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The Urge To Quit

God’s religion is richly rewarding. I wish everyone experienced the benefits of following the sacred path.

But it is also a difficult life, fraught with numerous challenges. It is made especially arduous by the opposition of others. Sometimes, people erode the cheerfulness of the child of God so relentlessly that every fiber of our being screams: “no more!”

The prophet Jeremiah — often called the “weeping prophet” — is so relatable in this regard. A condensed study of the life of this man of God is of great comfort when we experience the natural urge to quit.

Inducements To Quit

Jeremiah’s passion for God and his people was second to none. All his energies and efforts to persuade the people to repent, warning them of the impending Babylonian invasion, sprang from an “everlasting love” for his neighbors (Jer. 31.3). He was inclined to pray fervently for them (Jer. 42.1-6), though God thrice had to persuade him that it was a futile endeavor (Jer. 7.16; 11.14; 14.11).


But instead of appreciating his ministry, they made him want to quit.

Dismissal

First, they made him feel useless. Everyone wants to make some difference in life. We want to see success in our efforts. And Jeremiah was no different.


But no one listened to him. God sent the prophet through the streets of Jerusalem to see if he could find “a man” — just one! — who was willing to listen to the truth. When that failed, he appealed to the “great men,” thinking that perhaps the more educated folk would be receptive. But they were worse (Jer. 5.1ff).


Sermon after sermon, plea after plea — each incessantly unheeded — chipped away at his sense of self-worth:

“Why did I come forth from the womb to see labor and sorrow, That my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jer. 20.18).

Hostility

Next, they made him feel isolated (cf. Jer. 15.17).

The brunt of his message was most unpleasant to convey: viz., because of Judah’s impenitence, God was going to allow the sinful Babylonians to invade their country to “make their land desolate and a perpetual hissing.” Indeed, he will “scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy” (Jer. 18.16-17; cf. Jer 20.4-6; 25.8ff; 27.22).

The lesson is this: God can use an evil nation to punish a relatively better one (cf. Hab. 1.6-13), and then punish that evil nation for this later (Jer 25.12; Isa. 10.5-12).

With this news came two options:

(1) They could fight like patriots for their homeland against the pagan invaders and die — since to fight against Babylon was to fight vainly against God’s providential “battle-ax” and “hammer” (Jer. 21.4-6; Jer 51.20ff; 50.23).

(2) Or, they could throw down their weapons, defect to the enemy, and live as slaves in a foreign land (Jer. 21.8-10; 27.17; 38.17ff).

This message was jarring to their ears! And the prophet sensed their hatred.

Though God had forewarned him of their opposition (Jer. 1.19; 11.18), when malice finally burst out against him he still felt like a “docile lamb brought to the slaughter…not knowing that they had devised schemes against” him (Jer. 11.19). Such hostility is always surreal. Nothing can prepare you for it.

Accusations

This is when the plot to discredit him began:

“Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah…let us attack him with the tongue” (Jer. 18.18).

They dragged his name through the mud with several accusations:

(1) This man is a trouble-maker — “a man of strife and…contention to the whole earth” (Jer. 15.10)!

(2) He is a liar — “you speak falsely! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to dwell there’.” (Jer. 43.2)

(3) He is a cowardly traitorhe preaches against resisting the godless invaders! This is our homeland! It is our sacred duty to defend it! (cf. Jer. 26.7-11; 37.13).

(4) Jeremiah is a Hanoi Jane (i.e., one who cripples the morale of the troops who fought to protect him and his homeland) — “let this man be put to death, for thus he weakens the hands of the men of war who remain in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man does not seek the welfare of this people, but their harm” (Jer. 38.4).


These people had forgotten that it was not about country or homeland (which come and go) — it was about obeying God, who has promised his people a “better, that is, a heavenly country” (Heb. 11.16). In defending their country against the invaders they were resisting God. And Jeremiah was just the mouthpiece through whom God himself was conveying the message they so despised.

Ridicule

It also bothered the prophet that his neighbors “mocked” him “daily,” challenged his convictions, and questioned his sanity (Jer. 20.7-8). To them, Jeremiah’s message that “violence and plunder” were coming seemed unhinged — Look around Jeremiah, we are at peace! We are one nation under God! His temple still stands! Babylon is evil! God will be with us, not them, you fool! (cf. Jer. 7.4; 8.8-11; 23.17; 27.9).

To make matters worse, Jeremiah’s message of foreboding was taking a long time to come to fruition; and every day his enemies held that against him.

In Jeremiah 20, the prophet is put under critical scrutiny by his enemies. A priest named, Pashhur, had abused him. In turn, God foretold Pashhur’s future woes by giving him the moniker, Magor-Missabib” (Terror-everywhere). In other words, everywhere he turned, Pashhur would one-day witness unimaginable horrors and atrocities against him and those he loved (Jer. 20.3-6).

But, for the moment, none of that seemed possible. The sun was still shining; all was well. Consequently, many laughed at him as they saw him passing by, parroting his words, saying: Look, there goes Mr. "Terror Is Everywhere"! (Jer. 20.10).

Physical Assault

What’s more, Pashhur “struck” Jeremiah and “put him in the stocks” (Jer. 20.2) until the next day.

It is unclear how he “struck” him. Perhaps he personally slapped him or punched him or kicked him; or perhaps he had others do it for him. It is also possible that he “struck” him with forty lashes (cf. Deut. 25.3).

Some think stocks refers merely to a “place of confinement.” Others suppose it was a sort of straight-jacket, locking up his neck and arms; still others imagine shackles on his feet (Henry, 423). The Hebrew term itself “suggests a ‘distortion’ of the limbs.” Thus, it must have involved some form of overnight “torture” (Jackson, 48).


Later, when his enemies sought to put him to death for unpatriotically alleging that his country would lose the war (cf. Jer. 26.11), he was seized, dropped into a boggy dungeon, and left to starve to death (Jer. 38.6ff). Fortunately, he was released before he succumbed to his demise.

Lack of Divine Intervention

Finally, God’s refusal to interfere with these injustices also demoralized the prophet.

Why had God allowed these wicked people to persecute Jeremiah in this fashion? He knew that the Lord was “righteous,” but could not understand why God was permitting the “way of the wicked” to “prosper” (Jer. 12.1), especially when he had promised to be “with” him (Jer. 1.19).

The Lord’s answer must not have been that reassuring:

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, Then how can you contend with horses?” (Jer. 12.5).

Footmen, of course, run much slower than horses. If Jeremiah had become worn out by a relatively leisurely level of opposition, then how could he handle the more ferocious things to come? God would be with him — for he always delivered him (Jer. 1.19) — but he would still have to “prepare” himself for greater hardship (Jer. 1.17).

All of this left Jeremiah heartbroken (Jer. 23.9). So this great prophet — this marvelous man of faith — was brought to his breaking-point and resolved to hang it up:

“Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name” (Jer. 20.9a).

The Way To Keep Going

Jeremiah did not quit for long, however. What made him soldier on? He explains:

“But His word was in my heart like a burning fire, Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not” (Jer. 20.9b).

Inside this man was a burning enthusiasm for the truth (cf. Job 32.18–20; Ps. 39.3; Jer. 4.19). Sometimes he wished he could disregard that truth to avoid the ire of others. But he learned it was more painful to smother the word of God than to be smothered by his enemies.

Six centuries later, Christ also endured cruel treatment — mocking, assaulting, dismissing, attempts to catch him in his words (Lk 20.20, 26; etc.). He too became weary of dealing with that sinful generation (Mt. 17.17). And he warned his disciples that we would be similarly mistreated (Mt. 24.9; Lk. 21.12-19; Jn. 15.18-25; 16.1-5).

But instead of exasperation, Christ wants us to feel “blessed” when we are cursed and uplifted when we are insulted for living the way we are supposed to live (Mt 5.10-12; Lk. 6.22-23). How do we endure it? Jesus’ answer: Remember his word! He provides us with two examples of how remembering the word of God helps us persevere.


(1) Remembering what God has promised makes it all worthwhile (“your reward is great in heaven” — Lk 6.23).

(2) Remembering the perseverance of prophets like Jeremiah should give us confidence in our own hardships (“for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets” — Lk. 6.23).

And this is how Jeremiah himself kept going. The prophet remembered his lessons from the word of God, which ignited his heart (see Jer. 20.11-13).

First, he remembered God’s support.

“But the LORD is with me as a mighty, awesome One. Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail” (Jer. 20.11).

When one reflects upon the Bible’s descriptions of God’s formidability, remembering that no man can prevail against those who serve him, quitting ceases to be an option (Heb 13.5-6).


Second, he remembered God’s justice.


God is a God of “vengeance” (Jer. 20.12; cf. Jer. 5.9; 9.9; 15.15; Isa. 1.24; 1 Th. 4.6; 2 Th. 1.8). Rest assured that God sees those who wrongly mistreat you and will, in due course, justly punish those who do evil as he sees fit (Rom. 12.19).


Third, he remembered God’s goodness.

“Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! For He has delivered the life of the poor from the hand of evildoers” (Jer. 20.13).

Certainly, God loves sinners (Rom. 5.8); but he loves those who are “justified” in Christ’s blood “much more” (Rom. 5.9). Thus, though sinners may hate you, the Lord adores you for your faithful perseverance. Take comfort in his affection (2 Cor. 1.3-7).

Ultimately, when our good deeds are rewarded with rudeness, mockery, dismissal, or persecution…when our peers wrongfully shame us and make us feel lonely…when everything around us seems to be urging us to quit…let us instead allow the transcendent cause of God to fill the void in our hearts and warm our souls for the fight (cf. John 14.27; Rom. 8.15; 2 Tim. 1.7; Phil. 1.27-28).

Conclusion

I don’t know whether your faith is in a state of encouragement or discouragement right now. But I know that every conscientious person oscillates between highs and lows. After all, how could any soul who loves God and good be happy one-hundred percent of the time in a world that is saturated with sin and its attendant ills (cf. 1 Jn. 2.15-17)?


But with God, there is always a remedy, even if it means trodding through great "sorrows," "grief," and "tears" (Isa. 53.3; Heb. 5.7). Trust in him. Remember who you are in Christ (Col. 3.1-4), and nothing will have the power to derail us in our walk with God (Phil. 4.11-13)!

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29.11).

Henry, Matthew. Isaiah to Malachi. Hendrickson Publishers, 2000. 

Jackson, Wayne. Jeremiah-Lamentations. Stockton, CA: Courier Publications, 1997. 

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