Jeremiah 15:10-21.
 
Going Against the Flow


A true profession of faith in God is demonstrated by loving Him, seeking to know Him more through a disciplined study of the Bible, and by living a life of obedience to Him.  Any such profession and godly lifestyle is quite the opposite of that which characterizes those who have no such profession.  Consequently, the true act of turning to God in faith is always accompanied by a radical change in direction as one turns from the pagan and evil ways of the lost world to the godly ways of the LORD.  This is the act of repentance, turning from one direction to another.

We might use the following metaphor to illustrate the act of saving repentance.  Imagine that you are in a canoe with a group of close friends.  This canoe is being swept downstream at an exhilarating pace as you each paddle with the current to travel even faster.  You feel the wind in your face as the tall walls of the gorge that frames the stream on both sides rapidly passes by.  This stream is so strong that it has picked up a great amount of debris that is accompanying you on this trip.  However, as you are enjoying the experience you come to understand that this stream ends in a large and quite deadly waterfall.  With high cliffs on both sides of the stream, your only path to safety is to turn the canoe around, paddle upstream with great effort, dodging the debris along the way.  What do you do?

Your first response to this situation would probably be to warn the others in the canoe of the imminent danger, expressing your desire for all to turn around before being swept over the falls into the abyss below. 

You revealed the future doom to the others in the canoe who, to the person, laugh at your prophecy and refuse to turn around, only using your testimony as inspiration to paddle harder with the current.  Your continual pleas for repentance are met only with derision as their ignorance and their exhilaration in the ride blinds them to the truth.

This situation is not unlike that faced by the prophet, Jeremiah, as he brings warning to the people of ancient Judah in their last generation as a free nation.  Swept down into the abyss of eternal separation from God, the Judeans summarily reject Jeremiah’s warnings, returning only scorn and persecution for his efforts.  Jeremiah is learning first-hand the difficulties involved with “going against the flow,” and his response to this scorn and rejection is probably not unlike the response we would demonstrate in a similar situation.  Jeremiah is lonely, confused, and on the verge of giving up.

Jeremiah 15:10a.  Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!

JEREMIAH’S LAMENT

The significance of Jeremiah’s statement concerning his own situation cannot be understated.  A consistent formula for a prophet to reject his calling by the LORD was to publicly despise his birth.  Though he does not actually do so, this statement comes quite close to a rejection of his anointing as a prophet.  In expressing his frustration, he testifies to several errors that are common to all when we face such rejection.

1.  Self-pity.  “Woe is me…”  Jeremiah is digging a hole of depression and jumping right into it.  When faced with opposition it is not uncommon for our frustration to devolve into depression as we create any number of rationalizations and false-scenarios to justify our self-destructive behavior. 

2.  Untruth.  “man of strife and contention…”  Jeremiah is describing his own nature the way the world sees him, as one who is borne of strife and contention.  This is simply not true.  Swept up in the circumstances of the situation, Jeremiah leans, not on God’s word, but upon his own presuppositions and rationalizations. 

3.  Self-centeredness.  Though he is desperately concerned about the state of the nation of Judah, his reaction to their rejection of God is very personal.  The truth is that the people are standing against God’s word, not Jeremiah.  They are rejecting the message by persecuting the messenger, a typical response to such a situation.  Jeremiah reframes the conflict between the LORD and Judah into a conflict between himself and Judah, a strategy that brings him only more stress and confusion.

4.  Overstatement.  “the whole earth…”  We may have a tendency to overstate and exaggerate a situation in order to rationalize our responses to it.  It is as if Jeremiah is stating that the “whole earth” stands against him.  This is great fuel with which to feed the beast of depression.   The truth is that the world stands against God, not against Jeremiah, and also that the enemy is not the whole earth.  God has always preserved a remnant of faithful people.  Unfortunately, Jeremiah is not aware of any of these, or he simply leaves their presence out of his pity party.

Jeremiah 15:10b.  I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me.

Usury is simply the act of lending money or property to another with the expectation of a return of interest along with the return of principal.  This was (and still is) a common source of conflict between people who are in a close relationship with one another.  Usury is an overt action that can engender conflict.  Essentially, Jeremiah is stating that he has not taken part in any action for or against the people of Judah to warrant such a conflict. 

In another hyperbole, Jeremiah states that “everybody” curses him.  The truth is that, among the population of Judeans probably half do not know who he is, and most of the remaining half do not really care.  The few people that are close to Jeremiah are rejecting his message from the LORD, and it is these who curse him.

We might be encouraged to know that we are not alone when we find ourselves in similar circumstances.  There are other “stalwarts of the faith” who revealed themselves to be very human when they fell into depression, including Abraham, Jonah, Job, Elijah, King Saul, and King David.[1]

THE LORD’S RESPONSE

Jeremiah 15:11.  The LORD said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil and in the time of affliction.

The response of the LORD is written in the first person, directed to the nation of Judah rather than to Jeremiah specifically.  Jeremiah is not alone in his frustration concerning the state of the nation.  There are a few others, the faithful remnant, who are scattered around who also fear for their own future as they see the foundations of faith crumbling all around them.

However the LORD reminds Jeremiah, and us, of the promise that he made to Abraham: that He would protect those who trusted in Him, and He would always provide a place for them.  The LORD points this out in at least two ways.  First, “it shall be well with thy remnant.”  The LORD restates His promise to protect the remnant of faithful Judeans.  Regardless of the fate of Judah and its people, the remnant of the faithful have no reason for fear, for “it will be well;”  they will be protected.  The LORD also reveals something new to Jeremiah about the conditions of the coming destruction of the nation:  the remnant of faithful will be treated well by the attackers.  Nebuchadnezzar would gather the remnant together and take them into the region of the Chaldees, near Babylon, where they would be allowed to live in community and continue to thrive until their return to Judah about 70 years later.

Jeremiah 15:12.  Shall iron break the northern iron and the steel?

The LORD describes for Jeremiah more of the details concerning the coming judgment against Judah, against those who are persecuting Jeremiah.  This statement is a promise to Jeremiah that his suffering will be vindicated as those who reject the truth will learn the reward of that rejection very soon. 

Trusting in their assumption of the immutability of the security of the Jerusalem temple, the people did not properly fear the threat that the Babylonians posed on them.  Perhaps they remembered the miraculous battles of the past when the LORD protected them against overwhelming opposition.  The people were trusting in their own ability (iron) to stand against the much harder iron and steel (Babylonian armies).  The use of iron makes a good metaphor for this contrast of power.  The Israelites were an agrarian society and not adept at the art of smelting steel.  Steel was being produced in the southern area of Philistia, and in the northern area of Croatia.  Weapons made of Israelite crude iron could not break an equivalent weapon made from hardened steel.  Likewise, Judah simply could not stand up to the power of Babylon.  Trusting in themselves, they could not defeat Babylon on the battlefield.

Jeremiah 15:13.  Thy substance and thy treasures will I give to the spoil without price, and that for all thy sins, even in all thy borders.

Through Jeremiah, the LORD reveals His judgment against the nation (and His vindication of Jeremiah and his message).  Fitting with the context of the inability of Israel (iron) to stand against Babylon (steel), the LORD states that the enemy will take from Israel all of the spoils of a battle including all of their possessions, including all of the treasures that remain in the Jerusalem temple.  Furthermore, those spoils would come “without price.”  Judah is so incapable of standing against Babylon that those spoils will be taking with little bloodshed.  Their possessions and treasures are free for Nebuchadnezzar to take when he invades.

Why would the LORD so fully remove His hand of protection from Judah and from Jerusalem?  God’s promise to Abraham was always predicated on the condition that those whom He would protect would be those who have faith in Him.  Having already promised to preserve the remnant, the LORD now describes the judgment upon those who have rejected Him, a rejection that is demonstrated by their sin.  Furthermore the entire nation, not just Jerusalem, has turned from the LORD, so the entire nation will be spoiled by this future invasive force.

Jeremiah 15:14.  And I will make thee to pass with thine enemies into a land which thou knowest not: for a fire is kindled in mine anger, which shall burn upon you.

Not only will the invading army take from Judah all of its possessions and all of its treasures, but also will take its people away to an unfamiliar land.  This is a very significant statement, one that would not be well-received by the Jerusalem leadership.  The Hebrews defined themselves by their land (as they still do, hence the Arab-Israeli conflict continues to this day).  To them, this land was promised to them, given to them, by the LORD God.  Based upon His omnipotence, no one could take this land away from them.  Forgetting the conditions of God’s promise to Abraham, their rejection of God served to cause them to lose the land.  To be taken from the Land of Promise would be to them just as unbelievable as Jeremiah’s prophecy that the city of Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed. 

What is the reason for God’s removal of His hand of protection?  Why was the nation in such peril?  Israel could never sustain itself in the region on its own power against the much greater nations that surrounded it, nations that were incessantly imperial, continually vying against one another for dominance.  The only way the nation could survive this international intrigue would be for them to maintain their faith in God to protect them.  Their rejection of God resulted in the removal of His hand of protection.  Because of their apostasy, like Israel, Judah would lose the land that God had offered to keep them in.

Jeremiah 15:15.  O LORD, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke.

JEREMIAH’S PRAYER

Understanding God’s promise to protect the remnant and to Judge the sin of Judah, Jeremiah seems to answer God’s promise with confident agreement.  Taking a stand for the LORD in the center of Judah’s apostasy has left Jeremiah alone, and lonely.  Jeremiah sincerely needs the presence of the LORD to bring him encouragement and strength during this time of peril. 

Know.  The word for know refers to a knowledge of another that is intimate and complete.  Jeremiah understands that God knows the true nature of his heart, even though he just expressed an outburst of frustration against God. 

Remember.  Jeremiah understands that God will not forget Jeremiah during this time of peril or during the time of the dispensation of judgment against Judah.  As Jeremiah experiences the rejection of the Jerusalem Jews and the persecution that will come with it, he knows that God will not forget him.

Take me not away.  This is a single word in the Hebrew language that refers to death.  Jeremiah is keenly aware of his own frustrations and doubts.  He is quite knowledgeable of the fact that, even as Judah has sinned, Jeremiah is not free from sin either, and like Judah, he knows that he himself is deserving of separation from God.  Counting himself among the remnant of faithful Jeremiah is confident that the relationship that he has with God will not be broken. 

Longsuffering.  If there is a request in this poetic prayer by Jeremiah, it is a request that God continue to be patient with him as he struggles in the arena of battle in which God has placed him. 

Thy sake.  Though responding to his circumstances with doubt and depression, Jeremiah does fully understand that his state has resulted from his obedience, and the persecution that he would receive he knows that he is bearing for the LORD’s purposes and not for his own.  

Again, we can be encouraged by Jeremiah’s example that persecution by those in this evil world might be the fitting reward for our faithfulness to God.  However, we can be confident to know that God is aware of our actions, in touch with our feelings, and is pleased when we maintain obedience to His call even when to do so invites peril. 

Many, if not most, Christians are not willing to place themselves in such peril, choosing to “go with the flow” rather than to risk any form of rejection or persecution.  Jeremiah understands that the rewards for faithfulness are eternal, and the consequences of persecution are only temporary.  Therefore, returning to our canoe-in-the-river metaphor, we find Jeremiah thrown out of the canoe by his colleagues, and fervently paddling against the flow of the stream in a canoe by himself, caught up in the debris in the river, but purposefully and consistently focused upon the direction of His calling.  Why are their people like Jeremiah who choose to go against the flow of this world’s evil?  Jeremiah answers this question in the next verse.

Jeremiah 15:16.  Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.

Jeremiah’s words form a common prophetic metaphor describing one’s response to God’s Word.[2]  It was a common belief among the ancients that one was defined by what he ate.  We may recall Jesus statement that it is what comes out of a man’s mouth that defines him, not what goes in.[3]  The idea is that when Jeremiah received God’s Word, he made it a part of who he is.  God’s word defines the nature of Jeremiah’s true heart.  This is why he cannot compromise God’s word when confronted by the stressors in his calling.  Likewise when we separate those who are willing to face persecution for their faith from those who will not, we find in the former group those who have made God’s word a part of their nature.  We find in the latter group those who choose to associate themselves with the community of faith, but have failed to make God’s word the foundation of their nature. 

Jeremiah, in a moment of spiritual confidence proclaims how the receipt of God’s word into his heart brings him great joy (noun) and rejoicing (verb) in his heart.  The presence of God’s word in his heart carries such a great influence with Jeremiah that he is willing to face the persecution and peril that taking a stand for his faith might bring.  He can do this because he also understands that God has called Jeremiah by “His Name,” the same promise that God makes to all who place their faith and trust in Him as God accepts them as His ‘adopted’ children, members of the Family of God.

When we consume God’s Word in the manner that Jeremiah describes we find that our lives will change as we turn from the evil behaviors of this wicked world and strive to life a godly life.  Consequently, there is very little difference between Jeremiah and faithful Christians today.  The only real difference is the circumstance that Jeremiah finds himself in.  Christians still find themselves in similar circumstances today and have the same calling and the same power to overcome persecution and peril that Jeremiah has.  Furthermore the behavior of the faithful Christian becomes more consistent with God’s Word as they draw closer and closer to Him:

Jeremiah 15:17.  I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I sat alone because of thy hand: for thou hast filled me with indignation.

Seeking to live a life of obedience, Jeremiah does not take part in the sinful practices of apostate Judea.  Consequently, surrounded entirely by disobedient Jews, Jeremiah finds himself quite alone.  The “indignation” that is used here refers to Jeremiah’s rejection of the practices of this wicked world.  Faithful Christians may, and will, find themselves similarly alone in a community of unbelievers when they take an overt stand for their faith.  One might consider the plight of many of the missionaries of the Gospel who serve around the world, those who are surrounded by the lost, and have few, if any, other faithful Christians to fellowship with.  This reinforces the imperative written by the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews that Christians should make a determined effort to fellowship with one another on a regular basis.[4]  With Christian community comes both accountability to one another, and the group support that we need when we are faced with conflict.

Jeremiah 15:18.  Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed? wilt thou be altogether unto me as a liar, and as waters that fail?

We might, at this point, recall that the LORD’s response to Jeremiah’s initial inquiry was directed to Judah, not to Jeremiah.  Consequently, these words are formed as though spoken by Judah towards God.  Most scholars argue that these are words directed to God by a frustrated Jeremiah who doubts the voracity of God’s promise.  However, the context of this passage clearly shows Jeremiah’s confidence in God.   It further shows the dialogue concerning apostasy to be between God and Judah.  With this in mind we can approach this verse.

To the Jews, the promise of God’s protection was inviolable.  If it were, all of Jeremiah’s prophecies would be received as false.  The point is that the promise of God to Abraham and his seed (the faithful) was conditioned upon the faithfulness of the people.  The complaints of the Judeans are consistent with their unfaithfulness.

Perpetual Pain, Incurable Wound.  Removing themselves from fellowship with God the people have raised up godless leaders who only abuse them.  Devoid of the blessings from God that come from faithfulness, their lives were in constant turmoil, conflicts that were simply the consequences of their sinful behavior.  It was easy for them, as it may be for us, to blame God for the consequences of our lives, but it is simple to understand how ungodly behavior in itself creates its own set of consequences including broken relationships, illness, and poverty.  Having never received the blessings that come from faith, their experience was characterized by one conflict after another: perpetual pain.  The “incurable wound” is a reference to the same perpetual pain, a formula that is generated by the poetic form within which Jeremiah is writing.

God, are you a liar? Are you a dry spring?  Again, in a poetic form, Jeremiah repeats the same concept.  If God has promised a blessing to the seed of Abraham, and the Judeans who think that they are the seed of Abraham are not so blessed, then they hold that God must be a liar.  The truth is that God did not change the covenant, but rather the children of Israel turned their back on it as they chased after other gods.  Just as the first couple Adam and Eve were chased out of the Garden of Eden, the children of Israel would be removed from the Land of the Promise, a land that is reserved and preserved only for the remnant of faithful.  If God were to give the blessing to those who do not place their faith in Him, it is then that God would be a liar. 

The reference to the dry spring is the poetic parallel to God being described as a liar.  He is equated to a well that is expected to produce fresh water, but found to be useless when the water is needed. 

The Judeans are simply blaming God for their circumstances, something that people often do today.  They ask questions like “why did God not intervene when…” great tragedies occur such as the attack on America on 9-11-2001, or a question asked of my by a mother who just lost her child in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver: “Why did God allow my child to be killed?”  We live in a world that is drunk with sin, and sin’s consequences touch us on every side.  People are to blame when they make sinful choices that create circumstances that are consistent with that sinful behavior.  Like the ancient Israelites, we often think that we are basically “good” people, and do not deserve to experience the consequences of our sinfulness.  Such an opinion blinds one to their need of the Savior.  The Judeans were so blinded.

A REMINDER OF GOD’S PROMISE

Jeremiah 15:19.  Therefore thus saith the LORD, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them.

One might think that, after accusing God of being a liar and a purveyor of false promises that God could simply reach down through time and space and destroy them all.  Certainly, we all deserve eternal punishment for our sin-bent nature.  However, God loves His creation, and He always seeks the restoration of His people to a place of fellowship with Him.  Consequently, His answer to the Judeans is simply to repeat to them the promise, a promise that is clearly predicated upon their repentance 

First, if the people would repent and turn back to Him, He promises to receive them to Himself.  No matter how far we may have strayed from God, He is always waiting patiently for our return.  We may think that our sin is just too great for God to forgive us, but none of us has committed any sin greater than what was normative for the Israelites and Judeans who lived lives of murder, fornication, adultery, and idolatry.  God’s grace is simply more powerful, and a universal remedy for sin.  God’s grace removes the sting of sin’s condemnation when forgiveness is realized by those who turn to God in sincere faith and trust, a faith and trust that bears the fruit of obedience.

The LORD states that if they would return to Him, they would be His “mouth.”  Those who turn to God in faith are all called by Him to share His grace with others so that more people could be saved from the eternal punishment for their sin.  Based upon this calling, a Christian missionary is simply “a Christian with a heartbeat.”  All Christians are called to the mission of sharing the good news of the gospel with every person in every nation around the world.

God also reminds the Judeans that once they have turned back to Him, the temptation to be drawn back into the sinful world is a great one.  People of faith are called to rise above this wicked world and place their love in Him rather than in the world.  When this is done, the attractiveness of this wicked world fades, and becomes less and less a temptation as one comes to realize the immeasurable blessings of faith.

Jeremiah 15:20.  And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brazen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the LORD.  21And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible.  

God reminds the Judeans of His promise of protection for those who place their faith and trust in Him.  The image of a “brazen wall” refers to one that cannot be penetrated by an enemy.  The weapons of their day could breach a wall of stone given the resources of time and a hammer.  However, there was no technology that could penetrate a wall of brass.  God promises to protect the faithful with such a wall of protection against which the evil one simply cannot prevail.  Paul speaks of this wall when he describes the spiritual armor that protects one from being overcome by the wiles of the evil one.[5]

God’s promise of His presence is sure.  God promises that He will never leave a person of faith at any time for any reason.  The Judeans felt abandoned by their God when they were not miraculously saved from the conflicts around them.  Thinking themselves righteous, they believed that they still deserved this protection and God’s failure to do so was an indication of their abandonment.  However, we are again reminded that the promise of protection is given to those whose faith in Him is genuine.

Sometimes people of faith, finding themselves immersed in this sinful world, may feel like Jeremiah:  lonely, frustrated, and seemingly ill-prepared for the challenge, rejected and persecuted by the people who they love.  In this passage we can learn of Jeremiah’s frustration and depression that was engendered by his seemingly fruitless attempt at proclaiming the message from the LORD to a people who desperately need it.  God continually assured Jeremiah that he was exactly where God wanted him to be, and that he would provide Jeremiah with both the words and the protection that he would need to execute the task of his calling with faithfulness and endurance. 

Like Jeremiah, Christians today are called to “go against the flow” of this sinful world, and rather than being swept up by it, are to be faithful to the LORD and accept His strength, finding both the direction of His call and the endurance to follow it.  People of faith understand that it is inappropriate to blame God for our unfortunate circumstances when all of these, other than death in an old age, can be traced back to sin, and often it is not the sin of a person who experiences the suffering, but rather it is a circumstance of the sin of another, one who impacts all those around him and all those who follow him with the results of their choices.

God promises His presence and His protection to all who place their faith and trust in Him.  This necessitates admitting our sinful behavior, and turning to Him, away from that sinful behavior.  Then God is faithful to forgive us of our sin, erasing its condemning consequence, and restoring us to Himself.  With such a promise, why would anyone choose to live a life of sinful idolatry and subsequent eternal death?  Choose life.


[1] Genesis 15, Jonah 4, Job, 1 Kings 19, 1 Samuel 14: 16ff, numerous Psalms, respectively.

[2] See Ezekiel 2:8 – 3:3; Revelation 10:9-10.

[3] Matthew 15:11.

[4] Hebrews 10:25.

[5] Ephesians 6:10 ff.