6.70 Jeremiah -- The Call to Surrender
Jeremiah’s message of judgment fell largely on deaf ears. Some of this was due to the simple willfulness of those who had chosen sin, and who were resolved to continue each to "follow the stubbornness of his evil heart" (Jer 18:12). But there were three additional obstacles:
a. First of all, there was the Temple, popularly seen as the Lord’s earthly throne. Since He had been so gracious as to establish this footstool in Jerusalem, the people’s reasoning went, He could not now abandon them -- no matter how badly they behaved. Jeremiah addressed this false confidence in several sermons proclaimed on the grounds of the Temple (Jer 7:1-11, Jer 20:1-6, Jer 36:5-8). He warned:
"Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!'... Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, 'We are safe' -- safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?" (Jer 7:4, Jer 7:9-11)
Jeremiah reminded them that, in fact, the Lord did not spare the site He first selected in the promised land: Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was set up (Jer 7:12-15, Jer 26:6-9; Josh 18:1).
b. Secondly, the people looked to the great precedent of the Lord’s miraculous, last-minute deliverance of Jerusalem in the days of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 18-19; Isa 36-37). The leadership thought,
"Perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in times past, so that he [Nebuchadnezzar] will withdraw from us" (Jer 21:2).
"Who can come against us? Who can enter our refuge?" (Jer 21:13).
c. His third obstacle was a steady chorus of "alternative" voices, false prophets who promised that no sword or famine would touch the land (Jer 5:12, Jer 14:13-15), that there will be peace and safety, that the people will never serve Babylon (Jer 27:9, Jer 27:14), and that the people already deported there, along with the Temple articles and King Jehoiachin, will return (Jer 27:16, Jer 28:1-4).
"'Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace" (Jer 6:14, Jer 8:11).
Jeremiah complained that the Lord deceives His people by sending or permitting such prophets (Jer 4:10). The Lord answered that He did not send them, that He will punish them (Jer 14:13-15) -- and that the people listened because they loved the appealing lies (Jer 5:31). But Jeremiah was very nearly a lone voice contending against insistent envisioners of a rosy outcome.
In the face of the Temple, the Lord’s past mercies, and false prophets, Jeremiah warned of judgment and was rebuffed with indignation, for these were among the idols of the people’s civil religion. He was regarded as a traitor (Jer 18:18), one who prophesied against the city (Jer 26:11). Even the people of his hometown sought to kill him at one point (Jer 11:18-23). A popular nickname for him was "Terror on Every Side" (Jer 20:10, Bright 132-33).
To make matters worse, when Jerusalem was finally besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah urged everyone, in the Lord’s name, to stop fighting and surrender (Jer 21:1-10, Jer 32:5, Jer 38:17-18). It is little wonder that Jeremiah was arrested on a charge of attempting to desert to the enemy (Jer 37:13), and some officials wanted to put him to death for discouraging the populace (Jer 38:4). This had to have been one of the most difficult assignments ever given to one of the Lord’s prophets. Where other prophets proclaimed the Lord’s last-minute rescue, Jeremiah acted like the Lord Himself, suffering along with His faithless people. He stayed in Jerusalem all through the years of decline and the long siege. The fall of the city is recounted twice (Jer 39:1-10, Jer 52:1-27), and its approaching shadow lies over all of the prophet's words. One by one, all over Judah, the lights went out, and Jeremiah and his God suffered along with the people who would not heed them.