Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CAREFUL REMINDER OF THE EXTENT OF HIS MINISTRY. (Vers. 1-3.)
1. The moral value of this is great. It is no vague indictment, but one made out with all accuracy and conscientiousness. We ought to take note of the extent of our privileges and opportunities, for we shall have to give an exact account of them all.
2. Its evidential value is equally great. The date of the prediction is thus fixed, and history becomes a long verification of his prophetic truth.
II. ASSERTION OF HIS OWN AND OF GOD'S DILIGENCE AND FAITHFULNESS. (Vers. 3-6.)
1. God has been diligent. He has "risen up early." The welfare of his people is of intense interest to him. The delays of his dispensations are only seeming. No earnestness on the part of the creature can ever anticipate or outrun his love or readiness to provide.
2. His servant the prophet was so also. It was God's Spirit in him that they heard. He was obedient to the heavenly Spirit, and announced its messages as they were received.
III. THE PERSISTENT UNBELIEF AND DISOBEDIENCE OF THE NATION DENOUNCED. (Vers. 3-7.) There is something very impressive in the repeated "Ye have not hearkened." It defines and characterizes the guilt of the apostate. There was not even the beginning of serious attention (vers. 5, 6); and their indifference had become systematic and habitual. What wonder that God should have been provoked to wrath? And this is the sinner's position today. It would be impossible to fathom the depths of our depravity by nature, or to trace it to its ultimate issues.
IV. THE SPIRIT AND SUBSTANCE OF THE MESSAGE IS REPEATED. How great is the long-suffering of God! The unbelief of the people had been marvelous, considering the signs which had been given. Another opportunity, however, was afforded ere the catastrophe should take place. No details of the teaching are entered into, but great plainness of speech is used. The emphasis is upon essentials and permanent principles. The "spirit of prophecy" is intensely moral; and this is why the "testimony of Jesus" represents it. It is the grand resultant of all the forces working through ancient prophecy, and casts its revealing light backward upon the prophetic page. These repentances so often urged but never forthcoming, these "returns" and obediences which were to crown with blessing and surround with Divine favor, are only possible through his Spirit. The future of the world, as of every individual and nation, is inextricably associated with the cause of righteousness, and therefore with. the gospel. - M.
(2) the prophet;
(3) the people.
I. GOD. Nebuchadnezzar, who is to act as the servant of God (ver. 9) in the great overthrowing work, has just come to his throne, and is unconsciously preparing for that to which God had appointed him. Hence it was fitting that, just at this crisis, God should point back over the past and show how very much he had done to bring about a different result. Not that this comprehensive view was likely at the eleventh hour to make any change in Israel itself; but it is well that it should stand recorded in the history. It is well that we who come after should be made to see clearly how continuously God protested against the wickedness of his people. Jeremiah himself, out of his own experience, speaks as a witness of what had been going on for twenty-three years; and he knew further that he was only one out of many agents by whom God had been doing the same kind of work.
II. THE PROPHET. Not Jeremiah peculiarly, but Jeremiah as representative of all the faithful prophets; those to whom he here refers as having been engaged in the same kind of service. He brings against the people a serious charge of persistent neglect; but it also involves a serious confession with respect to himself. A serious confession, but not a shameful one. Though his long ministry has not had the desired end, it is by no means a failure. For twenty-three years the work has been laid upon him of denouncing national apostasy and individual transgression, in all the varieties of it. The substance of this long ministry is written down and the spirit of the ministry made evident. We know the things he spoke of, and how he spoke of them; the enemies he made, the sufferings he endured, the pangs with which his heart was torn. In his ministry he gave himself, without stint. Nor does his work stand alone. He was not the first to exhort to repentance. He succeeded men who had been as faithful as himself, and engaged as long a time in the service of God. And yet, after so many remonstrances, the nation remains stubborn in its apostasy, infatuated as ever in its rapid descent to ruin. Hence we learn how chary we should be in talking of unsuccessful ministries. No ministry, whatever its other results may be, can be unsuccessful in the sight of God, if only there is unshaken fidelity to him. It is fidelity that he rewards, not obvious results. In spite of all the husbandman's care, digging about the tree and dunging it, it may yield no fruit; but the fidelity of the husbandman deserves a reward all the same. Industry cannot overcome the bad elements in what is given him to cultivate. All who have to engage in preaching and prophesying duties must learn the lesson, that more is needed for success than mere perseverance. Perseverance is like the dropping water which wears away the stone; but what is here required, is that the stone should be changed as to its nature, not worn away. If Jeremiah had been able to prophesy twenty-three centuries, instead of twenty-three years, the result would have been the same. All he could do was to reiterate, in the ears of the people, the necessity of repentance. It is in the light of a passage like this that we learn more of what Jesus meant when he said he came to fulfill the prophets. It was his not only to accomplish their predictions, but do what they could not possibly do by all their appeals - turn the hearts of the disobedient to God. Compare the barren ministry of Jeremiah, prophet of Jehovah, with the fruitful ministry of Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet Paul did not speak one whit more earnestly concerning righteousness and repentance and submission to God. The difference lay in this, that Paul was not only a preacher, but when he preached there was a subduing and renewing Spirit.
III. THE PEOPLE. This is a serious charge brought against them, that one man had been in their midst for all these years, with one message, never varying and never slackening, and yet that they had paid, as a nation, not the slightest heed to it. When Nebuchadnezzar did come, there was no chance for them to say that they had not received proper warning. They could not blame Jeremiah. Their very persecution of him was a witness against themselves. Thus there is a warning to those who are hearers of the gospel with all the voices with which it is addressed to them. It is not outside of themselves they must look for explanations of why the truths of the gospel have found no lodgment in their hearts. The cause is within. How many have been listening to the news of Jesus Christ for many more years even than twenty-three, and every year seems to bring a lessening probability that they will treat the message as having a practical concern for themselves! - Y.
I. THIS TENDED TO HEIGHTEN THE MORAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE PEOPLE. A vague indefinite calamity or series of calamities would have failed to strike deeply enough into the conscience of the transgressors; whereas a precisely marked off and defined set of occurrences could not be misunderstood.
1. The nearness and inevitable character of the judgment are thereby realized.
2. It is seen to be imposed by the moral government of God. "My servant." God permits, nay, appoints, Nebuchadnezzar.
II. IT PRESENTED THE PERIOD OF CALAMITY AS PART OF AN ORDERED WHOLE, WITH A DEFINITE OVERCOME AND OBJECT. Great as the trial would be, it was nevertheless a measured and therefore a bearable one. There need be no wild abandonment to despair. The believer could possess his soul in patience. The allurements of heathenism would lose much of their power. A quiet, reverent, and repentant study of the meaning of the dispensation would be encouraged; and in this way it would act as discipline for the future. We can never be certain as to the limits of our trials; but we have the assurance that our Savior, who has a fellow-feeling with his people, will not impose anything above what we are able to bear. And through the revelation of spirituality in the gospel, and the greater spiritualization of our hopes and aims through its teaching, we are able with greater calmness to contemplate our "light affliction, which is but for a moment."
III. THE PROPHECY WAS THEREBY PROVED TO BE GENUINE, AND THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD REVEALED BEYOND DISPUTE. As if conscious of this, Jeremiah for the first time calls himself "the prophet," when he has fairly committed himself to exact dates and personages. It would be open to the survivors of that predicted dispensation to denounce him an impostor, and to discredit the practice of prophesying. But the seer was certain; and the verdict of history confirms his forecast, and demonstrates that it was no ex post facto fabrication, but real Divine foreknowledge of events yet future. - M.
I. THE CONTRAST WITH OTHER SERVANTS. Observe the mention, in ver. 4, of those very different servants of God, the prophets (so mentioned elsewhere). God had sent many of them and many times, and hardly any attention had been paid to them. Higher motives had been appealed to in vain. Considerations of duty and prudence were thrown to the winds. And now the mighty king Nebuchadnezzar comes, with a very different sort of force - not looking at all like a servant of God; and yet he is just as much the servant of God as is any of the prophets. Indeed, king of a great people though he was, his rank in the service of God was not so high as that of the prophets. He appears in this place as nothing more than the final executioner of justice.
II. NONETHELESS EFFICIENT A SERVANT BECAUSE THE SERVICE WAS RENDERED UNCONSCIOUSLY. Nebuchadnezzar, despot as he was, would have been very wrathful if he had known exactly how he appeared in the sight of God. He had certain purposes of his own, and he succeeded in effecting them; but the very energy with which he worked for himself only made him to render his service to God more complete. And may it not be happening in the world, a great deal more frequently than we think, that the very success of selfish and domineering men is being so handled by God as all the more to serve his purposes?
III. THE LIMITATIONS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S SERVICE. The service, with all its completeness, was only within certain limits. It does not require much intelligence to destroy what is destructible. But if there is to be a building-up work for God, then there must be a conscious, voluntary, and devoted service. Israel was meant to be a servant of God in the fullest and noblest sense of the word. It had been instructed in the will of God and borne with patiently in many failures to obey that will. Hence the description of Nebuchadnezzar as a servant is an implied rebuke of those who had refused to be servants. Note the great contrast found in the New Testament, where Christ's apostles, at the beginning of their Epistles, hasten to proclaim themselves as the servants of God. - Y.
I. THE ORDER OF GOD'S JUDGMENT.
1. It begins with his own people.
2. Reasons for this are:
(1) The harmony of the Divine rule in the earth. The Church is his own house. It ought, therefore, to be in perfect order first. His authority ought to be recognized among those whom he calls his own. He will therefore deal with them first, and then with better grace address the impenitent and unbelieving world.
(2) The purity of God's character. He cannot endure wrong - cannot look upon sin. Yet he is to dwell in the Church, in individual believers. It is necessary, therefore, that they be made pure as he is pure. Their discipline must be immediate if they are to become vessels prepared unto honor.
(3) The justice of God. Immediately the sin of the child is worse than that of the stranger, because it is done in the midst of light and privilege. Sharp and immediate chastisement is the only way in which he can show his sense of the wrong done (Amos 3:2).
(4) The mercy of God. If it begins with the children of God, it is that they may the sooner be saved. He embitters the breast of the world to wean them (Leighton). It is because he loves he rebukes and chastens. But the grief of sin begins first in the breast of God and in the person of his Son. It is of the nature of Divine love to suffer for the sinful, even to die, that he may be made a child of grace.
II. THE EXTENT OF IT. "All the inhabitants of the earth." Thus early - nay, from the first sin onwards - does he begin the judgment of the whole earth. The sin of one is but a symptom of the universal depravity of all. The oneness of the world in its fall and the evolution of its sin, is constantly declared in Scripture.
1. This is demanded by the justice of God. "Should ye be utterly unpunished?" It would be manifestly unfair that the child of God alone should suffer for that which is primarily a sin of all mankind.
2. It is founded upon the solidarity of the race. There is a universal kinship in sins. "In Adam (they) all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22).
III. THE MEASURE OF IT. "A sword" (cf. ver. 33). This signifies destruction, death. That which opposes itself to him will be utterly destroyed. He begins his judgment upon his own, but it passes from them and rests forever upon his enemies. The picture painted by Jeremiah (vers, 30-38) is but one of many similar ones in the Bible. The utter holiness of God cannot endure the sinfulness of men; it must consume it and all that identify themselves with it. In the New Testament the horizon widens, and the spiritual world participates with the living upon earth in the sentence of the Judge. The first duty, therefore, of every awakened sinner is to flee from the "wrath to come." Whilst he remains unconverted he is a "child of wrath." Punishment has a different significance to him from what it would have if he were "in Christ." It is the same principle of solidarity which condemned us that now avails for our salvation. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). - M.
I. IT SERVES A GREAT ETHICAL PURPOSE. The sense of wrong-doing is thereby intensified, and some idea is given of the awful consequences of sin and its hatefulness to the mind of God.
II. AN EVIDENCE OF THE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF SIN AND SALVATION. By such visions as these the ages of the world are linked together and shown to be convergent in one point. There are not to be so many judgments of isolated offences, but one judgment, towards which all the world has looked forward. Sin increases with the lapse of time, and develops into a more pronounced opposition to truth and goodness only in final judgment can all its significance be comprehended and its issues be stayed.
III. AS EVIDENCE OF THE REALITY OF THE PROPHETIC GIFT AND ITS SPIRITUAL END. This vision is corroborated by the universal instincts of man, on the one hand, and by the endorsement of Christ on the other. The various minor judgments which have intervened between that time and this are so many proofs of the correctness of the prophet's intuition. And the manner in which he and other seers have laid chief emphasis upon this event exhibits the fundamental moral purpose of all prophecy. Its intention is to reveal the righteousness of God, and to lead men into its practice and love. - M.