Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet.” He kept warning the people of Judah of God’s approaching judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. They ignored his warnings. God even instructed Jeremiah not to pray for the people. “Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them, for I will not listen to them when they cry out to me in distress” (Jer. 11:14). The pain and sorrow that God felt for “hardened rebels” was experienced by Jeremiah himself.
Jeremiah knew he would live in the midst of God’s judgment. That is the background of his prayer in 10:23-5. “This prayer of Jeremiah entered into the prayer life of the exiles as well. This is clear from the way the words are built into Psalm 79, a psalm of lament that clearly comes from the stinging trauma of those who survived the destruction Jeremiah foretold” (Bible Speaks Today). “Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (Ps 79:8).
Jeremiah’s prayer can be instructive for us today, living in what Eugene Peterson called “disruptive times.” Could our current cultural crisis be a sign of God allowing his judgment to come upon us as a nation? If so, believers will be caught in the middle of this collapse. Jeremiah can help us as we journey through any dark days ahead.
Jeremiah then affirms God’s sovereignty and the limits of finding our way through the darkness. “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps” (Jer. 10:23). Proverbs 20:9 also reminds us, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Remember that history is God’s story. He sees the beginning from the end. Isaiah reminds us, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please'” (Is 46:10). The future of our nation is in his hands. He will guide our steps through whatever He allows to happen. Begin to see yourself as part of the faithful remnant (Rom 11:1-5).
In the midst of what he saw coming, Jeremiah prays for himself. “So correct me, Lord, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die” (Jer. 10:24 NLT). Jeremiah in his prayer identifies with the people. He asks the Lord to be merciful in the midst of judgment.
We may very well be experiencing the judgment of God on a culture that has turned its back on him, but we can pray for God’s mercy to see us through whatever he sends upon us. Referring to the deeds of God in the past, Habakkuk prayed, “Renew then in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2b).
Finally, Jeremiah appeals to the justice of God. “Vent your anger on the godless nations, who refuse to acknowledge you, and on the people who won’t pray to you” (Jer. 10:25 Message). The prophet asks God to deal with the enemies of his people. He is leaving the judging of the nations in the hands of God, since God knows the intentions of the heart.
In the end, we cry out for God to be merciful, knowing that God in his justice must bring judgment. We leave those opposed to God in his hands. We are not responsible. Vengeance belongs to God, not to us.