If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Judges 7, Acts 11, Jeremiah 20, Mark 6. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Jeremiah 20.
Jeremiah’s fears in chapter 18 finally come through in chapter 20. Despite the fact that he is doing the will of God, God wills for him to suffer persecution. As a direct result of his prophesies (v. 1b-2a), one of the priests with temple administration responsibilities had Jeremiah beaten and confined to the stocks (vv. 1-2). When Jeremiah was released the next day, he had a few choice prophesies for this “man of God,” namely that he would personally experience the Babylonian exile and die there in that foreign land (vv. 3-6).
Jeremiah has a few choice words for the Lord, too, following (or perhaps during) this episode. He complained first about the social cost of serving the Lord (vv. 7-8); imagine being a prophet of God in a culture that is supposed to belong to God but where nobody but you cares anything about following God’s word. Even the priests are out to get you and, when they persecute you, they do it in public so everyone entering the temple can make fun of you while you’re bound in the stocks. It certainly was a tough job that God called Jeremiah to do.
So tough, in fact, that he decided to shut up and stop doing it. But according to verses 8-9 God’s word refused to be contained within his heart and mind, so he resumed his prophesies against his better judgment. As a result, even those he considered to be friends wanted him to pay for what he was saying (v. 10). Here is a man, then, who is caught in an absolute quandary. Speaking up is too costly, being silent is impossible. What to do?
The only thing Jeremiah could do was appeal to God. In verses 11-12 he committed his persecutors to God’s justice. In verse 13, he resolved to praise the Lord for the deliverance he received, but that did not keep him from experiencing deep anguish over what his life had become (vv. 13-18). It would be nice to see this chapter end in a more tidy way, wrapped up with a nice pretty bow of worship and thanksgiving. That would be a fitting way for us to prepare for our worship this morning, but it was not to be. Jeremiah’s prayer in this chapter ends with painful words that wish he had never been born. Spoiler alert: chapter 21 just moves on to the next situation Jeremiah faced; there is no happy resolution to the trauma of his heart.
What do we make of all of this? First, that we should not expect a pain free life just because we’re serving God; in fact, serving God may make life more painful and troublesome than life is for those who pretend to do serve God (like Pashhur the priest at the beginning of chapter 20). God’s will for your life may involve suffering and that suffering may be the direct result of the fact that you are serving him. This is not because of any defect in God; rather, it is the result of living in a sinful world that hates God and seeks to suppress his truth and persecute his people. God may allow this into our lives so that we can enjoy the blessings of his rewards in the future as we saw in last Sunday's message from Luke 6:22-23.
Second, we should understand that God is not angered when we speak to him out of our emotions—even when those emotions are negatively directed toward him. While it is certainly sinful to blaspheme the Lord, God compassionately understands how painful this life and doing his will can be. So there is no inherent sin in questioning God’s will or wondering about God’s ways. At the end of our anxious cries, however, we need to look to the Lord in faith even if we never understand in this life. What we should not do is look away from him in unbelief; eventually God’s justice will be done and there will be rewards and comfort for those who serve him, even when it is hard. Let Jeremiah’s prayer in this passage, then, encourage you to be straight with God in your praying. He knows what your thoughts and feelings are anyway, so why not pour them out before him rather than bottling them up?
Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.