Many times, I have felt discouraged in mission and ministry positions and projects. In those times my husband tells me how much I’m like Jeremiah, the so-called “weeping prophet”.
I never took this as a compliment. Nobody wants to be known as a whiner, especially when you’re encouraging others to pray for and act on behalf of persecuted Christians. Nothing that I go through, or have gone through in my life, can compare to the horrible things that persecuted Christians have had to endure.
I also admit that I’ve never been a big fan of reading and studying the words written in the book of Jeremiah.
But recently, I found myself with a lot of extra time on my hands and felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to start studying what Jeremiah had to say.
Right from the beginning, Jeremiah captured my attention. Chapter One spoke to my heart and my eyes were opened to how the words related to the topic of persecution.
- In verses 4 and 5, God tells Jeremiah that he has chosen him to be a prophet “to the nations”, even before he was “born” or “formed in the womb”.
When I read these verses, I immediately thought about the promises that Jesus made to the apostles about what it would mean to be a prophet to the nations. Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount, tells us what our life will be like if we abide by God’s Word.
The Beatitudes (Matt. 5:1-12) offers stages in which a Christian might progress in their faith, until the ultimate “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (vs. 10) . . . “in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (vs. 12).
When God proclaimed that his plan for Jeremiah was to be a prophet, he was foreshadowing what his life would be like, just as Christ did for the disciples on the Sermon on the Mount. Life for a prophet, disciple, or apostle is not be easy. No, following God brings discrimination and persecution.
God emphasized this point when he told Jeremiah that his work as God’s messenger would take him out of the boundaries of Israel- a prophet to the nations. The Hebrew word Jeremiah used for “nations” is gowy (pronounced gō’·ē ), meaning a foreign, Gentile, heathen nation.
Being a prophet to Israel would have caused enough discomfort, but for God to send Jeremiah out into the Gentile nations would have been cause for panic in poor Jeremiah. It’s no wonder he is called the “weeping prophet”.
The word in which Jeremiah lived was tumultuous for the Israelites. The Assyrians, who held Israel captive from c. 732 B.C to 722 B.C. were losing their grip upon the world, but the Babylonians were just beginning their reign of terror and captivity upon Israel, so to speak (604-587 B.C.).
We know from scripture that the Israelites lived under constant invasion, capture, discrimination, terror and persecution from the gowy or Gentile, heathen nations during these time periods. They were stripped of their land, possessions, jobs, and dignity while relocated to segregated settlements. They were forced to assimilate into Gentile nations, robbing them of their own nationality and identity as a people. In extreme cases, some were imprisoned, tortured, and put to death, or threatened with all of the above.
In Jeremiah’s time, it was the Assyrians and Babylonians who were the discriminators and persecutors of God’s people. Not only would Jeremiah have to prophesy against his own nation, but he would prophecy against the very nations that could deliver persecution.
Later, I would learn the real meaning of why Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet”; it has nothing to do with whining.
But after studying what it meant for God to declare Jeremiah a prophet to the nations, I wouldn’t really blame him for complaining, even just a little bit. It’s crazy for God to saddle this burden upon one of his chosen. Or is it?
As Christians, Jesus tells us that we are all Jeremiahs. If we are living our lives according to his word, then we should all expect discrimination and persecution. Just as God gave Jeremiah the task of carrying his message to the nations, he has given it to each and every one of us. And just as Jeremiah would know what this would mean for his life, scripture tells us what it means when we are faithful.
And the same invasion, capture, discrimination, terror and persecution happening to God’s people in Jeremiah’s time, is indeed happening today.
Please remember to pray for all of God’s people who are suffering attacks from religious extremism. Pray that each and every Christian is prepared to accept what it truly means to be like “the prophets who were before you”.
Next lesson: Jeremiah 1:6-10