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The promise of Jeremiah 30:22 is expressly declared to apply to both sections of the nation. Jehovah thus solemnly declares his purpose of mercy, and dwells with special Madness on the happy future of Ephraim.
The people which were left of the sword, etc.; literally, the people of those left of the sword. The expression clearly implies that the Jews at the time spoken of had escaped, or were about to escape, in some great battle or some other kind of slaughter. Hence the finding grace in the wilderness cannot refer to the sequel of the passage through the Red Sea, and we must perforce explain it of the second great deliverance, viz. from the Babylonian exile. This view is strongly confirmed by Jeremiah 51:50, where the Israelites who escape the predicted slaughter at Babylon are called "escaped ones from the sword," and exhorted to remember Jehovah and Jerusalem "afar off." The "wilderness" of the present passage, like the "afar off" of Jeremiah 51:1-64. (and of the next verse) seems to mean Babylon, which was, by comparison with the highly favoured Judah, a "barren and dry land" (comp. Psalms 63:1), a spiritual Arabia. It may be objected that the tense here is the perfect; but there is abundance of analogy for explaining it as the prophetic perfect. The restoration of the chosen people to favour is as certain in the Divine counsels as if it were already an event past. Even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest; rather, when I went to cause Israel to rest (literally, to cause him—Israel—to rest; but the pleonastic pronoun need not be represented in the English). Another possible and perhaps preferable rendering is, I will go to cause, etc. "Rest" could only be had in the consciousness of God's favor. With all the outward property of many of the Jews in Babylon, there was no true "rest." Comp. Jeremiah 16:1-21, "Ask for the old paths.; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls" (the same verbal root in the Hebrew for "rest" in both passages).
The Lord hath appeared of old unto me. The Church of the faithful Israel is the speaker. "From afar" (so we ought to render, rather than "of old") she sees Jehovah, with the eye of faith, approaching to redeem her; comp. Isaiah 40:10 and Isaiah 59:20 (only that in these passages it is to Jerusalem, and not to Babylon, that Jehovah "comes" as the Redeemer); also the promise in Jeremiah 30:10, "I will save thee from afar," and Jeremiah 51:50, quoted above. Saying, Yea, I have loved thee, etc. "Saying" is inserted to make the connection plainer. The genius of Hebrew does not require such a distinct indication of a change of speakers as our Western languages. For other instances of this, see Genesis 4:25; Genesis 26:7; Genesis 32:31; 1 Kings 20:34. With loving kindness have I drawn thee; rather, do I continue loving kindness unto thee. "To continue" is literally, to draw out at length. The idea is the same as that in the great prophecy which follows that of the suffering Saviour, "With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee" (Isaiah 54:8; comp. Isaiah 54:10).
I will build thee. A nation, like a family, is frequently compared to a building (so Jeremiah 12:16; Jeremiah 24:6; comp. Ephesians 2:22). O virgin of Israel. The people of Israel is personified as a virgin (comp. Jeremiah 14:7). Adorned with thy tabrets, The expression will not, of course, bear to be logically criticized, for it was not the whole people who went out with "tabrets" or "timbrels," but the "damsels," who, it is true, formed an important part of religious processions (Psalms 68:25), and doubtless of secular ones also (comp. Judges 11:34). Joyousness is an essential part of the Biblical ideal both of religion and of a normal state of society: "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
The mountains of Samaria. "Samaria" is used, equally with Ephraim, for the northern kingdom. Shall eat them as common things; rather, shall enjoy the fruit. The word, however, literally means shall profane them. The more common phrase, "shall eat the fruit," occurs in Isaiah 65:21, where the same promise is given. The law was that newly planted fruit trees should be left alone for three years; that in the fourth year their fruit should be consecrated to God; and that in the fifth year their fruit might be "profaned," i.e. devoted to ordinary uses (comp. Deuteronomy 20:6; Deuteronomy 28:30).
The termination of the schism between north and south will be shown by the anxiety of the Ephraimites (see on "Samaria," Jeremiah 31:5) to take part with their brethren in the festival of the new moon. It was the custom, at any rate in later times, to station watchmen at elevated points to give notice of the first appearance of "the slender sickle, which shines so brightly in the clear Oriental heaven" Let us go up. Not with reference to the physical elevation of Jerusalem, for the phrase, "to go up," is used of an army withdrawing from Jerusalem (Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 34:21). This seems to indicate that the term was sometimes used in a weakened sense, to which parallels might easily be given. These words, "Arise ye, and let us go up," etc; were, at a later period, the formula with which the leader of the pilgrims from any particular district summoned the members of his caravan to fall into the procession.
The restoration of Israel; its blessedness and joyousness.
Sing with gladness, etc. It is not stated who are addressed; but we may doubtless understand, from Isaiah 66:10, "all ye who love him," whether Jews or Gentiles. The latter, too, are interested in the restoration of Israel, because Israel is as it were a "priest" or mediator for the other nations (Isaiah 61:6). Among the chief of the nations; rather, because of the chief of the nations. Israel is called the "chief of the nations" (so, with a cognate word for "chief," in Amos 6:1) because Jehovah has" chosen" it as his peculium (to use the language of the Vulgate), Deuteronomy 7:6, and because no other nation "hath God so nigh unto them," and "hath statutes and judgments so righteous," as Israel (Deuteronomy 4:7, Deuteronomy 4:8).
The weakest among the Israelites will share the blessings with the strongest, even the blind and the lame (comp. Isaiah 33:23, "The lame take the prey"). Elsewhere we are told that, in the Messianic age, "the eyes of the blind shall see," and "the lame man shall leap as an hart" (Isaiah 35:5, Isaiah 35:6). Shall return thither; rather, hither; i.e. to Palestine, where Jeremiah writes this prophecy. The word for company is hahal, the proper word in the Pentateuch for the Israelitish national "congregation."
With weeping; i.e. with a joy dashed with sorrow at the thought of the sin which has rendered such an interposition necessary (comp. Jeremiah 31:18). Cause them to walk by the rivers of waters. The reference here is primarily to the homeward journey of the exiles, which shall be free from the trials of the first Exodus, but not exclusively (see on next verse). The question arises how this prediction is to be reconciled with facts. For, as Kimchi has remarked, we find no reference to miracles performed for the Jews who returned from Babylon. A twofold reply seems admissible. We may say either that to those who enjoy a vivid sense of the favour and protection of God no trial is grievous, no circumstances exclude an undercurrent of joy (comp. Psalms 23:1-6.); or that the prophecy is still waiting for its complete fulfilment, Israel having still a great future reserved for it upon its recognition of the true Messiah. In a straight way; or, in an even way, i.e. one free from hindrances. Comp. Ezra's prayer (Ezra 8:21), and Psalms 107:7, in both of which passages "right" should probably be "even." Ephraim is my firstborn. It is doubted whether this simply means that Ephraim (i.e. North Israel) shall be in no respect inferior to Judah—a strong form of expression being chosen, on account of the longer continuance of Ephraim's captivity; or whether it implies a restoration to the tribes of Joseph of the prerogative conferred upon the sons of Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1, 1 Chronicles 5:2; comp. Genesis 48:15). The former view seems hardly consistent with the dignity of a prophetic writer. "Forms of expression," i.e. rhetorical phrases, may be admitted in poetical passages, but hardly in solemn prophetic revelations. It was true that Judah had "prevailed above his brethren;" but the original "gift of God" to Ephraim was "without repentance." With regard to the fulfilment of this prediction, we must remember that the remnant of the northern tribes whose faith was strong enough to induce them to profit by the edict of Cyrus, was smaller than that of the southern. Hence the outward signs of God's favour to Ephraim could not be so great as they would have been had the moral conditions of the fulfilment of the promise been more fully complied with.
The isles; i.e. the distant countries of the West (see on Jeremiah 2:10). So great an event as the restoration of the chosen people would be of worldwide importance. He that scattered Israel will gather him, etc. "The Israelites were the flock of Jehovah (Psalms 77:20; Psalms 80:1), but during the Captivity a scattered and miserable flock. Jeremiah says that his eye 'shall run down with tears, because the flock of Jehovah is carried away captive' (Jeremiah 13:17). The change in the fortunes of the Jews is compared by the prophets to a shepherd's seeking his lost sheep, and feeding them again in green pastures (Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 1:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16). The reference is not so much to the homeward journey of the exiles as to the state of temporal and spiritual happiness in which they would find themselves on their return. The same figures occur in a psalm, where a reference to the return from exile is excluded by the pre-exile date, ' … feed them also, and carry them forever' (Psalms 28:9)" (from the writer's note on Isaiah 40:11).
Shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord; i.e. the Ephraimites, after praising God on the holy hill, shall spread themselves over their own territory like an overflowing stream, and enjoy the "goodness" or good gifts of Jehovah—the corn (not simply the wheat), the wine, the oil, etc. (comp. Deuteronomy 8:8). Sorrow; rather, languish. As Dr. Payne Smith well says, "It expresses the poverty and helplessness of exiles unable from homesickness and want of confidence to do anything with spirit. Restored to their homes, they will be as full of vigour as a garden irrigated with water under a Southern sun."
Young and old, men and women, shall give themselves up to joy and merriment, the centre of the mirth being the maidens with the timbrels (Jeremiah 31:4). Both young men and old together; rather, and young men and old (shall rejoice) together.
And I will satiate; literally, water (same word as in Psalms 36:8). The "fatness" means the fat parts of the thank offerings, which were given to the priests (Le Jeremiah 7:34). Satisfied. "Satiated" would be a happier rendering. The word is different from that rendered "satiate" just above.
From this glorious prospect Jeremiah's eye turns to the melancholy present. The land of Ephraim is orphaned and desolate. The prophet seems to hear Rachel weeping for her banished children, and comforts her with the assurance that they shall yet be restored. For Ephraim has come to repentance, and longs for reconciliation with his God, and God, who has overheard his soliloquy, relents, and comes to meet him with gracious promises. Then another voice is heard summoning Ephraim to prepare for his journey home. This verse is quoted by St. Matthew (Matthew 2:17) with reference to the massacre of the innocents, with τότε ἐπληρώθη prefixed. The latter formula of itself suggests that there was a previous fulfilment of the prophecy, but that the analogy of the circumstances of the innocents justifies—nay, requires—the admission of a second fulfilment. In fact, the promise of the Messianic age seemed in as much danger of being rendered void when Herod wreaked his fury on the children of Bethlehem, as when the tribes of Israel were scattered in exile. Dean Stanley finds a geographical inconsistency in the two passages. "The context of Jeremiah 31:15 implies that the Ramah of the prophet was in the northern kingdom, probably Ramah of Benjamin. The context of Matthew 2:18, on the other hand, implies that the Ramah of the evangelist was within sight of Bethlehem". But this remark involves the assumption that the quotation was not intended merely as an application.
A voice was heard; rather, is heard. It is a participle, indicating the continuance of the action. In Ramah. In the neighbourhood of which town Rachel was buried, according to 1 Samuel 10:2 ("the city" where Samuel and Saul were—1 Samuel 9:25—appears to have been Ramah). Rachel weeping for her children. Rachel ("Rahel" is only a Germanizing way of writing the name), being the ancestress of the three tribes, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, is represented as feeling like a mother for all the tribes connected with those three. Her "weeping" is no mere figure of speech. Jeremiah believes that the patriarchs and holy men of old continue to feel an interest in the fortunes of their descendants (comp. Isaiah 63:16).
Rachel is admonished to cease from weeping, because her work has not really been in vain; her children shall be restored. Thy work shall be rewarded. Like the Servant of the Lord, Rachel had said (though with the voiceless language of tears), "I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain;" and like the ocean mother of Zidon, "I have not travailed, nor brought forth children, neither nourished up young men, nor brought up virgins" (Isaiah 23:4). Rachel's work had been that of rearing up the patriarchs, "in whose loins" the tribes themselves were, in a certain sense. From the land of the enemy; i.e. from the countries of Israel's dispersion. But in the spirit of St. Matthew, we may fill the passage with a higher meaning, of which the prophet (like Shakespeare sometimes) was unconscious, namely, "from death;" and the passage thus becomes an undesigned prophecy of the Resurrection.
Hope in thine end; rather, hope for thy future (comp. on Jeremiah 29:11). There is no occasion to render, with the Septuagint and Rosenmuller, "for thy posterity" (comp. Psalms 119:13, Hebrew); for Rachel identifies herself by sympathy with her descendants.
Jeremiah 31:18, Jeremiah 31:19
The ground of this hope, viz. that Ephraim will humble himself with deep contrition.
As a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; literally, as an untaught calf (comp. Hosea 10:11). Turn thou me, etc. Jeremiah has a peculiarly deep view of conversion. Isaiah (Isaiah 1:16-20) simply calls upon his hearers to change their course of life; Jeremiah represents penitent Ephraim as beseeching God so to prepare him that he may indeed "turn."
After that I was turned, I repented; rather, after my turning away (as Jeremiah 8:4), I have repented. It is a different kind of "turning" which is here meant, a turning away from God. I was instructed; literally, I was made to know; i.e. brought to my senses by punishment. I smote upon my thigh; rather, I have smitten, etc. Ephraim describes his present state of mind, and the symbols by which he translates it into act. Smiting upon the thigh was a sign of mourning (comp. Ezekiel 21:17). I did bear, etc.; rather, I have borne, etc. The "reproach of Ephraim's youth" is that which he brought upon himself in early times by his unfaithfulness to Jehovah.
The Divine speaker asks, as it were in surprise, whether Ephraim, who has so flagrantly sinned against him, can really be his dear (or, precious) son, his pleasant child (literally, child of caressing, i.e. one caressed). The latter expression occurs in a remarkable passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:7). Since I spake against him; rather, as often as I spake against him; i.e. as often as I pronounced sentence against Ephraim—such a sentence as is recorded in Isaiah 9:8-21 (where the future tenses should he perfects) and Isaiah 28:1-4. We must remember that, with God, to speak is to perform. Often as Jehovah punished Israel, he still remembered him in love—a love which was the pledge of his future restoration to favour upon his true repentance. I do earnestly remember; rather, I verily remembered. "To remember" is the Old Testament term for providential care (comp. Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:29). My bowels are troubled; literally, sound, moan (so Isaiah 16:11; Isaiah 63:15). Something analogous to the thrilling sensation of deep human grief is predicated of Jehovah. Such is the "humility" of the God of revelation (Psalms 18:35; comp. Hosea 11:8).
Set thee up waymarks. The "virgin of Israel" is addressed. She is directed to mark out the road for the returning exiles. The command is obviously the. torical in form; the general sense is that the Israelites are to call to mind the road so familiar to their forefathers, though only known to themselves by tradition. The word rendered "waymarks" occurs again in 2 Kings 33:17 and Ezekiel 39:15. It apparently means a stone pillar, which might be used either as a waymark or a sepulchral monument. The high heaps seem to mean much the same thing; "signposts" would be a better rendering. Set thine heart toward the highway; rather, turn thy thoughts, etc; for the heart is here evidently the symbol of the intellectual rather than the moral life. A passage in the Psalms (Psalms 84:6) will occur to every one, in which a psalmist, longing at a distance for the services of the temple, pronounces blessed the man "in whose heart are the highways [to Zion];" here, it is true, "heart" has the double meaning of "mind" and "affections," but "highway" has almost exactly the same sense as in the passage before us. To these thy cities. The unseen speaker is supposed to be in Palestine.
How long wilt thou go about? We must suppose the Israelites to be hesitating whether to set out on their journey or not. They are now admonished to put away their rebellious reluctance, and a special reason for this is added. The Lord hath created—i.e. hath decreed to create—a new thing in the earth (or, in the land); comp. Isaiah 43:19 which suggests that a complete reversal of ordinary experience is indicated, as indeed the word create of itself prepares us to expect. And what is this promise granted as a sign to reluctant Israel? A woman shall compass a man; i.e. instead of shyly keeping aloof, or worse (as hitherto), Israel, Jehovah's bride, shall, with eager affection, press around her Divine husband. The phrase, however, is extremely difficult. Of other explanations, the most plausible philologically is that of Schnurrer and Gesenius, "a woman shall protect a man" (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10). The part of a sentinel, pacing round and round his charge, seems most unfitted for a woman. When enemies are abroad, it is the men's natural duty to perform this part for the women. But in the coming age, the country shall be so free from danger that the places of men and women may safely be reversed. But would a paradox of this kind be likely to be uttered in this connection? Surely a clearer statement would be necessary to remove the reluctance of the Israelites. Isaiah 43:19, Isaiah 43:20 suggest that Ephraim needed reassurance as to the attitude of Jehovah towards him. The promise of Isaiah 43:22, as explained above, would give precisely the needed strength and comfort. The exposition of St. Jerome and other Fathers, that the birth of Christ from a virgin is referred to, is altogether inadmissible,
(1) because the nouns which form the subject and the predicate respectively indicate sex, not age, and the first in particular cannot be tortured so as to mean "virgin;" and
(2) there is no article to confine the reference to any particular persons.
But the prophet would not have Judah suppose that Ephraim has supplanted her; she too shall be restored, and shall enjoy a happy pastoral and agricultural life.
As yet; rather, again (as Jeremiah 31:4). Mountain of holiness. Does this mean simply Mount Zion, or the whole highland country of Judah (scrap. Isaiah 11:9)? The former view is the safer; it is by no means clear that "mountain" in Isaiah or anywhere else in the Old Testament means the Holy Land.
The ideal of outward life exhibited by the prophets is still the agricultural and pastoral. Jeremiah puts this more forcibly than the Authorized Version represents. Instead of, And there shall dwell in Judah, etc; he says, And there shall dwell therein (viz. in the land) Judah and all his cities together as husbandmen, and they shall go about with flocks, i.e. they shall attend to their ancient pursuits without let or hindrance from invaders (comp. Isaiah 32:20). "Go about" (literally, break up) is the regular word for the periodical journeying of the nomad life.
For Jehovah will have fulfilled every unsatisfied craving. I have satiated (literally, watered) means "I have decreed to satiate;" it is the perfect of prophetic certitude, which represents an event as already having taken place in the Divine counsels. Sorrowful; rather, languishing (see on Jeremiah 31:12).
Upon this I awaked, etc. Who the speaker is here has been much debated. That Jehovah is meant is not an admissible view. A weak believer may say complainingly, "Why sleepest thou?" but God himself cannot be represented under the image of a sleeper. There seems, however, to be no reason why the prophet should not have used this language. The doubt is whether a real, physical sleep is meant, or merely an ecstatic condition resembling sleep. Hengstenberg decides for the latter. But there is no parallel for sleep in the sense of ecstasy, and, on the other hand, there is evidence enough for dreams as the channels of Divine revelation (Genesis 31:10, Genesis 31:11; 1Ki 3:5; 1 Kings 9:2; Joel 2:28). As Naegelsbach points out, this is the only unqualifiedly comforting prophecy in the whole book, and may well have left a sweet savour in the prophet's memory. Stern, indeed, was the reality which the moment of his waking brought back to him.
The physical side of the Messianic blessing. Its effect upon the heart of the pardoned sinners will be such that they will fully recognize the justice of the Divine judgments. There will no longer be any room for a certain favourite proverb; the death of a sinner will be universally acknowledged to be the reward of his personal sin (Keil).
I will sow, etc. The passage may be illustrated by Isaiah 26:18, where the Church of the restored exiles is represented as complaining that the land (of Judah) has not been brought into a state of security, and that inhabitants (in sufficient numbers) have not been begotten. Similarly here, only the tone of complaint is wanting. The thought has suggested itself—Will the Israelites of the latter days be sufficient to fill up the land? Yes, is the answer of revelation; for Jehovah will perform a wonder, and make the people and their cattle so prolific that it will seem as if children and young cattle grew up like plants.
As I have watched … so will I watch, etc. The allusion is to the twofold commission given to the prophet (Jeremiah 1:10), which was partly to pluck up and to destroy, partly to build and to plant. Jehovah has hitherto been "watchful" (another point of contact with Jeremiah 1:1-19.; see on Jeremiah 1:12) over the fulfilment of the destructive prophecies; he will now be equally zealous for that of the promises of regeneration.
Have eaten a sour grape; rather, sour grapes. The prophet (like Ezekiel, Ezekiel 18:1-32.) condemns the use of this proverb, and declares that the sinner is the artificer of his own ruin. At first sight, it may seem as if Jeremiah opposes the second commandment, which describes how God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5). This, however, cannot really be, for he endorses this declaration later on (Jeremiah 32:18). The fact is that he is not so much condemning the proverb, as the blasphemous application of it made by the Jews of his time. It is an eternal truth that sin perpetuates itself (except by the miracles of grace) in the children of transgressors, and intensified sin leads to intensified punishment. But the children of transgressors do not cease to be responsible for their own share in the sin;—this was the truth which Jeremiah's contemporaries ignored. He does not deny the solidarity of the family or the race,but he superadds the neglected truth of the special responsibility of the individual. This is one among many evidences of the deepening sense of individual life in the later period of the Jewish monarchy. (A somewhat different view is offered by Delitzsch, 'Messianic Prophecies,' § 50. According to him, Jeremiah looks forward to a time when the individual shall be liberated from the consequences of his solidarity with his race, and when personality shall be "invested with its rights." But can the individual be thus liberated?)
The new covenant. A prophecy which stands out from the rest of Jeremiah by its evangelical character, in which it strongly reminds us of parts of the second half of Isaiah. The doctrine of the covenant is "the thread which binds together the hopes and the fears of the prophet, his certainty of coming woe, his certainty of ultimate blessing." A covenant was granted of old, but that covenant had on man's side been broken. Still "the gifts and calling of God are not to be retracted" (Romans 11:29); and Jeremiah felt that the very nature of God guaranteed the renewal of the covenant on a new basis. "Covenant" is, no doubt, an unfortunate rendering. The Hebrew word so rendered means, primarily, a decision or appointment, and there is a whole group of passages in the Old Testament which requires this meaning (see the present writer's note, in 'The Prophecies of Isaiah,' on Isaiah 42:6). We retain it, however, as that with which the reader is familiar, and only remind him that God is everything, and man nothing, in fixing the terms of the transaction. The characteristics of the new covenant are three:
(1) The relation between God and his people is protected from all risk by God himself making the people what he would have them be.
(2) "Whereas, in the case of the old, the law of duty was written on tables of stone, in the ease of the new the law is to be written on the heart; whereas, under the old, owing to the ritual character of the worship, the knowledge of God and his will was a complicated affair, in which men generally were helplessly dependent on a professional class, under the new, the worship of God would be reduced to the simplest spiritual elements, and it would be in every man's power to know God at first hand, the sole requisite for such knowledge as would then be required being a pure heart." And
(3) "whereas, under the old, the provisions for the cancelling of sin were very unsatisfactory, and utterly unfit to perfect the worshipper as to conscience, by dealing thoroughly with the problem of guilt, under the new God would grant to his people a real, absolute, and perennial forgiveness, so that the abiding relation between him and them should be as if sin had never existed". Comp. the abolition of the ark indicated in Jeremiah 3:16.—The inspired author of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 8:6-13), speaking generally, that this promise delivered through Jeremiah was fulfilled in the gospel. But it must be remembered that the gospel has not yet taken form outwardly, except in a comparatively meagre sense. If the Jews as a nation (that is, the better part or kernel of Israel) should embrace the gospel, not necessarily in the logical expression familiar to the West, but in its essential facts and truths, we should see quite another embodiment of the promise, and feel the spiritual impulse in ourselves as we have not yet done. It seems appropriate, in conclusion, to quote a finely expressed passage from De Quincey's exposition of the New Testament term μετάνοια. Without pledging ourselves to the absolute correctness of his explanation of that word, his language may be well applied to Jeremiah's prophecy. "What would have been thought of any prophet, if he should have promised to transfigurate the celestial mechanics; if he had said, 'I will create a new pole star, a new zodiac, and new laws of gravitation;' briefly, 'I will make new earth and new heavens'? And yet a thousand times more awful it was to undertake the writing Of new laws upon the spiritual conscience of man."
Although I was an husband unto them. The translation of the Septuagint κἀγὼ ἠμέλησα αὐτῶν, is undoubtedly wrong, though adopted for consistency's sake by the author of Hebrews 8:9. The phrase is the same as in Jeremiah 3:14, where even the Septuagint has ἐγὼ κατακυριεύσω ὑμῶν
After those days; i.e. after they have fully come; not, after they are over. I will put my law, etc. Of course, not the Pentateuch, but the principles of which the rules in the Pentateuch were the temporary application. It is not here denied that there were, or might be, some under the Old Testament dispensation who had the Divine Law in their heart (see some of the psalms), but speaking of the people as a whole, it must be said that the Law was an external dictator rather than a bosom friend, a mechanical rule rather than a λόγος ἴμφυτος (James 1:21).
On this verse, see note on the paragraph.
Guarantee of Israel's national continuance. A marvellous promise, in the face of the Babylonian Captivity.
The ordinances of the moon; i.e. the moon in its appointed changes (comp. Jeremiah 33:23). Which divideth the sea when, etc.; rather, which stirreth up the sea, so that, etc. This is one of the points of content Jeremiah with the latter part of Isaiah (see Isaiah 51:17; and comp. Job 26:12).
Thus edith the Lord. "It is not without meaning that the prophet so frequently repeats: 'Thus saith the Lord.' This formed the Α and Ω; his word was the sole ground of hope for Israel. Apart from it, despair was as reasonable as now it was unreasonable" (Hengstenberg).
The connection is not very clear. The main point of these verses is that Jerusalem, when rebuilt, shall be altogether "the Lord's." Its circumference shall even be extended with the single object of including spots at present unclean, but then to become holy like the rest of the city. According to Hengstenberg and Keil, Jerusalem is here a figure of the kingdom of God in the latter days.
The tower of Hananeel. This lay at the northeast corner of the city (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 12:39). The gate of the corner. At the north, west corner (2 Kings 14:13; 2 Chronicles 26:9). Both this and the tower of Hananeel are mentioned together again in the prophecy of the glorification of Jerusalem, in Zechariah 14:10.
Over against it upon the hill Gareb; rather, straight forward unto the hill Gareb. The hill of Gareb is not mentioned elsewhere; its meaning is probably "Leper's Hill." It must, of course, have been outside the city, and may be identified (after Schleussner and Hitzig) with "the fourth hill, which is called Bezetha" (Josephus, 'De Bell. Jud.,' 5.4, 2). To Goath; rather, to Goah. But the reading of the Peshito, "to Gibeah," should probably be adopted.
The southern boundary of the city. The whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes; rather,… even the dead bodies and the ashes. It is assumed by most that Jeremiah means the valley of Hinnom, which, after its defilement by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), had become a receptacle of rubbish and offal. It is, however, against this view that the word for "valley" is not gai (elsewhere connected with Hinnom), but emek, i.e. "deep lying plain." The "dead bodies" are the corpses of men and animals, destroyed by the judgment of God, and lying unburied; but where, seems uncertain. Ashes. Wood ashes are not here meant, but those of flesh and fat, which remained after the burning of a sacrificial victim (see Le Jeremiah 1:16; and comp. Jeremiah 4:12). The horse gate. Mentioned in Nehemiah 3:28. Holy unto the Lord. The unclean spots in the neighbourhood having been transformed. The expression reminds us of Exodus 28:36 (the legend on the forefront of the high priest's mitre).
The close relations of God and his people.
I. THE OCCASION OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF CLOSE RELATIONS BETWEEN GOD AND HIS PEOPLE.
1. After chastisement. This and the other blessings promised in "the hook of consolation" are to follow the endurance of the Captivity. God often accords the choicest spiritual blessings to those of his children who are called to endure the bitterest trials.
2. After repentance. The people learned to grieve for their wickedness, and return to God in penitence and trust under the wholesome lessons of adversity. Then they were ready for reunion with God. Mere suffering will not lead to this. Suffering is useful just because it may he a means of leading us to humble ourselves and turn to God.
3. Accompanying a restoration of temporal prosperity. The glories of the restoration referred to in the last chapter are closely associated with the high spiritual privileges promised in the text. Earthly good things are of little use unless they are crowned by higher blessings. The difference between the prosperity of the wicked and that of true Christians is that the one is the highest good enjoyed, and thus tends to become an idol and a snare, while the other is subordinate to better things and purified by their pervading influence. Thus received, prosperity may be safely enjoyed.
4. Contemporaneously with the punishment of the wicked. "At the same time," etc. God is discriminating in his judgments because he is calm and just, though we cannot discern his course and aim. The highest spiritual good is received only when our spiritual foes are overthrown.
II. THE PERSONS WHO ENJOY THESE CLOSE RELATIONS.
1. Israel. The promise was to the favoured nation, to the exclusion of others. Elsewhere prophets foretold the spread of the blessings of redemption to all nations, but always on the understanding that those nations entered into the Jewish covenant and became spiritual Israelites. The highest blessings are offered to all men, but with the condition that they who would receive them become his true children. The invitation is to mankind; the promise is to the people of God.
2. The families of Israel. God gives distinct family gifts, blessing children through their parents. Religion sanctifies the family. Family life is the largest and highest form of natural human life.
3. All the families of Israel. The privileges are not confined to certain selected families—to those which had always remained faithful, to any spiritual aristocracy, to any priestly order; not Aaron's family alone, nor Levi's tribe, nor Judah to the exclusion of the ten tribes; but all are to be restored. All Christians are called to the free enjoyment of God's peculiar people; spiritual privileges are confined within no exclusive limitations. All Christians are kings and priests; all can now enter the holiest sanctuary, enjoy the closest communion with God.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THESE CLOSE RELATIONS.
1. It has a human side: "I will be the God of all the families of Israel."
(1) Jehovah is acknowledged. The people had followed Baal. They return to the true God. Christians who acknowledge God and Christ should frankly confess their faith.
(2) God is worshipped. If he is regarded by us as becomes his being and character, he must be honoured as well as acknowledged.
(3) God is obeyed. If he is admitted to be our God, he must be submitted to as our sovereign Lord.
(4) God is trusted. Our God is our supreme Helper. When we enter into right relations with God, we learn to confide in him.
(5) God is enjoyed. He is our God as our Portion.
2. The character of this relation between God and hi s people has also a Divine side: "And they shall be my people." Religion is not only an exercise of human spiritual activities; it is also a sphere in which God works, influencing his people. Though his people are unworthy of God, he is not ashamed of them. He owns them. If God regards any men as his people, great consequences follow.
(1) He will prize them as his treasures, showing to them love, bestowing upon them favours, guarding them from harm..
(2) He will lay obligations upon them, call them to service, honour them with trusts. These two characteristics of the close relation of God and his people are nearly allied. God will not honour and protect us while we forget or disown him; but his great favours to us help us the better to own and serve him.
The everlasting love of God.
God appeared "from afar" to Jeremiah. When he seems to have forsaken us he is not loving us the less. In these dark hours he may give to us, as to Jeremiah, the richest assurance of his everlasting love.
I. CONSIDER THE WONDER OF THE FACT THAT GOD'S LOVE IS EVERLASTING. There is a wonder about this fact, since there are so many things that might well be thought likely to limit and stay the love of God to such beings as we are, viz.:
1. Our unworthiness. God is holy, and must delight only in holiness; he is great, and can create innumerable beings of far higher powers than ours. Why, then, should he love such imperfect creatures as men?—why love those who are corrupt and sinful?
2. Our indifference. Love looks for a return of love; but men have treated God's love with neglect. Through the long ages during which God has been visiting his children with ceaseless loving kindness they have been coldly turning aside to their own ways, deaf to the entreaties of an infinite condescension.
3. Our unfaithfulness. For love to remain unbroken it is expected that it should be honoured by fidelity. Unfaithfulness is naturally regarded as a reason for withdrawing the privileges of affection. But God's children have been untrue to him. They have forsaken his ways, abused his blessings, flung insult on his mercy. How, then, can he continue to love them? It is, indeed, a marvel that, through these long ages of the world's wild wanderings, God should still follow his unworthy children with ceaseless love, never refusing to bless them, always entreating them to return to him. And it must be a marvel to us that, through all the years of our unworthy lives, he has shown the same long suffering, forbearing mercy to each of us. It is wonderful that God should ever love such unworthy creatures as we are, but it is "passing strange" that he should not cease to love us after all our provocations of his wrath, that he should love us with "an everlasting love," and should "have continued his loving kindness unto" us.
II. INQUIRE INTO SOME OF THE REASONS WHY GOD'S LOVE IS EVERLASTING. We must not look for these in any hidden merits of our own, which our modesty has passed over while God's favour has been won by them. The secret of the love of God and of its eternal endurance is to be sought in his nature and in his relations to us.
1. The nature of God. "God is love." He loves because he cannot but love, because he delights to love, because his love must be ever flowing and is so vast that it must needs flow out eternally in all directions. It is not the attraction of the object, but the character of the love, that accounts for its perpetual endurance. The earth is bathed in summer sunlight without having any peculiar attractions for light—only because the vast stores of the sun must ever empty themselves by radiating out into space. The stream fertilizes the valley through no influence of the plants drawing it thither, but just because abundant springs pour forth their waters. And God radiates love, pours forth floods of blessing, because he is full of love, because love has its laws of diffusion. Such love is not destroyed by the unworthiness of the object. Closed shutters do not prevent the sunshine from playing about the house. Sandy deserts, in which the waters of the stream are lost, do not stay the torrents from flowing down the mountain-sides. It is the nature of true and perfect love to be eternal. "Charity endureth all things," and "never faileth." "Love is love forevermore."
2. God's relations with us. God is our Father. We are his children by nature, and can never cease to be so. The prodigal son was an unworthy child, yet in his degradation he could still think of his father (Luke 15:17). A parent's love is not caused nor limited by the merits of his children. It has a deeper, a more unselfish source. It survives all the destruction of just claims. God's love is the perfect parent's love. A mother whose daughter had left the home years back always kept her door on the latch at night, that, if her poor child returned at any hour, she should never find it barred against her. Human nature is weak. A mother's love may fail, but God's never (Isaiah 10:1-34 : Isaiah 59:15).
III. NOTE THE PRACTICAL CONSEQUENCES THAT FLOW FROM THE EVERLASTING LOVE OF GOD.
1. God will do all that is possible for our highest good. We may believe with William Law "that no creature can suffer from any evil from which infinite goodness can deliver it." God has gone so far as to give his only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). We may be sure that he will do all else that is ever possible for the salvation and blessing of his children. May we not, then, well hope that an everlasting love will outlast and wear down all opposition of the stubborn but finite natures even of the worst of us, though it take vast ages to accomplish the result? At all events, he is a rash man who would set limits to the future triumphs of the "ceaseless, unexhausted grace" of God.
2. We should return to him with trust and love. The worst man living, if he repent, need not dread a harsh reception, for God's love has outlived his sins. Here is infinite encouragement for penitence; here is hope for the lowest. God loves even him. Surely, therefore, God will welcome his unworthy child when he returns home. We have in this everlasting love of God inducements to urge us
(1) to repent and no longer abuse his goodness;
(2) to trust in him;
(3) to love him in return for his love;
(4) to find our rest and joy in him;
(5) to devote ourselves to his service (with love "all tasks are sweet"); and
(6) to love our brethren with God-like love for the sake of God's love (1 John 4:11).
Rachel weeping for her children.
I. RACHEL HAS NATURAL CAUSE NOR HER GRIEF. Sword, pestilence, and famine ravage the land. The invasion by Nebuchadnezzar desolates the old home of the family of Rachel, bringing death to those who cling to it and scattering the survivors in exile. Such a calamity was in itself most mournful; but the disappointment it brought to the cherished hopes of Israel in a golden future deepened the distress to despair. It looked as though it were the shipwreck of all the Messianic dreams of ancient prophecy. So also the "massacre of the innocents," with reference to which these words of Jeremiah are quoted in the New Testament, was more than an ordinary disaster. It threatened Christ and his redemption. If earthly trouble is great, how far greater would be the destruction of the higher spiritual hopes of God's people! We may be thankful that we have no such cause of distress as that of Rachel at Ramah and at Bethlehem. Though the Christian's earthly fortunes may be tempest tossed, his highest hopes are founded on a Rock. No worldly trouble can touch these. It is noteworthy that Rachel, and not Jacob, is here represented as weeping for her children. It is the mother's heart that breaks first when her children are taken from her. Even the savage tigress knows this natural grief. It is so bitter that no earthly consolation can assuage it.
II. RACHEL GIVES NATURAL VENT TO HER GRIEF. She weeps. She may thank God for tears; they are nature's relief to a burdened heart. It is best not to hide a sorrow till it eats out the heart like a canker.
"Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'erfraught heart and bids it break."
Christ does not inflict harsh and unnatural restraints upon mourners, like those of Stoicism. At the grave of Lazarus "Jesus wept." St. Paul invites sympathetic Christians to "weep with them that weep." Yet it is well to convert our tears into prayers. If the bruised spirit cannot speak, cannot think, can but moan, yet it may make its inarticulate cry an utterance to heaven that the all-pitiful God will hear. The mistake of the mourner is not that she "refuseth to be comforted"—"comfort scorned of devils" may be but a mockery—but that while she weeps she forgets to bring her burden to him who has promised to sustain. It is natural to express sorrow; it is Christian to carry the sorrow to Christ.
III. RACHEL HAS DIVINE CONSOLATIONS FOR HER GRIEF. Human comfort is vain in such anguish as hers. Our little platitudes with which we would quiet the mourner are plasters that only irritate the wound they cannot heal. But God has his higher consolations. He does not bid the tears to stay without good reason. Rachel is to refrain her voice from weeping because there is hope for her in time to come. Jesus bade the widow of Nain not to weep because he was about to restore her son. God will wipe away all tears from his children's eyes by giving them a real harvest of joy for their sowing in tears. The Christian is comforted by hope. He should not sorrow as those without hope. Israel was to be restored to Canaan. The Christian families shall be reunited in the home above.
I. THE MOST ABANDONED OF GOD'S CHILDREN MAY RETURN TO HIM. Ephraim was unfaithful before Judah, and fell into greater wickedness. The northern tribes were punished for their sins by a scattering that destroyed forever their national existence as a separate kingdom. Yet even Ephraim is to return. No one of God's children—no one of the great human family, we of the New Testament revelation may say—is beyond God's love. God loved Ephraim as well as Judah. Ephraim is a dear son (Jeremiah 31:20). God loves the whole world. Therefore all may return; therefore we may be sure God has a way by which all can return. Christ, lifted up, will draw all men unto himself.
II. GOD LEADS HIS CHILDREN TO DESIRE TO RETURN TO HIM BY MEANS OF CHASTISEMENT. Ephraim says, "Thou didst correct me, and I received correction." Herein is one of the chief ends of suffering; even when deserved for sin it is not to give penal deserts and only satisfy justice, but rather to urge the wrong doer to see his fault and repent. Chastisement leads to reflection, humbles, makes us feel our need and helplessness, shows the want of God and his consolations, and so inclines us to return to him. To profit us, however, it must be rightly endured. We must receive correction, not harden our hearts against it.
III. BEFORE RETURNING TO GOD, MEN ARE BOTH FOOLISH AND OBSTINATE IN SIN. Ephraim is like "an untaught calf." Ephraim had worshipped calves; in course of time Ephraim degraded himself to the nature of his gods. We cannot rise higher than the object of our worship. Every man is made after the image of his God; but in all men this special quality of Ephraim is found so long as they remain away from God in sin.
1. They are foolish as the untaught calf. The wicked man may be worldly wise, but he is ignorant in spiritual matters—must become a little child, and learn as a child, if he would enter the kingdom of heaven.
2. They are obstinate. Pride and self-will rule the unrepentant heart. Herein is the great hindrance to the wholesome fruits of chastisement.
IV. THE DIVINE LIFE IN MAN BEGINS WITH THE TURNING ROUND OF THE SOUL TOWARDS GOD. This "conversion" is the first step. It may not be suddenly discernible. It may not be indicated by any one epoch in our history. But it must take place. We have been wandering further and further from God. The most momentous step is the first step back to him. We have to learn the necessity of this; to understand that while we remain in the old way, however pleasant it may be, it is leading us away from God, our mission, and our home; to see the importance of a change, a revolution, a regeneration, a new creation. Religion cannot begin with a sinful man in a mere improvement, much less in a natural development. He must turn round.
V. GOD ONLY CAN TURN HIS CHILDREN BACK TO HIMSELF. Ephraim prays, "Turn thou me, and I will return." We lack the desire to return until he "from whom all good desires proceed" implants the earnest wish in our hearts. We have not the strength to return. Old habits of sin are fetters that bind us down to the old life. The will is corrupt, and therefore we cannot will aright. But God does move us to return and give us power to return. The gospel is not only an invitation; it is the power of God. By his Spirit God gives us new birth and the free life of his children. Yet for this grace we must seek in faith and penitence. Ephraim prays that God will turn him. We cannot turn ourselves. God will not turn us against our will. If we seek his grace, he will turn us to himself.
There are always the weary who need rest, the sorrowful who need consolation.
1. Naturally we all have restless longing, large desires that go out beyond the present and the attainable. The soul has its appetites, its hunger, its thirst.
2. Sin and sorrow have deepened our need. The Jews in their calamities were a type of mankind in its sin and weariness.
I. NO EARTHLY SATISFACTION WILL MEET THESE WANTS. Food for the body cannot satisfy the soul. Man is not able to live by bread alone. The life is more than meat. We are too large for the world and its gifts, rich and abundant as they may be.
"We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught,
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."
Hence the restlessness and dissatisfaction we experience in the height of prosperity. Thank God for these feelings. They are indications of a heavenly birth, indications of immortality.
II. GOD OFFERS US FULL SATISFACTION. He will satisfy—satiate.
1. God gives all we need. God does not keep his children on half rations. He has rich stores, and he offers freely. From our broken cisterns we turn to his ever-flowing fountains.
2. What God gives is of the kind we need—true light, not mocking speculations; Divine consolations of hope and peace, not barren philosophic maxims, but full and free forgiveness. What God does he does perfectly. He does not call us to a bare salvation, but to a full satisfaction, meeting the peculiar and deep wants of the soul with the special satisfaction they need, and bestowing this to satiation.
III. THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF DIVINE SATISFACTION BELONGS TO THE FUTURE. Much may be enjoyed now. Larger faith would open at once more abundant stores. God's hand is not shortened. It is we who limit our own enjoyment of his grace by unbelief and sinfulness. Still there can be no perfect satisfaction in this imperfect world. Heaven will be totally different from earth in the fact that here we are always reaching out to the beyond; there for the first time all needs will be satisfied. The hope of such a condition should lead to patience and a faithful following of the way of the cross now that leads to the home of rest hereafter.
Heredity and individual responsibility.
The passage before us is interesting as indicating a great advance in freedom and justice of thought from the old orthodoxy that was satisfied with the punishment of children together with their parents to a new and wiser doctrine of individual responsibility. But it is important to observe that it is more than a sign of advancing thought. It is a prophecy concerning facts, a prediction of a higher justice of the future. The old notion here condemned is not condemned because it is false; nay, it is treated as true for the present. The new idea is not substituted as a better interpretation of the facts of experience; it is a description of a higher order of facts not yet realized. The old doctrine applies with a considerable measure of truth to Judaism; the new is part of the larger justice of Christianity. For the Jewish religion was essentially a family religion; its advantages came to the individual through the nation, the tribe, the family; the first condition for receiving them was descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But Christianity is fundamentally individualistic. It elevates the family, it creates the Church—one grand family of Christian brethren; but it begins with individual faith and ends with individual responsibility. Nevertheless, we have not yet perfect justice. Jeremiah's prophecy is still a prophecy to us. Let us examine the two conditions of life that are brought before us by the contrast of prediction with the present order of affairs.
I. THE PRESENT CONDITION OF HEREDITY. It is true now that if "the fathers have eaten some grapes the children's teeth are set on edge." Hereditary punishment and hereditary moral corruption are among the darkest mysteries of "all this unintelligible world." But they are facts that follow necessary social and physiological laws.
1. Children suffer the punishment of their parents' sins. Poverty, dishonour, disease, pass from parent to child. The child of a spendthrift becomes a beggar, the son of a thief is ostracized, the drunkard's child diseased, perhaps insane.
2. Children inherit moral corruption from their parents. Where this is the case it may be thought to lighten the mystery of hereditary punishment. However that may be, it is itself a deeper mystery, a more horrible injustice. It is remarked that if God visits "the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation," it is to generations of "them that hate" him. But if the wickedness that seems to justify the long lived punishment is also hereditary, is not the case the more hard? Now, Jeremiah teaches us that we are not to be satisfied with this as a final and equitable arrangement. It belongs to these present times that are out of joint, and it will be superseded by a better order.
II. THE FUTURE CONDITION OF INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. (Verse 30.) This was to come with the Messianic era. We have seen it beginning in the revelation of Christianity. It can only be perfected when Christ's work is perfected by his second advent for judgment. A right social order may do something in this direction. Jeremiah anticipated a wiser, more discriminating exercise of justice in the restored nation after the Captivity. But the full realization must be left for a future dispensation of Divine justice. At the last every man will be called upon alone to answer for his own sins, and judgment will be swift and appropriate. Present inequalities will then be rectified. Meanwhile the injustice of hereditary punishment can be compensated, not only by future alleviations but by turning the punishment into a wholesome discipline, while the injustice of moral corruption will be corrected ultimately by judging a man according to the free choice of his will—how he behaved when he was free to act, how far he took new steps downwards, with all due allowance for natural weakness and hereditary tendencies.
The new covenant.
I. THE GRANTING OF A NEW COVENANT. Hitherto the Messianic era with all its glories has been regarded as the development and perfection of earlier ages. Here, for the first time, it is revealed as the realization of an entirely new order. This is the first clear indication of the difference between the Law and the gospel which grew more distinct as the latter was better understood, till St. Paul accomplished his great work of finally severing the two. In these verses we have the first justification for dividing religion into two dispensations and the Bible into two "Testaments." They constitute a great landmark in the history of religious thought. To us who live in the Christian age they are further most practically valuable for the description they give of our high and peculiar privileges and the promises they contain of greater blessing yet to be unfolded. Still, it is important to observe that these privileges and blessings were not always enjoyed.
1. Truth is eternal, but the knowledge of truth is progressive. Hence the religious ideas of the race change, widen, rise to higher visions. The Bible is a progressive revelation. Theology—the human interpretation of Scripture and speculation on Divine things—is also progressive. Christians must not be bound by the ipsissima verba of Old Testament texts. The Old Testament itself says that these shall be superseded. Christians of one age should not be fettered by the orthodoxy of an earlier age.
2. God is changeless, but his modes of action vary according to the varying conditions of men. The same principles of justice and love ever pervade his dealings with his creatures. But, like the parent who changes his domestic regulations as his family grows older, God has new dispensations for the later ages of the human family. He educates his children through different standards. There must ever be milk for babes and meat for strong men. Children need restraints and simple instruction, which gradually give place to more freedom and confidence and higher teaching. These changing requirements are met by the suitable adaptation of God's revelation from age to age.
II. THE CONTENTS OF THE NEW COVENANT.
1. The Law written in the heart takes the place of the Law written on the stone tables. Religion becomes more internal, spiritual, personal.
(1) Real knowledge is enjoyed. The people might have the Law in writing, and never read it or fail to understand what might be to them mere words. The Law in the heart is understood, grasped, possessed in thought, not only in words.
(2) Principles take the place of outward ordinances. For a multitude of petty details, for a complication of rules, for a set of narrow maxims, men. are to have large principles in their hearts, such as truth, justice, purity, love to God, and love to man. This makes religion and morality more comprehensive, more deep, more real, and at the same time more free.
(3) Affection becomes the ruling motive. The Law is in the heart as a treasure, loved rather than feared, obeyed from healthy impulse instead of compulsion. It becomes part of a man's very soul. Ultimately, from being a constraint to his will, it becomes identical with his will, transforming that to its own image.
2. The spread of the knowledge of the true God is to be universal.
(1) It is vouchsafed to the individual. The distinctions of the priestly class and of the prophetic order are abolished. All Christians are priests; all may enjoy a measure of prophetic inspiration (Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29; Revelation 1:4). This is partly a result of the first principle. An outward, religion only can be corporate and representative. Thoughts are private; spirituality is personal; inward religiousness is individual.
(2) It is promised to all men. All nations are to enjoy the new, larger privileges. Christ breaks down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. This great fact is also partly a result of the first principle. National distinctions are mostly external. Questions of birth and geographical boundary that have much to do with a visible organization and the administration of external laws do not apply to spiritual conditions. It is right that an inward spiritual law should be universal. But the promise goes beyond the character of the new dispensation to an assurance of its universal acceptance. "All men shall know the Lord, from the least unto the greatest"—young and old, simple and noble, foolish and wise, worthless and good, savage and civilized. Here is the great encouragement for Christian missions. They do not follow a mere desire of charity. They are realizing a promise of God.
3. These results follow perfect forgiveness of sin. This is the peculiarly Christian and evangelical element of the new covenant. The Law can only be written on the heart after the old sin has been washed out. The enjoyment of spiritual religious knowledge must follow a renewal of the spiritual nature. These privileges were impossible under the Law, because no outward ordinances, no "blood of bulls and goats," could take away sin. But when Christ came as the perfect Sacrifice, "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world," and brought in perfect forgiveness, he made it possible for us to enjoy the inward vision and brought the privilege within the reach of all men.
Guarantees of perpetuity.
These words are a promise to the Jews, and plainly refer to the national existence of Israel; but the breadth and spirituality of file covenant they confirm warrants us in seeing in them the pledges of God's faithfulness and the Church's stability for all who enjoy the privileges of the covenant. These pledges are to be seen in the symbolism of nature. The God of grace is thee God of nature. Spiritual revelation throws light on the vague religion of nature; but nature sends back confirmations for the truths of the higher revelation. Two are named here.
I. THE UNIFORMITY OF LAW. This great doctrine has come to the forefront of modern science. By some it is thought to be a difficulty in the way of religious belief. But Jeremiah shows us how to regard it as an encouragement for faith. It proves to us the unchangeableness of God. Events shift and vary, but laws remain. The seasons come and go, but the sun still shines and rules them. Though the sea rages and roars, its wild waves are curbed by invisible reins, linked to heavenly motions, obedient to unvarying laws. So we may learn that amid the changing circumstances of life and the varying actions of God in providence the same great principles are maintained and the promises of God work out their blessed results unceasingly. This is true of God's thoughts and will. It is true of our personal enjoyment of the privileges of his covenant. Israel is to endure. The Church is founded on a rock. The "final perseverance" of the Christian follows from his identification of his life with eternal laws of God. God will no more cast off his people than the sun cease to rule the seasons or the moon the tides; for in grace, as in nature, eternal laws and principles preserve eternal stability to the spiritual universe.
II. THE IMMEASURABLE GREATNESS OF THE UNIVERSE As a mere figure of speech, verse 37 is highly expressive. By appealing to an impossible feat God pledges his word the more clearly and the more forcibly. But we have here also an analogy based upon common principles of the material and spiritual worlds.
1. The Creator of heaven and earth is too great to be changeable. Change is a sign of weakness. Strength secures stability.
2. Our action is a small thing in the sight of God. It cannot shake the foundations of the universe, cannot even touch them. To us it appears to revolutionize all things; but God sees it in its true light and treats it with calm pity. It is not in the power of such beings as we are to overturn the counsels of God.
3. As nature is wrapped in mystery, so is the spiritual kingdom of God. There are in both hidden forces the action of which we cannot predict. Therefore it is rash and foolish for us to judge God's actions by our limited knowledge. He may appear to east his people off. We may no longer see him. His actions may seem harsh and cruel. But we are not competent to judge. Out of the mystery of Nature and her dark depths of being, out of midnight and winter, there issue life and light; out of God's darkest dispensations of providence his eternal counsels of love proceed to their unerring beneficent results.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Grace preparing for grace.
There is some doubt as to the time alluded to, whether that of the Exodus or that of the Exile. A careful examination would seem to make it clear that the former alone corresponds to the description. Pharaoh's cruel edict and the judgments and wars of the desert thinned the ranks of the Israelites. A remnant was left, with whom God entered into covenant relationship. Their survival under these circumstances was a sign of the Divine favour, at the time hard to be understood, but in the future abundantly confirmed. Their ultimate entrance into Canaan was the seal of their acceptance.
I. THE PRESENT TROUBLES OF SAINTS ARE NO PROOF OF THEIR REJECTION. The history of the Church shows this. Here is an instance; there have been many such. The best of God's servants have been most severely tried, and that just before attaining great rewards and satisfactions. The exiles of Babylon are, therefore, to be of good cheer. The afflictions of the present may not only be the punishment for past transgressions, but much more—a preparation for future blessedness and usefulness, a grace in germ if not in formation. In the case of the Church they may bring back to a study of the title deeds of faith; in that of the individual they may promote humility, heart searching, and efforts to amend. However hard to bear, they should be endured as a grace preparing for grace.
II. WHERE THE ESSENCE OF GOD'S GRACE IS PRESENT, THE FULNESS OF IT MAY BE WAITED FOR.
1. What is the essential element in grace? Is it not the consciousness of acceptance with God? The child of God knows that he is such, and that therefore he is the subject of gracious influences from the Holy Spirit, and heir of all that is truly good.
2. It is in view of this that present circumstances are to be interlarded. The good as well as the evil. Our true, eternal blessedness lies beyond our greatest present happiness, amongst the "things prepared." Our anxiety should be, not for immediate possessions, but for meetness for the inheritance, and for entering in by the right way.—M.
The character of the Divine love inferred from its history.
I. ITS HISTORY
1. It was self-declared. A free, spontaneous promise on God's part. This revelation was itself a grace, as the actual sentiment of God toward Israel might have been concealed. By the circumstances of its declaration all doubt was removed, and it became a fundamental article of Jewish faith, and a factor of Jewish life and national development.
2. It existed from the very first. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 10:15.) The dealings of God with Abraham, and with the children of Israel in Egypt, proved this. Anticipating the beginnings of spiritual life: "We love him, because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19; cf. Romans 4:9-12).
3. It was constant and unceasing. With this truth the Israelites were familiar. Too often they had presumed upon it. But the continued existence of such a little nation in the midst of its great neighbours was nothing less than a miracle of watchful, unceasing, Divine love.
4. The same favour is extended to the Babylonian exiles. It comes to them freely as it came to their ancestors. Through them the same purpose of love would work, and their misfortunes would be overruled for ultimate blessing.
II. ITS CHARACTER AS INFERRED FROM THIS. A love like this was as remarkable as it was vast, and had to be accounted for. A misunderstanding of its character had frequently involved the Jews in national crimes and disasters.
1. It was gracious and undeserved. There was nothing in the fathers to create such an affection; as little was there anything in themselves. And even if there had, the constancy of it throughout so many ages of idolatry and wickedness demonstrated that it could not be the reward of human desert.
2. It was merciful and righteous in its purpose. This it was which sanctified it and endued it with such moral power. A love of delight and complacency, independently of the character of those upon whom it was bestowed, would have been weak and reprehensible. But the enduring mercy of God, whilst it is a continual reproof to the impenitent, is full of encouragement and help to the weakest soul that truly seeks for righteousness. The misfortunes of Israel were as much the proofs of that love as the prosperity; the one consistent purpose of redemption stringing together the most diverse historic experiences. Did he choose Israel? it was that they "should be holy."—M.
The unity of the Church.
Ephraim represented the ten tribes of Israel, and Jerusalem the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, the sections of the divided kingdom. In days to come this division was to be healed, as the "watchmen" or prophets of Israel would lead their people to the temple at Jerusalem.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF UNITY AMONGST GOD'S PEOPLE IS SHOWN BY THE PROMINENCE GIVEN TO IT IN THIS PROPHECY. Dissension and strife between the followers of truth is not only an unseemly spectacle, it is productive of misery and ruin. Judah and the ten tribes were too jealous of one another to unite in works of defence or internal administration. The rival temples of Gerizim and Jerusalem were mischievous in their influence, and, as time would accentuate differences, there would be danger of the common truth being forgotten. The unity of the Church must ever be important to those whose hearts are filled with the love of God. Christ's prayer (John 17:21) shows how dear the thought is to the purest and best. The children of God should be bound together in the closest bends of sympathy and love. Only thus will their efforts to evangelize the world be successful, and the glory of the kingdom of God be realized on earth.
II. BY WHAT INFLUENCES WAS IT TO BE BROUGHT ABOUT? That there were various causes tending to this result is evident to every student of sacred history. But chief amongst these were:
1. The events of providence, by which they discovered, amidst exile and misery, a common brotherhood and faith, and attained to:
2. A more intense spiritual aim and life. The desire to meet with God overcame all prejudice and difference, and revealed the true unity of Israel. The nearer they were to God the nearer they became to one another, and the more they delighted in assembling together (Ezra 3:1; Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2).
3. God was to manifest himself in the person of his Son at Jerusalem. To the temple, then, all eyes were increasingly turned as the appointed time drew on.
4. Through Christ's connection with the temple, local holy places were abolished, and men sought God through him. (John 4:21.)—M.
The redemption of Israel a great and notable event.
It is to be proclaimed as of universal import and consequence. The scattering of Israel may be alluded to in speaking of "the nations" and "the isles," or these may be addressed simply as onlookers of the mighty drama. What happens to God's people must concern the whole world.
I. AS AN EXHIBITION OF DIVINE GRACE AND POWER. (Jeremiah 31:10,Jeremiah 31:11.)
1. It betokened the restoration of God's favour. (Jeremiah 31:10.) The term of punishment was to draw to a close, and the era of reconciliation to commence. Just as he had "scattered" the Israelites, now he was about to recall them to Canaan. In the one act, as in the other, the Divine intervention and its moral significance would be made manifest. The greatest judgments of God on earth have their limits. "He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger forever." How carefully should the times of Divine discipline and reconciliation be observed by those who are concerned in them!
2. The power of God would be displayed in it. (Jeremiah 31:10, Jeremiah 31:11; cf. Jeremiah 31:8.) As Sovereign. The words used, "He that scattered Israel will gather him," would seem to mean—he that scattered Israel would alone know where to discover them again. The figure of a shepherd and his flock is also suggestive of skill and authority. As the restored unity and national life of Israel were to be a marvellous phenomenon, much more would the spiritual unity of God's people throughout the world, of which the former was but the prototype. "The Lord knoweth them that are his." Another proof of the Divine power was afforded in the fact that Israel was to be delivered from one "that was stronger than he." The power of Nebuchadnezzar was to be broken. So the world-power which prevents the true freedom and unity of the Church from being realized will be destroyed. Indeed, already Christ has declared himself as "him that overcometh the world;" and in view of this the "little flock" are not to be dismayed. The day is coming when all enemies will be put under the feet of Christ, the Lord of the Church.
II. AS RESULTING IN NATIONAL AND SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY. (Jeremiah 31:12-14.) It was not only to be a restoration of the people to their own land. God does nothings, by halves. The industry, social and national development, and the spiritual life of Israel would be abundantly blessed.
1. The well being of God's people is viewed as connected. The spiritual with the material, and the material with the spiritual. There is no austerity in the religion of the restored, and yet their life is full of the spirit and practice of religion. The blessing of God upon the fruits of the earth is gratefully recognized, and as with a common thankfulness the people "flow together" to the great festivals of the temple. It is only as men exhibit this spirit - the spirit of righteousness and thankfulness - that the earth will succeed better than the wicked, even in secular pursuits. "Godliness is profitable unto all things," etc. (1 Timothy 4:8).
2. It is to be complete and glorious. How spontaneous the piety of the redeemed! In the picture here sketched we seem to catch a glimpse of the fulness of the millennial joy. It is a state of overflowing, ecstatic blessedness. The religious and the secular pursuits of men are to be harmonized. Age is to forget its weakness, and the bereaved their grief. The Church is to share in the general prosperity, and, as a consequence of the efficiency and fervour of its ministrations, the people are to be "satisfied with my goodness." When shall this vision of human life in its wholeness and its glory be realized? Our own times exhibit few signs of such a golden age. Yet the Word of the Lord has spoken it, and we should with patience both labour and look for its fulfilment.—M.
Rahel weeping for her children
The great mother of Israel and Judah is represented by a figure as mourning over the desolation of the land. God comforts the sorrow thus occasioned by a promise greater than could be fulfilled in the return of the Babylonian captivity. Rahel was an ancestress of the Old Testament Church whose spirit she might be said to personify The Church of Christ may still be said to weep for her children, and to be comforted by the promises of God. Matthew's reference to this passage is only accommodative—a spiritual and not a literal parallel. We may understand the passage, therefore, as representative of—
I. THE SORROW OF THE CHURCH.
1. Its occasion. The loss of her sons and daughters through sin, alienation, or death. Especially might this apply in times of spiritual sterility and worldly influence. The Church cannot look upon the indifference or hostility of her legitimate children without grief.
2. Its intensity. Loud and bitter, as of one not to be consoled. The blessing of which she is bereft promised to be so great; the consequences to the "banished ones" themselves may be so serious. Are Christ's people sufficiently alive to the losses which are continually inflicted upon his communion through worldliness or particular sins?
3. Its character. Verse 16, "Thy work." Energy has been put forth. All her resources have been exhausted in vain efforts for the recovery of the exiles. In the first instance our concern for the "banished ones" should lead us to persistent and manifold effort for their restoration; and when that fails, we must cast ourselves in lamentation and prayer before God. In this way our sorrow shall prove to be a "work" in a double sense.
II. HER CONSOLATION.
1. The restoration of the lost ones is promised. This would be the only adequate comfort for those who mourn over dear ones as spiritually dead. God's scheme of redemption is greater than our utmost hopes or preparations.
2. This will in a sense be the reward of her work. When direct and immediate efforts have failed, a further Divine grace will prove effectual. The children of the Church are beneath the eye of God, who will lead them back again from the captivity of sin, and even from the sepulchres of spiritual death. The labours and prayers of the faithful shall not be in vain in the Lord. The unity of spiritual labour in the past, present, and future (cf. John 4:37, John 4:38).
3. God himself comforts her even now. In his "exceeding great and precious promises." By the Spirit of hope. By the gradual realization of the fruits of salvation. The end is made very real and bright through faith. - M.
Ephraim bemoaning himself; or, the penitent's restoration.
The exiled Israelites are represented as about to grieve over their apostasy, and to seek God in confession and prayer. The answer of God is full of mercy and encouragement. The Captivity is to be brought back, and the cities of Israel are to be again occupied.
I. THE STAGES AND PROCESSES OF TRUE REPENTANCE. (Jeremiah 31:18, Jeremiah 31:19.)
1. Conviction and acknowledgment of sin. The unbroken steer a forcible metaphor, but not stronger than the circumstances warrant. How stupid and heinous our offences seem when once we see them in God's light! It is sin that is bemoaned, not mere misfortune or pain; and the wrong done to the Divine character by our unbelief and misconception.
2. Prayer for conversion. The stubborn resister of God's commands is now consciously helpless to convert himself. He feels how necessary the power and grace of God to "turn" him.
3. The complete work of repentance is now accomplished. Sorrow for past sins and shame for inward depravity are felt as never before. With deeper knowledge of God's mercy and his own sin, the sinner attains to more intense sorrow and shame, "Smote upon my thigh' (cf. Ezekiel 21:12; Homer, 'Iliad,' 15:113: 16:124).
II. GOD'S ANSWER TO THE PENITENT. (Jeremiah 31:20, Jeremiah 31:21.) He prophesies this experience from afar; he represents himself as overhearing it. The first beginnings of grace in the heart, although invisible to human eyes, are noted by our heavenly Father.
1. Complacency, sympathy; and mercy are awakened in the Divine mind.
2. Encouragement is given. By promise of salvation, and by directions as to the way by which sinners are to return (Jeremiah 31:21).
3. God declares his own readiness to receive us. He will go forth like the father of the prodigal.—M.
The new covenant.
Religion is only possible and of advantage as based upon an understanding between man and God. The perpetuation of the word covenant, in the New as well as in the Old Testament, shows how essential this idea is. And God's infinite mercy and royal condescension is shown in instituting a new covenant when the old was "ready to vanish away,"
I. AS RESULTING FROM THE OLD COVENANT.
1. It was necessitated by past failure. The first covenant had been repeatedly and flagrantly broken. As a system of morals, it was perfect and without flaw; but human nature, being corrupt, was unable to keep its conditions (Romans 7:12). Universal corruption witnessed to the hopelessness of salvation by such a method. And yet the transgressions of men were not thereby excused. The essential depravity of man was revealed in a stronger and more definite character; but it already existed, and was an occasion of the Divine anger. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews phrases it, God, "finding fault with them" (Hebrews 8:8) reminds Judah and Israel of his delivering mercy ("I took them by the hand," etc.), and declares his constancy and uninterrupted tenderness ("I was an husband," etc.).
2. It illustrated Divine mercy. In strict justice the transgressors of the Law had no claim to any consideration. They had incurred the righteous displeasure of God. But his merciful purpose was not laid aside. Another opportunity of salvation was afforded, and when the first covenant failed, a second covenant was designed of grander conception and more universal adaptation. The love of God, affronted, does not withdraw itself, but busies itself with new schemes to supplement human frailty and diminish the occasions and possibilities of failure.
II. IN ITS DISTINCTIVE DIFFERENCE FROM IT. It is evident from this description that the gospel dispensation is referred to. The characteristics of the new covenant are mentioned as differing from those of the old in:
1. Inwardness. A form of speech signifying that the Law would be rooted in the affections of men, and grow up within them as a second nature. Paul, whilst conscious of the condemnation of the Law, yet approved it as "holy, and just, and good." No longer will it be a limiting, restraining influence acting from without, but an impulse and inspiration from within. It is much the same in effect as when God promises to give his Spirit to men. And, indeed, a work like this—the new birth—as it is beyond the power of man, must be effected by the power of God. He will reveal himself to them by an inward experience.
2. Universality. A revelation of this kind will naturally be more extensive than one which appeals first to the intellect. Being spiritual and experimental, it will anticipate and underlie intellectual apprehension. The child and the unlearned person will thereby be placed on an equality with the scholar and the wise man. Yet is not this light given to Israel, or Judah, or to any others, apart from their own voluntary acceptance of it. It is to be distinguished from the natural light of conscience as involving a voluntary submission of the will to the revealed will of God, and as originating in the recognition of a new filial relation between the soul and God. Thus it is said, "He will reveal himself to them as he does not unto the world." And because of the supernatural character of this revelation, "the least" are placed at an advantage relatively to "the greatest;" for "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called" (1 Corinthians 1:26). The possession of this Divine illumination will of itself constitute a man a citizen of the new Israel, of which it is an essential feature that all its constituents shall know God.
3. Absoluteness and duration. "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Acceptance with God is, therefore, final and complete. Under the new covenant the sins of the redeemed are not only forgiven, but forgotten; not only cancelled, but "blotted out as a morning cloud" (Isaiah 44:22); not only removed from before his face, but "cast behind his back into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). Under the Levitical priesthood, offering for sins had frequently to be made, being in itself powerless to take them away; but Christ's sacrifice, being of absolute avail with God, would only have to be once offered in order "to perfect forever them that are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).—M.
Missions put an end to.
Many persons, at the outset of modern missionary enterprise, strongly objected to it upon various pleas, but chiefly as an interference with providential arrangements and an opposition to the will of God. Even now there are some who regard it as a quixotic and presumptuous folly. It may console such persons to know that even the Bible looks forward to the abolition of missions. But in a very different way from theirs!
I. THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS IS TO BE ACCOMPLISHED.
1. What it is. Communication of the knowledge of God. Not by one act or word, but in a sustained and continuous way. By careful and intelligent explanation of God's character, laws, and purpose; even more by realizing in one's own life and behaviour the love and grace of God. Every life ought to be a revelation of God.
2. Where it is to be applied. The important thing to observe here is the point of departure. Our eyes are not to be in the ends of the earth. The persons upon whom our first efforts are to be put forth are close beside us—our "brother" and our "neighbour." This describes an immediate and direct responsibility. How many have fulfilled it? Some such work as this was done when the Jews returned from the Exile, without teachers numerous or learned enough for the instruction of the people in the Law. The scribes of the great synagogue gave themselves to the work, making itinerant journeys throughout Israel and Judah at stated intervals. But this was not sufficient, and so it had to be supplemented by popular and domestic efforts. Happily the people were enthusiastic and earnest, and, literally, every man taught his brother and his neighbour. This was but a prelude to the work which the Church of Christ has to take up. The missionaries and ministers of the cross are to "go everywhere" preaching the Word. But that will not suffice. Multitudes are hungering for the truth as it is in Christ—multitudes whom we personally may never hope to reach. What, then, can we do? We can tell our brother and our neighbour—in that way the tidings of salvation will spread; and others more at liberty and more enterprising may be encouraged by our zeal and liberality to go forth to heathen nations. In any case the first quarter to which the Church should look for increase is within itself. The language is explicit, and no man need waste his time in inquiring, "Who is my neighbour?" The parable of the good Samaritan has settled that matter for all time.
II. THE EVIDENCE THAT IT IS ACCOMPLISHED.
1. Universal knowledge of God. The gospel is intended for all men. Every man has a personal interest in its message. To keep back the truth from any one who has come within our reach is a sin; especially is this the case with regard to those who are our daily companions and closest friends. The words are not satirical, but a gracious promise. It is an end towards which we should hopefully and constantly aim. Some day it will be realized; "for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). So long as one soul is ignorant of God, we are bound to continue the work.
2. Universal experience of the blessings of salvation. It is no speculative abstraction we have to communicate, but a "word" which has in it the power to awaken, convert, and reconcile eternally to God. This knowledge of him is therefore experimental and practical. It will not leave men as it finds them. It will purify and redeem, and introduce them to the blessedness of a complete and enduring salvation. God will seal the labours of his servants by "signs following"—by righteous and holy fruits, and by the assurance that the sins of them that believe through their teaching will be forgiven forever.—M.
The new Jerusalem.
The law or condition of the spiritual life of the future having been referred to, the organized embodiment or community to which they will give rise is next described. This will be—
I. THE ANTITYPE OF THE OLD JERUSALEM.
1. An organized community. With permanent constitution and laws, and subject to a central authority. Comprehending and unifying the manifold relations of human life. A true "city of God" on earth.
2. With an earthly manifestation. It would not be a mere idea, but would realize itself, in part at least, in sensible forms and external manifestations. It would be the incarnation of spiritual principles and their practical realization.
3. And a sacred character. This would be its distinguishing characteristic, as it had been that of the former city. There would be a wall of consecration, and a special aim and direction given to the life, of which it would be the dwelling place and home. It would be built "to the Lord," and would in its entirety be "holy to the Lord."
II. CONTRASTED WITH IT.
1. More complete in its surroundings and defences. Jehoash had destroyed the wall in the north and northeast, in the reign of Amaziah. On this side, therefore, the old city was most defenceless. A large portion of this was rebuilt by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 3:1), but probably not the whole. The new city will be entirely rebuilt and thoroughly defended, "a city compact and built together."
2. More comprehensive. Outlying places would be included, and the bounds of the city vastly extended. The whole earth will be included in the city of salvation.
3. More inclusively consecrated. The hill Gareb (perhaps that of the lepers), and the hill Goath (possibly Golgotha), and the valley of Hinnom, the foul Gehenna—even these which had confronted the old city as a reproach, would be cleansed, transformed, and included. The sources of disease and the occasions of defilement would thus be entirely removed.
4. More permanent in its duration. It is to be preserved from all injury, and is to stand forever.
III. WHOLLY DISTINCT FROM IT. At no time in the history of Israel were these predictions fulfilled with regard to the earthly Jerusalem. Portions of the description might appear to correspond with what took place in the time of Nehemiah and others, but in its entirety it is evident that the city here spoken of is utterly distinct from the geographical and historical Jerusalem. It is associated with it according to the law of Divine continuity, but in itself it is a new creation. The "wall great and high" is of no earthly material; the extension is not one of yards or miles, but of nations and ages; the consecration of the unclean places is but typical of the regenerative force of Christianity, which reclaims the moral wastes of the world, and purifies the carnal affections and sinful tendencies of human nature; and no material city could ever "stand for aye." Only the kingdom and Church of Christ could satisfy the conditions of such a prophecy.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The restoration of Israel.
To cheer the hearts of the exiles, to lift up the despondent, and to vindicate the faithfulness of God, is the intent of this and the many other predictions concerning the restoration of Israel. In a limited sense they were fulfilled by the restoration at the close of the Captivity; but the events of that period can hardly be said to have filled up the meaning of the emphatic language which the prophets were wont to employ. Hence it has been felt to be necessary to look further for the complete fulfilment of these many most glorious predictions. And in the yet future restoration of Israel, in the gathering home to their own land again in all their national entirety, not a few see the real meaning of the prophets' words. Others, whilst clearly seeing that the return of the exiles from Babylon could not satisfy the inspired Word, find that which more than meets the case in the restoration of humanity at large—in that which our Saviour called "the regeneration," and St. Peter "the restitution of all things," and St. Paul "the gathering of all things in one, even in Christ." And, as in a microcosm, we may see in the redemption of every individual soul the varied characteristics which shall be more broadly and conspicuously displayed when these prophetic utterances shall have their perfect fulfilment in the kingdom of God. In the above verses (1-9) some of these characteristics are indicated; e.g.—
I. ITS AUTHOR. This is the Lord. See how in all these opening verses this fact is emphatically proclaimed. In Jeremiah 31:1 it is the Lord who declareth that he "will be the God," etc; in the second verse "the Lord" speaks, saying, "I caused him to rest;" in the third the Lord it is who declares to his servant the unchanging love which is at the root of all this restoration; and in Jeremiah 31:4 it is again," I will build thee," etc. Let these prophecies be understood as they may, the blessings of which they tell are every one of them due to the Lord alone, whether we apply them to the return from exile, the national restoration of Israel yet to come, the redemption of humanity, or to the individual soul. He is the gracious Author of every such restoration, and to him is the praise to be given.
II. THE BLESSINGS OR SUCH RESTORATION. There will be:
1. Gladness and joy. (Cf. Jeremiah 31:4, Jeremiah 31:7.) Under the imagery of a festive dance the prophet declares this. The mournful monotone of humanity's sorrow, its ceaseless moan, shall be replaced by the song, the dance, the shout of joy.
2. Peace. For centuries the vine clad hills of Samaria had been the object of the marauder's repeated attack; invasion after invasion had fallen upon "the planters" that planted there. But now, undisturbed, unmolested, they shall not merely plant, but eat the fruit of their vines. It is an image of unruffled peace which arises from the perfect security in which God's people shall forever dwell. In the turmoil of life, amid its tossings to and fro, and its painful agitations, there are not a few to whom the thought of this blessed peace is the chief charm of the hoped for future.
3. Unity. (Jeremiah 31:6.) The watchmen of Ephraim, who were stationed on the high mountains to proclaim the advents of the feasts and festivals of God's people shall cry, "Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion." What a change here from the old sad past! Then Israel would not worship in Zion, but stood aloof in her own worship within her own borders. But now Israel and Judah shall go together to worship in Zion. Not discord now, but blessed unity. It can hardly be questioned that the spirit of strife, which is an all but universal feature in human character, and never has been wanting in vigorous expression, must have been designed for some good end. But who will not welcome the day when it can be done without, and the nations shall learn war no more?
4. God shall be all and in all. The going up to Zion shall be "to the Lord our God." This fact is the keystone of the whole arch of promise and of blessing. Without it all would crumble away, could have no existence, still less permanence.
III. ITS PROCESS.
1. The proclamation of God's grace is made. Faith to believe it is given. Then and thence "praise" to God for his goodness and "prayer" pleading with God to make good his word. "O Lord, save," etc. (Jeremiah 31:7).
2. Then God actually proceeds to bring them away from the many lands where they are scattered. Distance is no obstacle (Jeremiah 31:8). Their own infirmities shall not hinder (Jeremiah 31:8). The dreadful desert, with its thirst, its pathless extent, its rough rock strewn ways, shall not hinder; for (Jeremiah 31:9) God shall give them "rivers of waters," and "a straight way wherein they shall not stumble."
3. We see them approaching their own land: "They shall come with weeping," etc. (Jeremiah 31:9). It is the sense of God's goodness that more than aught besides leads to that godly sorrow which is the sure guarantee of complete abandonment of those sins which in the past had brought such evil upon them, and which, until abandoned, would render restoration impossible.
IV. THE REASON AND MOTIVE OF IT. Jeremiah 31:9, "For I am Israel's Father," etc. It is this fact of the fatherhood of God that explains the darkest experiences of life, for such experiences are God's disciplines, the pruning of the vine, etc. And it enables us to sustain them and warrants the highest and most blessed hopes for those who are called upon to endure them. God's fatherhood is at the same time the most awful and the most blessed fact the soul can know. Let us see to it that, by loving obedience to his will, we know only the Father's smile and escape the Father's frown.—C.
The steps of the kingdom of God.
"I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people." Day by day we pray, "Thy kingdom come," and what that means the next sentence of the prayer tells us. It is that God's will should be done on earth as it is done in heaven. All blessedness for man is contained in the fulfilment of this prayer, even as all man's misery is due to its non-fulfilment. But how do we expect the kingdom of God to come? By what means will the blessed condition of God's will being perfectly done on earth be brought about? The answer which is commonly given is that, by means of the preaching of the gospel and the consequent conversion of the ungodly world, the kingdom of God shall come. Hence the prayer is perpetually put up that God would send his Spirit, and make his Word powerful in men's conversion. Now, God forbid that any should disparage such work, or do aught other than desire most earnestly that the preaching of God's Word may be far, far more successful to this end than it commonly is. Would that the Church might win from the world far more numerous converts than have yet been given to her! God speed the work of conversion! But it is not by this means alone that the coming of God's kingdom is to be brought about. There is another, a more ancient, and we may also say a more scriptural and therefore more successful way, and that is by the increase of godly families. When God is the God of all the families in Israel, then the nation shall be his people. The family, the Church, the kingdom of God,—these are the successive steps by which, according to the Scriptures, it is the Divine intent to bring in the kingdom.
I. THE FAMILY. God has not taken means to secure the perpetuation of any special political, ecclesiastical, or social institutions, but he has determined that, whilst these may come and go, the institution of the family shall abide. Therefore from the beginning "God made man in his own image, male and female created he them." The Divine ideal contained this twofold element. And he has also ordered it that the one should be in all respects the complement of the other, and as such should mutually seek and delight in the companionship of the other. And to their union he gave the blessed gift of children and the love that accompanies them, and so amid all the vicissitudes of nations and governments, the institution of the family has been perpetuated; that has not perished, whatever else may have. And there results from all this the formation of a certain spirit and type of character. There are family likenesses, not in feature and form only, but in mental, moral, and physical characteristics as well. And these enlarge and become characteristics of whole tribes, races, nations. It is evident, therefore, that, in the institution of the family, there is present a propagating power for whatever moral and spiritual forces the heads of such family may be themselves possessed with. Abraham, God knew, would be sure to "order his household" after him. And to this day the characteristics of the Jewish race are discernible everywhere. Moral and spiritual forces travel along this road rather than any other. It is God's great highway for those principles which, when fully embraced by men's hearts, shall bring in the kingdom of God itself. And it is by the natural increase of the family that God designs his truth should spread and his way come to be known upon earth, and his saving health amongst all nations. But ere this he accomplished the family will have developed into—
II. THE CHURCH. This will be the further step in the coming of the kingdom of God. When one and another household are possessed of a common spirit, share common faith and hope, and render obedience to one Divine law, it is in accordance with all spiritual instincts that these should meet together for their mutual comfort, edification, and support. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another." And so strong has been in all ages the force of this spiritual instinct, that no fear of persecution, no terror that their enemies could inflict, has been able to deter those who believed in God from thus meeting together. There need have been no martyrs, or scarce any, if the faithful would but have individually kept their opinions to themselves. But spiritual force cannot be dammed in and held back. It will be sure ere long to burst through all restraints and barriers and go its own way. But this irrepressible instinct has been the cause and creator of the Church. And such holy convocations have reacted on the family, and deepening the hold of those sacred principles which first drew the members of the Church together have made more firm the faith and hope which already existed. Thus by the Church the spirit of the family is not only preserved, but strengthened, and its perpetuation and reproduction made more certain in the future. And the process goes on. Divine principles, faith in God, fear and love of his Name, established in the family, expand and develop into the Church, and there slowly, with ever accelerating force, surely and irresistibly, they make their way until at length it will be seen that the godly seed has the start of the seed of the wicked one, and is ever pushing it out of the way, driving it forth from its long held but usurped dominion. In illustration of this see how the Christian races do even now inherit the earth. The Puritans of America, the colonies that are ever being founded by our own people. See, too, how the Jews have ever held their own—what tenacity of life, what spiritual force, are inherent in them. These are but illustrations, and but feeble ones, of how spiritual force, if it take possession of the family, will live and spread and grow until the mustard shall become the goodly tree. And thus—rather than by occasional conversions from the ranks of the worldly—does it seem God's mind and will that the coming of—
III. THE KINGDOM OF GOD should be brought about. "There is an established hereditary moral connection between parents and their offspring, and every known principle of reason, of justice, and of holiness suggests that this connection exists for purposes of good, and not exclusively for purposes of evil." "The character of the family lies at the very foundation of all permanent moral improvement in the human race generally, and in Christian Churches in particular; and until it be intelligently, and, under the influence of right principles, practically attended to, all the preaching and all the religious machinery with which we are furnished will fail, as they have hitherto failed, to improve materially the moral condition of the world." As Baxter says, "The preaching of the Word by public ministers is not the first ordinary means of grace to any but those that were graceless till they came to hear such preaching; that is, to those on whom the first appointed means—godly nurture in the family—hath been neglected or proved vain. I doubt not to affirm that a godly education is God's first and ordinary appointed means for the begetting of actual faith and other graces in the children of believers. Public preaching is appointed for the conversion of those only that have missed the blessing of the first appointed means." Yes; let God be the God of our families, and he will soon become the God of our nation, the God of the whole human race, and his kingdom will have come, and his will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.—C.
Troubles lessened by increase.
"The people which were … wilderness." The sword by which Israel had been decimated, her ranks thinned, her homes desolated—what a trouble was that! And now it is to be followed by "the wilderness"—that "waste howling wilderness" so vividly described by Moses (Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 8:15; Deuteronomy 32:10). This would seem another, a new, a sore trouble, but it was to be the means of healing the wound caused by the first. Cf. "I have given the valley of Achor for a door of hope" (Hosea 2:15).
I. THE MEANING OF THESE WORDS. It is not easy to say certainly what sword and what wilderness the prophet had in his mind when he thus wrote. Perhaps the sword of Pharaoh and the wilderness of Sinai. Yet more likely the sword of their Babylonian conquerors; and the wilderness, that great Syrian desert across which they must travel on their homeward way—a wilderness far more deserving of the dread epithets which Moses applied to the wilderness of Sinai. Or the wilderness may mean the whole condition of the Jews in their exile, the deep sorrow, shame, and distress which their captivity seemed to threaten them with.
II. But, let it be understood how it may, THE PROPHETIC STATEMENT IS TRUE. In the wilderness of Sinai what grace God's people found there! Blessings in basket and in store, in guidance, governance, guardianship; in instruction, discipline, and development as a nation: how they were welded together, trained for duty, qualified for the high honour God designed for them! And in the wilderness which they had to cross on their return from their exile, infested, then as now, with robber tribes, to whom their comparatively scant numbers, their unwarlike character, and above all their treasures of gold and silver destined for the temple of God, would offer an irresistible temptation, how could the exiles have escaped this peril of the wilderness, to say nothing of many others, but for the grace of God? It was emphatically true that they "found grace in the wilderness." Those dreary leagues of burning sand, the awful dangers of the way, might well have daunted them, and no doubt did deter the majority of the people from all attempt at return; for it was but a remnant that came back. But all these perils were surmounted. Day after day for four months the caravan of the exiles crept along the wilderness way. "Unlike that of Sinai, it was diversified by no towering mountains, no delicious palm groves, no gushing springs. A hard gravel plain from the moment they left the banks of the Euphrates till they reached the northern extremity of Syria, with no solace except the occasional wells and walled stations. Ferocious hordes of Bedouin robbers then, as now, swept the whole trail." But like their great ancestor, "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the laud of Canaan they came." "They," as he, "found grace in the wilderness." And so abundant was that grace that their perilous enterprise became a veritable march of triumph. "The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away." "As before some royal potentate, there would go before them an invisible Protector, who should remove the hard stones from the bare feet of those that ran beside the camels, and cast them up in piles on either side to mark the broad track seen for miles along the desert." (Cf. Isaiah 40:1-4, for description of this grace found in the wilderness.) And so what seemed so sore a trouble added on to the sword of the exile, was in reality the healing of the wound caused by that sword. But this is often the Divine plan. The second trouble heals the first, and so trouble is lessened by increase. Note—
III. FURTHER ILLUSTRATIONS. The plague of London was followed by the fire, but that fire purged the city as nothing else could, and no such plague has visited it since. In medical science it is well known how often one disease is driven out by another. In the hot, close valleys of mountainous lands the wild storm is welcomed, notwithstanding its fierce might, overturning and destroying in ruthless manner, for it purges the whole atmosphere and drives away the seeds of disease and death. The heat was terrible, and the storm, but the second trouble lessened the first. To have to leave Paradise and to go out into a wilderness in which thorns and briars should abound was another trouble, but the labour the second demanded was to be the healing force whereby the first loss should be lessened and the curse turned into a blessing. What a tissue of troubles Jacob's life seems to have been made up of! and yet once and again the new trouble healed the old. The imprisonment of his sons in Egypt led to his recovery of his lost son Joseph. Death follows on disease. Ah! what a new trouble is death in instances not a few! but in that wilderness of the grave what grace the departed soul finds there! Take our Lord's illustration of the birth of children: how the last sorrows of the birth throes, the dread hour of travail, because thereby a new life is born, are with all the pain that went before forgotten, "remembered no more"! And in things spiritual the law of our text is true. The prodigal's outward misery was followed by the inward pangs of shame, remorse, and sorrow. But they led to the "I will arise and go," etc. And to a renewed soul what misery there is in the return of temptation! and if it have overcome the soul, what yet greater misery haunts the soul then! "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord." But that new distress is to render the recurrence of the first less and less possible, and by and by impossible. In God's providential ordering of our affairs, this same law is often shown. The straitened means that follow bereavement of the breadwinner of the household—that poverty often develops character, compels the mind to turn from perpetual brooding over its loss, which it is so apt to do, draws forth sympathy of friends, and in innumerable ways works good. "All things" do, as a fact, "work together for good to them that love God."
IV. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THIS. (Cf. Romans 5:3, Romans 5:4.) The outward ills may not always be removed, but their power to do aught else than bless the believer is taken away. Instead of casting him down, they lead him into the full possession of that hope, having which the soul is independent of all that man or hell can do against it.
V. ITS LESSON. If "the wilderness" should follow "the sword," we need not fear; that is to say, if a second sorrow should come upon the steps of a former one, we may regard it as a probable means of lessening the former, and not increasing it. The long sorrow of no Isaac born to Abraham was followed by the awful command to slay him; but that led to an issue that swallowed up in glory and joy all the darkness and sorrow of all the past, and lit up all the future of the long ages to come with a light whose radiance is as bright today as ever. Then let our song be, "Father, I wait thy daily will," etc.—C.
The love of God.
In these chapters, the thirtieth and the thirty-first, we have a delightful change from the prolonged accusations, warnings, and threatenings which form the staple of well nigh all that has gone before. Here we have a series of good and comfortable words designed for the encouragement of God's people in the midst of the sorrows of their exile. This verse declares that the love of God was the real cause of all that had befallen his people. Now—
I. WITHOUT DOUBT THERE WAS MUCH IN THEIR HISTORY THAT SEEMED TO BE VERY CONTRARY TO WHAT LOVE WOULD DO. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" said God. "What!" we can imagine a perplexed soul exclaiming—"What! love, everlasting love, and Israel a scattered people, her throne overturned, her kings slain or in exile, her people perished by tens of thousands, her temple and city burnt with fire, her lot so exceeding hard, bitter, and hopeless! Where is the love in all this?" And so it is still. It is hard to persuade men to believe in the love of God; to understand how, under the omnipotent rule of a beneficent and loving God, these many things can be which we know by experience are—pain, loss, disappointment, death, and yet worse, moral evil, sin in all its forms; and the darkness in which we continue in regard to all these. Who can understand all this, or adequately explain the great mysteries of human life?
II. BUT NEVERTHELESS GOD'S LOVE IS AT THE ROOT OF ALL THINGS. "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" was true for Israel and is true for us. For note in regard to Israel:
1. The purpose of God towards them was such as love only would cherish. What of honour and glory and blessing did God not design for his people! The whole of the Scriptures teem with his promises and declarations as to this. They were to be his people and he would be their God, in all the fulness of blessed meaning that such an assurance intends.
2. And there was no other way whereby his gracious ends could be secured, less painful than that which he had been constrained to adopt. We may be sure of this; for the same love that first formed the gracious purpose would be certain to choose the most direct and happy means to secure it. For:
3. It was in the power of Israel—a power which they exercised with fatal effect for themselves—to compel God to take circuitous routes to reach his designed end. The heart of a people cannot be dealt with as God deals with mere matter. The power of choice, the free will of man, can baffle for a long time the benevolence of God, and delay and thwart not a little the accomplishment of that on which his heart is set. They would try their own ways, and only when they had found how full of sorrow these were would they consent to God's way. And all this involved long weary years and much and manifold sorrow.
4. And what was true of Israel is true of mankind at large. God has purposes of grace for man. He so loved the world, and loves it still. But sin can for a while baffle God, and compel the use of the pains and penalties which we see associated with it, in order to eradicate the love of it from the heart of man.
III. NO OTHER KEY SO UNLOCKS THE PROBLEM OF LIFE. If we find it hard at times even with this key, we shall find it much harder with any other. No malignant being would have implanted love in human hearts. The existence of that one blessed principle in man renders the word of the faithless servant, "I knew thee that thou wert a hard man," forever glaringly untrue, A capricious being would not have established "the reign of love" which we find everywhere. The settled uniformity of the principles on which God's universe is governed disprove that. An indifferent being, such as the Epicureans taught that the gods were, would not have contrived so many means whereby the ease and comfort of his creatures are secured. Only a God of love would be to man what we perpetually see God is to us. The innumerable and palpable proofs of his beneficence affirm this, and when we regard the sorrows and ills of life as but love's sharp remedies, they will not disprove it.
IV. OUR WISDOM IS TO ASSUME, EVEN WHERE WE CANNOT PROVE IT, THAT THIS IS SO. For thus we shall surely come to find more and more "the soul of good" that there is in even the most evil things, and we shall be able to "both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."—C.
God's will done at last.
I. WHAT IS THAT WILL? To gather his children round him. God creates each individual soul only that he may have fresh objects on which to lavish his love. The "dower of blessed children" which God gives to us, he gives because he delights in the possession of children. And the Father of us all wants us to gather around him in the true home of our souls.
II. THE MOTIVE OF THAT WILL. Love. What else can it be?
III. THE FORM IT ASSUMES. Everlasting love. It wears not out, it "hopeth all things, beareth all things, endureth all things."
IV. ITS EXERCISE. Drawing men to himself. How perpetually and by what manifold agencies this is being accomplished! "I, if I be lifted up … will draw all men unto me," said he who came to do the will of God.
V. THE GREAT POWER WHICH THAT WILL EMPLOYS. Loving kindness. "With loving kindness have," etc. Seen most of all in the attraction of the cross of Christ.
VI. THE RESISTANCE IT IMPLIES. There is such resistance—sin.
VII. ITS ULTIMATE RESULT. "I have drawn thee." The Father will be able to say that of all his children when Christ's work is finished. "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to his Father, that God may be all in all."—C.
The Scatterer the Gatherer.
"He that scattered Israel," etc. It is possible that there should be a scattering which has no gathering. Not seldom we see men squandering every gift and blessing God has endowed them with—time, health, opportunities, friends, etc. And such scattering has often no gathering to follow it, save of the appropriate harvest of ruin whose seed has been so diligently sown. But there may be also a gathering which has never been preceded by any scattering. The Father's house may never have been forsaken, the children therein may have grown up in his love and service, without a thought or wish for the far country whither prodigals love to go. As the former fact, the scattering that has no gathering, is the saddest of all, so this latter, the gathering which has known no scattering, is the most blessed of all. It is that of those who have lived ever in the love of God; it is that of the holy angels. But there is a scattering which is followed by a gathering. Such is spoken of in this verse (Jeremiah 31:10). God was the Author of both in regard to Israel. Let us take—
I. ILLUSTRATIONS OF SUCH PROCEDURE. There is that of the sower. He scatters his grain in the furrows, and throws it broadcast o'er the land. But by and by he gathers in the rich harvest. The merchant. He scatters his wealth in this venture and in that, in the confidence that he shall, in due time, gather large increase of wealth thereby. The father of a family, when disease has broken out in the home. The children are sent hither and thither, scattered, but with the intent that when the disease is banished they may all be gathered again without loss or harm. And God has scattered the children of men, and the fortunes of men oftentimes, but with the intent of gathering them again. Job. Jacob. Israel's exile. The sending forth and return of our Lord's apostles. The persecution of the Church about Stephen. The whole company of the children of God which are scattered abroad, all to be gathered in at last in the Father's house on high.
II. REASONS OF IT. In the case of such as the sower, etc; these are obvious. But the reasons that influence them in their conduct are akin to those which we may believe order the like Divine procedure. By scattering his people hither and thither broadcast o'er the world, God looks for a harvest from such seed; and how often he has gathered such harvest from such sowing! And the parent's reason—scattering his children to protect them from evil which would have befallen them had they remained together in one place, but purposing to gather them again when the fear of the evil is no more—how much of the painful scatterings which in this life we know and experience may be explained so! When the fire of the foe threatens the massed ranks of an army, the commander scatters his men, bids them take "open order," and so Eaves them. When the fire ceases, they close up once more. It was to save men from a great sin that God scattered them at Babel. Such divisions and separations are needful now. But he that scattereth will gather.
1. Submission. There is wise and good reason for all that now is. What is, is best.
2. Hope. Yes; "let our eyes look right on, and our eyelids straight before us." "He that scattereth will gather." Meanwhile:
3. Obedience. If God have scattered me or mine, inquire why he has done so. Put yourself in line with God's purposes; for "he always wins who sides with thee."—C.
Strong, stronger, strongest.
Israel, Babylon, God. Note—
I. THE STRONG. Was not Israel so? Regarding Israel as including Judah and Jerusalem, how strong, even materially, was Israel! In her numbers, wealth, fortresses—especially Jerusalem, which was one of the most impregnable of all the cities of the world! in her privileges, memories, promised help of God! in her past prestige and influence! in her long traditions of freedom and greatness! and in much beside! But Israel may Be taken as a type of all humanity. Looking upon our first parents, the head of our race, surely we should have thought their position of happiness, holiness, and Divine favour, impregnable. What safeguard did they lack? what motive to withstand the tempter was wanting? And how many there are now who say of themselves, and others think it, that they shall never be moved? Their mountain seems to stand so strong. Lands where pure gospel ministry exists; children of godly homes; men who have long walked in God's ways. But facts all too often show that, "strong" as these may be, there is—
II. THE STRONGER one who overcomes them. The Chaldean armies were too strong for Israel. "The hand of Babylon "was stronger than he." And the facts of human life all reveal how humanity has come under the cruel dominance of one who is stronger than man. Behold the body, a prey to feebleness, disease, pain, and death; the mind, to corrupt imagination, to delusion, and deceit; the affections clinging to things evil, debased, perverted; the will enslaved, made to do that which it would not; the soul earth bound, unable to rise up to God and heaven, as it was made to do. Yes; the evidence is abundant and everywhere that a stronger than man has overcome him to his harm. But this verse tells of deliverance from the hand of this stronger one, by one who is—
III. THE STRONGEST of all. It came true of Israel, and shall come true again. It is true in regard to humanity and the individual soul. It may be thought, considering the comparatively small number of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem, that this prediction was scarcely verified. But in the increase of the Jewish race in the lands of their exile, in their preservation from the hatred of their enemies (cf. Book of Esther), in the deliverance of them from the snare of idolatry, in the implantation in their hearts of a deeper love and understanding of God's Word,—in all these and in other respects Israel was delivered. And humanity is redeemed, ransomed. When Christ said, "It is finished," then was virtually accomplished that deliverance for which, in its full realization, the world yet groans. But in every triumph of Divine grace, every conversion, every breaking away from evil, every tightening of the blessed bends which bind us to Christ, every advance the gospel makes, every missionary triumph, every act of self-consecration, there is present proof of what by and by shall be perfectly proved. And the means by which all this is accomplished are suggested to us by the word "ransomed;" it sends our thoughts to him who said of himself that he came to give his life a "ransom for many." Therefore:
1. Let us each look on beyond that mighty one, the prince of this world, who is stronger than we, to him, the Saviour of us all, the Mightiest, who is stronger than he.
2. And ask ourselves the question—Under whose rule and service do we ourselves live? That is the all-important question. God help us to give it the right answer.—C.
I. THERE IS A SATISFACTION WHICH IS NOT TO BE DESIRED.
1. That of the worldling, which says, "Soul, take thine ease," etc.
2. That of conventionalism. This looks only to the ordinary standard of religious attainment, and so long as it can come up tolerably near to that standard, it desires no more. They are "at ease in Zion," and the "woe" denounced on such is theirs.
3. Of Pharisaism, which thanks God that it is not as other men are.
4. Of the Stoic, that has drilled itself not to feel the sorrows of men.
5. Of the selfish, which, because it swims, cares not who sinks.
II. BUT THERE IS A SATISFACTION WHICH IS GREATLY TO BE DESIRED.
1. That of trust, which prevents all murmuring at the dispensations of God, and which says, "I will trust, and not be afraid."
2. That of meekness, which says, "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth good in his sight."
3. That of belief in God's promises in Christ. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God."
4. That of experience—the consciousness that God is carrying on his work within us, deepening the hold of that which is good, loosening more and more the power of that which is evil. Consciousness of growth in grace. But none of these, precious as they are, come up to what is meant here. For it tells us that—
III. THERE IS A SATISFACTION BETTER THAN ALL THESE. It is that of the realization of the promises of God. This, not now, but hereafter. In all the kingdom of nature where God has implanted any hunger, he has made provision for its supply. Is the soul of man to be the solitary exception? The seeds obtain their full development ere they die; but not one single soul that God has created ever does so. We cannot be satisfied with either what we know or attain to here. What satisfaction we have is all based on the conviction that we know not, see not, possess not, now; we shall hereafter. See to it, that we be in the road that leadeth to that realization. "I am the Way," said Jesus.—C.
In this touching passage let us note—
I. THE SCENE. The exiles, with bowed heads and many tears, are being hurried away from their beloved land. Fierce soldiery urge them on. The smoking ruins of their towns, cities, homes, and, above all, of the greatly beloved city of God, Jerusalem, are behind them. A wail of distress goes up from these broken-hearted captives as they stand on the frontier Mils of their land, and have to say farewell to it forever. The whole scene rose up vividly before the prophet, and he seems to see the spirit of Rachel, the genius of their nation, the mother of the tribes on whose border land the exiles are now standing. She hovers over the sad-hearted company, her face wet with uncontrollable tears, and her lamentations for her poor lost children hoard incessantly. She has arisen from her tomb, which was hard by Ramah, and is bewailing the misery of her children.
II. THE SORROW. It is that of parents for their children. How intense this sorrow is! Rachel refuses to be comforted, because her children are not. It is greater than the sorrow of the children. In God's blessed ordering of things, children rarely grieve deeply. They soon forget, as they ought to do. It is not they that grieve, but their parents for them. And if the parents' grief be greater than that of the children, it is greater still than that which the parents feel for themselves. It matters little what becomes of them: it is the children for whom they care. What a holy thing this love of parents is! It is by means of this, appealing to it, that "out of the mouths of babes," etc. And how frequent, in this weary world of ours! We know how the deep distress of those mothers whose little ones Herod slew recalled the sorrow told of here. The words of the prophet find plentiful application. Not on one ground alone, but on many, parents often have to mourn for their children. But for the people of God there is ever—
III. RICH CONSOLATION.
1. Is the sorrow, as here, that which is caused by the sight of sore calamity coming upon our children which we cannot ward off? Oh, how many a father, as he looks around the circle of his children, seems to see a black spectre of care hovering over every one of those curly heads! and the vision sends a chill into his very soul. Their mother is to die, the means of their support is failing, disease has already fastened on some of them; trouble manifold is appointed for them. Their foes are many, their friends few. Now, to all such parents this word of consolation is sent. It tells us how God will care for them if we cannot. His love will never fail, and there is hope for them. Life, after all, will not be to them what we think. O anxious fathers and mothers—and what a crowd of you there are!—trust the God of Israel for your children.
2. Or is it the sorrow that conies from having prodigal children? This is a sorrow worse still. But art thou, O parent, a believer in God? dost thou seek him evermore in fervent prayer? Then be assured that he who caused that the prodigal of whom our Saviour tells should "come to himself," will do the like for thine. Never believe that the seed of the godly, for whom earnest prayer is offered, can be ultimately lost.
3. Or is it that you have been bereaved of your children? So was it with the mothers at Bethlehem, to whose sorrow St. Matthew applies these words. The salvation of children is as certain as the existence of God himself. To think otherwise would be to render impossible all hope, trust, and love towards God. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven;" "Their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven;" "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." True, heartless because childless priests have taught that there is a limbus iafantum—a children's hell. Good God! that any should believe it! And yet in many districts still the children who die unbaptized are refused Christian burial. But we turn from theologians to God's Word, and clasp the precious promise of these verses to our hearts, as, thank God, we are altogether warranted in doing. Let, then, all to whom God has given children trust him for them—for their bodies' and their souls' welfare, for their well being in the life that now is and in that which is to come, whilst you continue to bow your knees to "the God and Father … in whom every family in heaven and earth is named."—C.
Jeremiah 31:18, Jeremiah 31:19
Bemoaning one's self.
The very word suggests sorrow, weariness, distress. And all the more when the reason of such bemoaning is not something external to ourselves, as when Rachel wept for her children, but something in ourselves, when we are the cause of our own distress.
I. INQUIRE WHEREFORE THIS BEMOANING.
1. That he had called down upon himself the chastisements of God.
2. That these chastisements had been of no avail.
3. That now it was made evident there was no hope of amendment in himself.
II. COMFORTING THOUGHTS CONCERNING THIS BEMOANING.
1. The Lord surely heard it, Cf. "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
2. There is no attempt to excuse or palliate his sin.
3. That it had led him to despair of help in himself.
4. That in his misery he seeks the Lord.
5. That it was and is the forerunner of genuine conversion.
1. Welcome the smart and pain of sorrow for sin.
2. Dread that apathy which is so common in the slaves of sin.
3. Remember that it is only as the Lord turns us that our conversion is genuine and real.—C.
I. That which is hard and yoke-like is appointed for us all.
II. The reason of this appointment is that thereby we may render service which otherwise we could not.
III. That to refuse or resist this yoke will bring down the chastisements of God.
IV. That until we are really turned to God by his grace we shall so resist.
V. We do not cease from such folly without great pain. "I have.; heard Ephraim bemoaning himself."
VI. In that pain is our hope.—C.
Conversion and repentance.
I. BOTH THESE ARE TOLD OF HERE. Conversion is. It is spoken of as "being turned" and "instructed." Repentance is. It is spoken of plainly and again figuratively: "I smote upon my thigh" This is a common mode of expressing indignation and grief.
II. AND REPENTANCE IS SAID TO COME AFTER CONVERSION. And this is ever so. Not that there is no repentance prior to conversion. There is, and a genuine one. The "bemoaning" spoken of in the previous verse tells of that repentance which comes prior to conversion. But the true, deep, abiding repentance comes after. It consists, not so much in some passionate outburst of sorrow over sin, but in a settled hatred of it, and a remembrance ever with shame of the time when we allowed ourselves in it. In proportion as we see the love of God in Christ will this repentance deepen. It is in the light of that love that sin takes on its darkest hue. And if it be not so, then our conversion, our turning, our being instructed, has been apparent, not real. For—
III. THERE MAY BE REPENTANCE WITHOUT CONVERSION. We find many instances in Scripture of transgressors saying, "I have sinned," and their words were true, and felt to be true by themselves. They were the utterance of grief and real distress; but because such repentance never roused the energies of the will to resolve on the abandonment of the sin, therefore, though there was repentance, it led to no conversion. And even a true repentance in its initial stages, and until it has led the soul really to God, exists without conversion. It is a most solemn fact that there can be real distress about sin, and yet no forsaking of it. And if sin be not forsaken, then this distress, which is God's distinct call to turn unto him and live, grows fainter and fainter with every repetition of the sin.
IV. AND THERE MAY BE THE FRUITS OF CONVERSION WITHOUT REPENTANCE. There may be the hatred of sin, the love of goodness and of God, without the previous process of conversion. The gift of regeneration is essential to every soul, but some regenerate ones are kept by the grace of God from ever needing that deep repentance which is essential to conversion. It is possible to grow up in the kingdom of Odd, never to go away from the Father's house. That does not mean to be faultless, but to live, as the settled tenor of one's life, in love, obedience, and trust. These are the most blessed ones, who are "kept from the evil that it should not hurt them," to whom the Father will say, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." But—
V. GENERALLY THERE HAS BEEN BOTH IN GOD'S SAVED ONES. Therefore it is safer for the most of us to conclude that we need both, and to seek both from him who is "exalted to give repentance and remission of sins." And let us not be content with repentance alone, unless it lead on to conversion, nor let us deem our conversion genuine unless it cause, as here in this verse, our repentance to deepen more and more.—C.
The new covenant.
The consideration of this new covenant will enable us to understand how it is that, whilst many Christian men are at peace and content in regard to their justification before God and their acceptance with him, they are very far from content in regard to their attainment in Christian character and their ,practical sanctification. The reason is that, whilst they are content simply to look in faith to Christ for the former, they forget that this is precisely the condition of the latter also. Hence they are forever struggling and making good resolves, labouring earnestly to conquer this sin and that and to win one and another as yet unwon grace. But the new covenant is a promise, is the assurance indeed, that God has taken the matter of our salvation into his own hands, It is all of grace; he gives everything; nothing is left to our own solitary effort. If we read over the words of the covenant as they are given here from first to last, there is not a single word about anything to be clone by us. The whole covenant is not so much between man and his Maker as between Jehovah and man's Representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. The human side of the covenant has been already fulfilled by Jesus, and there remains nothing now but the covenant of giving, not the covenant of requirements. The whole covenant with regard to us, the people of God, now stands thus: "I will give this; I will bestow that; I will fulfil this promise; I will grant that favour." The old covenant said, "Do this, and thou shalt live." The new says, "I will do all." In considering this new covenant, note—
I. ITS RESEMBLANCES TO THE OLD.
1. Both are based on the goodness of another. The Jew in the old covenant knew that it was for Abraham's sake he had been chosen and called and privileged above all other nations. And that our privileges are all "for Christ's sake" is among the alphabet of the truths of the faith we hold.
2. Both demand fitness and preparation for the enjoyment of the blessings they promise. For the Jew, obedience to the Law of God was the condition of his entering into and living happily in the land God had promised to his fathers. Because they failed in this obedience, the carcases of a whole generation of them fell in the wilderness. And for the Christian, faith is the imperative condition. "He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned."
3. Both gave help and direction for the fulfilment of these conditions. To Israel was given an external Law; to the Christian, an indwelling Spirit. Hence most fitly was the gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost; for that day commemorated the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. It was fitting, therefore, that the giving of the new law of the new life should be on the day that told of the giving of the law for the old life.
II. ITS CONTRASTS.
1. The old covenant related to the possession of an earthly inheritance, the new to the attainment of a spiritual character. The one was of earth, the other of heaven. The one held before Israel the winning and keeping of the promised land; the other, the possession of likeness to God.
2. The old covenant was chiefly characterized by external law; the new, by the gift of the Spirit.
3. The old asked before it gave; the new gave before it asked. True, there was the promise made to Abraham, but Israel could not enter into it unless they kept the commandments of God. But in the new covenant God does not ask for holiness till he has given the Holy Spirit, until he has put his Law in our inward parts, and written it upon our hearts. As when he bade the palsied rise and walk, he did not ask before he gave; for along with the command went the power to obey. And this power resides in the influence of the love of Christ upon the believing soul. It is at the cross of Christ that the writing of the Law upon the heart most of all takes place. Regeneration is in connection, inseparable connection, with the cross. Do any ask—
III. THE REASON OF THE OLD COVENANT, NOTWITHSTANDING IT SO PERPETUALLY FAILED? It was necessary to show the hopelessness of all covenants of works. Twice had the experiment been tried; with our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the garden of Eden; then under the most advantageous circumstances such covenant was tried and failed again with Israel.
IV. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE NEW. It is manifold and manifest—in its nobler aim, in its universality, in its nobler result in character, in its surer foundation, in its light and easy yoke, etc.
CONCLUSION. Do any say, "I have not yet experienced the blessings of this new covenant"? Remember the Law is not written all at once, and that we must seek the Lord's help. It is his work.—C.
Great encouragements for those returning to God.
It is sad enough that there should be any going away from God so as to require a return. It is better never to have gone away from him than to return after such departure. Better be the son to whom the Father says, "Thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine," than the one who came back in misery and shame, notwithstanding all the compassionate love wherewith he was welcomed. Let all young children, and they who have the training of them, remember this; and all young converts to Christ. The same grace that forgives the going away, when in penitence the wanderer comes back, is ready to prevent any such going away at all. And this preventive grace is what we should all desire and seek. But the sad fact is that vast numbers have wandered from God. How few can leave themselves out of the prophet's confession, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned aside every one to his own way"! In this emergency the question arises as to what is to be done. If God were at once to inflict vengeance on the transgressor, or, which would amount to the same thing, if the wanderer were allowed to go on in his own way, none could complain or say that God did aught that was unjust. But instead of that, he mercifully causes that the way of the transgressor should be hard; he makes it grievous unto him, to the end that he may weary of it and long for the good ways he has left. And by and by he will and does, and it is here at this point the blessed promise of these verses meets him for his great encouragement. He has found out how bitter and evil a thing it is to sin against the Lord, how full of folly and madness his conduct has been, and in deep humility and contrition he is returning "with his whole heart." But such as thus return are full of self-distrust and deep fear lest they should wander off again and fall once more. They have been beguiled before and led to doubt God's Word. Now, these verses promise that the three great avenues by means of which unbelief, the fountain sin of all sin, enters the man, shall each one be securely guarded against such entrance for the future. The verse contains three distinct promises. Note how such safeguard is secured by—
I. THE FIRST PROMISE. "I will put my Law in their inward parts," etc. (Jeremiah 31:33). Now, the avenue that this guarded was that of the understanding. The people to whom the prophet wrote had been sorely tempted to question whether, after all, God was the Lord—that is, was the supreme Ruler and Disposer of all events; for had they not seen how other nations who acknowledged him not had risen up and prospered, whilst his own faithful people had often been in sore straits? There was very much to be said in favour of the gods of other nations, and very much was said. And when all this was encouraged and secretly seconded by the lurking likings of their lower nature, what wonder if their understandings in regard to this great question were sometimes bewildered? We can see how unbelief would find occasion to enter in in force through such bewildered and doubting minds. And perhaps never can the question be settled by the intellect alone. God does not reveal himself in all his infinitude to that part of our nature. It is the heart which must know "that he is the Lord." But this promise is for this very thing. Such a heart shall be given. The rational conclusions of the understanding shall be supported by the mighty force of the heart's intuitions, and the two combined will forever render utterly impossible all doubt whether God be the Lord. The peace of keeps the heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:1-23.). If we have not heart knowledge of God, that of the intellect alone will be likely to fall away and leave us with no knowledge of God at all. How blessed, then, cannot but be this promise to all those who, because they have lacked such knowledge hitherto, have sinned and brought on themselves such distress, but who now are returning to God with their whole heart! It is a mighty encouragement indeed.
II. THE SECOND PROMISE. "And they shall be my people." The avenue that this guards is that of man's circumstances. Doubt does often enter by such way. If a man be surrounded with distress, almost worn out with "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," broken-hearted and bankrupt of all earthly good, let none condemn such, or only those who are themselves without sin though they have been in like manner tried, if doubt do haunt these troubled ones and faith in God dies down. Do we not admire Job just because he held so fast to his faith under such awful circumstances? Is not our very admiration of him proof of our conviction as to the sore difficulty of faith keeping its hold at such times? Did not even he than whom Christ said none of women born was greater—John the Baptist—find the drear dungeon into which Herod had flung him, and the cruel death which he knew awaited him, more than his spirit could bear? And so he sent to the Lord, saying, "Art thou he that should come, or," etc.? Oh, it is easy under sunny skies and amid happy surroundings and when all is won, to sing sweet hymns about trusting in God and the blessedness of faith. But let all that prosperity vanish, and be replaced by grim, gaunt poverty, in which and because of which you have to see your beloved wife or children, or both, hunger and perhaps die, because you have not enough to ward off from them the sufferings they have to endure. Ah! where would be the faith of myriads of those well to do Christians who love to sing "Sweet it is to trust in him"? Not a little of the sad unbelief of the poor is accounted for, and we cannot but think rendered far less guiltful, by the fact of the terrible privations that are so often their lot. But this promise, "They shall be my people," assures that such trial of faith shall not be permitted. For the promise means that God will bestow on them such signal favour; he will so graciously deal with them that it shall become evident to all that they are his people, the beloved of the Lord. They shall have that "blessing which maketh rich and addeth no sorrow thereto." They shall not any more have to eat the bread of affliction or drink the water of affliction, but their circumstances shall be so happy and peaceful as to utterly prevent that unbelief to which adversity so often gives rise. The beggar Lazarus is carried by the angels into Abraham's besom; not one word is said about his character; and this surely seems to teach that the poor, to whom belief in the love of God has been so difficult here, shall hereafter in happier circumstances see and enjoy that love of which here they are only told. Of course, happy circumstances, such as are involved in this promise, would be of little avail without the bestowment of the other promise, "a heart to know that I am the Lord;" but with that this gives a double defence, within which blessed are they who abide. And if it be said that God does not now, as he did in Old Testament days, make any promise to his servants that they shall be exempt from adversity, as in fact they are not, it is to be remembered that they have far clearer light than had the saints of the Old Testament concerning that blessed home of God's people, of whose inhabitants it is said, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light upon them, nor," etc. If not now, assuredly then, shall they be known as God's people by the happy external lot which will be theirs.
III. THE THIRD PROMISE. "I will be their God." The avenue which this guards is that of the heart. Man's understanding may be convinced, and his circumstances be all favourable and prosperous, but if he have not rest of his soul in God, unbelief will still assail and, not unlikely, overcome him. "Nostrum cor inquietum est donec requiescat in te." He must be able to say of the Lord, "He is my God" (Psalms 90:2), ere ever he has rest in God. God must be his joy; he must "delight himself also in the Lord," and be happy in God, would he effectually bar out all unbelief. But this third promise ensures this. "I will be their God." It tells of this joy which they shall have in him, and of their happy rest in him.
CONCLUSION. Then let us "return unto God with our whole heart." Perhaps it is because we have not returned in this whole-hearted way that we yet have to wait for these promises to be fulfilled; and that we still find unbelief, though banished for a while, yet returning and haunting us once more. It is said of Joshua and Caleb that they served the Lord "fully." It is this thoroughness which is needed. Let but this be, and the understanding will be satisfied; the circumstances of our life will be pleasing to us, because they are those the Lord pleases; and our heart shall sing for gladness, because God is our "exceeding joy."—C.
God the Husband of his people.
(Cf. homily on Jeremiah 3:14.)—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The everlasting love of God.
I. IN CONTRAST TO OTHER LOVERS. Note Jeremiah 30:14, "All thy lovers have forgotten thee," etc. Israel had had many lovers professing regard and offering service; but what had their regard and service come to? They were now cold, careless, perhaps even hostile. They had shown the appearance of love to Israel, not that they cared for Israel, but because they themselves were advantaged. Now, that is no true affection which changes when the thing loved ceases to gratify us. Yet this was all the affection of these other lovers amounted to—a mere name of love; a feeling which, in the course of time, was to evince their own instability and bring shame to them. But God is a contrast to all this. He loves with an everlasting love. He loves Israel, not only in the days of prosperity and wealth and beauty, but in the days of downfall and despair. His thought penetrates through to the abiding worth of humanity. We do not slander human affection, or in any way underestimate it, when we say that man cannot love his fellow man as God loves him. God it is who first of all shows man what love really is; then man, having the Spirit of the Divine Father breathed into him, learns to love also. We cannot attain to any thing which will give us the right to say with respect to duration that ours is an ever lasting love; but, as true Christians, we may have something of the quality of that affection.
II. IN SPITE OF UNRECIPROCATED AFFECTION. Israel had had other lovers, and she had loved them in return. They had bestowed gifts on her, and she had bestowed gifts on them, and so there was profession of mutual regard as long as it was profitable to make it. But there was no love to God. His holiness, his goodness, was not seen. Year by year his open hand was stretched forth, filled with the corn and the wine and the oil; and the people greedily laid hold of the gifts, and thought nothing of the Giver. Not but what there were individuals whose hearts went out gratefully and devotedly to God, as the Psalms show. But then these individuals would not find very many to respond to the invitation, "Oh, love the Lord, all ye his saints." And still the love of God goes on. Men need the manifestations of God's love all the more, just because of their unreciprocating attitude towards him. Love cannot prevent the headstrong prodigal from seeking his own desires, but it can keep things ready for the season of repentance and return. The manifestations of the Divine love are to constitute a great spectacle, breaking down the heart of the selfish man.
III. THE LOVE IS DECLARED WHEN MOST THE DECLARATION IS NEEDED. Love does not always look like love. The spurious puts on the appearance of the genuine, and the genuine gets hidden behind the necessary manifestations of righteousness and fidelity to law. They that break law must be punished and suffer. They that have false, unstable, misleading lovers cannot escape the consequence of their foolish connection with them in the day when the lovers are destroyed and go into captivity (Jeremiah 22:20, Jeremiah 22:22). Israel itself must suffer loss and go into exile and sit with dust and ashes on its head. But in that very day comes the assurance of everlasting love. The lower skies are filled with cloud and storm and rain, but the abiding sun is still above, and its radiance will remain when the storm has passed away.—Y.
Work yet to be found in the vineyard.
Here is to be an evidence of the everlasting love spoken of in Jeremiah 31:3.
I. THE RESTORATION OF WHAT HAD BEEN LOST. This is not the first prophecy in the book concerning vineyards. It had been declared that the nation from afar should eat up the vines and the fig trees of Israel (Jeremiah 5:17). "I will surely consume, saith the Lord. There shall be no grapes on the vine" (Jeremiah 8:13). The bright prophecy here could not have been made but for the dark prophecies going before. The literal fulfilment of the prophecy is, of course, the least part of it. The deepest meaning is that, whatever we may lose through God's chastisements, we shall get much more in a spiritual and truly abiding way.
II. THE FUTURE IS DESCRIBED IN TERMS OF THE PAST. One of the occupations of the past had been to plant vineyards in Samaria. What associations there must have been with the sunny slopes! It is the way of God to speak of future comforts and glories in terms drawn from the present and from things around us. The future will give opportunities for profitable work. We shall always have some place to work in which shall be as the mountains of Samaria, and some work to do which shall be as the planting of vines. Fruitless toil and crushed hopes are but a disciplining episode in the career of those who are the heirs of eternal life.
III. THE STABILITY IMPLIED IN THIS PROMISE. Five years, according to the Mosaic Law, had to pass from the planting to the time of fruitage. The prophecy was therefore a prophecy of peaceful settlement. The whole outlook gave a sense of security. Looked at in this light, one sees the reason of previous overthrowing and destruction. The aim is to get down to something solid and stable, to purify the heart from unworthy aims and love of the fleeting. The things that are shaken are removed, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
IV. THE INCLUSIVENESS OF THIS PROMISE. Vineyards are to be planted, but vineyards are not the first necessity of life. To promise the planting of vineyards implied the promise of other things. The corn and the oil went along with the wine. The vineyard is doubtless here mentioned as a symbol of joy. He who is able to plant a vineyard is able to plant all good things. Note the evidence we have of the temporal fulfilment of this promise. From vineyards our Lord drew some of his most suggestive teaching. We may be sure they had often been seen by him, and their spiritual significance apprehended. Vine planting was a suitable industry, an industry to be expected in the land out of which the spies had brought the ponderous cluster of grapes.—Y.
Jeremiah 31:8, Jeremiah 31:9
God the Gatherer of his people.
I. WHENCE HE GATHERS THEM. The place is spoken of very indefinitely, not from any doubt as to its reality, but because it was largely a terra incognita. It was the land away in the northward direction, but what its extent or what its power for mischief there were but few who could guess. One thing, however, was possible to consider in the days of exile, when the north country had become a sad actual experience, namely, how Jeremiah had been sent to speak joyful tidings as well as mournful ones with respect to the power of this north country. True, he had spoken again and again concerning the evil and the great destruction coming out of the north; but here is a word from the same man and under the same authority to say that the power of the north country is not to continue. God uses even great nations for his own purposes. There is indication that these powers of the north were astonished at their own success. "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem" (Lamentations 4:12). They were only the agents of God, and God could take his people out of their midst again when once the Exile had done its work. Distance is no difficulty. God can hinder or facilitate in a journey just as seems him best. Once he kept his people forty years in a journey from one land to another that, if he had chosen, might have been accomplished in a very short time.
II. THOSE WHOM HE GATHERS. The Lord's compassions fail not. To the young, the strong, the healthy, those perfect in body, nothing was needed but to say, "The time is come for return. Make your start." But then all were not so placed. The weaklings have ever to be considered, and God considers them, as it were, first of all. There are the blind—God will keep them in the way; there are the lame—God will provide that they be conveyed and sufficiently helped; there are women, with all their peculiar anxieties, who need to be dealt with very tenderly, and all grounds for alarm taken out of their way as far as possible. Well, God specifies these cases as representative of the provision he makes forevery sort of weakness. It is the mark of God's way for men that it is a way for the weak, a way in which provision is made forevery sort of infirmity. There are ways in the world which are only for the strong; the weak soon get pushed aside. And God can bring all these weak people along, because the right spirit is in them. They come in weeping and in prayer. You can be eyes to a blind man, if he admits his blindness and is willing to be guided; but if he insists upon it that he can see, what are you to do with him? This is the only means by which God's true people can be gathered into one way, moving with one purpose towards one place, namely, that they be each one of them from the very heart submitted to the Divine will and control.
III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH GOD GATHERS. The spirit of a father. Israel must needs go into exile and chastisement for a while; but the place left vacant is the child's place, and none but the child can fill it. It is the evidence of a father's tenderness that he cares for the blind and the lame and the weak. The house of Israel had said to a stock, "Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth." And their delusion had borne fruit in banishment and captivity. But the true Father remembered them all the time; and with the power of the true God and in the spirit of the true Father, he gathered them and guided them home.—Y.
The Scatterer also the Gatherer.
I. GOD AS THE SCATTERER. Seeing that the Scatterer becomes the Gatherer, it is evident that scattering is used to describe his action by a sort of accommodation. Outwardly it looks like scattering; but there is a spirit and a purpose and a regulative principle in the action which makes it to be really only a stage in a more complete gathering worthy of the name. It is, perhaps, worthy of note that there is in the Hebrew word something of the idea of scattering even as seed is scattered. Now, when seed is scattered, it is with a perfect knowledge of the large gathering which will result. Seed is not flung at random, and then left forever. Beforehand there is preparation and afterwards there is expectation. And so we see that when God uses the same name for an action that we do, it by no means follows that he is doing just the same thing as we should indicate by the name. Note also that in this very prophecy here there is a reference to a very old intimation of the distresses that might come on Israel in the event of disobedience," I will scatter you among the heathen" (Leviticus 26:33).
II. GOD AS THE GATHERER. What a difference here between man and God! Oftentimes it is easy for man to scatter; but how shall he gather again? One fool can undo in a few hours what wise and diligent men have taken years in building up. But since God scatters upon principle, he knows where every fragment is, and continues to superintend and guide it as part of the whole. We see only disjointed parts, and so there is something very nondescript and puzzling and ineffectual looking about their operations. God, however, sees the whole. Hence the insistence in apostolic teaching upon unity. Christians could not be kept in one place. Persecution drove them apart; the needs of the gospel sent each apostle into his own field; and Christians sprang up in many far separated places. But though scattered and separated in appearance, they were still one, because the one Spirit was in them. The gathering principle is, in Christians, a principle that rises dominant over all earthly distinctions. Men cannot be kept permanently together unless the Christian spirit is in them; and if the Christian spirit is in them, there is no power that can keep them permanently separated.
III. GOD AS HE WHO KEEPS HIS PEOPLE FROM A SECOND SCATTERING. We cannot put too much force into this thought of God keeping his people as a shepherd does his flock. What a significance it adds to the way in which Jesus speaks of himself as the good Shepherd! Who shall scatter when it is God's will to gather and to unite in an abiding company? Who shall scatter when he who gathers has in him not only the spirit of a shepherd, but also the power to keep his sheep from all danger? And what a warning to us against all needless separations! Men are betrayed into danger to themselves by pushing individual liberty to extremes. The shepherd will keep every member of the flock so long as it holds to the flock. God will only keep us so long as we are in his way, within his boundaries, subject to his directions.—Y.
Praise waiting for God in Zion.
I. THE PLACE OF PRAISE. To speak of Zion was to speak of the dwelling place of Jehovah. To sing in the height of Zion, therefore, was to sing, as it were, at the door of God's own house. While God ever visited idolatry with the severest punishments, he yet localized his presence by the sanctities connected with the ark. It was the holy of holies that made Zion a sacred place, and if the people were helped in praise and worship by assembling there, then there is every reason for mentioning Zion as the great place of national rejoicing. But we must take care not to consider any literal fulfilment of this prophecy as sufficient. The word is one taking our thoughts to that Mount Zion, which is part of the city of the living God, of the heavenly Jerusalem. The days of earthly localization are forever past. The principle of assembly now is that, wherever two or three are gathered together in the Name of Christ, there he is in their midst.
II. THE CAUSE OF PRAISE. Praise and gladness always have some Cause, but the question remains to be asked whether it be a cause which God will approve. If it be gladness rising out of some selfish triumph or gain, then the joy will assuredly be turned into mourning. But here the goodness of Jehovah is emphatically described as being the cause of the joy and singing. There is something substantial to sing about—corn, and wine, and oil, and cattle: the appropriate produce of the land, something that is at once the reward of righteous striving and the gift of an approving God. Everything is right externally and internally. The very life of the people is like a watered garden, which surely is a very suggestive expression to indicate that all is as it ought to be. A watered garden suggests a piece of land worth cultivating, well cultivated, and supplied with every factor contributing to fruitfulness. But what has been said of the place of praise must also be said of the cause of praise. Corn and wine and all the rest of the good things are only symbols of deeper blessings that have to do with the satisfaction of the heart. "Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." It is an easy thing for him, if needs be, to make up the defects of nature, which he showed at the feeding of the five thousand. Yet, in spite of this, famines are not always interfered with. God is not solicitous to go beyond what he has provided in nature for the support of natural life. But he is solicitous that we should apprehend the great spiritual abundance within our reach. The deepest meaning of this prophecy is that spiritual men only can really praise God, because they are praising him out of hearts that are being sustained by the richness of spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF PRAISE. The satisfied heart must praise, else there is a proof that the heart is not really satisfied. Satisfaction can no more be concealed than dissatisfaction. When in the writings of the apostles we come across outbursts of doxology, it is just what we might expect as being in harmony with the greatness of the blessings received. And this is just what often makes the praise part of worship eminently unsatisfactory, that men are thanking God for what they have not received. All compositions having praise and thanksgiving for their elements, and being successful compositions, must, by the very nature of the case, owe their origin to some actual experience of God's goodness. Hence it is important in this passage to notice how three things are bound together in the one prediction.
1. There is the gift of God.
2. The consequent satisfaction.
3. The irrepressible joy.
And what greater gift can we have from God than a heart filled with pure, abiding, joy, free from reproach, free from apprehension?
IV. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE PRAISE. Young and old, priests and people, are joined together in the common song. God's spiritual blessings are for all. There is much significance in that promise, "I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness." That means that the people are right religiously, and that again means that the priests are attentive to their own proper duty. Liberality to all Christian institutions, to all that is truly evangelistic and charitable, to all that is in the way of the highest ministry to mankind, is a sign of spiritual prosperity.—Y.
Sorrowing mothers and their consolation.
I. THE GRIEFS OF BEREAVED MOTHERS. There is an innumerable company of women who have seen the children die in whom they themselves had given birth, and Rachel is their great representative. She stands before us here as the mother of a nation; for surely it only spoils a grand poetical idea to attach her to some tribes rather than others. She sees the nation which sprang from her husband Jacob going from the land of promise into captivity, and straightway she reckons it as a dead nation. Bear in mind distinctly that the mourning is not over dead individuals, but over a dead nation. The individuals went on living, but the nation in its pride and privilege was gone. So one might think of some representative spirit bewailing dead Greece and dead Rome. The figure, moreover, derives its strength from what must have been very frequent in the land of Israel, as in every land before or since, namely, the sad sight presented by a mother weeping over her dead child. The mother's sorrow is unique; its elements can only be imperfectly apprehended by others. The object of so much hope, solicitude, and pleasure is gone. The proper order of things is reversed. The mother should see the child grow to manhood or womanhood, and then go first into the unseen world. Death, coming in this way, seems to furnish a plausible ground of complaint, and if anything can be said to lessen the mystery and the sorrow and make hope rise in the heart, it should be said.
II. CONSOLATION IN SUCH TIME OF GRIEF. The real Rachel needed no such consolation. But bereaved mothers both need it and can have it. They have worked for something else than death and the breaking off of their purposes, and their work shall not be in vain. Death is a great deceiver in making his power seem greater than it is. When children are taken from this world into the next, opportunities are not lost, they are only changed. God will assuredly not allow the highest joys belonging to human nature to suffer from a cause so purely external as the duration of temporal existence. When Herod slew the children at Bethlehem, this prophecy had a sort of fulfilment, and surely so far as it was fulfilled it was fulfilled altogether. To every, one of those weeping mothers it might have been said, "Refrain thy voice from weeping and thine eyes from tears." The weeping and the tears are natural enough, but after all they have no sufficient ground in reason. As a general rule, life must be taken with all its risks and casualties, seeing that risk and casualty, as we call them, are after all, according to a law. Sometimes there are extraordinary preservations of infant life, and when some life so delivered has afterwards unfolded into eminence and usefulness, there is a talk of something specially providential in the preservation. Some such preserved lives, however, turn out a great curse, and then where is the providence. The great thing every mother should seek is such faithfulness, such wisdom, such right dealing in all ways as will enable her to be a true mother to her children, however long they live. Then, whatever happens, there is the certainty that her work will be rewarded. The work of individual obedience can never come to anything but reward in the end. The mischief is that very often we want the reward to come in our way and not in God's.—Y.
Assuming that Jeremiah is here the speaker, what a suggestion there is of restless, unrefreshing nights on other occasions! And little wonder. It may have been the case that many of his prophecies came to him at night, and if so, considering the elements of those prophecies, his nights must often have been very troubled ones. But if we look attentively at the contents of Jeremiah 30:1-24. and 31; we find very sufficient causes for the sweetness of the prophet's sleep. Jehovah makes one long announcement of favour, restoration, and comfort. Hitherto when the prophet has had to listen to Jehovah, if there have been consolatory utterances, they have been mingled with denunciation and words of the most melancholy import. But now there is one unbroken stream of good tidings, and the effect is shown even in sleep. And if in sleep, how much more in waking hours! The whole round of the day becomes different when God looks favourably on the life. Sweetness of sleeping hours must come from all being right in waking hours. Now, with Jeremiah, as to his own personal life, all was right in waking, hours, but with his nation all was wrong; and so through the day he went about seeing sin and foreseeing suffering, and at night his vivid imagination must often have kept him awake or peopled what broken sleep he got with the most terrible dreams. Bad men may sleep better than good ones, so long as there is nothing to awaken their selfish fears and good men spend restless nights over the troubles of those in whom they are interested. Yet the restlessness must come from the failing to see the abiding goodness of God. Here, for a little, God drove every cloud from the sky of his servant, and showed him how heavenly brightness was a thing entirely above earthly confusions; and then his servant could get sweet sleep. And God will give to all that wait upon him that quiet calm of the heart which is to our higher life what sweet sleep is to the body. It is God's will that our present life, with all its varied needs, should have all the refreshment he can give.—Y.
Jeremiah 31:29, Jeremiah 31:30
Jehovah visiting the individual for his sins.
I. THE SIN OF SOME AND THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS. This is put before us in a very striking figure. Literally, the taste of a sour grape would be an instantaneous sensation; but here we are asked to imagine the possibility of a man getting whatever other advantage there might be in the grape, whatever nourishment, whatever refreshment, and then handing on the one bad element of sourness. And truly it often seems as if there were this kind of division. The wrong doer goes on succeeding, enjoying himself, getting his full of life, and then his children come in to find that the father's wrong doing is like a millstone round their necks, destroying every chance they might otherwise have. The figure here presents from the human side that fact of experience which from the Divine side is presented as a law. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5).
II. THE SIN OF SOME AND THEIR OWN SUFFERING. We need to look somewhat carefully at the point brought out in Jeremiah 31:30. At first it seems as if daily experience were contradicted, for we leap to an inference that the children's tooth will not be set on edge by the sour grapes their fathers have eaten; whereas it is abundantly plain that children still suffer for the sins of their fathers. But observe that this is not at all denied. The great point insisted on is that the fathers will suffer themselves; and this is a point that needs to be insisted on, for the fallacy is continually arising that a man may, by some magic, some precaution, escape the consequences of his evil, and so he may escape from some consequences. But observe, again, the all-comprehending word here used, "he shall die," and this word has a retrospective force. There never has been any other law but that a man shall die for his own iniquity. Possibly we should take this passage as having some sort of reference to the old custom of making revenge an hereditary thing. If the doer of a wrong escaped vengeance and died peacefully in his bed, then his son stood in the father's place, and became an object of attack till the punishment due to the father was visited on him. It seems so plain to us that a man should die for his own iniquity, punishment falling on the head of him who does the wrong, that we find it hard to imagine a day when the ethical code was otherwise. Whereas it is tolerably clear that in Old Testament times and countries the feeling was that somebody must be punished; and if the real criminal escaped, why, then take his nearest blood relation. That the Christian looks on things so differently is the clearest proof that this prophecy has been fulfilled.
III. THE NEED THERE IS THAT EVERY ONE SHOULD CLASSIFY THE SUFFERINGS OF HIS LIFE. It is not enough that we seek deliverance from suffering. It is right for us to do so, and suffering, we may be sure, is not by the will of God. But as there is suffering which comes from causes within our control, so there is suffering coming from causes outside our control; and it is with the former only that we can deal. Besides, it is the worst suffering, seeing that it comes from trouble and unrest of conscience. God has so made us that the worst wounds from others are but as surface scratches compared with the wounds that in our folly we inflict on ourselves. Then we have to look, not only on the sufferings, but enjoyments. We may so live as to rise above the worst that men can do to us, and at the same time, we may be the better for whatever good man is disposed to do. If sometimes it is true that the fathers eat sour grapes and the children's teeth get set on edge, is it not also true that the fathers eat sweet grapes, yet little of the sweetness they seem to taste—it is a sweetness standing over for the children?—Y.
The new covenant add the old.
I. THE LIGHT CAST ON THE OLD COVENANT. It would be a mistake to describe it as a covenant that failed. Paradoxical as the expression sounds, the very breaking of the covenant furnished the proof of its success. It made man's position clearer to him; it prepared the world for Christ. The old covenant had been broken in spite of all the teaching connected with it. "Know Jehovah" had been dinned into the ear, and doubtless many had a notion that they did know Jehovah, whereas all that they knew was a certain round of ritual observances. At all events, it was a knowledge that left iniquity unforgiven and sin still registered in the book of God's remembrance. It was such a knowledge as the wrong doer has of his judge. It was the knowledge of a force that thwarted all selfishness, and came with overwhelming completeness to ruin the plans of man. It was not the knowledge coming from trust and leading to greater trust—knowledge of God as a Guide, Director, and Provider. Yet some indeed knew. The man who said to his neighbour and his brother, "Know Jehovah," must have been, in some instances at least, one who himself had some real knowledge. As there were men of the reforming spirit before the Reformation, so there were Christians in essence before Christianity. The breaking of the old covenant shows the thing that was needed, namely, a new power in the hearts of men. The knowledge of God is not to be gained by mere teaching. Teaching has its place, and within its own limits is indispensable; but who could teach a child to eat, to see, to hear? If faculties are not inborn, we cannot do anything with them.
II. THE CONFIDENT PREDICTIONS ON THE NEW COVENANT, The old covenant starts with law; the new one springs out of life. Jeremiah 31:33 gives one of the Old Testament ways of expressing the doctrine of regeneration. God writes the laws of Spiritual life on the heart, just as he writes the laws of natural life on every natural germ; and then all the rest is a matter of unfolding, of growth, of encouragement, of culture. The old covenant was one long, exhaustive, thorough experiment by which the fact became clear that in the natural man there was nothing to unfold. The new covenant established within a very brief period that, given a new life principle working within him, man is indeed a being of glorious capabilities. The first man of the new covenant, in point of quality, is of course the Man Christ Jesus himself. God's Law was written in the heart of his Son. Here is one way in which the Law and the prophets are completed. The ark with its inscriptions vanishes; we hear nothing of it later than Jeremiah 3:15. And in its place there comes the loving heart trusted to the utmost liberty. Well might there be confidence in speaking of the new covenant. When good seed and good soil and favourable circumstances meet, then there is certainty of perfect and abundant fruit. The new covenant is above all things a covenant with the individual. It is made to depend upon individual susceptibility and individual fidelity. Also it is a knowledge that comes in repentance, forgiveness, and favour. And all this teaches us that a special meaning must be put into the term, "people of God." The true people of God are constituted by the aggregation of individual believers. They do not begin their journey to the heavenly land of promise marching as one constrained company through a miraculous Red Sea passage; they rather go, one by one, through a straitened entrance, even through a needle's eye, some of them.—Y.
The seed of Israel; signs of its everlasting duration.
I. THEY ARE SIGNS WITH MUCH REVELATION OF GOD IN THEM. The sun, the moon, the stars, the heavenly spaces with all their occupants, the terrestrial surface with the fathomless depths beneath it. We shall never know all that is to he known about these existences; but we may soon know enough to know through them something of their Maker. That they are the common work of one hand, the common expression of one wisdom and love, soon Becomes plain. The unity of all we see is a truth becoming clearer in the light of scientific investigation. God drove Israel from the land they had polluted and forfeited by their idolatries; but their share in the common possessions of mankind remained. It is plain that man gets good from all these signs here mentioned, and the largeness of the good depends on the righteousness and understanding shown in the use.
II. THEY ARE SIGNS WITHIN THE COMPREHENSION OF ALL. Even a child can be made to understand the unfailing regularity that belongs to them. They are signs all over the world. It is not a sign drawn from Jerusalem or from anything comparatively stable in the Israelites' peculiar experience. Sun and moon and stars know nothing of national distinctions. Each nation doubtless can claim its territory to the very centre of the globe, but beyond a certain depth, that globe is defiant of them all. One man may know more than another of the constitution of these signs, by reason of peculiar opportunities, but all can know enough for the purpose here required.
III. THEY ARE SIGNS DRAWN FROM GOD'S INDEPENDENT OPERATION. Not from operations which as a general rule depend on our cooperation. God's operations in sun, moon, and stars are independent of us—unaffected by our disobedience, our negligence, unsteadiness; uplifted far above our interference. Indeed, what can show more clearly how God's operations on the earth's surface are interfered with by human ignorance and indolence than the contrast with heaven's regularity?
IV. THE THING SIGNIFIED WILL OUTLAST THE SIGNS. The thing signified is the everlasting duration of the seed of Israel. That seed will remain when the signs themselves, having done their work, are vanished. The things that are seen are temporal. As our body is but the earthly house of this tabernacle, so the visible universe itself is but as the tabernacle wherein God dwells with us. But all these visible things will come to their end when they have done their work, not through failure of Divine power. They will disappear into a more glorious transformation, and serve some puttee to God's true Israel, the very outlines of which we cannot yet comprehend.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 31". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent