"As Waters That Fail?" (Jeremiah 15:10-21) June 25
Jeremiah has faithfully pronounced the message God has told him to. But no one, of course, is happy to hear it. His comment regarding not having lent for interest is "proverbial for, 'I have given no cause for strife against me'" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on verse 10). Yet his preaching has generated nothing but strife it seems. Everyone hates him, whereupon Jeremiah is understandably dejected. He wishes he hadn't been born. "Note that his call was from the womb and that God decreed from birth that he would be a prophet (see 1.5; 20:14-18)" (The HarperCollins Study Bible, 1993, note on Jeremiah 15:10).
The Hebrew of verse 11 is difficult. The New Revised Standard Version renders it, "The LORD said: Surely I have intervened in your life for good, surely I have imposed enemies on you in a time of trouble and in a time of distress." But, God asks in verse 12, can anyone break iron and bronze? This appears to symbolize Jeremiah, whom God referred to as an "iron pillar" and "bronze walls" in his call (1:18; compare 15:20). That is, God would protect him.
In verses 13-14 it is not clear whether God is speaking to Jeremiah or to Judah again. The latter seems more likely but some have suggested that Jeremiah is to experience some measure of punishment as a representative of the people—perhaps, in some sense, as a type of Christ. We do know that Jeremiah was later carried away against his will to Egypt. In any case, Jeremiah asks that God, in fairness, would protect him and take vengeance on the real wrongdoers, those who are persecuting him. The prophet declares his faithfulness to God. He "ate" God's words—accepting and internalizing them and finding joy in them (verse 16). He was not part of the assembly of mockers because 1) he would not mock God's message and 2) what he preached prevented him from being part of the assembly at all—he was isolated from everyone.
In verse 18, we see Jeremiah in great anguish over his predicament. But then he goes too far. Having declared his own faithfulness, he actually accuses God of faithlessness. God is the fountain of living waters (2:13), but now Jeremiah wonders if He is not like a dried up stream as far as the prophet's welfare is concerned.
In 15:19, God responds with a gentle rebuke. It is a rebuke because God calls on Jeremiah to "return"—the Old Testament word for repent. He tells him to "take the precious from the vile"—an "image from metals: 'If thou wilt separate what is precious in thee (the divine graces imparted) from what is vile (thy natural corruptions, impatience, and hasty words), thou shalt be as My mouth': my mouthpiece (Exod. 4:16)" (JFB Commentary, note on Jeremiah 15:19). God warns him, "Let them return to you [that is, let the people change to walking in your right, faithful ways], but you must not return to them [you must not change to walking in their wrong, faithless ways]." If Jeremiah turns from his negative, wrong thoughts, then he will be able to continue in God's service and God will continue to protect him, just as was promised at Jeremiah's initial call (verse 20). It is in this way that God's rebuke is gentle, for it is accompanied by a wonderful positive reassurance of His enduring faithfulness even despite the weakness of His servant. This is something for which we should all be ever so grateful.