I Will Make You a Fortified Bronze Wall
Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
“You are but a poor soldier of Christ if you think you can overcome
without fighting, and suppose you can have the crown without the conflict.”
This statement illustrates how human
beings naturally tend to avoid conflict: we often prefer to go with the flow
and keep our head down so that life will be easier.
We do not want to upset others, be
it at church, at work, or with our friends and family. We find it easier to
preach to strangers: we can simply walk away if they do not like to listen,
knowing that we will not see them again. In contrast, when we preach to loved
ones, we fear rejection and opposition, and worse, we cannot escape; we have to
continue to live in their midst.
When we see wrongdoings among our
friends and colleagues, we just keep quiet, not wanting to rock the boat and
offend others. Once we have raised the issue, we do not want to repeat it, as
we do not wish to be seen as troublemakers. Sometimes, certain situations at
church may require that we speak the truth in love. Yet, when we do so, we are
often criticized and rejected by others.
Now we have to make a choice: do we
regress to our passive stance, compromise to make peace, give up totally, or do
we stand firm for what is right in God’s eyes? A passive approach contradicts
the active stance of the Bible, which reminds us that we “are the light of the
world” (Mt 5:14); that we should “make disciples of all the nations” (Mt
28:19), “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3), and “speak [the] truth with
[our] neighbor” (Eph 4:25). The actions of shining, making, and contending
inevitably lead us on to a collision course. When speaking the truth, divisions
between friends and within the family may become inevitable (Lk 12:49–53).
Prophet Jeremiah knew this dilemma all too well, as he faced enormous challenges
during his ministry.
DELIGHTED YET DEPRESSED
Jeremiah was targeted for speaking
the truth (Jer 18:18). When he preached God’s message
of judgment and repentance, people retaliated and mocked him (Jer 20:7,10). He became a reproach to the people (Jer 20:8). His friends waited for his downfall (Jer 20:10), and his own family mistreated him (Jer 12:6). He was told to speak no more, or his life would
be threatened (Jer 11:21).
Jeremiah rejoiced in God’s word (Jer 15:16), and yet became dejected. He asked God for deliverance
(Jer 15:15), yet he cursed his own birth (Jer 20:14,15) and lost hope, claiming, “My wound is
incurable” (Jer 15:18a). He also questioned God’s faithfulness,
contending that God was an “unreliable stream” (Jer
15:18b). The God whom he had once trusted became a potential “terror” (Jer 17:17) and one who would put him to “shame” (Jer 17:18). He derided his own ministry for being in the
wrong place and at the wrong time. He lamented that it was filled with labor,
sorrow, and shame (Jer 20:18). The juxtaposition
between fear and hope, elation and sorrow, faithfulness and accusation,
illustrate the contradictions of the human mind.
Jeremiah typifies believers who want
to follow God’s words and partake in His ministry. When they encounter
difficulties and setbacks, they suppress their emotions, believing they can
cope. But there comes a point when they can no longer contain the build-up of
feelings, and they vent their anger. It is normal to feel angry when we have been
mistreated or wronged, especially when we are in the right. However, waiting
for the wrong to be put right can be frustrating. Hence, Jeremiah accused God
of filling him with “indignation” (Jer 15:17). With
such a negative mindset, we may find that we are no longer able to continue to practice
God’s word and to serve Him: we may retire to our mundane life, or else persist
ROAD TO DELIVERANCE
Jeremiah was troubled by the same
question that plagued many ancient saints. He asked, “How long?” (Jer 12:4). Promises were made by God, but they did not materialize
in Jeremiah’s lifetime. God’s reply was to question Jeremiah’s strength, which was
based on his own ability. If Jeremiah was wearied by mere men, how could he overcome
horses (Jer 12:5)? And if he could not cope with the
little suffering in a “peaceful” Jerusalem, how could he cope with the plain of
Jordan, where the lions hid around willows and shady banks, ready to pick their
prey (Jer 12:5)?
Rely on God
Jeremiah proclaimed his trust in
God, yet God questioned his wholehearted devotion. Jeremiah’s reliance on his
own strength had adulterated his trust in God. He was fighting his own fight,
with his own ability, tenacity, and strength. Ultimately, he became worn out by
the opposition. Today, Satan and his forces are constantly aiming at the heart
of believers, ready to strike secretly (Ps 11:2). We need to withstand this
constant onslaught by relying on God.
Jeremiah had veered off course and
was overwhelmed by the terrors that surrounded him. It is ironic that Jeremiah
committed the very mistake that he had rebuked Israel for: “You have forsaken
me; you have gone backward” (Jer 15:6).
Persist by God’s Strength
Even so, God offered him a way
back; but Jeremiah had to take the first step. God said, “If you return, then I
will bring you back” (Jer 15:19a). The way of return
required him to stand firm and not compromise: “[Y]ou
must not return to them” (Jer 15:19b). Similarly, it
is only when we trust in God (Jer 17:7) that we can endure
and have “no fear when heat comes” (Jer 17:8). When we
persist in doing God’s will, His promises will follow (Heb 10:37–38).
Purify Our Hearts and Minds
The second condition for
Jeremiah’s return was to “take out the precious from the vile” (Jer 15:19), that is to purify himself. Jeremiah was holding
grudges against man and against God. His bitterness was both open and
insidious, manifesting through the words that had been hidden in his heart.
God searches our hearts. The
impurities in our minds are like filth that poisons us and prevents God’s word
from working in us. We should be truthful to ourselves and search out the
impurities that we pick up consciously or subconsciously in our daily life: the
grudges we hold against others (Mt 5:22–23), self-righteousness (Job 40:2–4), jealousy,
and anger (Gal 5:20–21)—all these prevent us from drawing near to God. Like
Jeremiah, we should remove the vile from our heart—the source of all uncleanness
SERVICE WITH PEACE AND JOY
We do not want to share in
Jeremiah’s plight, having to dig ourselves from the nadir of faith. When we
suffer for the sake of God and encounter obstacles, we should be aware of
warning signs: doubt, mistrust, anger, and the loss of joy. Do we feel lonely,
thinking that no one is able and willing to help us? Do we feel frustrated
because no matter how hard we try, we do not get the right response or outcome?
Have we lost the will to fight and find it hard to continue?
We should realize that God’s work is
not about us—success or failure does not depend on our abilities or reputation.
We are only God’s instrument—an instrument of righteousness—created to do good
works for His glory.
Elijah was hiding in a cave,
feeling lonely and frustrated because his great work was not recognized (1 Kgs 19:1–3, 9). He thought he was the only prophet in
Israel (1 Kgs 19:14). This self-centeredness blinded him from seeing the bigger
On the opposite end, the apostles
rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts
5:41). Paul considered himself to be merely a fellow worker; he was happy to
build and leave it to God to give the increase (1 Cor 3:5,6,9). He was neither
worried about how others saw him (1 Cor 4:3) nor perturbed by their motives; he
rejoiced as long as the gospel was preached (Phil 1:18). Paul’s clarity over his
position and mission defined his ministry. He did not preach himself (2 Cor
4:5), and he understood that the power was not his own but came from God (2 Cor
4:7). Whether he experienced glory or dishonor, good or evil reports, riches or
poverty, Paul could rejoice. Even when his troubles, the conspiracy against him,
and his own fears remained, he was exceedingly joyful and took comfort in the
Lord God (2 Cor 7:4–6; 11:28). He could rejoice because he had the right
mindset to do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Phil 4:11–13).
When Stephen was brought before the
Sanhedrin, he remained at peace (Acts 6:15). He was not perturbed by the crowd
and the uncertain future that confronted him. He neither shrank from speaking
the truth (Acts 7:51) nor was he upset by the recalcitrance of his accusers. He
peacefully accepted his fate and forgave those who inflicted pain on him (Acts
Paul and Stephen followed the path of passion laid down by Jesus (1 Pet 2:21);
they willingly suffered for righteousness’ sake, without fear and trouble (1
Pet 3:14), because they relied on God.
God promised to make Jeremiah a fortified
bronze wall (Jer 15:20a)—a wall so strong that it could
not be breached by his enemies. This strength would not be based on Jeremiah’s
ability, tenacity, and strong will; it would come from God, for He said, “I am
with you” (Jer 15:20b).
This promise of divine presence is
the assurance of victory, reminiscent of God’s words to Joshua: “[D]o not be
afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord
your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9). This assurance is reiterated
throughout the ages and before every great mission (Josh 1:6,9; Mt 26:19,20). This
power is from above. No matter how hard we try, we cannot
outrun or outwit our enemy; only God can open the way to help us stand firm.
Many of us know what God wants us
to do, yet we procrastinate because we are afraid to fail, to be marginalized by
our peers, or ostracized by society. We do not openly object to God’s commandments,
but past unpleasant experiences have deterred us from doing the right things. Out
of fear, mistrust, and indignation, we fail to uphold the truth and to persist
in our ministry. Only when we remove the vile from our thoughts, stop our backsliding,
and start to rely on God, can we truly overcome the challenges that we face in
our faith and service.