The Dark Night (Jeremiah 20:1–8)

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Stuart Chase - 23 Apr 2017

The Dark Night (Jeremiah 20:1–8)

Miscellaneous

If ever the prophet Jeremiah experienced a dark night of the soul, it was during the events recorded in chapter 20. As God’s appointed prophet, he faced inevitable opposition (vv. 1–6), but he continued to understand his inescapable orders (vv. 7–18). In this fifth and final “confession” of Jeremiah, we learn four vital truths about suffering that Christians experience for the sake of God’s truth.

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For most people, poetry is something that you either get or you don’t get. Years ago I read a comic strip in which a man explained, in poetic terms, the beauty of his true love to a messenger bird, who was tasked to communicate it to her. “Tell her that her eyes sparkle like the moon reflected on the still water on a starry night; and that her hair glistens like the moist moss lying on the rocks,” he said. The bird flew off to the woman and summarised: “He says you look like a swamp.” Clearly the bird had little appreciation for poetry.

Some poetry is very culturally specific. Solomon commended his bride for her “hair like a flock of goats,” her “teeth like a flock of sheep” and her “nose like the tower of Lebanon.” This is not the most romantic language by our standards, and yet they are the inspired words of the most romantic book in the Bible—Song of Songs!

Love it or hate it, understand it or not, some poetry has made its way into the halls of cultural iconography. Take, for example, an eight-stanza, forty-line poem written in the sixteenth century by Spanish poet St. John of the Cross. This short poem was so meaningful to its author that he wrote two book-length commentaries on it. If I included the words of the poem here, you might not recognise them, but you would almost certainly recognise the title, which has entered mainstream English as something of a catchphrase.

The poem is titled, Dark Night of the Soul. (The author actually simply titled his poem The Dark Night, but that phrase may conjure up fewer images of a Spanish poet than of Batman!) In common parlance, a “dark night of the soul” refers to the general difficulties of life. In his poem, however, St. John uses the term to speak specifically of the trials that attend the pilgrim journey toward fellowship with God. For him, a dark night has the specific goal of sanctifying for the purpose of fellowship. A dark night has the specific purpose of purging the pilgrim on the road to divine union.

Oh, night that guided me,
oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
lover transformed in the Beloved!

If ever the prophet Jeremiah experienced a dark night of the soul, it was during the events recorded in chapter 20. This was the low point of his ministry—the day in which he effectively blamed God for his trials, expressed his desire to reject his calling, and even cursed the day in which he was born. This last confession has been called Jeremiah’s “saddest and bitterest complaint” (Hyatt) and the most “honest expression of his deepest emotions” (Wiersbe).

It is vital to a proper understanding of chapter 20 that we review the events of chapter 19, because everything that happens in chapter 20 is a response to the events of chapter 19. Therefore, while I will focus attention on chapter 20, which records Jeremiah’s fifth and final confession, it will help you to read chapter 19 before you continue with this study.

Thus says the LORD, “Go, buy a potter’s earthenware flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests, and go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the entry of the Potsherd Gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you. You shall say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing such disaster upon this place that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.  Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents,  and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem, and will cause their people to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies for food to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its wounds.  And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his neighbour in the siege and in the distress, with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.’

“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: So will I break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, so that it can never be mended. Men shall bury in Topheth because there will be no place else to bury. Thus will I do to this place, declares the LORD, and to its inhabitants, making this city like Topheth. The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah— all the houses on whose roofs offerings have been offered to all the host of heaven, and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods—shall be defiled like the place of Topheth.’”

Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy, and he stood in the court of the LORD’s house and said to all the people: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.”

(Jeremiah 19:1–15)

You may remember that, in chapter 18, God had sent Jeremiah to the local pottery as an illustration of his utter sovereignty in judgement over Jerusalem. Chapter 19 advances this theme of pottery when God commands Jeremiah to purchase a potter’s earthenware flask as another illustration of his coming judgement.

God sent Jeremiah to the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. If that sounds familiar, it is because it is the place that, in Greek, was known as Gehenna. The Greek word Gehenna is the New Testament word that is usually translated “hell” but, historically, referred to a valley just outside the walls of Jerusalem, which was built on a mountain. Jesus used Gehenna as a picture of the final judgement because, following the prophecy right here in Jeremiah 19, the valley became a symbol of divine judgement.

Take a moment to get out of your head the urban legend that Gehenna was an ever-burning garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. There is no historical evidence that that was ever the case. Gehenna was indeed a valley just outside Jerusalem. But the biblical significance of that valley as a place of judgement is found here in chapter 19. Through Jeremiah, God warned Jerusalem that judgement was coming. The judgement would be so severe, the death toll so high, that there would be insufficient place in the usual burial grounds to dispose of the corpses. Dead bodies would therefore be piled in the valley. It would become a place of slaughter, where carnivorous beasts would feast on the corpses of God’s enemies.

Historians tell us that this happened precisely as God warned. When Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in 587 BC, corpses were flung into Gehenna because there was nowhere else to bury them. In fact, Josephus tells us that the same thing happened in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. When the Jews in the first century heard Jesus speaking of Gehenna (and it is a word that, with one exception in the epistle of James, is always found in the New Testament coming from the mouth of Jesus), they would have thought of Jeremiah 19. Gehenna represented divine judgement—a place of slaughter, where God’s enemies were executed and dead bodies piled for scavengers to consume. That is what Jeremiah prophesied in chapter 19. And it is that prophecy that, as we will see, so upset Pashhur in chapter 20.

Chapter 20, which is something of a rollercoaster ride, is the response of unbelieving Israel to Jeremiah’s warnings. It’s an almost depressing narrative. And yet it is one that is greatly instructive for us. Very broadly speaking, the chapter can be divided into two sections. Verses 1–6 give a narrative account of the unbelieving response of the people, represented by the temple’s chief officer, to Jeremiah’s ministry. Verses 7–18 (the “confession” proper) show Jeremiah’s response to the rejection of his ministry by God’s people.

The Inevitable Opposition

Jeremiah faced inevitable opposition for his faithfulness to God’s message:

Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the LORD, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD. The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The LORD does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. For thus says the LORD: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword. Moreover, I will give all the wealth of the city, all its gains, all its prized belongings, and all the treasures of the kings of Judah into the hand of their enemies, who shall plunder them and seize them and carry them to Babylon. And you, Pashhur, and all who dwell in your house, shall go into captivity. To Babylon you shall go, and there you shall die, and there you shall be buried, you and all your friends, to whom you have prophesied falsely.”

(Jeremiah 20:1–6)

“Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer” was head of security at the temple compound. The name Pashhur means “tranquillity,” a meaning that will prove significant in a moment.

Angry at Jeremiah’s preaching, Pashhur took matters into his own hands (vv. 1–2). He “beat” Jeremiah and “put him in the stocks.” The “stocks” were a rack in which the prisoner’s wrists, ankles, and neck were bound, and his body contorted painfully. It was a form of torture. Astonishingly, these “stocks,” which are never commanded or condoned in the Old Testament narrative, were placed at a prominent area of the temple compound—”in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the LORD”—where the prisoner’s shame could attract the maximum public attention. This reminds us somewhat of crucifixion in the New Testament, since both were deliberately designed to maximise the recipient’s pain and public shame. Jeremiah had been threatened on several occasions prior to this but this is the first time that he was actually physically assaulted.

“The next day” (v. 3) Jeremiah was released. Some have surmised that this release was a show of remorse on Pashhur’s part. It may have simply been the case that Pashhur considered his task to be complete. Regardless, it was too late: The damage had been done. He had assaulted God’s appointed messenger and his opposition invited sure judgement.

Jeremiah immediately spoke out against Pashhur, renaming him “Terror on Every Side” (v. 3), or “Magor-missabib” (NKJV). One of the things I don’t like about the ESV is the way it translates names instead of just transliterating them. Technically, Jeremiah did not name Pashhur “Terror on Every Side.” He named him Magor-missabib, which means“terror on every side.” It would be like me referring to a person named Gary as “Spear” because that’s what his name means.

Regardless, Jeremiah had already used this Hebrew term to describe God’s judgement upon Judah (6:25), and he would use it again at least three more times (46:5; 49:5, 29). Here, however, Jeremiah applies the term as a name for Pashhur, who would thereby become the personification of God’s judgement upon Judah. For Pashhur, the name change was a prophecy that he, all his loved ones, and indeed the whole city of Jerusalem, would fall to the Babylonians (vv. 4–6). This is the first time in Jeremiah that Babylon is explicitly identified as God’s instrument of judgement.

The overriding principle in these six verses is the necessity of believers heeding God’s prophetic word. Pashhur was coming under God’s judgement for rejecting his prophetic word through Jeremiah. We don’t have prophets today, but the Bible is God’s prophetic word to his church, and when the Bible is taught, we must pay attention. Regardless of who the preacher is, when God’s word is faithfully proclaimed, we must heed it as the very word of God. At least, that is the case when the word is faithfully proclaimed—not like the false prophets! Rejecting faithful teaching is as serious a matter as embracing false teaching.

The Inescapable Orders

Jeremiah responded, initially, by rejecting his calling, but quickly realising that his divine orders were inescapable.

O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten. O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

(Jeremiah 20:7–18)

There are times in the Bible when God’s messengers are opposed and it seemingly leaves them emotionally unaffected. Elijah was opposed and, seemingly unperturbed, called fire from heaven to destroy his enemies. Elisha was mocked by a group of youths and simply called bears from a nearby forest to maul the children. Jesus told his disciples to shake rejection off like dust from the feet.

Were chapter 20 to end with v. 6, we might think that this was the case with Jeremiah. Opposed, he responded with a strong condemnation of the one rejecting God’s truth—like Elijah or Elisha. But Jeremiah’s response in private shows just how deeply he was affected by the opposition he faced. And yet even in the face of deep emotional despair, Jeremiah realised that his calling was inescapable. The unshakeable truth of God’s word necessitated perseverance in faithful ministry.

As I have said, the way that Jeremiah responded to his dark night teaches us important lessons about responding biblically in our own dark night. We can learn at least four important lessons—and we might title each of these lessons with the name of a well-known hymn. When people oppose your faithful ministry to God, there are four things you should do.

Take It to the Lord in Prayer

The first lesson is that, in our dark night, we must take it to the Lord in prayer: “O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (v. 7).

Jeremiah’s honesty in prayer is startling—and at several points he almost, if not actually, crosses the line—but the mere fact that he took his burdens to God in prayer is commendable. We would do well to learn from Jeremiah that we can be honest with the Lord in the dark night of our soul.

The NKJV somewhat softens the language that Jeremiah uses here. In the NKJV, “induced” and “persuaded” translate the same Hebrew word, which the ESV better renders as “deceived.” Feinberg observes, “The verb “deceived’ is so bold and offensive to religious sensibilities that some have tried to soften it by translating it ‘persuaded’ or ‘enticed’ so that the verse does not seem to verge on blasphemy. In its intensive form (as here) the verb means ‘to seduce,’ as a virgin is seduced.” That is precisely how Exodus 22:16 translates it: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife.”

Jeremiah felt that the Lord had intended to “deceive” him and had “prevailed” in doing so. The reason that he felt that way is stated plainly: “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me” (v. 7). “I didn’t sign up to be mocked!” he seems to have been saying.

Of course, Jeremiah had no real grounds for feeling “deceived.” God had told him from the outset (see 1:7–10) that the people would not listen to him. He was experiencing precisely what God had promised him. Nevertheless, he felt “deceived” and he did the right thing: He prayed about it.

By the way, don’t think that your experience in faithful Christian ministry will be any different. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

(John 15:18–21)

If you are serious about Christian truth, be prepared for opposition. If you have been exposed to the gospel and are thinking of bowing the knee to Christ, be prepared for opposition. And when you face opposition, take it to the Lord in prayer.

The Bible Stands

The second lesson we learn is that the Bible stands.

For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.”

(Jeremiah 20:8–10)

The second lesson we learn is that, even in the dark night of the soul—even when we feel like giving up on faithful Christian living and ministry—God’s truth remains firm.

These verses are often misunderstood. Jeremiah was not declaring his burning passion to preach God’s truth. Quite the opposite, he would have loved to have quit. But quitting would not take away from the fact that God’s truth remained God’s truth.

“For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’” (v. 8). “You’ve deceived me because you never told me that I would only get to preach a negative message.” “For” ties back to v. 7—Jeremiah felt deceived at having to preach negatively all the time. He would have loved to have preached a more positive, encouraging, uplifting message. In fact, he had been appointed “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). He had done a lot of plucking up and breaking down, a lot of destroying and overthrowing, but very little building and planting. He desperately wanted to build and plant!

By the way, opportunity to build and plant would come! He would prophesy an end to the exile (25:1–14). He would prophesy the restoration of Israel (30:1–24). He would prophesy mourning turned to joy (31:1–25). He would prophesy the new covenant (31:31–40), promise peace (33:1–13), and foretell the coming of Messiah and the new covenant (33:14–26).

But, for now, the rebellion of the people to whom he ministered would not allow him to build and plant. He found himself preaching a hard message because God’s truth is sometimes hard to hear and, as much as he hated it, the people to whom he preached needed hard preaching.

As Jeremiah took no delight in confrontational preaching, spiritual leaders do not take delight in confronting sin, but it is something that must be done because the truth of God’s judgement for sin is true. If you feel like your elders only ever come down hard on you, it’s not because they don’t like you or are trying to make your life harder. They have your best spiritual interests at heart, but sometimes that means saying hard things and making tough decisions. It means confronting sin, asking where you’ve been, exhorting obedience, and encouraging an uplifted countenance. And your responsibility when confronted with sin, unlike Pashhur, is to humble yourself and repent.

Jeremiah continued, “For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all the day long” (v. 8). “You’ve ‘deceived’ me because you never told me that I would become a laughingstock.” His faithful ministry was not well received. People then, like people today, did not want to have their sin confronted. They were happy for the sin of others (e.g. the Babylonians) to be confronted, but not their own. In other words, they wanted a God who judges sin, just not their sin!

“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’” continued Jeremiah (v. 9). One possible response was to simply quit and walk away. He had faithfully discharged his ministry for many years, but it was getting too much now. It was time to hang up his sandals and get a real job. His pastor’s heart, however, would not allow him to do that.

He continued, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (v. 9). The “burning fire” here was not his subjective passion for preaching, but the objective truth of God’s word. Even if he quit his prophetic ministry, the truth of God’s judgement remained firm—and he knew it. Judgement was coming whether he preached it or not. And because he really believed the truth of God’s word (judgement, in this case), he could not keep quiet about it.

Do you really believe God’s word? Do you really believe the gospel? Do you really believe that sinners are in danger of eternal punishment? If you do, you will not be able to keep silent! When you see people flouting God’s truth, even though you know it will invite ridicule to do so, the burning fire of truth will force your mouth open. When you are sitting in class, hearing a worldview that openly dismisses Christian truth, your conviction that it is true will make you speak up—ifyou are really convinced it is true. When you are at work, and your colleagues are talking and acting in a way that flouts God’s truth, the burning fire of that truth will cause you to speak up—if you are convinced that it is true.

So, are you declaring and living God’s truth? Do you really believe it? Warren Wiersbe notes, “Jeremiah didn’t preach because he had to say something but because he had something to say.” It was his conviction about the truth, not his passion for preaching, that drove his ministry.

“For I hear many whispering,” said Jeremiah. “Terror is on every side!” I think the NKJV is better this time: “For I heard many mocking: ‘Fear is on every side!’” “Terror is on every side” translates the Hebrew word Magor-missabib, the language that Jeremiah had used of judgement and the name he had applied to Pashhur. In other words, they were using Jeremiah’s very words to mock him. They mocked him by deriding his message.

Don’t be surprised when unbelievers do the same today. It is the strategy of God’s opponents to mock his messengers by mocking his message. “Your God of love threatens people with eternal punishment? How loving is that?” People accuse God of divine child abuse.

Jeremiah related what was happening: “‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.’” Isn’t it hardest when it is your “close friends” who deride you?

Jeremiah’s “close friends” were looking to “overcome” him and “take … revenge” on him, as if he had personally attacked them, when he was only declaring God’s truth. Don’t be surprised when people take God’s truth as a personal attack against them.

The overriding lesson here is that God’s truth remains firm even when (seemingly) everyone rejects it. Truth is not determined by popular opinion. Sadly, it is often approached as if it is. Far too many Christians reject biblical truth and biblical morality due to peer pressure. Are you convinced that the Bible is true? “The Bible stands like a rock undaunted ’mid the raging storms of time.”

O Worship the King

The third lesson that we learn is that praise and worship are never out of place—even in the dark night of the soul.

But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten. O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.

Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.

(Jeremiah 20:11–13)

Jeremiah’s response at this point is almost jarring. Kathleen Norris notes, “His statement of confidence in God seems forced under the circumstances, and a brief doxology feels more ironic than not.” The truth is, this is the way God’s Spirit works in the lives of his people: He helps them to realise that, even when they are opposed and afflicted, God is to be praised. There are three basic elements to Jeremiah’s outburst of praise here.

A Confession of Faith

“But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me” (v. 11). The word translated “dread” is a Hebrew word that is frequently used to describe a tyrant. Jeremiah himself used this word in 15:21 to describe his opponents as “ruthless.” His enemies may have been ruthless, but his God was even more ruthless! They may have been tyrannical, but God could be more tyrannical.

In what way would God be tyrannical? “They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten” (v. 11). His enemies had grand plans to shame and dishonour him, but Jeremiah’s “dread warrior” would not allow them to “succeed.”

In Eastern cultures, honour is paramount. To suffer “dishonour” was a grave punishment. Jeremiah’s opponents would not only suffer “dishonour,” but “eternal dishonour.” Daniel spoke of the same: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2). Isaiah repeated this theme: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (66:24). The “contempt” and “abhorrence” described here are not the experience of the judged, but the way that they are remembered. God’s enemies are ultimately remembered with “eternal dishonour.”

The apostles in Acts 5:41 rejoiced when they suffered “dishonour for the name.” They could do so because their dishonour was temporal, while the dishonour of those shaming them would be eternal. Whatever dishonour or shame you experience for God’s truth is only temporary; ultimately, it is God’s enemies who will be eternally shamed!

The Prayer for Deliverance

“O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause” (v. 12).

Ryken notes, “Jeremiah did not take matters into his own hands but committed his cause to the Lord. He prayed that he would be vindicated, while his enemies were punished.” He was convinced that his enemies would face judgement (v. 11), and he wished and prayed that he would get to see it. But note that he did not commit to taking revenge himself (as his enemies hoped to do to him, v. 10); he instead committed this to the Lord. In this respect, Jeremiah was behaving precisely like the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:21­–23).

This was a prayer that Jeremiah frequently prayed (cf. 11:20). He was committed to prayerfully committing his “cause” to God. “Cause” is a legal term. Jeremiah realised that he need not seek revenge, because his God was the ultimate judge of all humanity.

When we are opposed, there is no need for us to take vengeance into our own hands. God is the judge of all the earth who always does what is right.

The Hymn of Praise

“Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers” (v. 13).

In light of the fact that God is the righteous judge, Jeremiah knew that he could sing songs of praise even in the dark night of the soul. When the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in a German concentration camp for the sake of God’s truth, he wrote, “I am lonely, but Thou leavest me not. I am restless, but with Thee there is peace.” Ryken writes, “It is always good to praise the Lord, but especially when one is suffering. The best thing to do when discouraged is to worship. Keep confessing, keep praying, keep singing. Even when you have a complaint to make to God, confess your faith in him, pray for deliverance, and praise his name.”

Worship is never out of place! When you are discouraged it is not the time to stop fellowship and ministry. Fellowship and ministry are the best antidotes for discouragement. When you are discouraged gather with believers for worship!

Amazing Grace

The fourth and final lesson we learn is that suffering never has the last word in the life of the believer:

Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, “A son is born to you,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

(Jeremiah 20:14–18)

It may seem strange to title these verses “Amazing Grace,” but let me explain. In these verses, Jeremiah came dangerously close to crossing the line. To curse the day of your birth is really to call into question God’s wise providence, for it is God who kills and gives life (1 Samuel 2:6; Job 1:21). What Jeremiah was doing here is tracing all his problems back to his birth. If he had never been born, he would have been spared all this trouble.

But Jeremiah actually needed to remember the words of 1:4–5: “Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’” If Jeremiah’s problems (in his mind) could be traced to the womb, God’s promises could be traced further back than that—“before I formed you in the womb … before you were born.”

Perhaps, as a believer in Jesus Christ, in a dark night of the soul, you wonder why you were born. Perhaps you think that it would have just been easier for everyone if you’d never been born. If you are a believer, nothing could be further from the truth! If you are a believer, you were chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and it was prepared for you that you should “do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Your suffering may seem great, but God’s plans and God’s promises and God’s purposes are always greater than your suffering. God’s grace always has the last word.

Conclusion

Suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. If in your walk with God you have not experienced a dark night of the soul, wait! It will come. But when it does, remember these four lessons.

First, in your dark night of the soul, go to God in prayer. Second, in your dark night of the soul, God’s truth remains firm. Third, in your dark night of the soul, worship your King. Fourth, in your dark night of the soul, remember that God’s grace will have the final word.

Are you in a dark night of the soul? Then sing another hymn with us as we bring this to a close: “Day by day, and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here.”

AMEN