“So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkija, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern: it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6 (NIV)
“‘Obey the Lord by doing what I tell you. Then it will go well with you, and your life will be spared. But if you refuse to surrender, this is what the Lord has revealed to me: all the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you: They misled you and overcame you – those trusted friends of yours. Your feet are sunk in the mud; your friends have deserted you.’” Jeremiah 38:20-22 (NIV)
“Running from the Dog”
What a miserable wretch Jeremiah was. His life was rife with drama and excitement, he was chosen to be “set apart…a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5), but he remained reluctant, insecure and hesitant about much of the work to which he’d been called. His relationship with the Living God was marked by stinging quarrels and hot-tempered outbursts. He went so far as to tell God he wished he were dead (Jer. 20:14-18). Jeremiah was among civilization’s first recorded victims of depression.
Centuries later, Winston Churchill would also suffer from depression, terming it his “black dog.” As political conflicts ebbed, Churchill lost himself in his writing and painting to escape these debilitating bouts. But it seems that for Jeremiah, there was no escaping the black dog. Indeed, it chased him all the faster as, in this passage, we see him charged with treason and thrown into a well. God offered no sympathy, but instead reminded the prophet of His promise to stand beside him (Jer. 15:20). Despite it all, Jeremiah pressed on, and instead of running from the dog, learned in whatever way he could, to run alongside it. From his own bleak history and days spent wallowing in mud, Jeremiah created a compelling picture for a vacillating King Zedekiah, pointing out that if disobedient, he too would know what it was like to have his feet “sunk in the mud.”
Wretched as he was, I cannot help but read Jeremiah’s book and love him all the more for his superlative example of perseverance.
The Bible has much to say about perseverance and the presentation of righteousness. Take Romans 2:7 for example: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” But here, in Jeremiah, the struggle is an internal one, and illuminates the challenge of obedience when the greatest impasse to doing what is right is not the public, or a king, or the circumstances, but the very mind itself.
I hear myself in Jeremiah’s wails. When the strength to rise every morning feels beyond my capacity, the path of righteousness seems less straight-and-narrow, and more edge-of-cliff while blindfolded. But I strive still for obedience, because I know my God requires it, no matter the dogs that pursue me. For he may yet use their dark barking for His glory.
Heavenly Father, obedience is hardest for me when I’ve convinced myself it’s impossible and the voice of doubt harangues me in the night. But You’ve provided no caveat for compliance. Your Word is as clear to me as it was to Jeremiah, and your promises of deliverance are older than the ages. I can do it, Lord, but I need your help. Because though the black dog is fast, You are faster still. Amen.
From the archives. Originally published August 25, 2009.