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CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—1. Chronology of the Chapter. Early in Jehoiakim’s reign (See Chronological Note on Section 19–27 of previous chapter). Probably about two years later than that message respecting the Sabbath in Jeremiah 17:19-27. Naegelsbach suggests, before the fourth year of Jehoiakim. For 2, 3, and 4, see Notes at the head of previous chapter.
5. Geographical References.—Jeremiah 18:14. “The snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field.” Lebanon was called the white mountain, because of its perpetually snow-clad heights—especially Hermon’s. The words should read: “Will the snow of Lebanon cease from the rock of the field? Hitzig suggests that the waters of Gihon in Jerusalem (the rock of the field, cf. Jeremiah 17:3, Jeremiah 19:13), which never were known to fail, were probably fed by the melting snows of Lebanon. Henderson is, however, nearer the interpretation: he says, The rock of the field is only a poetical expression for Lebanon itself; the melting snows from which supplied numerous perennial rivers. “Shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken!” Read the words thus: “Shall the cool flowing rivers that come from afar be dried up?” which is, doubtless, another form of the foregoing idea—the streams flowing from Lebanon could not fail.
6. Personal Allusions.—(None); 7. Natural History.—(See Geographical References, supra.)
8. Natural Customs.—Jeremiah 18:3. “The potter’s house, he wrought a work upon the wheels:” “The potter’s field” (Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:10) lay just beyond the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. Two wheels: the lower one he worked with his feet; this set the upper wheel in motion. The lower wheel was probably stone, the upper was a flat disc of wood: on this the potter placed the clay, and, as it revolved, the potter shaped his work.
9. Literary Criticisms.—Jeremiah 18:3. A work on the wheels: dual: the two wheels. Jeremiah 18:7. At what instant: “at what” in italics. Lit. once. רֶגַע, adv. in the moment, forthwith: and when repeated, as Jeremiah 18:7; Jeremiah 18:9. Now … again. Jeremiah 18:8. “I will repent.” I repent, so also in Jeremiah 18:10. Jeremiah 18:12. “And they said, There is no hope:” Yet they are saying: the consecutive perfect form of a Heb. verb implies the continuance of the action. “Do the imagination:” practise the stubbornness. Jeremiah 18:14. “Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon?” (see Geographical Reference, supra): lit., “Doth the snow of Lebanon fail from—cease to flow from—the rock of the field?” “Or shall the cool flowing streams that come from another place,” זָרִים, strange, foreign, i.e., whose sources are foreign (as 2 Kings 19:24, so Hitzig, Keil, and Payne Smith): but Ewald, Graf, and Bunsen suggest, that hurry along, from זָרַר, to press, urge, i.e., flowing through narrow gorges. But there is no sufficient proof that the word can have this latter meaning: the former is, therefore, better. Jeremiah 18:15. “Because My people:” Yet My people. “Vanity and they,” &c. (see Note in chap. Jeremiah 2:30). “Vain gods, and these have caused them to stumble.” “In their ways from the ancient paths,” &c. Or, “In their ways, the everlasting paths; to walk in byeways, in a road not cast up.” Jeremiah 18:21. “Pour out their blood by the force of the sword:” lit., “Spill them into the hands of the sword” (cf. Psalms 63:10), i.e., cast them out to slaughter. “Put to death:” rather, “slain of death.”
HOMILETIC OUTLINES ON SECTIONS OF CHAPTER 18
The Potter’s work: symbolic of God’s Sovereign Power.
The justice of threatened ruin vindicated.
Imprecatory prayer provoked by hostility to God’s messages.
Section 1–10. THE POTTER’S WORK: SYMBOL OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
“I have used similitudes.” The end is a merciful one—to impress. Particularly calculated to impress. Consider—
I. The right of the Divine sovereignty which is here claimed by Jehovah.
One of the claims most frequently urged in the Word of God—He claims from mankind an acknowledgment of His power and right to do as He pleases in the affairs of men and angels. Certainly He that formed the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, who made all the creatures with which they are peopled, who by His power and His might sustains them, must possess both the power and the right to regulate all their affairs and all their movements. None so fit as He to govern—to choose our lot and to regulate our ways. His understanding is infinite, His power is unlimited and wonderful, and His goodness equals them both. The angels in heaven fully admit His sovereignty, and His right to exercise it. But with men it is far otherwise. Observe—
1. This is an attribute which every man naturally denies. Sin has thrown the foundations of the earth out of course, and hence man refuses one of the most reasonable of all claims, and one of the most important and necessary of the Divine prerogatives. This attribute is denied—
(a.) In so many words. There are the infidel deniers of Providence,—and there are the Pharisees who deny it in their creed.
(b.) There are still more who deny it in practice. What does that man do who neither courts His favour, nor fears His anger? What are you doing who at this moment refuse to obey His voice in the great matter of salvation? Think of the fallen angels—they denied it—they would not have the Lord to reign over them—they would not bend to His authority and mild dominion—and they are crushed by His vengeance. How will they face the Judge, when they wake up in the eternal world, whose authority and whose sovereignty they have denied?
2. This is the last attribute of God received even by Christians in their real creed. There are but few Christians who deny the doctrine in so many words; but it is one thing to profess belief on any point, and another one to believe it practically.
Hence the Armenian scheme.
Hence the Antinomian—preaching to none but saints.
Hence our gloomy discontent in affliction.
Hence our frequent departures from the directions of the Word of God.
But notwithstanding all, no attribute is more evident in its exercise than this. All creation proves it. All nature in her movements. All providence. Especially, hence we proceed to consider—
II. The manner in which God is pleased to exercise His sovereignty towards the children of men. The prophet, by Divine command, went down to the potter’s house, where he received instructions, &c.
This is applicable to the grand and important things of eternity, and shows that man in God’s hand is as clay in the hand of the potter, and that He has power over them to mould them as He pleases, and that he actually exerts that power. Observe—
1. He does what He pleases with the penitent. And this in every way according to mercy; yet does He act as a sovereign:
(a.) In the gift of repentance:
1. In giving it to whom He pleases.
2. In the means employed to bring them to repentance.
3. In rendering it effectual.
(b.) In pardoning their sins. “At what instant,” &c. In that He pardons through His Son—freely. All sins—past, present, and to come; and is pleased to make the pardon known. In heaven to his angels—they rejoice. To the believer on earth, and to all the universe in the world to come. Are you penitents? Do you desire to be such? “Ask, and you shall receive.”
2. As to the impenitent. The purposes of heaven must stand. Barren and contradictory are the opinions of mankind concerning the measures of God towards this guilty world, but He pursues His own unceasing plan. Many deny that these judgments will ever take place,—that denial will not alter the fact. It will render them the more dreadful to the hardened infidel, because the denial increases his guilt.
Though these words mention kingdoms, they are equally applicable to individuals. And God has spoken good concerning you. Often have you heard the Gospel. But if you are impenitent—these words point to you. He will do as He pleases. You are at His mercy. What have you to expect reasonably? He threatens to punish. You are not certain of His mercy. You must repent or perish. But you are in the world of hope. Oh! then seek it. With such a prospect before me, my soul shudders for you, “knowing the terrors of the Lord,” &c.—Nameless MS. dated A. D. 1824.
See further: Noticeable Topics at end of chapter; also Addenda: “GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER.”
Section 11–18. THE JUSTICE OF THREATENED RUIN VINDICATED
I. God’s purpose of evil avowed (Jeremiah 18:11). “I am framing evil against you.” Evil was in God’s purposes.
II. An interval for reformation offered. “Return ye now, every one from his evil.” Evil was in God’s purposes, because “evil” was every one’s way.
III. Wilful iniquity repudiates the opportunities of grace (Jeremiah 18:12). There was “no hope,” but only because there was no compunction for sin, and a resolve not to reform.
IV. Man’s reckless guilt justifies God’s anger. (Jeremiah 18:13-17).
1. Sins against grace render our guilt more heinous than any which heathenism can furnish (Jeremiah 18:13).
2. Desertion of God estranges refreshing comforts from the sinner (Jeremiah 18:14).
3. Substitutes chosen instead of God mislead their dupes into desolation (Jeremiah 18:15).
4. Misery entailed by irreligion justly awakens amazement (Jeremiah 18:16).
5. God deserts apostates in the day of their calamity (Jeremiah 18:17).
I. God’s operations plainly tend towards the ruin of sinners. “Behold I frame evil,” &c. (Jeremiah 18:11). Your conduct towards God shows you deserve it; His dealings with you show that He designs it.
II. God’s warnings and threatenings are invitations to timely repentance. “Return ye now,” &c. God may turn from the evil He purposes to do, if you turn from the evil you persistently do.
III. Man’s obstinacy towards God closes the door of hope (Jeremiah 18:12). Mercy is conditional upon reformation; sinners resolve not to reform, and so court despair and ruin. See Addenda, DESPAIR.
IV. Immovable defiance of God is a fact of awful amazement. Defiant impenitence is a startling anomaly (Jeremiah 18:13), a “very horrible thing” in itself, being self-murder; entails the loss of all refreshing comforts (Jeremiah 18:14); shows amazing folly, ancient ways being deserted for byeways (Jeremiah 18:15); awakens derision (Jeremiah 18:16); and brings disconsolate ruin (Jeremiah 18:17).
Section 19–23. IMPRECATORY PRAYER PROVOKED BY HOSTILITY TO GOD’S MESSAGES
All their virulence turned itself upon God’s prophet, whose righteous soul was stirred to well-nigh ungovernable wrath against his persecutors who were flagrant enemies of God and scoffers of His claims. Matthew Henry suggests the following homiletic divisions:—
I. See here what are the common methods of the persecutors. We may see this in Jeremiah’s enemies (Jeremiah 18:18).
1. They consulted together to be revenged upon him for what he had said, and to silence him for the future.
2. They pretended a mighty zeal for the Church, which was endangered by his preaching. They insinuated—
(a.) That Jeremiah could not be a true prophet, because neither commissioned by the priests, nor did his predictions concur with other prophets.
(b.) That the matter of his prophecies could not be from God, because it reflected upon the priests and prophets.
3. They agreed to do all they could to blast his reputation, “Smite him with the tongue.”
4. To set others an example, they resolved not to heed anything he said; this will show ethers to regard his utterance merely as “his words,” not God’s.
5. That they may effectually silence him they determine upon his death (Jeremiah 18:23).
II. See here what is the common relief of the persecuted. We may see this in the course which Jeremiah took.
1. He referred himself and his cause to God’s cognisance (Jeremiah 18:19). It is a matter of comfort to faithful ministers that if men will not give “heed” to their preaching, God will give heed to their praying.
2. He complains of their base ingratitude to him (Jeremiah 18:20). To render good for good is human; evil for evil is brutish: good for evil is Christian; but evil for good is devilish.
(a.) See how great the evil was that they did against him: “digged a pit for his soul.”
(b.) See how great the good was that he had done them: “I stood before Thee to speak for them.”
3. He imprecates the judgments of God upon them; not from revengeful disposition, but from prophetical indignation against their horrid wickedness (Jeremiah 18:21-23).
(a.) That their families might suffer famine.
(b.) That they might be cut off by the sword.
(c.) That the terrors and desolations of war might seize them suddenly (Jeremiah 18:22).
(d.) That they might be dealt with according to the desert of this inexcusable sin: “forgive not their iniquity,” &c.
(e.) That God’s wrath against them might be their ruin: “Let them be overthrown before Thee.”
Note:—This was not written for our imitation. Jeremiah, by the impulse of the spirit of prophecy, in the foresight of the ruin certain to come upon them, might pray such prayers as we may not. If by this example we think to justify ourselves in imprecations, we “know not what manner of spirit we are of.” Christ has taught us by His example to bless them that curse us, and pray for them that despitefully use us. Yet this may teach us—
i. That those who have forfeited the benefit of the prayers of God’s prophets for them, may expect to have their prayers against them.
ii. That persecution is a sin that fills the measure of a people’s iniquity very fast, and will bring sure destruction upon them.
iii. Those who will not be won by the kindness of God and His prophets, will certainly at length feel the resentments of both.
HOMILIES AND COMMENTS ON VERSES OF CHAPTER 18
Jeremiah 18:1-4. Theme: CLAY IN THE POTTER’S HANDS.
Suggestions: A parabolic representation impresses the mind more powerfully than simple statement or teaching. God has greater power over men than a potter over clay, for the potter is not the creator of clay, as God is of us.
I. The Almighty yet patient worker.
1. God works. He does not arbitrarily will and imperiously effect His purposes; but carefully works to realise them. God is not imperious, not arbitrary; not a mere dominating Will, but a patient Artificer, taking pains in His work.
2. God works for definite ends. He has a design—to form a graceful vessel. He does not make marred things by design; He purposes to make only what is beautiful—“would have all men to be saved.”
II. The pliable yet perverse material. It must not escape notice that—
1. The material is base, unclean, unsightly. And such is the vile material from which God would make us into vessels of honour unto sanctification.
2. The material swiftly changes form. Easily takes new shape, for better or worse.
3. The material works into wrong shapes most perversely. Though the Artificer works deftly and with good instruments (“wheels”), yet man is slow to assume the “form and comeliness” God desires.
III. The various products of God’s handiwork.
1. The marred vessel. This was not through imperfect skill in the Potter, but through resistance or non-consistency in the clay. In either case it would not take or retain the shape the Worker designed. “Ye have received the grace of God in vain.”
2. The renewed endeavour. “He made it again.” Often, after renewed operations of God’s grace, the once resistant soul yields itself unto God, and becomes “created in Christ Jesus.” Then the man is “renewed in the spirit of his mind.”
3. The perfected vessel. This perfection is the result which “seemed good” to the Potter, and for which He patiently worked. It is not that God forms marred things or perfect things just as it takes His caprice; no. Nothing “seems good” to Him but the perfect work.
And the perfected result “seemed good” to Him. He was thereby pleased and satisfied. Nothing less satisfies God: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.” “He saw that all was very good” in creation. And in redemption, “Ye are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God before ordained that ye shall walk in them.” And the soul which fully realises His aim is “perfect before Him in love.”
(a.) Consider the long patience and careful efforts God extends towards us in His gracious operations to form us according to His will.
(b.) Consider the grace and comeliness in us which alone satisfies Him.
Jeremiah 18:6. Theme: MAN’S CHANGEABLE CONDITION.
A practical homily: Nothing is fixed or certain in this world. As the clay assumes variable shapes, and passes through manifold vicissitudes, we recognise—
I. The multiform possibilities of man. He may become a “marred” or perfected thing; a Judas or a Stephen; a Diotrephes or a John of Patmos!
1. This in the region of social life.
2. Equally so in the realm of morality and intelligence.
3. Manifestly so in the kingdom of grace.
II. The incertitude of worldly position. As the wheel moves round, the whole shape and fortune of the vessel varies:
1. God can change our condition as with a touch: can cast the eminent from their elevation, can mould the imperfect into graceful forms (Psalms 113:7).
2. No life is beyond God’s formative touch. Judah thought herself safe against catastrophe, but God cast her down. We depend wholly on God’s good-will for what we are and have.
III. The consolation of being in God’s hands.
1. The tranquillity of faith is well founded. “He doeth according to His will among the inhabitants of the earth”—but “He doeth all things well”—and “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
2. Our condition is secure through the gratuitous goodness of God. And being all of grace, it depends on His grace that we remain in His love and care. And none that trust in Him shall be desolate.
See further: Noticeable Topics. THE POTTER’S WORK.
See Addenda: “GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER.”
Jeremiah 18:7-10. Theme: CONDITIONAL COVENANTS.
I. God’s providential dealings with men are conditioned upon conduct.
1. There are penal laws which only act as they are violated.
2. There are beneficent comforts, for enjoying which harmonious conduct is imperative.
II. The Scriptural covenants are based upon human behaviour. Both the Old and New Testaments are called covenants: were created and given to the world on specific terms.
1. Spiritually, our case is not fixed and absolute. We may depart from our fidelity, may refuse to comply with the revealed terms on which God’s love and salvation are made to depend.
2. The relationship the Scriptures set forth is dependent upon our fidelity—our compliance with Divine requirements.
III. Individual experience is according to this conditional rule.
1. Specific promises may be forfeited, and specific penalties incurred either in this life, accordingly as we are obedient or disobedient.
2. Our spiritual salvation is dependent upon definite conditions, “Repent and believe the gospel.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”
3. All Christian gladness, progress, and triumph rest upon similar terms. We have “exceeding great and precious promises,” all “yea and amen in Christ Jesus,” yet only ours as we “hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”
Theme: COMFORT AND WARNING. The threatenings and promises of God are given only conditionally.
i. The comfort consists in this, that the threatened calamities may be averted by timely repentance.
ii. The warning in this, that the promises may be annulled by apostasy.—Naeg.
Theme: HOW WE SHOULD BE MOVED BY GOD’S JUDGMENTS AND GOODNESS. That each should
i. Turn from his wickedness.
ii. Should reform his heart and life.—Kapff, in Lange.
Jeremiah 18:11. Theme: GOD DEVISING YET DEPLORING EVIL.
It was not moral evil, but physical, national. Special to Judah and Jerusalem. Yet there is a truth for all: “Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?”
The word “frame” is the same which, as a noun, means “potter”.
I. An ominous interval—ruin is preparing.
(a.) The evil is not yet shaped nor ready to devastate.
(b.) Yet God is busily employed in devising the destruction.
(c.) And certainly God will not work without effect.
1. The opportunity of turning aside the evil is with us.
2. That opportunity is of uncertain duration.
3. Salvation may be found during this interval.
II. A gracious interval—God is appealing.
1. While He works out His devices of evil, He yet desires our good.
2. The devices of evil are inevitable only in consequence of man’s impenitence.
3. Prompt reformation would arrest the impending doom.
4. God urges upon man the diligent use of the auspicious hour—“Return ye now.”
Comp. Homiletic hints on Jeremiah 7:3.
Jeremiah 18:12. Theme: THE UNREASONABLENESS OF DESPAIR. “And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices,” &c.
The devil’s chief artifices are to produce either—
(a.) False security and presumption; or (b.) despair.
I. Despair is sinful.
(a.) In itself.
(b.) Because it is the parent of other sins, as is seen in the cases of Cain, Saul, and Judas.
II. Despair is dangerous.
(a.) It paralyses effort after escape or reformation.
(b.) Allures to besotted unconcern.
(c.) Drives to recklessness in further wrong-doing. Thus “heaping up wrath.”
III. Despair is groundless.
(a.) Because we still enjoy life and the means of grace.
(b.) Because of the longsuffering character of God.
(c.) Because of the universality of the scheme of redemption.
(d.) Because of the Person, character, and invitations of Christ.
(e.) Because of the many instances of final salvation.—Payson.
See Addenda: DESPAIR.
See further: Noticeable Topics: DESPERATION DANGEROUS.
Jeremiah 18:13. Theme: “A VERY HORRIBLE THING.” See Sectional Homily, chap. Jeremiah 2:9-13. “Facts for Amazement—Reckless desertion of the Fount of Life.”
I. It was the violation of all the lessons of experience. After having known so much of God and His grace, and tasted so much of His goodness. For in these experiences they transcended every nation.
II. It was criminality surpassing all heathen vices. “Knew the Lord’s will, yet did it not.”
1. Such ingratitude to God.
2. Such depreciation of precious benefactions.
3. Such insolent disregard of the Holy One of Israel (Jeremiah 18:15).
III. It was folly of the most appalling magnitude.
1. Deserting the cool and perennial streams, which the pure and perpetual snows of Lebanon fed.
2. Coquetting with delusive trifles: “burned incense to vanity” (Jeremiah 18:15).
All this is wicked, “very horrible” an outrage on human nature itself; a violation of every law of righteousness; a course so iniquitous as to ensure the most “horrible” malediction and doom!
Jeremiah 18:15. Theme: DESERTING ANCIENT PATHS.
i. THESE ANCIENT PATHS—
1. Were appointed by the Divine law.
2. Had been walked in by all the saints.
3. Were therefore the right way to their journey’s end.
4. A safe way, being well tracked; and both easy to hit and easy to walk in.
ii. THE BY-PATHS: “a way not cast up.”
1. Not the highway, the king’s highway.
2. A dirty and rough way; in which they could but “stumble.”
3. An iniquitous way; as is the way of idolatry and all transgression.
4. A false way; full of falls and ending fatally.—(Comp. Henry.)
See numerous Homilies on chap. Jeremiah 6:16. Especially on “The old paths,” by H. W. Beecher, whose sermon is on the two texts, Jeremiah 6:16, Jeremiah 28:15.
Jeremiah 18:17. Theme: THE SINNER’S DOOM. “I will show them the back and not the face, in the day of their calamity.”
I. The cause of the evil threatened. The punishment of sinners is not caused by the Divine purpose alone, but in conjunction with the commission of sin. A sinner is the author of his own miseries (Jeremiah 2:17; Jeremiah 4:18). The children of Judah were guilty of
1. Rejecting the Divine government. “We will walk after our own devices,” &c. (Jeremiah 18:12). Multitudes regard their own will as the rule of action, and live without God in the world (Zechariah 7:5-6; Zechariah 7:11-12).
2. Guilty of idolatry (Jeremiah 18:15, comp. Romans 1:22-23). Idolatry is the great sin of the human heart. Man worships his own person, his natural and acquired talents, his wealth, his honours, the creature, this evil world.
3. Rejecting the mercy of God. Previous to inflicting His wrath He offered them mercy (see Jeremiah 18:11). But they repudiated it (Jeremiah 18:12). So, “we preach Christ crucified,” beseech men, &c., but “who hath believed our report?”
4. Their conduct was characterised by the greatest folly (Jeremiah 18:13-15). Commonsense taught men to value clear waters, which, from the melted snows of Lebanon, were purified by running through the cavities of rocks, &c.; but Israel had forsaken the infinitely glorious Jehovah for worthless idols. And for what do sinners now part with God and holiness? Not for an equivalent, but for what dazzles and vanishes.
5. Their conduct was a manifestation of basest ingratitude. And so is the conduct of every sinner.
II. The nature of the evil threatened. God would abandon them. The “light of His countenance” is the joy of every soul, and of heaven; for Him to show His back is woful.
1. God sometimes shows His back in a way of mercy (Exodus 33:23). In compassion to our weakness “He holdeth back,” &c. (Job 25:6).
2. But this threat is expressive of Divine wrath. (See Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:3; 1 Peter 3:12. Comp. Job 23:8; Psalms 84:1-4; Psalms 22:1) For a moment only God hides Himself from His people; but it here means the angry abandonment of the wicked.
3. The wrath of God is retributive. Sinners turn their back upon God. He will “show them the back in the day of their calamity” (comp. Psalms 18:26-27; Jeremiah 2:27-28; Jeremiah 32:33-35; Deuteronomy 31:17-18).
4. The language of the text implies a final departure. “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone” (Hosea 9:12).
III. The time when the evil shall be inflicted. “In the day of their calamity.”
Sometimes it may be seen in the present life (1 Samuel 28:15; Matthew 23:27).
1. In the time of adversity. When cold poverty is on them, where is God?
2. In sickness. The wicked have no refuge in distress.
3. When deserted by their friends. Cast off by friends, yet no God!
4. The time of old age. Grave opens, yet without God near thee!
5. A dying hour. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.”
6. At the last day (Revelation 6:16-17).
(a.) The awful state of the unconverted; enemies to God, and doomed to everlasting destruction.
(b.) If we desire to be at peace with God, the way is prepared. Reconciled through His Son.
(c.) Blessed is the prospect of all true Christians. In the day of calamity He will show them His face. “I will never leave thee.”—Helps for the Pulpit.
Jeremiah 18:17. Theme: THE SINNER’S DOOM.
So inveterate was the attachment of the people of Israel to their idols, and so incorrigible amidst national calamities, that God at length determined, not only to bring upon them the threatened captivity in Babylon, but to leave them in the hands of their enemies without pity or compassion, and, like a friend aggrieved, would utterly forsake them in the day of trouble. Consider—
I. The evil threatened: “I will show them the back and not the face.”
Here we may observe,
1. God sometimes shows His back in a way of mercy, as in the case of Moses, when He caused His goodness to pass before him because he could not see His face and live (Exodus 33:23).
2. The Lord here threatens to hide His face. Note—His face is either the most delightful or the most dreadful of all objects. He has an angry and a frowning face when sin is to be punished (Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:3; 1 Peter 3:12); and an approving smile and regard for His people (Isaiah 66:2). To turn His back upon His people—the Jews—in indignation and wrath. The Lord may hide Himself from His people, and be wroth; but towards the wicked it denotes His total abandonment of them to deserved wrath and punishment—particularly when the Lord says “He will show them the back and not the face.” It includes—
(a.) The withdrawment of that providential care and protection which was to be the peculiar privilege of the people of Israel (2 Chronicles 16:9), and leaving them exposed to every evil and danger. Thus He dealt with the apostate Jewish church: He broke down its wall that it might be trodden under foot (Isaiah 5:5).
(b.) A direct expression of His displeasure; as when we turn our back upon those who have offended us. So Christ once turned His back upon Peter, because he was an offence to Him (Matthew 16:23).
(c.) It intimates a final departure; giving them up to walk in their own way, and to follow their own counsel. To be abandoned as incorrigible is the sorest of all judgments: and “woe unto them when I depart from them, saith the Lord” (Hosea 9:12).
II. The time when the threatened evil shall be inflicted: “In the day of their calamity.”
There is a day of trouble coming upon the wicked, an appointed day, a dark and gloomy day. Alas, if God has to turn His back, and leave the sinner to his fate! Yet such will be the doom of the finally impenitent.
1. A little of this may be seen amidst the calamities of the present life. What was the condition of Saul, when God had departed from him (1 Samuel 28:0.) Of Jerusalem, when He would return to His temple no more (Matthew 23:37-38).
2. What then will be the state of the wicked in the last day, when God shall forever disown and forever forsake them! That will indeed be the day of their calamity: there is none like it, and all entreaties will be in vain (Revelation 6:16-17).
1. Let the unbeliever beware, and let him well consider what he shall answer, when the Lord cometh forth to punish him (Jeremiah 13:21).
2. If a Christian finds himself forsaken in the day of trouble, let it cause great searchings of heart; and like Israel, let him lament after the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:2).
3. Let all remember there is still a refuge from the storms of life, and from the wrath to come (Proverbs 18:10).—The Preacher.
Jeremiah 18:18. “DEVICES AGAINST JEREMIAH.” The effect of the foregoing prophecy upon the Jews was—
i. A more hardened and desperate antagonism to the prophet. “Smite him with the tongue.” Carry malicious reports of what he says to Jehoiakim, and so stir his anger.
ii. A flattering self-satisfied repudiation of his messages, “For the law shall not perish,” &c.; i.e., we do not need this prophet, we have the authorised “priest,” the “law” of Moses, “wise” men to give us “counsel,” and “prophets” to declare “the word”—not indeed the Jehovah Word, but “smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10).
Jeremiah 18:20. “EVIL RECOMPENSED FOR GOOD.”
i. Faithful warnings and rebukes proved the prophet’s patriotism. He refused to flatter and delude. “Faithful the wounds of a friend.”
ii. Wilful love of wrong-doing rendered them hostile to truth. “The wicked hate the righteous, and gnash upon him with their teeth.”
Jeremiah 18:18-20. Theme: AUTHORITY ARRAYED AGAINST AUTHORITY. This appeal to the “law and priest” as against Jeremiah and his words, is used by Naegelsbach (in Lange) as the basis of a homily on the anniversary of the Reformation. Thus:—
“Opposition of the office which has apparent authority to that which has true authority.”
i. The basis of the opposition. The assertion of the infallibility of the former office.
ii. The mode of the opposition.
(a.) In not being willing to hear.
(b.) In the attempt to destroy the latter by violence.
iii. The result of the opposition is nugatory. For:—
(a.) The Lord hears the voice of the oppressors, to judge them.
(b.) He gives heed to His servants to protect them.
[This treatment of the text makes it appropriate to all occasions when secular or ecclesiastical power is invoked to suppress the voluntary movements of Christendom; or when the authority of antiquity is urged against any new development of the Christian life, whether in individuals or churches.]
NOTICEABLE TOPICS IN CHAPTER 18
Topic:—THE POTTER’S WORK (Jeremiah 18:1-6).
The prophet sees a man engaged in a task to which he is devoting all his thoughts. The potter designs to make some clay into a vessel of a certain shape; the form or pattern is present to his mind, he is fully resolved that the material with which he is working shall come forth in that form and no other.
But apparently it disappoints him. One piece of clay after another is “marred in his hands:” it takes a shape different from that which he would give it; but he goes on perseveringly till he has done the thing which he intended to do.
“O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hands, so are ye in mine, O house of Israel.”
Commentators have no doubt what this means! God could do as He liked with the clay; He could destroy it if He pleased! But Jeremiah was sent to see what the potter liked. And he saw he desired to make a vessel of a certain form, and for that end he laboured. The analogy, if of any force or worth at all, must mean that—
I. There is a form according to which God is seeking to mould men and nations. He is not doing any single act arbitrarily, or without reference to a purpose; He is patiently and continually working for the accomplishment of this purpose.
1. Men are throughout Scripture assumed to have wills, upon which no mere blind mechanical power can operate, but upon which God, a living Person, is operating by gracious, mysterious, orderly processes, that He may make men in His own likeness.
2. Here was the mystery of a people’s repentance. If they acknowledged this Will which was working upon them, yielded to it, and desired to be formed by it, this was the conversion and inward change He was seeking to produce. Marvellous that persons should see in this symbol nothing but an assertion of the sovereignty of God, when the whole thought is the order of God’s proceedings with men to produce this voluntary obedience!
II. The purpose which the potter cherished was at the last fully realised. As the prophet gazed on the potter, he saw how one piece of clay after another was marred, and yet how the thing he designed was at last done, the whole truth of the symbol came upon him with an awful vision of what was preparing for his land; yet also, with a bright vision of what must ultimately follow the judgment.
1. The vessel must be made, not after some different type, but after the original and perfect life which dwelt not in the dead matter, but in the living mind of Him who was shaping it.
2. If any particular race must be cast aside, it would not be wilfully, not in rage, but after a series of gracious merciful experiments had been made upon it, but because of a moral incapacity for understanding the grace of its Ruler, and for exhibiting any qualities but those most opposed to His grace, most hateful and destructive.
3. Thus the destruction which Jeremiah had foreseen to be approaching his land justified itself to his conscience and heart. He shrank from it through tenderness of nature, through patriotism; but he saw that one generation or another might have to be broken that the end might be accomplished.
III. Here was the power which could reform individuals and society.
1. The strife of the clay with the Potter, the struggles of men against a Divine Artificer not to be brought into their true, reasonable, healthy condition; not to be at peace with each other by being at peace with Him who had made them to bear a common image, were working national and individual desolation. Hence, therefore—
2. The threatened captivity and destruction would form a method of reformation; God would bring life out of death. This marring of the clay was a fearful sight; but the patience, longsuffering, and final victory of the Potter was a glorious one.
Take then this simple image of a living and righteous Being, working amidst the changes of times, working upon human wills for a loving and gracious purpose, for a purpose which has been realised, does it not give—
IV. An elucidation of facts which were left unexplained, and felt to be inexplicable?
1. The fall of great nations; 2. The subjection of such portions of the kingdom of Christ as Jerusalem, Constantinople, Alexandria, to the power of the Crescent.
(a.) Are not these cities proofs that the clay is marred in the new, as it was in the old time, when it resists the will of the Artificer? And what is there in the clay of Italy, Germany, France, England, to give it special exemption from the sentence upon that which is unprofitable? It is written, “If He spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He spare not thee.”
(b.) But we know that whatever happens to one generation or another, He will claim human clay and all natural things for Himself. God has said He will write upon human hearts His own name and the name of the new Jerusalem, His holy city.
(c.) And for each individual, in whom dwells the Spirit of Christ, it will be realised that the body of humiliation will be made like to Christ’s glorious body by that power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.—Contracted from Maurice’s Prophets and Kings.
Note: “When through the clay not being of a proper consistency, or otherwise not answering to the potter’s will, the vessel is spoilt, he does not throw it away, but crushes it together, dashes it back upon the wheel, and begins his work afresh, till the clay has taken the predetermined shape. So then, it was God’s purpose that Judea should become the proper scene for the manifestation of the Messiah, and its sons be fit to receive the Saviour’s teaching and carry the good tidings to all lands. If, therefore, at any stage of the preparation, the Jewish nation took, in its free will, such a course as would frustrate this purpose of Providence, it was crushed by affliction into an unresisting mass, in which the formative process forthwith began again.”—Dr. Payne Smith.
Topic: DESPERATION DANGEROUS (Jeremiah 18:12).
Nothing more proves the perverseness of the human heart than its unsuitable entertainment of the dealings of God with it; especially in His gracious excitements and invitations to repentance, conversion, and turning to Himself; in that these have oftentimes very little impression upon or prevalency with it. Nor only so, but now and then it proves to be from henceforth the more confirmed and settled in evil. This is the case here.
I. A desperate conclusion. “There is no hope.”
No hope of us; our lusts charm and master us. No hope in regard of thee and thy ministry; thou art not likely to do any good amongst us. No hope of favour from Him; there is no probability of any mercy
i. In reference to themselves: despair as to their own amendment or reformation. There are people desperate in this regard, because of—
1. An absolute indisposition and averseness to all kind of good (Job 21:11). This distemper hath sundry grounds and causes from which it proceeds:—
(a.) A neglect of religious duties and exercises. (b.) A persisting in some loose course of life. (c.) A walking contrary to light. (d.) Worldliness and too deep an implunging into secular affairs.
2. An absolute thraldom and subjection to all kind of evil. And there are divers grounds for this also. There are people who despair of ever conquering their lusts because of—(a.) Spiritual laziness. (b.) Unbelief of God’s promises. (c.) Carnal confidence. (d.) Indifference to the thing itself.
ii. In reference to Jeremiah and his ministry: despair as to the value of preaching God’s messages amongst them. There are fortifications to this purpose, which men raise to themselves, to hold out against the workings of the ministry. 1. Pride and self-conceitedness. 2. Cavillings and wranglings against the word of the ministry (Acts 13:45). 3. Prosperity and outward welfare. It is because people are so much hardened against the ministry, that, let the prophets say what they may, they are resolved to do what they list, that there is no hope.
iii. In reference to God Himself. They despair of the grace of God, and call it in question:—1. From the suggestions of Satan. 2. From the infidelity which is in their hearts. 3. From a measuring of God by themselves.
Such a frame of spirit as this is most dangerous and pernicious.
(A.) It is against ourselves. (a.) Our grace—obstructing it and uniting evil thoughts and habits; and (b.) our Comfort—opening the soul to horror and grief.
(B.) It is against God. Despair is the sin which opposes Him in His main design in promulgating the Gospel, and denies “the exceeding riches of His grace” in Jesus Christ.
II. A peremptory resolution. “But we will walk after our own devices,” &c. Consider this determination—
i. Simply and absolutely in itself, they declare that they will walk after their own devices.
1. There is implied here: That the nature of man is very prone and subject to “devices”—evil devices.
2. There is here expressed: That there is in men an affection towards these devices. Three things are here to be noticed—
(a.) Their obstinacy and perverseness: “We will walk” (comp. chap. Jeremiah 2:25, and Jeremiah 8:6). (1.) This obstinacy and perverseness is grounded upon security and presumption (Ecclesiastes 8:11). (2.) It proceeds from the power which Satan has over them (Ephesians 2:2). (3.) They are not persuaded of the truth of God’s Word.
(b.) Their conspiracy and combination: “We will, every one,” &c. It was a set plot and design amongst them against the Lord and His prophet. All were agreed: and this makes the sin an aggravation, as being the more malignant.
(c.) Their wilful transgression and sin against knowledge: “We will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.” Not we will do what in our judgment we think best; but knowing their ways were evil, they determined on “evil” still.
ii. Reflexively and derivatively. They said this—
1. Said it expressly in so many words: were not ashamed to say this. So much impudence is there upon men’s spirits as that they blush not to proclaim their wickedness with open mouths.
2. They said it practically, in that which they did: persisting in their evil ways, without amendment and reformation.
Those sins which were single before admonition come to be double afterwards, and the judgment is so much the greater which waits upon them (John 15:22).—Rev. Thomas Horton, D.D., A.D. 1678.
See Addenda: DESPAIR.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 18: ILLUSTRATIONS AND SUGGESTIVE EXTRACTS
Jeremiah 18:4. GOD’S SOVEREIGN POWER.
“Repine not, nor reply;
View not what Heaven ordains with reason’s eye;
Too bright the object is, the distance is too high.
The man who would resolve the work of fate,
May limit number and make crooked straight;
Stop thy enquiry, then, and curb thy sense,
Nor let dust argue with Omnipotence.”
“God’s patience is lasting, but it is not everlasting.”—Anon.
See Dr. Thomson’s “The Land and the Book” on this passage.
Scripture reference to “the Potter:” 1 Chronicles 4:23; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-4; Daniel 2:41; Zechariah 9:13; Matthew 27:7-10; Romans 9:21.
Man compared to “clay” in Scripture: Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:6.
Simeon says, in his Sermons on Romans 8:0, that there were three reasons why he preached the doctrine of Election; not only because he found it in the Scriptures, but because it laid the axe at the root of (1) pride, (2) presumption, and (3) despair.
Jeremiah 18:12. DESPAIR.
Francis Spira, an Italian apostate, died in the most awful despair. On his deathbed he exclaimed, “My sin is greater than the mercy of God. I have denied Christ voluntarily; I feel that He hardens me, and allows me no hope.”
“All hope is lost
Of my reception into grace; what worse!
For where no hope is left, is left no fear.
So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear.
Farewell remorse, all good to me is lost:
Evil, be thou my good.”—Satan’s Address:
Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
“Dreadful is their doom, whom doubt has driven
To censure fate and pious hope forego;
Like yonder blasted boughs by lightning riven,
Perfection, beauty, life, they never know,
But frown on all that pass, a monument of woe.”—Beattie.
“Despair is the offspring of laziness, fear, and impatience; it argues a defect of spirit and resolution, and oftentimes of honesty too. I would not despair unless I saw my misfortune recorded in the Book of Fate, and signed and sealed by necessity.”—Collier.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34