Jeremiah 20:7-18 – Jeremiah’s Final Lament


Jeremiah 20:7-18


Jeremiah’s most poignant lament is related to personal questions about his calling, particularly in view of the people’s rejection of his words.


Some interpreters think that this lament is so filled with anguish because the prophet deeply identifies with his people in their anticipated destruction. But the text does not speak so about the people. Indeed, he fervently prays that God’s judgment will be quickly forthcoming on the whole lot of them for their opposition and persecution (explicit in 20:1-6 and elsewhere). Jeremiah’s anguish is better related to the nature of his calling and his sense of being torn between God and people.

Especially troubling to readers is Jeremiah’s claim that God has seduced him (20:7). Some think that his anguish is related to the absence of a positive response of the people to his preaching. Yet, given his uncompromising word about the stubbornness of the people and the certain judgment, it seems unlikely that he expected such a positive response. More basically, his lament relates to his sense of entrapment between an overpowering word from an insistent God and a stubborn and derisive people. He feels squeezed between them and complains about the sheer difficulty in being placed by God in what turned out to be an impossible position. Jeremiah never suggests that the word he was called to preach was a false word. His sharp speaking to God is the type of honest and faithful interaction that God encourages in relationships (compare Abraham; Moses).

Jeremiah’s lament does not stay focused on God, but moves quickly to the response his word has engendered and the oppressive position in which he finds himself. His real complaints are about his persecutors and he expresses confidence that God will deliver him from this situation. His last words (20:14-18), addressed to himself and not to God, express a strong wish that he had not been placed in this position. This language is not self-hatred or self-loathing, but related to his calling. Given what has happened, he wishes that he had not become a prophet and, given that he was chosen from the womb (1:5), that he had not been born at all. He would then have been spared the life of great hardship that he has had in his prophetic role.