14 Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise.
15 They keep saying to me,
“Where is the word of the Lord?
Let it now be fulfilled!”
16 I have not run away from being your shepherd;
you know I have not desired the day of despair.
What passes my lips is open before you.
17 Do not be a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
18 Let my persecutors be put to shame,
but keep me from shame;
let them be terrified,
but keep me from terror.
Bring on them the day of disaster;
destroy them with double destruction.
(Jeremiah 17:14-18 NIV)
In the previous two passages, Jeremiah had placed his faith and trust in the Lord, and not in humanity (himself and others). In today’s text, Jeremiah laments about his situation.
In verse 14, Jeremiah reiterates his faith in the Lord and requests the Lord’s help and protection that God promised as part of His call on Jeremiah’s life (1:8). As we will see in verse 15, Jeremiah’s wounds were emotional and internal, not physical and external.
Verse 15 identifies the source of Jeremiah’s lament. The people of Judah were mocking Jeremiah, asking where and when the Lord was supposedly going to bring destruction down on them. From the perspective of the average citizen, life was good. How could Jeremiah be such a doom-and-gloom prophet?
While Jeremiah did not explicitly mention it, the people of Judah likely labeled Jeremiah as a false prophet. In Deuteronomy 18:14-22, the Lord provided the litmus test for true and false prophets. What was the test? If the words of the prophet came true or not. And what was the penalty of false testimony from a prophet? Death.
Putting ourselves in Jeremiah’s shoes for a moment, we feel his deep pain. Jeremiah had been faithfully proclaiming all that the Lord had told him for many years. But yet, nothing was happening – it was still blue skies and the abundant life in Judah. The Lord seemed to be silent and not taking action. The other prophets that Jeremiah spoke against were all saying that life is good. In the eyes of the people, Jeremiah was the minority, not preaching reality, and therefore, must be a false prophet worthy of death.
Jeremiah was likely feeling betrayed by his people and the Lord. He was caught in the middle of a no-win situation. So what was Jeremiah going to do? He turns to the Lord.
In verse 16, Jeremiah recalls his faithfulness to the Lord, and that he did not take pleasure in proclaiming bad news to his fellow citizens. In verse 17, Jeremiah still believes that everything the Lord has said will come true. And when the prophecies do come to pass, Jeremiah asks for the Lord’s protection and provision.
In verse 18, Jeremiah asks for the Lord to put all the afflictions (shame, terror, verbal abuse, emotional isolation, death threats, etc.) that he was receiving back on those who were giving the abuse.
As we look at this passage in the context of its surrounding verses, one thing missing is the Lord’s direct response to Jeremiah’s lament. In previous situations, the Lord has replied to Jeremiah by comforting Jeremiah, reminding Jeremiah of His promise to protect him, and pronouncing judgment upon the people. The Lord does speak to Jeremiah in the next section (vv. 19-27) but does not directly address Jeremiah’s lament.
Like Jeremiah, we often feel the tension of following the Lord versus going along with the crowd. It’s not any fun to feel the rising tide of public opinion against us for obeying the Lord’s commands. Like Jeremiah and many of the writers of the Psalms, we feel isolated and alone and wonder where God is and why He doesn’t rescue us from our troubles. God’s promise is not to make our life easy, comfortable, or convenient, but to keep our eyes and heart focused on Him.
We are called to be faithful to the Lord, just like Jeremiah. Like Jeremiah, we will also experience persecution of various types for our faithful walk with the Lord. And the Lord promises to walk with us, just as He pledged to watch over Jeremiah.
May we be encouraged as we claim Jesus’ promise and walk faithfully with Him:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 NIV, Jesus speaking)