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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 20:14-18

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 30, 2015

Jeremiah’s joyful outburst in verse 13 (Praise the Lord!) is one of the highpoints in the book, and as we saw, the only time in the book in which the prophet uses the words “Praise the Lord.” However, it is followed by one of the lowest and darkest passages in the book. How quickly mankind turns from the highest highs to the lowest lows. Remember that the same thing happened to Elijah after his victory on God’s behalf on Mount Carmel. He ran away to sulk in a deep depression in a cave on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8,9).

A Lament
14 May the day I was born
        be cursed.
Do not let the day my mother bore me
  be blessed.

Jeremiah’s grief is so profound here that he rivals Job’s curse for his birthday (Job 3:1-12). Surely Jeremiah was thinking of the Job passage when he said this. Luther said that Jeremiah “all but resorts to blasphemies until he is finally told that the king of Babylon will come and punish the unbelieving scoffers” (LW 2:62). But Jeremiah goes further than just cursing his birthday…

15 May the man be cursed who brought news to my father, saying,
      “A son is born to you,” and bringing him great joy.
16 Let that man be likes the cities the LORD overthrew
      without pity.
Let him hear a cry in the morning,
  an alarm for war at noon
17 because he did not kill me in the womb
      so that my mother would have been my grave,
      her womb forever pregnant.

Jeremiah takes us into an ancient waiting room—perhaps just outside a tent flap in his village of Anathoth in Benjamin. Jeremiah’s father Hilkiah was pacing back and forth. There were no cigars in the seventh century B.C, so maybe Hilkiah was biting his nails. Suddenly there was a spank, and a cry, and a man poked his head out the door and told Hilkiah: It’s a boy!

Was it an easy delivery? His parents named him Jeremiah, which probably means “the Lord throws.” My wife and I vividly remember the day our second son was born. She was expecting to push and push for many hours like her previous experience, but when the time came, the doctor put on his gown, turned around for the nurse to tie the laces, and was just in time to catch our baby son as the Lord threw him out into the world. It was that quick. Hilkiah was given a son “and great joy,” we are told. We get the feeling that the messenger was also the midwife for Jeremiah’s birth.

The prophet’s grief over his present life was such that he wished his mother had remained “forever pregnant.” So the day, the doctor, and probably the prophet’s parents were all included in this desperate curse. But one more culprit was on Jeremiah’s mind. He even cursed himself.

18 Why did I emerge from that womb
      to see trouble and sorrow,
      to finish my days in shame?

In verse 11, Jeremiah confessed that his enemies would spend eternity in shame and dishonor (verse 11). But he still lamented that his own life on earth was being spent in shame and sorrow. He was grieving that the joy and contentment of heaven would have to wait until he arrived in heaven on the Last Day.

These verses might be useful for parents encouraging teenagers (or older children) who are burdened with the necessity of growing up. It has to come to us all, even though some of us seem to wander into our fifties without really arriving as mature adults. Just as a baby can’t remain in the womb forever, so also the child can’t be a child forever. Perhaps Paul could have comforted his ancient colleague: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:11,12a). But Paul landed on the same square as Jeremiah in the end. All of our earthly sorrows and pain will not be fully healed until the Last Day: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12b).

At the same time, we can’t belittle Jeremiah’s real battle with depression. You can’t just tell a person who’s down to “get over it.” That’s what Bobby Kennedy infamously told Jackie to do after her husband was assassinated. Depression can act just like a disease, and a person can’t shake off depression any more than they can shake off the measles or insomnia. Help for depression needs to come from the outside. It may take counseling, or guidance, or medication, or a combination of all of these. It will take time. And it will help to have guidance from the word of God. If Elijah and Jeremiah could suffer from it, there is no shame in any of us having a low point in life. So be patient with a loved one who’s down. Love them, let them know it, and then be patient some more. Remember how patient God has been with you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.