Faithfulness and Foolishness

Jeremiah 26:1—15

Jeremiah was undoubtedly a powerful preacher. How did people in Judah react to his stirring and sometimes offensive words? In chapter 26, we see how some people reacted to the prophet’s stirring words.

Even though this is chapter 26, it goes all the way back to the early days of Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry during King Jehoiakim’s reign. Bible scholars note that the actual words of this “Temple Sermon” are found back in chapters 7 through 10, with Jeremiah’s experiences noted in chapter 26. Here, the whole sermon is given in greatly condensed form in just a single sentence:

Say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse among all the nations of the earth.’ (Jeremiah 26:4—6)

Jeremiah learned the hard way how hard the human heart can become toward the Word of the Lord. What our courageous prophet discovered is that the nation in general had deluded themselves into thinking that because they still had the Temple, they still had God’s favor. Therefore, as far they were concerned, Jeremiah was a heretic because his message didn’t line up with their beliefs. They were so ignorant to God’s Word, they didn’t recognize it when they heard it preached to them, preferring to cling to their own incorrect beliefs.

1. Jeremiah’s commission, verse 2

Stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word.

To a young prophet, this might have sounded like a plum assignment! Surely the Word of the Lord would be well-received in the Temple of the Lord. You’d think that would be the case, but this was not even close to what Jeremiah experienced.

During this time in history, around 608 BC, the Near East was sitting on pins and needles. The Assyrian Empire was breaking up. Egypt was trying to become the rising power in Asia. Babylon was on the brink of killing the Assyrian Empire and becoming the dominant world power. The armies of all these empires and nations were converging at a place called Carchemish to do battle. The future of Judah was a big question mark, to be determined by the outcome of a skirmish that would take place in 606 BC.

But Judah, internally, was having some problems. The nation was still mourning the death of godly King Josiah. Jehoahaz (or Shallum) his successor had been removed from the throne by the Egyptians and puppet-king Jehoiakim, was put on the throne. He was weak, inexperienced, he was a deceiver and completely unscrupulous yet thought himself great.

Since Josiah’s death, the religious situation in Judah deteriorated and Jeremiah recognized that the nation was fast approaching a crisis where its only hope for continued survival lay in a national return to God. He knew the clock was ticking; he knew Judah had to choose God soon or be lost forever.

This was the stream of history young Jeremiah stepped into. God gave His prophet a specific order as to where and when he would address the nation and what he would say to them. Jeremiah was to give his sermon in the Lord’s House and there he would preach it all, holding nothing back.

There is an expectation, even today, thousands of years removed from this period of Hebrew history and a world away from the Judaism of the Old Testament, that the truth should be the norm in the House of God. When a person walks into any church in any town or city in any country, he should always expect to hear the plain truth of God’s Word, not mixed with other ideas or diminished or added to in any way. Those who would distort God’s Word are putting themselves in real danger:

And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Revelation 22:19)

What people who worship in church need today is not more gimmicks, louder music, bigger TV screens, a more casual atmosphere, and coffee in the pews! It’s the unedited, unfiltered, unapologetic Word of God preached honestly and with conviction.

Just as a side note, notice verse 3:

Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.

This points out that repentance is always as individual matter and God’s judgment always depends on the individual and the choices he makes to live in submissive obedience to God or not.

2. The message, verses 4—6

As was stated earlier, these three verses represent a severe condensation of Jeremiah’s actual sermon. This summation makes the preacher’s three main points really stand out:

  • The absolute necessity of obeying God’s law. This is not negotiable! You cannot call yourself a lover of God yet disregard His Word. In the context of Jeremiah’s sermon, judgment could only be avoided if there was a national return to God.
  • Jeremiah wasn’t the only preacher standing for God in Judah, there were others. The vast majority of prophets at this time was made up of liars, deceivers, charlatans, and thugs, but like always, God had a small band of warriors who dared to stand against the tide of falsehood and heresy.
  • The coming judgment was going to be severe. Shiloh, capital of Samaia (the Northern Kingdom) was not far from Jerusalem and the people could look to Shiloh to see the kind of devastation that awaited them if they didn’t straighten out.

When the blight of God falls on the house of God because of sin and unbelief, that same House of God becomes the object of scorn.

3. The opposition, verses 8—11

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?” And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord.

When the officials of Judah heard about these things, they went up from the royal palace to the house of the Lord and took their places at the entrance of the New Gate of the Lord’s house. Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!”

A very similar thing happened to another preacher of righteousness:

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

Religious people love religion but don’t care to hear the Word of the Lord if it cuts against their grain. By telling the people what God wanted them to hear, not what they themselves wanted to hear, Jeremiah was truly risking his life. A false prophet was punished by death, and as far the religionists of his day was concerned, Jeremiah was a false prophet. The charge against Jeremiah was led by the prophets and the priests, the ones who had been telling the people everything was going to be just fine; that God was pleased with Judah and there was no danger.

4. The call to repent, verse 12, 13

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you.”

Fortunately for our prophet, the court officials heard the ruckus in the Temple from the palace and investigated. This timely intervention probably saved Jeremiah’s life. The religious leaders accused Jeremiah of being a false prophet in front of the political class and all that remained was the judgment from these officials. But they apparently gave the prophet a chance to defend himself, and, like a dog going after red meat, Jeremiah was at it again! He was absolutely dedicated to God’s Word, resolute in his commitment to preach it not matter what or where, and, apparently, unafraid of the consequences!

In truth, while we may admire Jeremiah, he was God’s messenger and he was simply delivering God’s message to the people. How could he do any less and still remain faithful to his calling? In truth, Jeremiah could take back nothing he had said, for to do so just to save his hide would have made him just as bad as the false prophets and lying priests he was opposing. Besides, God had already clued Jeremiah into how rough it could get out there:

They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:19)

5. An honest testimony, verses 14, 15

As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.

We read the same language in Joshua 9 and 2 Samuel 15. It always pays to be honest, especially when handling God’s Word. Though Jeremiah thought his fate was in their hands, it really rested in God’s hands. He was prepared for whatever was going to happen to him. He did not plead for his life. He knew je faced imminent death. But he knew he had done nothing wrong and committed no crime.

6. A voice of reason, verse 16

Then the officials and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man should not be sentenced to death! He has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God.”

In a weird twist of fate, the politicos and the people were more amenable to the Word of the Lord than were the priests and the prophets! Which goes to prove that religious bigotry and pride are often the most bitter enemies of God. Blinded by their religion and their lies, the religious class couldn’t see past their own beliefs, but others saw Jeremiah for what he claimed to be: a man delivering God’s message. To the everlasting shame of priests, the laymen got it! And Jeremiah was spared.

Interestingly, we read about a group of elders, probably from the countryside, who stepped forward in Jeremiah’s defense, reminding the people that a hundred years earlier, another prophet named Micah said much the same thing as Jeremiah just did and he also was spared.

7. A frightening post scriptum

To round off the chapter, we are read of another prophet named Uriah who, we are told, preached the exact same things as did Micah and Jeremiah. But unlike Jeremiah, Uriah fled for his life rather than stand his ground for God. He fled to Egypt, where he was pursued, found, dragged back home and executed for preaching the Word of the Lord.

Yes, it always pays to be honest when dealing with the Word of God and the calling of God!

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