Thus Says The Lord: Stand and Speak
In the twenty-third year of Jeremiah's beleaguered ministry as a prophet, God told him to speak once again to the nation. "Rooting out" and "pulling down" characterized the prophet's message from the beginning (Jer. 1:10). This message was to be no different. The nation had refused to heed the warnings and the day of destruction drew near.
"Thus says the Lord: 'Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord's house, all the words that I command you to speak to them, Do not diminish a word (Jer. 26:2)."
The pristine and holy glory that characterized the temple in Solomon's day had dimmed to the point of going out. Here for a brief moment the truth of God's word spoken by a humble servant eclipsed the dark deeds practiced within its walls. The prophet's work was difficult but simple; stand and speak. Difficult because, as Jeremiah had been promised by God twenty-three years earlier, there would be opposition to his message. Simple in that God would give him the words to speak. The simple message was,
"If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law...I will make this city a curse (Jer. 26:4-6).
Jeremiah had not entered his life's work without great reluctance. "Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth" (Jer. 1:6), he offered when called by God. God assured him by making this pledge, "Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you" (Jer. 1:8). Now after many years of devotion and faithfulness Jeremiah once again stood before those hard faces and foreheads of stone. His task as a prophet of God was to stand and speak. The truth never finds its true expression in the corners or recesses in small whispered voices. Falsehood is arrogant and bold and so those who have the truth must stand and speak.
God made it clear to Jeremiah what He wanted spoken. "All the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word." The truth becomes weak and ineffective when whittled down by man. No trees are felled by the woodsmen wielding a chainsaw minus the chain. The sappy, toothless message containing partial truths may please and console the hearers but has no power to change their hearts.
A heavy mantel of responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the one who proclaims truth, what about the listener? The Lord told Jeremiah, "Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings" (Jer. 26:3)
"Perhaps" is a word expressing hope and possibility. God does not force one to heed His word. He waits in anticipation. "Maybe, perhaps they will listen to Me this time." Although the nation as a whole rejected the word of God there were still some pliable hearts encouraged by the message of Jeremiah. The message so clearly and boldly proclaimed must have penetrated the hearts of some, perhaps even Daniel and his three friends who would very shortly be snatched from their homeland never to return.
Inspired by the word of God and the example of this courageous and faithful servant, these and others would be able to maintain their faith during the trials of captivity.
God intensifies his optimism saying, "Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil ways." Repeated proclamation of the truth without apparent results often produces discouragement, resentment and even bitterness of heart. It disappointed God that His people did not listen and turn. Jesus centuries later wept for the people as He viewed the city of Jerusalem crying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing" (Mat. 23:37). But optimism kept alive is the boon of the proclaimer of truth. We cannot taint our message with pessimism, heartfelt disappointment out of love, yes, but not pessimism. After all, it is "good news" that brings promise of good results.
"And you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord: "If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to heed the words of My servants and prophets whom I sent to you, both rising up early and sending them (but you have not heeded), then I will make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth"'" (Jer. 26:4-6)
The responsibility of Jeremiah was to stand and speak, the people's was to listen. If they heeded the word God would relent, if not He would make their city a curse. Time was running out for Judah. In less than two years Nebuchadnezzar would enter the gates of the city and seize control of their nation. In the prophecy of Ezekiel it is made abundantly clear that God finds no pleasure in condemning the wicked. Rather he says, "Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? for I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord God. Therefore turn and live" (Ezek. 18:30-32)!
In a similar message spoken by Jeremiah, God said, "But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel" (Jer. 7:12). The reference to making "this house like Shiloh" goes back to another dark time in the history of God's people. He called upon them to remember the misplaced trust that an earlier generation had put in the ark of the covenant. In those days the sons of Eli made the Lord's people transgress (1 Sam. 2:24). Threatened by hordes of uncircumcised Philistines the sinful children of Israel summoned the ark of the covenant to the field of battle thinking that it would insure their victory. It was a sad day, Israel was defeated and the ark of God was captured. Not unlike the people in Eli's day, Jeremiah's listeners were guilty of listening to the lying words, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord..." (Jer. 7:4), believing that a city containing the temple of God would surely be spared from the invasion of a foreign nation. However, God would not relent if they refused to turn from their evil ways.
When the priests, the prophets and the people heard Jeremiah's message they seized him saying, "You will surely die!" (Jer. 26:8). When the princes of Judah heard these things they came and heard Jeremiah's message (Jer. 26:10, 11). Their reaction was quite different. There were still some honest hearts in Jerusalem. They said, "This man does not deserve to die. For he has spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God" (Jer. 26:16).
In arguing the case for Jeremiah the princes of Judah appealed to the case of Micah, the prophet, and king Hezekiah. Micah called upon God's people to repent. Hezekiah did not kill Micah but listened to him and God relented concerning their doom (Jer. 26:19) . Those who thought Jeremiah should be put to death, for his supposed blasphemy against the temple of God, brought up the case of the prophet Urijah. Urijah prophesied against the city and the land as had Jeremiah. Jehoikim hunted-down the prophet who had fled to Egypt and put him to death (Jer. 26:20-23). Those who believed Jeremiah was not worthy of death prevailed and he was spared (Jer. 26:24).
Reactions to the truth vary as widely today. Some will listen to those who stand and speak the truth and they will put away their evil ways. Others hardened by the deceitfulness of sin will be stiff-necked and call for the ouster of the messenger. Our responsibility is clear. If we are speaking the truth we must do so boldly, unafraid, and refusing to diminish God's word. If we are listening to the truth we must examine ourselves and turn from our evil ways. Christianity is not for the faint of heart.
May God grant us the courage to seize the prize.
By Karl Hennecke
From Expository Files 4.5; May 1997