Was Jeremiah a man of great faith? No.
He was an ordinary guy. He doubted. He
complained. He was reluctant to do God’s will. He was no different from many of us, subject to human weakness. He was God’s news reporter, obediently, if reluctantly, creating a record and preserving it for future generations. I don’t see a lot of time capsules—or clay pots—in our African American experience. What I see are young people being ignored or marginalized, leaving the church in huge waves. What I see are black parents asleep at the switch, allowing popular urban black culture to infest our youth with corrupt values and a glorification of under-achievement. Who are we inspiring? What are we preserving?
I've never met a prophet I didn't want to back over with my car
in the parking lot. People running around calling themselves
“prophet” or, even more egregiously, “prophetess,” invite my
skepticism. Mainly because biblical prophets never called
themselves “prophet.” They called themselves “Isaiah.” Or
“Daniel” or “Bob.” We, in the African American church, are
obsessed with titles. With offices. With Who’s In Charge Of
What. “Apostle Dr.,” “Bishop.” I’ve known of several guys
calling themselves “Prophet Smith” or “Prophet Johnson” who were
tin-plated phonies. I’ve not known one of these self-styled
“prophets” who wasn’t blinging. Who wasn’t gregarious in both
appearance and conduct. Gold teeth. Pocket watch. Loud suits.
Prophet Leroy. Respected, admired and even feared wherever they
went. People would get excited. Prophet Leroy’s comin’! Prophet
Leroy’s comin!! I’ve met precious few men or women running
around calling themselves “prophet” that I didn’t want to back
over with my car in the parking lot.
In the bible, false prophets could be routinely described that way. Blinging. Popular. Prosperous. God’s true prophets, more often than not, were considered to be kooks. Were shunned. They were usually broke. They were, in fact, usually mocked. They were feared the way you fear a voodoo priest or a native American Shaman. People understood these men had some power, some sway, with the God of Israel. But true prophecy does not work like Show Biz Prophecy. Show Biz Prophecy puts on a display and dazzles the eyes. True prophecy, from a true God, often makes itself manifest in ways we cannot immediately see or understand. Which brings me to Jeremiah.
Jeremiah is the second largest book in the bible, behind Psalms. It is also the only book in the Old Testament that speaks about its own origin. The Prophet Jeremiah, called into—dragged into—the ministry around age twenty, dictated the book to his scribe, Baruch, but King Jehoiakim burned the scroll piece by piece. Jeremiah therefore dictated a second and enlarged version of the book to Baruch.
Jeremiah was not the best example of a Godly servant in the bible. Drafted into God’s service as a young man, he’d seen the drama prophets went through. Prophets were not terribly popular because, well, they prophesied. People, especially important people or self-important people like kings, didn’t like hearing bad news. Prophets were feared and loathed. Oddly enough, it was a kind of respect. A fear of God most people would take out on the prophet, the ultimate realization of "shooting the messenger."
Jeremiah was perhaps less interested in being a prophet than Jonah was in going to Nineveh. Jonah, as you were taught in Sunday school, got on a different boat and ended up falling overboard and being swallowed by a whale. Jeremiah did not rebel, but his relationship with God was streaked with quarrels, reproaches and outbursts. He told God he wished he were dead (20:14-18). He accused God of being unreliable (15:18). Jeremiah feared death and wearied of the ridicule he suffered by being God’s prophet. He hated standing alone against the crowd. He whined and complained and obeyed God reluctantly. He seemed insecure and unhappy. To emphasize the yoke of captivity the Babylonians would soon place on Judah, Jeremiah wore an ox yoke everywhere he went until the false prophet Hananiah took it off and broke it in the temple. Jeremiah prophesied Hananiah’s death, and two months later, Hananiah was gone. Jeremiah invited a well-known group of nondrinkers into the temple and offered them wine. When they refused, Jeremiah preached to them: if they could remember their vow not to drink, why couldn’t they remember the words of the Living God? Jeremiah complained a lot. He felt sorry for himself. He questioned God’s integrity. But, reluctantly, he got the job done.