Jeremiah 1:9-10. “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. Today I have appointed you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.’”
Exegesis and Application
This remarkable passage tells of Jeremiah’s commissioning as a prophet to “the nations.” He is to be more than just a prophet to the Old Testament Church (Israel). This is an important distinction and one made twice by God in the first ten verses of Jeremiah (vss. 5, 10).
A second aspect of these early Jeremiah verses is that Jeremiah was only a “youth.” Most commentators believe that the Hebrew word in vs. 6 (naar) can mean “young man” or “boy,” or “child” or even “infant.” So we may be seeing a teenager being commissioned by God to be a controversial spokesman for Him.
A third aspect of this commissioning is that the message of Jeremiah will not be pleasant to the hearers. He will spend twice as much time (“uproot,” “tear down,” “destroy,” “overthrow” vs. “build,” “plant”) accentuating the negative rather than the positive (Johnny Mercer would not be happy!). Indeed, Jeremiah grew into an old man preaching mostly destruction and not construction. Because of the tone of his message Jeremiah faced hostility, anger and rejection most of his life, beginning as a young man. He was not a happy man (Jer. 20).
A fourth aspect of this passage is that Yahweh told Jeremiah that He would “put my words in your mouth.” That is, Jeremiah would speak the words of God when he preached. The Hebrew word translated “touch” is noga and the formed used by Jeremiah means the “touching” is a completed act. That is, as long as God has commissioned Jeremiah to be a spokesman the prophet will speak the words of God. He won’t have to repeatedly seek God’s words but can rest assured that what he says will be the language of heaven. While this surely applies in a unique way to the inspired prophets and apostles of the Bible, this divine relationship with God’s followers is not limited to only those uniquely touched by the LORD. Peter applies this illumination to all genuine believers when he writes, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God” (1 Peter 4:11). We even have an Old Testament example of a pagan prophet receiving a “message from the LORD” in Balaam in Numbers 23:5. This gets to the point of this blog entry.
Christian journalist, your dominant role in this passage is an unrelenting “striver for verifiable truth.” That is, the journalist is to discover and report the truth in a given situation so as to inform the public in order that the public can make salutary decisions based on verifiable information. This role is counter-cultural in our current journalistic environment and widely misunderstood as it concerns Christian journalists in the newsroom.
The prophet Zechariah records these words of Yahweh: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other and render true and sound judgment in your courts; … and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all these things (Zechariah 8:16-17).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul picks up on this passage when he writes to the Ephesians, “Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25).
Why is reporting the truth to “each other,” to “our neighbor” so important? Why can’t we improve on or soften reality with a little nuanced equivocation to advance a righteous cause? The reason we can’t is because the sovereign God of truth does not need our improvements, our nuance to eventually bless our neighbor. It is part of the way God created human society – truth always leads to blessing (John 8:32).
Christian journalists must never be afraid of reporting the truth of a given situation, even when the truth is ugly and unpleasant (which it is many times), because ultimately, God will use the reported truth to work His good and perfect will for our neighbor. If falsehood is permitted to stand by our failure to report or deliberately twist the truth, human society will break down and the blessings of human culture will be lost (Prov. 24:11-12; Matthew 7:12).
To diligently report the truth in every situation is to take part in the cosmic struggle to redeem human culture (1 Peter 3:15; Col 4:5-6; 2 Tim. 2:23-25; Titus. 3:2). To be truthful with our neighbor is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 5:44; John 13:34).
The trick in applying this Jeremiah passage to our work is, in John Calvin’s words, “not to mix any of our own fictions” with the truth. It is sufficient that we consecrate our work to God’s truth as we see it as long as we are conscientious about reporting the truth of what we see and know, regardless of the consequences. Those Christians who faithfully respond to the vocational commissioning of being a journalist need to remember from Jeremiah that the divine authority to tell the truth is “rarely recognized by those to whom the authoritative word is addressed, but it is there all the same. And if the proclamation of the authoritative word often leaves the messenger with a sense of frustration and failure, that messenger has nevertheless been faithful in the appointed task” (Peter Craigie).