“Strong, you say? Just wait!”
Rayna watched in horror as the prophet covered his face with dusty hands. Looking far older than his reported age, the man sobbed. The crowd was used to the rantings of the crazy young fellow, and unperturbed by his tears. It was not without reason that he was known as ‘the weeping prophet’.
Rayna had just arrived in town that morning, carrying a basket of freshly harvested dates to sell. Leaving the wicker basket on the ground, Rayna elbowed her way through the crowd. Using her sleeve, she covered her mouth to filter out the odour of this mass of people. Tapping the ragged jacket covering the prophet’s bony shoulder, Rayna handed the weeping man her water jar. “Please, sir, have a drink.”
Jeremiah looked up, his face now streaked with black. He took a sip of water, wiped his face with his sleeve, inhaled deeply and continued his prophesying. Rayna slipped back into the crowd.
“Strong, you say? What is stronger than iron, or cuts deeper than diamonds? The LORD has used an iron pen to record your sin. He has used a diamond point to engrave your wrongdoing on your hearts and on your filthy altars. Destruction is imminent.”
Some in the crowd snickered, while others blanched. Whoever had heard of an iron pen? As for the altars, there was not even graffiti on them, let alone engraving. Altars to the local gods were erected under most trees and on the hills. Even now, looking up, the colourful ornate structures could be seen on the magnificent mountains that overshadowed the city.
A well-dressed official commanded the attention of the crowd with his deep resonating voice. “Don’t be afraid, good people! Ignore this lunatic.” He nodded toward Rayna, who was standing by her basket of dates, eyes wide in horror at the concept of the iron pen and the diamond tip recording their sin. “We’re strong. We’re well protected. We have a powerful king. You are safe. Don’t fear.”
Looking directly at the self-assured bureaucrat, Jeremiah’s voice rose above the agitated murmuring of the crowd. “These are the words of Jehovah: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:5NRSV).
Fixing his gaze now on the remains of a shrub which somebody had foolishly planted in direct sunlight, Jeremiah continued his prophecy. “The people who look within for strength have no hope of surviving the blazing heat that is to come. Punishment is certain. Those people will be like a desert shrub, parched and doomed.”
Jeremiah glanced at Rayna. The young country girl blushed deeply and dropped her eyes to her sandaled feet. “But those who trust in the LORD will be like a tree planted by water. Its roots will reach the life-giving water, and it shall flourish. Even though the days ahead will be awful, the one who draws strength from the LORD will not only survive, but will even flourish, calmly producing fruit in the midst of drought.”
Jeremiah stepped into the crowd, and as he walked by the tall official, proclaimed, “The heart is devious and perverse – it is incomprehensible. Only the LORD knows our hearts.”
The official’s face darkened as he turned and stormed out of the crowd, headed resolutely toward the palace. There would be no pleasant outcome for Jeremiah from incurring the wrath of this official, that was clear.
Standing by Rayna, Jeremiah’s face lit up with an unexpected and totally uncharacteristic smile. “The LORD tests the mind and searches the heart. He sees those who perceive themselves to be weak.” Returning Rayna’s water jar, he added, “Throw yourself on the LORD. Only as you draw from the life-giving water that is God Himself will you be truly strong.”
Rayna’s cheeks burned and her eyes dropped to the basket of dates at her feet. In her mind’s eye, she pictured the tall stately date trees of home. Her God-fearing family would be okay, despite the certain trauma ahead.
Jeremiah continued his prophesying, but Rayna picked up her basket and slipped away. Hurrying toward the city gates, her sleeve caught on the shrub which had died of thirst in the hot sun. Breaking off a twig, she tossed it in her basket.
The prophet’s voice faded into the distance as she headed quickly toward home. She had a message from the LORD, which she must pass on to her community.
(Based on Jeremiah 17:1-10)
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