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Fifty-five Years Old
Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign in Judah. Jehoiachin reigned three months. He had hardly been a king at all before he was taken away captive. In captivity he spent thirty-seven years: therefore he was fifty-five years old when this took place. What changes may occur in life: who can tell what we may come to? After thirty-seven years there arose a king who took a fancy to Jehoiachin, and made quite a favourite of him in the court. Good fortune is often tardy in coming to men; we are impatient, we want to be taken out of prison today, and set among kings at once, and to have all our desires gratified fully, and especially at once. See what has befallen Jehoiachin. For the first time for seven-and-thirty years the man of authority has spoken kindly to him. Kind words have different values at different times; sometimes a kind word would be a fortune if not a fortune in the hand, a fortune in the way of stimulating imagination, comforting disconsolateness, and so pointing to the sky that we could see only its real blue beauties, its glints of light, its hints of coming day. When we have an abundant table, what do we care for an offered crust? that crust may be regarded by our sated appetite as an insult: but when the table is bare, and hunger is gnawing, and thirst is consuming, what then is a crust of bread, or a draught of water? Thus we get down to reality; we are no longer in the region of fancies, decoration, luxury, but we are on the line of life, and we begin to realise what we do in very deed require, and our hearts glow with thankfulness to the man who would offer us bread of the plainest kind for the satisfaction of our intolerable hunger. More men hunger for kind words than for bread. There is a hunger of the heart. It is possible to be in a house all bread, and yet not to know the meaning of satisfaction or contentment: all the walls glow with colour, all the echoes tremble with music, of an artificial and mechanical kind; but the oppression is an oppression of grandeur: one line of civility, one hint of courtesy, one approach of love, one smile of interest and sympathy, would be worth it all, ten thousand times told.
Here is an office we can all exercise. Where we cannot give much that is described as substantial we can speak kindly, we can look benignantly, we can conduct ourselves as if we would relieve the burden if we could: thus life would be multiplied, brightened, sweetened, a great comforting sense of divine nearness would fall upon our whole consciousness, and we should enter into the possession and the mystery of heavenly peace. See what fortune has befallen Jehoiachin! After thirty-seven years he is recognised as king and gentleman and friend, and has kind words spoken to him in a kind of domestic music. Was not all this worth living for? If Jehoiachin could have foreseen all this, would he not have been glad with a great joy? But the programme is not so plainly written as this, nor is it confined to comforts of this particular sort. It is a subtly drawn programme; the hand that executed this outline of friendship is no 'prentice hand; every finger was a master. Jehoiachin not only had kind words spoken to him, and great regard shown to him in various ways, but he was lifted up above the kings that were with the monarch in Babylon. He was at the head of the list; he took precedence at the royal table; no man must take the seat of Jehoiachin, king of Judah: see how with the port of a king he advanced to his eminent position. Was not all this worth living for? The thirty-seven years were forgotten in this elevation, this honour, this recognition of personal supremacy. Who can tell, too, how subtle was the action of this arrangement in its humiliation of the other kings? Critics have an easy trick of praising one author that they may smite another in the face; they do not care for the particular author, but through him they want to anger some other writer, to snub and rebuke and chastise and humble some other man. Who can tell what plan the monarch of Babylon had in all this arrangement of his table? You can insult a whole score of guests by your treatment of one of them, and that treatment shall be a treatment of honour, singling out one individual for recognition, and leaving others to look on until they burn with jealousy. More still: Jehoiachin had an abundance to eat and drink "He did continually eat bread before the king all the days of his life. And for his diet, there was a continual diet given him of the king of Babylon, every day a portion until the day of his death, all the days of his life." Was not this worth waiting for? or is it a poor description? Is it a kind of anticipation of a portrait drawn by the Master Artist, when he covered with ineffable humiliation a man by simply describing him as a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day? There are some compliments that are bad to bear as a whiff of perdition. What man could ever recover that description? A man described by his bank-book, his coat, and his dinner! and there was nothing more left of him to be described. That was making as little of himself as he could make. There is a modesty that is sarcastic. What a delightful end of a suffering course! Who would not be content to live for such an issue? After thirty-seven years you may come to elevation and honour of the kind awarded to Jehoiachin. Lift up your heads, sursum corda, cheer yourselves!; you cannot tell what you may be on the earth; your one little pound may become ten pounds, and the ten ten thousand, and the little house a great palace, and the small dinner an abundant banquet, and the draught of water a goblet of foaming wine. What an end to live for! What a heaven after thirty-seven years!
All this is not the fact. The teacher may take advantage or us, in order that, having mocked us, he may afterward draw us into deeper prayer, and fasten our attention with a more religious constancy upon the reality of the case. But we have so many superficial readers, persons who would not be able to distinguish the chasm between the text and the sermon. Provided the sentences run fluently, who cares what they mean, where they came from, where they are going to! What have we been doing in thus dwelling upon the good fortune of Jehoiachin? We have been playing the fool. We have been reckoning up social precedences, better clothes, and abundance of food; we have been taking a minute of circumstances, noting the opening of the day with its abundant banquet, the dressing hour with its hundred wardrobes and acres of looking-glass; and we have been adding up how much the man must have worn and eaten and drunken within the twenty-four hours, and all the while the king looking at him benignantly, speaking to him as an equal, dealing out to him kind words, the whole constituting an ineffable insult. Yet how prone we are to add up circumstances, and to speak of social relations, as if they constituted the sum-total of life. Now look at realities. Jehoiachin was in his heart a bad man. That is written upon the face of the history of the kings of Judah, and not a single word is said about his change of heart; and bad men cannot have good fortune. Bad men cannot have a good dinner, it turns to bad blood when it begins to work in the system. They can be satisfied as a dog might be satisfied with a bone, but they know nothing of the deeper contentment, the eating that is sacrificial, the drinking that is sacramental, the patience that culminates in peace that passeth understanding. Everything is wasted upon a bad man. For Jehoiachin has undergone no change of heart; he is just what he was when he was first taken away. The prison does not make converts. There is nothing regenerative in penal endurance literally taken as such. A man is as great a thief when he leaves the gaol as he was when he went in, unless his heart, disposition, will, soul, self has been changed. There are persons that come out of prison expecting you to receive them with delight, as "Hail fellow, well met; you have been in prison, but have come out here is my hand." That is not the law of God; that is not the philosophy of reason. A period of imprisonment cannot turn a thief into an honest man: one hour of penitence may, one hour of real broken-heartedness without one taint of hypocrisy will do it. Let us fix our mental vision upon this Jehoiachin king of Judah. He has been taken out of prison in the narrow sense of the term, his head has been lifted up, a place of precedence has been accorded him at the royal table, and his bread and water have been made sure for the rest of his days: what a delightful situation! No. Jehoiachin at his best was only a decorated captive; he was still in Babylon. That is the sting. Not what have we, but where are we, is Heaven's piercing inquiry. Not how great the barns; state the height, the width, the depth, the cubic measure of the barns; but, What wheat have we in the heart, what bread in the soul, what love-wine for the Spirit's drinking?
Here we have a man who has a seat at the royal table distinguished from all other seats; we have a brother-king speaking kind words to him: but he is only a captive, he is a promoted dog. Why do you not fix your mind upon the reality of your situation? There were times when we used to hear how well off the slaves were, with their nice whitewashed huts, and their clean clothes; and pious but purblind ministers of Christ have been taken round to see how well off the slaves were, A slave cannot be well off. That is the thing that must be spoken. See that rubicund man at the hut door: how well he looks, what a face he has, what a glowing eye! why, in that eye I see laughter, song, love of mirth, silent enjoyment of life's panorama as it moves; how well off he is! No. Why is he not well off? Because he is a slave. No man with a chain on his arms can be well off". Let Jehoiachin try to leave Babylon, and he will see what all the kind words amount to, and all the good clothes, and all the abundant food; let his heart ache for home, and let him tell his heartache to Evil-merodach king of Babylon, and he will know exactly what he is a decorated hound. Ask what collar the dog has on! but do not tell us that a man who is a captive can be well off, and ought to be content with the trough at which he feeds.
This is the case with men who do not know it. There are persons who are perfectly content to be well off in circumstances without ever inquiring how they are off in character. This is common to nineteenth-century civilisation. Ask concerning the welfare of your friend: what is the reply? doing admirably; has a farm of over five thousand acres; is a great flock-master; is a magistrate; is looked up to by the surrounding population; he eats and drinks with the best society in that province. Is that all? What does he read? Does he ever look with other than an ox's eye upon the landscape? Has he the land, or the landscape? Does he conduct commerce with heaven? Has he many a ship going to and fro between the countries, bringing from heaven's green shore things to make glad the heart? What ideas has he? What speculation is there in his eye? of what stature is his mind? Yet there are Christian people who would hear that a man is well-read, thoroughly intelligent, truly pious, excellent in moral tone and temper, but But what? His income is very small! Oh! when Christians yield to that kind of criticism their pretended Christianity is an arrant hypocrisy. A man is what he is in his soul. Jeremiah down in the mire is a happier man then Jehoiachin sitting at the head of the captive kings. For all the kings we read about here were captive kings, taken by the monarch of Babylon, and worn by him as men wear medals and stars and decorations. A religious martyr was a happier man than Jehoiachin. A poor man may be richer than a millionaire. A wise man may be stronger than an army. When you report your son's condition, for God's sake tell me what his heart is like. He cannot want his coat long; do not dwell upon that, as if it were an essential feature in the case: reverse your mode of reckoning, let all circumstances be counted at the lower end of things, and let there stand first might in prayer, spotlessness of purity, chivalry of nobleness, patience that never complains, giving that never begrudges. The fear is that men will not take to this way of reckoning. Poor Jehoiachin! take thy seat, eat plentifully, gorge thyself, thou promoted dog; leave nothing behind, eat it all thou art feeding for the grave! Poor man, loving books, loving truth, loving wisdom, loving God, loving Christ, thy wealth may be described as unsearchable riches. Take the right view; measure things by the right standard; and the first shall be last, and the last first, and the poor man shall have the honours of the house. What is the sublime, profound, eternal doctrine? It is that only the free can be blessed; only the free can be happy. If a man is held back by a bad habit he is in captivity; if a man has the hand of the creditor upon his shoulder, he cannot be really content and peaceful; if a man is the victim of a tormenting memory, his song is a lie, and his feast a new way of taking poison; if a man is haunted by remorse that pricks his pillow, he may have all the bullion of the bank, but in his soul he is a pauper, and he would part with it all if he could kill the demon that makes his life a pain. What is the doctrine which the Christian teacher has to promulgate? It is that only the free can be happy. How can men become free? Jesus Christ did not hesitate to tell; he said, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Paul spoke of the liberty that is in Christ as "glorious liberty." Liberty is gladness; freedom is bliss. Yet the true freedom is to be found in slavery to Christ. His bondage is liberty. His servitude is freedom. To be the slave of Christ is to be the free man of the universe. Saviour, Man of the five wounds, make us free!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 52". Parker's The People's Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27