The Hardship of Ministry

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), August 6

Jeremiah has just delivered one of his strongest messages to date. He promises disaster, while the false prophets tell the people that God will not act against Israel, for the sake of His temple. He preaches repentance while the priests and prophets condone idol worship. Since they cannot shut Jeremiah up, they go on the offensive by attacking him verbally.

Jeremiah doesn’t engage in verbal warfare, however, but responds to their taunts by crying out to God. Here is a man who has spent years interceding before God for a rebellious people, and all they do is attack him. He is the best thing they have going for them; he is between them and the judgment of God. Who knows what disaster would have struck years earlier had it not been for Jeremiah’s prayers.

There is nothing more distracting to those in the ministry than being the brunt of verbal assaults or abuse. Verbal attacks wear down God’s ministers.

Earlier in his ministry, Jeremiah had prayed to avert the wrath of God. His prayers have changed, however, to imprecatory prayers. Jeremiah sees the verbal attacks—more so than the personal attacks—as total rebellion against God. Therefore the LORD instructs Jeremiah to stop interceding on Israel’s behalf, “Do not pray for this people, for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence” (Jer. 14:11-12). He continues, “I will show them the back and not the face in the day of their calamity” (18:17). Continued rebellion costs the remaining tribes of Israel one of their greatest prayer advocates.

God gives Jeremiah two visuals to illustrate His judgment, one of which is pottery. The LORD commands Jeremiah to purchase a clay jar of pottery, take the jar and the elders to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (where Judah practices child sacrifice), break it, and declare, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again” (Jer. 19:10). Needless to say, this does not sit well with the priest and chief governor of the house of the LORD; they place Jeremiah in stocks over night.

Jeremiah 20:7-18 records Jeremiah’s response to his treatment, “I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me” (20:7b). He therefore determines to remain quiet, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name,” but God’s Word buried deep in his heart burns to be heard—“His word was in my heart like a burning fire” (20:9). Jeremiah appears to ride the rollercoaster of emotion. He breaks into a song of praise one moment, “Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD!” only to return to self-pity moments later, “Cursed be the day in which I was born!” (20:13a, 14a).

By today’s ministry metrics, Jeremiah is a failure. His audience rejects him, and he despises the job that God has given him. Yet Jeremiah does not quit! When God calls a man into the ministry, it isn’t a call to success, but a call to die to success.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Jer. 19:1-20:18; Daniel 1:1-21):
How does Jeremiah use the visual of the earthen flask in his message to Judah? How does the priest respond to his message?
Describe Jeremiah’s response to both the priest and to the Lord after being placed in the stocks at the the high gate of Benjamin.
Meanwhile, how are the young men taken into exile being treated? How does Daniel respond to the situation in which he finds himself? How does this compare with Joseph’s behavior after being taken into slavery in Egypt?