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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—1. Chronology of the Chapter. With chap. 20 the first section of this book closes. Probably this was Jeremiah’s last public prophecy in Jehoiakim’s reign, and formed the concluding entry in the “roll” which was read in part before Jehoiakim, and which Jehoiakim “cut with his penknife and cast into the fire” (chap. Jeremiah 36:23). To that “roll,” which seems to have concluded with this emphatic prophecy as to the Babylonian Captivity (cf. Jeremiah 20:4 with Jeremiah 36:29), “many like words” were “added besides” (Jeremiah 36:32); and these added words were the chapters following this twentieth, about whose dates there is no uncertainty, for each prophecy bears a special heading assigning the occasion and date of its utterance. This prophecy occurred at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth year of Jehoiakim (see notes on chap. 18).
2. Contemporary Scriptures—The events came closely contiguous to the records in 2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:6.
3. National Affairs, and 4. Contemporaneous History (comp. notes on chap. 7). The capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar occurred early in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign.
5. Geographical References.—Jeremiah 20:2. “The high gate of Benjamin.” There was the City gate of Benjamin on the city’s northern side, and towards the territory of Benjamin (Jeremiah 7:2, Jeremiah 37:13, Jeremiah 38:7); and there was the Temple gate of Benjamin, which is here described—“which was in [not by] the house of the Lord.” This latter was called the “High gate” because situate on an eminence, and to distinguish it from the gate in the city wall.
6. Personal Allusions.—Jeremiah 20:1. “Pashur the son of Immer the priest.” Pashur the priest was head of the sixteenth course of the priests (1 Chronicles 24:14). Immer was one of the original governors of the Sanctuary, of whom there were twenty-four, sixteen sons of Eleazar, and eight sons of Ithamar (1 Chronicles 24:14). “Pashur” was chief governor, and from comparison of Jeremiah 29:25-26, with Jeremiah 52:24, it appears that the temple-governor occupied rank second to that of the high priest; was deputy high priest (cf. 2 Kings 25:18). Pashur was head of the twenty-four “guards” of the Temple, and had the right of apprehending any one committing what he thought an outrage within the precincts of the house of God; but the Sanhedrim alone had judicial power over those thus apprehended (comp. Jeremiah 26:8; Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 26:16). From words in the sixth verse—“thou hast prophesied lies”—it is evident that Pashur assumed prophetic functions; and most probably Pashur’s “friends” (Jeremiah 20:5) formed a party in the Jewish state who clamoured for alliance with Egypt in order to resist the arms of Assyria, and of whom Pashur was the moving genius, indulging in sanguine predictions of security and success (vide chap. Jeremiah 18:18, and Jeremiah 5:31). Jeremiah 20:5. “King of Babylon.” Nabopalassar was now king of the Babylonians. (Vide preliminary note on Contemporary History to chap. 1)
7. No Natural History allusions in this chapter.
8. Manners and Customs.—Jeremiah 20:2. “Smote Jeremiah and put him in the stocks:” “Smote”—probably inflicting the legal “forty stripes save one.” “Stocks”—מַהְכָּכֶת, an instrument of torture, from הָפַךְ, to twist or rack. The body was held in a crooked position, the neck, hands, and feet were secured, and much pain was suffered. This cruel instrument is first alluded to in 2 Chronicles 16:10, and there rendered “prison-house.”
9. Literary Criticisms.—Jeremiah 20:3. “Magor-missabib.” (Vide Lit. Crit. on chap. Jeremiah 6:25.) Pashur פַּשְׁחוּר, a compound word; פַשׁ, and חוּר,—probably meaning, though derivation is uncertain, “security (or prosperity, joy) around.” Jeremiah would be prone to play upon the meaning of the name he changed: the new name meant “Terror on every side.” Jeremiah uses this phrase in chap. Jeremiah 6:25, Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10, Jeremiah 46:5, Jeremiah 49:29; Lamentations 2:22.
Jeremiah 20:5. “Strength … labours:” Stores—provisions laid up in their magazines and granaries: and gains—fruits of industry, the profits or wealth of the community.
Jeremiah 20:7. “Hast deceived:” from פָּתָח. Used in Piel both in a good and bad sense; to persuade, rendered in Jeremiah 20:10 “enticed.” He was unwilling to undertake the prophetic office (chap. Jeremiah 1:7), but God had persuaded him with promises (Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 1:17-19), which, however, Jeremiah had misapprehended. God promised no immunity from abuse but that he should “prevail.”
“Daily:” all the day long.
Jeremiah 20:8. “For since I spake, I cried out,” &c. “For as often as I speak or cry, I must cry concerning violence and ill-treatment.”—Lange. “Whenever I speak, I must shout; I must cry violence and spoil.” The two words “cried, cried,” are not the same in the Hebrew: the first means to complain, the second to call out, proclaim. “For as often as I speak I must complain; I call out violence and spoil.”—Speaker’s Com.
“Word of the Lord was made:” is made. “Daily”—all the day long.
Jeremiah 20:9. “Then I said.… But his word was.” Better: “And when I say I will not, &c.—name, then it becometh in my heart,” &c.
“I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot (vide chap. Jeremiah 6:11).
Jeremiah 20:10. Read the verse thus. “For I hear the whispering (detraction, Henderson) of many, fear on every side [Magor-missabib, again]; (saying) Report ye, and we will report him. All my familiars [Lit. the men of my peace; Keil, every man of my friendship] watch for my halting” [my fall—Henderson]. Perhaps they say “he will be enticed,” &c.
Jeremiah 20:11. “A mighty terrible one:” Rather, a formidable warrior.
“Ashamed, for they shall not prosper,” &c.: Rather, ashamed, because they have not acted wisely; with an everlasting reproach (disgrace) that shall never be forgotten.
Jeremiah 20:12. “Opened my cause;” On Thee have I rolled my cause, committed it (cf. Jeremiah 11:20).
HOMILETIC OUTLINES ON SECTIONS OF CHAPTER 20
Persecution of the faithful prophet.
Complaining prayer merging into godly confidence.
An extravagant dirge over an unhappy life.
Section 1–6.—PERSECUTION OF THE FAITHFUL PROPHET
I. Pashur’s unjust displeasure against Jeremiah.
1. The impropriety of it. Pashur was a priest; and Jeremiah, being also of the priestly order, should have been protected by him. Moreover, the priests of Jehovah should have been prompt and zealous to second the work of a prophet of Jehovah.
2. The malignity of it. “A man’s foes are they of his own household.” Compare the action of Zedekiah (the false priest, 1 Kings 22:24); and of those foul priests (Matthew 26:67-68). “The greatest malignity to God’s prophets was found among those that professed sanctity and concern for God and His church.” Pashur found his own sanguine prophecies hereby refuted, and was wroth. (See Personal Allusions.)
3. The illegality of it. “Smote him,” perhaps with the hand or staff of authority, as afterwards Paul was smitten (Acts 23:2). But Pashur had no right to administer justice (see note on verse under Personal Allusions). But rules of justice are set aside: “The enemies of piety would never allow themselves to be governed by the laws of equity.”
4. The cruelty of it. “Put in stocks:” and thus confined through the night into next day, exposed to public derision. “The best men have met with the worst treatment. It may well rouse pious indignation to see such a man as Pashur on the bench, and such a man as Jeremiah in the stocks! It is well that there is another life after this, when persons and things will appear with another face.”
II. God’s just displeasure against Pashur. Jeremiah “suffered and threatened not;” but when released, he came with a special message from Jehovah.
1. Did Pashur aim to make himself easy, by silencing one who told him his faults, and which endangered his reputation with the people? He shall not gain his point, for
(a.) Though the prophet should be silent, his own conscience shall make him uneasy. “Magor-missabib.” God can make a sinner a “terror to himself” (Jeremiah 20:4). Persons in deep melancholy also become a terror “to all their friends” about them.
(b.) His friends, in whom he put confidence and studied to oblige in persecuting Jeremiah, shall all fail him (Jeremiah 20:4).
(c.) The issue shall show his terror to be not causeless, for Divine vengeance awaited him (Jeremiah 20:6). Let persecutors read the doom of Pashur and tremble; tremble to repentance before they be made to tremble to their ruin.
2. Did he aim to make the people easy by stopping Jeremiah’s warning prophecies? It appears from Jeremiah 20:6 that he set himself up as a prophet, and told the people they should have peace. Yet the word of God will have its course.
(a.) The country shall be ruined: “I will give all Judah,” &c. (Jeremiah 20:4).
(b.) The city shall be ruined (Jeremiah 20:5). For the king of Babylon shall (1) seize their military stores, “the strength of the city;” (2) carry off their wares and merchandise, “their labours;” (3) plunder their fine houses of their “precious things;” (4) rifle the exchequer, the jewels of the crown and “all the treasures of the kings of Judah.” In part taken from Matthew Henry.
See Addenda: PERSECUTION OF GOD’S SERVANTS.
Section 7–13.—COMPLAINING PRAYER MERGING INTO GODLY CONFIDENCE
There are two interpretations of this outburst of intense emotion—
1. It might have been the result of feelings wounded by the indignities of the public smiting and a night spent in the stocks.
2. It was more probably the outcry of mental agony occasioned by the seeming failure of his ministry to recal his nation from ungodliness and ruin.
It should be noticed that though Jeremiah bows before God crushed by distress of spirit, he betrays nothing of this before the people, but stands before the multitude with heroic valour, warning prince, priest, and people of the doom their sins invoked.
I. A painful misapprehension of his prophetic mission.
1. In reference to what God had done with him. He avows that Jehovah had
(a.) Persuaded him into His service by assurances which had failed. He misread God’s promise (chap. Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 1:18).
(b.) Constrained him wholly against his will to a painful mission. His timid nature shrank from hardship.
(c.) Exposed him to derision by deferring the fulfilment of his predictions. Jeremiah was in too great haste for God to vindicate His word.
2. In reference to what he should do for God. He was tempted
(a.) Temporarily to hold back from further witness for God. Not “mention His name.”
(b.) Forcibly to suppress the prophetic spirit within him. But it proved a “burning fire within his bones.”
(c.) He even “wearied” himself with the silence he imposed upon himself: but the word of God was mightier than his resolutions.
II. An alarming experience of abuse from his people.
1. Scornful defamation of his preaching (Jeremiah 20:10). They seem to have summed up his preaching as being nothing but the reiteration of the words—“Magormissabib, i.e., “Fear on every side,” and derided him with it. He was a preacher of fear! The same appears from Jeremiah 20:8—“Whenever I spake I proclaimed violence and spoil.” And the people laughed at him as a persistent croaker—prophet of evil. They whispered among themselves against him, “Here is ‘Fear-on-every-side’ preaching again!”
2. Virulent conspiracy against his person. They resolve to “report” his words to the authorities and the king, and so bring him into odium and punishment. Further, his “familiars” joined in the conspiracy, and while feigning to be “men of his peace,” yet sought occasion to betray him.
III. A triumphant assurance of Divine protection.
1. That Jehovah would defend him with terrible mightiness (Jeremiah 20:11). He knew that the Lord was personally “with” him: on his side, to protect him, to make his word good, to ultimately vindicate him against “defamation” and “derision,” and to smite terror into his antagonists.
2. That his persecutors would be defeated with terrible disgrace. Their impotent malice and crafty designs shall fail against Jeremiah; while their own overthrow shall involve them in greatest shame and perpetual distress.
IV. A confident surrender of his cause to God.
1. His inmost heart was opened fully to Him (Jeremiah 20:12).
(a.) God knew him thoroughly: saw all the thoughts and feelings which moved within him; could therefore judge him righteously.
(b.) To God he entrusted himself: rolled his cause on Him. He sought no vindication or help elsewhere.
(c.) God would right him with his traducers: “Vengeance belongeth unto God.”
2. His grateful soul poured itself forth in praise to Him (Jeremiah 20:13).
(a.) It was the triumph of faith over fear. His complaints are all silenced and turned into thanksgiving.
(b.) It rose from the realisation of experienced Providence: “He hath delivered the soul of the poor,” &c. Memory came in to his aid; and hope rose like the dawn upon the night-gloom of his despondency. “Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God.”
Section 14–18.—A PASSIONATE DIRGE OVER AN UNHAPPY LIFE
In this sudden transition of trust to despair we see a revelation of the inner workings of Jeremiah’s heart, consequent upon the treatment he received from his treacherous friends and cruel persecutors, and on the seeming failure of his prophecies and his own desertion by God whose prophet he was.
I. It is not to be denied that we have here a passionate outbreak of human infirmity. But this display
1. Proves that there has been no reserve practised by the prophets; and thus we see a portraiture of Jeremiah delineated in his true colours by his own hand. This also
2. Inspires us with confidence in the truth of the narrative; and also excites our sympathy with Jeremiah in his sufferings, which extorted such utterances from him.
Note, that as it was with Job (Jeremiah 3:3-25) so with Jeremiah—he was purified by suffering. After the passionate utterances in this chapter we see no more evidence of weakness or impatience in Jeremiah. On the contrary, the prophet, who now was weak and desponding, afterwards strengthened and encouraged others (see chap. Jeremiah 46:1-5).
II. Here also, from these impatient ejaculations of Jeremiah, we have providentially clear proof that the theory of some Jewish interpreters is groundless, by which Isaiah’s magnificent and mysterious prophecy concerning the Messiah (chap. 53) is made to refer to Jeremiah.
1. How could one who was compassed with infirmity and betrayed into sin (as Jeremiah shows himself to have been) have been accepted—as these anti-Messianic theorists would have us believe—as a vicarious atonement for the sins of the world?
2. In his sufferings, Jeremiah was a signal type of Christ: especially in the cruel and shameful usage he received from those to whom he preached, and whom he would have delivered from ruin had they listened to his preaching. But in all human types of Christ there are some blemishes which separate them immeasurably from the Divine Antitype.
3. Christ always excels where they most fail. Jeremiah fails in his impatience under persecution, in repining against God, and in murmuring at his own condition. There Christ excels. His meat was to do His Father’s will (John 4:34); and, in the immediate prospect of suffering, His language was, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31; comp. Hebrews 12:2).
III. Here we have evidence of the greater grace given after the Incarnation than had ever been vouchsafed to those who lived before it.
Two of the greatest saints and sufferers, Job and Jeremiah—one the saint and suffer of the Patriarchal dispensation, the other the suffering prophet of the Mosaic economy—are so perturbed by suffering that they curse the day of their birth.
But (as Chrysostom observes in Hom. 4 on the patience of Job) the apostles of Christ rejoiced in tribulation, and were thankful to God that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name.—Arranged from Wordsworth.
HOMILIES AND COMMENTS ON VERSES OF CHAPTER 20
Jeremiah 20:4. Theme: THE WICKED, TERRIFIED AND TERRIFYING. “For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself and to all thy friends.”
I. A guilty man may enjoy confidence, and inspire confidence in others. This is evident here. Unless so, it would not be needful for God to act to change confidence into terror.
1. Sinners live on in easy but transient security.
2. The “friends” of ungodly men are fortified in their self-confidence by boastful conduct of fellow-transgressors.
II. A guilty man’s confidence may be turned into terror and amaze.
1. God can do it, does do it, will do it. He can make the most daring sinner a terror to himself, and will find a way to alarm him.
2. Conviction of sin arouses terror. Example: John Bunyan. See also his Christian before Sinai, in “Pilgrim’s Progress.”
3. Sudden peril of life or risk of worldly gains startle him to agonising apprehensions.
4. Death’s darkness and eternity’s nearness will certainly appal him. “How wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan?”
5. On the Judgment Day, what terror will seize the guilty. “Rocks fall on us, and hide us,” &c.
III. A guilty man’s terror will alarm his friends.
1. A sinner whose hilarity and recklessness have changed into alarm for guilt and dread of doom, is like an apparition at the feast of worldly souls. Banquo’s ghost. His tremblings and terrors alarm them, communicating fear to their souls.
2. A sinner’s deathbed has often filled observers with awful fears for themselves.
See Addenda: THE WICKED A TERROR.
“Wherein did his (Pashur’s) punishment consist? Probably in this. He was one of the leading men who, in encouraging Jehoiakim to enter upon that course which ended in the ruin of Judah, had “prophesied lies.” When, then, he saw the dreadful slaughter of his countrymen,—Jehoiakim put to death, his young son dragged into captivity, and the land stripped of all that was best—his conscience so condemned him as the guilty cause of such great misery, that in the agonies of remorse he became a terror to himself and his friends.”—Speaker’s Com.
Jeremiah 20:7. Theme: IS GOD A DECEIVER?
The word “deceived” should be “enticed” or “persuaded.” Comp. Genesis 9:27; Proverbs 25:15; Hosea 2:14, in which last text the word is rendered “allure.” God can induce but never delude.
I. God has approved Himself to all His servants as a faithful Master. He has never decoyed them; never deserted them.
II. Servants of God may deceive themselves in His service by sanguine expectations.
1. Jeremiah misapprehended God’s words of promise and assurance. The words (chap. Jeremiah 1:10) were interpreted by him in a flattering sense. He expected general homage to be paid him as God’s messenger.
2. But he knew the condition of prophetic work in all ages. All God’s messengers before him had been persecuted, and he had no reason to look for a better lot.
3. Further, God emphatically stated that princes and priests would treat him ill. “They shall fight against thee” (chap. Jeremiah 1:19).
4. All Christian workers are distinctly forewarned of the troubles they will meet (John 16:1-2).
III. The persuasions of God overpower our natural reluctance and fears. “Thou wast stronger than I, and hast prevailed.”
1. His pleas were refuted. He urged that he was under age, and unequal to the office. God took all reality out of his arguments by assuring him that He had “sanctified” him to this work, and by equipping him for the task (chap. Jeremiah 1:9).
2. His temerity was overruled. He was afraid of facing the authorities and contending with them. But God summoned him not to be “dismayed at their faces,” and made him “a defenced city,” &c.
Even so out of weakness God makes strong “the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.” He is able to make all grace abound. Thus He surprises us by making us “able to do exceeding abundantly above all we think.” Yet He never deceives or disappoints a soul.
Jeremiah 20:7. Theme: MOCKING AT THE PREACHER. “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me.”
Two forms of this irritating continually assailed him.
I. Official ridicule.
1. They made jest of everything he did and said. They treated him as if he were a fool, good for nothing but to make sport. Thus he was—
(a.) Continually,—“daily,” literally “all the day long.”
(b.) Universally, “Every one mocks me.”
“The greatest so far forget their own gravity, and the meanest so far forget mine.”
Thus our Lord on the Cross was reviled both by priest and people.
2. His preaching was the special object of their derision (Jeremiah 20:8). That for which they should have honoured and respected him was the very thing for which they reviled and reproached him.
It is sad to think that though Divine Revelation be one of the greatest blessings and honours ever bestowed on the world, yet it has been very much turned to the reproach of the most zealous preachers and believers.
Two things they derided him for—
(a.) The manner of his preaching: “Since he spake, he cried out.” He was too vigorous and loud in his preaching. Lively preachers are the scorn of careless unbelieving hearers.
(b.) The matter of his preaching: He cried, “Violence and spoil.” He reproved them for “violence and spoil” toward one another, and for this they ridiculed him as over-precise; and he prophesied of “violence and spoil” as the punishment of their sin, and for this they reviled him as over-credulous.
II. Personal reproach. Not merely did they laugh at his ministry, but they acted a more spiteful part, and with more subtlety.
1. They spread false reports of him (Jeremiah 20:10). They represented Jeremiah as instilling “fears on every side,” so to make them uneasy under the government, and disposed to rebellion.
Jeremiah, in his complaint, makes use of the same words that David (Psalms 31:13) had used before him, that it might be a comfort to him to think that other good men had suffered like abuses before him.
2. Flatterers watched his words for an occasion of accusation against him to the government. “My familiars watched for my halting,” &c. Just as the spies came to Christ feigning to be just men (Luke 20:20). They hoped Jeremiah would be led on and enticed to say something which they might seize upon, and for which they could secure his condemnation before the king or Sanhedrim.
This malignant treachery found fullest illustration in Jeremiah’s Divine Antitype, Jesus Christ, against whom they laid wait, and “suborned men” for the purpose to “entangle Him in His talk that they might accuse Him to the governor” (Matthew 22:15).—Comp. Wordsworth and Matthew Henry.
See Addenda: DERIDING THE PREACHER.
Jeremiah 20:9. Theme: THE SOUL UNDER DISCOURAGEMENT.
We behold here the struggle between grace and corruption: or as Paul expresses it, “the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.” And when we see how awfully an unhallowed temper prevailed over this good man Jeremiah, we cannot but exclaim: “Lord, what is man that Thou art mindful of him,” &c.
In the conflict here expressed we behold
I. The effects of discouragement on a pious soul.
1. In our labours for the good of others. Ministers are apt to complain that “they have laboured in vain and spent their strength for nought;” and under these feelings, either desert their post, or lament that they have not been more profitably employed.
Moses thus erred (Exodus 5:22-23). Joshua also after his entrance into Canaan (Joshua 7:7).
Parents likewise mourn over their children, masters over their servants, teachers over the poor they instruct, &c.
2. In our exertions for our own souls. Persons, when first “enticed” or “persuaded” to embrace the Gospel, fondly imagine that they will go forward in the divine life with ease. Conflicts come, and slow progress is made. Then they complain, “my way is hid from the Lord,” &c. (Isaiah 40:27). Such apprehension is most enervating.
II. The effect of piety on a discouraged soul. Jeremiah attempted for a season to execute his rash determination, but could not persist, for the word of God was like a burning fire in his bones, so that he must declare it.
Thus will grace work in every soul even under deepest discouragements.
1. To shame our querulous impatience. When David had given vent to querulousness, he corrected himself (Psalms 73:12-16; Psalms 77:7-10). We complain of our non-success. Prophets and apostles have done so before us. We should wait (Hebrews 2:3).
2. To revive our languid hopes. Grace will bring to our view God’s promises; assure us that “His arm is not shortened,” &c.
3. To resuscitate our drooping energies. Jeremiah was “weary with forbearing,” even more than with executing his mission. And if grace have its perfect work in us, so we shall be. Our labours, both ministerial and personal, will be renewed. God has said, “Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season,” &c. And depending on His word, we shall go forward, “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
(a.) Expect discouragements in every part of your duty. They are God’s appointed means for trying our faith and love, and for increasing every divine grace in us.
(b.) Make them occasions for glorifying God the more. If we have “fightings without and fears within,” we must go the more earnestly to God, and rely the more firmly on His promised aid. Instead of sinking under discouragements, we must say: “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.”—Simeon.
Jeremiah 20:12. Theme: GOD THE HEART-SEARCHER. See Homilies on chap. Jeremiah 11:20, Jeremiah 27:10.
Jeremiah 20:13. Theme: THE SONG OF REDEMPTION.
Immediately he had “opened” or committed “his cause” to God, he could sing for joy.
I. Faith grasped a fact as yet in the future. Jeremiah’s outward circumstances were still disturbed and perilous. But he now realises God’s sufficiency and fidelity, even as before (Jeremiah 20:7) he had distrusted Him.
Faith turned his tremblings into triumphs.
So the soul when Christ’s sufficiency and faithfulness are apprehended. “Lo! this is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
II. Joy filled his soul over God’s gracious rescue. His soul had been “poor;” poor in courage, poor in faith, poor in grace.
“Evil-doers” had his soul in their “hand.”
But God had redeemed his soul from destruction.
III. Songs of praise silenced sighs of complaint. He found peace immediately he could leave his cause in faith to God.
Complaints are now exchanged for thanksgiving, when once the soul knows its Redeemer.
God’s loving-kindness and grace overwhelms the soul with rejoicing.
We may appeal to every soul for whom the redemption of Calvary has been effectively wrought by Christ, and which is offered to sinners “without money and without price”—“Sing unto the Lord, praise ye the Lord.”
“O for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues,
Their Saviour’s praises speak.”
Jeremiah 20:14-18. Theme: IMPRECATIONS ON HIS BIRTH. See Sectional treatment, supra.
The Rev. John Owen, in editing Calvin’s Commentaries in this place, remarks—
“The greatest difficulty in this passage is its connection. That Jeremiah should have cursed his birthday is what can be accounted for as in the case of Job. Nature, even in the best of men, sometimes utters its voice. But how he came to do this immediately after having thanked God for his deliverance seems singular. The explanation of Calvin, that he relates what had passed in his mind, while he was confined by Pashur, is plausible, and has been adopted by Grotius, Henry, and others. Scott acknowledges the transition to be very extraordinary, but thinks that the Prophet describes what had passed through his own mind, and says that the experience of good men proves that such sudden changes occur. ‘An experimental acquaintance with our own hearts,’ he says, ‘and the variations of our passions under sharp trials, as encouraging or discouraging thoughts occur to our minds, will best enable us to understand it.’ This is probably the right view of the subject.”
“i. The Prophet teaches us here that he was not only opposed by enemies, but also distressed inwardly in his mind, so that he was carried away, contrary to reason and judgment, by turbulent emotions which even led him to give utterance to vile blasphemies.
“ii. We may learn with what care ought every one of us to watch himself, lest we be carried away by a violent feeling, so as to become intemperate and unruly.
“iii. Yet the origin of his seal was right. His complaint was not that he was afflicted with disease, &c., but because all his labour was lost which he spent for the well-being of his people, and because he found the truth of God loaded with calumnies and reproaches. When he saw the ungodly thus insolently resisting him, and that all religion was treated with ridicule, he felt deeply moved.
“iv. Yet when we thus become weary of life, with all the light and blessings of God, it is because disdain reigns within us, or that we cannot with resignation bear reproaches, or that poverty is too grievous for us, &c. Often it is not that we (as with Jeremiah) are influenced with zeal for God.”—Calvin.
On Jeremiah 20:15. See Introduction. Part I.—“Parentage and Calling.”
NOTICEABLE TOPIC IN CHAPTER 20
Topic: EXISTENCE REGRETTED.—“Cursed be the day wherein I was born” (Jeremiah 20:14).
Job and Jeremiah were alike in wishing they had never been born. They were both men of sorrow. In the intensity of his grief Job exclaimed, “Let the day perish wherein I was born;” and Jeremiah in equal mental anguish cries, “Cursed be the day,” &c. Certainly this was
I. A preference alike irreligious and irrational.
1. Good men should not for a moment think that non-existence is preferable to life and being. They were both good men, children of God; and existence was therefore a blessing to be prized, not an evil to be mourned over. Had they been versed in the design and results of Divine dispensations, as was Paul, they would have said, “Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment,” &c. With such a destiny before them, instead of cursing the day of birth, they would have blessed it as the dawn of an eternal existence, to be hereafter crowned with a glory that fadeth not away.
2. Ungodly men may with some degree of reason prefer non-existence: because in trouble they have no Divine support, in death no good hope, in eternity no expectation but the penalty of sin. Such men, when the sorrows of death encompass them, or when ushered into the eternal world, have good reason to say, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born.”
II. Non-existence is preferable to existence unless existence possess more pleasure than pain.
1. If every ungodly man lived out threescore years and ten, and the whole was spent in pleasure, yet, as that period is but momentary as compared with his eternal existence, and as that existence is to be one of pain, he might curse the day of his birth.
2. Existence, eternal existence is a blessing to all unfallen ones, and also to such fallen ones as are redeemed by the death of Christ. It requires no stretch of imagination to suppose that both Job and Jeremiah are now praising and blessing God for that very day which in the time of their earthly sorrows they cursed.
3. But perpetuity of existence can be no blessing to the “angels who kept not their first estate,” nor to those of the human race who by impenitence and unbelief reject the great salvation, and bring upon themselves the double condemnation—the condemnation of the law and the condemnation of the gospel.
III. Hell and heaven are two great teachers; they teach lessons which are not learnt on earth, and wonderfully alter men’s views of Divine dispensations and revealed truths.
1. Hell teaches—the folly of wickedness, the full enormity of sin in the penalty it has entailed, and leads all its victims amid the consequences of their depravity to curse the day wherein they were born.
2. Heaven teaches—the wisdom of holiness, the full benefits of redemption in the felicity it has secured, and leads all the ransomed to bless the day of their birth as the morn of their noontide of glory.
Here we “know in part” and can “prophesy but in part.” Fuller and wider disclosures are made when the spirit is ushered into that world.
Having thus seen that there are in some cases reasons for cursing the day of one’s birth, let it be remembered that
IV. God is not willing that any should have occasion for preferring non-existence.
1. He has devised and carried out a costly plan by which the existence of fallen ones might be made an eternal blessing. This plan was published in Eden, foreshadowed in type, proclaimed by prophets, and consummated in the death of Jesus Christ. On the cross He announced “It is finished.”
2. Every man who now wishes for a glorious existence has only to look to Jesus and be saved. Myriads have looked, and a blessed immortality is their portion: myriads have refused to look, and a wretched immortality is their inheritance.
Life is a solemn thing. It has in it everlasting perpetuity; and so also has death.
“It is not all of life to live,
Nor all of death to die.”
Life and death are only the seed-time: a harvest follows, that of bliss or woe. Inspiration answers the inquiry, What harvest shall I reap? thus—“Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”—Arranged from Rev. D. Pledge’s “Morning and Evening Walks with Jeremiah.”
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 20. ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jeremiah 20:1-6. PERSECUTION OF GOD’S SERVANTS.
“Smote Jeremiah:” with his fist, as Zedekiah smote Micaiah (1 Kings 22:24), and as Bonner did Hawkes and other martyrs, pulling off part of their beards; or with a staff as our Saviour was struck (Matthew 26:67); and as that Popish bishop, degrading a martyr minister, struck him so hard with his crosier-staff as he was kneeling on the stairs at St. Paul’s, that he fell down backwards and broke his head. Atqui lapidandi sunt hœretici sacrarum literarum argumentis, saith Athanasius [Contra Arian]. But heretics are to be stoned with Scripture arguments; and men may a good deal sooner be cudgelled into a treaty than into a tenet.
“Put him in the stocks:” “As they afterwards did Paul and Silas (Acts 16:0.); Clerinus the martyr, mentioned in Cyprian’s epistles; Mr. Philpot in the Bishop of London’s coal-house; and that good woman, who, suffering afterwards for the same cause, rejoiced much that her leg was put in the same hole of the stocks where Philpot’s leg had lain before.”—Trapp.
“And when religious sects ran mad,
He held, in spite of all his learning,
That if a man’s belief is bad,
It will not be improved by burning.”
Jeremiah 20:4. THE WICKED A TERROR.
“Such terror befell Tullus Hostilius, king of Rome, who had for his gods Pavor and Pallor. Dignissimus sane qui deos suos semper haberet prœsentes, saith Lactantius wittily; i.e., great pity but this man should ever have had his gods at hand, since he was so fond of them. Our Richard III. and Charles IX. of France, a pair of bloody princes, were Magor-missabibs in their generations, as terrible at length to themselves as they had been formerly to others; and therefore could never endure to be awakened in the night without music or some like diversion.”—Trapp.
Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.”—Shakespeare.
“Here, here it lies; a lump of lead by day;
And in my short, distracted, nightly slumbers,
The hag that rides my dreams.”—Dryden.
“He that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the mid-day sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.”—Milton.
“Horror and doubt distract
His troubled thoughts, and from the bottom stir
The hell within him; for within him hell
He brings, and round about him; nor from hell
One step, no more than from himself, can fly
By change of place.”—Byron.
Tiberius declared in the Senate that he suffered death daily.
Jeremiah 20:7. DERIDING THE PREACHER.
See the Life of John Wesley for instances.
“The cynics said long ago of the Megarians, ‘Better be their horse, dog, or pander than their teacher, for better should he be regarded.’ ”—Trapp.
A modern rhyme puts the case thus—
“Tickle the people and make them grin,
Tickle them more and you will win;
Teach the people; you’ll ne’er grow rich,
But live like a beggar and die in a ditch.”
Jeremiah 20:14. JEREMIAH’S DISCOURAGEMENT.
“What was the cause of this discouragement? He does not leave us in the dark as to this: he tells us that he ‘heard the defaming of many’—‘My familiars watched for my halting,’ &c. This was well suited to dismay a man of Jeremiah’s temper; but he again speedily comes back to his trust in God:—‘But the Lord is with me.’
“It is possible that on some occasion Jeremiah had, under the influence of such feelings as he so often expresses, been tempted to soften or to suppress some part of a message entrusted to him, deeming it likely to excite that violent antagonism which was grievous to his peaceful temper. The man who had confessedly purposed not to speak at all, might think of withholding part of the words he was commanded to speak. This supposition would give added force to the injunction, which on one occasion he received:—‘Speak all the words that I command thee to speak unto them. Diminish not a word.’ So here also he found that there was no discretion left to him.”—Kitto.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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