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Jeremiah 22:1-30 and Jeremiah 23:1-40, are connected together by similarity of subject. The temporal and spiritual leaders of the people, who are mainly responsible for the national catastrophe, receive their merited castigation. Jeremiah 23:1-8 of Jeremiah 23:1-40; properly speaking, belong to Jeremiah 22:1-30.; thus we get a well-rounded discourse on the conduct of the kings, with four symmetrical parts or strophes—Jeremiah 22:1-12, Jeremiah 22:13-19, Jeremiah 22:20-30, and Jeremiah 23:1-8. Each begins with a general exhortation or meditation, and continues with a poetical description of the fates, successively, of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin. The prophecy is concluded, according to the good old rule of Isaiah, by a Messianic promise.
Go down. Not literally, for the royal palace was probably the highest building in the city (comp. Jeremiah 22:6); but because of the spiritual eminence of the temple (comp. Jeremiah 26:10, "They came up from the king's house unto the house of the Lord").
And thy people. The Septuagint reads, "And thy house and thy people;" thus the passage will agree with Jeremiah 21:11, Jeremiah 21:12.
Parallel passage, Jeremiah 17:25.
I swear by myself. "Because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself" (Hebrews 6:13). A synonymous expression is, "As I live, saith Jehovah" (Jeremiah 22:24).
Unto the king's house of Judah; rather, concerning the house of the King of Judah; i.e. the royal palace, which, on account of its height and its being constructed so largely out of cedar-weed (comp. Jeremiah 22:14, Jeremiah 22:23), is called "Gilead, and the summit of Lebanon," just as Solomon's palace was called "the house of the forest of Lebanon" (1 Kings 7:2). Of Gilead in general, Canon Tristram writes, "No one can fairly judge of Israel's heritage who has not seen the luxuriant exuberance of Gilead, as well as the bard rocks of Judaea." And again, "Lovely knolls and dells open out at every turn, gently rising to the wooded plateau above. Then we rise to higher ground and ride through noble forests of oak. Then for a mile or two through luxuriant green corn, or perhaps through a rich forest of scattered olive trees, left untended and uncared for, with perhaps patches of corn in the open glades". The cedars of Lebanon, however diminished, still bear witness to the ancient fame of this splendid mountain district. A wilderness, and cities which are not inhabited. The comparison has a terrible significance when read in the light of De Vogue's and Freshfield's discoveries. For Gilead itself is full of ruined cities of massive stone architecture. "It is no uncommon thing," says Mr. F.A. Eaton, "to see these houses in a complete state of preservation, built of huge blocks of black basalt, with slabs of the same for the roof, twelve feet long, a foot and a half wide, and half a foot thick, and entrance doors also of basalt … great solid stones of the same material being used as lintels at the top and bottom". Cities which are not inhabited; not, indeed, the cities of Gilead of the time of Jeremiah, but constructed of materials which may reasonably be presumed to have been chiseled in a far more remote antiquity. (The date of the cities in their present state is subsequent to the Christian era.)
I will prepare; literally, I will consecrate; the Babylonians being instruments of the Divine vengeance (see on Jeremiah 6:4).
There is a fate worse than that of the dead Josiah. Weep not, in comparison, for him, but weep sore for him that goeth away (or rather, that is gone away). The king referred to is probably Jehoahaz, who, though two years younger than Jehoiakim, was preferred to him by the people on the death of Josiah. The counsel to "weep sore" for this royal exile was carried out, as Mr. Samuel Cox observes (and we have, perhaps, a specimen of the popular elegies upon him in Ezekiel 19:1-4): "A young lion of royal strain, caught untimely, and chained and carried away captive,—this was how the people of Israel conceived of Shallum". The conjecture is incapable of proof; and Ezekiel, we know, was fond of imaginative elegies. But probably enough he was in harmony with popular feeling on this occasion. The identification of Shallum with Jehoahaz is confirmed by 1 Chronicles 3:15 (Shallum, the youngest son of Josiah); the name appears to have been changed on his accession to the throne, just as Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:4). There is, therefore, no occasion to suppose an ironical allusion to the short reign of Jehoahaz, which might be compared to that of the Israelitish king Shallum (somewhat as Jezebel addresses Jehu as "O Zimri, murderer of his lord," 2 Kings 9:31). This view has the support of F. Junius, of Graf, and Rowland Williams; but why should not the Chronicler, though writing in the Persian period, have drawn here, as well as elsewhere in the genealogies, from ancient traditional sources? There is nothing in 1 Chronicles 3:11 to suggest an allusion to the fate of the earlier Shallum.
Shallum, or Jehoahaz, in his short reign of three months, had no opportunity of distinguishing himself for good or for evil It was otherwise with Jehoiakim, whose eleven years were marked by the worst characteristics of idolatry and despotism. He "had, besides, a passion for building splendid and costly houses; and as he esteemed his own position secure under the protection of a superior power, he did not scruple severely to oppress his helpless subjects, and wring from them as much money as possible" (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4.252; see 2 Kings 23:33-35). The building mania, to which Oriental sovereigns have always been prone, had seized upon Jehoiakim. The architecture of the original palace no longer, perhaps, suited the higher degree of civilization; the space was as confined as that of a Saxon mansion would have appeared to a Norman. That buildeth his house by unrighteousness; i.e; as the second half-verse explains, by not paying the workmen (comp. Habakkuk 2:12).
A wide house; literally, a house of extensions. Large chambers. The Hebrew specifies "upper chambers "—the principal rooms in ancient houses. Cutteth him out windows; and it is ceiled with cedar; rather … his windows, roofing it with cedar. "Cutteth out" is, literally, rendeth; it is the word used in Jeremiah 4:30 of the apparent enlargement of the eyes by putting powdered antimony upon the eyelids. Windows are, as it were, the eyes of a building (Graf compares Ecclesiastes 12:3). Beams of cedar wood were used for the roof of the palace, as being the most costly and durable (comp. Isaiah 9:10). And painted—rather, and painting it—with vermilion; a taste derived from the Egyptians rather than the Babylonians, who seem to have had a difficulty in procuring red.
Shalt thou reign—rather, dost thou reign; i.e. dost thou prove thy royal qualities)—because thou closest thyself in cedar? The second part of the clause must at any rate be. altered. Some render, "because thou viest (with thy forefathers) in cedar" (i.e. in building cedar palaces). Hitzig would strike out "in cedar," as having intruded from the preceding line (such a phenomenon meets us occasionally in the received Hebrew text), but this does not help us to a 'connected translation of the passage. Graf's rendering is grammatical, and not against usage; it is, "Dost thou reign because thou art eager about cedar-wood?" and yet the impression left on the mind is that there is some error in the text. The Septuagint finds a reference to one of Jehoiakim's predecessors, "because thou viest with Ahaz" (so the Vatican Codex), or, " … with Ahab". The latter king is celebrated in the Old Testament on account of his buildings, especially his ivory palace (2Ki 22:1-20 :39). The former was at any rate addicted to the imitation of foreign ways (2 Kings 16:11; 2 Kings 20:11). Did not thy father eat and drink? There was no call upon Jehoiakim to live the life of a Nazarite. "Eating and drinking," i.e. enjoying the good things within his reach, was perfectly admissible (Ecclesiastes 2:24); indeed, the Old Testament view of life is remarkable for its healthy naturalness. There was, however, one peremptory condition, itself as much in accordance with nature as with the Law of God, that the rights of other men should be studiously regarded. Josiah "ate and drank," but he also "did judgment and justice," and so "it was well with him."
But thou, O Jehoiakim, art the opposite of thy father. For (not, But) thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness. "Covetousness" includes the ideas of injustice and violence (comp. Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10); hence the second half of the verse emphasizes the cruel tyranny which marked the internal policy of Jehoiakim.
Josiah had been bitterly missed and universally lamented (2 Chronicles 35:25); and so, only perhaps with less heartiness in most cases, Jehoiakim's other predecessors (Jeremiah 34:5). The Babylonian kings, too, received the honors of public mourning, e.g. even the last of his race, who surrendered to Cyrus, according to the British Museum inscription translated by Mr. Pinches. Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! The Septuagint omits the latter part of this phrase, apparently because it seemed inappropriate to the death of Jehoiakim; but the parallelism requires a two-membered clause. According to Movers, the funeral procession is to be conceived of as formed of two parts, condoling with each other on having to share the same fate. Or perhaps mythology may supply a reason; it is possible that the formulae of public mourning were derived from the ceremonies of the Adonia; Adonis was an androgynous deity (Lenormant, 'Lettres assyriologiques,' 2.209), and might be lamented by his devotees as at once "brother" and "sister.". Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:13) testifies to the worship of Tammuz, or Adonis, and the highest compliment a king could receive might be to be lamented in the same terms as the sun-god. Jeremiah does not approve this; he merely describes the popular custom. The recognition of the deeply rooted heathenism of the Jews before the Exile involves no disparagement to Old Testament religion; rather it increases the cogency of the argument for its supernatural origin. For how great was the contrast between Jeremiah and his semi-heathen countrymen! And yet Jeremiah's religion is the seed of the faith which overcame the world. Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! Lord is in the Hebrew adon (comp. Adonis and see above). His glory is against the parallelism; we should expect "lady" or "queen."
Jehoiakim's miserable death, without even the honor of burial. The prediction is repeated in Jeremiah 36:30, where the statement is made in plain language. At first sight it appears to conflict with 2 Kings 24:6, "So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers: and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his stead;" but it is only appearance, and when we remember that the complete formula for describing the natural death of a king of Judah is, "slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David" (1 Kings 14:31; 1Ki 15:24; 1 Kings 22:50; 2 Kings 8:24; 2Ki 15:7, 2 Kings 15:38; 2 Kings 16:20), and that the phrase, "slept with his fathers," is used of Ahab, who fell on the field of battle (1 Kings 22:40), we are naturally led to the conjecture that Jehoiakim did not die a natural death, but fell in battle in some sally made by the besieged. Buried with the burial of an ass; i.e. cast out unburied. Beyond the gates; rather, far from the gates.
A new strophe begins here, relative to Jehoiachin, the son and successor of Jehoiakim. Go up to Lebanon, and cry. The people of Judah is addressed, personified as a woman (comp. Jeremiah 7:29). The penetrating character of the long-toned cry of an Arab has been mentioned by Dr. Thomson. In Isaiah 40:9 a similar command is given to Zion; but in what different circumstances! From the passages; rather, from Abarim. The range of Abarim—Nebo, from which Hoses surveyed the land of Israel, belonged to it (Deuteronomy 32:49)—completes the circle of mountain stations; Lebanon was in the north, Bashan in the northeast, Abarim in the southeast. All thy lovers; viz. the nations whom self-interest had combined against Nebuchadrezzar, and between whom and Judah negotiations had from time to time been entered into (Jeremiah 2:36; Jeremiah 27:3). "Lovers" (comp. Jeremiah 4:30; Jeremiah 30:1-24; Ezekiel 16:33, Ezekiel 16:37).
From thy youth; i.e. from the time that thou didst become a nation (comp. Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:15). It is tile Exodus which is referred to.
Shall eat up all thy pastors. The verb is that connected with the participle rendered "pastors;" strictly, therefore, shall pasture upon all thy pastors. The wind referred to is doubtless the parching east wind, the symbol of calamity, which is actually called a "sharp" wind in Jeremiah 4:11.
O inhabitant—rather, O inhabitress—of Lebanon. It is the people of Jerusalem which is meant; the "Lebanon" are the palaces of cedar-wood which together are called" the house of the King of Judah" (Jeremiah 22:6). How gracious shalt thou be; rather, How wilt thou sigh!
Coniah. A shorter form of Jeconiah (1 Chronicles 3:1), found again in Jeremiah 37:1. Perhaps this was the name this king bore prior to his accession, after which it was certainly Jehoiachin; Jeremiah has already spoken of one king by his earlier name in verse 11. The Divine speaker solemnly announces that though, as the representative of Israel's invisible King, Coniah were—or rather, be—the signet upon his right hand (a most valued jewel), yet would—or rather, will—he pluck him thence; i.e. depose him from his high dignity. The same figure is used in Haggai 2:23, "I will take thee, O Zerubbabel, and make thee as a signet;" and Ezekiel 28:12, where there is a well-attested reading, "Thou (O King of Type) art a deftly made signet-ring." (For the fulfillment of the prediction in this verse, see 2 Kings 24:12, 2 Kings 24:15; Jeremiah 24:1; Jeremiah 29:2.)
Cast thee out. The Hebrew is stronger—"hurl thee" (comp. Isaiah 22:17, Hebrew). And thy mother; i.e. the queen-mother Nehushta (comp. Jeremiah 29:2; 2 Kings 24:8). She seems to have been particularly influential (see introduction to Jeremiah 13:1-27.)
Is this man Coniah, etc.? The prophet's human feelings are stirred; he cannot withhold his sympathy from the sad fate of his king. What! he exclaims; is it possible that this Coniah is treated as a piece of ill-wrought pottery ware (comp. Jeremiah 18:4), and "hurled" into a strange land? He and his seed. These words have caused some difficulty, owing to the youth, of Jehoiachin. According to 2 Kings 24:8 he was only eighteen when he was carried captive, while 2 Chronicles 36:9 makes him still younger, only eight (Josiah's age on his accession). Hitzig thinks the latter number is to be preferred; his chief reasons are the prominence given to the queen-mother, and the fact that the length of Jehoiachin's reign is given with more precise accuracy in 2 Chronicles than in 2 Kings. It is true that the king's wives are mentioned in 2 Kings 24:15. But that he had wives may, according to Hitzig, have been inferred by the late compiler of Kings from the passage before us; or the "wives" may have been those of Jehoiachin's predecessor. Graf's conjecture is, perhaps, the safest view of the case, whether we accept the number eighteen or the number eight; it is that the "seed" spoken of as born to Jehoiachin in his captivity, and is reckoned to him by anticipation. It should be mentioned, however, that the Septuagint omits "he and his seed" altogether.
O earth, earth, earth. The repetition is for solemnity's sake (comp. Jeremiah 7:4).
Write ye this man childless; i.e. enter him in the register of the citizens (comp. Isaiah 4:3) as one who has no heirs. He may have children, but none of them shall succeed to his place in the community. This is all that the passage means; there is no discrepancy with history: how should there be, when Jeremiah himself has mentioned the posterity of Jehoiachin? Yet the Septuagint thought it necessary to avoid the appearance of such a discrepancy by rendering, not "childless," but "one proscribed" (ἐκκήρυκτον).
Jeremiah has been preaching in the valley of Hinnom, in the temple courts and in the streets of Jerusalem; now he is called to enter the king's palace with a message from God. The preacher must not wait for his audience to run after him, but he must create it. He must make his work public, not hiding it in modesty, but bringing it to bear on the widest possible field. He must not be content to maintain his unopposed ministry in the Church, but must boldly carry out his mission in the world. Religion is not a concern for religious people alone; people who will not come to church may be supposed to need it more than those who manifest their interest in it by attendance at regular services. If the court is irreligious there is the more need for the prophet to go into its midst.
I. THE HIGHEST RANK SHOULD NOT BE EXEMPT FROM THE MOST FAITHFUL PREACHING. The Hebrew prophets were remarkable for their clear and bold utterances before kings—often at the peril of their lives (e.g. Amos 7:10-13). Christ expects his servants to be equally faithful and fearless (Acts 9:15). When court preachers descend to become court flatterers they are doing their utmost to ruin their patrons. Kings may not often need to be addressed in the style of John Knox, in his sermons before Mary Queen of Scots; but they certainly should not be treated only to the drawing-room delicacies of Atterbury. The fastidiousness which makes strong words about unpleasant subjects seem in "bad form" in fashionable congregations is really a sign of sacrificing truth and right to mean pleasantness. Kings are men, and have human failings and sins. Rank confers power for evil as well as for good. The privileges and talents of a high position involve such great responsibilities, that the neglect or abuse of them is a crime of first magnitude in the sight of God. To ignore these truths is to act cruelly to the persons whom the preacher deceives by his smooth words.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE COURT IS OF GREAT INTEREST TO THE NATION. As men, the king and his courtiers have a fight to be dealt faithfully with by the preacher. But as persons in authority, their influence makes their condition of importance to all. The people are largely responsible for the condition of the court, since popular applause and popular censure always carry great weight there. Thus Jeremiah associates the people with the king in the address which is intended chiefly for the king. Even under a constitutional government such as that of our own country, the court has immense influence especially in social circles, and it is of vital interest to us all that this influence should be pure and true and righteous.
III. THE PROSPERITY OF A COUNTRY LARGELY DEPENDS UPON THE MORAL CHARACTER OF ITS GOVERNMENT. This great truth is one of the chief lessons to be derived from the Bible accounts of the history of Israel. We commonly rely too much on physical resources, wealth, commerce, military power, etc.; on political resources, legislative schemes, diplomatic complications, etc. We in England have yet to learn how much of our prosperity depends on honesty in trade, fairness in dealing with foreign nations and a high tone of political morality. To judge by some of our newspapers, it would seem that religion has no business with politics; that a county is glorified when her leaders stoop to underhand work that would disgrace the name of the most unscrupulous lawyer. The doom of Israel should warn us against this political atheism. Three duties are specially to be noted in the discourse of Jeremiah.
1. To execute judgment and righteousness; not only to pronounce just verdicts, but to carry out an active policy of justice.
2. To deliver the oppressed; non-intervention may be cowardly and selfish when the weak claim our help.
3. Not to oppress the weak; this applies to nationalities as well as to individuals, and is a warning for our conduct with dependencies, and the native races with which we come in contact in the colonies. For righteousness in these respects the promised reward is, not a mere deliverance from approaching calamities, but glory, fiches, triumph.
Jeremiah 22:8, Jeremiah 22:9
On visiting the ruins of a city.
What a picture we have here! Many nations passing by on the high-road between Egypt and the East struck with amazement at the ruins of Jerusalem. Is not the sight of a city in ruins always a source of pathetic interest? As we wander about the silent streets of Pompeii the stillness of death is appalling by contrast with the tumult of pleasure and commerce which formerly thronged those once busy thoroughfares. Such a melancholy spectacle muses thought and inquiry. Gibbon tells us that it was while seated among the ruins of the Capitol that he first thought of writing the history of the decline and fall of the city of Rome. The magnificent ruins of Carnac and of Persepolis naturally lead us to ask how prosperity and power came to pass away from Persia and Egypt. So must it have been in ancient times with the ruins of Jerusalem. Jeremiah warns the citizens that their city, now brilliant in splendor and prosperity, will soon astonish all beholders with its overthrow. We have in the words of the prophet a question and an answer.
I. THE QUESTION. (Verse 8.) It is put by the heathen nations. These people who cannot understand the religion of Jerusalem can see clearly enough her ruin. The world has eyes for the shame of the Church in her overthrow, though none for her highest glory, that of the beauty of holiness. The question is asked by many nations. The spectacle is open to all, and so startling that many are arrested by it. How true is this even in the case of individual men! If a Christian falls into sin and shame the scandal rings through the world.
1. This question bears witness to the horrible doom of sin. The ruins are so extensive and so completely wrecked, that all who pass by are fascinated and appalled by the sight of them. If strangers are so struck, how must the children of the city feel? Well may they hang their harps on the willows, and sit them down in despair by the waters of Babylon. Yet the temporal ruin of a city is slight compared with the spiritual ruin of a soul.
2. The question bears witness to the surprise that this calamity excited.
(1) It was in contrast to former prosperity. We are too ready to see in prosperity the promise of its continuance. But no delusion can be greater.
(2) It was in opposition to the boasts of the Jews. They had regarded their city as sacred and invulnerable. So the French under the empire were taught to consider Paris. And this serf-confidence carries weight with others; for the world is indolent and thoughtless enough to take people very much at their own estimate of themselves. Nevertheless it is vain.
(3) It was in spite of the supposed protection of God. The Jews were the elect nation. Hence the expectation of their immunity; but a vain expectation. No Divine favoritism will save us from the consequences of our sins.
3. The question suggests no possibility of kelp from the nations. They may pity, but they can do nothing. The stare of the crowd only aggravates the calamity. Well may such a prospect strike grief into the people interested.
II. THE ANSWER. (Verse 9.)
1. The cause of this calamity may be known. Even the heathen nations may know it. Providence is not so mysterious as we suppose. No study is more lofty or more useful than the study of the moral philosophy of history. Treated only on secular grounds, it may be perplexing and unsatisfactory. But regarded in the light of the principles of the Bible, it may be fruitful in sound results.
2. The cause is moral. The hosts of Nebuchadrezzar conquered Jerusalem. Swarms of northern races and Asiatic hordes swept away the power of imperial Rome. Paris fell before the guns and discipline of the German army. Yet in each of these cases moral corruption was behind the physical cause of ruin, sapping the strength of the doomed city and provoking the onslaught of its foes.
3. The special cause was unfaithfulness to God:
(1) forsaking God—for God never withdraws his protection from his people till they have abandoned their fidelity to him;
(2) breaking the covenant—for this had two sides, and God's promised grace is conditioned by the conduct of his people; and
(3) positive idolatry—for the unfaithful servant of God never rests with the abandonment of his God. He must serve some master. Such moral and religious corruption justifies punishment and requires chastisement. We may believe that a right understanding of the guilt and necessities of men will ultimately convince us of the righteousness and wisdom of God's sterner dealings, which at first naturally excite our wonder and dismay.
I. WHY NOT WEEP FOR THE DEAD? It is natural to do so. The religion of the Bible is not stoicism. Christ wept by the grave of Lazarus. Yet there are times and circumstances which make it fitting not to weep for the dead, and there are always grounds for the mitigation of such grief.
1. The dead are taken from the evil to come. This is the idea of Jeremiah. If death was a calamity, the fate of the living at the overthrow of Jerusalem would have been a worse one. If an evil, death is still the less of two evils. Even if we only think of the dead as leaving the sunlight of this upper world and passing to the dim land of shades, still they go to the place "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest." In less calamitous times we should feel that, as God knows all, he may have taken our loved ones to save them from some fearful evil which he, though he alone, saw in their path.
2. The dead are removed according to the wall of God. David wept for his child while it lived; after it was dead he dried his tears, for then he knew God's will and resigned himself to it (2 Samuel 12:22, 2 Samuel 12:23). This resignation is more than a sensible recognition of the inevitable; it is a calm and trustful acquiescence in the will of God as righteously supreme—for if the Lord gave, may he not take away?—wise, and good.
3. The dead have fallen into the hands of God. In what better hands can they be? How much better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man! We dare not dogmatize concerning the deep mysteries of futurity. But one thing we know—"The mercy of the Lord endureth forever." He is just, he may seem stern; the impenitent must suffer punishment, which can be nothing else but fearful, though fair. Yet may not this be the very best thing for them, even during their sufferings? For it is better for us to suffer for sin than to sin without suffering. And who knows what ultimate designs God may have?
4. The dead in Christ never need our tears. We may weep for our own loss, but this is their gain. Weep that the battle is over and victory won? Weep that the pilgrimage is finished and the pilgrim safe at home? Weep that the toil and sorrow, the temptation and sin, of this world are left behind, and the joys of heaven inherited? that the night has ended, the shadows flown away? that the light of the celestial city is beaming on the weary wanderer? Such tears are tears of unbelief.
II. WHY WEEP FOR THE LIVING? This may be required by special causes. Life is his children m this "a blessing. God gives many joys to his children in this world. The continuance of life is a privilege carrying with it the extension of advantages for faithful service. The brave and loyal servant of God will not selfishly crave a premature release from the duties of his life. Still there is a pathos about all life. "Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught." Special circumstances may make it fitting to weep for the living. There are calamities that are worse than death. Such seem to have been realized in the horrors of the sieges of Jerusalem. It is worse to live in sin than to die. The lost and ruined life claims our pity far more than that which is cut off by an early death. What curse could be greater than that of the "Wandering Jew?" Matthew Henry says, "Dying saints may be justly envied, while living sinners are justly pitied. And so dismal perhaps the prospects of the times may be, that tears even for a Josiah, even for a Jesus, must be restrained, that they may be reserved for ourselves and our children (Luke 23:28).' Why should not this situation justify suicide? Because
(1) we are not the masters of our own lives;
(2) no man can tell what may follow the gloomiest prospects in the boundless possibilities of life, even in this world;
(3) the man who lays violent hands on himself in rash, cowardly, and willful rebellion against God, may expect a worse condition in the future life than that of the man who is called away by Providence, and possibly far worse than any he is attempting to escape.
In no age could these words of Jeremiah be more appropriate than in our own. Whilst we must be most careful to discriminate and not to vent wholesale censure, there can be no doubt that the building trade of our day furnishes numerous instances of an unrighteousness in business transactions which is a scandal to the commercial character of our nation, and which, if it becomes general, must be a sure presage of ruin.
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF THE DISHONEST BUILDERS.
1. It is seen in bad work. Attempts are made to palm off wretched work with external decorations. There is a double crime here—lying and stealing; the work pretends to be what it is not, and undue payment is wrung out of the purchaser. Is not this commercial immorality to be witnessed in many branches of trade? In how many instances is it impossible to draw the line between the trader and the swindler? We find people accepting it as a maxim that every advantage should be taken of the ignorance, weakness, and trustfulness of others. It is forgotten that work should be done well for its own sake and in justice to others. Remember, God judges us more by the character of our work in the week than by the appearance of our worship on Sunday.
2. This wickedness is seen in the treatment of workmen. Those who live in rapidly growing neighborhoods know how common it is for poor tradesmen to be ruined by the speculative builders to whom they have supplied materials, and for the artisans to have the utmost difficulty in obtaining their wages. This is especially bad, because it is the oppression of the poor and the abuse of confidence. We have no right so to speculate as to risk the property of other people. The cruelties of slavery which accompanied the gigantic building operations of antiquity (e.g. in the building of the Pyramids) may be equaled in wickedness by the crime of those who steal the work of the poor to increase the chance of their own aggrandizement.
II. THE RUIN OF THE DISHONEST BUILDERS. "Woe unto him," etc.! Undue anxiety to get rich overreaches itself and ends in bankruptcy. Dishonesty in trade is poison to successful business in the ultimate issue, for it cuts at the root of the mainspring of all business—trust. The abuse of confidence must finally destroy confidence. No doubt commercial depression is largely due to this cause. If the abuse were general, there could be no commerce in the form that this must assume if it is to be carried on largely with the complicated civilization of modern life. We may be assured, too, that God will not overlook this wickedness. Success may be attained at first. The rich man may have built his palace and may be enjoying its luxuries. The commercial man may have brought his dishonest transactions to a successful termination. Yet the fraud and the cruelty are noted in heaven; and if there is a Judge above, the palace of the great will be no citadel to protect the guilty man from the thunders of Divine judgment.
The voice of God disregarded in prosperity.
I. GOD SPEAKS TO US IN OUR PROSPERITY.
1. There are important words which need to be spoken to us at such a time. We can never have all the wants of our souls supplied by the richest abundance of material good things, and we need heavenly words for our soul's sustenance then as much as in the conscious helplessness of trouble. We have special duties belonging to the time of prosperity. Prosperity brings talents, opens up opportunities for enlarged service, calls for renewed devotion of love and gratitude. There are also peculiar dangers attending prosperity, and it is well that we should hear a Divine voice warn us against them, and heed a Divine counsel which will direct us how to conquer them.
2. There are means by which God speaks to us in prosperity. He is ever speaking to us, even when we do not hear his voice—by the Bible we should be reading, by the ordinances of the Church and the institution of preaching, by the course of providence, by the life of nature, by the still small voice of conscience. But there are special voices of prosperity. Prosperity speaks to us of the goodness of God exercised towards us in spite of our ill-desert and in a degree beyond all reckoning.
II. THERE IS DANGER LEST WE SHOULD DISREGARD THE VOICE OF GOD IN PROSPERITY. God does not thrust his messages upon unwilling ears. We may refuse to hear. Yet he speaks so that we may always hear, so that if we do not heed his voice it must be because we will not hearken to it.
1. Prosperity may disincline us to do this because it seems to satisfy us without God. Really satisfy us it cannot. But temporarily it acts as an opiate, and when we do not feel the need of God we are tempted selfishly to disregard his voice.
2. Then prosperity is distracting. Sorrow is lonely and silent, and leaves us in the dark night to listen to heaven? voices and gaze on the wonders of the world above. The garish day of prosperity, with its noisy and dazzling distractions, withdraws our attention from such things.
3. Further, prosperity begets pride. It leads us to think much of self, to yield to self-will, and to rebel against the requirement to act as God's servants and stoop beneath the yoke of his will. Hence it inclines us to a rebellious disregard for his voice.
4. If men have been hardened against God from their youth, it is not likely that they will heed his voice in the time of prosperity. The longer we neglect this voice the more deaf do we become to it. It is terrible to think of the folly and wickedness of persistent disregard to God's truth while he is patient and long-suffering and persevering in seeking access to our hearts: Some great shock seems to be required to disturb this habit of hardened indifference. An earthquake of adversity may be required to break up such fallow ground. If trouble comes with this end it is a great blessing. The adversity of the Captivity was such a blessing to the Jews; it led them to regard the voice that was unheeded in their prosperity. So our sorrows are often blessings if they make us to hear the voice of our Father in heaven.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Truth-speaking under difficulties.
The prophet is commanded to go down to the king's palace and deliver his prophecies in the royal audience. His mission did not admit of time-serving or evasive utterance. Like that prophet who said to David, "Thou art the man," he had to speak to the king face to face and with great plainness.
I. GOD'S CHILDREN ARE OFTEN CALLED UPON TO WITNESS TO HIM IN DIFFICULT PLACES. In king's courts; in society; in unbelieving homes; in the office, workshop, etc.
II. THEIR WITNESS IS OFTEN IN SHEER CONTRADICTION TO THE ACTIONS AND HABITS THAT PREVAIL THERE. The sin of Judah was flagrant and open, affecting the most elementary laws of righteousness, The Law of Moses guarded the widow and the orphan. The Law of God, in its righteousness, purity, and love, is still strange to the world's life, and is constantly violated in it. But the duty of witnessing is only rendered the more imperative.
III. THEY ARE SUSTAINED BY:
1. The consciousness of inner rectitude and duty.
2. The witness of conscience in the transgressors.
3. The presence and promises of him who sends them.—M.
Jeremiah 22:5, Jeremiah 22:7, Jeremiah 22:13, Jeremiah 22:14
Building in unrighteousness.
The building of a house, be it small or great, is always an interesting and suggestive process. It is a lengthened operation, expensive, and representing a great part of a man's aims and efforts. Various purposes may be sought in it according to the character, circumstances, etc; of the builder—mere shelter, comfort, splendor, protection. As these come into view the object in which they are to be realized becomes representative of the living personality and character with which it is associated. Jehoiakim was a despot, bent upon aggrandizement, and so he sought to build a magnificent palace with forced, unpaid labor. The ambitions of unspiritual men, the exclusive and absorbing projects of earthly life, resemble the palace-building of this Hebrew tyrant in—
I. THE UNION OF EXTRAVAGANT DESIRES AND DISHONEST, UNLAWFUL METHODS. Easy for Jehoiakim to "go in" for a splendid palace, as he is not in the habit of paying his employee. Are there not many in modern life who act on the same principle? The desire for self-advancement and aggrandizement overtops every other consideration.
1. Unlawful methods of securing these are employed. Speculation; getting on in business in order to get out of it; adulteration; insufficient wages; prices that do not admit of honest manufacture; clap-trap advertisements, etc.
2. Imagining that others exist for the sake of one's self. This reverses the golden rule and the spirit of Christ's life.
II. ITS FUNDAMENTAL SIN. This is selfishness—self-glorification, neglect of God and of human claims. The great principles of the Divine kingdom are contradicted;—justice, mercy, brotherly sympathy, etc.
III. ITS RESULTS.
1. The ruin of the building; i.e. the life-project—the unhallowed aim.
2. The ruin of the builder—for time, perhaps for eternity.—M.
Jeremiah 22:8, Jeremiah 22:9
I. EXCEPTIONAL PENALTIES WILL ATTEND THE ABUSE OF EXCEPTIONAL PRIVILEGES.
1. As a measure justice. The position attained by Jerusalem was due not so much to its site as to its being the center of a theocracy. The foundation of its prosperity was a spiritual one. It was God's elective favor which had lifted it up above the cities of the earth. Presuming upon this, the first laws of righteousness had been violated and the whole conditions of the covenant relation ignored. This assumption of the inalienability of Divine blessings is at the root of every great apostasy. It is doubly unrighteous.
(1) As a robbing of God.
(2) As a misuse of a falsely acquired advantage and reputation.
The robbery of such things is of infinitely greater heinousness in so far as they transcend in their value merely earthly treasures, and differ from them in the terms of their acquisition. It is free grace and unrequited love that are trampled on, and the punishment must therefore be the more exemplary.
2. As a necessary precaution. Pretensions so great are apt to mislead others. People who say, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we," may be taken at their own estimation if no marked change takes place in their external condition. God, therefore, uses his judgment in its external signs as an index of his reprobation. Other nations than Israel have illustrated this principle in their decline and fall. The great peoples of Christendom are on their trial. There is nothing more hateful in the sight of God than a people that has outlived its religion and yet retains the profession of it. Although the chief penalties of unfaithfulness in spiritual things must be inward, external evidences will not be wanting of what has taken place. How colossal the ruin of a power that has once been Christian, and has been exalted through Divine grace for the fulfillment of pledges, which have never been redeemed (Matthew 23:37; Matthew 11:23)!
II. THE JUDGMENT OF GOD WILL BE ENDORSED BY THE VERDICT OF THE WORLD. Even the ruins of Jerusalem would be a thing to gaze at. Its desolation would be unlike any other. The epitaph of a forfeited spiritual supremacy would seem to be graven on the very stones. There is ever something unmistakable and peculiar in the condition of those who are rejected by God. Their misery is not as other misery, their ruin not as other ruin.
1. The spectacle will be self-explanatory. Not that every sin and failing of God's people would be written in earthly chronicles, but the causes of their decay would be broadly apparent. So is it with the Church from which God removes his candlestick, and the soul in whom the light has become darkness.
2. It will be morally impressive. Even in its misery the people of God will instruct the nations; and the Church of Christ will be a spectacle to angels and to men in its failures as in its successes.—M.
Fates worse than death.
Josiah's death was still fresh in the memory of the people. But their hopes were reviving at the accession of the young Jehoahaz, his son. For three months he reigned in Jerusalem, following the evil and not the good of his predecessor, and "Pharaoh-Nechoh put him in bands at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem." After appointing Eliakim, another son of Josiah, to reign in his stead, he took the captive prince to Egypt, where he died (2 Kings 23:31-35). The exile of "Shallum" was quite recent at the time of this prophecy, and the nation was naturally more concerned over the tragic fate of Josiah than the evil fortune of his son. Jeremiah hastens to correct this mistake by assuring them of the miserable death of Shallum in Egypt. From this we learn that—
I. DEATH IS NOT THE GREATEST CALAMITY THAT CAN BEFALL MEN. Shallum living, but in shameful exile, was really more to be pitied in himself and to he deplored for the sake of his country, than Josiah dead. The latter was-free from the degradations to which his descendants were exposed, and saved the pain of seeing his country rendered tributary; he had also children to occupy his place. But Shallum experienced all his nation's shame, as it were, vicariously, and was helpless to rescue it from the foreign yoke under which the intrigues of his brother had brought it. The hopes of Israel had in a special but easily understood way centered upon Shallum, in whom it trusted to see the restoration of ancient glory. All these are cut off by a decree more than human. He became, therefore, the type:
1. Of forfeited possibilities of usefulness.
2. Of national ignominy.
3. Of an irremovable curse.
The apostate professor of religion, the impenitent sinner, etc; are worse than dead. It were better for the offender of the little ones that he had never been born (cf. Hebrews 10:26; 2 Peter 2:20, 2 Peter 2:21).
II. THE COMPASSION OF MEN SHOULD BE CALLED FORTH FOR THE MISERY OF THOSE WHOSE WRONG-DOING THEY HAVE SHARED.
1. Because of its vicarious character.
2. Because of the Divine displeasure which it represents. This extends to themselves, even although they are not personally punished. Shallum, in this respect, is a type of him who was "made sin for us."
3. In order to practical measures being taken for its relief. There are many in our own day who, like Shallum, are the victims of national crimes and social sins. It is for those who have escaped the penalty to seek, by practical measures and the earnest presentation of the gospel, to redeem them to a happier life. The outcast and the fallen will be the brightest gems in the crown of the Church which gives itself to their redemption.—M.
Jeremiah 22:15, Jeremiah 22:16
The contrast between Josiah and his son has had many a parallel. The family emerges from honest homespun into splendid dishonor, dropping its virtues and its religion as it goes. In all periods of external development and material civilization it is well to remember that true greatness must be in the man and not in his circumstances, and that the richest amongst us cannot afford to do without the graces and benevolence that dignify and adorn even the humblest life.
I. SHAM ROYALTY. "Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar?" With such persons the romp of circumstance is everything. Autocratic imperiousness is mistaken for empire. The whole superstructure is unsafe because the foundation is false. The ground is undermined. In proportion as men lose the reality of power they grasp at its shadow.
II. TRUE ROYALTY. Essentially a spiritual thing.
1. In what it consists. In moral authority and real influence over men. This is never impaired by mere loss of external circumstance. The true king does not require his crown.
2. How it is secured. By
(1) dependence on God,
(2) simplicity of personal wants,
(3) singleness of patriotic purpose,
(4) sympathy with the ruled.
"It was well with him." This repetition is intended to impress. "Then it was well with him"—an emphasis of time that was to be noted. Josiah himself had gone away from this ideal life and God cast him off.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The mighty pleadings of God,
These verses contain record of what we may fitly term a Divine wrestling with his sinful people to induce them to abandon their wickedness and live, so intense and urgent are the motives which he brings to bear upon them. Note—
I. FOR WHAT GOD PLEADS. "That they should execute righteousness and judgment." It is the King Jehoiakim who is addressed specially, a monarch one of the worst who filled the throne of David. "He remained fixed in the recollections of his countrymen as the last example of those cruel, selfish, luxurious princes, the natural products of Oriental monarchies, the disgrace of the monarchy of David." For the estimate formed of him, cf. Jeremiah 22:13, etc. To him, therefore, God thus appeals. Now, this appeal is one God is ever making. Righteousness is his supreme solicitude (cf. homily on Jeremiah 7:1-34, on "Relation of religion and righteousness"). False or corrupted religions are ever characterized by indifference to righteousness. So long as outward adhesion to the creeds and customs they enjoin is given, a wide margin is allowed for the indulgence of the natural and evil propensities of humanity. But a constant characteristic of the religion taught us in God's Word is its demand for righteousness. The gospel is no less stringent than the Law, yea, is more and justly more so, as it has brought to our aid a Divine force by which the demands of righteousness may be more readily met. It does not make void the Law. So far from that, it establishes the Law. If we understand by "belief" that which a man "lives by," which some say is the etymology of the word, and at any rate its meaning, then the scornful lines of the sceptic may be admitted to be true—
"For creeds and sects let senseless bigots fight;
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right."
For if those principles of conduct, those governing motives of a man's life, lead him to right, then, though encrusted with what amount of error and superstition soever they may be, they nevertheless, because hearing such fruit, cannot be wrong at the root. And, on the other hand, however orthodox and scriptural the professed creed, if it do not tend to right conduct then that fact proves that the professed belief is not the real one, but one far other. "Be ye holy as I am holy," is ever God's demand. Note—
II. HOW HE PLEADS. See what forcible arguments he employs.
1. The mighty attraction of hope. Thus he would draw men off from sin. If those to whom he appeals would but hearken, he would work what would be virtually a miracle for them. He would stay the progress of ruin and decay which were now threatening the state; he would turn back the tide of events which was now rushing on in such vast volume and force to overwhelm the throne and people, and he would re-establish the ancient monarchy of David in all its pristine glory (cf. Jeremiah 22:4). To do this now that matters had gone so far would be as great a moral miracle as the cleaving of the waters of the Red Sea, and the Jordan, and the destruction of Sennacherib's army, were physical ones. But God would do that if but the wicked king would turn from his wickedness and execute righteousness and judgment.
2. The mighty compulsion of fear. Thus he would "drive them off" from their present evil ways. See the terrible threatenings of Jeremiah 22:5, etc. What a picture the prophet draws of calamity and of shame, which would be theirs if they did "not hear these words!" And to prevent the force of this threat being diminished, he distinctly warns them that his affection for them and the joy he ever had in them will not hold him back from doing what he said. They had been as Gilead and as Lebanon for beauty, fertility, majesty—his choice possession, his precious heritage; nevertheless his wrath would go forth against them if they refused his words. And this appeal to the King of Judah is like the Divine appeal addressed to sinful men now. What promises to draw men to himself, what threatenings to drive them from their sins, the Bible is filled with! So intent is the Divine mind upon righteousness. In face of this earnestness of God in this matter, what fools they must be who make a "mock at sin"!
III. WHY HE THUS PLEADS. Because of:
1. His love of righteousness. It is the element in which God lives and moves and has his being. He cannot live in an atmosphere of unrighteousness. It is hateful to him. Righteous men feel thus; how much more, therefore, the righteous God!
2. His love of men. How would a father feel towards any one who was ever causing distress and ruin to his children? How he would detest such a person! And, on the other hand, how would he desire that which ever furthers his children's good! Thus God must, out of love for us his children, hate that which ever hurts and harms us, and desire that for Us which ever ministers to our good.
3. His love for the sinner. God separates between the sinner and the sin, and whilst his love yearns over the sinner, his wrath burns against the sin. All his dealings with us are designed to effect a severance between the two. Death is the last and most effective separater; its keen sickle cuts the last bond that binds God's children to the dominion of sin. "He that is dead hath ceased from sin." Blessed be God that it is so! His providence, his Word, conscience, the strivings of his Spirit, are all designed to the same end, and our Lord was called Jesus because he should" save his people from their sins."
IV. WITH WHAT RESULT HE PLEADS. In this case it was of no use (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:16, etc.). And—alas that it should be so—it is often the same. When sin has got a certain hold on the will, no considerations will stay its course. No promises, no threats. How solemn a fact this I How it calls us to resist the beginnings of sin, to dread lest it should become such a habit of the soul as that God should say, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone!" But what is the result of God's pleading on ourselves? That is the question. God grant we may be able to answer it as he would desire!—C.
"Weep ye not for the dead," etc. Reference is to Josiah, the pious and patriotic King of Judah, who died deeply lamented (2 Chronicles 35:24, 2 Chronicles 35:25), being spared the pain of seeing and sharing the disgrace and suffering of his country (2 Kings 22:20). And by "him that goeth away" Shallum is probably meant. He was a younger son of Josiah, and was raised by the people to the throne under the name of Jehoahaz, but was soon carried captive into Egypt, never to return (2 Kings 23:31-35). Taking the words of tiffs verse generally, we note—
I. WE DO WEEP FOR THE DEAD. Not, however, in the same hopeless way in which the dead were mourned ere Christ brought life and immortality to light by the gospel. Still, though in a very real sense Christ has abolished death, we yet weep for the dead.
1. For the beloved dead. We can hardly comprehend how, if they be conscious, they can be happy without those they have loved here on earth. We know how much her children were to the fond mother of whom they have been bereaved, how she delighted in them and they in her, and hence we cannot see how she can be happy and blessed apart from them. And the fearful vacancy which the removal of the beloved dead causes in the circle of those who mourn them, the constant and dreary sense of irreparable loss,—all this is sufficient to make us weep for the dead.
2. And for the holy dead, as we think of the influence they exerted, the power for good they were to the family, the Church, the neighborhood.
3. And for all who die we mourn. For life itself is a blessing: "All that a man hath will he give for his life." If, therefore, they have been cut off in the prime of their existence, their "sun gone down while it was yet day," we grieve over the possibilities of honor, happiness, and usefulness which are thus lost to them. And if they have been unbelieving and godless, we weep yet more. So far as we can see, the door of heaven is shut on them ere ever they have sought entrance there. It is a fearful thing for a man to die unforgiven, impenitent, and unbelieving. But it is not of such that mention is made in this verse. How can the thoughtful soul do aught but weep for them? But—
II. WE SHOULD AT TIMES WEEP MORE FOR THE LIVING. Great blessing as life is generally, there are times when death is less a reason for tears than life is. It is so when life is a prolonged sorrow, or shame, or suffering, or, especially, sin. Our Lord himself bade the women of Jerusalem weep not for him, but, etc. (Luke 23:28). He thus declared that death—even such as his was to be—was preferable to life such as theirs would soon be. And death is a relief in cases not a few. Has not many a mother, heart-broken by the wild, wicked ways of a godless son, felt often that had he been taken from her when a little child, that sorrow had been less than his life now causes her? And our Lord said of Judas, "It had been better for that man if he had never been born." If sore sorrow can make life to be more pitiable than death—and it can—how much more grievous sin? Such a one is making the worst of both worlds. What is our life?
III. BUTT IS NOT DEATH, FOR THE GODLY, ALWAYS PREFERABLE TO LIFE? Is it not always the living who are to be pitied? St. Paul says, "To depart and be with Christ … is far better." And the author of Eccclesiastes declares, "Better is the day of one's death than the day of one's birth." And without doubt the condition of the blessed dead is better than any earthly lot whatsoever. An old divine represents one such as saying to those who mourned him, "Weep not for me. For," he says, "consider the evils I am freed from. I had a sickly, crazy body, especially toward my latter end; wearisome days and nights were appointed me. What would I have given many times for an hour's rest? But now all this is at an end. I shall be no more sick, no more pained; my head shall now ache no more. And are you sorry for this? I had my share also of worldly losses and crosses in my worldly affairs. I had one house burned over my head, and almost all that was in it, in a few minutes, and have had other cares and troubles besides; but now farewell all such cares. And are you sorry for this? You know that as long as I was able I was laborious in my particular calling. I never ate the bread of idleness, but of honest diligence; but now all that toil is over. I am got to bed, where I rest from my labors—from all my labors of that kind—never to return to them again. And will you grieve for this? A great deal of pains I have taken in travelling and attending upon holy ordinances, on Sabbath days and on weekdays, sometimes above and beyond my strength; but I am now where I have communion with God at the spring-head, without the conduit-pipes of ordinances. And will you grieve for this? You all of you have, and I doubt not some of you feel, a body of death. I am sure I did; and many a time it made me cry out, 'O wretched man that I am!' You know what I mean—the corrupt nature in the carnal mind, the sin that dwells in us, a proneness to evil, a backwardness to good; but death has eased me of that burden. When the health went out of the body that indwelling sin went out of the soul. There was an end of the leprosy that was in the walls. What all the praying and hearing, the Sabbaths and sacraments, the care and watchfulness, of forty years would not do, death has done at one blow. Weep not for me, then. I had daily grief in my heart for my own sins, for the sins of others, and for' the afflictions of my friends, and for the troubles of the Church of God; but now all tears, even those of godly sorrow, are wiped away from mine eyes. Therefore let none be in yours upon my account. And, lastly, the bitterness of death is past with me. I have shot the gulf; that last enemy, that son of Anak, is vanquished, and I am triumphing. 'O Death, where is thy sting?' And, therefore, weep not for me. But this is not all. If you consider the happiness I am entered into, that fair palace in which death was but a dark entry, you would not weep for me, but rejoice rather. Would you know where I am? I am at home in my Father's house, in the mansion prepared for me there. I am where I would be, where I have long and often desired to be; no longer on a stormy sea, but in a safe and quiet harbor. Would you know how it is with me? I am made perfect in holiness. Would you know what I am doing? I see God. I see him as he is; not as through a glass darkly, but face to face. I am in the sweet enjoyment of my blessed Redeemer, whom my soul loved and for whose sake. I was willing to part with all. Would you know what company I keep? Blessed company, better than the best on earth. Here are holy angels and the spirits of the just made perfect. I am set down ' with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God,' with blessed Paul, and Peter, and James, and John, and all the saints. And here I meet with many of my old acquaintance that I fasted and prayed with, who got before me hither. And, lastly, will you consider that this is to continue? It is a garland that never withers, a crown that fadeth not away."
IV. STILL WE ARE TO CHOOSE LIFE, IF IT BE GOD'S WILL. St. Paul did so; and we all, notwithstanding the blessed revelation of the gospel, desire life. And it is a natural and lawful desire. God 'has placed us here; he has visited us here; he has given us something to enjoy and something to do here. He expects us to value what he has bestowed. Christ did not desire that his disciples should be taken out of the world, but only kept from its evil. Paul desired to abide in the flesh, even when he was ripe for glory, and they are the healthiest Christians who in this matter tread in his track.
V. HOW, THEN, SHOULD THE TWO CONDITIONS OF LIFE AND DEATH BE REGARDED BY US? Are we, as this verse implies, and as is the common way, to count death a great misfortune? Certainly not. The world does, but the believer in Christ should not. Then, on the other hand, should we count life a misfortune, and weep and moan over it? As certainly not. In morbid, unhealthy, and therefore unhappy moods (cf. Jeremiah 20:14-18), a man may long to die and to have done with the weary woefulness of his life. And at such times—and they do occur—he has felt some sort of sympathy with the ancient stoic, who said that "the best gift the gods had given us in this life was the power of putting an end to it." But the universal instinct of man condemns this, and life is valued even for its own sake, and so it ought to be. "All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come"—such should be the soul's language, even under the heaviest trial. But the right regard of life and death is that of St. Paul. He was "willing to wait, but ready to go" (Philippians 1:23, Philippians 1:24). To be in his "strait" is the best position for us. To be evenly balanced between-the two desires for life and for death—that is the happiest mood in which a man can be. For the desire of life greatly to preponderate is to come under that fear of death which makes some "all their lifetime subject to bondage." And a preponderating desire for death is certainly not good. The strait of St. Paul is the place. God bring and keep us there! His desire for the "far better" lot of companionship with Christ was met and counteracted by his desire to glorify Christ in life through being helpful to his brethren, for whom it was "more needful" that he should abide in the flesh. And so he was kept in equilibrium, as it were, by these opposed forces, and the result was, as it ever will be, a saintly and devoted life. Paul's "strait" is the only easy position on the earth. Oh, to be in it! If you are held by both of these bonds you will not fear a fall on either side. "Although your life, instead of being in your Father's hands, were at the disposal of your worst enemy, in his utmost effort to do you harm he would be shut up between these two—either to keep you a while longer in Christ's work or send you sooner to Christ's presence. That were indeed a charmed life that should tremble evenly in the blessed balance. This way, we shall do good to men; "that way, we shall be with the Lord." Weep not, then, either for the blessed dead or for the holy living; bemoan neither, but bless God for both. But we may weep sore for him that goeth away an exile from God, never in this life, so far as we can see, to return. That sorrow is just; all other is misplaced.—C.
The Nemesis of oppression.
"Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness!" It is one of the many precious characteristics of the Bible that it ever represents God as the Avenger of the poor and oppressed. It tells over and over again how God "plentifully rewardeth the proud doer." And it is interesting and most instructive to note the manner in which God does this. Not so much by direct punitive inflictions of his wrath as by the results of those laws according to which his universe is ordered. That law of his universe is against the oppressor, and sooner or later overtakes and overwhelms him.
"Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small."
Now, here, in these verses, we have a Divine denunciation of oppression: "Woe unto him," etc.! And we note—
I. THERE HAS BEEN, AND YET IS, OPPRESSION. We trust that there is far less of it than once there was, but that it has disappeared we cannot affirm. Here, in our own land of liberty, we may know but little of it, but in the lands of the East, its original home, it prevails still to terrible extent. And the ancient kings of Israel were sorely tempted to allow themselves in it, and often did so, and would have mere largely had it not been for the perpetual protest maintained against it by the prophets of God. But if we feel, as we do, that a tyrant and an oppressor would meet but with short shrift in such a liberty-loving land as our own, how was it that oppression became so easy and so common in other lands? Therefore note—
II. THE CAUSES OF OPPRESSION, These will be most readily seen by noticing the lands wherein it has most prevailed. It has ever been where the earth has brought forth fruit of itself abundantly and without demanding much labor from the cultivator. And these lands, with scarce an exception, lie along that belt of the earth's surface which reaches from the East Indies and on westward to Mexico and Peru. It includes the Euphrates valley, Egypt, and then, crossing the Atlantic, it comprises the extinct civilizations of Equatorial America. It may be remarked in passing that Judah and Jerusalem were, at the time of Jeremiah's prophecy, in alliance with Egypt, one of these lauds of oppression, and whence the evil lesson would be easily learnt. But it will be asked, Wherefore was oppression more rife in these lands than in others? It has never been so in Northern countries as in these more favored lands. The explanation lies in such facts as these. All these lands have abundance of heat and moisture. The tropical sun furnishes the one and their magnificent rivers the other. And sometimes, in addition to these rivers, if not in place of them, as in the Gulf of Mexico, a large extent of coast-line ensures that vapors shall arise plentifully from the sea, which, descending on the already heated soil, provides the moisture it needs.
2. In consequence of all this the soil becomes very fruitful, and yields such abundance, and that with so little cost of labor, that it permits the formation of a leisure class, who subsist on its superfluous wealth.
3. These have become the intelligent and learned, and so the powerful, classes.
4. Meanwhile the wage-receiving population has multiplied greatly, and the wage fund having to be spread over so much larger surface, the share of each laborer has become less and less.
5. Here, then, on the one hand is a vast swarm of impoverished people, and as ignorant as they are poor, and on the other a rich, intelligent, and therefore powerful minority. And as the rich grew richer and richer the poor grew poorer and poorer, and gradually sank down, as in these countries they have ever done, into a mass of slaves, the ready victims of the oppressors' power. No doubt other forces were at work at the same time to favor the growth of this oppression—the superstition of the people and the enervating influence of the climate. But thus oppression grew, and its fruits are still visible in the huge Pyramids, temples, palaces, and the like, which remain to show the abundance of labor and the prodigality with which it was used.
6. But in the colder climes of the North the more niggard soil demands continuous, careful, and laborious cultivation, and thus the growth of population was checked and the distribution of wealth became more equal; and at the same time the rugged soil seemed to impart its character to those who cultivated it, and rendered it impossible that such men should ever become the passive victims of oppression. And so, whilst the soft, luxurious climes such as those referred to have never been favorable to the development of the people inhabiting them, those more stern and inhospitable regions, where toil, severe and continued, is necessary would men live, have nurtured races of men who, more than any others, have approached the true ideal of manhood. But whilst the facts now noted became the occasion, opportunity, and temptation to oppression, other laws have been at work, securing that, where this temptation has been yielded to, as it has been so often, there the oppressed shall ere long be avenged. Note—
III. THE NEMESIS OF OPPRESSION. There is such an avenger. For oppression ever kills patriotism and loyalty. What can a horde of wretched slaves care for a country or a rule which has never been other than horribly cruel to them and theirs? Patriotism and loyalty are the offspring of freedom and righteous rule, but never of the oppressor's rule. And thus, sooner or later, "woe" ever cometh "to him who buildeth his house by unrighteousness." For when such a land is invaded, or insurrection arises, or in any way the authority of the rulers is threatened, they have no support in the people who are altogether indifferent as to who their rulers may be, and feel that almost any change must be for the better. See this illustrated in the revolt under Jeroboam, whereby Israel was forever separated from Judah; in the fall of Nineveh and of Babylon, and in the oft-recurring revolutions and invasions amid the dynasties and thrones of the East (cf. also Buckle's 'History of Civilization' for further illustration). Thus in nature and in providence, as well as in his written Word, God has pronounced "woe' on oppression and the oppressor. Learn from all this:
1. To accept gratefully the sterner conditions of life which may be appointed for us. Sunny skies, warm climates, and prolific soils nurture slaves rather than men. No cross, no crown, is a universal law.
2. Adore and trust in that God who has said so emphatically that he will judge the poor and needy, and hurl the oppressors from their seats.
3. Remember that the woe against unrighteousness falls on every house that is built thereby.—C.
Son and father: a sad contrast.
A wicked son, Jeheiakim is not only reproached with his wickedness, but reminded of the very different conduct of his honored father. The contrast is very striking, varied, and instructive. It is seen—
I. IN THE PARENTAGE OF THE TWO PRINCES. Jehoiakim had the great advantage of being the son of an eminently good father. All the impulse and help that could come from such a fact was his. Josiah, on the other hand, was the son of a pre-eminently bad man—of King Amen, of whom it was said, "Amen sinned more and more." Yet, in spite of his godly parentage, Jehoiakim became so evil, whilst Josiah, notwithstanding his evil parentage, became so good. T. Fuller, noting in connection with the genealogies of our Lord a similar fact, quaintly remarks, "I find a good father had a bad son; that is ill news for me: but I find also that a bad father had a good son; that is good news for my son." For further consideration of facts like these, see homily (infra) on "Exceptional facts in the law of transmission of character."
II. IN THEIR CONDUCT. Jehoiakim lived in splendor amid the misery of the nation, and amused himself with building palaces when the whole land was ground down by heavy taxation (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:3; 2 Kings 23:25). He also took the people's forced labor without pay for these buildings, in violation of Le Jeremiah 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15 (cf. also Deuteronomy 24:13-15). But Josiah his father did "judgment and justice;" "he judged the cause of the poor and needy" (Deuteronomy 24:15).
III. IN CHARACTER. Jehoiakim's is summed up in the short, stern sentence, "He did evil in the sight of the Lord his God" (2 Chronicles 36:5). And the facts above noted show his rapacity, cruelty, and oppression. But what a contrast to what his father Josiah was (cf. 2 Chronicles 34:1-33.)!
IV. IN HAPPINESS. With all his tyranny Jehoiakim could not command happiness for himself. The mutterings of the thunder of the Divine judgments were continually being heard, and the rebukes of the prophets of God, together with those of his conscience, which could not have been silent, and the sullen discontent of his people, all combined to haunt his palace with omens of wretchedness and to fill his heart with fear. On the other hand, it is said of King Josiah that he "did eat and drink, and it was well with him;" the meaning of which is, that he was no ascetic, that he enjoyed life and lived prosperously and joyously. It is ever so. "In keeping of God's commandments there is great reward"—in the sunshine of the soul which comes from the consciousness of the Divine approval, and the testimony of a clear conscience, and the love and esteem of those over whom rule is exercised.
V. IN THEIR DEATH. The actual circumstances of Jehoiakim's death are not declared. But sufficient hints are given to show that his sun went down in clouds and darkness, that his end was miserable. "According to one account;' says Stanley, "his memory was held in detestation; there were no funeral dirges over him, as there had been over his father and brother, but his corpse was thrown out, like that of a dead ass (cf. Deuteronomy 24:18), outside the walls of Jerusalem, exposed to the burning sun by day and the biting frost by night. And this prophetic curse was darkened with a yet deeper hue by the legend which described how, on the skin of the dead corpse, as it thus lay exposed, there appeared in distinct Hebrew characters the name of the demon Codonazer, to whom he had sold himself. He remained fixed in the recollections of his countrymen as the last example of those cruel, selfish, luxurious princes, the natural product of Oriental monarchies, the disgrace of the monarchy of David." But of King Josiah the record is far otherwise. "So mournful a death had never occurred in the Jewish annals. All the population of the city and the kingdom, attended the funeral. There was an elegy over the departed king, probably as pathetic as that which David had sung over Saul and Jonathan. It was by Jeremiah, the most plaintive of the prophets, who then first appears on the scene of public acts. Long afterwards was that sad day remembered, both as it was celebrated on the field of battle and at Jerusalem. The lamentation of Jeremiah was preserved in the memory of the male and female minstrels as a national institution, even till long after the return from the Captivity. Every family shut itself up and mourned apart. In the prospect of the heaviest calamity that could befall the nation, this was the mourning which recurred to them, mourning as one mourneth for his only son, in bitterness as one is in bitterness for his firstborn. The childless mother laid herself down to die; the sun of her life went down as at midday, as in the total eclipse of that fatal year. Josiah was the last royal hero of Israel." Such are some of the contrasts presented by these two careers of the son and father. They teach us:
1. That whilst we should be thankful for the blessings of a pious parentage, we are not to presume upon it as if it were a sure safeguard or a certain prophecy of what our end shall be.
2. That should it be our lot to be the child of ungodly parents, the same grace that made Josiah what he was can surmount all early disadvantages, and make us far other and better than what our start in life may have led men to expect. He who, as did Josiah, wilt set himself whilst he is yet young to seek the Lord shall surely find him, and also that he who honors God, God will honor.—C.
Exceptional facts in the law of transmission of character.
"Concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah King of Judah." The law is that like begets like. It is so physically and mentally to large extent, and morally and spiritually as well. Generally, blessed be God, the children of his servants become his servants too. And, on the other hand, the habit of sin in the parent is reproduced in the child, so that we have criminal classes, hereditary drunkards, profligates, and much else of a similar sad sort. But the law has frequent exceptions on both sides. The two names in this verse are both of them instances of such exception. Now, how are we to account for them? We have frequent instances in the Old Testament. The sons of "Aaron the saint of the Lord;" of Eli, the devout high priest; of Samuel, the upright judge. What a set David's children were! And here we have Josiah the good, father of the infamous Jehoiakim. But we have nothing of this in the New Testament. It does not seem to be recognized there that the children of the godly can be otherwise than godly themselves. Even when one of the parents was an unbeliever, a heathen, the faith of the other was held to have such virtue that of their children St. Paul says, "Now are your children holy." We have very many instances of whole households being believers, but none of the children of believers being other than what their parents were. Would to God it were always so now! And, on the other hand, we have, as in the cases of the pious Hezekiah, son of the wicked Ahaz, and Josiah, son of Amen, who "sinned more and more," instances of ungodly parents having godly children. Now, how are these to be accounted for? Consider the sad case—
I. THAT GODLY PARENTS SHOULD HAVE UNGODLY CHILDREN. We are accustomed to assent to the possibility and frequency of this as an unquestionable truth. But is it so? We would ask two questions with a view to a better understanding of the matter.
1. Is it meant that godly parents who have been both able and anxious to train their children for God may yet have ungodly children?
(1) Some godly parents are not thus able. Probably Josiah was not. The might of evil, the fearful sweep and rush of its tide, was probably in those days, and in that court and city, too great for even the godly king to withstand, and it bore away his son before his eyes. For a prince in that age to be godly was almost a miracle. And that which we have suggested as perhaps and probably accounting for the ungodliness of Josiah's son may explain some similar cases now.
(2) But more are not really anxious about it. If parents were as anxious about the godliness of their children as they are about their health, education, and start in life, and took as much pains to secure it, such cases as we are considering would be more rare than they are.
(3) The children of believers ought not to need conversion. They should grow up in the kingdom of God in which their baptism declared them to be already members. But there is a deadly doctrine all too influential in thousands of Christian homes, that children must go into the far country first, and there live more or less prodigal-like, and then afterwards come to themselves, be converted, and return. And of course what is expected of such children happens, as far as the going away is concerned: not always the return. But why should they ever go into that far country? The elder son though, like Jonah and many a devout Jew (cf. Paul's "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God," etc.), he was perplexed at the Father s gracious way of dealing with repentant sinners, was the elder Son still who had been ever obedient, and to whom the father said, "Son, thou art over with me, and all that I have is thine;" as much as to say, "Why do you complain of my treatment of your poor wretched brother? Yours is far the better lot; you are so much the happier that you assuredly ought not to complain." So did the lather "entreat him," and, no doubt, successfully. But from most mournful forgetfulness of the fact that there is no need that our children should go away, and that they ought not to go away, many parents let them go, or at least acquiesce in their going as something that is inevitable. Hence, as it is of no use to be anxious and guard against the inevitable, they take no such pains about their children's godliness as they do about those other more temporal matters which concern their welfare, and which they know do very largely depend upon the endeavors they, their parents, put forth. They cannot avoid desiring their children's highest good, and in family prayers and private ones it is remembered before God. But the energies of the will are never roused up to seek it as other and lesser things are sought. Would to God they were! Now, we say that if you have a case of real ungodliness in the children of the godly, it is to be accounted for by the fact that either the parents were not able or else not really anxious to train them for God. More often the latter is the sad truth.
2. But we ask, also—What is meant by ungodly? Do you mean those who for a while go astray, but afterwards come back? Of course, if the sin be like Manasseh's, very flagrant and long-continued, then, even though there may be the after coming back, as there was in his case, it must be allowed that such are ungodly. But that stern word should generally be reserved for a life wholly without God, and not be cast carelessly on those who, like so many of God's saints have done, may fall yet rise again; still less on children because of their natural thoughtlessness and incapacity of thinking seriously for a long time about anything. God forbid they should I But if the word "ungodly" Be confined, as it should be, to those whose lives are wholly or for the most part without God, then we affirm that such children do not spring from parents both able and really anxious to train them for God. To affirm that they are would be to contradict:
(1) God's word; e.g. "Train up a child … and when he is old he shall not depart from it;" "Ask, and ye shall receive;" and the many promises to answer prayer. Now, we know that the godliness of our children must be in accordance with the Divine will, therefore all these promises must be set aside if, etc. And St. Paul bids parents train their children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;" and he never hints that such training may after all be thrown away. What was the constant baptism of households but an indication of the apostolic and primitive belief that, as a matter of course, in the faith of the father the children would share? The promise was to them and their children.
(2) Analogies. If there be real pains to train children in a given manner educationally, socially, morally—as there is on the part of parents—success is gained nearly always. And so it would be in things spiritual. There is no slight done to the truth of the Holy Spirit's agency in this great matter, but all that is urged is that we obey the laws of the Spirit.
(3) Facts. No instance can be shown where there has been real solicitude and opportunity on the part of the parents that their children should be godly, of such children having been permanently ungodly. There has not been permanent failure, though there may have been temporary. It would be horrible to believe that God had drawn forth the earnest yearning of the parent's heart for the salvation of their children—a yearning attested by all loving and consistent endeavor in the way of example, education, influence, direct and indirect—and yet, after all, such desire to be miserably and forever disappointed. We will not believe it. And, on the other hand, there are innumerable instances which show that it is the rule that godly parents should have godly children. Nearly all the godly today are the children of the godly. Instead of the fathers have risen up the children. Such is God's blessed order, and we should be slow to believe that he ever sets it aside. It is well for every father and mother to take it to heart that if their children turn out ungodly the fault is, in all probability, theirs. But now note the opposite case—
II. THAT UNGODLY PARENTS SHOULD HAVE GODLY CHILDREN. We have referred above to such cases. And they frequently occur. The chaff nourishes the wheat in its bosom. The ungodly home nurtures godly children. How is this?
1. Sometimes it is because ungodly parents are more careful than even others about the companionships of their children. They try to gain a good for their children which they know they have not for themselves. Many a bad parent wishes his child to be good.
2. Sometimes the children, seeing how wretched sin makes their home, are led to seek "a more excellent way' for themselves. The ways of godliness seem like paradise to the victim of the ungodliness of many a home. How Sunday school children—many of them from terrible homes—love their school!
3. God willing to show them that there is nothing too hard for the Lord. Can a man bring forth a clean thing out of an unclean? Certainly not. But God can, and in these instances does. And the reasons for such gracious action may be:
(1) Pity for the children.
(2) Instruction to his Church. They are to despair of none.
(3) The glory of his Name.
Hence he snatches these, trophies as it were, from the very gates of hell; plucks them as brands from the burning.
4. Conclusion. Let us give God thanks that he does this. That Amens have Josiahs for children; Ahaz, Hezekiah; Henry VIII; Edward VI. That from such a court as that of the previous reigns our own beloved queen should have come. God be praised for this and every such instance!—C.
The impassioned cry of God to man.
This cry, "O earth, earth, earth," etc; sounds out like the alarm of fire, or some bitter cry of distress. It startles by its earnestness, arrests and demands attention, and compels us to inquire into its cause. Note, therefore—
I. THE OCCASION OF IT. This will show us what word of the Lord's is meant. It was wrung out from the prophet's heart by the sight of the calamities now so swiftly coming upon his beloved land. To think of that land overrun by the cruel armies of Babylon, the holy city burnt with fire, the temple of the Lord desecrated and destroyed, and her kings, one after another, ending their days in misery; Josiah, the happiest of them, slain in battle; Shallum, his son, exiled in Egypt, and dying there; Jehoiakim carried off by Nebuchadrezzar, and perishing at a very early age, and in some miserable manner—"buried with the burial of an ass" (Jeremiah 22:19); Jeconiah, with his mother, seized by the Chaldeans, torn from his home and taken to Babylon, and there living and dying in drear exile—he the last of the royal race, after whom none other filled the throne of David. It was the sight of all these calamities, and the shame and disgrace attached to them, and especially the remembrance of the cause of them all, that extorted this loud cry of pain, this impassioned appeal. (Cf. Stanley's 'Lectures on Jewish Church,' Leer. 40; for history of period.) Would we realize the prophet's distress, let us endeavor to imagine that the circumstances were our own; that it was our own land, people, temples, princes, thus threatened, thus exiled, thus miserably perishing. What should we think then? No wonder that Jeremiah was "the weeping prophet;" that he felt the woes of his country to be so great that he could appeal to all who witnessed them, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if," etc. (Lamentations 1:12). And, like Dives in hell, who bethought himself of his five careless, godless brethren, and would have them warned; so the prophet of God, knowing how all the world was heedless of God, even as his own land had been, to its sore cost, now passionately cries, "O earth, earth, earth," etc. He would have sinners everywhere take heed, by Judah's awful fate, of how God will surely punish sin. The word he would have them hear was the word Of warning. This is the lesson which the occasion of this appeal teaches us. There are many other words which God addresses to us—words of mercy, promise, instruction, and the like; but unless we take heed to this word and dread the sin which works such woe, all' the others will be but lightly esteemed. And that which makes this word yet more emphatic is the position of privilege and honor and security which those now judged of God once occupied (cf. verse 24). Coniah was as God's signet ring, precious, honorable, and guarded with all care. But it made no difference: as a ring might be plucked off and cast away, so now God would root out and east away these evil-doers, though once so dear to him. It matters not, then, what position of privilege, profession, reputation, service, and the like we fill, disobedience to God's commands will cast us down and work our ruin. "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall;" "Be not high-minded, but fear;" "If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee."
I. THE MANNER OF IT. This will show how disregarded this word of the Lord too commonly is. There would have been no need of such impassioned appeal if men were eager to listen. But the cry has to be loud, repeated, and ever louder still. The world has but to whisper; the lowest accents of pleasure, self-interest, and often of sin, are caught in a moment and obeyed. But the word of the Lord finds no such reception ready. How different this from all other creatures of God!—from the holy angels that "excel in strength and do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word," down to the meanest and humblest of all the works of his hands. Man alone stands out in disgraceful exception. One should have thought that the near approach of danger would quicken the sense of fear and lead to increased caution. As when the ship nears a perilous coast how frequent the soundings, how sharp the look out! But the ungodly, the nearer they come to the shore of the, for them, awful other world, the less concerned they seem to be, the more dull of hearing the word of the Lord. Like the cold, which benumbs and paralyzes the more intense it becomes. Hence, if man is to be awakened from his spiritual slumber, God must cry aloud, lift up his voice with strength, as here, "O earth, earth, earth," etc. Does not our own conscience bear witness to the truth of our backwardness to hear God's word which the manner of this appeal implies. How often God has called to us, by his Word, his Spirit, his providence, and we have not answered!
III. THOSE TO WHOM IT IS ADDRESSED. Thus we shall learn the importance and universality of this word. For by the earth which is appealed to we may understand:
1. Inanimate nature. As Isaiah 1:1-31; "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth." As if the prophet would call on the very stones to cry out and attest the momentous importance of this word of the Lord; as if the earth might be trusted to hear though man would not. And is not this word important, in these days especially, when the sense of sin has become so feeble, and men trifle with it as a matter of indifference? It is every day ensnaring souls and hardening them more and more. And the time for awakening them is short. The crash of the gates shutting against them will arouse them, but then it will be too late. When the ship has struck, the shock of the blow is but the prelude to the cry of despair, which tells that there is no hope, for there is no time to escape. Yes, men need to be warned, need to hear this word of the Lord; and woe to them whose duty it is to declare it if they fail so to do.
2. But earth or land tells of the people who dwell thereon—the inhabitants of the world. The prophet appeals to them all, not to a mere section of them. Not to Palestine, still less Judah only, but to the whole earth. For it is a word which all need to give heed to: the believer, that his compassion for sinners may be aroused; the undecided, that his indecision may come to an end; and the ungodly, that they may tremble with a holy fear. Lastly—
IV. THE AUTHOR OF IT. This will show to us the heart of love that utters itself in it. The stern "threats of God do not lessen his love but enhance it. They are the crowning marks of mercy. A shepherd, foreseeing a snowstorm that will drift deep into the hollows of the hill, where the silly sheep, seeking refuge, would find a grave, prepares shelter in a safe spot and opens its door. Then he sends his dog after the wandering flock to frighten them into the fold. The bark of the dog behind them is a terror to the timid sheep; but it is at once the sure means of their safety and the mark of the shepherd's care. Without it the prepared fold and the open entrance might have proved of no avail. The terror which the shepherd sent into the flock gave the finishing touch to his tender care, and effect to all that had gone before it. Such precisely, in design and effect, are the terrible things of God's Word" (Arnot). It is because God is so intent on moving us from impending woe that he utters his impassioned appeals, and draws, in such terrible descriptions, the portraiture of his wrath. A mother seeking her child lost in the bush does not once whisper its name, but she repeats it again and again, with shrill, dear, loving, strong cry. And it is the like cry of God that is heard in all his warning words, awful as some of them are. God wants that we should be saved.
CONCLUSION. But by the earth which is bidden hear the word of the Lord, our thoughts have suggested to them the company of the dead. They are in the graves. They are gone "earth to earth;" and concerning them our Lord says, "Behold, the hour cometh when all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth" (John 5:25-28). What shall be the manner of that awakening, when the trumpet shall sound and the cry, "O earth, earth, earth," etc; is again heard? What? Shall it be unto life and immortality, or to shame and everlasting contempt? All depends on how we hear the Word of the Lord now. May he grant that we may both hear it and hear it aright!—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A king addressed in mingled promise and warning.
Here is the announcement of what Jehovah requires from the king and his executive in particular; although it will be seen that exactly the same principles apply to the conduct of the king as to the meanest of his subjects. But inasmuch as the king was in circumstances of special power, responsibility, and temptation, it was just what might be expected from the Divine consideration for every man's position, that the king should receive special counsels. If he acted wrongly, his conduct would be quoted and his example followed by every one who wished to act in the same way. This warning message here however, so timely and so plain, would take away all ground from those who thought they might do what a king did. Jeremiah, preaching righteousness to the meanest of the people, could insist on this, that he asked no more from them than he ha a been specially enjoined to ask from the very king himself. Note—
I. THOSE WHO WERE TO BE APPROACHED. This is a message for the king and for such people as live in palaces. Remarkable to notice how God's messengers have been brought into contact with the kings and grandees of the earth. Divinely guided, they have been able to find their way where others, even with large worldly influence, have been excluded. So Moses comes to deal with Pharaoh; Jeremiah with this king here; John the Baptist with Herod; Jesus with Pontius Pilate; Paul with Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. As God can make a way for his servants out of prisons, so he can also make a way for them into palaces. And once entered into the palace, the prophet was to address himself first and chiefly to the king. Kings have many counselors, and their temptation is to say what may he agreeable to the royal ears. This king, maybe, had not one honest, disinterested man about him; if so, all the more need for Jeremiah's counsels. Further, the king is reminded of a former distinguished occupant of his throne. In pondering this expression, "the throne of David," there was much to fill the heart of a king, who was also a true man, with noble purpose and endeavor. David, even with all his transgressions and vicissitudes, was a fine example of the success and glory following on sensitiveness to God's commandments. If David had not been enabled to do so much that was good, his successors would not have found scope for the doing of so much that was evil. Then from the king there is a turning to those around them. Kings cannot help being a great deal influenced and even limited by those who stand next to them. God, who knows all conditions of life, sees the peculiar difficulties of kings and sympathizes with them. One of the greatest troublers of David's life was his headstrong servant Joab.
II. GOD'S DEMAND UPON THOSE WHO HOLD POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY. He sent his servant to show how a king's government may become stable, glorious, and happy. Nothing is said about victorious armies and increased territories. These were the things the Gentiles sought after, but God wished the powers and opportunities of the kings of his people to be used for far other ends. There was plenty of room for this king to make conquests, and conquests not easily made. He had his own selfish inclinations to repress, and the selfish proceedings of many of his people to undo. He is commanded to execute judgment and righteousness. He must not neglect the ever necessary functions of a judge; righteous principles must rule in all his decisions; and thirdly, he must see that the decisions are carried into effect. How can any human government be approved of God unless there are both righteous laws and a resolute execution of them. The king must also be the vigilant guardian of the weak and defenseless. From out of his palace his servants should go forth commissioned to champion those who are unable to protect themselves. Never should a strong man more exult in his strength than when it enables him to become sword and shield to the feeble. A righteous government will not wait until it is dinned with importunities. In many instances the king was the only one who could rescue from the hand of the oppressor. Every temporary occupant of the throne of David was in his turn a type of that abiding King and anointed One, of whom it is true in the highest sense that salvation is in no other (Acts 4:12). And as the king was to deliver from the oppressor, so he was to be careful not to oppress. So subtle is selfishness in its influence upon us that we need to be peculiarly on our guard against taking advantage of the weak. Lastly, the king is not to be a shedder of innocent blood. He must not be weakly indulgent as to the blood of the guilty. If a man by the laws of the land has deserved to die the death, there must be no tampering with just deserts. And so, on the other hand, a king was not to allow his fury free course against some one who had offended him, and seek his death simply to gratify resentment. It is easy to see that the despotic character of Eastern kings in ancient times would make this injunction against the shedding of innocent blood to have an application such as it fails to have with the constitutional governments we are accustomed to.
III. The prophet has to point out that ACCORDING TO THE RECEPTION OF THESE COUNSELS THERE WILL BE CORRESPONDING RESULTS. The king is plainly told that it is for him to determine whether his reign shall be glorious and his palace continue and increase in splendor. The king who can rise above all temptations to mere outward show; who can be gloriously independent of selfish traditions and examples; who can show the spirit of a real king by living for his people, instead of expecting his people to drudge and sweat and groan for him;—this is the king whom God will reward. The reward will come in the very way such a man will desire. His throne will become more stable for his successors; the land more prosperous and better worth living in. On the other hand, if there is negligence of these counsels, the ruin of the negligent ruler will be correspondingly terrible. No man, however great his resources, can build up anything glorious and satisfactory on a foundation of disobedience to God. Against that tree of temporal prosperity which has been planted in Selfishness and nurtured in selfishness, a consecrated axe is laid—laid at the root of the tree to cut it down altogether. The greatness of the prosperity measures the greatness of the ruin. We must delight in the Law of the Lord if we would be as trees of God's own planting; and then, assuredly, no weapon formed against us can prosper.—Y.
The mistakes of the mourner.
Two persons are presented here as furnishing occasions for lamentation. One is Josiah, King of Judah, lately dead; the other is Shallum, his son, just succeeding him, and taken into captivity by Pharaoh-Nechoh, King of Egypt. The prophet, therefore, looks upon his countrymen as sorrowing both for the dead and the living. Moreover, he sees that, in accordance with all the natural tendencies of the human heart, a deeper sorrow is professed for the dead than for him who has been taken away into a foreign land. And yet this was not according to the necessities of the position. The captivity of Shallum, rightly considered, was a more distressing event than the death of his father. It may be truly said that we always exaggerate death as a calamity. In the instance of Josiah, his comparatively early death—for he seems to have been no more than forty when he perished in battled produced peculiar feelings of pity. He seemed to be one whose "sun had gone down while it was yet day." But we must remember that this very death had been prophetically spoken of as a blessing (2 Kings 22:20): "Thine eyes shall not see all the evil that I will bring upon this place." For one who is faithfully trying to serve God, it can matter very little when he dies. His service goes on. A man may benefit the cause of God more by the faithful testimony of a Christian death than by fifty years of continued work. If a man has come to death by his own folly and recklessness, we do well to grieve over him; but death in itself is an event which we may only too easily come to look at in a distorted, exaggerated way. There are things far Worse than death. Again and again it happens that people fall into severe illnesses, recover, and then return into the world, only to find that the years seemingly added in mercy to life have become a period of disaster and shame. In the midst of a world of misery, we cannot be too pitiful, too sympathetic, but we must be careful not to make erroneous estimates as to what most deserves our pity and sympathy. We can do nothing for the dead. When the last breath is breathed, there is straightway a great gulf fixed between us and them. But we may do much for the living, if only in a self-denying spirit we keep them in our recollection and strive to help them; seizing every opportunity, and economizing our energies so as to make the most of it.—Y.
A right aim pursued by a wrong and cruel method.
I. A RIGHT AIM. What this aim was is indicated in Jeremiah 22:15. Jehoiakim wanted to be a king. In one sense he was a king, without any effort of his own, for he had succeeded to the position and honors of his father. But very rightly he sought to be reckoned a king by virtue of something more than mere rank. He wished to do something which would mark off his reign as peculiar. He wished something more to be said of him than that he merely reigned so many years. His office would have made him to be remembered in a certain way, but he preferred that his office should be a mere vantage-ground to give him the chance of showing what he could do as a man. Bad as Jehoiakim was, he had individuality of character—a strong feeling that a king was bound to do something more than just sit on a throne, wear a crown, and hold a scepter in his hand. There is nothing pleasing to God in our being mere colorless copies of those who have gone before us. Jehoiakim was right in so far as he wished to go in a way that was more than the mere beaten track of others.
II. A WRONG NOTION OF HOW HIS AIM WAS TO BE ATTAINED. Jehoiakim thought he could get great renown for himself individually by building a splendid palace. There would be such a contrast between it and the common houses in Jerusalem as to make people ask at once, "Whose abode is that?" and, in so acting, Jehoiakim showed that he understood pretty well the way in which popular opinion is most easily influenced. The way of the world is to estimate men by the visible splendors they can gather around them. One who lives in a wide house is looked at through the medium of his possessions, and thus becomes correspondingly magnified himself. But with all the worldly shrewdness of Jehoiakim, he was taking the wrong way to become really celebrated. Even supposing he had not been guilty of the peculiar wickedness rebuked in this passage, he would not have attained his end. The building of a big house sufficiently showed his ambition; but it did not of necessity show any of those peculiar powers by which men live lives that are remembered. Many of those whose fame will last as long as the world lasts, lived and died poor men. At least, they did not reside in wide houses. And thus the careers of such men, whenever they are considered, cast a permanent irony on the pursuit of mere external wealth.
III. THE PECULIAR WICKEDNESS CONSEQUENT ON THE TAKING OF THIS WRONG WAY. Jehoiakim's scheme was not only vainglorious and delusive in itself, but very oppressive to his subjects in the carrying of it out. What we read of here makes us regard very dubiously many of the monuments of architectural power belonging to ancient civilizations. We may suspect that only too many of them were constructed by forced labor. How much of unrequited toil there must have been, not only in temples, palaces, Pyramids, but also in such plainly useful works as roads, bridges, and aqueducts! The results have been pleasing enough to the eye, and rich in giving resources to the lovers of art; but their beauty becomes only deformity, if we have reason to believe that force, fraud, and cruelty had a considerable share in the production of them. Even Christian cathedrals and churches may have been built in this way to a greater extent than we should like to think possible. There must always be a great temptation to the natural greed of man to get the largest amount of labor with the least remuneration. And this prophecy here shows that God has his eye on all such doings. His prophet sets forth principles which are the condemnation of slavery in all its forms, and by which every extortionate and greedy spirit will have to be judged.
IV. A CONTRAST WITH ONE WHO TOOK THE RIGHT WAY. Jehoiakim had been favored with constant nearness to a good example of how a king should live and act, which made his wickedness the greater. Josiah, succeeding to a throne, had also wished to be more than a nominal king. But he had very different notions from his son as to how authority should be exerted. He was just and righteous, and paid special attention to the poor and humble, and the result was that all went well with him. Jehoiakim may have been feared, but he would be hated at the same time, or, if loved, loved only by those who found their chances in helping his pretentious schemes. Josiah was feared, but by the extortionists and knaves among his subjects. And he would be equally loved by all who, needing justice, knew that at his throne it was never sought in vain.
V. THE DISGRACEFUL END OF JEHOIAKIM'S PRIDE. He would die unregretted, and be buried like a beast. None of all who had been his associates while alive, would pay the slightest regard to him when dead. The prophecy here does not, of course, mean that-God approves of such indecency to a corpse. He is simply pointing out how little selfish men may expect from their selfish associates. He who squeezes others like sponges, and throws them away when he can squeeze no more, only meets what may be expected when he comes to be thrown away in turn.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19