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JEREMIAH CHAPTER 18
By the parable of a potter God’s absolute power in disposing of nations is set forth, Jeremiah 18:1-10. Judah’s unparalleled revolt, and her judgments, Jeremiah 18:11-17. The prophet prayeth against his conspirators, Jeremiah 18:18-23.
It is likely there was but one
potter near the place, or at least that there was one more noted and eminent than the rest, to whose house the Lord here sendeth the prophet, intending there further to tell him his mind what he would have him publish as his mind and will to this people.
Jeremiah yields a present and free obedience to the command of God, though he did not know God’s meaning in it, and findeth the potter at work upon
wheels or frames which he formed his clay upon, to bring it into that form which he desired. For the true form of those frames or instruments it is hard to assert any thing, such kind of instruments differing not only according to several countries, but according to the several fancies of workmen, getting frames or engines made fitted to their own fancies and purposes.
That which we read
of clay may be read, (as our margin tells us,) as clay; that is, while it was yet clay it was spoiled in the potter’s hand, so as he did not think fit to go on with his design as to the form of the vessel, but made it into another form, such as he liked best.
God now expoundeth to the prophet his design in bidding him go to the potter’s house, it was to instruct or confirm him in the power that he had over his creatures. For, saith he, as is the clay to the potter, so is the house of Israel (and indeed so are all the sons and daughters of men) unto God; God hath the same power over them that a potter hath over the clay, and a greater right to do what he pleaseth with them, than any potter hath relating to the clay; the clay is but the potter’s purchase, not his creature, but man is God’s creature. God, by his prophet Isaiah, made use of the same similitude, Isaiah 45:9. So doth the apostle, Romans 9:20. That God hath an absolute sovereign power to do what he pleaseth with the work of his hands, can be denied by no men of sense, whether God useth this his sovereignty in the eternal punishment of sinners, that is another thing; he hath a sovereign power, but he acteth as a just judge, rendering to every man according to his works.
God thus speaketh concerning nations and kingdoms more immediately in his word, or more mediately by his prophets and ministers; he told Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:10, that he had set him over nations, to root out, and to pull down
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil; if that nation leaveth off those sinful courses which I have by my prophets threatened with judgments;
I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them; I will also turn from the methods of my severe providence which I had resolved in case of their impenitency to proceed in against them. There is a difference betwixt repentance in man, and repentance as it is attributed to God; repentance in man must be, not only a change in action, but a change of heart; repentance as attributed to God never signifieth a change of heart, or purpose, or counsels, but only a change in action, all alteration of the course of his providence. Hence God in Scripture is said to repent, as in this text, and Jonah 3:10. And it is also said of him, that he is not as man, that he should lie or repent, Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29. God never changeth his counsels or purposes, though he often varieth his actions of providence, according to the behaviours of his creatures.
Speaking, Jeremiah 18:9, and repenting, Jeremiah 18:10, must be understood in the same sense as in the two former verses. The reason of this is, because in all God’s threatenings and promises of this nature there is a condition either expressed or understood. God’s threatenings of evil must be understood with this condition, Unless men and women repent and turn from their evil ways; and his promises of good must be understood with this condition. If those to whom they are made be a willing and obedient people, and keep in the way of the Lord’s statutes.
The Lord fixeth a particular application to the more general doctrine which he had before delivered. God had told this people, that though he had by his prophet denounced his wrath and anger, and threatened to pluck them up and destroy them, yet if they turned from their sinful courses, he would show mercy to them, and alter the course of his providence. Now he tells them that this was their case, God had a work upon the wheel against them, and was framing evil against them, and bringing ruin upon them; therefore it was their wisdom now to return from their evil ways, and to make their doings good. Those who think that these exhortations are vain, if man hath not a power in himself to turn from his evil way, ought to consider that none denieth that man hath a power in himself, by virtue of that common grace of God which he denieth to no man, to turn from such evil courses as were before mentioned, viz. not to carry out burdens upon the sabbath day, not to Bow down to and worship idols, but to worship the true and living God according to the prescription of his word. In short, there is no man but hath a power to do much more than he doth do, and so much as may serve to avert temporal judgment; and although no man without special grace, beyond the outward means of grace, hath a power to do whatsoever God requireth in order to his salvation, yet he hath a power to do so much, as if he doth, no instance can be given of any to whom, so doing, God denied his special grace, enabling him to do whatsoever God requireth of him in order to eternal life.
There is no hope of us, thou dost but labour in vain in talking to us; for we are resolved to run on in our former race. It cannot be imagined that they should call the imaginations of their own hearts evil, unless it were in derision. The sum of what they said was this: Jeremiah, thou hadst as good say or do nothing as talk to us, we are resolved upon our course, and if thou callest our hearts
evil, we cannot help that; according to the purposes, counsels, and thoughts of those our evil hearts are resolved to steer our courses, we will not be guided by thee.
God was moved at this desperate obstinacy and hardness of this people’s hearts, he appeals to the world whether ever any heathens behaved themselves so towards their idols, which were no gods, as this people had, behaved themselves towards him. He calls Israel a
virgin; it is a term given to Zidon, Isaiah 23:12, and to Babylon, Isaiah 47:1. The horrible thing which they had done was their forsaking God, their God, a thing not usual amongst the heathens, as God tells them, Jeremiah 2:11.
Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? The margins of our Bibles will let us know that there is some variety in the opinions of the most learned interpreters as to the sense of these words. The general sense is plain and obvious, that it is a foolish thing for men to forsake God, who is the fountain of all good and refreshment, and what men do not use to do with reference to poor creature comforts, not to be named with God. But for the grammatical sense of the words, it is not so obvious. The vulgar Latin translates them, Shall the snow of Lebanon fail from the rock of the field? The Septuagint, Shall the dugs fail from the rocks? or, the snow from Lebanon? The Syriac version followeth them. The Arabic version translateth it, Should the snow fail from the mountain of breasts, and from Lebanon? The Chaldee paraphrast thus glosseth, Behold, as it cannot be that the snow water should fail from Lebanon. Pagnine seems to make Lebanon the nominative case, and renders the sense thus, Shall Lebanon leave the snow from the rock of the field? Our translators supply these words, a man, and so make that the nominative case, and make Lebanon the genitive case. Lebanon was a mountainous place, in which were rocks; it had also fruitful valleys; snow fell upon those rocks, and upon a thaw ran down into the lower places, and was grateful to them, as it moistened them, and made them more fruitful.
Or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? The latter part of the verse seems as hard. Pegnine translates them, Shall other cold flowing waters be forsaken? The vulgar Latin, Or can the other cold flowing waters be plucked up? The LXX. and the Syriac, Or shall the water fail, violently snatched up or taken away with the wind? The Arabic, Or should the foreign cool waters desist? The Chaldee paraphrast glosseth, So the rain waters that come down, and the waters of the fountain that spring, shall not fail. In this great variety, it is very hard certainly to assert the particular sense of these phrases, the knowledge of which depends upon some affections or customs of those places, which we are not so well acquainted with. The next verse is the best guide we have, where the sin laid to the charge of this people is their forsaking God; which sin is here aggravated by this topic, That reason teacheth men not to forsake a greater good for a lesser, though that greater good were but a poor creature comfort, not to be compared with God. This is the general sense, scope, and sum of this verse; so as we shall not need be very solicitous to be able to assert the particular grammatical sense.
Forgotten and forsaken are much the same thing, differing only as the cause and the effect; for if men remembered God as they ought to do, they would not forsake him. By
vanity he means idols; which are called vanity, not only because they are in themselves nothing of what they are pretended to be, and because the worshipping of them is a high degree of sin, which is often called vanity in Scripture, but because the service of them is of no use nor profit, or advantage; and any expectations from them are idle and vain, for which there is no ground at all. Whether the false prophets or the idols are here said to cause them to stumble by receding from the
ancient paths is uncertain. The words may either be translated paths of eternity, or paths of antiquity; the most and best translate it as we do. Quid veturn primurn, The ways of truth are the most ancient ways; the ways wherein Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the ancient patriarchs did walk.
To walk in paths, or in a way not cast up, not fitting for God’s people to walk in. Proverbs 15:19, The way of the righteous is said to be a way made plain, Heb. raised up as a causey. Wicked men, in opposition to these ways, are said to walk
in a way not cast up.
Not that this was finis operantis, their end which they aimed at, none wisheth ill or doth any thing designedly to bring evil upon himself; but it was finis operis the end these courses would certainly issue in, they would bring the land of Judah to desolations, and to be a reproach; so as strangers that were wont to admire at the prosperity of this people above any other people should stand astonished, and wag their heads at them in scorn and derision.
The east wind is (or was at least in those parts) the fiercest wind. As the east wind scatters the chaff, so, saith God, I will scatter them. And when they shall be in great calamity and misery, I will not hearken to them, I will not turn my face to them, or show them my face; but I will turn my back upon them, I will not regard them crying, nor hear their prayers.
This faithful dealing of the prophet with them did only enrage them (as is usual) against the prophet; they plot against the prophet, how to be revenged on him, because he would cross their humours, and would not prophesy as they would have had him.
For the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet; we have the church on our side; the regular priests and the prophets, they know God’s mind as well as he; for there is a promise that the law shall not perish from the priest, nor the word from the prophet; the priests and prophets tell us other things than this Jeremiah doth.
Let us smite him with the tongue, expose him by railing on him, telling lies about concerning him, representing him to be what we know the people hate, abusing him to his face, informing against him; or, in the tongue, let us silence him, command him to speak no more; or, for his tongue, for prophesying at this rate; and for his
words, let us not value them at a rush, nor at all regard them.
The several following verses, to the end of this chapter, contain the prophet’s prayer by way of appeal to God against those wicked men: Lord, (saith he,) though they are resolved to take no heed to my words, yet do thou give heed to them, and do thou take notice of those men that contend with me. Take notice of what they say, not to confirm, but to cross their desires, and to be revenged on them for them.
Shall evil be recompensed for good? to requite good for evil is divine, God maketh his sun to shine, and his rain to fall, upon the just and unjust; to requite evil for evil, or good for good, is but human, what the nature of reasonable men prompt them to; but to requite evil for good is diabolical, and the character of those that are the children of the evil one.
For they have digged a pit for my soul; Lord, saith the prophet, these men have done thus, they have laid snares for my life; though thou knowest that as a prophet I stood before thee, both preaching and praying for their good. Their wrath is kindled to a great height against me, and thou knowest my business was, both in my preachings to them, and prayers for them,
to turn away thy wrath from them. Lord, remember this, both for good to me, and for vengeance upon them.
Deliver up their children to the famine; a dreadful imprecation; we meet with more of the same nature, Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 15:15; Jeremiah 17:18. We find also several such imprecation in the Psalms, Psalms 35:4; Psalms 40:14; Psalms 69:22-25,Psalms 69:27,Psalms 69:28; Psalms 109:6-10, &c. Hence a question is raised, whether it be lawful for God’s servants to pray for evil against their enemies. That which makes the doubt is, Christ’s command to us to pray for them that persecute us, Matthew 5:43,Matthew 5:44, his own example, and Stephen’s, Acts 7:60. See the notes upon the aforementioned texts. It is doubtless our duty to pray for the conversion, forgiveness, and eternal salvation of our worst enemies; so Christ prayed, and Stephen, but neither of them prayed for their outward prosperity in their persecution and rage; and without doubt we may pray against God’s enemies, that God would tie their hands, weaken their power, confound their devices. For such other particulars as are mentioned in this verse, and the beginning of the following verse, and such as David mentions, Psalms 69:0, we must know they were both prophets, and did but pray to God to do that thing which God had revealed to them he would do.
That is, Let the enemy break into their houses, which are, in an ordinary course of providence, men’s castles and sanctuaries, and cause such shrieks as use to be heard in such cases, for their malicious seeking my life by all secret practices.
Lord, thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me; Lord, thou knowest I do not charge them falsely, though their counsels have been secret against my life. Forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from thy sight.
Object. Will some say, Doth Jeremiah here pray for the eternal damnation of his adversaries? Is this lawful?
Solut. I do not think this is to be granted lawful, being so highly against charity; nor that Jeremiah in this is to be excused as a prophet, for even prophets had no such revelations; but I take these phrases to be expounded by the next words,
let them be overthrown before thee; and that all which the prophet prayeth for is God’s showing some temporal displeasure and vengeance against them. For forgiving, and not forgiving sin, doth not always in holy writ signify the discharging or not discharging the persons, from the obligation to eternal death, under which sin layeth them; but sometimes the discharging or not discharging of them from the punishments in this life, to which sin doth expose the sinner; and all Jeremiah’s meaning is, that however it should please God to deal with these wicked men as to their eternal state, yet he would so far not forgive, not blot out, their sins, as that he would set some mark of his vengeance on them in this life for their treachery and ingratitude to him. Whether we in it consider Jeremiah as an ordinary suppliant in this cause, praying in faith, or as a prophet, foreknowing what God would do, it ought to lay a law upon, all to take heed of being mischievous and treacherous to others. It is seldom but God, before they die, repays such men into their own bosom, especially if it be against any who are God’s ministers or people; and that for their speaking to or doing before them the will of God: it is a sin seldom escapes without a temporal vengeance; and if such men be saved at last, it will be as through fire. God will mind them that he hath said, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm, 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalms 105:15.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29