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Despised and rejected at home, Jeremiah turned his thoughts to those distant brethren in captivity, whom he had already likened to "good figs, very good" (Jeremiah 24:3, Jeremiah 24:5). He had heard with sorrow that they could not readily submit to their altered circumstances; Judah, with its consecrated associations, was still too near to them in spirit. Probably a rumor of the expected confederacy (Jeremiah 27:3) had troubled their minds, and the discontent was increased by the pernicious discourses of prophets and sooth sayers similar to that Hananiah of whom we have just heard. Two of these in particular are mentioned, and a terrible fate is held out to them. The appendix (verses 24-32) deals with another prophet of the same type, who had not, indeed, offended so deeply as his companions, but had stirred up those at home to persecute Jeremiah in revenge for the preceding letter. The chapter is evidently, what it professes to be, a letter, at any rate in substance. From the looseness of its structure (see especially on verses 16-20) it has been thought to have been dictated, like those Epistles of St. Paul, of which it may be regarded as a precursor (Ewald). The date seems to be a little earlier than that of the two preceding chapters (comp. verse 2 with Jeremiah 24:1); the messengers in verse 3 are therefore not to be regarded as Zedekiah's companions in the journey mentioned in Jeremiah 51:59.
The residue of the elders; i.e. the surviving elders. Some may, perhaps, have died from natural causes, some by violence, some from grief.
The queen; rather, the queen, mother (see on Jeremiah 13:18) The eunuchs, the princes of Judah and Jerusalem. A marginal gloss appears to have intruded itself into the text, for there is no other passage in which the "eunuchs," or, "chamberlains," are called "princes of Judah."
Seek the peace of the city, etc. Interest yourselves in the "peace" or welfare of the city, whether Babylon or any other place where ye may be in exile, and pray for its welfare, for your own well-being is inseparable from it.
Let not your prophets and your diviners, etc. It seems as if the Babylonian "Jewry" were a copy of that at home. It had not only its "princes" and its "elders," but its "prophets" and its "diviners," who encouraged the same false hopes as those in Judah (comp. Jeremiah 27:9; Jeremiah 28:2). Your dreams which ye caused to be dreamed; or, which ye cause yourselves to dream (comp. Jeremiah 27:9).
Seventy years (see on Jeremiah 25:11). At Babylon; rather, for Babylon. A long period, such as seventy years, is appointed for Babylon "to enjoy" the fruits of her ambition; when this is over (comp. Genesis 15:13-16), God will pay heed to his people. Visit you. To "visit" frequently has the sense of "taking notice of," or "paying heed to" (e.g. Jeremiah 23:2). My good word. "Word," equivalent to "pro-raise;" the allusion is to Jeremiah 24:6.
For I knew the thoughts, etc.; i.e. though seventy years must pass over you in exile, yet do not apprehend that I have forgotten you, for I know full well what my purpose is towards you—a purpose of restoring to you "peace" and prosperity. An expected end; rather, a future and a hope; i.e. a hopeful future (comp. Jeremiah 31:17, "There is a hope for thy future"). That unexpectant apathy which is the terrible accompaniment of so much worldly sorrow was not to be an ingredient in the lot of the Jews.
And ye shall go and pray unto me. "Go," that is, to the places "where prayer is wont to be made." The clause seems to refer to common prayer for a common object. Comp. striking passages in Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8:48), and in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:29, Deuteronomy 4:30).
Jeremiah's denunciation of two leading false prophets at Babylon, with a digression on the fate of Zedekiah and Jerusalem. Some eminent critics maintain that verses 16-20 are an interpolation, and this view is certainly supported By the omission of these verses in the Septuagint. It must also in fairness be admitted that the natural connection of verse 15 is with verse 21, not with verse 16. But it does not follow that verses 16-20 are an arbitrary interpolation. They may be regarded either as a digression in the original letter, or as inserted by an after-thought when the substance of the letter was brought into its present form.
Know that thus saith the Lord; rather, Surely thus saith the Lord.
I will send upon them, etc.; alluding to Jeremiah 24:10. Vile figs; literally, figs exciting a shudder. The figure involves an allusion to Jeremiah 24:2, Jeremiah 24:3.
But ye would not hear. The prophet, by a very natural illusion, falls out of the style of letter-writer into that of the prophet. For the moment he fancies himself addressing an audience of his countrymen (comp. Jeremiah 25:3, Jeremiah 25:4, Jeremiah 25:7, Jeremiah 25:8).
Zedekiah. The name is into-resting; it shows that this prophet belonged to a family which took pleasure in the thought of Jehovah and his righteousness. Doubtless, too, he did so himself; but he under-estimated the demands of that righteousness, which extended to the heart as well as to the outward conduct.
A curse; i.e. a formula of cursing (comp. Isaiah 65:15). There is here a play upon words, such as the Biblical writers delighted in, partly with the view of assisting the memory. "A curse" is in Hebrew kelalah, and "to roast" is kalah. Roasted in the fire. "Casting into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" was a common punishment both among the Assyrians and the Babylonians, see e.g. ' Records of the Past,' vol. 9. p. 56; and comp. Daniel 3:1-30.
An important and melancholy addition to our knowledge of these false prophets. They were not only misleading prophets, but immoral men in their private capacities. Villainy; rather, folly, as the word is always rendered elsewhere. The phrase "to commit folly in Israel" is always (except Joshua 7:15) used of sins of unchastity.
A threatening oracle against the false prophet Shemaiah. Great excitement had been caused among the so-called prophets in Babylon by the emphatic language of Jeremiah. Accordingly one of them, named Shemaiah, wrote letters to the Jews at home, and especially to a high official called Zephaniah (see on verse 26) to put a stop to Jeremiah's bold agitation. Zephaniah, however, was not the man for whom Shemaiah took him, and read the letter to the intended victim. Upon this, Jeremiah received a special revelation, announcing dire punishment to Shemaiah and his family (according to the principle of the Divine government described in Exodus 20:5).
To Shemaiah; or, of, concerning (as the same preposition is rendered in Jeremiah 29:16, Jeremiah 29:21, Jeremiah 29:31). The oracle itself speaks of Shemaiah in the third person (Jeremiah 29:31, Jeremiah 29:32). The Authorized Version, however, can be defended by its accordance with Jeremiah 29:25. The Nehelamite. This is evidently a patronymic, but whether of the family or the locality of the bearer cannot be decided. The analogy of "Jeremiah of Anathoth" (verse 27), however, favors the view that it is local.
In the stead of Jehoiada the priest. Some (Grotius, Hitzig, Graf) think that this Jehoiada was the famous high priest of that name, who is said to have "appointed officers over the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 11:18; 2 Chronicles 23:18). It is true that Zephaniah was not literally the successor of Jehoiada, but he was so in the same metaphorical sense in which the scribes are said by our Lord to "sit in Moses' seat" (Matthew 23:2). It is safer, however, to suppose that another Jehoiada is meant, of whom we have no further information. It is not said that either Jehoiada or Zephaniah was high priest, and as the special object of the elevation of the latter is said to be the supervision of the temple police, it is more probable that Jehoiada and he were successively "second priests," or, to use a phrase which seems to be synonymous, "deputy governors in the house of the Lord" (Jeremiah 20:1). The passage may thus without violence be harmonized with Jeremiah 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18, where Seraiah is called "the chief priest" and Zephaniah "the second priest." It is possible that Jehoiada 'had been favorable to the better class of prophets. In this case there will be a delicate hint to Zephaniah that God had his own purpose in promoting him to honor, viz. that unruly prophets like Jeremiah might be held in with a tighter hand (Ewald). That ye should be officers; rather, that there should be officers. Zephaniah himself was an "officer" or "deputy" (see above); but he was also "chief in the house of the Lord," and had the appointment of inferior "officers," whose duty it was to preserve order in the temple. To understand the following words, we must remember that the outer court of the temple was a favorite place for prophetic teaching (comp. Jeremiah 7:2; Jeremiah 26:2). For every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet; i.e. to keep an eye upon "madmen" and prophetizers. The term "mad" is used in a disparaging sense (as 2 Kings 9:11; comp. Hosea 9:7), with regard to the apparently senseless behavior of those who were overpowered by the spirit of prophecy. In earlier times, no doubt, the phenomena of prophecy were more violently opposed to everyday life than in Jeremiah's time; but such symbolic acts as appearing in public with a yoke upon his neck would at least excuse the application of the epithet even to Jeremiah. It is more than probable, however, that it was not so much the abnormal actions as the contents of Jeremiah's prophecies which stirred up such vehement opposition; observe how in the next verse only the sound of these descriptive nouns is retained ("which maketh himself a prophet"). It was the making prophecy a reality which disturbed the men of routine, and Shemaiah well knew this when he made this appeal to Zephaniah. There was no harm in being nominally a "prophet," but to "make," or rather, "show one's self as a prophet," to be an energetic prophet, a prophetizer,—this was wormwood to those who cried, "Peace, peace," when there was no peace. In prison, and in the stocks; rather, in the stocks (see on Jeremiah 20:2) and in the collar. The meaning seems to be that Jeremiah was subjected to both forms of punishment at once.
Reproved; i.e. threatened with punishment.
For therefore, etc.; i.e. the consequence of Jeremiah's not having been kept within bounds by authority is that he has even ventured, in his fanatical zeal, to trouble the exiles in Babylon. This captivity is long; rather, It (is) long; a more forcible expression.
And Zephaniah the priest, etc. This should rather be printed as a parenthetical remark.
Then came the word of the Lord, etc. A fresh introduction of the Divine oracle was rendered necessary by the long description of Zephaniah's letters. The reason for Shemaiah's punishment, however, is stated here a little differently. Of course, it was equally contrary to the will of God to deliver a false prophecy and to stir up persecution against his true prophet. Taught rebellion (see on Jeremiah 28:16).
How to make the best of adversity.
Jeremiah advises the captives in Babylon to take a course that is eminently brave and wise. The first inclination would be to stir up a useless revolt, the second to sit down in sullen despondency. When trouble overcomes us we are tempted to follow one or other of these courses—to rebel or to despair. Jeremiah teaches us, as he taught the Jews of his day, that neither is right. He indicates a better way,
I. SUBMIT PATIENTLY TO INEVITABLE ADVERSITY. We are not required to court trouble, nor to yield weakly when we might successfully throw it off. But when it is plainly inevitable resistance is wrong as well as foolish.
1. It is foolish. Why dash our heads against the prison walls? The brain will suffer before the granite. The Jews could not successfully revolt against Babylon; to live on the eve of rebellion, as restless conspirators, would be dangerous and futile. The mistake of such misplaced patriotism was seen later in the wretched failure of the fanatic attempts of the Jews to throw off the yoke of Rome. The folly of the Jews would be the greater that the lengthy duration of the Captivity had been predicted and revealed as a Divine judgment. When we know the providential assignment of adversity, to resist this is to resist the power of Heaven.
2. This resistance is wrong. The Captivity was ordained by God (verse 4). It was sent as a wholesome chastisement. To those who understood the teaching of the prophets on this point, rebellion was at once disobedience to God's will and the refusal of a useful corrective. We should remember this when we grow impatient under trouble, and learn to bow silently before the will of our King and our Father, to receive without complaining the discipline which is intended to cleanse and strengthen our spiritual life.
II. SEEK THE BRIGHTEST COURSE UNDER THE DARKEST CIRCUMSTANCES. The captives could not return home. They were not, therefore, to treat the land of their exile as a hopeless desert, but to build and plant and eat the fruit of it.
1. How often trouble is worse in prospect than in experience! The Captivity loomed in the distance as a very purgatory; when it came it was found to contain many of the fruits and flowers of quiet happiness.
2. Our lot in life will be very much what we make it for ourselves. If we treat it as a "waste, howling wilderness," it will be that to us. But the hardest lot will prove to have many alleviations for him who searches for its mercies rather than for its grievances. Surely it is best to do this. Mourners are inclined to nurse their sorrows with a melancholy satisfaction in aggravating the pain of them, or as though any abatement of grief were a sacrilege. But we should learn a more robust treatment of adversity. There is no virtue in distressing one's self beyond necessity.
III. CHERISH HOPES FOR THE FUTURE UNDER THE MOST TRYING PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES. The Jews were to remember the promise of the restoration. They were not to allow their race to die out (verse 6). A great future was still before them. History has confirmed the prediction of the prophets. The scattered and ruined people were recalled to their homes. From the stock of the despondent exiles there sprang not only all that was great and good in later Jewish history, but also Jesus Christ and Christianity. In our darkest moments we should not forget that, though not a ray of light has yet appeared on the horizon, the sun will surely rise and the day return. Christianity is peculiarly a religion of the future; it encourages us to press forward to the golden age which is yet to come.
IV. FIND OUR HAPPINESS BY SEEKING THE WELFARE OF OTHERS. "Seek the peace of the city … for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace." The alien was to act with the loyalty of a citizen. Though a nation may be under the unrighteous rule of a conqueror, it should still remember that it has duties to the government under which it lives, and claims of charity in regard to the people of the superior power. If it is our duty to seek the peace of a strange city, how much more are we bound to interest ourselves in public duties for the good of our own country? Private citizens will find their personal condition improved through the successful discharge of public duties. The citizens reap the fruits of the peace of the city. In ministering to others generally we shall discover the secret of our own blessedness.
From the duty of the Jews to the cities of their exile we may deduce the still more urgent duties of citizens to their own city,
I. ONE OF THE FIRST INTERESTS OF A PEOPLE IS PEACE. There are times when war is necessary and right—to defend the hearth and home, to save the weak from oppression, etc. But such war must only be the means for securing a bettor, more lasting peace. The glory of war is an empty dream. The people gain little and suffer much, though the kings may win fame and power.
II. PEACE IS TO BE SOUGHT BY THE ACTION OF CITIZENS. Individual men cannot wage a war or declare a truce. But the units constitute nations. If each is peaceable the nation is peaceable. Insignificant people have vast power for harm if they choose to execute it. It should be understood that seditious conduct is not only a political offense; it is a sin in the sight of God, a cruelty to the many people whom it disturbs and injures.
III. PRIVATE MEN HAVE PUBLIC DUTIES. We all reap benefits from the state. It is mean to accept them without taking our part in bearing the burdens of the state. There are people who deny the right of Christian men to take part in "worldly politics," yet these people are glad to avail themselves of the protection and other advantages which are provided for them by the secular government they affect to despise. The neglect of public duty evidences a narrow and selfish disposition,
IV. PRIVATE MEN ARE BENEFITED BY PUBLIC PROSPERITY. We are members one of another. There is a general harmony and health of the whole body, over and above the well-being of each member, when all work together for the mutual good. As individual men, we have great reason to be thankful for the general prosperity of the nation and for the maintenance of public peace.
V. WE SHOULD DISCHARGE OUR DUTIES TO THE STATE THOUGH WE MAY NOT APPROVE OF THE GOVERNMENT. To be in opposition is no excuse for being in sedition. Unless we can change the government it is foolish and wrong to revolt against it. The nation is larger than the government.
I. SEVENTY YEARS ARE A LIMITED TIME. Babylon was to tyrannize for a limited period only; the Jews were to suffer for a limited period.
1. God has set a limit to the triumph of evil. The storm rages; yet God says to it, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further." The lions roar, but they are chained. Wicked men fling the reins to their passions, break through all restraints of respect for the wilt of God and appear to be at liberty to work evil and revel in the fruits of sin ad libitum; but God has put bounds about their course. In due time he will lay his hand upon them and arrest them.
2. God has set a limit to the duration of trouble. The sorrow of God's people is temporal; their blessedness will be eternal. Every trouble is weighed and measured by God. "Our times are in his hand."
II. SEVENTY YEARS ARE A SHORT TIME IN THE HISTORY OF A NATION. The Captivity was to last for seventy years; prosperity had been enjoyed for hundreds of years before this, and would return and endure long after. The troublesome times are conspicuous, while the quiet times glide by unnoticed. Hence we are likely not to note how much more we have of the latter. History reads like a record of wars and commotions, because the happy but dull annals of prosperity do not contain many striking events. It is much the same in private life. For most of us the blessings greatly outnumber the troubles, the times of quiet far exceed those of distress. Yet it is difficult to recognize this, because what hurts us impresses our memory more than what pleases us.
III. SEVENTY YEARS ARE A LIFETIME. Few, if any, of the first captives would survive the exile. To the individual man it was as bad as if it were perpetual. Yet if they were true patriots the national hope must have been a great comfort in the darkness of personal suffering. And the patriotic hope of Israel was one of the grandest features in the Hebrew character. We are all too selfish in our hopes. Christians should consider the cause of Christ and the interest of humanity as of far more importance than their private prosperity. If in the end Christ will triumph, and the world will be lifted out of the sin and sorrow which have overwhelmed it, should not we rejoice, though our lot may not be to live till this is accomplished? Moses rejoiced in the Pisgah-view of the land he could never enter; Simeon was glad at seeing the infant Savior, and could depart in peace with the assurance of a redemption not yet accomplished. Still, the Christian may have a great personal hope beyond this. Seventy years!—but a span compared with eternity! When these swift days have flown the door will be opened to the infinite ages of eternity. What if the little life be tempest-tossed? The voyage is short, the haven is near (2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 4:18).
God's thoughts concerning us.
I. GOD THINKS. If God exists he must be a thinking being. To apply the name "God." to a stream of tendencies, a collection of laws, the totality of being, etc; is to misapply it. Either God is personal or there is no God, for the conception of personality is essential to that of divinity. If God is a person he may be "without parts or passions." The anthropomorphic ideas of repentance, wrath, etc; may be as much mere metaphorical images as those of the eyes and the hands of God; but thinking is essential to the nature of what we understand by a person, by a spiritual being. Unless God thinks, he is no spirit, no person.
II. GOD THINKS ABOUT US. As far as he is revealed to us in the Bible and in Christ, and as far as we may verify this revelation by experience, he is directly concerned with his works and his children. His thoughts are not to be imagined as only consisting of vast abstractions, infinite ideals. They may soar to lonely heights where no finite intellect can follow, but they can also stoop to humble concerns of human life. He is but an imperfect thinker who is so absorbed with philosophic speculation that he has no room in his mind to consider his family. The greatest thinker will be wide as well as lofty, able to take in small details in addition to grand abstractions, and, above all, wise to apply the highest thinking to the simplest practical necessity. It is a great comfort for us that God so thinks. With sublime ideas of eternity, and innumerable cares of the universe in his infinite mind, God has yet room for thoughts about us, and condescension to concern himself with them.
III. WHAT GOD THINKS ABOUT US IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE TO US.
1. God thinks what is true and wise and good. If, therefore, we can know God's thoughts about anything we shall see the thing in its true light. Our thoughts are blinded by prejudice, colored by passion, limited by ignorance, broken, fragmentary, perverted. God's only are clear and perfect as truth.
2. God's thoughts are the prelude to his actions. If we know what he thinks concerning us we know how he intends to act. God's thinking is not the contemplation of the philosopher, it is the consideration of the king. We forget this when we are so very anxious about what the world will think of us and so very indifferent about God's thoughts concerning us. A brave man will learn to dare the world's misjudgment, its scorn, its condemnation. But who can face God's thoughts if they mean evil to us?
IV. GOD THINKS THOUGHTS OF PEACE CONCERNING US. So Jeremiah saw in the case of the Jews; so we may see for all mankind how that Christ "has broken down the middle wall of partition between us." Even when God finds it necessary to punish his desire is to bless, and when he chastises it is in mercy, that he may reclaim. But this is not seen at the time. There are things which prevent us from seeing that God's thoughts are of peace. Thus—the peace is not yet enjoyed; when God chastises us it looks as though he meant evil to us, because we feel the blow before we see the good fruit of it; we cannot see God's thoughts, and must accept them in faith, waiting for a later confirmation of experience. Yet if God does think thoughts of peace concerning us, is it necessary for us to know the exact nature of them? They are known to him if they are not known to us, and he can carry them out without any previous understanding of them on our part.
V. GOD S THOUGHTS OF PEACE WILL BE ULTIMATELY REALIZED. God promises that he will make "a future and a hope." God's best thoughts are not memories, but hopes, promises, intentions. The grandest page of revelation is prophecy. But though these thoughts refer to the future, we must not lose faith in their practical interest.
1. The realization is delayed by our fault, not by God's will. He thinks, intends peace. But he is hindered from carrying out his intention by our conduct. He waits to be gracious. If, therefore, we prepare ourselves for the accomplishment of God's thoughts, there is nothing further to prevent us from enjoying the peace they presage.
2. God is as great in power as he is wise and good in thought. He has bestowed upon us the noble but perilous faculty of free will, and we cannot measure the limits of this faculty. Yet we may rest assured that by some means the infinite God can and will ultimately accomplish all his great designs of peace for his children.
Seeking God with the whole heart.
I. GOD MUST BE FOUND BEFORE BE CAN BE KNOWN AND ENJOYED. "He is not far from each one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being." Yet this natural nearness of God may be unrecognized by us, and may not be sufficient to bring us into the spiritual communion with him. The God of nature may be "the unknown God," or he may be recognized and yet not enjoyed as the "Portion" of the soul.
1. Sin hides the vision of God, and drives the soul into remote spiritual banishment from God, even though it cannot affect his physical presence.
2. Our natural limitations of thought and experience surround the idea of the Divine with mystery, and make us feel that though God is partly known there are still ways of God that are far beyond our ken, so that we exclaim in bewilderment and distress, "Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself!" (Isaiah 45:15).
II. TO BE FOUND, GOD MUST BE SEARCHED FOR WITH THE WHOLE HEART.
1. He must be searched for. God does discover himself to men unexpectedly, as to Hagar in the desert and to Moses on Horeb, though we may rest assured that even such exceptional revelations were made to souls whose habit it was to seek after him. Nevertheless before such experience, God draws near to those who do not seek him, to urge them to search and find him (Isaiah 65:1). He seeks us before we seek him. Our search is the response of our hearts to his invitation (Psalms 27:8). But this search must be made. The promise of finding is attached to the condition of seeking (Matthew 7:7). The prodigal must return to his father before he can receive the welcome home. Men are waiting for God to visit them, reveal himself to them, do something that will bring them back to him. They may wait forever, and in vain. God is waiting for us. It is our part to arise and seek him.
2. This search must be with all the heart. The reason why we are disappointed of the answers of our prayers is often that our prayers are so insincere, so cold, so half-hearted. It is reasonable to expect God, the all-seeing, to answer our prayers, not according to the vigor of the language, but according to the fervency of our desires. If we value the knowledge and communion of God aright, we shall seek him with all the heart:
(1) with the heart, i.e. sincerely, spiritually, inwardly, not with mere formal inquiries; and
(2) with the whole heart, i.e. with singleness of purpose, intensity, earnestness.
III. THE REWARD OF SEEKING GOD WITH ALL THE HEART WILL CONSIST IN FINDING HIM.
1. The search will be successful. God may not be found at first, or, being found, may not be recognized in the way expected. But Scripture and experience both testify to the utility and fruitfulness of the soul's search after God. If we have not yet found, that may be because
(1) we have not sought with "all the heart;" or
(2) have not sought in the right way as far as our light and knowledge have indicated it—i.e. humbly, penitently, and as Christians through Christ.
2. The success of the search will be its own reward. The finding of God is described as a blessing of the restoration. It will bring other and lower benefits in its train (Jeremiah 29:14), but it is itself the greatest boon. "Blessed are they that seek God with all the heart, for they shall find him,"—that is enough for a perfect beatitude. To find God is to find our light, our rest, our home. To know him is life eternal; to commune with him is the joy of heaven.
I. HIS ACTION.
1. He is irritated at the letter of Jeremiah. From Babylon he writes back in a rage. It is foolish to be thus angry with those who tell us unpleasant truths, but it is very common.
2. He describes Jeremiah as mad. People often depreciate the intelligence of those who differ from them. Weak men set down strong words to the excitement of the speaker because they have not the imagination or the nerve to receive them as true.
3. He urges the temple officials to arrest and punish Jeremiah. We have here another instance of the common effort to suppress those whom we are unable to answer.
II. HIS MORAL CONDUCT.
1. He usurps the name of a prophet, though he is not sent by God. His pretence to speak in the Name of God is unwarranted. A prophet is one who acts as God's messenger, as an apostle is one who acts as the messenger of Christ. No man has a right to enter the ministry of Christ unless he is called to it, nor to speak as God's ambassador unless he is convinced in his conscience that he is sent by God.
2. He deceives the Jews into "trusting in a lie." It is not only that he falsely claims to be a prophet; his prophetic message is also false. Truth is sacred; to tamper with it is a sin, but to deceive others to their hurt increases the sin.
3. He instigates revolt against God. If it is wrong to utter a falsehood to serve a good end, it must be more wrong to do so with a bad intention. But all false religious teaching tends to induce disobedience to the will of God.
III. HIS DOOM.
1. He is to be punished. The evil that he discredits shall fall upon him. This is a severe but an appropriate punishment for a deceiving prophet.
2. His children are to share his doom. There is a great mystery in the hereditary character of punishment, and it is increased in some respects by the fact that tendencies to sin are also hereditary. But the fact is as clearly visible in nature as it is revealed in Scripture.
3. He is not to see the joy of the restoration. They who refuse wholesome chastisement cannot receive the happy fruits that follow it. It is natural and reasonable that the willful rejection of Divine warnings should be followed by a severe judgment.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Duties and consolations of God's captivity.
I. THEIR DUTIES The imposition of definite lines of conduct and policy upon the exiled, was one proof that they were not cast off; the promise of deliverance was another. Although amongst the heathen, they were not to be as the heathen; neither were they to be wholly given over to despair. As children of God they were to exhibit the virtues of:
1. Industry. (Jeremiah 29:5.) Misanthropy and despair are the parents of idleness; Divine faith endues men with energy. The exiles had a testimony to bear before the heathen. It was a present duty to achieve an honest independence.
2. Domestic attachment. (Jeremiah 29:6,) The family, with all its joys and responsibilities, is still to be cared for. If the present be forfeited the future is still capable of being redeemed. The new generations would reap the advantages of which the fathers had been deprived.
3. Public spirit. (Jeremiah 29:7.) They were not to abstain from the duties of citizenship merely because they were amongst heathen conquerors. Even there they might exert an influence for good. The fundamental law of God's kingdom is to seek the good of all men. Work faithfully rendered to the commonwealth would not be vain or without its reward. Even the heathen and the men of this world can appreciate good citizenship. That a distinctive work and testimony still remained to the Church as a Church, is no reason for neglecting those less direct and more general duties which so powerfully commend the religious profession that inculcates them.
4. Cheerfulness. This is not so much to be classified along with the preceding as to be understood as the spring and governing principle of them all. What more natural than a spirit of resentment under the circumstances? How easy to hang the harp on the willows! But this would only be to misunderstand God and thwart his purposes. He seeks the happiness and prosperity of his people—even here and now, and notwithstanding the discipline to which he may be subjecting them. Not resignation merely, but cheerful acquiescence and Co-operation, are, therefore, to be expected of his people. "I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it."
II. THEIR CONSOLATIONS. These were partly to consist in the natural results of the course of conduct enjoined, or the happiness inseparably associated with the observance of it; but chiefly in the anticipation of the future.
1. A definite term was set to their captivity. (Jeremiah 29:10.) It was one that could easily be verified, and was not too far distant to extinguish hope. Some of those who as children were taken to Babylon, might in their old age return to the land of promise. There is measure as well as meaning in all God's discipline. He never imposes upon his people a burden greater than they can bear. The darkest night is illumined by light beyond. When the sorrow, their sorrow is not without hope.
2. The present was linked with the future. They might be comforted in the fulfillment of their daily tasks by the knowledge that everything done in obedience to God and the spirit of true benevolence would have its influence upon the promised deliverance. At the very worst, what was done in this disposition would not retard that event or rob it of its fullness of blessing. In like manner the children of God are assured that this earthly life is but a "sojourning," and that "all things work together for good." This life will have an immense influence upon the complexion of the next. The duties of every day are therefore to be attended to in the full conviction of their absolute worth and avail in the sight of God. They have the promise not only of the life which now is, but of that which is to come.
3. Spiritual blessings were promised. (Jeremiah 29:11-14.) The good will and faithfulness of God; the restoration of religious communion; the gathering and reconstitution of the theocracy.—M.
Signs that God's favor is restored.
I. WHAT HE DOES IN HIS PEOPLE.
1. In turning their hearts to himself. They had been worshipping Baal and the gods of heathendom. Only now and then did they offer a haft-hearted worship to Jehovah. The idolatries that pandered to their lusts were uppermost in their thoughts, and it was only occasionally, in seasons of desperate need, they bethought themselves of Jehovah. Now he was to assume a higher place in their regard. Their views of life, its purposes and destinies, would be elevated, and he would become their chief desire. The new err of favor and happiness would be distinguished by intense personal love for God. In Nehemiah's day a measure of spiritual affection like this showed itself, but it could only be fully developed through the personal manifestation of Christ, who was to draw all men unto him.
2. In pouring forth the spirit of true prayer. Where the heart's affections go forth towards God the spirit of true prayer commences. It is that which cries within us, "Abba, Father," which is the spirit of prayer and supplications. It has been supposed that the first clause of verse 12 refers to private and the second to public prayer. The habit and delight of devotion were to be restored. Where these are there is already the earnest of all substantial and eternal good. Pentecost was prefaced and penetrated with prayer.
II. WHAT HE DOES FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. In revealing himself. They who seek for him with their whole heart will find him. The veil will be withdrawn, and calamity, understood as fatherly chastisement, patiently borne. In the subsequent history of Israel this was largely experienced; but the fullness of the spiritual meaning of the promise was only realized in Christ and the outpourings of his Spirit.
2. He will hearken to their petitions. The sense of acceptance will come, even in the midst of captivity. Faithful hearts will fill with presage of coming deliverance, and prayer will not only be effectual but be felt to be so. It is in this exercise the true relationship of God and his people becomes evident, and the blessings of a present and ultimate redemption are secured. There can be no more marked proof of God's favor towards any one than answers to his prayers.
3. He will bring back to the Promised Land and the privilege of covenant relationship. That is a matter of course, seeing he already hears them. And yet nonetheless imposing will their redemption be. How complete the restoration! how miraculous! Its supernatural character is to be as evident as that of their dispersion. That which under anomalous circumstances has been a difficult, unauthorized, or intermittent exercise will become easy, honorable, and constant, as they will return to their own land, where every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make him afraid. In the case of the Christian this promise will be fulfilled in either the gradual conquest of the world by the Church, or entrance into heaven. But there is a foretaste of this in the self-conquest and perfected spiritual life of the regenerate soul.—M.
The punishment of false prophets.
The opposition between Jeremiah and the false prophets is one of the most interesting phenomena of the period to which these prophecies belong. It is a real battle, albeit not with earthly weapons. The question between them could not be suffered to remain doubtful, as it involved immense consequences. A striking correspondence is discovered in the antagonism to the labors of the apostles. There is the same barefaced, fearless lying and dishonesty, the same terrible denunciation of judgment. (We are reminded of the sentence on Simon Magus, "Thy silver perish with thee," etc; Acts 8:20-24; and the reply to Ananias, the high priest, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall," Acts 23:3.) How is the latter to be regarded? Evidently as the word of God through his true servants, and not as the expression of vindictive feeling. In regard to this punishment notice—
I. ITS NATURE. It had direct reference to that concerning which they spoke. From the future they had denied they were to be cut off. In the case of Ahab and Zedekiah the instrumentality of man is indirectly employed; in that of Shemaiah it is brought about by what we might regard as natural causes. In both instances the penalty was:
1. Exceptionally were. The fate of the lying prophets, even apart from its associated consequences in the eternal sphere, was tragic in the extreme, and presents hardly an element of hope. Ahab and his companion are subjected to a fearful death and an eternity of shame in Israel. Shemaiah is consigned to effacement and deprived both as regards himself and his posterity, of the promised blessings.
2. Exemplary. Unmistakably these men were but the leaders of many of like mind, and it was intended they should be marked out for signal retribution. Their fate would appeal to the imagination and spiritual feeling of their people, and in either case it corresponded closely with the peculiarity of their conduct. In their heathen exile they were to be taught that God's hand could still reach them and that an exact justice waited upon their actions. Ahab and Zedekiah so lived that even a heathen monarch had to make them examples.
3. Graduated according to heinousness of offence.
II. ITS JUSTIFICATION.
1. The opposition to God's truth was necessarily direct and malicious, Nothing could well be more consciously wicked than their whole behavior. It occurred at a critical period, when great destinies were determined. The prophet of God was thereby discredited and hindered, and the people prevented from receiving and acting upon his message. In every season of critical consequence and great spiritual activity such manifestations occur. Merely to overcome them is not sufficient. The victory must be signal and conspicuous.
2. The offense was one to which God himself is ever most sensitive. It affected his character and prerogatives, and was therefore nothing else than blasphemy (cf. Matthew 12:32. "Even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord," Matthew 12:23).
3. The interests of truth required the penalty. The people had to be overawed by the presence of the supernatural; their obedience had to be won to the direction of the true prophet, and the spiritual ends of the Captivity were thus to be secured. A moral demonstration like this was requisite, and enables the human mind more completely to realize the Divine conceptions of righteousness and truth.—M.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
God's message to the captives.
There is an encouraging tone in this Divine message to the captives in Babylon that must have been strikingly fitted to call forth every better element of thought and feeling within them. They were not, indeed, to dream of deliverance. The appointed time must run its course. The generation then in their prime could not hope ever to see their own land again. But their children should. Their wisdom, therefore, lay in making the best of their condition, and nourishing, as far as possible, the resources and the strength of their family life. Let them build, and plant, and marry, and enjoy the good of that strange land as if it were their own. Let them sow, though it be with many tears, for the better and happier future. Let them so live as to commend themselves to the good will of their conquerors, that even "their enemies may be at peace with them," identifying themselves with the interests of the place of their captivity, seeking by their prayer to bring down blessings upon it from above, seeing that in its well-being and peace they would find their own. This is strictly in harmony with the general Divine purpose as to the relation in which the Jews should stand towards other nations. They were called to be a separate and peculiar people only that they might the better be instruments of blessing to the world. The Captivity was not merely a punishment for their sins, but a part of the method by which God taught them to fulfill their mission. Important lessons are suggested respecting the relation the people of God should always maintain towards the world in which he has placed them. Note—
I. THE FREE USE IT IS PERMITTED THEM TO HAVE OF THIS WORLD'S GOOD. "Build ye houses, and dwell in them," etc. In being carried beyond the bounds of Israel these captives were not passing beyond the domain of Israel's God. He is the "Lord of the whole earth." And whether in Jerusalem or in Babylon, all resources, all materials, all power to labor, and all products of labor, are his. Shall not the children of the heavenly Father make themselves, at home" in their Father's world, free to use and to enjoy whatever good he puts within their reach? Remember St. Paul's counsel to the Corinthians, "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:25, 1 Corinthians 10:26). All natural good has the stamp of God's ownership upon it. Whatever, therefore, comes to you in the honorable commerce of life do not shrink from it or refuse it. It is yours to enjoy because he made it; it is yours because it is his. The freedom of the earth is given to his true children. There is a sense in which it may be said of all outward good that they who know best how to use it aright have most right to its use. There is no "possession" of these things like that which springs from spiritual affinity and sympathy with him who gave them, and from the power to discern and appreciate their inner meaning. There is no "right" like that of Divine sonship. "All things are yours," etc. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). We dishonor our Christian faith when we move about in the world timidly Or gloomily, as if we had no right to live in it, or as if it were a mere "house of bondage;" hedged in on all sides with painful restrictions, bound with fetters of restraint; afraid to share with a free, hearty, childlike gladness any of its innocent delights. If this is "Emmanuel's land," have we not the range of all its delectable mountains? Is it a world that our Father's hand has made and filled with the tokens of his beneficence, and that has been trodden by the feet of the great Redeemer, and shall we throw over it the shadow of our discontent or fear (Nehemiah 8:10; Ecclesiastes 9:7; 1 Timothy 4:4, 1 Timothy 4:5)?
II. THE IDENTITY OF INTEREST SUBSISTING BETWEEN THEE AND THE WORLD. "Seek the peace of the city," etc. Captives and bondmen as these Jews were, they were nevertheless involved in all that affected the welfare of the Babylonian state. The administration of its affairs for good or ill, for peace or war, must needs be a matter of great interest to them, since they would so largely share the consequences. (See illustrations in Joseph and his brethren, Daniel and the three Hebrew youths, Esther and Mordecai, etc.) The citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem have also an earthly citizenship to maintain, the bonds of which are not broken through their being raised spiritually to a higher level than that of the worldly life around them. Rather are those bonds correspondingly raised and made more sacred and binding. Their Christian faith elevates the character of their earthly citizenship, invests it with a new dignity, attaches to it higher and diviner sanctions. "In the peace thereof shall ye have peace." All parts of the social system are so linked together by a law of mutual dependence and influence that the well-being of one is, in a measure, the well-being of all. "The eye cannot say to the hand," etc.; "Whether one member suffer," etc. We are all personally affected for good or ill by the political order and the general tone of the moral life around us. There are deep rankling wounds in the body politic—ignorance, drunkenness, roving beggary, domestic vice and violence, the systematic training of the young in crime, the oppression of the hireling in his wages, etc.—which it is to the interest of us all most earnestly to seek to heal. No class of the community can escape the ill effect of these things, and religion does but bring us into the deeper sympathy with those who most suffer by such forms of wrong.
III. THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO LIVE FOR THE WORLD'S HIGHEST BENEFIT, "Seek the peace of the city … and pray to the Lord for it." Real peace is the fruit of righteousness. There can be none while the Divine order is violated and the Divine will set at naught. The gospel is in every way God's message of peace to the world. The Church is called to be the "light of the world" and the" salt of the earth," as a witness for God's truth and righteousness. The Christian philanthropist alone has in his hands a thorough cure for the diseases and wounds of our humanity; and of all the weapons he can wield in his conflict with them, none so mighty as prayer, inasmuch as that unseals the fount of all blessing, and brings down from heaven the healing, saving power. Well may a Christian apostle enlarge and emphasize the old prophetic message, saying, "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men," etc. (1 Timothy 2:1-4).—W.
Thoughts of peace.
Such is the consoling word that God sends to his "banished ones" in their affliction. He bids his servant "speak comfortably" to them, even now that their "warfare" is only beginning, and they are having their first taste of the bitterness of exile. Blending with the lamentations of the weeping captives as they "hung their harps on the willows by the waters of Babylon," we can imagine that this gracious word would have a more salutary effect upon them than the living voice of the prophet ever had. What message has it for us?
I. THE MIND OF GOD IS A PROFOUND MYSTERY TO US, BUT HE KNOWS HIS OWN COUNSELS.
1. God has his "thoughts," even as we have ours. We believe in a God who is no mere philosophic abstraction, but a living, personal being, of whose infinite intelligence ours is but the dim and distant reflection.
2. His thoughts are immeasurably higher than ours. "As the heavens are higher than the earth," etc. (Isaiah 55:9). We cannot solve the mystery or trace the course of our own mental processes, and how should we be able to comprehend his? Our minds, with all their utmost range and activity, move but upon the outskirts of the glorious realm of the infinite and eternal thought of God.
3. His thoughts are all conformed to the eternal truth of things. Indeed, they are themselves the eternal truth of things. For what are all created existences—material and spiritual, all laws, forces, etc; but embodiments and reflections of the "thoughts" of God? And whatever his purposes maybe they are not variable; they partake of the immutability of his essential nature. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Psalms 33:11).
II. GOD'S WAYS OF DEALING WITH US ARE OFTEN PERPLEXING, BUT A GRACIOUS PURPOSE GOVERNS ALL. "Thoughts of peace and not of evil." He concealed within his darkest providences.
1. The constitution of the universe, in spite of all its discords, bears abundant witness to the benign spirit that inspires it. We have no sympathy with that gloomy and morbid view of it according to which, for aught that appears, it might have been fashioned by some spirit of cruelty and hate. True as it may be that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together," there is proof enough that "God's tender mercies are over all his works."
2. The Bible has its anomalies, but it is the unfolding of a redemptive purpose. The revelation of God's mercy towards a guilty, ruined world in the person of the Christ is the key to all its historic dispensations. As every chastisement inflicted on the Jewish people had some gracious design in it as regards themselves, so the whole course of their national life and ecclesiastical polity played its part in the development of that world-wide plan. And through all the changes and storms and conflicts that may yet be in store for the Church and the world, Scripture keeps alive the blessed hope of the future. The prophetic word is "as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).
3. The saddest experiences in our personal life have their beneficent Divine intent. Every cloud has its "silver lining." Our keenest sorrows often prove to be "celestial benedictions in a dark disguise." God's "thought of peace" is at the heart of all our earthly tribulations (Hebrews 12:6-11).
III. THE ISSUE ALWAYS JUSTIFIES GOD'S THOUGHTS AND WAYS. The "expected end," when it comes, never fails to solve the mystery of the path that led to it. The gracious purpose, hidden in the secrecy of the Eternal Mind, veiled under many forms of dark disguise, is then made manifest. God is his own Interpreter, and the day of his glorious self-vindication will surely come.
"His ways are love—though they transcend
Our feeble range of sight,
They wind through darkness to their end
In everlasting light."
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The letter to the captives.
Notice the mention of those who bore this letter. We may conclude they were not mere messengers having no interest in the message they conveyed, but those who themselves would have much to say over and above what was written.
I. GOD'S CONSIDERATION FOR HIS PEOPLE IN THEIR CAPTIVITY. He not only means to bring that captivity to an end in his own time, but while it lasts it is to be made as little like captivity as possible. It was not enough that he should leave the nation in Babylon till the time of his chastisement expired. While they remained there, they were to have the largest opportunities compatible with the circumstances in which he had found it necessary to place them. And so when the circumstances of any life are untoward, when perhaps we have made them so by our own folly, God shows his solicitude that we should nevertheless have peace in our own hearts, and such ample guidance as may turn even the untoward into the helpful. God will not banish circumstances merely because we find them hard; but this we may always be sure of, that he will enable us to make the very best of them.
II. GOD'S ASSERTION OF HIS PART IN BRINGING THIS CAPTIVITY ABOUT. He had caused his people to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon. The place of their present abode was by his arrangement. It was their own fault as a nation that they had had to leave Jerusalem; but it was in God's own wisdom that they were planted in Babylon rather than another place. Clearly to perceive that the omnipotent God was disposing their outward relations, would enable them to listen all the more attentively to what instructions he had to give them for making the best of their present circumstances.
III. GOD'S PLAN FOR THE PROFIT AND COMFORT OF THE PRESENT GENERATION. The people are plainly told that they are to be there for seventy years. No energy of their own can get them away a year sooner; and no might of their captors can keep them a year later. Hence it is the true wisdom to accept the divinely settled position. No man among them was to neglect the possibilities of his brief temporal life by reason of a baseless expectation that he might soon return to his own land. He might indeed say," If I show signs of settling down here, I shall be reckoned a very poor patriot." And so over against all temptations to restlessness and utter waste of existence there is this explicit direction from Jehovah. If any Israelites lives a wasted life in Babylon it will be his own fault. So to speak, God makes Babylon, for the time, a sort of substitute for the promised land. If the Israelite has only sufficient of the spirit of true faith and obedience in him, he may make even the land of captivity a place of blessing. For the nation Babylon was a mere place of sojourning, but for the individual it was to be his chief abode on earth. Hence the loving-kindness of God is manifest in telling him he might build a house and make a home and plant fields, thus settling down to a useful and cheerful life.
IV. GOD'S WILL WITH REGARD TO THE RELATIONS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND BABYLON. Israel was to seek the peace of Babylon. It was to support everything that promoted peace and security. Naturally Israel would expect to find its chance in the difficulties of Babylon. If any formidable foe threatened the country, or the equal danger of civil war, it might only too easily seem to Israel that this would give the chance for liberty. But so far from this being really the case, God assures his people that Babylon's peace is their peace. This sets before us a principle of action which Christian people cannot too diligently observe. While it is true that we are not of this world, but must constantly rise superior to its habits and maxims, yet at the same time we cannot do too much to maintain the stability of governments and the public order of the land in which we live. While Christ would have us turn away from the cant of what is called patriotism, he would also have us to abhor everything that tends to anarchy. While the Spirit of God promotes the highest individuality, he also promotes the greatest order (1 Timothy 2:1-4).—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19