Yesterday I posted the paper I wrote on Rahab in Joshua 2. Today I will post the paper I wrote on Jeremiah 20:7-13. If anyone finds this helpful, please feel free to use it for personal or group study.
THROUGH THICK AND THIN IN JEREMIAH 20:7-13
Jeremiah’s accusations of God in Jeremiah 20:7-13 are intense at best and blasphemous at worst. How is it that Jeremiah, a mere man, could accuse God as he does? Are these the rants of someone with no regard for the Holiness of God or the legitimate qualms of a rational and emotional child of God? While Jeremiah’s statements are bold, his words are not the only place where God is affronted in this way. In fact, when looking at Jeremiah 20:7-13 in light of similar Biblical texts, it becomes easier to see Jeremiah’s words as a radical honesty that seems to draw him closer to God.
At the start of this passage, Jeremiah declares, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you overpowered me, and you have prevailed” (v. 7a). Such strong language leaves the reader wondering, “What has the Lord done that would deserve such strong accusation?” Fortunately Jeremiah tells us what he takes issue with. “I have become a laughingstock all day long,” he says, “everyone mocks me” (v. 7b). It seems a bit odd that Jeremiah would accuse God for enticing and overpowering him because of the response of others. That is until the readers proceeds to the next verse. Jeremiah boldly declares, “the word of the Lord has become a reproach for me/ a reproach and derision all day long” (v. 8b). Indeed, he claims, “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’” (v. 8a). At this point the reader has a good idea why Jeremiah is accusing the Lord so vehemently! It is God that has put these words in his mouth and if he decides not to speak the words God gives him, he says “there is something like a burning fire shut up in [his] bones” (v. 9b). These feelings are so intense it seems as though Jeremiah has no choice but to speak! If he does not, he becomes “weary with holding it in” (v. 9b) and claims that he cannot hold it in (v. 9b). In light of this it seems that Jeremiah’s accusations are legitimate!
In Psalm 35:17-28 a similar scene plays out between the Psalmist, who is supposedly David, and God. While there seems to be more details included regarding the Psalmist’s “treacherous enemies” (v. 19a), the passage with the statement, “How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (v. 17a). How long will you sit up there on your pearly white throne, God, while I am dying down here?!? What is the Lord lax in responding to? The Psalmist practically begs God to “Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions!” (v. 17b) thus revealing his predicament. The Psalmist continues on saying, “You have seen, O Lord; do not be silent!” (v. 22a) and then as if that was not bold enough, he proceeds to tell God, “Wake up!” (v. 23b). Another great example of accusations of God is found in Job 23 where Jobs says, “Oh, that I knew where I might find [God], that I might come to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments” (v. 3). It seems that Job is essentially saying, “Boy, would I give God a piece of my mind!” After all, God did hand Job over to Satan to be tested just short of death (Job 1:12, 2:6).
So Jeremiah is in good company when he accuses God. Indeed, both David and Job are considered men of faith in the eyes of God (cf. Hebrews 11:32-34, Job 1:8). So while it is irreverent to accuse God as Jeremiah does, this radical honesty leads to a better understanding of God’s provision. After making his bold accusations against the Lord, Jeremiah begins to see God’s goodness in his situation. He says, “The Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble” (v. 11a). Now the persecutor is no longer God, but his “close friends [who] are watching for [him] to stumble” (v. 10b). Next Jeremiah says, “O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind” (v. 12). This is a more positive view of God’s work than the enticement and overpowering of verse 7. And to cap it off, Jeremiah declares, “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of the evildoers” (v. 13) which surely indicates a change of heart and a certain level of closeness with God. Similarly, the Psalmist ends Psalm 35 with a declaration that “[his] tongue shall tell of [God’s] praise all day long” (v. 28). Likewise, while the narrative takes longer to describe Job’s journey, he says, “God understands the way to [wisdom], and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens” (Job 28:23-24). Thus Jeremiah’s radical honesty eventually leads him to a place of contentment where he is closer to God.
If the only Biblical text that remained was Jeremiah 20:7-13, it would be hard indeed to view God in a positive way. However this lament, as well as the many others in various Biblical texts, plays a distinct role in Jeremiah’s life of faith. This glimpse of Jeremiah’s inner struggles help present day Christians see that honesty is part of being faithful. While the human condition contributes to many feelings of anger, it seems as though Jeremiah’s lament shows the reader that God can handle that too. In the end, God walks through the angry times as well as times of contentment. God truly is with his children through thick and thin!
Davis, Ellen F. Getting Involved with God. New York: Cowley Publications, 2001.
“Holy Bible.” In The Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV), edited by Harold W. Attridge. New York: Haper One, 2006.
Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible. New York: Free Press, 2007.