Stuck in the Mud, in a Pit, in a War

Lately, Jeremiah’s situation right before the fall of Jerusalem has been speaking to me. The whole situation surrounding Jerusalem’s fall in 587 BCE was terrible: The Jewish people, under the leadership of King Zedekiah, had revolted against Babylonian leadership and allied with Egypt (against God’s wishes, of course). Babylon responded by seeking a more complete control over its newly acquired territory, laying siege to Jerusalem for over two years. The city’s resources were strained to the breaking point; living conditions were abysmal. No one could see any hope unless the Egyptian army came to save them.

In the midst of this, Jeremiah starts telling everyone that Egypt’s army had turned tail and run, and that Jerusalem’s only hope is to surrender to the Babylonians who are currently starving them to death. Over and over he tells the king that he will be handed over to the Babylonians. Unsurprisingly, he is imprisoned.

In his final imprisonment, Jeremiah is thrown into a pit, called a cistern, for holding water. The Bible describes it: “Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.”

Jeremiah must have had some time to think about his situation at this point. If he can free himself from the mud, he’s still in the pit. If he gets out of the pit, he’s still under arrest. If he escapes arrest, he’s still in a besieged city which he believes will soon be overrun because it’s God’s will.

And yet, Jeremiah has already sent off a letter to the Jews currently exiled in Babylon, which says, among other things: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

Does Jeremiah believe God has a plan for him? Does he believe in the words God gives him for other people? Even in a terrible situation whose solution only leads to another terrible situation?

Sometimes I feel like there’s no way to dig myself out of the pit, or any motivation to do so. But then I remember that God is present regardless of my current elevation, or the square footage of my dwelling place, or the composition of its floor. How are any of those things an obstacle to God’s will? Unfortunately for Jeremiah, God’s will was for the Babylonians to win. The obstacles Jeremiah faced in the pit were no obstacles at all to God. Since Jeremiah was a faithful prophet, he could see both the sorrow of human suffering and the greater picture of God’s will being carried out even through Jerusalem’s fall and the exile of the people. And, despite the great human suffering that occurred, we wouldn’t have much of the Bible in the form we have it now if it wasn’t for the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites saw the need to preserve their oral traditions in writing.

I don’t know what God has planned, and I don’t know if it’s something I’ll consider good or bad. But hopefully I can learn to believe, even in mud in a pit in a war, that God has good plans for our future.