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The calamities of the Jews, both alive and dead: he upbraideth their foolish and shameless impenitency; he sheweth their grievous judgement, and bewaileth their desperate estate.
Before Christ 600.
Jeremiah 8:1. At that time, saith the Lord— "The Chaldeans shall regard neither the living nor the dead. They shall put the living to death without remorse; and shall break open and defile the tombs of the dead, in hopes of finding riches deposited there. They shall cast them out of their sepulchres, and leave them upon the ground, without staying to collect them together and replace them:" See Bar 2:24-25. Among the insults of the victorious soldiery toward the cities of the enemy, Horace does not omit that of violating the tombs, as one of the most cruel and detestable:
Barbarians fell shall wanton with success, Scatter her city's flaming ruins wide, Or through her streets in vengeful triumph ride; And her great founder's hallow'd ashes spurn, That slept uninjur'd in their sacred urn. EPODE XVI. FRANCIS.
We learn from Josephus (Ant. lib. 7: cap. ult.) that king Solomon laid up vast treasures in his father's sepulchre, which remained untouched till the pontificate of Hyrcanus, who on a public emergency opened one of the cells, and took out at once three thousand talents of silver. And afterwards Herod the Great opened another cell, out of which he also took considerable wealth. Whether the Chaldeans had any notion of this particular deposit, or whether they were tempted by a prevailing custom of burying valuable things together with the bodies of the deceased, does not appear.
Jeremiah 8:2. And they shall spread them— And they shall leave them exposed, &c.
Jeremiah 8:3. Family— Generation.
Jeremiah 8:4. Shall he turn away— Or he that turneth away, shall he not return? Houbigant renders it, Shall they who are alienated never return? The similitude, says he, is taken from a man who falls by neglect, but afterward raises himself; and from one who departs from another in passion, but afterwards is reconciled; which was not the case with the Jews who fell by idolatry, but did not arise; who departed from their God, but returned not to him. See the next verses.
Jeremiah 8:7. Yea, the stork in the heaven— "These birds know by natural instinct the seasons when to return to the places of their former abode; whereas this people never think of returning to their former and only true God." The sacred writers often send men to the brute creation for instruction, in order to upbraid their stupidity. See particularly Isa 1:3 and Scheuchzer's Physique Sacree, tom. 7: p. 297 for an account of these birds of passage. Houbigant renders the last clause, But my people know not the accustomed ways of the Lord, see Pro 2:8 meaning the ways of divine providence, or the course of things whereby God governs the world.
Jeremiah 8:13. I will surely consume then, &c.— I was about to gather them, saith the Lord, but there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree; and the leaves themselves have faded: they have dissipated those things which I gave them. Houb. Instead of, And the things, &c. we may read, And what strength there is in them, shall pass away, &c.
Jeremiah 8:14. Why do we sit still?— This seems to be spoken in the person of the people who lived in open towns and villages, exhorting one another to repair to Jerusalem, and other fortified places, to seek for refuge; whereas the prophet had before exhorted the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to flee even thence. He therefore replies, in the following part of the verse, that God had indeed put them to silence in another sense; namely, he had taken away all their strength, and left them to be destroyed by their enemies. See Isaiah 47:5. Lowth and Calmet.
Jeremiah 8:16. The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan— Dan was situated at the northern extremity of Palestine, on the side whence the Chaldeans were to come against Jerusalem. See chap. Jeremiah 4:15. This verse cannot but remind the learned reader of Virgil's famous description of the horse, which has nothing in it more strong and expressive than the fine words of the prophet; the whole land trembled at the sound of the neighing of his strong ones.
Jeremiah 8:17. Behold, I will send serpents— Under the idea of beasts and venomous creatures are represented inexorable enemies: see chap. Jeremiah 5:6. Psa 58:4-5 and Calmet. That some persons possessed the faculty of rendering serpents harmless, is a fact too well attested by historians and travellers to admit of contradiction. But by what means this effect was produced, is not quite so clear. Pliny speaks of certain herbs, which being carried about, prevented the bite of serpents. Hist. Nat. lib. 20: sect. 15 lib. 22 sect. 25. Others tell surprising, but not altogether incredible stories of the affinity and influence of musical sounds. See Bochart De Sacr. Animal. par. II. lib. 3: cap. 6. Shaw's Travels, p. 429 and Sir John Chardin's manuscript, cited by Harmer, ch. 8. obs. 14. In this same manuscript the author remarks, that "those that know how to tame serpents by their charms, are wont commonly to break out their teeth;" and supposes this to be alluded to, Psalms 58:6. "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth." But whatever were the methods commonly practised, the enemies of the Jews are here compared to such serpents as were not to be mollified nor disarmed by any of those means; "they shall bite you, saith JEHOVAH."
Jeremiah 8:18. When I would comfort myself— Comfort, or mirth flies from me: sorrow hangs over me, my heart is faint. Houb.
Jeremiah 8:19. Behold, the voice, &c.— The prophet anticipates in his imagination the captivity of his countrymen in Babylon, a far country; and represents them there as asking with a mixture of grief and astonishment, if there was no such a Being as JEHOVAH, who presided in Sion, that he so neglected his people, and suffered them to continue in such a wretched plight. Upon this complaint of theirs God justly breaks in with a question on his part; and demands why, if they acknowledged such a protector as himself, they had deserted his service, and by going over to idols, with which they had no natural connexion, had forfeited all title to his favour. The people then proceed with their complaint in the next verse; setting forth, that, though much time had elapsed, they nevertheless seemed to be still, as far from deliverance as ever.
Jeremiah 8:20. The harvest is past— The people, besieged in Jerusalem, afflicted themselves on account of the length of the siege. "We flattered ourselves," say they, "with a speedy deliverance; the false prophets amused us with their vain predictions: behold, the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we have no appearance of succour or deliverance." The last siege of Jerusalem continued two years; and the false prophets during all that time continued to seduce the people by their frivolous promises. See Calmet.
Jeremiah 8:21. For the hurt, &c.— Jeremiah here deplores the misfortunes of Jerusalem, and continues to do so in the subsequent chapter. Houbigant renders this verse, I am wounded with the wound of the daughter of my people. I am thrown into grief; astonishment hath seized me; and so the French, J'en suis attriste.
Jeremiah 8:22. Is there no balm in Gilead?— "Whence then comes it that the wound of my people hath not been closed? Is it my fault? Have I not sent you prophets? Have I not given you time, instructions, and means to return to your duty? Have ye wanted physic or physicians? Why then are you not cured? Doubtless it is because you would not make use of the remedies, nor consult the physicians." The ancient physicians were all surgeons, and applied the remedies themselves. The balm, resin, or turpentine of Gilead, is celebrated in Scripture: compare Genesis 37:25. Joseph was sold to Ishmaelite merchants, who came from Gilead, and carried balm and sweet spices. Jeremiah, speaking to Egypt in chap. Jer 46:11 says, Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt. Physicians inform us, that turpentine, and balm in general, are good to soften, assuage, warm, dissolve, cleanse, dry up, and purge. There are various sorts of turpentine, which are distinguished by their peculiar properties, and the trees which produce them; for the terebinthus or turpentine-tree, the lentisk, the larch, the cypress, the pine, the fir, the pitch-tree, and several others, alike respectively produce them. See Calmet, and Scheuchzer on the place.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, In the dreadful desolations described in the former chapter, the unburied corpses lie exposed; here these savage invaders suffer not the dead to enjoy quiet repose.
1. The graves and sepulchres of Judah's kings and princes shall be opened, either through covetousness to search for treasures; or to show insult even to their ashes; or as a just judgment of God, who suffered the bones of the kings, priests, prophets, and people, who had so rebelled against him, to be exposed with infamy before those luminaries of heaven which they had worshipped, loved, served, and sought: they had walked in the most abominable idolatries, and set up these for their gods, as if their favour was to be desired, and their blessing to be obtained: foolish and impious the service! and now it appeared so, when they could not afford the least help, nor so much as collect their scattered bones, spread for dung upon the face of the earth. Note; In the day of Judgment the sinner's loathsome carcase will be more shamefully exposed. Isaiah 66:24.
2. Death, the most dreaded of human evils, now shall be courted; not that it has lost aught of its horrors, but because life is become intolerable; not from a hope of happiness in the exchange, but from despair of rest or ease below. The survivors of this evil family shall be so harassed and tormented in every place whither they are driven, that they shall look with envy on those who have perished by famine and the sword, and count their lot more eligible than their own. Note; That case is terrible indeed, when life becomes a burden, and the sinner is tempted to prefer strangling and death.
2nd, Never were people so infatuated to their ruin.
1. They persevered in their evil ways. In general, when a man falls, he seeks immediately to recover himself; and if he loses his way, he is solicitous to return into the right path; Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? and instead of any desire to amend, they hold fast deceit; obstinate against every means of conviction, they refuse to return. Note; Nothing is so great a deceit as sin; it promises so much enjoyment, and ever produces so much misery.
2. They disappointed (speaking after the manner of men) God's expectations from them. He patiently waited and hearkened, in case they might at last be prevailed upon to change their note, and learn the language of penitence: but not one spake aright, nor repented of his wickedness, reflecting with shame upon his conduct: but just the very reverse; they urged on their mad career in sin with such determined waywardness and fearlessness, as the horse rusheth into the battle. Note; (1.) God is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2.) The first step to real penitence is serious reflection upon the evil of our past ways, What have I done? (3.) The daring sinner who mocks at the terrors of the Lord as chimeras, and fearless rushes into the depths of iniquity, will find them fearful realities, and that half was not told him.
3. They were more stupid and irrational than the fowls of heaven, while they made the higher pretensions to wisdom. The birds of passage by instinct know the proper season for their coming and going, and how to direct their flight; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord; neither how to improve the calls of mercy in God's word, nor the corrections of affliction, nor his visitations on others; and yet they say, We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us. How shameless their pretensions! when their whole conduct appeared so contradictory. In vain had they the law, and the pen of the scribes to write out copies or comments upon it; their expositions were false, or at least they paid no regard to them, if true. Their wise men themselves are confounded at calamities which they could neither foresee nor avert: nor can it be wondered at, when, lo! they have rejected the word of the Lord, sent by his prophets; and what wisdom is in them, when they reject the counsel of God, and refuse to be instructed. Note; (1.) Many enjoy plenty of means, have Bibles and ministers, and yet are never the wiser for them. (2.) Whatever pretences to wisdom they may make, who reject God's revealed word, they will be confounded in the day of judgment at their own egregious folly.
4. For their sins they shall suffer. Their sins are before charged on them, chap. Jeremiah 6:13-15. Love of filthy lucre, most scandalous in those who are to preach and to be examples to others of deadness to the world. Insincerity; their professions were false, and their doctrine diabolical, tending to lull the sinner's soul into fatal security, instead of rousing him to a sense of his danger; and daring impudence, which knew not to blush, though convicted of their lies, and upbraided for their abominations. Therefore God's wrath is upon them; their wives shall be captive, and concubines to their enemies; their land possessed by aliens; and they, in the time of visitation, when God makes inquisition for sin, shall fall with them that fall, cast down, and utterly consumed. Note; (1.) Companions in sin will fall together into the pit of destruction. (2.) They who have been instrumental to deceive others to their ruin, shall receive the greater damnation.
3rdly, Wicked men are plagued for their offences.
1. God threatens utterly to consume them with famine and the sword. Blasting and mildew shall strip their vines and fig-trees bare, and leave not a leaf thereon: or their enemies would thus utterly consume their fruits, and rob them of all the providential gifts which God had so richly bestowed on them in that land of plenty; and the Chaldeans with a mortal sting, as the fiery flying serpents in the wilderness, shall bite them with their envenomed fangs, and no charm be found to sooth their rage, or stop their ravages. Note; (1.) It is just in God to take from us the mercies that we have abused. (2.) When the worm in hell begins to gnaw the sinner's conscience, it never can be charmed to rest.
2. Their complaints and distress are very bitter. To sit still in the country must be their ruin, where famine wasted, and which would be first over-run by the invaders; therefore they resolve to enter the defenced cities, and be silent there; either hoping for protection, or rather intimating, that it were useless to complain when they despaired of redress; because their destruction was from God, who, in just punishment for their sins, which they are compelled to own, though they perished in them, had given them this gall of affliction to drink. And herein they seem rather to speak the language of indignation against God for their sufferings, than of humiliation for their sins. Their expectations of peace, with which the lying prophets had flattered them, and their own foolish hearts promised them, were now at end. Nothing but trouble and terror were before them; the very neighing of the numerous cavalry advancing from Dan made them tremble, white they beheld the cities and country wasted, and the inhabitants captives or slain. Note; (1.) Unhumbled sinners in sullen silence behold their ruin approach, without power to avoid it, and without a heart to deprecate the wrath which they have provoked. (2.) When God sends his terrors before him, the strongest tremble for fear. (3.) They who continue in their sins look for peace in vain; for there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
3. All their confidence had failed. They buoyed themselves up with vain hopes that God, as king in Zion, would, notwithstanding all their provocations, not suffer the habitation of his holiness to be destroyed: and they expostulate with him, as if he was faithless to his promises, or his power weakened; but God replies, to their confusion, Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images? Their destruction was of their own seeking; they first rejected him for their God, before he forsook them as his people. Their expectations from their Egyptian allies were disappointed also; they continued to hope that they would come and force the Chaldeans to raise the siege; but the harvest is past, when they expected them, in April and May; the summer is ended, in July; and winter now approached, without the least prospect of deliverance, and we are not saved; so that they sunk into despair. Note; When the day of grace is over, nothing remains for the sinner, but a fearful looking-for of judgment.
4. The prophet bewails the miseries of his countrymen. When I would comfort myself against sorrow, either by meditating on God's promises, or suggesting to himself arguments for hope and patience, my heart is faint in me, overcome with the views of the impending calamities. The cry of Zion's inhabitants rung dolefully in his ears, groaning under the miseries that they endured from the siege, or in their hard captivity. He felt his heart wounded through them, and was broken by the tender sympathy of their sufferings; black as mourners in deepest distress, and overwhelmed with astonishment at the miseries he beheld. Is there no balm in Gilead? is there no physician there? either intimating the incurableness of their disease, and the death-stroke given to the kingdom; or as upbraiding them with their stupidity and obstinacy in refusing to be healed by the rich mercies of God, and rejecting the prophets whom he had sent to them. Why then is not the health of my people recovered? It was not for want of balm, or a physician, but intirely owing to their wilful opposition to all the means and methods that God had taken for their recovery. Note; (1.) A good man, a faithful minister, cannot but tenderly feel and lament the miseries which he sees disobedient sinners pulling on their own heads. (2.) There is balm in Gilead, a cure for every sin-sick soul; even the blood of Jesus; he is a physician whose skill no spiritual disease, however inveterate, can baffle; and in his hands the most desperate case never miscarries, when the penitent sinner casts himself upon him.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 8". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19