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.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ 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. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” The word of the Lord came to me again: “What do you see?” “I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.” The Lord said to me, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,” declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 1:4-15
I debated about whether to start Jeremiah now or wait for the new year to start this stretch of river, but I decided to push on into Jeremiah this morning. From what I have learned about Jeremiah he was a prophet somewhat similar to Isaiah. I am looking forward to this part of my journey as I have not really spent much time reflecting on the book of Jeremiah. The book starts by placing the prophecies into a historic context.
Jeremiah began his prophetic mission under king Josiah (about 627 BC) and finished in the eleventh year of king Zedekiah (586 BC). Judah was being fought over by regional superpowers, Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria. Judah attempted to revolt against this outside oppression but was eventually defeated and sent into exile in Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed.
This passage begins by alluding to the “secret place” described in Psalm 139:1-18. God wants to assure Jeremiah that He is a God who sees him and He has set him apart for a very important purpose — to be a prophet to a stubborn and recalcitrant people. Jeremiah thinks maybe God has the wrong man, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” This seems like the height of vanity to believe that we know ourselves better than the God who made us, but alas I think we all harbor similar thoughts at times.
As we dwell in this land of oblivion the knowledge that was so clear in the “secret place” prior to being born becomes muddled and unclear. We behave like cave dwellers suddenly thrust into the blinding light of the world. God seems to become more difficult to see. God reassures Jeremiah that “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you”. This is the same reassurance that is extended to all who faithfully follow God.
God puts his words in Jeremiah’s mouth and begins to provide visions and prophecies. The very first vision God provides Jeremiah is “the branch of an almond tree”. This is apparently a reminder for Jeremiah that he is only a branch connected to the much larger tree which is God. God says “I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled”. I think this would be both reassuring and scary for Jeremiah. God has his back, but it is important that Jeremiah not confuse the abilities given by God with his own abilities. This first vision seems like it was a “test” of sorts to be sure that Jeremiah understands his role as the mouthpiece of God.
The next vision is the one that contains a water reference and led me to this stretch of water. Jeremiah describes what he sees: “I see a pot that is boiling,” I answered. “It is tilting toward us from the north.” This sounds like a clear prophecy about an invasion from the north, probably by the Babylonians. Isaiah shared a prophecy about boiling water in Isaiah 64:1-7. In that instance it seemed to have a metaphoric meaning that shed some light on the spiritual realm. This instance seems to be more tied to the physical aspects of boiling water.
Boiling water can scald you if you are not careful to avoid spilling it on yourself. This prophecy seems to be alluding to the pouring of boiling water on the nation on Judah from the north. This will undoubtedly result in the scalding of many, great discomfort, and pain. It seems God will either allow this to happen or even assist in the tipping process. This is somewhat confusing, but God seems almost desperate to get the attention of a people that have not only forgotten Him, but are actively replacing him with other gods and idols.
This makes me wonder what it will take to get the attention of our current generation who often seem to be hard at work replacing God with idols and false gods. I hope it will not take a similar brush with boiling water to get our attention, but it may.
Prayer: God you want to have our full attention and love. Help us to find a way to give it to you without the need for painful “boiling water”.