“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’”
— Jeremiah 1:11a (NRSV)
There is no question at all; Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet, much in the tradition of Moses and Jonah before him. He had not the confidence to speak on behalf of God, let alone desiring such a desolate and calamitous office as preaching an ‘offensive message’ against his own people.
Yet, like with so many of us, God would not give Jeremiah an out; the prophet was being called—commissioned, no less—to be God’s instrument of prophecy: to bring the compelling case of judgment against the kings of Judah, its princes, priests, and the people of the land (vv. 18-19).
Steps in the Commissioning
Jeremiah was called according to the most intimate knowledge the Lord had of him. God was telling Jeremiah that he was appointed a prophet before his birth, and indeed before Jeremiah himself had even reconciled that he would play such a role.
Jeremiah resists. He resists vocally, wanting to walk the other way.
But God quickly contends with the resistance, assuring Jeremiah that the words he must speak are to be God’s words; that the Lord, his God and the God of all, will be with him, to deliver him. Jeremiah is to preach a message of savage condemnation against the idolaters; against a chosen nation wrought in the unfaithfulness of their idolatry.
The Lord’s assurance is given when he touches the prophet’s mouth—putting his words there (verse 9). We could call this ‘the commissioning point’, for at that time a transaction of the Lord’s anointing took place. This divine appointment was now incontrovertible.
Then Jeremiah is asked, “What do you see?” The prophet reports what he sees, and the Lord, through divine revelation, shows Jeremiah the disaster that shall soon break out.
Fear, Then Obedience
Jeremiah experienced something we all experience when called by God to do divine work. Divine work is momentous and it makes every servant shrink for doubting—“am I good enough... will I fail... what if I fail God?”
These thoughts are normal. Who would not want the more comfortable life?
Being commissioned as a minister—as many of us are—is no doubt a privilege; one with the huge weight of responsibility to do the Lord’s bidding, and maintain a clean existence. We will be asked, like Jeremiah was, to do some impossible work. We ought to remember, however, that anything impossible is possible with, and through faith in, God.
The only way to effectively respond in the midst of great and tremulous fear is to turn back to God in faith. Those who stand in God’s favour will not be forsaken. No matter what occurs, God is with us.
Jeremiah resisted, but then complied with God, having been anointed. When we are called by God to undertake a life work we are blessed to obey. Who can resist God?
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.