By Joseph Shulam
From Home in Israel
It is not easy to receive criticism from friends and acquaintances. There are times when the criticism is justified and other times it is not justified. In all cases it is our duty to receive it with grace. If we need to change and at times repent we must thank God for brothers and sisters who care enough about us to encourage us by speaking the truth in love and motivating us to do better. I suppose that Moses would be the best example of a great leader who knew how to receive criticism and allow the LORD to vindicate him from his critics. This is what happened in Korah’s rebellion and when Miriam and Aaron criticized him. He allowed the Lord to come to his defense. King David was another person in the Bible to received criticism with understanding and the criticism was justified – David repented profusely and we have the witness of his deep sorrow for his sin with Bathsheba in Psalm 51. A leader and a person who does not know how to receive the justified criticism from brothers and sisters is a person who is not fit to be a leader in the LORD’s body.
So, last week I wrote a short study (comment) on Jeremiah attitude and I called Jeremiah a cynical prophet. I defined the term Cynical and gave a brief history of the Greek background of the term.
I confess that I could have chosen a different word and not used the term cynical in relationship to one of my favorite prophets of Israel. It is possible that I love Jeremiah the prophet specifically because I identify with his attitude and often times am accused by my co-workers and other of being sarcastic or cynical myself.
Here is a short excerpt from last week’s Jerusalem Prayer List:
“Jeremiah is a cynical prophet.”
I brought the following few examples of what I considered a cynical style;
Jer. 6:28, “They are all stubborn rebels, walking as slanderers. They are bronze and iron, they are all corrupters. . .”
Jer. 9:3, “And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,” “says the LORD.”
The description and choice of words that Jeremiah uses is what I considered cynical. It is sharp and picturesque choice of words with attitude.
Here is the reaction of a sister from Germany who is a professor of theology wrote me indignant that I used the word “Cynical” toward a prophet of God.
This is a part of what this sister wrote:
“You write about the honorable prophet Jeremiah, calling him a cynical prophet. This astonishes me, since his kind of language seems – to me – to have traits which can be found in other places of the Tenach, but also the New Testament, in the Tenach especially when it comes to false Gods. Actually, my own students applied this kind of language sometimes when they had to confront liberal teaching / professors at universities in order to mark scientific idolatry. As you write details about Jeremiah’s supposedly “cynical” language, permit me to react to your thesis that “The most famous of Jeremiah’s cynical statements is from Jeremiah 17:5-9”. This is, in my opinion, going too far. I am in fact deeply shocked about this statement. For it undermines, frankly, the utter seriousness and authority of this – divinely inspired – word. What Jeremiah says here had always a deep impact on my students and put them in an existential choice as students of theology and future pastors.”
Here is my reaction to this sister from Germany:
“Thank you for your letter. The last thing that want to ever do is undermine the Holy Scripture and especially the prophet JEREMIAH. He is one of my favorite prophets in the whole bible. I did not use the Word Cynical in the way you understood it, and it is my fault that you misunderstood my writing. What I really wanted to say is that JEREMIAH criticized the political and religious establishment of israel in his day without paying attention to being politically correct or being worried that it will get him in trouble with the establishment.”
The response from Germany:
“Dear Brother Shulam! Thank you for your prompt answer! From your words, I get the impression that it depends from how you define “cynical” and “sarcasm”. It cannot be only a matter of style. . .” “I hope that you then let the readers know what caused the supposed misunderstanding, and I am looking forward to seeing your target then reached.”
My answer: “I might have missed my target, but in no way, do I intend to join the German critical liberal school. For me all the Bible is the Word of God. However, there are stylistic issues and sarcasm and humorous texts both in the Old Testament and in Yeshua’s parables and there is nothing new about that. Yes, in my opinion JEREMIAH the prophet is one of the great classical prophets because he could use sarcasm and not worry about political correctness.”
I could have used a different choice of words, but I chose to use Cynical and Sarcasm. It was my choice and I must take responsibility for my choice and may be consider that in some 4000 people from around the World there always might be someone who would be offended by my choice of words. I can only say that I appreciate brothers and sisters who are serious and who take the time not only to read the Jerusalem Prayer list but with care and concern share their agreements and disagreements and fulfill the command that the Holy Scriptures gives us: ““Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12–13)
The final exchange of mail from our German Sister is this:
“It still upsets me that Jeremiah’s “cynicism” seems to be acceptable, whereas we should “control our inclination to cynicism and sarcasm…”. I am otherwise so thankful for your important ministry. Also, I had much gain from your unique commentary on Romans which I used for my doctoral studies in Heverlee, Belgium (not finished because of my intense engagement in the work of the Confessing Christians) about Paul’s missiology in Romans 9-11.”
Now this is from me:
The Word of God is eternal and we have laws and precepts and commandments to observe like Abraham did long before the giving of the Torah in Mt. Sinai. However, the most important asset in the Body of the Messiah is our brothers and sisters who care enough about God and His Kingdom and about the Word of God to take the time and share and correct if need be what seems to be mistakes and problems. I am grateful for sister D.K. from Germany who took the time to share her indignation and correct my use of words that in her opinion were out of place and wrong.
All the men and women whom we admire and seek to follow were criticized and took it graciously even when the criticism was out of place, like in the case of Moses and King David when Nathan the Prophet came to tell him of the grave sin that he committed when he took Bathsheba from her husband and had arranged for Uria the Hittite to be sent to battle in a place that he would surly die. David took the reprimand from Nathan the Prophet and repented. We all need to take the criticism that our brothers and sisters give us with a big spoon of God’s grace and gratitude and humbly confess our mistakes and wrongs and seek peace to have peace with God and with our brothers and sisters who care for us.
I don’t claim that this kind of attitude is easy and I don’t claim that I have always been gracious to my critics, but as I am getting older I have learned that those people who love me have every right to correct me. I need to appreciate them and repent when they point to my mistakes and sins.
Please keep praying for those on the prayer list.
I want to mention to you again our dear Sister Nancy H., who is recovering from major surgery and waiting for the results of the biopsy. She needs our prayers. Our dear sister Bida in Belo-Horizonte, Brazil, is in the very same situation as Nancy. Bida had brain surgery and the doctors took a significant portion of Bida’s brain out. The miracle is that Bida an see and hear and walk after the surgery. I really believe that God’s grace was shown to both of these sisters.
Please continue to pray for Katherine Neel, she is a young mother and wife of dear friends of our family and she too has brain cancer and needs intense prayer for healing and for God to give wisdom to the doctors to know what to do and whatever they do to do it with excellence and divine guidance.
We need to continue our prayer for Gary from our congregation in Jerusalem. Gary needs a miracle cure from the Lord. Gary has cancer the second time. He and Melanie his wife are strong and full of hope and we ask you to please keep Gary and Melanie in your prayers.
Please also continue to pray for Ruby. Ruby is going through some tests this next week. We need to pray for Ahuva our dear sister and her health and situation.
Please pray for Yuri a dear brother from our congregation that has cancer that is not operable now.
Please pray for the following people: Marcia Shulam, Danah our daughter, Noaam our granddaughter, Barry, Beth and Joey, our son’s family. I ask you to pray for Ilana, Leah, Miriam, Victor B., David S., Miriam Sh., Keijo and Salme L., Anna-Majia, Erkki and Sirpa, Tim Tucker, Satu-Maria and her daughters, Kari A., Sarit, Daniel P., Takeo and Tomoko, Toru, Sadako San, Curita Sensei, Daisuke Sensei, in the USA please pray for Bobby M., Aaron H., John M., Liz Johnson, Marcia’s family especially her father and mother. We pray for Tineke who is living in Holland and is a young lady that has that dreadful illness and needs God’s mercy for healing.
For brothers and sisters in Brazil, we ask you to pray for the following healing needs: Paulo, Naomi, Clara, Evelyn and Marcelo’s father and especially his mother.
Pray with us for the following brothers and sisters who are not ill but who need a special blessing from God for their lives and their work and their strength. The R. Goh family and their son Gabriel who is going to study abroad for a season. Pray for Sister Christy, Sister Laurel, and for Brother Michael Kenzevic, and Daniel L., and his family. We pray for the success and prosperity in their life and company. Pray for a dear brother in Finland by the name of David. Pray that the Lord will provide for David H., an excellent job that will honor his gifting and his family.
Pray for Roger W., and his family. They are traveling and need God’s protection and blessing.
Marcia is in California with DANAH and Noaam. All my family needs prayer for health and for the prosperity and peace that God only can give us. Marcia will be traveling home next week. She will be by herself going from LAX to London and from there to Tel-Aviv. Please pray for protection for Marcia and for her to feel good through the trip and have God’s blessing on the way home to Israel.
We appreciate and bless our brothers in Asia. We all thank God for this grace and ask the Lord to bless all the participants and especially all the organizers.
God bless all of you who pray for Netivyah and stand with Netivyah both in spirit and in the material support. May the good Lord fulfill all His promises and blessings for standing with us in Jerusalem and for blessing Israel!