Jeremiah saw that Judah was destroying herself in her wicked ways. Although Temple worship continued by offering animal and incense offerings (6:21; 7:21), their religion was corrupted with heinous idolatry, stealing, murder, sexual immorality, adultery and numerous other deceitful practices (3:13; 7:9). Idols had even infiltrated the Temple area. God decided Babylon should discipline His people by destroying His Temple and uprooting His people. False prophets and corrupt priests caused the people to believe that God's chosen people need not fear Babylon (27:10; 28:15; 19:31) on account of the Temple. Judah had been so disillusioned by the false prophets that when Jeremiah told them the truth, they often violently lashed out at him, persecuting him severely. However, Jeremiah knowing the truth about God's promises and he loving his people more than they knew caused him to persevere though the most difficult persecution.
Good examples of Jeremiah's perseverance surface in 19:14-20:6; chapters 26 and 28. He faces severe opposition to his preaching from a mob of people and more particularly the false prophet Hananiah. However, no matter the blow, the opposition's attempts to stop Jeremiah only seemed to strengthen him. A man who prays to the Lord like Jeremiah is able to withstand the most fierce opposition and surface shining like gold.
God sent Jeremiah to preach at the temple (19:14-20:6) to tell all the people of the coming calamity upon Jerusalem due to their hardness of heart. Pashhur, The chief priest that year, heard Jeremiah's prophecies and had him beaten and put in stocks overnight at the Benjamin Gate in efforts to quiet him. But Jeremiah, being mighty in faith, spoke out immediately against Pashhur upon his release. Pashhur would now be called Magor-missabib, meaning "Terror on every side," for, all his friends would now face the sword. Jeremiah continued preaching saying Judah would be exiled to Babylon and slain, Jerusalem would be plundered, and that Pashhur, his entire household, and all the false prophets would go to Babylon and die there.
The people in Jeremiah's day had diminished God to a plot of land and a building. They thought that living within the city and near the temple would protect them from any calamity. Jeremiah knew otherwise. He preached again at the temple to a great crowd of people, priests, and false prophets in what many call his great "Temple Sermon" in chapter 26. He indicted them for rejecting God's prophets, and told of the destruction they would face. He alluded that the temple would be destroyed and Jerusalem would become worthless (1-6). The priests, prophets and people who heard Jeremiah's condemnation immediately rushed to silence Jeremiah like firemen trying to put out a raging fire crying, "You must die!" (7). One is reminded of the words God told Jeremiah earlier, "I am making my words in your mouth a fire and this people wood, and it will consume them" (5:14). The mob agonized to douse the truth flaming from Jeremiah's mouth for it burned to hear the truth about themselves. Instead of accepting truth, they grabbed him, denying everything Jeremiah accused them of, and threatened to kill him. At this point many would back down. Not Jeremiah. Instead of relinquishing his message to save himself, he spoke up even more confidently and charged them to repent, "Amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God" (26:13). Jeremiah knew the mob could do what ever they wanted to him, but he also knew that God favored his own innocence in the matter. Jeremiah's perseverance caused him to continue preaching, resulting in many of the mob changing their mind and saving his own life.
Jeremiah withstood fierce opposition by the false prophet Hananiah in Chapter 28. Hananiah had insured Israel's already bloated sense of security, leading the people astray by preaching peace. He said, "I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon" (28:2), meaning God would soon bring the exiles back from Babylon. He also preached that the temple vessels and King Jeconiah would return. Jeremiah publicly rebuked the false prophet announcing, "When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has sent" (28:9). Hananiah took the symbolic yoke Jeremiah wore and broke it. Jeremiah was not intimidated by Hananiah's temper tantrum, instead Jeremiah proclaimed that the yokes of wood that Hananiah had preached had become yokes of iron (cf. Dt. 28:48). Punishment would be worse than ever. Jeremiah rebuked Hananiah for causing the people to believe a lie and pronounce a death penalty upon him, which came to pass less than a year later.
When it seemed as though Jeremiah's adversaries had the best of him he stood up even stronger and more powerful than before, but one must not forget how he agonizingly prayed to God throughout tough situations. Read Jeremiah's prayer after dealing with Pashhur the high priest (20:7ff). The relationship Jeremiah developed with God exposed him to the trust that he could have even in the most difficult circumstances. Undoubtedly he remembered God's words in the very beginning, "I am with you, to deliver you" (1:8). God, because of Jeremiah's trust, empowered him to look opposition and even death straight in the eye. This is the way with God's people - they can be struck down and not destroyed. God, to those who devote themselves totally to his cause, gives strength that would seem unbelievable to human eyes, just as He did Jeremiah. "With men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt 19:28).
Christians live in a time when it is easy to show up to worship and live a lie away from worship at the same time. While one may impress men, God sees through what man does not and may not be impressed. Jeremiah's opponents are a case in point. It is good to read about a man like Jeremiah who was willing to speak out against mere external forms of worship and stand up for truth. Be a child of God both inside and outside of "worship." Jeremiah was. Jeremiah's prayer and perseverance preached lessons that change peoples lives even today. Yours can too.
By Steve Quillian
From Expository Files 7.8; August 2000