Lord, Do Something!
In Jeremiah 14, Jeremiah argues, weeps, and prays because God doesn't seem very interested in doing anything to relieve his suffering.
Drought has caused a lot of changes in our world and resulted in tremendous loss. Experts say it was a drought that brought about the downfall of the Egyptian Pharaohs making way for the rise of the Roman empire. And 1200 years ago, the Mayan empire collapsed when water became scarce, and then war erupted. During the 1930s, the Dust Bowl drought spread many diseases like measles, influenza, and Valley Fever. Thousands of people died in America, and hundreds of thousands of people became homeless. Lesser known, during the same time period as the Dust Bowl, drought in China took the lives of more than 3 million people.
Living through a severe drought is an awful time to be alive. Jeremiah in Lamentations 4:4-5, 9 describes it like this...
The nursing baby’s tongue clings to the roof of his mouth from thirst. Infants beg for food, but no one gives them any. Those who used to eat delicacies are destitute in the streets; those who were reared in purple garments huddle in trash heaps…Those slain by the sword are better off than those slain by hunger, who waste away, pierced with pain because the fields lack produce.
Drought affects everyone. From the lowly servants to the very wealthy, no one is spared. Listen to Jeremiah’s description in Jeremiah 14:3...
Their nobles send their servants for water. They go to the cisterns; they find no water; their containers return empty. They are ashamed and humiliated; they cover their heads.
The people are ashamed and humiliated because they can’t do their jobs. Their lives have lost all meaning and hopelessness is all that’s left. There’s no hope for the wealthy or for the common person.
In verse 4, we’re told the farmers are ashamed because they can’t farm. There’s no rain so there’s no food to feed their families. All they can do is cover their heads and watch their crops blow away and their loved ones die.
The wild animals don’t fare much better. Jeremiah 14:5 says,
Even the doe in the field gives birth and abandons her fawn since there is no grass.
And in verse 6 we’re told the wild donkeys are so hungry they’re starting to lose their eyesight which, when this happens, you know death isn’t far away.
The situation is hopeless indeed, so the question we should be asking ourselves is how are we to respond when things seem hopeless? Let’s look at how Jeremiah handles the situation because there are some things I think we can learn.
Jeremiah responds in three ways: he argues with God, he weeps, and he prays. It’s not like he does these things sequentially, though. Rather, he jumps around from one to the other. But I’m going to present them in sequential order, so bear with me as I take some of the verses out of order.
In verse 7 Jeremiah starts to argue.
Though our iniquities testify against us, Lord, act for your name’s sake.
Act for your name’s sake, Lord, is Jeremiah’s argument. In other words, Lord, do something! People are starving to death! Do something, if not for us, then for your own reputation!
Have you ever felt like Jeremiah? I’m sure many of us have. Right now there’s a Village Missionary family with a 17-year-old son that they just rushed to the hospital. He has cancer. There’s another Village Missionary family who had to fly off to New York because their adult daughter overdosed on prescription drugs.
And that’s just the local stuff. Overseas, in China there are churches being demolished, homes raided, and pastor’s arrested.
So, even today, Memorial Day, as we honor the thousands who have died fighting to preserve peace, we recognize that tragedy and suffering are everywhere still. The situation may appear hopeless and I’m sure to many it may seem like God must hate us. Jeremiah feels this way and argues further in verse 19...
Have you completely rejected Judah? Do you detest Zion? Why do you strike us with no hope of healing for us? We hoped for peace, but there was nothing good; for a time of healing, but there was only terror.
In other words, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing. You promised never to leave or forsake us but it sure seems like that’s what’s happened. We need you, Lord, and yet you aren’t doing anything at all. Maybe it’s because you can’t.”
Jeremiah 14:9 asks God,
Why are you like a helpless man, like a warrior unable to save?
In other words, God, I thought you were all-powerful. If you love us why don’t you do something?
Listen now to God’s response because from his point of view, he’s not the problem, his people are. Jeremiah 14:10 says,
This is what the Lord says concerning these people: Truly they love to wander; they never rest their feet. So the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins.
Now, for those that put their trust in Christ, we have the promise that God will remember our sin no more. But for Judah, who rejects their God, their sins are not forgotten.
So God’s people suffer, not because of God, but because of their own sinful ways. And sin always leads to suffering. Many times we suffer because of our own sins (as in the case of Judah), but often suffering also occurs because of the sins of others.
For example, even though there is a cease-fire between Israel and Palestine right now, many innocent people are dying because of the sins of others. While the reasons for the conflict are complicated, it’s not hard to understand that it isn’t the fault of the 6-year-old little girl blown up in her apartment from a rocket last week. Her death is evidence that evil exists. But we must remember God is not the author of evil, mankind is (see James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; 1 Corinthians 14:33).
Evil is our fault. And if God seems far away not doing anything, it’s not because God moved, it’s because we did. James 4:8 reminds us,
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
So, we need to draw near to God. Arguing with God while trying to convince him he’s the problem is one response to suffering, but it isn’t the best response. If it seems that God’s far away it’s not because God moved, it’s because we did.
Of course, if all the preachers around us are saying everything is fine, then moving closer to God is going to be harder to do. Jeremiah makes this point in verse 13...
And I replied, “Oh no, Lord God! The prophets are telling them, ‘You won’t see sword or suffer famine. I will certainly give you lasting peace in this place.’ ”
Even though the people are starving and dying, the prophets keep telling everyone it’s all fine. They say bad things might happen to others, but the really bad things won’t happen to us because we’re God’s people. They cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace.
Now, listen to how God responds to the lying prophets in verse 15...
“Therefore, this is what the Lord says concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, though I did not send them, and who say, ‘There will never be sword or famine in this land.’ By sword and famine these prophets will meet their end. The people they are prophesying to will be thrown into the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword. There will be no one to bury them—they, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. I will pour out their own evil on them.”
In other words, these lying prophets who say everything is fine, the ones keeping his people from drawing near to him, are going to get what they deserve. Their lives, their families, their country will be ruined, too. So, pray for our preachers.
Pray that God’s ministers won’t shy away from the reality of sin and hell. Pray that they won’t preach false gospels of prosperity or nationalism. Pray that they won’t tell their congregations that everything is fine when it’s not.
Now, if all of this kind of talk makes you a little discouraged, you’re not alone.
Jeremiah argued with God but that wasn’t all he did. Jeremiah 14:17 says,
Let my eyes overflow with tears; day and night may they not stop, for the virgin daughter of my people has been destroyed by a crushing blow, an extremely severe wound.
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet because it seems he was crying all the time. And he had a lot to make him sad, especially the sins of his people. He wept as a father would weep for his own daughter who had been critically wounded in battle. It’s like he knelt beside her bedside in the intensive care unit, watching the heart monitor, hoping she’ll pull through.
Jeremiah wept and wept. But, with tears in his eyes, Jeremiah also prayed.
And this prayer of Jeremiah starting in verse 20, has three parts: a confession, a plea for mercy, and a re-commitment to trust in God.
First, there’s a confession of sin. Remember, the situation is grim. His daughter is dying, lying in intensive care, and the first thing he prays in verse 20 is,
We acknowledge our wickedness, Lord, the iniquity of our ancestors; indeed, we have sinned against you.
The first thing he prays about isn’t healing, it’s a confession—confession not just of his daughter’s sins but of all his sins, too. And the words — wickedness, iniquity, and sinned — emphasize that there are all kinds of sins to confess. There are the sins of doing wrong things and the sins of failing to do the right things. There are private sins and public sins. There are sins that act out and sins that only occur in our minds.
When Jeremiah prayed, he didn’t just confess his own sins he confessed the sins of his ancestors and the whole nation as if they were his own sins. This is truly remarkable and something we need to think deeply about.
I wonder what Jeremiah would say to the person who says “I’m not responsible for that. I just work here.” Or what would he say about the statement, “I never owned any slaves. I’ve never done anything racist. My ancestors did those kinds of things. That wasn’t me.” I think that based upon what we read in verse 20, Jeremiah would label himself as guilty instead of trying to pass the blame.
Now, I’m sure as I say these things, some of us may become defensive (including myself), but I think this reaction is just revealing the problem we all have. It’s a problem of pride. Prideful hearts that keep us from repenting as a nation are our biggest problem.
The problem with pride is that, as we resist biblical corporate repentance for our national sins, we are kept from fully receiving God’s mercy, and mercy is what we all need. We don’t need to make more excuses about how our sins are the fault of others. We need to personally, and collectively, confess our sins to receive mercy. And mercy is what Jeremiah prays for next.
Plea for Mercy
Jeremiah 14:21 says,
For your name’s sake, don’t despise us. Don’t disdain your glorious throne. Remember your covenant with us; do not break it.
This isn’t just a selfish plea for mercy. Jeremiah is praying for mercy for all of God’s covenant people. And he asks God to do something for his own name’s sake, not because we deserve it, but because God is good and keeps His promises. In New Testament terms we would say, “show mercy to us for the sake of Christ who suffered and died on the cross for all our sins.”
It’s good to remember that prayers asking God to do something for our sake are weak prayers, but those that ask God to act for the sake of His own glory are powerful. Praying for the sake of God’s glory is essentially what it means to pray according to the will of God. And, as we know, every prayer prayed according to the will of God, for the purpose of exalting Christ, will be answered.
Let me give you an example that I’ve been thinking about. Today is Memorial Day, and it’s a day our country gives honor to American soldiers who died fighting for this nation’s independence and continued freedom. It’s a day of prayer and remembrance for those who have made sacrifices.
But today is also the Lord’s Day and so we come here this morning as fellow members of a much larger kingdom that includes people from all nations and tribes trusting in the One who made the ultimate sacrifice for our eternal freedom.
So as Christians who pray this Memorial Day, we need to remember that a Christ-exalting prayer is a prayer not for our nation to be glorified but for God to be glorified. And God is most glorified not when we boast about our own strengths, and the sacrifices we have made, but when we confess our weaknesses, our inabilities, and boast in his strength.
Memorial Day isn’t just a day to be thankful for those who have died. It’s a day, I think from a Christian perspective, to also acknowledge that our ways don’t work. The death of soldiers isn’t the path to freedom. Think about all the thousands upon thousands of lives that have been lost for freedom’s sake. Is the world more peaceful now? How many of those lives were given in vain? Way too many. So there has got to be a better way, and that’s what being a part of God’s kingdom is all about. This better way is why we gather together this Sunday.
This may sound unpatriotic, and as I read Jeremiah 14, I can imagine Jeremiah being accused of being unpatriotic. The people would have much rather heard a nationalistic message from one of the lying prophets about how great a nation they had, instead of about how far they had fallen.
Eventually, the people killed Jeremiah for the message he brought them, but it was the truth and it was God’s message to them. He preached that the drought was upon them and pled for mercy but God had determined it wasn’t Judah’s time for mercy. Rather it was their time for suffering.
So what is there to do? In times like these, when God has made up his mind and we are helpless to change it, what are we to do?
Trust in God
Jeremiah 14:22 says,
Can any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Or can the skies alone give showers? Are you not the Lord our God? We therefore put our hope in you, for you have done all these things.
See, it’s possible to put our hope in a nation, in a politician, in our family, or even in ourselves. But none of these things will ever relieve us of physical or spiritual drought. In vain, we trust in idols.
Instead, we should put our hope in Christ. He is the only one who made the ultimate sacrifice and the only one who can give us lasting forgiveness and healing, both personally, and as a nation.