“For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brasen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the LORD, to deliver thee.” ~ Jeremiah 1:18-19
The first chapter of Jeremiah closes with God announcing that He had (while speaking) made Jeremiah into three things:
God used these symbols to send a message through Jeremiah to the people of Judah, and He is still using them to speak to believers today.
Part 2: AN IRON PILLAR
Iron was a well known metal in Jeremiah’s time and Judah had developed iron-working expertise (2 Chronicles 24:12). In those days, craftsmanship was considered a “high tech” field requiring craftsmen of great cunning (2 Chronicles 2:14). Hence, the production of an iron pillar would have been highly regarded as a great technological achievement capable of only the smartest metallurgists (e.g., the Iron Pillar of Delhi). So, by making Jeremiah an iron pillar, God was telling everyone that Jeremiah was His idea of a technological marvel; that Jeremiah was the product of His great wisdom.
At that time, learning a metal working craft was something many ordinary/common young men aspired to. If you were good at it, becoming an artisan was a sure way of getting out of poverty and securing a good middle-class lifestyle for your family.
The modern day equivalent, for us, would be going to a good college and getting a degree (or two, or three). Both then and now, many people look to education (human wisdom) as a solution to life’s problems: as a pathway to success in this world.
God, however, has a different metric and a different prescription. Man has always measured success by material (financial) security and social standing. So, the means to acquire these attributes have always been highly prized. God, however, measures success by spiritual security (salvation) and spiritual standing (righteousness), which are not obtained by human wisdom/knowledge, but by faith and obedience.
Therefore, when the people of Judah focused on becoming great craftsmen to produce the next great works, God lifted up Jeremiah as the greatest work of His craftsmanship.
Clearly, there is nothing wrong with being a great craftsman or being highly educated. Indeed, God used great craftsmen to build the temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 2:7, 14). This is not an anti-intellectual diatribe. But, education, human knowledge/expertise/skill, must never be the primary goal for our lives.
Our primary goal must be to become moldable lumps of material on the Master’s workbench; lumps that He fashions into marvelous masterpieces for His glory (not ours). Some lumps will be fashioned into scholars and craftsmen, but that will be according to the Master’s plan not a man’s desires.
In the end, the expertise of the craftsmen of Judah worked against them
He [Nebuchadnezzar] carried away all… the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land. ~ 2 Kings 24:14
They were a prime target to be taken into exile in Babylon because their skills would be a great asset to Babylonian society and economy. In a sense, they were ‘victims’ of their own success. And all their knowledge of craftsmanship could not help them survive spiritually in Babylon.
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom… But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD. ~ Jeremiah 9:23b-24
Similarly, when education (of any type) becomes the driving force for our lives because of the benefits it brings, we too become vulnerable to being ‘swallowed up’ by the world. The world values the abilities of the educated/skilled and wants the educated/skilled to be in its service, not in the service of God. All the skill and knowledge acquired by a believer is to be used to honor and serve God, not self.
The man/woman of God is not a scholar/craftsman for the sake of scholarship/craftsmanship (or what scholarship/craftsmanship affords), but for the sake of God! Paul became a tent maker, not for the sake of making tents, but because it was a way to support his work as an apostle and missionary (Acts 18:1-4).
Jeremiah was made into an iron pillar, God’s technological masterpiece, because he was consumed with the knowledge of God, much more than the knowledge of metalworking. Jeremiah was not concerned with material security; he was concerned with salvation… and so should we! Jeremiah was not motivated by social mobility, he aspired to righteousness… and so should we!
Jesus put it this way:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? …But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. ~ Matthew 6:25, 33