Dealing with Denial (Jeremiah 32:1-9, 36-41)

The Lord spoke to me in the tenth year that Zedekiah was king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year that Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylonia. At that time, the Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem, and I was in the prison at the courtyard of the palace guards. Zedekiah had ordered me to be held there because I told everyone that the Lord had said:

I am the Lord, and I am about to let the king of Babylonia conquer Jerusalem. King Zedekiah will be captured and taken to King Nebuchadnezzar, who will speak with him face to face. Then Zedekiah will be led away to Babylonia, where he will stay until I am finished with him. So, if you people of Judah fight against the Babylonians, you will lose. I, the Lord, have spoken.

Later, when I was in prison, the Lord said:

Jeremiah, your cousin Hanamel, the son of your uncle Shallum, will visit you. He must sell his field near the town of Anathoth, and because you are his nearest relative, you have the right and the responsibility to buy it and keep it in the family.

Hanamel came, just as the Lord had promised. And he said, “Please buy my field near Anathoth in the territory of the Benjamin tribe. You have the right to buy it, and if you do, it will stay in our family.”

The Lord had told me to buy it from Hanamel, and so I did. The price was 17 pieces of silver, and I weighed out the full amount on a scale….

Jeremiah, what you said is true. The people of Jerusalem are suffering from hunger and disease, and so the king of Babylonia will be able to capture Jerusalem.

I am angry with the people of Jerusalem, and I will scatter them in foreign countries. But someday I will bring them back here and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will make their thoughts and desires pure. Then they will realize that, for their own good and the good of their children, they must worship only me. They will even be afraid to turn away from me. I will make an agreement with them that will never end, and I won’t ever stop doing good things for them. With all my heart I promise that they will be planted in this land once again. (Contemporary English Version)

Denial is a powerful mental force.

Disaster was about to befall Jerusalem and its inhabitants. Few were prepared for what was ahead. But they should have been ready. That’s because the prophet Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and the people about their need to live in justice and righteousness.

The dominant belief within the city was that judgment would never come to them. The people looked at their covenant with the Lord, and the presence of the temple, as some sort of rabbit’s foot or insurance policy that would keep invading armies at bay.

But they were in denial about what was actually occurring. The people lived as they wanted, giving Yahweh some temple time and a bit of worship, but then turned around and also worshiped other gods. Furthermore, they exploited the poor, took advantage of the needy, and engaged in unscrupulous business practices. So, the prophet Jeremiah was given a message by God to the people:

I brought you here to my land,
    where food is abundant,
but you made my land filthy
    with your sins.
The priests who teach my laws
    don’t care to know me.
Your leaders rebel against me;
your prophets
    give messages from Baal
    and worship false gods….

You, my people, have sinned
    in two ways—
you have rejected me, the source
    of life-giving water,
and you’ve tried to collect water
in cracked and leaking pits
    dug in the ground. (Jeremiah 2:7-8, 14, CEV)

The message was repeatedly ignored, along with warnings of judgment, if the people did not change their errant ways. The city’s denial was palpable, holding the false belief that the Babylonians could never take them, and that God was on their side.

Pay attention, people of Judah! Change your ways and start living right, then I will let you keep on living in your own country. Don’t fool yourselves! My temple is here in Jerusalem, but that doesn’t mean I will protect you. I will keep you safe only if you change your ways and are fair and honest with each other. Stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows. Don’t kill innocent people. And stop worshiping other gods. Then I will let you enjoy a long life in this land I gave your ancestors. (Jeremiah 7:3-7, CEV)

The antidote to denial is acceptance – not necessarily accepting that a situation is okay, fine, or right – but that the situation is actually there; it’s true, and I’ve got to face it as it is, and not as I want it to be.

The Babylonians were at the city gate. Yet, even then, Jeremiah was getting the stiff arm from King Zedekiah and was in prison for preaching sedition. Nobody wanted to face the music – that a funeral dirge was about to play. But they needed to own up to what was happening and why they were in such a position.

It’s a sad scene. It’s hard to watch, whenever others refuse to listen, knowing what will happen if they keep to their denial. There were some things Jeremiah did and didn’t do when he was in this awkward and precarious position.

Jeremiah did not:

  • Give up and/or shut up. He didn’t give in to the temptation of being frustrated, throwing up his hands, and walking away; and he didn’t adopt their denial and stop talking.
  • Manipulate by resorting to shaming the people, or using Machiavellian tactics to force or leverage repentance out of them.
  • Say, “I told you so!” In fact, he did just the opposite; he grieved and lamented the unchanged hearts and the destruction which did happen.

Jeremiah did:

  • Connect with both God and the people. He was able to differentiate himself from the situation, while at the same time, remaining connected as a voice to the people.
  • Accept his role as prophet. He took responsibility for himself and his own particular calling – and nothing more than that. He focused on what needed to be said and done in the moment, and left the rest to God.
  • Kept living his life. He went and bought a relative’s field, keeping the land in the family, knowing he was still going to have a life after such devastation.

The Lord, as the Good Shepherd, isn’t going to herd cats – so we must follow as the sheep who trust in the Lord’s voice and actions, to say and do what we most need to hear and obey.

Just and right God, you invite us to give ourselves in service to others, equipped with justice and righteousness. Be with me as I choose each day to reflect your divine presence in our world. Give me the courage and generosity to respond to your love, and to your call. May all your people speak your message with bravery, humility, and skill. Open the minds and hearts of those in denial — that they may accept you and your words. Amen.

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