Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. FAITHFUL WITNESSES OF THE TRUTH MAY SOMETIMES BE BROUGHT INTO GREAT STRAITS. God does not guarantee a smooth experience and an easy life to his servants. Quite the contrary. His Son prepares his disciples for suffering many things (Matthew 10:16-22). Jeremiah would seem to be alternately exposed to harshness and kindness - he was in the prison and yet in the palace. The bribe, or the deceitful promise, may be as great a trial as the cruelty. Seclusion for a prophet and patriot must have been very hard to endure at such a time, and full of spiritual perplexity. Great things were being done, and national destinies decided, whilst he was held fast, helpless, and with little reliable information of what was going on. So God often lays aside his servants just at a time when there would seem to be most occasion for their activity. "His thoughts are not as our thoughts."
II. THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT THEREBY HINDERED.
1. It is not silenced. (Ver. 1; cf. Jeremiah 33:1.) The communion of the soul with God cannot be broken by external means. As well might one say, "Thus far, and no further," to the ocean or the day. Many of the grandest revelations of God date from prisons.
2. Resistance only hastens its progress and fulfilment. Persecution and martyrdom have done more for Christianity than a thousand direct agencies. How the voices multiply!
3. Those who oppose it ensure its speedy visitation upon themselves.
III. GOD WILL UPHOLD AND COMFORT HIS AFFLICTED SERVANTS. The greatest trial to Jeremiah would have been God's silence: at this season the "Word of the Lord" must have been his greatest consolation and reassurance. Earthly deprivation may be heavenly liberty. Sufferers for the truth know and feel that God is with them. - M.
I. THE NEED OF GOD'S SERVANT. Ver. 2 tells us that Jeremiah was at this time shut up in prison. His confinement was not so severe as that which he had suffered in his former prison; but yet there was very much in his present circumstances to make him need the sustaining grace of God. The story of his imprisonments is full of interest, but it has to be gathered here a little and there a little from different parts of his prophecies. These have been compiled on a principle which it is impossible to discover. Events of early date are placed in later chapters, and those of later date in early chapters. The chronological confusion is complete. Hence it is the task of every student of these prophecies to disentangle this confusion so far as it may be done. In saying this, nothing is charged against the inspiration and authority of the book. That remains intact; but our reverence for what is so evidently of God in the book does not hinder that we should note and regret the disorderly way in which some human hands - whose we know not - have put together its various parts. Tracing out, however, the history of these imprisonments, it would seem that they were brought about somewhat as follows. Jeremiah had clearly foreseen and foretold that the ungodliness of the people would bring down the Divine chastisements. Moreover, he discerned and declared with equal clearness that the instrument of God's wrath would be the rapidly rising empire of Babylon. He saw how everything yielded to the might of her armies; that no power, not even that of Egypt, could withstand her assault. But all this was by no means so clearly seen by those to whom Jeremiah was sent. They did not believe in the nearness of God's judgments, and were not a little angry with the faithful prophet for denouncing them. But Jeremiah saw also that, certain as was the approach of these judgments, they probably would be mitigated if, instead of exasperating the armies of Babylon by useless resistance, they submitted themselves and acknowledged her supremacy (cf. ch. 27.). But the same spirit in the nobles and princes of Judah and in the people generally, which made them refuse to listen to him when he told of God's judgments coming upon them, made them impatient of his oft repeated counsels to do now the best thing under the circumstances - bow to the Babylonian storm, and so, though they could not save all, yet save some of their cherished possessions. But at length it became evident that Babylon did mean to assail them. Instead, however, of adopting either of the two better methods - of humbling themselves before God and imploring his protection, or of conciliating the Babylonian king, they formed alliance with Egypt (ch. 37.), notwithstanding Jeremiah's solemn assurance of the uselessness of such alliance. But in the ninth year of Zedekiah the Chaldean army besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 34:2) plainly tells the king how hopeless all resistance is. Under the alarm of this siege, the wealthy Jews released their poorer brethren, of whom, contrary to God's Law, they had made bond slaves (ch. 34.). But the Egyptian army coming to their aid (Jeremiah 37:5), the Chaldeans raised the siege. Thinking now that all cause for fear was gone, the Jewish leaders quickly went back to their old ways, and, though indignantly denounced by Jeremiah (ch. 34.), enslaved their brethren again. But he had taken advantage of the withdrawal of the Babylonian forces to quit the city. It was no place for him. His purpose, however, was prevented. Foes not a few, to whom his fidelity had been hateful, now seized on him on the pretence that he was about to desert to the Chaldeans (ch. 37.). In the insolence begotten of their fancied deliverance, they thought they might do anything to God's servant. They therefore dragged him before the princes, procured his condemnation, smote him, and then cast him into deep dungeons, where, had he lingered long, death must soon have put an end to his misery. But the King Zedekiah, whose mind was ill at ease, and who could not help believing Jeremiah, whilst allowing himself to be overawed by the violence of those around him, sent for the prophet and caused him to be placed in less severe custody. But he was not to stay there long. His former enemies came round the king, and brought such accusations against him that the king, weakly yielding as his manner was, gave him up to their will; like as Pilate delivered Jesus. Speedily they flung him into a dungeon, which appears to have been a disused well, the bottom of which was still deep in mire. There they leave him miserably to perish. But again he is delivered. An eunuch of the court intercedes for him, and he is drawn up tenderly and carefully, as his half dying state probably required, from the horrible pit into which he had been cast, and brought back again into that milder captivity which is indicated by "the court of the prison," and where we find him when this chapter (32) opens. Now, if we try and realize the prophet's condition, we can easily see how a despondency like to that of John the Baptist when he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him, "Art thou he that should come," etc.? - we can see how a like despondency might well have fallen upon the prophet's mind. He was no robust, stern Stoic, to whom rough treatment and the scorn and hate of his fellow men were as nothing. His piteous pleading for his life (Jeremiah 37:20), his ready yielding to the king's suggested subterfuge (Jeremiah 38:27), his reiterated confessions of his distress, the long wail of his lamentations, all reveal a man who, though in the strength of God's grace he would not flinch in delivering the message God had entrusted to him, whatever it was, whoever might oppose, nevertheless felt keenly the perils of his position and the misery of his lot. Again and again had he been seemingly given over unto death, and even now there was nought but the poor protection of the word of the weakest of monarchs to save him from the rage that was ready to destroy him the first opportunity that should be given. His whole horizon was dark, unillumined by any cheering ray of hope. If the besieging armies did their worst - and it seemed certain that the obstinacy of the people would provoke them to do so - what prospect of deliverance and restoration could there be then? For himself and for his country the outlook was all dark.
II. But, next, see HOW GOD MET HIS NEED. He did this in a threefold manner.
1. He led him to commit himself openly to the faith of the restoration of Israel. He had proclaimed this restoration many times before. He was now by a public significant act to avow again his confidence in what God had promised. This is the meaning of the purchase of the land told of in vers. 6-15. In the most explicit formal manner he was to do this which his own predictions of the Babylonian conquest seemed to render absurd. It seemed like throwing money away. Why the vendor wanted to sell the ground we do not know. The conviction that all was lost for Judah may have led to it. But when the offer was made, as God told Jeremiah it would be, he saw that it was from the Lord, and that he was, by purchasing it, to testify to his faith that the land should be restored to them again. Hence he did all in the most formal manner: paid for it, took receipt, registered the purchase, and had duplicate made out, handed over the documents to Baruch in presence of many witnesses. Now, had Jeremiah refused to buy this property, it would be tantamount to his apostasy from faith, to his renouncing all his trust in God. His despondency would bid him do so. But the thought of throwing up all faith, renouncing it, and denying God, the very thought seems to have provoked a blessed reaction, and to have made him resolve that he would make it yet more difficult for himself to go back from his faith by committing himself to it in this open, deliberate, and formal way. Thus God made him use what faith he had in order to his winning more. "To him that hath," and uses what he has, "shall be given." It is ever so. Have you little of the spirit of prayer? Pray, and more will be yours. Little love to God? Do something especially and avowedly for him, and your love will deepen. As with the body and the mind, in trade and all departments of life, the use of what strength we have gains more.
2. By leading him to lay all his difficulties before God. This is the meaning of the prayer in vers. 17-25. After the prophet had committed himself by this purchase of the land, a purchase so irrational and absurd as it would seem in many eyes, and as it perhaps partly seemed even in his own eyes, he felt need still of more assurance and confidence than he yet possessed. And so in this prayer he pours out his perplexities before God. And if we analyze this prayer, we shall see that he begins by going over in devout confession and adoration the many reasons which ought to establish his faith. First he confesses the sure truth - nothing is too hard for the Lord. Then he proceeds from this general truth to several proofs of it in Israel's own history - how, in spite of all difficulty, God redeemed, preserved, and settled his people in the land he promised. Then he turns to the perplexing facts which, at the moment, were so staggering his own mind - the dreadful wickedness of the people and the actual presence of God's judgments. How, in the face of all this, could God's promises be fulfilled? It is as if he had said, "Lord, I believe, I ought to believe, but I am sore perplexed, I desire to believe yet more; help my unbelief." Such seems to have been the meaning of this prayer. It is prayer because this is its meaning, though there is not one word of petition in the whole of it. The prayer has to be read between the lines. And God does ever so read the desires of his servants, even when not expressed in words, or when words are used. that are not formal prayers. Nor can we doubt that thus coming to the Lord with his perplexities was of great help to the prophet. It must have been so; it ever is so.
3. God gives him fresh grasp of his promises, new assurance o/the truth of his Word. This is the third and last step in this sustaining grace, of which this whole chapter tells. The account of this answer to the prophet's prayer is given in vers. 26-44. He gave him to feel afresh the blessed truth that nothing was too hard for the Lord (ver. 27). Therefore it mattered not, even though he could not understand all God's ways, though the Chaldean armies were thundering at the gates of Jerusalem, though the people were so hopelessly wicked. "Therefore" (ver. 36) "saith the Lord," and then follows a whole series of "I wills" and "shall be's," which God again bears m upon his servant's soul the certainty of the things he had already declared. And more than he had declared should be - a spiritual restoration as well as a literal one. And then (vers. 43, 44), referring to Jeremiah's own transaction, "fields shall be bought in this land," etc. That which now seemed so unreasonable and hopeless should be matter of everyday occurrence in the blessed times of restoration which God would surely bring about. The instruction, therefore, forevery perplexed soul is - Use what faith thou hast; tell all thy perplexities to God; receive the new assurance of his faithfulness he will surely give. - C.
goodness of the Lord. "The Lord hath visited and redeemed his people." He visited Hannah. He visits his flock. And this gentler meaning it has here; for the sore punishment of his sins Zedekiah had already been visited. This visit, therefore, tells of God's merciful visitation.
I. DEATH NOT ALWAYS A VISIT OF MERCY. Not to those who die in their sins. It is represented often as the judgment of God. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," as they who die impenitent and unbelieving fall.
II. BUT DEATH IS MORE OFTEN THE LORD'S VISIT OF MERCY. It is:
1. To those whom God punishes in this life. Zedekiah was an instance. Cf. those of whom St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 11:33). that they were judged now that they might not be condemned with the world. And probably there are many such.
2. To the sorrowful and those whose lives are a prolonged pain. We speak of death for such as being a merciful relief; and we are right.
3. To all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Death for them is the Lord's visiting them - Christ's coming again, as he said he would, and receiving them unto himself, that where he is they may be also. Which kind of visitation of the Lord shall death be to us? - C.
locus classicus for various questions and formalities connected with the Mosaic Law. Abraham bought a field for his dead; Jeremiah bought one for a nation yet unborn. If no other circumstance had been recorded concerning the latter, this alone would entitle him to be enrolled amongst the fathers of the faithful.
I. GOD'S SERVANTS ARE SOMETIMES CALLED TO PERFORM STRANGE AND SINGULAR ACTIONS. The prophet bidden to purchase a field when the land is overrun by the Chaldeans; a poor man to procure and expend money upon a speculation for which there was no earthly security; a prisoner to acquire laud there seemed so little likelihood of his ever seeing. Much of Christian duty is summed up in that experience. We are not to stumble at earthly anomalies or anachronisms, but to live and labour and spend "as seeing him who is invisible."
II. THE WILL OF GOD IS A SUFFICIENT REASON FOR DOING SUCH THINGS. That is, the revealed will. Men who act by revelation have not to ask for reasons before acting. Obedience is their role; afterwards they may ask for light. Christians have to commit their way unto the Lord, and trust where they cannot trace. They are led by a higher reason, which cannot err.
III. WHAT GOD COMMANDS OUGHT TO BE DONE PROMPTLY, LOVINGLY, AND WITH EXACTITUDE. Jeremiah at once performs the duty. He hastens to relieve his kinsman from perplexity and loss. And the business part of the engagement is executed with the greatest care and all the formalities of law. No flaw is suffered to enter into the bargain. The importance and duty of Christians being model business men. What is done for God and under his supervision should be done thoroughly. Justice precedes and facilitates charity.
IV. TRANSACTIONS APPARENTLY SMALL AND TRIFLING MAY HAVE GREAT MEANINGS. How different the feelings of the parties to this transaction! The money absolutely of little amount; relatively it was worth much. We are reminded of the widow's mite. That document was the title deed to a kingdom. This is the spirit in which Christians should do business. We ought never to forget that we are heirs of the kingdom. The world has been sold under sin, but we are free. Let us strive to "lay up treasure in heaven." Let us make our title clear to its liberties and joys. In the meanest undertaking let us be guided by this spirit. In the confidence of Christ let us redeem the world. Let our motto be "Everything in the spirit of Christ!" Men cannot be just and honest unless they are inspired, even for the least things, as Jeremiah was. A large and general brotherliness, an implicit faith in God's Word, ought to govern us in all our affairs. Above all, our own relation to Christ, our personal transactions with him, should at once, with prayer and faith, be made sure! - M.
I. A POSSESSION IN AN ENEMY'S POWER. The field, as the whole land virtually was so at that very moment. So man.
II. THE LORD PROMPTING REDEMPTION. Jeremiah knew that it was "of the Lord." God is the Author of redemption. "He so loved the world that," etc. "God was in Christ reconciling," etc.
III. THE REDEEMER VOLUNTARILY UNDERTAKING THE WORK. Jeremiah might have refused. So Christ thought not his equality with God a thing he should tenaciously retain, but emptied himself (Philippians 3.). "For our sakes, though he was rich, yet he became poor."
IV. THE SEEMING HOPELESSNESS OF SUCH REDEMPTION. What likelihood did there seem in Jeremiah's payment that he should ever possess the land? What could Christ's cross do to redeem man? "The offence of the cross."
V. REDEMPTION ACCOMPLISHED AND ATTESTED. The prophet paid the silver, and the transaction was attested in due form. Christ paid our ransom, and that that great purchase was valid was attested by the resurrection from the dead: that was the seal.
VI. WITNESSES ARE COMMISSIONED TO DECLARE THE TRUTH. (Vers. 12, 13.) So Christ commanded his apostles to testify of what he had done.
VII. THE TWOFOLD TESTIMONY. (Ver. 14.) There was that which was sealed and that which was open. So is it of the great redemption. There is a testimony that is sealed, hidden from the world, but revealed to the believer by the Spirit of God in his inward experience, the witness of God in his soul, the Spirit bearing witness with his spirit. And there is that which is open - the historic evidence of the resurrection of Christ and of the truth of Christianity.
VIII. THE DEPOSITARIES OF THIS TESTIMONY. The prophet put his in an earthen vessel. We, too, have this treasure in earthen vessels. Let the literal suggest the spiritual; Jeremiah, Paul.
IX. THE UNDERLYING AND EFFECTUATING WILL. (Ver. 15.) The Lord would have the land to be restored, the Captivity should return. So he "will have all men to be saved." Have we claimed our share in this redeeming work? - C.
I. HOW THE LORD PREPARES JEREMIAH AGAINST A DIFFICULTY. Hanameel, we may take it, was coming in any case with this proposition of purchase, and, but for the Divine warning, might have come on the prophet unexpectedly, so that he would hardly know what to do. There may have been many considerations to perplex Jeremiah. But all perplexities were removed by a plain commandment. Moreover, Jeremiah was helped to come into an obedient and restful mood of mind by the very fact that the visit of his relative was foretold. He was made to feel that God's eye was on him-on his ways, his needs, his difficulties. Things he himself could not prepare for, God prepared for. Instead of the prophet having to ask, "Shall I buy or shall I not?" his way was made clear by a plain commandment. And surely we have here an indication how God ever watches over his true servants. We make difficulties greater than they otherwise would be by neglecting to ascertain whether there be not some clear expression of God's will concerning them.
II. THE EXAMPLE HERE GIVEN TO US OF THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH. Jeremiah, left to himself, might very well have said that this was no time either for buying or selling. The King of Babylon's army would soon have the whole country, and where then could be the worth of purchases and contracts? Let us for a moment suppose there had been no Divine commandment at all, and that Jeremiah had been left to his own judgment to decide on Hanameel's demand. If he had refused to buy, then there would not have been wanting those to exclaim that Jeremiah, so eloquent about the neglected duties of others, was shirking his own duties. On the other hand, if he had bought, then he would have been viewed with suspicion, as not really believing, after all, in the alienation of the land to Babylon. And of course, actually buying as he did, no doubt some sarcastic criticisms were made on his conduct. But then, through all, he was secure in the certainty that he was doing God's will. The transaction, however inconsistent or ridiculous it might look to others, was really one of the most prudent and well based that ever man engaged in. Jeremiah himself could not well see how things were going to come right again, but he trusted in the foresight and omnipotence of Jehovah. - Y.
I. CLEAR AND UNMISTAKABLE DUTIES SHOULD BE FULFILLED ERE MEN ENTER UPON DIVINE EXERCISES. The deed had already been executed.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES OF TRIAL AND PERPLEXITY SHOULD LEAD MEN TO THE THRONE OF GRACE.
III. THE KNOWN CHARACTER AND PAST ACTION OF GOD SHOULD INFLUENCE MEN'S JUDGMENTS OF PRESENT EXPERIENCES AND STRENGTHEN THEIR FAITH. It is good to rehearse these even in private devotions.
IV. SINS SHOULD BE FREELY AND HONESTLY CONFESSED.
V. ONE SAINT MAY INTERCEDE FOR MANY SINNERS.
VI. THE PRAYER OF FAITH IS ANSWERED. (Vers. 26-44,) - M.
I. HE HAS LAID DOWN LAWS TO REGULATE AND GOVERN THE WAYS OF MEN. He has done this not only for those that are open and manifest, but those that are most secret as well. He is a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (cf. Psalm 139.). "God looketh at the heart." Now, he could not thus largely and minutely lay down these laws if he did not know completely the ways which they concern.
II. HE DISCOVERS THEM. If we have been engaged in some secret way, or such as we thought was secret, where no eye was upon us as we imagined; if afterwards some one meets us and tells us all that we did, we know that, unseen to us, he must by himself or by others have been present at that secret hour. Now, thus we know that God has been ever present. For:
1. He tells us all about them. What is memory? what, especially, is conscience, but God telling us that he is perfectly acquainted with all that we thought unknown?
2. He tells others of them. He told David (1 Samuel 23:12) that the men of Keilah would deliver him up into the hand of Saul. He told Joseph of Herod's purpose to kill the infant Saviour. He warned the wise men from whom Herod hoped to have acquired the knowledge he needed. And again, he warned Joseph about Archelaus. And many such instances there are. Now, they all show that God knows all the ways of men.
III. HE TURNS THEM WHICH WAY HE WILL. Sometimes he gives men their heart's desire, satisfying the longing soul. Sometimes he overrules them for ends far other than the doers of them designed. As when they crucified our Lord (Acts 2:23), God ordered which way their sin should issue, which was quite other than they thought (cf. history of Joseph). Sometimes he baffles and denies them altogether. If he did not, this world would be hell. What if all the sin men conceive of they were to commit! Hence (Genesis 20:6) God says he withheld Abimelech from sinning against Abraham, and suffered him not to touch Sarah. And God is forever graciously strangling sin in its very birth. But all this shows that "his eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men."
IV. HE RECOMPENSES THEM.
1. When our secret ways have been evil, cannot we tell in the darkening of the face of God that he knows all? And when they have been such as the Lord delighteth to see in secret, do not our hearts know when we come to him that there is the answering smile?
2. And he recompenses them in his present outward dealings with us. The sinner's most secret sin finds him out not seldom in this world. And the patient continuance in well doing, however humble and obscure, rarely fails to meet with its reward.
3. And God will judge them in the last great day. Then the thoughts of all hearts shall be revealed. "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." Again is it made evident that he knows all. He is "the Father who seeth in secret." CONCLUSION. Understand what is the right use of this great doctrine. Not that we should be trying every hour of the day to be thinking of the all-seeing eye of God. We cannot, and God does not intend that we should, be ever thus conscious of his presence. Children are not of the presence of their parents. They are utterly unconstrained. But should need arise for their parents' help, should they be tempted to do what they know their parents would forbid, then in a moment they become conscious of their presence, and the needed aid is asked for, and the tempting sin is resisted. Now, thus should we remember the continual presence of God. "The right state of mind plainly is to have the thought of God's presence so perpetually at hand that, as with Joseph in his great temptation, it shall always start before us whenever it is wanted." This is living with God and communion with Christ; and it is won by prayer and close walking with him, and blessed are they who win. - C.
I. GREAT TROUBLE. Cf. circumstances of the time and of prophet especially. Oh, what doubt and misgiving do the troubles of life, the terrible events, "the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune," cause to souls not a few! It was so here. Now, observe the antidote to this doubt. To strengthen his faith the prophet draws an argument from the creation. Then, with no resources from without, God formed the earth and the world. Then, when the material out of which the ordered universe should come had all to be brought into order, "the earth was without form and void, and darkness," etc. Then, when all was created, all had to be preserved and daily sustained. Let any one contemplate the proofs that these facts give of the existence, the power, the wisdom, and the beneficence of God, and the question, "Is anything too hard for thee?" can meet with but one answer. How can any doubt the Divine resources in view of the creating and sustaining providence of God.
II. GUILT. If it be hard sometimes in the face of the calamities of life to realize the fulness of the Divine resources, it is harder still in the face of human guilt. Is there a God able and willing to supply my material and temporal need? is a question less difficult than that which asks whether there be a God able and willing to pardon my sin. For to minds not few nor feeble, the forgiveness of sin seems an insoluble problem. If the punishment of sin be righteous, and every witness affirms that it is, ought God to remit it? And if it be inevitable, the sure reaping of the previous sowing, can God remit it? Have we not something here that is too hard even for the Lord? If in all departments of nature, we everywhere see effects surely following their appropriate causes, and if spiritual death be the appropriate effect of sin, how can this cause and effect be severed any more than any other? True, the human will can step in and arrest or turn aside this or that effect; we see this perpetually. But here is a question, not of power, but of right, not in the sphere of the material, but of that which is moral. It is a case in which mere power goes for nothing. What, then, is to be done? The atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ solves the problem. He, in our humanity, offered to God for us that perfect sacrifice whereby all who claim their share in its benefits are pardoned, accepted, and saved. "God was in Christ, reconciling," etc. (2 Corinthians 5.). It is everywhere recognized that a true confession of wrong done, and an earnest entreaty for forgiveness, should suffice to remove all wrath on account of such wrong from the heart of the offended one. That law which God enjoins upon us he observes himself. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," etc. But such confession of human sin and intercession for its forgiveness Christ offered in humanity to God for us, and so God can be just and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus. Thus is this hard problem solved; the "Lamb of God taketh away the sin of the world." But there is -
III. SIN. Can God subdue that in the heart of a man? When we see the outrages, the duration, the strength of hold, the universality, the attractiveness, the prestige, and the love of sin, it does seem as if the subjugation of this was too hard even for the Lord. To turn back the tides, to reverse the law of gravity, to alter any other law of the universe, - this were an easy task compared with the stupendous change which must be wrought in man before the love of sin can die out of him, and the love of God rule in its stead. What endeavours have been made! what schemes devised! what philosophies elaborated! but all in vain. Hence, despair for ourselves and for others too often predominates in our souls. Evil we are, and evil we must be. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit? But "there is nothing too hard for the Lord." The history of the Church of God proves that there is, in the regenerating, sanctifying Spirit of God, that power which is needed here. He is the renewing, transforming, sanctifying Spirit. Baptized with the Spirit, "I walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death." May we more and more, as we may and should, in our own experience, prove this true. - C.
I. THE PROPHET HIMSELF.
1. That his trust in God might not fail. Had the career of the guilty nation been cut short because God foresaw what the certain end would be, such certain foresight being impossible to any but God, the faith of his servants would have been severely strained. They had ever heard of God as the long suffering God. They would have found it hard to believe that, if but more time had bean given, and a longer ministry allowed, and the whole truth had been put before the people perseveringly and earnestly, they would after all have remained unrepentant. The miserable paralysis of doubt as to the Divine equity would have fastened on them, and their power as his prophets would have thenceforth ceased.
2. That trust and love might be greatly increased. This could not but be when the prophet saw that the long suffering of God was no mere word, but a reality, a reality greater than could have been conceived. What human authority would endure to be despised and set at nought as God endured that his should be? "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity," etc.? Such was once and again the adoring exclamation of those who witnessed and marvelled at the all but infinite patience of God. And this too when all the while God knew, as his prophet did not, that there was no hope. "We are saved by hope;" but there is no such salvation for God. He goes on blessing and doing good to those whom he knows will turn upon him in defiance and black ingratitude to the last day of their lives. It is wonderful The Saviour went about doing good amongst a people whom he knew would crucify him. What an added conception of the Divine love does this fact give! Now that his servants the prophets might yet more know and rejoice in the God in whom they believed, God was and is long suffering to those whom nevertheless he is compelled to condemn.
3. The prophet's own spiritual improvement. Such labour, severe though it be, is not lost on him who engages in it. Was not "the Captain of our salvation made perfect through sufferings," and those of a kindred kind? And for the discipline and development of the spiritual powers of his servants, to further in them that which is well pleasing in his sight, and for which process the unseen and eternal world will, in all probability, have constant though blessed employ, - for such reasons God keeps his servants in the world, and spares the world, guilty and ready for condemnation though it be.
II. THE WITNESSES AND ALL THEY WHO SHOULD AFTERWARDS HEAR OF HIS JUDGMENTS ON THE GUILTY NATION.
1. The righteousness of God would be vindicated. All would see that it was not without cause God dealt with them as he did.
2. Sinners in all ages would be warned not to presume on the long-suffering of God. St. Paul says of these ancient records, "All these things were written for our learning."
3. Sin would be seen to be exceeding sinful Men are ready to attribute their sorrows to any and every cause but sin. But by thus branding sin with God's mark of sore displeasure, men would be better able to resist its attractions and overcome its power.
III. THE UNREPENTANT PEOPLE THEMSELVES. God having borne with them so long, now that at length his judgment had come, the remembrance of that long suffering would:
1. Silence them. All would feel that God was just when he spoke against them, and clear when he condemned them. That Psalm 51. and other penitential psalms bear many marks of having been adapted to, if not produced by, the sorrows of the Exile; cf. too Ezra's confession and prayer.
2. Humble them. Jeremiah declares once and again that it is their "pride" which was causing them to persist in their evil ways (cf. Jeremiah 13:17). They had trusted in their national descent, on the possession of so many and so great privileges; cf. "The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord,... are these" (ch. 7.). As they realized their present misery they would see the worthlessness of all those lying words in which they had so fondly trusted, and they would be bowed down with shame, as they now knew what their pride had brought upon themselves and their children. "Humbled in the dust" would be the fitting description of them as they thought of the way in which they had despised the long continued and loving warnings of God.
3. Convert them. For God intended that they should be restored; he would bring them again, give them a heart to know him (cf. vers. 36-44). And no means could be more adapted to subserve this end than those which God employed. Had they been cut off in their guilt, or had the Exile taken place much earlier, there could not have been the feeling which we know was aroused, and which was so salutary that they were without excuse. The wise physician knows that there are fit times and seasons for the successful administration of his medicines, and till such times all administration of those medicines would be of no avail. And so, until a right condition of mind was brought about in the exiled people, no real conversion could take place. They must be without excuse before they could be made to feel that they were so, and therefore a further reason why God bore with them so long, that this their utter inexcusableness and their undeniable guilt might be the more deeply felt and more contritely and sincerely confessed.
4. Accomplish the number of his elect amongst them. For it is not to be thought that the prophet's ministry was utterly lost. The better part of the people were called out, educated, and prepared for the purifying discipline which awaited them by means of it. And it was that which brought the exiles back sadder but yet wiser men. And during the Exile the souls of the people were nurtured by the prophet's words which, during this prolonged ministry, he had spoken to them. That ministry was one proof out of so many more that God's Word shall not return to him void, although, in regard to immediate and much desired effect, it may seem as if all were apparently lost. Now, all these considerations which apply to Jeremiah and his ministry and the long suffering of God with Judah, apply with equal force to like long suffering of God now - for God often repeats his mercies and judgments both - and happy shall we be if the gracious purposes of God in his forbearance are realized by us. - C.
I. GOD'S ATTITUDE AS A TEACHER TOWARDS MAN. God's complaint is that man turns to him the back and not the face. Hence we are (o understand that God turns his face to us, full of meaning and very earnestly. Consider that expression, "I will guide thee with mine eye." Of course all such expressions are purely anthropomorphic, but behind them there is the truth that, when God speaks to us, it is in the same way as we do when we are most earnest and concerned in speaking. We speak then in every feature.
II. GOD'S ASSIDUITY AS A TEACHER. Rising early and teaching them. The effort to make the people understand truth and duty is continuous and unremitting. Nothing was left undone that could be done, so far as the Teacher's side was concerned. Laws and symbols, great providences, great deliverances, great punitive visitations on other peoples, punishments of men like Korah and Achan and Saul, chastisements like those of David, - thus Israelite history abounded in lessons from God. Here is instruction from the great Teacher to all teachers. God was ready to seize on every opportunity to give a lesson, for opportunity is a great part of success. And seeing that God is thus declared among his people as a great Teacher, we should look on the Old Testament as a lesson book, and study how far it may be useful to us. For though we have our own peculiar lesson-book in the New Testament, yet even the New Testament becomes clearer the better we understand the Old.
III. MAN'S ATTITUDE AS SCHOLAR TOWARDS GOD. His proper attitude is with the face, eyes looking on the Teacher, an expression of interest manifested, ready with the lip to ask further instruction and explanation.
IV. THE FACES OF THESE PEOPLE WERE TURNED TO OTHER TEACHERS. The fact is, man must ever be learning from somebody; and Israel, with the hack to God, had its face towards the priests of idolatry, the ministers of cruelty, and was obedient to all their worst instructions. Let every one who has truth to teach and heavenly light to give remember that he is a rival of those who teach falsehood, error, cruelty, vice, superstition. If he is not successful in teaching the principles that liberate the spirit, then others will be successful in leading it into the worst of bondage. - Y.
I. WITHOUT DOUBT THEIR EXILE TRIED THEM AS FIRE. Fire is often the symbol of pain; and that there was indeed pain and sore distress in the exiles' lot is certain. Degradation, slavery, loss of their land, their high privileges as the people of God, in short, of their worldly all, had to be submitted to by them; and they lived, where they were permitted to live, at the mere caprice of a powerful, despotic, and merciless monarch. What that caprice could do, and often actually inflicted in the way of cruel tyranny and oppression, the books of the Bible which belong to the times of the Captivity, and the sculptures brought from those lands and now in the museums of this and other countries, clearly reveal - the merciless slaughters and the horrible punishments, etc. And all this woe they had brought on others - as their children - who were entirely innocent of their parents' wrong. "The fathers had eaten sour grapes, aunt the children's teeth were set on edge." And to add to their distress was the bitter reflection that they were designed to have filled a position so entirely different and better; that they were intended to be the first in the favour of God, but now had become last; and all this by their own persistent, wilful wickedness, wickedness persisted in in spite of every kind of warning, protest, and entreaty that God could send them. Yes, it was as fire, as a furnace seven times heated.
II. BUT IT WAS NEVERTHELESS AS A REFINER'S FIRE. It was to issue in their good. For it did not destroy them. They were to be brought out of all this woe. "I will bring them again" (ver. 37). And it should work them good by separating them from:
1. Their sins. They were torn away from the scenes, the people, the places, the manifold circumstances, which Were inseparable from that idolatry into which they had so often fallen.
2. And from those who tempted them thereto. For that loose, evil multitude which were dealt with apparently less sternly than themselves at the first, were the prompters and the persuaders to that wickedness which had wrought them so much harm. Those who were obnoxious and therefore, in ch. 24., compared to the figs which could not be eaten, were, though left awhile in the possession of their own land, at length destroyed. The corrupt and poisonous leaven was taken utterly away, so that that which was sound and healthful or capable of becoming so might be preserved. The pure ore was separated from the base alloy, the worthless dross, by the action of this refiner's fire.
III. IN PROOF OF THIS, note:
1. God brought them back to their own land.
2. They had given them "a heart to know" God.
3. And their after history proved this.
For they were a noble people for generations afterwards. Of course, there were the less worthy amongst them; but let their records be studied, their thrilling Maccabean history, for example, and it will be seen what a refining process that was through which they had been made - as was so necessary for them and for mankind at large, who were to be blessed by means of them - to pass. The absence of prophets and prophesyings, which is so marked a feature of the history written on that page which separates the Old Testament from the New, instead of being a reproach to them, is rather a proof that their general national health was such that the sharp surgery, the stern ministry, of the prophetic order was not then needed as it had been, so deplorably, in former days.
IV. WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE between them and the baser sort who were destroyed. It was the possession of the Spirit of God. The holy fire enkindled by him had been all but quenched, but not entirely; the dying embers could be made to glow with radiant heat once again. But of that fire God has said, "It shall ever be burning on the altar, it shall never go out;" and though they had all but smothered it beneath the heap of idolatrous superstitions and practices, and other evil compliances with wrong, it was burning still. And the exile across that wide desert to the plains of Babylon let in again the air from heaven, and the fire burnt up once more. And that this might be, God dealt with them as he did, and as he ever does, blessed be his Name] in like circumstances. CONCLUSION. Paul's question, therefore, comes to our mind as we study such history as this: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" Seek him; for he will baffle the power of the destroyer, and, better still, if we will but follow his leading, he will keep us from ever needing to be cast into the crucible as these were, and from needing the refiner's fire. That would have been best of all, but thank God there is a second best. "Covet earnestly the best gifts." - C.
I. GOD'S THOROUGH GOOD WILL TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE. His will is ever to show favour and do good to mankind. That will is always in action, but it can only be in manifestation when men themselves, by their spirit of submission to God and obedience to his directions, make such a manifestation possible. As he is thorough in his anger - against the rebellious and idolatrous, so he is thorough in his favour towards the repentant. It is well that we should ever remember this deep good will of God to men when things are going wrong with us. The fault of untoward experiences may be in us or it may be in others; it cannot be in God. We must not put down to arbitrariness in him the painful workings of that law which manifests itself in sequence to human ignorance and folly.
II. GOD'S SUFFICIENT OPPORTUNITY TO DO GOOD TO HIS PEOPLE. The confident tone that runs through this passage is most encouraging. Bad as the people have been, far as they have been driven, widely as they have been scattered, God can put all right again if only the people are willing to have it so. All God waits for is to hear the prodigal nation say, "I will arise and go to my Father." If only we give God the opportunity, he will make us to abound in supplies for our necessities and blessedness. We let many opportunities slip for doing good, and never do we use any such opportunity to the full. But God delights in the opportunities men give him, and here is an illustration of how he presses forward to use them. "I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul." Only be willing to be a plant of God's own planting, and there is no reason why you should not feel the whole heart and soul of God going out for your highest good.
III. GOD WORKING TOWARDS THE UNITY OF HIS PEOPLE. One is reminded of the unity proclaimed in Ephesians 4:3-6: one God, one people, one heart, one way, one covenant because an everlasting one, one character for the future. This unity stands out in contrast to the previous scattering. The previous scattering was only an outward symbol of the scattering within. If even the people had continued in Jerusalem, that would have given them no unity save the unity of place, which is the most precarious, mocking, and delusive of all unities. But the new unity is that of one heart. As one life flows through all the organs of the body, making the life of each the life of all and the life of all the life of each, so God will make it among his true people. God binds each to himself by the law written in the heart, and so all are bound to one another.
IV. THE EVERLASTING COVENANT THUS MADE POSSIBLE. God has now found something deep in the heart of his people whereby he can get an abiding hold. His covenant finds a firm anchorage in the regenerated inward man. With one heart and one way there is a starting point for doing Divine good, not to one generation, but to many. How much good we may hinder by our spiritual blindness and indifference! And on the other hand, what copious showers of blessing may be the result of a timely turning to God! - Y.
I. UNITY THE EXPERIENCE AND PRIVILEGES OF SAVING GRACE. (Ver. 37.)
II. UNITY WITH GOD.
III. UNITY IN SPIRIT AND LABOUR WITH ONE ANOTHER. (Ver. 39.)
IV. UNITY OF DESTINY. (Ver. 40.) - M.
I. THERE IS SUCH RATIO. Sorrow and joy are not flung down at haphazard into this world at the caprice of the Ruler of all, and irrespective one of the other, only that for the mass of men the sorrow is far greater and more pervading than the joy. But the relations between these two it is the glory of Scripture and of the gospel especially to reveal.
II. SCRIPTURE TEACHES IT. Here in this verse; cf. also Psalm 90., "Make us glad according to the days," etc.; Job 2:10, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not also receive evil?" parable of Dives and Lazarus: "Thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented" (Luke 16.).
III. NATURE ILLUSTRATES IT. It is said that on the Scotch lakes the depth of the lake is almost always the same as the height of the surrounding hills. And is it not the same with the great depths of ocean and the lofty mountains of the world? They have long, long winter in the Northern climes, but when the light does come back, the day so stretches out that you can read by the light of the midnight sun. And if we look into the faces of men, those indices of the soul within, it will be found that the looks of sorrow and of joy are about equally distributed. God is not a partial, unjust Father, petting one and neglecting others of his children. Sometimes we think so, but a larger survey will lead to truer thought.
IV. IT IS A TRUTH FULL OF COMFORT. For it teaches:
1. That if sorrow be sent, joy is not far off. "If I had been a little child among the Israelites, I think I should have known, when father set the bitter herbs upon the table, that the lamb was roasting somewhere, and would be set out too - 'With bitter herbs shall ye eat it' - and so if there be bitter herbs, the dainty dish is near" (Spurgeon).
2. That the two come from the same hand. If there be a designed proportion then, not two independent minds are at work, but one only; ratio and proportion ever argue unity of mind. There is not an evil god who hurls sorrow upon men, and another a gracious God who sends only joy. That was the old Manichaean heresy, which is not dead yet. But the truth is that there is a likeness, a proportion between the good which God sends upon his people and the evil he has brought upon them. From one hand both come. But -
V. THE RATIO IS NOT EQUAL FOR THE CHILD OF GOD. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The proportion of the evil we suffer to the good we shall enjoy is not that of equals, but that of the very little to the infinitely great.
VI. THE RELATIONSHIP ALSO IS THAT OF MOTHER AND CHILD. Sorrow is the mother of joy. Cf. our Lord's own metaphor: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world." "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Cf, also above: "Our light affliction... worketh for us," etc., so that joy is begotten of sorrow.
VII. BUT THIS CAN ONLY BE FOR THE CHILD OF GOD. Therefore -
"Help, Lord, that we may come
I. WITH REGARD TO CERTAINTY. Here is evil actually upon the city and country. Evil that has come, not in some inexplicable, unexpected way, but in correspondence with prophetic announcements, extending over a long time and frequently repeated. And now out of the very perceived certainty of this evil, God takes occasion to create ground of hope and encouragement for the people. He who without fail has sent chastisement for the disobedient will equally without fail keep all his promises to the obedient. It is the principle of sowing and reaping. The harvest will assuredly be according to the seed that is sown. We have the choice of alternatives, and only of alternatives. Either by our negligence we shall lay ourselves open to have God bring great evils upon us, or by our obedience and regard we shall receive all that great good which God promises to those who obey..
II. WITH REGARD TO AGENCY. The emphasis of the verse is especially upon the agent. Those who fail to see that it is God who has brought all this great evil will fail to get much comfort from his most comprehensive and gracious promises. Behind the unseen instruments we must see the unseen Director and Controller. We must try to trace out the wrath of God in manifestation against the unrighteousness of men. As we trace the miseries that come from human selfishness and self-indulgence, we must learn to see God in them - God as well as man; we must recognize righteous law as well as wicked folly. We are not to depend for the best things upon uncertain man, but upon God, with his unvarying love, his exhaustless power.
III. WITH REGARD TO EXTENT. One would not wish for its own sake to measure the height, and depth, the breadth, and length, of human misery, but we have to do it to estimate its cause and bring about its cure. And always the peril is to look upon it superficially and hastily. Now, by this very superficiality and haste we miss a great source of gladness. For our estimate of possible good must have for one of its elements our experience of actual evil. A man must sink low if he would rise high. We do not mean, of course, that he must sink low by an exceptionally depraved and vicious life; that would be to recommend what Paul denounces - sinning in order that grace may abound. We must sink low in our estimate of ourselves. We must see that, unless we also repent, a great evil will inevitably come upon us, whereas, if we are wisely obedient, we shall be the recipients of a splendid good - a good which ever has its forerunners in the gracious promises of God. - Y.