For the week of July 11, 2009 / 19 Tammuz 5769
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 25:10 - 30:1
Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1 - 2:3
But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. (Jeremiah 1:17; ESV)
Jeremiah was called by God to speak messages that were most unpopular in his day. A terrible time in the history of the Jewish people, Jerusalem was on the verge of being destroyed and the people about to be exiled far away to Babylon. Calling the people back to God was something one would expect from a true prophet, but to tell them to submit to the conquest of the Babylonians is something else all together. It doesn't surprise me that the political leaders considered this message treasonous.
Jeremiah must have expected that being entrusted with such a message would put him in a most precarious situation with his people. Moreover, God himself told him that the people would "fight against him" (1:19; ESV). God's promise that they would not prevail against him must have helped, but it would not have necessarily made his job easy.
Regardless of how Jeremiah would have perceived what he was facing, God called him to a high level of confidence. That he was not naturally confident is evident by his initial response to God's call when he said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth" (1:6; ESV). In spite of Jeremiah's hesitancy, God insisted he conduct himself confidently. In fact unless Jeremiah resisted the temptation to be intimidated by the people, he would be undone by fear. In the way God put it to Jeremiah, he was not to be dismayed by the people; otherwise, God would cause him to be dismayed by them.
This is not the same as saying to someone, "Don't be scared, lest you be scared," which would sound so obvious to the point that it would hardly be necessary to say. Saying, "Don't be scared" would be enough. But there is more to this than that. God told Jeremiah that if he feared the people, God himself would cause him to fear them. Jeremiah's fear would not be due to the absence of confidence, but due to God's undermining any remaining confidence and security he may have had.
Perhaps God's dealing with Jeremiah in this way was due to his promises to him: "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you" (1:8; ESV); "I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant" (1:10; ESV); "I am watching over my word to perform it" (1:12; ESV). The God who called Jeremiah to deliver the difficult message also committed himself to stand with him through it all. Therefore for Jeremiah not to conduct himself with confidence was to disbelieve God - the foundational wrong that led his people into the tragic situation before them.
If you are familiar with the rest of the story of Jeremiah, you would know that his confidence to faithfully deliver the messages given him didn't keep him from the expected difficulties. The leaders and people were violently against him. He suffered much at their hands. Yet he continued in confidence, never wavering from his God-given calling.
What we see in the life of Jeremiah is that God gives us no neutral ground. It is not as if our choosing to disregard his word allows us to live disconnected from him as if we are free to do our own thing, so to speak. Either we trust him and his promises, resting in the confidence of his being with us in and through everything or we disbelieve him, resulting in his undermining our lives. To not trust God doesn't cast him away, as if we can be free of his presence and influence. Turning our backs on him puts him at odds with us.
Jeremiah's call to confidence doesn't just differentiate believer from non-believer, but is also a warning to those who claim to believe in God. Those of us who say we know him yet refuse to take confidence in him should not be surprised at the intensity of our fear. It's not necessarily that we are weak in faith, but rather our refusal to trust him as we should may be what is resulting in God's causing us to unreasonably fear.
If this be the case, we should not despair. Jeremiah shows us that in spite of our natural inclination to fear, we can take confidence in God. And as we do, even though we must go through very troubling situations at times, God will prove faithful as he has promised.
E-mail this TorahBytes to someone? Click here
Subscribe? To have TorahBytes e-mailed to you weekly enter your e-mail address and press Subscribe