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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Jeremiah 44

Verses 16-17


Jeremiah 44:16-17. As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee: but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth.

ONE would scarcely conceive it possible that human beings should be so depraved as to utter the words which we have just read. Yet, if this be not the language of men’s lips at this day, it is, to a very great extent, the language both of their hearts and lives: and one advantage which we derive from the history before us is, that, whilst we see how far the impiety of men will carry them, we learn to form a correct estimate of their conduct. Perhaps in the whole world we should not find one who would justify them; though thousands will justify themselves in following their example. Permit me, then, to hold up this picture before your eyes, in hopes that, as in a glass you may recognise your own countenances, and fall under the conviction which your judgment calls for at the hands of others. With this view, I will endeavour to set before you,


The impiety of that people—

To behold this in its just light, we must look back to the preceding chapters, and mark distinctly,


Their voluntary engagements—

[After the King of Babylon had carried the Jews into captivity, he permitted a small remnant to return; and placed over them a governor of their own nation, Gedaliah by name; and to him flocked a considerable number, who had fled to Moab, and Ammon, and Edam, for refuge from the Chaldeans, that they might once more enjoy peace in their own land, under his protection [Note: Jeremiah 40:7-12.]. But Ishmael, who was of the seed royal, envying Gedaliah this honour, conspired against him, and slew him; and then forced the people to follow him, with an intention to deliver them into the hands of the Ammonites [Note: Jeremiah 41:2; Jeremiah 41:10.]. Johanan, a friend of Gedaliah, had suspected Ishmael’s intentions; and had offered to defeat them, by secret assassination. And as soon as Ishmael had accomplished his murderous designs, Johanan followed him, and prevailed on the people to return with him. But when he had brought them back as far as Bethlehem, he was afraid of settling there, lest the Babylonish monarch, whose viceroy had been destroyed, should come and wreak his vengeance on him and the people, who had been altogether innocent in the matter: he contemplated, therefore, the seeking a refuge in Egypt, where he thought ho should be altogether out of the reach of the King of Babylon [Note: Jeremiah 41:17-18.]. But, being doubtful what the Lord’s will respecting it might be (for God had forbidden them ever to return to Egypt [Note: Deuteronomy 17:16.]), he, at the head of all the people, from the least to the greatest, came to Jeremiah, and intreated him to seek direction from the Lord; and pledged themselves, in the most solemn manner, to obey his voice, whatever it might be, or whatever might be its aspect on their present comfort [Note: Jeremiah 42:1-6.].

Now, in all this, especially I mean in referring the matter to God, Johanan acted in a manner that was truly becoming; for his fears were certainly well grounded; and, in a matter of such difficulty, it became him to request the intercession of God’s highly-favoured servant, the Prophet Jeremiah, and to seek, by all possible means, direction from God. But, behold, what a sudden change took place in all the people! Instead of fulfilling their engagements, they manifested,]


Their deliberate violation of them—

[After ten days, God was pleased to declare, by the prophet, that Johanan and the people must remain in their own land: at the same time assuring them, that he would overrule the heart of the king of Babylon to favour them [Note: Jeremiah 42:12.] but that, if they would go into Egypt, the very evils which they apprehended, should follow them thither, to their utter destructions [Note: Jeremiah 42:13-17.].

Now, viewing their previous and solemn engagements, one would naturally suppose that they would instantly comply with the direction given them. But, instead of that, they deny that God had given any such direction to Jeremiah; and assert, that Baruch had stirred him up to feign this message from the Lord, on purpose to deliver him and all the people into the hands of the Chaldeans [Note: Jeremiah 43:1-4.]; and therefore they would proceed to Egypt, at all events, This purpose they immediately carried into execution; and not only took all the people with them, but forced Jeremiah also, and Baruch, to accompany them thither [Note: Jeremiah 43:5-7.].

A more flagrant act of rebellion than this can scarcely be conceived. Yet behold,]


Their self-vindicating effrontery—

[The people, both men and women, but the women more especially, betook themselves to idolatry, and offered incense to the Queen of heaven. Being reproved for this by the prophet, they boldly asserted, that the service of Jehovah had been altogether unprofitable to them; that their former prosperity had arisen from their worship of the Queen of heaven; and their later adversity had resulted from their neglect of her. The truth was, as the prophet told them, the very reverse of this: whilst they had served the Lord, he had prospered them; but when they departed from him to their idols, they had constrained him to follow them with his judgments, even to that very hour. But they were bent upon vindicating themselves and their own ways; and plainly declared to the prophet, that “as for the word which he had spoken to them in the name of the Lord, they would not do it; but would certainly do whatever they themselves chose,” however offensive it might be to God, or however injurious to their own interests. They had engaged to worship the Queen of heaven; and her they would worship, whatever God or his prophet might say in opposition to it: for they had found it their interest to serve her; and serve her they would [Note: ver. 17–19.].]

Not doubting what your judgment must be respecting them, I now proceed to point out,


The resemblance that exists between them and us—

Is it asked, Where shall we find any amongst us like them? I answer, Look at,


The profane sinner—

[See his engagements at the baptismal font: see them voluntarily renewed at the time of his confirmation: all here is well: and if these engagements are adhered to, all will be well, both in time and eternity. But behold, when we call upon them to fulfil their duties, our word, though spoken in the name of the Most High God, has no effect: the generality, if they listen to it for a moment, “take no earnest heed to it:” they hear it “as the word of man only, and not as the word of God,” Some will speak out plainly in the very language of our text: and though all arrive not at such a height of impiety as to utter this with their lips, millions all around us declare it by their lives. We call upon them to “renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil;” to “believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith;” and to “keep God’s holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of their life.” But who will regard us? Who will carry into effect any one of their own promises? Who, when called upon to act up to his engagements, does not deny that God has required it at his hands? And who does not even vindicate his own ways, us necessary to his welfare in the world, and as alone conducive to his present happiness? Verily, we may behold in the Jews a just picture of the Christian world; professing all that is good, and determinately following their own evil ways.]


The self-righteous formalist—

[Hear him joining in our Liturgy, and you will say, There is a repentant sinner, clearing to the Lord with full purpose of heart. But tell him in private what a sinner he is; tell him what contrition becomes him; tell him how entirely he must renounce all self-confidence, and rely solely on the Lord Jesus Christ; and you quite offend him—‘He deserves not such heavy judgments: he needs not seek for mercy in this humiliating way. It may be well enough for publicans and harlots to abase themselves in this manner; but he needs it not; nor will he consent to accept of mercy on such terms as these.’ In vindication of themselves, persons of this description will cast reflections on religion, as depriving men of all happiness, and as a source of all the sorrow and melancholy that are found in the religious world. In vain we tell them, that it is sin alone which is the cause of sorrow, and ignorance alone that is the source of melancholy to persons seeking after God. In vain we tell them, that religion, properly understood and practised, is a spring of the purest and most lasting joy. The very comparison which the Jews made between Jehovah and the Queen of heaven, these persons will make between true piety and their own formal services: God’s ways being condemned as productive only of evil; and their own commended, as replete with good.]


The hypocritical professor—

[He, if you will believe his words, is all that you could wish: but if you examine his actions, he is like fruit, fair to look upon, but rotten at the core. Press him on the side of his besetting sins, and you shall find him, in deeds, if not in words, as determined a transgressor as either of the foregoing characters. I know not whether he be not the least hopeful of them all. His very “conscience is seared;” and “even the light that is in him is darkness.” Whether his sin be pride, or worldliness, or intemperance, or impurity, he finds excuses for all; or, if self-condemned, “turns the grace of God into licentiousness.” Ah! what shall I say to such persons? These, above all, resemble Johanan and the Jews. They make the greatest professions of piety, and sin against the greatest light and knowledge; and cast most dishonour upon God whilst vindicating themselves. Verily, such persons, above all, have need to go along with me in my last consideration; namely,]


The certain issue of such conduct—

The Jews would venture upon the line prohibited, and prosecute their own ways, in defiance of the judgments with which they were threatened. But God told them that “they should see whose word should stand, his or theirs [Note: ver. 28.].”

I ask then, How did it fare with them?
[Did not Divine vengeance follow them? Could Pharaoh afford them the protection which they sought? yea, did not both he and they fall under the Chaldean yoke, and speedily experience all the calamities that had been predicted [Note: ver. 12, 13, 14, 29, 30.]?]

And how shall it fare with you?
[Is not the time coming when the Lord will say, “Bring hither those that were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me [Note: Luke 19:27.]?” Yes; you may vindicate yourselves as you will, and be as confident as you please; but “God’s word shall stand, and not yours;” and the day shall surely come, when your pride, and unbelief, and rebellion, shall meet with their deserved recompence at the hands of God — — — It was the boast of the Jews that they had antiquity and authority on their side [Note: ver. 17.]. But what did it avail them that “they had kings and princes on their side,” and that they did nothing but what was done daily “in the streets of Jerusalem?” Did this lessen their guilt, or screen them from punishment? So, then, know ye also, that however broad the way be wherein ye walk, it will lead you to destruction; and that “though hand join in hand, the wicked, how great or numerous soever they be, shall not go unpunished.”]

Let me now address,

Those who disregard our testimony—

[Whether it be in deeds only, or in words also, that ye reject our word, know ye of a truth, that it shall come to pass, and “a difference shall be put between him who serveth God, and him who serveth him not.” What this prophet said to those who “refused to be ashamed of their abominations,” and to every one of his instructions replied, “We will not hearken,” that I say to you: “In the day that God shall visit for sin, ye shall be cast down, and perish [Note: Jeremiah 6:15-17.]” You may say, as boldly as you will, “Let us break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us:” but God laughs at your pride [Note: Psalms 2:3-4.]; for “he sees that your day is coming.” May God Almighty awaken you from your security, ere it be too late!]


Those who tremble at the word of God—

[This is a state of mind which becomes every sinner in the universe [Note: Isaiah 66:2.]. Cultivate it, I pray you, more and more: and, in any engagements which you may enter into with God, undertake nothing in your own strength. Be assured, that of yourselves you can do nothing; and that all your ability, even for the most acknowledged duties, must be from the Lord alone. Yet, whatsoever ye have vowed unto the Lord, remember to pay it: “It were better never to vow, than to vow and not pay.” At the same time, take the word of God as your guide: whatsoever He commands you, do it, without considering what its effect may be on your present interests. In an obedient attention to God’s will you need fear no evil: for “who is he that shall really harm you, if ye be followers f that which is good [Note: Jeremiah 42:11-12. with 1 Peter 3:13.]?” But, if you will dissemble with God, “be sure that your sin will find you out.” “Fear not man, therefore, who can only kill the body; but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.”

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Jeremiah 44". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.