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Nothing worthy of relation appears to have happened to Jeremiah till the latter period of the reign of Zedekiah. The first two verses of this chapter form the transition. The embassy to Jeremiah mentioned in verse 3 took place after the temporary withdrawal of the Chaldeans from Jerusalem.
Coniah; i.e. Jehoiachin (see on Jeremiah 22:24). Whom Nebuchadrezzar … made king. Zedekiah, not Jehoiachin, is referred to (see 2 Kings 24:17).
And Zedekiah the king sent. This was Zedekiah's second embassy to Jeremiah. His request on the former occasion bad been for a prophecy; on the present it was for an "effectual fervent prayer," such as Hezekiah's embassy asked of Isaiah (Isaiah 37:6). But the issue was to be very different from that in the case of Sennacherib's invasion! Jehucal. The same man appears in Jeremiah 38:1, among those who brought about the imprisonment of Jeremiah. Zephaniah. The high priest's deputy, mentioned again in Jeremiah 21:1; Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 52:24.
Now Jeremiah came in and went out, etc. Had he been a prisoner, an embassy of high officials could not, with propriety, have been sent to him (comp. verse 17; Jeremiah 38:14).
Then Pharaoh's army, etc.; rather, And Pharaoh's army had, etc.; as a further description of the circumstances under which the embassy was sent. The withdrawal of the Chaldeans seemed to offer a gleam of hope. The Pharaoh referred to was the Hophra of the Jews, the Apries of Herodotus, the Uah-ab-ra of the monuments. His interference was useless; indeed, Hophra was one of the most unfortunate of the Egyptian kings (see Jeremiah 44:30).
Even if the Jews had defeated the whole Chaldean army, and there remained but a group of sorely wounded men, these in their weakness would be enabled to carry out God's sure purpose. But wounded men hardly brings out the force of the Hebrew; the word rendered "men" is emphatic, and expresses paucity of numbers, and that rendered "wounded" is, literally, pierced through.
For fear of, etc.; rather, because of.
As soon as communication with the outside world was possible, Jeremiah took the opportunity of going to his native country, to obtain something or other which he could only obtain "thence." The Authorized Version says that his object was to separate himself thence. But
(1) the rendering is linguistically untenable; and
(2) the assumed object is incongruous with the circumstances and Character of Jeremiah, who was neither inclined to seek safety in isolation nor had any motive at present for doing so. The only safe rendering is, to claim his share thence. Whether there was just then a reallotment of communal lands must be left undecided; this would, however, be the most plausible hypothesis, if we could be sure that the present was a sabbatical year. The additional words, in the midst of the people, would then acquire a special significance. The "people" would be the representatives of families who had an equal right to allotments with Jeremiah.
The gate of Benjamin; i.e. the gate looking northwards towards Benjamin (comp. Jeremiah 20:2; Jeremiah 38:7; Zechariah 14:10). It appears to be the same as the gate of Ephraim (2 Kings 14:13; Nehemiah 8:16). Thou fallest away, etc. Perhaps an allusion to Jeremiah's declaration (Jeremiah 21:9) that "he that falleth away to the Chaldeans … he shall live,"
The princes were wroth with Jeremiah. As Graf has pointed out, the princes, who had evinced their respect for Jeremiah on former occasions (Jeremiah 26:1-24; Jeremiah 36:1-32) had probably shared the captivity of Jehoiachin; Zedekiah's "princes" would be of a lower origin and type, and ready (like the judges in the French "terror") to accept any charge against an unpopular person without proper examination. The house of Jonathan the scribe. "Scribe," i.e. one of the secretaries of state. The house of Jonathan seems to have been specially adapted for a prison, as the next verse shows. Chardin, the old traveller, remarks, "The Eastern prisons are not public buildings erected for that purpose, but a part of the house in which the criminal judges dwell. As the governor and provost of a town, or the captain of the watch, imprison such as are accused in their own houses, they set apart a canton of them for that purpose when they are put into these offices, and choose for the jailor the most proper person they can find of their domestics" (Chardin).
Into the dungeon, and into the cabins. The former word undoubtedly implies an underground excavation. The latter is of more uncertain signification. It most probably means "vaults;" but it may mean "curved posts"—something analogous to stocks (see on Jeremiah 20:2).
Meantime the Chaldean army has returned, and reinvested the city. Zedekiah, in his anxiety, sends for Jeremiah privately to his palace. Thou shalt be delivered, etc. (comp. Jeremiah 32:3, Jeremiah 32:4; Jeremiah 34:2, Jeremiah 34:3).
Court of the prison; rather, court of the watch (as Jeremiah 32:2). A piece of bread; literally, a circle (i.e. round cake) of bread. This is mentioned elsewhere in descriptions of poverty (1 Samuel 2:36; Proverbs 6:26); but as the ancient Oriental bread was not our delicate white bread, it was a real "staff of life." The Syrian peasants still eat cakes of coarse meal, of about the thickness of parchment, and equal in size to a large plate (Orelli's 'Travels'). The bakers' street. Probably the several trades were confined to special quarters and streets. In Cairo each trade has still its own bazaar (saddlers, carpets, hardware, goldsmiths, sweetmeats, etc.).
Prayer without obedience.
Though Zedekiah will give no heed to the message from God to him through Jeremiah, he is not the less anxious to secure the prophet's intercession with God for deliverance from approaching calamity. The king illustrates the too common case of those people who will fly to the protection of religion in trouble, though they neglect all its obligations of holiness and of service.
I. RELIGION REQUIRES OBEDIENCE GOD'S WILL. It is not all on one side, God speaks to us, and speaks words of command as well as words of consolation. It is, therefore, our duty to hear and obey.
1. Ignorance is no excuse, if we wilfully refuse to hear the truth. Zedekiah and his servants did not obey because they did not" hearken," i.e. would not hearken. We are not responsible for failing through not knowing our duty if we could not know it. But if we could, it was our duty to ascertain it. The soldier who puts aside the despatch of his commander unopened, and then acts contrary to the orders contained in it is, of course, as guilty as if he did so knowingly; for it was his duty to read the orders he received before going into action.
2. The example of those who have done wrong before is no excuse. Zedekiah followed the example of Jehoiakim. But he knew it was wrong. He had seen the miserable end of his predecessor's reign. He should have taken warning from this. But men are more inclined to imitate the crimes of the wicked than to learn the lesson of their fate.
3. High position does not mitigate guilt, but, on the contrary, it aggravates it. Zedekiah led the people with him in his rejection of God's message through Jeremiah. He knew what influence he exerted, and he ought to have been the more careful that it was not wrongly used.
II. PRAYER WITHOUT OBEDIENCE IS VAIN. Zedekiah seeks Jeremiah's prayers, but in vain. It is not necessary, indeed, that our obedience should be faultless before God will hearken to a single prayer. If this were the ease, no prayer of man's could be heard. But it is requisite that we should repent of our past disobedience, and should be unfeignedly desirous of obeying God in the future. For otherwise our purely self-seeking religion is an insult to God. Besides, we cannot hope to change the essential principles of God's action by our prayer. If it is his will to chastise us for our sin, he cannot change his will so long as we remain unchanged in conduct. But when we turn from the sin which deserves the penalty, it may be possible for God to modify his treatment of us in answer to our prayer of submission. Therefore it is so necessary that we should pray through the intercession of Christ. Then, though our obedience is still most imperfect, if we desire to do better, Christ is our Representative and the promise of our future obedience, and therefore his good merits go to plead with God to answer our prayer offered in his Name.
"Deceive not yourselves."
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF SELF-DECEPTION. As fallible beings, surrounded with mystery, and often beset by illusions we are likely to fall into unavoidable mistakes for which we cannot be held responsible. There are other errors which we might avoid if we took the right means for ascertaining the facts; but from indifference, or from indolence, or from unwillingness to see an unpleasant truth that is already half suspected, we neglect these means, and thus land ourselves in a delusion. This is self-deception.
1. It may be conscious and deliberate. The very notion is paradoxical. But we are not logical machines; our belief is often most inconsistent. Our will and feelings have great influence over our convictions. We rarely contemplate things in the white light of truth. And in so far as we permit our vision to be blinded by passion or distorted by prejudice, we may deceive ourselves.
2. This self-deception may be unconscious. Yet it is culpable if we voluntarily neglect the means of seeing things as they are. We may not know that we are deceiving ourselves. But we must know that we are not doing all we can to avoid delusions.
II. THE OCCASIONS OF SELF-DECEPTION.
1. These may be found in the superficial appearance of events. The outward seeming does not correspond with the inward verity. The temptation is to rest satisfied with the mere appearance and assume that it is an index of the underlying fact. Thus when the Chaldean army retreated from before Jerusalem at the advance of Pharaoh-Hopbra, Zedekiah was ready to believe that his revolt was successful.
2. Occasions may be found in our own inclinations. Zedekiah wished to see no more of the Chaldean army, and "the wish was father to the thought."
3. They may be found in preconceived notions. We expect the facts to verify our opinions, and we contrive to make them do so by ignoring what will not agree with them, and selecting for consideration only what is favourable. All this may be traced in the history of religious delusions. People blind themselves to the thought of future judgment because, on the surface of life and for the present, all goes well. They are toe ready to form their creed according in their inclination, dropping out unpleasant ideas as though there were no dark truths in existence. They go to the Bible for confirmation of their own "views" rather than for instruction, and, if need be, correction of them, and of course they have eyes only to see those texts which make for this confirmation. Note: Jeremiah tried to deliver the Jews from self-deception. A Divine revelation is necessary to save us from religious self-deception. The Bible aims at this result as well as at enlightening our ignorance.
III. THE EVIL OF SELF-DECEPTION.
1. It is disloyal to truth. It is our duty not to rest in a delusion. The obligation of truthfulness reaches to our thinking as well as to our speaking.
2. It is dangerous to our own souls. Facts remain unchanged whatever fanciful notions we may weave about them till they are quite unrecognizable, and when the time for action comes, they will act as they are, not as we think them. The careless, who decline to consider a future judgment, are not the less amenable to it. Those people who have sought refuge in the Roman Catholic Church from the torment of doubt have not done anything to settle the facts about which they were troubled; like the ostrich, who hides his head in a bush, they have quieted their doubt by turning from it; but if it was well grounded originally, it must be ultimately confirmed to their undoing.
The irresistible will of God.
I. THE FACT. The Jews were ready to believe that Egypt was a match for Babylon, and to hope that through the conflict of these two powers they might regain their liberty. Even if they were justified in thinking so from a calculation of the material resources of these great empires, Jeremiah reminded them that there were other considerations to be taken into account before the result could be predicted. It was the will of God that Babylon should conquer Jerusalem. Therefore, if the Chaldean army were reduced to a disorganized group of wounded men, Jerusalem would still succumb. The Jews had found that, while they were faithful to God, they were strong against hordes of enemies. They were to learn that when they had put themselves against God, the position was reversed, and the weakest foe could overthrow them. So it was true against them, as it had been on their side, that "a little one should chase a thousand." It has been the mistake of kings and of peoples to leave out of their calculations the chief factor of their history—to forget that God is ever working out his will through their cross purposes. Do we not make the same mistake in our private lives? If God is almighty, it follows beyond question that he must accomplish what he purposes, though to us there seems no means of doing so, and though he neither reveals the means nor in most cases the end, working them out "deep in unfathomable mines." Still, we know some things concerning God's will and the way he works it out; e.g. he always wills what is just and good; material events are largely beyond our control and under the influence of providence; moral influences count for much in history, and these are directly affected by the spiritual relations of God with the minds of men.
II. THE RELATION OF THIS FACT TO FATALISM AND TO NECESSARIAITISM.
1. The relation of it to fatalism. It must be distinguished from materialistic fatalism, which denies all will in nature; from pagan fatalism, which sets the decrees of the fates above the power of the gods; from Mohammedan fatalism, which ascribes every event to the will of God, but regards that will as the unfettered choice of an irresponsible despot. The irresistible power in providence as revealed in the Bible is a will, a Divine will, a holy will, that always works out purposes of justice, purity, and love.
2. The relation of this fact to necessarianism. If God's will is irresistible what room is there for our will? Must not that be necessarily bound by his will? This question arises from confusing two phases of the will of God. The phrase, "will of God," represents two things—
(1) what God purposes to do himself, and
(2) what he desires us to do.
The first governs his actions, the second inspires his Law. Now, it is the first that is irresistible; the second is plainly resistible. All sin is nothing but man's rebellion against God's will, i.e. God's will in the second sense—what he wishes us to do. This is really no contradiction to what we know of the first will of God—what he purposes to do himself—because in his almighty will of action he chooses to give us free will containing the power of resisting his Law. Still, God's will to act must harmonize with his wilt in his Law for our conduct. If we resist the second will, we shall find ourselves in conflict with the first, against which all resistance is futile. Therefore true wisdom will lead us to do God's will where we are free in relation to it, that we may find ourselves in agreement with God's will where opposition means only failure and ruin.
Jeremiah imprisoned as a traitor.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING TO THE IMPRISONMENT. Whatever interpretation we are to set on the ambiguous passage which gives the reason for Jeremiah's attempt to leave Jerusalem (verse 12)—whether it were to escape from the city, or to abandon a work that appeared to be fruitless for work in the country districts, or to take a possession at a redistribution of land in the sabbatical year, or to claim his share as a priest,—it is difficult to acquit him of all blame for allowing personal considerations to move him from what he ought to have known was his post. At the best, his conduct was open to misinterpretation. Even when we mean no wrong it is our duty to avoid the appearance of evil. Still, we must not be harsh in condemning the prophet. A servant of God has his natural human rights and the civil rights which he shares with his fellow citizens. People are very unjust in charging good men with worldliness for exercising those rights, and in assuming that religious people are to be blamed for self-interested conduct which in itself is irreproachable and is acknowledged to be so amongst men under ordinary circumstances. We are not surprised, however, to find the prophet accused of treason. He had frequently advised submission to Babylon. It was now hastily assumed that he and his friends were about to secure their own escape from the horrors of a siege by basely deserting their fellow citizens. The best men are liable to the vilest accusations. The world holds no man above suspicion. Christ was accused of a great crime. Therefore we should learn patience Under similar inflictions, remembering that God knows all, and that it is far better to suffer unjustly than to be unpunished but guilty. We should also learn to avoid the mistake of the Jews. People are too much inclined to put the worst construction on a doubtful action. "Charity thinketh no evil."
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES FOLLOWING THE IMPRISONMENT. Jeremiah had been harshly treated—struck by the courtiers of Zedekiah and thrust into a dungeon. There God met him (verse 17), as God repeatedly visited him, in prison. His life's work was not stayed by outward restraints. That must have been some consolation to the prophet. A devoted servant of God is more concerned about his mission than about his personal comfort. Apprehending a return of danger from the Chaldean army, the weak Zedekiah sent and consulted Jeremiah secretly. The prophet's reply was bold and clear (verse 17). Never had he been more definite or more concise. What courage and fidelity to truth for a prisoner thus to address a king! Having delivered his message, Jeremiah proceeded to plead his own cause. How many of us reverse the order, putting self-interest first and crowding other interests into the background! Jeremiah was favourably heard by the king, and his condition considerably ameliorated. He did not suffer this time for his fidelity. It is fair to note that faithfulness does not always lead to martyrdom. In the end it is always safer to be brave and true than to play the coward's part.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 37:2, Jeremiah 37:3
(Vide Jeremiah 21:1, Jeremiah 21:2.)—M.
Hopes that betray.
The king, continuing in his rebellion against God as well as against Nebuchadnezzar, invoked the aid of Pharaoh-Necho. At the tidings of his advance the Chaldeans raised the siege, but only that they might defeat the Egyptians, and return again in greater force and fury.
I. THE NATURE OF THESE HOPES.
1. They are based upon human means alone.
2. They arise from following the dictates of our own will and wisdom.
II. HOW THEY BETRAY.
1. They are full of promise, and gain confidence.
2. They must fail,
(1) because they are inadequate to the real need, and
(2) they are opposed to the will of God.
3. They spiritually ruin. They lead us first to ignore and then to resist the will of God. In this alone is our welfare secured. For although the first expression and demand of that will be gloomy and severe, the end of it to the obedient is peace and salvation (1 Peter 1:3-9).—M.
God's purpose independent of means.
The declaration of the certainty of the judgments upon Judah is absolute. They are not to be avoided by any human effort or apparent success. The soldiers of Chaldea, although they were to be wounded ("thrust through" equivalent to "dead"?), would still avail for the work they had to do, and would be raised again to do it.
I. THE LESSON. A twofold one, viz.:
1. The inevitableness of the Divine will, whether it be to destroy or to save.
2. God's independence of human means. He can save by "many or by few." He is declared able "of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." It pleased him by "the foolishness of preaching" to save many, etc.
(1) The sinner in rebellion against God, however great his outward success and however feeble the opposition to him, has reason to fear. It is an easy thing for his Maker to crush him. It will not require a great instrumentality. Herod was eaten of worms.
(2) The Christian worker should rejoice and be encouraged. Every true word or work will have its effect. He must succeed, however insignificant his company or his means.
II. THE TYPE. The ghostly army that was to "burn the city with fire" represents the mighty power of God to create his agents, and symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the dead Christ who is raised again to fulfil the will of God in judgment and salvation.—M.
The servant of God accused of treason.
This attempt of Jeremiah's to go out of Jerusalem, whatever its special purpose may have been (as to this there is great diversity of view), was at once suspected of being treasonable, or, at any rate, it was made an occasion of accusing and punishing him. His asseverations were not listened to, but quickly and with much anger he was consigned to a loathsome prison, where he languished for many days. This teaches that—
I. THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL TO GOD WILL FREQUENTLY BE SUSPECTED OF THE WORST MOTIVES. The immediate purpose to be served by going out from Jerusalem was innocent enough, viz. mere resort to the country as safer than the city, or to take possession of his inheritance in Benjamin. No effort was made at concealment, it was done "in the midst of the people." Yet he was accused of being about to "fall away [desert] to the Chaldeans." It would appear as if the prophet's persistent declarations of the success of the Chaldean arms and the downfall of Judah were attributed to his sympathy with the enemy. Many of the greatest servants of God have had similar experiences. Christ himself was accused of the worst intentions against the Jewish nation.
II. HOW IS THIS?
1. Because the natural mind fails to understand the things of God. The motive power or central principle is so diverse, or the means employed are so peculiar, that the real benevolence of intention is not perceived. When Christians remember how hard it is for even themselves to justify God's ways, they ought to expect that others not expressly taught of him will fail thoroughly to apprehend their drift. The policy of the Divine life and service, even in its plainest duties and appointments, is surrounded with mystery; its wisdom is not of this world. It is often hard for those who are condemned by Christ's ministers to realize that the denunciations to which they are subjected do not spring from personal enmity. The greatest efforts ought, therefore, to be made to prove how good and loving the spirit is in which words of Christian rebuke are uttered. And the whole conduct of believers should be careful and blameless. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
2. The natural mind is predisposed against truth and goodness.—M
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Give us of your oil.
Here we have King Zedekiah, his servants, and his people, asking the prayers of the prophet of God, whose word of counsel and warning they had all along despised. The verses remind us of the parable of the ten virgins; for, as there, the foolish say unto the wise, "Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out," so here the foolish king and people entreat the aid of the wise servant of God when, as the midnight cry came to those virgins, so the dread judgment of God came to them. "Pray now unto the Lord our God for us," say they who had refused to listen when he spoke to them from the Lord their God. Note—
I. HOW GRIEVOUSLY WICKED THE PEOPLE HAD BEEN. (Cf. Jeremiah 37:2.) It was with them as with the family of the rich man told of in Luke 16:1-31. He, being in torments, thought of his five brethren who were all of them living in sin. There, as here, there were none righteous. And so with Sodom and Gomorrah.
II. YET HOW VERY ANXIOUS THEY WERE FOR THE PROPHET'S PRAYERS. Luke 16:3, "Pray now," etc. Reasons of this were:
1. They had waked up to the conviction that the prophet's message was true.
2. They were in sore peril, and knew not how to help themselves.
3. They knew that the prophet had power with God.
4. They felt they could not go to God in prayer themselves. How much of the asking for the prayers of God's ministers on the part of those who are on their death bed is owing to like causes!
III. HOW USELESS SUCH PRAYERS ARE. Did the prayer of Dives do any good? or of the five foolish virgins? or those of the prophet, for we may suppose that he did pray? Now, the reasons of their uselessness are such as these:
1. To have granted them would have defeated God's purpose in regard to his people. That purpose was to purify them, to separate them from their sins. But they did not wish when they asked these prayers to be severed from sin, only to be relieved of trouble. But such desire could not be granted; therefore God held them down to the consequences of their sin.
2. Their request was an insult to God. Such men are well described in Mrs. H.W.B. Stowe's book, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' where one of them, Haley, is thus spoken to by a comrade: "After all, what's the odds between me and you? 'Tain't that you care one bit more or have a bit more feelin'; it's clean, sheer, dog meanness, wanting to cheat the devil and save your own skin, Don't I see through it? And your 'gettin' religion,' as you call it, arter all, is too p'isin mean for any crittur; run up a bill with the devil all your life, and then sneak out when pay time comes! Boh!" Is there not a vast amount of this meanness? Its despicableness is only equalled by its uselessness.
3. It would make God the minister of sin.
CONCLUSION. Learn, unless there be true repentance, neither our own prayers nor those of other people, though they be the greatest saints of God, will avail us anything. Even coming to Christ apart from repentance will fail us. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," etc.—C.
Building on the sand.
Such was the conduct of the people who encouraged themselves to hope from the withdrawal of the armies of Babylon from around Jerusalem that now they were delivered for good and all, and had no further cause for fear. They misread facts, interpreting them according to their desires rather than according to the truth. It was true that the army of Egypt was advancing and that of Babylon retreating. But, as the onflux of the wave does not prove that the tide is coming in nor its reflux that the tide is going out, so this temporary advance and retreat told of no permanent results or of what the real issue should be. But yet they thought it did. It was a case of building on the sands of unwarranted hope rather than on the rock of the Word of God. Hope ever tells a flattering tale, but never so much so as when she promises peace to those to whom God has said there shall be no peace. Now, concerning such building on the sand, note—
I. THE FOUNDATION. There are many such; e.g.:
1. Reasonings from the observed prosperity of the wicked.
2. The assertions or suggestions of the sin loving heart: that there is no God; if there be, he is too merciful to punish sin; repentance at last will do; the efficacy of sacraments, etc. These are all of them instances of 1.
3. The slow footedness of God's judgments. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are steadfastly set in them to do evil." And God is long suffering, not willing that any should perish.
II. THE STRUCTURES RAISED THEREUPON. They are often characterized by much material comfort. Worldly prosperity is not too weighty for them. Great freedom from anxiety, "Not in trouble as other men are." They are very attractive, and seem to be the abodes of true happiness. Mirth, festivity, and song abound in them often far more than in those which are built upon the rock.
III. THE OVERTHROW. This always comes, it came in the instance given here. The armies of Babylon did come back. It may come in this life. There are warnings of it every day. But if not now, then in the great day of judgment. And this overthrow will make us full of sorrow according to the days wherein we have never been afflicted, and the years wherein, as we have thought, we have seen no evil.
CONCLUSION. Read the events of God's providence, not by the light of thy sin-loving heart, but by the light of God's sure Word, of God's Spirit within thee, and of God's not partial but complete dealing with men, taking in the whole of life, and, if needs be, eternity also. "Be not deceived."—C.
Be not deceived.
There was ground for this exhortation, and there is still. Then as now—
I. VERY MANY WERE DECEIVED.
II. APPEARANCES WERE DECEPTIVE.
III. NONE COULD CLAIM EXEMPTION FROM THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING DECEIVED.
IV. THERE WAS A TRAITOR WITHIN THE CAMP. Their hearts wished that to be true which they therefore thought to be true.
V. TO BE DECEIVED IS TO BE PLUNGED IN THE UTTERMOST OF SORROW.
VI. WE NEED NOT BE. There is One who says, "I will guide thee with my counsel."—C.
Our Lord Jesus said, "It is sufficient for the servant that he be as his Master." Now, as he was falsely accused, so here we find his servant likewise. Note—
I. TO BE FALSELY ACCUSED IS THE COMMON LOT OF GOD'S PEOPLE. How many instances we have!—Abel, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. Because of such slanders the psalmist said, "All men are liars." And here the Prophet Jeremiah, having no thought of deserting his countrymen, is nevertheless accused of so doing. And today the world is ever ready with its slander. It avows that all the godly are but hypocrites, knaves, or fools. With what eagerness does it fasten upon the faults of a good man! How ready to take up an accusation against him!
II. HOW IS IT TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR? We reply:
1. Men of the world do not understand the principles on which the godly act. Hence what they do not understand they misrepresent.
2. They know their own motives, and attribute the like to the godly. They act from purely worldly motives, and hence they conclude godly men do the same.
3. They hate religion, and therefore are always ready to revile it.
4. It is "a comfort to Sodom" to think that the godly are no better than themselves after all. But—
III. HOW IS IT TO BE DEALT WITH?
1. Sometimes by silence. Silence leaves opportunity for and suggests reflection. How often of our Lord is it said, "He answered not a word" (cf. John 13:1-38.)]
2. Sometimes by indignant denial. Thus the prophet acted here; verse 14, "It is false," etc. They might have known, and probably did know, bow false their accusation was. Where there is great and true indignation felt at being thought capable of a given crime, that feeling, may often be shown; often, indeed, it ought to be, as when
(1) the honour of God is concerned;
(2) the good of his Church;
(3) what is shameful as well as sinful is charged against us.
3. Sometimes by showing the necessary untruthfulness of the accusation. This also our Lord did, as when they charged him with being in league with Beelzebub.
4. Sometimes by committing it all to God. Of our Lord it is said, "When he was reviled, he reviled not again, … but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
5. Sometimes by showing the motive of the false accusation. As when our Lord likened those who found fault with him to petulant children playing in the market place, who would be pleased with nothing.
6. Always by remembering that we are in the fellowship of Christ herein, and seeking his Spirit's aid to rightly bear this trial.—C.
Jeremiah 37:14, Jeremiah 37:15
Characteristics of injustice.
They may be traced in the incident recorded in these verses. Unjust judges as were these—
I. WILL NOT HEARKEN TO THE ACCUSED.
II. ARE BIASED BY PASSION.
III. ARE NEEDLESSLY CRUEL.
IV. SEEK NOT EIGHT, BUT REVENGE.
LEARN. To be careful what manner of spirit we are of whenever we are called upon to judge one another. Let us be thankful that the Judge before whom we stand, and who surveys all our ways, is that gracious Lord to whom the Father has committed all judgment, and who judges not righteously only, but in all mercy as well.—C.
"Out of weakness made strong." This verse an utterance, not of a sturdy invincible soul, but one of a gentle, shrinking, and often timid nature. Note—
I. THE PROPHET JEREMIAH belonged to the company of those who, out of weakness, God has made strong.
1. By nature and temperament he was the reverse of strong. Proof in this verse. Suffering was ever terrible to him. Hence he piteously pleads for the king's help. And passim we have indications of the gentleness of his nature. But:
2. Notwithstanding this, see how strong he became. When it came to the test, how he endured (cf. Jeremiah 1:10, Jeremiah 1:17, Jeremiah 1:18)! Nothing would induce him to alter his word towards the king, the prophets, and the people generally. He softened not one line of his message, although it would have been so much to his advantage to have done so. Now—
II. THIS IS THE GLORY OF GOD'S GRACE ALWAYS. There will be glory by and by, an outward glory on every child of God. "Eye hath not seen," etc. But the present glory of God's grace is this, that out of weakness it makes its recipients strong. See what it did for the apostles, and especially for St. Peter—they the recreants and the denier of the Lord, but afterwards his valiant and undaunted witnesses. And grace has done the same for not a few in prospect of suffering and trial from which beforehand they would have utterly shrunk away. Women and children were amongst the number of the martyrs; and in the moral martyrdoms of this softer age they are so still. God strengthens his servants "with might by his Spirit in the inner man? And this is the glory of his grace. Not the numbers of the Church, nor her wealth, rank, gifts, or aught of such sort, but the spiritual strength that characterizes her. "I can do all things," said St. Paul, "through Christ which strengtheneth me." And it will be so yonder in the better world hereafter. The glory of that day will not be the golden streets, the gates of pearl, the foundations of precious stones; not the vast throng of the redeemed, nor aught that belongs only to their circumstances, happy as they will be; but it will be the character of them all. And this will be their security also. The defences of that condition of the redeemed will not be outward, but inward. They, having been strengthened with might by the Spirit of God in the inner man, will have come to be rooted—like the giant oak, which no tempest can uproot from the ground—and grounded—like the deep-laid foundation of the temple, which naught can overthrow—in love, and so Christ will dwell in their hearts. Yes, their glory will be their defence also.
CONCLUSION. Seek, therefore, this grace of Divine strength. Bow your "knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," that, "according to the riches of his glory," he would grant you this. Then, though weak and wavering by nature, steadiness and strength shall be given to your will, your heart, and so God will make you as he did his prophet—as "a defenced city, an iron pillar, a brazen wall" (Jeremiah 1:18).—C.
The rough wind stayed in the day of the east wind.
Very terrible to the prophet were the sufferings he had to bear. Hence he seeks for relief by petitioning the king for help, which the king is led to bestow (Jeremiah 37:21). It is an illustration of how God stays his rough wind, etc. Note—
I. GOD OFTEN LETS SORE TROUBLE COME TO HIS SERVANTS.
II. BUT HE APPOINTS IT ACCORDING TO THEIR POWER OF ENDURANCE. He is not a hard master, gathering where he has not strawed, nor reaping where he has not sown. He fits the back for the burden it has to bear. If staying in the dread dungeon was too great a trial for his prophet, he will have him taken out. The wave that would have sunk the boat in which our Lord was with his disciples was never permitted to beat into it. A great many others came, but not that one. And so it ever is. "As thy day, so thy strength." God will be our "arm every morning."
III. THEREFORE "TAKE NO THOUGHT FOR THE MORROW," etc.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A request for intercession.
A request of this kind has always to be looked at through the character of the man who prefers it. It makes all the difference whether it be the utterance of grovelling superstition or of enlightened piety. It is a long way from this request of Zedekiah to the request of Paul: "Brethren, pray for us." Let us try to estimate—
I. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF GOD. A notion evidently altogether detached from any considerations of character; we are told in Jeremiah 37:2 that Zedediah did not hearken to the words of the Lord through his prophet Jeremiah, and we could infer as much from the request here addressed to the prophet. Zedekiah looked upon Jehovah pretty much as he did upon the deities of surrounding nations. The notion was that the immense power of these deities could be turned in any direction desired, if only they were sufficiently propitiated. Now, if Zedekiah had cared to attend to the volume of prophecy, he would have seen very clearly that he who comes to God must believe that he is a God who will not pass over the misgovernment, the cruelty, the injustice, of human kings. And so when we come to God our prayers will have reality just in proportion as they show a distinct understanding of the character of God.
II. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF PRAYER. Had he indeed any notion at all? Did he mean anything more than that Jeremiah should go and do whatever he thought necessary and effectual? Intercessory prayer can be of little use to those who do not pray for themselves. Zedekiah wanted a certain end, namely, that by help of Egypt he should repel the Chaldeans. And he looked upon Jehovah as being a sort of heavenly Pharaoh. And just as he had sent, doubtless, one ambassador to ask for Pharaoh's help, so now he wants to make Jeremiah an ambassador to Jehovah. This was all very foolish, ignorant, and presumptuous on Zedekiah's part; but what better are we when we make up our prayers of petitions for things that we desire without stopping to consider that no petition is worth anything unless it not merely accords with the will of God, but even springs from that will? The use of prayer is that God may serve us according to his estimate of our needs, not according to our estimate.
III. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF THE PROPHET. He had a superstitious feeling that Jeremiah could do something for him he could not do for himself. We see here the secret of the power of priestcraft. We see how it was that false prophets got such a hold. We see how it is that priestcraft and spiritual dictation still prevail. The great bulk of men will not do the right thing towards God, they will not repent and crucify self, but a deep necessity impels them to do something, and so they seek to other men. Zedekiah was making an altogether wrong use of the prophet. His duty was to obey the prophet's messages, then he would not have needed to ask Jeremiah to pray for him. And let all people understand with respect to ministers of religion, that they exist to teach and help in a brotherly way; hut that also they are frail and fallible, and possess no mystic virtue to make their prayers more efficacious than the prayers of other people. Intercessory prayer is the duty, the privilege, the power, of every Christian.—Y.
Jeremiah 37:9, Jeremiah 37:10
Israel's delusion as to its enemy.
I. THE DELUSION ENTERTAINED. That a great army is before Jerusalem is, of course, no delusion, and that it may effect a great deal of damage of a certain sort is no delusion. The delusion lies here, in supposing that the removal of the army would be the removal of the danger. And this delusion being strong in the minds of the people led them to seek the help of Egypt. A carnal foe was to be overcome by the help of a carnal friend. And similarly we are all led into most mistaken policies of life by seeing only our visible enemies. In our solicitude to guard against the seen enemy, and keep in safety our own visible possessions, we make too much of visible things altogether. It is very hard, of course, to admit this; it is very hard for the natural mind to see its delusions; but then it is the very mark of delusions that they put on the semblance of fundamental and important truths. Again and again appeal is made to what is called common sense to testify to the validity of delusions. The common belief of the multitude is cited to stop the mouth of any one who ventures to proclaim what he is sure is true. Those who have got to the heights and advanced places of spiritual experience know full well that the maxims and rules of the natural man are little but a mass of pernicious delusions. Thus men carefully preserve the shell of life, while the interior treasure for which the shell exists is utterly neglected.
II. THE DELUSION EXPOSED. God makes plain who the real enemy of Jerusalem is, an enemy whom a thousand Pharaohs and a thousand Egypts would vainly contend against. In one sense Jehovah himself is enemy, but what he says amounts to this, that Jerusalem itself is its own worst enemy. While it is rebellious against him, and full of all unrighteousness, he must work against it by all available instruments. To destroy the Chaldean army is only as it were to break the warriors sword; he can seize another and continue the conflict. It is of the greatest possible consequence that we should know in any conflict whether we are fighting simply against man, or whether behind the man who is in front of us there be the purpose and the strength of God. How much of human energy has been wasted, how many have had failure stamped on all their efforts, simply because it has not been known that God has been behind human conflicts! God would have us make sure—and he gives us ample means for the attainment—that we are not fighting against him.
III. THE DELUSION MAINTAINED. This is made plain to us as we read on in the narrative. An example is given to us of how people often do not wake to the delusions of life till too late. They walk contentedly in a vain show, and the realities flowing out of the ministry of Christ they reckon to be dreams. We may depend upon it that delusions will be maintained, most ingeniously, most tenaciously, until by the power of God our eyes are opened to distinguish reality from appearance, and truth from falsehood.—Y.
The secret question of a king and the bold answer of a prophet.
I. THE SECRET QUESTION OF A KING.
1. The secrecy. Why should a king with all his authority do a thing in secrecy? Was it policy or fear that dictated this secret consultation with Jeremiah? Fear, probably, was the largest element. He was afraid of what the princes and courtiers around him would say. Note other secret interviews sought by men of rank and authority. Herod, a king, privily calls the wise men from the East. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, comes to Jesus by night. What men of position do cannot be concealed easily. The very effort to conceal is often only a more effective publication. The lesson is that, however quietly and unobtrusively we may do a thing, we must do it so as not in the least fearing publicity. The very difficulty of keeping secrets is a divinely ordained difficulty to help in keeping men in the paths of righteousness.
2. The evident faith of the king in Jeremiah's office. The faith was superstitious and unpractical, but still, such as it was, it exerted a power over the king's conduct. This increases the king's responsibility, for it shows that he was not able to get Jeremiah and his message out of his mind.
3. The indication as to what sort of answer was expected. Not in words, of course, but we can guess what the tone of the inquiry was. Jeremiah came from a prison to prophesy, and doubtless the king thought that the privations of the past and the hopes of liberty might draw some flattering word from the prophet. Altogether, what a pitiable position this king was in—waiting eagerly, half in terror, half in threatening, upon the word of one of his humble subjects, and the same a prisoner!
II. THE BOLD ANSWER OF A PROPHET. What great things are required from a prophet! He must always be in close and living relation to truth. He must always be ready to meet the manifold temptations which beset a man who is specially sent forth to speak the truth. His first question must ever be, not—What is the safe path, or the easy path? but—What is God's path? Here he was in close and private dealing with a king. Perhaps, as he looked upon Zedekiah thus sending for him secretly, he compassionated him rather than feared him. It was such a revelation of the hollowness of human grandeur. Jeremiah here before Zedekiah is even somewhat of a type of Jesus before Pilate. Jesus will go on testifying to the truth. He will not make Pilate's task one whir easier by accommodating himself to Pilate's desires. Truth, eternal realities, fundamental duties, fidelity to the clear voice of God within the heart,—these must prevail in every one who would follow in the path of Jesus or of prophets and apostles. There is neither real prudence nor real charity without these things.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 37". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20