Jeremiah had a difficult ministry and was persecuted severely for doing what God had sent him to do. In Jeremiah 20 we discover an episode in which Jeremiah is beaten and arrested. In that context Jeremiah pleads his cause before the Lord (Jeremiah 20:12).
As Jeremiah was presenting God’s message of impending judgment on the people of Judah (Jeremiah 19), a chief priest named Passhur had Jeremiah beaten and placed in stocks not far from the temple (Jeremiah 20:1–2). After being released, Jeremiah prophesied that God would judge Passhur for rejecting God’s Word and for Passhur’s own false prophecies (Jeremiah 20:3–6). After that, we read of Jeremiah’s frustration with God and how he goes on to say, “I have pleaded my cause before You” (Jeremiah 20:12, NKJV).
After experiencing mistreatment at the hands of the temple official, Jeremiah cries out that he feels deceived by God (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah presented God’s Word to the people, but, rather than respond in submission and respect, the people treated Jeremiah poorly. He is a laughingstock who is mocked constantly by seemingly everyone (Jeremiah 20:7–8). Jeremiah also seems deeply frustrated that he has to constantly bring the people bad news about coming judgment—violence and destruction—and the people receive those messages with reproach and derision for Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:8). But, despite the difficulty of being God’s messenger, Jeremiah can’t bring himself to turn away, as God’s Word (Jeremiah’s message spoken in God’s name) was like a fire within him, and he could not be silent (Jeremiah 20:9).
Because Jeremiah was constantly proclaiming God’s judgment (“terror on every side,” Jeremiah 20:10), the people denounced Jeremiah. Even his friends were waiting for him to fall, hoping he was simply being deceived so they could reject him as a false prophet (Jeremiah 20:10). Rather than receive Jeremiah’s words as a message from God, they wanted to do violence to Jeremiah. The prophet takes the matter to God, to plead his cause before the Lord, and he waits for vindication from heaven: “Let me see your vengeance against them, for I have committed my cause to you” (Jeremiah 20:12, NLT).
Despite the constant rejection that Jeremiah felt, he refused to quit. He recognized that God was with him like a dread champion or a terrifying mighty one (Jeremiah 20:11a). Jeremiah knew that, because God was with him, his enemies would not prevail over him and would one day be ashamed and disgraced (Jeremiah 20:11b). Jeremiah knew that God determined whether someone was righteous, and it was God who could see what was in the mind and the heart (Jeremiah 20:12a). Jeremiah had confidence that God knew what was in Jeremiah’s mind and heart, that he was indeed being faithful to the task God had given him. While everyone resisted Jeremiah for the message he presented, Jeremiah asks God for His vengeance on them, for they had rejected God and persecuted Jeremiah. Jeremiah adds that he has pled his case before the Lord (Jeremiah 20:12). Jeremiah then reminds his readers that God is worthy of praise. Jeremiah breaks into song, praising the One who delivers the soul of the needy from the hands of those who do evil (Jeremiah 20:13). As he awaits God to show Himself faithful, Jeremiah laments the day of his birth, that he should see such sorrow in his life (Jeremiah 20:14–18).
Jeremiah provides an important example to all of us that serving God is not always easy. Sometimes, obedience can be most difficult and painful. But even in the midst of life-threatening difficulty, Jeremiah recognizes that he can plead his cause before the Lord (Jeremiah 20:12). Jeremiah shows us that, even though we might face great difficulty, we can bring our concern to the Lord, standing on His promises and trusting Him to bring about justice in His own time.
Later, even after seeing the destruction that he had prophesied take place, Jeremiah wrote that he had hope because God’s lovingkindness is everlasting. God’s compassions never fail, and His faithfulness is great (Lamentations 3:21–23). Jeremiah understood that, even though people may reject him, his value and his very life are found in God (Lamentations 3:24). When we plead our cause before God like Jeremiah did—if we draw the same conclusions that Jeremiah did—we will have the same hope, because His lovingkindness and compassions are still everlasting. God’s mercies never fail.