The Lord Has Prevailed
|"Weeping of Jeremiah" by Marc Chagall|
“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed” (Jeremiah 20:7).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ!
The direction of our text is from complaint (vv. 7-10) to praise (vv. 11-13). But context is crucial. In the verses immediately following this text, Jeremiah returns to bitter complaint, even cursing the day of his birth. So, what’s up with Jeremiah? Is he unstable? Flighty? Moody? No, his story just reflects the ebb and flow of Christian experience. Our relationship with God does not always proceed in a straight line, from weak to strong. Often it vacillates, becoming under God’s grace ever stronger, but seldom becoming so in a smooth, unbroken, upward path.
The verses before our text clearly show that Jeremiah had cause for complaint (at least, humanly speaking). The LORD called Jeremiah to proclaim God’s judgment against His people. He was to take witnesses, some of the elders and some of the priests, to the Potsherd Gate, also known as the Dung Gate, the entrance to the town dump where they deposited all the broken pottery and animal waste. This gate stood at the southeast corner of the main wall of the city where two valleys, Hinnom and Kidron, met, a place called Topheth.
Holding out a clay jar in his hand, Jeremiah condemned his countrymen for adopting the religion and ritual practices of their Canaanite neighbors. Both women and men offered themselves as sacred prostitutes in the name of the gods. Even more abhorrent was their practice of human sacrifice. To gain the favor of the gods Baal and Moloch, they offered their own young children, throwing them into the fire. So they filled Topheth and the Valley of Hinnom with the shame of their idolatry and the blood of their own innocent children.
At the LORD’s command, Jeremiah broke the jar, a vivid image of God’s impending judgment. The LORD would send their enemies upon them, and utterly smash the nation and bring their abominable practices to an end, making Topheth unfit for any kind of worship. Hunger would be so fierce in Jerusalem, they would eat the flesh of their own children. The slaughter would be so great, there would be no one to bury them. As their corpses lay upon the blood-soaked earth, the birds and beasts of the field, the scavengers, would pick their bones clean.
Jeremiah then returned to the temple court and repeated his stern message for a wider audience. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words” (Jeremiah 19:15).
We have a good example of this stubborn rejection of God’s Word in Pashur, the chief officer of the temple. Using his police and judicial authority, he had Jeremiah put in stocks at the Sheep Gate, the gate through which the sheep and goats were brought in for sacrifice at the temple. It was heavily used, and we can only imagine the glee of Jeremiah’s enemies and their contempt at the public humiliation of their hapless victim.
The next day, thinking he had made his point, Pashur released Jeremiah from the stocks. But if Pashur thought he had silenced Jeremiah, he was greatly mistaken. Jeremiah continued to proclaim God’s Word. Jeremiah gave Pashur a new name, “Terror on Every Side,” for that is what he would experience. He would have to watch as Jerusalem was laid to waste. The temple he guarded would be stripped of its wealth, desecrated, and torched. With his own eyes Pashur would witness the death of many near and dear to him, but he would not be so fortunate as to die. He would be taken as a slave to Babylon, where he would live in shame until death took him. All of this because they would not listen to the LORD’s words.
You can imagine that Jeremiah’s message was a difficult one for him to preach. None of us like rejection. None of us like to be the bearer of bad news. But what really grieved Jeremiah was the astounding impenitence of his listeners, the people of Judah. His grief welled up out of a profound love for lost souls.
In the end his grief was too much for him to deal with. Not knowing what else to say, the prophet lashed out at the LORD. “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.” The word translated as “deceived” is probably better translated as “persuaded” as the NKJV does in this verse (7) and in verse 10, where it is used of Jeremiah’s enemies who hope to persuade the prophet for their own advantage.
Jeremiah did not become a prophet of his own will; he had to be prevailed upon to assume an obligation that brought him nothing but anguish and pain. Jeremiah complained that despite all his preaching and proclamation, not one word had been fulfilled. Consequently, he faced insults and taunts day after day. He tried to stop preaching, but he could not. The living Word within overpowered him and compelled him. He felt as Paul later would feel: “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!... I am simply discharging the trust committed to me” (1 Corinthians 9:16, 17).
Continuing in his struggle, the prophet grasped at the promises God had made to him. Even his friends were waiting to snare him in his words. His every word was under the closest scrutiny. One slip and they would be all over him. It happens so easily and swiftly. Those once your closest friends can become the harshest critics and the bitterest enemies. But deep down Jeremiah knew he was not alone. The LORD was his ever-present help and stay. God would not allow Jeremiah to be overcome. He would quickly come to help. Momentarily, the prophet’s spirit lifted. He knew he was right with the LORD. A hymn of praise sprang to his lips as he exulted in the rescue the LORD would bring him.
God’s deliverance of Jeremiah is the obvious Gospel in this text. But what is unique about this text is the tenacity of God’s hold on Jeremiah—and us. God simply will not let us go, even when we foolishly try to loosen His grip on us. He will let nothing separate us from His love. Look at how Jeremiah tried to shake God off in verse 9: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name.’” But what happens? “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” God hangs on, insisting on delivering the good news of His mercy to Jeremiah and through Jeremiah. God pursues us with His goodness relentlessly—and thank goodness, He overtakes and overpowers us. “You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed,” we say along with Jeremiah.
And so, we stand here at the gate. Next to the junkyard of a post-Christian civilization. Next to the dung heap of modern society. The pantheon of gods that seduce us—sex, silver, and self—devour similar sacrifices demanded by Baal and Moloch—purity, decency, identity as men and women, and the lives of our children. Amid such sin and idolatry, do we speak? Do we speak God’s judgment? Do we call people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? Or do we sit quietly on the sidelines to not ruffle too many feathers?
If we do speak, we can expect to meet opposition. Those preaching tolerance are often quite intolerant of other opinions. Those pushing the LGBT agenda can get nasty if you don’t bow to the gods of political correctness. Abortion is almost considered a sacrament by many who claim to support women’s rights. If you seek to promote the sanctity of human life or traditional marriage, they’ll hit you with everything they’ve got. Calling sin “sin” can be considered a hate crime. Like Jeremiah’s opponents, ours can be rather fierce. They’ll mock. They’ll lie. They’ll take you to court. And, increasingly, they are willing to use the threat of violence to keep us in line.
Nevertheless, we are compelled to speak the truth in love. Not to beat them into submission. Not to get them to conform to our way of thinking. We are compelled to speak for a much higher reason: Those who oppose us are also sinners for whom Jesus shed His blood, too. They need to hear the Gospel, too. They, like we, need to hear of the love and forgiveness of Jesus. In frustration, Jeremiah called for vengeance upon his opponents. We are called to pray for ours.
More than Jeremiah, certainly more than you or me, Jesus knows what it’s like to face opposition. Jesus willingly gave Himself into the hands of those who led Him mercilessly, bound hard and cruel, from one unjust judge to another. He was falsely accused and condemned, spit upon, scoffed at, and struck in the face with fists. For the sake of our misdeeds, He was hit, whipped, crowned with thorns, and treated wretchedly—like a worm and not a man. For the sake of our sin He was counted a sinner and hung up between two evildoers as a curse. He was pierced in hands and feet with nails, and in His highest thirst He was given vinegar and gall to drink. Finally, in great pain, He gave up His spirit so that He could pay our debt and we could be healed by His wounds.
For this and all His other suffering and pain, we give Him thanks and praise. We pray that God would not let His holy, bitter suffering and death be lost on us, but that at all times this might be our comfort, and that we may boast in it; and that as we ponder it, all evil desires in us may be snuffed out and subdued, and all virtue may be implanted and increased, so that we, having died to sin, may live in righteousness, following the example He has left us, walking in His footsteps, enduring evil with patience, and suffering injustice with a good conscience.
Go in peace. The LORD has prevailed. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.