The Book of Jeremiah - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.
Among all the prophets of the Hebrew people none was more heroic than Jeremiah. So far as moral and spiritual results among the people to whom he delivered his messages are concerned, he was fore-doomed to failure. Through forty years at least, his was the task of uttering the word of Jehovah in the midst of a people who were rapidly moving down the steep declivity toward the final catastrophe; and he fulfilled that task with splendid loyalty. It was not easily done; he shrank from his work again and again; he suffered intensely, not merely from the persecution of his foes, but in his own soul, in its fellowship with God and with his nation; he needed very special Divine sustenance, and sought and found it in many an hour of protesting prayer in which Jehovah patiently led and upheld him. There can be no doubt that through all the travail of that long ministry these words of the original call of Jehovah remained with him as the abiding inspiration of his loyalty. The call of Jehovah came to him while he was very young. Its terms were such as to reveal to him the fact of his pre-natal ordination to his work. This ordination was based upon knowledge, such knowledge we must describe as foreknowledge. God knew His man, before the man had existence; and therefore He sanctified him and appointed him. Happy is the prophet of God who has the assurance that his separation and appointment to prophetic work is that of God, based upon His knowledge. In facing prophetic work, and in many an hour of supreme difficulty therein, he may feel that he is unequal to his task. Then he may and must take refuge in the fact that he is other than he thinks he is, and that his call is the result of what he really is, as that is known to God. The true prophet is content with the Divine knowledge of himself, however dissatisfied he may feel with himself.
For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
In twelve chapters of this book (2-13), the prophet is revealed to us exercising a ministry in constant communion with Jehovah, through which his mission is progressively interpreted. The section alternates between messages to be delivered to the people, and records of intimate conversations between Jeremiah and Jehovah. These particular words occur in the midst of the Divine impeachment of the nation, and constitute a summary thereof. The nation was charged with having committed two evils, and these are figuratively described. The first was that they had forsaken Jehovah, the fountain of living waters; the second was that they had hewed them out cisterns - which turned out to be broken cisterns. Let us keep the two separate in our thinking. The first was fundamental; the second was resultant. The first was that they had forsaken the One Who is the fountain of living waters. Carefully observe the phrase "living waters" (compare John 7:38). What are living waters? Simply waters rising from springs, always fresh, and always flowing. To understand that is to apprehend the second evil. What are cisterns? Tanks for holding water, storing it. Directly water is stored in a cistern, it ceases to be living; it is stagnant, and the process of deterioration begins. Here was the second evil, then. When these people had removed themselves from the living waters by removing themselves from Jehovah, they still felt their need of water, and so hewed them cisterns to store what they no longer had in the abundance of the streams from the fountain. This was the resultant evil. The fact that their cisterns were broken was a further revelation of failure. Suppose they had not been broken, the waters which they would have stored would have ceased to be living by that act of storing. Moreover, man can never hew cisterns which will hold. They are all broken. We must live by the streams, or we perish. The spiritual significance is patent.
Backsliding Israel hath shown herself more righteous than treacherous. - Jer. 3:11
These words necessarily demand the context in order to interpretation. That context describes the sin of Israel, and the Divine judgment upon that sin. Israel had been unfaithful to God, had broken her relationship with Him. The whole impeachment is illuminated by the figure of the marriage relationship. Israel, loved of Jehovah, married to Him by covenant, had gone after false gods, had been guilty of spiritual adultery and whoredom. Therefore Jehovah had given her a bill of divorcement, had put her away. Could anything be worse than this? Yes, the sin of Judah was worse. Judah had seen all this, knew the history of Israel's sin, and Jehovah's judgment; and yet she feared not, but herself was guilty of the selfsame sins. But there was a yet deeper vein of iniquity in Judah, and it is revealed in the word "treacherous." Here observe carefully that this message of the prophet was delivered in the days of Josiah. In his days there had been great reform outwardly. The king had wrought with a true passion for righteousness, but as Huldah, the prophetess, had told him, the reforms, so far as the people were concerned, were unreal, they did not touch the deepest things in life. In this connection it is interesting to read the prophecy of Zephaniah, which also, though delivered in the times of Josiah, ignored the reformation. Here, then, was the treachery of Judah. She was masquerading in the garments and attitude of reform, while yet continuing in the ways of infidelity to Jehovah. The nation and people which abandon all pretence at goodness in their devotion to evil, are more righteous than those who attempt to hide their evil courses under a mask of reform and simulated righteousness. That is the way of treachery, of hypocrisy, and that in the eyes of the God of truth, is the ultimate evil. The contrast between our Lord's attitude, in the days of His flesh, toward open sinners, and hypocrites, is a striking enforcement of this matter.
Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Surely Thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem; saying, Ye shall have peace; whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul.
These words must be treated as a parenthesis. They break in on a message in which the prophet was foretelling the judgment to fall upon Judah for her treacherous sin, and reveal at once the anguish of his heart, and his inability to reconcile the promise of Jehovah with His actions. This parenthesis has caused a good deal of trouble to commentators, and various attempts have been made to explain the words in such a way as to get rid of their first sense, that of charging God with practising deceit. Is there any need for such attempts? I think not. Here we have an outburst, in which the prophet said what he thought. Many men think things like this who never utter them. The Divine ways constantly pass human comprehension. There are hours in which it seems that the Divine promise is not being fulfilled, when instead of peace, God employs the sword. All such seeming is false. It is due to limited vision. We are watching methods, rather than understanding purpose. The value of this verse, and indeed of this whole movement is that it reveals the patience of God with a perfectly honest soul. When the heart is hot and restless, and it seems to us that God is breaking down, we never dishonour Him by crying out to Him in language which reveals our agony. We dishonour Him far more by the treachery which nurses this conviction of His failure, and attempts to hide it by professions of loyalty. And let a matter be observed which a hasty reading may overlook. The prophet addressed God here by the two titles Adonai and Jehovah, those which speak respectively of His sovereign Lord-ship and His grace. In this the ultimate attitude of his soul is revealed. Those who maintain this attitude may pour out before Him all their thoughts. He will understand, be patient, and presently explain.
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and My people love to have it so; and what will ye do in the end thereof?
In this summary the prophet revealed the utter degradation of the nation. Life was corrupted at the inspirational sources, and therefore, in all its streams. This bringing together of prophets, priests, and people is significant. If we go back to the book of Exodus we find that the people were called to be "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (chapter 19:6). Because they were not able to rise to the height of that great ideal, an order of priests was created, whose office it was to mediate between the people and God, in order that the people might realize their relationship and fulfil their function. In process of time the priesthood became corrupt, and then the prophetic order was created to reveal to the people the will of God. The prophets were constantly employed in denouncing the priests, as well as the kings. But now, the prophets also had become false, they were not uttering the word of God, but their own opinions. The priests had entered into agreement with them, and were exercising authority by their false teachings. And the final and fatal thing was that the people loved to have it so. It was a terrible and hopeless condition. Prophets are always false or true; their word is their own, or it is the Word of Jehovah. If it is the Word of Jehovah, their one responsibility is to Him, and their one passion is to please Him. If it is their own, their one desire is to please the people, and this they do by uttering views which harmonize with popular prejudices and desires. Prophets of God are the nation's truest servants and friends. False prophets are the worst enemies of the nation. Their popularity is the last evidence of national decay.
They have healed also the hurt of My people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.
These words occur in the midst of an oracle describing the coming of the army which was to be the instrument of Divine judgment upon the guilty and corrupt nation. In all the prophetic messages of judgment, the prophets of God were careful to show that the reason of such punitive activity was the sin of the people. This Jeremiah did at this point. (Read verses 13-15.) The whole nation was given over to covetousness, under the influence of the false prophets and priests. In these words he charged these spiritual rulers with uttering words of comfort, when the people were in the direst danger. That danger arose from the fact that they committed abomination without shame; that they had lost the power to blush! The word of the prophet in the presence of evil must ever be war. His business is to create a sense of shame in the souls of men, so to place their corruption before them as to compel the hot blush to their faces. To fail to do that is to leave the people in a false security, to leave the festering wound healed lightly, eased by opiates, and so not heard at all. It is much easier for prophets to do this than to deliver the Word of Jehovah, which probes the wounds, creates a smart and a shame, compels the blush. They may be saying peace, peace, when there is no peace, in many ways. They may do it, by silence, refusing to refer to evil practices. They may do it by speaking of evil as though it were only the under-side of good, an inevitable thing. They may even do it by denying that there is any such thing as evil. Whatever the method, it is the last apostasy of the prophet, that he should endeavour to create a sense of peace when there should be holy panic, to ease a pain of conscience which should be poignant. That, for the prophet, is indeed the sin that has no pardon.
Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, are these.
Observe carefully where these words were uttered. Commanded by Jehovah, Jeremiah stood in the gate of Jehovah's House. The occasion probably was that of the observance of some feast in the later years of the reign of Josiah. The temple had been cleansed, and its order of worship restored. As we have seen before, the reformation under Josiah, so far as the people were concerned, had been superficial; it had not reached down to the deep things of life. There had been no true repentance or return to God. Nevertheless, the people were laying the flattering unction to their souls that because the temple was there, and its services maintained, all was well with them. Jeremiah stood in the gate as the crowds assembled, and first called the people to a true repentance, as he said: "Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place," declaring that this was the message of "Jehovah of Hosts, the God of Israel." Then he charged them to put no false confidence in the temple. This is a radiant revelation of the true place and value of holy places and things. The temple is the House of Jehovah in which men may dwell in fellowship with Him, and so in strength and rest, if their ways are in harmony with His will. But the temple is not a refuge for men who are living in rebellion against Him. It gives security and rest to obedient souls. It offers no security to men if they are living in sin. We have not done all that is necessary when we have built, or renovated the temple, if our own hearts are unclean; and when that is so, the temple gives us no more protection from judgment than does the place set apart to our idolatries and iniquities. Even a correct and orthodox confession of faith is of no value when evil things are reigning in the life. Let the solemn truth be pondered and applied by each of us, not to other people, but to his or her own heart.
... Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what manner of wisdom is in them?
Observe the context here carefully. The prophet was dealing with the fact which rendered the situation of Judah so utterly hopeless, that namely, of their fatal and persistent lack of repentance. He showed that this was due to the misinterpretations of the scribes. It is of these scribes that this statement was made, "Lo, they have rejected the word of Jehovah." This is the more arresting in view of the fact that they were saying: "We are wise, and the law of Jehovah is with us" (see verse 8). Here is a situation which startles us into attention. Men had the Law of Jehovah, and it was their one occupation to interpret it, and apply it to the people. Yet they had rejected the word of Jehovah. That is to say, they had rejected the very thing they were possessing and claiming to teach. To borrow a New Testament phrase, they were handling the word of the Lord deceitfully, lowering its standard of requirement to meet the degenerate condition of men, compromising its requirements, devitalizing its message. Than this, there is no more heinous sin. It is the sin of corrupting the streams of life at the sources. The question of the prophet is persistently pertinent. When men reject the word of Jehovah, "What manner of wisdom is in them?" The answer is that the manner of such wisdom is, to quote James, "earthly, sensual, devilish" (3:15). Humanity has had a tremendous answer to this inquiry of Jeremiah in the past century. Those systems of philosophy which began with a rejection of the Word of Jehovah in the denial of revelation, have progressively wrought themselves out until they eventuated in the welter of wickedness which we call the Great War. Great indeed, in its revelation of the manner of the wisdom which rejects the Word of Jehovah.
... Behold I will melt them, and try them, for how else should I do, because of the daughter of my people.
These words occur in the midst of a great paragraph in. which Jeremiah is revealed as in communion with Jehovah (8:18-19). The prophet was overwhelmed with sorrow in the presence of the afflictions of the people, and he longed for some method of giving adequate expression to that sorrow (9:1), and for some way of escape (9:2). He was, however, keenly conscious of their corruption, and described their sin with unsparing faithfulness. To this mood of his soul Jehovah replied; and these were the opening words of that reply. He declared the inevitability of the method of affliction, and revealed its purpose. The words "melt" and "try" are those of the refiner. By these activities gold and silver are set free from dross, and proven pure. This is the meaning of affliction, and God employs it because there is no other way by which the end can be reached. Let us note that there was no rebuke of Jeremiah for his sorrow. Rather, the fact that Jehovah thus declared to His servant that there was no other way, proves that He was in sympathy with that sorrow, that the method of affliction was not one in which He delighted, that He only resorted to it because of the corrupt condition of His people. This story is full of searching light. It reveals God, and a man in perfect fellowship with Him. There can be no toleration of sin. Therefore the method of melting and trying by the fires of affliction must go forward. Nevertheless neither Jehovah nor His servant are callous or indifferent to the sufferings of the sinning people. When to men was given the vision of God incarnate, He was seen as making no terms with sin in Jerusalem, and therefore pronouncing its doom. But He did so with tears and lamentation. This is our God, and if we are in real fellowship with Him, we shall manifest the same spirit.
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
The oracle of this chapter was concerned with idolatry, its sin and its judgment. The first movement is a striking and balanced contrast between idols and Jehovah, between the men who trust in idols and the men who trust in Jehovah. The contrast is the same as that which Isaiah had emphasized (see Isaiah 46). Men make idols. Jehovah makes men. The idols which men make are always men's attempts to project, from their own inner consciousness, gods to whom they can yield obedience; or in other words, the making of idols is an attempt on the part of man to direct his own steps. It is against that profound mistake that these particular words were directed. "The way of man is not in himself"; man is devoid of the understanding of himself which will enable him "to direct his steps." Here we are brought into the light of the truth which man universally ignores or denies. The whole history of man, apart from his relation to God, willingly recognized and obeyed, is the history of his attempt to understand himself and govern himself. All autocracy is the attempt of men to direct the steps of men. It breaks down because these rulers do not understand men, neither themselves nor their vassals. Democracy removes the governing centre from the few, and attempts to establish it on the basis of common humanity. It says quite clearly, and definitely, the ways of man are in man, man can direct his own steps. And it is wrong, radically wrong. Democracy will produce conditions more tragic than autocracy ever did. There is only one hope for man or for humanity, and that is that he and it be governed by One Who, knowing man perfectly, is able to direct his steps perfectly. That one is God.
Then answered I, and said, Amen, O Lord.
For Judah the sin of idolatry was the sin of breaking the covenant between Jehovah and His people. The first part of this chapter (verses 1-17) consists of an oracle dealing with this sin; and showing how persistently the nation had been guilty of it. When Jeremiah was commissioned to repeat to Judah the curse pronounced by Moses (see Deuteronomy 27), he replied "Amen, O Jehovah." That was a confession of consent to the righteousness of the Divine government; and a consecration to the service to which he was appointed. Here is a revelation of the secret of this man's splendid and heroic loyalty. His ministry was one long experience of suffering. He suffered persecution at the hands of those whose ways of wickedness were rebuked by his messages. He suffered more, in sympathy with the sorrows of the sinning people. Nevertheless, he bore right onward, never turning aside from his appointed task; and that because in his deepest life he was in agreement with God, and said "Amen" to all His words and ways. There is a vast difference between the liturgical "Amen" which is merely conventional, and which in the saying means nothing, and in life costs nothing; and the Amen which comes out of the deep inner agreement of mind and heart and will with the purposes and methods of God. The former carries us nowhere; it ceases when the days of stress come upon us. The latter holds and sustains us as we tread the path of obedience, when that path is one of suffering and sacrifice. To the will and ways of God, Christ is the One Amen. The proportion in which we are mastered by Him is the proportion of our ability to utter the true Amen, and so the proportion in which we are equipped for all His will appoints of service and of suffering.
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? And though in a land of peace thou art secure, yet how wilt thou do in the pride of Jordan?
We have now come to the last stage in the progressive unfolding of his commission to the prophet. Throughout the earlier stages of his ministry, he has been revealed to us as completely loyal, and yet shrinking from the terror of the words he has been called upon to utter. Through the process he has been sustained in a constant communion with God, in which he has honestly poured out his complaint, and Jehovah has answered him in patience and in sympathy. This last stage commenced in chapter 11, at verse 18, and it runs to the end of chapter 13. The plot against him by the men of Anathoth was revealed to him by Jehovah, and in the presence of it he cried out against the persistence and prosperity of the wicked. In view of it he shrinks anew from his task. In these words Jehovah commenced His answer to His servant. Their first meaning was that the sufferings which he had already endured were as nothing to those to which he was coming. He had been contending with footmen; he would have to contend with horsemen; comparatively he had been dwelling in the land of peace; he would pass to the experience of the J pride, the turbulence of Jordan. Beyond the questions, Jehovah gave him words full of comfort. The effect of the questions must have been that of emphasizing the prophet's sense of his own weakness, and thus driving him to yet completer dependence upon God. But in the questions is there not another revelation? God never calls us to contend with horsemen, until He has trained us by the lesser strain of contending with footmen. He never allows us to face the pride of Jordan until He has prepared us by service in a land of peace. Through the strain of today, He equips for the greater strain of tomorrow, and never allows that greater strain to be put upon us until we are so equipped.
... Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! Thou wilt not be made clean! How long shall it yet be?
If the story told in this chapter is historic rather than merely symbolic, it covers considerable period of time, for the distance from Jerusalem to Babylon was two hundred and fifty miles. Personally, I believe that it is history, that Jeremiah actually travelled to Babylon and back twice. That being so, we have here a condensed account of a period in which the prophet was being led to a deeper understanding of the hopeless depravity of the nation, and of the consequent necessity for judgment. That is the burden of the oracle. In these last words we have the whole situation presented in a brief but forceful summary. The doom of the city is certain: "Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem." The reason of it is explicitly stated: "Thou wilt not be made clean." But what is this last question? "How long shall it yet be?" Observe carefully that the prophet reports it as part of the charge of Jehovah to him, which begins at the eighteenth verse. These, then, are the words of Jehovah. In them merge two notes unmistakably. The first is that of sorrow. That is the inspiration of the question. But that question reveals a confidence that there will be an end to this attitude of determined refusal to be made clean. The inquiry involves the hope of ultimate restoration. It is wonderful how constantly in reading Jeremiah we are reminded of our Lord. He it was Who pronounced the doom of Jerusalem finally, and when He did so, His sentence ended on the same note of hope: "Ye shall not see Mc henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord" (see Matt. 23:37-39).
And the Lord said unto me, Pray not for this people for their good.
We now enter upon that section of this Book in which, the prophet's commission having been completed, and interpreted to him, we find him conducting his heroic ministry in the midst of the darkest and most hopeless circumstances. From here to the end of chapter 39, we have messages delivered before the Fall of Jerusalem. The first movement is parabolic. Under the figure of the drought the judgment determined against Judah was foretold. This is immediately followed by the account of controversy in communion between Jehovah and Jeremiah. The prophet urged excuses for the people, and cried for mercy upon them, and that persistently. Again and again Jehovah replied, showing His servant the uselessness of all such praying. In these particular words the prophet recorded the command of Jehovah that he should not pray for the people for their good. In view of this command, and all the context, two matters impress us. The first is that, in spite of it, Jeremiah continued to plead for the people, and that Jehovah permitted him to do so, patiently arguing with him, until at last He brought him to submission when he cried out: "O Jehovah, Thou knowest" (see chapter 15, verse 15). The second is that Jehovah did know; and that it is possible for men to persist in evil so thoroughly and persistently, that God cannot have mercy upon them, and that prayer on their behalf which seeks the exercise of mercy, is unavailing. It is a most solemn consideration, and perhaps the most helpful comment on it is that we need never cease praying until Jehovah Himself forbids us; and then we may find our refuge in the words: "O Jehovah, Thou knowest."
If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth.
These words occur in the last reply of Jehovah to Jeremiah in the controversy, the record of which occupies this and the preceding chapter. As we saw in our previous note, Jehovah commanded Jeremiah not to pray, but when he continued to do so, He patiently bore with him, and argued the case until the prophet was brought to the confession, "O Jehovah Thou knowest." This confession he immediately followed with a prayer for himself, affirming his loyalty to the Word committed to him, but complaining of his pain, and expressing perplexity and doubt. To that prayer Jehovah responded, and in these particular words at once definitely rebuked His servant, and revealed to hint a principle of vital importance in prophetic ministry. The figure is that of the process of refining by which true metal is separated from alloy. In Jeremiah's heart there were unworthy thoughts of God, and these had found expression in his utterances. Let him purge his heart of such alloy, and devote himself only to the true gold of truth concerning God. So, and only so, would he be fitted to be as the mouth of God in uttering His messages. A word like this is in itself a searching fire. Those who are called to speak for God are ever in peril of having their message devitalized by conceptions of God which are unworthy. To rebel against the severity of Jehovah's judgments is to question His wisdom; nay, it is to question His righteousness and His love. It is equally true that to rebel against His compassion - as Jonah did - is to raise the same questions. Let us ever, and with complete consecration, in our thinking take forth the precious from the vile. So, and only so, can we be the mouth of God.
O Lord, my strength, and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of affliction.
These are words of response on the part of the prophet to a new charge given him by Jehovah. After the controversy (chapters 14 and 15), Jehovah called His servant to a new and more definite separation from the existing conditions. He was to live the life of personal asceticism, in that he was not to take a wife, nor have sons and daughters. He was to refrain from sympathy with the people in their bereavements, not going to the house of mourning. He was to stand completely aloof from all their festivities, having no part in their mirth. He was about to witness the desolation of the people, and in the midst of it, in answer to their inquiries, he would be called upon to show them the relation of their sorrows to their sin. It was indeed a charge calculated to make the stoutest heart quail. And this was Jeremiah's response. It was an affirmation of complete confidence. He realized what his work would mean. That is revealed in his reference to his affliction. But in the processes of communion he had learned the sufficiency of Jehovah for all his need. His weakness he knew; but Jehovah was his strength. The attacks which would be made upon, him he recognized; but Jehovah would be his stronghold. The sorrows coming to him he foresaw; but Jehovah would be his refuge. Moreover, if the rest of this reply of the prophet be read, it will be seen that he was not only confident in Jehovah for himself, but in perfect agreement with the righteousness and sufficiency of the Divine method. Here the precious is set free from the vile, and the prophet is equipped to be the mouth of Jehovah.
A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary.
Thus Jeremiah answered the message in which Jehovah had declared that the man who trusts in man is cursed; and that the man who trusts in Him is blessed. This may be described as one of the greatest words of the Old Testament. It expresses the deepest secret of life; the discovery of which gives the soul perpetual peace and poise and power, whatever may be the circumstances of the passing hour. Two words stand out from the rest - the words throne and sanctuary. The first stands for authority, executive action, government. The second represents retreat, refuge, security. In this declaration the ideas are brought into relationship. The throne is sanctuary; in the authority, the executive action, the government of that throne, man finds the place of safety and refuge from all the forces which are against him. Let us be careful to get our emphasis accurately. The. statement is not that the sanctuary is the throne, as though God was ruling by mercy, and so man might find deliverance from the requirement of His government under the shelter of that mercy. It is rather that the throne is the sanctuary; that is, that God reigns, and always reigns without deviation from the eternal principles, and that man finds security only as he is brought into conformity with those principles. Observe that the prophet emphasized the eternal fact of the Throne as he described it as "on high from the beginning." The word "set" in our translations is supplied; it is not in the Hebrew text, and it somewhat robs the idea of its force. The Throne was in no sense "set" on high, if that suggests the time element. It is "on high from the beginning" - that is, eternally. These words are the more forceful as to the relation between government and grace, when we see in the midst of the Throne a Lamb, as it had been slain.
I went down to the potter's house, and behold, he wrought his work on the wheels.
Jehovah sent Jeremiah to the potter's house for an interpretation of the activity of that Throne, the eternity of which he had confessed; and in which he knew there was sanctuary for man. Could any illustration be imagined at once so simple and so sublime? There, in that potter's house, everything was reduced to simplicity, almost to poverty. All the accidental trappings usually associated with the conceptions of kingship were conspicuous by their absence. When he looked, he saw a man, a wheel revolving in answer to the movement of the foot of that man, clay kept in motion by that moving wheel, the hands of that man upon that clay moulding it. He saw as he watched, that a thought in the mind of the potter was coming into manifestation in the clay as it yielded to the pressure of the potter's hands, brought persistently round to that pressure by the wheel revolving also by the power of the potter. He saw that the clay was powerless, and yet realized a high destiny, as in plastic yielding it answered the hands of the potter. But he saw more. Something happened as he watched. The clay was suddenly marred, twisted; it failed to express the potter's thought. No explanation of the marring is given; the fact is stated. What then? He saw the potter did not abandon it. "He made it again another vessel." And the re-made vessel was conformed to the thought of the potter, it was "as seemed good to the potter to make it." Thus he discovered that there was more than mechanism in the activity of the Throne. There was a mind, capable of adapting method to meet failure, and in such wise as to realize purpose in spite of failure. Thus in the material poverty of the potter's house, Jeremiah saw the unveiling of the riches of government and grace in the exercise of Divine sovereignty.
Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again.
It is impossible to escape from the impression of intimate relation between this chapter and the preceding one. There the prophet was sent to the house of the potter to watch him at work on the wheels, and the suggestive picture had been full of illumination. Now he was commanded to "buy a potter's earthen bottle," the finished product of the potter's house, and to enforce a message of judgment on sin, by breaking that vessel in pieces. Here, then, at once is the corrective of any tendency to make improper use of the facts disclosed in the potter's house. There God was revealed as making again a marred vessel. That was the unveiling of sovereignty acting in redemption and restoration. But let no man or nation presume upon that revelation, for here the Potter is disclosed as taking a vessel, formed by His own hands and breaking it so that it "cannot be made whole again." This is the revelation of another activity of sovereignty; and it is as beneficent in the interest of the complete purpose of the Love of God, as is the redeeming activity. If man or nation, in spite of all the patient grace of God, persist in courses of evil and rebellion, then He will break in pieces. To find in the redeeming purpose of Jehovah a tolerance of sin, is of all evils the most terrible. To continue in sin that grace may abound is the sin which puts the soul outside the sphere of grace, and brings it into the realm of the breaking, destructive activity of the eternal throne. And were it otherwise neither earth nor heaven would be safe.
And if I say, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I Cannot contain.
This chapter opens with a paragraph of history. It recounts how Jeremiah was persecuted because of the messages he had delivered; in which he had foretold the destruction of the city on account of its sin. Pashbur, the chief Temple officer, smote the prophet, and put him in the stocks. The expression "smote Jeremiah" is a technical one, and in all likelihood means that the official scourging of "forty stripes save one" was administered. After that, he was placed in the pillory, an object for the derision of men. Following this story we have the account of the outpouring of the prophet's soul. The dominant note of this outpouring is one of complaint, and yet other notes mingle with that note, those of confidence, of triumph, even of song. It is a remarkable unveiling of his state of heart, of the conflicting emotions which swept him like a storm, making him sing to Jehovah, and curse the day he was born. In these particular words we see the prophet in the deepest things of that consciousness which made him so great. Under the stress and strain of his sufferings, he was tempted to abandon his work, to refuse to speak any more in the name of Jehovah. But when he attempted thus to find release from suffering in silence, it was impossible; for such silence became more intolerable than suffering; the word became a fire in his bones, so that he could not contain himself. This is, the burden of the Word of Jehovah. Perhaps only those who have experienced it can understand it. To publish that word at times brings suffering; but to refrain brings far more terrible suffering. Paul understood this when he said, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel."
Peradventure the Lord will deal with us according to all His wondrous works.
These were the words of Zedekiah, a man of whom the historic recorder said: "He did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah" (2 Kings 24:19). By this time the city was invested by the hosts of Nebuchadnezzar. Thus the prediction of Jeremiah which had stirred the rulers to anger, was approaching fulfilment. The king, and those associated with him politically were in favour of rebellion against the Babylonian yoke. To cast off that yoke, would be to falsify the prediction of Jeremiah. While moving in that direction, the king sent to the prophet, asking that, he inquire of Jehovah, and the purpose of the inquiry was the desire thus expressed: "Peradventure Jehovah will deal with us according to all His wondrous works." What a revelation this is of the degraded attitude which is possible to the heart of man toward God. Here was a king, politically planning to take action in order to invalidate the declared purpose of God; yet in his heart there was a conviction of the power of God; and he positively dared to make the attempt to seek for the intervention of that power in some way, so that his own ends might be served. The answer to such "Peradventure" is one of unequivocal certainty. Jehovah will deal with men according to His wondrous works; but that, not in order to deliver rebellious souls from the just punishment of their iniquity, but rather to hand them over to that punishment in spite of all the cleverness of their policies. And yet even in the darkest hour the Divine government offers to the rebellious heart of man a way of escape. Read carefully the prophetic word to "the house of the king," as it is found in the eleventh verse.
Hear the word of the Lord; O king of Judah.
With this chapter a section begins which, continues through chapter 27. It contains, first, a message to Zedekiah directly; and then is made up of messages concerning his three predecessors, Jehouhaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin; and concerning the false prophets. Jeremiah was commanded to go to the house of the king of Judah, to deliver the word of Jehovah. This he did, delivering these messages, in which he repeated some of those which he had given during the reigns of these predecessors. A glance ahead to 27:12 will show where these particular messages ended. Observe the opening words of this chapter (22): "Thus said Jehovah." The revised version has restored the past tense here accurately. Therefore, we are to understand that in the arrangement of the Book we are now taken back to a visit which Jeremiah had made to Zedekiah in the earlier days of his reign. All that the prophet said to him then should have saved him from his evil courses, had he been ready to hear and obey the word of Jehovah. The word of Jehovah to kings, as to people, is the word of wisdom. Hearing it, and obeying it, they execute judgment and righteousness, and so establish their kingdoms in strength. To neglect that word, or to rebel against it, in favour of policies resulting from watching events, observing circumstances, and making calculations, is to bring destruction, inevitably and irrevocably. The centuries run their course, kings rise and fall, kingdoms advance and perish, and we watch the process, and see that there is but one hope for kings and kingdoms; and that is that they should hear the Word of Jehovah, and hearing, obey.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you; they teach you vanity; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.
This chapter is occupied with the prophet's denunciation of the false rulers of the nation - kings, prophets, and priests. It is chiefly occupied with the prophets, and is conspicuous as a revelation of the appalling nature of the evil of false-prophesying. There can be no peril graver to humanity than that of men who profess to be dealing with the spiritual, that is with the inspirational things of life, when such men are uttering falsehood. Better, far better, that there should be no prophets, no messengers dealing with these spiritual facts and forces, than that they should be misinterpreted. Man is so constituted that he ever seeks in some form for direction from the spiritual world that lies behind all material manifestations and forms. This quest creates the opportunity of evil men, who having no true light from that world, yet speak as though they had, and so mislead those who hear them. The difference between the false and the true is clearly shown in these words. The false prophet speaks a vision of his own heart; the true utters the message which he has received from the mouth of Jehovah. The false prophet, then, is the man who observes events, compares them, deduces from his observations and comparisons certain conclusions, which he then declares as a message from the spiritual world. The true prophet lives in communion with God, waits for the making known of His will, and then declares that will, showing its bearing upon events. The first is necessarily limited by his own futile mind, and influenced by his own desires. The second is illuminated and inspired by the final Truth. The first teaches vanity. The second teaches wisdom.
... Figs; the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, that cannot be eaten, they are so bad.
This is the prophet's description of the vision which was given to him of "two baskets of figs set before the temple of Jehovah." The oracle contained in this chapter records that vision, and gives Jehovah's explanation of it to His servant. Let us remember that we are still considering the messages which Jeremiah delivered on the occasion of his visit under Divine command to the house of Zedekiah. In this message then he contrasted the captives who had been carried away into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar in the reign of Jehoiakim, with those who had remained, and were now still in the city and land under the rule of Zedekiah. It was a startling comparison. It is most natural to suppose that those remaining would lay the flattering unction to their souls that those carried away were the more corrupt. This message was in direct contradiction of the false assumption. Those who had gone, were being prepared by the purifying force of their suffering for return. The eyes of Jehovah were upon them for good. Those remaining, had refused to profit by the warning of their brethren's chastisement, and were continuing in the same ways of evil. Thus they were adding to their corruption, and so hastening a judgment upon themselves yet more terrible and more complete. When men refuse to learn the lessons taught by the discipline of others, they add an element of wickedness to their ways, which brings about a more hopeless condition of corruption. When the calamities of Divine judgment overtake men, if we are immune, let us profit by the solemn warning, and cleanse ourselves from the sins which brought them into calamity. To fail to do so is to sin a deeper sin than they, and so to insure a severer judgment.
The word that came to Jeremiah ... in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.
There are those who say that the messages of Jeremiah in the house of Zedekiah ended with the previous chapter. Personally, I do not so understand the arrangement. I believe that we are still listening to his message upon that occasion; but he goes back and repeats the message delivered in the reign of Jehoiakim, and that because of its bearing upon the situation under Zedekiah. In doing so, he was very careful to date the original uttering of this message. It was delivered in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, and the twenty-third of his own prophetic ministry. All he then said he now repeated. Some of it was in process of fulfilment, for the hour of the fall of the city was approaching. That being so, it was intended to be an argument with Zedekiah concerning the fulfilment of the rest. The message in its entirety was one of judgment. It described the processes of the Divine procedure in judgment in enlarging circles. First, there would be the judgment of Judah, Babylon being the instrument. Then would follow the judgment of Babylon by many nations. Then the judgment of the nations shall follow. Finally, the whole earth will, be involved. In that final judgment those principally named are the Shepherds, the principal of the flock. Thus the judgment of Jehovah is seen as proceeding to bring to naught all false authority and rule and power, in order to the establishment of His own authority and rule and power. This Divine activity is persistent in human history. To our thinking at times, the process is a slow one, but it is sure, and it is wholly beneficent in its intention, and will be vindicated so in its ultimate victory. This is our only hope for humanity, but it is a blessed hope as for us it is made more sure in meaning and in certainty, as the vision is interpreted in Christ.
It may be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way; that I may repent Me of the evil which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
Still speaking in the house of Zedekiah, the prophet went back to a yet earlier period, to the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, and that in order to recount the words which Jehovah had then charged him to utter, and to record the incident of how he was threatened with death, but saved by the intervention of the princes of Judah. This was intended to recall Zedekiah to the recognition of the patience of Jehovah. By sending His word, He had created an opportunity for the people to turn from evil, and so escape the purposed punishment. In these particular words this conception of Jehovah as capable of repentance, that is, of change of mind and method, is brought out. It is admittedly a difficult idea, and one which superficial or mechanical thinking about God rejects. Nevertheless, it constantly appears in these Divine oracles, and as a matter of fact emphasizes the unchangeable nature of the purpose of God. It is because He never changes in His love, and His determination to bless, that He changes His method. When man repents of loyalty and turns to rebellion, God changes His method of blessing, and turns to that of punishment. When man repents of his rebellion, and turns back to loyalty, God changes His method of punishment, and turns again to mercy and blessing. Thus the changes of the method of God are ever due to the immutability of His love. The pride of man which says "Because I have said I will do thus and so, I must do it, however much the conditions have changed," cannot be predicated of God. That in Him which changes not is His purpose of love and holiness. All His activities change in consonance with these unchangeable things.
... Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why will ye die?
Jeremiah 27:12, 13
This was the prophet's appeal to Zedekiah, and to the nation through him, to submit themselves to the discipline which their sins had made inevitable. The situation was acute. Jeremiah was foretelling with determined insistence the fall of the city. The false prophets were declaring that the city was safe, and were counselling resistance to the king of Babylon. All the politicians, and the king, were influenced by these prophets, because their statements harmonized with their own desires. Jeremiah knew that such resistance was not only useless, but was wicked, and would inevitably bring yet worse sufferings upon the people. He plainly declared that Nebuchadnezzar was in this hour the servant and instrument of Jehovah; and, therefore, to rebel against him was to rebel against God, and that was futile and the ultimate in wickedness. When God chastises for sin, the true action is that of yielding to His discipline, by accepting the stroke which He sends. When we do so, we find that the suffering 'is the way of restoration. To rebel against such suffering, and to oppose our wills and our strength to it, is not to escape it, but to miss its restoring intention, and to involve ourselves in more terrible suffering. It was an understanding of this which made David, when he had sinned in numbering the people from a wrong motive, say: "Let us fall now into the hand of Jehovah; for His mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man."
The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie.
In this chapter we have a page of history graphically illustrating one of the chief difficulties with which Jeremiah had to contend in the exercise of his ministry. It is the story of Hananiah, one of the false prophets, probably the chief of them. His message is recorded, and serves to show how it might easily deceive the people. Its introductory formula was that of the true prophets, "Thus speaketh Jehovah of Hosts, the God of Israel." It was characterized by the element of clear and definite prediction, as it declared that in two years the yoke of the King of Babylon would be broken. That prediction harmonized with the desires of the people, and the findings of the politicians. Of course this was an intended contradiction of Jeremiah's message, which foretold a period of seventy years of captivity. The sin of such prophesying is revealed in these words of Jeremiah to Hananiah, "Thou makest this people to trust in a lie." How much of human prophesying is covered by that word! All those philosophies which attempt to interpret life without the light of revelation - all so-called theologies, which result from speculations which invalidate the revelation; make men trust in lies, and that because they are the utterances of men not sent by Jehovah. We may say dogmatically that no message to men, on any subject, is of any value, save as it is uttered by the messengers of Jehovah, for He alone knows the ultimate truth, and therefore He alone is able to direct the ways of men. Whether in theology, sociology, or economics, the speculations of men are lies, trusting in which men insure their own undoing. We should earnestly heed the words of Jesus, "Beware of false prophets."
Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.
This letter of Jeremiah proves that the popular school of prophecy at the time, that is, the school which preached rebellion against Babylon, and denied the messages of Jeremiah, had its messengers, not only in Jerusalem, but in Babylon among the captives there. By their messages a false hope of speedy return was created, threatening to produce unrest amongst them. This was undoubtedly what the false prophets, and the politicians influenced by them, desired. So they hoped to stir up the spirit of rebellion, and insure the fulfilment of their prophesyings, and the successful issue of their policies. Confident in the certainty that the programme of God must be carried out, Jeremiah sent this letter to them, charging them to settle where they were, giving no heed to these lying spirits. Seventy years were before them. Let them act accordingly. In the midst of this counsel, these words occur, and they contain a principle of persistent application. They constitute an appeal for sanity. When in the grip of adverse circumstances which are the result of the Divine will, let men endeavour to secure the best conditions possible, and let them do it by the best means, by prayer. Jeremiah had foretold the ultimate overthrow of Babylon with no uncertain sound. Of that issue there could be no doubt. But so long as it remained, and they were held there as captives by the will of God, let them secure peace for themselves, by seeking the peace of the city, and that by prayer. The advice was that of the highest religious feeling, and it was that of practical common sense. These two things are never divorced.
... till He have performed the intents of His heart.
This is the first of four most wonderful chapters. They are central to the whole Book, and in spite of all its warnings, tears, solemnities, reveal its deepest note. They record Jeremiah's prophecies of hope. The remarkable thing. about them is that they were delivered in the very darkest period, and from the midst of circumstances which were calculated to fill the heart with despair. The city was invested, its fall was imminent, its people were already suffering from pestilence and famine: and the prophet was in prison. Out of that prison, and amid that darkness, these prophecies were uttered. The first message was of the nature of a song. It occupies this and the following chapters. Its theme is that of the restoration of the people of God. This chapter contains the first movement of that song, that which dealt with the process of restoration. It recognized the trouble of the people, their sorrows, their sufferings; but showed that these are the methods which produce the triumph. It most forcefully described the friendlessness of the nation in the hours of its desolation; but saw it brought by the experiences of that friendlessness into the condition of favour with God. All is summarized in the concluding paragraph; in which "the tempest of Jehovah," "His wrath," "the fierce anger of Jehovah," are seen as the ministers of what is in His heart. Thus do these Divine oracles perpetually and persistently unveil the deepest fact about God, as being that of the intent of His heart, the purpose of His love. All the ways of His wrath, made inevitable by human sin, must be interpreted by that intent. When this is done, songs issue out of the darkness, and from the prison.
I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write
In this chapter the great song of restoration is continued and completed. It describes in language full of poetic beauty the restored order. The city is to be rebuilt; to it, scattered Israel is to be regathered; all sorrow and lamentations are to cease; there is to be perfect contentment and satisfaction with the Divine government and administration; and all this is to be established and perpetuated by a new covenant. The nature of that covenant is revealed in the words we have emphasized. The old covenant was based upon a law given to them, set before their eyes, on which they were to look, which they must obey. Their whole history had been, and may it not be said, still is, that of the breaking of this covenant, by the breaking of that law. The new covenant will still provide a law, but no longer as external and objective; it will be internal and subjective. That is necessarily to say that the way of restoration of order will come by a change of heart, and spirit, in which the law of Jehovah is made known in spiritual communion, and obeyed in perfect agreement and in delight. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews quoted these words, as made possible of fulfilment through the One sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and by the witness of the Spirit. Thus we today are living under this covenant, and those of the seed of Israel, who believe in Jesus as Messiah, enter also at once into the same covenant relationship with Jehovah. For Israel as a whole the prophecy is not yet fulfilled; but it will be, and there is no word of this glorious song of restoration which will not be fulfilled to the letter.
Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.
In this chapter we have the account of a message of Jeremiah, in which he told the story of a transaction, that of buying a field in his native place of Anathoth, and gave an interpretation of it. The act was remarkable in view of the conditions. The land was about to pass to Babylon, and the prophet was himself in prison. Moreover, when he had completed the purchase he was perplexed, and said so in his communion with God (see verse 25). The explanation of the act given to him, and by him announced, was that this purchase of land was a sign that God would restore the land to the people. It was not a sign of Jeremiah's faith, for he was perplexed, while obedient. The sign was in the command; it was God's sign to His servant. The impressive fact as to Jeremiah is that he was obedient even though perplexed. When we ask for the secret of that obedience, we find it in his assurance that the command was indeed the command of God. Now observe the reason of that certainty. He became certain when Hananiah came and urged him to buy. He had heard the word of Jehovah already, but evidently was not sure that it was His word. When the offer came to him, he was made sure. This is every suggestive. It would seem that the word of Jehovah came to him as an impression, as it so often comes to us. We often have impressions which seem to be from the Lord. Let us rest assured that what He commands He will make possible. When the call is followed by the open door, we need have no hesitation. Until the clear way is marked 'tis often the highest wisdom to wait.
I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against Me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned against Me, and whereby they have transgressed against Me.
This chapter contains the second word of Jehovah to Jeremiah while he was in the prison, and it is a song in celebration of the assured ultimate restoration. That restoration is described first as moral and then as material; the method of its coming through the Branch of righteousness, the King Priest, is declared; and its certainty is affirmed by the signs of day and night. The words we have emphasized are those which reveal the fact that restoration to material conditions of well-being can only come through restoration of a true moral order. The two words of paramount significance in this promise are the words "cleanse" and "pardon." The first indicates a process by which a condition is created. The second describes an act by which a relationship is restored. Cleansing removes guilt, pollution, defilement, morally. Pardon brings the offender back into relationship of favour and fellowship. The order of statement is the order of procedure, and of experience. God never pardons polluted souls; He first cleanses them. Pardon, apart from the communication of purity, would perpetuate pollution, and so violate the moral order beyond remedy. It is to this profound work of cleansing the human soul in order to its pardon, that God in grace committed Himself in all the promises made to His sinning people; and this is what He accomplished in the mystery of that passion which for us had unveiling in the Cross. Let us never insult that Cross by thinking of it as a means by which we obtain forgiveness, save on the basis of complete cleansing.
Ye turned and profaned My name.
In this chapter we have an arresting story. The city was closely besieged, and the activity of the hosts of Nebuchadnezzar was moving toward its capture. Jeremiah was still insisting upon the inevitability of this consummation, because it was so ordained of God. Right in the midst of these circumstances, and perhaps as the result of the pressure of them, a wrong was committed. In fulfilment of the Divine law, the proclamation of liberty to Hebrew man-servants and maid-servants had been made. Then all this was changed, the, liberty was withdrawn, and those thus set free were compelled to return to their subjection. As we have said, the action may have been caused by the difficulty of the hour, taking the form of a State conscription of labour. Whatever the reason for the action, this prophetic message shows that it met with the disapproval of God, and called forth His anger. This is arresting, as it reveals to us that no political necessity must be made the reason for breaking a Divine law, and doing wrong to our fellow-man. The deepest note in such sin is made clear in these words - "Ye turned, and profaned My name." The liberty given to these men-servants and maid-servants was by command of God. Those finding it would realize this and in their souls bless the name of Jehovah. Its withdrawal would create in the minds of the sufferers a reaction in their thought of God Himself. That is the ultimate wrong; and those who cause it are to blame. Let us ponder this. All injustice of man to man creates in the mind of those who suffer, questionings about God. Thus His name is profaned; and His anger is ever stirred against those causing the profanation. The wrong of man to man inflicts on God a deeper wrong.
The words of Jonadab ... are performed; ... but ... ye have not hearkened unto Me.
Thus, from a fuller statement, we select the central words as they reveal the very heart of the lesson which the incident is intended to teach. We notice, first, that the dating of this incident, and that of the next chapter, takes us back at least seventeen years from that of the preceding messages. This either means that these chapters are out of place in the sequence of Jeremiah's ministry; or - and this is our view - that in the days of the siege he recounted these events of an earlier period. The incident itself was that of the offering of wine to the Rechabites, and their refusal to touch it. We of course understand that it was known that they would refuse, and the offer was made in order to elicit that refusal. Here was the whole situation. Men were absolutely loyal to a command laid upon them by their fore-runner Jonadab; while the people of God refused His speaking, which was persistent through His messengers. How many such illustrations might be adduced in the history of the people of God. Men are often more loyal to a family tradition than they are to the will of God as it is immediately and continuously made known to them. Let us carefully observe that such loyalty to tradition is not wrong, if that tradition be founded upon right. The Rechabites were not rebuked for their loyalty, but rather commended and rewarded. The teaching is by contrast. Men who are true to a right principle when it is made binding by the will of a dead ancestor, ware disloyal to the highest things when they are demanded by the living God. It is indeed a strange mystery; but it is a fact in human experience. Be it ours, while true to all good tradition, to be far more zealous to obey the will of our God!
Take thee again another roll, and write in it.
This incident has practically the same dating as the former one. But the story of the chapter records, not only the incident of the writing and destruction of the first roll; but that of the writing of the second, and the adding to it of many other like words. Thus, in all probability we have the account of a message in which Jeremiah told the story in the days of Zedekiah and the siege. The story is full of detail and of suggestiveness. At a time when Jeremiah was shut up, and unable to go into the house of the Lord, he was commanded to write. This he did, and Baruch was his scribe. The writing being completed, Baruch was sent to read it. Eventually it came to the King. So hardened were the King and those about him, that before the reading of the roll was completed, "when Jehudi had read three or four leaves," the King cut it up and cast it into the fire and "they were not afraid, nor rent their garments." Sin may so deaden spiritual and moral faculties, that men will without fear cast the messages of God to the fire, and commit His messengers to death. But such action never destroys the Word of God, nor invalidates its findings. That Word lives, and is preserved, in the mind of God. His servants are still at His disposal. Another roll 'was written, and all its statements were carried out irrevocably. It is always so. Herod may imprison John; but Jesus moves into his tetrarchy of Galilee and delivers the message which John had delivered. An apostate Church may buy and burn copies of the Scriptures; but their number will multiply until it is impossible to commit them to burning. "All flesh is as grass; but the word of the Lord abideth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:24, 25).
And the king asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the Lord? And Jeremiah said, There is!
This chapter records a remarkable interlude in the experience of the besieged city. Suddenly, for a brief space, the siege was lifted. The army of Pharaoh had moved out of Egypt, and the Chaldean army, fearing trouble from that quartet, broke the siege in order to deal with this new menace. Directly that Egyptian army moved, Jeremiah warned the people that no hope was to be entertained on that account. Nevertheless it is evident that the people were excited by the movement, and full of expectancy that the fate predicted by the prophet might be averted. It was under these circumstances that the king sent for the prophet, and asked this question, and received this answer: Jeremiah proceeding to declare, that in spite of all appearances, the Divine word would be fulfilled. That the king asked his question secretly, goes to show that it was a question of fear; fear growing out of the fact that, in spite of all this man's weakness and wickedness, he knew the power of God. Under stress of such fear this question is often asked, and there is always the same answer - "There is!" There is always a word from Jehovah; and no change in circumstances causes a change in His Word. His Word is never void of power, and proceeds irresistibly to accomplish that which He pleases. A change of heart in man will produce a change in the attitude and activity of God; but a change in circumstances, never.
And Zedekiah the king said, Behold he is in your hand; for the king is not he that can do anything against you.
What a revelation we have in these words of the weakness and wickedness of Zedekiah. They were spoken to men who were clamouring for the blood of the prophet. These clamouring princes were unquestionably the politicians who had influenced the king against the word of the prophet; and had advocated resistance to Babylon when Jeremiah had persistently declared its futility, and had urged king and nation to yield to the Divine chastisement. There can be no question that Zedekiah had no desire to see Jeremiah destroyed, but he felt that he was helpless, and in these Words confessed his impotence. Thus he sought to fling the blame upon them, and to escape responsibility himself. It was a weak and unwarranted position. If it were true that he had so passed into their hands that he was then helpless, it was also true that his passing into their hands was the result of his original and persistent disobedience to the voice of that great prophet who had exercised his ministry to the people during the whole period of his reign. We have modern examples of this same kind of endeavour to shift a responsibility for wrong done. It cannot be thus shifted. The first sin of yielding to false policies in disobedience to Divine revelation, involves the helplessness which follows, which thus remains personal sin. The truth applies to the individual. That a man was drunk when he murdered his victim does not exonerate him from blame. He had no business to be drunk. That a man is outvoted in the counsel of the ungodly does not excuse him. He has no right to be in association with such counsel.
... He went out the way of the Arabah.
After eighteen months of siege the city fell. The word of Jehovah was verified; the lying of the false prophets was contradicted. The folly and futility of the politicians who had counselled resistance was revealed; the wisdom of the way to which Jeremiah had called was demonstrated. It was now too late to take that moderate course of willing submission to the yoke of Babylon because it was the will of God that they should do so. This, the King, and politicians, and people, urged by false prophets, had refused to do. Now the stroke had fallen; and, because of their persistent opposition to the Chaldeans, which, in view of Jeremiah's ministry, was rebellion against Jehovah, there would be no amelioration of that stroke. When in the gate of the city of God the princes of Babylon were seen sitting, Zedekiah fled, and these words show the direction he took. He set his face toward the wilderness beyond Jordan, the region in which for forty years his nation had been led when they had no king other than God. Whereas it is not suggested that Zedekiah had any reason for this choice of direction other than that of a desire for safety in solitude, it is suggestive that this last of the line of kings "Like the nations" (to quote the words of the clamour which was that of the rejection of Jehovah as King in the long ago), should set his face to that region in the ultimate hour of catastrophe. But he never reached that wilderness. He was captured in the plains of Jericho, before he crossed the Jordan. The God Who had governed and led His people there, excluded this fugitive from the region. There is no escape from God possible. We must have to do with Him. In obedience we may find His Grace. In disobedience we can only know His wrath.
Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, to Mizpah, and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.
We now reach the last phase in the ministry of Jeremiah, that of the period after the fall of the city, and the carrying away of the people into captivity. This section of the book consists of a mixture of history and prophetic utterance, the history in each case giving us the background of the prophetic word, and thus the reason for it. It is quite evident, and remarkable, that the Babylonian authorities were conscious of the government of Jehovah, and that Jeremiah had been His messenger. This knowledge, on their own confession, accounted for the leniency with which he was treated. They left him free to go where he would; offering him protection and provision if he cared to go to Babylon. In these words we discover his choice. There had been left in the land he loved so well, a remnant, poor and weak and small. Jeremiah chose to remain among them. This remnant was placed under the governorship of Gedaliah, and it was increased by the return of Jews who were refugees in Moab, in Ammon, and in Edom. This Gedaliah was a good governor as to his home administration, but too confiding and unsuspicious, as the sequel will show. It is a revealing fact of the character of Jeremiah, that when, undoubtedly, he might have secured safety and even comfort for himself in Babylon, he elected to remain in his own land and among the weak remnant of his own people. He remained to utter the word of Jehovah to them for their good; but as we shall see, so far as producing results among them was concerned, that ministry was a failure to the end. Nevertheless it was successful in the highest sense, because he never failed to speak for God; and that is the only responsibility resting upon a prophet.
Because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had slain Gedaliah.
The incompleteness of this quotation is obvious. The "because" refers to the purpose recorded in the previous verse, and these words give the reason as they summarize the story of the chapter. That story is concerned with the slaying of the governor Gedaliah by Ishmael, who had come out of Ammon. Having accomplished this evil act, this man had carried away into captivity the residue of the people who were in Mizpah. Under the leadership of Johanan, Ishmael was routed, and the captives were brought back. But fear was in their hearts, and not the fear of the Ammonites, but the fear of the Chaldeans. It should be remembered that Gedaliah was one of themselves, and the son of an old-time friend of the prophet. (Compare verse 5 with chapter 26, verse 24.) Johanan did not know who might be appointed as governor in his place, and he feared a new oppression under some Chaldean ruler. The purpose he had was to lead the people into Egypt, in order that they might be safe from the peril, as he saw it. This was a persistence of the policy which for many years Jeremiah had opposed. It was a looking to Egypt for safety, in an apparent forgetfulness of God. It is noticeable that in the words of this Johanan, reported in the previous chapter, and in this one, there was no reference to God. They were all characterized by human insight and foresight, but evidenced no recognition of God. Thus may men hear the word of the Lord, live through experiences in which it is vindicated, and yet ignore it.
Ye have dealt deceitfully against your own souls.
These words of Jeremiah flash the light into the whole situation described in this chapter. Johanan, having come to a conclusion in the light of his own astuteness, came with all the people and asked Jeremiah to pray for them in view of their weakness, asking that Jehovah would show them the way, promising to obey. Jeremiah responded to their appeal, sought the mind of God, and with great plainness of speech told them that there must be no going to Egypt for safety. If they would abide in that land, God would protect them from all dangers; if they went to Egypt, they would perish. It is evident that Jeremiah knew that their decision was already made, for in the course of this address, making known the mind of Jehovah, he rebuked them for refusing to obey. It was in this rebuke that he used these words. It is possible to deal deceitfully with our own souls. We do so, as these people did, whenever we ask for Divine guidance, having previously decided as to what our course of action is to be. Such praying is only a superstitious activity. It is of the nature of gambling with God. We pray, hoping that His answer will square with our own desires, for if it does, we feel that we shall have some sort of reinforcement. But if His decision be against our desires, then we mean to follow our desires. What a revelation such an attitude is of lack of real confidence in God; and moreover, what a revelation of baseness. Yet this is a peril constantly threatening us, and therefore we need to recognize persistently our need that our prayers should be guided by the Holy Spirit. When prayer is conceived of as a means of getting our own desires fulfilled, it is a superstition.
Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah in Tahpanhes.
In spite of the prophetic warnings, the "proud men" (see verse 2), had their way, and, lacking the fear of Jehovah, and so mastered by the fear of the Chaldeans, the people went down into Egypt. Tahpanhes was on the Egyptian frontier; and there it was necessary for the people to halt in order to deal with the Egyptian authorities, for in that place Pharaoh had a palace. Jeremiah, who failed to dissuade them from the going, did not abandon them, but accompanied them. The probability is that his going was of compulsion, however. Johanan would fear leaving him or Baruch where they might have communication with the Chaldean ruler. Their suspicion of Baruch was avowed (see verse 3). Thus the false policy prevailed. They ignored the word of Jehovah, and, indeed, openly and wilfully refused it, consoling themselves by denying that it was the word of Jehovah (see verse 2). But they had not escaped from God, nor passed beyond the reach of His word. That word can reach men in Egypt as surely as in Palestine; it can find utterance in Tahpanhes as certainly as in Jerusalem or at Mizpah. And when it is heard, it speaks the same message. These people had not crossed the frontiers of the Divine government, if they had crossed those of their land. The protection of Egypt against Chaldea was futile, when God had ordered the destruction of Egypt by Chaldea. Such was the word of Jehovah in Tahpanhes; and such is the word of Jehovah today to men who seek safety for themselves in any way, or by any policies, which involve disobedience to His law.
We will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth …
In this chapter we have the last of the messages of Jeremiah which are dated consecutively. It, has the same note of determined loyalty to the word of Jehovah against all the false findings of human rebellion and opinion. The circumstances are startling. These people were openly and defiantly turning from the worship of Jehovah to that of the moon, that is the queen of heaven. These particular words were the words of the women, although the men were with them, and definitely associated themselves with the decision. That this was so, is seen in the concluding words, which claimed that they did nothing, as they said, "without our husbands." Moreover, it was a definite return to practices which had been rebuked long ago (see chapter 7, verses 17, 18). This they affirmed, and declared that when they had worshipped the queen of heaven they had known plenty and prosperity. So do men misread history, when their hearts are set on evil. The last message of Jeremiah corrected that false reading, as it pointed out that the very calamitous situation in which they found themselves, exiled from their own land was due to their apostasy from Jehovah. Finally he gave them the sign of a prediction that the king of Egypt should be delivered into the hands of his enemies, as Zedekiah had been delivered into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. When men or nations come to definite decision, such as that expressed by these people in these words, the government of God compels them to abide by that decision to its ultimate issue.
Seekest thou great things for thyself ? Seek them not.
This short chapter is very arresting and interesting. It contains a word of Jehovah through Jeremiah to one man. This man was Baruch. He was most evidently in full sympathy with Jeremiah, and had been closely associated with him in his ministry. He it was who had written the prophetic messages in the days of Jehoiakim, and had read them to the princes and the King. He it was who, after the King had mutilated and burnt that first roll, had written another, adding many words to it. It is most probable that he wrote the whole of the book. Observe the care with which the writer draws attention to the fact that the final action (chapter 52) was not the composition of the prophet, by the words with which he closed the previous one: "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah" (51:64). All of which makes this chapter 45 the more arresting. What lies behind it? Almost certainly a temptation which assaulted Baruch of coming to think of himself as in some way entitled to honour for his part in the work. This attitude of mind was rebuked. He was reminded that the work of building and breaking down, planting and plucking up, was Divine work. That reminder carries us back to the words of the Divine commission to Jeremiah (see chapter 1:10). For this work Jeremiah was the instrument, as he was chosen to be the mouthpiece of the word of Jehovah. Therefore, let not Baruch invade that office in desire. It is a solemn story, as it sets the prophetic gift and office in its true relation; showing that no man can assume it. It is by the will and act of God alone that a man can utter the word of God. That Baruch profited by the message is at least suggested by the incorporation of this story in the book.
Why are thy strong ones swept away? They stood not, because the Lord did drive them.
Here we begin a series of prophetic utterances concerning the surrounding nations. They were delivered at different times during Jeremiah's ministry, but are gathered together here at the close of the book. Some of them are dated; some are not. It is noticeable that in this arrangement, that concerning Egypt is placed first, and that concerning Babylon last. The vision of the prophet was that of the victory of the army of Nebuchadnezzar over Pharoahnecho at Carchemish. Graphically he told the story of the preparation, and advance, and rout of the proud hosts of Pharaoh. Contemplating that rout, the prophet uttered this question and answer. Why were the mighty hosts of Pharaoh so overcome? That was the question. The politicians in Judah had calculated for many years on the strength of Egypt, and believed that it would prove superior to that of Babylon. On the basis of human observation and calculation, they were probably right. Egypt ought to have been victorious by the standards of human preparation and power. But Egypt was defeated Why? "They stood not because Jehovah did drive them!" If we are tempted, as we sometimes are almost unconsciously, to read these records as opinions of men in the twilight, and to imagine that they were mistaken, or that God is not acting today, it is well that we think seriously of the years 1914-1918. There we have seen the same thing, and even with more startling clarity. By every law of human calculation, Germany ought to have mastered those opposed to her. She did not. She was broken and routed. Why? There is but one answer, and it is that of Jeremiah. "They stood not because Jehovah did drive them." And so it is, and will be, until the King comes. Over all the policies of men, and the clash of armies, He is reigning, and moving forward in righteousness towards the goal of His intended purpose.
The Lord will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the isle of Caphtor.
The Philistines had long been the implacable foes of the people of God. In this brief oracle the prophet foretold their doom. By a flood out of the north they were to be overcome and driven away, all their cities left bald and desolate. This reference to them as "the remnant of the isle of Caphtor," is doubly suggestive. It first described the weakness of their condition as the result of the long period of their conflicts. But it goes deeper than that. It traces them back to their origin. There can be no certainty as to the geographical situation of Caphtor. There are those who identify it with the island of Crete. While that is open to question, it is certain that these people sprung from Caphtor, wherever it was. Moses referred to the fact in the first of his great farewell discourses (see Deut. 2:23), where the Philistines are called the Avvim, and the Caphtorim. In his ministry to the northern kingdom, Amos had referred to this relation in a startling way, as he said, uttering the word of Jehovah : "Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?" (Amos 9:7.) To this Divine government of other nations Jeremiah referred as he called the Philistines "the remnant of the isle of Caphtor." It is well for us to keep ourselves reminded that what Paul wrote has the widest application. "Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also" (Rom. 3:29). It is He Who, again to quote Paul concerning the nations, "determined their appointed seasons, and the, bounds of their habitation, that they should seek God." Nations rise, and nations fall; and the reason of their rise and fall is found in their relation to Him, as that is created by their obedience or disobedience to the light given them.
Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity; therefore his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed.
This burden concerning Moab is a very remarkable one. While it foretold the judgments which would fall upon it for its sin, and that with no uncertain sound, yet the sorrows of Moab called for the lamentations of the prophet, as did those of Israel; and in the end he saw her restoration. In the burden there is perhaps nothing more suggestive than these words which we have emphasized. One secret of the corruption of Moab had been that of its comparative ease. Moab had never been removed from its own land, it had never been carried away captive. In his learned interpretation of the Moabite Stone, Dr. Ginsburg has shown that although the land of Moab was part of the inheritance of Reuben, her people had never been driven forth, but had managed to dwell there with the children of Israel. Jeremiah saw in this very lack of disturbance a secret of corruption. The conception gives us a light upon life of which we do well to take heed, especially in its application to individuals. To dwell at ease, to know nothing of disturbance, to be free from turmoil, may be to miss the very processes which make for salvation and full realization of life's deepest meaning. By upheaval and uprooting, and pouring out as from vessel to vessel, we may be in the way of deliverance from corruption. Everything depends upon our relation to God, and upon our discovery of His will and our response to it.
But afterwards I will bring again the captivity of the children of Ammon saith the Lord.
In this chapter we have five of the oracles concerning the nations. We stress these words at the close of the first. They are found also at the close of the burden of Moab (see 48:47); and again in that concerning Elam (see 49:39). Moreover, the same note of hope is found in the first concerning Egypt (see 46:26). The presence of these statements in prophecies concerned with the doom of these nations for their sins and corruption, is a revelation of how this prophet of God understood the principles of the Divine government. Jeremiah saw God governing. That fact was, of course, the rock foundation of his faith. He saw, moreover, that all His wrath was moved against sin; His stroke in judgment was upon those who were corrupt by reason of their disobedience to light. But he saw also that the ultimate purpose of the activity of wrath is that of restoration, not in the case of Israel only, but also in that of all the nations. The fact that for some of these nations no such restoration is foretold, reveals the awful possibility of resisting not only the mercy of God, but His judgments also, so completely that there is no possibility of restoration. Other prophets in their messages reveal the same conception of the discriminative justice of God in His government. It is to be observed that there is no gleam of hope for Babylon; that power, for some time material, and persistently spiritual, which was conceived in an attempt to make man great by frustrating Divine purpose. Her doom is irremediable in Old and New Testaments.
Their adversaries said, We offend not, because they have sinned against the Lord, the habitation of justice, even the Lord, the hope of their fathers.
This and the following chapter are taken up with the prophetic message concerning Babylon. It constitutes a fitting close to the record of this wonderful and heroic ministry. For long years, in spite of all the opposition of politicians inspired by false prophets, Jeremiah had declared that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon. He had lived, moreover, long enough to see his words vindicated, and the consequent confusion both of politicians and prophets. But he was under no delusion concerning Babylon itself. He knew its wickedness; and he knew that though God so overruled the affairs of men that Babylon was His instrument of chastisement, she herself must be judged of that God. In this great message of doom, the prophet rose to the highest level of sublime utterance. These particular words are very full of revealing light. In them we see what Jeremiah had more than once recognized in his earlier messages, the understanding of the sin of the people of God as being that of turning their back upon God. But here we see also how these nations had trespassed upon that knowledge, and made it the vindication of their cruelties to this people. Therefore, they themselves were to know the terribleness of the Divine wrath. The attitude of mind revealed in these words has been persistent in history. The Jew has been held in contempt as the afflicted of God, and that has been the excuse urged sometimes even by so-called Christian nations for injustice and wrong done to him. Let it never be forgotten that God has not cast off His people, though He chastise them; and whatever nation persecutes them, sooner or later knows the fire of the Divine wrath.
Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly overthrown, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the peoples shall labour for
vanity, and the nations for the fire; and they shall be weary.
Such were the concluding words of Jeremiah's burden concerning Babylon. They foretold the complete overthrow of the city itself; and the falling of poetic justice upon the nation, as her people were doomed to pass to the same experiences which they had inflicted upon other nations. So far as the city which then existed, and the nation as then constituted, were concerned, this prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. But Babylon as a spirit was not then destroyed. Like an evil spirit it found other places in which to dwell, and work its designs, and through which to exercise its dark and baleful influence among men. And this because, at the very core of Babylon, is Satan himself. Through all the centuries, that spirit has persisted, and always in conflict with God, and the spirit of faith in God. It is alive today, and working with tremendous power sin the affairs of men. It is the spirit which excludes God, and attempts to realize human possibilities along the line of human thought and endeavour, whether in policies, or wars, or education, or art, or religion. It is still saying, as at the first: "Let us make us a name." But the word of Jehovah by Jeremiah moves to its complete fulfilment. It may be that Babylon will yet have another materialization, even in the old spot, that plain of .Shinar. But the last victory will be with faith, and with God, for the anthem will yet be sung; "Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and power, belong to our God; for true and righteous are His judgments; for He hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and He bath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand."
Then a breach was made in the city.
The last sentence of the preceding chapter: "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah" leads us to the conclusion that this final chapter was written by another, most probably by Baruch. It consists of a page of history recounting the fall of Jerusalem, as found in the book of Kings, and in an earlier part of this book; but giving some extra details, and omitting some other. Its real value at the close of the book would seem to be its reiteration of the fact of the historic fulfilment of the word of Jehovah which Jeremiah had so persistently proclaimed in spite of opposition and, persecution and suffering. At last, in spite of long waiting, in spite of the hopes aroused by long siege, and once by the temporary relief of the siege by the departure of the Chaldean hosts to engage those of Egypt, "a breach was made in the city." That breach in the material structure was made by the material forces of the hosts of Babylon; but no such breach had ever been made, except for the spiritual and moral deflection of the people of God. It was the kings, the politicians, the false prophets, and the people seduced by them, that made the real breach in the city. They broke down its true fortifications, and undermined its real foundations by their infidelities. It is ever so. No hosts encamped against the people of God can gain any advantage over them, so long as they remain loyal in heart and mind and will to their One King. But when they are disloyal, and persist in disloyalty, then no force can save them from the opposing hosts.