The Most Human Prophet

If you feel like the prophets are hard to relate to, then it’s time to take a look at the prophet Jeremiah, who one commentary calls, “the most ‘human’ of all the prophets” (Huey, F. B. Jeremiah, Lamentations. Vol. 16. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993, p. 23. The New American Commentary). Jeremiah fluctuates with emotion. He can be quite depressed one moment and then quite happy the next. Take the following passage for example.

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? (Jer 20:7-18)

While it’s possible that all of these verses weren’t written at one time, Jeremiah almost appears bipolar in this passage. One moment he’s ranting about how hard it is to be a prophet and how everybody hates him and then the next he’s raving about God’s great power against his enemies. Like many of the Psalms, he calls down God’s vengeance upon his accusers and then breaks into joyous praise to God.

Then just as suddenly, he drastically falls into a deep pit of depression. He begins to speak against his very parents and his own birth, claiming it would have been better if his mother’s womb had been his grave. He seems to hold none of his feelings back and in doing so, we all begin to feel depressed.

Jeremiah cries out in his loneliness, for he feels even his close friends want to denounce him (Jer 20:10). He has no wife to go home to for God told him not to get married and have children (Jer 16:1-2). Many celibate people know the loneliness and pain that celibacy can bring, but given Jeremiah’s culture, he may have experienced it even more severely. As one commentary points out:

The price paid for being a prophet is nowhere else expressed more painfully than by God’s command to Jeremiah not to marry…. This command would have caused Jeremiah inner turmoil. The OT teaches that God ordained marriage (Gen 1:28; 2:24; Deut 7:14) and that sons and daughters were a blessing (Pss 113:9; 127:3–4). Barrenness was considered to be a curse on a woman (Gen 16:2; 20:18; 1 Sam 1:5), and children were essential in order to keep inherited land in the family and to preserve the family name from extinction (Ruth 4:5). A man was expected to marry and usually did by the time he was eighteen or twenty. Marriage at fourteen or fifteen was not uncommon. The Talmud pronounces a curse on a young man who was not married by age twenty. Celibacy was the exception in NT [New Testament] times as well (1 Cor 7:26). (Huey, F. B. Jeremiah, Lamentations. Vol. 16. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993, p. 166. The New American Commentary.)

And so now the prophets become not only relatable to the majority, but also the minority. Those who feel they must pursue a life of celibacy for spiritual reasons or have simply struggled to find a spouse now have a prophet they can relate to. Jeremiah may seem irregular to some, but to others he is a saint that they need in their lives as someone to look up to.

Want to continue the conversation? Take the long journey with my book/audiobook, The Rush and the Restor take a shorter path with my condensed version, Fantasy IRL.

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