The Measure of Success
They called it the dungeon of Malchiah, but it was actually an abandoned cistern near the center of the prison courtyard in Jerusalem (Jer. 38:6). The floor was a slimy quagmire covered with layers of silt and mud deposited over decades, if not centuries.
Sitting in the mire, Jeremiah had time to reflect on his ministry of almost 40 years. An ordinary man would have quit long ago, unwilling to endure the mocking and scorn. Most would not have left themselves vulnerable to the humiliation of public whippings, not to mention the stocks. One experience in the dungeon alone was enough to dampen the spirits of even the most committed prophet.
At his commissioning, the Lord hinted at the nature of Jeremiah’s ministry when He told him, “‘Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you’” (Jer. 1: 8). Then the Lord reiterated: “‘They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you,’ says the Lᴏʀᴅ, ‘to deliver you’” (v. 19).
during his ministry, Jeremiah came to understand experientially the significance of the Lord’s words. The people of Jerusalem wrote Jeremiah off as a nuisance and tried to ignore his unpopular message, but they could not evade its truth.
For the first 20 years of his ministry, Jeremiah preached to an apathetic nation that ostracized and stifled him. His warning of impending judgment fell on deaf ears. Surrounded by a cacophony of voices, Jeremiah’s message stood in sharp contrast to the soothing “peace, peace” being preached in every quarter (Jer. 6:14). While others seduced with lies assuring tranquility and safety, Jeremiah alone spoke the truth.
In the fourth year of Judean King Jehoiakim’s reign, however, apathy gave way to evil. With the Babylonian army gathered around Jerusalem and fear gripping the hearts of everyone, including the king, Jeremiah’s knife-like message cut through the false assurances and confirmed the reality of God’s judgment.
So the bothersome prophet was dragged out of the Temple, beaten, and locked in stocks at the High Gate of Benjamin. His thoughts that long, lonely night are probably reflected in his discourse with the Lord the following day: “O Lᴏʀᴅ, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; Everyone mocks me” (Jer. 20:7).
The Lord’s words, which had initially brought joy and rejoicing to Jeremiah’s heart, brought nothing but loneliness, derision, conflict, and grief when communicated to defiant Judah.
He confessed that he even wanted to quit ministering but was compelled to continue: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ but His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not” (Jer. 20:9).
God’s Word became like a molten, seething fire trapped inside him. No matter how viciously people reacted to his message, Jeremiah could not keep silent.
He emerged from this struggle with firm resolve and a renewed sense of purpose. Prohibited from speaking in public, Jeremiah delivered his written messages through his faithful scribe, Baruch. Banned from the Temple, he was forced into hiding for fear of his life. Under the reign of Zedekiah, a weak, vacillating king, Jeremiah’s life became an ordeal lived between dungeons and the prison court.
Finally, in 586 B.C., the Babylonians penetrated Jerusalem. They burned the city, destroyed the Temple, and began the final deportation to Babylon. Scripture says King Nebuchadnezzar himself had given Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, orders to take good care of Jeremiah: “‘Take him and look after him, and do him no harm; but do to him just as he says to you’” (Jer. 39:12).
Jeremiah had been chained and brought to Ramah, where the Israelites were being prepared for their long march into exile (40:1). Nebuzaradan released Jeremiah, telling him he could either go to Babylon with him, “‘and I will look after you,’” or remain in the land. Jeremiah remained (v. 4). Soon after, Judean rebels dragged him into Egypt against his will, and there he died.
Although he came to the end of his ministry at odds with almost everyone to whom he ministered, his 40 years of faithful service to God make him one of the great saints of Scripture. And the fact that his message proved true identifies Jeremiah as God’s spokesman, making his ministry an irrefutable success.