Jeremiah 38:1–13 (NIV) 1 Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of Pashhur, Jehukal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malkijah heard what Jeremiah was telling all the people when he said, 2 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague, but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live. They will escape with their lives; they will live.’ 3 And this is what the Lord says: ‘This city will certainly be given into the hands of the army of the king of Babylon, who will capture it.’” 4 Then the officials said to the king, “This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” 5 “He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.” 6 So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud. 7 But Ebed-Melek, a Cushite, an official in the royal palace, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. While the king was sitting in the Benjamin Gate, 8 Ebed-Melek went out of the palace and said to him, 9 “My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet. They have thrown him into a cistern, where he will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city.” 10 Then the king commanded Ebed-Melek the Cushite, “Take thirty men from here with you and lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.” 11 So Ebed-Melek took the men with him and went to a room under the treasury in the palace. He took some old rags and worn-out clothes from there and let them down with ropes to Jeremiah in the cistern. 12 Ebed-Melek the Cushite said to Jeremiah, “Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes.” Jeremiah did so, 13 and they pulled him up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the courtyard of the guard.
My dear friends in Christ,
Are you ready for this family value? Are you ready for hard times? I don’t think anyone is ever ready for them, let alone ready to value them. I know when the Lord first called me to serve I wasn’t expecting hard times. My name is Jeremiah. I was born to a family of priests in a little town called Anathoth, only 2½ miles northeast of Jerusalem. I always planned to serve the Lord and looked forward to the day when I could offer sacrifices in his temple. It turns out the Lord had different plans for me. He wanted me to serve as prophet for the people of Judah. I didn’t think I was up for it. In fact, that hadn’t been my plan at all. But he said, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:7–10 NIV).
How hard could that be? I began my work as prophet under King Josiah, one of the greatest kings Judah would ever see. He was young when he took the throne--just 7 years old--but he understood what was important. He didn’t worry about his enemies or hard times. He focused on worshiping the Lord and teaching everyone the Law of Moses. He was a good man and a great king. It was a privilege to work with him.
I wasn’t ready for the hard times that lay ahead, even though the Lord had warned me they were coming. King Josiah marched out to face Pharaoh Neco in battle on the plains of Megiddo. I had hoped he would return victorious, but Pharaoh killed him. Josiah’s son Jehoahaz replaced him, but Pharaoh Neco captured him and carried him off to Egypt. I don’t know what kind of king he would have been, but I preferred him to his older brother, Jehoiakim.
Jehoiakim didn’t like me. Actually, he hated me. He hated me because of the message the Lord gave me. I kept warning the king that the Babylonians were coming. They would capture Jerusalem and carry all of Judah away unless he turned from his wickedness and repented. Jehoiakim was so angry when I refused to stop preaching that message. First, he took the scroll with all the words the Lord had given me, cut the parchment in sections, and burned them piece by piece. Then he ordered his men to kill me. Talk about hard times! They searched for me, but the Lord hid me so they couldn’t find me.
I kept preaching, and the hard times kept coming! Thankfully Jehoiakim was no longer king. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian general, removed him from the throne and replaced him with Zedekiah. Zedekiah was a good choice if you wanted a weak leader who caved to outside pressure. Zedekiah regularly asked me for advice, for prayers, and even asked to hear what the Lord wanted him to do. There was just one problem--he never listened. Never! He was too easily swayed by his trusted advisors. When I shared the bad news that Jerusalem would not be spared, but that the Babylonian armies would march and destroy it, Zedekiah’s men arrested me. Then I faced hard times--they beat me and threw me into prison. They made my life miserable, and I’m convinced they would have killed me--either with beatings or being starved to death--except for King Zedekiah’s orders.
Even though my life was miserable--talk about hard times--I couldn’t stop warning the people. The Lord said he was against the city, against our own people for their rebellion and rejection. So many deaths could be prevented, our temple would be spared if someone would listen! Zedekiah’s advisers were so angry that they asked for the king’s permission to kill me. He weakly consented, and they conspired to make my death slow and miserable. They threw me in a slimy, muck-filled cistern. I had no food. I had no clean water. You can only imagine the disgusting smell and the creatures scurrying across the mud around my head.
Hard times. How could this be something to value? The Lord commanded me to preach this message. I couldn’t do anything but share the truth with everyone. But the cost...the cost. I had no friends save Baruch, the scribe who supported me during my ministry and wrote down every word that came from the Lord. I had no wife or children. My family and the rest of the Levites didn’t dare stand up for me or they would face the king’s wrath. Why would the Lord allow all these hard times to make my life miserable, and on top of it, how could he walk away from Jerusalem and his people? Doesn’t he love us? Doesn’t he care?
Do you feel my pain? I have a nickname. Have any of you heard it? I have been called “the weeping prophet” ever since I spoke the words of my prophecy. Oh, I had much to weep over. I wept as I lay in the mud. I wept over my sins, the sins of my people, the sins of my enemies. Lord, why do you let all this happen? Will you ever make it stop?
What fills your thoughts, haunts your dreams, and causes you to cry out from the depths of your hurt, your doubt, and maybe even your despair? Have you tried to deal with hard times by shielding yourself or your family from anything that might go wrong? Do you try to protect yourself or your children from anything that you don’t like or don’t want to experience? Is that the answer--to deal with the hard times and figure it out for ourselves? That doesn’t work very well. It wouldn’t have worked for me--I was stuck in the mud and left to die!
Don’t give up! No matter what kind of hard times you and your family may face, the Lord is there to help you, to save you, sometimes through the unlikeliest people in the most impossible situations. My help came from a Cushite--an Ethiopian man--named Ebed-Melech. He believed what the Lord said even when the king refused to listen. Ebed-Melech risked his position, his job, and yes, even his life to plead for me in front of King Zedekiah. It worked! The Lord blessed his request! I couldn’t believe it when this man, not even a fellow Jew, showed up with ropes. Ebed-Melech even made sure I would be as comfortable as possible during the rescue. He grabbed some old, dusty robes from a storeroom along with the ropes so I could cushion my arms as they struggled to pull me from the sticky, oozy mess!
I know the Lord was with me and that he rescued me. Even though the hard times weren’t over, I was absolutely confident that I am never alone! I had plenty of time to think while I was in prison, and then in that smelly cistern. I remembered words that Isaiah wrote. I took a lot of comfort from his words. His message was similar to mine. 100 years earlier he prophesied that the Babylonians would rise up and conquer our people. He also prophesied about someone special, a suffering servant, who would endure hard times far more difficult than mine. I remember reading, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:2–3 NIV). A man of suffering? Familiar with pain? Despised? I understand! I know how that feels. Even better, God’s servant knows how you and I feel!
Isaiah continued, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5 NIV). Pierced, crushed, wounded. I understand those words from my service in the temple. I have felt them in the lambs my countrymen brought for sacrifice. I pierced those lambs, inflicted those wounds and felt the lamb’s life ebb away in my arms. Those animals covered our sins with their blood. But this man, God’s servant, would do much more. He endured hard times. He endured piercing, crushing punishment for our sins. His wounds would bring healing for our souls.
I think you know even better than I who my fellow prophet wrote about. You heard his own words just a little while ago. His followers knew who he was. He was Messiah, Jesus--the suffering servant Isaiah promised would come. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31 NIV). How I prayed things would be different among my people, but they refused to change. The spiritual leaders of Messiah’s day also refused to change. They didn’t understand that the Lord had a greater purpose in mind. His servant would die. He would also rise again! How I wish I could have seen that! How I wish I had that clear picture in my mind as I struggled with my hard times! I would not have wept so much, or despaired so deeply, or even doubted my own message.
Can you understand why a Christian family expects hard times? Can you see them as a blessing? Let me share what it did for me. The hard times I faced convinced me that my message was true. The Lord hadn’t lied to me. The hard times came, just as he promised, but I had a greater promise to hold on to. I know you’ve heard these words before--many people like to quote them: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you” (Jeremiah 29:11–12 NIV). Do you need those words as much as I did? Again and again, even as the Babylonians marched to the city walls I remembered them. I remembered them when the officials ignored my final words from the Lord. He warned us not to go to Egypt but to stay in Jerusalem and he would protect us. They refused to listen and took me against my will to Egypt. There I would spend the rest of my days, but not in hopeless despair. Not wallowing in the hard times I faced. No, I knew that the Lord had a plan and his plan for me would always be good.
I think you heard these words from one of Messiah’s followers, a man named Peter. It seems he faced his share of hard times. He said, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13 NIV). When we teach our children how to cope with hard times--not to complain about them, or avoid them, or try to fix everything that’s gone wrong--we are helping them grow in their relationship with Messiah. When we suffer a fraction of what Messiah suffered, it is a glimpse of his eternal love for each one of us. Eternal love! Through thick and thin that love encompasses us. The hard times we all face will give way to incredible joy when our sufferings come to an end and we cross over into eternal life. That, my friends, I can guarantee. I hope you understand why our family expects hard times. If you still have some questions for me, save them up. I’d be happy to sit down with you when you come home and see just what a glorious plan the Lord worked in your life too! Amen.