Fire In My Bones
O Jehovah, thou has persuaded me, and I was persuaded; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am become a laughing-stock all the day, everyone mocketh me. For as often as I speak, I cry out; I cry, Violence and destruction! because the word of Jehovah is made a reproach unto me, and a derision, all the day. And if I say, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain. For I have heard the defaming of many, terror on every side. Denounce, and we will denounce him, say all my familiar friends, they that watch for my fall; peradventure he will be persuaded, and we shall prevail against him and we shall take our revenge on him. But Jehovah is with me as a mighty one and a terrible: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail; they shall be utterly put to shame, because they have not dealt wisely, even with an everlasting dishonor which shall never be forgotten. But, O Jehovah of hosts, that triest the righteous, that seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I revealed my cause. Sing unto Jehovah, praise ye Jehovah, for he hath delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evildoers (Jeremiah 20:7-13).
While the divine missions of many Bible people seem heroic and adventuresome, no one would want the missions of some of God's great servants. Jeremiah had one of those undesirable missions. He prophesied to Judea and Jerusalem for over forty years declaring the fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity. The early recipients of his prophecies were prosperous, secure, confident of the future, and wicked.
In Jeremiah's day it was fashionable to be wicked. The Jews went to the temple, called upon God, and declared their faith in His deliverance. They departed from worship to live as they pleased (Jeremiah 7:8-11). Because God's temple sat in Jerusalem, they were certain God would protect them (Jeremiah 7:1-7). Because they lived in the city of God, they regarded the suggestion that Jerusalem would fall as stupid and ridiculous.
Jeremiah's mission was to tell these people, "God will to longer overlook your sin. You are not God's people. A pagan enemy will destroy this city and take you into foreign captivity." It takes no imagination to realize Jeremiah's unpopularity as he declared his message (see Jeremiah 5).
To illustrate the unpopular nature of Jeremiah's mission, suppose God sent a special message to your preacher for the town. He is to declare publicly, "Because of your wickedness, God is going to utterly destroy this town. All will stand helpless before the enemy and lose everything they possess." The congregation reacts to this public embarrassment by denying him the pulpit. No church will allow him in their building. The street is the only place he can proclaim his message. Day after day, year after year, he proclaims, "Because of the adultery, the deceitfulness, the sensuality, the drunkenness, and the hypocritical religious activities, God will destroy this town."
How would the public react to this man? He would be known as the "crazy old preacher." He would be laughed at, mocked, and abused. If a newcomer inquired, "Who is this?" he would be told, "That is the crazy old preacher who thinks God will destroy this town. Ignore him."
This was Jeremiah's predicament as he fulfilled his mission. He was hated and ignored, and few took him seriously. Though his message was rejected, he knew it would happen. Thus his message became an enormous burden to him. The text reveals the intense, on-going inner struggle in his life.
He was a continual laughingstock. Being laughed at is painfully humiliating. The strong sense of rejection and degradation makes one wish to avoid the laughers. Though their laughter hurt Jeremiah, he returned and again declared the message to the laughers.
He was mocked. The pain of being mimicked and ridiculed quickly generates hot anger. Even to be mimicked jokingly hurts and humiliates. The hurt of mockery is biting and bitter. Though he despised the mockery, he declared the message.
The message itself became his reproach. The prophecy itself was a source of derision. The people did not want to hear what God told him to say. Even the few who believed him probably thought him foolish for his constant public declarations. No one thanked him for his message, appreciated his commitment, admired his faith, or respected him. No doubt everyone knew him and instantly recognized his message. That message doomed him to be "crazy old Jeremiah" who thought Jerusalem would fall.
Though Scripture does not record the insults hurled at him, they are easily imagined. "Jeremiah, was Jerusalem still standing when you got up today?" "Did you see the enemy coming today?" "Be careful when you leave the city, Jeremiah. The enemy is hiding in the hills." Each barb of ridicule likely produced a howl of laughter.
Others tried to scare Jeremiah into silence. The king, the counselors, and the aristocrats did not appreciate a "crazy man" scaring people about an imagined, impending invasion. Such ideas would irritate politicians and anger merchants. Who wants anyone continually hollering war and defeat? They did not silence Jeremiah, but they did terrify him.
His friends would denounce him when he prophesied "that same stupid sermon" again. They also watched for his fall. They yearned to see him fail as a prophet, and they tried to convince him he was wrong.
Can a more discouraging, disheartening task be imagined? While Jeremiah endured all this, he knew the prophecy was true. His persecutors and tormentors were wrong; they would fall. They would be utterly shamed and humiliated by an unforgettable, everlasting dishonor. Though he hoped to see God's vengeance, that hope was of no comfort. The first statement following the text is, "Cursed be the day wherein I was born."
Why did Jeremiah continue prophesying? Why not stop? He gives three reasons for continuing. First, God persuaded him. He knew God wanted the message proclaimed and wanted him to proclaim it. God's persuasiveness would not let him refuse. Second, God was stronger than he. He had struggled against his mission seriously considering rejecting the responsibility. However, his dissatisfaction was no match for the strength of God's determination. Third, there was a fire in his bones. There were moments when he closed his mouth and refused to speak. In those moments, the message's urgency and truthfulness refused to be denied. It was a fire burning in his bones.
The figure of fire in the bones is powerfully descriptive. A burn produces constant pain; nothing cools the fire in burned flesh. Imagine the continuing, deep pain of a fire in the marrow of the bones. Such pain would so obsess a person it could not be ignored. In the same manner Jeremiah's message obsessed him. In all his misery, Jeremiah prophesied because fire burned in his bones.
A Beneficial Fire
Every Christian who wishes to walk with God on earth and to live with God in heaven should pray for fire in his bones. First, he should pray that his desire for knowledge and understanding of God's Word become such a fire. An undeniable sense of urgency must motivate him to be a constant student of the Word. His hunger for knowledge and understanding must be undeniable. He wants a clear, full understanding which enables him to share God's Word intelligently. When frustration and weariness discourage him, he wants to be powerless to quit learning and sharing.
Second, he should pray that his concern for people, for their needs and for their salvation become a fire in his bones. He wants the compassion, kindness, meekness, and forgiving spirit which lived in Jesus to burn within him. He never wishes to be content to teach or to counsel out of a sense of duty. He wishes to be ruled by the same sense of caring which ruled Jesus. When he is tired, when he has been hurt, when his caring has been spurned, or when he has been unjustly criticized, he wants the fire to keep the caring alive.
Third, he should pray that his commitment to moral practices and ethical principles become a fire in his bones. If society calls evil good and good evil, he never wants to confuse the two. If dishonesty becomes acceptable and profitable, he wants to honor the truth, to keep his word, and to keep confidences in all circumstances. If Christians reject responsibility by rationalization and ignore right, he wants to heed all righteousness. He wants the fire to demand he walk uprightly even if he must walk alone.
Fourth, he should pray that his acceptance of his responsibility to use himself for the good of the Lord become a fire in his bones. He wants the heat of that fire to evaporate selfishness as he remembers he does not belong to himself. The memory of Jesus the Servant is to fuel the fire. When tempted to think that he serves too much, works too hard, or is unjustly burdened, he wants to see his folly immediately. He wants the fire to make it impossible to salve his conscience with rationalizations or excuses.
The prayer for such a fire is the desire to be filled with an undeniable sense of need and urgency. It is the desire to be unable to neglect God's purposes or restrain godly forces within himself. It is the yearning to be as helpless before God's purposes as was Jeremiah.
Unfortunately, some Christians regard the desire for such fire as ridiculous. "Why pray to be possessed in that manner? Such commitment would create many crises and problems. Why not seek a spiritual life of convenience?" A New Testament Christian NEVER wants merely to call himself a Christian. THE priority of life is to succeed spiritually in Christ. Regardless of the cost, he wants to do God's will. The successful Christian's greatest asset is fire in the bones. He cherishes the fire because he cherishes spiritual success.
Review Thought Question
What are the most helpful lessons about Christian living which you have learned from this study?
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