The Anguish of Jeremiah

Posted on July 23, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Different Scenarios
It is fascinating how differently God deals with his servants. For instance, He ordered his prophet Hosea: “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea did as he was told and no doubt his life was greatly embittered for it (though it is likely God eventually brought healing to both he and Gomer).

In stark contrast, about a century later God commanded Jeremiah to do the opposite: “You must not marry and have sons or daughters in this place” (Jeremiah 16:2). The Lord was not being arbitrarily unfair to His servant, but had a distinct reason for His directive. “For this is what the LORD says about the sons and daughters born in this land and about the women who are their mothers and the men who are their fathers: ‘They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like dung lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds and the wild animals’” (Jeremiah 16:3,4).

Because this prophecy, envisioning the Babylonian invasion of Judah, would not be fulfilled until decades later, it seems rather cruel of the Lord to subject Jeremiah to a life of loneliness and grief. This, however, is not the case. When God called Hosea and Jeremiah, it was for a purpose. These two prophets were to be object lessons for their people. When the Hebrews looked at these two men, they were to see their lives as a symbol for God’s dissatisfaction with the Israelites’ sinful practices. The two prophets were to be living metaphors for the Israelites.

And yet, understanding this did not make the existences of the two messengers of God any easier to digest. They both suffered the heartbreak of their situations and no doubt grieved their individual plights.

Though Hosea’s reaction to his wife Gomer’s adultery is not recorded but can only be logically assumed, such is not the case for Jeremiah. The book named after him is the longest in the Bible (most words) and we know more about this prophet than any other of Israel’s spokespersons.

The Weeping Prophet
Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet for the several references he made to shedding tears.[1] He was not one to hide his emotions. Besides the loyalty of his associate Baruch, Jeremiah was all but alone in the world. He was a man of solitude. So great was the prophet’s anguish that he made this startling statement to the Lord: “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails” (Jeremiah 15:18).

This almost borders on scorn and disrespect, but the Lord understood. He knew the torment of His afflicted messenger and that Jeremiah had no one else with whom to share His grief. In more reasonable and restrained moments, Jeremiah would surely remember that far from being a dry riverbed, the Lord declared Himself as “the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 21:3).

Making Sense
Ultimately, though it took many years to reach its fulfillment, the Lord’s reasoning for His mandate to Jeremiah not to marry became evident. As Jeremiah, now in his 60s, looked over the corpses of men, women and children, he no doubt felt a sense of relief that none of these lifeless bodies belonged to his wife or children. At his age, Jeremiah would have also been a grandfather. He would by now understand that in prohibiting him from marrying and having children, the Lord was, in essence, being merciful to Jeremiah. Perhaps God knew that Jeremiah could not have emotionally survived the deaths of spouse, children, and grandchildren at the hands of the cruel Babylonians.

Despite Jeremiah’s great sorrow and occasional questioning of God’s will, he never turned from God or was unfaithful to Him. In the book of Lamentations, following Jerusalem’s destruction, the sexagenarian prophet still found great hope in the Lord. He wrote, “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23).

Yes, Jeremiah wept, questioned, and mourned, but in the end, his faithfulness was his greatest attribute.


[1] Jeremiah 9:1; 13:17; 14:17