15 Lord, you understand;
remember me and care for me.
Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
16 When your words came, I ate them;
they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
Lord God Almighty.
17 I never sat in the company of revelers,
never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
and you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unending
and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
like a spring that fails.
19 Therefore this is what the Lord says:
“If you repent, I will restore you
that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
but you must not turn to them.
20 I will make you a wall to this people,
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
21 “I will save you from the hands of the wicked
and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”
(Jeremiah 15:15-21 NIV)
Today’s reading is the final section of a larger passage that goes together (15:10-21). These verses are a dialog between Jeremiah and the Lord. For the sake of space and the reader’s time, I divided this passage into two parts.
In yesterday’s passage, Jeremiah lamented the day of his birth (v. 10). The Lord reassured Jeremiah that He would deliver Jeremiah for a good purpose, that Jeremiah’s life would not be wasted (v. 11), and his enemies would change their tune, from being his enemies to pleading with him for their life. The Lord then reiterated His judgment upon Judah for their deliberate sinfulness and unwillingness to return to the Lord (vv. 12-14).
In today’s passage, Jeremiah continues his complaint about his life (vv. 15-18). The Lord then answers Jeremiah in verses 19-21.
In verse 15, Jeremiah begins by thanking God for understanding his plight and for the Lord’s reassurance that He would protect Jeremiah (v. 11) and judge faithless Judah (vv. 12-14). Jeremiah then goes on to ask the Lord to take action (specifically, revenge) against those who are persecuting him, to spare his life (not let him die), and see how much reproach (persecution) Jeremiah is taking by being a prophet for the Lord.
In verse 16, Jeremiah recounts the early days of his calling and ministry, and how sweet the Lord’s words were to him. When Jeremiah said he “ate” the Lord’s words, he might have been referring to two possibilities:
- Ezekiel’s experience of literally eating a parchment of God’s word (Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3)
- Jeremiah’s childhood rabbinical training and the sweetness of God’s word like honey in his life (Psalm 119:103).
The “words” might have been either the ancient scrolls found during King Josiah’s reign, or the words that the Lord gave Jeremiah to speak to Judah and Jerusalem. In either case, Jeremiah was claiming allegiance to the Lord and thrived on God’s word.
In verse 17, Jeremiah is counting the cost of being the Lord’s spokesperson. He feels like an outcast from society, not able to enjoy a “normal” life like everyone else. Jeremiah was faithful to the Lord’s work but was feeling the isolation that comes from constantly being God’s bearer of bad news.
In verse 18, Jeremiah questions God’s faithfulness. Was God like one of the mountain brooks that has plenty of water during spring when water is everywhere but is now a dried-up creek bed when he is dying of thirst? Where is God when Jeremiah needs Him?
The Lord responds to Jeremiah’s complaints in verses 19 – 21. First, the Lord gently rebukes Jeremiah in verse 20. The Lord had already promised to keep and protect Jeremiah in verse 11 and had pronounced judgment on the people of Judah in verses 12 – 14.
Jeremiah was not exempt from the very message of repentance the Lord had given him to proclaim to the people of Judah. Jeremiah had aligned himself with the Lord but was not the same as God. The Lord told Jeremiah to turn from his complaining and return to the ministry that the Lord had called him to and to serve Him and Him alone.
The Lord knew Jeremiah’s tender heart, and the invisible magnetic pull of acceptance by others. The Lord cautioned Jeremiah not to compromise the message He gave Jeremiah to be accepted by the community. Jeremiah must stand his ground and proclaim the Lord’s message regardless of the cost. Jeremiah was to remain unshakable in his faith and his practice.
In verse 19, the Lord reiterates His protection of Jeremiah, at the same time letting him know there will be more attacks on his message and his character. In verses 20 – 21, the Lord repeats His call to Jeremiah (see 1:18-19).
When faced with persecution, especially prolonged abuse like Jeremiah, it’s exhausting and can be debilitating if we don’t keep our eyes on the Lord. When we feel the pressure of serving the Lord, we have one of three basic options:
- Compromise – throw in the towel and go for acceptance and public opinion.
- Separation – become self-righteous and declare ourselves above the “commoners” like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or even physically separate ourselves to a cloistered “community” as did the ancient Essenes.
- Accountability – endure the persecution and keep focused on the Lord and to His calling, staying engaged in the community in which we live and minister to others.
May we “Consider Him [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3 NIV, bracketed text mine)