“If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” It’s a nice way to remind elementary students to stop calling each other names and using insults and put-downs to hurt others. Perhaps putting this common saying into practice could lead to a more peaceful classroom or sibling relationship. I am sure I have used it more than a time or two for those purposes.
But, it is not an effective rule for a prophet of God speaking God’s truth to a wayward, stubborn, forgetful, corrupt, sinful nation. Jeremiah has been given the task of speaking some very hard and difficult and “NOT NICE” things. He must confront the people with their many sins that have gotten them into trouble, very disturbing things like killing the innocent and burning their children in the fire as sacrifices to fake and foreign gods. And, he must show the people the terror of their coming destruction which God would send because of their wretched sins, awful things like death by the sword, human remains being left for the birds and wild animals to ravage, and starvation so severe they eat their own children’s flesh.
Jeremiah’s assignment from God was to speak and write these horrific things to his friends, neighbors, co-workers, countrymen, and perhaps even some family members, as well as the king and government officials and the priests and religious leaders. And the people didn’t like hearing it at all. I’m guessing he was probably not a real popular guy to have around and likely wasn’t invited to many parties. They would much rather listen to the prophets who prophesied lies – that all is well with the world, that God is not angry (I saw that on a church sign once), that God’s mercy will always triumph and there will be no judgment, that all will be whisked away to play harps in heaven with no fear of the Almighty.
In today’s chapter 20, those who should have been listening tried to silence him with a beating and a night in the stocks. It is much easier for us to read it, than if we were to endure it ourselves. Adding to the pain of Jeremiah’s trouble and torture – it was the priest of the temple who had ordered his punishment! This was the man who should have been on Jeremiah’s side. He should have been in tune with God and should have seen the sins for what they were and should have been speaking against the sinful people, not against the brave lone prophet of God.
I love Jeremiah’s heart after this painful experience.
“I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we will prevail over him
and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior…”
Jeremiah 20:7b-11a NIV
But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior! He was tired of the ridicule and insults (and physical pain) he received from speaking for God. It seemed so easy and tempting to walk away from it all or just start saying nice things the people wanted to hear. But, he couldn’t. God’s truth was bubbling up inside him and he couldn’t and wouldn’t hold it in. So, regardless of what people would think of him or do to him, he would speak for God, even when it wasn’t nice things to say. And he would have the confidence that God was with him like a mighty warrior!
I pray we may have that same courage, that same convicting knowledge of the sin in and around us that can’t be ignored, that clear vision of God’s mercy and judgment, that same willingness and unstoppable desire to speak God’s words that can’t be held back, and that same confidence that we have a mighty warrior God standing by our side.
Speak His Words,
Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 19-20 and Hebrews 1