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. (Jeremiah 20:9)
William C. Faulkner (1897-1962), a lifelong Mississippian, once described his ability and desire to write novels and short stories as a sort of tiger enclosed within him that had to be let out from time to time.
Perhaps that figurative cat would figuratively rip him apart in mind and soul if he didn’t obey it. Did you notice something similar with Jeremiah 20?
I don’t remember when I first noticed this passage of Jeremiah’s book and how it reminded me of our Mississippian. But it did strike me that for him, in the midst of being betrayed, “back-stabbed,” and physically beaten by people who were supposed to be his friends and fellow-believers, Jeremiah wrote that verse above.
Yet he knew that no matter what happened, he had to speak the Word of God as God had directed him. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut or change the message. He didn’t depict it as a tiger as Faulkner did, but as a burning fire.
Now there is an important difference here. Faulkner had a brilliant gift of word-smithing, and just as Michaelangelo Buonaroti would have gone a bit off if he hadn’t been able to paint, sculpt, fresco, etc., so would Mr. Faulkner not have been as fulfilled if he’d done something else for a living or a hobby.
But being called by God himself to speak his message is not an option for one who is a Christian.
Sure, Jeremiah was a “full-time” or “professional” prophet. But I would put it to you that every Christian, being washed in the blood of Jesus, has that “Holy Fire” inside of him.
That is to say, in your own way, shape or form, in whatever walk of life you dwell, we testify to the mercy of God in Christ.
I don’t write this to prompt guilt on your part; actually, I hope you’re a bit curious.
Never mind the guilt; this “burning fire” is only to remind you of what a grand gift you’ve been given in the merciful work of God. We can’t keep such news to ourselves. The Lord of the Universe sent his Son to live in your skin, to be tempted just as you are, to be your Savior by paying the guilt-price of your sin completely and fully on the cross.
It was therefore rather strange that a man named Passhur, son of Immer, chief officer in the Lord’s house, hated Jeremiah so much. But despite the office that Passhur held, was he really a believer in God’s promises?
Probably not. You cannot be filled with so much hate for the Lord’s Word and for his true servant (Jeremiah) and still hold on to God’s kingdom. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot ...
Passhur probably had a cushy job and didn’t want pesky things like the will and word of God intruding upon his carefully feathered nest. And lest you think that this is just an ancient account, know that believers in Christ are being persecuted and killed even today in many parts of the world.
In the comfort of Central Texas now, ask God to strengthen and help them, would you? In Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, North Korea and other places, they look beyond themselves, believe it or not, and pray for you.
Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers. (Jeremiah 20:13).
The Rev. BERNARD J. SCHEY is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.