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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Jeremiah 20

Verses 1-6

Opposition of Pashhur


Pashhur is the son of the priest Immer (Jer 20:1). Immer is a descendant of Eleazar. He belongs to the sixteenth division of those appointed to do priestly service (1Chr 24:14). Pashhur is therefore a very privileged and at the same time very responsible man. In addition, he is also chief officer in the house of the LORD. He is a kindred spirit of the chief officer of the temple about whom we read in the book of Acts, who is present to imprison Peter and John, also because of words displeasing to the religious leaders (Acts 4:1-3).

Pashhur hears the words of Jeremiah. He does not like those words because they only cause unrest among the people and he cannot use that. God’s words reveal his evil mind. The cause is that he is not willing to bow to the call to repentance. He considers himself important. He also resents the thought that Jerusalem and the temple will be given up to the enemy. He takes that as preaching against the city of the great King and against the house of the LORD, which, according to his view, will never be given up by the LORD. Jeremiah is accused of the same thing the Lord Jesus was accused of, as well as Stephen (Mt 26:59-61; Acts 6:13-14).

Instead of standing beside Jeremiah and supporting his words, he reveals himself as an adversary (Jer 20:2; cf. Amos 7:10-17). He has “Jeremiah the prophet beaten”, which underscores the wickedness of Pashhur’s attitude. Pashhur proves to be an enemy of the words of God spoken by the prophet. Those words are intolerable to him. He imprisons Jeremiah in a cell built to the house of the LORD. This is Jeremiah’s first captivity. The blocks into which he is put is not only to shackle him, but also to torment him (cf. 2Chr 16:10a; Job 13:27; Jer 29:27). The Hebrew word for block, mahpeketh, means ‘to cause pain’.

It is the ancient truth that the prophets of God are persecuted, most violently by the leaders of God’s people. Jeremiah here is again a picture of the Lord Jesus, the perfect Prophet, Who is also beaten when He gives His testimony before the religious leaders (Mt 26:67-68; Mic 5:1; cf. Acts 23:2).

The upper Benjamin Gate is possibly the courtroom; in the gate justice is done (Deu 16:18; Deu 17:8). In this place of justice and so close to the house of the LORD, in His presence, before His face, great injustice takes place. This is also how it went with the Lord Jesus. Where there should be protection of the God-fearing prophet, great injustice is done to him.

The next day, Pashhur releases Jeremiah. Possibly he has thought that Jeremiah has learned his lesson and will stop preaching his morbid message. But then he is very much mistaken. Jeremiah addresses the word to him (Jer 20:3). It is a word of judgment. The name he gives Pashhur, “Magor-missabib”, means ‘terror on every side’. Jeremiah explains the meaning of this name (Jer 20:4). Pashhur will have terror everywhere, inwardly and outwardly. The man will be surrounded by terror. All who love him will be gripped by fear. All who love a man like Pashhur share in his fate. They are like him. Family members will be killed and others captured and taken away to Babylon and killed there.

Also all the wealth of Jerusalem and all her produce, all the costly things and treasures, of which Pashhur may possess a lot, will be given into the hand of the enemy (Jer 20:5). The enemy will rob them and bring them to Babylon. Here Babylon is mentioned by name for the first time.

Then Jeremiah addresses Pashhur personally. Pashhur, along with all the inhabitants of his house, his family members, will also go into captivity to Babylon and die there (Jer 20:6). In that fate will also share all his friends against whom he prophesied lies and who believed them. How great is the responsibility of a preacher!

Verses 7-10

Jeremiah’s Inescapable Calling


The courageous, fearless man before men, who has just testified vigorously before Pashhur, struggles and wrestles with God in His presence. He now pours out his complaint before the LORD. We see something similar with Elijah (1Kgs 18:21; 30; 36-40; 1Kgs 19:1-4). Jeremiah complains that he should never have begun his service, but that the LORD deceived, persuaded, indeed, forced him to it (Jer 20:7; Jer 1:4-10; 17-19). Every servant should be able to say that to some degree. Enthusiastically stepping into service for the Lord without fear and cost calculation, is not the start that proofs the calling (cf. Mt 8:19-20).

Jeremiah complains how his service is being responded to. Everyone is laughing at him and mocking him. This is more than he can bear. His message is not pleasant either. He doesn’t like to bring it either. He even dislikes what he has to say. It is quite a struggle for the sensitive Jeremiah to shout out a message of violence and destruction (Jer 20:8). That word of the LORD, which He has spoken in His law, he must bring, for the people transgress in a shameful way. But to that word, which is in him, the people respond with reproach and jeers. He receives their reproaches and derisions all day long.

Jeremiah has known times when he has wanted to bid the LORD farewell (Jer 20:9) and throw in the towel. Yet this is impossible for him because the word burns like a fire in his heart (cf. 1Cor 9:16; Amos 3:8b). It is shut up in his bones, which means that it is felt very deeply and intensely by him (Job 30:17; Job 33:19). Even when he tries his best to hold back his words, he cannot.

The false prophets don’t know such inner struggle. They do not reckon with God, but only with their own feelings and the will of the people. They talk to them and leave their conscience out of it. Then you will not encounter any opposition to your message.

We may also be overcome by the feeling that we no longer want to continue our service, that we no longer want to think about the LORD. After all, there is no point to it all. But then, like Jeremiah, we will still have no choice but to continue because we are inwardly convinced of the truth. The heart is burning, even though we are disappointed with the results of our service. When we see the state of corruption and the judgment that threatens, we cannot help but speak God’s words.

The reason for Jeremiah to resign his ministry is the evil rumor he heard from many (Jer 20:10). This is indicated by the word “for” at the beginning of this verse. He is aware that his fellow citizens, with whom he has lived in peace, are bent on his downfall (cf. Mk 3:2; Mt 22:15; 23; 35; Lk 14:1). The name he gave Pashhur, they now give him (Psa 31:13). They want to do to him, what he prophesied about Pashhur and want to surround him with terror from every side. They want to frighten him so that he will stop with his preaching of doom.

Rumors buzz around him. He is being spied on. If only he says or does something wrong, if there is any stumble in word or deed, they seize him. He only has to slip up and he will be condemned as a traitor or blasphemer. In the eyes of his fellow citizens he sees hatred. They don’t seize him yet, but their constant talking about him as an undesirable person with an undesirable message does its job of eliminating him. It is unbearable when people around you are talking about you without ceasing. You can tell by the looks they throw at you and by the isolation you are placed in.

It is about you and directed against you. You feel how they all look in your direction, while you cannot defend yourself. This is called character assassination. Then it can become too much for you and you cry out that life makes no sense anymore, yes, that you even wish you had never been born. Jeremiah, after a burst of faith in Jer 20:11-13, does just that in the verses that then follow.

Verses 11-13

Jeremiah Clings to the LORD


Suddenly Jeremiah throws himself upon the LORD (Jer 20:11). Suddenly he sees Him “like a dread champion” Who is with him. In the powerful language of faith, he measures the strength of his opponents not by his own strength but by that of the LORD. They will stumble and fail in their purpose, powerless as they are against the dread Champion. They will also be put to shame, for their course of action is not wise because it is without the LORD, yes, even contrary to Him. Their fate is in everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten, they will always be aware of it.

Jeremiah knows the LORD as “the LORD of hosts”, as the One Who is above all earthly and heavenly powers (Jer 20:12). He knows that the LORD knows him as a righteous man and sees his whole inner self. Therefore, he prays with boldness that the LORD will show him His vengeance on his opponents. After all, he has made his lawsuit known to Him and has not acted as his own judge.

That thought even brings out in him the call to a song of praise (Jer 20:13). He sees in faith the salvation of his soul from the hand of the wicked as the result of his prayer. He allows others to share in the joy of this deliverance and calls them to sing to the LORD and praise Him.

Verses 14-18

Jeremiah Curses His Day of Birth


In the verses before this (Jer 20:11-13), the LORD stands before the eye of the prophet’s faith. In the verses that now follow, He no longer sees the LORD. He sees only the circumstances and himself. The result is that he sinks into a sudden depression. What he utters is reminiscent of what Job utters in the face of all the misery that has befallen him: “Afterward Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his [birth]” (Job 3:1). We get the impression that Jeremiah was familiar with the book of Job in which we see the ways of the LORD that He goes with Job. When we compare Job 3 with these five verses of Jeremiah, we see how much the complaints of these dedicated men are similar.

After the flare-up of confidence in the preceding verses, Jeremiah is again assailed by a feeling of hopeless misery (Jer 20:14). From the heights of faith confidence, Jeremiah falls into deep despair. This despair is so strong that he curses the day of his birth. The day his mother gave birth to him, he denies the blessing. He finds the blessing of the birth of a child misplaced as far as his own birth is concerned.

Even the bringer of the good news of his birth to his father is cursed by him (Jer 20:15). The birth of a son is the best news a man can receive. It means continuation of the family name. But Jeremiah says that his birth is no cause for rejoicing. He would be given a service not of bringing good news, but of bad news. The man who announced the news of his birth must suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Jer 20:16; Gen 19:25). That man must be put in such great distress that he cries out all day with misery instead of being in a jubilant mood about his birth.

Actually, it is the LORD’s fault, because He allowed him to be born. After all, He could have killed him in the womb (Jer 20:17). Then he would have it wonderfully peaceful now, because he would be dead in his mother’s womb. His mother would be his grave and there he would always have been. Things turned out differently. He came out of the womb (Jer 20:18). But why? Is it really to see only trouble and sorrow and to end his days in shame? What a life and what a fate!

It is the last ‘why-question’. There is no answer given to this question. The LORD gives His servant time to think about it for himself and come to an answer. What we can say is that God holds the believer even though he feels alone and abandoned.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/jeremiah-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.