I was threatened by my boss that any other witnessing activity would cause me to lose my job. It didn't take too long before I had made up my mind that the humiliation, the possible job loss, the lack of friends, and the pain of harassment was just too much to bear. I decided to never speak about God to anyone again.
Realize we're not alone
Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Bible also speaks of one who felt the same way I did that night. Jeremiah was a prophet to the nation of Judah during the days before and after the nations fall to Babylon and the subsequent carrying off of the nation into captivity. It would be an understatement to suggest that he only faced a few threats for speaking out against national, religious and public indifference to God. The disdain for God's statutes, the spiritual adultery the nation continually practiced and the misleading and dishonorable conduct of the religious leaders were all at the heart of his divinely induced message to repent and turn back to God, Jer. 23:1-2.
At this time in their history, Judah was the epitome of a nation adrift on every level, politically, spiritually, and socially. But it was the spiritual foundations that under-girded every other facet of Judah's existence. This spiritual aloofness became very evident when the Lord lifted His hand of protection allowing the door for the enemy to swing wide open, march right in unfettered and ransack the nation. This started in 606 BC and ended in 587 BC. Because God loved Judah, He would use the enemy for disciplinary reasons to point the people back to Himself.
For Jeremiah, this unpopular message of repentance accompanied by the harsh backlash he was being subjected too, if allowed, could became a hindrance to the message God told him to speak. Jeremiah shows his humanness when the Holy Spirit, through his hand, penned the following:
7 O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; Everyone mocks me. 8 For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, "Violence and plunder!" Because the word of the LORD was made to me A reproach and a derision daily. 9 Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name." ... Note, It was God who induced Jeremiah to speak on His behalf and it was His goodness, promises, hope, faithfulness, and a healthy fear of God - inducing obedience, that persuaded Jeremiah to be God's mouthpiece to the nation. But the attacks became more fierce and soon he made up his mind to just be quiet. But can we really be quiet about what we know to be true? Let's go on...But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not, Jeremiah 20:7-9 (NKJV).
Jeremiah's intent to be quiet for his own sake was short lived. Any of us who has ever endured ridicule and insult - separation and humiliation for the sake of Christ, know that keeping quiet is not the answer. A true blood-bought saint of God cannot but speak the things he has seen and heard, Acts.4:20. Warning must be sounded and the lost must be given opportunity to accept or reject the gospel message.
Not a good ending for Judah
In the end, Jeremiah's words of warning went unheeded and just as he said would happen, Judah was taken away and Solomon s Temple was looted then destroyed. Most of the people that survived the war were carried away as slaves and prisoners into another land which then became a symbolic picture of where they had been living the past 490* years since they had left the green pastures of spiritual oneness with God.
2 Chronicles 36:15-21 (NKJV) states:
15 And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. 16 But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy. 17 Therefore He brought against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion on young man or virgin, on the aged or the weak; He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the articles from the house of God, great and small, the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his leaders, all these he took to Babylon. 19 Then they burned the house of God, broke down the wall of Jerusalem, burned all its palaces with fire, and destroyed all its precious possessions. 20 And those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, 21 to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years. (See also Lev. 25:2-7)
It is never a good thing for us to ignore the Word's of God. Israel was commanded to let the land lay fallow every seventh year and trust God for provision. In the Jubilee (50th year, Lev. 25:8-12) the lands were also to revert back to the original owner. This required an economic system that was just and would not allow oppression of one another and unfair economic transactions (cf. Lev. 25:16**). They did not follow God's instruction (see Isaiah 5:8 and Amos 2:6). So God took back His Sabbaths (every seventh year when land was to lie fallow) and Judah learned a huge lesson (see * below). After seventy years of Babylonian exile and the raising up of Cyrus, King of Persia and instrument of God (Isaiah 44:28. Ezra 6:14), they were allowed through the leadership of Ezra, Zerubbabel, and later Nehemiah, to go back into the land of Judah to rebuild their lives.
Persecution is tough to think about and enduring it is tougher. It will take patience, prayer, and a HUGE amount of trust to endure it. But if we keep our eyes focused on what we know to be sure and true, if we realize the hurt which backing away from God's call on our life places upon the heart of the Lord, and finally, if we realize the consequences that unrestrained sin places on each life, each family, and society as a whole, we can indeed stand firm under the pressure. All believers have been called to take up their cross and follow Christ. In these last days the call to do this is needed more than ever.
By the way, I didn't stay gospel shy for long; I couldn't. His word could not be contained inside my heart without bursting. Soon after, I surrendered to ministry.
God saw me through on that solitary evening over thirty years ago and many times since I have seen Him work His miraculous power over events. Stay tuned and I will share a few of them with you!
* Judah would go into captivity for seventy years to a foreign country (Babylon) where the land of Israel would lay fallow and enjoy its Sabbaths. Since a land Sabbath only happened every seventh year, 70 x 7 would have amounted to 490 years that had passed in disobedience. So for the previous 490 years Judah was guilty of ignoring God's land Sabbath commands and resulting in economic injustice and oppression.
** Sellers must not unfairly profit by selling the land for more than the estimated value of the harvest years that may be lost. Buyers must not demand a price that is less than the value of the harvests that they stand to gain from the repurchase. The transaction clearly involves matters of economic justice, but the rationale for obedience is couched in decisively theological terms. Persons are not to “cheat one another,” because to do so dishonors their relationship with God (v. 17). This is followed by a still more basic reason for obedience: The land belongs not to buyers and sellers. In truth, both are but “aliens” and “tenants” on the land; they are custodians of a title that only God can give. “The land is mine” (v. 23), God announces, and as the stewards of its promise of liberty and freedom for all, Israel must take care to provide for its redemption (v. 24).
Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 2002), 195.