Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible
At that time, saith the LORD, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves:
The prophet proceeds, in this chapter, both to magnify and to justify the destruction that God was bringing upon this people, to show how grievous it would be and yet how righteous. I. He represents the judgments coming as so very terrible that death should appear so as most to be dreaded and yet should be desired (v. 1-3) II. He aggravates the wretched stupidity and wilfulness of this people as that which brought this ruin upon them (v. 4–12). III. He describes the great confusion and consternation that the whole land should be in upon the alarm of it (v. 13–17). IV. The prophet is himself deeply affected with it and lays it very much to heart (v. 18–22).
These verses might fitly have been joined to the close of the foregoing chapter, as giving a further description of the dreadful desolation which the army of the Chaldeans should make in the land. It shall strangely alter the property of death itself, and for the worse too.
I. Death shall not now be, as it always used to be—the repose of the dead. When Job makes his court to the grave it is in hope of this, that there he shall rest with kings and counsellors of the earth; but now the ashes of the dead, even of kings and princes, shall be disturbed, and their bones scattered at the grave’s mouth, Ps. 141:7. It was threatened in the close of the former chapter that the slain should be unburied; that might be through neglect, and was not so strange; but here we find the graves of those that were buried industriously and maliciously opened by the victorious enemy, who either for covetousness, hoping to find treasure in the graves, or for spite to the nation and in a rage against it, brought out the bones of the kings of Judah and the princes. The dignity of their sepulchres could not secure them, nay, did the more expose them to be rifled; but it was base and barbarous thus to trample upon royal dust. We will hope that the bones of good Josiah were not disturbed, because he piously protected the bones of the man of God when he burnt the bones of the idolatrous priests, 2 Ki. 23:18. The bones of the priests and prophets too were digged up and thrown about. Some think the false prophets and the idol-priests, God putting this mark of ignominy upon them: but, if they were God’s prophets and his priests, it is what the Psalmist complains of as the fruit of the outrage of the enemies, Ps. 79:1, 2. Nay, those of the spiteful Chaldeans that could not reach to violate the sepulchres of princes and priests would rather play at small game than sit out, and therefore pulled the bones of the ordinary inhabitants of Jerusalem out of their graves. The barbarous nations were sometimes guilty of these absurd and inhuman triumphs over those they had conquered, and God permitted it here, for a mark of his displeasure against the generation of his wrath, and for terror to those that survived. The bones, being dug out of the graves, were spread abroad upon the face of the earth in contempt, and to make the reproach the more spreading and lasting. They spread them to be dried that they might carry them about in triumph, or might make fuel of them, or make some superstitious use of them. They shall be spread before the sun (for they shall not be ashamed openly to avow the fact at noon day) and before the moon and stars, even all the host of heaven, whom they have made idols of, v. 2. From the mention of the sun, moon, and stars, which should be the unconcerned spectators of this tragedy, the prophet takes occasion to show how they had idolized them, and paid those respects to them which they should have paid to God only, that it might be observed how little they got by worshipping the creature, for the creatures they worshipped when they were in distress saw it, but regarded it not, nor gave them any relief, but were rather pleased to see those abused in being vilified by whom they had been abused in being deified. See how their respects to their idols are enumerated, to show how we ought to behave towards our God. 1. They loved them. As amiable being and bountiful benefactors they esteemed them and delighted in them, and therefore did all that follows. 2. They served them, did all they could in honour of them, and thought nothing too much; they conformed to all the laws of their superstition, without disputing. 3. They walked after them, strove to imitate and resemble them, according to the characters and accounts of them they had received, which gave rise and countenance to much of the abominable wickedness of the heathen. 4. They sought them, consulted them as oracles, appealed to them as judges, implored their favour, and prayed to them as their benefactors. 5. They worshipped them, gave them divine honour, as having a sovereign dominion over them. Before these light of heaven, which they had courted, shall their dead bodies be cast, and left to putrefy, and to be as dung upon the face of the earth; and the sun’s shining upon them will but make them the more noisome and offensive. Whatever we make a god of but the true God only, it will stand us in no stead on the other side death and the grave, nor for the body, much less for the soul.
II. Death shall now be what it never used to be—the choice of the living, not because there appears in it any thing delightsome; on the contrary, death never appeared in more horrid frightful shapes than now, when they cannot promise themselves either a comfortable death or a human burial; and yet every thing in this world shall become so irksome, and all the prospects so black and dismal, that death shall be chosen rather than life (v. 3), not in a believing hope of happiness in the other life, but in an utter despair of any ease in this life. The nation is now reduced to a family, so small is the residue of those that remain in it; and it is an evil family, still as bad as ever, their hearts unhumbled and their lusts unmortified. These remain alive (and that is all) in the many places whither they were driven by the judgments of God, some prisoners in the country of their enemies, others beggars in their neighbour’s country, and others fugitives and vagabonds there and in their own country. And, though those that died died very miserably, yet those that survived and were thus driven out should live yet more miserably, so that they should choose death rather than life, and wish a thousand times that they had fallen with those that fell by the sword. Let this cure us of the inordinate love of life, that the case may be such that it may become a burden and terror, and we may be strongly tempted to choose strangling and death rather.
Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; Shall they fall, and not arise? shall he turn away, and not return?
The prophet here is instructed to set before this people the folly of their impenitence, which was it that brought this ruin upon them. They are here represented as the most stupid senseless people in the world, that would not be made wise by all the methods that Infinite Wisdom took to bring them to themselves and their right mind, and so to prevent the ruin that was coming upon them.
I. They would not attend to the dictates of reason. They would not act in the affairs of their souls with the same common prudence with which they acted in other things. Sinners would become saints if they would but show themselves men, and religion would soon rule them if right reason might. Observe it here. Come, and let us reason together, saith the Lord (v. 4, 5): Shall men fall and not arise? If men happen to fall to the ground, to fall into the dirt, will they not get up again as fast as they can? They are not such fools as to lie still when they are down. Shall a man turn aside out of the right way? Yes, the most careful traveller may miss his way; but then, as soon as he is aware of it, will he not return? Yes, certainly he will, with all speed, and will thank him that showed him his mistake. Thus men do in other things. Why then has this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? Why do not they, when they have fallen into sin, hasten to get up again by repentance? Why do not they, when they see they have missed their way, correct their error and reform? No man in his wits will go on in a way that he knows will never bring him to his journey’s end; why then has this people slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? See the nature of sin—it is a backsliding it is going back from the right way, not only into a by-path, but into a contrary path, back from the way that leads to life to that which leads to utter destruction. And this backsliding, if almighty grace do not interpose to prevent it, will be a perpetual backsliding. The sinner not only wanders endlessly, but proceeds end-ways towards ruin. The same subtlety of the tempter that brings men to sin holds them fast in it, and they contribute to their own captivity: They hold fast deceit. Sin is a great cheat, and they hold it fast; they love it dearly, and resolve to stick to it, and baffle all the methods God takes to separate between them and their sins. The excuses they make for their sins are deceits, and so are all their hopes of impunity; yet they hold fast these, and will not be undeceived, and therefore they refuse to return. Note, There is some deceit or other which those hold fast that go on wilfully in sinful ways, some lie in their right hand, by which they keep hold of their sins.
II. They would not attend to the dictates of conscience, which is our reason reflecting upon ourselves and our own actions, v. 6. Observe, 1. What expectations there were from them, that they would bethink themselves: I hearkened and heard. The prophet listened to see what effect his preaching had upon them; God himself listened, as one that desires not the death of sinners, that would have been glad to hear any thing that promised repentance, that would certainly have heard it if there had been any thing said of that tendency, and would soon have answered it with comfort, as he did David when he said, I will confess, Ps. 32:5. God looks upon men when they have done amiss (Job 33:27), to see what they will do next; he hearkens and hears. 2. How these expectations were disappointed: They spoke not aright, as I thought they would have done. They did not only not do right, but not so much as speak right; God could not get a good word from them, nothing on which to ground any favour to them or hopes concerning them. There was none of them that spoke aright, none that repented him of his wickedness. those that have sinned then, and then only, speak aright when they speak of repenting; and it is sad when those that have made so much work for repentance do not say a word of repenting. Not only did God not find any repenting of the national wickedness, which might have helped to empty the measure of public guilt, but none repented of that particular wickedness which he knew himself guilty of. (1.) They did not so much as take the first step towards repentance; they did not so much as say, What have I done? There was no motion towards it, not the least sign or token of it. Note, True repentance beings in a serious and impartial inquiry into ourselves, what have we done, arising from a conviction that we have done amiss. (2.) They were so far from repenting of their sins that they went on resolutely in their sins: Every one turned to his course, his wicked course, that course of sin which he had chosen and accustomed himself to, as the horse rushes into the battle, eager upon action, and scorning to be curbed. How the horse rushes into the battle is elegantly described, Job 39:21, etc. He mocks at fear and is not affrighted. Thus the daring sinner laughs at the threatenings of the word as bugbears, and runs violently upon the instruments of death and slaughter, and nothing will be restrained from him.
III. They would not attend to the dictates of providence, nor understand the voice of God in them, v. 7. It is an instance of their sottishness that, though they are God’s people, and therefore should readily understand his mind upon every intimation of it, yet they know not the judgment of the Lord; they apprehend not the meaning either of a mercy or an affliction, not how to accommodate themselves to either, nor to answer God’s intention in either. They know not how to improve the seasons of grave that God affords them when he sends them his prophets, nor how to make use of the rebukes they are under when his voice cries in the city. They discern not the signs of the times (Mt. 16:3), nor are aware how God is dealing with them. They know not that way of duty which God had prescribed them, though it be written both in their hearts and in their books. 2. It is an aggravation of their sottishness that there is so much sagacity in the inferior creatures. The stork in the heaven knows her appointed times of coming and continuing; so do other season-birds, the turtle, the crane, and the swallow. These by a natural instinct change their quarters, as the temper of the air alters; they come when the spring comes, and go, we know not whither, when the winter approaches, probably into warmer climates, as some birds come with winter and go when that is over.
IV. They would not attend to the dictates of the written word. They say, We are wise; but how can they say so? v. 8. With what face can they pretend to any thing of wisdom, when they do not understand themselves so well as the brute-creatures? Why, truly, they think they are wise because the law of the Lord is with them, the book of the law and the interpreters of it; and their neighbours, for the same reason, conclude they are wise, Deu. 4:6. But their pretensions are groundless for all this: Lo, certainly in vain made he it; surely never any people had Bibles to so little purpose as they have. They might as well have been without the law, unless they had made a better use of it. God has indeed made it able to make men wise to salvation, but as to them it is made so in vain, for they are never the wiser for it: The pen of the scribes, of those that first wrote the law and of those that now write expositions of it, is in vain. Both the favour of their God and the labour of their scribes are lost upon them; they receive the grace of God therein in vain. Note, There are many that enjoy abundance of the means of grace, that have great plenty of Bibles and ministers, but they have them in vain; they do not answer the end of their having them. But it might be said, They have some wise men among them, to whom the law and the pen of the scribes are not in vain. To this it is answered (v. 9): The wise men are ashamed, that is, they have reasons to be so, that they have not made a better use of their wisdom, and lived more up to it. They are confounded and taken; all their wisdom has not served to keep them from those courses that tend to their ruin. They are taken in the same snares that others of their neighbours, who have not pretended to so much wisdom, are taken in, and filled with the same confusion. Those that have more knowledge than others, and yet do no better than others for their own souls, have reason to be ashamed. They talk of their wisdom, but, Lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; they would not be governed by it, would not follow its direction, would not do what they knew; and then what wisdom is in them? None to any purpose; none that will be found to their praise at the great day, how much soever it is found to their pride now. The pretenders to wisdom, who said, "We are wise and the law of the Lord is with us," were the priests and the false prophets; with them the prophet here deals plainly. 1. He threatens the judgments of God against them. Their families and estates shall be ruined (v. 10): Their wives shall be given to others, when they are taken captives, and their fields. shall be taken from them by their victorious enemy and shall be given to those that shall inherit them, not only strip them for once, but take possession of them as their own and acquire a property in them as their own and acquire a property in them, which they shall transmit to their posterity. And (v. 12), notwithstanding all their pretensions to wisdom and sanctity, they shall fall among those that fall; for, if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall together into the ditch. In the time of their visitation, when the wickedness of the land comes to be enquired into, it will be found that they have contributed to it more than any, and therefore they shall be sure to be cast down and cast out. 2. He gives a reason for these judgments (v. 10–12), even the same account of their badness which we meet with before (ch. 6:13–15), where it was opened at large. (1.) They were greedy of the wealth of this world, which is bad enough in any, but worst in prophets and priests, who should be best acquainted with another world and therefore should be most dead to this. But these, from the least to the greatest, were given to covetousness. The priests teach for hire and the prophets divine for money, Mic. 3:11. (2.) They made no conscience of speaking truth, no, not when they spoke as priests and prophets: Every one deals falsely, looks one way and rows another. There is no such thing as sincerity among them. (3.) They flattered people in their sins, and so flattered them into destruction. They pretended to be the physicians of the state, but knew not how to apply proper remedies to its growing maladies; they healed them slightly, killed the patient with palliative cures, silencing their fears and complaints with, "Peace, peace, all is well, and there is no danger," when the God of heaven was proceeding in his controversy with them, so that there could be no peace to them. (4.) When it was made to appear how basely they prevaricated they were not at all ashamed of it, but rather gloried in it, (v. 12): They could not blush, so perfectly lost were they to all sense of virtue and honour. When they were convicted of the grossest forgeries they would justify what they had done, and laugh at those whom they had imposed upon. Such as these were ripe for ruin.
I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them.
In these verses we have,
I. God threatening the destruction of a sinful people. He has borne long with them, but they are still more and more provoking, and therefore now their ruin is resolved on: I will surely consume them (v. 13), consuming I will consume them, not only surely, but utterly, consume them, will follow them with one judgment after another, till they are quite consumed; it is a consumption determined, Isa. 10:23. 1. They shall be quite stripped of all their comforts (v. 13): There shall be no grapes on the vine. Some understand this as intimating their sin; God came looking for grapes from this vineyard, seeking fruit upon this fig-tree, but he found none (as Isa. 5:2, Lu. 13:6); nay, they had not so much as leaves, Mt. 21:19. But it is rather to be understood of God’s judgments upon them, and may be meant literally—The enemy shall seize the fruits of the earth, shall pluck the grapes and figs for themselves and beat down the very leaves with them; or, rather, figuratively—They shall be deprived of all their comforts and shall have nothing left them wherewith to make glad their hearts. It is expounded in the last clause: The things that I have given them shall pass away from them. Note, God’s gifts are upon condition, and revocable upon non-performance of the condition. Mercies abused are forfeited, and it is just with God to take the forfeiture. 2. They shall be set upon by all manner of grievances, and surrounded with calamities (v. 17): I will send serpents among you, the Chaldean army, fiery serpents, flying serpents, cockatrices; these shall bite them with their venomous teeth, give them wounds that shall be mortal; and they shall not be charmed, as some serpents used to be, with music. These are serpents of another nature, that are not so wrought upon, or they are as the deaf adder, that stops her ear, and will not hear the voice of the charmer. The enemies are so intent upon making slaughter that it will be to no purpose to accost them gently, or offer any thing to pacify them, or mollify them, or to bring them to a better temper. No peace with God, therefore none with them.
II. The people sinking into despair under the pressure of those calamities. Those that were void of fear (when the trouble was at a distance) and set it at defiance, are void of hope now that it breaks in upon them, and have no heart either to make head against it or to bear up under it, v. 14. They cannot think themselves safe in the open villages: Why do we sit still here? Let us assemble, and go into a body into the defenced cities. Though they could expect no other than to be surely cut off there at last, yet not so soon as in the country, and therefore, "Let us go, and be silent there; let us attempt nothing, nor so much as make a complaint; for to what purpose?" It is not a submissive, but a sullen silence, that they here condemn themselves to. Those that are most jovial in their prosperity commonly despond most, and are most melancholy, in trouble. Now observe what it is that sinks them.
1. They are sensible that God is angry with them: "’The Lord our God has put us to silence, has struck us with astonishment, and given us water of gall to drink, which is both bitter and stupifying, or intoxicating. Ps. 60:3, Thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment. We had better sit still than rise up and fall; better say nothing than say nothing to the purpose. To what purpose is it to contend with our fate when God himself has become our enemy and fights against us? Because we have sinned against the Lord, therefore we are brought to the plunge." This may be taken as the language, (1.) Of their indignation. They seem to quarrel with God as if he had dealt hardly with them in putting them to silence, not permitting them to speak for themselves, and then telling them that it was because they had sinned against him. Thus men’s foolishness perverts their way, and then their hearts fret against the Lord. Or rather, (2.) Of their convictions. At length they begin to see the hand of God lifted up against them, and stretched out in the calamities under which they are now groaning, and to own that they have provoked him to contend with them. Note, Sooner or later God will bring the most obstinate to acknowledge both his providence and his justice in all the troubles they are brought into, to see and say both that it is his hand and that he is righteous.
2. They are sensible that the enemy is likely to be too hard for them, v. 16. They are soon apprehensive that it is to no purpose to make head against such a mighty force; they and their people are quite dispirited; and, when the courage of a nation is gone, their numbers will stand them in little stead. The snorting of the horses was heard from Dan, that is, the report of the formidable strength of their cavalry was soon carried all the nation over and every body trembled at the sound of the neighing of his steeds; for they have devoured the land and all that is in the city; both town and country are laid waste before them, not only the wealth, but the inhabitants, of both, those that dwell therein. Note, When God appears against us, every thing else that is against us appears very formidable; whereas, if he be for us, every thing appears very despicable, Rom. 8:31.
3. They are disappointed in their expectations of deliverance out of their troubles, as they had been surprised when their troubles came upon them; and this double disappointment very much aggravated their calamity. (1.) The trouble came when they little expected it (v. 15): We looked for peace, the continuance of our peace, but no good came, no good news from abroad; we looked for a time of health and prosperity to our nation, but, behold, trouble, the alarms of war; for, as it follows (v. 16), the noise of the enemies’ horses was heard from Dan. Their false prophets had cried Peace, peace, to them, which made it the more terrible when the scene of war opened on a sudden. This complaint will occur again, ch. 14:19. (2.) The deliverance did not come when they had long expected it (v. 20): The harvest is past, the summer is ended; that is, there is a great deal of time gone. Harvest and summer are parts of the year, and when they are gone the year draws towards a conclusion; so the meaning is, "One year passes after another, one campaign after another, and yet our affairs are in as bad a posture as ever they were; no relief comes, nor is any thing done towards it: We are not saved." Nay, there is a great deal of opportunity lost, the season of action is over and slipped, the summer and harvest are gone, and a cold and melancholy winter succeeds. Note, The salvation of God’s church and people often goes on very slowly, and God keeps his people long in the expectation of it, for wise and holy ends. Nay, they stand in their own light, and put a bar in their own door, and are not saved because they are not ready for salvation.
4. They are deceived in those things which were their confidence and which they thought would have secured their peace to them (v. 19): The daughter of my people cries, cries aloud, because of those that dwell in a far country, because of the foreign enemy that invades them, that comes from a far country to take possession of ours; this occasions the cry; and what is the cry? It is this: Is not the Lord in Zion? Is not her king in her? These were the two things that they had all along buoyed up themselves with and depended upon, (1.) That they had among them the temple of God, and the tokens of his special presence with them. The common cant was, "Is not the Lord in Zion? What danger then need we fear?" And they held by this when the trouble was breaking in upon them. "Surely we shall do well enough, for have we not God among us?" But, when it grew to an extremity, it was an aggravation of their misery that they had thus flattered themselves. (2.) That they had the throne of the house of David. As they had a temple, so they had a monarchy, jure divino—by divine right: Is not Zion’s king in her? And will not Zion’s God protect Zion’s king and his kingdom? Surely he will; but why does he not? "What" (say they) "has Zion neither a God nor a king to stand by her and help her, that she is thus run down and likely to be ruined?" This outcry of theirs reflects upon God, as if his power and promise were broken or weakened; and therefore he returns an answer to it immediately: Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images? They quarrel with God as if he had dealt unkindly by them in forsaking them, whereas they by their idolatry had driven him from them; they have withdrawn from their allegiance to him, and so have thrown themselves out of this protection. They fret themselves, and curse their king and their God (Isa. 8:21), when it is their own sin that separates between them and God (Isa. 59:2); they feared not the Lord, and then what can a king do for them? Hos. 10:3.
III. We have here the prophet himself bewailing the calamity and ruin of his people; for there were more of the lamentations of Jeremiah than those we find in the book that bears that title. Observe here, 1. How great his griefs were. He was an eyewitness of the desolations of his country, and saw those things which by the spirit of prophecy he had foreseen. In the foresight, much more in the sight, of them, he cries out, "My heart is faint in me, I sink, I die away at the consideration of it, v. 18. When I would comfort myself against my sorrow, I do but labour in vain; nay, every attempt to alleviate the grief does but aggravate it." It is our wisdom and duty, under mournful events, to do what we can to comfort ourselves against our sorrow, by suggesting to ourselves such considerations as are proper to allay the grief and balance the grievance. But sometimes the sorrow is such that the more it is repressed the more strongly it recoils. This may sometimes be the case of very good men, as of the prophet here, whose soul refused to be comforted and fainted at the cordial, Ps. 77:2, 3. He tells us (v. 21) what was the matter: "It is for the hurt of the daughter of my people that I am thus hurt; it is for their sin, and the miseries they have brought upon themselves by it; it is for this that I am black, that I look black, that I go in black as mourners do, and that astonishment has taken hold on me, so that I know not what to do nor which way to turn." Note, The miseries of our country ought to be very much the grief of our souls. A gracious spirit will be a public spirit, a tender spirit, a mourning spirit. It becomes us to lament the miseries of our fellow-creatures, much more to lay to heart the calamities of our country, and especially of the church of God, to grieve for the affliction of Joseph. Jeremiah had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, and, though the truth of his prophecy was questioned, yet he did not rejoice in the proof of the truth of his prophecy was questioned, yet he did not rejoice in the proof of the truth of it by the accomplishment of it, preferring the welfare of his country before his own reputation. If Jerusalem had repented and been spared, he would have been far from fretting as Jonah did. Jeremiah had many enemies in Judah and Jerusalem, that hated, and reproached, and persecuted him; and in the judgments brought upon them God reckoned with them for it and pleaded his prophet’s cause; yet he was far from rejoicing in it, so truly did he forgive his enemies and desire that God would forgive them. 2. How small his hopes were (v. 22): "Is there no balm in Gilead—no medicine proper for a sick and dying kingdom? Is there no physician there—no skilful faithful hand to apply the medicine?" He looks upon the case to be deplorable and past relief. There is no balm in Gilead that can cure the disease of sin, no physician there that can restore the health of a nation quite overrun by such a foreign army as that of the Chaldeans. The desolations made are irreparable, and the disease has presently come to such a height that there is no checking it. Or this verse may be understood as laying all the blame of the incurableness of their disease upon themselves; and so the question must be answered affirmatively: Is there no balm in Gilead—no physician there? Yes, certainly there is; God is able to help and heal them, there is a sufficiency in him to redress all their grievances. Gilead was a place in their own land, not far off. They had among themselves God’s law and his prophets, with the help of which they might have been brought to repentance, and their ruin might have been prevented. They had princes and priests, whose business it was to reform the nation and redress their grievances. What could have been done more than had been done for their recovery? Why then was not their health restored? Certainly it was not owing to God, but to themselves; it was not for want of balm and a physician, but because they would not admit the application nor submit to the methods of cure. The physician and physic were both ready, but the patient was wilful and irregular, would not be tied to rules, but must be humoured. Note, If sinners die of their wounds, their blood is upon their own heads. The blood of Christ is balm in Gilead, his Spirit is the physician there, both sufficient, all-sufficient, so that they might have been healed, but would not.