This week in Face to Face Divine Encounters we look one of the most well-known prophets, Jeremiah. A prophet, as someone who speaks with the words of God, must have a very personal connection with God by definition. Divine encounters are a way of life as long as the person was called to be a prophet. Some prophets were called for a short time, a year or two. Some, like Jeremiah, were called to a life-long career. He served as a prophet for 40 years.
That begs the question, What is a prophet? The main part is someone who is selected by God to communicate new or fresh words of God. This is very different from someone like myself who looks at and studies passages of Scripture and tries to explain what God is trying to tell us through the passage. Today for example, I am taking a Scripture (recorded words) from a prophet who got his words directly from God.
That is why it is so important for a prophet to be known to have been selected by God. Our passage today is about the day when God told him about this new role that God had for him. As the prophet is speaking on behalf of God it can’t be merely someone who sees something that they think is wrong, or right, who feels compelled to speak about it. A prophet is not someone who is morally outraged or filled with righteous indignation. These days people who speak truth to power are characterized as modern day prophets. Passion, emotion, certainty are not indicators that someone is a prophet. Even their correctness doesn’t make them a prophet. It is a question of whether they are speaking on their own behalf based on thoughts and research, or are they speaking for God at God’s request.
Jeremiah was called to speak to Judah or the Southern Kingdom. By this time the Northern Kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by Assyria. Their influence was starting to wane as Babylonia began to be the strongest empire in the region. Judah had been warned by Isaiah to learn from the example of the Northern Kingdom to change their ways and follow the one true God alone, but they didn’t.
Today’s Scripture tells about Jeremiah’s initial call by God. Jeremiah came from a family of priests, and he lived in the village of Anathoth, which was a few miles outside of Jerusalem. His family was out of favor with the government, so while his understood the structure and rituals of the country, he was also looking at it from the outside. He didn’t have any conflict of interest in maintaining the status quo.
4 The word of the Lord came to me, saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say
whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares
9 Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
11 The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
12 The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”
The Hebrew word for “watch” sounds very similar to the word for “almond.” Also, the shape of an almond is like the shape of an eye. God is watching.
13 The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?”
“I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.”
14 The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. 15 I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord. “Their kings will come and set up their thrones in the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem; they will come against all her surrounding walls and against all the towns of Judah. 16 I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made. 17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
I want you to consider for a moment what it would be like to be awakened in the middle of the night and have a conversation with God like this. Maybe it’s not the middle of the night. Maybe, it’s on a Sunday afternoon. Think about that for a moment. Maybe you have had a conversation with God like this. Perhaps, it wasn’t about being a prophet, but it was about something else that God had for you to do. Talk about a Divine Encounter!
Consider, if God says to you, “I choose you to …, and you will do it on your own,” or “I’ll provide help for you, but you’ll direct them in the way that I direct you. All you have to do is follow my lead.” What would your response be? Would you be like Mary, Jesus’ mother, who responded to the call, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38) Or, would you be more like Jonah who’s response was, I’m on the first ship in the opposite direction. This ship is headed for Spain you say?
Sure, I’ll go to Spain. Just get me out of here. Later, Jonah certainly got a perspective check later.
God says you’ve been chosen. I chose you. What do you say? Many people in Scripture hesitate at first. They don’t feel up to the task. Jeremiah says he’s too young. God says don’t worry about it. Abraham says he’s too old to have a child to start a whole nation. Moses as we’ll hear next month says that he stutters. He can’t speak for God.
I was awakened in the middle of the night, and it was a terrifying experience. It was overwhelming. It was many years before I seriously thought about going to seminary. I felt like I was being asked to give up my life. I mean, I had plans for my life things that I had longed and worked towards for years. I wanted a dance career. I wanted to get married sometime. As unlikely as it seemed even then. I felt that there was no chance that anyone would be willing to marry a female pastor, It just goes to show that God is in control, and miracles do happen. But the bottom line, in the moment of this experience, was that I didn’t think that the hopes that I had for my life would be possible. I lamented the idea that I was being asked to give that all up.
The rest of that story is that this night was the beginning of a decade long journey. On that journey things changed. The things that I thought were so important in many cases became meaningless. My love for the Lord grew, and I got to the point where the only reasonable thing was to go “all in” for the Lord. Despite a very reluctant beginning, by that point I didn’t think that I was giving anything up. It was all gain.
The truth is that if you are a follower of Jesus you are called to something. We are not all called to be preachers or prophets, nor would it be a good thing if we were. The analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians is so true with the different parts of the body. A body could not function if it only had eyes or only the sense of smell. It needs all the parts, hands, feet, digestive tracts, blood, the little hairs inside your nose to keep dust from going into your lungs.
But we do, we make excuses. We have excellent reasons for why we can’t do what we are afraid that God is asking. We live in a culture that says if you can’t do it perfectly (or at least look that way), don’t bother. And yes, we do want to give our best to God, but sometimes we are called to do something that we might not be great at. God gives us his grace. As Henry Langknecht says, “Hear the grace of God embedded in the phrase [to Jeremiah], ‘do not say, “I am only …”‘ ” Can you hear God saying that to you? “Do not say … ‘I am not enough.’ ” Even with whatever limitations we might have, we can be used by God. “By entering into our calling with a notion of an ‘easy yoke’ and a ‘light burden’ we point to the God whose word, ability, and power sustain this.
Jesus talked about this in Matthew 11:28-30:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
On the surface in our modern context that might sound ridiculous. However, here the yoke, the harness, for an ox or other draft animal had two positions. I don’t know about now, but then, they would pair a younger inexperienced animal with an older wiser stronger animal. The older wiser one, in this metaphor Jesus, takes the greater burden, the most weight, and guides the younger one. Therefore, despite being in a yoke, it was easy and light. In other words, God will help us in whatever God calls us to do. In the end, it brings God glory. So, the next time you are asked to do something, don’t fall into that routine answer of “I can’t do that.” Maybe you can.
Now, Jeremiah had plenty of reasons to resist the call. Being a prophet was no easy task. As we see at the end of our passage a vision of a boiling pot coming with destruction, we can imagine that Jeremiah will have a difficult message to deliver. Many biblical prophets were killed or threatened with death because of unpleasant messages. God tells Jeremiah twice in this passage that God will rescue him (cf. Jer 1:8; 1:19). This gives us a clue that Judah will not like the message that God has told Jeremiah to deliver. He will be threatened with death on multiple occasions. He is thrown in prison and beaten. He is thrown into a pit, and he is effectively kidnapped. Doesn’t sound like a fun job to me.
While understandable Jeremiah was not merely being selfish, wanting to preserve his own skin. Showing resistance to God’s call did several positive things for Jeremiah. 1) It shows his humility before God. I cannot possibly be worthy for any task that you would put before me ; 2) It shows that he is not merely being vindictive towards people he does not like; 3) It supported the truthfulness or legitimacy of the message.
There was a problem with false prophets. One is presented in Jeremiah chapter 23. Jeremiah had a very unpleasant message to give. The people of Judah have been doing too many terrible things too long. You have been worshiping other Gods. You have not taken care of the marginalized. You have been sacrificing children to other gods. I have warned you through other prophets. You had the example of when the Northern Kingdom was conquered by Assyria, but you didn’t listen. You broke the faith. You broke the covenant.
Now, Babylon is coming, and they are going to destroy Jerusalem and take many of you into exile. Do not resist this, or the punishment will be even worse.
The authorities routinely dismissed Jeremiah as being a pessimistic sour puss. But there were other people calling themselves prophets who had a much more positive message. God has saved you so many times before. You are God’s chosen people. God won’t let anything bad happen to you. In effect these prophets tickled the ears of the authorities. Told them what they wanted to hear. That is a very dangerous thing when you are claiming to speak for God. Lying in this way is addressed in Deuteronomy 18:20, “A prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
If that is not enough, God tells Jeremiah, “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.” That also could make one a bit reluctant to accept the challenge, but God kept his promise. God was with him all the way. He had to live through everything he talked about, and despite many many dangers he survived.
Part of today’s Good News is that few of us are called to be prophets. However, we are called to be faithful. We are called to accept the challenges that God puts before us knowing that God will be with us throughout, knowing that God will equip us with what we need. God working through us to bring about his purposes whether we are young or old, whether we have money or not, or whether it’s something that we think we can do well. God will be with us no matter what.
That’s what I call a Divine Encounter! Amen!