A Rendition of Jeremiah 26…
Jeremiah walked up the stairs, one by one, the Lord’s word’s ringing in his ears as he stepped: “Speak all the words I have commanded you to say to all the people from the cities of Judah that come into my court to worship. Do not hold back a single word.” Oh how his heart had wrestled. He had said these things before – and to what avail? They never listened to him. They scoffed and mocked him – and they ignored him – and he wasn’t sure which was worse. Yet the Lord had said to him, “It may be that they will listen, and turn from their evil deeds, and I will relent of this disaster I am planning to bring upon them.” Could this be the day? Jeremiah wondered. Will they listen this time? Will they actually repent? Oh how his heart ached that it would be.
That hope gave him courage to take the next steps. As he opened the grand gates of the court, he could feel the eyes of the worshippers staring at him. Their whispers were just loud enough to be heard: “It’s Jeremiah again. That ill-born prophet, he never has anything good to say.” A few people brushed past him, intentionally bumping into him, as they left the court, as if to be sure he knew how they really felt about what he had to say.
Jeremiah prayed silently. Lord, my God, I will not hold back. Only let this be the day your people turn to you, let them hear my words and receive them. Quicken them to their heart, oh Lord God who turns the dry stale clay into beautiful works of art.
The buzz of the court grew still. Tradition held firm – a known prophet of the Lord had entered the house of worship, and the people respected tradition enough to let him have his say.
He took his place on the high ground, taking a moment to set his bag behind him, and lean into his staff, grasping for the eyes of each man, woman, and child in the court to pay heed.
Finally, he spoke, raising his voice so even the smallest child in the back of the court could hear. “People of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord…” He let the authority of those words linger a moment, as his heart inwardly cried out in prayer that it might stir their hearts to attention – that their Lord God had a word… for them!
He continued in a loud voice, “If you will not listen to me – to walk in my law that I have already given you…” Jeremiah glanced at the inward court where the priests protected the sacred scrolls, as if to remind the people that law was there even in their very presence. “…and if you will not listen to the words of my servants the prophets…” A buzz of comments simmered in the room…but Jeremiah continued, raising his voice louder than theirs. “…whom I send to you urgently, even though you have not listened even now…” The buzz grew louder, but Jeremiah knew he must continue, for the Lord had said not to hold back even one word. “…then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.”
He was barely able to utter the final words before the mumblings turned into a full outcry. “Banish him! The false prophet, he speaks lies! We will not die!” Another said, “No, we shall not die! But he should die! Let’s kill him!”
Jeremiah suddenly felt two strong hands grip his left arm as his staff was knocked out from underneath his right hand. He was in the grasp of two robed priests.
The worshippers rushed to the stage and crowded around him. He could smell their dusty, sweaty stench. Their eyes burned with hatred, and a few spit in his face. “You call yourself a prophet of the Lord. But how could you say the Lord will destroy His own house of worship? Enough with your lies! You must die!” Their voices became one: “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!”
“Silence!” A shout of full power and command split through the crowd’s voice.
A woman whispered, “It’s the officials of Judah – they were here the whole time!”
The crowd backed away, but the priests held Jeremiah tightly, refusing to release their prisoner. Jeremiah’s heart pounded. The crowds may have diffused themselves in time, but the officials would make a ruling one way or another, and their decision would be enforced. His very beating heart lay in their hands.
The priests moved Jeremiah to the side and beneath the stage as the officials made their grand entrance. Complete stillness befell the room, except for the flap of the sandals of each man kicking up dust as he took his place on the platform. One called the meeting to order, “We, on the King’s behalf, do call you to order! What has caused this riot today?”
One of the priests holding Jeremiah answered representatively, “This man deserves the sentence of death because he has prophesied against this city – did you not hear his words for yourself?”
“And what has the prisoner to say for himself?”
Jeremiah took a breath. Thank you, oh Lord, for another chance to speak! He raised his head and gazed into the official’s eyes and without a trace of doubt, said, “The Lord Himself sent me – it is true – to prophesy against this house and this city. You have heard it for yourself. But if you mend your ways, officials – and all you people of God – and obey the voice of the Lord, He will relent of the disaster He has pronounced against you.”
Another official scoffed, “What has that to do with you? Is that your defense?”
“Me?” Jeremiah responded. “As for me, I am in your hands. You may do with me whatever seems good to you.”
The official laughed but Jeremiah continued with no hesitation, “Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves, upon this city, and all its inhabitants. For I speak the truth that the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words.”
Silence greeted Jeremiah’s final statement. The officials looked at one another, as if trying to read each other’s thoughts about how to proceed. A few whispered among themselves. Finally one spoke, “This man does not deserve the death sentence, for he speaks the words of the Lord.”
Jeremiah could not believe the words he was hearing. The Lord’s own hope reverberated in his mind, “It may be they will listen…” Oh may it be, Lord, may it be!
An elder of Israel spoke up, stepping to the platform and turning to the crowd. “Indeed, did not Micah of Moresheth prophesy in the days of Hezekiah, saying ‘Zion shall be plowed as a field, Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.’ Hezekiah and the people of Judah did not put him to death! No, Hezekiah feared the Lord, and entreated the Lord’s favor, and the Lord relented of the disaster that Micah had pronounced against him.”
The people stirred at these words, a rumble breaking forth on the crowd. Another elder spoke up representatively, “Yes, we do not want disaster upon our city. Killing the man will do us no good. Let him go.”
The grip of the priests loosened on Jeremiah’s arms. Jeremiah’s heart wavered. This did not sound like repentance to him. Oh Lord, they are missing the point entirely. They are just afraid of disaster, but not enough, Lord, not enough.
Gruffly, one of the priests who had been holding him nudged him toward the exit as the crowd made way for him to pass through. “Go, prophet. We will not bring innocent blood upon this city and so reap disaster from the Lord.”
Jeremiah paused, looking deeply into the priest’s eyes. Will they never see, Lord? You do not desire to bring judgment; you only seek their hearts to turn to you. Oh Lord, oh Lord, are there no words to say that would stir their cold, dead hearts to return to you?
But no words came to him this time.
His heart sank and his head fell. He reached for his bag and staff from the hands of the other priests, turned, and walked through the crowd of people, once again their silent stares boring into his soul.
The gates of the court shut with a loud clamor.