The secret of Jeremiah’s steadfastness is a remarkable thing! Rev. James W. Reapsome, former editor of World Pulse and Evangelical Missions Quarterly, shares, “I once heard the prophet Jeremiah described as a ‘successful failure’. . . . Jeremiah succeeded where many fail: He never quit. Yes, he brooded and more than once he thought about quitting, but he always bounced back with the fire of God’s words blazing in his bones. Like a lone soldier defending his post at all costs, Jeremiah bravely stood up to kings, princes, priests, and prophets.”
Jeremiah was called from his mother’s womb according to Jeremiah 1:4-5, “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.’” One commentator explains the following about Jeremiah 1:6-19, “Jeremiah was delivered from his own weakness and the blight of self-conscious insufficiency.” Scripture reveals Jeremiah experienced discouragement, depression, and desperation. Dr. William Sanford LaSor (1911-1991) writes, “Jeremiah is often described as the ‘weeping prophet.’ As a matter of fact, his name has given us a word in the English language, ‘jeremiad’ which means ‘a tale of woe,’ or sorrow or disappointment. We know more about Jeremiah personally than we do of any other prophet because there are so many personal references in his prophecy.”
Bible scholars refer to the “Confessions of Jeremiah” (Jeremiah 11:18-20; 12:1-4;17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-18).
The following verse from an unknown poet expresses the heart of those like Jeremiah, who fully realized the great responsibility of possessing the Word of God.
“I want to let go, but I won’t let go. / There are battles to fight,
By day and night, / For God and the right—
And I’ll never let go.
I want to let go, but I won’t let go. / I’m sick, ’tis true,
Worried and blue, / And worn through and through,
But I won’t let go.
I want to let go, but I won’t let go. / I will never yield!
What, lie down on the field / And surrender my shield?
No, I’ll never let go!
I want to let go, but I won’t let go. / May this be my song:
‘Mid legions of wrong— / Oh, God, keep me strong
That I may never let go.”
The secret of Jeremiah’s steadfastness is a little like an open secret, as it is clearly revealed in our text recorded in Jeremiah 15:16, “Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.”
Let’s explore the secret of Jeremiah’s steadfastness.
I. First, note the assimilation of the Word of God.
Jeremiah 15:16a reads, “Your words were found, and I ate them. . .” Dr. Philip Graham Ryken explains, “Francis Bacon (1561-1626)—one of the leading figures of the English Renaissance—observed that some books are to be tasted, some are to be chewed, and some are to be thoroughly digested. Jeremiah understood that the Bible is the one book to be devoured. Like the prophet Ezekiel, he gobbled up God’s Word (Ezekiel 3:3). He understood that the Word of God is more than just hors d’oeuvres. When God spoke, Jeremiah bellied up to the banqueting table and started packing it in.”
Others ate the Word, for example, Ezekiel ate the Word, Ezekiel 2:8; 3:1-3 reads, “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. . . . Moreover He said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.’ So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.” John ate the Word, Revelation 10:8-11 reads, “Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’ So I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’ Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’”
Remember the consternation of Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called of God to an unpopular ministry. In his message titled “Prophet of Crisis,” Dr. Ted S. Rendall … points out Jeremiah faced unceasing opposition (Jeremiah 15:15, 17), unrelieved isolation (Jeremiah 15:17) and unanswered prayer (Jeremiah 15:18). Then he gave in to undisciplined thinking (Jeremiah 15:18), but in this midst of this consternation, Jeremiah finds the words of the Lord and eats them.
II. Second, note the appreciation of the Word of God.
Jeremiah 15:16b reads, “And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart . . .” Dr. Ryken further explains, “This is a reminder of the tastiness of God’s Word. Jeremiah thought of God’s Word as his ‘joy’ and his ‘heart’s delight.’ Reading and studying the Bible is a very delightful thing to do.
Jeremiah also obeyed God during his free time. He was not a partier. He said, ‘I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them’ (Jeremiah 15:17). This verse echoes the first Psalm: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. (Psalm 1:1)”
Here, we see the consolation of Jeremiah from the Word of God. In Job 23:12, Job shares, “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth More than my necessary food.” David writes in Psalm 119:72 and 111, “The law of Your mouth is better to me Than thousands of coins of gold and silver. . . . Your testimonies I have taken as a heritage forever, For they are the rejoicing of my heart.” In a similar way, Matthew 13:44 reads, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Of course, here, Jesus refers to the kingdom of heaven, not the Word of God. Jeremiah valued the Word of God with the same intensity as the one referred to in Jesus’ parable related to the kingdom of heaven. Joshua 1:8 reads, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
III. Third, note the affirmation of the Word of God.
Jeremiah 15:16c reads, “. . . For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah is God’s representative, who receives God’s message and passes it on to others. Only the true prophet can rightly preface his statements with “Thus saith the Lord.” The prophet is the medium of God’s revelation. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 reads, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
Jeremiah 14:9 reads, “Why should You be like a man astonished, Like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O Lord, are in our midst, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us.” In the context of Jeremiah 15:16, we also see the consecration of Jeremiah to the calling of God upon His life based upon God’s Word and Name (Revelation 3:8). Remember, Jeremiah was called by God from his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5. cf also Jeremiah 15:10-18).
Rev. James W. Reapsome observes, “But what is significant is that after Jeremiah hit the bottom of depression and discouragement during the reign of King Jehoiakim, he never again doubted, he did not complain of his lot. As the opposition grew more intense, so did Jeremiah’s conviction. For the last 20 years of his ministry we read nothing similar to what is recorded in chapter 15. Apparently he had learned to endure hardness without accusing God of letting him down.
True Christian character is molded in adversity. We learn the lessons of faith and obedience gradually, and then God puts us to the test. God does not fail. He is true to His word and He will provide sufficient strength and courage for the hour (1 Cor. 10:13).
Jeremiah endured because of a basic commitment to God. He was not perfect; he had to learn. But he was completely sold out to the Lord.
We must be certain of God’s call and abandoned to His will. Only then can we confidently look discouragement squarely in the eye and conquer it, knowing that ‘if we suffer, we shall also reign’ (2 Tim. 2:21).”
The Lord reassures Jeremiah with the following words recorded in Jeremiah 15:19-21, “Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘If you return, Then I will bring you back; You shall stand before Me; If you take out the precious from the vile, You shall be as My mouth. Let them return to you, But you must not return to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified bronze wall; And they will fight against you, But they shall not prevail against you; For I am with you to save you And deliver you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will deliver you from the hand of the wicked, And I will redeem you from the grip of the terrible.’”
One commentator said, “Be satisfied with knowing you are doing God’s will. God will vindicate you in His time.”
Dr. William Sanford LaSor recounts, “I was present in New York a few years ago at the meeting of a learned society, when one of the papers read at the meeting attempted to psychoanalyze Jeremiah. I do not know enough about psychiatry to give the details but I am certain that if Jeremiah had not been the Lord’s servant, he might well have been neurotic. Anyone who had to face situations such as he faced and deliver the messages he delivered certainly would be torn by the pressures of all sorts of emotions! You have no doubt heard the claim from time to time that there are more people in mental hospitals because of religion than any other single reason. I do not know whether there are figures to substantiate such a claim. But this much, I think, is clear: such cases do not develop in persons who are torn with fears that they have not done God’s will who break down. Professor Hyatt has well observed, with reference to Jeremiah: ‘On account of his deep faith in God, and because he did not hesitate to give vent to his feelings of despair and bitterness, the tension of his inner life did not cause him to break down.’ [Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, p. 738.]”
Dr. James M. Gray (1851-1935) former president of Moody Bible Institute, shares the following: “There is a great difference between ‘finding’ the Word of God and ‘eating’ it, and it is the man who eats that gets the benefit out of it. Eating makes digestion and assimilation possible, and when these functions are normal in their working, the result is health and strength, and all the usefulness and joy of living.
But eating comes first, and the eating that counts is that which has taken plenty of time for mastication. You must retain the food in your mouth, and get the full taste out of it, and let it mingle with the saliva, and chew, and chew, and chew, until the least possible amount is left to swallow. The man who does this has learned one of the great secrets of his physical being. He has learned how to keep well, and how to eat almost anything he likes without ill results. Keeping the food in the mouth is the key to it all.
Something like this is true in the higher realm. Usefulness and joy in the spiritual life depend on spiritual health and strength. But these in turn depend on the spiritual nourishment one takes— its kind, its quantity, its condition. The only nourishment for man’s soul is the Word of God. ‘Desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby,’ is the inspired exhortation (I Peter 2:2), and the more you get of it the better, always provided that you can digest and assimilate it. . . .
Here comes the thought of eating again. Holding the Word in your mind is like holding the food in your mouth. That is how to get the full taste of it. Prayer does in the one case what the saliva does in the other. Turning it round and round, thinking of it from this point of view and that, asking questions about it, taking it to your parents, your Sunday school teacher, your pastor, searching its meaning in a commentary, all these things correspond to the chewing that makes good digestion and assimilation.
Now the only way to hold the Word in your mind is to memorize it. It is not hard to do this, and when you begin to see the benefit of it, it becomes a real pleasure. Make the task as easy as possible by taking a small portion at a time. . . .”
This week I found a 3 ½ by 3 ½ inch piece of paper with the following written on it: “The Secret of Jeremiah’s Steadfastness (Jeremiah 15:16).” It was my handwriting, but I could not remember writing it. I took the challenge and investigated it in the Bible and in Bible commentaries. Therefore, you could say with Jeremiah and others, “I ate the Word.” In fact, this message is a direct result of that research.
Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) said, “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible, until at last you come to talk in scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is ‘Bibline’ and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”
The book bearing his name reveals the Word of God is the secret of Jeremiah’s steadfastness.
James W. Reapsome, Jeremiah: The Man and His Message, (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 1988), Introduction.
William Sanford LaSor. Great Personalities of the Bible. Westwood, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1969), 145.
Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word – Jeremiah & Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, ed. R. Kent Hughes, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001, 258, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.
Ted S. Rendall, “Prophet of Crisis,” Sermon Notes, (Jeremiah 15:15-21), The Prairie Overcomer, (Three Hills, AB: Prairie Press), [Note: Dr. Ted S. Rendall is the author of a book titled, Jeremiah: Prophet of Crisis: Topical Studies for Today of the Basic Themes of the Prophecy of Jeremiah, (Three Hills, AB: Prairie Press, 1979)].
James W. Reapsome, “The Cause and Cure of Discouragement,” Sermon Notes, (Jeremiah 15:15-21).
LaSor, Personalities, 151.
James M. Gray, How to “Eat” the Word, (Harrisburg, PA: L&K, 1900).
John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1961), 30-31.
Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey is author of Don’t Miss the Revival! Messages for Revival and Spiritual Awakening from Isaiah and Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice [Both available on Amazon.com in hardcover, paperback and eBook].
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