Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE RIGHT AND DUTY OF IT.
1. Because of his claim to respect and obedience. It was a traditional custom in Israel. Jehovah was their national God. He had delivered them, created them into a nation, and laid them under eternal obligations.
(1) There is a general obligation upon all so to do. Even those who do not recognize any special relation existing between God and themselves have reason for drawing nigh to him. There are moments when the things of life assert their sacredness and awful mystery, when God besets them behind and before. His providence is a continual appeal. And the sense of sin, of helplessness, and of indefinite hope leads them to his footstool.
(2) It is specially incumbent upon those who are related to him through grace. Judah represented ancient Israel, and, although now but a remnant, was still privileged with the presence of a true prophet of God. Christians should be eager and ready to call upon him, as they have the promises reaffirmed in Christ, and the witness of his Spirit in their hearts that they shall not ask in vain. Their whole position is due to his grace, and it is but right that this should be acknowledged.
2. Because of helplessness and danger. The petitioners were "left but a few of many." They knew that it was through their own folly for the most part that they had been brought to such a pass. We know that in the great crises of life we are unable to guide ourselves. The future is dark and full of trouble.
3. Because of God's wisdom, power, and love. He knows all things, and is able to deliver from all evil; and he has assured us of his willingness to guide and protect. The larger, grander policy of life is only possible with his inspiration.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT SHOULD BE ENTERED UPON.
1. Humility. In external attitude and language they left little to criticize (ver. 2). Consciousness of our own need and weakness.
2. Confidence. We must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of all them that diligently seek him. Their requesting Jeremiah to pray to the Lord his God, and their expression of willingness to do as he should advise, showed a measure of faith.
3. Obedience. This they professed (ver. 6).
4. Sincerity. (Ver. 6.)
III. THE DANGERS TO WHICH IT IS EXPOSED. Notwithstanding all their profession, we can detect:
1. Signs of systematic neglect of God and religious ordinances. The expression "came near" suggests a previous habitual distance from Jehovah. They appear more anxious to conciliate the prophet than him whom he served. There is no confession of sin. Probably Jeremiah had been all but ignored up to that time. What a strange phrase, "the Lord thy God"! The prophet seeks gently to lead them to a better standing - "the Lord your God;" which they seem to adopt. "To whom we send thee" still betrays the absence of filial love and intimacy. Their subsequent behaviour showed that:
2. They were unreal and hypocritical in their whole attitude. They had made up their mind as to what was best for them to do, as the resort to the "habitation of Chimham" already proved. With one foot in Canaan, as it were, and another out of it, they pretended to inquire of God. This is a very common practice, but it is one which not only robs prayer of its meaning and efficacy, but also brings upon the head of those who are guilty of it a grievous curse, as in this instance. A portion of their prayer was answered, but in a way they little expected: "The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us." - M.
I. WHAT IT IS TO DISSEMBLE IN PRAYER. It is:
1. To pray in a deliberately continued unregeneracy of heart. The hearts of not a few of those Jews who now sought Jeremiah's prayers were deliberately held in a condition of disobedience. They had never really repented. How many such pray, but their prayer is a dissembling!
2. When allowing ourselves in forbidden paths. The Jews had no business on that border land. It was a yielding to temptation to go there. So when we come from sin to the throne of grace, and go thence to sin again, this is, etc.
3. When we are not setting ourselves to mortify our evil affections. The Jews here showed no real, sincere intention to give up their own will and to obey God's. They would not have been on that border land had such been the case. And so where there is no real striving against sin, this is, etc.
4. When whilst we pray we regard iniquity in our heart. That is to purpose and intend it; or to look upon it complacently and desiringly. The Jews, whilst praying to know God's will, were all the while looking with strong desire after what they knew was wrong. Like as when Balaam offered his many sacrifices, his heart was all the while going after its covetousness.
II. WHAT CAN LEAD MEN TO BE GUILTY OF SUCH DISSEMBLING? We should imagine they never could be; that the thing would be too outrageous, wicked, and absurd for any one to be guilty of. And yet there have been and are many such prayers. They may be partly explained by:
1. The force of habit. The locomotive, if left to itself, will run along the rails for considerable time and distance, slowing and stopping only very gradually, though the steam has been shut off the whole while. So those who have been wont to offer prayers will keep up the form and habit, though the heart be wanting.
2. They may be themselves deceived. Their strong desire for God's sanction might lead them to imagine they would gain it by their prayers.
3. They would not break with God altogether, and they deem that they can keep up their communications by such methods as these.
III. HOW PRAYERS ARE PROVED TO HAVE BEEN OF THIS EVIL CHARACTER.
1. By anger at their refusal. See how angry these Jews were. The state of mind with which we come away from our prayers will show much the true nature of those prayers.
2. When we make them only through others. The Jews left it to Jeremiah. So now men leave to their ministers or friends the prayers they profess to value.
3. When they are followed by open and defiant disobedience. So was it here (Jeremiah 43:1-7). Nothing could more plainly have shown how hollow and insincere were their prayers. And so now, when men pray, and rise up and go and do worse than before, what can their prayers have been?
IV. WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF SUCH PRAYERS? They grieve the Spirit of God. They harden the heart, and tend to make men of a reprobate mind. Cf. our Lord's words to the Pharisees - the pattern dissemblers of his day. They pave the way to "the damnation of hell." Therefore - thus let us conclude - be our prayer, "Search me, O God, and try my heart," etc. - C.
I. THE REQUEST OF THE PEOPLE
1. The apparent unanimity of it. All the people come, from the least to the greatest. Certainly there were not very many of them. They were but a remnant to begin with, and now still further reduced. But such as they were, an outward unity obtained among them. Outward unity is often obtained with comparative ease, but it must not be forgotten that it may cloak indifference, discord, opposition, and may be followed by contradictory conduct, even on the part of those who make the largest professions of submission.
2. The profession of submission to Jehovah. The request described a real want, whether the people meant all they said or not. And there is no reason to suppose that they did not mean it at the present time of asking. Men ask sincerely enough for Divine guidance, not being able to see at the time how hard it will be to follow it up. They want to be shown a way in which to walk, and then, when the way is shown, it looks too hard and perplexed to be God's way. They want to be shown the thing to do, and, when it is shown, there appears to be no use in it, no obvious relation of means to ends. Here is a result of prophetic teaching. The people had learnt from many prophetic utterances what they ought to ask for.
3. Their dependence on the prophet. Here is man showing his need of mediation. The people had come to know at last that Jeremiah was the faithful and accepted servant of God, This is the best way of recognizing a good man - to ask him to help those in need. And they wished also to commend their desires to the prophet. They wished him to pray a prayer that should be his as well as theirs.
II. THE PROPHET'S ANSWER. That he complies with the request is little to say. The prayer was one he could pray with all his heart. Well would it have been if he had been asked to offer it years before. That which taxed him was to tell them that he would faithfully report the answer. For he knew that God's message would go deep into the necessities of the case; that God's answer could not be comprehended by the limits of man's desires. This is the temptation of messengers, to keep something back through fear, or expediency, or mistaken kindness. Now, Jeremiah was well assured from a long experience that Jehovah never said a word too many or too few. The genuine promptings of the Spirit of God are the very best guide as to what we should tell men in the hour of their need.
III. THE PROMISE OF THE PEOPLE. They seem to hint that they are ready for difficult and painful requirements. History is not lost upon them so far as their professions are concerned. They hint how they have learnt that disobedience to God brings the worst of evils. One thing, however, they had not yet learnt, and that was the difference between knowledge and power. When men are in great straits they will make large promises in the hope of deliverance; not at all insincerely, but meaning all they say. It was with the people here as it is with people in dangerous illnesses - the way of restored health is to be the way of obedience and piety. That people make such promises shows that the promises are right; the wrong thing is that they lack in strength, persistency, and inward purpose to keep them. God has to make this lack plain before men will humble themselves to have it supplied. - Y.
I. MEN DO NOT THINK THIS. See their frantic endeavours to make their circumstances pleasant. And how they struggle against adversity, as if all evil were contained in that! Their opinion is very clear.
II. BUT YET IT MUST BE. For:
1. Our happiness or unhappiness depends entirely on the way in which we regard these circumstances. That is to say, it depends upon our mind, upon that which is within us rather than that which is without. Hence what gives great pleasure to one yields none or even the reverse of pleasure to others. The merry laugh of children, e.g,, to one in deep sadness, or irritable, or discontented. And vice versa. But:
2. God has constant access to the minds of us all, and he has made their satisfaction to depend upon him. "Nostrum cor inquietum est donec requiescat in te" (Augustine). He can flood them with joy in the darkest hour - Paul and Silas in the dungeon at Philippi; and he can make the most favourable circumtances powerless to render a man happy - Haman because of Mordecai; the conscience stricken, those from whom for any cause he hides his face, are illustrations. And abundant facts prove the powerlessness of mere circumstance over the minds of men.
III. THE INFLUENCE THAT THESE CONSIDERATIONS OUGHT TO HAVE UPON US.
1. Not to lead us to despise circumstances, and so to be careless as to the outward lot of either ourselves or others. For though they have not all power over the mind, God has given them very much power - a power that they lose only when he pleases.
2. But to estimate them rightly. This we can only do as we bring into view the unseen and the eternal, which can only be as we live in view of it by the habit of prayer, thought, and practical regard to God's will as expressed in conscience and his Word. So shall our balances be adjusted, and we shall rightly judge. There is a machine employed at the Mint of such perfect accuracy and finish that, when a number of sovereigns are tested by it, it will automatically and instantly and infallibly reject every one that fails in the least degree to come up to the proper standard of weight. So if we thus bring into view the unseen and eternal, all the crowd of facts and events that come before us day by day will each one spontaneously, promptly, and infallibly be judged, and we shall neither under nor over estimate them but as we ought.
3. To seek above all things the favour of God; for "in his favour is life, and his loving kindness is better than life itself." - C.
I. THE MEANING OF THE INTERVAL. There are ten days to wait between the prayer of Jeremiah and the answer of Jehovah. Why this waiting? It must have been in some way for the sake of the people. They had said very emphatically they would be obedient; would they be obedient to begin with, to the extent of waiting ten days for God's answer? It had also to be seen whether they would continue in the spirit of obedience at all; and would they all continue in the same spirit?
II. EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON THE DISPOSITION OF THE PEOPLE. God will do great things for them if only they do not destroy the effect of his actions by their self-will and instability. They were to show their trust in God by abiding in the land. Nothing could be done without this. God uses, to indicate his work for them, two words which imply fixity - building and planting. Let us also recollect the greatness of God's power to them that believe. If we take no trouble to furnish the occasion, we must not complain.
III. THE GREAT WORK GOD IS DISPOSED TO DO. It is indicated by these two net infrequent figures of buildin gaud planting. God was willing to make these people his husbandry, his building (1 Corinthians 3:9). He had been lately engaged in a great pulling down and rooting up; and why? Because his people had been putting up the wrong buildings, planting the wrong plant. Every plant not planted by God must be rooted up. God is the Builder, not a mere helper in building. We may be said to be fellow workers with God, but it can never describe him rightly to call him fellow worker with us. The work and the glory are his of building up the holy character, the perfect manhood, the everlasting home. Pie it is who makes his people fruitful in every good word and work. And the way for all this building and planting was now clear so far as God himself was concerned. All the pulling down and rooting up was done. Only let the people give the needed opportunity and all else would prosper.
IV. CAUTION AGAINST NEEDLESS FEAR. The temptation here, as so often, was to fear man too much and God too little or even none at all. "The fear of man bringeth a snare." The people feared the King of Babylon, forgetting the limits of his rower and the way in which he was controlled by Jehovah. - Y.
I. THE PERILOUS LAND WAS NEAR. They were right in the way to Egypt, having, indeed, moved Egyptwards rather than in any other direction (Jeremiah 41:17).
II. IT HAD OBVIOUS ATTRACTIONS.
1. It seemed to be a land of peace. Egypt had been locked to as a friend and ally. The desolation of Jerusalem had come from the north. When people have been going through a time of war and siege, peace is naturally the blessing put in front of their thoughts. And is not this a good thing, it may be asked? Yes, surely, if peace be desired on high grounds, and from a horror of discord among men. But men may seek it simply to escape from disturbance and from loss of life and property. Their seeking of peace may be a sign of cowardice and altogether grovelling aims. Danger may be escaped by the outer man, only to be concentrated more effectually on the man within.
2. It would be a land of bread. Another recommendation of a land which it was unquestionably right, for men to attend to. Egypt was one of the great granaries of the ancient world. But it did not therefore follow that it was a land to live in. Israelites, in particular, needed to recollect how their fathers, beginning by going to Egypt for bread, ended by sinking into most oppressive bondage. Besides, even the land of bread was at times a land of famine.
3. It consequently looked a land to dwell in. God is the God of his people only when they are in their proper place. He was God of the exiles in Babylon, because their going into Babylon was of his operation. But those who went to Egypt in search of mere immunity from toil and inglorious ease could not expect to have the Divine favour. They wanted to get the great ends of life without discipline, sacrifice, and endurance.
III. THE VAIN PURPOSE TO ESCAPE FROM EVIL. God tries to make the people understand that they take the germs and principles of evil with them. What we find in any place depends on what we bring; and what we bring we must, in process of time, inevitably find. What had there been to hinder the land of Israel from being a land of peace and a land of bread? Nothing but the faithlessness and general wickedness of the people. We cannot sow wickedness in one place, and then hope to go and reap only good things in some other place. God can turn any place, however fruitful, into a wilderness; and, on the other hand, we know how Jesus made a wilderness a place to feed five thousand men. Jehovah spoke with all this severity to these people to make them understand how hard a thing real obedience was. - Y.
I. THEY ARE THE GREAT SOURCES OF UNREALITY IN RELIGION. In sending Jeremiah to God they did not mean what they said. There was no honest willingness to do as the prophet might reveal. The only hope for them in their forlorn condition is thus tampered with and destroyed. It is possible that at first they may have meant well, but as they proceeded with their inquiry through the prophet they must have known that they had only one intention, which they had not laid aside or even held in abeyance. Yet such is the subtlety of the hypocritical heart that it continues in its hypocrisy until it deceives itself. "They inquire not to learn what is right, but only to receive encouragement to do what they wish."
II. THOSE WHO INDULGE THEM ARE THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES.
1. They deceive and injure themselves. "Ye dissembled in your hearts" (ver. 20); literally, deceived yourselves; "used deceit against your souls" (margin). Thinking they were taking counsel of God, they were really obeying their fears and lusts. Can a greater wrong be done to one's self than this - to think one's self religious and obedient to the heavenly will when one is only selfish and sinful? Safety and happiness lay in following simply the Divine guidance; but this they could not do, for they knew not God's message when it came. "Thinking themselves wise, they became fools." Their spiritual nature is henceforth unreliable, and their greatest perils will be encountered in their most religious hours, and when they think themselves most in agreement with God's will.
2. The curse of God is denounced against them. What they choose will be their destruction. The very things they sought to avoid by going to Egypt are met there. And there is no mitigation; the position is one wholly wrong, and consequently the wrath of God is unceasing until they cease to occupy it. To remain in Egypt, with its idolatries and abominations, was virtually to annul the covenant. Soon every trace of true religion would disappear, and they would become like their neighbours, and be absorbed into the nations in whom God had no pleasure. He cannot tolerate falsehood, pretension, the form of godliness without the reality. And this severity is true mercy. Many a one "plucked as a brand from the burning" has had reason to thank his Saviour that "the way of transgressors is hard." "Let a man examine himself." "Be not deceived: God is not mocked." - M.
Psalm 139:23, 24. - Y.