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AN ACCOUNT OF THE CALL AND CONSECRATION OF JEREMIAH TO THE PROPHETIC OFFICE, FOLLOWED BY TWO EXPRESSIVE SYMBOLS OF THE MATTERS WHICH HE HAS TO ANNOUNCE.
There are some indications that the original form of the heading has been somewhat modified. Notice
(1) that the words with which Jeremiah 1:2 opens are identical with one of Jeremiah's characteristic formulae for introducing a prophecy (comp, Jeremiah 14:1; Jeremiah 46:1; Jeremiah 47:1; Jeremiah 49:34); and notice
(2) the awkward connection of verses 1 and 2, and 2 and 3 respectively.. It is a reasonable conjecture that the passage originally ran thus: "The word of the LORD which came to Jeremiah in the days of Josiah," etc.; verses 1 and 3 being added later, which involved a change in the construction.
The words of Jeremiah. This introductory formula only occurs here and in Amos 1:1. The editor of Jeremiah and of Amos deserts the usual phrase ("burden" or , "utterance," "vision," "the word of the LORD which came," etc.) in order to give fuller information concerning the origin of the prophetic writers (but see on verse 2). On the name Jeremiah, and on the position occupied by Hilkiah, see Introduction. That were in Anathoth. So Vulgate; Septuagint, however (followed by Payne Smith), makes the relative refer to Jeremiah (ὅς κατῴκει). But in this case would not the phrase have been "Jeremiah the priest," etc. (comp. Ezekiel 1:1)? Anathoth was one of the priestly cities (Joshua 21:18); it lay on or near the great northern road (Isaiah 10:30), and has been identified by Dr. Robinson (so also by Lieutenant Conder) with 'Anata, situated on a ridge, an hour and a quarter north-northeast from Jerusalem.
Unto the end of the eleventh year, etc. The limit is accurate with regard to Jeremiah 1-39. The later prophecies have a superscription of their own (see Jeremiah 40:1.). In the fifth month (comp. Jeremiah 52:12, Jeremiah 52:27).
The call of Jeremiah.
Unto me. For the change of person, comp. Ezekiel 1:4.
Knew thee; i.e. took notice of thee; virtually equivalent to selected thee (comp. Genesis 39:6; Amos 3:2; Isaiah 58:3; Psalms 144:3). Observe, the predestination of individuals is a familiar idea in the Old Testament (comp. Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 49:1; Psalms 139:16). It was also familiar to the Assyrians: King Assurba-nipal declares at the opening of his ' Annals ' that the gods "in the body of his mother have made (him) to rule Assyria." Familiar, too, to the great family of religious reformers. For, as Dean Milman has truly observed, "No Pelagian ever has or ever will work a religious revolution. He who is destined for such a work must have a full conviction that God is acting directly, immediately, consciously, and therefore with irresistible power, upon him and through him He who is not predestined, who does not declare, who does not believe himself predestined as the author of a great religions movement, he in whom God is not manifestly, sensibly, avowedly working out his pre-established designs, will never be saint or reformer". Sanctified thee; i.e. set thee apart for holy uses. Ordained; rather, appointed. Unto the nations. Jeremiah's prophecies, in fact, have reference not only to Israel, but to the peoples in relation to Israel (verse 10; Jeremiah 25:15, Jeremiah 25:16; 46-49; Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-64?).
Ah, Lord God! rather, Alas, O Lord Jehovah! It is a cry of alarm and pain, and recurs in Jeremiah 4:10; Jeremiah 14:13; Jeremiah 32:17. I am a child. I am too young to support such an office. The word rendered "child" is used elsewhere of youths nearly grown up (comp. Genesis 34:19; Genesis 41:12; 1 Kings 3:7).
Thou shalt go, etc. Thoughts of self are altogether out of place in one who has received a Divine commission. Jeremiah's duty is simple obedience. In put-suing this path he cannot but be safe (verse 8).
Touched my mouth; literally, caused (his hand) to touch my mouth. Jeremiah had said that he was unskilled in oratory; the Divine answer is that the words which he has to speak are not his own, but those of Jehovah. Two things are obvious:
1. The touching of the lips is not purely metaphorical, as in Psalms 51:15 (comp. Psalms 40:6); it represents a real experience.
2. This experience, however, can only have been a visionary one, analogous to that vouchsafed to Isaiah at the opening of his prophetic ministry. In the grand account given by Isaiah of his inaugural vision (which has evidently influenced the form of the vision of Jeremiah), we read of the same significant act on the part of one of the seraphim. It is the same act, certainly, but it symbolizes, not as here the communication of a prophetic message (comp. Matthew 10:19), but the purification of the lips. Does it not seem as if Isaiah had attained a deeper insight into the spiritual regeneration needed by the prophet than had been granted to Jeremiah? Another point in which Jeremiah's account seems inferior to that of Isaiah is plastic power. Notice how Jeremiah dwells upon the meaning of the words; this is a reflective element which diminishes the poetic power of the narrative. A word may Be added to explain that "visionary" is not here used in opposition to "based on fact." That the two epithets are susceptible of combination is well shown in the vision described by Pere Gratry, in his 'Souvenirs do ma Jeunesse', the reality of which is not in the least impaired in the writer's mind by its thoroughly inward character: "Dens teutes ces seines interieures, je n'imaginais rien … c'etaient de saisissantes et tres-energiques realites auxquelles je ne m'attendais nullement."
I have set thee; literally, I have made thee an overseer, or vicegerent (comp. Genesis 41:34; Judges 9:28, where the Authorized Version renders the cognate noun "officer"). To root out … to plant, viz. by pronouncing that Divine judgment which fulfils itself (comp. Jeremiah 5:14; Numbers 23:25; Isaiah 9:8, Isaiah 9:9; Isaiah 55:11). As there is so much more threatening than promise in Jeremiah's writings, the destructive side of his activity is expressed by four verbs, the constructive only by two.
Two trials or probations of Jeremiah's inner sight (2 Kings 6:17). Two visions are granted him, which he is required to describe. The first expresses the certainty of his prophetic revelation; the second indicates its contents.
A rod of an almond tree. The name here adopted for the almond tree is peculiarly suitable in this connection. It means "wakeful;" the almond, blossoming in January, is the first to "wake" from the sleep of winter.
I will hasten my word; literally, I am wakeful over my word; alluding to the meaning of the Hebrew word for almond.
A seething pot. There is a variety of Hebrew words for "pot." The word hero used suggests a vessel of large size, since pottage for a whole company of prophets could be cooked in such. a pot or caldron (2 Kings 4:38). From Ezekiel 24:11 we may infer that it was of metal. A "seething pot" in ancient Arabic poetry is a figure for war. The same symbol occurs in Ezekiel 24:3-12, but with a different application. The face thereof is toward the north; rather, toward the south; literally, from the face of the north. The "face" of the pet is the side turned to the prophet. We may suppose the contents to be on the point of boiling over.
Out of the north. Previously to the battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians are only mentioned vaguely as a northern people (see Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1, Jeremiah 6:22; Jeremiah 10:22). Strictly speaking, they were an eastern people from the point of view of Palestine; but the caravan-road which the Chaldaean armies had to take entered Palestine at Dan (comp. Jeremiah 4:15; Jeremiah 8:16), and then proceeded southward. (On the question whether a Scythian invasion is referred to, at least conjointly with the Babylonian, see Introduction.) An evil; rather, the evil; viz. the calamity which in deepening gloom forms the burden of the prophet's discourses. Shall break forth; literally, shall open; i.e. let loose by opening. There is, however, some difficulty in explaining the choice of this expression. We might indeed suppose that the caldron had a lid, and that the removal or falling off of this lid is the "opening" referred to by the phrase.
I will call; literally, I am calling; i.e. I am about to call. The kingdoms of the north; alluding possibly to the varied origin of the population of Assyria and Babylonia. But more probably it is simply a suggestive phrase, for the wide extent of the hostile empire referred to (comp. Jeremiah 25:9). They shall set every one his throne, etc. The kings, or. the, generals, representing "all the families, etc; shall set up the high seat of power and judicial authority at the broad space within the gate of the city, which constituted the Oriental forum (comp. Genesis 23:10; Joshua 20:4; Job 29:7; Job 31:21). Thither the besieged would have to come to surrender themselves (2 Kings 24:12) and to hear their fate. A similar prediction is made with regard to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:9, Jeremiah 43:10). It is true the seat of authority is there said to be placed at the entrance of the palace, but this was in fact another place where justice was wont to be administered (Jeremiah 22:2, Jeremiah 22:3). Jerome's view, adopted by Rosenmüller and Nagelsbach, that "to set one's seat" means "to besiege" is against usage, and does not accord with the opening words of Jeremiah 1:16. There is, however, an element of truth in it. The judgment executed ministerially by the northern kings or generals began with the siege of Jerusalem and the other cities, and hence the words with which the prophet continues. And against all the walls, etc. We should have expected something like "and shall set themselves in array against," etc. (comp. Isaiah 22:7 b); see, however, last note.
I will utter my judgments; or, I will hold a court of justice upon them; literally, I will speak judgments with them. The expression is peculiar to Jeremiah (comp. Jeremiah 4:12; Jeremiah 12:1; Jeremiah 39:6; Jeremiah 52:9), and includes both the examination of the accused, and the judicial sentence (see Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:9). All their wickedness, etc. Their "wickedness," i.e. their infidelity to Jehovah, showed itself in burning incense to "other gods," and bowing down to their images. "Burned incense" is, however, too narrow a sense. The root-meaning of the verb is to be fragrant, and the causative conjugations will strictly mean only "to make a sweet odor," whether by the offering of incense or by burnt offerings (comp. Jer 11:12; 2 Kings 23:8, where a causative conjugation is used in the same wide sense here postulated; also Psalms 66:15 and Isaiah 1:13, where the word usually rendered "incense" seems rather to mean "a sweet smoke"). The prophet says, "of other gods" (not "of false gods"), out of consideration for the ignorance of his hearers, to whom Baal and Moloch really were as gods; in fact, that expressive word (cf.) which Isaiah uses ten times to express the unreality of the other so-called gods, occurs only once, and then not in quite the same sense (see Jeremiah 14:14) in Jeremiah. But the prophet's own strict monotheism is proved by such passages as Jeremiah 2:27; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 16:20.
Gird up thy loins, as an Oriental does before making any kind of physical exertion, whether walking (Exodus 12:11; 2 Kings 4:29), running (1 Kings 18:46), or fighting (Job 12:21). Be not dismayed. A want of confidence on Jeremiah's part will issue in his utter discomfiture by his enemies. "Dismay" in Hebrew has a twofold reference, subjective ("dismay") and objective ("ruin," "discomfiture"). Both references can be illustrated from this verse. (Comp. the command and—verse 18—premise to Jeremiah with the command and promise to Ezekiel—3:8, Ezekiel 3:9.)
Brasen walls. The plural is used instead of a collective term for the whole circle of fortifications. In the parallel passage (Jeremiah 15:20) the singular occurs; the same alternation of plural and singular as in 2Ki 25:10; 1 Kings 3:1. The combination of figures strikingly expresses the invincibility of one whose strength is in his God. The kings of Judah. Why the plural? Most reply, Because Jeremiah would have to do with successive sovereigns. But this meaning would have been just as well conveyed by the singular: "the king of Judah," without any name being added—would moan the king who from time to time happened to be reigning. "Kings of Judah" in Jeremiah seems to have a special meaning, and to include all the members of the royal family, who formed a numerous and powerful class (see on Jeremiah 17:20).
On the external surroundings of the life of Jeremiah.
These words, which constitute the preface to the Book of Jeremiah, are evidently intended to furnish a historical setting for the writings of the prophet. But they also throw light on his character and work. For, though the true life of every man is his inner spiritual life, we cannot estimate the worth of this until we have taken account of the circumstances in which it is placed, the aids and the hindrances it receives from without. Let us consider, therefore, the spiritual significance of the main historical surroundings of the work of Jeremiah.
I. THE OFFICIAL RELATIONSHIP OF JEREMIAH.
1. Jeremiah had the advantage of being the son of a priest. He had probably received a religious education from his childhood. The religion of his fathers must have been familiar to him. Its solemn rites and suggestive symbols were often before his eyes. Possibly, like St. Paul, who was trained in Jewish theology before he became a Christian (Galatians 1:14), he may have found the Law a schoolmaster to bring him to a higher religion. The children of Christian ministers have peculiar privileges in the early knowledge of Scripture, Church life, etc; which they have opportunities of acquiring.
2. Yet this official relationship of Jeremiah's had its disadvantages. It was quite exceptional. Not more than three of the prophets were of sacerdotal origin. For the most part the priestly class regarded the prophetic with jealousy, if not with envy.
(1) Officialism is conservative, and opposed to the free and revolutionary spirit of prophecy.
(2) It is also formal, and tends to repress the inward and spiritual experiences of which prophecy is the highest outcome. It speaks well for Jeremiah that the spirit of prophecy was not crushed out of him by the dry traditionalism and the rigid ritualism of his priestly connections.
3. It is noteworthy that the official relationship of Jeremiah was entirely overshadowed by his prophetic mission. He is known to history not as the priest, but as the prophet. Official religious services are quite secondary to spiritual work.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE AGE OF JEREMIAH.
1. Jeremiah entered on his mission in the midst of the reformation of Josiah. Yet the prophet's work was entirely disconnected from that of the king. Political religious activity is very different from personal spiritual work. Ecclesiastical reforms will not effect spiritual regeneration. The king's overthrow of the idols does not dispense with the need of the prophet's call to repentance.
2. Jeremiah continued his mission after the failure of Josiah's reformation and during an age of national decay. The character of the age changed, but the prophet remained unchanged. Weak men may be content to echo the popular cries of the day. It is too often the mission of the servant of God to contradict these familiar voices. The true prophet is not the creature of his age, the mouthpiece of the Zeit-geist; he is called to resist this influence.
3. Jeremiah closed his mission amidst scenes of national ruin. It was given him to see the fulfillment of his warnings of doom, but not that of his promises of restoration. Hence he is the prophet of tears. Jesus also wept over Jerusalem, but he brought redemption. We should be thankful that we live in these latter times when we can see the realization of the promises of "the Book of consolation."
III. THE DURATION OF THE MISSION OF JEREMIAH. It lasted for at least forty years; how many more after the overthrow of Jerusalem we do not know.
1. This fact speaks much for the prophetic power of Jeremiah. Many men can only rouse themselves to one supreme effort. True greatness is as much seen in the continuance of powers as in supreme exhibitions of them.
2. This fact is a grand proof of the faithfulness of the prophet. Almost the whole of his work was done "in opposition." We admire the young martyr who summons up a momentary heroic courage to seal his testimony with his blood; but greater honor is due to the aged confessor who has persevered through a lifelong martyrdom, and, though spared to old age, is also "faithful unto death."
3. This fact sheds light on God's ways with man. Jeremiah commenced his stern prophetic denunciations forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. This suggests to us
(1) that God mercifully delays the execution of his threats to give man time for repentance; and
(2) that the forbearance of God, which postpones the evil day, does not frustrate the justice which must ultimately bring it upon the impenitent.
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A DIVINE PREDESTINATION.
1. This implies
(1) foreknowledge—God has his idea about a man and his mission before he forms the initial germ of his life;
(2) a sanctifying, or setting apart, by which the man is considered by God in relation to his destined mission, and treated accordingly; and
(3) a preordination, a Divine action in accordance with the Divine idea and purpose which tends to carry these into effect. Every life is prophesied in the mind of God by God's thought of it, and comes into the world girded with Divine purposes, wrapped up and drawn onwards by the unseen threads of the designs of God.
2. This predestination does not involve fatalism; it is consistent with human freedom of action and personal responsibility. On the one hand we must conclude, from its existence, that there are certain possibilities with which God endows a man, and certain limits with which God has hedged him about. But on the other hand, we must recognize that it depends on the man's own will and effort whether he use those possibilities, and attain to the end enclosed within those limits. He has a Divine vocation, but he may neglect it; he may fail in realizing God's idea of his life. There rests on him the responsibility of accomplishing his destiny.
II. CONSIDER THE GROUNDS FOR BELIEF IN A DIVINE PREDESTINATION.
1. It is revealed in Scripture (e.g. Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2).
2. It is involved in the idea of the providence of a supreme God. God foresees all the future; in every act of his all other events and their relation to this must be present to the mind of God. With such knowledge a universal control of events, such as is implied by a providence not interfering from without now and again at critical moments, but immanent in the whole course of the world, must imply a Divine preordination.
3. It is proved to us by experience.
(1) We are born with certain peculiarities, faculties, powers, tendencies. The prophet, like the poet, nascitur, non fit.
(2) The external circumstances of life are largely beyond our control. The child cannot determine the sphere of life into which it is to enter at birth. All the opportunities and duties which result from these circumstances are made for us, not by us. They bring a mission and open up a career, by chance if there be no providence, but by preordination if there be a providence.
III. CONSIDER THE PURPOSE OF A DIVINE PREDESTINATION.
1. It must often he mysterious. Until we review life as a whole we shall not be able to interpret the meaning of its several parts. We cannot judge of the architect's design by examining the separate stones which lie scattered in the builder's yard. But:
2. It is not arbitrary. The very idea of destiny as determined by a Being of infinite thought implies purpose based on reason. God would not determine events simply to manifest his unfettered rights of sovereignty. Such aimless caprice could only emanate from a senseless despot.
3. It is turned to a good purpose. This must be so, for if God is good his designs must be good. The predestination is
(1) for the good of the agent, who is blessed by being selected for Divine service; and
(2) for the good of the world. The elect are chosen instruments for benefiting the whole world. Thus Jeremiah was destined to be "a prophet unto the nations." The Jew was an elect people that he might be the channel of blessing to all mankind (Genesis 12:3; Romans 3:2). The Christian is a chosen vessel that he may carry grace to others, and serve as the salt of the earth, as the light of the world.
IV. CONSIDER THE PRACTICAL EFFECT OF THE DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION. It contains no excuse for indolence and no reason for despair, for God fits all of us for sonic service, the accomplishment of which depends on our own faithfulness.
1. It should lead us to inquire what is God's will, rather than to carve out a career for ourselves.
2. It should make us humble, submissive, obedient, and diligent in service, since there is a Divine idea of our life which God expects us to realize.
3. It should inspire courage in the midst of difficulties. Jeremiah was brave in the thought that he was fulfilling a Divine destiny. Such a thought inspires energy in face of enmity, contempt, isolation, and apparent failure.
I. DIFFIDENCE IS A DIFFICULTY TO BE OVERCOME.
1. Jeremiah shrank from his mission, not through the cowardice that fears danger, nor through the indolence that dislikes effort, nor through the selfishness that declines responsibility, but through the diffidence of youth, sensitiveness, and humility.
(1) Youth is naturally diffident. The world is all unknown; powers are not yet proved by experience.
(2) Sensitiveness inclines to diffidence. There is a confidence which depends simply on denseness and callousness. Acute feeling is a great hindrance to bold action. Jeremiah felt the miseries of his nation deeply, and it was peculiarly difficult for such a man to assume the position of a stern censor.
(3) Humility leads to diffidence. If we think little of ourselves we are not likely to be forward in accepting posts of responsibility.
2. Now, this diffidence is an evil thing. It may not be sinful in its origin, but perfectly innocent, and even a mark of amiable characteristics. But it is injurious in its effects, and becomes positively guilty if indulged in when God has provided us means for overcoming it. The most gifted are often the most diffident. Hence if they yielded to their reluctance to fulfill their vocation, the greatest and best work of the world would be left undone. There is also a danger lest diffidence should become an excuse for indolence, selfishness, and cowardice. If unrestrained it will lead to these vices. People are often greatly to blame for shrinking from posts of responsibility, although they may even imagine they are earning the honors of modesty and humility.
II. GOD PROVIDES MEANS FOR OVERCOMING DIFFIDENCE. God never calls a man to any work without securing to him the means for performing it. Thus having called Jeremiah to his service, God sends help for overcoming the young man's diffidence.
1. The consciousness of a Divine mission. "Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee." It is well to feel that we are not doing our own work but God's. If we fail, what does that matter to us so long as we are doing his will? The thought of duty is itself an inspiration. We are not simply to attempt what we imagine to be a good thing; we are called for a purpose, sent on a mission, and the thought that we are about our Father's business should allay the hesitation of natural diffidence. The ambassador is armed with the authority of his master and backed by his master's power. The prophet is sent by God with God's authority. All who are working God's will are similarly supported by God's authority.
2. The realization of the presence of God. "I am with thee." We may be diffident while we look to self; but when we look away to God we see the Source of strength and victory. Indeed, our very diffidence may be a means of securing our true strength by making us seek the help of God. Self-distrust may lead to trust in God. Thus when weak in ourselves we may become strong in him (2 Corinthians 12:10). If we go in God's strength we have no more occasion to fear, since success no longer depends on our ability but on his assistance.
3. The direct inspiration of the Spirit of God. "Behold I have put my words in thy mouth." God is not only present by our side to assist and deliver us, but he is within the soul, infusing light and power. The prophet fears he cannot speak the needed words. The words he is to speak are not his own but God's. He is the messenger, God is the real speaker. If then he can but discern the voice of God within him, and interpret this to the people, all diffidence arising from his own incompetence should vanish. Every work which is done for God can only proceed from God, and when it does thus come from God we need not fear its failure. God can accomplish his own will in us as well as by his immediate actions in the world.
The power of prophecy.
I. THERE IS A POWER IN PROPHECY. Prophecy is not simply a light, a revelation of truth; it is also a voice of authority, a means of active influence, a power. The Divine word in the prophet is like the Divine word in nature-an energizing word. God speaks, and it is done. The New Testament references to prophecy are made in obedience to this thought. The fulfillment of prophecy is there quoted not so much, as in modern evidential literature, as a proof of supernatural foresight, but rather as the effect of a Divine power which has realized the purpose of the ancient Word of God. This or that is said to be done "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." God's Word is always a power (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is not simply a revelation; it is a means of influence. The preacher should see that he is clothed with power. His mission is to influence as well as to teach.
II. THE SOURCES OF THE POWER OF PROPHECY ARE SPIRITUAL. The authority conferred on Jeremiah is not that of the secular arm. He is to exert his influence by no material force. HIS power is different in kind from that of a political government. The claim of the papal authority founded on this verse is unwarranted, since this does not confer the power of the sword but direct spiritual influence. Neither is the power of prophecy in the least allied to magic or sorcery. It is not a miraculous material force.
1. It is the power of truth. Truth is strong; knowledge is power. The prophet sees the deep principles of God's government, and in the discernment of them lies the force of his utterances.
2. It is the rower of right. The prophet takes his stand on the side of justice, purity, goodness. In the end the might must go with the right.
3. It is the power of God. The prophet is nothing in himself; he is God's servant: the authority he wields is God s. So the power of the preacher is not to be sought in reason, in eloquence, nor in official authority, but in the truth of his message, in the righteousness of his cause, and in his fidelity to the will of God.
III. THE RANGE OF THE POWER OF PROPHECY IS WORLDWIDE. Jeremiah was a Jew.
Yet he was "set over the nations and over the kingdoms."
1. God is the King of king and his authority concerns kingdoms as well as individuals. Political questions are amenable to the influence of Divine truth and righteousness.
2. God's truth does not only concern the Church. It is for the world—if the world will obey, for its blessedness; if it will not heed, for a judgment upon it.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE POWER OF PROPHECY ARE REVOLUTIONARY. It is no wild and transient influence, but a great stirring energy. Translated into modern language, this means that truth, right, and the will of God are powerful factors in history, disarranging human schemes and bringing higher designs into effect.
1. This power is destructive. Jeremiah is to "root out," etc. Evil is not a mere negation—simple darkness. It must be fought and east out. Christ sent "a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The era of the Reformation was a destructive age. It is the duty of the preacher to protest against evil, to denounce it, to seek its overthrow, and not to shrink for fear of consequent disturbances. Warfare is better than guilty peace.
2. This power is ultimately constructive. Jeremiah is "to build and to plant." The destructive agencies of God are simply intended to clear off obstructions, and make the way for a new and better order. The disintegrating power of criticism should be regarded as only preparatory to the creative influence of living truth. The gospel is chiefly a constructive power, making men new creatures, building up the kingdom of God in our midst, brining about a new heaven and a new earth.
Jeremiah 1:11, Jeremiah 1:12
The almond rod.
The early budding almond rod is symbolical of the wakeful attitude of God at a crisis in human events. God's manner of acting at this period of Jewish history may be regarded as typical of what we may expect again under similar circumstances.
I. THERE ARE OCCASIONS WHEN GOD'S WATCHFULNESS AND ENERGY ARE ESPECIALLY MANIFEST. God never sleeps (Psalms 121:4). While we sleep he keeps watch. Though. we do not mark his presence nor even think of it, he is still looking upon us and never ceasing from his activity. Yet he is said to awake as though from sleep (Psalms 44:23), because to us he appears to be more wakeful at one season than at another.
1. There are times when God watches unseen, and times when he makes his watchfulness manifest to us by his acts; then he is said to awake.
2. God generally acts in quiet ways unnoticed and not directly interfering with us; but now and again his ceaseless activity is more pronounced, and is specially felt by opposing our course; then God seems to have aroused himself. Such times are awful crises of existence. We should be prepared to expect them, and not presume on the present obscurity of the Divine actions. Some day it will be as though God awoke with the voice of a trumpet and the might of a host suddenly revealed.
II. GOD NEVER DELAYS HIS ACTION BEYOND ITS DUE TIME. When it is time for God to "awake," he does "awake." It seems as though he tarried; but he has a reason for waiting.
1. He does not come to deliverance at the moment we expect him
(1) because it is well we should be tried by distresses, or
(2) because high purposes beyond our own lives are to be attained through the things which are occasioning us trouble, or
(3) because we have not sought his aid with true faith and submission, or
(4) for causes beyond our comprehension.
2. He does not come to judgment
(1) because he waits for sin to ripen, or
(2) because he is long-suffering and gives time for repentance, or
(3) because larger issues than those which touch us are involved in the act of judgment. Still, in both cases he comes at the right time. He is not a slothful God. He is wakeful, and his actions may be typified by the almond branch.
III. GOD'S JUDGMENTS SOMETIMES FALL SUDDENLY AND SWIFTLY. We may have but short warning of their approach. The execution of them may be rapid. The storm which has long been brewing may burst quickly. The harvest which has ripened slowly may be gathered in with haste. The impending judgment may not be discerned till it is too late for escape. When the rain began to fall it was too late for man to seek refuge in the ark. When the Jews saw the hosts of Nebuchadnezzar approaching there were no means for saving their country from ruin. It is foolish and wrong to neglect the salvation of God until we discern his judgment looming over us. "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Jeremiah 1:13, Jeremiah 1:14
The seething pot.
I. THE VISION OF THE SEETHING POT FORESHADOWS APPROACHING DOOM. God is about to "hold his session" upon Jerusalem and the cities of Judah.
1. They who are most favored by God must expect the severest judgment if they prove unfaithful to him. The Jews were a favored people. Their privileges were great; if they abused these their guilt and consequent punishment must be proportionately great. Therefore, instead of considering the past mercies of God as a ground for expecting to escape the penalties of our offences, we should see in them the measure of his future severities upon us if we sin in face of the special inducements to devotion afforded by those mercies.
2. The revelation of impending judgment is a great motive for faithful preaching. This vision of the seething pot is given to Jeremiah to rouse him to undertake his prophetic duties. A large part of his work consisted in gloomy predictions of coming doom. This was peculiar to the age. There are ages when similar preaching is especially appropriate. But as sin always makes for death the preacher is always called to raise a voice of warning.
II. THE VISION OF THE SEETHING POT ILLUSTRATES THE CHARACTER OF THE APPROACHING DOOM.
1. It is gradually prepared. The vessel is slowly heated to the boiling point. The guilt of sin accumulates and the evil consequences gather in force until they burst upon the victim with the energy of long pent-up wrath.
2. It breaks forth suddenly. Suddenly the vessel boils over. Judgment may be delayed and gradual in the preparation, and yet suddenly surprise us when at length it falls upon us.
3. It is violent and overwhelming, as the seething pot suggests fury, tumult, and, in its boiling over, a rushing forth of its scalding contents.
III. THE VISION OF THE SEETHING POT SUGGESTS THE SOURCE OF THE APPROACHING DOOM. The pot was turned towards the south and heated by fires in the north.
1. Punishment may come from the most unlikely quarter. The Jews had turned to Babylon for friendship, and from Babylon came their ruin. Our most trusted friends may become the instruments of our keenest suffering.
2. Lawless violence may be overruled by providence to work the ends of God's righteous laws. The doom is not to come from within the range of the theocracy and through the influence of those who consciously executed the Divine decree, but from far-off regions, wholly beyond the light of Israel's religion. Thus God makes the wrath of man to praise him. So storms and earthquakes, revolutions and invasions, tumults in nature and tumults in the human world, work ultimate good results in clearing and purifying the air, sweeping away pestilent corruption, and preparing for a new and wholesome order.
3. The more luxurious Southern races have frequently been visited by terrible invasions of hardier races from the North. The Scythians in the East, the Goths in the West, were scourges of God, and wholesome scourges, helping to reform the corrupt and indolent peoples who lived in dread of their invasions. We should see wise and good purposes of providence in these terrible events of general history, as we see them in the special history of Israel.
Encouragements to fidelity.
It was no easy matter for Jeremiah, young, modest, and sensitive, to come boldly forward and threaten the judgment of God against his country. But if God calls a man to any task, he will help him through with it, and Jeremiah receives encouragements proportionate to his duty.
I. THE DUTY. Consider what the duty of faithful service laid upon the prophet included.
1. Energy. He is to gird up his loins, and arise. God is not satisfied with passive submission to his will God cannot be faithfully served by the indolent. All our powers are required for his service, and they must be employed without distraction.
2. Obedience. Jeremiah is to speak just what God commands him. Fidelity is not simply devotion to God, it is devotion according to his will—the devotion of servants, not that of patrons.
3. Thoroughness. The prophet is to speak "all" that God commands him. It is treason for the ambassador to suppress those elements of his commission which are displeasing to himself. The servant of God must not select from the revelation of Divine truth the words which suit his purpose and neglect the rest. He is not to shun to declare "the whole counsel of God"—threats as well as promises, difficult sayings and mysteries as well as plainly acceptable doctrines.
4. Fearlessness. "Be not dismayed." Fear is not only painful; it is injurious by paralyzing effort. Cowardice is sin.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS. It is our duty to be faithful, though fidelity should bring our ruin; but such a result will not follow it. Consider the various inducements Jeremiah receives to a faithful discharge of his difficult task.
1. A revelation of momentous truths. God says, "Thou therefore gird up thy loins," etc. The word "therefore ' carries us back to the visions of the almond rod and the seething pot. The truths revealed in these visions themselves furnish a motive for the prophet to declare them. The seer should become a prophet. Truth is not the private property of the few; it is the rightful heritage of all. It is the duty of him who knows to enlighten the ignorant. More especially is this the case in regard to spiritual truths, practical truths, and truths which concern the highest welfare of mankind.
2. A warning of Divine displeasure. "Be not dismayed at them, lest I make thee indeed dismayed." The fear of God is a safeguard against the fear of man. Cowardice provokes danger. The Christian has no armor provided for his back.
3. An assurance of Divine protection. This is given in a succession of strong images, that it may be felt in all its certainty and importance. For we need not only to know that God will protect us, but to realize this if we are to be brave and strong. Thus Jeremiah is made to feel that, in spite of his youth and sensitiveness, he will be strong as a fortress and firm as brazen walls, none are so independent before men as they who are wholly dependent on God.
4. A promise of victory over opposition. The young prophet is taught to expect opposition.
(1) It is foolish to ignore the approach of trouble. A surprise sometimes leads to a defeat from very inferior foes. Danger foreseen is danger half overcome. The Bible never makes light of the difficulties and hardships of life (Luke 10:3).
(2) No ground of confidence is more inspiring than the knowledge that the danger clearly, fully apprehended will yet be certainly overcome. This was the assurance given to Jeremiah. The same assurance is offered to every faithful servant of God (Isaiah 43:1).
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
On Jeremiah's ministry in general. "It is sufficient," said our Savior, "that the disciple be as his Lord." Now, of all his servants few answered more closely to this description than did the prophet Jeremiah. In a very deep and real sense his life was a type of our Lord's. It is in the spiritual world as in the natural, a close resemblance exists between the separate parts and the entire organism to which they belong. The root, stem, bud, flower, fruit, and seed are each constructed on the same type as the tree itself. However widely diversified they may seem in form or function, their essential nature is the same. Hence every leaf is a miniature of the tree on which it grows; trunk, branches, foliage, are each patterned in it. And likewise every branch is but a reproduction on a smaller scale of the whole tree. (MacMillan) But this is only what we find constantly exemplified in the spiritual world. What miniature lives of Christ are those of men like Joseph, Moses, David, and many more! And amongst such as are illustrious in this respect stands Jeremiah. Like him, the consciousness of the Divine call was with him from childhood (cf. Luke 2:49 and Jeremiah 1:6). He too was persecuted with murderous hate by his own townsmen. As Christ was driven from Nazareth, so was Jeremiah from his native Anathoth (Jeremiah 12:6). His vehement denunciations of the corrupt priests and prophets of his day remind us of the reiterated woes pronounced by our Lord on the "scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites," of his day. Like our Lord, Jeremiah also was the prophet who stood nearest to and told most plainly of the dread catastrophe which overwhelmed Jerusalem and her people. Jeremiah was the prophet of Jerusalem's destruction by the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar; our Lord of the like destruction by the Roman Titus. Both beheld the glories of the temple, and both told of the swiftly coming days when there should "not be left one stone upon another, which should not be thrown down." The footsteps of him who, beyond all others, was "despised and rejected of men," Jeremiah, in so far as it was possible to him, anticipated. The bitter tears shed by our Savior over impenitent Jerusalem are shadowed forth in the prophet's prolonged and profound lament over his own idolatrous and disobedient countrymen. His well-known words, "Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?" uttered concerning the sorrows of Jerusalem and her people, have come to be so universally appropriated to our Lord, that the prophet's own deep distress which they tell of, and the occasion of that distress, are alike almost if not entirely forgotten. "His sufferings come nearest of those of the whole army of martyrs to those of the Teacher against whom princes, and priests, and elders, and people were gathered together." To him, as to the great apostle, was it given to know "the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and to be made conformable unto his death." And we may venture to prolong the parallel, and to apply to Jeremiah the august words which, in their supreme meaning, can belong to but One alone. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." In that high recompense Jeremiah, so far as any servant of God may, shares. For the honor in which his name came to be held was very great. As time rolled on he was regarded as the chief representative of the whole prophetic order. By some he was placed at the head of all the prophets. At the time of the Christian era his return was daily expected. He was emphatically thought to be "the Prophet"—'the Prophet like unto Moses,' who should close the whole dispensation." No wonder, then, that one devout student after another has been struck by the closeness of the resemblance here briefly pointed out, and has delighted to trace in the prophet's history foreshadowings of the "Man of Sorrows," who, more than any other, was acquainted with grief.—C.
Introductory statements concerning Jeremiah's parentage and period of his ministry.
I. HIS PARENTAGE. He was the son of Hilkiah, not that Hilkiah who was high priest during the reign of Josiah, but of some similarly named priest. Even amid the terrible corruptions of that period, there appear to have been a few faithful souls who held fast to the fear of the Lord. We have their names, Huldah, Shallum, Baruch, etc. From amidst these Jeremiah sprang. The Lord can call and convert and consecrate to his work whom he will; but his more common way is to come to the habitations of his people, when he would find some whom he destines for special and honored service. The homes of the godly are the hope of the Church. Amidst the children of the believing are to be found those whom God will generally employ to carry on his work. This is one way in which the promise is fulfilled, "Them that honor me I will honor."
II. HIS PROFESSION. He belonged to the priesthood. Terrible are the charges which are brought against the priests and prophets of that day. They had reached the limit of utmost degradation. They are said to "deal falsely," to be "profane;" and their conduct is described as "a wonderful and horrible thing." Yet Jeremiah belonged to this deeply fallen class. How difficult must have been his position! how constant his resistance to the contagion of their example and influence! When from amongst those who are of the same order, who have common interests, common duties, and who are thrown together in so many and close relationships, one stands aloof and turns upon his companions in severe and solemn rebuke as Jeremiah did, such a one needs to be strong as "a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls" (verse 18) Jeremiah stands before us as a noble proof that the tide of evil, however strongly it may run, may yet be resisted; none are of necessity borne down by it but, by the same grace which was given to Jeremiah, they may stem the fierce current and defy its power. Ten thousand of the saints of God have done this; why should not we?
III. THE REASON OF ALL MEN COUNTING HIM AS A PROPHET. "The word of the Lord came unto him." He did not say, "I am a prophet;" but all men felt he was. For his words had power; they were mighty to the pulling down of the strong holds of sin. It was not simply that he announced that there should be a "rooting out and pulling down" (cf. verse 10), but the words which he spoke so wrought in men's minds that these results followed. Hence men, conscious of the power of his words, confessed that it was "the word of the Lord" which had come to him. This is the old prophetic word which, whenever spoken, constrains men to confess the presence of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:25). And St. Peter (2 Peter 1:19) says concerning it, "We have, surer still, the prophetic word." "More sure," he meant, than even the wondrous voice and vision of "the holy mount," for that was but a transient testimony given once and to the three favored apostles of the Lord alone; but the prophetic word, that which woke up the response in men's hearts, and by which the secrets of each soul were disclosed—that was a more constant, more universal, more powerful, and therefore a more sure testimony than aught beside. And the occasions when this "word of the Lord" comes to any of his servants are well known. See how particular and definite the dates are here. "In the thirteenth year of the reign of King Josiah. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim," etc. The coming of the word of the Lord to any soul is a marked and memorable period. He through whom that word is spoken is conscious of an unusual power, he realizes the Divine presence in an altogether unusual manner. He is more passive than active. It is said of the holy men of old, that they "spake as they were moved [borne along] of the Holy Ghost," and this, St. Peter declares (2 Peter 1:21), is ever a characteristic of the prophetic word. And those who hear the word know that the Lord is speaking through his servant. Listlessness and unconcern give way to serious concern. Some can tell the very day and hour when they first heard the "word of the Lord." They had listened to sermons and read the Scriptures again and again, but one day they felt that the Lord himself was speaking to them, and they could not but give heed. Like as the people of Judah and Jerusalem knew when the voice of God, though they despised it to their ruin, was speaking to them, so do men now. And if we have heard it for our salvation, the time, the place, the speaker, will often be vividly remembered in connection with it, like as those who heard Jeremiah knew the very year when the "word of the Lord came" to him. It is ill for both hearers and speakers alike if they be unable to point to periods when they were conscious that "the word of the Lord" came to them. For a preacher never to realize the sacred glow and the uplifting of soul which accompany the utterance of the prophetic word; or for a hearer to have so dulled his conscience, so destroyed his spiritual ear, that though the word of the Lord be spoken his heart never responds, his soul never realizes the presence of God;—from the sin and sorrow of either may God mercifully save us.
IV. THE DATE AND DURATION OF JEREMIAH'S MINISTRY. We are told when it began, and how long it lasted. It began when the evil days for Judah and Jerusalem were drawing very near. It was in vain that the devout King Josiah endeavored to turn back the hearts of the people to the Lord God of their fathers. But though the long-suffering of God had been so tried and was now almost ceasing, yet, ere they were given up to the punishment which was their due, God raises up his servant Jeremiah and the band of faithful men who stood by him (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15-21). For forty years—for that is the period covered by the reigns of the several kings spoken of—Jeremiah exhorted, warned, entreated, threatened, prayed, wept; but all in vain. Therefore God's wrath at length rose against them, and there was no remedy. "Behold the goodness and the severity of God!" How reluctantly will he abandon any to the results of their own ways! how slow is he to let come upon them that which they have long deserved! Yea, he is the long-suffering God. But whilst we fail not to remember and to rejoice in this, let us not fail either to remember and to dread the other equally sure fact, that "God is a consuming fire" to those who set at naught all his counsel, and will have none of his reproof (Proverbs 1:24-33). Those to whom Jeremiah prophesied found it so, and so will all who sin in like manner now.—C.
The dread commission.
I. WHAT WAS IT? (Cf. Jeremiah 1:10.) It was to denounce the judgments of God against his people. At the end of the commission there is mention made of "building and planting;" but the chief charge is of an altogether opposite character. Jeremiah was set over the nations "to root out, and to pull down, to destroy, and to throw down." It was a terrible undertaking. He was to spare no class, no rank, no order. Kings, princes, priests, and people were all to be alike solemnly warned of the sure judgments that were coming upon them. And the like work has to be done now. How prone we all are to speak with bated breath of the retribution of God! how ready, to ourselves and to others, to explain away or to soften down the awful words of God against sin and the doers thereof! Preachers and teachers of God's truth, beware lest the blood of those who perished because you warned them not be required at your hands (Ezekiel 33:6)!
II. BUT IT IS A DREAD COMMISSION. The shrinking of Jeremiah from it is manifest all through this chapter. Before the heavy burden which he was to bear was fully disclosed to him, he exclaims (verse 6), "Ah, Lord God! behold I cannot speak: for I am a child." And the assurances, aids, and encouragements which are given him all show how much needed to be done ere his reluctance and trembling fear could be overcome. The whole chapter tells of God's gracious preparation of his servant for the arduous work he had to do. And whosoever now undertakes like work, if he have no realization of its solemnity and burden, it is plain that God has not called him to speak in his Name. To hear a man tell of the awful doom of the impenitent in a manner that, if it be not flippant, yet seems to relish his task, and to hail it as an opportunity for rhetorical display, is horrible in the extreme, and will do more to harden men in sin than almost anything beside. The subject is so sad, so serious, so terrible, that he who believes in it at all will be sure to sympathize with the prophet's sensitive shrinking from the work to which he was ordained. If when sentencing criminals who have broken the laws of man to their due punishment, humane judges often break down in tears, though their punishment touch not the soul,—how can any contemplate the death that is eternal unmoved or without the most solemn compassion and tenderest pity? And to increase the fear and shrinking with which Jeremiah regarded the work before him, there was the seeming presumption of one so young—little more than "a child" in years, experience, or knowledge—undertaking such a work. The hopelessness of it also. As well might a sparrow think to fly full in the face of a hurricane, as for the young prophet to think to stay the torrent of sin which was now flooding and raging over the whole life of his people. Sin and transgression of the grossest kind had become their habit, their settled custom, their ordinary way. All that he had to tell them they had heard again and again, and had despised and forgotten it. What hope of success was there, then, for him? And the fierceness of the opposition he would arouse would also deter him from the work. It was not alone that the faces (verse 17) of kings, princes, priests, and people would darken upon him, but they would (verse 19) "fight against" him, as we know they did. Well, therefore, might he say, "Ah, Lord! I cannot." And today, how many are the plausible reasons which our reluctant hearts urge against that fidelity in such work as Jeremiah's which God requires at our hands! But God will not allow them. See—
III. HOW HE CONSTRAINED JEREMIAH TO UNDERTAKE THIS WORK.
1. Verse 5: he gave him certainty as to his being called to the prophetic work. To know that we are indeed called of God to any work is an unfailing source of strength therein.
2. Verse 7: he made him feel that necessity was laid upon him; thou shalt go; thou shalt speak. (Cf. Paul s Yea, woe is me, etc.) So Jeremiah himself afterwards says (Jeremiah 20:9) God s word was like "a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." What a help to the preacher of God's truth is such a conviction as this!
3. Verse 8: he promised his presence and delivering grace. Consciousness of security and safety in God will give a dauntless courage in the face of any and of all opposition.
4. He gave him special qualifications for his work. Words and power of speech (verse 9). Immovable and unflinching strength of will, a determination and resolve that would not waver (verse 18).
5. He showed him that the rooting up and the destruction were not ends in themselves, but to lead on to planting and to building afresh (verse 10). To know that we are working on to a good and blessed end is no small encouragement to us in working through all manner of difficulty to reach that end.
6. He made him vividly realize the nature and nearness of the judgments he foretold. This was the purpose of the visions of the rod of the almond tree and the seething pot (verses 11-15; for explanation, see exegesis). The first vision told of God's judgment close at hand. The second, of the quarter whence these judgments come, and of the fierce; furious character of the foes who should come upon them. Jeremiah was enabled to "see well" the visions, that is, to realize very forcibly what they meant. Oh, if we could but mere vividly realize what the anger of God is against sin; if we could have a vision of the wrath of God; with how much more power and urgency should we plead with men to flee from the wrath to come!
7. Verse 16: he reminds Jeremiah of the sins that called for these judgments. A deep sense of sin is indispensable to those who would earnestly warn of the doom of sin.
8. And (verse 19) God again gives his servant the blessed assurance, "They shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee to deliver thee." Thus did God equip the prophet and prepare him for his work. His God supplied all his need. It was a stern warfare on which he was to go, but he went not at his own charges. If we be summoned to difficult duty, we shall be supplied with all-sufficient strength. Only let us be careful to avail ourselves of the help assured, lest (verse 17) we be dismayed and God confound us before our enemies. Dread, therefore, no commission that God entrusts thee with, for along with it will ever be found the grace, all the grace, needed for its successful discharge.—C.
The ministry for a corrupt age.
I. MUST BE RAISED UP BY GOD. Such an age will have its ministers, but they will be prophets who will prophesy only smooth things. But a true ministry for such an age will not be produced by it, but be given to it from God. "See, I have set thee," etc.
II. WILL BE ENDUED WITH DIVINE POWER. "I have set thee over the nations …to root out," etc. None who contemplate the marvelous effects of such a ministry and compare them with the natural powers of him who exercises it, but must see that the ascendancy he has gained and the spiritual power he wields are of God and not of man.
III. WILL MAKE NO COMPROMISE WITH SIN. See the number and force of the words used to indicate the ruthless antagonism which the prophet would manifest toward the wickedness of his day. Nothing less than its complete overthrow would fulfill the ministry entrusted to him.
IV. WILL DEMAND ON THE PART OF THE PROPHET, AND WILL GAIN FROM THE GRACE OF GOD, A FEARLESS AND AN UNCONQUERABLE COURAGE. (Jeremiah 1:17,Jeremiah 1:18.)
V. ITS END AND RESULT BLESSED. "To build and to plant" (Jeremiah 1:10). The encumbered ground had first to be cleared and cleansed, but that done, the fabric of a true life should be up reared, and principles pure, holy, and blessed should have root in the hearts of all.—C.
I. WHAT WERE THEY? (Cf. verses 12-14.)
II. WHEREFORE WERE THEY? In all probability, for the sake of vividly impressing the mind of the prophet with the message he was to deliver, and so ensuring that that message should be delivered with greater power. Hence the question, "What seest thou?" (verse 11) was designed to arouse and arrest his attention, and for the same reason, when that attention had been awakened, the Divine commendation, "Thou hast well seen," is given. Cf. for similar questions and similar visions, verse 13; Jeremiah 24:3; Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 5:2, and in each case the motive seems to have been the same.
III. THEIR SUGGESTIONS FOR OURSELVES.
1. Concerning God's punishment of sin.
(1) Its not being apparent to us is no reason for denying it. Certainly the vision of the stem, or branch, of the almond tree would not to an ordinary observer have suggested it. Nor either the second vision, that of the seething pot, although that did undoubtedly present somewhat more of a troubled aspect. Yet both alike needed that their meaning and interpretation should be given. Their significance did not lie on the surface. Only a divinely illumined eye could see that the early-budding almond tree which, because of its outstripping other trees, being in advance of them all in yielding its fruit, was called the "wakeful" or watchful tree, meant that the Lord was watchful over his word to perform it." Nor was the interpretation of the second vision much more evident than that of the first. And so continually, in connection with ungodly men, there are events occurring and signs of varied kind are given, which to those who are taught of God tell plainly how God is "watchful over his word to perform it;" but to others they tell nothing of the kind. They are like the prophet's almond tree and seething pot, which had no meaning until that meaning was pointed out. The people of Judah and Jerusalem saw nothing in these circumstances, any more than in the prophet's visions, to alarm them very much. And so, still, ungodly men are at ease in the presence of facts and indications which fill those who believe God's Word with unspeakable alarm. How foolish, then, is it to take the unconcern, the powerlessness to understand God's signs, which characterize ungodly men, as any evidence of the unreality of that which God has declared! "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be," etc. Lot was as "one that mocked unto his sons-in-law." The Jews crucified our Lord because he saw so clearly and declared so plainly the character of their trusted leaders and the destruction that was coming—one even more terrible than that which Jeremiah foretold. But the Jews neither saw nor believed anything of the kind.
(2) Its being by means of natural laws does not make it the less God's punishment of sin. The rapid growth and yield of the almond tree was a perfectly natural thing: there was no interference with the orderly course which such forms of plant life assume. And the war between the empires of Egypt and Babylon, in the vortex and whirlpool of which Jerusalem was dragged in and dragged down; all this which the prophet's second vision told of, was it not the inevitable though sad misfortune of any diminutive power as was that of Judah and Jerusalem when placed in like circumstances? Her lot was east just in the place where the two raging seas of Egypt and Babylon met. What wonder if her poor little barque went to pieces beneath the violence of those waves? It was sad enough, but yet perfectly natural; indeed, one may say, inevitable. And so it would be quite possible to explain all God's punishment away, and to regard it like the early blossoming of the almond tree, and like the seething troubles which must come upon little kingdoms placed as Judah was, when great empires on either side of her go to war, as only what was to be expected, what was in keeping with the natural order of things. Let any one read Gibbon, and from his account of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, you would gather no idea of a Divine righteousness arising to inflict merited punishment on an awfully corrupt and degraded people. Believers in God can and do see this, but the great historian has not felt himself bound to point out any such cause of the long series of disasters which he so eloquently relates. The inspired prophet and seer of Patmos has, however, done this; and in the Book of the Revelation, the woes coming upon that blood-stained empire are told of in symbolic but terrible form, and in connection with that God-defying wickedness which was the source and cause of them all. And so today, under cover of the fact that God works according to the natural order of things, men evade the teaching of the events that befall them. Because God punishes sin by the action of his natural laws, men deny that he punishes sin at all. His hand is not recognized in it, and therefore no repentance is awakened. They deem themselves unfortunate, and that is all. If we would be more faithful with ourselves, we should "hear the rod and who hath appointed it," No calamities or disasters come without meaning and intent; they are sent for moral and spiritual purposes, however much they may appear to be but natural and necessary events. Each of them will own, if interrogated, "I have a message from God unto thee."
(3) It will increase in severity if there be need. The first vision is simply that of the almond tree; an emblem of gentleness rather than of severity. But the second vision, that of the boiling caldron, suggested a far ether and more terrible visitation (cf. the plagues in Egypt, which increased in terribleness as they went on). And it is ever so even unto the "consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
(4) It often comes from unexpected quarters. The "seething pet i, that the prophet saw had its face northward. Now, the reader of the history of the times of which our prophet tells—the times of King Josiah—will know that it was from the south, from Egypt, they expected that troubles would arise. And in the next chapter (verse 16) mention is made of trouble that did arise from that quarter, though what particular event is referred to it is not easy to say. But the great trouble was to come from the north, from the last quarter from which they anticipated it. King Josiah lost his life in doing good service to that northern power, the great Assyrian kingdom, by fighting against Egypt. It was not, therefore, to be expected that thence calamity would come. But nevertheless it was thence that their great overthrow and destruction came. And little do the transgressors against God ever know or even dream whence his judgments against them will arise. It is not only "in such an hour," but from such a quarter "as they think not, that the Divine displeasure breaks upon them. A transgressor against God is safe nowhere: nothing may be visible to his eye, everything may be going on in orderly course, and he may have full confidence that all is well. But notwithstanding this, events soon to happen may prove that he has wrongly read the whole of God's providence, and that his security is least where he thought it was greatest and most certain. Happy, and happy alone, is he who hath made the Lord God his trust, and whose hope the Lord is.
2. Concerning the Divine love. We have seen wherefore these visions were given. They reveal to us that Divine love which would warn men from ways which bring upon them such sore judgments. The desire of God to save guilty men, to leave nothing undone by which they may be turned and kept back from evil, is manifest in all this. He would not have his message miss its mark by reason of any lack of deep impression and vivid realization of the truth on the part of the messenger.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jehovah calls Jeremiah and gives him ample encouragements.
I. THE PURPOSE OF WHICH JEREMIAH WAS BROUGHT INTO EXISTENCE. This is stated in a very solemn and impressive way in verse 5. Jehovah presents himself to Jeremiah as he who formed him in the belly, and even before then recognized him as one who was to do a special work. So with regard to Moses, Isaac, Samuel. The circumstances of their birth direct our thoughts to the special ends to be worked out by their earthly life. To each of them the same words might have been spoken as to Jeremiah. Moreover, if true of them, this word is true of all. Jehovah is the Fashioner of all mankind, and since he does nothing without some purpose, it follows that for every one of us, equally with Jeremiah, there is a recognition, a consecrating, an ordaining. In a few instances there may be a special publication of the purpose, but the purpose itself is real in every instance. Therefore our business clearly is to find out what God would have us be, our eyes open to his presence, our ears to his voice. Then if we have discovered what God would have us be, if there is a deepening impression on our minds that we are in the right way, this very thought, that God saw the proper work of our life or ever we entered upon it, will assure us that the work cannot fail. We shall feel that requisite strength in the doing of it, and full success at the end of it, are made certain. The failings of life come—and it is easy to see that they must come—from putting our own purposes athwart the settled purpose of God. We may rebel against the work which he calls upon us to undertake, but it is very certain that any work put in its place must end in disappointment and disaster. To Jonah as to Jeremiah, God might have said somewhat the same as is here recorded. It is an awful thought for sinners, in the collapse of their own plans, that they might have been successful and rejoicing, if only they had been from the heart obedient to the plans of God.
II. THE ANSWERING PLEA OF JEREMIAH. An opposing plea it can hardly be called, but it is the not astonishing statement of a difficulty that from the human point of view looks very great. When God makes his first approaches to men, asking them to do something special, what is more natural than that they should see huge difficulties in the way of obedience? How fertile was the self-distrusting Moses in suggesting difficulties when God came to him in Horeb (Exodus 3:4)? Take special notice that the difficulties of such men as Moses and Jeremiah are not meant to be mere excuses, but are felt to be real reasons. Such is emphatically the position here. Jeremiah was but a lad; it is possible that he had net yet attained to what we should call a young man (Genesis 41:12; 1 Kings 3:7). At such an age one is valued for listening and learning rather than for talking. That the prophet made such an initial reply to Jehovah was a good sign rather than a bad one. Deep humility and a keen consciousness of natural weakness are welcome features in the man whom God would make his servant. It is tolerably certain that among the elders of Anathoth Jeremiah would have the reputation of being a quiet, unpretending lad. If a young man of another reputation had stood forward as a prophet, there would have been fair ground to charge him with presumption. But when one stands forward who ever looks doubtfully on his own abilities, is no self-asserter, and forms by preference a member in the background of every scene, such a standing forward at once suggests that there is some superhuman motive behind it. Jeremiah's plea is therefore a recommendation. Unconsciously he gives a valid certificate of fitness for his work. At the same time, this plea suggests all the difference which there is between the youthful Jeremiah and the youthful Jesus. Jesus in the temple seems in his natural element, not too young even at twelve years of age to show an ardent interest in all that concerned Divine worship and service.
III. THE AMPLE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH JEHOVAH GIVES TO JEREMIAH. In a few words, God puts before his servant all that is needed and all that can be supplied.
1. There will be clear commands from God, and from the prophet there must be corresponding obedience. Not with Jeremiah rests the deciding of whether he shall go here or there, or to what place first and to what last. He is always a sent man, and when he comes into the presence of his appointed audience, his message is a provided message. Thus it is ensured that he never finds himself in the wrong place or speaking at the wrong time. Well does God know how little we are able, of ourselves, to decide when to speak and when to be silent, what to say and what to leave unsaid.
2. One consequence of God's message faithfully delivered will be hostility and menace from the hearers, and therefore there is an exhortation to courage, and an indication of the ground which makes that courage possible. When Jeremiah gets into a certain presence and speaks a certain word he will be threatened. The threatening must be expected; it shows that the arrow of God's truth has found its home. All the powers of the human face will be called into malignant exercise against the prophet. The eye, the tongue, the muscles of the face will all be joined in strong combination to express the contempt and hatred filling the brain that lies behind. In no way can Jeremiah escape this experience; he must face the enemies, but in doing so he has the assurance that his Commander is near to deliver.
3. God makes now an actual communication to the prophet. The path is not yet taken, the audience is not yet in view, but by way of earnest inspiration the words of the Master are put into the servant's mouth. This of course was an indescribable experience. What it is to have the words of God in one's mouth can only be known by an actual enjoyment of the privilege. The only way in which we can discern how real and fruitful this experience was, is by observing its effect. There is no more hesitating, no turning from one answered plea to find another more cogent. Henceforth the prophet goes on steadily and faithfully in his mission, and his perfect service is best proved by this, that in due time he meets with the indicated opposition, and receives from God his promised protection.—Y.
The vast compass of the prophet's work.
I. THE WIDE EXTENT THE PROPHECIES COVER. Primarily they had to do with Jerusalem and Judah and all the families of the house of Israel. But this was only the beginning. They went on to affect in the most intimate way all the nations and the kingdoms. The principles of righteousness and truth and Divine authority concern all. They can no more be-kept within certain geographical bounds than can the clouds and rains of heaven. On this day, when the Great I AM came to the youthful Jeremiah, he set him over the nations and over the kingdoms, and here is the reason why these prophecies, with their grand ethical deliverances, have still such a firm hold upon Christendom, upon the Gentile just as much as the Jew. Wherever there still remains the worshipper of stocks and stones, wherever the oppressor is found, and the man who confides in the arm of flesh, and the man who is utterly indifferent to the glory of God,—then in that same place there is occasion to insist most strenuously upon the continued application of Jeremiah's words. The prophets were more than indignant patriots; they were and are still witnesses to an ideal of humanity, nowhere regarded as it ought to be, and only too often neglected, if not contemptuously denied. He who came forth to condemn his own people for lapsing into idolatry did thereby equally condemn other nations for not departing from it. The gospel for every creature is preceded by a body of prophecy, which is shown also to concern every creature, not by laborious inference, but by such explicit words as we find in this verse.
II. THE DEPTH OF THE WORK TO WHICH THESE PROPHECIES POINT. The work is not only wide; it is deep as it is wide. The ultimate aim is set forth in two figures:
On these two figures Paul dwells very suggestively in writing to the Corinthians. The constructive work of God in the human soul needs more than one figure sufficiently to illustrate it. But all true building must be on a sufficient foundation; all Divine planting, if it is to come to anything, must be in a suitable soil. Hence there goes beforehand an unsparing work, to destroy things already in existence. Buildings already erected must be pulled down; plants already growing must be uprooted and put beyond the chance of further growth. We have done things which ought to have been left undone; and the word to Jeremiah is that they must be undone, in order that the things which ought to be clone may be fully done. The terms indicating destruction are multiplied to emphasize the need, and prevent escape into ruinous compromise. There must be no tacking on of a new building to certain humanly cherished parts of the old. Constructions after the will of God must not be liable to a description such as that of the image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream; all must be strong, pure, and beautiful from basement to summit. In the garden of the Lord there can be no mixing of heavenly and earthly plants. A clean sweep—such is necessitated for the glory of God and the blessedness of man. Thus at the very first is given a hint of the hostility which Jeremiah would provoke. Pulling down means the expulsion of self from its fortress, and its bereavement of all that it valued. Every brick detached, every plant uprooted, intensified the enmity one degree more. "Destroy," "overthrow," are the only words that can be spoken as long as anything remains in which human pride and selfishness take delight. But at the same time, the prophet goes forth to build and to plant. He takes nothing away but what he leaves something infinitely better behind. When God sends a messenger to us, his great first word is "thorough;" and even though he has to make his way through human pains, tears, murmurings, and semi-rebellions, he keeps to the word. Remember, then, that he who pulls down also builds; he who uproots also plants; and he builds and plants for eternity.—Y.
The almond tree and the seething pot.
He who put his word into the prophet's mouth also put a new power of vision into his eyes, and gave him to see signs such as tended to fix permanently in his mind deep convictions with regard to the power and purposes of God. Thus the prophet was assured of his ability to see more than others could see. Both through eye and ear he was fortified in the consciousness that his prophetic office was no empty boast.
I. THE ROD OF THE ALMOND TREE. Probably much such a rod as those which were laid up in the tabernacle overnight in order to certify beyond all question the divinely appointed office of Aaron (Numbers 17:1-13.). This narrative, we may be pretty sure, would be transmitted with special care from generation to generation of the priesthood, and to it the mind of Jeremiah may at once have turned. That rod which once helped the priest is now found helping the prophet. It was the sign of how much living and fructifying energy might break forth where there was only the appearance of death. The auditors of Jeremiah's prophecies might say they saw no sign of impending calamities. In all self-confidence they might say, "Peace and prosperity will last out our time." And so Jeremiah goes forth with the remembrance of the almond rod, well assured that by God's power the most unexpected things may happen with the utmost suddenness. The words of prophecy may long lie dormant, and some may treat them as dead and obsolete; but none can toll at what moment the long quiescent may start into the most vigorous activity. Was it not all at once, after a long period of quietude, that Jesus came forth with a sudden outburst of miraculous energy and teaching wisdom? It is precisely those who have been long dead in trespasses and sins who sometimes startle the world by a sudden exuberance of the Divine life within them.
II. THE SEETHING POT. Here again is the exhibition of energy, and a sudden and irresistible change from quiet into furious and threatening movement. A pot boiling over with the vehemence of the fire under it, is an excellent emblem of how God can stir up his destroying wrath against the rebellious. What can be quieter than the water as it lies in the pot? what quieter than the fuel before it is kindled? and yet the light touch of a very small flame sends fuel and water into activity, and that activity soon rises into fury. The water that only a few minutes ago was still and cold is now turbulent and scalding. Just in the same way, God can take these "families of the kingdoms of the north," and make them the instruments of his wrath and chastisement, little conscious as they are of all the use to which they are being put. Everywhere in close proximity to us there are latent forces of destruction, and these with startling rapidity may become patent. Consider how soon the beautiful and cheering heavens may be filled with the elements of deadly storm.—Y.
The consequence of unreasonable fear.
God has already exhorted. Jeremiah courage, and given him the strongest assurances of his own unfading presence. But now he adds warning. Fear of the enemies of God will bring not only suffering but shame. The man who goes out to fight for his country, and turns in cowardice on the day of battle, only escapes the enemy to die a disgraceful death at the hands of his own people. To meet the threatenings of men, we must have in our hearts not only the strength of God but the fear of God. Those who turn from the weapons of God's enemies, whom in God's strength they should meet and conquer, find God himself in arms against them. He himself visibly and signally confounds the unfaithful, and thus even in the unfaithfulness of the messenger he who sends him is all the more honored. As yet, of course, Jeremiah had not been tried, and all through his prophecies there is no sign that personal fear ever entered his mind. He had a very sensitive nature; he was often, almost continually one may say, the subject of depressing emotion, but the fear of no man, however dignified and powerful that man might be, deterred him from a plain exposure of his misdoings. And yet, although the prophet did not fall into unfaithfulness, it was well to warn him beforehand. Warning never comes unsuitably to any servant of God. He who stands should never take it amiss if he be exhorted to take heed lest he fall. And all the securing words with which God follows up the warning here do not make that warning one whir less needful. The prophet was to become like a fortress, as far as God could surround him with protection; but all the protection would avail him nothing, if he became careless as to his own believing connection with God. When faith fails, the whole spiritual man becomes vulnerable, and to become vulnerable soon leads to being actually wounded.—Y.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
A protracted ministry.
The ministry of Jeremiah attracts attention because of its length, the varied scenes amidst which it was carried on, and the external aspect of failure worn by it from first to last. May there not be in these and other respects a moral attaching to it for those who in distant ages can regard it as a whole, and in connection with the subsequent Divine evolution of events of which it spoke? Contrast it with that of John the Baptist.
I. ITS BACKGROUND OF CIRCUMSTANCE. Five reigns: for the most part brief; two of them ridiculously or tragically so. Beginning in a fitful flush of religious enthusiasm, and ending in a long and shameful captivity. Foreign politics were unusually interesting. The Merle-Babylonian overthrow of Syria was about to take place when he began; in the twenty-third year of his ministry Nebuchadnezzar laid the foundation of Baby-Ionian empire in the victory of Carchemish, in which Israel was subdued, and universal rule passed into his hands; the invasion of Judaea followed in four years, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah Jerusalem was taken. Personally his had been a checkered career. For twenty-two years comparatively obscure; for the most part probably at Anathoth. But towards the end of this period he came to Jerusalem. We find him in the temple (Jeremiah 7:2); in the gates of the city (Jeremiah 17:19); in prison (Jeremiah 32:2); in the king s house (Jeremiah 22:1; Jeremiah 37:17); and then at times in Egypt. There are two traditions as to his death—one that he was stoned by the Jews in their settlement at Tahapanes, in Egypt; the other that Nebuchadnezzar, having in the twenty-seventh year of his reign conquered Egypt, took him and Baruch with him to Babylon. In any case, he probably lived to an extreme age.
II. ITS MESSAGE. To warn against idolatry, by exposing its real nature and declaring its consequences. Bat through all and beyond all, to declare the indestructibleness of the kingdom of God, the certain advent of "The Lord our Righteousness," and the ultimate glory and happiness of a redeemed and purified people. Of scarce any other prophet can it be said that his predictions were so absolutely, and to present perception hopelessly future. Yet is his tone on this account none the less believing and confident.
III. ITS DIVINE SIGNIFICANCE The "burden" of Jeremiah is identical from reign to reign, although the illustrative and occasioning circumstances vary. May we not say that:
1. The personality of the prophet had a place in the Divine intention? Certain we are that its influence was second only to that of his words, if even to that. His astonishment, sorrow, hope, etc; are all instructive and remarkable.
2. The word of God has to deal with the continuity and development of error, and will outlast it. The best antidote to error is the healthful development of truth. There is no phase of depravity, transgression, or unbelief for which the Word of God has not, in its historic evolution, some doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness. Revealed through human lips and lives by the operation of the Holy Spirit, it is a living, manifold growth, intimately associated with the vicissitudes of that human life it has to correct and redeem. There can never be a time when the gospel will have no word for the inquiring, wondering, suffering, sinning, unbelieving spirit of man.
3. The ministry of the prophet was a visible sign of the Divine long-suffering. "But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Romans 10:21; Isaiah 65:2). "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?" (Matthew 17:17).—M.
The call of the prophet.
As these are elements both ordinary and extraordinary in the prophetic office, so preparation, etc; for it must be of both kinds. Much that may be said of it will be applicable to all other service in God's Church; and there will be some conditions and circumstances that must necessarily be peculiar and abnormal. The behavior, too, of one called to such a high office must ever be interesting to observers.
I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH SUCH AN OFFICE SHOULD BE ASSUMED. Like Moses and others of whom we read, Jeremiah was of a backward and retiring disposition. It required insistence and remonstrance on the part of Jehovah to persuade him to undertake the task. His low thoughts of himself as contrasted with the mighty office to which he was called, held him back. There are some things that come most gracefully when they are spontaneous. The general duty, love, and service, owing by the creature to the Creator, etc; are of this kind. But for special work and appointment, requiring great qualifications and especial help of God, modesty and hesitation are a recommendation rather than otherwise. Our question, pointed first of all homewards, should be, "Who is sufficient for these things?" A feeling like this is helpful and preparative, as leading to the perception of the true strength and fitness that come from God, and to a constant dependence upon him. Many long idly for "some great thing to do," others hesitate because the thing is too great.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD PREPARES MEN FOR EXTRAORDINARY SERVICE IN HIS CHURCH. Where direction and impulse are needed revelation is made. The spirit of the prophet is not left in doubt. A hesitating, vacillating prophet were a worthless messenger to the faithless. Revelation is therefore made to him of:
1. His anticipative choice in the counsels of God. This predestinating grace of God is a frequent assertion of the Old Testament. It is a mystery we cannot fathom; but is consistent with the free choice of the subject addressed. It has its effect in the voluntary acceptance of the appointment through persuasion and appeal. A discovery of this nature can only -be for the few, who are called to especial responsibilities, etc; and has no reference to the general demands of duty, affection, zeal, which address themselves to all
2. Future Divine evidence, protection, and inspiration. God will be with him, and will fit him for all he has to do. So Christ to his disciples, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). This is to meet the exigencies of Divine service, and is not intended for personal aims and ends. Many a lowly worker in the Master's service is thereby endued with irresistible power. It is a conviction for which we are encouraged to seek grounds and assurances.
3. Authority amongst the nations to destroy and to restore. This is a moral investment. Just as God enforces truth and righteousness with accompanying mysterious sanctions, so he clothes his messenger with an authority the consciences of men will recognize even when their perversity of will inclines them to disobey.
How much of this spirit of certitude and conviction is needed for the ordinary life of the Christian? Have we the measure of it we require? or are we inefficient and useless because of our lack of it? There can be no question that such a spirit is inculcated by Christianity, and that reasonable grounds are afforded us all upon which to be thoroughly persuaded in our own mind. Let us act upon our deepest convictions and most unalterable certainties. This is the only way to attain to a sound apprehension of Divine things, and an efficient condition of service.—M.
What seest thou?
(cf. Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 5:2). The seer is encouraged and impelled to the exercise of his gifts. His first duty is plain, viz. to test his own powers of vision; and next, to ponder the significance of what he sees. So the spiritually endowed are summoned to the performance of the special work to which they have been called; and the newly discovered gift lifts them into a new sphere of responsibility and action.
I. GOD-GIVEN GIFTS ARE A STEWARDSHIP TO BE EXERCISED WITH THE UTMOST CAREFULNESS AND ENDEAVOR.
II. WE CANNOT TELL HOW HIGHLY WE ARE ENDOWED UNTIL WE TRY OURSELVES TO THE UTMOST; AND THE BEST GIFTS MAY BE IMPROVED BY CULTIVATION.
III. THE WELFARE OF MULTITUDES MAY DEPEND UPON THE FAITHFULNESS OF ONE. Of many it might be asked, "Do they see at all?" Vision is a Divine gift to those who are to be leaders of men; and in lesser measure is given to all for their salvation if they will but open their eyes.—M.
(For the first fig, cf. Matthew 24:32.) The vision of the prophet is twofold, viz. a wakeful almond rod, and a boiling pot. They are symbols of quick accomplishment and violent invasion. As the almond rod is wakeful or ready to sprout when planted, and "first to wake from the sleep of winter," so the evils prepared by God will be quickly brought to pass. The boiling pot would seem to be the Chaldeans, who invaded Israel from the north. As swiftly and violently as the pot boils over, so will God make the wrath of men to praise him. The ills are swiftly approaching, but they are self-produced by Israel. When we compare this statement with the forgiving character of God, we must feel how great the sin and the provocation that could so move him. Yet on the very edge of his destroying vengeance he remembers mercy, and will have his people repent. Notice—
I. SINNERS MUST NOT CONCLUDE THAT THEY ARE SAFE BECAUSE OF PRESENT IMMUNITY. Jeremiah was as the eye of Israel just opened to the impending dangers. Many would even now reject his message; but the warning is given:
1. Through an intensely sensitive mind, that it may produce a vivid impression upon the imagination and heart of those who hear the prophet.
2. Seasonably, that although but a short time remains, there may be opportunity of repentance and reform.
II. GOD BEGINS THE CHASTISEMENT OF HIS PEOPLE GENTLY, BUT IF THEY REPENT NOT HE WILL INCREASE AND HASTEN HIS JUDGMENTS UNTIL THE EVIL IS WHOLLY AT AN END. The first emblem is one of rapid yet natural development; it is otherwise indefinite. The second is more suggestive of punishment and destruction. The first speaks only of such punishment as may be needed from time to time, and of the unceasing vigilance of the offended God; the second is sudden, overwhelming, and beyond all reckoning or measurement.
III. IDOLATRY IS THE SIN OF WHICH GOD IS MOST INTOLERANT. It is the transfer of affection and trust to an unworthy object, and an insult to God and degrading to themselves. They who indulge in it are warned that their punishment will be constant and rapidly successive; and that they are on the brink of signal, terrible manifestation of Divine wrath.—M.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The prophet's call.
We see in the case of Jeremiah a striking instance of a man constrained by force of circumstance and by a Divine call to occupy a position and to do a kind of work for which he was not naturally either qualified or disposed. Of a highly sensitive and timid nature, a tender heart, a desponding spirit, he was inclined to mourn in secret over the abounding evils of the time rather than publicly to rebuke them. But as soon as the Divine summons comes to him, he "confers not with flesh and blood," he forgets his fears and infirmities, and for forty long years patiently withstands the tide of iniquity and adversity—a noble example of blended tenderness and strength. In this account of the prophet's call, note—
I. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE RAISING UP OF MEN TO DO HIS WORK. Jeremiah was "known" and "sanctified"—dedicated by God to his sacred office—before his birth. His "ordination," appointment, now is but the fulfilling of an antecedent Divine purpose and choice. Most of the illustrious men of old bear some conspicuous mark of such Divine election upon them, e.g. Moses, Gideon, Samson, Cyrus. St. Paul devoutly recognized it in himself, in spite of all his blind hostility to the name of Christ in former years (Galatians 1:15). We fail too often to take sufficient note of this mystery of God's foreknowledge and predetermination underlying the progress of the kingdom of truth and righteousness in the world. And yet we understand its history, we get at the heart and core of its meaning, only so far as we look through all surface appearances and, holding fast to the equally sure principles of human freedom and responsibility, discern the will that works out steadily, through chosen instruments, its own eternal purpose.
II. THE SHRINKING OF A LOWLY SPIRIT FROM A POSITION OF EXTRAORDINARY DIFFICULTY AND DANGER. "Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child." This was the honest expression of conscious personal unfitness.
1. The feeling was very honorable to him. Who that knows himself would not tremble on being summoned to such a work? To take up a solemn responsibility with a light heart and easy self-confidence is the mark of a vain spirit that courts rebuke. He who has any true sense of the greatness of his mission from God will often
"Lie contemplating his own unworthiness."
2. It was a sign of his real fitness for the work. Humility is the basis of all that is great and good in human character and deed. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." The cry, "Who is sufficient for these things?" is a symptom of inherent nobleness and slumbering power. Jeremiah's feeling that he was "but a child," prepared him the better to become the representative of the Divine majesty and the vehicle of Divine strength.
III. THE SPIRITUAL CONSTRAINT OF WHICH ALL TRUE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE CONSCIOUS. The prophetic inspiration came upon him and compelled him to delay his message. "The word of the Lord was in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones, … and he could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9). A Divine commission thus asserting itself in the inward consciousness of him who received it, might well be called the "burden of the Lord." Great reformers, preachers, missionaries, martyrs, have ever been moved by some such Divine afflatus. So felt Peter and John before the Jewish Council: "We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). So felt St. Paul: "Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16). "Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak." He must "speak" who is thus commanded; he must "go" who is thus sent.
IV. THE COURAGE AND STRENGTH WITH WHICH GOD ENDOWS ALL WHO THUS OBEY HIS BIDDING. The ministry of Jeremiah is a signal example of the way in which the grace of God may clothe [the most timid spirit with dauntless energy and victorious power. He will never be "afraid of the faces of men," who knows that the Lord is with him. The fear of God casts out all other fear. Many a "little child ' has thus become preternaturally brave; "out of weakness made strong." The history of the kingdom of God among men abounds with illustrations of the way in which he "chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." And every patient, heroic Christian life bears witness to the sufficiency of his grace. You can glory even in infirmities, reproaches, necessities, and distresses, if the "power of Christ" does but rest upon you (2 Corinthians 12:9, 2 Corinthians 12:10).
V. THE MASTERY OF TRUTH OVER ALL THE HOSTILE POWERS OF THE WORLD. Jeremiah was "set over the nations and over the kingdoms," not as a prince, but as a prophet; not as wielding any form of mere brute force, but as the instrument of that silent energy of truth that casts down the strongholds of Satan in every land. His word was "like a fire and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" (Jeremiah 23:29). Divine truth is the mightiest of all forces alike to" root out and to pull down … to build and to plant." The sovereignty of the world is his of whom it is written, "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4). The "many crowns" are on the head of him whose "Name is called The Word of God."—W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany