But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!”
Jeremiah 26:8 (NIV)
When I was a child, there was a popular English nursery rhyme that every child knew:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me.”
Of course, we know that words can have a negative effect on others, but the rhyme was a great reminder during childhood not to take childish words on the playground too seriously. It built resilience in me.
Freedom of speech is a hot topic in these days of the cancel culture in which we’re currently living. I hear it argued that disagreement with another person’s beliefs and opinions is an act of violence.
Today’s chapter got me thinking about this. God sends Jeremiah to Solomon’s Temple to proclaim a version of the same prophetic message he’s always given. Basically, he tells the public crowd that they need to repent of their idolatrous ways or the Temple and the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed.
In the culture of Jeremiah’s day, prophetic words were taken seriously. And there were many prophets. Every deity, shrine, and idol had their prophets. That culture believed that prophetic words didn’t just point to a future event, but the prophet’s spoken message was actively instigating those events. In publicly proclaiming the potential destruction of the temple and the city, they believed that Jeremiah was launching the event. So, they took him by force and attempted to have him sentenced to death.
As I contemplated this in the quiet this morning, it struck me that most prophets of that day must have confined their messages to predictions of peace and prosperity. They would have been careful to say what was generally acceptable. In fact, throughout Jeremiah’s messages are complaints about those whom God deemed “false prophets” because they did just that. No one would want to face the consequences that Jeremiah did in today’s chapter.
But here’s the thing I’ve learned and observed along my life journey: The truth sometimes hurts, and not all pain is bad.
When a culture begins to value what is socially and politically acceptable above that which is rationally true, that culture is headed in the wrong direction. This was at the heart of Jeremiah’s overarching message. What he was saying wasn’t popular, but it turned out to be true. The mob of priests and prophets were calling for Jeremiah’s head because they didn’t like what he was saying will soon be living in Babylon or lying in the rubble of Jerusalem.
What I found interesting is that this mob was so crazed by the potential doom that Jeremiah described that they appear to not have even considered the part of Jeremiah’s message in which they could avoid this disaster by simply repenting of their idolatry and return to follow the God of Abraham, Moses, and David alone.
Jeremiah escaped the death sentence in today’s chapter as the king and elders remembered that there was a precedent. Similar prophetic messages of doom were preached by the prophet Micah just a hundred or so years before when the Assyrian Empire came knocking on the gates of Jerusalem. Then King Hezekiah listened, repented, sought the Lord, and the city was miraculously delivered. This is enough to prompt the king and elders to let Jeremiah go, but they appear unwilling to follow Hezekiah’s example. Fascinating.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself praying for our nation and our culture. I believe strongly in free speech and the fact that it is foundational to a free and healthy society, even when other say things that I don’t agree with. Sometimes I need to listen to words and messages that hurt in order to hear that which is true.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.