Theology of Prayer: Scriptural Support (Part 13: Jeremiah)

Jeremiah 7 describes the message of the Lord that came to the prophet. Jeremiah was told not to pray for the Judeans. Prayer here is alternatively described as plea, petition, and pleading. The Lord said he would refuse to listen. Here we see prayer as request, and we also see that the Lord can refuse to listen. In this case, he refuses to listen because of the wickedness of the people. Again, there is a connection between righteousness and prayer.

In Jer 10, Jeremiah didn’t pray for the Judeans, but he did pray for himself and for God to act against the nations that have wronged his people. He mixed a simple and brief declaration, “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps,” and then he asked for the Lord to discipline him graciously and to punish those who have done wrong to the Judeans.

As in Jer 7, the prophet Jeremiah tells the people in Jer 11 what the Lord charged him to say, and he included the command not to pray for them.

Jeremiah 14 tells of how the people would fast and cry, offering burnt offerings and grain offerings in an effort to obtain drought and famine relief. This prayer and fasting would not work, for the Lord refused to listen to them, and instead punish them with the sword, famine, and plague. Once again, the Lord command Jeremiah not to pray for their well-being. Prayer here is seen also as request, in this case for relief from punishment in the form of drought and famine.

In Jer 29, the Judeans have been exiled. They are instructed to pray for the prosperity of the city to which they have been taken, because, if the city prospers, they would prosper. After the appointed time of exile, the Lord promised to prosper his people and again listen to their prayers.

The Lord declared, says Jer 31, when the people return from exile, they would pray and weep. Again, there can be a connection between praying and weeping.

Jeremiah prays in Jer 32 after obtaining the deed to a field. In this prayer he declares the sovereignty of God the Creator. He declares that the Lord is loving and just. He briefly recounts God’s deeds for his people before mentioning the erroneous way of the people and God’s ensuing punishment on them. He calls upon the Lord to look at the siege ramps set up against the city and that he had obtained the plot of land as instructed. The Lord answers this prayer as though Jeremiah’s words are a challenge-response. The Lord replies, “Is anything too hard for me?” He charges both Israel and Judah for all their evil they had done and recounts their deeds. Yet, he promises to gather them from exile and let them live in safety, making an everlasting covenant with them, doing good to them always. Prayer can be frank communication with God.

According to Jer 37, in contrast to the Lord’s instructions to Jeremiah not to pray for the people, the King of Judah, King Zedekiah, sent messengers to Jeremiah and asked him to pray to the Lord for the people.

Jeremiah 42 shows that Jeremiah decided to pray to the Lord against the Lord’s instruction as per the request of the people. The people wanted to know what to do; they wanted guidance from the Lord, so they sought help from the prophet. He prayed, and the Lord responded. We don’t have the prayer, but we have the message of the Lord as relayed by Jeremiah. The Lord promised to bless them if they stay in the land but to punish them if they leave. Jeremiah scorned the people for asking him to pray to the Lord, because now their judgment was sealed, because they did not stay. Here prayer is a request, a request for guidance.