The prophet Jeremiah faced a challenge unlikely to be encountered by most modern preachers in the western world: his family were plotting to kill him.
...the men of Anathoth...are seeking your life and saying 'Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD or you will die by our hands'. (Jeremiah 11:21)
According to Jeremiah's own account of the incident, he was unaware of the conspiracy before it became an immediate threat. His insight into the plot came about, he claims, as a result of God revealing it to him:
Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing. (Jeremiah 11:18)
The exact reasons for his family's extreme hostility are not fully given in the passage (Jeremiah 11:18-12:6) but it centred around their strong dislike of the prophet's message.
Great bible scholars whose opinions I respect and whose qualifications greatly exceed my own suggest that Jeremiah may have come to an understanding of the murder plot through a message being passed on to him by someone who was aware of it. The late John A Thompson, for instance, cites the influential archaeologist and biblical scholar Dr John Bright when he writes:
A sympathetic relative who brought the news may well have been Yahweh's informant.
(JA Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, p. 350, NICOT series)
While it is quite possible that this was the case, there is an alternative view at least worth considering: that the news of the plot on Jeremiah's life came to the prophet through immediate divine revelation, without any human intermediary.
The following factors seem to suggest that this was in fact the case:
- the repeated insistence in 11:18 of the agency of Yahweh in disclosing the deeds (“revealed”, “he showed me”)
- the inclusion of the possible word-for-word content of the revelation (12:6)
- the absence in the passage of any reference to a third party
- the use of the word “reveal”; its only other use in the book indicates an immediate disclosure, without human means (38:21)
The frequency in the book of auditory and/or visual messages as a means of divine communication with the prophet, messages which included the prediction of invasion, defeat and exile at the hands of the "enemy from the north", also suggest that the revealing of a secret conspiracy was not outside the scope of the spiritual possibilities experienced by Jeremiah as he sought to follow and discharge his call to be a "prophet to the nations" (1:5).
Taking a wider biblical view, we can see the revealing of secrets as an aspect of many of the great teachers, prophets, reformers and apostles of both the Old and New Covenants. These include Daniel's ability to describe both the content and the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's unspoken dream (Daniel 2), the insight Jesus had of the Samaritan woman's five previous husbands and her current domestic arrangements (John 4), Peter's discernment of the motives and action of Ananias and Sapphira in their financial dishonesty (Acts 5).
A striking example from church history is from the preaching of Charles Spurgeon. The person on the receiving end of the revealed secrets explains:
Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.
The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon [Curts & Jennings, 1899], II:226-27)
Commenting himself, Spurgeon says:
I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. (ibid)
The link between revealing secrets and the power of the word of God is stated explicitly by the writer to the Hebrews:
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Jeremiah, like some evangelists and pastors today in parts of the Muslim-majority world, experienced such extreme hostility to his message that his life was at risk. It was through an act of divine disclosure that he come to know of this danger and was able to take preventative measures (Jer 12:6).
In the age of encryption and Wikileaks, secrets are everywhere and feature powerfully in the activities of governments, corporations and nations. Individuals also carry secrets, for good or evil. As Christian believers read, hear and (especially) speak the word of God, may we do so not as mere conveyors of general information but as those who speak with that revelatory edge to our communication, confident that "there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries." As Daniel expressed this discovery:
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
As the church learns to speak with such insight, may the hearers respond not with adulation of the human messenger but as Nebuchadnezzar did when he fell prostrate, with reverence for the God who reveals:
"your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings."