Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IN THEIR BEING REPEATED. It was substantially the same message as had been delivered before and been rejected. The question was not finally closed. Jehoiakim might show a disposition to repent and alter the policy of his father's government. In any case a new chance is afforded him and his people. God is slow to anger (Romans 10:21). The invitations of his love are still extended to us, notwithstanding the sins of the fathers and our own repeated violations of his Law (Hebrews 4:6-9). Even the backslider is addressed with frequent warnings and appeals - a proceeding which would have no meaning apart from God's reserved purpose of grace.
II. IN THEIR TIMELINESS. It was not only at the middle or end of Jehoiakim's reign, when he might have thought himself involved too deeply to retrace his steps, but at the very beginning. With a new king a fresh opportunity is offered for the nation also to return to its allegiance. Similarly does he stand at the threshold of every life and the opening of every career. He has "risen up early" and anticipated the transgressor in his evil way, or guided his faithful child into the paths of peace (cf. John 1:9).
III. IN THEIR FAITHFULNESS. "Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah... diminish not a word." To declare "all the words of this life" is the commission of Christ's servants, and to do this "in season and out of season." The exact situation of men, and the relation into which sin has brought them with respect to God, must be plainly stated; there is no room for flattery. It is absurd to suppose that such a policy is clue to vindictiveness. It can only be explained on the hypothesis of an earnest and thorough-going scheme of salvation. Sinners require to be faithfully dealt with, in order to awaken their conscience and constrain them to take advantage of the means provided for their deliverance.
IV. IN THEIR REVELATION OF HIS WILLINGNESS TO SAVE. It might almost appear weakness, yet is not Jehovah ashamed of this long-suffering. The attribute of mercy does not detract from the dignity or authority of Divine character; rather is it its glory. This forbearance and hesitation to inflict punishment can be attributed to no base motives. It is in harmony with his behavior at all times. How important is it that the repentant sinner should know the merciful disposition of him with whom he has to do l It is essential in every preaching of the gospel that this impression should be produced. The failure of one generation, again, is no reason for another being condemned before probation. God is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9) - M.
I. HIS RECEPTION. It is tumultuous and threatening. He is treated as a criminal. The people, under the influence of his enemies, the priests and the prophets, said, "Thou shalt surely die," and were "gathered together against" him (vers. 8, 9). It was to be expected that the priests and the prophets should have been his accusers (ver. 11), and they already anticipate an unfavorable verdict. It is the educated and influential amongst the laity who are his judges (ver. 10) - a fortunate thing for him, as the event showed. They seem to have been more open to conviction, as they were probably better acquainted with the moral condition of the court and the political situation. The opposition of men is to be expected by the follower and witness of truth, for "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). But some will ever be found, if not convinced by him, yet, through the work of the Spirit, open to conviction. There is nothing which true religion demands in these crises but a fair hearing and an impartial judgment.
II. HIS DEFENSE. He declares the reality of his mission - "the Lord sent me" (vers. 12, 15); his faithfulness to his instructions, and the merciful aim which he had in view (ver. 13); his helplessness and indifference to personal consequences (ver. 14); and his own innocence of any evil design against the nation. God's servants, when thus arraigned, ought to be gentle and yet faithful to their message; the issue is to be left to him. The fear of man is to be forgotten in the fear of God and the enthusiasm of salvation.
III. HIS DELIVERANCE.
1. The verdict is sensible and wise (ver. 16), and receives the adhesion of the people. It is the false prophets who are most obstinately opposed, who would probably have aroused the popular prejudices, had it not been for the interference of certain elders who recalled previous instances in point (vers. 17-23); and the strong personal influence of Ahikam, son of Shaphan. We are reminded of our Savior's experience at the bar of Pilate (Matthew 27:19-25).
2. The most prominent feature of the judgment is its consequence. God's children must frequently be disappointed in their appeals to men and their expectation of results from his Word. His ways are hidden, inscrutable, and hard to acquiesce in. A clear and intelligent verdict is not to be expected from those who are not prepared to yield themselves to God's authority. The clearest and most faithful expositions of truth will frequently appear to fail of immediate effect. The servant of God is to care chiefly to deliver his soul; his personal safety may be left to God. God can raise up influential friends for his people in critical times, but he will work out his schemes in his own way. - M.
Acts 6:13), the statement is mutilated in the accusation, the condition of the prophecy being entirely ignored (vers. 9, 11). The principle of indestructible consecration is still clung to by many in the face of the plainest declarations of Scripture. It may be well, therefore, to discuss its bearings in the present instance.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ITS BESTOWAL. It was Divine grace to which it was due; but for this Jerusalem would have been like other cities. This favor had to be continued from moment to moment, being indeed only secured by the continued indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What was due to grace could be freely withdrawn by its Donor. As a matter of history, the most sacred places of Israel were repeatedly ruined and profaned. This destruction is matter of ancient prophecy, as in the present instance (Daniel 9:26; Mark 13:2).
II. THE TERMS OF ITS TENURE. The repeated warnings and injunctions given prove that the consecration of the sacred places depended upon their occupancy by God's Spirit, and this in turn upon the faithfulness of his people. Either these had no meaning or the grace could be taken away. Jeremiah said, "If ye will not hearken to me, then will I make this house like Shiloh." The testimony of 1 Kings 9:6-8 is precisely similar (cf. Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12).
III. ITS OWN ESSENTIAL NATURE. Strictly speaking, all things made by God are good and holy, but they may be desecrated, in a secondary sense, by being misused, profaned, or defiled. Institutions, buildings, or material or mechanical structures of any sort, are at best but secondary receptacles of Divine grace. "God dwelleth not in temples made with hands." It is the person occupying these who is the true temple, and when he is defiled by sin or unfaithfulness there can be no virtue inherent in the places which he frequents. Consecration is alone transmissible through the operation and presence of the Holy Spirit, and ceases with the withdrawal of the same. It consists primarily in the personal character through which it is expressed, and only secondarily in places and things, through the uses and practices carried on by holy men in connection with them. To the unholy, therefore, every place and thing will be unholy, and vice versa (Titus 1:15). Material edifices, organization, and official prerogative, are nothing apart from this personal consecration associated with them; and the loss of that involves the loss of usefulness, of peace, and of sacredness, even in connection with that with which they have been most identified. - M.
I. THE PROPHET OF GOD MEETS WITH UNIVERSAL OPPOSITION.
II. HE IS IN PERSONAL DANGER.
1. The responsibility of the judgments predicted is attached to himself. This is due to a false principle of association, having its root in human ignorance and depravity. Not even God is responsible. The sinner must blame himself (Galatians 4:16).
2. The worst consequences are threatened. Hatred to God expresses itself in hatred to his servant. It is, therefore, violent and in defiance of all justice. Transgressors think to escape judgment by denying it and destroying its witnesses.
III. CHARACTER IS JEOPARDIZED. The verdict was but a half-hearted one, and did not meet with general assent. The worst charges are brought against Christian men who are faithful to their convictions; and it is not always the case that their groundlessness is made clear. This is part of the "reproach of Christ." - M.
I. WHO THEY WERE THAT PRONOUNCED THIS JUDGMENT. There is already a statement in ver. 8 that priests, prophets, and people had laid hold on Jeremiah with a threatening of death; but we must allow something for the feelings produced on the first reception of an exasperating and humiliating message. The case is worse when the priests and prophets, having had some time for consideration, however short, press upon the princes and people a demand for the death of Jeremiah. The lead the priests and prophets here take goes a long way in showing who were mostly responsible for the deplorable state of things in the land. If things were to be put right, these two classes of men must be conspicuous in repentance. Those who were so ready to sentence Jeremiah to death were really most of all deserving of death themselves. He had simply spoken words against the city and the temple, words which were not his own; those who condemned him had so lived that their life had been a sedulous undermining of all that constituted the prosperity and glory of their country.
II. WHAT IT WAS THAT PROVOKED THE JUDGMENT. Jeremiah had prophesied against the city. Observe, not simply that he had spoken blasphemous and contemptuous words against the city; but that he had prophesied against it. Thus did the priests and prophets show how little they understood the nature of true prophecy. They did not understand that when the Lord sends forth a man to speak, he puts a word in his mouth which shall commend itself to all who love truth and certainty. To the mind of these priests and prophets everything began with this postulate, that nothing must be said against Jerusalem and the temple. And to them it was no sort of answer that the sins of Jerusalem deserved and demanded that something should be said against it. The good name of Jerusalem, however lacking in any sort of correspondence with reality, had become a sort of point of honor. Thus we see how the pride of men goes before their destruction. A conventional sense of honor leads them into paths thickly strewn with stumbling-blocks. These men had become so stuffed with spurious patriotism that they could not bear to have Jerusalem spoken against. Hence they are logically compelled to imply that Jeremiah is a false prophet, and that God has not spoken at all. They were as those who shut their eyes, and then say there is nothing to be seen.
III. THE DOOM THEY INVOKED. The man who speaks against Jerusalem is reckoned worthy of death. We must not, of course, measure this judgment by our notions of what may require the death penalty. To speak against a parent was by the Law of Moses to incur the death penalty. As the Apostle James uses many forcible expressions to illustrate, great is the power of the tongue; and a bad man may do mischief with his tongue worthy of the severest punishment men can inflict. If Jeremiah had gone about among the people stirring them up to rebellion and national discord, there would have been nothing very astonishing in an attempt to put him to death. But he gave no exhortation to the people save what each one could carry into effect without the slightest injury to any one; nay, rather the obedience of each would be to the real and abiding advantage of all. He spoke not of anything he himself intended to bring about, but of what was going to happen altogether irrespective of him. His death, supposing he were slain, would make no difference; nay, it would only help to proclaim his message louder and more abidingly. Those who feel themselves attacked by the truth, strike out recklessly with the first instrument they can get hold of; but though they may seem thus to destroy God's agencies, it is found in the end that they are efficiently promoting his work. They that were scattered abroad by the great persecution which arose at the time of Stephen's death, "went everywhere preaching the Word." - Y.
I. AN APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE. The message repeated in its baldest form. Its genuineness insisted upon, and its reception earnestly urged upon men. A high moral standpoint is maintained, and there is no compromise or apology. He stands at the bar of human conscience.
II. OBEDIENCE TO LAWFUL AUTHORITY. He hands himself over to them to deal with him as they will; is careful to state his case as God gives him ability; and appeals to no unlawful means of deliverance.
III. REFERENCE OF THE WHOLE MATTER TO GOD. God sent him - that is sufficient. He has been faithful to his instructions; is really not to be judged by man, but leaves all with God. - M.
I. We may say that, first of all, HE IS THINKING OF THE GOD WHO HAD SENT HIM. That which threatened him at the same time insulted and tried to thwart Jehovah. Not that Jeremiah was careless about his own safety, but the glory of his God was paramount in his thoughts. He had in him the true spirit of apostleship; the claims he had to make were not his own claims; he was a sent man, and sent of God. Just in proportion as a man feels that God has sent him, must be his distress to find that others do not recognize the credentials of the messenger and the importance of the message. On one side the prophet was dealing with God, on the other with men. Every day deepened on him the impression of God's intimate presence with him; and yet this same God who was so much to him was nothing to these people; the name that thrilled and subdued his susceptible heart, was perhaps the least potent of sounds in their ears. Hence the need of appealing to them again and again, if perchance there might be roused in them some sort of apprehension that they were dealing, not with a brother man, but with the almighty and holy God. While they were all absorbed in considerations of their own territorial dignity, God in his justice was comings, ever nearer. Whatever happens to the people or to the prophet himself, that prophet will at all events exalt God before them to the latest hour of his existence. If he has to die, the message of God shall live more gloriously in his closing hours.
II. HE IS THINKING OF THE INTERESTS OF THIS APPARENTLY OBDURATE PEOPLE. Though at the present moment it is he who seems to be in danger, he well knows that his peril is but a surface trifle when compared with that attaching to the scowling enemies who are crowded around him. He can be rescued, if so it please God; but who is to rescue those who are striding onwards, ever more swiftly, to a righteous doom? God can deliver the prophet from his enemies, for the prophet himself interposes no obstacle to his deliverance; but these people of Judah and Jerusalem interpose insurmountable obstacles, in that they will not amend their ways and doings and obey the voice of God. More than that, it seems as if they were about to add a fresh obstacle by shedding the innocent blood of God's latest messenger. The persecutor is always in greater peril than the persecuted. Physical pain and physical death are transitory and unreturning ills, but the evildoer has to face the worm that dieth not. Compare with the words of the prophet here the words of Jesus as he was being led to crucifixion: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (Luke 23:28).
III. HE IS THINKING OF HIS OWN PRESENT POSITION. (See ver. 14.) This verse reveals a calm, intermediate position between the reckless fanaticism that even courts death and the spirit that turns back the moment threatening is heard. "I am in your hands," says the prophet. He admits their power to the fullest extent, and he does not in any way dare them to the exercise of it. He is neither anxious for life nor afraid of death. This surely is the spirit to be gained if one would be a true witness for God. Jeremiah seems to speak here as one who had gained, for the moment at least, something of the calm of eternity. And his very calmness must surely have been a considerable element in determining the rapid change of feeling among the multitude. Perfect presence of mind, when it comes from an all-sufficient Divine stay within, must have a wondrous power in checking those whose fury is roused by an attack on their base and selfish interests, - Y.
I. AN INSTANCE OF A PROPHET'S UNPALATABLE MESSAGE. No word could have been more provocative of resentment than this. It threatened those to whom it was spoken in the closest possible way. It meant that they were to be subjected to their enemies, driven from their homes, and deprived of their most substantial possessions. The message being such, what comfort Jeremiah might obtain from recollecting that his predecessors treading his thorny path before him were now remembered in such an honorable way! Micah had been faithful to his God, his message, and his audience; and the impression of his faithfulness is still deep when something like a century has elapsed. These people now listening to Jeremiah were thus made responsible for Micah's words as well as Jeremiah's. What harmony there is in true prophecy! False prophets, from their very position, cannot be got to agree; but here Jeremiah's words at once recall to mind Micah's similar words, and help to drive them with a deeper impression into some at least of this subsequent generation. Thus also, reciprocally, Micah's words help Jeremiah's. And not only was there harmony between the prophecies; there was harmony between the characters of the prophets as well. All the prophets would have understood one another perfectly if they had been gathered together in one assembly.
II. AN INSTANCE OF HOW A PROPHET SHOULD EVER BE RECEIVED. Jeremiah is able to look back on a man of like spirit with himself in. the prophet Micah, but the present leaders of Israel have their thoughts turned to a very different king from Jehoiakim. We can guess how Hezekiah behaved toward Micah from the way in which he behaved toward Isaiah. The narrative here concerning the fate of Urijah seems to be introduced to show that, though Jeremiah escaped from peril at the hands of these priests and prophets, their nature and the nature of Jehoiakim remained the same. When Hezekiah heard the truth, bitter as it was, he humbled himself and averted doom. But Jehoiakim and his profligate and rapacious circle hated every one who spoke the truth. Hence it was not enough for them that Urijah fled; they followed him and brought him back to suffer their vengeance. Thus it is made evident how Jehoiakim was a man of very different spirit from Hezekiah. - Y.
I. OF WHAT SORT IT IS.
4. Not what man would choose.
II. WHAT IT TEACHES US.
1. The infinite resources of God.
2. The weakness of evil.
3. Those who will not willingly obey God are made to serve him unwillingly.
4. God chooses his own way of dealing with his servants and his truth. - M.
I. THE EVIDENT PERIL OF JEREMIAH. A large Body of the people had been somehow influenced to take his side, but how long their favorable mood of mind might continue, who could tell? There was no Hezekiah on the throne to encourage such a feeling and make it permanent. Moreover, there is an ebullition of fury which is fatal to one who, as far as the record enables us to judge, occupied a far less prominent position than Jeremiah. If Urijah was slain, how could Jeremiah hope to escape? We must try to get a distinct impression of all the peril in which Jeremiah was in order to appreciate the services rendered to him by Ahikam.
II. THE TIMELY HELP OF AHIKAM. Nothing is told us save the bare fact of protection, We must not assume that Ahikam was fully in sympathy with Jeremiah. We have no means of judging as to his character and his motives, as to the risks that he ran, and the ultimate results to him. The one clear thing is that at this time he was a man of power, and was for some reason disposed to shield the prophet. It may be that, if we could lay bare and analyze his motives, they would be found very mixed as to their kind. But, whatever the motives, the practical service was the same. Jehovah could, of course, have protected his servant by supernatural means, but it is his principle of working not to employ the supernatural when the natural would serve the purpose. Hezekiah could do more than Ahikam, seeing that he turned to God and kept hack the dreadful visitations. But Ahikam did all that was necessary for the present occasion. Compare the position of Ahikam here with that of the Duke of Lancaster towards Wickliffe and the Lollards. - Y.