Freedom in Christ is more than a concept. A paradox on freedom and captivity, Jeremiah always knew he had it coming: it was the Lord’s promise
A paradox on freedom and captivity
By Lael Caesar
Jeremiah is in trouble: he’s doing time in Judah’s maximum security facility, a place that is literally a mess, a cistern where he’s sunk into the mud.
Jeremiah always knew he had it coming: it was the Lord’s promise. From the time he called him as a kid the Lord had told him that he’d be in trouble—in trouble with kings, priests, and people without titles. But he would prevail because of the Lord’s promise, “I am with you to deliver you” (Jer. 1:19). So the trouble had come. But what about deliverance? Jerry wasn’t feeling very delivered in the mud and the darkness.
Except for one thing, a contradiction about his being locked up: his captors don’t seem to be able to put him far enough away to isolate him. “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah . . . , while he was still confined in the court of the guard” (Jer. 33:1). It’s worth asking: how come prisoner Jerry is talking with people outside? We’ve arrested Jerry, handcuffed him, booked him, and put him away. He doesn’t have any landline in his cell, and he doesn’t have a cell phone concealed on his person, and we have jammed all the satellite transmissions and scrambled all the signals to make sure people in this high-security place don’t make any more trouble for us or themselves. But Jerry is still in steady contact with Someone outside.
It’s a paradox we can’t miss: Jeremiah is freer than the ones who have locked him up. He has means and levels of communication that they seem to have no access to, and that they seem incapable of controlling. The Lord who communicates with Jeremiah is under nobody’s control. He doesn’t depend on unjammed satellite communication. He needs nobody to help Him decipher or break Apple encryption codes. He is communication, the Word, and free to move as He chooses: He sweeps into a Philippian jail in rage and storm and breaks up all the manacles and releases all the chains; or He slips so quietly into a Herodian dungeon that Peter continues in unbroken slumber until he is awakened. Sin alone obstructs His communication with us, and hides His face from us (Isa. 59:1, 2). The real issue is not with God’s power to communicate, but with our disposition to listen. And the freedom that truly matters requires more than extraction from a mudhole in ancient Judah. Instead, it is about deliverance from sin’s slavery (Rom. 6:17, 20).
Why Jeremiah Is in Jail
You must be wondering, though, why Jeremiah is in jail. He is there “because Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up, saying, ‘Why do you prophesy, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will take it” (Jer. 32:3). Jerry is in jail for preaching doom and gloom. King Zedekiah, his counselors, and the general citizenry will not believe naysayers’ stories about the end of Jerusalem, the end of their kingdom, and the end of their world. Preaching about the end of the world often enough engenders a rather poor reception from the people who live there. The solution, in Jeremiah’s case, is to imprison him for speaking the truth rather than affirming their lie like prophet Hananiah does (Jer. 28). Jeremiah is remembered as emotionally soft, but when it comes to truth he doesn’t bend.
The lie they believe is that Jerusalem will not fall to Babylon. It is a most astonishing lie, one that denies the facts before their eyes. The fact that they could believe something so outrageous, and deny something so obvious, should give serious pause to people today who balk at warnings about the end of their world: from “the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah” (Jer. 25:3) to this day that finds Jeremiah in the mud, the prophet has wept and thundered against king, priest, and people for their choice of apostasy over revival and reformation. The price of rejecting their God would be death, the sword, famine, and captivity, he warned (Jer. 15:2).
When Pashhur had him beaten and put in stocks for his truth telling, he announced that God had changed his name from Pashhur (probably liberation) to Magor-missabib (trouble all around [see Jer. 20:3]). Beyond that, Pashhur would watch impotently as the Lord gave his friends to the sword. And the Lord promised, “I will give over all Judah to the hand of the king of Babylon, and he will carry them away as exiles to Babylon (verse 4). Jerusalem’s wealth, all its produce, all its treasures, would be plundered and taken to Babylon” (verse 5).
The years have vindicated Jeremiah’s warnings. Nebuchadnezzar has come and come again, each time for further plunder, destruction, and enslavement. Spiritual giants Daniel and friends, no doubt along with other ignoble compromisers whose names we shall never know, were marched away nearly two decades earlier. King Jehoiachin and prophet Ezekiel have lived in exile now for a full decade themselves, following another of Babylon’s devastating raids. Four disastrous reigns have followed Josiah, and this, the fourth, will be the most disastrous of all.
Hamstrung by indecision and perverse counsel, Zedekiah sits upon the throne of David facing the truth with his eyes closed. This, his tenth year (Jer. 32:1), will turn to 11 and no more. In the prison of his own cowardice, his fear of his own citizens and advisors, he will summon the prisoner to secret consultation about the course he should follow (Jer. 38:14-18).
Who Then Is Free?
Our human capacity to believe and follow a lie can be its own unfathomable mystery, and the vacillating farce of Zedekiah’s person and reign stand witness to that mystery. For it is not for lack of evidence that he and his counselors dismiss Jeremiah as false or insane or, on some other account, dangerous. At the end, when the time comes, the wall is breached, and the words of the prophet come true, Zedekiah still does not find it possible to heed the prophetic counsel.
King he may have been, but he has always been bound—bound by his weakness of character, bound by his cowardice, bound by his inability to take a stand for truth. King he may be, but he never finds freedom. They slaughter his sons before his eyes, then gouge out his eyes and drag him to Babylon (Jer. 39:6, 7).
Jeremiah the prisoner gets the run of the land: Nebuchadnezzar’s officer tells him, “Look, the whole land is before you; go wherever it seems good and right for you to go” (Jer. 40:4). Jeremiah, it turns out, despite his stocks and dungeons, has always been free. For the truth has always made him free (John 8:32).
Lael Caesar, Adventist World associate editor, loves freedom in Jesus.
* Except as otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.