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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 1

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-19


Jer 1:1

In the first chapter of the book which bears his name Jeremiah gives an account of his divine call to the prophetical office Let us look at that account for the purpose of finding out, if we can, whether there was anything in the call of Jeremiah which corresponds with what we now find in the call of earnest men, and whether we can be as certain of our heavenly call as Jeremiah was of his. It is very remarkable that the ancient prophets always kept steadily before them the exact way by which they were led up to their office, and were always ready to vindicate themselves by a plain statement of facts. It is remarkable, too, that they could trace their heavenly election as clearly as their earthly parentage; so much so, that, as a rule, they put on record both pedigrees, so to speak, side by side; first, that which was natural; afterwards, that which was spiritual; and the one was as much a living and indisputable fact as the other. Thus Jeremiah said, "Hilkiah was my father, and the Word of the Lord came unto me," two things separated by an infinite distance, yet both matters of positive and unquestionable certainty. Jeremiah would have treated with equal indifference or contempt the suggestion that Hilkiah was not his father and that the Lord had never spoken to him. Let us trace the history somewhat, and see what it teaches to aftertimes.

"Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" ( Jer 1:4 ).

The two great blessings of election and mediation are here distinctly taught. God did not speak to the nations directly, but mediatorially; he created a minister who should be his mouthpiece. Observation itself teaches us that men are called and chosen of God to do special work in all departments of life. The difficult lesson for some of us to learn is that we are called to obscurity, and yet this is. as clearly a divine appointment as is the choice of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah. If you look at life, you will see that the most of men are called to quietness, to honest industry, and to what is mistakenly called commonplace existence. What of it? Shall the plain murmur because it is not a mountain? Shall the green fields complain that Mont Blanc is higher than they? If they have not his majesty, neither have they his barrenness. To see our calling, to accept it, to honour it, that is the truly godly and noble life! To feel that we are where God meant us to be following the plough or directing a civilisation is to be strong and calm. Every man is born to realise some purpose. Find that purpose out, and fulfil it if you would lovingly serve God. We find no difficulty in persuading a man that he is a Jeremiah or a Daniel, at any rate that, under certain circumstances, he might easily have turned out a Hannibal or a Wellington. He was quite predisposed in that direction of thinking, and if he would not go so far as openly to avow it, he would yet intimate that he certainly does not feel that his present situation is big enough for him. The difficulty, on the contrary, is to persuade a man that the lowliest lot, as well as the highest, is the appointment of God; that door-keeping is a promotion in the divine gift; and that to light a lamp may be as surely a call of God as to found an empire or to rule a world.

"Then said I, Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord" ( Jer 1:6-8 ).

It is thus that fear and confidence make up our best life. We are sure that God has called us, yet we dread to set down our feet on the way which he has marked out with the clearness of light. Moses said he was slow of speech; Jeremiah said he could not speak for he was a child; and we in our lesser way have set up our feeble excuses against the thunder of God. And yet, fear well becomes our mortality; for what is our strength? and as for our days, their number is small. We forget God, his almightiness and his eternity are put out of sight, and therefore our heart sinks in dismay. And a deadly error lurks here. We are apt to mistake our fear for religious modesty, and by so much we cast indirect reproach upon others. When we plead inability to do God's work, we are in reality profanely distrusting God's strength. Are not many of us standing back with a wicked excuse in our mouths? Are we not pleading illness, or weakness, or inability, or incapacity, that we may escape the burden and heat of the day? With what resentment should we encounter the suggestion of weakness were it to come from others! And yet we hold it up as a plea and a defence against the commands of heaven! Beautiful is modesty in its own place; a heavenly flower, sweet, tender, and precious; but never forget that there is something which closely imitates its loveliest features, and that its foul name is Hypocrisy.

"Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. Sec, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant" ( Jer 1:9-10 ).

You made much of your own weakness, now what are you going to make of God's strength? You may obstinately persist in looking at your own small arm, or you may piously turn to the almightiness of God, and draw your power from eternity; and upon your choice will depend your whole after life. (Jet into the irreligious habit of measuring everything by your own resources; of asking whether you are personally equal to this or that task; and in all probability you will cower in abject fear before the burden and servitude of life: but get into the contrary habit, the habit of setting God always at your right hand, and of being sure that Right must prevail, that the helping angels never tire, that though God's mill grinds slow, it grinds exceeding small; fix these great facts in your heart, and then up the steepest road you will walk with a firm step, and the coldest night-wind will neither shorten nor trouble your song.

Observe the expression, "Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth." The minister of God is to speak the words of God. A Biblical ministry must of necessity be the best ministry. It has been sometimes complained that such and such a sermon was little more than a string of texts from beginning to end. If the texts were to the point, they would make a better statement of the truth and counsel of God than could be made by the polished sentences of the most eloquent Apollos. The deadly error into which we are apt to fall is that we must say something original, and the people are quite as much to blame as the ministers for this fatal mistake. They do not prize Scriptural teaching. They want to hear something fresh, racy, piquant, startling. They do not sit, Bible in hand, testing the speaker by the revelation; and what they ask for they get. They ask for chaff, and they get it; the great Biblical teacher is left with empty pews; his books sell slowly up to hundreds; whilst the vulgar declaimer, the savage bigot, or the frothy rhetorician, is king of the mob and the idol of book buyers. Let us honour the teacher who honours the Word of God. Hold him in reverence as one who thinks nothing of himself and everything of his Master. He may be unskilful in sentence-making, but his soul is aglow with the true fire, and if we make him our companion he will satisfy and gladden us with infinite riches.

The tenth verse is as remarkable as the ninth:

"I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." ( Jer 1:10 )

So terrific is the power with which man is clothed by the Almighty! Every age, every country, has its supreme man; its man who stands nearest God, and gets the first hint of the divine will. He may, indeed, be despised, and have his prophecies thrown back upon him in mocking tones, yet none the less is he the minister of God. Others may be preferred before him, yet there he stands, the interpreter of a will that must prevail, the echo of a voice that must fill the universe with a sense of its authority. This verse sets forth under a personal figure the majesty and omnipotence of truth. It is not the mere man Jeremiah who is thus mighty even to terribleness; he is but representative and ministerial, and if he tamper with his mission he will be dispossessed and humbled. God never puts his own authority out of his own power. He never parts permanently with a single key from his girdle. He can scatter our riches, he can break down our health, he can crumble away our boasted position; in a word, he can mightily and wholly reclaim every gift his hand has given. Yet how he loves to incarnate his will! How he loves to find a tabernacle for his infinitude, to dwell in a flaming bush, to abide in a broken heart I "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." He gave Moses a rod; he touched Isaiah's lips; he caused Ezekiel to see visions; he moved Daniel by the spirit of interpretation; yet were they only his servants, mighty in him, but without him they were as other men, poor and weak.

"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it. And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot: and the face thereof is toward the north" ( Jer 1:11-13 ).

This power of spiritual vision is pre-eminently the gift of God. This power of parables, making them or reading them, is a deep mystery of the unseen kingdom. Is it not the gift of sight that distinguishes one man from another? Isaiah saw the Lord seated upon his throne, high and lifted up; Jeremiah saw a rod of an almond tree, and a seething pot whose face was towards the north; Ezekiel saw a whirlwind and a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and out of the midst of the fire as the colour of amber; Daniel had the knowledge and understanding and interpreting of dreams; Amos saw the Lord standing upon a wall made by a plumb-line, with a plumb-line in his hand; he saw also the grasshoppers in the latter growth after the king's mowings, and through a basket of summer fruit he saw the nearness of the end of Israel; Zechariah saw a man riding upon a red horse, standing among the myrtle trees, having behind him three red horses, speckled and white; and Malachi saw from afar the messenger going swiftly forward to prepare the way cf the Lord. "The things that are not seen are eternal." The prophet may truly say, "I hear a voice they cannot hear; I see a hand they cannot see." How the earth and sky are rich with images which the poet's eye alone can see! What a parable is spring, and what a vision from the Lord is summer, laden with all riches, gentle and hospitable beyond all parallel! O man, what seest thou? Launch out upon the sunny lake; with Pilatus in the rear and the Rigi in front, with a distant glimpse of the snowy Wetterhorn, with a thousand shadows playing upon the quiet waters what seest thou? With the mountains girdling thee round, as if to shut thee up in prison, and suddenly opening to let thee through into larger liberties what seest thou? I see beauty, order, strength, majesty, and infinite munificence of grace and loveliness.

Look at the moral world, and say what seest thou. Think of its sinfulness, its madness, its misery untold, its tumult and darkness and corruption, deep, manifold, and ever-increasing. Seest thou any hope? Is there any cure for disease so cruel, so deadly? What seest thou? I see a Cross, and one upon it like unto the Son of man, and in his weakness he is mighty, in his poverty he is rich, in his death is the infinite virtue of atonement. I see a Cross, and its head rises to heaven. I see a Cross, and on it is written, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." I see a Cross stretching its arms outward from horizon to horizon, and from it there comes a voice saying, "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die? Believe in me, and live for ever." The man who sees that Cross most clearly should proclaim its existence to others; and he who has most deeply felt its power should most loudly proclaim its excellence. Blind are they who do not see it. It fills all the widening circle of civilisation; its shadow is upon every cradle and upon every grave; it touches life at every point; it is the crook in every lot, yet it is the answer of every difficulty; yet it is the trouble of every soul that is corrupt, and the hope of every soul that yearns for pureness and liberty. Oh, blind are they who cannot read these signs of the times!

And far away in the distance, what seest thou? Across the seething sea of time, standing high above all earthly affairs, yet inseparably connected with them, what is that glistening and dazzling object? It is fairer than the sun when he shineth in the fulness of his strength, and marvellous is its fascination alike for the evil and the good: the evil look upon it until their knees tremble and their bones melt like wax, and the good look unto it, and praise the Lord in a song of thankfulness and hope. What is it? It is a great white throne whence the living Judge sends out his just and final decrees; it is the hope of all who are good, it is the infinite terror of the heart that is bad.

The man who sees all these things clearly will be in his day as Jeremiah was in his. He will be the servant of the Lord, and he will speak boldly of things unseen; he will utter God's judgments touching wickedness, and he will be as a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land. And do you suppose that he will escape persecution and suffering? Will his word be quietly accepted, or devoutly received? Never; his life will be a battle, his bread will be begrudged, his familiar friends will become his enemies, and they who cannot strike him with a sword will annoy him with an anonymous pen. It is impossible for an honest prophet to escape persecution. "They hated me before they hated you; if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you," are Christ's own keen clear words. What then? Shall we live in a quietness for which we have to pay our convictions? Shall we fear those who lift up arms against us? God forbid. "They shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee."

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/jeremiah-1.html. 1885-95.
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