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Proper 7A 1st Reading

Jeremiah 20:7-13

Lisa Michaels

“You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.”

These are strong words for a prophet to heave at the very God for whom he prophesies. Being a prophet is hard. From a strictly Scriptural angle, it might also appear that being a prophet is rare. Definitions vary slightly to include those who speak, “for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration,” or who, “utter special revelations and predictions.”[1] Certainly included is any “inspired teacher or leader.” The gist is consistent. Prophets speak of what is to come and what is to be, for and by the power of God. By any cultural standard, prophets are a little weird—definitely not at the top of the popularity chain, particularly if they “cry out proclaiming violence and destruction” every time they speak!

Somehow, Jeremiah has missed this memo.

Jeremiah’s complaint is an interesting one, because he likely does not actually believe he has been deceived, as you or I would define it. The word he uses may, in fact, be interpreted as persuaded or even seduced. Jeremiah is irritated (at best) about this, because “Jeremiah never questioned that God had called him to be his spokesman, but he could not understand why it brought him such affliction.”[2] Huh. Been there. Done that. Who of us in ministry has not?

Yet, verse 9 is so telling:

“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.”

Could Jeremiah technically run from this calling to speak God’s truth to the people? Of course he could. The Lord has not literally overpowered him, forcing him to submit. And, in fact, it sounds as though Jeremiah has tried to live in another way, but it was agonizingly painful and exhausting—presumably even more so than being ridiculed, beaten, and isolated (his ‘friends’ remind me of Job’s)—because here we find him, coming back for another round.

And so, Jeremiah laments.

We do not often lament well. Lament is comprised of multiple parts, and the thing that is so astounding about it is the tension between complaint and petition, between suffering and trust. Lament is not ‘drama,’ and we need to consider how very important that is. Lament is the purging of legitimate pain, remembering that it hasn’t always been this way and hoping that it won’t continue to be; asking God to be near and to bring some good about, then believing that God actually will. To lament well is a tall order.

Jeremiah’s actual criticism of God lasts for just a moment. Much longer than that is the pouring out of his genuine suffering. In many ways, I think Jeremiah simply needs someone to hear him, and since the people have done a dismal job at every turn; God is left to absorb the blow… which God seemingly does without a single word.

Because as Jeremiah calms from his heart wrenching, fist shaking soliloquy; his words turn to praise. Which, if we’re honest, seems odd. But, Jeremiah was a prophet, so maybe it’s par for the course. (Or, maybe these words were added after he calmed down. That’s a plausible theory, too.)

Like the Psalmists, Jeremiah employs a fair amount of violent language and expresses a desire for vengeance, but I do not think we should allow the beautiful adoration of who God is to be lost in that:

“The Lord is with me…”

“Lord Almighty, you… examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind…”

“[The Lord] rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”

Ironically, some of Jeremiah’s best truths seem to be spoken as praise, not necessarily violent or destructive, at all. And herein lies what may be at the crux of application for current cultural climates. Truth matters profoundly, and the heart of God’s message is good news! The shame does not lie with this prophet, and his ‘friends’ are sadly mistaken, nicknaming him “terror on every side,” for this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… this God of Jeremiah… is a God of covenant. These unrelenting people chose destruction for themselves, but it didn’t have to be that way. So the real question becomes, how do we do better? As both the prophets and the people, we must communicate a God who draws close, obstructing the bent toward broken relationships and, instead, bringing redemption to those of us willing to relinquish our hard hearts, eliminating the potential need for such brutal prophetic words in the future.


[2] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, vol. 16, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 192–194.

About the Contributor

follower of Jesus, theology student, author, blogger, editor, educator, wife, mom, and aspiring peacemaker

Lisa Michaels


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