Summary: Perhaps you’ve run into some difficulties recently: your boss, an illness, conflicts in family. You’ve pleaded with the Lord for relief. But He may have said in response, “Toughen up. Dig in. It may get worse.” And then He asks you to “run with horses."
Opening illustration: Can you imagine what it would be like to be at a track meet waiting for the start of the 100 meter race? Gathered together are the top runners from across the world. Fractions of a second separate these runners. While the marathon is a test of stamina and endurance, the 100 meters is an explosion of power that is over in less than ten seconds. If you have ever run the sprints you know that there is little room for error. Often a race is won in the start itself. But imagine that as the runners come to the blocks that something seems strange about the world record holder. You pick up your binoculars to get a better view and what you see doesn’t make any sense. Strapped around his ankles are 25 pound weights. For what ever reason, he has decided to run with this extra load. There is no way he is going to win.
Let us turn to our scripture passage Jeremiah 12 to catch up with Jeremiah’s conversation with God about building endurance.
Introduction: When we are most in the dark concerning God’s dispensations, we must keep up right thoughts of God, believing that he never did the least wrong to any of his creatures. When we find it hard to understand any of his dealings with us, or others, we must look to general truths as our first principles, and abide by them: the Lord is righteous. The God with whom we have to do, knows how our hearts are toward him. He knows both the guile of the hypocrite and the sincerity of the upright. Divine judgments would pull the wicked out of their pasture as sheep for the slaughter. This fruitful land was turned into barrenness for the wickedness of those that dwelt therein. The Lord reproved the prophet. The opposition of the men of Anathoth was not so formidable as what he must expect from the rulers of Judah. Our grief that there should be so much evil is often mixed with peevishness on account of the trials it occasions us. And in this our favored day, and under our trifling difficulties, let us consider how we should behave, if called to sufferings like those of saints in former ages.
The prophet Jeremiah was also involved in a fierce competition - but it was with idolaters and wicked priests. He was responding to the Lord’s call to condemn Judah and to predict her downfall. He became so discouraged that he asked the Lord, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are [they] happy?” (12:1).
That’s when God said to Jeremiah, in essence, “The competition has just begun. So far you’ve been dealing with minor issues (running with footmen). How will you handle it when the really tough stuff comes (contending with horses)?”
How to contend with horses?
1. Passing the Hard Test (vs. 1 – 3a)
The Lord knew him before he was born, Jer_1:5, he knew what he designed him for, and what use he would make of him; and he knew him now, and loved him, and cared for him, as his prophet; he knew his sincerity and faithfulness, and took notice of it, with what integrity he performed his office, and discharged his duty; and he knew that all his enemies said of him were scandal and reproach, lies and calumnies. He had tried him by various afflictive providences, and his heart was found towards God; the affections and desires of his soul were towards him, and he remained faithful and upright before him, and not like the wicked before mentioned.
Illustration: God’s Testing As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, "Are you trying to break this bridge?" "No," the builder replied, "I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break."
2. Building your Stamina (vs. 4 – 5a)
Yahweh rebukes Jeremiah’s impatience, showing him by two proverbial sayings, that there were still greater trials of faith in store for him. The proverb exhibits the contrast between tasks of smaller and greater difficulty, applied to the prophet’s relation to his enemies. What Jeremiah had to suffer from his countrymen at Anathoth was but a trifle compared with the malign assaults that yet awaited him in the discharge of his office. The second comparison conveys the same thought, but with a clearer intimation of the dangers the prophet will undergo. If the smallest evils to which thou art exposed cause thee to make so many bitter complaints, how wilt thou feel when, in the course of thy prophetic ministry, you will be exposed to much greater, from enemies much more powerful? Footmen may here be the symbol of common evil events; horsemen, of evils much more terrible. If thou have sunk under small difficulties, what wilt thou do when great ones come? This would build his spiritual stamina. Prosperous wickedness is after all a mere ordinary trial, a mere “running with the footmen;” he will have to exert far greater powers of endurance.