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DESTRUCTION FROM THE NORTH;
THE SIEGE OF JERUSALEM;
DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
A number of such titles as the ones cited here are assigned to this chapter by various authors. There is very little in the chapter that requires any extensive research; and we shall depart from our usual procedure by giving our own paraphrase of this tragic prophecy.
True to the pattern throughout Jeremiah, the three subjects treated here, namely, (1) a description of the tragic fate of the city, (2) the character and identification of the instrument (the destroyer) God would use in the execution of his judgment against the city, and (3) a summary of the reasons why God judged Jerusalem and Judah to be worthy of the penalty about to fall upon them, Jeremiah jumbled all of these topics together. In our paraphrase, we shall reorganize them topically.
THE AWFUL FATE TO BEFALL JUDAH AND JERUSALEM
The daughter of Zion (a poetic name for Jerusalem) shall be cut off (Jeremiah 6:2); she shall be encircled with tents (Jeremiah 6:3); the lengthening shadows mark the closing of the Day of God's Favor upon racial Israel (Jeremiah 6:4); her palaces shall be destroyed (Jeremiah 6:5); the military shall cast up a mound against her (Jeremiah 6:6); she shall be uninhabited, a desolation (Jeremiah 6:8); the vine of Israel shall be stripped and gleaned (Jeremiah 6:9); the wrath of God shall be poured out upon her children, the young men, the husbands and wives, and even upon all the old people (Jeremiah 6:11); the houses, fields, and wives of the people shall be taken away from them and given to the invaders (Jeremiah 6:12); the nation shall fall; it shall be cast down (Jeremiah 6:25); God will bring evil upon her people (Jeremiah 6:19); God will place stumblingblocks in their way; fathers and sons, friends and neighbors shall perish (Jeremiah 6:21); the power of the defenders shall be feeble, and anguish shall overwhelm them (Jeremiah 6:24); the people will fear to go outside, for the sword of the enemy will be everywhere (Jeremiah 6:25); they shall clothe themselves in sackcloth and ashes, mourning as for an only son; destruction shall descend suddenly upon them (Jeremiah 6:26).
CHARACTER AND IDENTITY OF INVADERS
This had been accomplished already by the specifics Jeremiah gave in the preceding chapter, which made it certain that God's instrument in the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people was to be Babylon; but some of the same clues are mentioned again.
It will be a military destruction from the north with tents, military equipment, trumpets, etc. (Jeremiah 6:1,4,17, and Jeremiah 6:22); the result shall be accomplished by a siege, as indicated by the tents and the mound against the city, earmarks of an all-out war (Jeremiah 6:4); the great nation from the north will have skilled bowmen, cruel, merciless horsemen who shall bring death to thousands (Jeremiah 6:23); their approach to Jerusalem shall be like the roaring sea-surge of a mighty hurricane (Jeremiah 6:23); the merciless swords of the enemy, lurking everywhere, shall spare no one (Jeremiah 6:25); they will strike suddenly (Jeremiah 6:16), as already indicated in Jeremiah 5 by the comparison with the leopard, the swiftest of animals; they shall burn Israel as a refiner burns metal to remove the dross; only Israel is all dross (Jeremiah 6:31).
WHY PUNISHMENT OF ISRAEL WAS REQUIRED
God made it perfectly clear why it was required by the Divine justice that punishment and destruction were to be meted out to racial Israel. Jerusalem was producing nothing but wickedness, violence, and oppression (Jeremiah 6:7); they would not hear the Word of God (Jeremiah 6:10); they hated the word of God (Jeremiah 6:10); all of them were covetous and dealt falsely (Jeremiah 6:13); they loved their false prophets who cried, Peace, peace, when there was no peace (Jeremiah 6:14); they refused to be ashamed of their sins (Jeremiah 6:15); they declared, "We will not listen to God" (Jeremiah 6:17); their thoughts were evil, and as for God's Law, they rejected it (Jeremiah 6:19); their hypocritical and insincere offerings were not acceptable to God (Jeremiah 6:21); Israel had become a nation of grievous revolters, all of them habitual slanderers, and dealing falsely (Jeremiah 6:28); after God had repeatedly pleaded with and corrected his people, and after the exercise of near-infinite patience, and after it was perfectly clear that Israel had no intention of returning to God or in any sense mending their ways, God finally summarily rejected them and consigned their nation to destruction and captivity (Jeremiah 6:30).
We shall now examine the text of this chapter.
"Flee for safety, ye children of Benjamin, out of the midst of Jerusalem. and blow the trumpet in Tekoa, and raise up a signal on Beth-haccherem; for evil looketh forth from the north, and a great destruction. The comely and the delicate one, the daughter of Zion, will I cut off."
"Ye children of Benjamin ..." (Jeremiah 6:1). "The reason that Benjamin is mentioned here is that Jerusalem geographically belonged to the territory of Benjamin."
"Out of the midst of Jerusalem ..." (Jeremiah 6:1). In Jeremiah 4:6, the people were warned to flee "to Jerusalem"; but here, they are warned to get out of Jerusalem. The capital of Judah is doomed to destruction. "The capital being doomed, and the destruction coming from the north, the only safety would have been toward the south." Also, it may be supposed that some sought the safety of the rugged mountains toward the Dead Sea.
"Tekoa... and Beth-haccherem ..." (Jeremiah 6:1) These towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem were mentioned to indicate the near approach of the enemy, Tekoa being "only ten or twelve miles south of Jerusalem," and Beth-haccherem being only "four and a half miles west of Jerusalem."
"Shepherds with their flocks shall come unto her; they shall pitch their tents against her round about; they shall feed everyone in his place. Prepare ye war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day declineth, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out."
"Shepherds shall pitch their tents against Jerusalem... shall feed every one in his place ..." (Jeremiah 6:3). The armies of Babylon are here compared to the large numbers of shepherds that once pastured the area around Jerusalem; but this verse, "Describes the soldiers, eager to feed upon the richness of the area."
"Prepare ye war against her ..." (Jeremiah 6:4). "This expression derives from the ancient institution of Holy War." In ancient times, one nation making war against another always undertook the venture by extensive preparations, making sacrifices to their gods, consulting so-called oracles, and making all of the preparations that in later years came to be associated with a formal declaration of war.
"Arise, and let us go up by night, and let us destroy her palaces. For thus hath Jehovah of hosts said, Hew ye down her trees, and cast up a mound against Jerusalem: this is the city to be visited; she is wholly oppression in the midst of her."
"Hew ye down her trees ..." (Jeremiah 6:6). This does not refer to fruit trees, which would be utilized for feeding a besieging army, but to all the other trees, which according to Clarke, would have been utilized "to build towers, for overlooking the city, and for the mounting of their machines."
The siege which is certainly prophesied here, "means that this description cannot fit the Scythians, who did not have engines for besieging cities; but it is appropriate in describing the Babylonians."
"As a well casteth forth its waters, so she casteth forth her wickedness: violence and destruction are found in her; before me continually is sickness and wounds. Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul be alienated from thee; lest I make thee a desolation, a land not inhabited."
The meaning of Jeremiah 6:7 is that, "just as a water well maintained its waters at a constant level, no matter how much was taken out of it; in the same way Jerusalem maintained its full level of producing wickedness, violence, and destruction, continually.
"Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem ..." (Jeremiah 6:8) "This seems to indicate that the tragedy might be averted if the people would repent." Maybe the passage does indicate such a thing; but, even if it does, it was purely a theoretical premise suggested by the prophet. Not only did Israel not repent, they despised and rejected God's law.
"Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, they shall thoroughly glean the remnant of Israel as a vine: turn again thy hand as a grape-gatherer into the baskets. To whom shall I speak and testify, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of Jehovah is become unto them a reproach, they have no delight in it. Therefore I am full of the wrath of Jehovah; I am weary with holding in: pour it out upon the children in the street, and upon the assembly of the young men together; for even the husband with the wife shall be taken, the aged with him that is full of days. And their houses shall be turned unto others, their fields, and their wives together; for I will stretch out my hand upon the inhabitants of the land, saith Jehovah. For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest everyone dealeth falsely."
"Glean the remnant of Israel... turn again ... as a grape-gatherer ..." (Jeremiah 6:9). "God here authorized the enemy to search out even the remnant of Israel and take them captive ... The enemy will not be satisfied with one invasion, but will repeat it."
Not even this gleaning of Israel, however, could nullify God's promise of there remaining a "righteous remnant" who would return to Jerusalem from Babylon (Jeremiah 4:27; 5:10,18).
This is a terrible paragraph. The judgment of God will fall upon all segments of human life, from children playing in the streets to aged men, five different categories being cited.
Notice also that houses, fields, wives, etc. in fact, everything shall be stripped away and become booty for the invaders. What a horrible destruction of the people!
"They have healed also the hurt of my people slightly, saying Peace, peace; when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abominations? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall; at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith Jehovah."
"They have healed the hurt of my people slightly ..." (Jeremiah 6:14) This appears to be a reference to the reforms so vigorously pressed by king Josiah, but they were reforms that did not at all reach the hearts of the people. The false prophets were the ones who cried, "Peace, peace, when there was no peace."
"They were not at all ashamed ..." (Jeremiah 6:15). The hardened sinners of Israel had lost all sense of shame and had no feelings either of regret or remorse for their transgressions. There remained absolutely nothing else for God to do except to visit the people with divine punishment.
"Thus saith Jehovah, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls: but they said, We will not walk therein."
James Hastings made this verse the text of one of his sermons on "Great Texts of the Bible." This is indeed a great text.
SEEK YE THE OLD PATHS
The title is a little misleading. One of the oldest paths is that of rebellion and licentiousness; thus a better title would be "Ask for the good way!"
I. There is a challenge for serious thought. "Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask." What a stupid folly it is for men to proceed through life without a thoughtful, careful examination of "the way" they have chosen.
II. In this text, the ancient ways were the ways of faith, devotion, and honor of the One True God of Israel, as revealed and certified unto the people in the Pentateuch. In our own times the "good way" is the way of the Gospel of Christ.
III. There is the call for action. It is not enough to know about the good way; let men "Walk in it!"
IV. Those who walk in the good way, "Shall find rest unto your souls." Jesus Christ surely identified himself with this good way in the glorying words of the Great Invitation (Matthew 11:28-30).
V. Today, no less than in the times of Jeremiah, the people are vainly searching for "something new" in religion. "Give us anything except the way our father's did it!" is the motto adopted by some. A church in our community recently appointed a committee with instructions to come up every week with a novel way of structuring the Lord's Day services! Why not try jumping out the windows after church, some Sunday, instead of using the normal exits? "Idolatry and apostasy are the `modern way'; the worship of God is the old way."
It is a remarkable fact that Geoffrey Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales, has one that is called Chaucer's Tale, the same being a sermon on this very text, a sermon which Adam Clarke called, "an excellent sermon."
"And I set watchmen over you saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet; but they said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth; behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it."
"We will not hearken ..." (Jeremiah 6:17). One needs to read this with the similar response in the preceding verse, where Israel rejected God's invitation to walk in the good way, saying, "We will not walk therein." The meaning is simply that the Chosen People had lost all desire to continue in the favor of God.
"Hear, ye nations, Hear O earth ..." (Jeremiah 6:18-19). This solemn invitation to the whole Gentile world, as well as the whole earth itself to hear what God will do is such an introduction that requires a special understanding of God's promise here to "bring evil upon this people." The Dean of Canterbury, quoting Cyprian, stated that: "A decree so solemnly proclaimed can be of no light importance; and therefore the Fathers (the Ante-Nicenes) not without reason understood it as referring to the rejection of the Jews from being God's Church." This is a profoundly true observation, provided only that it should be understood as a removal only of the racial angle of God's favor to Israel. After the captivity of the Jews, the racial Israel never again enjoyed the status of being the wife of God. All of the promises to Abraham would afterward be fulfilled in the New Israel, which is Christ; but no Jew was ever rejected because of his race; but at the same time, he would never again be automatically a member of the true Israel on account of his race.
"For what purpose cometh there to me frankincense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing unto me. Therefore thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will lay stumbling-blocks before this people; and the fathers and the sons together shall stumble against them; the neighbor and his friend shall perish."
"Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable ..." (Jeremiah 6:20). "This does not mean that Jehovah was against sacrifices per se; he was only against unethical sacrifices." When habitual sinners, insincere, hypocritical, and rebellious against God brought sacrifices to God, they were not merely unacceptable but were an abomination to the Holy God.
There was nothing capricious or vindictive on God's part who is represented here as placing "stumbling blocks" in the way of Israel. "The stumbling blocks confronting the people were of their own making," when they had deliberately refused to walk in the good way (v. 17). Yes God had placed the stumblingblocks in the way of evil which Judah elected to take with such disastrous consequences. It is, as if God had said, "Take your choice; choose your way, either (1) the ancient paths, the good way, or (2) the way with the stumbling-blocks."
"Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, a people cometh from the north country; and a great nation shall be stirred up from the uttermost parts of the earth. They lay hold on the bow and the spear, they are cruel, and have no mercy; their voice roareth like the sea, and they ride upon horses, every one set in array, as a man to the battle, against thee, O daughter of Zion. We have heard the report thereof; our hands wax feeble: anguish hath taken hold of us; and pangs, as of a woman in travail."
"Everyone set in array, as a man for the battle ..." (Jeremiah 6:23). This reference to an army marching in closed ranks "could not apply to the barbaric Scythians."
The Babylonians indeed were a merciless and cruel invader, but perhaps not so terrible as the Assyrians; and some have found an element of mercy in God's deliverance of Judah to Babylon instead of Assyria; but either nation was more than terrible enough.
Feinberg noted that the use of cavalry in a military charge, as contrasted with the use of horses in drawing the chariots such as those used in Egypt, was apparently a new thing here.
"Go not forth into the field, nor walk by the way: for the sword of the enemy and terror, are on every side. O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation; for the destroyer shall suddenly come upon us."
"O daughter of my people ..." (Jeremiah 6:26). The pathos in the heart of the prophet with such a tragic message shows in this pathetic remark; the very words seem to drip with tears. Note in the final clause the pronoun "us." Jeremiah surely identified himself with the miseries coming upon the beloved city.
"Wallow thyself in ashes ..." (Jeremiah 6:26). "It was the custom of Jewish mourners to cast ashes only upon their heads; wallowing in them therefore refers to something far more than ordinary grief." Actually, there was no adequate manner for symbolizing the horrible grief that overcame the people of God in their capture and captivity.
"I have made thee a trier and a fortress among my people; that thou mayest know and try their way. They are all grievous revolters, going about with slanders; they are brass and iron: they all of them deal corruptly."
"Going about with slanders ..." (Jeremiah 6:28) "This means going about with the intention of spreading slanders."
"The bellows blow fiercely; the lead is consumed of the fire; in vain do they go on refining; for the wicked are not plucked away. Refuse silver shall men call them, because Jehovah hath rejected them."
Scholars admit the difficulty of these verses, suggesting that the text might have been damaged; but the general meaning is clear enough. The figure is that of a refiner of silver; and the admonition here is that, "The silver (a metaphor for Judah) is so full of alloy as to be utterly worthless."
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 6". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24