BECAUSE DEVOUT READERS THINK of the biblical writers as heroes of the faith, they sometimes overlook the fact that in their own day many of these writers were despised, treated as outsiders, viewed with contempt. Of course, some who contributed to the canon of Scripture grew rich or famous or both: Solomon comes to mind. Some who were powerful at one point in their life faced extraordinary difficulties and malice at other points: one thinks of David. But many of the prophets were despised; some of them lost their lives. As the Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12, italics added).
Already we have seen that Jeremiah’s lot was not a happy one. From here on (Jer. 26), the dismal picture becomes clearer. To his most robust critics, Jeremiah’s message, especially his constant insistence that unless the people repented Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed, sounds perilously close to treason garnished with blasphemy: treason because Jeremiah could be charged with demoralizing the people and therefore making them less able to withstand the Babylonian onslaught; blasphemy because he is saying in effect that God either could not or would not preserve his city and temple. So the officials try to organize a judicial execution.
What saves Jeremiah, humanly speaking, is his strong insistence that if they kill him they will bring down severe judgment on their own heads. For “in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing” (Jer. 26:15). Some therefore want to give him the benefit of the doubt; others recall that Micah of Moresheth (the biblical Micah) uttered similar words of denunciation. (The chronology of the prophets makes it probable that some of the oldest people standing before Jeremiah had actually heard Micah.) So Jeremiah is reprieved.
Not so his colleague Uriah son of Shemaiah. We know nothing of Uriah except what is recorded in these verses (Jer. 26:20-23). Jeremiah was not the only prophet faithfully proclaiming God’s word. When Uriah, like Jeremiah, was threatened with death, unlike Jeremiah he fled to Egypt. At this point Israel was still a vassal state of Egypt, and some sort of mutual extradition treaty pertained. Uriah was hauled back and executed. His flight had convinced his accusers that he really was some kind of traitor. So reflect again on Jesus’ words, cited above.