Jeremiah faced death. It wasn’t disease resulting from the Babylonian sieges, or threat to his life from the warfare that seemed to rage throughout his adult life; it was from the priests and false prophets of his day who took him to court in a capital case. In chapter 26, God has Jeremiah speak some pretty serious and devastating words over the Temple in Jerusalem:
Thus says the LORD: “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” (vs 4-6)
The allusion to Shiloh would have hit the priests right between the eyes. Shiloh was the first place the Arc of the Covenant was housed, and in a very real sense, the place where God was worshiped and where He dwelt. In standard fashion, however, the people rebelled against God, the Philistines attacked, Shiloh was destroyed, and the Arc was captured. (1 Samuel 1-4) The Temple was not safe because the Arc of the Covenant dwelt there.
The scene in chapter 26 turns into a courtroom drama. The priests and prophets bring a case of blasphemy against Jeremiah before the town judges. There are witnesses invoked and Jeremiah provides his own defense. His defense, by the way, is exactly the right one for this circumstance: “not guilty by reason of obedience.”
But most compelling to me is the precedent that is cited, and how it comes to the fore. The city officials recount the story of Micah the prophet and Hezekiah the king, and even quote Micah 3:12. In the story, God’s prophet speaks to Hezekiah what Jeremiah spoke to Jehoiakim. In Hezekiah’s case, he repents and God spares his people. The conclusion the officials draw is that the wise course of action would be to listen to Jeremiah and not put him to death.
I absolutely love what just happened. Jeremiah’s life was spared because the “people in the pews” knew their Scripture, were able to comprehend and apply it, and were even able to quote it. It wasn’t the priests or prophets who applied God’s word, it was the commoner, the individuals who were not professional theologians or spiritual leaders, but who had grown wise in their knowledge and application of Scripture who brought God’s kingdom to bear in a life-threatening situation.
In this context I think it is useful to ask a question. What do you need from God to know what He wants from you? Do you need a cloud-parting, thunder-clapping, audible voice 5 out of 7 days of the week? I know it would be nice, but it won’t happen.
The people we watch do God’s will in Jeremiah 26 knew God’s word, and thus, knew what God wanted them to do on that day. Rightly comprehending the Word of God is in a very real and deep sense rightly comprehending God’s will.