By J.B. Stoney
In the saddest and most eventful period of Israel's history Jeremiah was called to serve, and there is much in his history to be learned as to the character of vessel which the Lord uses in such a time, and the peculiar way in which He fits it for the mission assigned to it.
Jeremiah was of the priests of Anathoth of Benjamin; he was by birth and association connected with, we may say, the hierarchy of the time ; and he is called to testify against what had been so near and dear to him. God chooses His own instruments, and it is evident that He prearranges everything concerning them, so that the whole of one's life here, even before birth, can be traced to His Ordering, This is very interesting and wonderful. Hence it is said of Jeremiah, " Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee ; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." It is remarkable that it is unto the nations, because almost all his prophecy relates to the fall and captivity of Israel, and the subjugation of the surrounding nations, with the assured hope of a bright future. The great and Prevailing feeling of the instrument for this great service is, " I am a child." " Ali, Lord God I Behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child." The sense of powerlessness avails nothing in itself, but when it is felt in the presence of the Lord's assured help, it casts the servant fully on Him, and He helps fully when He is leant on fully. Hence the Lord encourages him thus: " Say not, I am a child : for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces : for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord." This embraces the servant's first great lesson in the school of God-with the sense that I am but a child--small in human strength, I have assured confidence that I can go wherever God sends me, and that I can speak what He has commanded me to speak.
The Lord consequently confers a gift on Jeremiah. He put forth His hand and touched his mouth, " And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth." Thus he gets his commission-a most important epoch in a servant's history, just as was the gift to Timothy by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery; he gets the sense, that not only is he sent into this world as a light, but the definite nature of his service is communicated to him. So Jeremiah receives in figure a revelation from the Lord in relation to the nature and line of his ministry. It is interesting to note the peculiar and distinct way in which every servant is fitted or commissioned for his work. Here by two emblems Jeremiah is furnished with a divine base for his work - by the almond rod, which set forth that the Lord will accomplish what He proposes, " I will hasten my word to perform it " ; and by the seething pot, " the face thereof toward the north," showing the afflicting nature of his testimony against Israel and the nations around. And now, established in heart and purpose, by these visions, the Lord warns, him (vv. 17-19) to gird up his loins and to be of good courage, " lest I confound thee before them." Jeremiah is thus made ready for his service, and hence in chapter 2 the mind of the Lord is revealed to him. The heart of the Lord touching the state of Israel is disclosed to him and it produces the effect on him which it ought to produce on Israel, as he tells in chapter 8 : 18, to the end of chapter 9 : i. " When 1 would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me. Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the Lord in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities? The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black ; astonishment hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead ; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!"
It is one of the finest traits in a servant's character to be acted on by the word of the Lord in the fullest and deepest way in which it ought to act on those whom it concerns. No discipline is more valuable to a servant, than that he should personally enter into the meaning and force of the mind of the Lord which he is called to communicate, and feel it as the Lord would have his hearers to be affected by it.
Then again, in chapter 10: 19 to end, he rather personates the repentant people. In the former chapters it is more his grief and dismay at the judgments of the Lord; here it is more the language and experience of one suffering under judgment.
Now in the end of chapter I i he is subjected to another experience. It is not now sorrow of heart because of the state of Israel, nor a sense of being under the judgment of God; it is now persecution, " I was like a lamb or an ox brought to the slaughter," so much so that he is made to feel the righteousness of the judgment upon them, and cries, " Let me see thy vengeance on them : for unto thee have I revealed my cause." This was persecution and of the bitterest kind, because it comes from his own people. Hence, " Thus saith the Lord of the men of Anathoth (his own country), that seek thy life, saying, Prophesy not in the name of the Lord, that thou die not by our hand: therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will punish them." It is very peculiar and interesting, the exercise the soul of the prophet passes through in connection with this persecution. It is not the ordinary persecution from the outwardly profane world, but his own people will not have him, but threaten him with death. It is the worst kind of persecution and that which marks this day. The most inveterate persecution of the hour is that which the faithful servant of God encounters now from " the men of Anathoth."
The meditations of Jeremiah consequent on this are in the beginning of chapter 12 to verse 4. In verses 5 and 6 he is admonished not to be surprised and overcome, for he is not to expect anything else. And then to verse i I he is told the Lord's feelings respecting His heritage, but also His mercy if they repent.
I dwell on this part of the prophet's discipline because it is so like much that the servant of the Lord has to pass through in this day. No servant is fitted for the Lord's work but as he passes through exercise, not only as to how he feels things, but how they are in the mind of the Lord.
In chapter 13 the prophet is taught by means of a linen girdle, which he puts on him, and afterwards hides in the Euphrates in a hole in a rock, how the Lord feels about His people ; and how as the girdle was marred, and profitable for nothing, in like manner should the people be when cast off. By this simple means is the servant educated in the Lord's mind about His people. It is interesting to see that it is not by verbal instructions simply that a servant is fitted for his work. However small in comparison, Jeremiah's feelings were about the girdle, when he had it on, when it was marred ; yet in a distinct and real way he was thus shewn what Israel was to the Lord in their first state and in their fallen state. His sense of it may be very small in comparison to the Lord's, but the great point for the servant's usefulness, is that he has a real and true apprehension, however small, of what the Lord feels about His people under the various circumstances. However well instructed in the Word a servant may be, still he requires to be in circumstances to make him apprehend really the meaning of the truth which he propounds. The prison was as necessary for Paul in order to write the epistle to the Ephesians, as a Patmos was for John to receive the Revelation. The truth, the diamond, requires a setting suited to itself.
Moses was forty years in the wilderness before he was sent to lead the children of Israel through it. Practically we all find that it is when we are shut off from the earth, and suffering from man's power here, that heaven opens most brightly to us; and again, it is as we are exiled by man, and a solitary one here, that we are able truly to appreciate the day when the kingdom of this world will be the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.
The peculiar power of a man of God-a true servant is that he is not a mere channel like a gas pipe, but he can impart, in measure at least, the feelings of his Master, the words of which are given him. Surely it is this which gives power and effect to an evangelist. His heart is touched with the love of God to sinners ; his conception of it may be small, but it is real ; and according as it sensibly affects him, so is he qualified for his service.
Then there is another thing. When the servant in any measure, or rather according to his measure, enters into the mind of the Lord, in the words which He gives him to utter, he is not only a true representative, but he has divine sorrow when the word is refused; so that, there is both a feeling utterance in communicating it, and a deep sense of the forwardness of the heart of man in rejecting it. Hence Jeremiah says, " But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive."
Chapter 14. " The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the dearth." The greatest mark of favour to a servant is, that his Lord should acquaint him with His mind as to present things and coming events, and thus fit him to hear the sad and terrible, as well as the bright and the pleasing. Many servants can work on when everything seems hopeful and prosperous, who become disheartened at the appearance of a cloud, or a reverse, like Mark at Pamphylia, or Demas. The great servant is the one to whom the Lord can confide the coming sorrows, and who through grace is prepared to meet them in the spirit of Christ. Thus Jeremiah was foretold of the dearth, and he shows that he was fit for the confidence reposed in him by the way he receives the communication. First, he is thwarted by false prophets, who feed and minister to the popular mind, unwilling to admit that judgment is impending upon them because of their departure from God. Nothing is so gratifying or delusive to the apostatising spirit as to be assured by men of great assumption, " Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place."
It is very interesting to note the varied exercise or discipline to which a servant is subjected and that each is necessary. It is not enough for Jeremiah to hear of the dearth ; he must needs also encounter a religious opposition with regard to it from the false prophets ; but having learned the Lord's mind about them, he in himself personates the state of feeling which the godly would have at the time, producing deep confession and earnest supplication.
In chapter 15 we get some of the deep heart exercises which take place in the heart of a servant, placed in the times and circumstances of Jeremiah. First the Lord tells him, " Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people." judgment must be executed, whereupon Jeremiah in verse 10 tens us how he feels. It is a good thing to feel the danger though not to give way to one's feelings and be led by them. Our blessed Lord could say, " the floods of ungodliness made me afraid." Sensibility is no injury to a servant, but an advantage, provided he is not swayed by it; but if he is, he sinks into self-consideration and cowardice. When a servant of Christ feels his isolated position, he has only to turn to God for succour, and this Jeremiah does in verse 15, and then he is cheered and encouraged, " Therefore thus said the Lord, If thou return, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me: and if thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee, but return not thou unto them. And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall, and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee, for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord."
In chapter 16 the prophet is to refuse all domestic happiness. " Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place." He must also keep separate from any social pleasures. " Thou shalt not also go into the house of feasting, to sit with them to eat and to drink." The true servant is always a sufferer. Every kind of personal comfort and happiness must be refused in the place where the Lord's name is dishonoured. One cannot be too exclusive or self-denying. How various is the discipline necessary for a servant in a time when the people of the Lord have departed from their true standing and are in practical indifference to their state and the Lord's judgment of them. Jeremiah in verse 19 finds his comfort and refuge in the Lord : " Oh Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction."
And in chapter 17, when he predicts the captivity of Judah, and the curse of God for trusting in man, while he turns to God for himself (v. 14), he encounters the bitter taunts of the mockers in verses 15, 16, which drive him more earnestly to the Lord, as we see in verses 17, 18. All this exercise only prepares him for being sent on a special mission. How little we understand the way a servant is prepared of God for the work to which He appoints him! Surely no servant can study and follow in heart the experiences of Jeremiah without being comforted and helped at the varied grace shown to one naturally so timid and sensitive.
In chapter 18 he is sent down to the potter's house to get a simple illustration of the present and future of Israel -the marred vessel to be set aside, and another to be made. The prophet is then sent to testify to the people, but this excites their enmity and they devise devices against him, so much so that he, afflicted by their evil, regards them as God's enemies and invokes unsparing judgment on them.
The Lord grant that each of His servants in this day, when His people are so like the vessel marred in the hands of the potter, may be under His training hand, like Jeremiah, and thus fulfil efficiently the ministry to which He has called them.
It is a deeply anxious and suffering moment with the prophet when he has to announce the break-up of all that bears the name of the Lord upon the earth. Jeremiah is required to do so in a very plain significant manner; he is desired to go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests, and go into the valley of the son of Hinnom, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee. " And thou shalt break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee, and shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord ; Even so will I break this people, and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again ; and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, saith the Lord." There is something singularly effective in this act of the prophet. No one could mistake the meaning of the terrible announcement ; the simplicity and distinctness in the mode of announcing it, and the unpopular, exclusive position in which it placed the prophet, draw largely upon one's sympathies, as depicting the sufferings of the faithful servant, within the circle of God's people, where every disparagement affects him in a twofold way : one, as reflecting on his service, indicating lack in it, and the other more naturally, because they were so closely related to himself. How often has a servant, when unable to bear the tax on his patience by the perverseness of those within, turned to a more outward service and occupied himself more with evangelical work. A man's greatness in every virtue is most tried, and therefore best displayed, where he is most at home, or rather where every one may, with most freedom, act independently of him. The man that is proof to the petty and constant demands on his temper and grace in private fife, in the circle where every one is most at home with him, is well able for every other.
Chapter 20. Jeremiah now suffers outward persecution. Pashur, the priest, the chief governor in the house of the Lord, smote him and put him in the stocks; and there he was exposed to the scorn of the people, who ought to have respected him as sent of God.
It is not merely the bodily suffering which so afflicts a servant of God under persecution, it is the sense of the triumph of wrong over right, he being subjected to reproach undeservedly. Nothing is so afflicting as injustice. There is hardly any one, even down to the youngest child, who is not wounded, often incurably, by unjust punishment. " They rewarded me evil for good," was one of the deep sufferings of our Lord, and the higher and the greater the good, the more does evil afflict. Thus we are told two things respecting Jeremiah; one, how the Lord will avenge him and punish Pashur. Woe unto any one who persecutes or injures the man of God. " Cursed be he that curseth thee." The Lord will reward him according to his works. This is distinctly communicated as the purpose of God; yet on the other hand, Jeremiah has his own internal distress, as a man appointed to the painful service of announcing sorrow and judgment on what was cherished and held sacred. But in the history of the Lord's discipline of His servant, the moments of weakness and failure must be recorded as well as those of strength and vigour. Here we see the former in Jeremiah. He reproaches the Lord because he has been subjected to suffering for announcing the truth, instead of being accepted as a prophet and held in honour. This was too much for his faith: " 0 Lord, thou hast deceived me," he says. The servant sometimes passes through this kind of darkness in his own heart, and so deep is his distress that he even says, " Cursed be the day that I was born." There is hardly any humiliation so acute as the feeling of the worthlessness of one's existence, and yet all this suffering prepares the servant for being more simply and unreservedly for the Lord. In the midst of it he can say, " Sing unto the Lord: for he hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers."
Hence, in the next chapter (21) Zedekiah sends to Jeremiah to inquire what is the mind of the Lord about the war that Nebuchadnezzar waged against him. He is now acknowledged as a prophet of the Lord ; he was humbled, he is now exalted, and he can announce the nature of the siege, and the only true way to escape from it. Great and wondrous privilege for the true servant of God! And what vicissitudes he has to pass through! At one time, cast down and an object of reproach and ridicule: and at another, waited on as the only expositor of the mind of the Lord.
In the next chapter (22) there is an addition to this. Jeremiah is sent to the king of Judah. It is very encouraging to see how the Lord raises up and confides in the servant who is faithful at such a crisis. Everything is about to crumble to pieces ; and the occupiers of the place of. privilege in that day, as in this day, like to be buoyed up with the idea that things are not going to pieces. Jeremiah is most unpopular because he insists that all will be broken up ; and that there is no escape, even for life, but in yielding to the judgment and submitting to captivity. What a course of discipline was required to make one of the priests of Israel, as Jeremiah was, press on the people the hopelessness of remaining in Jerusalem ; and that no safety could be accorded but in becoming captive to the king of Assyria. It is in principle what the true servant has to insist on in this day as to the church, that there is no ecclesiastical position-no positional power, as there was in the early days of the church ; the true remnant as captives own the place of captivity. But the servant who can faithfully press this on others must be one who has practically accepted it for himself. How little we know the exercises which the servant, once full of hope touching the testimony on earth, like a Simeon or a Stephen, has to go through! What a Mount Moriah he has to ascend ere he reaches the bright side of the morning without clouds-the day of His power, when captivity is captive led.
In chapter 23 Jeremiah is instructed respecting the false prophets who deceive the people with the assurance that they shall have peace. Thus it is with the Laodicean teachers, who buoy up souls with the idea that they have need of nothing; a sure sign that Christ is not the object of their pursuit, because if He were, they would never think they had enough. The more He satisfies the heart, the more it presses on to know Him better, and to give up all for Him. It is ever and anon, " For whom I suffer the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ."
In chapter 24 two baskets of figs are shown to Jeremiah, "One basket had very good figs, even like the figs that are first ripe : and the other basket had very naughty figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad." This is to teach him that there is nothing neutral with God: Either the figs are good, and very good, or so bad that they cannot be eaten; and these prefigure the two classes of people : those who go into captivity are the first class, and those that remain in the land, or those that dwell in the land of Egypt, arc of the second.
In chapter 25 Jeremiah foretells the seventy year's captivity.
In chapter 26 : 8 the priests and prophets and all the people took him saying, " Thou shalt surely die " ; but the princes and all the people having heard Jeremiah's defence, pronounce, " This man is not worthy to die : for he hath spoken to us in the name of the Lord our God " (v. 16). The case of Micah is urged in his favour, and the case of Urijah against him. " Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death." How absolutely a man must be for the Lord, and how entirely separated from every hope here, when he has, like Stephen, to stand for the Lord against His own people unto death! It puts the servant in immense distinctness, as entirely for the Lord, and separated from man while serving.
In chapter 27 Jeremiah is continued in service; and he is desired to represent in himself the condition to which the nations will be reduced. " Thus saith the Lord to me: Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck." Nothing marks a true servant, and one really taught of God, more than the pliancy and readiness with which he can pass from one service to another. It is always the mark of an indifferent servant when he excuses himself from answering a call for help by saying it is not in his line or that it is not part of his work; he rightly may not obtrude his service when he has not power to serve ; but it is quite another thing to escape from service on the plea that it is not my work. The simple question is, whether the Lord has called me to it or not. Jeremiah can address himself to whatever the Lord tells him to do. Hananiah the false prophet attempts to nullify and contradict his words, and Jeremiah pronounces the judgment of the Lord upon him. " Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah ; The Lord hath not sent thee ; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth : this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord. So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month."
In chapter 28 Jeremiah has to encounter the false prophecy of Hananiah, spoken to him in the fifth month " in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord's house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon."
It is a most trying, anxious moment, when a servant is opposed by a false teacher who commands the sympathies of the people, who with arrogant assumption panders to their carnal hopes, so that the servant of the Lord is reduced to the most isolated position toward those whom he would serve in his testimony.
From verse 6 to verse 9 Jeremiah states the test of a true prophet of peace. But when Hananiah took the yoke from off the prophet Jeremiah's neck, and brake it, and said in presence of all the people, " Thus saith the Lord ; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years " ; then the prophet Jeremiah went his way. It is always wise to accept the lowest place, even in the Lord's service, and to be as the one beaten, just as Jeremiah here retires in silence.
But subsequently, " the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah, saying, Go and tell Hananiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron." " Hear now, Hananiah ; The Lord hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth : this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord." Thus it is when we retire in selfabasement, and as reduced by man, then the Lord makes known His mind to us, and the opposer is confounded. " So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month."
In chapter 29 we have, " the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon-after that Jeconiah the king, and the queen, and the chamberlains the princes of Judah and Jerusalem, and the carpenters, and the smiths, were departed from Jerusalem." We have the word of the Lord to all those of the captivity whom He had sent from Jerusalem to Babylon, and also verses 24-32, what the Lord of hosts spake and would do to Shemaiah, the Nehelamite, " because he hath taught rebellion against the Lord."
In chapter 30 Jeremiah is directed by the Lord God of Israel, " Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book." In chapter 32, Jeremiah being shut up by Zedekiah in the court of the prison, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, " Behold, Hanameel, the son of Shallum thine uncle, shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth : for the right of redemption is thine to buy it."
In buying this field, when he was assured that all was passing away into the hands of the king of Babylon, Jeremiah [like Abraham] believed God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. He against hope believed in hope (Rom. 4: 17j 18), and could thus in a moment of the greatest depression and hopelessness reckon with the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel. " Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land."
In a prison, deprived of liberty by man's coercion, sensible of terrible ruin, impending and inevitable, he is led by the word of God to see in a future day all the present misery ended and a full blessed restitution of all things.
He insists on the present ruin as inevitable, but he is called to see in faith the day of restoration.
Now before Jeremiah can rise to simple faith and find enjoyment in the future thus presented to him, he has to pray to the Lord concerning it (vv. 17-25). It is very important to note this, that the mere communication of the word, however distinctly conveyed or received, is not enough. The servant requires to wait on God about it, as Jeremiah does from verses 16 to 25. Then in verse 26, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, " Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh, is there anything too hard for me? " The Lord explains His purposes to him, even the present utter destruction of Jerusalem, but also the future restoration of His people. " Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have driven them in mine anger, and in my fury and in great wrath ; and I will bring them again into this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." Then, in verse 41, we read, " Yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart and with my whole soul."
The servant has to press inevitable uncompromising destruction, where there is self-reliance, self-dependence., and the assumption of being able to retain by. human tenacity the position that has been given of God. Then there must be unsparing judgment, but on the other hand, there will be a full restoration, a complete restitution out of the wreck.
In chapter 34, when the king of Babylon and all his army have fought against Jerusalem, Jeremiah is sent to say to king Zedekiah, that the city shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, but that his life should be preserved.
It is worthy of note that the servant is taught to temper judgment with mercy.
It is a most serious thing and entails the severest judgment when we sin against our convictions. This is just what Zedekiah now fell into. The king had made a covenant with all the people to enforce the divine rule, and keep the sabbatical year, " That every man should let his man-servant, and every man his maid-servant, an Hebrew or an Hebrewess, go free, that none should serve himself of them, of a Jew his brother." And all the people at first consented and obeyed, admitting the right and truth of it, but afterwards they regretted the sacrifice which it entailed, and resumed possession of the servants that they had let go free. Thus their immediate acts justify the heavy retribution which now Jeremiah pronounces upon them as detailed in the end of this chapter.
Chapter 35. Jeremiah learns from the fidelity of the Rechabites to the commandment of their father., how children can be faithful to their father in nature, and yet the children of Israel have not hearkened to their God. Faithfulness to any rightful claim entails blessing here; hence " Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever."
Chapter 36. We are recalled to what occurred some eighteen years previously to chapter 34. This word then came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, " Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee.... It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them, that they may return every man from his evil way."
It is very interesting to note the reason, and occasions, for committing to writing the oral communications of the prophets. We gather from Moses, in Deuteronomy 32, that the reason for writing this song, and teaching it to the children of Israel, putting it into their mouths, was, "that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel"- a record of God's patient and faithful care of His people. In Jeremiah it is to awaken the people. In Luke it is to set forth a declaration that " Thou mightest know the certainty of those things wherein thou hast been instructed." With John it is, " These things are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, ye might have life through his name " ; or as in his epistle, " That ye may know that ye have eternal life, who believe on the name of the Son of God." With Paul it is to correct or check errors, or to communicate truth, as to Ephesus, when he was shut up in prison. Now this book was burnt by the king, when Jehudi had read three or four leaves (vs. 22-26). " Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, Thus saith the Lord, Thou hast burned this roll.... Therefore thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David," etc. (See verses 30-32.)
Chapter 37. Zedekiah, Josiah's son, succeeds Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim, whom Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon, made king in the land of Judah; but neither he, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord which He spake by the prophet Jeremiah.
The king sends to Jeremiah, saying, " Pray now unto the Lord our God for us." Pharaoh's army had come out of Egypt, and the Chaldeans that besieged Jerusalem, having heard tidings of them, had departed from Jerusalem. " Then came the word of the Lord unto the prophet Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us : for they shall not depart. For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and bum this city with fire."
Now in verse ii a very remarkable thing occurs, that when the army of the Chaldeans was broken up from Jerusalem, for fear of Pharaoh's army, then Jeremiah went forth out of Jerusalem to go into the land of Benjamin, to slip away (marg.) thence in the midst of the people. Because of his faith in the word of the Lord which he had announced, he fears to stay in the city, but this is misunderstood by the princes of the people, who, crediting the charge of the captain of the ward that he was falling away to the Chaldeans, were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe.
The servant exposes himself to the enemy when he seeks his own safety. Jeremiah was better off when he continued at his post than when he retired for security. He remained in the dungeon many days; " Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took him out, and asked him secretly in his house, and said, Is there any word from the Lord? "
When there is any conscience, there may be a craving to hear the word of the Lord, though there is not purpose of heart to obey it, yet there is disquietude of heart because of it. Then, when Jeremiah entreats not to return to Jonathan's house, lest he die there, Zedekiah the king commanded that they should " commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers' street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison."
Chapter 38 Jeremiah had not a long reprieve, for the princes instigated the king against him that he should be put to death. And the king yielding, " Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into a dungeon. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire." Jeremiah in a double way is taught how vain is the help of man. His own efforts to escape had exposed him to the calumny of his enemies, and now the king, who had just listened to his words, and at his request had mitigated his imprisonment, allows him at the word of the princes to be consigned to a terrible dungeon. Here the Lord interferes for him through the Ethiopian Ebedmelech. It is most blessed and encouraging to mark the unexpected instruments which are used of the Lord for the help and succour of His servants in trial. Jeremiah is to all human appearances without any prospect before him but a painful lingering death, when Ebed-melech begs the king to permit him to rescue the prophet. This new suffering, so peculiarly afflicting to an Israelite, whose hopes were so connected with the earth, prepares Jeremiah for the great services that are now before him. He enters upon them as one risen from the dead, or at least as one who had come to the termination of everything of man's side. " He abode in the court of the prison until the day that Jerusalem was taken."
Chapter 39 : 2. " In the eleventh year of Zedekiah the city was broken up." After years of patience and personal suffering the words of Jeremiah are fulfilled. Nebuchadrezzar now befriends him. The king of Babylon " gave charge concerning Jeremiah to Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard, saying, Take him, and look wen to him, and do him no harm; but do unto him even as he shall say unto thee " (vv. 11, 12). So the captain of the guard and all the princes sent and took Jeremiah out of the court of the prison, and committed him unto Gedaliah, that he should carry him home: so he dwelt among the people. (See also verses 15-18.)
Chapter 40. He is loosed from his chains and let go. Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah to Mizpah, and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land. He connects himself with the poor remnant left in the land under the governor the king of Babylon set over the cities of Judah.
Chapter 41. A new and great experience is now entered on by Jeremiah. He had connected himself with the remnant left in the land, but in consequence of the treachery of Ishmael, who slew all the Jews that were with him and the Chaldeans, and all the remnant of the people who had been recovered from Ishmael, departed (v. 17) and dwelt in the habitation of Chimharn to go to enter into Egypt, because they were afraid of the Chaldeans. Then they come to Jeremiah (chap. 42: 2) and say, " Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord thy God, even for all this remnant, that he may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do." Jeremiah replies, " I will pray unto the Lord your God according to your words; and whatsoever thing the Lord shall answer you, I will declare unto you." After ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, and he tells them, " If ye will still abide in this land, then I will build you, and plant you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. But if ye will say No ; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor have hunger for bread, etc. Then the sword, which ye feared, shall overtake you, and there ye shall die." The Lord's mind is thus declared to them by Jeremiah, but the result is that they refuse to accept it, as they had undertaken to do (M. 5, 6), and it is thus proved that they had " dissembled in their hearts," when they had asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them (V. 20). The " proud men " reply, " Thou speakest falsely." So they came into the land of Egypt, for they obeyed not the voice of the Lord ; chap. 43. Then came the word of the Lord to Jeremiah, " Take great stones in thine hand, and hide them in the clay in the brick-kiln, which is at the entry of Pharaoh's house in Tahpanhes, in the sight of the men of Judah ; and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel : Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them."
The attempt of unbelief to escape the difficulties in the path of obedience always entails the same kind of difficulty in an aggravated form. As it was fear of Nebuchadnezzar induced them to disobey the voice of the Lord, and go down into Egypt, so should Nebuchadnezzar reach them there, and array himself with the land of Egypt, as a shepherd putteth on his garment.
Chapter 44. Jeremiah is instructed as to the judgment which would fall on the remnant that in heart cling to Egypt.
It is not easy to measure the sorrow and disappointment of a servant like Jeremiah, who had for many years watched over and warned the people of God of coming judgment, now to find himself removed from Jerusalem and associated in Egypt with the once happy remnant, and there to have to announce to them a greater judgment than even at Jerusalem. A most painful experience for the servant to live long enough to see the breakdown of the work he had so earnestly sought to build up. Thus Stephen saw the break-up of Israel. Paul the break-up of the church, as the one faithful company for Christ on earth.
The effect on Baruch we see in the next chapter (45): when he had written this book at the mouth of Jeremiah he had said, " Woe is me now! for the Lord hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest." Now the words which Jeremiah spake to Baruch set forth the mind in which he must walk himself. " Thus shalt thou say unto him, The Lord saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the Lord ; but thy life will I give thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest."
And hence his testimony closes with prophetic notices of the judgment of Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Cedar, Hazor, Elam, and Babylonsave that afterwards shall Egypt be inhabited as in the days of old, saith the Lord, and He will bring against the captivity of Moab, in the latter days, and in the latter days will bring again the captivity of Elam, saith the Lord.
Chapters 50 and 51 is the word that the Lord spake against Babylon, and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet. And so Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon. " And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words ; then shalt thou say, 0 Lord, thou hast spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever. And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates : and thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the judgment that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary; chap. 51 : 60-64