Tuesday 25 November 2014

The Prophet

In the Old Testament those courageous people who voiced unwelcome truths were known as prophets and probably the most famous of these prophets was Jeremiah. Chosen by God to become his prophet to the Kingdom of Judah in the 7th Century BC, Jeremiah was a priest from Anathoth a small town some three miles from Jerusalem. Jeremiah served God for forty years. He complained to God that he didn't want to become a prophet but God answered, "If I tell you to go and speak to someone then go!" Jeremiah suffered for the work he did, being a lone voice, pointing out the hard truths, the truths that nobody wanted to hear the failure of the people of Judah to live by the laws of Moses, the failure to take care of the stranger in their midst, the failure to provide for the poor and needy, the failure to administer justice and to prevent the illegal killings of innocent people. Jeremiah warned that calamity would overcome Judah and that God's punishment would result in the conquest of their nation and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

 He suffered greatly for his efforts being ostracised by his family, beaten and even imprisoned. It was a life of hardship and obeying God in speaking against the political expediencies, the zeitgeist of the time. His isolation was compounded by the injunction that he should not marry or father children and that he should refrain from all social events this included parties and funerals. Jeremiah railed against idolatry which was rife, this idolatry included the worship of the female deity Asherah and involved ritual prostitution, divination, and fortune telling. There also the worship of Baal the male fertility God that involved the sacrifice of children. Indeed, God had Jeremiah say that there were "more altars for Baal than there are streets in Jerusalem." But all their combined pagan worship would not prevent the coming destruction. Jeremiah's life is one of unremitting hardship he could do no other than to preach God's word he said that God's message "burns in my heart and bones, therefore I cannot remain silent."

Even when he is imprisoned and brought before King Zedekiah, Jeremiah has the audacity to suggest that the prophets who had lied to the king should have been locked up and not him. In a private meeting Jeremiah warns the king that he should seek the surrender terms with the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar since defeat is imminent. However the Zedekiah insists that he is afraid to do this because of the Jews who have sided with the Babylonians. Unable to accept the truth of the situation and to trust Jeremiah the inevitable happens and there is no happy ending.

When Jeremiah was first called, God had promised him the strength to endure:

For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. (Jer 1:18)

Some times we too need to 'tough it out' Like Jeremiah we need at times not only to be told the hard truth but to speak it, and to live it and so our prayer should be not for the easy life but for the strength and courage to live with integrity always.