The ministry of the prophet Jeremiah is like no other. He was born into a priestly family, but the Lord appointed him to be a “prophet to the nations” even before he was born (see Jeremiah 1.5). During his day, he was perhaps the greatest spiritual personality in all of Israel, yet he was hated and despised. His calling was so severe that he tried to forsake it. The message burned into his heart by the Lord was so painful to share that he tried to ignore it. But it burned like a “burning fire shut up in his bones” (see Jeremiah 20.9). He could do no other than to speak the words of “violence and destruction” for that was the good work he was created to do.
Though we has called to the prophetic ministry during the revivalist hopes of King Josiah (around 626 BC), his message was deeper than a temporary resurgence of faith. He called the people of God to amend their ways and their deeds and not to trust in the temple of the Lord or in the designation as the people of God (see the great temple sermon of Jeremiah 7). They were created to be a people who clinged to the Lord (see Jeremiah 13.11), but they never embraced their calling.
As a result, the Lord sent Jeremiah to announce the impending judgment. God was raising up an instrument of His justice and wrath, the wicked nation of Babylon, to remove Israel from the land of promise. Even as the priests and kings and citizens begged Jeremiah to preach that the Lord would rescue Jerusalem, his prophetic message was that the people should submit to their punishment and not resist the invading army of Babylon. Not surpisingly, those words were not well received. At one point, he was thrown into a cistern and left for dead (see Jeremiah 38).
Jerusalem indeed fell to Babylon in 605 BC, but even in judgment, the people refused to listen to the word of the Lord. Jeremiah told the people to submit to Babylon, but they continued to rebel, even seeking the help of Egypt to rescue them. Some even fled Jerusalem to seek asylum in Egypt, forcing Jeremiah to join them. But the judgment of God found them out, even in Egypt. Jeremiah prophesied that Egypt would fall to Babylon (see Jeremiah 43.8-13), which happened quickly thereafter.
Little is known about the death of the great prophet. The story ends with him in Egypt (see Jeremiah 44.29-30). Tertullian and Jerome mention a tradition that Jeremiah was stoned to death in Egypt, but one rabbi wrote that he was deported to Babylon where he eventually died. Truth is, we know very little about the death of this great prophet.
He was a lone voice with a difficult message, a fire in his belly, whose entire life was surrendered to the call of God.
While reading the story of Jeremiah, I came across this interesting and short chapter which contains a word of the Lord that the prophet shared with his scribe, Baruch.
The word that Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Baruch the son of Neriah, when he wrote these words in a book at the dictation of Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: 2“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to you, O Baruch: 3You said, ‘Woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain. I am weary with my groaning, and I find no rest.’ 4Thus shall you say to him, Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. 5And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go.” (Jeremiah 45.1-5)
Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, felt the pain of God’s judgment and wrath, too. Just like the prophet, sorrow and pain was the essence of his call. The prophet’s words imply that Baruch was hoping for something more, perhaps something greater and more comfortable. But the only reward for his service to God and the prophet was that his life would be spared.
Jeremiah’s words to Baruch echo the words of David expressed in this short song of assents:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 131)
David and Baruch both knew the temptation of seeking great things for ourselves, of raising our eyes too high. Baruch from the vantage point of the painful prophetic call, David from the comfort of a royal throne. For all believers, to quiet our soul before the Lord means to embrace the good work God has created us to do (see Ephesians 2.10). That good work might be the difficult and lonely call of a prophet, or it might be the thankless job of a prophet’s scribe. But in the end, our calling is the essence of who we are. There is in all our hearts, as it were, a burning fire shut up in our bones. To occupy ourselves with something greater or different or less wearisome is to miss the essence of what it means to be the person God created us to be.
What is it that God consecrated you to be or to do? What is the good work He created you to do? How is it painful and wearisome? Confess it. Admit it. Embrace it. For we will never know fullness of life until we do.