They Were Single Too: 8 Biblical Role Models
In this book, author David Hoffeditz takes a fresh new look at singleness by examining the lives of eight individuals from Scripture who were single at some point in their adult lives -- Paul, Anna, Martha, Jeremiah, Ruth, Joseph, Nehemiah, and John the Baptist. By studying their lives and situations, Hoffeditz explores how God intends single men and women to live and demonstrates how one can truly serve God and be single.
All Alone in a Couple’s World
By David M. Hoffeditz
“‘How long, Lord, will you continue to ignore me? How long will you pay no attention to me?’ Oh, Lord, these words of Psalm 13 haunt the very core of my being. I know theologically you are with me, but the cries of my heart far outweigh the cognitive. Lord, I feel so isolated and alone.”
These words were lifted from the journal written during my first year of doctoral studies in Scotland. After saying farewell to my family and friends, I arrived at a location where I knew no one. I gave up a job that I loved and the comforts of the United States to live in a dormitory inhabited primarily by undergraduates. The pangs of emptiness and isolation failed to dissipate despite the busyness of my studies. The glamour of living abroad and studying at a university founded only four years after Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas quickly disappeared. Instead, I was left with an enormous void—I felt empty and longed for intimacy.
My loneliness was further exacerbated by the fact that nearly all of the doctoral students were married; the support and intimacy that stem from marriage were absent in my life. Rather than being met by the loving embrace of a spouse, I returned home to a flat, often accompanied by immature Greek teenagers. Now please understand I have nothing against Greeks or teenagers, but a culture that enjoys dinner at 10 p.m. and encourages bedtime at 2 or 3 a.m. is far from appropriate for graduate studies. As time progressed, my loneliness evolved into bitterness and jealousy.
Compared to my time in Aberdeen, my loneliness is far milder and less frequent now, yet I still find myself relying on the “Prozac of loneliness”—busyness. Working long hours drowns out my soul’s longings and distracts me from my inadequacies. Instead of defining my existence by marriage and children, I utilize events and accomplishments. This “stiff-arm” toward relationships and an air of independence buffer any appearances of vulnerability.
Reticence surrounds my disclosure for I have grown in my acceptance of being alone. In fact, I now value my singleness and the times when I can steal away to think, meditate, and unwind after a day spent surrounded by and giving to people. But it would be misleading to deny that loneliness has been an issue in my life and that on occasion the cloud of isolation will revisit. I also feel it is important to share because I know that many singles share this plight. A recent e-mail I received reinforces this belief. The single adult confesses, “I grapple with my singleness because I don’t like being alone. I long to have a close relationship with someone. I want to know that someone trusts me and takes an interest in me.” Such feelings are echoed time and time again by single adults.
Loneliness has been defined as “a chronic distressful mental state whereby an individual feels estranged from or rejected by peers and is starved for the emotional intimacy found in relationships and mutual activity.” (See Endnote 1) Frequently this subjective experience stems from a change in a living situation, the loss of a spouse through death or divorce, or the onset of a disability. (Endnote 2) For many singles, the prospect of growing old with no one to provide for them fuels this mental state; most married individuals have children and grandchildren who can and will care for them, not to mention the joy that comes from rocking children to sleep or being entertained by grandchildren. Another possible underlying reason for loneliness is that the absence of a partner provides no outlet for emotional and physical intimacy. Whatever the case, loneliness can result in isolation, fear, depression, lack of self-worth, emptiness, and even anger and bitterness. In recent years, researchers have demonstrated that loneliness can even alter cardiac function, disrupt sleeping patterns, cause higher blood pressure, and diminish ability to fight diseases. (Endnote 3)
Jeremiah: A Perfect Model
Few biblical characters had more reason to be lonely than the prophet Jeremiah. He belonged to a priestly family which had long been ousted from the religious and royal establishment. (Endnote 4) In addition to his embarrassing lineage, Jeremiah was called at birth to serve as a prophet during the most devastating events in Jewish history. Prophesying from the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign (627 b.c.) until shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c., his forty-year ministry was marked by opponents’ attempts to silence him by means of arrests, trials, beatings, imprisonments, and even assassination plots (e.g., Jer. 26:10–19; 36:26; 37:11–38:6). Throughout the book, the prophet lamented to God and even called down judgment on the opposition (e.g., 11:19–20; 20:10–12) and earned his title, the “weeping prophet” (see 9:1; 13:17; 14:17).
While public ridicule of his message was swift and extreme, the prophet’s personal sacrifices were far greater than any public outcry. His life’s experiences were crafted to reflect God’s revelation to the people of Judah. For instance, his prophetic office included the command to remain single. The Lord instructed Jeremiah, “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place” (Jer. 16:2 nrsv). As pointed out by one biblical scholar, “Hosea’s marriage is shocking (Hos. 1:2), but not unheard of. Jeremiah’s bachelorhood, however, is so unusual among the Jews that the Old Testament has no word for bachelor, and it undoubtedly reinforces questions about him.” (Endnote 5) Terence Fretheim, in his recent commentary on the book of Jeremiah, adds, “Given the importance of children in that culture, this prohibition would have been startling to both prophet and people.” (Endnote 6) To further complicate matters, Jeremiah was also to refrain from attending social events, such as funerals and weddings (Jer. 16:5–9). His life was consumed with fulfilling his prophetic role.
Jeremiah endured the absence of a spouse or family, removal from all social events, and a thankless and despised profession—few individuals in this world have had greater reasons to embrace loneliness. How did this “prophet of loneliness” continue to live life, let alone continue to be obedient to the Lord? Thankfully, the book of Jeremiah provides a wonderful glimpse into the life of this Old Testament saint. While this prophet did struggle with life, anxious thoughts, and fears, Jeremiah displays five ways to persevere and continue despite living alone.
Means to Address Loneliness
1. Recognition of God’s Calling
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo protests to Gandalf crying, “I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?” Gandalf replies, “Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” (Endnote 8)
Like Frodo, Jeremiah was called. In fact, the opening words of the book inform us that Jeremiah was appointed before birth for this assignment. The Lord states in 1:5 (nrsv), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Reminiscent of Moses, Jeremiah questions his own ability to live up to God’s appointed position. However, the Lord quickly assures Jeremiah that he is the man for the task. In the midst of lonely times and trying periods of ministry, Jeremiah could return to these words for comfort and encouragement. Jeremiah’s prophetic office was not bequeathed out of charity or by default, but because God ordained it. When it might have appeared that no one cared about him, Jeremiah could reflect on the fact that the God of the universe knew him. This knowledge and calling bore no strings, no preconditions, and no contract.
As believers, we also have the great assurance of knowing that God called us prior to birth. Ephesians 1:4–6 (nrsv) reads, “Just as [God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” The Lord sought us and appointed us to be His ambassadors. During times of loneliness, I quickly forget the wonderful truth that the Creator of the universe, the Almighty God, knows and cares for me. It is the Father who loved me when I was unwilling and unable to respond. His Son became flesh so that I might become His child.
Note that God also grants provisions in accordance with the calling. The Lord promised Jeremiah that he would be delivered from his enemies (1:8) and that he would receive the necessary words to speak (1:9). And while at times Jeremiah doubted, the Lord -supplied.
Occasionally the gift of singleness seems too much to bear. Waiting for the Lord and remaining content with life despite my present state seems overwhelming. I long to know someone intimately and for someone to know me. May we not forget that we have a God who does know us intimately and longs for our affection.
As noted by David in Psalm 68, the Lord cares for us and “makes a home for the lonely” (v. 6 nasb). And in the New Testament we are reminded that this same loving God will never leave us, nor abandon us (see Heb. 13:5).
2. Trust in God’s Control
To know the truth is one thing, but to act upon it is quite another. ’Tis a wonderful thing to know that Jesus loves me, but the events of life and the lack of companionship often suggest otherwise. Questions remain unanswered in this sea of loneliness: If Jesus truly loved me, could He not at least provide one or two close friends as I bear this “gift” of singleness? If Jesus truly loved me, couldn’t He remove some of the pain that stems from the loss of my spouse? If Jesus truly loved me, couldn’t He eliminate some of the financial burdens in raising my two children all alone? And the list could continue . . .
Jeremiah raised similar questions during his time of ministry. Recognizing that the Lord knows him (15:15), the weeping prophet proceeds to remind the Lord of his various services rendered—suffering for the Lord’s sake, acceptance of and rejoicing in the Lord’s words, remaining alone in his stance for the Lord, and enduring hardships for His cause (15:15–17). In just three verses, the prophet refers to himself approximately fifteen times and states that each action was specifically performed on behalf of the Lord. He concludes his rehearsal of all that he has accomplished for God by questioning the very character of God. He cries out, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail” (15:18 nrsv). The reference to a “deceitful brook” recalls the idea of a sojourner in a desert who observes the appearance of a brook in the distance—only to discover upon arrival that it was a mirage. In effect, Jeremiah demands from the Lord an explanation. Is God really true to His word? Is God reliable? Where is God when one of His prophets needs relief?
The Lord’s response to Jeremiah in the subsequent verses reminds me of a mother interacting with her toddler. The Lord lovingly and patiently reassures and reaffirms the basic promises He made to Jeremiah in chapter 1. If Jeremiah returns to his prophetic calling and to the uttering of God’s words, he will be delivered from his enemies. The Lord will not allow Jeremiah’s oppressors to take his life.
Trusting in God despite the circumstances requires meditation upon His promises and reflection upon His past actions. Earlier we observed Psalm 13 where David, like Jeremiah, questions God’s love and ability to provide. (Endnote 12) As David progresses with this lament, he recognizes that God’s Word is sure and that the Lord has dealt graciously and generously in the past. Our trust is not rooted in false hope or fanciful dreams. Our confidence in the Lord’s love for us and His all-powerful hand resides in who He is and what He has done in our lives. Despite bouts of loneliness and the knowledge that he would always be single (16:1–9), Jeremiah confidently declares that the Lord is “my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction” (16:19 kjv). He continues this praise of God, pronouncing that one who trusts in the Lord and places hope in Him will be blessed (17:7).
3. Possession of God’s Perspective
Possessing God’s perspective is key to trusting in the Lord. While Jeremiah wrestled with life and his role as a prophet, he remained faithful to the Lord—not because the Lord eased his pain or brought a “significant other” into his life, but because Jeremiah ultimately recognized that his suffering and the judgment upon the people of Judah were temporary. One biblical scholar notes, “The prophet does not see the world from the point of view of a political theory; he is a person who sees the world from the point of view of God; he sees the world through the eyes of God.” (Endnote 13)
This acknowledgment of the Lord and His ways is vividly portrayed in Jeremiah’s purchase of a field during the Babylonians’ besiegement of Jerusalem just before its fall in 586 b.c. This expenditure in the midst of such political and economic crises probably solidified the criticisms and opinions of Jeremiah’s antagonists. What initially seemed a foolish investment demonstrated Jeremiah’s trust in the Lord’s promise that one day his descendents would return to the land. This scene concludes with a prayer (32:16–25) where the prophet asserts,
Ah Lord God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. You show steadfast love to the thousandth generation, but repay the guilt of parents into the laps of their children after them, O great and mighty God whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed; whose eyes are open to all the ways of mortals, rewarding all according to their ways and according to the fruit of their doings. (vv. 17–19 nrsv)
Because Jeremiah understood the wondrous deeds God had performed in the past, he could be certain that nothing in the future was insurmountable for the Lord. This prophet looked to the eternal rather than the temporal.
A key problem of loneliness resides in the fact that we have lost sight of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Warren Wiersbe in his book Lonely People defines loneliness as “the malnutrition of the soul that results from living on substitutes.” (Endnote 14) In some of my darkest hours of living solo, I have experienced my most intimate times with the Lord. During those difficult days of my first year in Aberdeen, the Lord revealed Himself in numerous ways. One event I will never forget happened near the end of an extremely trying week. My research had grown stagnate and was as enjoyable as a root canal. The weather had been true to Aberdeen tradition—cold and wet. The crime rate in Scotland was about to rise as I contemplated murdering my Greek flat mates. And my bank account had dwindled so low that the account cost more than it contained. In fact, my financial state was so desperate that I had decided to save some pennies by forgoing lunches that week. Around lunchtime on Thursday I had almost reached my limit. I was walking down main street praying for strength and contentment when down at my feet, I saw a ten pound note. As I picked it up, I found another ten pound bill. It was obvious from their condition that the bills had lain there for some time. I could not believe my eyes! While I stood there stunned, a lady passed by and noticed what I had discovered. Unable to control myself, I said, “Isn’t the Lord good?!” The lady looked at me as if I had just been released from a mental ward. That afternoon, I had a wonderful hot meal in the student cafeteria—a great reminder of the awesome God we serve.
The difficult periods of life serve as the anvil God utilizes to fashion and mold us into His image. Paul writes in Romans 5:3–5 (nrsv), “And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Living alone in this world is often painful. Few people understood this better than the prophet Jeremiah. And yet, Jeremiah had the marvelous opportunity to serve as the Lord’s spokesperson, to witness firsthand the Lord’s provision, and to walk in intimacy with God.
4. A Value of Prayer
Ongoing communion with the Lord is essential to maintaining God’s perspective. The prophet recounts God’s faithful and powerful hand in the lives of the Jewish people. Jeremiah reflects on a holy and loving God who demands obedience. Prayer also serves as a vehicle for wisdom and clarification from God as we take time to listen. Jeremiah’s prayer concludes chapter 32 with “Yet you, O Lord God, have said to me, ‘Buy the field for money and get witnesses’—though the city has been given into the hands of the Chaldeans” (32:25 nrsv). In his attempt to unravel his confusion over the Lord’s command, Jeremiah speaks honestly with the Lord, asking for understanding.
The prophet’s prayer life demonstrates his intimacy with God. Jeremiah could speak freely to the Lord concerning issues. As seen above, he felt free to question the Lord. And, elsewhere, Jeremiah even expresses anger as he prays to the Lord (e.g., 12:1–2; 20:7). In this, the most autobiographical prophetic book, we find the author communicating with the Lord on a profound level.
Jeremiah’s prayer life also testifies to the Lord’s desire for communication with us. The Lord declares to the people of Judah, “‘When you call out to me and come to me in prayer, I will hear your prayers. When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord” (29:12–14a). God’s intention prior to the Fall was for man and woman to fellowship with Him. God’s longing was so great that He provided a means for this fellowship to be restored—a means that cost Him His very own Son. Through Scripture, “prophet and psalmist alike teach us very firmly that the right way to deal with doubt and protest within the soul is to carry them straight to God and never let them carry us away from him. God is his own interpreter, and he will make things plain.” (Endnote 17) When loneliness assails us, we must admit our feelings to the Lord. He will draw near to the one who runs to Him (James 4:8).
5. An Appreciation of Friends
Jeremiah benefited from the presence of several individuals in his life. One of these who is significant for our study is an Ethiopian slave named Ebed Melech (38:1–13). A eunuch in the king’s court, Ebed Melech hears that Jeremiah has been thrown into a waterless, but muddy, cistern. Without food or water, the prophet was abandoned, left to die for encouraging the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians—action tantamount to treason. Alone, floods of emotions undoubtedly plagued Jeremiah. How will anyone be able to find me in this obscure location? Will anyone care enough to come to my rescue?
I doubt Jeremiah would have ever dreamed that an Ethiopian slave would be the one to rescue him. Ebed Melech risked his own life as he confronted King Zedekiah and requested that the king remove Jeremiah from the pit. Ebed Melech then personally oversaw the rescue of the prophet, ensuring that Jeremiah was unharmed in the process (e.g., the use of rags and scraps of clothing to ease Jeremiah’s extrication). How ironic that only a foreigner, single I might add, cared enough to rescue the abandoned prophet!
I have found that during my times of loneliness, I so easily overlook the people the Lord has strategically and graciously placed in my life. While most of my doctoral work was completed at the University of Aberdeen, one year of my studies was spent at the Universitätsstadt in Tübingen, Germany. It was here that the Lord provided me with one of life’s “Ebed Melechs.” I am fairly confident that even to this day, Sigurd Kaiser has no idea how much the friendship of him and his wife meant to me during my year of studies in Tübingen. My first weeks in Germany contained many embarrassing and trying moments. Struggling to speak German, I needed to register at the university, open a bank account, purchase groceries, and learn the social taboos of living in the Albrecht-Bengel Haus, a residency primarily for theological students. Sigurd not only interrupted his busy schedule to assist me, but also showed Christ’s love as he cared for so many of my needs. His companionship pushed the shadows of loneliness into the far recesses of my soul.
Granted, the presence of people does not necessarily remove the possibility of loneliness. In fact, statistics show that many married people are lonely. But we were designed and saved for the purpose of community. We need one another as members of the family of God.
To have friends one must show himself or herself to be friendly (Prov. 18:24 kjv). And yet, you might echo the response of a single adult who retorted,
I was born again as a result of being divorced so I praise the Lord for my divorce. I try to be a blessing, but I am so lonely. Sometimes you get tired of giving, of hurting and you just want to talk and fit in. As for fitting in, forget it. No one understands, because they are couple-oriented. How could they? (Endnote 19)
I recognize that not everyone will understand. Certainly Jeremiah faced so-called friends who not only misunderstood him but even sought to kill him (e.g., 20:2, 10–11; 34:17; 38:1–4). Nevertheless, I would argue that one of the provisions the Lord can and will make for us is people. If nothing else, you have been placed into His family and you are now part of a Christian community. There were periods when Jeremiah was alone and when he struggled with loneliness; but the prophet also experienced companionship and devotion.
The life of Jeremiah continues to amaze me. In spite of all that he experienced, Jeremiah never quit. His resolve to be obedient to his calling is both convicting and challenging. Jeremiah’s single pursuit in life was to listen to what God said about knowing His grace (9:24; cf. Phil. 3:10; John 17:3). Frequently alone and at times lonely, the weeping prophet continued to minister to the Jewish people.
Excerpted from They Were Single Too: 8 Biblical Role Models, © 2005 by David M. Hoffeditz.
Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
1. Robert S. Weiss, Loneliness: The Experience of Emotonal and Social Isolation (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1973), cited by Leigh Devereaux in "Loneliness," eeducationamerica.com, 1.
2. Recent statistics seem to indicate that loneliness among Americans will only rise. Between 1960 and 1995, single-person households rose from 13 to 25 percent of the total, while households of married couples with children dropped from 44 to 25 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, census projections suggest that the number of people living alone will increase 8.4 percent between 2000 and 2010 (Laura Pappano, The Connection Gap, Why Americans Feel So Alone [London; Rutgers University Press, 2001], 152).
3. J. Schonwalk, "NIA Will Fund Study About Loneliness: Its Physical Risks," The University of Chicago Chronicle 21, no. 5 (November 15, 2001): 1.
4. He was a native of Anathoth (Jer. 1:1), a village three miles northeast of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was descended from the priest Abiathar, who was banished to Anathoth by Solomon for committing treason. Abiathar had supported Solomon's son, Adonijah, in an attempted coup (1 Kings 2:26-27). The descendants of the other chief priest, Zadok, were thus in charge of the temple until the exile.
5. J. R. Soza, "Jeremiah," in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. B. S. Rosner, D. A. Carson, and G. Goldsworthy (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2000), 224.
6. Terrence E. Fretheim, Jeremiah, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, ed. R. S. Nash (Macon, Ga.: Smyth and Helwys, 2002), 247.
8. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 70.
12. Similar cries unto the Lord can be found in Psalm 102 and Job 19.
13. A. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper, 1962), 138.
14. Warren Wiersbe, Lonely People, (Lincoln, Neb.: Back to the Bible, 1983), 79.
17. R. E. O. White, The Indomitable Prophet: A Biographical Commentary on Jeremiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 161.
19. Cited by E. Watke Jr., The Problem of Loneliness (Augusta, Ga.: Revival in the Home Ministries, 2001), 3.
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