BELIEVER IN A DARK TUNNEL The Confessions of Jeremiah Lesson 4 Bitterness in the Dark Tunnel Jeremiah 18:18-23 INTRODUCTION 1. Tracing Jeremiah’s movements through the dark tunnels of his ministry makes us uncomfortable. Too often his ugly thoughts in those moments of depression reflect times in our lives when we have felt the same way. 2. We come now to the fourth personal crisis in Jeremiah’s life. This is perhaps his most bitter outburst against his adversaries. New Plot 18:18 18a They said, "Come, let's make plans against Jeremiah; 1. Already in 11:19 Jeremiah became aware that his opponents were devising plans against him. a. The language makes clear that opposition to Jeremiah was not a knee-jerk, irrational, emotional reaction to the prophet’s hardhitting sermons. b. The evil plans made against Jeremiah parallel the evil plans made in resistance to Yahweh in v 12. c. The Judeans showed their opposition to the message from God by plotting against the messenger (v 18a). 18b for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. 2. The aim of the plot was to protect sources of man-made wisdom (v 18b). After all, they had the priests, the wise men and other prophets (cf. Ezek 7:26). a. Instruction, counsel, and the prophetic word were three modes of communication that had been taken over by pretenders who had no divine guidance. 1) The plotters feared that, if left alone, Jeremiah might gain popular support. 2) The regular leaders of the nation might lose their positions of influence. b The priests were responsible to give instruction based on the Law of Moses. c. The wise men of the Bible were religious and moral teachers. 1) Ahithophel and Hushai were prominent members in the court of David. 2) Some of the wise men of ancient Israel, being gifted by the Holy Spirit, produced the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. 3) The wise men in Jeremiah’s day had become worldly wise. They were strictly political counselors who judged matters purely from the standpoint of probability, not faith. d. Prophets were to deliver to the people the message that was revealed to them by God from time to time. 1) Jeremiah constantly was at odds with the prophets. 2) These men had not received a heavenly call. 3) They had not received genuine revelations from God. 4) They were mere professionals. They maintained their positions by giving oracles that were pleasing both to the general populace and the rulers. 18c So come, let's attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says." 3. The enemies planned to make lying accusations against Jeremiah. a. By twisting his words they hoped to turn the masses against the prophet. b. Perhaps they hoped to lay the groundwork for legal action as well. c. Clearly they planned to kill him (cf. v 23). d. This plot seems to be more widespread than the plot that Jeremiah faced from family and friends in Anathoth in chapter 11. A Complaint 18:19-20 19 Listen to me, O LORD; hear what my accusers are saying! 1. The text does not indicate how Jeremiah became aware of the new plot against him. a. When he heard what his enemies had planned for him the prophet cried out to God (v 19). b. He asked Yahweh to take note of the threat against his messenger. 20a Should good be repaid with evil? Yet they have dug a pit for me. 2. Jeremiah mentioned three grounds for his complaint (v 20). a. First, the plot was unfair. Jeremiah had done good to the Judeans by boldly proclaiming the truth about what the future held for Judah. b. Second, the plot was unscrupulous. Borrowing the terminology from the Psalmist Jeremiah cried, “they are digging a pit for my soul” (Ps 57:6; 35:7). Jeremiah senses legal entrapment or worse in the offing. 20b Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them. c. The third ground for Yahweh’s intervention was Jeremiah’s intercessory prayers. 1) In 15:15 Jeremiah asked God to remember him. Now he asked Yahweh to remember his ministry of intercession. 2) He had wept for his people; he had interceded for them at the throne of grace. 3) He was the only true friend that Judah had. 4) When the people should be honoring him for what he had been doing they were instead plotting against him. Imprecation 18:21-22 21a So give their children over to famine; hand them over to the power of the sword. 1. Therefore has the connotation of “under these circumstances” (v 21a). 2. Jeremiah prayed that the sons of his enemies might experience famine—that they might be delivered over to the power of the sword, i.e., violent death. 21b Let their wives be made childless and widows; let their men be put to death, their young men slain by the sword in battle. 3. Jeremiah prayed that the wives of his enemies will become childless and widows (v 21b). Death, as in 15:2, probably refers to pestilence. 4. Jeremiah also asked that the young soldiers be thrust upon the sword until their life-blood had been poured out. 22a Let a cry be heard from their houses when you suddenly bring invaders against them… 5. The cry is one of distress; it is a cry for help (v 22a). Jeremiah prayed that the homes of his enemies might be plundered by a troop of soldiers. Narrative Prayer 18:22b-23 22b for they have dug a pit to capture me and have hidden snares for my feet. He described to Yahweh the situation as he perceived it 1. Digging a pit is a metaphor for plotting evil. Snares are bird traps. a. Narrative prayer does not aim to inform God of something about which he is unaware. b. Rather, the petitioner describes his predicament to God in order to request divine intervention. 23a But you know, O LORD, all their plots to kill me. 2. You know was a statement of praise and of profound trust in Yahweh. a. Jeremiah was always confident of Yahweh’s awareness of any situation (cf. 17:16). b. In v 18 the enemies alluded to the counsel of the wise; but here the counsel was against Jeremiah. They want him dead. c. Perhaps that was the advice that these enemies were receiving from their “wise men.” More Imprecation 18:23b 23b Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger. 1. Jeremiah asked God not to pardon the men who were plotting against him. a. Such a prayer is rare in the Old Testament, but not unique (cf. Neh 3:37). b. Jeremiah did not want God to ignore or forget about the vicious plots of his enemies. c. Stumble at the very least means to fail in their plot. It implies being humbled, broken, and brought to ruin. d. Jeremiah wanted God to deal with his enemies in the time of divine anger, i.e., to show them no mercy. 2. Several points need to be considered in interpreting this difficult prayer. a. First, the imprecation is not hurled at the nation as a whole, but at those enemies who plotted Jeremiah's death. b. Second, “the prophets were neither vegetables nor machines, but men of like passions with ourselves” (G.A. Smith). c. Third, this outburst does not represent Jeremiah at his best. It is uttered in a moment of exasperation. d. Fourth, the anger of the prophet was aroused, not so much because he personally was being attacked; it was because God was being rejected in the person of his prophet. e. Fifth, the particular blasphemy that the enemies hurled at Jeremiah was that his prophecies had not been fulfilled. Jeremiah was calling upon God to execute those threats that he so boldly had proclaimed. f. Sixth, the prophet did not pray for these hardened people because Yahweh already had indicated his unwillingness to forgive. g. Seventh, precedents for such prayers of imprecation can be found in the Psalms. Jeremiah may have been borrowing the language of the Psalms in formulating this prayer. Conclusion 1. So we see in this “confession” how ugly spiritual depression can get. 2. We also see the need for Jesus’ teaching about praying for your enemies. 3. How did Yahweh respond to Jeremiah? a. God gave him a mission to perform (19:1). b. Sometimes the key to getting out of spiritual depression is to immerse ourselves in the work of the Lord.