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This chapter is very confused as it stands. To restore order it is absolutely necessary to suppose that some passages (viz. Jeremiah 39:1, Jeremiah 39:2, and Jeremiah 39:4-13) have been inserted by after thoughts. It is important to notice that the latter of these passages is omitted in the Septuagint. We need not go so far as to excise them altogether, but we must at any rate enclose them in parentheses. The chapter then becomes a narrative of the solemn session held by the Babylonian officers in the "middle gate," and the charge which they gave to Gedaliah to take Jeremiah under his protection. Verses 1, 2 appear to be taken from 2 Kings 25:1-4 ( = Jeremiah 52:4-7); 2 Kings 25:4-10 to be shortened from 2 Kings 25:4-12 ( = Jeremiah 52:7-16). It is difficult to believe that Jeremiah himself made these insertions, not merely because they interrupt the sense, but because they involve several historical difficulties. According to Jeremiah 38:28, Jeremiah "abode in the court of the watch till the day that Jerusalem was taken;" but the prima facie meaning of our verses 13, 14 is that Nebuzar-adan sent to liberate Jeremiah, and yet, according to 2 Kings 25:8 ( = Jeremiah 52:12), this officer did not arrive at Jerusalem till a month after its capture. Another difficulty is that, according to 2 Kings 25:14, Jeremiah was set free by order of Nebuzar-adan, whereas Jeremiah 40:1-5 states distinctly that Jeremiah had been taken in fetters to Ramah, where he was liberated by Nebuzar-adan himself. Even if there should be some reasonable way of harmonizing these various statements (see especially below on verse 14), yet is it likely that Jeremiah himself used such inconsistent language? Still, the notice in verses 11, 12 is in itself not improbable, and the spelling "Nebuchad-rezzar" separates it from the rest of the passage (verses 4-13); it is possible, therefore, that, in spite of its omission in the Septuagint (which wrongly retains verses 1, 2), they are the work of Jeremiah.
And all the princes, etc.; rather, That all the princes, etc. (see on Jeremiah 38:28). The fact mentioned in this verse is not recorded in 2 Kings 25:1-30.; ch. 52; and its preciseness is a considerable pledge of its accuracy. The princes are four in number, and two of them have official titles attached. Nergal-sharezer is the Hebraized form of Nirgal-sarra-ucur, i.e. "Nirgal (or Nergal), protect (or perhaps, has created) the king"—the name, as often, is a prayer. Samgar-nebo is probably a modification of Sumgir-nabu, "Be gracious, Nebo;" but it has not yet been found in the inscriptions. Sarsechim has the appearance of being corrupt; the first part, however, may, perhaps, be the Babylonian for "king" ("prince" in Hebrew). Rab-saris has a meaning in Hebrew—"chief of the eunuchs;" but the analogies of "Rab-mag" and "Rab-shakeh" suggest that it is merely the Hebraized form of some Assyrian title. In any case, it would be better to render "the Rab-saris," and to attach it closely to the preceding name, Sarsechim being himself the official called Rab-saris (see, however, 2 Kings 25:13). Rab-mag. This was "one of the highest titles in the state" (G. Smith). The etymology of the latter half of the phrase is uncertain; for the connection of "mag" with "Magi" is a mistake which has been exposed by Dr. Schrader, in his work, 'Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament' (of which a translation is announced). The native form of the name may be rubu emga (Schrader) or rubu makhe (Friedr. Delitzsch), and the whole title will mean "high priest" or "chief of the sorcerers". "The Rab-mag" would be more accurate, and the title ought to be attached to the preceding name, Nergal-sharezer. As a matter of fact, a Nirgal-sarra-ucur, who held the office of rubu emga, is mentioned in the cuneiform inscriptions, and we may plausibly conjecture that he is the person here mentioned among the "princes." He was afterwards raised to the throne by the conspirators who murdered Evil-merodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar (he is better known as Neriglissar). It is singular that two Nergal-sharezers should be here mentioned; possibly the first mention is due to a mistake. The names are hardly recognizable in the Septuagint. The "princes" took up their station in the middle gate. The "breach" spoken of in 2 Kings 25:2 enabled the Babylonians to occupy the whole of the lower city to the northeast of Zion. The "middle gate" probably separated these two parts of Jerusalem, and those who were posted there commanded the temple and the citadel.
Here begins the second parenthesis, to be read apart from the principal, though shorter, narrative (see introduction to chapter). Observe elsewhere in the Book of Jeremiah events known from other sources are only briefly referred to (comp. Jeremiah 29:2; Jeremiah 32:1-5; Jeremiah 34:1, Jeremiah 34:7; Jeremiah 35:11; Jeremiah 37:5); see 2 Kings 25:4-12.
Nebuzar-adan; i.e. Nabu-zira-iddina, "Nebo gave a seed."
Nebushasban. The name occurs in a list of proper names, under the form Nabu-sizibanni, "Nebo, rescue me!" It is remarkable that a different name is given to the Rab-saris in Jeremiah 39:3; and the conjecture is not unreasonable that Sarsechim is a corruption of the latter part of the name Nebushasban. In Jeremiah 39:3 the Septuagint has Nabusachar instead of Sarsechim (other copies read Nabusarsechim).
Gedaliah, whose father had already befriended the prophet on a serious occasion (Jeremiah 26:24), and who, according to Jeremiah 40:5, had been appointed (though himself a Jew) Babylonian "governor over the cities of Judah," is directed to carry him (Jeremiah) home, or rather, into the house; obviously some house close by is meant—either Gedaliah's temporary dwelling or the royal palace. This statement conflicts (see introduction) with that in Jeremiah 40:1-5, but only as to the time when Jeremiah was liberated. The latter narrative being more explicit, deserves the preference. Thus Jeremiah dwelt among the people; i.e. could go in and out at his pleasure.
A prophecy to Ebed-melech is here introduced, which, though uttered previously (see Jeremiah 38:1-28.), could not have been mentioned before without breaking the sequence of events. For came, we might render had come.
Go and speak. Ebed-melech must be supposed to come into the court of the watch, so that Jeremiah might communicate with him.
For a prey unto thee. The same remarkable phrase in Jeremiah 21:9 Jeremiah 38:2.
Jeremiah 39:1, Jeremiah 39:2
(See homily on Jer 52:4 -70
(See homily on Jeremiah 52:8-11.)
(See homily on Jeremiah 52:8-16.)
Jeremiah 39:11, Jeremiah 39:12
A prophet befriended by a heathen king.
Rumours of Jeremiah's efforts to induce the Jews to submit to the Babylonian power must have reached the ears of Nebuchadnezzar, and have led him to regard the prophet with favour. If his fellow; countrymen considered Jeremiah to be a traitor, it was natural that the Chaldeans should think he was on their side. Both parties were ignorant of the motives and aims of the prophet, which were as patriotic as they were prudent. But, though perhaps from an undue opinion of his friendliness to them, the invaders did a real service to Jeremiah, and that was good on its own account.
I. GOD BEINGS DELIVERANCE TO HIS CHILDREN IN THEIR GREATEST DANGER. Jeremiah was a prisoner. Jerusalem was given over to the rapine of a lawless soldiery. Then came the prophet's escape.
II. GOD CAN USE THE MOST UNLIKELY MEANS AS INSTRUMENTS OF HIS GRACE. He does use means, delivering through the action of men overruled by his providence. Such is his wise and mighty control that fierce despots may be his angels and ministers of grace.
III. THE SCOURGE OF JUDGMENT FOR THE WICKED MAY BE THE ARM OF DELIVERANCE TO GOD'S PEOPLE. Nebuchadnezzar was the fearful foe whose approach had been foreshadowed as the advent of doom and ruin to the guilty city of Jerusalem. This man was the friend and deliverer of Jeremiah. So the awful judgment at the end of the world will be, to the Christian, the occasion of the "salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." The greatest evils in the world are overruled to work the good of God's children.
IV. A HEATHEN MAY BE AN EXAMPLE OF HUMANENESS TO MEN WHO PROFESS THE HIGHEST RELIGION. There is no cruelty so bitter as that of persons who call themselves enlightened and religious. This is the most refined and heartless cruelty. Corruptio optimi pessima. On the other hand, with all that is brutal and lawless, there maybe a genuine unsophisticated kindliness among men who are in great moral and religious darkness. Let us thank God that he has not left himself without a witness in the conscience even of a Nebuchadnezzar.
V. IF A HEATHEN KING'S FAVOUR IS VALUABLE, HOW SHALL WE ESTIMATE THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE FAVOUR OF THE DIVINE KING? If Jeremiah profited by the patronage of Nebuchadnezzar, what shall the grace of Christ be to us? If the prophet found release and comfort at the approach of the Babylonian monarch, what greater good is in store for those who shall "behold the King in his beauty"? Jeremiah was protected by Nebuchadnezzar, but he did not put his trust in the human monarch. The one safe trust is in the one true Prince and Saviour.
Spared on the ground of faith.
I. THE MAN.
1. He is an Ethiopian. "God is no respecter of persons." This man, with his heathen nationality, his negro countenance, and his humiliated state, is selected for deliverance in the general destruction, because in him is found the right spiritual condition, whilst men with the pure blood of Abraham in their veins perish. We have not to wait for St. Paul to teach us the breadth of God's grace and the spirituality of its requirements.
2. He is a court servant. There were Christians in Caesar's household. A king's favour is no substitute for the grace of God. Ebed-Melech felt that he needed more than the protection of the royal guard, even when all was fair in the outside world.
3. He stands alone. He is alone in his faith. So much the more real and vital must his faith be. He is alone in his reward. A special message and a special promise are accorded to this man. God does not overlook any solitary servant of his. All religion is individual—individual faith, individual grace.
II. THE FAITH. Ebed-Melech had befriended Jeremiah. Yet it is remarkable that this fact is not mentioned here. His act of kindliness by itself would not have been enough to have secured him a Divine promise of special safety. But the act evinced faith. It is implied that Ebed-Melech befriended Jeremiah because he had faith in God, and therefore acknowledged the Divine message of the prophet and accepted the truth of it. We are saved on account of our faith. Faith must show itself in deeds or it is dead and worthless. But the personal trust in God and in Christ is the sole and universal condition through which God's mercy is bestowed.
III. THE REWARD. Ebed-Melech is to be spared in the general wreck of the Jewish state. His presence in the scene of destruction will enhance his sense of the providential character of his escape. We must all revolt from the heartless doctrine of Thomas Aquinas, that one of the elements of the joy of the redeemed in heaven will be the contemplation of the agonies of the lost. Nevertheless, to have escaped from a terrible fate that has been brought very near to us is a source of greater joy than never to have known danger. This is the Christian's condition. He can have only pare in witness no the suffering of others. But he has large ground for thankfulness when he sees how near he was to ruin, and how God has plucked him as a brand from the burning.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 39:9, Jeremiah 39:10
The poor better off than the rich.
I. IN WHAT SENSE THEY WERE SO.
1. They were spared because of their insignificance.
2. Pitied because of their helplessness and privations.
3. Their condition could hardly be altered otherwise than for the better.
II. OF WHAT THESE WERE THE TYPE.
1. They represent the meek who inherit the earth, and the poor in spirit whose is the kingdom of heaven. Christ the Conqueror will enrich them.
2. Their fortune represented the law of reversal in the kingdom of God. The first shall be last, and the last first; but not universally. "Many that are first," etc. Christ's servants will be most numerous amongst the poor and the despised. They will be recognized and honoured by him, when others are put to shame. But it will not be their poverty, but the virtues of their poverty, which shall be rewarded. They who know themselves poor will receive all things at his hands (cf. Revelation 3:17, Revelation 3:18).—M.
(of. Jeremiah 40:1-6).
God's servant delivered from the judgment of transgressors.
The whole proceedings in connection with Jeremiah's deliverance are striking and noteworthy. It is a heathen prince to whose care and respect he owes his liberation, when his own people have treated him so cruelly. Very evident is the hand of God "disposing the hearts of princes," and making "all things work together for good to them that love him."
I. JEREMIAH'S EXCEPTIONAL CASE SHOWED THAT, IN THE MIDST OF THE MOST TERRIBLE CALAMITIES, GOD IS FREE TO WORK OUT THE PEACEABLE ENDS AND GRACIOUS REWARDS OF HIS KINGDOM. He was but one out of the entire nation, and might easily have been overlooked. Indeed, his sympathetic brotherliness had all but destroyed the advantage so specially designed for him. An interposition like this, so marked and resolute, had an evidently supernatural origin, and bore a moral or spiritual character. If his welfare could be so thorough]y and carefully attended to in the midst of such heart rending and widely disastrous circumstances, the whole of the political changes then taking place must have been a portion of the moral order of the world, and under the direct superintendence of God. In the midst of judgment he remembers and pursues his merciful schemes. The darkest hour of a nation's or an individual's history is charged with ministries of light, and the most awful judgments do not interfere with the persistent will of God to save and to bless mankind. And how nicely adjusted and delicately balanced are the deserts of saints and transgressors!
II. SOME OF THE PURPOSES TO BE SERVED BY THIS PROVIDENCE.
1. It showed that the calamity did not arise from a mere necessity or accident of circumstances. Even the heathen Nebuchadnezzar learnt that.
2. Spiritual guidance and comfort were secured for those left behind.
3. Jeremiah learnt to perceive and obey the Divine will as respected his future. His sallies from Jerusalem proved how needful the lesson.
4. God commended his love to his servant in making good accrue to him in the general evil of the time.
5. The reverence to God and consideration towards his prophet shown by heathen princes put to shame the unbelief and disobedience of the chosen people.—M.
So he dwelt among the people.
In how many respects was Jeremiah a type of Christ! And just in these points was he an example to the spiritual worker and the Christian preacher.
I. THE POSITION OF THE TRUE PASTOR.
1. How miserably anomalous—a pastor without a flock, or living at a distance from them! There is something wrong with one or other when they remain apart. Only now and then, and for brief periods, can solitude be the place of duty.
2. The cure of souls can only be followed successfully by constant intercourse with them. The experience, sympathy, and moral influence acquired by the minister in the midst of his flock will stand him in good stead in directing him as to what to teach, and preparing for it a favourable reception.
II. THE SPIRIT OF THE TRUE PASTOR.
1. Absence of ambition. The promises of the Chaldeans were much more brilliant than the future that was likely to lie before him in Palestine. It was not comfort, worldly emolument, or personal advancement that he sought. Like Moses, he chose "rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, that, to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:25).
2. Sympathy with the miseries and spiritual needs of men. The interests of the Divine kingdom would be better served by his remaining at home. Here was work ready to his hand, and he dare not leave it. The servant of God has "to preach as a dying man to dying men."
3. True patriotism. What intense affection he had for the land of his fathers! This was at the very core of the religion of the ancient Jew. All the promises of God and realizations of his kingdom on earth seemed to be associated with the Holy Land. This sentiment has been universalized and made more personal by the Spirit of Jesus. "Our kind" must have our constant care and prayers. "The enthusiasm for humanity" must support and inspire the spiritual worker.—M.
I. IN BEING ACKNOWLEDGED.
1. The character of its work recognized. Jeremiah is to speak in the Name of "the God of Israel," as if to say that henceforth Ebed-Melech is to be regarded as a true Israelite, having his destiny bound up with God's people. That which he did is attributed to no merely passing compassion, but to faith: "Thou hast put thy trust in me, saith the Lord." So God perceives the secret motives of actions.
2. In being further and specially exercised. Definite direction is given to the attention of Ebed-Melech, and he is encouraged to look forward to the fulfilment of the words spoken by Jeremiah. As a further confirmation of his share in the Divine events about to take place, he is assured of personal safety—an assurance as yet only a matter of faith and not of sight. One of the surest proofs of true faith being acknowledged by God, is its being thus tested and exercised. Men without faith may be let alone; but the believer, oven if his faith be as a grain of mustard seed, will be taken hold of by the providence and grace of God, and led "from faith to faith." Those who trust in him he will reward with his confidence and the custody of his mysteries. "Lord, increase our faith."
II. IN BEING VERIFIED.
1. The believer will see the fulfilment of what he has believed. He will be honoured by being made a witness of the truth of God. The moral tendencies and spiritual consummations that make up the kingdom of God in the world, will be revealed. Experience will illustrate and confirm faith, and faith will interpret experience and render it spiritually profitable.
2. He himself' will be saved from the destiny of the wicked. This is "the physical and palpable reward of faith;" but it is also one which may open up the way to future spiritual blessedness. Ebed-Melech is obviously spared, not only from the suffering of the exile, but from the degrading influences of it, and the rejection from covenant blessings it, in so many instances, involved. Those who "receive a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward."—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The retribution of God.
What an accumulation of woe do the eight verses with which this chapter opens present! Let thought dwell on the several statements made here, and let imagination seek to realize what they must have meant to those upon whom the calamities they speak of came; and it will be seen, in vivid lurid light, that the retribution of God upon sin and sinners has been in the past no mere empty threat, and it will lead to the salutary suggestion, so questioned now, that his like threatened retribution in the future is no empty threat either. How unreasonable, in the face of historic facts such as those told of here, and in the face of actual facts of today in which dread suffering and awful calamity are seen overtaking wicked doers, to doubt that God will do the like again should necessity arise! But yet many do doubt and deny the teachings of God's Word on this matter. Note, therefore—
I. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS TRUTH IS QUESTIONED. They are such as these:
1. Death ends all. But who can prove this? Why is it less possible that we should live in another condition than that we should have been born into the one in which we now are? Resurrection is not antecedently more incredible than creation.
2. God too merciful. But is he? Does he not do or suffer to be done fearful things now?
3. Retribution comes in this world. In part it does to some, but to others sin seems one long success.
4. Christ's death atones for all. Yes, but in what sense? Certainly not in the sense of saving from suffering now. Why, then, if the conditions of salvation be not fulfilled, should the atonement avail hereafter more than now?
II. THE PROBABLE MOTIVES OF THIS DENIAL. Not irresistible conviction or any satisfactory knowledge of the falsity of what is denied, but such as these:
1. The desire that the doctrine denied should not be true. How often in questions like these the wish is father to the thought! Our opinions follow the line of our interest.
2. The belief that the doctrine renders impossible men's love and trust in God. Without question there are and have been settings forth of this doctrine which to all thoughtful minds must have this effect. The conception that God has created—of course, knowingly—myriads of human souls to sin and suffer forever is one that must darken the face of God to the thoughtful soul. Why, it will almost passionately be asked—"Why, if it were so much better that they should never have been born, were they born?" It is "he, the Lord, that hath made us, and not we ourselves." But we are not shut up to such conception. God "will have all men to be saved;" still through what fiery disciplines may he not have to compel the perverse and unruly wills of sinful men to pass ere they shall come to themselves and say, "I will arise," etc.?
3. Atheistic, agnostic, or materialistic. They who come under such names alike will dislike such doctrine as this. They will not simply disbelieve, but protest against them.
III. THE SUCCESS, SUCH AS IT IS, THAT THESE DENIALS HAVE HAD.
1. They have dulled and sometimes deadened the fear of the Lord in many souls. But:
2. They have never been able to convince any that there is no judgment to come. The dread of it haunts them still, the evidence for it being too strong and clear. Hamlet's soliloquy, "To be or not to be, that is the question," etc; still expresses men's fear of death. "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come!"
3. It is difficult to see aught of good that has been done—nothing but more or less ill. Therefore note—
IV. THE WARNING THAT COMES TO US FROM THESE DENIALS. Cherish a deep and holy fear of God. Judge each one ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord.—C.
These verses tell of the flight of Zedekiah and his miserable capture by the Chaldean army. Picture the scene. The breach made in the wall. The dead hour of night. The rush upon the temple. The slaughter there. The alarm spreading to the palace. The attempted escape, before dawn, of the king, his wives, and his children. See them muffled, disguised, laden with such precious things as they could snatch up in the hurry of that awful moment, stealthily making their way along the narrow alley between the walls, speeding down the ravine, up over the slopes of Olivet, then down again to the plains of Jericho, where they were overtaken and made prisoners. Many an opportunity of escape had been given to Zedekiah during these last months and previously, but he had neglected them all. For a while his present attempt seemed successful, but he was soon in the cruel grasp of the Chaldeans, and then worse than all he had feared came upon him. He tried to escape, but too late. This history, unutterably sad as it is, has many parallels and much instruction. Consider—
I. INSTANCES IN WHICH THIS VERDICT OF "TOO LATE" IS APPLICABLE. There are many.
1. Scriptural. No doubt that not a few, when the Lord had shut Noah in the ark, and they saw the lowering clouds, the overwhelming rain, and the rising waters repented and sought safety in the ark. But then, because they had been "sometime disobedient" (cf. 1 Peter 3:19), they were now too late. "Remember Lot's wife." The Israelites after their repulse at Ai; after their disbelief of the faithful spies (Numbers 14:44). Our Lord's words to Jerusalem, "But now they are hid from thine eyes." The foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-46.). Cf. also "When once the master of the house has risen up and shut to the door," etc.
2. Historic. Archias, magistrate of Greece, revelling and feasting. Plot formed to assassinate. A friend sends intelligence. Arrives as feast is going on. "Serious things tomorrow," said the senseless man. That night he was slain. The massacre of Glencoe would never have occurred but for the tardiness of the chief of the clan ingiving in his submission to the government. A snowstorm hindered him when at last he did set out for this purpose, and the last day of grace came and ended, and the chief's submission had not been made. The massacre followed (cf. Macaulay).
3. And in less notable events in common everyday life, how perpetually are we seeing like instances! School life wasted, no making it up again. Opportunities in business, in the home, in the Church, missed; above all, in regard to the life eternal,—and not recoverable. The tide in the affairs of men not taken at the flood; instead of fortune, the few ships which men have launched lie wrecked or stranded on the shore. "Too late!" With what disappointment and despair is this often said, and will it be said hereafter, and with what truth as well! Therefore note—
II. THE MISERY OF HIM WHO IS TOO LATE. This arises from:
1. Shame before men. They will not pity, but despise and blame.
2. Sting of conscience. We know it might have been otherwise; we might have secured what we have let go.
3. Sight of the consequences brought on ourselves and others through our neglect.
4. The irrecoverability of what is lost. It can never be all the same to any soul, no matter what theory of the future we may hold, if he has thrown away opportunities of grace and squandered the days of salvation with which he was blessed. This thought, that he was "too late," was the "torment" of the rich man in the hell into which God sent his soul after death.
III. HOW COME MEN TO BE TOO LATE? Sometimes it is:
1. The opportunity passes away. The tide which should have been taken at the flood has begun to ebb.
2. Yet more often, the power of the law of habit. Opportunities may be plentiful, but the habit of resisting the call to use them has become fixed, and therefore it it really "too late" for the man, even when he might if he would seize upon them for his good. We sing—
"And while the lamp holds out to burn,
The vilest sinner may return."
Yes, no doubt; but will he? If he has got so into the habit of saying "No" to God will he—is it likely?—at the last turn and say, "Yes"? Death bed repentances!—are there any such things? That which determines a soul's destiny is not death, but this law of habit. Long before death it may have been settled whether that soul shall be saved or lost. And death may come, as it does to the young, and the matter be not settled, the law of habit not having had time to declare itself whilst life in the body lasted. The law of habit, not the hour of death, is that from which we have most to hope and most to fear.
3. The gambling spirit that is in all men. The trusting to chance, the hope in good luck, in regard to things secular; the hope for a more convenient season in regard to the things of the soul. There is this spirit in us all. It has its uses, for there are "ventures of faith" as well as all too many ventures of a very different kind. Read this history of King Zedekiah, and see how he gambled away his crown, his kingdom, his life, his all.
IV. SAFEGUARDS AGAINST THIS EVIL. Under God, this same law of habit of which we have spoken. Resolve, and strengthen your resolve by prayer, that you will not put off till tomorrow what you should do today. Act on it, and tomorrow you shall act on it again, and the next day, and so the blessed habit shall be formed of practically remembering that "now is the accepted time," and for you or by you the miserable verdict of "too late" shall never have to be pronounced.—C.
Blessed are ye poor.
The Chaldean invasion, which wrought such ruin on princes, nobles, and all the great in Judah and Jerusalem, had far other and happier effect on the poor. The storm which tore down the lofty tree left the lowly flowers that nestled amid the herbage untouched. This verse recalls—
I. OUR LORD'S WORDS, "BLESSED ARE YE POOR." The poor do not excite the wrath of the great. They are least affected by outward change. They are dealt kindly by when the rich and great are cast down. "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted," etc. But, chief of all, because they are "rich in faith." So said our Lord; and it can only be that the poor have an undying conviction of the love of God, an unquenchable faith therein, that they so patiently endure the ills of their present lot. Let that faith die out, as it has in some places and generations, and. murderous revolution and anarchy burst forth. Our Lord distinctly encouraged this belief in the love of God towards the poor. He said his mission was "to preach the gospel to the poor." In the parable of the rich man, Lazarus, for no other reason than that he was poor, receiving here, as is the lot of the poor so often, only "evil things," was "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." And we may well believe that they who here have been unable by reason of the misery of their condition to see that God is love—as Israel in Egypt could not believe in it by reason of the bitterness of spirit which their bondage caused them—shall in some blessed Abraham's bosom hereafter see it clearly, and then shall their hearts go out towards God in that faith and love which are the conditions of the kingdom of heaven, but which have been scarce possible to them here. Therefore are the poor blessed. But this verse teaches also the sure truth—
II. "HE THAT IS DOWN NEED FEAR NO FALL." Here it was lowliness of position which saved the poor of the land. But the proverb is yet more true where the lowliness is of the heart and mind—that yoke of Christ which, if we take, then rest, the undisturbed peace of the soul, is our reward.
III. THE COMMON PROVERB, "IT IS AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NO ONE ANY GOOD." The prince's ruin was the poor man's riches; the noble's downfall his uprising. Therefore in our own troubles let us remember that we are never as a target at which the arrows of God's judgments are aimed, and in the hitting of which their purpose is fulfilled; but rather are we the channels of blessing, which by and through us shall flow on to do good to others, perhaps many others. Of. Paul's allegory, the casting out of the natural branch, the Jew, and the ingrafting of the wild branch, the Gentile. And illustrations are innumerable.
IV. GOD'S LAW OF COMPENSATIONS. If he takes away on the one side, he gives on the other. These poor people were favoured.
V. THE FIRST BEATITUDE, "BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT: FOR," etc. These poor had lands in Judea; the poor Christ speaks of shall receive "the kingdom of heaven." It is not always true that the literal poor are dealt with in the way told of here, but the recompense of the poor in spirit never fails. They have an earnest of it in the rest and peace of soul it is theirs to enjoy now amid all the cares and distractions of this life. But no man makes himself poor; he must be made so. God's providence sends the literal poverty, God's Spirit that spiritual condition to which is promised the kingdom of heaven. But if we place ourselves in the hands of Christ, surrendering ourselves to be dealt with as he sees fit, he will, by his Spirit, bring us to that blessed mind without which none enter the kingdom, but with which we assuredly shall.—C.
1. These are generally chosen from the friends of the Church, as they who are to defend and guard the Church's interests should be. Who should care for the Church if not her friends?
2. But sometimes men who are no friends of the Church have charge of her interests.
3. And not seldom they are amongst her best servants, and do their work diligently and well.
4. In these verses we have a signal instance of this. Here is the fierce, heathen, Israel-destroying Nebuchadnezzar, busying himself seriously about the safety of God's prophet Jeremiah. It is not simply a case of God shutting the lions' mouths, but constituting the lions his servant's sure though strange defence (aft verse 12). "Is Saul also among the prophets?"—that was thought to be a marvel. But that the Chaldean monarch should be the faith's defender and the prophet's guard is no less strange.
5. And there have been other such instances before and since this. See what Egypt was to Joseph and Moses, the Philistines to David, the Persians to Daniel, Greece to Jews in Alexandria, Rome to Paul; see also history of the Lollards, Reformers, etc. And how often in the straits of God's people have they had to confess that he has raised up for them from most unlikely sources the helpers they have needed! "The barbarous people showed us no little kindness" (Acts 28:2),—as we have seen sometimes a weak, defenceless creature dwelling in the same cage with strong, cruel beasts, and not only unharmed, but protected by them.
6. How is all this to be explained? In this instance of Jeremiah the motives of Nebuchadnezzar are clear and comprehensible. Jeremiah had done his best to persuade his countrymen to submit to Babylon. His influence would be strong with the captives in Babylon and serviceable to her monarch. The king would show that, whilst he punished his foes, he did not forget his friends. The reverence and awe which Jeremiah, so evidently God's prophet, aroused in the monarch's mind. But:
7. He was guarded of God. Jeremiah was no partisan of Babylon. The most terrible prophecies against her are his (cf. Jeremiah 1:1-19.). No other explanation than that the care of God was over him can account for their favour to one who spoke so plainly and so evil concerning them. And their forbearance is the more remarkable when we remember the proud, cruel, and arrogant character of the monarch whom Jeremiah thus, as it were, defied.
8. Many and most helpful are the lessons of such facts as these. Enemies God can make our friends, perils our protectors; and because "the Lord's portion is his people," his will is ever to do them good. Such deliverances as these are designed to foreshadow our final and perfect deliverance, and to deepen our confidence in regard thereto.—C.
In that ye ministered to the saints.
"God," says the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "is not unrighteous to forget" such ministry. It is a strong expression, and seems to imply that God would be unrighteous if he did forget. Here in the story of Ebed-Melech, we have an instance of God's rewarding ministry to his saints. For what Ebed-Melech did, cf. Jeremiah 38:7, etc. For his recompense, see these verses (15-18). Consider—
I. THESE RECOMPENSES. They are:
1. A fact. How many instances there are!—the widow of Sarepta; the Shunammite woman; Dorcas; Paul's friends, Onesiphorns, etc.; Jonathan; Mary of Bethany; Cyrus and the Persian nation, for their goodness to Israel; the people of Malta (Acts 28:1-31.); our own country, for offering asylum to persecuted Hollanders and Huguenots. And, besides such instances, there are repeated declarations to the same effect: "I will bless them that bless thee;" "They shall prosper that love thee." The cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple "shall in no wise lose its reward." "Whoso shall receive one such little child in my Name receiveth me."
2. Very great. (Cf. illustrations given.) How comparatively slight was the ministry! how cup of cold water like! yet how great the reward! How much this country owes, in her commerce, her character, her fame, to her ministry to God's saints! Many people denounce Cromwell for most things he did, but all applaud his interference with the bloody papists on behalf of the persecuted Waldenses. Milton's grand lines, "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints," etc; have immortalized that deed as it deserved. No, indeed; "God is not unrighteous to forget," rather is he most gracious to remember, all such ministries.
3. Varied. Sometimes the recompense is given at the time, in tangible, material blessing. Sometimes such recompense is delayed, but comes afterwards in full measure. Sometimes it comes not here at all in outward recompense, but in spiritual joy and peace—sunshine in the soul, approval of conscience, gladness of heart, confirmation in good. But for all, and most of all, in eternity. "That is the great harvest-season of holy and benignant deeds." "They shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." But:
4. Ever sure. They shall be recompensed. None of that good seed shall fall on other than good ground, or yield other than bountiful and beneficent fruit. The little gift "shall by no means," saith our Saviour, "lose its reward." And his many present recompenses all confirm our faith in the truth of that blessed Word.
II. THEIR REASONS. Some of them are probably such as these:
1. For the Lord's own sake. Such ministries demonstrate the presence in the heart of that which he most of all prizes—love. They show "some good thing toward the Lord God." They delight the Father's heart, and his smile cannot be concealed nor his hand held back from blessing.
2. For the sake of those who thus minister, as Ebed-Melech did. God recompenses them because they have thus committed themselves on the side of righteousness, and he would encourage them.
3. For the sake of those ministered to. God blessing their friends tends to raise up friends for them, as they often need. "We will go with you, for we see that the Lord is with you."
4. For the sake of truth and righteousness generally. God, by such recompenses, makes it evident on which side he is. Thus he cheers his people, dismays his adversaries, decides the waverer, and so advances the good cause in the world.
III. THEIR ADMONITION. Follow the Lord's example; do not you forget those who have stood up for truth and right. Sympathize with, applaud, defend such. Be such yourselves. Would you have done as Ebed-Melech did? Do you when the Christian lad or girl is jeered at by godless comrades, in the school, the counting house, the shop, the kitchen? "Stand up, stand up, for Jesus!"—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Siege and savagery.
I. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM IS RELATED. Just enough is told to certify to us the complete and exact fulfilment of prophecy. There is a long siege, a great destruction, and great humiliation and suffering for the captured king. It is no part of the province of Scripture writers to dwell on war, battle, siege, and pillage for the sake of making striking narratives. But behind this very brevity what room there is for imagination! What suffering, gradually mounting to the climax of famine and thirst, during those eighteen months of siege! The very natural advantages of Jerusalem, enabling the people to resist longer, added to their calamities. Indeed, we may say that when a man employs his natural strength wrongly, his suffering in the end is not unlikely to be proportioned somewhat to his strength. A weaker man would not suffer so much or suffer so long.
II. THE SAVAGERY CONNECTED WITH THE CAPTURE. This savagery is a point to be studied as throwing a light on the ancient civilizations. Nobody thought, we may safely say, not even prophets themselves, that there was anything out of the way in all this destruction. Savagery was the accepted consequence of a successful siege. Jehovah used these Chaldean soldiers as instruments, but they had to act according to their individuality. A Roman army would have behaved no better. Indeed, humanity in war is a Christian idea. Paradox as it seems, God was working through the very savagery of this war to destroy all war. Men will fight; they will foment discord and accumulate large armies; but it is the glory of God to bring good out of all the conflicts. When the reign of the Prince of peace is fully come, then we shall see, as we cannot see now, the good that men have worked, unconsciously, by war. We are deceived now because we cannot get away from our thoughts physical destruction and suffering.
III. THE FATE OF ZEDEKIAH. Brought on him by his own indecision as much as by the savage hands of Chaldeans. If these verses stood by themselves, we should not know this; but we do know it from the record going before, of Jeremiah's dealings with him.—Y.
The poor of the people.
I. HOW THEY HAD COME INTO THIS POSITION. Poverty is, of course, a mischief, having many causes, and no fallacy is greater than that of singling out one cause for some particular reason, and then treating it as if it were the only cause. Still, there is need that in this place the injustice of the rich towards the poor should be remembered. The fact that there are proverbs bearing on this point shows that such oppression was not at all unfrequent. "He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want" (Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 28:15). And now these oppressors had attracted to themselves the desiring eye of Babylon. Why were the rich men carried away and the poor left? The chief reason was that they heightened the triumph, for when despoiled they were just as poor as the poorest, and the contrast between their former and present state spoke for itself. Then, too, there is something in considering the rich men as themselves part of their riches. Thus the rich and poor are brought together in one great judicial act, and the rich are made to feel that in the end the poor are really better off than they are.
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF POVERTY. Poverty usually presents such disadvantages on the surface, and so demands sympathy and help, that it almost seems like irony ever to talk of its advantages. And yet, if there be such advantages, it is very necessary to consider them, in order to do something for the prevention of envy, repining, and perplexity. As with the advantages of external wealth, so with the disadvantages of external poverty; neither goes very deep. In the time of spoliation the poor man can look on with a light heart, so far as personal loss is concerned. Probably the poor people of Israel were now better off than they had been for years. Amid all the burning and pillage here is one good effect already perceptible in the benefit that is being worked for the poor. Without contradiction, it may be affirmed that the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Father of Jesus Christ in the New are alike on the side of the poor. All oppression of the poor, all unfair treatment of them, all selfish employment of them, will show in the end that the poor need lose nothing of what is best.
III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE POOR. They were employed in that which was of greatest moment to them. Vineyards and fields were given to them—things they could all make use of; things which would repay their toil, and give them the chance of building up a really honourable wealth. If Nebuzar-Adan had given them something of the plunder, it would not have been near so useful as what he actually did give. Man is nearest to the pure, untainted fulness of nature when he is cultivating the soil.—Y.
The safety of God's prophet.
I. THE MANNER IN WHICH IT IS ASSURED. There is no working of miracle, though miracle was available if it had been needed. But natural forces were carrying out Divine intentions in working the safety of the man who had been faithful to his duty. We have no exact information as to why Nebuchadnezzar was so interested in the prophet's safety, but we may well suppose that he had a sort of respect for a man who served his God so faithfully. The news of fidelity, courage, and endurance goes far, when only one here and there shows the qualities. Moreover, the King of Babylon was very likely to have heard of Jeremiah's predictions; the very knowledge that such predictions existed would nerve him in his attack; and when the attack succeeded, the very fulfilment of the predictions would produce in him a superstitious fear lest the utterer of them should come to any harm. Thus we see how the course of human affairs, without any special intervention, works out good for the brave maintainers of right.
II. SAFETY IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES. This is of great importance to notice. Jehovah was not concerned to preserve the life of every prophet from a violent end. His prophets, at times, had to trust him even to death, and prophesy even when the prophecy was sure to be followed by a mortal blow. Jeremiah was preserved in safety at this time, not so much for his own sake, as for the effect his preservation would have on the minds of others. His safety was specially provided for at the time when unrestrained destruction was going on. Thus his very preservation was itself a prophecy. And it is all the more noticeable Because Jeremiah himself had, in due course, to make predictions against Babylon. Why some of God's servants live long lives and some short ones is not a fortuitous matter; there is always a reason, could we but see it, and sometimes, as in this instance, there is a glimmer of light upon the reason.
III. THE PROPHET'S DESTINATION. Nebuchadnezzar's order was that he should be treated as he desired. We read that in the end "he dwelt among the people." Hence we may conclude that this was his desire. And where could a prophet better be? Especially if he went among the poor of the people, toiling away in their vineyards and fields, and tried to inspire them with the promises of better times. "Dwelling among the people" is a very suggestive expression when applied to a man like Jeremiah, his office, his character, his experience, being such as they were. The people knew that he lived among them by his own free choice, preferring to share their hardship and poverty. As far as we can see, he might have enjoyed the luxuries of Babylon; but what were these to a man like him?—Y.
Ebed-Melech's safety, and the secret of it.
I. EBED-MELECH'S DANGER. He was a court official, and like all others connected with the court, in more danger than if he had been merely one of the multitude. He appears to have been in favour with the king, and all such would be put down by enemies as exciting the king to continued resistance. That is, it would seem to Ebed-Melech so; for why should he suppose that any one should be so specially interested in him as to describe his deeds exactly to the Chaldeans?
II. EBED-MELECH'S SAFETY.
1. The usefulness of Jeremiah even as a prisoner. Jeremiah cannot get out among the people, but there is sufficient mitigation of his imprisonment to make him useful to one man. Even in prisons God's servants find opportunities of doing good work for him—so Bunyan writes his 'Pilgrim's Progress.' With peculiar joy Jeremiah must have delivered such a message to one who had been so kind to him. In this, too, we can trace a Divine arrangement. Surely God's delight is to give peculiar joys to such as are diligent in doing his will.
2. Words of hope are always possible to individuals. There is no longer any chance for the nation; as a nation it must be scattered and spoiled; but every individual is treated according to his deserts. There is no reason to suppose that Jeremiah and Ebed-Melech were the only individuals to whom God was specially gracious,—it was necessary to mention them; but in all ages there have been many special providences not mentioned.
III. THE SECRET OF EBED-MELECH'S SAFETY. He had put his trust in Jehovah. What does this mean, seeing he is also described as being afraid? We take it that the reference is to his deliverance of the prophet from the dungeon. He really was exercising a faith in God more than he was aware of at the time. In stretching out his hand to rescue the prophet he had got upon the rock of his own safety. In other words, he had shown his faith by his works. A voice from the unseen had spoken and told him to get Jeremiah out of the dungeon, and his consequent action had in it the essence of faith; for he obeyed this voice from the unseen. God sees faith where we, with our prepossessions, would only too often be unable to discern it.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 39". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19