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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
1. Chronology. Jeremiah 1:1-24.1.3, penned cir. B.C. 578; Jeremiah 1:4, sq. B.C. 629. But the recently discovered Assyrian chronology would make the date of the “thirteenth of Josiah” to be B.C. 608.
2. Cotemporary Scriptures. 2 Kings 22:1-12.22.2; 2 Chronicles 34:1-14.34.7. Books of Habakkuk and Zephaniah.
3. Historic Facts. Judah tributary to Assur-Banipal, king of Assyria; yet the kingdom at rest: for her northern foe, Assyria, had ceased invasions since Sennacherib’s overthrow (2 Kings 19:35-12.19.36, B.C. 710); and her southern foe, Egypt, was engrossed and disabled from aggression by intestine wars. Josiah had reigned thirteen years; began religious reformation of Judah B.C. 634; was vigorously prosecuting it when Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry, B.C. 629 (or, according to Assyrian chronology, B.C. 608).
4. Cotemporary History. General outline: International ascendancy had been temporarily with Assyria (cir. 680–640) during the reigns of Esar-Haddon and Assur-Banipal: Saracus saw its overthrow. Judah was tributary to Assyria when Josiah reigned. During the thirty-one years of Saracus, Assyrian power was being undermined by the defection of its chief province, Babylonia, over which Nabopolassar was appointed governor by Saracus, and this at a time when Egypt was consolidating its power under Psammeticus (B.C. 664), and thus menacing Assyria. The Median empire was founded in the sixth year of Josiah’s reign (B.C. 633), by Cyaxares, the Ahasuerus of Daniel 9:1. Four years after Jeremiah began his mission (B.C. 625), Babylonia, under Nabopolassar, rose in revolt against Assyria, aided by Cyaxares with his Median forces, took Nineveh, and thereby overthrew the Assyrian domination, and with it the empire, on whose ruins rose the Babylonian empire, Nabopolassar its king. To him Judah’s tributary dependence was now transferred. Egypt, under Psammeticus’ successor, Pharaoh-Necho, then rose against Babylonia, and, by victorious war at Charchemish, claimed a short-lived international ascendancy. [Josiah succeeded by Jehoahaz.] This defeat was soon redressed by Nebuchadnezzar, son and successor to Nabopolassar, in a decisive conquest over Egypt at Charchemish, whereupon he became monarch of the all-powerful Chaldean dynasty. Judah, having been subject to Egypt, was then reduced to vassalage under Chaldean supremacy.
5. Geographical References. Jeremiah 1:1. “Anathoth, in land of Benjamin” (cf. 1 Chronicles 6:60). Situate on or near the great road from the north to Jerusalem (Dr. Smith); = Anâta, 1¼ hour distant N.N.E. of Jerusalem (Robinson). Remains existing of walls and strong foundations. “A poor village of only about twenty houses.”—Dr. Porter. Jeremiah 1:15. “Families of the kingdoms of the North;” denoting the “numerous tribes or smaller nations of which the kingdoms forming the Babylonian empire were composed.” This description is itself a prophecy of the compound elements, the admixture of petty nationalities, which would constitute the (then non-existing, but destined to become) ascendant Chaldean dynasty.
6. Personal Allusions. Jeremiah 1:1. “Jeremiah,” see Introduction, p. 1. “Hilkiah,” idem., also Literary Criticisms below. Jeremiah 1:2. “Amon, king of Judah,” son and successor of Manasseh, reigned two years, B.C. 642–640, killed in a conspiracy (2 Chronicles 33:21-14.33.24). “Josiah,” a most religious king (2 Kings 23:25). Ascended throne in eighth year, awoke to religious life and divine claims in sixteenth year (2 Chronicles 34:3, B.C. 634), commenced reformation of Judah in twentieth year (B.C. 630), restored Temple services, re-established worship of Jehovah, and cleansed the land of flagrant vice and idolatry. Book of the Law found during Temple restoration. Reigned thirty-one years; during the latter eighteen years Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem. Fell in war at Megiddo when resisting Pharaoh–Necho, king of Egypt, in his advance upon Assyria (B.C. 610). Ewald conjectures that Psalms 59:0. was composed by Josiah during a siege of Jerusalem by Scythians. “Jehoiakim” (see infra), “He was an impious man, and impure in his course of life.”—Josephus. The nation, fearing his despotic character, passed him by, and elected Josiah’s second son, Jehoahaz, as king. But Pharaoh-Necho, returning after three months from Assyria (war at Charchemish), deposed Jehoahaz and enthroned Jehoiakim as dependent king. Reigned eleven years; slain by Nebuchadnezzar, the then all-conquering monarch of Chaldea (B.C. 599). “Zedekiah” (see infra) followed Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, he reigning only three months and ten days. He was the youngest son of Josiah, name Mattaniah; placed on throne by Nebuchadnezzar as his vassal, who named him Zedekiah. “A despiser of justice and duty.”—Josephus. “Not so much bad at heart as weak in will.”—Dr. Smith. In eleventh year of his reign, his Chaldean master ravaged Jerusalem, put out the king’s eyes, and carried him, with the nation, into Babylonian captivity (B.C. 588).
7. Natural History. Jeremiah 1:11. “Rod of an almond-tree.” Luz לוּז, the wild tree (Genesis 30:37); shaked שׁקֵד the cultivated, here mentioned: so suggests Rosenmüller. Earliest tree to bloom; in January (Kitto). Resembles peach-tree in leaves and blossoms; bears white flower (allusion made in Ecclesiastes 12:5); and almonds, which “in the warm southern latitude mature in March” (Paxton).
8. Manners and Customs. Jeremiah 1:13. “A seething pot,” a large caldron used for cooking purposes (2 Kings 4:38; Ezekiel 24:3-26.24.5). Jeremiah 1:15. “Set his throne at the entering of the gate.” Inside the gates of Oriental cities wide covered streets or squares were and are found: these were—(a.) places of concourse (Nehemiah 8:1); (b.) of merchandise (2 Kings 7:1); (c.) of judicial administration (Deuteronomy 16:18; Deuteronomy 17:2; Deuteronomy 25:7; Amos 5:10; Amos 5:12; Amos 5:15); (d.) of royal judgment (2 Samuel 19:8; 2 Samuel 15:2); (e.) of court councils (1 Kings 22:10 sq.). Possessing the gate implied dominion (Genesis 20:17; Isaiah 24:12). These words were literally fulfilled; see Jeremiah 39:3. [Refer to “Land and Book,” pp. 26–28.]
9. Literary Criticisms. Jeremiah 1:1-24.1.3. “Words of Jeremiah,” &c. The title to the entire book; not merely to Baruch’s roll, which ends with Jehoiakim’s reign (Jeremiah 36:12). Yet Henderson suggests Baruch’s authorship. Michaelis thinks Jeremiah prefixed them to the whole collection of his prophecies ere he gave them to his captive countrymen to carry with them to Babylon. But Lange remarks that the book contains prophecies of later date than Zedekiah (ch. 40–44.), and supposes Jeremiah carried on the writing, under Gedaliah, or in Egypt. Jeremiah 1:1. “Hilkiah of the priests.” Clement Alex., Jerome, Eichhorn, Umbriet, and others, think him the high priest of that name (2 Kings 22:4): but Henderson, Wordsworth, Keil, &c., object, for the name was a common one; and the high priest was limited to the line of Eleazar and the house Phinees not Abiathar; and the high priest would live at Jerusalem, not Anathoth; moreover, he would have been “designated by the appellative הַכֹּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל the high priest, or at least הַכֹּהֵן the priest, by way of eminence;” instead “of the priests at Anathoth.” Yet Lange thinks “it is possible, but cannot be proved,” he was Hilkiah who found the “Book of the Law;” while the “Speaker’s Commentary” affirms that beyond a doubt he was the high priest. Jeremiah 1:4. “Then the word;” rather And or Now; a conjunction, not adv. of time. Jeremiah 1:5. “Sanctified thee.” Henderson, “separated from a common to special purpose;” Keil, “consecrated;” but Gesenius points to this passage as illustrating the Piel significance of קָדַשׁ “to declare any one holy.” Jeremiah 1:6. “I cannot speak, for I am a child.” Sharpe translates, “I know not how to speak, for I am a youth.” Keil, “I know not how to speak, for I am too young” (1 Kings 3:7). The Rabbins understood by נַצַר a boy in his fourteenth year. Jeremiah 1:11. “A rod of an almond-tree.” Three interpretations of שָקֵד; for here is a noticeable paronomasia; “I see” שָקֵד; “Thou hast well seen, for I will שֹׁקֵד,” &c. Jerome, “a watchful twig;” a twig whose eyes are open, whose buds have burst; denoting God would be “watchful” over His word; it should not fail. Keil, “a wakeful rod,” suggestive of alacrity, haste; for God would quickly perform His word (E. V., “I will hasten my word,” &c.). So also Henderson, rendering שָקַד to be awake, vigilant; so called because the almond-tree wakes earlier than all other trees from the sleep of winter; meaning therefore “God’s determination to execute with all promptitude His threatened judgments.” Kimchi, Lange, Schmidt, and others, render the words “an almond-tree staff;” the reverse of leafy and blossoming; stripped, “a threatening rod of castigation;” urging that an instrument of chastisement is required by the context. “I see a wakeful rod; for I will be swift (alert) to strike.” The event shall follow quick upon the prediction. Jeremiah 1:13. “Face toward north.” Keil, “it looketh hither from the north;” the direction whence would come the “evil;” and being “blown” (נָפוּחַ), will boil over, pouring its contents upon Judah. Among Arabs a steaming pot figures war is preparing. Jeremiah 1:14. “Out of the north,” &c. Not from south—viz., from Egypt, whence disaster was dreaded; but from Chaldea, which as yet showed no menace. All armies marching from the Euphrates towards Palestine entered the land from the north; thus explaining the geographical discrepancy; Chaldea being on the east, not north. Jeremiah 1:17. “Be not dismayed, lest I dismay thee.” Another paronomasia חָתַת, first in Niphil, then in Hiphil. “The Niphil signifies broken in spirit by terror and anxiety; the Hiphil, to throw into terror and anguish.”—Keil. If Jeremiah appeared before his adversaries in terror, then he will have cause to be terrified for them. Sharpe translates, “Be not affrighted at their faces, lest I afright thee before their faces,” for the repetition of the verb חָתַת is followed in each case by פְנֵיהֶם, with prefix מִי at and לְ to or before respectively.
HOMILIES AND OUTLINES UPON SECTIONS OF CHAPTER 1
God’s messenger to rebellious Judah.
The prophet’s call, consecration, and commission.
Fearless performance of perilous service.
Jeremiah 1:1-24.1.3. Theme: GOD’S MESSENGER TO REBELLIOUS JUDAH
Introduction. Jeremiah’s ministry would prove lengthy and chequered. For forty years in Jerusalem he would sustain the arduous duties of his office, amid the successive reigns of five kings, under each of whom the nation sank to lower stages of decrepitude and vassalage, until at length the ruthless Chaldean forces swept down upon the apostate and impenitent people, and wrought the captivity of Judah, the demolition of Jerusalem, and the desolation of the sacred land.
That so prolonged a period intervened illustrates the Divine forbearance (Psalms 103:8; 2 Peter 3:9); that God grants lengthened respite, and opportunity to repent and escape, ere He rises to punish. Through “so long a time” He spake unto them by His prophet, if so they would forsake transgression and turn aside the judgments impending.
Yet, however long the interval of respite, the threatened calamities will surely come (2 Peter 3:10); and they came “in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the carrying away Jerusalem captive” (Jeremiah 1:3).
I. Godly parentage recognised and honoured. “Jeremiah, son of Hilkiah of the priest,” &c.
Besides Jeremiah (and Nathan, 1 Kings 4:5, Tholuck), the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3; cf. Josephus, Ant. x. 5, 1), and most probably Zechariah (Jeremiah 1:1, Köhler), were of sacerdotal origin.—Lange.
1. Sacred ancestry Divinely selected. Jeremiah was to be “sanctified” for God’s services even “before birth” (Jeremiah 1:5): it was appropriate that his parents should be holy to the Lord. So John the Baptist (Luke 1:13) and Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5). This messenger of Jehovah had existence in the Divine mind before he was conceived (Jeremiah 1:4); and his birth into the world was an incident of Divine arrangement. God appreciates, recognises, and honours religious ancestry. Samuel’s dignity, which so greatly honoured Hannah, the reward of her piety and prayers (1 Samuel 1:27-9.1.28; 1 Samuel 2:1). Solomon also (1 Kings 2:1-11.2.4 sq.); Esther (Jeremiah 2:5-24.2.7; Jeremiah 2:17); and, in a special sense, the Child Jesus (Matthew 1:18; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:28; Luke 1:30). Godly parents are not lost sight of by God; and their offspring are objects of His special regard. (See Addenda, “Parentage.”)
2. The child’s birth a home joy (Jeremiah 20:10): “Making him very glad.” Possibly the child was a gift in answer to prayer, and hence the great joy; as with Hannah. Surely his birth was anticipated by prayer, and followed by dedication, as an expression of gladness and gratitude. It was unsuspecting joy, for they knew not to what eminent office, and to what a career of suffering, their son was born. How is a child’s life overshadowed by ignorance and mystery!
3. Honour to the household through the child. Hilkiah had been unknown to history and Christendom but for his son! Who would have heard of the widow Anthusa but for her son Chrysostom? Or of devout Monica but for her son Augustine? Or of the household of the Wesleys but for the boys John and Charles? A child may bring dignity and undying fame to his family and to his birthplace. For Anathoth is thereby raised from obscurity. As is Stratford-on-Avon and Olney, &c. The son may take higher office than his parents (cf. Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 1:5); “prophet” more than a “priest.” Loftier honour to stand and speak for God among men than to appear for men before God. Hereditary social status is not regarded by God (1 Samuel 2:8).
II. Social seclusion invaded by Divine requirements. The messenger of God was born; in due time God would demand him. Boyhood spent in studious and reverent pursuits. His scriptural knowledge gained during those years; his prophecies show accurate acquaintance with the law. At length, to the quíet home at Anathoth, God came, to seek for Himself a prophet.
(a.) God can seek out whom He chooses; and (b.) speak to whom He selects: “To whom the word of the Lord came,” &c. (Jeremiah 1:2).
1. A communication from God works wondrous changes in him who receives it. It wrought such changes—
a. In Jeremiah himself; a new creature that moment; no longer a mere Anathoth boy; awoke to a new consciousness, new visions, new trusts.
b. In his relation to others; belonged to Hilkiah before, now to God; had something which was not his own, “word of the Lord;” not, therefore, to be kept for himself, not to be silenced; he must speak what he had heard; others must know (1 Samuel 3:17; 1 John 1:3).
c. In his life’s worth and work. Until now he was nothing beyond his own home, now of worth to all Judah; his work had began, and it was a ministry for his nation. Communication from God implies commission for God (Acts 4:18; Acts 4:20).
2. Our natural inclinations may not interfere with God’s claims. To Jeremiah seclusion and irresponsibility would have been far more congenial than publicity, with all its hazards and solicitudes (Jeremiah 9:2); but God cannot be restricted by our preferences, nor determined by our sense of aptitude and qualification (Jeremiah 1:6). If so, the “natural man” would dominate over spiritual laws and God’s demands. Self must be subordinate when God calls. “Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first,” &c. Christ would hear of no evasions or inclinations.
3. God’s messengers cannot tarry in seclusion. So Anathoth had to be left (Jeremiah 2:2). There is an outside world which must see and hear those who love and serve the Lord. No timidity can justify seclusion; open witness for Christ is needed. The times were evil for Jeremiah, the sufferings entailed severe; but he boldly spoke for God (Acts 4:29).
III. Speech for God the outcome of inspiration from God (Jeremiah 1:1). “The words of Jeremiah.” Yet his first outcry was, “I cannot speak” (Jeremiah 1:6). Nevertheless, we have in this book speeches enough to disprove his own plea. The explanation lies in Jeremiah 1:2, “To whom the word of the Lord came.”
1. Natural destitution of gifts, no disqualification for service. He found “words” (Jeremiah 1:1). See Jeremiah 20:9. Moses (Exodus 4:10). When duty for God presses upon us, our insufficiency falls out of the question. What ample assurance, what inexhaustible resources, what provision against our own poverty, dwell in 2 Corinthians 9:8.
2. Human speech the channel of Divine communications. “The words of Jeremiah;” yet they but expressed and conveyed “the word of the Lord.” Angels brought the Law (Hebrews 2:2); but all God’s messages have come through human speech; even “The WORD” (John 1:1-43.1.14) was made incarnate that MAN might speak to man (cf. Hebrews 1:1-58.1.2; Hebrews 2:3-58.2.4).
3. The personal characteristics of inspired messages. Though it was “the word of the Lord;” these communications were “words of Jeremiah;” his personality, temperament, experiences, style of thought, modes of expression, are all stamped upon these Divine messages. Inspiration does not obliterate, scarcely subordinates individuality. Hence the graceful variety and naturalness of the Scriptures; their humanness as well as Divinity; and the manifold unity of the whole. God employs the man, his own true self, “sanctifies” him (Jeremiah 1:5), “moves him by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21); but does not do violence to his natural gifts and qualities of character. In our work for Him whose we are, all our faculties are needed; Christ asks our every talent, our whole true self.
IV. God’s messenger witnessing amid national convulsions and overthrows (Jeremiah 1:2-24.1.3). Jeremiah came to Judah at an eventful crisis and prophesied amid appalling events. But—
1. His mission was originated to meet the crisis. To help Josiah in his work of reformation; to resist Jehoiakim in his reckless impiety; to remonstrate with Zedekiah in his weakness and folly; and to show his captive nation their sin and their Saviour. God’s servants are called to their mission at the right hour. He does not allow any age to be destitute of a messenger from Him. There may always be heard a voice for God, whatever the aspect of the times. Alas! (Isaiah 1:3-23.1.4).
2. However circumstances may vary, God’s prophet must do his work. Friendly or hostile; Josiah king or Jehoiakim; when Judah is reforming, or hastening back to abomination, whether men heed or oppose. Times of calamity afford special opportunities for God’s voice to be heard. When kings fall, and foes are at the gates, and the kingdom is endangered, then God should be heeded. Judah was a Theocracy—God’s nation; and with every epoch and change He sent directions, warnings, denunciations, promises, according to the hour. This is the work of every preacher, every Christian; to address himself to the hour; to make God’s Word heard amid confusion, degeneracy, disobedience: to “warn the people,” lest their blood be upon him.
3. No calamity befalling man places him beyond the Divine message. Josiah’s death was an evil incident to Judah; the kingdom was doomed from that hour. But God remained, and He would have spoken hopefully to the bereft nation had they hearkened. Nevertheless, though they despised His Word, it came still to Jeremiah for Judah; when at peace, or amid war; before the Captivity and after; in their own land and in Egypt. Nothing befalls us but God observes; and He sends some “word” for us suited to the time. Wherever we are, amid privileges or in exile from all joys, still He sends messages of mercy and promise. Man is never beyond the need of God’s message, nor beyond its reach, nor beyond the consequences which follow on reception or rejection; “life unto life” to the observant and obedient, but “death unto death” to those who will not heed the call to repentance and salvation. “Hear, and your soul shall live.”
Jeremiah 1:4-24.1.10. Theme: THE PROPHET’S CALL, CONSECRATION, AND COMMISSION
The Divine call involves—
I. With respect to him who is called:
a. The duty, to discharge the commission without fear of man, and without regard to his own weakness.
b. The privilege, being assured of Divine protection and aid, and certain success in the work.
II. With respect to those to whom he is commissioned:
a. The urgency of their believing obedience.
b. The certainty of the Divine message being fulfilled; no doubt of their realising the threatenings or promises addressed to them.
ZINDENDORF from Lange
Call and consecration. The investiture of Jeremiah with the prophetic office is effected in four distinct acts:
I. The call of Jehovah, 4–8. This was not the product of a reflective musing, nor the result of an inward impulse, but a supernatural Divine revelation, an inspiration, a voice from without.
II. His Divine consecration, 9, 10. He felt the hand of the Lord touch him: “a palpable pledge of His support.” Touching his mouth meant endowment. Equipment and qualification for God’s work must be from God. “For the man God has chosen before his birth to a special office in His kingdom He equips with the gifts and graces needed for the exercise of his functions.”
III. Signs which unveil his mission. These he “saw in spirit.” God interpreted them to him as confirmatory tokens of his Divine commission; they are a surety of the Divine promise: (a.) Of the speedy and certain fulfilment of the word of God proclaimed by him; and (b.) the contents of his preaching; disaster and ruin which the North will pour out on Judah.
IV. Supernatural assurances of help. Jeremiah is charged to address himself stoutly to his duties, to discharge them fearlessly, and is assured of powerful Divine assistance. “Only by unshaken confidence in the power of the Word he preaches in the name of the Lord will he be able to accomplish anything.” God will furnish strength, will make him valiant and impregnable.
Condensed and arranged from Keil.
Commission of the Prophet. In all cases it applies equally as with Jeremiah—
I. As to the work in the vineyard of the Lord:
1. It must be performed by men whom He prepares and sends.
2. It is a work both difficult and dangerous.
3. Yet it is rich in successes and rewards.
II. As to the office to which the Lord appoints:
1. It is for the purpose of accomplishing His will.
2. It needs the means which the Lord Himself provides.
NAEGELSBACH in Lange.
Provision for the Church.
I. The Lord never allows His Church to lack the strength which time and place demand. He does not seek this, or wait for it: He makes it (Jeremiah 1:18).
II. He chooses to Himself despised and inefficient agents for His service. Now He selects one who to himself and to others appears too young; as elsewhere He chose what was foolish, weak, and base in the sight of the world (1 Corinthians 1:19-46.1.29; Matthew 11:25; John 7:48; James 2:5). “It is not always the greybeard who is wanted.”—Förster.
III. When God gives office He give, also understanding. (a.) It would be presumptuous to begin a great work in one’s own strength. (b.) It is natural in view of a great and difficult task that one should be afraid. (c.) But it would be wrong if, from any pusillanimous despondency or love of ease, one should take no heed to an evident call of God.
IV. It devolves upon God to protect the cause of His servant. Since (a.) It is not our cause, but His; and (b.) we do not undertake it in our own strength, but in obedience to His command.
V. To bear a Divine office ensures Divine succour. When the office is received from the Lord, and is conducted according to His purpose and in His spirit, there the Lord Himself is present with weapons of defence and offence.
VI. God’s Word is mighty, however weak His messenger.
a. It may be in the mouth of the humblest of His servants.
b. It is nevertheless a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces.
c. And no rock is too hard or high for it.
Arranged from NAEGELSBACH in Lange.
Some saints have been consecrated from the womb. The Baptist was; Jeremiah was (Jeremiah 1:5). The time came for calling Jeremiah out to his work (Jeremiah 1:4, &c.). His age uncertain, but he was evidently in the morning of life. God’s call was clear, precise, peremptory. Look—
I. At his objection, as here given. Not unreasonable; for his age—
1. Would indicate inexperience. 2. Insufficient knowledge. 3. Modest diffidence. Yet, 4. His age and defects time would remedy.
II. How God overrules his objection.
1. He refers to his pre-ordination. “Knew, sanctified, ordained” (Jeremiah 1:5).
2. He refers to his commission. “Go to all that I shall,” &c. (Jeremiah 1:7).
3. He was to speak God’s words. Did not require his own knowledge.
4. He pledged His Divine presence (Jeremiah 1:8). Shield, help, deliverer.
5. Then there was supernatural communication (Jeremiah 1:9).
III. Important lessons suggested.
1. God, and not man, arranges the affairs of His moral kingdom. He plans as to the work and the agency, &c.
2. God qualifies the instruments He employs.
3. God often selects His agents not as men would do. Men the mature, He the young; learned, illiterate; the respectable, the poor.
4. God gives His own message to His messengers. “My words.”
5. The ministry of God’s servants is mighty for good or evil (Jeremiah 1:10). How great the results; portentous; solemn 1 Jonah, the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostles.
a. Let us listen when God speaks.
b. Obey when He commands.
c. Trust when He promises.
REV. J. BURNS, D.D., LL.D.
Jeremiah 1:11-24.1.16. Theme: PREMONITORY VISIONS
Introduction. Jeremiah glides, almost imperceptibly to himself, from being a hearer into the office of a seer. He had listened only as yet (Jeremiah 1:4-24.1.10), now he is asked to penetrate and gaze. It is a preparatory and initiative incident; his first exertion of the prophetic faculty of seeing visions. God is thereby gently leading him on towards the prophetic office. Without realising that he is undergoing his first lesson, he passes through it. God allures him, surprises him, indeed, into the exercise of the perceptive powers needful for his mission; and He thus renders self-evident Jeremiah’s aptitude for the work. So that when he answered the Divine inquiry, “What seest thou? ” God could respond, “Thou hast well seen;” thus virtually saying to him, You already prove your power of spiritual discernment, your possession of the prophetic insight (Addenda to chap. Jeremiah 1:11).
In this cautious manner, dealing so tenderly with Jeremiah’s misgivings and sense of inability, God leads him on. It is the second stage in the process of his induction. First he hears that be is selected to this mission. Now a proof is unwittingly supplied by Jeremiah to himself that God has not erred in entrusting him with the prophet’s office; for he shows immediate ability to discern the symbolic force and teaching of things.
I. Truths pictured in symbols. “What seest thou? ” And his eye rested on the blossoming bough of an almond-tree. “What seest thou? ” And he perceived a boiling pot, whose contents ran over from the north. Each thing seen held a truth; and a truth which ran through all Jeremiah’s after history and work.
1. Helpfulness of objective signs. Better for God to show Jeremiah these truths than to merely say them. Signs are impressive; they are remembered; they fix their teaching on the understanding.
The childlike temperament of man is always assumed by God; He teaches him by pictures; not tells him abstract truths. All Bible revelation is a series of pictures, an array of symbols which hold truths. We have very little direct teaching compared with picture-teaching in the Scriptures. All the Temple, its services and incidents, were symbols. All Christ’s miracles were truths acted out in incident; parables in action.
2. The eye an avenue of instruction. When Pharaoh and the magicians saw Aaron’s rod effect mightier results than their rods could work, they needed not a word to convince them of the supreme power of Aaron’s God. It was convincing argument; the lesson was trenchant and decisive. Jeremiah never lost the lessons of these visions; he knew that events would follow quickly upon his prediction (Jeremiah 1:12, “hasten”); and that calamity would come upon Judah from the north (Jeremiah 1:14-24.1.15). Our Lord knew the value of lessons seen; hence He continually appealed to His hearers to look at things around and heed their teaching: “Behold the fowls of the air,” &c. (Matthew 6:25). “Behold a sower,” &c. (Jeremiah 13:3). “Behold my hands, and feel that it is I” (Luke 24:39). This Divine plan with the prophets, and Christ’s plan with His apostles and the multitudes, supplies the model for effectively teaching sacred truths.
3. Hidden meaning in things. The almond bough, the seething pot, were for signs; and Jeremiah saw their significance. Some persons see nothing; “have eyes but see not;” blind with a blank literalism. Everything is merely what it is. They have no imagination, no perceptive power, no spiritual vision.
“The primrose on the river’s brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more.”—Peter Bell.
Yet, to discerning eyes, all things hold hidden truths, a Divine suggestiveness. The world is full of parables, in which sacred teachings are portrayed, and in which the enlightened soul perceives some counsel or promise from God.
To a few even the Bible is nothing more than a printed book, sealed and silent, with no revelation for them. “The veil is upon their heart.” Yea, the gracious Jesus, “fairest among ten thousand, and altogether lovely,” has to them “no beauty that they should desire Him.”
This barren materialism closes the universe around a man like the grim walls of a prison.
“Two worlds are ours: ‘tis only Sin
Forbids us to descry
The mystic heaven and earth within,
Plain as the sea and sky.”
How different this from the thoughts breathed in Keble’s hymn, “There is a book who runs may read!” so full of enlightened discernment of the sacred side of natural objects. If we see “the deep things of God,” it is because of grace; and we have reason to say—
“Thou, who hast given me eyes to see
And love this sight so fair,
Give me a heart to find out Thee,
And read Thee everywhere.—See Addenda to chap. 1., “Visions.”
II The Prophet’s initiation
He was not ushered suddenly into the dazzling splendours of prophetic visions, making heaviest demands on spiritual insight; the first step was simple, the gradations gradual.
1. The learner tested. “What seest thou?” Exert your own perceptive powers; try how far they will carry you towards truth. It is wise to educe a learner’s powers. So Jeremiah looked out first upon nature. Would he see anything? Among all the arboreous growths, would anything suggestive strike him? Trees were all black in winter’s death; no fertility, no vitality; barrenness, somnolence everywhere! But lo! one solitary twig among the trees bears blossom; it is an early fulfilment of God’s word, which pledged the spring: he calls it “the wakeful tree,” quick to bloom, hastening into activity with earliest dawn of spring. And God commended his vision, for he had “seen well,” or aright.
He then turns towards the habitations of men: activity is everywhere; on the open hearth steams the caldron; many things are happening which would engross the idle gazer; does anything stand out specially on Jeremiah’s vision? One object arrests him, and he sees that only, all else is excluded; it has a significance to his mind—a pot boiling over in a certain direction. He observes every minute particular. It makes evident his faculty of suggestive discernment.
There stands a Cross on Calvary. Men pass by. “It is nothing to them;” but “What seest thou?” All depends on your discernment. Is it merely a symbol of suffering, or of salvation?
2. Progressive stages of instruction. The first vision was easier far than the second. The almond bough was the only living thing within his gaze. Noticeable, therefore, by contrast with surrounding death; readily discernible. Having passed that test, the second demand comes. This “seething pot” was only one of many noticeable things; not conspicuous; it required more effort on his part to detect the suggestive object.
But more. The truth taught by the sign was harder to bear. The first simply taught that God would early perform His word; the second indicated mixed elements in the pot, boiling over, with its face from the north, meaning that mingled nations which would constitute the Northern scourge, which would overflow its boundaries and pour calamities on Judah. Thus our Lord gave to His disciples teachings “as they were able to bear” them, holding back the weightier truths till they had learned the simpler.
God has more to show us of Divine purposes, more great and marvellous truths; but He leads on as we are fitted to discern them. The Israelites under Sinai heard once God’s voice, then entreated that it might never speak again; but Moses, who, reverently regarded, went up to the heights, saw visions of resplendent glory, and talked face to face with God. Our power to receive visions is the only limit to larger revelations.
3. Personal preparation. The visions Jeremiah would eventually behold would be full of awfulness and dark with threatenings. God showed him an outline first, that he might be prepared to meet the wider portrayal of things to come.
His mind received the germ of truth, and he had been exercised in prophetic perception. His eyes had now been Divinely opened. He most conclusively showed his aptitude for sacred communications. He could “see well.” This aptitude was not at first manifest; but the visions had taught him his qualifications and mission. He was to be a seer, a “prophet.” It is, then, right to remark that, If God calls us to use powers in His service which we do not think we possess, (a.) Be assured that we have them: (b.) He will teach us to use them: (c.) They will be sufficient for our work: (d.) They will grow into vigour by further use. Reflections:
1. God never errs in calling us to service for Him; He will qualify us.
2. Cultivate a discerning eye of signs God puts before us.
3. Simplest things may hold sublime teachings. Christ’s parables were simple, but they contained truths of eternal value to the world.
III. The messages taught by the visions. 1. That his prophetic word would be followed quickly by the event (Jeremiah 1:12). Some prophecies pointed to distant years; but these were nigh. Therefore his mission was urgent; the judgments gathered thick and fast. Comp. Jonah, his preaching to Nineveh. Analogy: Our testimony of the nearing hour of death; the “accepted time” hastening away; the Spirit grieved, ready to depart. “To-day, if ye will hear His voice,” &c.
2. That an unexpected foe was gathering his forces for their destruction. They dreaded Egypt; but the Chaldean dynasty would soon gather together the “families of the kingdoms,” and become a scourge to Judah.
a. Where we look not for calamity it may come (Jeremiah 1:14).
b. God prepares retribution for transgressors (Jeremiah 1:15).
c. Apostasy from Him cannot go unpunished (Jeremiah 1:16). (See Addends to chap. 1, “Out of the North.”)
Such was the prophet’s announcement! The Gospel admonitions and denunciations are equally appalling. May they who hear them “flee from the wrath to come.” For in Christ “we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
Jeremiah 1:17-24.1.19. Theme: FEARLESS PERFORMANCE OF PERILOUS SERVICE
Jehovah’s “charge” to His servant.
Paul’s charge to Timothy is emphatic and vigorous (2 Timothy 4:1-55.4.5), pointing out the hazards and difficulties of his ministry, the forms of hostility which would assail his word, and encouraging him to assurance, diligence, and fidelity.
But this is a charge from the Almighty God Himself to His prophet, who had shown much reluctance and trembling. (See Addenda to ch. 1., “I cannot speak.”)
I. Attitude must be valiant, Jeremiah 1:17.
1. Not craven: “Stand,” or “arise.”
2. Not apologetic: “Speak.”
3. Not awed by men: “Be not dismayed.”
4. Not forgetful Whom you serve: “Lest I confound thee.”
II. Strength shall be invincible, Jeremiah 1:18.
1. God had made him impregnable: “I make thee,” &c.
2. His work would be “against” all ranks of the people.
3. He would be assailed, as a “defenced city” is besieged, Jeremiah 1:19. “Fight against thee.”
III. Hostility would be impotent.
An “iron pillar” which could not be overthrown; “brazen walls” which fire could not consume.
Judah would be overthrown, and Jerusalem burned; but not God’s prophet: for
1. A Divine promise of safety is given: “They shall not prevail.”
2. The Divine Presence would be around him: “For I am with thee.”
3. The Divine Power would be exerted for him: “To deliver thee.”
A prophet’s work.
I. The Divinely-called prophet becomes a sacrifice and instrument for God.
1. He regards only God’s will and command.
2. Must do and proclaim what the Lord bids him do and preach.
3. Must expose himself to consequent hostility.
4. Must meet antagonism with fearlessness of man and faith in God.
II. The wrong and results of sin must be proclaimed to all, heedless of their station, Jeremiah 1:18.
1. The anger of God against sin will certainly overtake them.
2. The preacher must set forth these facts: sin, and God’s consequent displeasure.
3. This must be declared to the whole people: “All the land.”
4. Equally before governors as subjects; the high as well as the low.
III. A teacher, in view of gross corruption, must not proceed softly.
1. Vigorously overthrowing wrong, Jeremiah 1:10.
2. Having by the Law destroyed the kingdom of Satan in the hearts of men;
3. He must seek to “build up” the kingdom of Christ therein by the Gospel.
IV. Resentment may be the only return men make for faithful work for God.
1. Kings and subjects equally hate a reprover.
2. Sense of its justice makes reproof more exasperating.
3. Yet God’s witness must fearlessly tell the whole truth.
4. In courageous service God will protect His messenger.
Enlarged and evolved from STARKE in Lange.
Servants of God.
I. Their duty.
a. Always to have their loins girded, Jeremiah 1:17.
b. To proclaim without fear of man whatever the Lord commands.
II. Their privilege.
a. Mighty through the power of God.
b. Unyielding to any power on earth.
III. The Lord’s requirements of His servants.
a. To be always ready for His service: “Gird loins.”
b. To accomplish what is bidden without delay: “Arise and speak.”
IV. The Lord’s promise to His servants.
a. That He will be with them.
b. That no earthly power shall conquer them.
NAEGELSBACH, in Lange.
I. He must be quick: “Arise,” and lose no time.
II. He must be busy: “Speak unto them,” in season, out of season.
III. He must be bold: “Be not dismayed.”
IV. He must be faithful; for
1. He must speak all that he is charged with. Forget nothing, conceal nothing.
2. He must speak to all that he is charged against.
a. Because he has reason to fear the wrath of God if he should be false.
b. Because he has no reason to fear the wrath of man if he is faithful.
HOMILETIC TREATMENT OF SUCCESSIVE OR SELECTED VERSES IN CHAPTER 1
Jeremiah 1:1. “The word of Jeremiah.” A revival of prophecy marked this epoch. Long silent under Manasseh and Amon, it now was heard again (see Intro. Jeremiah 1:6).
The name “Jeremiah” means either “Jehovah throws down” (Hengstenberg and Lange, deriving the name from “Ramah”), indicating that God would overthrow by him His foes: or “Jehovah exalts” (Speaker’s Commentary, from word “Ram,” high), denoting that none should cast down him whom God upholds.
But the name was borne by others of no significant character, exalted office, or special mission. (1 Chronicles 5:24; 1 Chronicles 12:4; 1 Chronicles 12:10; 1 Chronicles 12:13; 2 Kings 23:31; Nehemiah 10:3; Nehemiah 12:1; Jeremiah 35:3.) It is not our name makes us great; the mission we fulfil and the grace God bestows, these make our lives of worth.
I. The voice of prophecy heard among men. He was entrusted with “words” to speak to Judah and the nations.
1. The necessity for Divinely-sent words. Nation was ignorant (Book of Law lost); indifferent (to conscience, memory, Divine claims); insensible (not believing in or preparing against looming peril). Certainly desirable some voice should appeal for God and truth.
2. The mission of Divinely-sent words. To arouse the people to repentance, to true piety (not merely the “form of godliness”), and to escape by national humiliation “the wrath to come” (chap. Jeremiah 36:3).
3. The results of Divinely-sent words. Effect of Jeremiah’s preaching on Judah would be either (a.) To lead back the heart to God, and so prove a “savour of life unto life;” or (b.) to increase their hardness of heart, their responsibility, guilt, and doom; “a savour of death unto death.”
Divine words, by a Divinely-inspired speaker, cannot be heard without results, saving or hardening, on hearers.
So when Christ spoke: John 15:22; John 9:41, “Take heed how ye hear.”
II. The messages of prophecy brought to men.
Before a prophet it is natural to ask, What words he comes to utter? (Acts 17:18-44.17.20; Acts 10:33.)
1. The tidings which the “words” convey.
a. Of mingled import. Not all denunciatory. Dark though Judah’s criminality, God did not send only words of wrath and menace, but pitiful, pleading, promising also.
b. Suggested by man’s spiritual case. Our state, mood, actions, call forth specific “words.” God’s messages meet man in every circumstance and condition. We turn from the vile in silent loathing, refuse words with those who wrong us; but God speaks to all.
c. Foretelling doom and redemption Doom from “the North;” redemption by the “Lord our Righteousness.” Temporal ruin to Judah; but a darker destiny for those who reject the salvation of Christ. Temporal restoration, and a Messiah incarnate in Palestine, to Judah; but a spiritual return to God, and possession of Heavenly Land, for those who rest in Jesus. “With Him in paradise.”
2. The calling which the Prophet fulfils.
a. He utters what he receives from God. Is not a philosopher, to evolve truths; but a prophet, to accept a message and utter it. His are not, therefore, earth-born speeches, not of human wisdom or human wishes. Preachers are to “tell what seen and heard” (Luke 7:22).
b. Announces truths with a grieving heart. Sorrowing over the sin he has to denounce, and the doom he has to pronounce. Not angry with the people (Numbers 20:10); “not desiring the woeful day” (Jeremiah 17:16); but with tearful pity (chap. Jeremiah 9:1), as with Paul (Philippians 3:18).
c. Suffering at the hands of those he warns. (John 3:20; John 10:31; John 10:39; Galatians 4:16.) The preacher of righteousness is a living denunciation of those who love sin and disobey God. So, too, is every Christian whose character and actions speak out for the Lord against human indifference and iniquity; therefore he is maligned and maltreated.
3. The hearers to whom the words apply. To Judah first, as being his own nation. “Beginning at Jerusalem.” For there is a patriotism of Divine service (comp. Romans 9:1-45.9.3; Romans 10:1).
But also “to the nations,” Jeremiah 1:4. The world needs the “words.” “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.”
Jeremiah 1:2. “To whom the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah.”
Theme: THE PROPHET’S TIMELY ARRIVAL.
Jerusalem and Judah had already heard the Divine sentence of overthrow from former prophets; now the time was near; and as the interval diminished, God raised up this earnest, pleading witness under the third king before the Captivity.
I. God discerns the spiritual necessities of the age.
He had given Josiah as king; but more was required.
1. The royal reformation. The king, alone in his pious zeal, was doing all a king could; rectifying the evil customs, instituting religious observances, stemming crime, establishing Jehovah’s worship. But notwithstanding all, there remained still:
2. The nation’s degeneracy. The king’s work could not reach the nation’s heart, could not renew Judah, and recall the people to spiritual allegiance to Jehovah. All was external thus far. There was needed, and therefore sent:
3. The sacred call. It was Jeremiah’s work to plead for God, speak to the heart of Judah, allure the nation’s trust and love. This inner work remained to be done. And the prophet came upon the scene to supply the lack which the king’s work made more evident.
II. God sends companionship in holy and arduous work.
Jeremiah came to the aid of Josiah. “At first no man stood by him.” But lonely service will weary the most heroic heart. Christ sent His disciples “two and two.” All sacred ministry asks helpful companionship.
1. It supplemented the royal deficiency. Not only
a. The impotence of the king, who could not attempt the persuasive ministry, the spiritual pleading with the people, needful to awaken their sympathetic response to his reforming plans; but
b. The ignorance of the king. The Scriptures were lost; Josiah did not know the Law and Covenants until after he had reigned eighteen years, when the Book was found. A child of guilty Amon, brought up in a corrupt court, he could have received no religious instruction. Jeremiah supplied this lack, as Aaron supplemented Moses’ deficiency.
2. It sanctioned the royal work. Jeremiah’s timely arrival would:
a. Show the king God’s approval of his designs; and
b. Impress the nation with the urgency and need of a complete return to God.
III. God supplies effective helps to conversion.
Could He have done more to aid Judah to return to Him than by giving so devotedly religious a king, and so pathetically patriotic a prophet?
1. Guilt and irreligion were condemned and discouraged. Both king and prophet expressed Divine disapproval of wrong. None were left in doubt whether to “call good evil or evil good.” Sinners cannot plead ignorance or unconsciousness, of sin.
2. Calls and opportunities were offered to newness of life. Oh, how they surround us! The Gospel, the Cross, the Spirit, our instructors, all plead with us. Jeremiah’s ministry was an interval of hope to Judah. We have “an accepted time, a day of salvation.”
3. Neglect of God was left without justification or excuse. They would not hearken (Hebrews 10:26-58.10.29). “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?”
Jeremiah 1:2-24.1.3. Theme: THE CHANGEFUL INCIDENTS OF A LIFE’S WORK.
Life is full of changes, reverses, and uncertainties. (See Addenda to chap. 1, “Changes.”)
I. His mission began in auspicious times.
All encouraging and helpful to the prophet’s mission. King friendly to his work; nation aroused by royal activities; Temple services re-established; Book of Law soon found.
II. His office continued amid regal changes.
1. The various character of kings. Each unlike the other. Royal goodness not hereditary. (See Critical Notes, 5, above.)
2. The royal attitude towards the prophet. What an influence, in furthering or retarding the servants of God, the throne exerts!
3. The overthrow of royal opponents. Each crowned head that lifted itself against God’s purpose and the prophet’s mission was bowed to ignominious shame (Psalms 2:2-19.2.4).
III. His prophecies closed amid national calamity. Destruction and exile.
1. His warnings fulfilled upon the disobedient.
2. His messages followed the captives. He still was with them, and spoke for God among them in Egypt.
3. His promises lighted up their exile, pointing them on to Restoration and to Christ.
i. We cannot perceive the end of a thing from its beginning. A career began amid national reformation, closed amid utter overthrow and ruin. What reverses enter life! How may promises perish amid disaster!
ii. God hides the sterner duty from us at the outset. Strength and courage and faith must grow, or Jonahs would always flee from life’s severer ordeals and tasks. “He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” does not lay upon us more than we can bear.
iii. Sacred work must be done regardless of surroundings. It is not for the Lord’s servants to “faint in the day of adversity.” Kings may menace, perils may arise: but
“Where duty calls or danger,
Be never wanting there.”
Painful as are the mutations around us—and they were to Jeremiah—still we must be loyal in our duty to God, and responsive to sacred claims.
iv. Our mission is to act the part the hour demands. Help the good Josiah; withstand the rebellious Jehoiakim; chide and correct the compromising Zedekiah; go with the captives into their affliction. Suit our work for Christ to the characters around us, and to the circumstances in which we find them. Human life is not stereotyped; Christian work must be versatile.
v. Every crisis finds the dutiful servant sufficient and sustained. For God is able to make him stand; yea, and he shall be holden up. So this prophet found. So all who are the Lord’s (2 Corinthians 2:14).
Jeremiah 1:5. Foreknowledge and predestination.
God’s address here is unequivocal and emphatic. Two antagonistic opinions held: 1. Divine purposes are absolute with man, and include the determination by God of man’s will and life. 2. Divine purposes are conditional on man; they foresee and accord with man’s own determination.
Certainly Jeremiah’s will had to be subordinated; but. it was a free subordination. There was no violation of his liberty of action; God gently conquered his reluctance and rectified his fears. This Divine work upon him gave him liberty, set him free from enthralling misgivings and dreadful apprehensions; raised him into assurance and reliance on Jehovah; his subjugation was his “translation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
I. Facts affirmed.
1. The unborn child foreknown of God. “Before I formed, I knew thee.” The Divine idea antedates the Divine act (Psalms 139:16). Yet this assertion of mere foreknowledge is not all which the Hebrew word “knew” implies. “Verbum cognitionis verbum favoris est.” It as to be taken in the sense of having a regard for; I approved of thee. “I know him (Abraham), that he will command his children,” &c. (Genesis 18:19; comp. Psalms 1:6; Nahum 1:7. See cognate N. T. word, Matthew 7:23). “Those who know, (revere and cherish) Thy name,” &c. (Psalms 9:10; comp. Hosea 8:2).
2. A life predestinated to God’s service. “Before birth I sanctified thee.” Not from (after) birth, but from before birth. We may understand the word “sanctified” as meaning (with Henderson and Lange) set apart to sacred service; they contending that primarily the word “does not mean to be pure or holy; that God had cleansed Jeremiah from the pollution of original sin, or had regenerated him by His Spirit; but that He had separated him in His eternal counsel to his appointed work.” So Samson (Judges 13:5); Isaiah (Isaiah 49:1); John the Baptist (Luke 1:15); Paul (Galatians 1:15). Others claim that the primary significance is to be pure, clean (Speaker’s Commentary); and here, therefore, “I made thee holy,” and “so to dedicate to holy purposes” (comp. 2 Samuel 8:11). Keil observes and infers that “God has predetermined before our birth what is to be our calling on earth, and He has accordingly so influenced our origin and growth in the womb as to prepare us for what we are to become and to accomplish,” &c Three interpretations: (a.) Eternal separation to God’s service. (b.) Absolute sanctification prior to birth; personal purity. (c.) Control over the life prior to birth so as to effect individual adaptation for the sacred services he would have to fulfil.
The last is preferable. He whom God foreknows is born with a Divinely secured aptitude for Divine work. (See Addenda to chap. 1, “Fore-ordination.”)
3. God’s prophet a Divine production. “I ordained, ”—i.e., “appointed” or “gave.” A prophet is a Divine benefaction; he is born as a boon; his ministry is a gracious bestowment. Thus:
a. Gifted witnesses of God are gifts to the age from God (comp. Ephesians 4:11-49.4.12). How melancholy if the Divine Father sent forth no messenger to an erring world! “All gone out of the way, none seeketh after God;”—yet God leaves men to their own wilfulness, unchecked, uninformed, uninvited! Dreadful if always true—“I looked, but there was none to help, and I wondered that there was no intercessor.” But comp. Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 7:25.
b. Their presence among men a testimony of God, and their voice a testimony from God. A prophet is a proof that God is: his endowments and mission are supernatural: and his attestations are miraculous: and his word speaks from God; inspired, authoritative. “He that heareth you, heareth Me.” Such are the assertions of this verse.
II. Truths evolved.
1. Events of time do but unfold projects of eternity. Occurrences on earth, as if the veil is thrown aside, show Divine arrangements till then hidden. God is planning; time is unrolling His plans, “bringing hidden devices to pass.” God is interested therefore in all incidents; they lie within His anticipation. “My Father worketh hitherto.”
2. Opportune incidents are Divinely regulated events. It was opportune that Jeremiah came just at that juncture of Judah’s history, while Josiah was endeavouring to reform the nation, and ere the foe was at the gates. Was it merely fortuitous, a coincidence? Or rather, “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
3. A child’s birth and occupation work out God’s purposes. There is a providence therefore over our entrance into life. Yes, and the fitfulness of childhood, wilfulness of youth, the risk and uncertainty of opening manhood (as we see them), only screen the movements of a Hand which controls all, directing the life into appointed paths. We work into and work out Divine intents.
4. Messages from God await the advent of a herald. God had much to say to Judah, even while Josiah worked on alone; but Jeremiah’s hour was not yet. Startling to think of solemn messages laid up in heaven, kept sealed, until a babe is born at Anathoth, and nourished into youth. But the word of the Lord comes by the appointed herald at the needed hour. “O Lord, send by whom Thou wilt send.”
Thus, therefore, a man pleading for God is God’s pleading with man.
Query. Is the Divine foreknowledge and predestination true only of earth’s greatest sons, and God’s special witnesses? In a sense true of all men. “Known unto God are all His works, from the beginning of the world.” “A man’s goings are of the Lord.” Each should realise his place in God’s plans, and ask, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? ”
“Stand up! thou art as true a man
As moves the human mass among;
As much a part of the great plan
That with creation’s dawn began,
As any of the throng.
“The great! what better they than thee?
As theirs, is not thy will as free?
Has God with equal favours thee
Neglected to endow?
“With these, and passions under ban,
True faith, and holy trust in God,
Thou art the peer of any man!
Look up, then, that thy little span
Of life may be well trod.”
Jeremiah 1:6. The pleadings of fear.
Literally, “Alas! my Lord Jehovah!” There is no resistance on Jeremiah’s part, but he shrinks back alarmed. So at the vision of the cherubim, Isaiah cried, “Woe is me!” and Ezekiel “sat astonished seven days.” Jeremiah’s gentle and tender spirit submits, but with a cry of pain” (Speaker’s Commentary). “I cannot speak,” &c. The Targum paraphrases this correctly, “I cannot prophesy”—i.e., I have not the powers of oratory necessary for success. The prophets of Israel were the national preachers in religious matters, and their orators in political. The reluctance exhibited by God’s servants (Exodus 4:10; Exodus 6:12; Exodus 6:30; Jonah 1:3) to accept the call shows that they did not assume the office under the impulse of self-deceiving fanaticism.
I. Weakness is the channel of Divine efficiency. God works by weak things (1 Corinthians 1:26-46.1.29); for they most magnify God (Psalms 8:2).
II. Conscious disqualification the preparation for noblest achievements. Equipped with nothing of self, there was room for God’s grace to clothe him. He became mighty because he felt himself nothing.
A prophet’s qualification is not aptitude for uttering Divine discourses or foreseeing calamities, but speaking words given him with all assurance, and as an ambassador. (Addenda to chap. 1., “I am a child,” and “I cannot speak.”)
III. Terror in the presence of responsibility.
a. Overwhelmed with vastness. “Ah, Lord God!”
b. Timidity shrinks appalled. “Ah!”
c. Inexperience dreads duty. A child to speak!
d. Incapacity urged. “I cannot speak.”
e. Youth’s natural misgivings. “I am a child.”
Jeremiah 1:5-24.1.7. Theme: FEARS AND COMFORTS IN PROSPECT OF LABOUR FOR GOD
Here is a young man trembling on the threshold of a life of arduous service. Here is the Master equipping him for the service, dissipating his fears and assuring his heart.
The scene is a common one. Trembling fingers ever gird on the armour. Nor is it wonderful. Think of magnitude of the undertaking, feebleness of instrument, deadly hostility of foe. God’s Davids always had to meet the world’s Goliaths with nothing but sling and stone.
I. The fear of God’s servants in prospect of labour.
1. He feels his weakness. “A child.”
a. Having no influence. Men will listen to those of riper years. Speakers who can appeal to public services rendered, and to old and tried friends, thus secure attention. Jeremiah had no such advantages.
b. Having no experience. How can a “child” find the clue to intricacies of human heart? How successfully combat sophistries of man?
c. Being unstable. “A child” is easily influenced, soon afraid. While seeking to deliver others, himself may be ensnared.
2. He feels his ignorance. How speak of themes which exhaust vocabulary of angels? How little know of Thy word and ways, or of deplorable and dreadful condition of men!
Every preacher should feel this. Think of the surpassing excellencies of Jesus; and we but beggars outside the city gate, who yet have to tell of the Majesty dwelling amidst splendours of palace! We only know in part; have seen but glimpses of the King. True, we know enough to bless ourselves, but not enough to do Him the honour He deserves.
How little we know of man. Each different from his fellow; exposed to specific temptations and sorrows.
3. He feels his unworthiness. “A child,” undistinguished, unknown.
4. He dreads the enmity of man. Though “a child” he knows the hostility of man to truth. Not unnatural to dread world’s malice. “Crucified together with Christ,” is no mere poetic fancy. We have fellowship with His shame, scourging, darkness, distress. Men drove rough iron into the Master’s hands, will not bind ours with silken cords; placed on His head crown of thorns, will not place on ours crown of roses; gave Him vinegar, not us wine; pierced His side, will not merely menace ours!
II. The comforts of God’s servants in prospect of labour.
If our fears be many, our consolations abound.
1. The assurance they are called to the work. “I ordained thee a prophet.” Despite his ignorance, unworthiness, and fear.
2. The knowledge of the purpose of God. “Thou shalt go to whom I send thee.” Some find here reason for inactivity; they say, “He will save His elect,” and then fold their arms. But God’s purpose is not only that Israel shall be saved, but that Jeremiah should “go.” It contemplates the means as well as end.
Rejoice at the knowledge that it is part of Divine plan to use us.
3. The promise of the presence of God. “I am with thee,” &c. (Jeremiah 1:8). We have not to carry out His purpose without His help. This promise a sovereign antidote for every fear. Was he weak? The Almighty was near. Ignorant? The “wisdom” was at hand. Unworthy? The Lord of glory stood by him.
4. The fact that the message was from God. “Whatsoever I command thee, thou shalt speak.” We have not to guess our theme; we have the mind of Christ. The teacher sent from God may and must be dogmatic.—“Items and Twigs.”
Jeremiah 1:8. He had never occupied any public station or performed any public duty. “You need not fear their faces—the thing that timid young men are most wont to fear. Think only that the Lord is with you, and let his presence be your joy and strength.”
1. His ministry would lead him before high and mighty personages.
2. His messages would arouse the malignity of haughty potentates.
Not easy to confront such men, to condemn them, to incur their hatred, to denounce their designs. Fear of man must retire before fealty to God.
Jeremiah 1:9-24.1.10. Theme: INCAPACITY DIVINELY RECTIFIED.
There is a special feature in Jeremiah’s preparation and equipment—no human presence came upon the scene to render aid, as with Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:17); nor even angelic interposition, as with Joshua (Zechariah 3:4-38.3.5); nay, nor yet exalted seraphim, as with Isaiah (Isaiah 6:6-23.6.7)—it was a direct act of JEHOVAH. Already there had been (Jeremiah 1:8)—
I. Courage inspired. For God requires valour, and a dauntless faith. These he called into exercise.
II. Ability conferred (Jeremiah 1:9).
1. The act: stretching forth of the Divine hand = exertion of Divine power. Something was accomplished. There was more than an exertion; an emanation of power.
2. The touch: it indicated Divine energy communicated. It had passed into him whom the Hand touched, like electric fluid into a receiver.
3. The localisation of power: the “mouth.” Jeremiah’s power was to be in speech; not in physical vigour, nor even mental force, but in uttering God-given “words.” The local incapacity rectified.
III. Communication intrusted. “I have put my words in thy mouth.” This was a tangible pledge of inspiration. God committed His messages into Jeremiah’s charge. Henceforth he would not speak of himself, but “as the Spirit gave him utterance.”
It was a real, not imaginary occurrence; a positive contact of Deity with the now divinely-endowed prophet, and it imparted to him his sacred commission.
IV. Installation completed (Jeremiah 1:10).
1. The dividing line of his life. “This day.” A mere Anathoth youth until that day; henceforth God’s prophet. “All things become new.”
2. His exalted mission. “Set over,” &c. God’s deputy: placed as overseer, above kings and nations, to supervise and control events. For his word would work more potently than royal designs or strife of armies (Jeremiah 23:29). The issue showed this (comp. Acts 5:38-44.5.39).
V. Work defined. “To root out,” &c. He had the highest authority (comp. Mark 1:22). He moved amid magnates doing Heaven’s behests, foreshadowing the Lord’s mission (John 5:2). God’s Word has much to overthrow and demolish—in nations, in human habits, in secret affections and thoughts. All forms of sin must fall before its condemnations (Hebrews 4:12-58.4.13). On the scene of ruin it then begins “to build and plant” (comp: Ephesians 3:20-49.3.21; Ephesians 2:10).
Such is the work every man of God has to do. Taking the sword of the Spirit, he is to exterminate and slay all hostility to God; and then to rear on the ruins of sin a “holy temple unto the Lord.” “Our sufficiency is of God.”
Jeremiah 1:9. Theme: THE TOUCH OF GOD. “The Lord touched my mouth.”
Query. Was the act objective, or only subjective; an actual occurrence, or an impression on the inner consciousness?
“The Lord cannot literally have put His words into the prophet’s mouth; He can only have given him the charism of which the words were the necessary result”—Lange.
“Attactus oris signum est notans efficaciam spiritus sancti, quippe qui digitus Dei sit, aperiens labia ministrorum verbi” (Psalms 51:13-19.51.14; Psalms 51:17; Luke 21:15).—Förster.
A purely subjective transaction, “as the moment when the presentiment first flashed clearly through the soul of Jeremiah that his prophetic calling was of Divine appointment.”—Ewald.
“A physical and literal incident;” and that “the Son of God, in pre-intimation of His blessed incarnation, appeared to Jeremiah in a human form.”—Starke.
“The hand is the instrument of making and doing; the touching of Jeremiah’s mouth by the hand of God is consequently an emblematic token that God frames in his mouth what he is to speak. It is a tangible pledge of ἔμπνευσις inspiratio, embodiment of that influence exercised on the human spirit by means of which holy men of God speak, being moved by the Holy Ghost. The act is a real occurrence, taking place not indeed in the earthly, corporeal sphere, but experienced in spirit, and of the nature of ecstasy.”—Keil.
“An appropriate symbolic act.… The touching of the lips of Isaiah with a live coal (chap. Jeremiah 6:7), and the giving of a book to Ezekiel to eat (chap. Jeremiah 2:8-24.2.10), were similarly symbolical of prophetic qualification, and implied a gift of inspiration (comp. Daniel 10:16). In all these instances the actions occurred in supernatural vision.”—Henderson.
“The symbol of the bestowal of divine grace and help, by which that want of eloquence, which the prophet had pleaded as a disqualification, was removed; and distinctly was an external act, impressing itself objectively upon his consciousness, though in what manner it is impossible for us to tell.”—Speaker’s Com.
I. The varied consequences of the Divine touch.
1. Expiation (Isaiah 6:6).
2. Inspiration (Jeremiah 1:9; comp. Ezekiel 2:8-26.2.10; Isaiah 51:16; comp. Acts 2:3).
3. Impartation of strength (Daniel 10:16).
Blessing infants (Luke 18:15).
Removing organic defects (Mark 7:32; Mark 8:22).
Curing diseases (Matthew 8:2; Matthew 8:15).
Upraising the prostrate (Mark 9:27).
Awaking the dead (Luke 7:14).
Reviving the overwhelmed soul (Revelation 1:17).
1. That the hand of power and renewal is the same in the Old and New Testaments. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
2. That all remedial changes in man are Divine. “He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). “We are His workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).
II. Human need of the transforming touch of God.
1. These varied incidents denote man’s varied ailments and afflictions.
a. Incompetent for Divine work (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel).
b. Suffering from physical malformations and maladies.
c. Bowed down before visions of glory (John on Patmos).
2. The gracious issues of the Divine touch reveal the suitability and sufficiency of grace in God.
Power unlimited is in His hand. The everlasting hills tremble and smoke if He touch them. “Right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.” He never stretched forth His hand to work on frail humanity without (a.) immediate results, no delay in the remedy; nor without (b.) appropriate results, the very effect desired ensued; nor without (c.) beneficent results; in all cases “He put His hands upon them and blessed them.” Contact with Christ is life-giving, healthful, saving.
Jeremiah 1:10. Theme: THE PROPHET A SUBVERTER OF KINGDOMS. “I have set thee over the nations,” &c.
The strict and literal import of words here used assign to the Divine teacher a sway above sceptres, a power mightier than potentates, a spiritual domination over dynasties and temporal kings.
As he stands before God he is a mere servant, a trembling child; but as he stands in God’s stead among men, he is above rulers and princes, installed as vicegerent, swaying the destinies of kingdoms.
This title (Pâkeed) is given only to those invested with high authority—Egyptian officers (Genesis 41:34), Abimelech’s viceroy (Judges 9:28), the high-priest’s deputy (2 Chronicles 24:11), the Levitical representative (Nehemiah 11:22), chief governor in Temple (Jeremiah 20:1). Jeremiah was God’s highest officer, supreme above monarchs and nations.
I. His official supremacy and supervision. “I have set thee over,” &c.
1. Empowered with a sway superior to kings; for their sway was soon broken, their word frustrated; but his endured and was accomplished. For there was a Power behind his word, and therefore power in his word.
They thought to defeat Jeremiah’s influence by imprisoning him; but his sway went on. “The word of God was not bound;” it still worked towards fulfilment. Every living servant of God is thus endowed with a sway and a dignity above potentates. A chained prisoner could say to “King Agrippa” and “noble Festus,” “I would to God ye were both almost and altogether such as I am!”
2. Intrusted with the destiny of kingdoms. “He was to have his eye upon the conduct of nations, and to utter predictions of prosperity or adversity accordingly.”—Henderson. What was effected in accordance with, is spoken of as a consequence of, his word. This mode of speech also indicates the certainty of the events he announced: they would follow as effects of the cause. The prophet’s word would thus determine the fate of nations (comp. Ezekiel 43:3; Jeremiah 25:15-24.25.17 sq.; Hosea 6:5).
II. The irresistible activity of his word.
In this case the spiritual was ascendant over temporal authority. Divine speech is more stable than sceptres; words are mightier than swords. “His words were at the same time deeds, real exhibitions of power.”—Lange. “The word of God in His prophets has power to do what it says will be done.”—Wordsworth. “With the words of the Lord he is to destroy and to build up peoples and kingdoms. The Word of God is a power that carries out His will, and accomplishes that whereto He sends it (Isaiah 55:10 sq.). Against this power nothing earthly can stand.”—Keil.
“At first we should say, ‘Such words can never be applied in their literal import to any seer or teacher: they belong to the warrior and the conqueror. We must explain them by a figure of speech—he who discourses of the fall of kingdoms is represented as himself the over-thrower of them.’ I do not think that either the analogy of language or the facts of the case justify that method of interpretation. If the prophet only talked of what was happening or what was to happen, no poetical licence could permit us to confound him with the subverters of thrones and societies. But have we yet to learn that a great teacher or reformer, though he may never take a sword into his hand, does that which swords cannot do; that swordsmen, in fact, only carry out upon the surface that which he is doing underground? The uprooting of the thoughts and principles in which acts originate, the planting the seeds of life which are hereafter to bring forth fruits that all will recognise, are his functions. If he has received any inspiration, any vital power at all, it must be one which enables him to produce a movement at the very heart of human life and society, in a region of which the ordinary statesman knows nothing.”—Maurice.
This power would be used for the most part destructively; the overthrowing being expressed by four different similes; yet also constructively, though to a lesser extent—only two words describing this part of his mission. The first is accomplished by prophesying Divine judgment; the second, by promising Divine mercy.
See the power of prophecy (Ezekiel 37:7-26.37.10), and of the LIVING WORD (Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15; Isaiah 11:4).
Jeremiah 1:15. Theme: WAR THE STROKE OF GOD.
“I will call,” = I am calling. The present tense of Hebrew indicates judgment has begun; the Almighty has risen up to decisive action; a Voice which will be obeyed is calling for the long-delayed retribution; Jehovah is summoning His hosts to the war. (See Addenda to chap. 1, “War.”)
I. Divine punishment by human agency. “I will call,” &c.
This fact is the basis of text. What man does, he does in obedience to a Force higher than himself. God uses him.
1. Miraculous forms of justice are needless.
God has them, and used them (2 Kings 6:15-12.6.17; 2 Kings 19:35).
But the armies of nations are His, to do with as He wills. So also affliction, accident, reverses of fortune, mental and physical disasters. Even crafty and covetous men, who can wreck strong fortresses of wealth and position, God can use.
2. Common incidents of calamity are not the less supernatural. If God employs them, though His hand be not seen, they are supernatural. He now avoids the extraordinary methods of old times, and works by the ordinary.
II. Jehovah’s forces of retribution. “All the families of the kingdoms,” &c. = Nebuchadnezzar’s motley combination which made up the Chaldean army comp. Isaiah 13:4-23.13.5).
1. Armies assemble at His bidding. Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus may lead their war-hosts to the siege, but God reigns over rulers; the “King of kings” doeth “according to His will among the armies of heaven and inhabitants of earth.” All wars have behind them a Divine use.
2. National overthrow testifies to national sin. So in Judah’s case. Guilt is the occasion of all catastrophes. History shows this so with nations (see Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem; and recently Paris). Experience reveals the same law at work among men.
III. Military counsels fulfil God’s commands.
“They shall set every one his throne,” &c.; indicating a tribunal of judgment, a council of war concerning the fate of Jerusalem. The decision would be as God had determined (comp. Critical Notes, above, 8).
1. Over decisions of court the “Judge of all the earth” presides. This still true concerning senates, chambers, parliaments. See the fact as relating to our Lord (Acts 4:27-44.4.28; Acts 2:23; Isaiah 14:24-23.14.27).
2. Over the plots of armies the “Lord of hosts” sways rule. Their stratagems He oft defeated; their designs He sometimes prospered. (See “Scripture battles.”) This equally true of plots of wicked against righteous, and of hellish foes (Psalms 37:12-19.37.13; Ezekiel 35:10; Revelation 20:9).
IV. Foes sweep down on those whom God abandons. “Every one his throne against Jerusalem.”
1. The protection of Providence withdrawn, they invite the spoilers. “Where the carcase is, there the eagles will gather together.”
2. The restraint of Providence withdrawn, the spoilers hasten to the prey. Just as serpents in the wilderness rushed into camp as soon as God’s restraining care was forfeited.
a. Unkept by God, our life is hourly imperilled. How different this from Psalms 91:1-19.91.7.
b. Around those Divinely forsaken the hosts of evil quickly assemble.
c. Left to our enemies ensures utter ruin. As with Judah (2 Thessalonians 2:10-53.2.12).
Jeremiah 1:16. “I will utter my judgments,” &c. This phrase, “to speak or pronounce judgment,” is properly to have a lawsuit with one, an expression peculiar to Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 4:12, Jeremiah 12:1, Jeremiah 39:5), is equivalent to pleading with a person (cf. Jeremiah 12:1 with Jeremiah 2:35; Ezekiel 20:35), and signifies not only remonstrating against wrong-doing, but also the passing of condemnation, and so includes trial and sentencing.—Keil.
“To pronounce a judgment or judicial sentence upon any one. Jehovah threatened the Jews with punishment on account of their rebellious conduct; He now declares He will carry His threatenings into effect by means of their enemies, who would sit in judgment and inflict the calamities upon them they merited. The sentences delivered by the foreign princes would be in effect the judgments of God. He would employ them as His instruments in carrying them into execution.”—Henderson.
“By the capture of Jerusalem God as judge pronounces solemn condemnation upon her.”—Speaker’s Com.
“Viewed in one light, war is the boiling caldron of human passion, upset by hazard, and bringing only ruin in its course; in the other, it is God sitting in judgment, with the kings of the earth as His assessors, solemnly pronouncing judgment upon the guilty.”—Idem.
Through these idolatrous enemies of God’s people Jehovah would execute His judgments.
Theme: UNCONSCIOUS DIVINE AGENTS.
I. Divine control over the workings of the human will.
II. The ungodly may unknowingly further God’s designs. So Joseph’s brethren who sold him. So Israel’s enemies in the wilderness.
III. Reckless hostility may but obey His behests. “The wrath of man shall praise Him.” Indulging their idolatrous hatred, they wrecked the Temple and the city of God, and thus chastised Judah as God designed; and fulfilled prophecy, thus confirming revelation for after-time.
IV. Man in his most impious moods is still a subject of Divine government. The godless cannot repel the Almighty from their lives. He may work by their very impiety, and compel them blindly to obey Him.
V. To be in the hands of God for His use in our rebellion, forewarns our being in His hands for our just requital. As Egypt (Jeremiah 46:13); as Chaldea (Jeremiah 50:1-24.50.3; Jeremiah 50:9-24.50.10).
Jeremiah 1:17. I. God’s method of holding judgment. Brings nations before Jerusalem, and lets them determine the fate of the city. Their resolves respecting Jerusalem would express God’s thought and plan.
II. God’s chastisements are based upon deserts. “Judgments touching their wickedness,” &c. They would suffer nothing they had not merited. Judicial sentence, righteous, deserved.
Jeremiah 1:17. Theme: HEROISM IN GOD’S SERVICE. “Gird up thy loins, stand and speak,” &c.
Girding the loins = resolute preparation for the performance of duty. A metaphor: the Orientals, who wore long robes, bound them up with a girdle ere attempted work or started on journey (comp. 2 Kings 4:29; Job 38:3; Luke 12:35; Ephesians 6:14). God here summons Jeremiah to
a.) Earnest exertion; (b.) firm purpose; (c.) ready alacrity; (d.) cheerful hope, not despairing that good might ensue from his ministry.
He is further reminded that
(a.) Fear is a snare and dishonour. (b.) God is greater than the greatest, therefore should His servants bear themselves with assurance. (c.) Cowardice will entail confusion and contempt. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Addenda to chap. 1., “Courage before kings.”)
I. God will be served by courageous, not by craven souls.
A ministry of “whispering humbleness” is puerile and revolting. The age wants men. Men appreciate manly fortitude. God is dishonoured by a fawning ambassador. Lion-hearted preachers wanted.
II. God’s work requires resolute preparation and purpose.
“Gird and stand,” = Equip thyself, and with a stalwart heart preach My words to the land.
1. It is a determined work. “Whether they will hear or forbear.”
2. It is a denouncing work. “Speak to them all that I command,” “against kings,” &c., Jeremiah 1:18.
3. It is a destructive work. “To root out, pull down,” &c., Jeremiah 1:10.
4. It is a Divine work. In God’s stead and name, speak. “Who sufficient?”
III. God’s servants must confront all menaces with a dauntless faith in Him.
1. As one bearing awful tidings, which must not be trifled with. “Stand and speak all I command thee.”
2. As a messenger who will himself be condemned if he fail in his charge. Warn the people; with earnestness, and all-conquering importunity, “lest their blood be required at thy hand” (Ezekiel 33:0). “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe,” &c. (1 Corinthians 9:26; 1 Corinthians 9:17).
3. With unabashed fortitude, remembering for Whom he speaks. “I command thee:” “be not dismayed at their faces.” For who is man, even the mightiest, when God is in our thought? What can man do to silence us, when we bethink of the eternal issues at stake, and the urgency of redemption?
Jeremiah 1:18-24.1.19 suggest further
IV. God’s witness assured of invincible strength.
1. The hostile array, Jeremiah 1:18.
2. Their malevolent treatment, Jeremiah 1:19.
3. His impregnable strength, Jeremiah 1:18.
4. His Almighty fortress, Jeremiah 1:19, “I am with thee.”
OUTLINES ON NOTICEABLE TOPICS AND TEXTS
Jeremiah 1:5. Topic: THE DIVINE FORMATION OF A HUMAN LIFE. Text: “I formed thee.”
This rectifies the scientific idea of natural development; asserts an Active Cause working for definite ends in the instance of an individual; that God has something to do with our formation and our career.
It also explains the startling individuality of character and work which is often apparent, and which cannot be accounted for by parentage and circumstances; children do not reproduce their ancestry always; grand departures from the rule have given the ages their greatest and most useful men. Hence it is right to affirm that
I. Individuality of character and life is a specific creation of God.
1. Our natural qualities are not accidents of human progeniture. (See Addenda to chap. 1, “Divine formation of a life.”)
2. Our religious disposition is not determined by domestic culture e.g., Manasseh was the wicked son of good Hezekiah, Josiah the good son of wicked Amon.
3. Our personality is a factor in society which God authorises and employs.
The sacredness of our individuality.
God’s interest in each life, and our use of life.
Our place in Divine regard. His readiness to befriend and bless. His desire for our piety and salvation. He who made us, made us for Himself, for His glory and our weal.
II. The Divine purposes forecast the issues of human birth.
1. Our existence argues that there is a place for us in the world; awaiting us, suited to us, needing us.
2. Our being in the world is itself an incentive to the faithful use of life.
3. Our special aptitudes denote and designate our calling. God gives us our distinctive powers. His purpose for us is that we use ourselves, and in the most useful way, and that we make earthly existence a pathway to eternal blessedness and reward.
III. A mission on earth is predetermined to the man of God. “I ordained thee a prophet.”
God does not ordain the careers of evil men. Men are free to resist and reverse God’s plans for them. They are not helpless slaves of Divine decrees.
1. For the Divine servant there awaits a Divine service. “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
2. A life of religious usefulness works out God’s plans. Ergo, His plans are beneficent. He who uses life to bless others, and brings wanderers back to God, does what God desires and designs.
3. No career of godly activity can be fruitless or unrewarded. For it effects what God arranged. And “God is not unrighteous to forget your work,” &c.
IV. Equipment for sacred duties is the effect of Divine grace. “I sanctified thee.”
Catholic theologians argue that Jeremiah was born without original sin. Neuman interprets the statement as that the Holy Spirit was communicated to him before birth. Hoffman, Henderson, Lange, &c., regard the word as denoting the sacred designation of his life.
1. The importance of a good life, both to God and man. The life we live does affect Him who formed us, and its influence on others may be vast and imperishable. What majestic work one life may do for God!
2. A life wrecked and wasted by sin is a calamity. It arrests the aim of God’s grace; it adds some force to the rule of evil; it deprives a man of his birthright; it is a melancholy perversion and an irremediable catastrophe. Even if the soul is saved at the last, the life is lost.
3. Divine grace avails for the salvation and sanctification of each one. Jeremiah, like Paul, only illustrates the fulness of redemption, the abounding grace of God for others (1 Timothy 1:16).
Jeremiah 1:7. Topic: THE HUMAN OUTCRY SILENCED. Text: “The Lord said unto me, Say not!”
This outcry was born of shrinking, lowliness, apprehension. It indicated a lack of fortitude and faith. If allowed to rule, it would have arrested God’s plans, and deprived Judah of one of her noblest prophets, and of a warning ministry urgently needed.
I. The human heart is prone to speak out against God.
1. In self-assertion. (a.) Sometimes pride objects to God’s commands and plans: “I dislike this kind of service, this mode of salvation. It levels me!” (b.) Or self-will utters itself: “I cannot bow, cannot acquiesce, cannot think it right. My will, not Thine, be done!”
2. In self-excusing. (a.) Cowardice tremblingly pleads: “I cannot take up that cross. I should make shipwreck of faith. I am not fit to serve.” (b.) Indifference answers with subtle voice: “Sacrifice is not required of all. God cannot have given pleasures merely to deny them. It is not urgent that I seek the Lord, or do His bidding.” (c.) Graceless humility urges its plea: “I am unworthy. I am not qualified. Surely God doesn’t mean or want me!”
II. Heaven’s claims override all human reluctance.
1. God has rightful authority over His creatures. “Thou, Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified” (Daniel 5:22-27.5.23). “Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am!” (John 13:13).
2. Man’s true attitude is unhesitating acquiescence. “Who art thou that repliest against thy Maker?”
3. Divine prescience never errs in demands. It is folly, therefore, and presumption for us to question. He does not mistake the man or the appointment. He never calls to service or salvation the wrong person (John 6:45; John 6:37; Revelation 22:17).
III. God silences altercation, and summons to obedience. “Say not!” “Thou shalt go; thou shalt speak.”
With unquestioning promptitude we should reply to His call, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” His work is solemn, urgent, all-constraining.
1. Our will and faculties subordinated to God. Even as Abraham “obeyed, not knowing whither he went.” Do not raise a difficulty in the way of God’s plans. If He wants to use you, let Him; if to save you, let Him; if to honour you, let Him. “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good!”
2. Our lives expended in service for God. Times of sore hardship may make us falter; ready again to speak out against God. “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name,” &c. (Jeremiah 20:8-24.20.9). But our sole course is to “endure to the end.”
3. Our entire self completely abandoned to God. No word of excuse (Luke 9:57–end, Jeremiah 14:18). No looking back. No reservation (Luke 18:28). For “ye are not your own.” Calvin’s motto on his crest was, “I give Thee all; I keep back nothing for myself.” (See Addenda to chap. 1, “Obedience.”)
Jeremiah 1:10. Topic: CHARGE TO PASTORS: THEIR WORK DEFINED. Text: “See I have this day set thee over nations and over kingdoms to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
Differences between the prophet’s and pastor’s office: his an extraordinary, yours ordinary: his was to be exercised over nations and kingdoms, yours over a church and congregation.
Yet, even in his case, there was no civil power: he was no pope: nor was he invested with the authority of a modern bishop: no secular away; he pulled down and built up prophetically. Though you have no such power as this, given by extraordinary inspiration, yet in the way of declaring God’s word, “whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted, and whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.”
Your labour is less, yet the nature of your work is the same; and the same spirit of faithfulness is required over a few things as over many.
Your work is divided into two parts:
1. To discourage evil, “root out, pull down, destroy, and throw down.”
2. To encourage good, “build and plant.”
The imagery is of two kinds: that of a house, and that of a garden.
1. The Church is God’s house, God’s building, and you are appointed to “labour together with God,” to pull down, destroy, and throw down the rubbish, and then to build upon a new and good foundation.
2. The Church is also God’s garden, and you are appointed to work in it, keep it in order, root out weeds, plant and cultivate the godly fruit.
I. Inquire what are the evils against which you must contend, and the methods you are to adopt in this opposition.
1. By your public ministry root out errors in doctrine. Respecting God: His character, His ways with men, His law, both in precepts and penalty. Respecting Christ: defend His dignity, maintain His atonement. Respecting your people: such as self-righteousness and presumptuous hope. Pull down also the vain expectations of sinners.
2. By leading the Church, in the exercise of faithful discipline, root out evil-doers. Churches, formerly respectable and prosperous, are decaying for want of discipline. Some pervert the parable of wheat and tares as excuse for negligence; but the field is the world, not the Church.
3. By rendering your pastoral visits subservient to the purposes of conviction and correction. There are cases which you could not touch in the pulpit without irritating; others which do not fall under church censure, which should come within the cognisance of the pastor. This is difficult; consequently some have declined it, pleading it would offend and damage the cause. Leave results with Christ. Yet all may be done without offence: mingle counsel and encouragement with censure, as did Paul with the Corinthians.
II. What is that good which you are to encourage: what the work denoted by building and planting?
In general, encourage and impart just sentiments. Encourage and cultivate holy tempers and dispositions. A company of modest, humble, upright, diligent, holy people evidences “a good minister.” But more particularly—
1. As a Builder.
1. Be sure you lay a right foundation. Christ is the foundation: of God’s laying, of apostles’ and prophets’; and you must lay Him as the foundation of faith and holiness.
2. See that your materials be fitly framed together (Ephesians 2:21): implying that
a. They be hewed and squared. What could a company of proud, prejudiced professors do together with the godly? These sins must be cut off.
b. They be formed by the same rule. Whatever variety, in some respects there must be uniformity: similarity of views; hearts renewed after image of Christ; for “what fellowship,” &c. (2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.18).
c. Every one be put in the situation for which he is formed. Some have splendid gifts, stones in front of building, for ornament and strength. Others have more private excellences, affectionate in counsel, grave in deportment. Every gift should be disposed of as that it shall be of greatest use to the whole. Offices filled by men because of their property, perverts this law.
3. So frame the whole as that it may be a fit habitation for God. It must be God’s house, not yours. Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s vanity, “This is the house I have built!” All buildings are with a view to habitation. Build so that God may take up His abode with you.
2. As a Planter.
1. Sow “wholly a right seed.”
2. Give attention to the plants as you see them grow.
3. Cultivate them by every means.
4. Pray that they may be watered by the Holy Spirit.
a. While pulling down or building, rooting out or planting, in God’s house and vineyard, do not overlook your own. Personal religion is of utmost importance to a minister.
b. Consider that you are “a labourer together with God.” He that employs you will reward you.—Rev. Andrew Fuller.
Jeremiah 1:19. Topic: OPPOSITION. Text: “And they shall fight against thee,” &c.
Every servant of God sure to meet opposition. In proportion as we are faithful to God expect to be assailed by man. Doctrines, habits, and acts of true servants of God antagonistic to maxims and tastes of world: they are protests against what sinners love. Success in God’s service fills them with alarm: “these men turn world upside down;” and would expel us from every paradise of pleasure, cut off every supply of gratification, and abandon us to a life of melancholy.
I. The vehemence of our foes. “Fight against thee.”
Not fight against principle so much as persons. Aim to wound the saint more than refute his doctrine.
1. Formerly this virulence was manifested in revolting cruelties; lit fires of martyrdom; crowded prisons with sufferers for conscience’ sake; drove thousands into exile; even disturbed ashes of pious dead to emphasise their execrations of the living.
2. Now opposition resorts to more secret, though not less deadly means. Seeks to prison confidence and joys; impede progress, disturb peace, destroy spirituality.
The angel of tolerance and specious doctrine is seen, not the foul enemy: but the same implacable heart of hate prompts hostility. “They shall fight” to end of time, though methods vary.
II. The certainty of our security. “They shall not prevail.”
Saints may be weary, maimed, fearful, but cannot be ultimately defeated. False professors will fall a prey: indeed they tempt the tempter; but true men are sure of victory. Issue has ever been, “We are more than conquerors.”
III. The source of our confidence. “I am with thee, to deliver thee.”
1. The abiding presence of the Lord. Near to observe our behaviour, hear our entreaties, stimulate our hearts.
2. The constant manifestation of the power of the Lord. “To deliver;” i.e., such help shall be vouchsafed that every one of His soldiers shall “work out his own salvation.”
Word of caution: Let us be careful that our enemies are the enemies of truth; that our strict adherence to Divine commandments is the sole occasion of their hostility.
If we suffer, let it be for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, or we shall not inherit the benediction.
It is possible to fight for God, and yet not be fighting with God, nor with Divinely-appointed means: in which case defeat is neither wonderful nor undeserved.—“Sermon Framework.”
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 1: ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jeremiah 1:1. “Anathoth.” A poor village of some twenty houses, built among white rocks and white ruins, on a bare, grey mountain side. No trees, no verdure, no richness, no grandeur, no beauty: amid mountain solitudes and rocky dells, he (Jeremiah) mourned and wept over the foreseen calamities of his beloved country.… One can trace in nearly all the images and illustrations with which his writings abound, the influence of those wild scenes amid which he passed his boyhood. Mountains, rocks, wild beasts, shepherds, are again and again introduced.—Dr. Porter’s “Syria’s Holy Places.”
Hither to his “fields” Abiathar was banished by Solomon after the failure of his attempt to put Adonijah on the throne (1 Kings 2:26). This was the native place of Abiezer, one of David’s thirty captains (2 Samuel 23:27), and of Jehu (1 Chronicles 12:3). The “men of Anathoth” returned from the captivity with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:23; Nehemiah 7:27).… The cultivation of the priests survives in tilled fields of grain, with figs and olives.… The quarries still supply Jerusalem with building-stone.—Dr. Smith’s Dictionary.
Mean as the place is now, it was then a walled town, and its ruins still afford some traces of its ancient importance.—Kitto.
“Son of Hilkiah.” Parentage. A young minister, when about to be ordained, stated that at one period of his life he was nearly an infidel. “But,” said he, “there was one argument in favour of Christianity which I could never refute—the consistent conduct of my father.”
Richard Cecil, from contemplating his mother’s holy character and inward peace, was persuaded of the Faith, and led to consecrate his life to most successful devotion to the Redeemer.
Plato, seeing a child do mischief, went and corrected the father for it.
Jeremiah 1:2-24.1.3. Mutations of life. When one sea floweth, another ebbeth. When one star riseth, another setteth. When light is in Goshen, darkness is in Egypt. When Mordecai groweth into favour, Haman groweth out of favour. When Benjamin beginneth, Rachel endeth. Thus we are rising or setting, getting or spending, winning or losing, growing or fading, until we arrive at heaven or hell.—Henry Smith.
Predestination. “If Jeremiah had fancied he was a prophet because there was in him a certain aptitude for uttering Divine discourses and foreseeing calamities, who can tell the weariness and loathing he would have felt for his task when it led to no seeming results, except the dislike of all against or for whom it was exercised,—still more when the powers and graces which were supposed to be the qualification for it became consciously feeble. Nothing but a witness, the more sure for being secret, ‘thou wast marked and sealed for this function before thou hadst done good or evil; all thy powers are endowments to fit thee for fulfilling thy vocation, but do not constitute it; … it may produce nothing but pain to thyself and to those who are brought within thy influence; … still the words must be spoken, the acts must be done; for they are not thy words or thy acts;’—nothing but such a persuasion, written and rewritten in a man’s heart, could sustain him against the conflicts, outward and inward, which pursue the true prophet.”—Maurice’s “Prophets and Kings.”
Jeremiah 1:5. Divine formation of a life.
Fore-ordination. “Propheta nascitur non fit. A man is not educated unto a prophet, but originally formed for the office. Samuel declared a message from God to Eli when he was a little child. Note, God can, when He pleases, make children prophets, and ordain strength out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.”—M. Henry.
Children do not always reproduce their parents.
Origen had Christian parents, but Clement of Alex., and Justin Martyr were born and trained amid heathenism; rising like stars out of night. St. Francis of Assisi, again, had parents who were gross, brutal, and sordid; whereas he himself became one of the loveliest, holiest, and most self-abnegating of men which Christendom has known. Erasmus, also, the eminent Christian scholar, had a parentage whose history was one of sorrow, shame, and monastic bigotry; yet he rose to great usefulness and honour in the Church. Parentage does not always determine the character and career of the child.
Jeremiah 1:6. “I am a child.” Lowliness of mind. “Self-distrust is the first proof we give of having obtained a knowledge of ourselves.”—Zimmerman. St. Augustine being asked, What is the first thing in religion? replied, Humility; and what is the second? Humility: and what the third? Humility. “Humility is the truest abstinence in the world. It is abstinence from self-love and self-conceit, the hardest and severest abstinence.” “Humility leads to the highest distinction, because it leads to self-improvement.”—Sir B. Brodie. “We must be little children in our own sight, in order to be prophets.”—Bishop Wordsworth. God dwells with the humble.
“The saint that wears heaven’s brightest crown
In deepest adoration bends;
The weight of glory bows him down
The most when most his soul ascends;
Nearest the throne itself must be
The footstool of humility.”
“I cannot speak.”
“Eloquence—a plague upon the word when we are talking of Jesus and of souls!—has no gift or benediction.”—F. W. Faber.
“The sign-posts that point the way by the side of the road, never have a quotation of poetry upon them, or sentences from Isocrates or Sophocles. There is just the word, and that is enough.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
Having heard Massillon preach at Versailles, Louis XIV. said to him, “Father, when I hear others preach, I am very well pleased with them; when I hear you, I am dissatisfied with myself?”
“Even the world honours consistency and courage, and the plainest speaker will have, in general, the most hearers. The only part by which a bull can be safely taken is the borns.”—Power.
Jeremiah 1:7. Obedience.
“Submit yourself to God, and you shall find
God fights the battles of a will resigned.”
“We can have no idea what we should be able to do if we were completely lost in accord with God; if we sought no will but His; if not a word of our mouths, not a beat of our hearts, not a thought of our minds, not a movement of our souls or bodies but were turned to Him obediently, in the spirit of Samuel, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.’ There have been men who have shown what a man can do—a Luther, a Calvin, a St. Paul, a Moses—these men have shown what a man can do when he only seeks to obey the will of God.”—A. Monod.
“Blessed is that simplicity which leaveth the difficult paths of dispute, and goeth on in the plain and sure path of God’s commandments.”—Thomas à Kempis.
Jeremiah 1:11. “What seest thou?” “Prophets have need of good eyes; and those that see well shall be commended, and not only those that speak well.”—M. Henry.
“Almond-tree.” The rods which the princes of Israel bore were almond rods, at once the ensign of their office, and the emblem of the vigilance which became them as leaders of God’s chosen people (Numbers 17:6-4.17.8). Aaron’s rod, that blossomed and yielded nuts, was an almond bough. The almond-tree has always been regarded by the Jews with reverence. Its fruit was among the presents which Jacob charged his sons to take with them on their second visit to Egypt (Genesis 43:11); and the ornaments of the golden candlesticks were made after the pattern of almonds (Exodus 25:33); and even to this day the modern English Jews on their great feast-days carry a bough of flowering almond to the synagogue. An allusion is made in Ecclesiastes 12:5, to the white or silver hair which, ere one is well aware, covers the head of old age.
“The hope, in dreams, of a happier hour,
That alights on misery’s brow,
Springs out of the silvery almond flower,
That blooms on a leafless bough.”
Jeremiah 1:11. Visions. Refer to Kebel’s hymn for Septuagesima Sunday.
—— “Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every common bush on fire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”
“And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
—“As You Like It,” SHAKESPEARE.
Jeremiah 1:14. “Out of the North.” “The swelling waters of a flood are a usual type of an overwhelming calamity (Psalms 69:1-19.69.2), and especially of a hostile invasion (Isaiah 8:7-23.8.8); but this is a flood of scalding waters, whose very touch is death. The caldron represents the great military empires upon the Euphrates … The tide of passion and carnage is sure finally to pour itself upon Judea. The caldron looks ominously towards Jerusalem, but it has not yet overturned; and if Judah repent, God may make it exhaust its fury upon itself [Nineveh and Babylon being in conflict], or a defeat instead of victory at Charchemish may alter the whole tide of events. But if Judah remain impenitent, it must become the prey of whosoever conquers in the plains of Mesopotamia.”—Speaker’s Com.
Jeremiah 1:15. War.
“’Twas man himself
Brought Death into the world; and man himself
Gave keenness to his darts, quickened his pace,
And multiplied destructions on mankind.
“One murder made a villain [Cain],
Millions a hero [warrior]. Princes were privileged
To kill, and numbers sanctified the crime.
Ah! why will kings forget that they are men,
And men that they are brethren!”
“Still monarchs dream
Of universal empire growing up
From universal ruin.”—PORTEUS.
Jeremiah 1:17-24.1.18. “Be not dismayed.” Courage before kings.
Said the Roman Emperor to Chrysostom, “I will banish thee.” “Thou canst not,” was his answer, “for the world is my Father’s house.” “Then will I Kill thee.” “That is not in thy power, for my life is hid with Christ in God.” “I will deprive thee of all thou possessest.” “Nay, for my treasure is in heaven, and my riches are within me.” “But I will exile thee, that thou shalt not have a friend or companion left.” “Neither canst thou do that; for my Friend is He who will never leave me, and from whom none can sever me. I defy thee, proud emperor; thou canst do me no harm at all!”—From “Crowds of the Bible.”
When Polycarp was brought before the pro-consul, this officer addressed him: “Renounce Christ and I will release you!” Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He hath done me no wrong; and how can I speak evil of my King, my Saviour?” The pro-consul replied, “I have wild beasts; to these I will cast you, if you change not your mind.” But he boldly rejoined, “Thou seemest not to know what I am; hear me freely professing it to thee—I am a Christian.”
“And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temple of his gods.”—MACAULAY.
“He holds no parley with unmanly fears;
Where duty bids he confidently steers,
Faces a thousand dangers at her call,
And trusting in his God, surmounts them all.”—COWPER.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent