O you sword of the LORD, how long will it be ere you be quiet? put up yourself into your scabbard, rest, and be still.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)O thou sword of the Lord . . .—This is the question and entreaty of the Philistines, “When will there be an end of war?” And the prophet has but one answer: the sword must do its work till it has done what Jehovah had appointed it to do.
THE SWORD OF THE LORD
Jeremiah 47:6 - Jeremiah 47:7.
The prophet is here in the full tide of his prophecies against the nations round about. This paragraph is entirely occupied with threatenings. Bearing the cup of woes, he turns to one after another of the ancestral enemies of Israel, Egypt and Philistia on the south and west, Moab on the south and east, then northwards to Ammon, south to Edom, north to Damascus, Kedar, Hagor, Elam, and finally to the great foe-Babylon. In the hour of Israel’s lowest fortunes and the foe’s proudest exultation these predictions are poured out. Jeremiah stands as if wielding the sword of which our text speaks, and whirls and points the flashing terror of its sharpened edge against the ring of foes. It turns every way, like the weapon of the angelic guard before the lost paradise, and wherever it turns a kingdom falls.
In the midst of his stern denunciations he checks himself to utter this plaintive cry of pity and longing. A tender gleam of compassion breaks through the heart of the thunder-cloud. It is very beautiful to note that the point at which the irrepressible welling up of sweet waters breaks the current of his prophecy is the prediction against Israel’s bitterest, because nearest, foe, ‘these uncircumcised Philistines.’ He beholds the sea of wrath drowning the great Philistine plain, its rich harvests trampled under foot by ‘stamping of hoofs of his strong ones,’ and that desolation wrings from his heart the words of our text. I take them to be spoken by the prophet. That, of course, is doubtful. It may be that they are meant to give in a vivid dramatic form the effect of the judgments on the sufferers. They recognise these as ‘the sword of the Lord.’ Their only thought is an impatient longing that the judgments would cease,-no confession of sin, no humbling of them selves, but only-’remove Thy hand from us.’
And the answer is either the prophet’s or the divine voice; spoken in the one case to himself, in the other to the Philistines; but in either setting forth the impossibility that the sweeping sword should rest, since it is the instrument in God’s hand, executing His charge and fulfilling His appointment.
I. The shrinking from the unsheathed sword of the Lord.
We may deal with the words as representing very various states of mind.
They may express the impatience of sufferers. Afflictions are too often wasted. Whatever the purpose of chastisement, the true lesson of it is so seldom learned, even in regard to the lowest wisdom it is adapted to teach. In an epidemic, how few people learn to take precautions, such as cleanliness or attention to diet! In hard times commercially, how slow most are to learn the warning against luxury, over-trading, haste to be rich! And in regard to higher lessons, men have a dim sense sometimes that the blow comes from God, but, like Balaam, go on their way in spite of the angel with the sword. It does not soften, nor restrain, nor drive to God. The main result is, impatient longing for its removal.
The text may express the rooted dislike to the thought and the fact of punishment as an element in divine government. This is a common phase of feeling always, and especially so now. There is a present tendency, good in many aspects, but excessive, to soften away the thought of punishment; or to suppose that God’s punishments must have the same purposes as men’s. We cannot punish by way of retribution, for no balance of ours is fine enough to weigh motives or to determine criminality. Our punishments can only be deterrent or reformatory, but this is by reason of our weakness. He has other objects in view.
Current ideas of the love of God distort it by pitting it against His retributive righteousness. Current ideas of sin diminish its gravity by tracing it to heredity or environment, or viewing it as a necessary stage in progress. The sense of God’s judicial action is paralysed and all but dead in multitudes.
All these things taken together set up a strong current of opinion against any teaching of punitive energy in God.
The text may express the pitying reluctance of the prophet.
Jeremiah is remarkable for the weight with which ‘the burden of the Lord’ pressed upon him. The true prophet feels the pang of the woes which he is charged to announce more than his hearers do.
Unfair charges are made against gospel preachers, as if they delighted in the thought of the retribution which they have to proclaim.
II. The solemn necessity for the unsheathing of the sword.
The judgments must go on. In the text the all-sufficient reason given is that God has willed it so. But we must take into account all that lies in that name of ‘Lord’ before we understand the message, which brought patience to the heart of the prophet. If a Jewish prophet believed anything, he believed that the will of the Lord was absolutely good. Jeremiah’s reason for the flashing sword is no mere beating down human instincts, by alleging a will which is sovereign, and there an end. We have to take into account the whole character of Him who has willed it, and then we can discern it to be inevitable that God should punish evil.
His character makes it inevitable. God’s righteousness cannot but hate sin and fight against it. To leave it unpunished stains His glory.
God’s love cannot but draw and wield the sword. It is unsheathed in the interests of all that is ‘lovely and of good report.’ If God is God at all, and not an almighty devil, He must hate sin. The love and the righteousness, which in deepest analysis are one, must needs issue in punishment. There would be a blight over the universe if they did not.
The very order of the universe makes it inevitable. All things, as coming from Him, must work for His lovers and against His enemies, as ‘the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.’
The constitution of men makes it inevitable. Sin brings its own punishment, in gnawing conscience, defiled memories, incapacity for good, and many other penalties.
It is to be remembered that the text originally referred to retribution on nations for national sins, and that what Jeremiah regarded as the strokes of the Lord might be otherwise regarded as political catastrophes. Let us not overlook that application of the principles of the text. Scripture regards the so-called ‘natural consequences’ of a nation’s sins as God’s judgments on them. The Christian view of the government of the world looks on all human affairs as moved by God, though done by men. It takes full account of the responsibility of men the doers, but above all, recognises ‘the rod and Him who hath appointed it.’ We see exemplified over and over again in the world’s history the tragic truth that the accumulated consequences of a nation’s sins fall on the heads of a single generation. Slowly, drop by drop, the cup is filled. Slowly, moment by moment, the hand moves round the dial, and then come the crash and boom of the hammer on the deep-toned bell. Good men should pray not, ‘Put up thyself into thy scabbard,’ but, ‘Gird Thy sword on Thy thigh, O thou most mighty. . . on behalf of truth and meekness and righteousness.’
III. The sheathing of the sword.
The passionate appeal in the text, which else is vain, has in large measure its satisfaction in the work of Christ.
God does not delight in punishment. He has provided a way. Christ bears the consequence of man’s sin, the sense of alienation, the pains and sorrows, the death. He does not bear them for Himself. His bearing them accomplishes the ends at which punishment aims, in expressing the divine hatred of sin and in subduing the heart. Trusting in Him, the sword does not fall on us. In some measure indeed it still does. But it is no longer a sword to smite, but a lancet to inflict a healing wound. And the worst punishment does not fall on us. God’s sword was sheathed in Christ’s breast. So trust in Him, then shall you have ‘boldness in the day of judgment.’Jeremiah 47:6-7. O thou sword of the Lord — By the sword of the Lord, war is here intended, with which, as a great instrument of calamity and destruction, God punishes the crimes of his enemies, and pleads the cause of his people. Some have understood the prophet as speaking in the words of the Philistines, complaining of the havoc which the sword made among them; but however weary they might be of the war, and desirous of its ceasing, it is not likely they should see the hand of God in it, or term it his sword. The words are rather to be considered as the lamentation of the prophet, (and it is a most pathetic and animated one,) over the miseries with which God, in his just displeasure, was punishing the nations for their sins. How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord hath, given it a charge against Ashkelon, &c. — Here the prophet returns an answer to the foregoing inquiry, importing, that the havoc made by the sword was the effect of God’s irreversible purpose and decree. He gives the sword its commission, and it slays when and where he appoints, and continues to destroy a longer or shorter time, as he determines. When it is drawn, it will not be sheathed till it has fulfilled its charge. As God’s word, so his rod and his sword shall accomplish that for which he sends them. Jeremiah 16:6).
Is cut off - Others render, is speechless through grief.
With the remnant of their valley - Others, O remnant of their valley, how long wilt thou cut thyself? Their valley is that of Gaza and Ashkelon, the low-lying plain, usually called the Shefelah, which formed the territory of the Philistines. The reading of the Septuagint is remarkable: "the remnant of the Anakim," which probably would mean Gath, the home of giants 1 Samuel 17:4.
up thyself—Hebrew, "Gather thyself," that is, retire or return.
how long will it be ere thou be quiet? and cease from destroying men; wilt thou not cease till thou hast no more to destroy?
put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still; and make no more havoc among the people: these are either the words of the Philistines, entreating a stop might be put to the ravages of the sword, and that the war might cease, and the desolations of it; or rather of the prophet, commiserating their state as a man, though they had been the avowed enemies of his people; to which the following words of him are an answer, either to the Philistines, showing why their request could not be granted, or as correcting himself.O thou sword of the LORD, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)6, 7. These vv. have been suspected, but on insufficient (partly metrical) grounds. They contain (a) the cry of the Philistines for mercy, (b) the prophet’s reply.Verse 6. - O thou sword, etc.; rather, alas! thou sword of the Lord.. It is the mystic sword of which we have heard already (see on Jeremiah 12:10; 46:10). Jeremiah 46:27. "But fear not thou, O my servant Jacob, nor be dismayed: for, behold, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and be at rest and secure, and no one shall make him afraid. Jeremiah 46:28. Fear thou not, my servant Jacob, saith Jahveh, for I am with thee; for I will make complete destruction of all the nations whither I have driven thee, but of thee will I not make complete destruction: yet I will correct thee in a proper manner, and I will not leave thee wholly unpunished." These verses certainly form no integral portion of the prophecy, but an epilogue; yet they are closely connected with the preceding, and are occasioned by the declaration in Jeremiah 46:26, that the Lord, when He visits Pharaoh, shall also visit all those who trust in Him. This word, which is directed to Judah, might be understood to declare that it is Judah chiefly which will share the fate of Egypt. In order to prevent such a misconception, Jeremiah adds a word for Israel, which shows how the true Israel has another destiny to hope for. Their deliverer is Jahveh, their God, who certainly punishes them for their sins, gives them up to the power of the heathen, but will also gather them gain after their dispersion, and then grant them uninterrupted prosperity. This promise of salvation at the close of the announcement of judgment on Egypt is similar to the promise of salvation for Israel inserted in the threat of judgment against Babylon, Jeremiah 50:4-7 and Jeremiah 50:19, Jeremiah 50:20, Jeremiah 51:5-6, Jeremiah 51:10, Jeremiah 51:35-36, Jeremiah 51:45-46, Jeremiah 51:50; and this similarity furnishes a proof in behalf of the genuineness of the verse, which is denied by modern critics. For, although what Ngelsbach remarks is quite correct, viz., that the fall of the kingdom of Babylon, through its conquest by Cyrus, directly brought about the deliverance of Israel, while the same cannot be said regarding the conquest of Egypt, yet even Egypt had a much greater importance, in relation to Judah, than the smaller neighbouring nations, against which the oracles in Jeremiah 47-49 are directed; hence there is no ground for the inference that, because there is nothing said in these three chapters of such a connection between Egypt and Israel, it did not really exist. But when Ngelsbach further asks, "How does this agree with the fact that Jeremiah, on other occasions, while in Egypt, utters only the strongest threats against the Israelites - Jeremiah 42-44?" - there is the ready answer, that the expressions in Jeremiah 42-44 do not apply to the whole covenant people, but only to the rabble of Judah that was ripe for the sentence of destruction, that had fled to Egypt against the will of God. What Hitzig and Graf have further urged in another place against the genuineness of the verses now before us, is scarcely worth mention. The assertion that the verses do not accord with the time of the foregoing prophecy, and rather presuppose the exile, can have weight only with those who priori deny that the prophet could make any prediction. But if Jeremiah, in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, distinctly announces not merely the carrying away of Judah to Babylon, but also fixes the duration of the exile at seventy years, then he might well speak at the same time, or later, of the restoration of Israel from their captivity.
But there are two other considerations which support the genuineness of these verses: (1) The fact that Hitzig and Graf are obliged to confess it remains a problem how they came to form a part of the oracle against Egypt. The attempt made by the former writer to solve this problem partly rests on the assumption, already refuted by Graf, that the verses were written by the second Isaiah (on this point, see our remarks at p. 263, note), and partly on a combination of results obtained by criticism, in which even their author has little confidence. But (2) we must also bear in mind the nature of the verses in question. They form a repetition of what we find in Jeremiah 30:10-11, and a repetition, too, quite in the style of Jeremiah, who makes variations in expression. Thus here, in Jeremiah 46:27, נאם יהוה is omitted after יעקוב, perhaps simply because Jeremiah 46:26 concludes with נאם יהוה; again, in Jeremiah 46:20, תּה אל־תּירא is repeated with נאם יהוה, which is wanting in Jeremiah 30:11. On the other hand, להושׁיעך in Jeremiah 30:11, and אך in Jeremiah 30:11, have been dropped; הפיצותיך שׁם (Jeremiah 30:11) has been exchanged for הדּחתּיך שׁמּה. Hence Hitzig has taken the text here to be the better and the original one; and on this he founds the supposition that the verses were first placed here in the text, and were only afterwards, and from this passage, inserted in Jeremiah 30:10-11, where, however, they stand in the best connection, and even for that reason could not be a gloss inserted there. Such are some of the contradictions in which critical scepticism involves itself. We have already given an explanation of these verses under Jeremiah 30.
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