God tells Jeremiah to purchase a clay jar from the potter and take it to the Valley of Ben Himmon outside the Potsherd Gate (19:1-3). Once there, Jeremiah was to declare God’s judgment (“disaster” NIV) on the people of Judah (19:4). Unlike the previous messages from God that Jeremiah brought to the people, this message was not a warning. God specifically describes the disaster in graphic details (19:7-9) that the people have brought on themselves through the worshiping of foreign gods (19:4-6). God’s warnings to the people of Judah had been ignored for many generations, even as far back as Aaron’s golden calf (Exodus 32) and actually even back to Judah himself (Gen 38). Justice (punishment) may not come immediately when a nation or a person rebels against God. But as the nations of Israel and Judah found out, God’s wrath must be satisfied. For true believers, the wrath of God for our sins was taken away from us and placed on Jesus Christ. For those who are lost, the wrath of God will be felt for eternity. These verses also remind us that although we may feel like we have gotten away with our sin and received no punishment from God or negative consequences, God still knows what we have done and His justice is always fulfilled. Jeremiah smashed the clay jar (represented God’s people) that the potter (representing God) had made. The people were familiar with this metaphor (Jeremiah 18) and understood that God was giving up on this current generation and allowing them to be destroyed.
After pronouncing God’s wrath once more at the temple (19:14-15), the priests seize Jeremiah, beat him and place him in the stocks (20:1-2). Jeremiah learned a lesson that Jesus and the New Testament writers would repeat many times. Following God does not ensure an easy life. Persecution is likely for the believer who is following God’s will. In the United States, the persecution of Christians usually takes the form of verbal abuse and name calling. Although this may seem minor compared the persecution faced by believers in other countries, the name calling we often face makes many believers ashamed of their beliefs and reluctant to share their faith with others. But we need to remember that God’s justice will prevail (20:3-6) and there are earthly blessings and eternal rewards for those who are faithful in following Christ here on earth. But we should be following Christ faithfully simply because He is God and He deserves everything, including our faithful service.
But Jeremiah was human just like us and the persecution he faced left him questioning God (20:7-18). Although we may be reluctant to question God, the Bible is full of examples of people questioning God (Abraham pleaded for Sodom [Gen 18], David in many of the Psalms, Jacob wrestled with God [Gen 32] and Jesus Christ called out to God on the cross [Mark 15:34]). God wants us to have a close and personal relationship with Him. God wants us to cry out to Him when we don’t understand His ways or His timing. God may not reveal to us His plan or the reason why some events may have occurred, but He will give peace to those who seek.
We learn during Jeremiah’s “complaint” (20:7-18) how deep Jeremiah’s love for God is. Although Jeremiah doesn’t understand God’s plan and feels like he was set up for failure (20:7), Jeremiah says that he couldn’t stop proclaiming God’s message even if he wanted to. God’s word would burst out of him like a fire (20:9). Imagine if only our love for God was so deep that we couldn’t help but spread His message, even when our bodies and minds were giving up.
King Zedekiah finally inquires of God only after the Babylonian army had laid siege to Jerusalem and all hope seemed lost (20:1-2). But Zedekiah isn’t sincere. He doesn’t change his heart or reform his ways. King Zedekiah wants God’s help but doesn’t want to follow Him. Many believers go through their walk like King Zedekiah. They do not seek guidance from God unless they have exhausted all human means of resolving their situation, rather than placing their trust and faith in God’s providence at the beginning. Once their backs are against the wall, they may request God’s help or guidance. But often times they are seeking a cure for their problems and are not returning to a faithful and obedient walk with Christ. We have all found ourselves in this situation before. We all have tried to make “deals” with God (“If you help me pass this test, I promise to do…” or “If you get me out of the consequences for this sin that I have committed, I promise to never sin like that again.”). I attempted to make “deals” with God like these very often as a child and teenager. We can still find ourselves thinking like this as adults, myself included. But God didn’t need any insincere “deal” from Zedekiah and He doesn’t need them from us. Let’s remove the “if” part of those statements and just utter the “I promise” parts. We should consider it a wonderful benefit from God if He wants to prune us (John 15:2) or refine us (James 1:2-4) through His judgment for our actions. If we are sincerely remorseful for our sin and return to God (like He asked the people of Judah to do [Jer emiah 18:11]), He may show mercy on us and restore us without the need for much pruning and refining (like He promised He would [Jeremiah 18:8]). But if we refuse to repent or insincerely come to Him, the pruning will probably be more severe and painful (21:3-5).
Although these events occurred 2,600 years ago, we (as human beings) have not changed at all. God’s people still face the same issues. We need to follow God’s will no matter what others may think of us. We need to develop a close personal friendship with God that allows us to question things we do not understand. We need to burn with a passion for God that is unquenchable. We need to sincerely turn from our naturally wicked ways, rejoicing when God’s pruning shapes us into the men and women God desires us to be.
I don’t know about you, but I feel miles away from where I should be. But atleast I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. It will probably be a long, slow and painful journey, but I can’t imagine settling for anything less.