So Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the Lord’s command to stay in the land of Judah. Instead, Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers led away all the remnant of Judah who had come back to live in the land of Judah from all the nations where they had been scattered. They also led away all those whom Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard had left with Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the son of Shaphan—the men, the women, the children and the king’s daughters. And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. So they entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord and went as far as Tahpanhes.” (Jeremiah 43:1-7 NIV)
The prophet Jeremiah had a thankless job. He was caught between God’s calling on his life to be a voice of judgment and to call God’s people to repentance, and a people (his people) whose hearts were hardened and determined to go their own way. He kept warning and they kept refusing to change their ways.
We pick up the story with Jeremiah assuring the people, after they asked what God wanted them to do, that they are to go into exile in Babylon where they will be safe and cared for. It seemed like nonsense to them, to place themselves in the hands of their enemy, and they rejected it out of hand. Instead, in defiance they headed to Egypt. And Jeremiah resolutely followed.
Why would a man whose counsel had been repeatedly ignored, who had been ridiculed and scorned, continue to stick by such a stubborn, hardhearted people? Could it be not only due to his calling, but also to his love? These were not just any people; they were his people. Like the father of the lost son, and the woman searching for the lost coin, he was not going to give up. They were just too valuable and his love was too deep.
In my years of ministry, I have been tempted many times (and, sadly, have on a few occasions) to wash my hands of people who insist on doing life their way rather than the Lord’s way. Though they have sought to hear the Lord’s counsel, when it was not what they wanted to hear, they ignored it. I think I have some sense of Jeremiah’s frustration, and continue to learn how to have his faithfulness in loving people in spite of their hardheartedness, to continue to walk the road with them rather than abandon them. Hope wins out over exasperation.
Are there people in your life who steadfastly refuse to humble themselves before the Lord and change their ways? Are you tempted to wash your hands of them? Then today let the example of Jeremiah inspire you. Don’t give up. Keep walking the road with them. Though rebellious, they are still people created and loved by God. And your presence could one day convince them of that.
© Jim Musser 2015