Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears…
We have here still another measure of how great, in the estimation of the prophet, the calamity was which had fallen upon his people. Other measures have already been given, in the despoiling of the tombs (Jeremiah 8:1, 2), in the exile worse than death (Jeremiah 8:3), in the visitation of serpents which were beyond the charmer's power (Jeremiah 8:17), and in the suffering through the sin of his people, which even a true servant of God could not escape (Jeremiah 8:21). And now this extraordinary desire of the prophet comes in to make plain from yet another direction how great he reckoned the impending calamity to be. We may well imagine that as he set before Jerusalem these gloomy prospects, the people in their light-heartedness replied, "Why make all this ado? Why try thus to alarm us by these threatenings and cries and tears?" The exclamation of Ver. 1 guides us to what the prophet's answer would be. "My tears, which you count so causeless, rather fall short - short beyond all expressing - of the occasion for them." The fact is that the deepest, tenderest human pity and sorrow, when compared with the actual needs of fallen man, are but as a slight thaw that vainly struggles with the penetrating frost of the heart. Not that human beings lack the power of deep emotion. Whole peoples will be responsive enough to certain touches. But who is to bring before the hearts of all men a sufficient perception of what it is that underlies and perpetuates the misery of the whole world? The thing wanted is an abiding pity for men lying in the suffering of sin. It is perfectly true that there is not pity enough for men because of their poverty, their bodily defects and infirmities, and all miseries that are visible to the natural man. But the real reason why even this pity falls so lamentably short is that there is no searching consideration of what lies deeper than any visible miseries. Nothing effectual can be done with the seen unless the unseen is put right. Then we may be sure of it that the seen will come right with wonderful quickness and stability. We must make our hearts to dwell with the utmost pity on those who are not yet born again, not yet living the life of faith, not yet in living union with the great Source of eternal life, not yet rejoicing with the joy of the Holy Ghost. If we ourselves are really in process of salvation, and with our increased knowledge of truth comprehending more and more what salvation will bring with it for ourselves, then it will not appear to us extravagant and rhapsodical rhetoric that a prophet should wish his head to be waters, and his eyes a fountain of tears. It is unmanly and utterly despicable to weep for trifles, to weep over some spoiled gratification of self; but what sort of a heart must that man have who can watch, free from the deepest agitation, his brethren going on heedlessly into perdition? Jeremiah would have been unworthy of his call and his visions as a prophet if he had fallen short of his exclamation here. Not, of course, that we are to make too much of the mere shedding of tears. In the case of the prophet copious tears were the index of a heart within right in its thoughts, steady in its purposes. But there are many instances where copious tears have no such value. They come and go like a thundershower, lasting us briefly and leaving as little trace behind. Men of few tears may be men of a large, wise, far-seeing kindness. He who never gives to beggars in the street may yet be doing much to make beggary cease altogether. Jeremiah's wish, then, was the wish of a man who saw deeply into the confusions of his time; and yet he did not see as deep as Jesus. Those few tears that Jesus dropped amid the bereaving agonies of Bethany, had in them more of a pure and profound pity over men than all the tears that sinners themselves have shed. No sinful man can imagine that ideal of human life which was ever before the eyes of the Son of God. He alone knows how far man has fallen; he alone knows how high fallen man can be raised. He sees what men miss who do not repent and believe in him. He sees what possibilities of remorse and shame and self-condemnation may be opening up in eternity to the negligent and the impenitent. What wonder, then, that he spoke of the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched I What tears must not be shed over those who choose to sow the wind, seemingly forgetting that they must reap the whirlwind! - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!