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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Jeremiah 22

Verse 10

THE ELEGY ON SHALLUM

‘Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.’

Jeremiah 22:10

This exquisite little elegy, which was sung for many years in the city of Jerusalem, has a music and a pathos which even the least instructed and least thoughtful reader can hardly fail to recognise. Quite apart from their meaning, the mere words have a charm. They sound like a song. The very tone and rhythm of them might well move a sensitive heart to pensive reflection. Musical in themselves, they readily ally themselves with music; and, indeed, there is one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs without Words,’ to which they go as naturally as though he had had these words in his mind when he wrote the song. Who was ‘the dead’ man for whom no lament was to be sung? Of whom did the prophet speak as ‘him that goeth away’? and where did he go? and what was the tragic fate that overtook him? and what was there in him and in his fate that a whole nation should lament and bemoan him?

There were two political parties in Jerusalem, the one heathen, the other Hebrew. Each was headed by a son of Josiah. Eliakim, the elder son, was at the head of the heathen party; Shallum, a younger son, was at the head of the party which stood faithful to the laws and traditions of Israel. At first, while the memory of Josiah was still fresh, and his servants held the reins of power, they had no great difficulty in placing Shallum, although he was a younger son, on the throne of his father. Dissolute and oppressive, a doer of evil, Shallum was nevertheless lavish and ambitious, qualities which commonly win popular liking and applause. Moreover, unworthy as he was of the honour, he was the head and leader of the national, the patriotic party. Raised to the throne by the national party, Shallum naturally set himself strongly against making terms with Egypt; ‘ his voice was all for war.’ By some unexplained stratagem, however, he was enticed into visiting the Egyptian camp in Syria. Here he was treacherously seized, thrown into chains, and sent a prisoner into Egypt. And so, after a reign of only three months, he disappears from history in the darkness of an Egyptian dungeon, in which, ‘bound in misery and iron,’ he sadly wore away his life.

I. In the prophet’s conception, this was a far worse fate than death, a fate worthy of a far more passionate lamentation.—And, therefore, he bids the people cease their lamentations for Josiah, and sing an elegy for Shallum, his son. ‘Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep ye sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.’ And he assigns as a reason for his command, and a sufficient reason: ‘For thus saith the Lord, touching Shallum the son of Josiah, king of Judah, who reigned instead of Josiah his father, who went forth out of this place; He shall not return hither any more: but he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more.’

The brief reign of Shallum was the last gleam of hope that lit up the sky of Israel. Even to us, few figures are more pathetic than that of the last real king of Israel languishing in an Egyptian dungeon, and perishing perchance on the very spot in which his great ancestor, Joseph, had slept and dreamed. If we read Jeremiah’s words as though they were written on the dungeon wall of that poor discrowned king, or inscribed on his tomb, we can hardly fail to be touched and moved by their pathos: ‘Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep ye sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.’ What a tenderness there is in the words! and what an ardent undying patriotism!

II. But is there nothing more? Is there no ‘present truth,’ no eternal truth, in these words? no lesson, no consolation for us?—Surely there is, and it lies on the very surface of the words. Do not we weep for our dead? We need, then, to hear the injunction, ‘Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan them.’ Are not those whom we love sometimes carried away by divers lusts, and bound by them—carried away by them as into ‘a far country,’ where only too surely they ‘come to want’? And do we always lament their sins as much as we should lament their death, and more? If not, we too need to lay to heart the injunction, ‘Weep ye for them, rather than for the dead, for them who “go away,” away from God, away from virtue, away from peace, into that land of darkness from which it is so hard to return.’

We none of us believe that death is the greatest of evils. You would almost laugh at me if I were to ask, Do you weep and lament with equal passion when a friend, a child or parent, a husband or wife, falls into sin? If sin is more terrible to you than death, how is it that you are not more terrified by it? How is it that you are not more zealous to avert it, to save men from it, to do your part towards stamping it out of the world?

Call men to a crusade against death, in which there was even the faintest hope of victory, and who would not join it? But call them to a crusade against sin, in which there is not only the hope, but the assurance, of ultimate victory, and of victory over death as well as over sin; and who offers himself for this war? Do you? Do I? I think we may begin to have some hope of ourselves when we find that we really fear sin more than death, not for ourselves alone, but for others, and are more hurt to see them do a wrong action than to see them expire, and are even more prone to weep and lament over the guilty than over the dead.

Illustration

‘If faith were perfect in us, if love were perfect, we should not weep for the dead who die in the Lord, for to die in the Lord is to live in the Lord. Sorrow for the pious dead is selfish sorrow, and shows that we are thinking more of ourselves than of them, more of our loss than of their gain, more of the winter of our loneliness and discontent than of the summer of their joy. If you would weep unselfish tears, the tears of love, weep not for those who have gone away from you to be with God; but weep ye sore for those who have gone away from God, though they are still with you. Weep for the sinful, for the lost, who wander through the “far country,” seeking rest, and finding none; seeking food, and finding none.’

Verse 13

A BAD FOUNDATION

‘Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by injustice.’

Jeremiah 22:13 (R.V.)

I. This denunciation was probably against the king himself.—But it has a much fuller reference. He was the godless son of a godly father, whose character is sketched in three particulars. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; it was well with him; it was to know God. But the son had reversed all this. He built his palace of unrighteousness, his chambers of covetousness; but its width of space could not obliterate the memory of the forced and unpaid labour by which it had been reared. And God would plead and avenge the cause of those oppressed labourers.

When we see the splendid piles of business buildings reared by monopolists who thrive by making existence impossible to smaller but industrious tradesmen; when we hear of the vast fortunes made out of strong drink; or the manipulation of the market by millionaires, that make honest business impossible; we recur to these terrible words. God still arises to avenge the cause of the poor and needy. There is a God who judges in the earth.

II. In our vast cities it is not easy to trace the incidence of the Divine displeasure on a family of wrongdoers.—Those who reside in our villages and country towns, and have long memories, could tell of many corroborations in their own knowledge. God’s children can afford to be generous and open-handed to their employés, because their Master is rich. Let us build up our lives by righteous and loving deeds, which shall constitute a habitation in which our souls may live. This is the noblest kind of palace; and when our mortal life is closed we shall not go forth unwept. Build into the structure of your daily life unselfishness, forgivingness, mercy, strength consecrated to the cause of the weak, and wisdom given to the cause of the ignorant; and when ye fail they will welcome you into the everlasting habitations.

If, on the other hand, you persist in high-handed wrong, if you take from men more than you give to them, if your motto is to get on rather than to get up, and to get on by trampling down the weak, be sure that you are flinging yourself against the Divine order, and will inevitably come to nought.

Illustration

‘In the midst of the anguish of his times the young king, Jehoiakim, set about building a new palace for himself by forced labour. It was a wide house, with spacious chambers, ceiled with beams of cedar, and painted with vermilion; but he used his neighbour’s service without wages, and gave him not his hire. In contrast with this, his father had judged the cause of the poor and needy, and proved himself the defender of the oppressed. The contrast came out in their deaths. When Josiah died the whole land mourned; each citizen felt personally bereaved. The air resounded with the words, “Ah, Lord!” “Ah, the glory of Israel!” But his son was “buried with the burial of an ass, cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” ’

Verse 21

THE PERILS OF PROSPERITY

‘I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not My voice.’

Jeremiah 22:21

Nine centuries after Moses’ day the prophet of the broken heart utters the Divine complaint—‘I spake to thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear.’ The latest generation is linked to the earliest by the sad indictment—‘This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not My voice.’ It is a record of going steadily from bad to worse. ‘Your fathers have forsaken Me, and ye have done worse than your fathers. Therefore I will cast you out of this land into a land … where I will not shew you favour’ ( Jeremiah 16:11-13). The lessons suggested by the national history of Israel are a message to our own nation to-day. But it is into the narrower area of individual life that I wish to gather the teaching of the text. Does not every man need to be warned of the ‘dereligionising power’ of prosperity? May not all men be roughly divided into three classes: (1) those who have been prosperous; (2) those who are so; (3) those who desire and endeavour to become so? The gospel of ‘getting on’ is everywhere popular and palatable. And, under limitations, God means and helps us to ‘get on.’ The Gospel is in the interests of comfort and prosperity. ‘Godliness has promise of the life that now is.’ ‘No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.’ And it ought to be so with us, that every good gift, every fresh token of God’s fatherly love should remind us of the Giver, and bind us anew to His service. But, alas! experience teaches that the tendency of prosperity is to make men forget God. We are likely to be more devout when we are hungry than when we have ‘eaten and are full.’ Grace before meat comes more readily to our lips than grace after meat.

I. There is great danger of prosperity making us proud.—Instead of remembering that it is God who ‘giveth us power to get wealth,’ there is the constant temptation to say, ‘ My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth,’ ( Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Ezekiel reminds the captives by the river Chebar that the ‘pride’ and ‘haughtiness’ of Sodom had been associated with ‘fulness of bread.’ ‘Thine own’ is apt to become ‘mine own’ in thought and word. ‘I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there I will bestow all my fruits and my goods.’ Is it surprising that the aged Paul, writing to his young colleague, re-opens his already finished letter to add another solemn charge on this very subject? ‘Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches’ ( 1 Timothy 6:17). The prosperous ‘self-made’ man is likely to become so self-confident as to make no account of Providence. His social superiors are respectful, his equals are deferential, his inferiors are obsequious. He finds wealth to be a golden key, opening doors into places of honour and trust. The aristocrat is more likely to be deficient in money-power and brain-power. He has oftener an emptier purse and a more retreating forehead than the shrewd, energetic, persevering plutocrat. Is there not even something of the God-forgetting spirit in the common phrase, ‘a self-made man’? And yet it is just such an one who needs the reminder, ‘What hast thou which thou hast not received?’ How frequent the sight of a prosperous man ignoring the friends and companions of his earlier and humbler days; becoming ashamed of the poor and uncultured parents, whose self-denying toil first lifted him to a round of the social ladder, higher than that on which they are left to stand; exchanging the humble meeting-house, with its bald, unæsthetic worship, for a fashionable church, where the forms of worship and social status of the worshippers are accessories of a religion more ‘fit for a gentleman.’

II. Another peril incident to prosperity is worldliness.—What is worldliness? Here is a recent answer—‘Want of spiritual sympathy, spiritual perception, spiritual taste, spiritual power.’ The seen and temporal becomes everything, the unseen and eternal nothing. The gradual growth of wealth too often means the gradual eclipse of the face of God. ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’ Devotion to material interests tends to renunciation of spiritual aims, means becoming a ‘man of the world, who has his portion in this life.’ Here, then, emerges the problem of the Christian life to those engaged in trade and commerce. Engagement is likely to become immersion. The godly business man cannot help being thrown into commercial relations with secular men, to whom God and heaven are nothing but words. The reflex influence of the ungodly on the good is to make the latter insensibly set too much store on earthly possessions. In such a chilling atmosphere fervent young Christians tone down to lukewarmness, and give less and less of time and labour to personal Christian service. Little by little, first by a kind of necessity, then by habit, and at last by choice, the world draws them, broken-winged, down to its own level, and they fly no more. Bunyan’s ‘Man with the Muck-rake’ could look no way but downwards. Not that poverty is free from perils. Among the well-to-do there may be fewer theoretical unbelievers than among the poor, but there are likely to be more who show by their conduct that to them the spiritual world is a mere fancy. To ‘walk with God,’ to ‘set affection on things above,’ to ‘lay up treasure in heaven’—on whose ears are these counsels most likely to fall unheeded? On the ears of those who ‘have eaten and are full’ of earth’s good. There we shall often discover no spiritual appetite, no hunger and thirst after righteousness. It was the ‘better class’ who refused to come to the feast ( Matthew 22:5-6). It was the wealthy church of Laodicea which was profoundly unconscious of its spiritual destitution ( Revelation 3:17). Busy with ‘the straws and small sticks and dust of the floor,’ Muck-rake had no eyes for the celestial crown in the angel’s hand. A humbling picture, is it not? Yes, but, alas! it is drawn from the life.

III. A third peril attaching to prosperity is selfishness.—The increase of wealth is likely to be associated with a decrease in the spirit of beneficence. The ‘social indifferentist’ is too common among the well-to-do. In the Mosaic system this was guarded against. Provision was made for supplying the needs of ‘the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow.’ But the writings of the prophets frequently testify how grossly these Divine injunctions were violated. Even where the rich and poor dwelt together they became separated by the gulf of social disdain and cynical indifference. Are there not ominous symptoms of the same disastrous separation between rich and poor in our own time? Those who prosper in the world are tempted to withdraw from the saddening sights and bitter cries of the destitute and the neglected, to the suburbs or the country. Suburbanism, doubtless, has its advantages; but one of its greatest drawbacks is the inevitable weakening of the social bond that ought to unite the prosperous and the poor.

Illustration

‘The purse cannot answer the command—“Go, work in My vineyard.” Our Divine Exemplar shared our lot, and gave Himself for us. And as greed can only be kept in check by generous giving, so selfishness can only be crushed by personal service rendered in the spirit of the “brother’s keeper.” “Better than wealth given away are the gifts for men, which consist in gracious, tender sympathy, in love, and in tears.” Here is the secret of escape from the enchanted circle with which selfishness surrounds us. “Gold must be given, doubtless, but so must individual effort, so must the sympathy which alone can come from personal contact.” ’

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 22". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/jeremiah-22.html. 1876.