by Jerry Fite
via Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 3, pp. 70-71, February 6, 1992
Jeremiah began his prophetic work in the thirteenth year of Josiah's reign. As a youthful Josiah wielded kingly force to tear down idols, young Jeremiah applied moral persuasion to eliminate the idolatrous heart. Despite forty years of exposure to Jeremiah's preaching, Judah's heart did not change.
One will not find Jeremiah's name among those preachers who had success in leading many to God. People responded to his message by mocking, smiting and imprisoning him. They continued turning their back to God, instead of their faces (Jeremiah 32:33). After extending many invitations, Jeremiah tearfully described Israel's lost opportunities as follows: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jeremiah 8:20). Receiving encouraging words for his lessons at the temple and city gates was not his to enjoy; his solace in preaching was, "God knowest." The fact that God approved of Jeremiah and his work makes him a worthy example for true preaching servants of God.
Jeremiah was appointed to "pluck up, and to break down and to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). While the people were hearing words of "peace, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14), Jeremiah preached of impending judgment. While Israel's perverted worship and wayward living were tolerated by their leaders, Jeremiah strongly denounced their idolatry and sins. While Jeremiah's message contained hope of building and planting, it would occur after the overthrowing and plucking (Jeremiah 31:28,40).
Condemnation always needs to be communicated with sound reasoning. Jeremiah was God's communicator. He reasoned with the people from the theme: "they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain" (Jeremiah 2:5). With imagery he drove home his point: they were "forsaking the fountain of living waters," and replacing him with "broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Surely no right-thinking person would turn away from a flowing fountain and walk downstream to build a leaky pit to hold the water. But Israel did this when they served Baal and Asherah instead of God, the fountain of living waters. In following after gods of vanity, Israel became vain. The leaky cisterns would not save them, only God could. In turning away from him they were facing their own "hurt" (Jeremiah 7:6).
Preachers today need to preach Jeremiah's outline. One does not simply commit one sin by forsaking God; he adds another, the making of his own idol. Many have turned their affections away from God to embrace empty materialism. Putting money and pleasure first, our society has become vain. In the midst of lamenting the symptoms of a crumbling society, we need to hear the cause: we have forsaken God. Until our society turns to God, following His commands in His Word, we can expect "hurt," not healing.
In Jeremiah's day, God's people lost their sense of shame. When they should have been ashamed for their covetousness and deceitful dealings, they could not blush. Jeremiah was not bashful in his condemnation. He says, "For from the least of them to the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness: and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely. . . Were they not ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall; at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith Jehovah" (Jeremiah 6:13,15).
With the condemnation of Judah's brazenness, Jeremiah offered the Divine solution: "Thus saith Jehovah, stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way: and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16). Rest for their souls demanded seeking the paths that God first set before his people at Sinai, and walking accordingly.
Jeremiah reminds us that man's inability to blush does not mean he has no reason to be ashamed. Some brethren no longer blush when wearing their immodest shorts and skimpy swimsuits in public. Some no longer blush when dancing in their school proms. Some no longer blush in drinking alcoholic beverages in social settings. The purity and influence for good among God's people today demand instruction, pointing God's people back to the principles found in the "old paths" of the gospel.
"Modest" dress, sensitive to its effects upon others by remaining well within the bounds of that which is proper ("shamefastness"), manifesting sound judgment ("sobriety"), and in accord with one who is "professing godliness" is the good way of the Lord that many are ignoring (I Timothy 2:9-10). The prom dance may appear sophisticated and graceful, but the indecent bodily movements and unchaste handling of another's body are shameful exhibitions of lasciviousness that have no place in the Christian's life (Galatians 5:19; I Corinthians 6:18; Matthew 5:28). The drink which deadens godly restraints and leads to drunkenness, addiction, ruined lives, and death is no drink for the Christian, socially or privately (cf. I Peter 4:3-4; Titus 2:12; Galatians 5:20; I Corinthians 6:11).
Old paths, if not continually marked and traveled upon will soon blend in with the rest of the field, Glorifying God with godly living, while guarding closely one's example before others is the Lord's clear path (Matthew 5:16; I Corinthians 10:31-32; Philippians 2:14-16; I Timothy 4:16). Immodest apparel on the streets or by the pool, dancing and social drinking will never promote the good way of the Lord. They will hinder our profession of purity. Brethren today need preaching like Jeremiah's to keep the paths marked, and we all need to walk accordingly.
"Rising up early" to "speak," "teach" and "protest" were familiar phrases in Jeremiah's preaching (Jeremiah 25:3; 32:33; 11:7). As one would rise early to attend to urgent matters, God sent his servants to speak out, instruct and condemn Israel's sin. Such urgency to condemn error and warn of judgment did not come from a sadistic God but a compassionate One. The chronicler records, "Jehovah, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place" (II Chronicles 36:15).
Like God who sent him, Jeremiah condemned sin with a compassionate heart. Convicted of the reality of judgment, Jeremiah communed with his soul in anguish for his people's fate (Jeremiah 4:19-22). He contained more anguish in his heart over his people's destruction than he had tears. "Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people" (Jeremiah 9:1). He responded to Judah's refusal to return to the Lord with crying "in secret" over their "pride" (Jeremiah 13: 19). While he refused to be part of their evil ways (Jeremiah 9:2), Jeremiah did not admonish Israel's sin unsympathetically.
Over six hundred years after Jeremiah preached judgment with tears, another preacher appeared reminding people of Jeremiah. His name was Jesus. After Jesus had begun preaching he asked the question, "Who do men say that the son of man is?" Jesus learned from his disciples that some said he was "Jeremiah" (Matthew 16:13-14). Like Jeremiah, Jesus was not bashful in exposing popular sins, nor timid in warning of judgment (Matthew 15:1-9; 8:11-12; 23:1-25:46). Yet, who does not hear the compassion in his heart when he cries, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem" and feel his pain, when he like Jeremiah laments, "Behold your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:38; Jeremiah 10:22)? Jeremiah and Jesus exemplify a balance needed in all preachers. They were uncompromising toward sin, while compassionate over the fate of the sinner.
The world, just a heartbeat away from eternal destruction, does not need a preacher who offers false peace and tolerates sin. Sinners need the preacher who condemns sin with sound reasoning, sets before all the good way of the Lord and warns of imminent judgment with tears. If God were to come in judgment tomorrow, the world would need preaching like Jeremiah's today.