In a time of severe drought (v 2-6) Israel is praying to God for forgiveness and mercy (v 7-9). But the answer from God is a definite No! (v 10).
Why does God reject this prayer?
It is important to remember that this passage forms part of a bigger story between God, Israel and Jeremiah. It is a subsection of the book of Jeremiah that also includes Chapters 29-33 in which we find wonderful promises of God. Furthermore the book of Jeremiah forms part of the Bible that includes the New Testament.
However, at this point of the relationship between the living God and his people the message that the prophet has to deliver is one of imminent war, hunger and plague (cf v 12). The dreadful consequences of straying from God onto wrong paths to do evil things (v 10) can no longer be avoided.
What strikes me in this passage is the way Jeremiah himself responds to God’s declining of Israel’s prayer. It would have been easy for him to gloat about at the prospect of God’s punishment on this sinful nation. Instead he is deeply concerned for the welfare of the people. Therefore Jeremiah grieves for them (v 17-18) and continues to pray for them (v 19-22) – even against God’s instructions (v 11). Jeremiah’s intercession is in line with Abraham’s intercession for Sodom (Gen 18:23-33) and Moses’ intercession for Israel (Ex 33:12-17, Num 14:13-20).
Notice how his intercessory prayer does not use the words “they” or “them”. Jeremiah prays from the midst of his people. He identifies himself with the appalling situation of Israel, so he uses the words “us” and “we”. For example, verse 20: “Lord, we admit we’ve done evil things. We also admit that our people of long ago were guilty. It’s true that we’ve sinned against you” (NIRV).
Although even this intercessory prayer was not answered immediately (cf 15:1), the story of the living God’s relationship Israel continued and eventually reached the point where He brought them back from exile and promised a new covenant (cf 31:27-34.)
To think about or discuss: How do we pray for those amongst us who live with HIV and AIDS?