Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Commentary on Jeremiah 20


Jeremiah 20 provides a glimpse into the inner emotional world of the prophet Jeremiah himself as he navigates intense persecution for faithfully proclaiming God’s difficult word. This chapter follows on the heels of his brazen performance of smashing the clay jar in chapter 19, symbolizing God’s coming judgment on Jerusalem. Now, Jeremiah experiences firsthand the painful consequences for his bold obedience.

The passage opens with Jeremiah being struck and put in stocks overnight by Pashhur the priest, a leading official who oversees temple security. This follows his prophecy of Jerusalem’s coming desolation. After his release the next day, Jeremiah pens a long, anguished lament expressing the depths of his inner turmoil. He feels deceived by God, betrayed and abandoned. He curses the day of his birth and wishes he had died in the womb. At times he tries to withhold God’s word, but cannot escape his prophetic calling which burns like a fire in his heart.

Yet amidst the darkness of despair, rays of hope emerge. Jeremiah trusts that God will ultimately vindicate him against his persecutors. He praises God’s proven faithfulness and looks ahead to the day of God’s perfect justice. Bit by bit, Jeremiah’s focus shifts from his discouraging circumstances to the unchanging nature of God. By the end of the chapter, he stands on firmer ground even while surrounded by adversity on all sides.

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This candid glimpse into the weeping prophet’s inner world provides perspective and encouragement when we face seasons of intensified spiritual warfare and persecution. Key insights include:

  • The high cost and opposition faced when speaking God’s word boldly
  • Dealing honestly with emotions of anger, doubt and despair
  • Combatting discouragement through remembrance of God’s calling and past faithfulness
  • Recognizing God’s refining purpose in using adversity
  • The hope of God’s ultimate justice and vindication
  • Learning from biblical laments in times of distress
  • The importance of trusted community through trials

May Jeremiah’s experience serve as both warning and comfort on our own journeys. His courage to obey God’s call, regardless of opposition, stands as a shining example amidst the struggle.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Commentary on Jeremiah 20


1. High Cost of Boldly Proclaiming Truth

This passage reveals the intense persecution Jeremiah faces simply for faithfully speaking the words God called him to proclaim. God’s message through Jeremiah in chapter 19 pronounced imminent, severe judgment coming upon Jerusalem for Judah’s sin:

“I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be appalled and will gasp at the destruction they see there.” (Jeremiah 19:8 NLT)

For communicating this difficult but urgent word from the Lord, Jeremiah immediately suffers consequences:

“When Pashhur son of Immer heard what Jeremiah was prophesying to the people, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin, where the people passed by.” (20:1-2 NLT)

His persecution culminates with death threats from adversaries determined to silence him (20:10). Speaking God’s words boldly often ignites opposition. Are we willing to obey fully and trust God with outcomes like Jeremiah?

2. Dealing Honestly with Discouragement and Despair

Jeremiah’s extended lament in this chapter provides a model for honestly processing emotions when we undergo persecution for righteousness’ sake. After his beating and imprisonment, Jeremiah unleashes a torrent of anger, doubt and despair. He feels deceived by God who called him to a ministry of rejection and ridicule:

“You misled me, O LORD, and I allowed myself to be misled. You overpowered me and prevailed. I am a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.” (20:7 NLT)

In raw, uncensored honesty he even wishes he had died in the womb rather than experience such anguish (20:14-18). By pouring out his complaint before God, Jeremiah gains perspective over time. We too can freely voice our deepest emotions, even anger and despair, to the God who understands and offers hope.

3. Combatting Discouragement Through Remembrance

For Jeremiah, the way forward from despair involves remembering key truths: God’s proven faithfulness in the past, reminders of his prophetic calling, and his hope in God’s ultimate justice. Even when emotions overwhelm him in the moment, he recalls the bedrock reality of God’s trustworthy character:

“LORD, you understand; remember me and care for me. Make my enemies suffer as I am suffering; bring on them the day of disaster they plan for me.” (20:11-12 NLT)

By focusing on God’s strength rather than his circumstances, Jeremiah finds courage to persevere. We too can fight discouragement by remembering who God is, what He’s done before, and our identity in Christ. Our feelings fluctuate, but God’s steadfast love endures.

4. Recognizing God’s Refining Purpose

Upon further reflection, Jeremiah also discerns a divine purpose in this adversity. God uses it to refine and strengthen him. Suffering has a way of purifying our motives and priorities. In the crucible we learn where our true hope lies.

He realizes it provides opportunity to discern between allies and adversaries. Persistent opposition reveals where hearts are hardened against God’s word versus receptive in humility (20:10).

Most importantly, depending on God alone is expounded through the fire of affliction. Suffering strips away counterfeits, leaving Christ as our sole hope and confidence.

5. Hope in God’s Ultimate Justice

As Jeremiah’s lament progresses, he increasingly expresses certainty in God’s coming justice. For now, he remains surrounded and outnumbered by adversaries. But Jeremiah trusts God as his champion who will ultimately vindicate him:

“LORD, you understand; remember me and care for me. Make my enemies suffer as I am suffering; bring on them the day of disaster they plan for me.” (20:11-12 NLT)

Persecution highlights the stark gap between present injustice and God’s assured perfect justice. As Christ-followers we share Jeremiah’s hope that God’s kingdom will make all things right in the end. This hope anchors us through present storms.

6. Learning from Biblical Laments

Jeremiah’s candid lament provides a biblical model for voicing despair. The Psalms especially contain many laments where the writer cries out honestly in pain and protest. Derek Kidner notes their unfiltered honesty:

“This is prayer in its most natural form – not the poetry of reflection but the poetry of desperate petition…They make harrowing reading, until we reflect that they are cries not of bitterness but of faith.” (Tyndale Commentary on Psalms 1-72, p. 36)

By giving full voice to our anguish, we cling to the hope that God hears and understands. Laments lay our hearts bare for divine comfort.

7. Importance of Trusted Community

We also note the vital presence of Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe, during this time of distress. When Jeremiah felt most alone, Baruch read aloud to all the “words of the Lord which He had spoken to Jeremiah.” (20:1-2)

Later God tells Jeremiah to call on faithful friends for support when vulnerable: “Let me see your vengeance upon them, for to You I have revealed and committed my cause.” (20:12)

True community strengthens us through seasons of adversity. Their support reminds us we are not alone.


In summary, Jeremiah 20 provides candid insight into the weeping prophet’s inner struggles as he undergoes intense persecution for proclaiming God’s difficult word. His transparent lament models crying out in raw honesty when we experience despair. Yet through his darkness, rays of hope penetrate by recalling God’s proven faithfulness and ultimate justice. Though Jeremiah feels engulfed by adversaries, he rests on God’s unchanging nature.

This journey reveals how God walks with us through the crucible of anguish, using even suffering for good. By His grace, its fires refine rather than destroy us. Our Savior remains intimately near, identifying with our pain. When we reach the end of our own strength, His grace remains sufficient to carry us through.

May Jeremiah’s courageous example spur us to persevere in obedience, regardless of opposition. His faith dares to proclaim truth and leave outcomes in God’s hands. For one day, we too will witness the fulfillment of His perfect justice and share in Christ’s eternal vindication. Our momentary afflictions are indeed achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Key Takeaways

  • Speaking God’s word boldly often ignites opposition and persecution
  • During times of despair, bring raw emotions honestly before God
  • Recall God’s past faithfulness and care when discouragement threatens
  • God uses adversity to refine purposes and strengthen reliance on Him
  • Hope in God’s promised justice anchors us through present injustice
  • Biblical laments model crying out in pain while clinging to faith
  • Trusted community provides support and encouragement in trials
  • Jesus identifies with our sufferings and intercedes for us as our great High Priest

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