Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HOW GRIEVOUSLY WICKED THE PEOPLE HAD BEEN. (Cf. ver. 2.) It was with them as with the family of the rich man told of in Luke 16. He, being in torments, thought of his five brethren who were all of them living in sin. There, as here, there were none righteous. And so with Sodom and Gomorrah.
II. YET HOW VERY ANXIOUS THEY WERE FOR THE PROPHET'S PRAYERS. Ver. 3, "Pray now," etc. Reasons of this were:
1. They had waked up to the conviction that the prophet's message was true.
2. They were in sore peril, and knew not how to help themselves.
3. They knew that the prophet had power with God.
4. They felt they could not go to God in prayer themselves. How much of the asking for the prayers of God's ministers on the part of those who are on their death bed is owing to like causes!
III. HOW USELESS SUCH PRAYERS ARE. Did the prayer of Dives do any good? or of the five foolish virgins? or those of the prophet, for we may suppose that he did pray? Now, the reasons of their uselessness are such as these:
1. To have granted them would have defeated God's purpose in regard to his people. That purpose was to purify them, to separate them from their sins. But they did not wish when they asked these prayers to be severed from sin, only to be relieved of trouble. But such desire could not be granted; therefore God held them down to the consequences of their sin.
2. Their request was an insult to God. Such men are well described in Mrs. H.W.B. Stowe's book, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' where one of them, Haley, is thus spoken to by a comrade: "After all, what's the odds between me and you? 'Tain't that you care one bit more or have a bit more feelin'; it's clean, sheer, dog meanness, wanting to cheat the devil and save your own skin, Don't I see through it? And your 'gettin' religion,' as you call it, arter all, is too p'isin mean for any crittur; run up a bill with the devil all your life, and then sneak out when pay time comes! Boh!" Is there not a vast amount of this meanness? Its despicableness is only equalled by its uselessness.
3. It would make God the minister of sin. CONCLUSION. Learn, unless there be true repentance, neither our own prayers nor those of other people, though they be the greatest saints of God, will avail us anything. Even coming to Christ apart from repentance will fail us. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," etc. - C.
I. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF GOD. A notion evidently altogether detached from any considerations of character; we are told in ver. 2 that Zedediah did not hearken to the words of the Lord through his prophet Jeremiah, and we could infer as much from the request here addressed to the prophet. Zedekiah looked upon Jehovah pretty much as he did upon the deities of surrounding nations. The notion was that the immense power of these deities could be turned in any direction desired, if only they were sufficiently propitiated. Now, if Zedekiah had cared to attend to the volume of prophecy, he would have seen very clearly that he who comes to God must believe that he is a God who will not pass over the misgovernment, the cruelty, the injustice, of human kings. And so when we come to God our prayers will have reality just in proportion as they show a distinct understanding of the character of God.
II. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF PRAYER. Had he indeed any notion at all? Did he mean anything more than that Jeremiah should go and do whatever he thought necessary and effectual? Intercessory prayer can be of little use to those who do not pray for themselves. Zedekiah wanted a certain end, namely, that by help of Egypt he should repel the Chaldeans. And he looked upon Jehovah as being a sort of heavenly Pharaoh. And just as he had sent, doubtless, one ambassador to ask for Pharaoh's help, so now he wants to make Jeremiah an ambassador to Jehovah. This was all very foolish, ignorant, and presumptuous on Zedekiah's part; but what better are we when we make up our prayers of petitions for things that we desire without stopping to consider that no petition is worth anything unless it not merely accords with the will of God, but even springs from that will? The use of prayer is that God may serve us according to his estimate of our needs, not according to our estimate.
III. THE NOTION ZEDEKIAH HAD OF THE PROPHET. He had a superstitious feeling that Jeremiah could do something for him he could not do for himself. We see here the secret of the power of priestcraft. We see how it was that false prophets got such a hold. We see how it is that priestcraft and spiritual dictation still prevail. The great bulk of men will not do the right thing towards God, they will not repent and crucify self, but a deep necessity impels them to do something, and so they seek to other men. Zedekiah was making an altogether wrong use of the prophet. His duty was to obey the prophet's messages, then he would not have needed to ask Jeremiah to pray for him. And let all people understand with respect to ministers of religion, that they exist to teach and help in a brotherly way; but that also they are frail and fallible, and possess no mystic virtue to make their prayers more efficacious than the prayers of other people. Intercessory prayer is the duty, the privilege, the power, of every Christian. - Y.
I. THE NATURE OF THESE HOPES.
1. They are based upon human means alone.
2. They arise from following the dictates of our own will and wisdom.
II. HOW THEY BETRAY.
1. They are full of promise, and gain confidence.
2. They must fail,
(1) because they are inadequate to the real need, and
(2) they are opposed to the will of God.
3. They spiritually ruin. They lead us first to ignore and then to resist the will of God. In this alone is our welfare secured. For although the first expression and demand of that will be gloomy and severe, the end of it to the obedient is peace and salvation (1 Peter 1:3-9). - M.
I. THE FOUNDATION. There are many such; e.g.:
1. Reasonings from the observed prosperity of the wicked.
2. The assertions or suggestions of the sin loving heart: that there is no God; if there be, he is too merciful to punish sin; repentance at last will do; the efficacy of sacraments, etc. These are all of them instances of 1.
3. The slow footedness of God's judgments. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are steadfastly set in them to do evil." And God is long suffering, not willing that any should perish.
II. THE STRUCTURES RAISED THEREUPON. They are often characterized by much material comfort. Worldly prosperity is not too weighty for them. Great freedom from anxiety, "Not in trouble as other men are." They are very attractive, and seem to be the abodes of true happiness. Mirth, festivity, and song abound in them often far more than in those which are built upon the rock.
III. THE OVERTHROW. This always comes, it came in the instance given here. The armies of Babylon did come back. It may come in this life. There are warnings of it every day. But if not now, then in the great day of judgment. And this overthrow will make us full of sorrow according to the days wherein we have never been afflicted, and the years wherein, as we have thought, we have seen no evil. CONCLUSION. Read the events of God's providence, not by the light of thy sin-loving heart, but by the light of God's sure Word, of God's Spirit within thee, and of God's not partial but complete dealing with men, taking in the whole of life, and, if needs be, eternity also. "Be not deceived." - C.
I. VERY MANY WERE DECEIVED.
II. APPEARANCES WERE DECEPTIVE.
III. NONE COULD CLAIM EXEMPTION FROM THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING DECEIVED.
IV. THERE WAS A TRAITOR WITHIN THE CAMP. Their hearts wished that to be true which they therefore thought to be true.
V. TO BE DECEIVED IS TO BE PLUNGED IN THE UTTERMOST OF SORROW.
VI. WE NEED NOT BE. There is One who says, "I will guide thee with my counsel." - C.
I. THE DELUSION ENTERTAINED. That a great army is before Jerusalem is, of course, no delusion, and that it may effect a great deal of damage of a certain sort is no delusion. The delusion lies here, in supposing that the removal of the army would be the removal of the danger. And this delusion being strong in the minds of the people led them to seek the help of Egypt. A carnal foe was to be overcome by the help of a carnal friend. And similarly we are all led into most mistaken policies of life by seeing only our visible enemies. In our solicitude to guard against the seen enemy, and keep in safety our own visible possessions, we make too much of visible things altogether. It is very hard, of course, to admit this; it is very hard for the natural mind to see its delusions; but then it is the very mark of delusions that they put on the semblance of fundamental and important truths. Again and again appeal is made to what is called common sense to testify to the validity of delusions. The common belief of the multitude is cited to stop the mouth of any one who ventures to proclaim what he is sure is true. Those who have got to the heights and advanced places of spiritual experience know full well that the maxims and rules of the natural man are little but a mass of pernicious delusions. Thus men carefully preserve the shell of life, while the interior treasure for which the shell exists is utterly neglected.
II. THE DELUSION EXPOSED. God makes plain who the real enemy of Jerusalem is, an enemy whom a thousand Pharaohs and a thousand Egypts would vainly contend against. In one sense Jehovah himself is enemy, but what he says amounts to this, that Jerusalem itself is its own worst enemy. While it is rebellious against him, and full of all unrighteousness, he must work against it by all available instruments. To destroy the Chaldean army is only as it were to break the warriors sword; he can seize another and continue the conflict. It is of the greatest possible consequence that we should know in any conflict whether we are fighting simply against man, or whether behind the man who is in front of us there be the purpose and the strength of God. How much of human energy has been wasted, how many have had failure stamped on all their efforts, simply because it has not been known that God has been behind human conflicts! God would have us make sure - and he gives us ample means for the attainment - that we are not fighting against him.
III. THE DELUSION MAINTAINED. This is made plain to us as we read on in the narrative. An example is given to us of how people often do not wake to the delusions of life till too late. They walk contentedly in a vain show, and the realities flowing out of the ministry of Christ they reckon to be dreams. We may depend upon it that delusions will be maintained, most ingeniously, most tenaciously, until by the power of God our eyes are opened to distinguish reality from appearance, and truth from falsehood. - Y.
I. THE LESSON. A twofold one, viz.:
1. The inevitableness of the Divine will, whether it be to destroy or to save.
2. God's independence of human means. He can save by "many or by few." He is declared able "of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." It pleased him by "the foolishness of preaching" to save many, etc.
(1) The sinner in rebellion against God, however great his outward success and however feeble the opposition to him, has reason to fear. It is an easy thing for his Maker to crush him. It will not require a great instrumentality. Herod was eaten of worms.
(2) The Christian worker should rejoice and be encouraged. Every true word or work will have its effect. He must succeed, however insignificant his company or his means.
II. THE TYPE. The ghostly army that was to "burn the city with fire" represents the mighty power of God to create his agents, and symbolizes the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the dead Christ who is raised again to fulfil the will of God in judgment and salvation. - M.
I. THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL TO GOD WILL FREQUENTLY BE SUSPECTED OF THE WORST MOTIVES. The immediate purpose to be served by going out from Jerusalem was innocent enough, viz. mere resort to the country as safer than the city, or to take possession of his inheritance in Benjamin. No effort was made at concealment, it was done "in the midst of the people." Yet he was accused of being about to "fall away [desert] to the Chaldeans." It would appear as if the prophet's persistent declarations of the success of the Chaldean arms and the downfall of Judah were attributed to his sympathy with the enemy. Many of the greatest servants of God have had similar experiences. Christ himself was accused of the worst intentions against the Jewish nation.
II. HOW IS THIS?
1. Because the natural mind fails to understand the things of God. The motive power or central principle is so diverse, or the means employed are so peculiar, that the real benevolence of intention is not perceived. When Christians remember how hard it is for even themselves to justify God's ways, they ought to expect that others not expressly taught of him will fail thoroughly to apprehend their drift. The policy of the Divine life and service, even in its plainest duties and appointments, is surrounded with mystery; its wisdom is not of this world. It is often hard for those who are condemned by Christ's ministers to realize that the denunciations to which they are subjected do not spring from personal enmity. The greatest efforts ought, therefore, to be made to prove how good and loving the spirit is in which words of Christian rebuke are uttered. And the whole conduct of believers should be careful and blameless. "Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
2. The natural mind is predisposed against truth and goodness. - M
I. TO BE FALSELY ACCUSED IS THE COMMON LOT OF GOD'S PEOPLE. How many instances we have! - Abel, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. Because of such slanders the psalmist said, "All men are liars." And here the Prophet Jeremiah, having no thought of deserting his countrymen, is nevertheless accused of so doing. And today the world is ever ready with its slander. It avows that all the godly are but hypocrites, knaves, or fools. With what eagerness does it fasten upon the faults of a good man! How ready to take up an accusation against him!
II. HOW IS IT TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR? We reply:
1. Men of the world do not understand the principles on which the godly act. Hence what they do not understand they misrepresent.
2. They know their own motives, and attribute the like to the godly. They act from purely worldly motives, and hence they conclude godly men do the same.
3. They hate religion, and therefore are always ready to revile it.
4. It is "a comfort to Sodom" to think that the godly are no better than themselves after all. But -
III. HOW IS IT TO BE DEALT WITH?
1. Sometimes by silence. Silence leaves opportunity for and suggests reflection. How often of our Lord is it said, "He answered not a word" (cf. John 13.)]
2. Sometimes by indignant denial. Thus the prophet acted here; ver. 14, "It is false," etc. They might have known, and probably did know, bow false their accusation was. Where there is great and true indignation felt at being thought capable of a given crime, that feeling, may often be shown; often, indeed, it ought to be, as when
(1) the honour of God is concerned;
(2) the good of his Church;
(3) what is shameful as well as sinful is charged against us.
3. Sometimes by showing the necessary untruthfulness of the accusation. This also our Lord did, as when they charged him with being in league with Beelzebub.
4. Sometimes by committing it all to God. Of our Lord it is said, "When he was reviled, he reviled not again, ... but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously."
5. Sometimes by showing the motive of the false accusation. As when our Lord likened those who found fault with him to petulant children playing in the market place, who would be pleased with nothing.
6. Always by remembering that we are in the fellowship of Christ herein, and seeking his Spirit's aid to rightly bear this trial. - C.
I. WILL NOT HEARKEN TO THE ACCUSED.
II. ARE BIASED BY PASSION.
III. ARE NEEDLESSLY CRUEL.
IV. SEEK NOT EIGHT, BUT REVENGE.
LEARN. To be careful what manner of spirit we are of whenever we are called upon to judge one another. Let us be thankful that the Judge before whom we stand, and who surveys all our ways, is that gracious Lord to whom the Father has committed all judgment, and who judges not righteously only, but in all mercy as well. - C.
I. THE SECRET QUESTION OF A KING.
1. The secrecy. Why should a king with all his authority do a thing in secrecy? Was it policy or fear that dictated this secret consultation with Jeremiah? Fear, probably, was the largest element. He was afraid of what the princes and courtiers around him would say. Note other secret interviews sought by men of rank and authority. Herod, a king, privily calls the wise men from the East. Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, comes to Jesus by night. What men of position do cannot be concealed easily. The very effort to conceal is often only a more effective publication. The lesson is that, however quietly and unobtrusively we may do a thing, we must do it so as not in the least fearing publicity. The very difficulty of keeping secrets is a divinely ordained difficulty to help in keeping men in the paths of righteousness.
2. The evident faith of the king in Jeremiah's office. The faith was superstitious and unpractical, but still, such as it was, it exerted a power over the king's conduct. This increases the king's responsibility, for it shows that he was not able to get Jeremiah and his message out of his mind.
3. The indication as to what sort of answer was expected. Not in words, of course, but we can guess what the tone of the inquiry was. Jeremiah came from a prison to prophesy, and doubtless the king thought that the privations of the past and the hopes of liberty might draw some flattering word from the prophet. Altogether, what a pitiable position this king was in - waiting eagerly, half in terror, half in threatening, upon the word of one of his humble subjects, and the same a prisoner!
II. THE BOLD ANSWER OF A PROPHET. What great things are required from a prophet! He must always be in close and living relation to truth. He must always be ready to meet the manifold temptations which beset a man who is specially sent forth to speak the truth. His first question must ever be, not - What is the safe path, or the easy path? but - What is God's path? Here he was in close and private dealing with a king. Perhaps, as he looked upon Zedekiah thus sending for him secretly, he compassionated him rather than feared him. It was such a revelation of the hollowness of human grandeur. Jeremiah here before Zedekiah is even somewhat of a type of Jesus before Pilate. Jesus will go on testifying to the truth. He will not make Pilate's task one whir easier by accommodating himself to Pilate's desires. Truth, eternal realities, fundamental duties, fidelity to the clear voice of God within the heart, - these must prevail in every one who would follow in the path of Jesus or of prophets and apostles. There is neither real prudence nor real charity without these things. - Y.
Jeremiah 37:20Jeremiah 37:20. "Out of weakness made strong." This verse an utterance, not of a sturdy invincible soul, but one of a gentle, shrinking, and often timid nature. Note -
I. THE PROPHET JEREMIAH belonged to the company of those who, out of weakness, God has made strong.
1. By nature and temperament he was the reverse of strong. Proof in this verse. Suffering was ever terrible to him. Hence he piteously pleads for the king's help. And passim we have indications of the gentleness of his nature (cf. Jeremiah 1:6, "Ah, Lord, I cannot;" and homily on Jeremiah 4:19-30, "The fellowship of Christ's sufferings," vol. 1. p. 100). But:
2. Notwithstanding this, see how strong he became. When it came to the test, how he endured (cf. Jeremiah 1:10, 17, 18)! Nothing would induce him to alter his word towards the king, the prophets, and the people generally. He softened not one line of his message, although it would have been so much to his advantage to have done so. Now -
II. THIS IS THE GLORY OF GOD'S GRACE ALWAYS. There will be glory by and by, an outward glory on every child of God. "Eye hath not seen," etc. But the present glory of God's grace is this, that out of weakness it makes its recipients strong. See what it did for the apostles, and especially for St. Peter - they the recreants and the denier of the Lord, but afterwards his valiant and undaunted witnesses. And grace has done the same for not a few in prospect of suffering and trial from which beforehand they would have utterly shrunk away. Women and children were amongst the number of the martyrs; and in the moral martyrdoms of this softer age they are so still. God strengthens his servants "with might by his Spirit in the inner man? And this is the glory of his grace. Not the numbers of the Church, nor her wealth, rank, gifts, or aught of such sort, but the spiritual strength that characterizes her. "I can do all things," said St. Paul, "through Christ which strengtheneth me." And it will be so yonder in the better world hereafter. The glory of that day will not be the golden streets, the gates of pearl, the foundations of precious stones; not the vast throng of the redeemed, nor aught that belongs only to their circumstances, happy as they will be; but it will be the character of them all. And this will be their security also. The defences of that condition of the redeemed will not be outward, but inward. They, having been strengthened with might by the Spirit of God in the inner man, will have come to be rooted - like the giant oak, which no tempest can uproot from the ground - and grounded - like the deep-laid foundation of the temple, which naught can overthrow - in love, and so Christ will dwell in their hearts. Yes, their glory will be their defence also. CONCLUSION. Seek, therefore, this grace of Divine strength. Bow your "knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," that, "according to the riches of his glory," he would grant you this. Then, though weak and wavering by nature, steadiness and strength shall be given to your will, your heart, and so God will make you as he did his prophet - as "a defenced city, an iron pillar, a brazen wall" (Jeremiah 1:18). - C.
I. GOD OFTEN LETS SORE TROUBLE COME TO HIS SERVANTS.
II. BUT HE APPOINTS IT ACCORDING TO THEIR POWER OF ENDURANCE. He is not a hard master, gathering where he has not strawed, nor reaping where he has not sown. He fits the back for the burden it has to bear. If staying in the dread dungeon was too great a trial for his prophet, he will have him taken out. The wave that would have sunk the boat in which our Lord was with his disciples was never permitted to beat into it. A great many others came, but not that one. And so it ever is. "As thy day, so thy strength." God will be our "arm every morning."
III. THEREFORE "TAKE NO THOUGHT FOR THE MORROW," etc. - C.