Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
THE EVENTS OF THE GREAT DROUGHT
The efforts of scholars to date this prophecy are somewhat amusing. Cook placed it "in the early years of the reign of Jehoiachim"; Robinson placed it vaguely in "the reign of Jehoiachim"; still others have opted for the closing years of Jehoiachim's reign; and some have omitted dating it altogether! "Without chronological references it is difficult to date passages like this; even references to invasions and exile are not conclusive, because there were three invasions of Judah and as many deportations." A great drought is featured in this chapter; but there were many droughts in that part of the world; and there is nothing here that distinguishes this particular drought from others.
Some have even tried to break up the chapter into various units, assigning a different date to each; but, as Keil noted, "Such efforts have proved to be a complete failure."
As we have frequently noted, the "exact date" of any or all of these prophecies is of very little importance. The general facts are well known.
It is clear enough that the occasion of this chapter was a terrible drought that fell upon Judaea.
A practical outline of the chapter is: (1) a description of the drought (Jeremiah 14:1-6); (2) Jeremiah's prayers for God's help (Jeremiah 14:7-9); (3) God's refusal to aid the apostate nation (Jeremiah 14:10-12); (4) Jeremiah's plea that the false prophets are to blame (Jeremiah 14:13-15); (5) the doom of the false prophets and the people (Jeremiah 14:16-18); (6) Jeremiah's continual plea to God (Jeremiah 14:19-22).
THE GREAT DROUGHT
"The word of Jehovah that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought. Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish, they all sit in black upon the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up. And their nobles send their little ones to the waters: they come to the cisterns, and find no water; they return with their vessels empty; they are put to shame and confounded, and cover their heads. Because of the ground which is cracked, for that no rain hath been in the land, the plowmen are put to shame, they cover their heads. Yea, the hind also in the field calveth, and forsaketh her young, because there is no grass. And the wild asses stand on the bare heights, they pant for air, like jackals; their eyes fail because there is no herbage."
"The word of Jehovah that came to Jeremiah ..." (Jeremiah 14:1). This is the title of the whole chapter and through Jeremiah 15:4, all of which deals with the same subject.
"They all sit in black upon the ground ..." (Jeremiah 14:2). The custom of wearing black as a token of grief or mourning was known then and might be even much older than those times. In addition to their dress and humble posture sitting upon the ground; the people are here represented as raising a mighty cry to God in heaven for relief. Throughout their history, the Jews had persistently called upon God when their troubles came upon them. "Their nobles send their little ones to the waters ..." (Jeremiah 14:3). The word rendered "little ones" here is peculiar to Jeremiah, a very rare word. Most modern scholars insist that it means "servants," "inferiors," or "employees," or "the common people." However, some of the older commentators believed the reference is to little children, implying that, "Due to the drought, the servants no longer attended their lords; it was `everyone for himself'; and the lords of the society were required to employ their own children to fetch water."
Either interpretation shows the seriousness of the water shortage.
"Cisterns ..." (Jeremiah 14:3).This word has the same meaning today; and for ages, such reservoirs have been used for storing water during the times of rain against anticipated shortages. The tragedy here was simply that the supply was exhausted.
"They cover their heads ..." (Jeremiah 14:3). "This was a sign of mourning," indicating the same thing as the black clothing did in Jeremiah 14:1.
"The plowmen are put to shame ..." (Jeremiah 14:4). Thompson rendered the word `plowmen' in this clause as `farmers'; but we fail to see any great advantage of the change. We have never known a plowman who was not a farmer. Robinson made it "tillers of the ground"; but that also falls short of being an improvement.
The devastating nature of this drought is seen in the fact that all living things were affected by it: (1) human beings of all classes, (2) nobles, (3) servants, (4) children, (5) farmers, (6) wild animals, (7) even the ground was cracked, (8) the grass had all died, and (9) there were not even any twigs upon which the wild ass could live.
"Yea, the hind calved, and forsook her offspring ..." (Jeremiah 14:5). The word `hind' is an Old English word for the female of the red deer; "And this animal was regarded by the ancients as tenderly caring for her young." The reason why the calf was abandoned here was the inability of the mother to produce milk due to the shortage of grass.
"The glazed condition of the eyes of the wild ass gives us the picture of eyes that are practically motionless because the death of the animal is near."
JEREMIAH'S PRAYER FOR ISRAEL
"Though our iniquities testify against us, work thou for thy name's sake, O Jehovah; for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee. O thou hope of Israel, the Saviour thereof in the time of troubles, why shouldest thou be as a sojourner in the land?, and as a way-faring man that turneth aside to tarry for a night? Why shouldest thou be as thou, O Jehovah, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not."
Some have wondered if the people of Israel themselves or Jeremiah prayed this prayer; but it appears that Jeremiah here prayed on behalf of the people, using some of the phraseology that the people were using.
"Work thou for thy name's sake ..." (Jeremiah 14:7). Note that the prayer is not based upon any merit of Israel, but solely upon the character of God Himself. It was the Jewish conception, first enunciated by Moses, that if God did not bless Israel, it would cause the pagan nations to declare that God was not able to bless them. It would appear that the presumption of Israel in this matter was almost incredible.
"As a sojourner ... as a wayfaring man ..." (Jeremiah 14:8). There is apparently in this the echo of a complaint by the people to the effect that God, instead of dwelling with Israel all the time, was like a traveling man who merely spent a night in their midst now and then. Israel expected God to bless them continually no matter what they did. After all, were not they called "God's Chosen People?" Was not he enthroned among them in that magnificent temple? "Oh, don't forsake us now, Lord; we are in trouble, and we need you!"
Coupled with God's negative answer to this prayer (Jeremiah 14:10f), we have the fact that Israel admitted their sins and backsliding, all right; but they went right on sinning. Why did they call God the hope of Israel and go right on with their wickedness? They never stopped sinning for a minute. "Instead they lay the source of their troubles on God; they call him the hope of Israel, but at the same time charge him with indifference to their needs, and with impotence to help them ... Then they brazenly declare: `We are called by your name. Save us and thus redeem your reputation!' "
GOD REFUSES TO HEAR THEM
"Thus saith Jehovah unto this people, Even so have they loved to wander; they have not refrained their feet: therefore Jehovah doth not accept them; now will he remember their iniquity, and visit their sins. And Jehovah said unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt-offering and meal-offering, I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword, and by famine, and by pestilence."
Clarke summarized God's reply to the prayer as follows: "The measure of Israel's iniquity being now full, they must be punished. The nation is ripe for destruction; intercede not for them."
"They have loved to wander ..." (Jeremiah 14:10) There is nothing innocent about this "wandering." Cheyne rendered it, "roving lawlessly about."
"Pray not for this people ..." (Jeremiah 14:11). Twice previously, God gave Jeremiah this same instruction (Jeremiah 7:15; 11:14); but Jeremiah had been unable to stop praying. No mother ever quit praying for a wayward son, no matter how hopeless his wickedness became. It could be that God was not really forbidding Jeremiah to pray but that he was merely pointing out the uselessness of any further prayers on behalf of apostate Israel.
"Jehovah doth not accept them ..." (Jeremiah 14:10). Keil's comment on the reason why God would not then hear Israel is thus:
The reason was that they turned to God only in their need, but while their hearts still clung to their idols. Their prayers were only lip-service, and their sacrifices a soulless formality.
While it is certainly true that Keil's excellent comment here applied to the vast majority of the condemned people, we must also agree with Payne Smith who wrote:
"It is not necessary to say with Keil that Israel's fasts and sacrifices were `heartless formalities.' There would have been those whom the chastisement had brought to repentance (also, those of the "righteous remnant" J.B.C.); and for these the lesson was a sterner one. There is a time when the most genuine repentance avails nothing to avert the temporal consequences of sin."
"Sword... famine ... pestilence ..." (Jeremiah 14:12) This dreadful trio throughout the ages has been the perpetual destroyers of human life. They are frequently mentioned in scripture, as here and in Jeremiah 5:12; 14:15; 27:8; 29:18; 2 Samuel 24:13; Isaiah 51:19, etc.
THE FALSE PROPHETS ARE TO BLAME
"Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah, the prophets say unto them, Ye shall not see the sword, neither shall ye have famine; but I will give you assured peace in this place. Then Jehovah said unto me; the prophets prophesy lies in my name; I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake I unto them: they prophesy unto you a lying vision, and divination, and a thing of naught, and the deceit of their own heart. Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land: by sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed."
"The prophets say unto them ..." (Jeremiah 14:13). This is a reference to the false prophets; and this is an account of how Jeremiah, "tried to excuse the people by blaming the false prophets. That excuse was not acceptable to Jehovah, because blame must be attached to those who reject the covenant for whatever cause."
Why were the people deceived by the false prophets? The only plausible answer is that they WANTED to be deceived. "The secret of the power of the false prophets was given by the Lord in Jeremiah 5:32, `My people love to have it so.'" Adam Clarke pointed out the fact that the people accepted the allegation of false prophets without any proof, and without investigating their credentials. The slightest attention to the question of "Who are these sons of the devil"? would have spared the people of any temptation to trust them. This is exactly what Christians today should do with regard to men who deny the Bible. Clarke also recounted the fulfillment of this prophecy that the false prophets would be consumed by the sword during Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. Jehoiachim had been warned by Jeremiah not to withhold tribute from Nebuchadnezzar but Jehoiachim heeded the words of the false prophets who advised him to withhold it. "Nebuchadnezzar was incensed, invaded the land and destroyed it, including the false prophets."
"The deceit of their own heart ..." (Jeremiah 14:14). Jeremiah thus described the various methods of "prophesying" employed by the false prophets; but these words do not mean that the false prophets were deceived in their own hearts, being therefore sincere but misguided men; ah no! "This is a reference, not to self-deceit, but to willful and intentional fraud." We also believe that the same thing applies to many false teachers today. They are not sincere, misguided men, but unbelievers, preaching that in which they have no confidence at all.
These verses reveal a profound misunderstanding of the covenant. Both the false prophets and the people, "imagined that continual and wanton violation of the terms of that covenant would not result in the operation of the curses of that covenant!" What fools they were! However, we should reserve a little of our pity to the men of our own day who just as vainly imagine that, "We are justified by faith alone." These ancient protagonists of that same doctrine learned to their eternal sorrow how wrong they were.
BOTH PEOPLE AND FALSE PROPHETS ARE DOOMED
"And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; and they shall have none to bury them - them, their wives, nor their sons, nor their daughters: for I will pour their wickedness upon them. And thou shalt say this word unto them, Let mine eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease; for the virgin daughter of my people is broken with a great breach, with a very grievous wound. If I go forth into the field, then, behold, the slain with the sword! and if I enter into the city, then, behold, they that are sick with famine! for both the prophet and the priest go about in the land, and have no knowledge."
Following false teachers is no valid excuse for not obeying God's Word. These words prophesy the destruction of false prophets and their followers alike. As Jesus put it, "If the blind lead the blind, they shall both fall into the ditch."
JEREMIAH PLEADS WITH GOD NOT TO BREAK THE COVENANT
"Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? hath thy soul loathed Zion? why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of healing, and, behold, dismay! We acknowledge, O Jehovah, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against thee. Do not abhor us, for thy name's sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us. Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art not thou he, O Jehovah our God? therefore we will wait for thee; for thou hast made all these things."
This is one of the saddest appeals in the Bible. Their day of grace almost over, their nation threatened and anticipating an absolute and irrevocable destruction, their false prophets facing exactly the same doom they faced, their acknowledgment, at last, of their consummate wickedness which was a long continuation of the unceasing wickedness of the whole nation for ages past, yet, with all of that, they were desperate, pleading with God not to abhor them, pleading for him not to break the covenant, the very covenant which they had not merely broken, but which they had shattered and rejected.
"The throne of they glory ..." (Jeremiah 14:21) "This is a reference to the temple (2 Kings 19:15; Psalms 99:1)."
Feinberg noted that this prayer for the people was based upon three things: "(1) God's reputation, (2) his temple, and (3) his covenant with Israel"
"Here were a group of people who had gone too far in sin, so far that they have become ignorant of God's character, that God is indeed a God of holiness and righteousness. How could they be such fools?"
"Break not thy covenant with us ..." (Jeremiah 14:21). Despite the fact that they had already broken that covenant, yet they wished God to go ahead and fulfill his part of it.
They ceased to be God's people when they abandoned themselves to idolatry; yet they still wanted God to be their God, to defend, support and bless them. They appeared to be ignorant of the fact that when the conditions of a covenant are broken by one party, the other is no longer bound by it. The covenant is necessarily annulled.
"Are there any among the vanities ..." (Jeremiah 14:22)? This question suggests that of the apostle Peter who asked, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou only hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). "The vanities here are the artificial deities," that is, all of the idol gods.
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