Jeremiah 20


We are now getting near the end of Jeremiah’s tragic ministry, nearing the end of the ministry of warning, we have seen the vain calls for repentance. There are two divisions in this next chapter. First, there is Jeremiah’s imprisonment. Then there is what some scholars consider to be the fifth and final lament of Jeremiah.

Some scholars see two laments in these verses, giving six laments in all. Most of the old commentaries believe verses 7-18 are a single paragraph, and I guess I go along with them, that this is the last of the five laments.

‘When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the official in charge of the temple of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the LORD’s temple.’ Jeremiah 20:1-2

Jeremiah’s problems and power come out in this chapter. He comes up against criticism and opposition. The priest Pashhur was a kind of overseer, the chief officer in the Temple. He was probably third in line, some believe as high as second in line. He had heard what Jeremiah had said. He gets Jeremiah thrown into prison, beaten up and put into stocks.

Pashhur would not have struck the prophet himself. He would have got his henchmen to do that. This action against Jeremiah would not have been allowed by Josiah, 640-609, because of his reforms, and service to God. This action by Pashhur is believed to have taken place between 609 and 605.

He had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put into stocks. This was a terrible punishment, it was designed more for torture than for restraint. Their intention was to inflict cruel and inhuman torture upon him.

It is said that this was a wooden frame in which the feet, neck and hands were fastened so that the body was in a cramped and painful position. Scholars believe that it was because of this torture that Jeremiah’s outburst of complaints came out in verses 7-18.

Note the expression ‘Jeremiah the prophet’ in this verse. This expression has not appeared so far in this prophecy. It is believed that it is used here to show that Pashhur’s conduct was in violation of the respect that was due to the prophet’s office. This is one of many sad scenes in the Old Testament. We have this crooked false prophet, Pashhur, torturing and beating God’s true prophet.

‘The next day, when Pashhur released him from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, ‘The LORD’s name for you is not Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends; with your own eyes you will see them fall by the sword of their enemies. I will give all Judah into the hands of the king of Babylon, who will carry them away to Babylon or put them to the sword. I will deliver all the wealth of this city into the hands of their enemies—all its products, all its valuables and all the treasures of the kings of Judah. They will take it away as plunder and carry it off to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who live in your house will go into exile to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you have prophesied lies.’ Jeremiah 20:3-6

Jeremiah tells this high official what is going to happen to him, because of what he has done to the prophet. Your name will be ‘terror on every side.’

This is the first time that the force from the north is identified as Baby on Pashhur will be taken with his friends into captivity. The priest is going to have to live in captivity with the people he has been lying to.

‘You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So, the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. 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. I hear many whispering, ‘Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.’ Jeremiah 20:7-10

Jeremiah is assessing the situation here. ‘Deceived’ is a word that means ‘persuaded’. You will probably find a footnote in your Bible to this effect. You have persuaded me, God. Probably because of the trials, the prison, the stocks, the beating, the torture. It seems that Jeremiah is now convinced that he can stand up for the Lord. Previously he wasn’t very sure of himself. The result is this expression of joy, especially in verse 13.

This is considered to be a pitiful complaint on the part of Jeremiah. It seems that everyone preferred to believe false prophets like Pashhur, rather than the terrible warnings that Jeremiah was giving. These people confidently expected Jeremiah to be destroyed, rather than themselves and their city. How wrong they were!

This section shows the terrible personal cost that Jeremiah suffered whilst carrying out God’s word. Although Jeremiah at times, found it difficult to deliver sorrowful messages to his people, he truly found it impossible to hide God’s message, even though that message was unpopular to the people.

Jeremiah says, concerning God, you are stronger than I am. Many a soul has been delighted at God’s strength in a similar fashion. You have to be involved, and your own limitations show up, to feel the closeness of God. This is a man complaining about his lot in life, but it still shows his submission, loyalty and obedience to God’s will.

It would seem from verse 9 that there was a time when Jeremiah was determined to stop speaking for God, to keep his mouth shut. But now he had to tell the story, ‘I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’

God was at Jeremiah’s side. God was with him as a mighty warrior. This gives the impression of someone running around with a sword, no one could stand in his way.

‘But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so, my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonour will never be forgotten. LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.’ Jeremiah 20:11-13

Coffman says, ‘The appearance of this remarkable expression of faith and trust in Jehovah and a repeated call for men to sing God’s praise beautifully expresses the attitude with which Jeremiah came through the terrible sorrows depicted in this chapter; nor can the subsequent verses of the chapter cast any reflection against such a conclusion. Let it be noted that there were no more complaints or laments by Jeremiah. After the conclusion of this chapter, the attitude expressed in verses 11-13 ever afterwards prevailed as the true faith and attitude of the great prophet. We believe that the very fact of there being no more complaints proves this to be true. ‘In later times when the prophet had more afflictions to endure, we no longer read of his trembling or bewailing the sufferings connected to his calling.’

‘Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child is born to you—a son!’ May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?’ Jeremiah 20:14-18

Some scholars believe it would be a mistake to say that Jeremiah was cursing his birth. These false prophets were saying everything would be good, but it won’t. It wasn’t a good time to be born, to talk about the good news. He is simply saying, that this isn’t a good time to be born, to be around. Some say that because of verse 18, it means that Jeremiah had had so much trouble from the people as a prophet of God, that he wished he had never been born.

It was against the Law of Moses for a person to curse one’s parents, and Jeremiah carefully avoided doing that. He didn’t actually curse his mother, he cursed the day that he was born, he didn’t curse his father, but the man who brought news of his birth to his father. Leviticus 20:9 / Leviticus 24:10-16.

The words in this final section are so radically different from the trust and confidence expressed in previous verses. Because of this, scholars are at a loss as to know how to interpret them.

Matthew Henry, an older scholar, and a man of incredibly extensive reading and understanding, his was the first commentary I ever possessed, he stated, with regard to verses 14-18, ‘Seems to be Jeremiah’s relation of his thoughts while he was in the ferment he had experienced in the stocks, and out of which his faith and hope had rescued him, rather than a new temptation into which he later fell.’

He also refers to another scripture where a similar thing happened. David said in Psalm 31:22 ‘I said in my grief, I am cut off’.

So perhaps we should understand that these words of Jeremiah relate to what he said to himself whilst in the torture of the stocks.

I can just imagine that Jeremiah, as he looked back on the many years of pleading, and preaching, to God’s people that he felt that, in one sense, he had totally wasted his life. And it was probably that sense of failure that caused his depression and despondency when he thought about it.

Coffman says, ‘That Jeremiah indeed, during his torture at the hands of Pashhur, felt deserted even by God himself could not be called a sin; for the Holy Christ Himself cried from the Gross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

Note that he ‘felt’ that way, it wasn’t a reality, just like Christ on the cross, God didn’t turn His back on Him.

Go To Jeremiah 21