Jeremiah’s lifelong complaint to his mother was that she’d ushered him, a personality with such painful sensitivity and feeling, into a world so out of joint for such a person. When called by God to prophesy, Jeremiah shrank away begging, “Please, no! I cannot speak for I am a child.” Perhaps he had an inkling of what a soul like him would suffer, facing hostile crowds every day for forty years.
Yet it is Jeremiah’s melancholy that is the mark and measure of his greatness. It evolved into a divine melancholy that broke his heart and made his eyes a fountain of tears. For Jeremiah was a messenger of God to the human heart. Day after tragic day, year after year, he laid seige to the hearts of his hearers. Though sacrifices may have continued in the temple and there was some appearance of spiritual devotion, Jeremiah gazed deeper and saw hearts hardened against God—hearts looking everywhere but up for deliverance and protection.
It seems as if Jeremiah’s entire career was one long saga of sadness. He was always a solitary man. God instructed him not to marry but did not explain why. Some might say that men of such extreme sensitivity, spirituality, and melancholy are not made to be married. In any case, it is a lonely prophet we will follow briefly through the streets of Jerusalem and beyond.
Jeremiah’s ministry was a smorgasbord of intimate hours with God, controversial discourses, creative object lessons, and lengthy imprisonments. Jeremiah once buried a linen garment. Much later he dug up the rotting cloth and displayed it with the warning that this was how God would mar the godless pride of the Judeans. One Sabbath morning he led the elders to a valley and dashed a clay pot to splinters before their angry eyes. Then he let them know that God might do the same to them, and that was their sermon for the day. Another time, the prophet placed a huge wooden yoke around his neck and prophesied that the Judeans must surrender to Babylon or the Babylonians would burn Jerusalem and place yokes of captivity around their necks. Obviously these sorts of messages didn’t exactly make Jeremiah a sought-after celebrity.
Perhaps one of the most painful shocks of the prophet’s life was the discovery that his own priestly relatives were conspiring against him. Jeremiah wrote, “I was like a docile lamb led to slaughter, and did not know they had hatched up plots against me” (11:19a). Jeremiah never seemed completely free of danger—if it wasn’t angry crowds, it was conspiring leaders, or treacherous relatives who sought his life.
Once, with the tacit agreement of King Zedekiah, a group hurled the sixty-year-old prophet into an abandoned well. For days, Jeremiah stood at the bottom, stuck in mud up to his armpits. Years of his life were spent in dungeons that would make prisons of today seem like resorts.
A snapshot of Jeremiah would not be accurate if it pictured him as a doomsayer with never a word of hope. The prophet spoke of a God who loved His people with an inexhaustible, everlasting love—one who was willing to forgive and remember their sins no more. This was a God who knew the plans He had for them… plans for good and not for evil, to give them a future and a hope (29:11).
But this was Jeremiah’s heartbreak in the end—a God who yearned to show mercy juxtaposed against the backdrop of a people who incessantly rushed headlong in the opposite direction.
What can we learn from Jeremiah?
Jeremiah should represent a constant encouragement, especially to those who are of a deep, remarkably sensitive personality. The mission God calls some to may be a heartbreaking one. Yet from our tears can bloom a beautiful memorial to God’s power.
Bible Verses about Jeremiah
2 Chron. 35:25, 36:12, 21-22; Ezra 1:1; Jeremiah; Lamentations; Daniel 9:2
What questions does this help to answer?
- Who was Jeremiah in the Bible?
- Why is Jeremiah known as the lonely prophet?
- Does God love us when we disobey and displease him?
- Is God patient?
Steve Fortosis served for six years as youth minister in several parishes. Meanwhile he was also working toward his masters, then his doctorate in religious education. Through the years he has enjoyed teaching on the college and seminary levels and writing professionally. He has published a number of books including story and prayer compilations, missionary biography, Biblical character biography, devotional lit, children’s lit, and even stories of Bible translation. Presently he resides in Florida with his wife, Debra, where he teaches part-time and writes on a free-lance basis.Steve Fortosis