You Deceived Me, LORD,
and I Have Been Deceived
Jeremiah’s Seventh Complaint

20: 7-18

DIG: What happens to Jeremiah the day he is confined to prison? What happened when the prophet decides he will no longer prophesy? What blame does Yirmeyahu dare shift to YHVH? What internal tension does that create? Which seems more dominant at this point, his personal bitterness or divine compulsion? Why? What totally opposing emotions take turns gripping him? Which feeling do you think is winning at this point? Why is he so despairing of the day of his birth (1:5 and see Job 3)? Why doesn’t ADONAI answer the outburst? Has God been very consoling to His prophet in the past?

REFLECT: How would you feel if you had to do the same thing as Jeremiah? What does it mean to live above your moods? Have you ever been a laughing-stock for the LORD? Is your way of handling anger and depression anything like Yirmeyahu’s? Have you ever wished you had never been born? Do you keep your anger inside or do you let it out? How often do you ride an “emotional roller coaster” – up one moment and down the next? Do you enjoy the ride or throw up? Have you ever alternated back and forth between hope and despair? Where? When?

605 BC during the eleven-year reign of Jehoiakim

Jeremiah was unflinching in his speech against the Temple, Jerusalem and Judah (see Cw – At the Potter's House). But after this defiant proclamation, we are permitted access to his conversation with ADONAI, which had a much different tone. Now he grumbles and complains to God over the very real cost of his public ministry.

Yirmeyahu turns in bitterness against YHVH. You deceived me, ADONAI, and I was deceived (20:7a). The Hebrew verb pittah not only means to be deceived but also to be seduced (NJB). It is used of a man seducing a virgin in Exodus 22:16. The NRSV covers both meanings by using enticed. This was extremely difficult. The task to which Jeremiah was called to do was probably the most difficult of any prophet. Judah was about to go under judgment. Nevertheless, his statement here is pretty close to blasphemy. When you call to mind the sensitive nature of this man, you aren’t surprised that he vacillated between optimism and pessimism, between hope and despair. Yirmeyahu, however, lived above his moods and did the will of ADONAI regardless of how he felt.

There are seven passages in the book of Jeremiah labeled complaints or confessions (1) Ax – Oh, Adonai ELOHIM, Surely You Have Deceived This People; (2) Bj – The Plot Against Jeremiah; (3) Bk – Why Does the Way of the Wicked Prosper? Why Do All the Faithless Live at Ease?; (4) Cm – Woe to Me, Mother, That You Gave Me Birth; (5) Cs – Heal Me ADONAI, and I Will Be Healed, Save Me and I Will Be Saved; (6) Cx – Jeremiah’s Response to a Threat Against His Life; and (7) Db – You Deceived Me, LORD, and I Have Been Deceived. In each of these Yirmeyahu speaks in the first person. He opens his heart. He reveals what is going on inside while the fireworks are going off outside. Jeremiah’s inner life is revealed in these confessions/complaints/prayers. When the prophet was out of the public’s eye he was passionate with God. He confessed/complained like we all do. This was his private life. This was a man of prayer.192

God did not deceive Jeremiah, although the prophet boldly accuses Him of it. Because of his prophetic office he had become a laughing stock. You overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of ADONAI has brought me insult and reproach all day long (20:7b-8). Jeremiah had the difficult job of proclaiming God’s message to a society that had turned their backs on YHVH. This required him to endure physical abuse, verbal attacks, imprisonment, and isolation. But when Jeremiah was under attack, so was the word of the LORD.

But if I say: I will not mention His word or speak anymore in His name, Jeremiah gets spiritual heartburn. His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (20:9). It was in this context that he accuses YHVH of deceiving him. Jeremiah seems to be saying that he had no idea of what was in store for him when he entered the prophetic office. Although God had alluded to the troubles coming his way, he had not imagined that his ministry would be so difficult.193

However, the very name the prophet gave Pash’chur (see Cv – Jeremiah and Pash’chur) was applied to Jeremiah by the people. He was maligned by those who could not bear to hear his word and dismissed him as an irresponsible traitor. I hear many false prophets whispering, “Terror on every side,” denounce him! Let’s denounce him! When he would start to prophesy the people would say, “Here comes Mr. Magor-Missabib . . . Mr. Negative.” All my so-called friends are waiting for me to slip, saying: Perhaps Jeremiah will be deceived. Then we will prevail over this “phony prophet” and take our revenge on him (20:10). The prophet from Anathoth must have felt deeply isolated.

But Yirmeyahu had a Helper through all his trouble. ADONAI is with me like a mighty warrior. God had promised: I am with you . . . to deliver you (1:19). All Jeremiah can do in the face of this withering opposition is to resort to his rock-solid faith in YHVH. The prophet knows that in the long run His persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly be disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten (20:11b). The prophet knows that God will protect him and ultimately his prophecies will come to pass.This statement of trust seems contradictory to the complaint. Whereas earlier YHVH had been accused of deception (20:7), now the LORD’s steadfastness is celebrated. Jeremiah’s confidence in ADONAI served two purposes. First, it is a statement of genuine trust. He had come to know that Ha’Shem’s power is reliable and can be counted on. Second, it is a motivation addressed to God, reminding Him of His character and what must be done.194

Ha’Shem did not desert Jeremiah, and He will not desert us. We have His continual aid through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh who lives inside every believer (John 14:16-17). The Helper gives us hope (Romans 15:13), steers us toward spiritual truth (John 16:13), and pours out God’s love in our hearts (Romans 5:5). We can trust that YHVH faithfully helps us as we endure hardship. We can say with the prophet from Anathoth: ADONAI is with me like a mighty warrior (20:11a).195

LORD of heaven’s angelic armies, You who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have committed my cause (20:12). Jeremiah does not ask for free grace, but only for an equitable settlement. He asks to be rewarded for his relentless obedience. This is a prayer of weakness and power. Jeremiah is aware that he is weak and helpless. He cannot prevail, but he is confident that Ha’Shem will prevail. Everything depended on YHVH. That is why the prayer is so urgent and passionate. Yirmeyahu must have ADONAI on his side.196

Having committed his cause to God, the prophet, in a sudden upsurge of faith, breaks into praise. Then Jeremiah sings a song of praise. Sing to ADONAI! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked, as his own experience testified (20:13). The prophet is so confident of God’s intervention and his own innocence that he anticipates a resolution as though it had already been accomplished.

After the bold, confident conclusion expressed as praise in 20:11-13, we are shocked and taken aback by the next five verses. This does not make such trust and praise false, but this trust is not the whole truth. The full truth of Jeremiah includes a harsh equivalent. This bold and obedient prophet found himself in a moment of candid humanity, feeling alone, abandoned, hopeless and full of despair against a hostile abyss. We can all relate.

In any case, these verses are a cry from the depth of his soul (Psalm 130:1).It is a wish hardly formed, not yet ready to be cast as a prayer. Cursed be the day I was born! Like Job (Job 3:2-12)- Jeremiah cursed the day of his birth. May the day my mother bore me not be blessed (20:14)!

He imagines the day of his birth. His father waited while the midwives worked. Then the news. Then the rejoicing. Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad – a son! The language was ironic: the birth of a son was an occasion for rejoicing, but now was a tragedy! May that man be like the tower ADONAI overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever (20:15-17). If only the news had not been brought. God could have suppressed the news and killed the baby. Jeremiah felt as if he would have been better off. I wish I had never left the womb to enter the world.

Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame (20:18)? Jeremiah was well known as “the weeping prophet.” In Matthew 16 some thought Jesus might have been Jeremiah resurrected! Isaiah said Yeshua was a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). Jeremiah’s question went unanswered, as we might expect. We do not know why, as Yirmeyahu did not know why because the reasons are hidden in the purposes of God.

Yirmeyahu has been called the most human and tragic prophet in all the TaNaKh. He continued to meet persecution, and continued to see God’s word rejected to the end of his life. He experienced very few moments of rest and relaxation and security after being called to be a prophet. His life was one round of persecution and imprisonment and beating and anguish after another. He confessed many times to being harassed and tormented. But his persistence in his calling even after the fall of Jerusalem bears his own deep conviction about God’s promise.

In the confessions/complaints/prayers of Jeremiah we encounter the entire spectrum of human, emotional distress: fear of shame, fear of failure, loss of strength, doubting of faith, loneliness, pity, disappointment turn to hostility towards YHVH. But the complaints were not the words of a quitter. Yirmeyahu’s entire life seems to have been lived in the tension of his calling. The only way in which he could have put an end to that tension would have been to quit the prophetic office . . . and that he never did. He may have wanted to on more than one occasion – but he never did. Jeremiah’s qualities of character remain a standing rebuke to believers who excuse themselves from serving God because of personal reluctance or weakness. It was precisely this man who, for all his weakness, was the LORD’s chosen instrument to speak His word, His judging and saving word, to His people.

The prophet learned the meaning of obedience, felt the discomforts of anguish, and endured the trials of loneliness; but through it all ADONAI was steadfast and Jeremiah was satisfied. In a greater or lesser degree, we who love Jesus Christ with all our hearts and want to serve Him to the very core of our being, must learn the same lessons.197

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