If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? and if in the land of peace…
I. THE HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AND PRIMARY MEANING OF THE WORDS. Like many of the names that occur in Old Testament Scripture, that of Jeremiah — "raised up," or "appointed by God," — has a peculiar significance, if we consider the duties, important, yet hazardous, he was called upon to discharge during successive reigns. Jeremiah was very young when the Word of the Lord first came to him, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, while he was resident at Anathoth, his native city. There, after the prophetic gift was imparted, he continued to live for several years, until the hostility, not only of his fellow townsmen, but of the members of his own family having been aroused, on account, probably, of the holiness of his life, and the fidelity of his remonstrances, he quitted Anathoth, and took up his residence at Jerusalem. The finding of the Book of the Law, five years after he had begun to prophesy, must have had a powerful influence on the mind of Jeremiah, in whom, doubtless, the young and right-minded king Josiah found valuable help in the efforts he put forth with a view to promote national reformation. No sooner, however, was the influence of the court in favour of true religion withdrawn, than Jeremiah became an object of attack, as he had doubtless been long an object of dislike, on the part of those whose anger had been roused by his rebukes. This bitterness of opposition continued during successive reigns, and at various times his life was threatened. At the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, he was "put in confinement by Pashur, the chief governor of the house of the Lord"; but he seems soon to have been liberated, for we find that he was not in prison at the time when Nebuchadnezzar's army commenced the siege of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah had severe trials and manifold difficulties and discouragements to contend against. His counsels were rejected, and his voice was lifted up in the name of Jehovah seemingly in vain; his soul yearned with solicitude and tender affection towards those who turned a deaf ear to his admonitory voice, despised his "counsels," and would have none of the reproofs he was commissioned to utter. By footmen some understand the Philistines and Edomites, whose armies were composed principally of infantry, and by "horses" the Chaldeans, who had abundance of cavalry and chariots in their army, and who subsequently ravaged Palestine, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. But whether such be the force of the allusion or not, the gist of the argument seems to be as follows: — if lesser trials seem hard to be borne; if earthly losses have a sting of bitterness, and often inflict a severe wound; is there not need of holy resolution, based on a sure foundation, when, in addition to minor ills, as in the swelling of Jordan, which periodically overflowed its banks in the time of harvest, men's lives might be placed in jeopardy, their flocks exposed to lions driven out of their lairs, and the produce of the harvest fields submerged or swept away; so the more ordinary trials of life, which yet demanded patience and meekness, would be followed by graver emergencies, such as a heaven-derived and supported hope, resting on no insecure or shifting foundation, but upon the Rock, the "Rock of Ages," could alone enable men to bear up under; when, so to speak, the heavens grew dark, the waters raged, the banks were overflowed, the lashing hail fell, the earth "shook and trembled," the lightning glanced and the thunder rolled, as in the severity of an almost tropical storm? "How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"
II. PRACTICAL LESSONS, APPLICABLE TO VARIOUS CLASSES OF PERSONS.
1. To those who are careless about religion and its claims. It were almost ludicrous, if it were not also most melancholy, to notice man, who is indebted to God for all that he possesses, thus standing to "defy the Omnipotent in arms"; yet such is the attitude assumed by everyone who defies, maligns, insults the Great Benefactor, who, if strong to save, is also mighty to inflict just and condign punishment upon His foes. "Now, consider this," says the Psalmist, "ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
2. To the undecided. The position resembles that of a man on shifting sand, liable to the encroachment of the swiftly flowing stream. Ah! if at certain times uneasiness could not be banished, but care ate as a canker into the heart of what had the semblance of joy; an angry God, as it were, seen above; the abyss of darkness opening beneath; "blackness of darkness," as if around; what need of arriving at a proper and satisfactory decision! Now, while, mercy can be found; while God's invitation through Christ is heard, of "turning to the Stronghold as a prisoner of hope"; for if lesser difficulties have been perplexing; if grief and disappointment have already planted furrows on the brow, "what shall be the end of them that will not obey the Gospel of God"; who will not comply with a Saviour's bidding, nor give their minds to the truth, nor allow of the Holy Spirit's action upon the heart?
3. To such as are living in antagonism and opposition to God's holy mind and will. Judgment may appear to be deferred; it is impending nevertheless — God hath spoken it.
4. To doubting Christians. Pilgrim, come: there "is bread enough, and to spare." Tempted one, come: strength shall be given and decision imparted to repel the evil suggestion, as Paul at Melita cast aside the viper that sprang out of the fire, and fastened upon his hand. Mourner, approach; the Friend of mourners can support under earthly blanks and losses.
(A. R. Bonar.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?