In today’s Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, we see a common theme of the reluctant prophet. The Lord speaks to Jeremiah and tells him that he is going to be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah responds by saying that he doesn’t know how to speak, he is too young.
The inability to speak is a common response among prophets to be. We see it with Moses. Moses is commissioned to be God’s messenger to pharaoh, but he objects that he does not speak well. In his case, Aaron is appointed as his spokesman.
We see it again later with Isaiah except with a small twist. Isaiah has a visionary experience in the sixth chapter of the book bearing his name. He is commissioned as a prophet, but he responds that he is a person of unclean lips living among people with unclean lips. Thus, it is not so much that he doesn’t know how to speak, but rather that he is not holy enough to speak.
In each case, however, the Lord overcomes the objections of the prophet. The Lord provides Aaron as a spokesman; he cleanses Isaiah’s lips; he assures Jeremiah of deliverance (Jer. 1.8).
Indeed, it is not easy to be prophetic. Essentially, we must often stand up and deliver a message that people do not want to hear. In Jeremiah’s case, he has to deliver the message that the nation of Judah is going to be conquered by the Babylonians. He must deliver this message while a number of false prophets are saying the opposite and giving the people a message that they want to hear.
Furthermore, people often do not listen to prophets. In the Old Testament, the people had a history of persecuting prophets. Jeremiah himself ends up imprisoned.
Thus, one could think of a hundred different reasons not to speak and live prophetically. I don’t speak well; people are going to get upset with me; people are not even going to listen to me. But, we must take comfort in the promise given to Jeremiah. God will be with us when we take up the prophetic task.
What message is God calling you to speak forth today that might be difficult to deliver or make you unpopular? Is there an activity that people are encouraging you to engage in but you shouldn’t? Will you live prophetically by saying no, even though this may cause you to be mocked?