Have you ever had someone come to you and ask for advice, but then go on to completely ignore that advice?
Maddening right? That is exactly the situation Jeremiah finds himself in today as we resume following him through the fall of Judah. What’s left of the leadership of Judah approaches Jeremiah and asks him to ask God what they are to do now that the nation has begun to fall apart. Should they stay and endure the trials of the Babylonian invasion or should they run away and find somewhere else to live?
Seems like a good question to ask God. God, what path would you have us walk moving forward. It’s the kind of question we should all be asking God on a pretty regular basis. It is a question that Jeremiah seems pretty interested in asking for them, and it is a question that he seems pretty dedicated to finding God’s answer to. Jeremiah 42:7 tells us that Jeremiah spent 10 days in prayer over this question. When was the last time you spent 10 days petitioning God for the answer to a question? I can honestly tell you that I don’t think that I’ve ever spent 10 concerted days asking God about something. This is a challenging piece of scripture about dedication to prayer that we all could learn from I think.
After 10 days Jeremiah comes back to the leadership and gives them God’s answer: if you stay and endure the punishment I have instructed Babylon to enact on Judah, I will not demolish you, but instead I will relent and rebuild you. BUT, if you instead run away to Egypt the sword of Babylon will follow you there and you will die in Egypt. (I’m paraphrasing here obviously)
This is the direction that the people had asked for…but for some reason that is not explicitly stated in these verses, they reject Jeremiah’s words; even accusing him of lying to them about God’s direction. Although their reasons are not explicitly stated, it is not hard to guess that their rebellious hearts were just too far from God to hear the truth of God’s voice.
Chapter 44 then goes on to complete the story of God’s judgement against the people who flee to Egypt instead of staying in Judah, a punishment he fairly told them about through Jeremiah in chapter 42.
Put yourself in both places in this story. First put yourself in Jeremiah’s position: how much and how hard do you petition God for answers to questions for yourself or for other people. Spending 10 days in prayer seems like such a shocking thing in our day and age. If we learned that someone had spent 10 days in prayer over something, we might be tempted to sake two subtle steps to the left lest we catch whatever crazy they have. The reality is that all of us should be petitioning God that strongly.
Second put yourself in the position of the people and consider this: have you ever stopped to consider what it feels like to be a leader, spiritual or otherwise, and have people completely reject your advice, guidance or council? Can you imagine how Jeremiah felt when the Judean leaders responded to his words like that? I know what it feels like to have people do that. It is demoralizing, frustrating, depressing..and it really makes you wonder what the point of being called by God is.
I had a conversation with a Presbyterian pastor friend the other day who has been in pastoral ministry for many more moons than I have. One of the topics that came up in conversation was the change in attitude that people have for pastors. When he started ministry there was a certain respect afforded to the pastor because he was called by God to bring God’s Word and direction to the church (just like Jeremiah was to Judah). But over the years, that respect has diminished. It even shows up in our language. We no longer talk about pastors being called to a church, we talk about pastors being hired by a church. We no longer talk about pastors as spiritual leaders, they are instead CEOs or managers of a non-profit organization. Even the use of contracts for pastoral ministry reflects this shift in thinking.
I even know of a pastor who recently was informed by his Worship Committee what they would and would not be doing. Since when does a ministry committee dictate to the pastor the direction they will or will not follow? It sounds an awful lot to me like what the Judean leaders did to Jeremiah in these chapters.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not for pastoral dictatorships (1 Peter 5:3 warns against this). The pastor is not the only person who hears God’s voice or receives God’s direction for the church. BUT the New Testament makes it very clear that God directed the creation of the pastoral office through the giving of his gifts through the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 4, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5, Acts 20:28, etc.) and called people to that ministry (Hebrews 5:4).
UPDATE: I will add one other comment sparked by a conversation with a gentleman I know: respect for the pastoral office is expected, except when the pastor is obviously not fulfilling his spiritual obligations. If the pastor is not following closely behind the Holy Spirit and does not cling to the expected mandates of the pastoral office, then of course the expectations for respect fly out the window.
This is definitely a narrative with challenging things to ponder.
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Jeremiah 46-48