I have to agree with you. This does sound terrible. My wife, Jilly, and I said as much to each other when we read it a night or two back (21-23). Jeremiah seems mean, nasty and vindictive. But you have to put some context around this; take a broader view; get a bigger picture.
The prophet had preached to these people (his people) for years and years. He had poured out his heart to them and poured out his life for them. God had spoken through him and warned those in Judah and Jerusalem repeatedly that if they did not repent, this judgment would come. Because of his God-given insight, Jeremiah had clearly spelled out what would happen. He saw it all vividly. But he did not want it to happen. When you read today’s verses remember this. Jeremiah loved these people; he broke his heart over them; wept ‘buckets’ for them. He had prayed faithfully that they would not have to face judgment (20b), that they would be spared. He had stood ‘in the gap’ for them. He had urged them over and over to turn from their cherished idols and get back to the true God. But they were intransigent, as (12) shows, and it is important to see these words as the precursor to what follows. Such stubbornness before God inevitably leads to a ‘’Therefore…’’ (13). Sin has consequences. If we persist in our own way; insist on getting it, then we will have it, and we won’t like it!
It seems to me that after years and years of loving and praying and preaching, and in a time of personal agony because his ‘congregation’ were out to kill him, Jeremiah came to a point where he saw that enough was enough. He recognised that the content of his preaching had to now be fulfilled in the lives of the Judean people. They would not turn, therefore they would have to be ‘’marred’’ in the Potter’s Hands, and made ‘’into another pot’’. Yes, the process would be brutal, but they would still be in God’s Hands (18:1-4). When Jeremiah prayed his prayer, he knew that the judgment would not be the end of this people, but part of God’s great purpose to reform and reshape them. Nevertheless, it would be dreadful in the short term, and we cannot dilute the concentrated truth about divine judgment.
This passage tells us that real ministry is costly. All shepherding service can be painful. Most leaders don’t suffer like Jeremiah did, but God’s people can be cruel and unkind and vicious with their tongues (18b). They can disappoint you and let you down. Our ‘sheep’ have teeth, and some make use of them! They can turn on you and make it clear they prefer other preachers. In Jeremiah’s case, the people were saying, ‘If we get rid of him we’ll still have other leaders to speak to us. ‘(18a). Those of whom they spoke were the ‘safe’ clergy who told them what they wanted to hear. The truth is that what seems safe and palatable is regularly dangerous. In this case, the people in ‘the church’ wanted to kill Jeremiah, but they could not put his message to the sword. The living Word of God, once spoken, would not return empty; it would come to pass (Isaiah 55:10, 11).
But here is a word to all in Christian leadership. Someone said, ‘’Ministry that costs nothing accomplishes nothing’’, and, ‘’There can be no blessing without bleeding.’’ Remember this, and stay faithful.
John Ortberg wrote in a recent edition of ‘Leadership Journal’, ‘’I don’t want to be the kind of person whose heart depends on getting applause from everybody every week. I want to be the kind of person that lives in freedom.’’