in 20:6. He, his family and his servants will be involved in the exile, and will die in a foreign land. This fate will also extend to include all his friends who will be carried captive to Babylon and struck down by the sword. Verse 6 further describes Pashhur as one who prophesied falsely to his friends, so he must have claimed to be a prophet when he spoke to Jerusalem concerning her destiny, that no harm would befall the nation. But his words had not been given him by the Lord. Rather they had originated in the deceptive belief that the Lord was irrevocably committed to the city where He had His Temple. The suffering of Jeremiah, beaten and then incarcerated, in many respects foreshadowed what was to come upon Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet’s word to Pashhur is a word that embraces the community the priest represents. Jeremiah’s proclamation focuses on the harrowing future that awaits the disobedient city.

 

Confess Frustrations:  Jeremiah 20:7-10.

 

[7]  O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. [8]  For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. [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. [10]  For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! "Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" say all my close friends, watching for my fall. "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him."  [ESV]

 

[7-10]  The initial address to God that is characteristic of the psalms of complaint is here simply, O Lord. The following words, however, present us with difficulties of translation and interpretation. You have deceived me, and I was deceived. It is unlikely that deceive (that is, to mislead in a belief or action through the provision of false information) is the correct interpretation here because the Lord had never withheld from the prophet the sort of reception he would encounter. ‘Persuade’ seems to catch the idea best. Jeremiah expressed strong reservations about his suitability and capacity [1:6], but the Lord persuaded him, that is, overcame his initial reluctance. Looking back, Jeremiah is saying that if he had known what he now knew about what being the Lord’s prophet entailed, he would have protested more strongly, he might even have said ‘No’. It was one thing to have been warned – which he was; it was another to grasp the full extent of the experiences those warnings conveyed. In the depths of his discouragement he bemoans the fact that he permitted himself to be talked into acceptance. But what else could he have done? You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. It was therefore inevitable that divine force would accomplish its objective. There was no other option for Jeremiah but to submit to the command of the powerful Lord who demanded that he be His prophet. This compulsion would be similar to that which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 9:16, or that which Isaiah knew when the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me [Isaiah 8:11]. But it is the consequence of having to live with that call that is proving intolerable for the prophet. He had been told by the Lord from the beginning that it would involve facing opposition and hardening himself for what he would have to endure, but the reality had nonetheless cut deeply into him. I have become a laughingstock all the day. Jeremiah was ridiculed and mocked by the people. The reason for the general mockery of the prophet is then stated. That it has to do with his fulfillment of his prophetic commission is brought out by the threefold use of speak … shout … word. Violence and destruction refers to physical violence against an individual or to acts of destruction and pillaging against a nation. Jeremiah’s shout of these two words encapsulates his message to the people. God had given him only one message to proclaim: impending catastrophe as the punishment for sin. Not only does Jeremiah proclaim this message, he does so by shouting it out as a cry of horror at what awaits the people. This word of the Lord given to Jeremiah to deliver to the people has become a reproach and derision all day long to Jeremiah. The prophet had to face nonstop mockery because the message he proclaimed has not come true. Rather than the Lord vindicating his prophet by acting in accordance with the message He had commissioned him to deliver, nothing has happened, and Jeremiah has to face insult and reproach. For years he had been proclaiming that the land would be invaded because of its rebellion against the Lord, but nothing had happened. Little wonder that he felt the edge of their taunts. Behold, they say to me, “Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come!” [17:15]. One possible reaction to the abuse that was constantly hurled at him was to stop speaking, and he had contemplated this. Indeed, it would seem he had tried to carry it out for a while, but had to give up. The natural reaction to the intense hostility towards the prophet was for him to give up in despair at the contrary reaction to his proclamation, but that did not reckon with the power of the word that had been revealed to him. There is in my heart as it were a burning fire … and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. God’s word as a burning fire indicates a power that is awesome and cannot be contained, a force that cannot be stopped, presumably related to a message of judgment. The prophet is so aware of the crucial nature of the message that has been given to him and its vital significance for the community to whom he is designated to bring it that this inner knowledge of God’s word exerts irresistible pressure on him so that he cannot refrain from speaking. He experiences a burning inner compulsion to speak, which leaves keeping quiet not an option that will bring relief to him in his situation. This experience clearly shows the prophet as being aware that the word he proclaimed was not something he had thought up for himself, but a reality that had been revealed to him by the Lord. Trying to resign his commission and to suppress the message he had been given to deliver was not something he was able to do. The fire could not be contained. If there is a contest of wills between Jeremiah and the Lord, then it is inevitable that the Lord will prevail. Jeremiah is left exhausted and with no alternative. As well as inner tension the prophet had also to contend with a campaign against him. For connects verse 10 back to verses 7-8. This is another reason why he has to endure ridicule and mockery all the time. Terror is on every side is drawn from the words of Psalm 31:13 to describe a harassed condition, a hopeless state of terror and tension. Jeremiah had used the same phrase earlier [6:25], but it would seem that particularly after he employed it as a name for Pashhur, it was turned on himself to upbraid him for the non-fulfillment of his prophecies. The cry to denounce him appears to be an allegation of treason that they intend to bring before the king. Then the people could take their revenge out upon Jeremiah for his message of violence and destruction that he kept shouting but was not coming true. Even Jeremiah’s so-called friends were watching and hoping for his fall which would occur when his message of destruction did not happen. Here friends do not refer to the small group of men who are known to have supported Jeremiah, but might well have pointed to his relatives and fellow villagers who were watching him.

 

Remember Who’s in Control:  Jeremiah 20:11-13.

 

[11]  But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. [12]  O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause. [13]  Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.  [ESV]

 

[11-13]  Jeremiah now expresses his confidence in the Lord. The prophet is aware of his depression and dejection. He is perplexed but not yet in despair, and seeks to apply the effective spiritual remedy for his condition by not being drawn into introspection but rather meditating on the Lord and what He has promised to be to the man who trusts in Him. With me recalls promises where the Lord assured him of His presence with him in times of difficulty and opposition. Dread warrior is used here to contrast those who have displayed violence against the prophet with the Lord, the divine warrior who has granted the prophet His protection and whose power will show up just how puny his opponents are and who really is the dread warrior in this context of wills. When the Lord acts to vindicate the word He has sent through Jeremiah, then He will remember what the prophet’s persecutors had done and He will permanently show them up for what they are. They will experience eternal dishonor which would last throughout their lives and beyond. The terms of Jeremiah’s request in 20:12 mirror those of his first confession in 11:20 except that there judges righteously is found rather than test the righteous, and tests the heart and the mind rather than sees the heart and the mind. Again vengeance is not arbitrary, but a request for the Lord’s rule and word to be vindicated. Verse 13 is often thought to be incongruous here in that it is an expression of praise. But this was the way that individual laments were often brought to a close in the book of Psalms, and here we have a record of the experience of a man who is undergoing intense strain and is attempting to bolster his spirits. The psalmists frequently vowed that they would give praise to the Lord when He had delivered them. Perhaps it is significant, deriving from his prophetic calling and outlook, that Jeremiah addresses others. He knows he will be heard by God so that his situation will be remedied, and in the light of that he urges those who hear him: Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! But at what stage did Jeremiah make public his inward anguish and these reflections on it? It need not be thought that this awaited the final fall of the city. It would seem that in the closing years of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah was excluded from public ministry and kept a low profile in the face of royal threats. It was a time of dejection and personal turmoil. However, in these verses he does not speak as one who is still in the depths of despair, but as one who has been there. When he resumed his ministry, this was part of his presentation of himself, and of his rebuke of the people for their rejection of his message. He was in effect saying to his audience, ‘You insulted and assaulted me, but you are not reckoning with the Lord being on my side’. He then urged them to rejoice in the rescue that the Lord extends to the needy. Although the word (delivered) at one level refers to those in physical need, it has more often reference to spiritual poverty. The needy person is the one who is so aware of his own lack of inner resources that he waits on the Lord to provide for him. His piety and reliance on the Lord arouse the opposition of the wicked, but that opposition is vanquished when the Lord intervenes on his behalf. The expressions used here are general, but there is no doubt that Jeremiah is identifying himself as one of the class of those who are needy. It is another matter, however, whether his opponents were prepared to identify themselves as the wicked.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Note in 20:1-6 that it is the religious leaders, the Temple Hierarchy, who are rejecting Jeremiah as a true prophet of Yahweh. The main reason for this rejection was their identity of God with the Temple. They believed that as long as they had the Temple then God was obligated to protect the nation. What fundamental error were they making? Do you see this same error being made today, especially in many Western churches?

 

2.         Is God’s Word a burning fire within you so that you cannot hold it within you but must share it’s message with others?

 

3.         Put yourself in Jeremiah’s place. For many years he has been predicting the destruction of the nation, but nothing has happened. The people have stopped listening to him and now mock and denounce him. Jeremiah wants to stop speaking God’s Word but cannot because it burns within him. How is it that, out of his depression, Jeremiah ends up praising God in 20:13? What causes him to sing God’s praises? What can you learn from Jeremiah?

 

References:

The Message of Jeremiah, Derek Kidner, Inter Varsity.

Jeremiah, John Mackay, Mentor.

The Book of Jeremiah, J.A. Thompson, Eerdmans.