And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:32-34)
Hebrews chapter 11 mentions “the prophets” and portrays them as examples of faith. One of the characteristics of faith is endurance. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. Such endurance means that we stand firm in the face of adversity; we persist through hardship; we do not make compromises even in persecution; and in failure, we are not discouraged. The prophets best exemplify this spirit of endurance. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the prophets as examples to encourage his disciples:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12
A prophet is a servant of God. He is to speak only what God commands him, and only to the people to whom God sends him. Prophets are often hated by men, and it is not uncommon for prophets to be beaten and killed (Matthew 23:34). They bear the burden of a lonely life, some even living in the desert or in caves (Matthew 3:1; 1 Kings 18:13). They earn barely enough to live by (Amos 7:12), depending even on the ravens for food (1 Kings 17:4). At times, their lives are so difficult that they cannot help but cry out to God “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life!” (1 Kings 19:4) If not for God’s calling, who would willingly endure such a hard life as a prophet?
When God’s Call is Upon You
In the latter years of the kingdom of Judah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, calling him to become a prophet of God.
The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:4-6)
When Jeremiah was called, his first reaction was to refuse. His reason? “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” He was afraid he would not be up to the task. A prophet speaks. If one does not know how to speak, how can he be a prophet? Jeremiah’s reason seemed legitimate, but God did not accept it.
Do not say, “I am only a child.” 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, declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
When God’s call is upon you, there can be no reason for refusing to heed His call. You do not know how to speak? God will give you the words. You lack ability? God will enable you. God’s call is full of power, and He will empower those whom He calls. Brothers and sisters, when God calls you, you must only look to God, and not look at yourself. Do you trust God? Do you believe that if God calls you, He will not fail you? Although God may not call us to be a prophet, but He does call us to be a disciple. We must gladly accept this call, and walk on this journey of faith with Him.
The Lord told Jeremiah that “I am with you and will rescue you”. This is both a forewarning and a promise: it forewarns that Jeremiah will encounter hardship, and promises that he will be rescued. Sure enough, Jeremiah experienced a lot of hardship, almost being killed on several occasions, yet God was with him and rescued him.
Escaped the Edge of the Sword
There were many people who wanted Jeremiah dead, including Jehoiakim king of Judah. Early in the reign of Jehoiakim, the Lord told Jeremiah to stand in the courtyard of the Lord’s house and speak to all the people this message:
Say to them, “This is what the Lord says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth.” (Jeremiah 26:4-6)
How did the people react to this message? They seized him and said “You must die!” (Jeremiah 26:8) The priests and prophets, who were the religious leaders of their day, were the most riled up. They told the officials and all the people, “This man should be sentenced to death because he has prophesied against this city. You have heard it with your own ears!” (Jeremiah 26:11) Jeremiah explained that the purpose of his message from God was to appeal to them to reform their ways and to obey the Lord, so that the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster He has pronounced against them. The people accepted his explanation and did not put him to death. But King Jehoiakim was not persuaded so easily. A man named Uriah also prophesied the same things “against this city and this land”, as Jeremiah did. So King Jehoiakim wanted to kill him. Uriah fled to Egypt, but Jehoiakim sent men to Egypt to capture him.
They brought Uriah out of Egypt and took him to King Jehoiakim, who had him struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people. Furthermore, Ahikam son of Shaphan supported Jeremiah, and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death. (Jeremiah 26:23-24)
And so Uriah died by the sword, while Jeremiah escaped this turmoil unscathed, his life preserved.
The Lord Hid Them
Several years later, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah again. Jeremiah dictated the word of the Lord to Baruch, who recorded all the words on a scroll. Baruch gave the scroll to the officials, who presented it to king Jehoiakim. The king ordered the scroll to be read to him. It was winter, and there was a fire burning in the firepot in front of him.
Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the firepot, until the entire scroll was burned in the fire…Instead, the king commanded Jerahmeel, a son of the king, Seraiah son of Azriel and Shelemiah son of Abdeel to arrest Baruch the scribe and Jeremiah the prophet. But the Lord had hidden them. (Jeremiah 36:23, 26)
This time, the message was cut by a knife, while the messenger was protected because “the Lord had hidden them”.
The Jeremiahs and Stephens
Before I wrote this article, there was a news report about two Chinese nationals who were kidnapped and killed by ISIS terrorists in Pakistan. Later reports confirm 24-year-old Lee and 26-year-old Meng as missionaries sent by house churches in China. There were eleven missionaries traveling with them who have now safely arrived back home. There are many like them, who go as missionaries to dangerous areas. (South China Morning Post, 7/18/2017)
In this present generation, God is still calling us. There are believers who respond to God’s calling and give their lives completely to Him, embarking on a journey that could mean ultimate death. Some lives are preserved, like Jeremiah. Some end up giving their lives, like Stephen of the early church who was stoned to death, or like these two missionaries who were killed just a few weeks ago. Those whose lives were saved were rescued so that they may continue to serve the Lord. Those who were martyred have fought the good fight and are now in the presence of God. Whether in life or in death, they have set an example of faith for us, and brought glory to God.
The experience of Jeremiah teaches us:
- When God’s call is upon you, respond in faith.
- Whether one lives or dies, God has His purpose, and can use all situations as a testament to faith.