The people take these words and actions seriously because they understand something about the power of words and actions. In other words, Jeremiah isn’t just acting out another object lesson for the people; this is God’s declaration that the time has truly come for judgment to begin. God’s words, when spoken by His prophet, create this new reality. When the clay cannot be reworked, more drastic measures are taken. Judah will now be broken.
20 When the priest Pashhur (son of Immer, chief officer of the temple guard) heard what Jeremiah was prophesying, he had the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the upper Benjamin gate near the temple, a place where everyone in the city could see this painful and embarrassing spectacle. The next morning, Pashhur released him from the stocks, hoping Jeremiah had learned his lesson. Instead, this is what he heard from the prophet:
Jeremiah: The Eternal no longer knows you by the name Pashhur. He has renamed you Magor-missabib, which means “terror on every side.” And these are the words the Eternal has spoken of you: “Certainly I am going to make you a symbol of terror—to yourself and to all your loved ones. You will see those close to you die in battle against the enemy. I will give all of Judah over to the king of Babylon, who will make them either casualties of war or prisoners of war. I will also give the wealth of Jerusalem over as plunder to this enemy. The resources and treasures of this city and Judah’s kings will be taken and carted off to Babylon. And you Pashhur, along with your entire household, will be taken to Babylon and become exiles. You and your friends who have heard your lies will never see home again; you will all die in exile in Babylon and be buried there.”
O Eternal, You deceived me into being Your prophet,
and I went along and allowed it to happen!
Your strength is too much for me,
and so You win; I speak Your words.
Just look at what I have become: a laughingstock;
all day long people mock me.
The only words coming out of my mouth
are loud cries of “Violence and destruction!”
It is the Eternal’s words—Your words—
that bring me insults and jokes all day long.
But when I tell myself, I’ll never mention Your name
or speak for You again, it’s no use.
The word of God burns in my heart; it is like fire in my bones.
I try to hold it all in, but I cannot.
I hear the crowds whispering behind my back and mocking my prophecies:
“‘Terror is everywhere we turn,’ he says. Let’s report him for breaking some law.”
Even my trusted friends are waiting for me to make a mistake:
“Maybe he will be deceived,
and then we’ll win, take control, and have our revenge on him.”
But I am not alone. The Eternal is here with me.
He stands beside me, as a dreaded warrior.
That is why my tormentors will fail so miserably. They cannot win.
Their humiliation and permanent dishonor will be remembered for all time.
Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, You test the righteous;
You see my deepest thoughts; You know my heart.
Let me see Your vengeance exacted against these people.
for I am trusting my cause, my future to You.
Sing to the Eternal God!
Praise the Eternal now for what He will soon do.
For a troubled soul is snatched from the hands of the wicked.
Cursed be the day I was born—
cursed, not blessed is the day my mother gave birth to me.
Cursed be the man who told my overjoyed father,
“You have a son.”
May he be as cursed as the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah,
which the Eternal decimated without a care.
Let him hear cries for help in the morning.
Let him recoil at the shouts of war at noon,
For he did not kill me before I was born
so my mother’s womb would become my grave—
my mother’s womb forever enlarged.
Why was I ever born? To watch such tragedy?
To feel such sorrow? To live my days in utter shame?
How wild and raw are the emotions of Jeremiah in these days of anticipation! The pain and embarrassment of being publicly punished, the betrayal of his friends, and the ridicule of so many lead to an honest longing for vindication. But there are moments when God’s sustaining love fills the prophet with joy. His are not the rants of a madman. He expects to be vindicated. God has called him to speak truth to powerful people, and those words are becoming reality. To this promise, Jeremiah clings.
But as emotions often do, this sense of resolve again evaporates, leaving the painful awareness of his calling. He must continue to speak hard and frightening words to a people he still loves. He will soon witness the destruction of a country and city he still loves. At times, his task is almost unbearable; but as always, Jeremiah remains honest in his dealings with God who calls him into this role. Sometimes, pouring his heart out is all he can do.
21 It was during this ironic turn of events that the word of the Eternal came again to the prophet, Jeremiah. King Zedekiah sent Pashhur (not the son of Immer mentioned previously, but the son of Malchijah) and the priest Zephaniah (son of Maaseiah) to speak with Jeremiah.
How time changes things! Jeremiah, the rejected prophet, is now being petitioned by those in power. The same man who has been arrested and abused for prophesying God’s judgment is sent a request from the king himself because the words of Jeremiah are indeed coming true before the people’s eyes. Jerusalem now faces certain siege by the Babylonian king. Out of desperation, the same leaders who tried to silence the prophet are now asking him to speak up for them—to God!
King’s Messengers: Please speak to the Eternal on our behalf. We desperately need your help because Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, is attacking Judah and is about to lay siege to Jerusalem. Perhaps the Eternal will respond to you, perform a miracle, and cause this dreaded king to withdraw his forces and leave us alone.
Jeremiah: Tell King Zedekiah that this is what the Eternal, the God of Israel, has to say: “I will indeed rise up and turn back the weapons of war you hold in your hands, the very weapons you plan to use against the approaching enemy—the king of Babylon and his army from Chaldea that now surrounds your city walls. I will bring that enemy inside your walls, into the city itself. With My strong hand and powerful arm I will rise up and fight against you, fueled by My great wrath, anger, and fury. Do you think I will fight beside you? You misunderstand. I will strike those who live in this city with a plague: both man and beast will die. After that,” says the Eternal, “I will hand over King Zedekiah of Judah, his advisors, and the citizens of Jerusalem who survive the plague, the war, and the famine to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, their enemy, and those who seek their lives. In that dreadful day, he will slaughter them without mercy. He will neither pity nor have compassion for them.
Eternal One (to Jeremiah): Tell the people that I said, “I will give you the choice of life or death. Stay in the city, and you will die by war, famine, or plague. But walk outside the city walls and surrender to the Chaldean army about to lay siege to your city, and you will live. You will be prisoners of war, but you’ll be rewarded with life. For I have turned My back on this city, purposing evil instead of good. The city will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will burn it to the ground.”
To the royal household of Judah say, “Hear the word of the Eternal. O house of David, this is what He has to say to you:
Administer justice each morning;
save the victim from the hand of the thief.
If you do not, My anger will burn and no one will be able to put it out
because they themselves have done evil.
I am against you, Jerusalem, enthroned high above the valley,
O rock of the plain,
You who boast, “Who will come down to fight against us,
and who will enter our homes?”
I will visit you, Jerusalem, and punish you for your wicked deeds.
I will start a fire in your forests that will surround you and consume everything.
So says the Eternal.