In some respects, Jeremiah is one of the greatest of the ancient prophets, for he had most sorrowful task to perform. He had not to deliver a message full of Evangelical comfort, like that of Isaiah; nor had he gorgeous visions of coming kingdoms, as Ezekiel had; but he was the Cassandra of ibis age. Jeremiah spoke the truth, yet few believed him; his life was spent in sighing over a wicked people who rejected and despised him. He bore a heavy burden upon his heart, and tears continually bedewed his Cheeks, so that he was rightly called “the weeping prophet.” This chapter gives us an illustration of the style in which he used to pray.
Jeremiah 14:1. The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah concerning the dearth.
There had been no rain, so the crops had failed, and there was a famine in the land. Jeremiah describes that famine in striking poetic imagery.
Jeremiah 14:2-6. Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up. And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they came to the pits, and found no water; they returned with their vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads. Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth, the ploughmen were ashamed, they covered their heads. Yea, the hind also calved in the field, and forsook it, because there was no grass. And the wild asses did stand in the high places, they snuffed up the wind like dragons; their eyes did fail, because there was no grass.
The distress in the land was so great that the city gates, where, in more prosperous times, business transactions took place, and meetings of the people were held, were deserted. There was nothing that could be done while the nation was in such sorrow, and a great cry of agony went up from the capital of the country: “The cry of Jerusalem is gone up.” The highest in the land sent their children to hunt even for a little water to drink; they went to the cisterns where some might have been expected to remain, but they found none: they returned with their vessels empty; they were as ashamed and confounded, and covered their heads.” The covering of the head was the sign of sorrow. You remember how, in the day of his distress, “David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered;” “and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.” The ground had been reduced, by the drought, to such a state of hardness that it was useless to plough it, for there was no hope of any harvest coming. Even the wild creatures of the field shared the general suffering. The hind, which is reckoned by the Orientals to be the fondest of its young, forsook its fawn, and left it to perish, because there was no food. And the wild asses, which are able to endure thirst better than other creatures can and are always quick to perceive water if there is any to be found, tried in vain to scent it anywhere. “They snuffed up the wind like dragons,”—like cobras, or serpents, or jackals, as the word may be variously rendered,— but they snuffed in vain; and their eyes became like coals in their head: they “did fail, because there was no grass.” What then? Why, the prophet turns to prayer as the only means of obtaining relief
Jeremiah 14:7. O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name’s sake:
“Thou canst not do it because of any merit of ours.”
Jeremiah 14:7-9. For our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble, why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as a man astonished, as a mighty man that cannot save? yet thou O LORD, art in the midst of us and we are called by thy name; leave us not.
Can you not almost hear the good man praying? Notice how he begs the Lord not to be to the land like a mere stranger who passes through it, and cares nothing for it. “Why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night?” Then he pleads with the Lord, “Why shouldest thou be as a man strong, but stunned?”—for that is the meaning of the expression he uses—“Be not thou as a mighty man astounded or stunned, who cannot save us; let it not be thought or said that we have come to such a pass that even thou canst not help us.” This was grand pleading on the prophet’s part, and he followed it up by mentioning the close connection that existed between Israel and God. Yet thou, O Jehovah, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name;” and then pleaded, “leave us not.” It was a grand prayer; yet, at first, this was the only answer that Jeremiah received to it:—
Jeremiah 14:10-11. Thus saith the Lord unto this people, Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the LORD doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good.
“You may pray, if you like to do so, for a plague to come upon them as a chastisement for their sins, but do not pray for any blessing for them.”
Jeremiah 14:12. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and an oblation, I will not accept them: but I will consume them by the sword, and by the famine, and by the pestilence.
After being long provoked, God at last determines that he will punish the rebellious nation, and he seems, as it were, to put Jeremiah on one side, now the day of my vengeance has come, and I will show no more mercy to them.” Now note what Jeremiah does even after the Lord has said to him, “Pray not for this people for their good.”
Jeremiah 14:13. Then said I, Ah, Lord GOD! behold, the prophets say unto them, Ye shalt not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place.
He says, “Lord, have pity on the people, for they are misled by their prophets. Peradventure, if these false prophets had not thus deceived them, and puffed them up, they would not have been so hardened in their sin.” He tried to make some excuse for them, but the Lord would not yield to his pleading.
Jeremiah 14:14-15. Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the Lord concerned the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.
God says, “Yes, I will deal with the false prophets; it is true that they have misled the people, and I will punish them for their deception; but I will not excuse the people even on that ground.”
Jeremiah 14:16. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and they shall have none to bury them, them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters: for I will pour their wickedness upon them.
That seems to be a hard answer to Jeremiah’s pleading; what is the prophet to do now? God gives him another message to deliver to the people:—
Jeremiah 14:17-18. Therefore thou shalt say this word unto them; Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease: for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous blow. If I go forth into the field, then behold! the slain with the sword! and if I enter into the city, then behold them that are sick with famine! yea, both the prophet and the priest go about into a land that they know not.
So God told Jeremiah that he might go and tell the people that he would weep continually for them. The faithful and sympathetic prophet was to be allowed constantly to shed tears on their behalf, and to feel great distress of soul because everywhere he saw signs of the heavy hand of God resting upon the guilty people. If they went outside the city, the Chaldeans slew them with the sword; and if they stopped inside, they perished by famine; or those that died not were carried away captive into a land that they knew not. What is Jeremiah to do in such a case as this? He is told that he must not pray for the people, and God seems determined to smite them. What can love do when even the gates of prayer are ordered to be closed? Notice how, after he is told that he must not pray, he edges his way up towards the throne of grace and, at last, he does what he is told not to do. He begins thus:—
Jeremiah 14:19. Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? hath thy soul loathed Zion? Why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us? we looked for peace, and there is no good; and for the time of healing, and behold trouble!
That is not exactly praying, but it is very like it. Jeremiah is asking the Lord whether he can really have cast off his people.
Jeremiah 14:20. We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers: for we have sinned against thee.
He has advanced a step farther now, to the confession of sin. If that is not really prayer, it always goes with it. It is the background of prayer, so we shall soon have some other touches in the picture.
Jeremiah 14:21. Do not abhor us for thy name’s sake, do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us.
Now he is getting actually to praying; he cannot help himself. He is told that he must not pray, but he feels that he must; he loves the people so much that he must plead for them.
Jeremiah 14:22. Are there any among the vanities of the Gentiles that can cause rain! Or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O LORD our God? Therefore we will wait upon thee: for thou hast made all these things.
O splendid perseverance of importunity,—strong resolve of a forbidden intercession! “Thou, O Lord our God, tellest us not to pray, but we cannot restrain our supplication: “Therefore we will wait upon thee.” God help us all to wait upon him! We are not so discouraged from praying as he was who spoke these words, so there is still more reason why we should say to the Lord, “Therefore we will wait upon thee.”