Jeremiah was foreordained for the tough prophetic job he was called to do. The Lord said, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). We often point to those verses as a reminder that the Bible does refer to a pre-mortal existence, but something else strikes us additionally here.
It is as if the Lord said, “Jeremiah, I am going to send you one of the toughest, most heart-rending missions that a prophet can have, preaching to a society who have obstinately doomed themselves, and who will never listen to you, but I have chosen you, because I know you. My eye has been upon you. I’ve seen you from the beginning and I trust you for this mighty, unpopular and sometimes agonizing calling.
Hello, we’re Scot and Maurine Proctor and welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast, where today we study the uncomfortable but oh so necessary warnings of Jeremiah, as found in chapters 1-3, 7, 18-20 and 26. Though these warnings come from an ancient time, they are fresh and relevant to us as our own society lurches away from God and His teachings.
Before we launch into our discussion, we are so pleased to tell you about a new book out from Meridian Press. Written by Duane Boyce and Kimberly White, it is called The Last Safe Place, Seven Principles for Standing with the Prophets in Troubled Times. When we read this manuscript, we had to publish the book. We could see how important it was.
As we launch into the tumultuous winding up scenes, we see among us an increasing challenge to the word of the Lord’s prophets. It may be family members or friends you love who are resisting. You may have some questions about why the words of the prophets are the Last Safe Place for yourself. This book is an impressive work to keep us grounded as we wrestle with the world. Don’t miss this great work that is both refreshing and essential. It is available at Amazon.
We have a word in the English language that is based upon Jeremiah’s calling. It is jeremiad. A jeremiad is a long, mournful complaint or lamentation, a list of woes, a warning. To see why the Lord chose Jeremiah for this prophetic calling, to give a warning, it is vital to know something about the context and the times.
First, remember that we are talking about a covenant people who have received among their blessings protection in their promised land, as long as they are true to the covenant. Thus, if a nation of covenant people is about to fall because of their own folly, God is duty bound through his unbroken promises to send prophets to warn the people. You can have a chance to avert this calamity and God will stand by you in the roughest times, if you repent and return to your covenants. This is Jeremiah’s calling—to warn.
If you remember, because of their wickedness, the Northern Kingdom, called Israel, had fallen to the Assyrians in 721 BC . Jerusalem, in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, did not fall, at that time, because Hezekiah had put in place great religious reforms that turned the people back to God. However, once he died, apostasy grew right back with a vengeance, supported by their rulers. People turned again to the groves and fertility rites common to the Baal religions. Asherah was a fertility goddess represented by a tree, a devilish parody on the tree of life.
People again streamed back to Molech where infants were passed through the fire on an idol. The leaders approved these abominations. Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, was only twelve-years-old when he became king, undoubtedly controlled by political factions that had just been waiting to emerge from Hezekiah’s reforms. The prophets were warning the people that the city would be wiped clean and desolate if they didn’t repent. Unfazed, tradition says that Manasseh killed the mighty prophet Isaiah. Believers were purged, sacrifices made to dumb idols, the temple grounds and shrines became corrupted.
If possible, Manasseh’s son, Amon, was worse than his father. He aroused enough enmity that he was assassinated, but then his son Josiah was born and like his great-grand father, Hezekiah, he was righteous. He removed official worship of gods other than Jehovah. He destroyed altars to Baal. He made repairs to the temple, during which a book of the law, some version of Deuteronomy, was found and in reading, the king and priests learned the covenant curses that would follow spiritual rebellion and apostasy. Because his heart was tender, and he did humble himself before the Lord, under Josiah, who reigned in Judah for 31 years from 640-609, the people began to rally again toward spirituality again, but the weeds of apostasy finally choked out the generations that followed.
After Josiah died, his son Jehoahaz reigned for three months and then was deposed by Necco of Egypt and imprisoned. Necco chose another brother Jehoakim,who would act as a puppet for 11 years, and then Jehoiachin ruled for 3 months and 10 days. Now this sounds pretty messy, and difficult to remember, but we note all these kings and the corruption, idol-worship, and blood-spilling of the time for a purpose. The next king is Zedekiah, and that should sound familiar to all of us who have read 1 Nephi more often than any other book. Now we see more clearly the world where the Book of Mormon begins. It has not just gone mildly astray. It is profoundly wicked and ruled by puppet kings.
The covenant people of Judah have trampled their covenants, forgotten who they are, and worst of all forgotten God. This is what Jeremiah preaches to the people: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:11-13). This means that instead of having water from a living spring that continually flows and will never give out, the people have made cisterns to hold water, and those are broken. They will thirst and it will be their own doing.
So, of course, the Lord sends prophets to the people—Habakkuk, Obadiah, Daniel, Ezekiel—and one we know so well—Lehi. Jeremiah, has been fervently telling the people to turn back from the cliff since the days of Josiah, and is still preaching while Zedekiah reigns.
The Book of Mormon says, “There came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed (1 Nephi 1:4) We know from Amos 3:7, that the Lord would do nothing without first revealing it to his prophets.
So God sent many prophets, but people don’t like to hear that they are wicked. They don’t believe it. The status quo weighs heavily upon us as mortals. We look side to side, from one person to the next, to decide what to do and how to be. “Hey, let’s all go hang out at the grove.” We are infuriated if someone suggests an idea or practice is evil, empty or corrupting. We don’t want anyone—even a prophet—to make us feel bad or suggest our ideas are wrong. It makes us mad, brews anger and hatred, rallies us to destroy what we don’t like.
So Jeremiah, who is sometimes called the prophet of doom, endured being beaten, imprisoned in a pit, exiled to Egypt. He was alone in so many ways. The Lord commanded Jeremiah not to marry or raise children because of the disaster that were coming—the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylon captivity.
Indeed the Lord knew Jeremiah before he formed him in the belly—and he knew he had the strength to take it on unflinchingly. Jeremiah speaks much about his own struggles, his feeling of inadequacy, his anguish of spirit, his enemies and frequently petitions the Lord to redress wrongs.
Let me just take an aside for a moment to describe what it would be to be imprisoned in a pit. We see a pit in the remains of Caiaphas palace every year when we go to Israel. It is a pit, perhaps made of stone, with only one opening in the top, so the prisoner sits in darkness. The officers who cast people into pits may throw food or water into them occasionally, but there is no guarantee. The pit is never cleaned so the floor is full of the prisoner’s excrement and of those who went before him. It is no small thing to be thrown into a pit.
Andrew C. Skinner and D. Kelly Ogden in their book Verse by Verse, The Old Testament, tell the story of a fictional scene about Jeremiah as envisioned by a colleague of theirs. In this scene, “Jeremiah and his contemporaries were called into the stake president’s office. The stake president turned to Daniel and said, ‘I would like to call you to go into Babylon. You will live under the protection of the king, you will receive a fine education, and you will become a respected leader in Babylon for decades.’
“Turning to Lehi, the stake president said, ‘I would like to call you to escape the destruction of Jerusalem. Along with your family you will be sustained and blessed in the wilderness, you will be led to a promised land, and you will help to fulfill the birthright promises given to Joseph.’
Turning to Jeremiah, the stake president said, “I would like to call you to stay in Judah during the Babylonian attacks. You will be beaten, put in prison, held up in front of the people in ridicule, and be expected to preach to a wicked and unresponsive people.’
“No prophetic call is easy, but Jeremiah must have been extraordinary to take on such a challenging assignment.”
In fact, in what he did and what he endured, he was a type of Christ. He was foreordained and prepared from the foundation of the world. He ran into the same kind of opposition and threats on his life that Christ did—all from members of the House of Israel. (Why is it that a house can turn upon itself? We see the same thing today. The worst persecutors who almost take it as a life’s work to bring people out of the church were once members of the Church themselves.)
Nephi tells us this same thing. He said, “And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying, Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11:35).
Jeremiah said that he knew he would encounter trouble because the Lord had revealed to him the evil intents and doings of the House of Israel. “But,” he said, “I was like a lamb…that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
Of course, that idea of being led like a lamb to the slaughter immediately leads our minds to Jesus Christ and also Joseph Smith, who said this on the way to Carthage.
We cannot leave this glimpse of Jeremiah being prepared for his calling, without thinking about our own foreordination or preparation for our callings on earth. We understand that the Lord called each of us to a work on this earth. His covenant children who had proven themselves steady and firm, particularly knew they were called to share the covenant.
I can imagine that the Lord said to each of us that we would be planted in a tumultuous time where we may be persecuted for the Lord’s sake. And we said, “I will.” I can imagine that he called us some of us to be parents of children whose choices would break our hearts, yet God asked us to be steady. And we said, “I will.” Some of us were asked to live back-breaking lives of patience as we tend someone chronically ill. And we said, “I will.” Some of us are asked to shoulder a chronic illness ourselves, and we said, “I will.” Some of us were called to lead, when all we wanted was to rest, and we said, “I will.”
It may sound nice to be called to the watch tv or eat dessert mission, but the Lord gave us something much richer. A calling with purpose and hope and love. If you aren’t sure what you came to do, plead with the Lord that you may be gradually shown.
When Jeremiah was called, his inadequacy for the job at first flooded over him. He said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak for I am a child.” (Jeremiah 1: 6). Moses, Enoch, and Isaiah had the same response to their callings.
Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharoah, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? “(Exodus 3: 11)
Enoch said, “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech, wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31).
When Isaiah was called, he said, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
These mighty prophets who were given very difficult and complex missions, all responded with humility and nearly overwhelm, but in each case the Lord assured them that he would be with them. To Jeremiah he said, “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9). “And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee, saith the Lord to deliver thee” (Jeremiah 1:19).
So it also is for us for the callings the Lord gives us in our daily walk. We do not have to face them with our own strength, our feeble understanding, or our powerlessness. He makes it clear that what He asks of us can only be done with His help. We may fall helpless before the challenges before us, but He won’t, and He is our partner. What an enormous covenant privilege.
The Lord pleads with the people, and he does so, not because He needs their attention, but they need His. Their idols will break them and leave them desolate. Only Jehovah can give them what they need—salvation and abundance.
The book of Jeremiah is a compilation of many talks that Jeremiah gave to this erring, but covenant people. In Jeremiah 2 we read,
“Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?
“Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up through the wilderness, through a land of deserts, and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt?
“And I brought you into a plentiful country, to eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof; but when ye entered, ye defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:5-7)
“I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21).
The Lord is saying, “I’ve done everything for you and you respond with ingratitude and deceit.” The Babylonians will take them, and though many prophets are there warning the people, they will not repent.
God’s warnings to them are a complete expression of love, just as you might yell at your child who was about to walk in front of a semi. You’d scream “Stop,” so they could hear you.
This covenant that we make with God is bound with a special kind of love. President Russell M. Nelson talked about it, “Once we make a covenant with God, we leave neutral ground forever. God will not abandon His relationship with those who have forged such a bond with Him. In fact, all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy. In the Hebrew language, that covenantal love is called hesed (חֶסֶד).
“Hesed has no adequate English equivalent. Translators of the King James Version of the Bible must have struggled with how to render hesed in English. They often chose ‘lovingkindness.’ This captures much but not all the meaning of hesed. Other translations were also rendered, such as ‘mercy’ and ‘goodness.’ Hesed is a unique term describing a covenant relationship in which both parties are bound to be loyal and faithful to each other.
“Hesed is a special kind of love and mercy that God feels for and extends to those who have made a covenant with Him. And we reciprocate with hesed for Him.”
President Nelson continues, “Because God has hesed for those who have covenanted with Him, He will love them. He will continue to work with them and offer them opportunities to change. He will forgive them when they repent. And should they stray, He will help them find their way back to Him.
“Once you and I have made a covenant with God, our relationship with Him becomes much closer than before our covenant. Now we are bound together. Because of our covenant with God, He will never tire in His efforts to help us, and we will never exhaust His merciful patience with us. Each of us has a special place in God’s heart. He has high hopes for us.” (President Russell M. Nelson, The Everlasting Covenant, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2022/10/04-the-everlasting-covenant?lang=eng)
The Lord tells Judah, “Amend your ways and your doings and I will cause you to dwell in this place” (Jeremiah 7:3) The Lord called them and they answered not. This reminds us of Amulek’s story in the Book of Mormon. Before he starts to preach he acknowledges that “I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.
“Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear” (Alma 10: 5,6)
I would not hear. Do we experience the same thing? The Lord reaches to us, talks to us, and we don’t hear? But why wouldn’t we hear? Is it distractions? Most of us have wall-to-wall noise in our lives. If we have a second to spare, we jump on to our cell phones. Is it that we think we are sufficient and don’t really see a need for God in our lives? One young man told us, “Why do I need church? I am self-sufficient and everything is going well. Why should I be bothered?
Do we just not want to hear because we want to walk in our own way, after the manner of our own inclinations? Everything about our world teaches us that self and self-expression are our morality. We frankly may not want a standard of behavior, that asks something more of us. Probably it is a mixture of all this and more.
Yet it is a poignant thought that God talks to us, and we won’t listen, that He calls to us and we won’t turn. We had a friend who had a significant experience with the Spirit where she was told that she controlled the distance between herself and God. It wasn’t the other way around.
In Jeremiah’s time, since Judah rejects the Lord, they will be scattered. In large part, this is because in idol-worship, they have become carnal and crass and lost the power to act in clarity and courage. But mostly they will be scattered because the power of the Lord is no longer upon them or in them. Notice, however, that the Lord doesn’t stop in his warnings.
President Nelson says, “Because of our covenant with God, He will never tire in His efforts to help us, and we will never exhaust His merciful patience with us”, Jeremiah’s preaching exemplifies this. Yes, they will be scattered, but because He remembers his covenant to a thousand generations (which means forever), they will be gathered again, for, the Lord says, “I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion…At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart….Thou shalt call me, My father; and shalt not turn away from me” (Jeremiah 3:14, 17 and 19).
Therein lies our mission in the latter days. We have been called to gather Zion on both sides of the veil, and no matter what ever other good thing we are doing, this is most important. We came from the pre-mortal world with this calling emblazoned in our soul.
Jeremiah tells us about the wickedness in Judah. The temple has become a den of robbers. They are idolatrous and wicked in every way, so wicked, in fact, that the Lord tells Jeremiah to cease praying for them. Yet, in the midst of this darkness, the people deny it. They are blind to their own wickedness. They say, “How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim?” (Jeremiah 2:23). They say, “There is no hope; but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart” (Jeremiah 18:12)
They do not entirely see that they have sinned. They do not recognize evil when it is upon them and therefore they do nothing about it. When a prophet points it out, they just hate him for his message. It is a fatal kind of blindness.
The idea that those of Jerusalem were blind to their wickedness is reinforced by a moment in the Book of Mormon. Remember Laman and Lemuel have emerged from this same milieu, this same time period, and once when they complain in the wilderness, they say this, “Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.
“And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses, wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people” (1 Nephi 17: 21,22).
Really Laman and Lemuel? Jerusalem was righteous? The statutes and judgments of the Lord were kept? Are you blind to see what was happening in Jerusalem?
We live in a time, when people have dismissed the idea of evil altogether, and if you cannot discern it, you can easily dismiss it. You may even become an unwitting participant as you follow those around who seem so sophisticated. Since we seek to follow Christ, we seek to love others, but it is also important to see that sometimes people have pernicious ideas. Evil ideas float around us that corrupt God’s children and our civilization. If we don’t see them for what they are, we can’t stop them.
Is it evil to celebrate and condone when protesters set fire to someone’s business or loot stores?
Is it evil to twist Bible verses as a foundation to support abortion?
Is it evil to abort a baby, who lives, and then just let them die?
Is it evil to label and name call anyone who doesn’t agree with you?
Is it evil to steal another’s agency?
Is it evil to lie and deceive to support your point of view?
Is it evil to belittle God and seek to quash religious freedom?
Just like Laman and Lemuel, we may not see that evil ideas lurk around us and protect ourselves from having them capture our heart.
So we live in a time when we must be peacemakers and we must stand for light. That is not an easy thing to ask, but it is our calling and our times. Especially, must we stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ, even if people around us become hostile.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland talked about the cost—and blessings—of discipleship—something that Jeremiah knew well. He said:
“You do not know what your discipleship could cost you in the future. A sister missionary recently wrote to me: ‘My companion and I saw a man sitting on a bench in the town square eating his lunch. As we drew near, he looked up and saw our missionary name tags. With a terrible look in his eye, he jumped up and raised his hand to hit me. I ducked just in time, only to have him spit his food all over me and start swearing the most horrible things at us. We walked away saying nothing. I tried to wipe the food off of my face, only to feel a clump of mashed potato hit me in the back of the head. Sometimes it is hard being a missionary because right then I wanted to go back, grab that little man, and say, “EXCUSE ME!” But I didn’t.”
“To this devoted missionary I say, dear child, you have in your own humble way stepped into a circle of very distinguished women and men who have, as the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob said, ‘view[ed Christ’s] death, and suffer[ed] his cross and [borne] the shame of the world.’
Elder Holland continues, “Indeed, of Jesus Himself, Jacob’s brother Nephi wrote: ‘And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.’
“In keeping with the Savior’s own experience, there has been a long history of rejection and a painfully high price paid by prophets and apostles, missionaries and members in every generation—all those who have tried to honor God’s call to lift the human family to ‘a more excellent way.’
“’And what shall I more say [of them]?’ the writer of the book of Hebrews asks.
“’[They] who … stopped the mouths of lions,
“’Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, … waxed valiant in fight, turned [armies] to flight …
“’[Saw] their dead raised to life [while] others were tortured, …
“’And … had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, … of bonds and imprisonment:
“’They were stoned, … were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: … wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, [and] tormented;
“’([They] of whom the world was not worthy:) … wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”4
Surely the angels of heaven wept as they recorded this cost of discipleship in a world that is often hostile to the commandments of God. The Savior Himself shed His own tears over those who for hundreds of years had been rejected and slain in His service. And now He was being rejected and about to be slain.
“’O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,’ Jesus cried, ‘thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
“’Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Elder Holland continues, “And therein lies a message for every young man and young woman in this Church. You may wonder if it is worth it to take a courageous moral stand in high school or to go on a mission only to have your most cherished beliefs reviled or to strive against much in society that sometimes ridicules a life of religious devotion. Yes, it is worth it, because the alternative is to have our ‘houses’ left unto us ‘desolate’—desolate individuals, desolate families, desolate neighborhoods, and desolate nations.
“So here we have the burden of those called to bear the messianic message. In addition to teaching, encouraging, and cheering people on (that is the pleasant part of discipleship), from time to time these same messengers are called upon to worry, to warn, and sometimes just to weep (that is the painful part of discipleship). They know full well that the road leading to the promised land “flowing with milk and honey” of necessity runs by way of Mount Sinai, flowing with ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots.’
“Unfortunately, messengers of divinely mandated commandments are often no more popular today than they were anciently, as at least two spit-upon, potato-spattered sister missionaries can now attest. Hate is an ugly word, yet there are those today who would say with the corrupt Ahab, ‘I hate [the prophet Micaiah]; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always [prophesied] evil.”8 That kind of hate for a prophet’s honesty cost Abinadi his life. As he said to King Noah: “Because I have told you the truth ye are angry with me. … Because I have spoken the word of God ye have judged me that I am mad’ or, we might add, provincial, patriarchal, bigoted, unkind, narrow, outmoded, and elderly.
“It is as the Lord Himself lamented to the prophet Isaiah:
“’[These] children … will not hear the law of the Lord:
“’[They] say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
“’Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”
Elder Holland ends:
“Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.”
That’s all for today. This has been Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast with Scot and Maurine Proctor where we have been studying several chapters in Jeremiah and we will continue next week, also, in Jeremiah in a lesson called “I Will Turn their Mourning into Joy.” Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that accompanies this podcast and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins, our producer.