The first six verses of this chapter display something of Jeremiah’s courage in his outer life. He was knocked down, but he got right back up again and carried on, even though he was likely to take more punishment for doing so.
However, the remainder of the chapter pulls back the curtain on his inner life. He paid a high price for his ministry. We see him overwhelmed with anguish and discouragement, saying some things that are hard to hear. For example he expresses the feeling that he wished he’d never been born (14-18). He doesn’t curse his parents (Exodus 21:17), but he does curse the day of his birth. This is a man at rock bottom; just about clinging on by his fingertips. ‘’He should have killed me before I was born, with that womb as my tomb…Why, oh why, did I ever leave that womb? Life’s been nothing but trouble and tears, and what’s coming is more of the same.’’ The Message.
‘’Once again, the prophet was bold before men but broken before God ’ Warren W. Wiersbe. Here are three important lessons:
A strong ministry is built on and sustained by a robust inner life. Jeremiah the preacher was also a man of prayer. You will never survive the marathon of Christian ministry without a healthy relationship with God, in which you can be completely honest about your feelings. (It also helps if you’ve got one or two ‘FDF’s’ as John Ortberg calls them: ‘Fully Disclosing Friends’. Is there someone with whom you can open your heart?) Most of all, keep your eyes on Jesus, who persevered through terrible suffering. Look to Him and remember the Cross (Hebrews 12:2,3)
You can be honest with God. I wouldn’t be surprised if you read this and something deep inside said, ‘You can’t say that Jeremiah!’ But clearly you can. You can be honest with God. He knows what you’re thinking and feeling anyway, whether or not you articulate it. Effectively what Jeremiah said to the Lord was that He had over-persuaded him when he called him to be a prophet. He hadn’t realised just how much he would suffer. But in fact God had told him that life would be difficult, while at the same time assuring him that he would not be overcome by these hardships (1:17-19). We can be totally honest with God. We may get some things wrong in what we say about people in His presence, and in what we say about Him. I’m not commending that (and once we know we got it wrong we need to repent), but God allows His servants to talk things out before His throne. What a privilege. Let it all out. ‘’It has often been observed that Jeremiah’s doubts were never expressed in public.’’ A.E. Cundall.
We are complex creatures. Emotions are complex. In these few verses we ride a rollercoaster of feelings with the prophet. One moment he’s saying things like, ‘’You pushed me into this, GOD, and I let you do it. You were too much for me. And now I’m a public joke. They all poke fun at me.’’ The Message. Then he’s affirming that the Lord is with him, and will vindicate him (11, 12) and even singing praise to Him (13; see Acts 16:25). We move from low to high…and then, whoosh, plummet back down again (14-18). Some commentators would say that these verses are out of place and got mixed up in transmission. But I think it is more helpful to say that this is true to life. We experience swings of emotion, and it can all tumble round together in a kind of ‘washing machine’ of prayer. ‘’Faith and doubt can jostle each other in a disorderly way…’’ Gordon McConville: ‘NBC’, p.689.
Prayer: ‘Every cry you are listening, no matter what state my heart is in.’