Do NOT Pray for Them. I Ain’t Listening.

Goya's painting of Repentant Peter, Praying

Do NOT Pray for Them. I Ain’t Listening.
Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11-12
plus 1 John 5:16; Exodus 32:10; Deuteronomy 9:14; Isaiah 1:15

7:16 As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I do not hear you.
11:14 Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.
14:11 The LORD said to me: Do not pray for the welfare of this people.
— three times God tells Jeremiah to NOT pray for Judah, in Jeremiah chapters 7, 11, and 14

We Christians are trained from an early age to pray for others. As we study our Bible and our doctrines, we learn of the concept of intercessory prayer, that is, the practice of asking our Lord Christ to in turn ask God the father for intervention in the life and affairs of some party of interest.

When we pray for our friend Dave, we in fact pray for Christ Jesus to appeal to His Father (and ours) to do something for friend Dave. We intercede for Dave. We ask Christ and God and the Holy Spirit to intercede for Dave.

Whatever the nuances of our doctrine, the Bible provides many passages regarding prayer of one person praying for another, or our Christian obligation to pray for others. Here are a few samples:

Luke 23:34 (WEB) Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Dividing his garments among them, they cast lots.

1 Timothy 2:1 (WEB) [Paul speaking] I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men:

1 John 5:14-15 (NASB) This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

Romans 8:26-27 (NASB) In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

1 Kings 17:21 (KJV) [this is the prophet Elijah] And he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.

Exo 32:11 (KJV) And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?

Acts 12:5 (KJV) Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

1Th 5:17 (KJV) Pray without ceasing.

And then, for example:

In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer. — John Wesley in his Plain Account of Christian Perfection

Jews and Christians are supposed to pray, and pray for others. And we are to do so, as Paul and church leaders such as John Wesley and others remind us, without ceasing.

And so, it comes as rather a shock to find God instructing His prophet Jeremiah to NOT pray for His people.

The date is perhaps 609/608 BC. The Babylonians have recently replaced the Assyrians as the dominant regional power, and that power is coming down on Judah and threatening what little sovereignty Judah and its scrambling short-term kings have remaining.

Worse than that, however, is the reality that the Judean priesthood and religious establishment and public have added the wide pantheon of Assryian, Babylonian, Caananite, and Egyptian gods into their religious worship practice. They still identify as Israeli Jews, and still claim to worship the true God Yahweh, but Yahweh is simply one God of many.

The Judeans have even turned the Jerusalem temple into a shrine for this pantheon, with altars and poles and statues for this and that god.

Jeremiah warns that God will soon destroy the Jerusalem temple complex in the same manner as he destroyed the earlier tabernacle complex hundreds of years earlier when the center of worship was in Shiloh. And for the same reason: abandonment of God Yahew.

Yet the Jews of Jerusalem believe Jeremiah is talking nonsense. They are good Jews. They worship Yahweh in Yahweh’s house, the temple. God will not allow the Babylonians to destroy God’s city Jerusalem and God’s temple residence.

God finds this repulsive. God tolerates no other gods.

God tells Jeremiah:

Jer 7:16 (NIV) So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.

This is remarkable to our Christian ears.

(We wonder, along with the Anchor Bible’s translator of Jeremiah, that perhaps Jeremiah prayed for his brothers and sisters anyway. Perhaps this line of the Bible made its way into our text because Jeremiah did so even after God told him not to.)

It flies in the face of what we had ingrained in us early in our Sunday School years.

And yet, God said it. “I am done with these people — my people. I’m fixin’ to destroy them and do NOT, Jeremiah, do NOT pray for them.”

In fact, God repeats this demand two more times, in slightly different situational contexts, as recorded in Jeremiah chapters 11 and 14:

Jer 11:14 (NIV) Do not pray for this people or offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.

Jer 14:11-12 (NIV 11 Then the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. 12 Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Instead, I will destroy them with the sword, famine and plague.”

We find only a small number of cases where the same or similar admonition occurs. In the Old and New Testaments, we find:

1 John 5:16 (NIV) If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that.

Exodus 32:10 (NIV) Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Deuteronomy 9:14 (NIV) Let me alone, so that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.”

Isaiah 1:15 (NIV) When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!

Please continue to pray without ceasing!

Pray with Jesus while you are brushing your teeth and while you are sitting in your bathroom!

And if you take a break from prayer, please read the actual Bible for yourself! 🙂

God’s blessings to you. We ask Jesus our Lord and Savior to petition Yahweh God for good things and good fruit to come in your life.

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