To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot listen: behold…
I. WHAT IS THIS? Not a physical defect, although the figure employed seems to tell of some fleshly growth which has formed over the cavity of the ear, and so destroyed the power of hearing. Nor a mental defect. They were acute enough; they readily understood the prophet's meaning when he spoke to them. Their minds were at that very time busy about all sorts of plots and schemes, which they hoped to carry out. Nor was it a moral defect. They knew the right, the true, the good. Conscience was still at work and goading them with her reproaches. Hence they devise means (ver. 14) to lull and quiet it. And they had the power of choice, and deliberately chose ways of their own rather than those of God. True, it is said in the text, "And they cannot hearken." But that tells only of what is the perpetual result of refusing continuously to hear God's Word. Let a man tie his arm to his side for six months, and see what power of using it he has left after that. It will have become atrophied. And so in like manner do the functions of the soul, the limbs of our spiritual nature. The "will not" in regard to their use darkens down into the dreadful "cannot" of the judgment of God. There is no more awful fact for the faithless servant of God, nor more blessed one for the faithful, than this law of habit. The utterance of it concerning the wicked is, as here, "They cannot hearken;" but concerning the good, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise." But it is a spiritual defect. It is the result of "the alienated will," that which the Bible calls "the unrenewed heart," "the carnal mind," "the unregenerate nation." All such expressions tell of the will of man turned away from God, and having no higher motive than to please and gratify self. That is the radical defect of us all, and it is that which the prophet here terms "the uncircumcised ear." It by no means always involves the outrageous wickedness which is told of in their prophecies; it can exist and yet never "commit abomination," as did these to whom Jeremiah spoke. It is found in company with much outward religiousness, much moral propriety, much amiability of character; but wherever it is, Christ's word concerning all such is, "Ye must be born again." It is in its nature fierce, savage, unsubdued still. It often seems to be tamed, and moves about soft-footed and gently as if it never could do harm; but let some lure be held out to it, some provocation be given, and then its ferocity and all its hideous evil will reveal itself at once. Accustomed as we are to see this evil nature held in check by the usages of society, the habits of civilized life and a refined selfishness, we are often blind to its true character, and "marvel" much at our Savior's reiterated word, "Ye must be born again."
II. ITS EFFECTS.
1. Disregard of and dislike to the Word of God. "To whom shall I speak?" said the prophet. He could get no one to listen to him. And this is the too frequent experience of our own day. How deserted the churches are, and where they are better attended, what kind of listening is it that prevails? Granted the intolerable dullness of many preachers, but the evil is not probed when this is said. The true cause is "the uncircumcised ear" that Jeremiah tells of. But not only have men "no delight in" the Word of God, they count it "a reproach." They come to be ashamed of its being thought that they should regard it with interest or have any real care for it. The tone adopted regarding those who do delight in God's Word is one of scorn and contempt.
2. Men go on unchecked in sin (cf. vers. 13, 15, and passim). Surely it is a question not merely for the Church, but for thoughtful men of the world, whether it be well for any community or people to be throwing aside all the restraints of God's Word, as so many are doing. The history of Israel of old is a beacon-light, warning the people of our day of what comes from despising the Word of the Lord.
3. God's judgments come upon such people (ver. 12).
4. Men become shameless and hardened (ver. 15).
5. The heart of God's faithful servants is sorely troubled (cf. ver. 10). Here the prophet mourns over their "uncircumcised ears."
III. ABETTORS AND MINISTERS TO THIS EVIL.
1. Unfaithful priests and prophets (ver. 13).
2. The hardening effects of the people's own sin.
IV. THE REMEDY. Yet more impassioned and earnest ministry of the Word. There must be no giving up of work or abandoning it in despair. But - as ver. 11 - more intense devotedness in the endeavor, futile as it may appear, to save men from death.
2. The fiery disciplines of God. He is "a consuming fire;" and the fire of his love will burn fiercely on until the evil on which it fastens is burnt out of the soul, the Church, the nation, he loves. Oh, the awfulness of the love of God! If God were not love, there might be a possibility of a soul being allowed to perish in its sins and to go its own way to death unchecked; but as the fondest mother will subject her child to terrible suffering for the saving of its life, so, too, will God. CONCLUSION. What a summons comes to us from these truths:
(1) to seek the renewing grace of the Spirit of God;
(2) to take heed how we hear! - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
WEB: To whom shall I speak and testify, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they can't listen. Behold, the word of Yahweh has become a reproach to them. They have no delight in it.