The weeping prophet
"The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. The LORD said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” Jeremiah 1. 11-12
Among the pantheon of Old Testament greats, Jeremiah stands out as being of particular integrity. Of a priestly family, residing in the city of Anathoth near Jerusalem, he was well educated and well connected and well-heeled. Yet when the call of God came, Jeremiah applied everything that he possessed - of character and situation - to the task. And what a task! The enemy was at the gate and the enemy was within. Out of the collapsing Assyrian Empire, Babylon was emerging as the new territorial super-power and Judah was in its sights, Jerusalem being the jewel in the crown. Yet poor leadership and nominal religion was rotting God's people at the core. Jeremiah did not mince his words and he fortified them with dramatic gestures - he wears a yoke, he makes a pot, he buys a field. Then he advises King Jehoiakim to sue for peace and is condemned as a traitor.
Everything Jeremiah warned about comes to pass and Jerusalem is sacked and the cream of society is deported into exile in Babylon. Though reviled as "the prophet of doom", a message of hope runs through Jeremiah's preaching, based on his conviction of God's goodness and mercy and love, if only his people will trust him and not pursue their own paths - to disaster. Does that not sound like a word for the Church today? In a remarkable paragraph, Old Testament scholar, Bruce Waltke, writes:
"In many ways the church shares Jeremiah's self-understanding. She believes in and trusts the same Lord, not in human power; identifies herself with his same covenant people; confesses the same sacred history and sings the same psalms. She understands that she was predestined to suffer on behalf of God's word. She accepts God's word, albeit that word now comes to her in sacred Scripture, including the book of Jeremiah; she is commissioned and gifted to preach it; and she embodies it. She too understands that she is the Lord's property; she lives to do her Lord's will, not her own. She seeks reform, confessing her sins. She too regards herself as God's medium of death or life to the nations according to their response to curse or bless her. She understands herself as living in the age of Jeremiah's hoped-for New Covenant. Although perplexed, she knows that the gates of Hades will not prevail over her, and she longs for the consummation of God's kingdom."