Everybody struggles with maintaining hope in tough times, and also with knowing and doing God’s will when what we feel is right seems irrelevant. Today I’m going to cover a story of how the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah struggled to understand an idea God gave him to share hope with future generations, including us. The story also loosely follows the outline of the first three Beatitudes and therefore fits in the “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” series.
If misunderstood, the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it. It can be a place of depression and despair. Like in the theme song from the TV show Friends, we feel like “It hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.” Where does it end? But God promises that there is work for each of us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) The third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” promises a way forward – for every person in their own way to do whatever He has prepared for them.
The Gearbox of the Beatitudes
As I wrote in the first post on “Blessed are those who mourn” I believe the Beatitudes are an intentional sequence, and here I’ll describe better what I mean. The Beatitudes are not a chronological path we move through as we mature. We don’t learn to be fully poor in spirit before we can get any better at mourning or being meek. The picture is more like gears in a machine that all need to work together for the machine to function in each specific situation. Weakness in one place affects the entire machine and Jesus was explaining specific parts of becoming more like Him. God, as our maker, knows how we function, the reasons behind when we fail to function, and the solution. With the Beatitudes, Jesus encourages us to use the machine for what it was made for – loving God and neighbor in all times and circumstances. First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s. Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged. That we care. In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord. If we don’t, “it’s like you’re always stuck in second gear” from the Friends theme song.
The story today (from Jeremiah 32) finds Jeremiah stuck. The Jews had him imprisoned for speaking the words of their own God, and while he was there, God told him that he should buy a field. Not only was Jeremiah in prison, but the field he was asked to buy was in enemy territory. The Babylonians had already conquered much of Judah and were besieging Jerusalem. Surrounded by despair, we can easily imagine Jeremiah asking: what good will it do? He might think cutting off Nebuchadnezzar’s ear would be a better idea.
Jeremiah Inspects the Gears
As readers of the book of Jeremiah, we are doubly blessed to know that he did buy the field, but also that he recorded his prayer to God as he tried to overcome his reservations. The prayer is in chapter 32, verses 17-25, and loosely reviews the first two Beatitudes, while he is having trouble engaging the third gear of meekness. His mind and emotions are engaged, but his will hesitates.
First, Jeremiah reviews the power, character, and history of God to remind him to rely on His Spirit, not on the poverty of his own spirit in verses 17 to 23:
“‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. You have shown signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, and to this day in Israel and among all mankind, and have made a name for yourself, as at this day. You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders, with a strong hand and outstretched arm, and with great terror. And you gave them this land, which you swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they entered and took possession of it.”
Second, Jeremiah mourns the consequences of Judah’s disobedience starting in the middle of verse 23 through verse 24:
“But they did not obey your voice or walk in your law. They did nothing of all you commanded them to do. Therefore you have made all this disaster come upon them. Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it.”
Yet the prayer closes with Jeremiah doubting the significance of his own obedience in verse 25:
“Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”—though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.”
In a book where the main theme is (temporary and partial) judgment on God’s people who had turned away from Him, there are also moments of (eternal) hope. Jeremiah bought the field – to show God’s people that their exile would be temporary, and their eternal hope was secure. As the Beatitude says, the meek “shall inherit the earth“! But there are also two notes of hope for us living centuries later: 1) that doubt is not something only “weak” Christians feel. Jeremiah felt it too. And 2) that encouragement matters, even if we see it as a meaningless drop in a turbulent ocean. If God calls us to do it, it is meaningful. For a lot of people “It hasn’t been their day, their week, their month, or even their year.” As I write, the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t quite over and many are struggling to return to “normal,” which isn’t what it used to be. To quote an old friend of mine in a recent Facebook post: “Encouragement. Everyone needs it, and we hardly ever share it. Don’t wait. Spread the love!”
If you still find yourself stuck, hesitant to shine God’s light in the darkness, go before God and follow the pattern of Jeremiah’s prayer – remember the power of His Spirit when yours is weak and the significance of obedience even in small things. You might find not only yourself getting out of second gear, but also helping someone else move beyond a rut they’ve found themselves in.
“Let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25
This post continues a series on the Beatitudes. To start at the beginning, click here.
 “I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts (audio here)
 See the post “He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs (Part 2)” for more on the growth in the Apostle Peter from cutting off Malchus’ ear to teaching “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Peter 2:1)