Jeremiah 12:5, "If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"
This morning, the world sometimes gets fuzzy-headed notions that regrettably creep into the church. Since all of us still share in being a part of fallen creation, none of us are immune to wrong thinking in this world. Have you ever heard someone say, "If things get rough, I'll hang tough" or "Some might fall, but I'll keep going" during an easy time? Have all of us ever uttered similar sentiments? All too often, these statements are made with the following two circumstances: 1. they are made when things are going well, 2. they are made even though little problems are not handled very honorably. There is something in the pride of man that likes to think that he will shine above and beyond when no one else will, and though none of us knows for sure how we will react to some mammoth problem or towering adversity, we can glean some Biblical insight about ourselves and those possible future situations.
Jeremiah had perhaps one of the hardest "preaching assignments" known to man. He prophesied in Judah before and after the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of foreign Babylon. He dealt with some of the most stiff-necked mentalities that a man has ever had to face in ministering God's word. Through it all, the Lord blessed him in spite of some horrible outward circumstances. Jeremiah was imprisoned, impoverished, despitefully used, and even double-crossed at times. Though Jeremiah had moments of despondency and sorrow, he still faithfully served the Lord in spite of the hardships. In our study verse, Jeremiah draws our minds to a very important principle of life that he had, no doubt, learned not just intellectually but also experientially.
If someone has never been in a war, there is an old saying from war veterans that states, "You never know for sure how you will react when that first bullet flies over your head." As one who has never engaged in a bloody conflict of that sort, I must confess that I cannot answer with absolute certainty what I would do exactly in such a situation. However, our Lord tells us faithfully in His word through verses like the one before us that how we handle certain situations is a good litmus test on how we will handle other situations. Jeremiah draws the people's mind to two natural analogies. The first analogy deals with different phases of a battle, while the other analogy deals with a contrast between war and peace. In a nutshell, how we handle peace will be the manner in which we handle war. In the way we handle one phase of the battle, we can have some assurance of handling the other phase of the battle the same way. If honorably in one, then honorably in the other. If dishonorably in one, then dishonorably in the other.
Let us begin with the second analogy and move into the first. Jeremiah says that if we get weary in the land of peace where trust is found how can we expect to make it in the swelling of Jordan (wartime or time of trouble)? That makes sense logically, yet so often we fail to look at things in that way. For example, if someone cannot handle an assignment while in a vacuum and no outside hindrances, how could they hope to handle it when things are crowding in and the pressure mounts? One of the things that good trainers attempt to do is accurately stage and mimic the circumstances of a contest or war during practice. The mindset is simply this, "If you can handle it the way we throw it out at you, then you should be able to handle it when you are actually going through it." So, a sergeant will stage a battle scene in training that has gunfire, explosions, etc. so that the troops will not experience those things for the first time in the real life battle.
Jeremiah's point is that people cannot hope to survive a war or time of trouble when they get weak and weary during a time of stillness and peace. I fear that in this great nation in which we live our people generally do not know how to survive a time of trouble for the simple fact that they get weary during these times of peace and prosperity. The great generation in this land that will soon leave us completely knew what it was like to survive a Great Depression and a World War. They knew what it was like to meet national and international adversity head-on, and they still conducted themselves honorably – in a general sense. No they were not perfect, but they handled that crisis in a generally honorable fashion. Contrast that with the last 50 or so years. The succeeding generations have handled some wars rather haphazardly, and the personal lives and health of the nation have also followed suit. What if another Great Depression or World War broke out? How would the nation, individuals, churches, families, etc. respond? If in time of peace we have been wearied, how can one hope that we would not just falter and fail completely during a time of trouble?
Moving into the first analogy, consider a phase of battle. Jeremiah says that if one cannot stand up with the footmen, then there is no real hope that he could survive the cavalry. Consider the tactics of war, particularly from that time period. After the opposing armies had engaged somewhat, the purpose of the cavalry was to exploit and break through any of the holes that the footmen had made. So, what was the goal of the army before the cavalry rode down upon them? The hope was that they would have little to no holes for opposing forces' horses to ride through. If the holes were small to non-existent, the cavalry’s success would be greatly diminished. If the footmen had been effective enough, the cavalry could break through. If the footmen had been more than successful, the cavalry would absolutely cut whatever lines of men that were left to splinters.
Jeremiah's point is not that the cavalry has enough holes to break through. Jeremiah's point is that the people have not stood up to the infantry at all, and therefore, the cavalry horses would cut what is left all to pieces. When Satan comes calling in our lives, he does not start with the "big things" (horses). He starts with the "little things" (footmen). By doing so, the aim is to exploit our defenses sufficiently for the big things to pass through. How is it today? Today – as we previously stated – we have had times of rest, peace, etc. like no other. Times have not been nearly as tough as they have been in days gone by, yet how have we stood up to the ploys of Satan? Sadly, our lines look like we have been through a ravaging war rather than a time of extra-special peace.
I have no doubt from Scripture that things are going to continue to get worse. Paul assured Timothy of that in II Timothy 3. However, no matter how badly things generally get, we can still stand honorably during the times of trouble. Nationally, we may crumble and fall. Churches may – regrettably – close their doors for complete unfaithfulness to the Master. However, let us never delude ourselves into thinking we will do better than others have if we have ample and sufficient evidence that we will not. As I personally ponder my daily warfare and walk of discipleship, I see littered about many failures with the footmen. I see much weariness in the land of peace. If the pattern does not change, can I reasonably hope that my decorum will be better and more honorable with the horsemen or a swelling tide? No I cannot.
Brethren, there is no way that I would compare myself to Jeremiah (and I frankly shudder when men compare themselves and this generation with Jeremiah and that generation). However, the principle that Jeremiah espouses here is not only universal, but it is timeless as well. If we have been faithful in little, we can hope that we will be faithful in much. However, the converse is also true. Let us who know the truth rearm ourselves for the fight. Let us handle the small things honorably. Let us meet the many little ploys of Satan in full, unbroken fashion. During times of peace and practice, may we work up buckets of sweat to prevent gallons of blood being spilled in battle. One of the ways that I am very much unlike Jeremiah is I have been given no vision or prophecy of the future in the land I live. Jeremiah was plainly told by God what would happen, and he just as plainly declared that word to the people. I do not know the future. It feels and has the sense that things will get worse and much worse. However, no matter what happens, may we as individuals, families, and churches stand united against the forces of darkness. May we use these times of peace to stand honorably. Then, no matter what comes may our honour in these times yield sufficient hope that we will stand equally solid in times of impending trouble.