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Swimming Upstream … Standing Alone

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Jeremiah 11–15

Jeremiah had the unpleasant experience of being rejected for speaking the truth. It would happen many times in his prophetic ministry. There is always a cost to following the Lord, and we can learn much from Jeremiah’s life, trials, and struggles about dealing with that reality.


Swimming Upstream … Standing Alone

Jeremiah 11–15


My missionary parents always encouraged my brothers and me to stand for the truth, even if it meant standing alone. They often repeated the parable that any dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream, against the current.

That has never been easy. And if you are a Christian, there is probably something going on in your life right now that requires you to swim upstream. You have discovered by now that following the Lord is not always easy. Beloved, He never promised you smooth sailing, but He did promise you a safe landing—and strength along the way.

As for the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord is about to lead him into a storm with high winds and rough water. He is going to face angry and hateful people, physical threats, and discomfort. He reminds me of George Whitefield, who preached during the great revivals of the 1700s. Thousands would gather to hear him, and it was not unusual for people to become so angry with his message they would take rotten eggs or even rocks and throw them at him, sometimes knocking Whitefield down. There were times when he feared for his life.

I can tell you, beloved, that after pastoring now for several decades, I have never once had anybody throw something at me while I preached. I’ve never had anybody throw a rotten egg or a rock at me—maybe that is why my ministry is not nearly as effective as George Whitefield’s! I have had people walk out on me, and I have received a lot of angry letters, but I have never faced an angry mob. Well, Jeremiah’s ministry is going to experience all of that and much more.

The Lord called Jeremiah to swim against the current of his culture, and he will suffer physical threats, ridicule, and hatred from the very people he loves.

Now, beginning here in chapter 11, the Lord speaks to Jeremiah in verses 2-4:

“Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenantthat I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”

The timing of this message probably coincided with King Josiah rediscovering the Book of the Law of Moses.[1] This discovery led Josiah to institute reforms to bring the nation back to obeying the covenant with God. Sadly, his attempts did not bring genuine revival.

Jeremiah’s preaching didn’t either. In fact, the Lord tells Jeremiah here in verse 10:

“They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant.”

As a result, God says in verse 11, “I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen.”

At this point, we get a glimpse of what it meant for Jeremiah to swim upstream. There is now a plot against his life (verse 19). This must have hurt him deeply because we are told in verse 21 that the people of Anathoth, his hometown, are part of the plot. These are Jeremiah’s people. He should have been a hometown hero, but they hate him instead. Maybe you are facing something similar today—perhaps your parents, your children, or your childhood friends want nothing to do with you because you are a follower of God.

Well, Jeremiah is hurt by all of this, and he speaks to the Lord here in the first verse of chapter 12:

Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you . . . Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Maybe you are wondering the same thing: Why do wicked people seem to have it better in life than you, when you are the one serving the Lord? Well, in essence, God tells Jeremiah that the two of them are working on different timetables. God’s calendar is different from Jeremiah’s.

The nineteenth-century hymn writer and pastor Phillips Brooks was once visited by a friend who found Brooks pacing around his study. The friend asked him what the trouble was, and Brooks said, “The trouble is that I am in a hurry, and God is not!”

Well, even the great prophet Jeremiah is having to learn what everyone of us has to learn—how to wait for God.

Here in the final verses of chapter 12, Jeremiah is given a vision far into the future when God gathers a repentant and restored nation to their promised land. This looks to the future millennial kingdom when Jesus rules and reigns from the land of Israel.

In chapter 13, Jeremiah begins preaching messages through object lessons—and this, no doubt, grabs the attention of his audience.

God tells Jeremiah in verse 1, “Go out and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist.” A loincloth was an undergarment worn next to the skin. Jeremiah wears it for a while, and then God tells him to go out and bury it in the dirt under some rocks. Jeremiah obeys, and then many days later, the Lord tells him to retrieve it. Jeremiah digs it up and then writes, “The loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing” (verse 7).

That garment was a symbol of the nation; the Lord spells it out here in verse 10:

“This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart . . . shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.”

The Lord adds in verse 23, “Can the Ethiopian change [the color of] his skin or the leopard his spots?” In other words, the people are so entrenched in idolatry that nothing is going to change their minds and their hearts.

The rest of chapter 13 and all of chapter 14 give us details of God’s judgment. God takes special note of the so-called prophets. They have been running around telling the people that God is not going to do anything about their idolatry. The essence of their false prophecies is recorded in Jeremiah 14:13: “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.”

But God makes it clear what they are doing:

“The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying . . . the deceit of their own minds.” (verse 14)

Let me tell you, beloved, false prophets are still in business today. They are making up things in their own minds and doing it in God’s name. But God has not spoken to them and is not speaking through them. Their visions are created in their own self-deceived minds as they lead people astray.

Can you imagine being Jeremiah here? Talk about swimming upstream—he is the only prophet telling the people the truth. And what a heartbreak it is for him—he is preaching to people, knowing they have rejected God for the last time.

What about you? Are you rejecting God’s invitation? This could be God’s final call to you—I don’t know the mind of God—but do not risk your eternal future. If your heart is pricked and your conscience troubled, that is a good thing. The door is still open; walk through it. Give your heart and your life to Jesus Christ right now. Put your faith in Him. Do it now, before the judgment of God on your life becomes irreversible.

And if you are a believer today, become a little more like Jeremiah. Be faithful to share God’s Word, even if people reject your message, even if somebody throws something at you. You may not have to dodge a rock, but you will likely have to endure some unkind words. Just continue swimming upstream as you faithfully follow the Word of God.

[1] 2 Kings 22

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