Comfort is important to us. To maintain or increase our level of comfort, we will often be willing to spend a lot of money or work very hard – maybe even change our job or move to a different house, town or country. Some prophets, however, could not avoid the stocks in the Bible: it was all part of doing their job.
We do our best to avoid discomfort and expect others to do the same, so when we look at the lives of prophets in the Bible, the difference stands out.
If you are familiar with the Bible Tales Online newsletter, you will probably have guessed by now which prophet I will consider, and if you guessed Jeremiah, you are right.
However, Jeremiah wasn’t the only person who suffered in the stocks in the Bible.
If you like comfort, the stocks were things to avoid. Some stocks held both your arms and legs and forced you to stay in a sitting position. Others held only your legs, and you might be able to lie down to get rest. But what if you are beaten or whipped first, so that your back is lacerated and bleeding? This is what happened to Paul and Silas in the New Testament.
Jeremiah was put in the stocks at the gate of the temple (Jeremiah 20:2). Stocks are first mentioned in Israel during the reign of Asa when he put Hanani the seer in the stocks in prison because he was angry about the prophet’s message (2 Chronicles 16:10).
Stocks would not have been placed at the gate of the temple unless they were expected to be used. But we have no record of when they were placed there, what misdemeanours they were used to punish, or how often they were used. When one looks in the Bible for details like this, there are normally more questions raised than answers given! I suppose this shows clearly that the Bible is primarily about spiritual matters, not for answering all of our questions about daily life.
In Jeremiah 29:24-28, during the reign of Zedekiah, a letter is written by Shemaiah of Nehelem telling Zephaniah the priest that he should be confining Jeremiah in the stocks (with neck irons also) to punish him for writing letters to the captives in Babylon. This suggests that the stocks were used to deal with trouble-makers and that extra levels of punishment were also available depending on the seriousness of the trouble.
In Jeremiah 20, Pashhur beat Jeremiah before putting him in the stocks. Deuteronomy 25:1-3 talks about beating guilty people with up to 40 stripes, and Paul speaks of being given forty lashes less one on five occasions by the Jews (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). Both of these suggest a whip rather than a rod. God gave 40 as an upper limit, but in Paul’s time they seem to have taken it as a single dose of punishment. Once you deserved a lashing, you deserved 39 lashes as “one unit of punishment”, or something like that. This is not at all how Deuteronomy 25:2 reads when it says “with a number of stripes in proportion to his offence”.
It seems to me that it may well have been the same in Jeremiah’s time as in Paul’s time. Punishment was severe.
But Jeremiah did his work for God despite that, and kept doing it for at least 40 years.
How important to you is your comfort?
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Could you be like Jeremiah, or Paul and Silas, if you were beaten and put into the stocks? Would you keep working for God, or would you be busy trying to find a way to escape from the discomfort?