READ: Psalm 42, Jeremiah 19-21, Matthew 14, Acts 21
THE BURDEN OF THE LORD
Even prophets long to be liked. We interpret the “word in my heart like a burning fire…shut up in my bones” of Jeremiah 20 in a positive light as if the prophet was bubbling with all the precious promises of God and could not wait to encourage the faithful. The reality was that Jeremiah could not stop pronouncing doom and gloom on his own countrymen–and it became problematic for him. If we strip the polite veneer of the text away, Jeremiah is telling us: “It stinks to be a prophet!”
There’s a reason the prophets called their message “a burden.” There’s a reason John the Baptist lost his physical head (Matt. 14:1-12). There’s a reason those who declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) are few and far between. It is a difficult thing to be the mouth of an angry God. Jeremiah feels this tension. He feels that God has coerced him (Jer. 20:7), that the cost of God’s Word was reproach and daily derision (v. 8), mocking and his friends waiting for him to stumble (v. 10). Jeremiah felt his role was only labor, sorrow, and shame. He longed to be able to speak something light and fluffy. “Just once Lord,” was the cry of his heart. “Just once, can I be the good guy?”
And one fortunate day Jeremiah has his chance. King Zedekiah sends messengers asking for a word from the Lord, hoping “perhaps the Lord will deal with us according to His wonderful works” (21:2). And the fire again leaps up within Jeremiah’s heart, and despite his own wishes this is what comes out of his mouth: “God will turn back our weapons of war and fight against us with anger, fury, and wrath. Man and beast will die. God will not spare or have mercy or pity. He who fights for freedom will die. God has given the city to Babylon. And the only one who will survive is the one who defects to the enemy. Have a nice day and thanks for dropping by (21:4-11)!”
Nobody likes to be the bad guy all the time, and if someone enjoys the prophetic role, they probably are masquerading–a self-appointed prophet in the flesh. Jeremiah is known to us as a weeper; his prophecies cost him something. If God’s word is not costing us something, if we never have emotional reluctance to be His spokesperson, we probably are not hearing Him clearly or obeying Him fully. We are probably not dispensing the whole counsel of God, and man cannot live on just sugar and medicine–he needs living bread.