The Unenviable Job of a Prophet

There are so many blessings to following the Lord. There is forgiveness, peace, joy, fellowship, hope for eternity, and so much more. But the truth is, following God is hard, sometimes very hard.

One person who understood this point very well was Jeremiah the prophet. Jeremiah saw miracles from God. Jeremiah had the word of God to communicate to the people around him. But Jeremiah had it hard. The people who lived around Jeremiah were not following God. And the people really did not like it when Jeremiah prophesied that God would bring judgment on the land by allowing the Babylonians to conquer Judah.

Look at this passage where Jeremiah laments his difficult position.

Jeremiah 20:7–11 – 7 O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8 For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. 9 If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. 10 For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” say all my close friends, watching for my fall. “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him and take our revenge on him.” 11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

Jeremiah declares that he feels deceived. Of course God has not deceived anybody, but Jeremiah is unhappy about the hardship he is facing. Jeremiah has the word of God. But as he communicates that word, the people attack him. Jeremiah has a message of life for the people. The people reject that message and then turn on Jeremiah, attacking the messenger. And, at times, Jeremiah just wants to quit.

But verse 9 tells us that Jeremiah can’t quit. When he tries to remain silent, he feels like he could explode. Jeremiah says, “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jeremiah wishes he could stop. He would like a nice, easy, soft life. But Jeremiah cannot have it.

This brings also to my mind the story of John Calvin. Calvin wanted very little more than to live a simple life of study. But he could not. Calvin, in passing through Geneva, was approached by the leader of the church in that city, a man named Guillaume Farel. Farel made it clear to Calvin that Calvin’s genius for theology and for organization was needed in Geneva, and Farel would pray that Calvin would have no peace if he did not do what he should to help. Calvin wanted nothing more than to travel on to Strasbourg, but he feared the curse of God pronounced by Farel, and so stayed and worked in Geneva. The work was hard. The people were often unappreciative and even hostile. Eventually the city banished Calvin and Farel, but then brought them back.

Calvin’s life of preaching and teaching was hard, and I wonder if he would not have spoken like Jeremiah did in our passage. In truth, I think many a pastor would tell you that we have days when we feel like Jeremiah. It would be easier not to confront people with their sin. It would be easier not to warn the culture around us of the judgment of God. It would be easier not to call people to repentance. It would be easier not to tell someone they are unqualified for the ministry they want to do. It would be easier not to tell someone that their doctrinal claims are unbiblical.

But the truth is, the Lord is great. The Lord’s word is perfect. And the ministry of communicating the truth of God to people, whether they be welcoming or hostile, is a privilege and an honor. The true follower of God will have a fire in his or her bones that will not go out until we tell people the truth, even if that telling costs us.

An Old Testament Reminder of the Need for a Plurality of Elders in Churches

I hear more these days about the topic of elders in the local church than I ever did in days past. As I was growing up, our Baptist churches tended to have a single pastor who served as the main leader of the congregation. There also were deacons, who served as helpers to the pastor at times and as a sort of board of directors who oversaw the pastor at other times. Of course, there was also the regular congregational business meeting, which could be lovely or destructive depending on the people.

But now, churches are being reminded of the biblical need to have a plurality of elders. There are, of course, many New Testament texts that speak quite clearly to the fact that local congregations were led, not by one single man with all the power, but by a group of elders who spiritually led and fed the congregation even as the congregation had an important voice in the process. But what struck me in my daily reading through Numbers 11 was this picture that gives anecdotal evidence to remind us that groups of believers need a plurality of leaders. And it could also serve you as a reminder to pray for your elders.

The context here is Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness. The people, as was their custom, were complaining about the food. And their grumbling became more than Moses could bear.

Numbers 11:10-15 – 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Look at the place that Moses got himself to trying to lead a massive group as the sole authority. Moses said, “I am not able to carry all this people alone.” He even asked the Lord to kill him rather than let him continue with such an unbearable burden. Moses knew that he was unable to lead this group alone, and he begged for relief.

What the Lord did in the rest of the passage was to bring to Moses a group of seventy elders upon whom the Lord would also place his Spirit. This gave Moses a support network and spread out both the authority and responsibility of leadership.

In our congregations, we already have men who have the Spirit of God upon them. We all share in the same word of God. Why in the world would we not spread out the burden of responsibility and the weight of authority among a group of elders, a plurality? This is biblical and it is wise.

If your church does not have a plurality of elders, it should. And either way, if you are not an elder in your congregation, pray for your elders. Whether that be a solo pastor or a biblical plurality, pray that the Lord help these men by carrying the burden of leadership for them.