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God calleth Israel by his promise: he exhorteth Judah to repentance by fearful judgements. A grievous lamentation for the miseries of Judah.
Before Christ 612.
Jeremiah 4:1. If thou wilt return—return unto me— If thou wilt return—thou shalt return. [Thou shalt dwell with me. Houb.] If thou wilt remove thy idols, thou shalt not be removed. In the former part, says Houbigant, the conversion of their [hearts and] morals is spoken of; in the latter, the stability of their government. These words are evidently a continuation of the discourse beginning at the 6th verse of the preceding chapter, and of the prophet's address to the Israelitish captives in the 20th verse of the same chapter.
Jeremiah 4:2. And the nations shall bless, &c.— This is a prediction of the Gospel-times, when the heathens should join with the Israelites in paying all solemn acts of worship and devotion to the true God only, and in ascribing all honour and glory to him, and to his only Son, the Messiah, in whom all the nations were to be blessed. Literally, it is, "The nations shall wish the same blessings for themselves, as the God of Israel hath bestowed upon his people; nor shall withhold their praise from him, who hath given so great peace and prosperity to those who worship him." See Houb.
Jeremiah 4:3. Break up your fallow ground, &c.— That is, "Purge and purify the field of your hearts by true repentance." See Deuteronomy 10:16. Romans 2:29. Exodus 6:12.Acts 7:51; Acts 7:51. Col 2:11 and Houb.
Jeremiah 4:4. Circumcise yourselves— Circumcision, as well as baptism, had a moral import, and denoted the obligation of putting away all sinful lusts of the flesh, every irregular and inordinate affection and appetite. Compare Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6. Romans 2:29. Colossians 2:11.
Jeremiah 4:5-6. Blow ye the trumpet— "Sound the alarm, that every one may save himself in the defenced cities: the enemy is come into the field; he hath set up his standard, the lion from his thicket [Jeremiah 4:7.]; Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the destroyer of nations; so called, as the Almighty had given not only Judaea, but also all the neighbouring countries, into his hands." See ch. Jer 2:15 Jeremiah 48:8 Jeremiah 51:47-49. Instead of gather together, we may read, cry aloud, or make a full cry. Comp. ch. Jeremiah 12:8.
Jeremiah 4:9. Shall perish— Shall sink.
Jeremiah 4:10. Then said I, &c.— And shall say, &c. The passage is very plain, from this version which I have given. According to the common interpretation it must mean, "Thou hast suffered this people to be deceived by false prophets:" for God, in the language of Scripture, is often said to do that which he barely allows or suffers to be done.
Jeremiah 4:11-13. A dry wind, &c.— The prophet here describes the Chaldean army coming up for the destruction of Judaea, under the metaphor of a hot pestilential wind, which sweeps away multitudes in a moment, blasts the fruits of the earth, and spreads desolation every where around. The passage, like that in the preceding verses, is spirited and sublime; but it loses a good deal of elegance in our version. Houbigant renders it thus, Behold, a wind hangs over the mountains of the desarts; behold, it a shall come upon the daughter of my people, but not to fan, or to cleanse: Jeremiah 4:12. A mighty wind shall thence come upon her, and then at length will I declare my judgment concerning them, or her: Jeremiah 4:13. Behold, as clouds it shall hang over; its chariots shall be as a whirlwind; its horses swifter than eagles, &c. Of the malignancy of the south wind blowing over the desarts of Arabia, travellers have given dreadful accounts. The effect of this wind is, not only to render the air extremely hot and scorching, but to fill it with poisonous and suffocating vapours. It sometimes becomes a whirlwinds raising up large quantities of land, so as to darken the air, and not seldom to bury underneath the unfortunate traveller. The most violent storms that Judaea was subject to came from that quarter. See Bishop's Lowth's note on Isa 21:1 and Mr. Harmer's citation from Maillet's Memoirs; ch. i. obs. 16.
Jeremiah 4:15. For a voice declareth from Dan— For lo! a sound of devastation comes from Dan; lo! a tumult is heard from the mountains of Ephraim. Houb.
Jeremiah 4:16. Watchers come, &c.— By these watchers are meant, those who precede an army, and announce its approach, whom Caesar in his Commentaries calls antecessores, or antecursores. Houbigant renders the first clause of the next verse, Like the keepers of a field do they surround her: that is, "These couriers, or spies of the Chaldean army, are as diligent in their observation of Judah and Jerusalem, as the keepers of a field are of the cattle, vineyards, &c. under their care."
Jeremiah 4:17. As keepers of a field— Mr. Harmer cites from Sir John Chardin's manuscript the following remark on this place: "As in the East, pulse, roots, &c. grow in open and uninclosed fields, when they begin to be fit to gather, they place guards, if near a great road more, if distant fewer, who place themselves in a round about these grounds, as is practised in Arabia." Ch. 5: obs. 15.
Jeremiah 4:18. Thy way, &c.— Thy ways and thy doings will procure thee these things: this is thy wickedness for they will be bitter, and will reach to thy heart. "Whatsoever happens to you, happens by your own fault, who have turned the sweet goodness of the Lord into bitterness, and have compelled him, however unwilling, to rage against you," says St. Jerome on the place.
Jeremiah 4:19-20. My bowels, &c.— My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at the centre, or, in the midst, of my heart; my heart is tumultuous within me. This terrific vision is full of the divinest enthusiasm. The calamities described are presented to the mind in such lively colours, the images are so crouded, and arranged with so much art, and the breaks and apostrophes are so animated, that we seem to be involved in the same scene of misery with the prophet. The reader will observe, that the destruction of the land by the Chaldeans, spoken of in the 20th verse, is painted, Jeremiah 4:23; Jer 4:26 in the same colours, as if universal nature was about to fall again into its original chaos. See Bishop Lowth. We may read Jeremiah 4:20. Breach hits upon breach, or destruction dashes upon destruction, &c. Jeremiah compares the cities of Judah, at the end of this verse, to tents; and he expresses the facility wherewith the enemy made himself master of them, by that of the taking up or overturning a tent.
Jeremiah 4:22. For my people is foolish— Some have supposed that these words, as well as the preceding ones, are to be referred to God; but they suit the prophet much better, who speaks here, as commissioned by the divine authority to preach to this people. See ch. Jeremiah 5:21.
Jeremiah 4:23-26. I beheld the earth, &c.— The images, under which the prophet represents the approaching desolation as foreseen by him, are such as are familiar to the Hebrew poets on the like occasions. (See Lowth De Sac. Poesi Heb. Prael. 9: and his note on Isaiah, ch. Jeremiah 13:10.) But the assemblage is finely made, so as to delineate all together a most striking and interesting picture of a ruined country, and to show the author's happy talent for pathetic description. The earth is brought back, as it were, to its primitive state of chaos and confusion; the chearful light of the heavens is withdrawn, and succeeded by a dismal gloom; the mountains tremble and the hills shake, under dreadful apprehensions of the Almighty's displeasure; a frightful solitude reigns around; not a vestige is to be seen of any of the human race; even the birds themselves have deserted the fields, unable to find any longer in them their usual food. The face of the country in the once most fertile parts of it, now overgrown with briars and thorns, assumes the dreary wildness of the desart. The cities and villages are either thrown down and demolished by the hand of the enemy, or crumble into ruins of their own accord for want of being inhabited.
Jeremiah 4:27. Yet will I not make a full end— Some understand this as a gracious promise, that though God would punish Jerusalem, yet he would not utterly forget her, but hereafter restore and rebuild her. See the next chapter, Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 4:18. Others understand it, as referring to still further calamities. Accordingly, Houbigant renders it, Yet this is not all which I will do; meaning, that not only the country should be totally desolated by the Chaldeans, but that the whole state and polity of the Jews should be entirely subverted, Jeremiah 4:28.
Jeremiah 4:29. The whole city shall flee— All the cities have fled, &c. All the cities are forsaken, and there are no inhabitants in them. Houb.
Jeremiah 4:30. Though thou rentest thy face with painting— See 2 Kings 9:30. The prophet here carries on the idea wherewith he began, describing Jerusalem under the figure of a harlot, dressing herself up to captivate lovers. See Ezekiel 16:15; Ezekiel 16:63. Houbigant renders the verse, And thou, when about to be spoiled, what will it profit thee to put on purple, to deck thyself with golden ornaments, to enlarge thine eyes with paint [black lead, or stibium]? In vain wilt thou make thyself fair; for all thy lovers despise thee, and seek thy life.
Jeremiah 4:31. For I have heard— The prophet here pathetically describes Jerusalem as a woman in travail, bewailing the loss of her children by the Chaldeans, and in vain imploring assistance. Houbigant renders the last clause, For my soul is faint within me, because of the murdered; those of my children who have been murdered by the enemy.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Israel had made penitent professions of returning; God accepts them, and directs them in the way.
If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me; or, If thou wilt return unto me, thou shalt return; either let them immediately execute their purpose; or it is promised that, on their doing so, God will bring them back from their dispersion; and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, all their idolatrous practices and images, then shalt thou not remove into captivity again; or, if thou shalt not move to and fro, be fickle and wavering, but stedfast in their adherence to God, then his blessing would be upon them. And thou shall swear, The Lord liveth, making no more mention of their false gods; in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; solemnly, and with strictest regard to truth. And the nations shall bless themselves in him; being called into communion with God's Israel, and counting themselves happy in the pardon, grace, and glory revealed and offered in the Redeemer; and in him shall they glory, renouncing all other confidence, and glorying in the fulness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note; (1.) They who truly turn to God must put away all their abominations, and no allowed sin be spared. (2.) An oath is an act of religious worship; and therefore to swear by any creature is blasphemy against God. (3.) Every oath should be taken in truth, with scrupulous adherence to it, asserting nothing of which we have not the fullest confidence, nor promising aught that we do not really intend to perform: in judgment, when called upon before a magistrate; or solemnly, not rashly, or in common conversation, but where the importance of the subject makes such an appeal to God lawful: and in righteousness, that justice may be done, and God glorified.
2nd, The prophet, having discharged his message to the men of Israel, and set forth their repentance, here addresses himself to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, whom he would provoke to jealousy by example, and excite to the like repentance. We have,
1. Their duty. This is represented to them by two familiar images. [1.] Break up your fallow-ground, and sow not among thorns. Not that of their own natural ability they could do this: what God calls them to, he offers them grace sufficient to perform. This is a striking image of man's natural heart, bringing forth no fruit to God; barren of all grace; hard and impenitent; unfenced, where every lawless appetite rages uncontrouled; overgrown with the briars and thorns of vile and corrupt affections; and therefore nigh unto burning, Hebrews 6:7-8. This fallow-ground must be broken up before it can produce fruit; and this is done by the word of God, convincing the sinner's conscience, and opening his heart to receive the seed of the Gospel, as the plough divides the soil, Heb 4:12 and the briars and thorns being rooted up, the seed is not choked, but brings forth fruit unto perfection. [2.] Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart. They placed great dependence on circumcision: but without the circumcision of the heart, and cutting off their corrupt affections, that which was outward in the flesh signified nothing. Note; All institutions and forms, however strictly observed, can profit us nothing, if the spirit and power of godliness be wanting within: nay, they serve but to delude and deceive the soul that trusts in them.
2. Their danger, great and imminent. Lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings. Delays are dangerous. To-day, whilst it is called to-day, they are warned not to harden their hearts. Note; (1.) It is sin which provokes God's wrath, and kindles the unquenchable flames of hell (2.) Nothing is so terrible as falling impenitent into the hands of that God who is a consuming fire. (3.) The moment of delay which God affords us should be eagerly seized, before the flames kindle round us; for then it would be too late to call or return.
3rdly, The judgments coming upon Judah and Jerusalem are foretold, as an awakening motive to their speedy repentance.
1. The alarm is spread through the land of the invading foe coming from the north; and they who are dispersed in the country are called to fly for safety to the defenced cities; flight being thought their only resource where resistance was vain.
2. The approach of the Chaldeans, with Nebuchadnezzar at their head, is described by a variety of images, expressive of the great destruction and ravages which would ensue. As a lion, pinched with hunger, sallies furiously from his thicket on the defenceless flocks; so fierce, so cruel, would the king of Babylon come at the head of his armies, the destroyer of the Gentiles, and now of the Jews, to spread desolations on every side; as a dry wind, sharp and piercing, violent and raging, which, instead of fanning or cleansing the grain, would sweep with resistless fury all before it. Thick as clouds they advance, and swift as the whirlwind: their horses are swifter than eagles; and therefore flight was impracticable as opposition was vain. From Dan, the most northern border, the first alarm is spread, that the nations may hear who were to drink of the same cup, and especially Jerusalem, against which this armament is intended: behold watchers come from a far country, threatening ruin to all the cities of Judah; and shouting, as confident of victory. As keepers of a field, who guard the corn, and prevent all entrance into it, so should these cut off from Jerusalem all supplies, and suffer none to escape. See 2 Kings 25:0.
3. The cause of the judgments is their sin. Thou hast been rebellious against me, saith the Lord, thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee: they had none to blame but themselves for what they suffered; it was the just recompence of their iniquities: this is thy wickedness, the fruit of it; because it is bitter, both the sin and the punishment; because it reacheth unto thine heart, a mortal blow, an utter destruction. Note; (1.) Whatever we suffer, we have only ourselves to blame; our sins are our tormentors. (2.) If we feel not the bitterness of sin to repent of it, we shall feel the bitterness of the punishment when repentance will come too late.
4. The terrible consequences of these judgments are described. Their hearts fail them. The king and princes, who should have roused the people to a brave defence, have lost all spirit, and cannot conceal their coward fears; the priests, whose office it was to animate them to the battle, are themselves astonished, and unable to sound a blast from the silver trumpets; and the false prophets, who had deceived them with visions of peace, are dumb with horror and amazement. Every warrior is sunk in despair, every face gathers blackness, and one universal groan is heard, Woe unto us, for we are spoiled. In vain then will they gird themselves with sackcloth, lament and howl; their desolations are determined, and the fierce anger of the Lord is not turned back: the decree of their ruin is gone forth, I will give sentence against them; and their destruction is inevitable, because the measure of their iniquity is full. Note; (1.) A sense of guilt makes men cowards. (2.) Wicked priests and false prophets, who deceive the people with visions of peace, will find God's terror around them in a judgment-day.
5. The prophet laments the deceptions of the people through their false prophets, to believe whose lies God in just judgment gave them up, which was among the sorest of their visitations. They had promised them peace; but now the sword reached unto the soul, drenched in the blood of the slain. Note; (1.) Among the heaviest curses of God this must be justly reckoned, when he gives up the heart to delusion, and suffers the blind to lead the blind. (2.) The faithful ministers of God behold with deep concern those who pretend to be teachers of God's word rending their false doctrines, and lulling the souls of sinners into a fatal security, endeavouring to prejudice them against the truth, and prevent every awakening impression which the zealous and true preachers seek to make upon their hearts.
6. He seeks to snatch them as a brand from the burning. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. He deals faithfully; not as the false prophets, glossing over their iniquities, but charging them home upon their consciences. Their heart was wicked; there the deep root of bitterness lay; and from that they must be cleansed, if they would be saved. And he expostulates on the folly and danger of delaying their repentance, How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? too long had they done so; it was high time to awake out of sleep, the judgments of God were hastening on; in a moment it would be too late to prevent them. Note; (1.) While wickedness continues indulged in the heart, there can be no salvation hoped for. (2.) There is but one fountain which is capable of washing the sinner's heart from his iniquities, and that was opened in the Redeemer's side—of blood and water: blood, to pardon the deepest guilt of sin; water, to purify from every stain of corruption. The pardoning and sanctifying grace of Jesus are inseparable. (3.) Vain thoughts are sinful; and if our hearts are not purged from these imaginations, our ways will be quickly perverse. (4.) When we consider how short our life is, how much is past, how uncertain the moment yet to come, it should be an awakening admonition to seize the present now, and seek to God to-day, while it is called to-day.
4thly, With deep concern and anguish the prophet beheld the miseries coming upon his people: his bowels yearned over the distress of his country, and his heart throbbed with bitter anguish:
1. For their sins: My people is foolish. This is the character God gives them; for sin is the greatest folly: for they have not known me: in name and in profession they had owned him, but had no experimental knowledge of him as their God. They are sottish children, stupid and untractable; and they have none understanding, respecting their true happiness, or the means of attaining it. They are wise to do evil; cunning to contrive and accomplish their sinful schemes; a wisdom which is their curse; but to do good they have no knowledge, nor do they desire to know; their inclination is averse to it. Such is the character of every natural man, till through grace he repents, and God takes away the blindness, and cures the perverseness of his heart, by bestowing on him the wisdom and grace which come from above.
2. For their sufferings: and these are enlarged upon and strongly described. The trumpet announces the alarm of war, swift and sudden the destruction spreads, and, successive as Job's messengers of evil, the dreadful tidings fly, of one city taken after another, till the whole land is spoiled, and all the country where the shepherds pitched their tents ravaged; no end of the calamity appears. The banners of the invading foe are displayed, and their warlike instruments are heard on every side. The country, utterly wasted, appears like the first chaos, when the earth was without form and void, and darkness upon the face of the deep; or it may be applied to the utter confusion of their affairs, political and ecclesiastical: and the heavens, as if unwilling to look upon their abominations, veil their bright luminaries with darkness: or so darkened and bewildered were their kings and princes, not knowing what course to take. The mountains trembled, and the hills fled before the face of the offended God; such terrors seized the most stout-hearted warriors. Universal desolation seems to reign through that once populous and fruitful land: the cities, without an inhabitant, lie in ruins; the country is wasted and barren as a rock; the very birds are fled, no food remaining for them: and all this arising from God's fierce anger, which is itself the heaviest part of the judgment: and this is not the case with one city or part of the country only, the whole is utterly ruined. Affrighted at the horsemen and bowmen, they flee to rocks and thickets to hide themselves: the cities are deserted and destroyed, and not a living soul remains in them; and, but for one word of mercy, they might expect a total extirpation, and their very name to be blotted out from under heaven: but God will not make a full end, a faithful remnant shall escape. Note; (1.) These awful images of Judaea's destruction give some faint description of that great and terrible day of the Lord, when his wrath shall finally be poured out on the ungodly; the heavens be dissolved, the earth burnt up, and all created nature return to its original chaos. (2.) Whatever visitations come upon us from the hands of men, we must look farther for the cause of them, if we would profit under them. (3.) In all God's judgments below, some mercy is mingled with vengeance; but hereafter there will be judgment without mercy.
3. Their sufferings are remediless. God will not help them; they cannot deliver themselves; and their human confidences will fail, and leave them in despair. If the earth mourn, and the heavens are black with storms of wrath, it is because God hath spoken their doom. His purpose is fixed, his sentence irrevocable: since they refused to repent of their sins, he will not repent of his judgments for them. He being against them, what can they do? whither can they go? Their own force is insufficient to resist the invading foe, and as vain their hope in these confederates. Though like a prostitute, that by painting and dress seeks to conceal her wrinkles, and hide her decays, Judah courted her allies, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair, every wile that she can use will no longer secure her gallants: sensible of her ruined state, they will forsake her in the day of her calamity, and help forward her destruction. In agonies, as a woman in the pangs of the most difficult travail, the daughter of Zion shall cry out, Wo is me now; her sufferings so intolerable; her case so desperate; my soul is wearied because of murderers; either those who dwelt in Jerusalem, at whose hands the blood which they had shed was now required; or through those horrid massacres made by the Chaldean sword. Note; (1.) They who fall into adversity will generally feel, to their cost, the vanity of creature confidences. The friendships of the world are faithless: God is the only friend who never fails. (2.) The paint of duties and devotions can stand us in little stead, if the deformity of sin continues underneath. (3.) They are remediless indeed whom God abandons.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27