As chapter 16 opens, God wastes no time in laying a fairly heavy burden upon the prophet in order to get a point across to the people of Judah. These first nine verses are sometimes difficult for us to read.
First, God commands Jeremiah not to marry. The command is final: it is not the case that Jeremiah can marry later on in life. God wants the prophet to stand for the rest of his life as a symbol of the desolation, loss and loneliness that Judah is about to encounter. And this is no small matter for a young man or woman in Jeremiah’s culture. Marriage was not only considered a blessing, but singleness and chastity were considered a curse. Our prophet has become a social pariah-an outcast at the command of God.
Secondly, God commands Jeremiah not to mourn. Though this may not sound as harsh to our ears, it would have been to the prophet. Funeral processions were a community event, especially in a community as small as Jeremiah’s hometown, and again the servant of God is asked to stick out in an uncomfortable way.
And thirdly, Jeremiah is commanded not to make merry. This command reminds us of Jeremiah’s complaint in 15:17, “I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me…”
Each time, however, God gives Jeremiah and Judah his reasons. These are not arbitrary commands on God’s part. There was coming a day in which everyone would lose their families, when the dead would outnumber the living and there would be no time to bury and mourn, and the sounds of joy would be gone from the streets and homes of Judah.
But even then, it is sometimes hard for us to imagine the God we serve and want to follow demanding these kinds of things of his faithful servant. Note that none of these commands concern “extraordinary” events or circumstances. They comprise “expected” and normal events of life. (The extraordinary things might be much easier to give up!) Barring any calling to the contrary, most of us imagine ourselves being married someday, we plan on attending the funerals of our friends and family, and we intend to rejoice with those who rejoice. We tend to consider these events as things that will naturally come to us in the courses of our lives.
But we need to be careful with what we expect out of life. Jeremiah expected nothing but the glory and kingdom of God. If we expect anything else (for ourselves) it is because from time to time we consider our selves as more important than the kingdom and purposes of God. Jeremiah, on the other hand, did not see life as a string of events that were due him. Rather, he viewed life as a series of opportunities to be a part of God’s kingdom and fulfill his purposes. If the normal graces of life come, it is by the grace of God, and if they do not, then there may be more important things taking place.
So as a result of this series of hard commands, what is the prophet’s response? In verses 19 and 20 Jeremiah says:
O LORD, my strength and my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
from the ends of the earth and say:
"Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
worthless things in which there is no profit.
Can man make for himself gods?
Such are not gods!"
This is language of hope straight from the Psalms. As a social outcast simply for being a faithful child of God, Jeremiah recognizes where ultimate hope lies-in the kingdom of God. It is there where salvation is to be found-for himself, Judah, and the nations of the world. Jeremiah did not consider himself a living martyr, but he knew that by letting go of his “rights” in this world, he was grasping hold of something far more important and far more eternal in God’s will.
May God grant us the wisdom and strength to know not just that our hope is in him, but that our only hope is in him.