A True Patriot
Jeremiah 37:1-21 has a lot to say about true patriotism.
Patriotism is a controversial issue in America partly because not everyone agrees with what it means. For example, does it mean putting our hand over our heart during the pledge of allegiance? Does it mean celebrating the 4th of July in a traditional way? Or is there some higher standard?
According to the dictionary, a patriot is “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country with devotion,” and that’s a good definition. But is patriotism always good? What if the desire to “defend our country” leads us to make compromises with God’s word or make decisions that end up causing harm to others?
Thankfully, in Jeremiah 37, we have a couple of examples of patriotism that can help us answer these kinds of questions. First, let’s look at the contrast between King Zedekiah’s patriotism and Jeremiah’s true patriotism.
Patriotism and God’s Word
Zedekiah made some patriotic decisions, but he harmed many people in the name of serving his country. When he made a bold treaty with Egypt, he defended and supported his country and showed courage in defying Nebuchadnezzar. But God had explicitly told him to surrender to the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 38:17), so his “patriotism” was really in defiance of God and needlessly cost the lives of many people.
A true patriot would have listened to God’s word. But Zedekiah, even with good intentions, ended up being a traitor to his people and bringing judgment upon them. And Zedekiah wasn’t alone in his rejection of God’s word.
Jeremiah 37:2 CSB
He and his officers and the people of the land did not obey the words of the Lord that he spoke through the prophet Jeremiah.
Zedekiah’s lack of regard for God’s word spread to everyone. It started with Zedekiah, then spread to his officers, then the people. So, everyone, in some sense, was being unpatriotic. And the same is true of us.
In the church, as in politics, we often seek out leaders with charisma but not the character required in God’s word. Instead, members often prefer leaders who will “love, support, and defend the country (or church) with devotion,” so a patriotic mindset isn’t just exclusive to nations; it can occur with any organization.
For example, leaders like Jerry Fallwell Jr., hundreds of SBC leaders, Mark Driscoll, Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, Joshua Duggar, and Ravi Zacharias — people with charisma but serious character flaws — were greatly loved because they were good for the organization. They brought in a lot of money. They drew big crowds. They wrote national bestsellers. So when their flaws came to the surface, people looked the other way because preserving the institution became the primary goal above obeying God’s word.
But this love of the organization's “patriotic” approach came with a cost to thousands of people who were sexually and spiritually abused in Christian organizations who were willing to look the other way for years.
This willingness to look the other way has spilled over into politics too. Sometimes, even with good intentions to “save the country” or “defend our democracy,” we have let character issues take a back seat. And again, people have been hurt, and the reputation of Christianity has suffered.
Bad things always happen when we stray from the word of God and give less importance to the fruits of the spirit than we should. Sadly, in politics, the qualities of love, joy, peace, and all the other fruits of the spirit are not viewed as desirable anymore but as weaknesses. Our politics are bearing fruit, but much of it isn’t good.
In Evangelical circles, it seems we don’t value leaders who are loving. Instead, we’d rather have leaders who will “kick some butt.” But unfortunately, patient, kind leaders rarely get elected. So instead, we seem to prefer leaders who will come in with guns blazing, like John Wayne, and clean up the town. But this mindset isn’t consistent with what it means to be a true patriot nor with what it means to follow Christ.
God’s true patriots aren’t like Zedekiah. Instead, they read and believe the Word of God and do their best to obey it. Another thing Zedekiah didn’t do was pray.
Patriotism and Prayer
Zedekiah believed in the power of prayer and wanted others to pray for him, but he didn’t pray himself.
Jeremiah 37:3–4 (CSB)
Nevertheless, King Zedekiah sent Jehucal son of Shelemiah and Zephaniah son of Maaseiah, the priest, to the prophet Jeremiah, requesting, “Please pray to the Lord our God on our behalf!”
Of course, it’s good to have others pray for us, but if that’s all we do, it’s a sign of great spiritual weakness—of a treasonous heart even.
Almost anyone, even many atheists, will accept prayer when they are in a crisis. But if we can’t, or won’t, go to God in prayer personally, then we have a serious relationship problem.
In fact, we could even call a lack of prayer treasonous. For example, if a General asked us to report in with regular communication but instead we ran and hid, that would be grounds for a court-martial. How much worse is it when we hide from God?
So, true patriots pray to God. But they don’t just pray any way they want to; they pray according to God’s will. In addition to praying for the sick, the Bible tells us to pray for God’s will in his kingdom to be done (Matthew 6:9-13). He tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He says to pray not just for the peace of Jerusalem but also for the peace of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). And we’re told to pray for all leaders in authority, not just those in our nation (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
So a true patriot of God’s kingdom who prays according to God’s will kneels to pray not just for the good of those he loves but also for the good of his enemies. In other words, truly patriotic people are “loving, supporting, and defending” not just an earthly kingdom or institution, but a heavenly one.
Jeremiah - A True Patriot
Jeremiah was a true patriot in God’s eyes but not in the eyes of his countrymen. His people didn’t like him much because he criticized their political leaders, their lack of obedience to God’s word, and their many moral failings. While the rest of the nation tried to downplay their sinfulness, Jeremiah spoke boldly about it.
He criticized their reliance on alliances with foreigners. He criticized their lack of concern for the poor and needy. He called out their whoredoms, and abuses of power. See, it didn’t matter to Jeremiah whether the things the leaders did “worked”; if what they did was against God’s word, it was wrong, and he pointed it out.
Just because a method gets results doesn’t mean God approves. Remember the story of Moses striking the rock in the wilderness? The Israelites were thirsty, and Moses was upset with them, so instead of faithful obedience, he angrily struck the rock and water came out.
Did water come out? Yes, so we could say in one sense Moses’ rebellious actions “worked.” But that didn’t mean God approved. So even though God was merciful to his people, Moses wasn’t allowed into the promised land.
Sometimes, the most patriotic person isn’t the one who “gets stuff done.” Jeremiah, the true patriot in chapter 37, was actually accused of being a traitor. He was viewed as an impediment to progress when he told the Jewish leaders to surrender to the Babylonians. That sounds treasonous, but not when considering that faithfulness to God’s word is the most patriotic thing a person can do.
Jeremiah 37:11–13 CSB
When the Chaldean army withdrew from Jerusalem because of Pharaoh’s army, Jeremiah started to leave Jerusalem to go to the land of Benjamin to claim his portion there among the people. But when he was at the Benjamin Gate, an officer of the guard was there, whose name was Irijah son of Shelemiah, son of Hananiah, and he apprehended the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “You are defecting to the Chaldeans.”
It looked like he was a traitor to his people, but the truth was he loved his people as much as any other Israelite—he just loved God’s kingdom more. But, unfortunately, his true patriotism cost him dearly.
Jeremiah 37:15–16 CSB
The officials were angry at Jeremiah and beat him and placed him in jail in the house of Jonathan the scribe, for it had been made into a prison. So Jeremiah went into a cell in the dungeon and stayed there many days.
Jeremiah was a true patriot who rose above all the partisan politics and focused his attention on what mattered most, the word of God. And in this way, Jeremiah was a type of Christ.
Jesus - The Truest Patriot
There has never been a truer patriot than Jesus Christ. Jesus loved his fellow countrymen more than anyone, but he also greatly disappointed them and appeared unpatriotic.
The Jews wanted Jesus to hold the Romans accountable for all the evil things they had done. They wanted him to make it plain to everyone “what was really going on” and to lead a rebellion against their lack of morality and corruption. They were ready to follow him into battle to “take their country back.”
But, instead of leading them to war, Jesus pointed out the sinfulness of his people, and they killed him for it. The Jews also saw him as disloyal to his people because he had the power to get rid of the Romans but didn’t.
But from God’s point of view, Jesus is the greatest patriot of all. He didn’t defend his country the way others thought was best; he was willing to suffer and die for his people so they might be eternally saved.
But Zedekiah wasn’t saved. He thought he was saved when Pharaoh’s army approached Jerusalem, and the Babylonians temporarily withdrew, but in the end, the city and the people he led were destroyed (Jeremiah 37:6-10).
In contrast, Jeremiah was saved when, by God’s grace, Jeremiah’s request to be released from prison was granted. Jeremiah eventually died, as all people do, but we can be confident he is now with his Father in heaven.
So while we may be patriots in the eyes of our country, more importantly, we should work toward becoming true patriots in the eyes of God.