This is the story of the interaction between two men. Each of their vocations involved direct service to God. Knowing God’s direction and following it were critical to their success.
Pashhur was the priest in charge of the Temple of the Lord. He had the sacred responsibility to maintain the accuracy and holiness of worship within the Temple. This included deciding who, of the many speakers who came to the Temple, spoke the truth and who did not. Those who claimed to speak for God but did not were to be punished severely because their false words would dilute or contradict God’s true words.
Jeremiah was a prophet. He had the sacred responsibility to speak God’s words of truth to others. Jeremiah and Pashhur’s paths crossed at the Temple when Jeremiah brought God’s message of judgment and doom to the political and spiritual leaders assembled there. Standing before them, he cried out, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will bring disaster upon this city and its surrounding towns just as I promised, because you have stubbornly refused to listen to me’” (Jer. 19:15).
It was Pashhur’s duty to decide if this was a message of a deranged person or one that was numbingly frightening in its truth. Jeremiah’s message was in exact opposition to the messages from numerous other prophets who were saying all was well. Pashhur’s decision would publicly align the religious leaders with one or the other of these messages.
If Pashhur ever needed God’s direction, it was at that moment. And God’s guidance was available to him through Scripture and through prayer. By humbly asking God for wisdom, Pashhur would have had help judging the truth of Jeremiah’s message.
Pashhur reacted. “So he arrested Jeremiah the prophet and had him whipped and put in stocks at the Benjamin Gate of the Lord’s Temple” (Jer. 20:2). Pashhur did not humbly seek God, did not go to Scripture for guidance, and did not want to know the truth. Pashhur failed in the responsibility he had been given by God.
In contrast, Jeremiah succeeded in the responsibility he had been given by God. But that success did not have much physical appeal. Jeremiah, whipped and put in stocks for a day, would have had plenty of time to nurse any grudges against God or others. As he watched those for whom he had predicted punishment walking by him—mocking him and appearing unconcerned—he may have wondered about God’s protection. During those hours he may have questioned how much more pain and humiliation he could endure…and if he would continue to speak for God.
He made his decision. “The next day, when Pashhur finally released him, Jeremiah said, ‘Pashhur, the Lord has changed your name. From now on you are to be called “The Man Who Lives in Terror.” For this is what the Lord says: …you and all your household will go as captives to Babylon. There you will die and be buried, you and all your friends to whom you promised that everything would be all right’” (Jer. 20:3-4,6).
Destiny hung in the balance for many people at this moment. Jeremiah had been giving the same message for many years. Would God’s hard-to-accept message finally break through to Pashhur? Would this influential spiritual leader help to spread Jeremiah’s message, turning people toward God and away from destruction? Sadly, he would not. And so he spent his final days in a foreign land with the memories of how he allowed his pride and power to bring devastation to many by assuring them “that everything would be all right” when God had clearly said it would not. Pashhur chose the easier, self-centered path that ended in pain and destruction.
For many years, until disaster struck Jerusalem, Jeremiah’s was the harder path compared to Pashhur’s. Throughout this lengthy time, he lamented—in real pain, justified fear, and true rejection—that “my entire life has been filled with trouble, sorrow, and shame” (Jer. 20:18). Jeremiah often had his fill of the consequences of following God and being the deliverer of His message. But he continued to choose the harder, selfless path.
He did this because there was something so compelling about his relationship with God and His message that he was drawn to proclaim it in spite of the pain. Jeremiah himself marveled at the fact that “I can’t stop! If I say I’ll never mention the Lord or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am weary of holding it in” (Jer. 20:9).
The lives of Jeremiah and other devoted followers of God demonstrate that suffering and discouragement often are part of being faithful to God and His message. The clash between evil and God—and the fallout from this clash—is as old as humanity. But just as ancient and sure is God’s eventual deliverance of His followers from this fallout. Holding on to faith may be difficult during these times, but the process of spiritual maturing brought about by it also brings a thankfulness that eases the pain. In time, even Jeremiah said, “Now I will sing out my thanks to the Lord! Praise the Lord! For though I was poor and needy, he delivered me from my oppressors” (Jer. 20:13).
Knowing there are always consequences along the way, would it be better to be left standing in Jeremiah’s place or Pashhur’s? With God’s help and strength, let it be Jeremiah’s way we choose—faithful to the end.
© 2010 Arlina Yates