Read Jeremiah 20:7-13, the last of the “laments” of Jer 11-20. There, Jeremiah complains that God has “deceived” or “enticed” him: the word has elsewhere connotations of sexual entrapment, perhaps even rape (cf. Exod 22:16 [English verse numbers]; Judges 14:15; 16:5). Ezekiel says that God will “deceive” prophets in order to destroy them (Ezek 14:9), and Micaiah has a vision of God sending a “lying spirit” to “deceive” prophets and make them unwittingly prophesy falsehoods (1 Kgs 22:20-22). Other ancient Near Eastern religious texts also accept that the gods may deliver lying oracles.
Read Jer 20:7-13 again, holding in view his concerns about a God who lies. What do you think of Jeremiah’s “deceiving God”? What is his complaint? What is his petition? Can you think of modern examples of ways people contend with the possibility of God lying? How about withholding truth? Does Jeremiah have anything to offer someone who feels betrayed by a lying God?
When I first read this “make” I was interested in the idea of a lying God. Throughout the passage I kept hearing clichés like “God will take care of you;” “God NEVER gives you more than you can handle;” etc. Why was I thinking these thoughts, you might ask? Because I have experienced these ideas from people throughout my years in ministry. These ideas bring people to the understanding that God has somehow caused the bad situation they are in, or God has somehow made their spouse have cancer when they have an autistic 4-year-old and a mother-in-law with dementia that has to live with them.
In Jeremiah 20:8, Jeremiah complains that God (YHWH) has placed it upon his heart to prophesy that “violence and destruction” are coming and will rain down upon the people. This has caused him to become unpopular and a “laughingstock” amongst the people (Jeremiah 20:7). Then he goes on to say that if he tries not to speak of God and prophesy “then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah feels pain (it is implied that it is literal pain, however it very well could be figurative pain) when he does not prophesy and tries to hold in the word of God (YHWH). In verses 11 and 12, Jeremiah asks God for retribution to be done to those who are persecuting him because he has obeyed and followed God. According to Bandstra, Jeremiah suffered greatly at the hands of the people. Bandstra outlines different situations Jeremiah was put into throughout his time prophesying. Due to the persecution he faced from prophesying, something that caused him pain if he did not do it, it is easy to see where Jeremiah would feel like he was in between a rock and a hard place. YHWH put these messages on his heart to prophesy the the people and it caused Jeremiah pain to not prophesy; however when Jeremiah prophesyed, the people persecuted him. Bandstra also discusses the language Jeremiah uses when he “complains” to YHWH. In Jeremiah 20:7-8, Bandstra notes that the word Jeremiah uses for “Seduce” is actually a stronger word that has the meaning of “rape.” In essence, Jeremiah is saying that God raped him or forced him to do this against his will.
Jeremiah’s complaint seems to be that he is frustrated with God, because God has put prophesy on his heart that only speaks of violence and destruction, which causes the people around him, including friends, to mock him and has made him a laughingstock. The petition he has for God is for God to, in essence, punish the people who are mocking him. Jeremiah appears to feel that he has been deceived by God in that he did not anticipate that the prophesy he would receive would only breed mocking, anger, and shame upon him. Jeremiah’s story right here reminds me of a church I once served, however this story happened before my time at the church. A few of the members felt called to bring a Wednesday night children’s ministry to the church, so they all agreed that it would be a good thing and began the ministry. Within months the ministry was shut down, because they did not realize (for whatever reason) that the children would play rough and the floors would get scuffed and the walls might get marked up and the children might spill juice on the carpet and drop crumbs on the floor. They did not anticipate that following something they felt called to do by God, would not go exactly the way they wanted it to go. Jeremiah appears to feel deceived by God, because he might have expected something great or some great status because of his prophesying, instead he was mocked and reacted out of anger by asking God to invoke retribution upon the people who were mocking him.
Going back to my original rant, I have come across many people who have “lost their faith” in God, because they fell prey to those kinds of clichés. When things get hard, they feel that God is picking on them and they are 1. Not worthy of anything good and must have done something wrong to have the things happen to them or 2. God is a jerk and they don’t need that in their lives. I have heard people say “Well God lied, because I am only supposed to have what I can handle and I cannot handle this!” Somehow these clichés have bred a thought process that life is supposed to be easy and following Jesus is supposed to be a walk in the park (have you ever heard of martyrdom?!), so when the going gets tough, they drop out and renounce their faith. But, alas, there is hope. Jeremiah 20:13 states “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.” Even in the midst of struggles (after he has just asked God to punish people who are mocking him), Jeremiah gives praise to God. That is the message I would give someone from this passage, even when things aren’t going your way and you feel deceived by God, still give praise to God.