A Discouraging Word

Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah had been telling the people. He had been saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Everyone who stays in Jerusalem will die from war, famine, or disease, but those who surrender to the Babylonians will live. Their reward will be life. They will live!’ The LORD also says: ‘The city of Jerusalem will certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’ ”

So these officials went to the king and said, “Sir, this man must die! That kind of talk will undermine the morale of the few fighting men we have left, as well as that of all the people. This man is a traitor!”

King Zedekiah agreed. “All right,” he said. “Do as you like. I can’t stop you.”

So the officials took Jeremiah from his cell and lowered him by ropes into an empty cistern in the prison yard. It belonged to Malkijah, a member of the royal family. There was no water in the cistern, but there was a thick layer of mud at the bottom, and Jeremiah sank down into it. (Jeremiah 38:1-6)

Jeremiah was an enemy of the state. From the perspective of his government, God’s words as relayed by the prophet sounded treasonous: he was encouraging the people, in a time of war against an existential threat—Babylon—to surrender. Jeremiah was arguing that God had turned against Judah and that they would lose the war. In fact, Jeremiah reported that God God was now fighting on the side of Babylon! The only ones who could come out well from this disaster would be those who were least patriotic, least loyal, least devoted to their nation. Those who were cowards, who surrendered to the invader, were the ones who would prosper.

So the government decided that something had to be done: Jeremiah should be executed. He was arrested and put into a cistern full of mud to rot until they got around to killing him, assuming he didn’t die there and save them all the trouble.

Sometimes God’s message will seem obviously wrong to us. We will be tempted, like Jeremiah’s government, to reject it. We will want to attack those who are reporting it to us. God is not always particularly popular. God does not always sound like he’s on our side because sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes what we really need is a trip to the woodshed, not a trip to the candy store.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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