Ever been surprised by a bit of news? Perhaps when you were in grammar school you can recall a time when you found out that people you thought liked you actually didn’t. That probably was not the first ‘for instance’ that came to your mind but if you’ve ever had that happen on any level you can sympathize with the much-more-severe-news that came across Jeremiah’s mental-desk. Granted, he knew full-well right from the beginning of his ministry that being God’s prophet wouldn’t make him many friends (Jer. 1:17); but he was nonetheless surprised that he ended up on people’s ‘hit lists.’ And this is news he wouldn’t have had unless God had provided it to him. He said: “Now the Lord gave me knowledge of it, and I know it; for You showed me their doings” (vs.18). So at this point we are not told what the Lord gave him knowledge of or what the Lord showed him, only that the Lord was the gracious revealer that Jeremiah was in dire need of without knowing it. We find out the dire-aspect of Jeremiah’s state in the following verse:
“But I was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised schemes against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name may be remembered no more’ (vs.19).
There’s surprise #1 (for Jeremiah and us readers): there was a conspiracy set against Jeremiah’s life and he was oblivious to it. He was like a docile lamb brought to the slaughter (vs.19a). Many a commentator notes how the lamb that Jeremiah likened himself to (“a docile lamb”) is reminiscent of the ewe lamb from Nathan’s parable (2 Sam. 12:3). Not in the sense that Jeremiah reminds us of Bathsheba, but in the sense that such a docile lamb, treated like a family pet and so lovingly reared in the home of its owner would be completely oblivious (so to speak) that the time would come for it to be slaughtered. And that’s what these conspirators wanted to do. The vitriol against Jeremiah was very real. His adversaries wanted to destroy him and cut him off so that his name may be remembered no more. They wanted him gone (the tree) and they wanted his message to vanish from people’s minds (with its fruit).
What should Jeremiah have done? What was the best immediate course of action? Should the prophet take up arms? Should he have gathered a team of likeminded men like Uriah and Baruch (men we’ll be introduced to as we read on) for the prospect of battle against the formidable adversaries that rose against him? Should he have ‘dropped everything’ and ‘gotten out of dodge?’ Jeremiah did what our first instinct should be – he prayed.
But, O Lord of hosts, You who judge righteously, testing the mind and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, For to You I have revealed my cause (vs.20).
Now don’t rush too quickly to quote Luke 23:34 – “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” as though Jeremiah took a few steps backwards in his sanctification when he prayed this way. We would do well to remember that the spirits of just men made perfect are depicted in heaven as praying something very similar – “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10). Yes, Christians are to pray for their persecutors (Mt. 5:44) but they are also to give place to wrath – placing vengeance into the hands of God’s righteous discretion (Rom. 12:19), just like Jeremiah did (Jer. 11:20b).
With that being said, ready for surprise #2? It comes in the LORD’s response to Jeremiah:
21 “Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth who seek your life, saying, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, lest you die by our hand’— 22 therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; 23 and there shall be no remnant of them, for I will bring catastrophe on the men of Anathoth, even the year of their punishment.’”
The name Anathoth should ring-a-bell. If you say, ‘Ah yes that’s part of the land that the tribe of Benjamin committed to the Levites in Joshua 21:18’, I’m impressed, but you rewound too far back in the Bible. Rewind to the opening verse of Jeremiah – Anathoth was Jeremiah’s hometown (Jer. 1:1)! The people who were seeking to kill him were from his own village; they were people that Jeremiah grew up with. Little did Jeremiah know that the Son who would save Him would be able to sympathize with such circumstances (Lk. 4:28-29). Even if Jeremiah heard these threats before (Jer. 11:21) he was nonetheless oblivious to their scheming (vs.19b) – like a lamb to the slaughter (vs.19a). Only this lamb was promised rescue from the slaughter (vs.22-23; cf. Jer. 1:19); the Lamb of God, the aforementioned Son, was not (Isa. 53:7-8). Yes, He was saved from those in Nazareth who wanted to throw Him over a cliff but He wasn’t saved from drinking Calvary’s cup. God rescued His prophet and spared not His only Son… for the prophet and for us. To Him be glory now and forever.
Jeremiah 11:18-23, then, is a bit of biography that, when read through New Testament lenses, should lead to Christ-exalting doxology.