The Persevering Prophet: Harsh Language

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Reading through the first several chapters of Jeremiah, I am struck by the harshness of Jeremiah’s preaching. Throughout the book, there is a palpable hatred of sin, that is expressed with incredibly strong language.

Before I continue, if you are offended by such language, you may not want to read this post (perhaps this light-hearted one instead?), as I’ve pulled together some of the more intense examples from the early chapters of the book of Jeremiah.

Within the book’s first five chapters, we see the following extremely intense words preached by Jeremiah:

For long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds; but you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yes, on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore (Jer. 2:20, emphasis mine).

How well you direct your course to seek love! So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways. Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of the guiltless poor; you did not find them breaking in. Yet in spite of all these things you say, ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’ Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned’ (Jer. 2:33-35, emphasis mine).

If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the Lord (Jer. 3:1, emphasis mine).

Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been ravished? By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers like an Arab in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom (Jer. 3:2, emphasis mine).

Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed (Jer. 3:3, emphasis mine).

Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord (Jer. 3:6-10).

How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. They were well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife (Jer. 5:7-8).

It took me several days to really grasp the intensity of these words. Like few other writings in the Bible, these passages clearly illustrate just how much God hates sin. I don’t know if we can fully comprehend just how much our sin angers God. And even that word, “whore;” it’s such an ugly word, isn’t it? Can you even say it without anger welling up inside?

But, have you ever thought that in your sin—especially idolatry (which some argue is the sin)—you are whoring yourself? I haven’t, but I’m beginning to realize that this really is the case. When I sin against God, I’m not just defying Him, I’m prostituting myself to another “god.”

It’s absolutely shameful. But it’s just as shameful to not confront the reality of sin.

Harsh language is a tricky issue, especially in the context of ministry. Some preachers have been raked over the coals because of their choice of words, and not unjustifiably. The exploitative use of harsh language has no place in preaching or anywhere else for that matter. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for it, or a time to use it. And when it comes to the reality of sin, it is fair and right to use the language that the Bible does.

God hates sin. And God brings what is in darkness into the light, showing us the ugliness of sin. The pervertedness of sin. The disgustingness of sin.

And because God does not shy away from depicting just how awful sin really is, we should not either. If we went with a blanket rule of never using hard words, you could never preach Jeremiah without having to edit it. The same goes for many other books, including the gospels (wherein Jesus calls the Pharisees “white-washed tombs,” “sons of Hell,” and many other colorful phrases, which are all extremely biting).

God hates sin, and He shines light on its perversion. But even as He shows us the perversion of sin, He shows us the gloriousness of the grace given to us in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

So let us let the hard words of Scripture bring us to repentance, and show us the wonder of His mercy.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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