Criswell Theological Review 5.2 (1991) 171-182

[Copyright © 1991 by Criswell College, cited with permission;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Criswell Colleges and elsewhere]








Bethel Theological Seminary West

San Diego, CA 92115


It is not an easy task to characterize most of the so-called "writing

prophets'" of the OT. To learn something about a man's characteris-

tics, his likes and dislikes, his emotional struggles, his spiritual quali-

ties, his relationships with his family, and so forth, requires a certain

minimum amount of biographical details, recorded either by the man

himself or by one of his friends or disciples. Such details are plentiful

for men like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, or David, so that we

have no particular difficulty in evaluating their personalities with

some degree of confidence.

But when we begin thinking about the lives of men like Isaiah,

Ezekiel, Joel, Habakkuk, or Zechariah, the number of biographical de-

tails suddenly shrinks considerably by comparison. And yet we would

have to confess that Isaiah and Joel and Zechariah were fully as great

in their own spheres as Abraham and Joseph and David were in

theirs. In fact, if we only knew something of the personal experiences

and inner struggles of the writing prophets, I am sure that we would

discover incidents and events just as glamorous and exciting as those

in the lives of their more famous predecessors.

The matter boils down to this: in the case of the writing prophets

the message, rather than the man, is the important thing. Isaiah and

Joel and Zechariah and the rest of the canonical prophets spoke the

words of God as they, the prophets, were carried along by the Holy

Spirit to pronounce God's blessing on the righteous and his judgment

against sinners. In any theatrical production "the play's the thing,'"

and whenever one of the actors or actresses tries to upstage another


*This is the second of two lectures read at the Criswell Lecture Series, Criswell

College, January 1990.



or to attract undue attention to himself or herself in some other way,

the message or moral of that production has a harder time getting

through to the audience.

The same holds true for a prophecy, or a sermon, or a Sunday

school lesson. When the personality of the speaker in any way blocks

the content of his message, he defeats his own purpose. More than

once I have heard Billy Graham deplore the fact that the media of our

country devote more space to descriptions of him, his organization,

and his family than they do to the Word that he preaches. As for him-

self, he is careful always to give God the glory for his success, and in

interviews he concentrates his comments on the Bible rather than on

Billy. Graham knows full well, as he himself has stated repeatedly,

that as soon as God and his Word are pushed into the background,

Billy Graham will be through as an evangelist, and the cause of

Christ will suffer untold damage. As witnesses for the Lord Jesus in

every walk of life, we are to adorn the gospel, not ourselves.

Having said this, however, I do not mean to suggest that there is

nothing of value to be gained in learning the basic details of a preach-

er's life or of a prophet's life. If a man is a believing witness and prac-

tices what he preaches, knowing something of his background may

actually help us to understand his message better. What I am saying

is that there is nothing inherently foolish in reading a biography of

Billy Graham; it is only the exaggerated or merely curious interest in

his life that is unproductive.

In turning, then, to the prophetic writings of the OT, we are a

little disappointed when we find a scarcity of material concerning the

lives of the prophets themselves. But there is one notable exception to

this general rule: a number of autobiographical notes on the life of

Jeremiah have been preserved for us. In fact, the amount of informa-

tion we have concerning Jeremiah's life makes it impossible to de-

scribe the man fully in a paper such as this. In short, more is known

of Jeremiah's life than of that of any other OT writing prophet,

because throughout the Book of Jeremiah the writer gave us numer-

ous clues concerning himself and his times. In the case of Jeremiah,

then, surfeit rather than scarcity is our problem--or at least so it

would seem.

In recent years, a skeptical approach to the question of the liter-

ary identity of the man called Jeremiah has set up a roadblock in the

path of those who might wish to undertake a summary of the details

of his life. At the outset we are obliged to admit the possibility that

when the pronoun "I" is used in the Psalms, it may on occasion repre-

sent the worshiping community of Israel, that the psalmist in this or

that praise hymn, lament, or thanksgiving hymn is expressing not

Ronald Youngblood: THE CHARACTER OF JEREMIAH            173


only his own joy, sorrow, or gratitude but is also representing or act-

ing as proxy for--or in behalf of--his fellow believers. In other words,

the psalmist's "I" may in fact be intended by the author himself as a

communal "I." The Book of Psalms was, after all, the main hymnbook

in ancient Israel, and its universal appeal right down to our own time

resides in its unique ability to voice the deepest religious experiences

of Everyman. To paraphrase the comic strip character Pogo: "We have

met the psalmist, and he is us."

Building on the widely accepted, communal "I" that appears here

and there in the Psalms, some scholars have suggested--indeed, pro-

moted--the idea that the communal "I" occurs in the prophetic corpus

as well. A prime example is the approach of T. Polk,l who discusses in

turgid prose and at numbing length what it is that Jeremiah means

when he uses the "language of the self." As the psalmist's first-person

singular pronoun may be intended as a figure of speech for a plural or

collective unity, so also the prophetic "I" in Jeremiah is ambiguous

and may betoken bigger fish to fry. Rather than retaining its most ob-

vious meaning as the best way of stating the self-identification of the

prophet-like the covenant "I, Shuppiluliuma," in the ancient Hittite

treaty formularies or the epistolary "I, King Artaxerxes," in the OT

(Ezra 7:21) or "I, Paul," in the NT (I Cor 16:21)--the prophetic "I" of

Jeremiah is often to be interpreted as a community "we," as a meta-

phor for communal identity, as a paradigm for the existential Angst

of Israel at large.

I wish to observe immediately that Polk in no way denies the ex-

istence of the historical prophet Jeremiah. Rather, he insists that


at one moment Jeremiah may speak in a voice that is purely his own

(10.19b), while at the next speak as or with the voice of the people (10.20,

23-25; 14.7-9, 19-22; 8.14-15), and in the next speak in a voice indistin-

guishable from Yhwh's (14.17-18; 9.1-5). We have also maintained that,

whenever he speaks, he speaks qua prophet. It is therefore inappropri-

ate to refer his speech to his "private" experience, or to explain it in

terms of innate temperament or spiritual genius. Jeremiah's personal

and prophetic identity are one.2


With some of what Polk says I have no quarrel, and with a few of

his examples in the previous quotation I am in complete agreement.

When Jeremiah uses "we," as in 14:7-9, surely he identifies himself and

his sins with those of his people, and his life and destiny are bound up

with theirs. But other verses that Polk cites do not in fact contain the


1 T. Polk, The Prophetic Persona: Jeremiah and the Language of the Self (Journal

for the Study of the Old Testament-Supplement 32; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984).

2 Ibid., 125.



ambiguity that he sees in them. To say that in 9:1-5 Jeremiah speaks "in

a voice indistinguishable from" that of the Lord is, in my judgment,

simply to misdivide the literary units. Jer 8:21-9:2 constitutes one of the

classic passages traditionally used to characterize Jeremiah as the

weeping prophet, while beginning at 9:3 the Lord speaks.

Despite basic methodological flaws in the "prophetic persona" the-

ory, however, a not insignificant number of scholars have voted in its

favor. To illustrate the nature of the debate, I call your attention to the

two most stimulating full-scale commentaries written on Jeremiah in

the past few years: those of R. P. Carroll3 and W. L. Holladay.4 Carroll,

though perhaps not going quite so far as to consign the prophet Jere-

miah to the make-believe world of fictional characters, says of him that

"the 'historical' Jeremiah disappears behind the activities of redactional

circles and levels of tradition which have created the words and story

of Jeremiah ben Hilkiah of Anathoth!"5 Holladay, on the other hand,

vigorously affinns the flesh-and-blood, real-life, historical existence of

Jeremiah from beginning to end, although he adopts an alternate chro-

nology for that life that puts his birth, rather than his call in 627 B.C.6

(The latter position remains the dominant one, shared by formidable

scholars like H. H. Rowley7 and J. Bright8 as well as by myself.9)

It goes without saying, then, that I have very little patience with

reductionist views of the space-time existence of a great prophet

named Jeremiah, who ministered in and around Jerusalem during the

last forty years of its death throes that culminated in the destruction of

its temple and the dispersion of its people in 586 B.C. When viewed

historically, Jeremiah can be demonstrated to have handed down to us

the fullest account of a prophet's life and character, the fullest account

by far, to be found anywhere in Scripture. In this regard, attention is

often focused (and rightly so, in my judgment) on the so-called "con-

fessions" of Jeremiah (Jer 11:18-23; 12:1-6; 15:10-21; 17:12-18; 18:18-23;


3 R P. Carroll, Jeremiah: A Commentary (Old Testament Library; Philadelphia:

Westminster, 1986).

4 W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah 1 (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986).

5 Carroll, 48 (italics his).

6 Holladay, 1, 1; see also idem, Jeremiah: A Fresh Reading (New York: Pilgrim,

1990) 13-14.

7 H. H. Rowley, "The Early Prophecies of Jeremiah in Their Setting," in A Prophet

to the Nations: Essays in Jeremiah Studies (ed. L. G. Perdue and B. W. Kovacs; Winona

Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1984) 33-36.

8 J. Bright, Jeremiah: Introduction, Translation, and Notes (AB 21; Garden City,

NJ: Doubleday, 1965) xxviii, xxix, xxxvi.

9 R. F. Youngblood, "The Prophet of Loneliness," Bethel Seminary Quarterly 13/3

(May 1965) 15.

Ronald Youngblood: THE CHARACTER OF JEREMIAH                        175


and 20:7-18).10 For the sake of brevity, I will confine my summary of

various aspects of Jeremiah's character to an examination of the first

two confessions (11:18-23; 12:1-6) and part (15:15-21) of the third. Each

of them constitutes a dialogue between Jeremiah and the Lord.

We observe that the "confessions" of Jeremiah are not merely la-

ments, as we might expect from an inherently timid man. Jeremiah,

often called the "weeping prophet," might in fact better be called the

"groaning prophet"--or, better still, the "screaming prophet." His con-

fessions were complaints, what the Germans call Klagen. On occasion

their ferocity expanded them into Anklagen--i.e., "accusations,"

"charges brought in a lawsuit." Though Jeremiah was timid at the

time of his call, God caused him to become a tower of strength--"a

fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall," to quote the divine

word to Jeremiah in 1:18. That strength of character shows up in vari-

ous ways in Jeremiah's confessions, in Jeremiah's complaints.

A subtly different metaphor may be implied in the name "Jere-

miah" itself, which means something like "the LORD hurls/launches."

Jeremiah was the world's first guided missile, aimed by God at

specific targets and with pinpoint accuracy. His ministry was success-

ful (from God's standpoint at least), a fact that not only provoked re-

taliation from Jeremiah's enemies but also provided additional

ammunition for his confessions and complaints. His sense of freedom

in "talking back" to God is similar in many respects to that of Moses

(Num 11:11-15), in whose prophetic tradition Jeremiah found himself.

Jer 11:18-23 and 12:1-6 both speak of assassination plots against

Jeremiah (by the "men of Anathoth" in 11:21, by Jeremiah's "brothers"

and "family" in 12:6). The two complaints are remarkably similar in

other ways as well, as my analysis will seek to demonstrate. In terms

of structure, for example, 11:18-20 voices Jeremiah's first complaint,

evoking the Lord's first reply in 11:21-23, while the second prophetic

complaint and its divine response appear in 12:1-4 and 12:5-6 respec-

tively. Furthermore, in each of the two complaints Jeremiah quotes

the words of his enemies (11:19b; 12:4b).

It was only after the Lord had "revealed" (literally, "caused to

know") the enemies' plot to Jeremiah that he "knew" it (11:18); up to

that time he did not "realize" (literally, "know") it (11:19). Only when

the Sovereign Lord shares his plans with his servants the prophets can


10 Although my list of six "confessions" is typical, there is no general agreement

concerning either their parameters or their number. A recent study, for example, argues

for only five confessional units (by combining the first two) and shortens the sixth (by

excluding 20:14-18); K M. O'Connor, The Confessions of Jeremiah: Their Interpretation

and Role in Chapters 1-25 (SBLDS 94; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988).



they possibly know the future and their part in it (Amos 3:7). At the

same time, the true prophet rests content in the perception that God

always "know(s)" him in the bond of covenant relationship (Jer 12:3).

Sensing himself to be "like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter" be-

cause of his enemies' schemes (11:19), Jeremiah pleaded with the Lord

to turn the tables and "drag them off like sheep to the slaughter" (12:3).

Accounts of imprecation--curses against one's enemies--are a frequent

feature of Jeremiah's confessions (cf., e.g., 15:15), appear elsewhere in

the OT with unsettling frequency, and cause no end of consternation

to believers on the one hand and no end of "I told you so" glee to un-

believers on the other hand. Although substantial treatises have been

written on this subject, let the apologetic of J. A. Thompson (in his com-

mentary on 15:15) summarize the main arguments:


The persecutors who would seek to harm Jeremiah were really seeking to

harm God's spokesman and therefore to harm God. The hour called for a

display of Yahweh's sovereignty over those who persecuted his servant. It

is not a case of a petty vendetta waged against Jeremiah's persecutors, but

rather a display of Yahweh's positive action to restrain the evildoers and

to enable his servant to continue the task to which Yahweh had called

him. It was, after all, for Yahweh's sake that the prophet suffered the re-

buffs of his persecutors. . . . There is a boldness about such words which

only those in a very close relationship with Yahweh may show.11


Jeremiah complains to God that the men of Anathoth not only

want to destroy him ("the tree and its fruit") but also to wipe out all

reference to him ("his name") and thus in effect to nullify his entire

ministry (11:19). Jeremiah further complains that, by way of contrast,

his enemies "grow and bear fruit"--and this as a result of God's hav-

ing "planted them" (12:2)! Convinced that the Lord judges “righ-

teously" when he commits his “cause" to him (11:20; cf. 12:1), and

knowing that the Lord "sees" him (12:3), Jeremiah wants to "see" di-

vine vengeance upon his enemies (11:20). After all, God tests the heart

and mind, the thoughts, not only of the men of Anathoth (11:20) but

also of the prophet from Anathoth (12:3), and therefore the innocent

Jeremiah has an airtight case against his guilty enemies. Jeremiah

knows, deep down inside, that the hearts of his fellow citizens are far

from God (11:20; 12:2; cf. the similar language used of the citizens of

Jerusalem in Isa 29:13).


11 J. A Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980)

395-96. For a recent sensitive treatment of imprecation in the Psalms see E. H. Peter-

son, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper & Row,

1989) 93-103, 149.

Ronald Youngblood: THE CHARACTER OF JEREMIAH            177


The Lord's response to Jeremiah's complaint (11:21-23) promises

to bring disaster on the men of Anathoth. Though they had threat-

ened Jeremiah with death because he was prophesying in the Lord's

name and therefore presumably endangering their livelihood as

priests, they and their families would feel the stroke of death by

sword and famine.

Jeremiah's second complaint (12:1-4) and the divine response to it

(12:5-6) begin with the age-old question, "Why do the wicked pros-

per?" How can the justice of God permit such blatant injustice? Since

evil continues to exist, it is obvious either that God cannot or will not

eradicate it. If he cannot, he is not omnipotent. If he will not, he is not

supremely good. Like Jeremiah, all of us struggle with such antino-

mies. The sovereignty of God and the free will of human beings, if

both are to have full sway, must often be viewed as remaining in par-

adoxical tension. Philosophical dualism is not the answer, since the

end is not in dispute: righteousness will ultimately win the victory

and overcome the world. In the meantime, our small peephole will

keep us from clearly seeing the big picture, and we will continue to

look for better--if only partial--answers (for example, that the pa-

tience and mercy of God give the evildoer time to repent). Perhaps we

can learn to rest in the realization that although we may not under-

stand, it should be enough for us to know that our loving heavenly

Father understands.

Continuing his complaint against his enemies with dogged per-

sistence, Jeremiah pleads with God to "set them apart for the day of

slaughter" (12:3). Since they had refused to be set apart for God's glory,

they should be set apart for God's wrath.12 Jeremiah, in using the verb

"set apart," perhaps reflects on the fact that God had "set" him "apart"

before he was born (1:5).

In the tradition of Job, the Lord's answer to Jeremiah begins with

questions (12:5) designed to steel him for the more difficult burdens

he will yet be asked to bear. Though weary now, Jeremiah will be-

come wearier still, and God simply tells him what he probably al-

ready knows: not to trust the members of his family (12:6). To his lack

of necessary information, his pursuit by neighbors and relatives, his

perception of divine injustice, his high dudgeon at the prosperity of

the wicked, his puzzlement in the face of divine inaction, his impa-

tience with divine agendas, his being told that things are sure to get

worse--to these problems will be added a few more, as the record of

his next confession reveals.


12 Cf. similarly S. R Driver, The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (New York: Scrib-

ner's, 1906) 71.



The two confessions found in 11:18-12:6, when taken together, be-

gin with Jeremiah's complaint and continue in sequence with God's

answer, Jeremiah's complaint, and God's answer, as already noted.

The confession recorded in 15:10-21 uses the same outline: Jeremiah's

complaint (v 10), God's answer (vv 11-14), Jeremiah's complaint (vv 15-

18), God's answer (vv 19-21). We are thus reminded once again that

Jeremiah's confessions are often examples of prayer as dialogue be-

tween a supplicant and his God. Let us turn our attention to the sec-

ond divine-human interchange in this confession: 15:15-21.

Jeremiah begins (15:15) by acknowledging that the Lord is always

in a position to "understand" (literally, "know") him and what he is go-

ing through, an emphasis seen also in a previous confession (12:3). The

prophet then states his personal agenda in three imperatives: "re-

member me," "care for me," "avenge me." The last of the verbs re-

prises his earlier desire for divine vengeance on his enemies (11:20).

Knowing from experience how patient God often is with evildoers

("You are long-suffering"; cf. Exod 34:6, "slow to anger," where the un-

derlying Hebrew is the same), Jeremiah pleads that the Lord not

"take" him "away," an expression often referring to termination of life

on this earth and translation to the afterlife (Gen 5:23; Ps 49:15; 73:24).

His persecutors are seeking his life, and he pleads with God not to

grant them success in that endeavor. Again using the verb "know"

("think of”), Jeremiah reminds the Lord that the reproach he suffers is

due not to his own folly but to his divine commission. It is "for your

sake," he says to God, that his enemies are bent on killing him.

Indeed, the reproaches and insults that come to him on a daily ba-

sis are a direct result of his proclamation of the word of God (20:8). Re-

ferring back to his original divine call, when the Lord had put his

words in Jeremiah's mouth (1:9), the prophet says that he "ate them"

(15:16), he digested them, much as Ezekiel would later do at the time of

his call (Ezek 2:7-3:3). Just as in Ezekiel's case the scroll he "ate" was

as "sweet at honey" in his mouth (3:3), so also the Lord's words were

the "joy" and "delight" of his heart (Jer 15:16). Quoting Deut 8:3, Jesus

later rebuked Satan by reminding him, "Man does not live on bread

alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt 4:4).

The law from the Lord's mouth was more precious to the psalmist

than "thousands of pieces of silver and gold" (Ps 119:72). And God

would soon remind Jeremiah that if the prophet's words were worthy,

he himself would be the Lord's "mouth" ("spokesman," Jer 15:19).

A word that comes from God is always worth proclaiming faith-

fully: it is like fire, like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces, like the

best of grain from a bountiful harvest, (23:28-29). The fact that the

Lord's words were Jeremiah's joy contrasts sharply with the reproach

Ronald Youngblood: THE CHARACTER OF JEREMIAH                        179


that he suffered because of them. His joy also forms a contrast with

the "indignation" (v 17) that he felt "at the grievous sins of his

people."13 Jer 15:16 "is the only place where Jeremiah allows us to see

that he found any joy in his calling whatever. Yet he declares that it

was so: he was happy to know that he was God's man."14

Verse 17 tells us that Jeremiah never had the experience of sitting

among "revelers." It is possible that the "revelers" were "not making

merry in general but. . . at (Jeremiah's) expense, or at the expense of

his message,"15 since he complains in 20:7 of being an object of "ridi-

cule" (the underlying Hebrew root is the same as that of "reveler"). But

because of the immediate context, the word is more likely a reference

to the "house of feasting" mentioned in 16:8, where Jeremiah states

that God told him not to "sit down" there (cf. "never sat" in 15:17). In

this connection it is instructive to compare Ps 26:3-5, where the psalm-

ist refuses to "sit with deceitful men. . . and . . . the wicked."

Where Jeremiah never sat is balanced, as it were, by where he

did sit: "alone." Jeremiah may aptly be characterized as the prophet of

loneliness. For example, he remained a bachelor throughout his life.

"The word of the LORD came to me: 'You must not marry and have

sons or daughters in this place'" (16:1-2).

The Lord gave Jeremiah a good reason why he was not to marry.

Hard and difficult times were coming, and his family might be killed

in the siege of Jerusalem. We can also assume that the Lord did not

want to subject a wife and her children to the suffering that his

prophet would have to undergo. But all of this must have been of

little comfort to Jeremiah, because if by nature and temperament any-

one ever needed a wife and family it was he. In spite of everything,

however, he was forced to go through life alone. His neighbors and

relatives turned against him, just at the times when he needed them

most; His true friends can be counted on the fingers of one hand:

Ahikam, Ebed-Melek, Baruch. And even from these he was separated

for long periods of time by being placed in various prisons and dun-

geons, although his only crime was that he continually issued warn-

ings about the coming judgment of God. Each successive king after

Josiah considered Jeremiah an enemy of the court, although if they

had only known the truth, they would have realized that Jeremiah

was by far the best friend they had.

But nobody likes a prophet of doom, and the minister who persis-

tently lashes out against the evils in his community will never be the


13 Thompson, 397.

14 J. Bright, "A Prophet's Lament and Its Answer: Jeremiah 15:10-21," in A Prophet

to the Nations, 330.

15 Holladay, 459.



most popular man in town. He will never be a "regular guy"; he will

not be a prominent socialite; the local lodges and services clubs will

not usually invite him to join their organizations. We can be sure that

Jeremiah's ideas for social reform and spiritual renewal were far too

radical for him to be elected to the Anathoth chapter of the Lions Club.

Nevertheless, everyone must have companionship. Without a

friend, any of us would dry up inside; at best we would become ec-

centric, at worst insane. Jeremiah doubtless knew this, and so he built

up extensive spiritual reserves that served him well when he was in

prison. He knew that God was a friend who would never fail him, be-

cause at the very beginning of his ministry the Lord had said to him,

"I am with you and will rescue you" (1:8, 19).

Just as in the life of Jesus, so also in the life of Jeremiah, loneli-

ness was accompanied by pain and suffering, both inward and out-

ward. "Why?" (15:18), Jeremiah asks (cf. also 12:1; 20:18). Why does my

pain never end, while you, O Lord--you who are supposed to be a

spring of ever-flowing, never-failing, living water (2:13; 17:13; cf. espe-

cially the simile in Amos 5:24)--you are apparently going to be to me

"like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails"? Jeremiah has now

clearly and decisively moved from Klage, "complaint," to Anklage,

"accusation." What he says to God teeters perilously on the edge of

blasphemy. He questions whether the Lord is a liar, just as in 20:7 he

complains that the Lord has "deceived" him--a verb that elsewhere

means "seduced" (Exod 22:16 [MT 22:15]; cf. NIV footnote "persuaded"

at Jer 20:7)--by forcing him into the prophetic office.

But God is good, great, and gracious. He answers his distressed

and distraught servant with words that are remarkably gentle and

healing in their intended effect. Knowing that Jeremiah is already ex-

periencing agony and confusion beyond belief, the Lord brings relief

and solace.

He begins his response, however, by reminding Jeremiah that he

has sinned and that a change of heart and attitude is thus called for.

Over and over the Lord, through Jeremiah, had pleaded with his people

to "repent" ("return"; e.g., 3:12, 14, 22; 4:1). Now the Lord, to Jeremiah,

uses the same terminology as he makes repentance a condition of Jere-

miah's restoration to divine favor and service. "Repent" and "restore" in

15:19 are translations of the same Hebrew verb (literally "return"). Only

as we return to God will he cause us to return to him and to his minis-

try; only as God's people return to him will he return to them (Zech 1:3).

In the case of Jeremiah, "'the prophet of repentance' in the Old Testa-

ment,"16 his demand that others repent comes home to roost.


16 J. P. Hyatt, Jeremiah: Prophet of Courage and Hope (Nashville: Abingdon,

1958) 94.

Ronald Youngblood: THE CHARACTER OF JEREMIAH                        181


There is no reason to doubt that Jeremiah in fact repented on

this occasion and that the experience resulted in a second call to

prophesy. The Lord of the second chance told Jeremiah that if he ut-

tered words that were "worthy," he would once again be God's

"spokesman," God's "mouth" (15:19; cf. Exod 4:16). The people would

then "turn" ("return") to him (to hear God's voice), but he was not to

"turn" ("return") to them (as though he needed to listen to the ridi-

cule--or heed the advice--of sinful Israelites).

Verse 20 makes it certain that this third confession leads to a re-

newal of Jeremiah's call to be a prophet. Virtually every word in the

verse echoes the language found in the first chapter of the book. The

Lord promises to "make" ("give") Jeremiah a "fortified wall of bronze"

(cf. 1:18) to the people of Judah. The rest of the verse quotes 1:19 al-

most verbatim. Jeremiah's three self-seeking and petulant requests in

15:15--"remember me," "care for me," "avenge me"--are more than

overbalanced by the Lord's three final guarantees in 15:20-21: "I will

rescue you," "I will save you," "I will redeem you."

Jeremiah has been called "the most human and tragic prophet of

all the Old Testament story."17 He "continued to meet persecution,

and continued to see his word rejected, to the end of his life."18 He ex-

perienced very few moments of rest and relaxation and security after

being called to be a prophet. His life was one round of persecution

and imprisonment and beating and anguish after another. He con-

fessed many times to being harassed and tormented. But his persis-

tence in his calling even after the fall of Jerusalem "bears witness to

his own deep conviction about Yahweh's promise."19

In the confessions of Jeremiah we encounter "the entire spec-

trum of human, emotional distress: fear of shame, fear of failure, loss

of strength, doubting of faith, loneliness, pity, disappointment turning

to hostility towards God."20 But the confessions "were not the words

of a quitter! Jeremiah's whole life seems to have been lived in tension

with his calling. The only way in which he could have put an end to

that tension would have been to quit the prophetic office--and that he

never did."21 He may have wanted to on more than one occasion--but

he never did. Jeremiah's qualities of character remain a standing re-

buke to any believer who excuses himself from serving God because

of personal disinclination or incapacity. "It was precisely this man

who, for all his weakness and in his weakness, was God's chosen


17 Rowley, 61.

18 Bright, "Prophet's Lament," 337.

19 Thompson, 149.

20 G. von Rad, "The Confessions of Jeremiah," in A Prophet to the Nations, 346.

21 Bright, "Prophet's Lament," 334-35.



instrument to speak his word, his judging and saving word, to his


The prophet Jeremiah learned the meaning of obedience, felt the

discomforts of anguish, and endured the trials of loneliness; but

through it all the Lord was steadfast and Jeremiah was satisfied. In

greater or lesser degree, we who love Jesus Christ with all our hearts

and want to serve him to the very core of our being must learn the

same lessons. May we glorify the Savior in learning them!


Jesus! What a Friend for sinners!

Jesus! Lover of my soul!'

Friends may fail me, foes assail me;

He, my Savior, makes me whole.23


22 Ibid, 333.

23 J. W. Chapman, "Our Great Saviour," in Worship and Service Hymnal (Chicago:

Hope, 1966), no. 121.




This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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            4010 Gaston Ave.

            Dallas, TX 75246

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