1, 2. (a) What challenges do Christians face regarding companions? (b) Why should we be interested in Jeremiah’s choice of friends?
WHAT would you do if some colleagues, neighbors, or schoolmates invited you to attend a Christmas party? Suppose your employer asked you to lie or to do something illegal? Or what if governmental authorities called on you to engage in nonneutral activities? Your conscience would likely tell you not to do any of these things, even if as a result of your refusal, you might be ridiculed or treated worse.
2 As we will see, Jeremiah often found himself facing similar challenges. You can certainly benefit from considering some of the individuals and groups with whom Jeremiah came in contact during his years of service. Some of them tried to discourage him from carrying out his commission. Jeremiah had to have some close contact with them, but they were definitely not his chosen friends. You can, however, profitably note the friends whom Jeremiah did choose, those who supported him and encouraged his resolve to be faithful. Yes, we can learn from Jeremiah’s decisions involving companions.
WHAT FRIENDSHIPS DO YOU CULTIVATE?
3. What did Zedekiah want from Jeremiah, and how did Jeremiah respond?
3 King Zedekiah consulted Jeremiah on a number of occasions prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Why? The king hoped to receive reassuring responses to inquiries about the future of his realm. He wanted Jeremiah to announce that divine intervention would save Judah from her enemies. Through emissaries, Zedekiah petitioned Jeremiah: “Please inquire in our behalf of Jehovah, because Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps Jehovah will do with us according to all his wonderful works, so that [Nebuchadrezzar] will withdraw from us.” (Jer. 21:2) The king did not want to follow God’s direction to surrender to Babylon. One scholar likened Zedekiah to “a patient returning again and again to a doctor in search of reassurance, yet unwilling to take the medicine prescribed.” What about Jeremiah? He could have become popular by telling Zedekiah what he wanted to hear. Why, then, did Jeremiah not just change his message and make his life easier? He refused to do so because Jehovah had told him to proclaim that Jerusalem would fall.—Read Jeremiah 32:1-5.
4. What decisions do we face about cultivating friendships, such as at our place of work?
4 In some ways your situation is like Jeremiah’s. No doubt you have contact with neighbors, workmates, or schoolmates who in a sense are associates or companions. But will you take matters further, cultivating friendships with them even though they have shown that they are not interested in hearing or following God’s direction? Jeremiah could not shun Zedekiah altogether; he was still the king, even when refusing to follow God’s counsel. Jeremiah was not obliged, though, to conform to the king’s misguided thinking or to curry his favor. Granted, if Jeremiah had complied with the king’s wishes, Zedekiah could have showered him with gifts and other benefits. Jeremiah nevertheless refused to give in to any pressure or temptation to be close to Zedekiah. Why? Because Jeremiah was not about to alter the stance that Jehovah had told him to adopt. Jeremiah’s example should move us to examine whether those whom we chose as friends are encouraging us to be loyal to God. You cannot avoid all contact with people who are not serving God—those at work, at school, or in your neighborhood. (1 Cor. 5:9, 10) You realize, however, that if you choose such ones as friends, you might well compromise your friendship with God.
KEEPING COMPANY WITH SKEPTICS?
5, 6. What did some do in an attempt to silence Jeremiah?
5 Zedekiah was not the only one who tried to exercise a negative influence on Jeremiah. A priest named Pashhur “struck” Jeremiah, perhaps having him beaten with 39 strokes. (Jer. 20:2; Deut. 25:3) Some Judean princes did a similar thing and then imprisoned Jeremiah in “the house of fetters.” The prophet was put in a dungeon under conditions so bad that after many days he feared he would die there. (Read Jeremiah 37:3, 15, 16.) Then, after Jeremiah had been set free for a while, other princes urged Zedekiah to execute him. In their view, he was demoralizing Judah’s troops. That led to the prophet’s being flung into a miry cistern to die. (Jer. 38:1-4) You have read that Jeremiah was saved from that horrible death. Yet, these events illustrate how those who should have known better became skeptical of what God’s prophet had to say; they turned on him.
6 Jeremiah’s enemies were not limited to the civil authorities. On another occasion, some men from Jeremiah’s home city of Anathoth—his neighbors, you might say—threatened to kill him if he did not stop prophesying. (Jer. 11:21) They did not like what they heard from him and they threatened him. Jeremiah, though, chose as his friend Jehovah rather than neighbors. Other contemporaries went beyond words. When Jeremiah graphically used a yoke to urge the Jews to bring their necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon and thus keep living, Hananiah removed the wooden yoke from Jeremiah’s neck and broke it. According to that false prophet, Jehovah had said: “I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Hananiah died in that very year, and you know which prophet proved reliable. (Jer. 28:1-11, 17) After Jerusalem was destroyed as Jeremiah had forewarned, Johanan and other military chiefs refused to heed God’s command to stay in the land of Judah. “It is a falsehood that you are speaking,” they told Jeremiah. “Our God has not sent you, saying, ‘Do not enter into Egypt to reside there.’” They further defied Jehovah by taking Jeremiah and Baruch with them into Egypt.—Jer. 42:1–43:7.
What type of individuals did Jeremiah have to deal with? What do you learn from Jeremiah’s example?
7. What challenge involving faithfulness to Jehovah do you face?
7 For years, Jeremiah was surrounded by skeptics and opponents. Reflect on his course. He could easily have resigned himself to accepting people who had little respect for God or His Word. They were all around him. What of your situation? You have likely had some dealings with people who are similar to those who were around Jeremiah. Whether they aggressively oppose you and your God or seem to be fairly pleasant people, will you choose them as friends? Would it be wise to socialize with people who do not take God’s prophecies seriously? If Jeremiah were in your place, would he choose as friends people whose way of life denies the truth of God’s Word or who put their trust in men? (2 Chron. 19:2) God did not leave Jeremiah in doubt about the results of trusting in men rather than in God. (Read Jeremiah 17:5, 6.) How do you feel about that?
8. Illustrate challenges that Christians in your area might face.
8 Some Christians have felt that they could promote their business or career by choosing to entertain worldly clients. Would pursuing such a course, though, expose such Christians to corrupt associations and dangers, such as filthy talk or heavy drinking? You can understand why many Christians who face such a decision have chosen to avoid bad associations even if it means forgoing potential profits or advancement in a worldly sense. Similarly, an employer or fellow employees might not hesitate to deal with customers dishonestly. Nevertheless, true Christians are not swayed by those around them. At times, making decisions about such matters may not be easy. We can be thankful for such examples as Jeremiah, who held to a course that left him with a good conscience and, more important, a good relationship with God.
9. What danger lies in wanting to be popular?
9 Jeremiah’s position and convictions made him an object of derision by some fellow Judeans. (Jer. 18:18) Still, he was willing to stand out as different from his contemporaries who followed “the popular course.” (Jer. 8:5, 6) Jeremiah was even willing to be alone at times, ‘sitting down all by himself.’ He preferred that to bad company, to being friends with those who would have a negative influence on him. (Read Jeremiah 9:4, 5; 15:17.) What about you? Today, as in Jeremiah’s day, the popular course is one of unfaithfulness to God. Jehovah’s servants have long had to be cautious about their choice of friends. This is not to say that Jeremiah was without friends. Some individuals defended and supported him. Who were these people? Your knowing can help you greatly.
WHAT FRIENDS DID JEREMIAH CHOOSE?
10, 11. (a) What principles determined Jeremiah’s choice of friends? (b) Who were Jeremiah’s friends, and what questions arise about them?
10 With whom would Jeremiah cultivate friendship? Under Jehovah’s direction, he repeatedly condemned those who were wicked, deceitful, unjust, violent, uncaring, and immoral—those who abandoned pure worship in favor of idolatry, thus committing spiritual prostitution. He urged his fellow Judeans: “Turn back, please, each one from his bad way, and make your ways and your dealings good.” (Jer. 18:11) Even after Jerusalem’s destruction, Jeremiah extolled God’s “acts of loving-kindness,” his “mercies,” and his “faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-24) Jeremiah wanted as friends only faithful servants of Jehovah.—Read Jeremiah 17:7.
11 We are not completely in the dark about those whom Jeremiah chose as friends, or close associates. A number of men were clearly allies—Ebed-melech, Baruch, Seraiah, and the sons of Shaphan. We might ask: ‘What were these men like? What association did they have with Jeremiah? In what sense were they his good friends? And how did they help Jeremiah to maintain his integrity?’ Let us see, with our own situation in mind.
12. (a) What did Jeremiah and Baruch, depicted on page 58, have in common? (b) Who was Seraiah, and what do we know about him?
12 The prophet’s closest friend appears to have been Baruch, the son of Neriah. Jeremiah confidently entrusted him with the responsibilities of writing down Jehovah’s pronouncements as the prophet dictated them and then reading the resulting scroll, first in public and then to Judah’s princes. (Jer. 36:4-8, 14, 15) Baruch shared Jeremiah’s faith and conviction that what God foretold would occur. Those men had similar experiences during Judah’s last 18 turbulent years. They spent much time working together on a common spiritual assignment. Both encountered difficulties and needed to hide from enemies. And both received personal encouragement from Jehovah. Baruch seems to have belonged to a prominent scribal family in Judah. The Scriptures call him “the secretary,” and his brother Seraiah was an important state functionary. Like Baruch, Seraiah later worked with Jeremiah to deliver Jehovah’s prophetic proclamations. (Jer. 36:32; 51:59-64) The willingness of these two sons of Neriah to work along with Jeremiah in those difficult times must have strengthened and encouraged the prophet. You too can receive strength and encouragement from those who faithfully work at your side in Jehovah’s service.
What can you learn from Jeremiah’s choice of friends?
13. As depicted on page 63, how did Ebed-melech prove himself to be a good friend to Jeremiah?
13 Ebed-melech was another outstanding ally of Jeremiah. When enraged princes cast Jeremiah into an empty cistern to die, the man who dared to defend him was a foreigner, Ebed-melech the Ethiopian. He was a eunuch, that is, an officer, in the king’s house. He publicly approached Zedekiah, who was seated in the Gate of Benjamin. Ebed-melech courageously sought permission from Zedekiah to rescue Jeremiah out of the miry cistern. He took 30 men with him to do the job, which suggests that Ebed-melech might have expected physical interference from Jeremiah’s enemies. (Jer. 38:7-13) We do not know just how much association Ebed-melech had with Jeremiah. Based on their friendship with Jehovah, it is logical to assume that the two were good friends. Ebed-melech knew that Jeremiah was Jehovah’s prophet. He called the princes’ actions “bad” and was willing to risk compromising his own position in order to do what was right. Yes, Ebed-melech was a good man. So much so that Jehovah himself assured him: “I will deliver you in [the day of Jerusalem’s calamity] . . . because you have trusted in me.” (Read Jeremiah 39:15-18.) What a recommendation! Is that not the kind of friend you want?
14. What do we know about Shaphan’s family and their contact with Jeremiah?
14 Among Jeremiah’s other friends were three sons and a grandson of Shaphan. They belonged to a family of high-ranking men, Shaphan having earlier served as the secretary of King Josiah. When Jeremiah’s enemies first wanted to kill the prophet, “it was the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan that proved to be with Jeremiah, in order not to give him into the hand of the people.” (Jer. 26:24) Ahikam had a brother named Gemariah. When Baruch read God’s judgments in public, Gemariah’s son Micaiah heard him and alerted his father and other princes. Concerned about Jehoiakim’s reaction, they advised Jeremiah and Baruch to hide. And when the king rejected the divine message, Gemariah was among those who pleaded with the king not to burn the scroll. (Jer. 36:9-25) Jeremiah entrusted yet another of Shaphan’s sons, Elasah, with a prophetic letter to the Jews exiled in Babylon. (Jer. 29:1-3) So there you have three sons and one grandson of Shaphan, all of whom supported God’s prophet. Think of how Jeremiah must have appreciated such men! They were friends but not because of similar tastes in food or drink or because they liked similar entertainment or hobbies. The friendship was based on much more.
CHOOSE YOUR FRIENDS WISELY
15. Jeremiah set what fine example in choosing friends?
15 You can learn from Jeremiah’s dealings with his contemporaries, bad ones and good ones. The king, many princes, false prophets, and military chiefs pressured him to change his message. Jeremiah, though, was uncompromising. His stance did little to endear him to those men, yet their friendship was not what Jeremiah was seeking. All along, his best friend was Jehovah. If hostility from certain quarters was the price to pay for faithfulness to his God, then Jeremiah was willing to pay it. (Read Lamentations 3:52-59.) Nonetheless, as we have seen, Jeremiah was not alone in his determination to serve Jehovah.
16, 17. (a) What help can a servant of Jehovah receive from a good friend? (b) In whatever country you live, where can you find the best friends?
16 What made Ebed-melech a good friend was his faith and trust in Jehovah. This man had the courage to act decisively, saving Jeremiah’s life. Baruch willingly spent much time with Jeremiah and helped him deliver Jehovah’s messages. Good friends in the Christian congregation today can be just as precious as these men were. Cameron, a 20-year-old regular pioneer, appreciates the good impact that Kara, also a pioneer, had upon her. Cameron says, “Kara encouraged me to keep Jehovah first in my life, both by her example and by her words.” The two sisters lived some distance apart, yet Kara would call or write Cameron on a regular basis to make sure that her friend was doing well and to have an interchange of encouragement. “She knew all about our family circumstances,” recalls Cameron. “She knew what was going on with my sister and how hard it was for me when my sister rebelled and left the truth. She was there for me through all of this, and I can’t think of what I would have done without her positive influence and help. She has been an amazing support for me.”
17 You can find good friends in the Christian congregation, whether they are about your same age or not. Your brothers and sisters share your faith, your values, your love for Jehovah, your hopes, and likely some of your trials. You can work side by side with them in the Christian ministry. They will be able to encourage you when you are undergoing difficulties, and you, them. They will rejoice with you when you have good times in Jehovah’s service. Moreover, such friendships can last into the endless future.—Prov. 17:17; 18:24; 27:9.
18. What does Jeremiah’s choice of friends teach you?
18 The lesson for us from Jeremiah’s choice of friends should be obvious. Bear in mind this undeniable truth: You cannot really seek companionship with people whose beliefs are in conflict with Bible teachings and still remain true to your convictions. Acting in harmony with that fact is as important today as it was in Jeremiah’s time. To carry out his commission faithfully and with Jehovah’s blessing, Jeremiah was willing to be different from the majority of his contemporaries. Is that not true in your case too? Jeremiah chose companions who shared his faith and who supported him in carrying out his commission. Yes, every faithful Christian today can learn from Jeremiah about choosing companions wisely!—Prov. 13:20; 22:17.
How can you apply Jeremiah’s example in choosing whom you will have and whom you will not have as friends?