1. Why did Jeremiah and other prophets of Jehovah not keep silent?
“HEAR the word of Jehovah.” Those words rang in the streets and squares of Jerusalem starting in 647 B.C.E. And God’s prophet did not let up. Even when the city was destroyed 40 years later, he repeated that exhortation. (Jer. 2:4; 42:15) Almighty God sent prophets to make sure that the Jews could hear His counsel and repent. As shown earlier in this volume, Jeremiah was outstanding among those divine spokesmen. When commissioning him, God told Jeremiah: “You must rise up and speak to them everything that I myself command you. Do not be struck with any terror.” (Jer. 1:17) The work was demanding. Jeremiah suffered physical and emotional pain, but despite such trials, he was impelled to fulfill his assignment. He said: “My heart is boisterous within me. I cannot keep silent.”—Jer. 4:19.
2, 3. (a) How did Jesus’ disciples imitate Jeremiah? (b) Why should you follow Jeremiah’s example?
2 The way Jeremiah carried out his prophetic assignment set an example for future servants of Jehovah. (Jas. 5:10) Shortly after Pentecost 33 C.E., the Jewish authorities arrested the apostles Peter and John, ordering them to stop preaching. You have read their response. “We cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19, 20) After threatening to do worse to them the next time, the rulers let Peter and John go. You know the result. Those faithful men would not and did not stop preaching.
3 Can you see how the words of Peter and John recorded at Acts 4:20 echo Jeremiah’s fervor? As a minister of Jehovah God in these decisive last days, are you not just as determined in thinking, ‘I cannot remain silent!’ Let us see how we can maintain strength like that of Jeremiah to continue preaching the good news despite worsening conditions around us.
CONTINUE DESPITE APATHY
4. What attitude was common in ancient Jerusalem?
4 Are you not confident that God’s promise of a wonderful future under his Son’s rule is the best news that people can hear? Yet, many today express themselves as some Jews once did by saying to Jeremiah: “As regards the word that you have spoken to us in the name of Jehovah, we are not listening to you.” (Jer. 29:19; 44:16) Jeremiah often heard such sentiments. So do Jehovah’s servants today, for many people say, “I am not interested.” Widespread apathy could sap the zeal of Kingdom publishers. If that has been true in your territory, among some in your congregation, or even in your case, what can be done?
5. (a) How did Jeremiah react to the people’s apathy? (b) Why are those who are apathetic toward the good news in grave danger?
5 Consider the thinking that Jeremiah developed in the face of the largely apathetic people of Judah. Early in Jeremiah’s career, Jehovah gave him a foreview of the coming divine judgment. (Read Jeremiah 4:23-26.) The prophet could then see that the lives of thousands depended on their hearing the words he would speak and acting on them. Today, people are in a similar situation, including those in your territory. Regarding “that day” of God’s judgment against today’s wicked world, Jesus said: “It will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth. Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:34-36) You can conclude from Jesus’ words that those who reject the good news are in grave danger.
6. Why should you keep preaching, even to those who show little interest in your message?
6 However, those who shake off indifference and who listen and respond to Jehovah’s word that we present will receive priceless benefits. God is opening the way for us to escape destruction and enter into his new world. In some respects, it was similar in Jeremiah’s ministry. The inhabitants of Judah could escape. (Read Jeremiah 26:2, 3.) To help them, Jeremiah spent decades urging the people to “listen and return,” to heed the word of the true God. We do not know how many repented and changed their lives as a result of the prophet’s witnessing. But some did, and so have many in our time. As we continue to preach the good news, we often hear about how hearts of once unresponsive people soften. (See the box “Apathy Can Turn Into Interest,” on page 184.) Is that not an added reason to stay active in our lifesaving ministry of the good news?
Why are you determined to preach the good news despite any apathy you face?
OPPOSERS CAN DO NO LASTING HARM
7. How did enemies attempt to destroy Jeremiah’s prophetic work?
7 One remarkable aspect of Jeremiah’s ministry is how frequently opposers tried to destroy him and his work. False prophets contradicted him in public. (Jer. 14:13-16) As Jeremiah walked the streets of Jerusalem, bystanders shouted abuse, deriding him. (Jer. 15:10) Some of his enemies plotted additional ways to discredit him. (Jer. 18:18) Others carried out an intense whispering campaign to turn honesthearted ones away from the divine truths Jeremiah was preaching. (Lam. 3:61, 62) Did Jeremiah give up? On the contrary, he kept on preaching. How did he do it?
8. As opposers increased their efforts against him, how did Jeremiah respond?
8 Jeremiah’s main weapon in battling all the opposition was trust in Jehovah. At the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry, God told him that He would sustain and protect him. (Read Jeremiah 1:18, 19.) Jeremiah put faith in that promise, and Jehovah did not let him down. As opposers applied pressure and tried more drastic measures, he grew in boldness, valor, and endurance. Notice how those qualities served him well.
9, 10. What incidents in Jeremiah’s life should encourage you to be bold?
9 On one occasion, rebellious priests and prophets hauled Jeremiah before the princes of Judah to have him put to death. Did their threats frighten Jeremiah into inaction? No. His response disproved the charges of those apostates so effectively that his life was spared.—Read Jeremiah 26:11-16; Luke 21:12-15.
10 Recall that after listening to the prophet’s powerful message, a temple official named Pashhur put him in stocks. Pashhur must have concluded that this would teach Jeremiah a lesson and that he would now keep quiet. So the next day, Pashhur let him go. But Jeremiah, certainly very sore because of the torment he had experienced, spoke directly to Pashhur, declaring Jehovah’s judgment against him. No, even torture did not silence Jeremiah! (Jer. 20:1-6) Why not? Jeremiah himself tells us: “Jehovah was with me like a terrible mighty one. That is why the very ones persecuting me will stumble and not prevail.” (Jer. 20:11) Even when confronted by fierce opposers, Jeremiah did not cower. His trust in Jehovah was well-founded, and yours can be too.
11, 12. (a) How did Jeremiah show common sense when Hananiah opposed him? (b) What benefit can be derived from keeping yourself “restrained under evil”?
11 It is good to bear in mind that Jeremiah was not a fanatic. He used common sense when facing opposers. He knew when to withdraw. For instance, consider his experience with Hananiah. After that false prophet contradicted Jehovah’s prophetic word in public, Jeremiah corrected him and explained how to recognize a true prophet. Jeremiah had been carrying a wooden yoke to signify coming under the yoke of Babylon; Hananiah got violent and broke the yoke. Who could know what Hananiah would do next? So, what did Jeremiah do? We read: “The prophet proceeded to go his way.” Yes, Jeremiah left the scene. Later, at Jehovah’s direction, he returned and told Hananiah what God would bring about—bondage to the king of Babylon for the Jews and death for Hananiah.—Jer. 28:1-17.
12 It is clear from this inspired account that in preaching, we do well to couple our boldness with sound judgment. If at one home someone refuses to accept Scriptural reasoning and becomes angry, even threatening violence, we can excuse ourselves courteously and move on to another house. There is no need to have a heated argument with anyone regarding the good news of the Kingdom. By keeping ourselves “restrained under evil,” we leave the way open to help the householder at a more favorable time.—Read 2 Timothy 2:23-25; Prov. 17:14.
Why is trust in Jehovah so important as we preach the good news? Why should we balance boldness with good judgment?
“DO NOT BE AFRAID”
13. Why did Jehovah tell Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid,” and why should we consider this?
13 True worshippers were affected by the appalling conditions that prevailed before Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E. You can thus understand why God told Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid.” (Jer. 1:8; Lam. 3:57) And Jehovah had him tell others of his people the same encouraging words. (Read Jeremiah 46:27.) What insight can we gain from this? In this dangerous time of the end, we could occasionally feel fear. At such times, will we listen to Jehovah, who in effect is telling us: “Do not be afraid”? Earlier in this volume, we considered how God sustained Jeremiah during that truly fearful time. Let us briefly review what happened, in order to see a lesson in it for us.
14, 15. (a) In what dangerous situation did Jeremiah find himself? (b) How did Jehovah fulfill his promise to protect Jeremiah?
14 As the Babylonians tightened their grip on Jerusalem, hunger overtook the people. Soon many were without food. (Jer. 37:21) As if the famine were not enough, Jeremiah was trapped in a place that could become his grave. The princes of Judah had pressed weak-willed King Zedekiah to acquiesce. Then they had Jeremiah thrown into a deep cistern. There was no water in it, just a lot of mire. As Jeremiah began sinking into the mud, he could see no human way out. If you had been in that situation, would you not have felt some fear?—Jer. 38:4-6.
15 Though he was a mortal like us, Jeremiah trusted Jehovah’s word that He would never abandon him. (Read Jeremiah 15:20, 21.) Did Jehovah reward that trust? We know for a fact that he did. God moved Ebed-melech to defy the princes and rescue Jeremiah. With the king’s permission, Ebed-melech pulled the prophet up out of the cistern, rescuing him from death in that muddy deep.—Jer. 38:7-13.
16. From what dangers did Jehovah rescue his loyal ones?
16 Even when Jeremiah was back standing on solid ground, he was not out of danger. Pleading in Jeremiah’s behalf, Ebed-melech had told the king: “He will die where he is because of the famine. For there is no bread anymore in the city.” (Jer. 38:9) Food was so scarce in Jerusalem that people were resorting to cannibalism. Yet, Jehovah again intervened to save his prophet. And Jeremiah passed on to Ebed-melech a guarantee of protection from Jehovah. (Jer. 39:16-18) Jeremiah had not forgotten God’s assurance: “I am with you to deliver you.” (Jer. 1:8) With Almighty God guarding those two loyal men, neither human enemies nor hunger would finish them off. They escaped death in that doomed city. What is the point? Jehovah promised protection and fulfilled his promise.—Jer. 40:1-4.
17. Why should you put faith in Jehovah’s promise to protect his servants?
17 The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy about the conclusion of the system of things is moving inexorably toward its climax. In the near future, there will occur “signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.” (Luke 21:25, 26) We must wait to see what form those signs will take and what terror they produce among many. No matter what develops, though, you need never doubt Jehovah’s ability and desire to save his people. The outcome for those who do not have his favor, however, will be quite different. (Read Jeremiah 8:20; 14:9.) Even if it seems that his servants are in a condition as hopeless as the dank, dark bottom of a cistern, he can rescue them! God’s words to Ebed-melech will apply to his people: “‘I shall without fail furnish you an escape, and by the sword you will not fall; and you will certainly come to have your soul as a spoil, because you have trusted in me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”—Jer. 39:18.
WORDS WRITTEN FOR YOU
18. (a) What words changed Jeremiah’s life? (b) What meaning does God’s command at Jeremiah 1:7 have for you?
18 “To all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak.” (Jer. 1:7) Jeremiah’s life changed forever when he heard that command from God. From that moment forward, his overwhelming concern was to announce “the word of Jehovah.” That phrase appears repeatedly throughout the book of Jeremiah. In the last chapter, Jeremiah relates the capture of Jerusalem and the exiling of its last king, Zedekiah. Yes, Jeremiah continued teaching and exhorting the people of Judah to obey Jehovah until events made it clear that his work was complete.
19, 20. (a) Why is Jeremiah’s service a pattern for you? (b) What link is there between the preaching work and finding joy and contentment? (c) How has considering the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations affected you?
19 There are many parallels between Jeremiah’s assignment and the public ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. Like him, you serve the true God during a time of judgment. Other responsibilities require some of your time and energy; yet the preaching of the good news is by far the most significant work you can do in this system of things. By means of it, you exalt God’s great name and accept his absolute right and authority as Universal Sovereign. (Read Lamentations 5:19.) You also demonstrate outstanding love for neighbor by helping others to know the true God and his requirements for life.—Jer. 25:3-6.
20 Regarding the work that Jehovah gave him to do, Jeremiah said: “Your word becomes to me the exultation and the rejoicing of my heart; for your name has been called upon me, O Jehovah God of armies.” (Jer. 15:16) Such rejoicing and contentment are set before all today whose hearts move them to speak on behalf of the true God. You thus have good reason to keep proclaiming Jehovah’s message, as did Jeremiah.
How can the examples of Jeremiah and Ebed-melech help you to be courageous? What quality of Jeremiah do you want to imitate as you preach?