Painfully exercised by the mysteries of the Divine government, the prophet opens his grief to Jehovah. Righteous art thou, etc.; rather, Righteous wouldest thou be, O Jehovah, if I should plead with thee; i.e. if I were to bring a charge against thee, I should be unable to convict thee of injustice (comp. Psalms 51:4; Job 9:2). The prophet, however, cannot refrain from laying before Jehovah a point which seems to him irreconcilable with the Divine righteousness. The rendering, indeed, must be modified. Let me talk with thee of thy judgments should rather be, yet will I debate questions of right with thee. The questions remind us of those of Job in Job 21:1-34; Job 24:1-25. Thus to have been the recipient of special Divine revelations, and to be in close communion with God, gives no security against the occasional ingress of doubting thoughts and spiritual distress. Wherefore are all they happy, etc.? rather, secure. The statement must be qualified by what follows. In the general calamity the wicked still fare the best.
Far from their reins; i.e. from their heart (the seat of strong impulses and desires); comp. Psalms 16:7; Psalms 26:2.
Hast seen me, and tried; rather, seest me, and triest. Pull them out. Perhaps this is correct, and there is an allusion to the figure of the plant in Jeremiah 12:2. But the verb need mean no more than "separate" (comp. Jeremiah 6:29). Prepare them; literally, consecrate them, as victims for the sacrifice.
How long, etc.? The verse is decided rather differently by the Hebrew accents. The question should end at wither, and the following words run on. Every field should be the whole field (i.e. open country). The connection has caused some difficulty. But drought is constantly described as a judgment (Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 5:24, Jeremiah 5:25; Jeremiah 14:2-7; Jeremiah 23:10), and it is a prophetic doctrine that the lower animals suffer for the fault of man. Because they said; rather, because they say. The speakers are the ungodly. The subject of the following verb is uncertain. Some think it is God; but when God is said to "see" (i.e. take notice of) anything, it is always something actually existing. The subject must, therefore, be the prophet, of whom the ungodly scoffingly declare, He shall not see our last end, because his predictions are mere delusions.
Jeremiah's impatience corrected. The expressions are evidently proverbial. The opposition to the prophet will reach a still higher pitch; and if he is so soon discouraged, how will he bear his impending trials? And if in the land of peace, etc.? a second figure, the translation of which needs amending. If (only) in a land of peace thou art confident, how wilt thou do in the pride of Jordan? The "pride of Jordan" means the thickets on its banks, which were notorious as the haunts of lions (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3). " Lions' bones have been found by Dr. Roth in the gravel of the Jordan. Lions are seldom or never found now west of the Euphrates, although they occasionally cross the river" (Revelation W. Houghton, 'Bible Educator,' 1.22).
An example of the "treachery" referred to in Jeremiah 12:1; a conspiracy against Jeremiah in his own family. Have called a multitude after thee; rather, have called aloud after thee, as one raises a hue and cry after a thief.
A separate prophecy. The key to it is in 2 Kings 24:1, 2 Kings 24:2, where it is related that, after Jehoiakim's rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, "Jehovah sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it." The prophecy falls into two strophes or sections, 2 Kings 24:7-13 and 2 Kings 24:14-17. In the first we have a complaint of the desolation produced by the guerilla warfare; in the second, a prediction of the captivity of the hostile peoples, not, however, without a prospect of their return home and conversion to Jehovah. It is evident enough that this passage stands in no connection with what precedes. The whole tone is that of a description of present scenes and not of the future. Sometimes, no doubt, a prophet, in the confidence of faith, represents the future as though it were already past; but there is always something in the context to determine the reference and prevent ambiguity. Here, however, there is nothing to indicate that the description relates to the future; and it is followed by a prediction which presupposes that the preceding passage refers to the literal past.
I have forsaken mine house. The "house" is here not the temple, but the people of Israel, as the parallel clause shows (see Hosea 8:1, and setup. Hebrews 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15). Jehovah, not the prophet, is evidently the speaker. I have left; rather, I have east away. Into the hand of her enemies. The Hebrew is more expressive: "Into the palm of the hand." Bonomi has an engraving from the monuments of guests at a banquet, holding their drinking-vessels in the deeply hollowed palm of their hand. So here the people of Israel, in her weak, fainting state, needs only to be held in the quiet pressure of the palm of the hand. The remark and the illustration are due to Dr. Payne Smith.
The reason why Jehovah has given up his people. Israel (or, more strictly, Judah) has proceeded to open hostility against his God. He is unto me—or rather, has become unto me—as a lion in the forest; a familiar circumstance (comp. on Jeremiah 12:5 and Jeremiah 4:7). Therefore have I hated it. "To hate" is a strong expression for the withdrawal of love, shown by the giving up of Israel into the power of his enemies, as Malachi 1:3 (Keil).
The first part of this verse is mistranslated. Instead of Mine heritage is unto me, etc; it should be, Is mine heritage unto me (i.e. to my sorrow, a dativus ethics) a colored bird of prey? Are birds of prey round about her? The passage is difficult, but the following seems the most plausible explanation:—Jehovah is represented as surprised to see his chosen people a prey to the heathen (a strongly anthropomorphic description, as if Jehovah had not anticipated that his "giving up" his people would have such sad results). It seems to him (adopting human modes of speech) as if Israel were "a colored bird of prey," the bright plumage of which excites the animosity of its less brilliant comrades, who gather round it and pull it to pieces. It is an allusion to the phenomenon, well-known to the ancients (Tacit; 'Ann.' 6.28; Suet; 'Caes.,' 81; Plin.,' Hist. Nat.,' 10.19), of birds gathering round and attacking a strange-looking bird appearing in their midst. The prophet might have simply said "a bird;" why does he say "a bird of prey (‛ayit)"? Probably because he has just described the hostile attitude of Israel towards Jehovah under the figure of a lion. Some particular, rare kind of vulture seems to be intended. Sennacherib apparently uses a cognate word ('it) for the vulture ('Taylor Cylinder,' 3. 68). Bochart and Gesenius, following the Septuagint, think "hyena," and not "bird of prey," is the right rendering in the first clause; but Gesenius does not offer any other passage for the meaning bestia rapax. Come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field. There is a parallel passage in Isaiah 56:9, where, as here, the "beasts of the field (i.e. the wild beasts of the open country) are the heathen powers employed as God's instruments for chastising Israel (comp. also Ezekiel 34:5, where the same figure occurs). "The prophet adopts the strongest way of expressing that Israel, utterly bereft of his natural defenders, lies at the mercy of the great heathen empire" (note on Isaiah 56:9). Come to devour; rather, bring them to devour.
Another simpler and more natural image, expressing the same idea, as these in Jeremiah 12:9. The favorite way of representing Jehovah's relation to his people is that of a vine-proprietor to his vineyard (see on Jeremiah 2:21). How would a vineyard be ruined if a band of shepherds were to drive their flocks among the tender vine-shoots! The many pastors (or, shepherds) are clearly Nebuchadnezzar and his generals (comp. Jeremiah 6:3). My pleasant portion. Jehovah is the "portion" of his people; his people and its land are the "portion" of Jehovah (see on Jeremiah 10:16). The epithet "pleasant" expresses the emotion of the surprised speaker.
Layeth it to heart; rather, laid it to heart. Inconsiderateness is repeatedly spoken of as an aggravation of the moral sickness of Israel (Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 57:1, Isaiah 57:11).
Upon an high places thresh the wilderness; rather, upon all bare heights in the wilderness (see on Jeremiah 3:2). Hardly with a reference to their pollution by idolatry; the mention of "the wilderness" (or pasture-country) suggests that it is merely a feature in the impoverishment of the country (a contrast to Isaiah 49:9). The sword of the Lord shall devour; rather, the Lord hath a sword which devoureth. It is the heavenly sword (Isaiah 34:5), the symbol of Divine vengeance (see below on Jeremiah 46:5).
A description in proverbial language of the absence of "peace" (literally, soundness, i.e. prosperity, security), from which "all flesh" in Judah at this time shall suffer. The trouble of sowing has been in vain, for they have reaped thorns (so we must render grammatically, and not shall reap, and in the next clause shall not profit ought to be have not profited). And they shall be ashamed of your revenues; rather, be ashamed then of your produce; but it is more natural to emend the pronominal suffix, and render, and are ashamed of their produce (the Authorized Version seems to have very nearly taken this easy step). It is, of course, the produce of husbandry which is referred to.
Here occurs a transition. The prophet comes forward with a denunciation in the name of Jehovah. All mine evil neighbors; the hostile, peoples, mentioned, in 2 Kings 24:1-20. My neighbors, because Jehovah "dwelleth in Zion." Pluck them out of their land; viz. by deportation into a foreign land. Judah and the neighboring nations shall share the same fate. This is indicated by the use of the same verb "to pluck out" in the next clause with reference to Judah. In the ease of Judah, however, to be "plucked out" is a mercy as well as a judgment, considering who they are "out of" whose "midst" the Jews are "plucked."
I will return, and have compassion. The rendering is too Hebraistic; the sense is simply, I will again have compassion. The prophets offer no partial or "nationalistic" view; of the mercy of God (comp. on Jeremiah 48:47).
Israel has been converted and restored, and if the other nations follow his example and swear by my name, i.e. adopt the religion of Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 19:18), they shall be rewarded by being suffered to dwell safely in Israel's midst. Observe the contrast with Jeremiah 12:14. Before, Israel had dwelt amidst them to his own detriment; now they shall dwell amidst Israel to their profit.
Jeremiah 12:1, Jeremiah 12:2
The prosperity of the wicked.
I. THE DIFFICULTY. The prosperity of the wicked was a difficulty of peculiar force to the Jews, since it seemed to contradict an item of their peculiar faith—the doctrine of temporal rewards and punishments. The difficulty is less to us Christians; but it is idle to deny its existence. It is threefold.
1. The success of wickedness. The treacherous plans of the wicked often succeed. Their violent actions are often unchecked and produce fatal results. How is it that these evil things are not frustrated before they ripen to perfection? That wicked men should plot evil, should attempt evil, we can imagine; but that they should be allowed to carry it out—often only because many accidents are favorable—this is hard to understand. "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?"
2. The security o/ the wicked. After they had succeeded we should expect that they would discover the vanity of their most prosperous efforts. But they not only attain their objects. They find these to be satisfactory, and are able to enjoy them with calm self-complacency. Here is the greater mystery: after completing their bad deeds the wicked are left in undisturbed enjoyment of the fruits of them. "Wherefore are all they secure that deal very treacherously?"
3. The Divine blessing apparently enjoyed by the wicked. Not only does their own work succeed, but Providence bestows favors upon them. Outside events of life over which they have no control minister to their prosperity. Here is the greatest element of the difficulty. God has planted them, and they enjoy fruitfulness through his help.
II. THE WAY TO TREAT THE DIFFICULTY.
1. Face it. Jeremiah boldly confronted his troublesome thoughts. People often try to hush up their doubts. The result is that a subtle spirit of skepticism spreads unconsciously through all their ideas, and its disintegrating influence undermines all solid faith. Suppressed doubt is fatal to sincerity. It begets indifference to truth. We cannot hold firmly the truths we know till we distinctly separate these from those we doubt. The suppression of doubt is cowardly. Doubt can only be conquered by being boldly confronted.
2. Do not charge God foolishly. Jeremiah did not accuse the justice of God. We are dim-sighted and weak in our judgment. Much of this great world must be a mystery to us. We must not assume that, because we cannot justify the ways of God, they admit of no justification. It is foolish as well as rebellious to presume to be the judge of God.
3. Bring the difficulty to God. Doubt should drive us to prayer. God only can enlighten our darkness. God graciously permits his children to plead and debate with him (Isaiah 1:18). Doubt is not necessarily a result of any misconduct. But, however it arises, it is best to confess it to God.
III. THE DIRECTIONS IN WHICH TO LOOK FOE A SOLUTION OF THE DIFFICULTY.
1. The righteousness of God. Jeremiah sees the difficulty, but it does not drive him from faith in the justice of God. Religion makes constant demands on faith—the personal faith of trust in the character of God where appearances are against what we believe that character to be. Confidence in the unwavering righteousness of God will help us to look for certain indications of a solution of the difficulty occasioned by the prosperity of the wicked. Right must and will be done, and if it is not yet accomplished it will be ultimately. From the character of God we may thus reason to his certain action (Genesis 18:25).
2. Hence we have an argument in favor of future rectification. Jeremiah expects it to come even in this life, though it is long deferred (Verse 3). The Christian looks for it in the great judgment, and the fruits of this in the life to come.
3. The difficulty may be lessened even for the present by the reflection that material prosperity is not real prosperity. It may be well for a good man to suffer. Prosperity may be an evil. True welfare consists not in success, not in security from calamity, but in inward peace, in progress in the Divine life.
God near to the mouth but far from the life.
I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD ON OUR LIPS WHILE THE THOUGHT OF GOD IS ABSENT FROM OUR MINDS. This is the case with mere formal worshippers, who use the language of devotion without realizing to themselves its meaning. The danger of it besets us all. Words come to be handled like coins, without any distinct recognition of what they represent. This applies especially to words which refer to God, since it requires a high act of abstraction to keep constantly before us the ideas of the unseen Object of such language. Understand that these empty words are worse than wasted breath; they are a mockery to God, a deception to men, and a source of self-delusion to the speaker of them.
II. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD ON OUR LIPS WHILE THE LOVE OF GOD IS ABSENT FROM OUR HEARTS. We may not fall into the first mistake. The language may not be empty words. The thought of God may be present. Yet this may be a mere thought—a cold and barren idea, having no influence on our affections. This religion of words and notions is a vain thing. Indeed, it is not a religion at all; it is only a theology. Religion does not begin till the heart opens to receive God. It consists not in the intellectual recognition of God, but in the love of God (Deuteronomy 10:12).
III. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD ON OUR LIPS WHILE THE POWER OF GOD IS ABSENT FROM OUR CONSCIENCES. God may be spoken of, thought of, approached with a certain affection, though not the true love of our hearts, and yet be practically disregarded. His will may still be of no account to us. We may still not make our lives subservient to his Law. There is then no evidence of God in our conduct. Though our thought may be religious, our life is godless.
IV. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD ON OUR LIPS WHILE THE SPIRIT OF GOD IS ABSENT FROM OUR SPIRITS. The deepest fact of religion is the indwelling of the Spirit of God—the real presence of God. God inhabits the soul as a temple. We may have much religiousness without this. The Name of God may be inscribed on the portals of the temple while the shrine is empty of his presence.
V. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD UPON OUR LIPS AND TO BE VERY WICKED. If the Name be only on our lips, this is no sign of moral and spiritual goodness. The wicked contemporaries of Jeremiah were many of them religious precisionists; yet their moral guilt was nonetheless for all their language of devotion.
VI. IT IS POSSIBLE TO HAVE THE NAME OF GOD ON OUR LIPS AND TO SUFFER ULTIMATE RUIN. Formalism and hypocrisy may prosper for a time. Those men who had the Name of God on their lips were the wicked who prospered (Verse 1). Yet they were doomed to ultimate punishment. It is important to remember this constantly, since we are too ready to be deceived by professions and appearances.
A dark prospect.
If Jeremiah was ready to despair when he discovered the conspiracy of the men of Anathoth, how would he bear the news of the treachery of his own brethren? His condition under the lesser trouble made the prospect of greater trouble most alarming. The Divine admonition which such a situation showed him to need may be of value to others who may be repeating the experience of the prophet.
I. DESPAIR UNDER LESSER TROUBLE MAKES THE ANTICIPATION OF GREATER TROUBLE A DARK PROSPECT.
1. Greater trouble may reasonably be expected. God usually prepares us for the endurance of trials by sending them by degrees, and reserving the more severe till we have been trained to the endurance of milder ones. Few men can say that they have drunk the cup of sorrow to the dregs, and none can know what bitter drops may yet be in store for them.
2. The advent of greater trouble is not itself an alarming fact. Trouble is fearful only in proportion as it strikes fear into us. If we are prepared to meet it we need have no terror. God can give strength equal to our requirement, and for the sterner trial the more abundant support. The man's trouble is greater than the child's, but so is the man's strength.
3. The one cause of alarm is in our weakness. If this is revealed before slight tests, it must be much worse when the strain is harder. The important point is not that after enduring the foot-race we shall fail in contending with the chariots, but that, failing in the one trial, we may expect only failure in the other.
II. THE PROSPECT OF GREATER TROUBLE SHOULD HELP US TO SEAR THE LESSER. Some of us are too ready to "give way" at once. But there is more power of endurance in all of us than we are ready to acknowledge to ourselves. After the latest wrench of the rack we cry out that we can bear no more; yet another and still another turn is given, and we do bear it. The prospect of this possibility should make us husband our strength. The very sight of danger may be a stimulus to courage by inspiring a heroic spirit. Life is generally pitched in too low a key, and thus men whine under slight smarts and shrink before mean difficulties. If the same men saw more imperative calls to energy and endurance, they would rouse themselves and call up latent powers which as yet lie slumbering unheeded.
III. FAILURE BEFORE LESSER TROUBLE SHOULD LEAD US TO SEEK BETTER MEANS FOR THE ENDURANCE OF THE GREATER.
1. It is more important that we should be able to bear the greater trouble. This is a more serious matter, and defeat under it involves a more overwhelming disaster. Therefore it is exceedingly needful to learn the lesson of our weakness before this has brought us into a more terrible condition of distress.
2. It is also more difficult to endure the severer strain. The strength which is barely sufficient for the cares and toils of a quiet home life will fail utterly if a man has to contend with lions in the wild thickets of the lonely Jordan valley. If health breaks down before the soft breezes of summer, how will it stand before the frost and fog of winter? If the young man falls into vicious habits while under the protection of his father's home, what will become of him when he goes out into the world? If the prospect of sickness and earthly sorrow fill one with hopeless distress, how will he pass through the valley of the shadow of death? How will he endure death itself?
3. These questions should not make us despondent, but should drive us through self-diffidence to seek the help of God. Failure in small things will be good for us if it teaches us a wholesome lesson on our own weakness, and so inclines us to turn to a higher source of safety. Then we shall find that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The forsaken heritage.
I. GOD REGARDS HIS PEOPLE AS HIS LINEAGE. The temple was God's house, the Jews were God's heritage. The Church is now the habitation of the Spirit of God, and her members are God's possession. This fact implies:
1. That God dwells with his people.
2. That he takes delight in them.
3. That he may be expected to protect them from harm.
4. That he has rights over them and claims their submission to himself.
5. That his honor is concerned with his people's conduct, so that their wickedness is not a matter of indifference to him, but is an insult to his Name.
II. GOD MAY FORSAKE HIS HERITAGE. God's people have no such "vested interests" that nothing can destroy their claims upon him. The present enjoyment of God's favor is no guarantee that this will be perpetual.
1. History shows that God has forsaken his heritage in the past; e.g. the Jews, ancient Christian Churches of Asia and Africa, individual Christians who have fallen from the faith.
2. It is reasonable to expect that he will do this when honor and righteousness require it. Let us, there fore, not presume on the favor of God.
III. GOD ONLY FORSAKES HIS HERITAGE WHEN THAT HAS BECOME CORRUPT. God never leaves his people till they leave him. He is not changeable, capricious, arbitrary in his favors. His love never wanes, his grace never fails, his help and blessings are never limited. The change begins on man's side. It is found in rebellion against God.
1. In self-will. The heritage becomes like a lion of the forest.—i.e. no longer tame, but swayed by its own wild passions.
2. In evil-doing. The lion is fierce and destructive—a beast of prey.
3. In direct opposition to God. The lion "cries out against" God.
IV. GOD'S HERITAGE IS IN A TERRIBLE CONDITION WHEN IT IS FORSAKEN BY HIM. Birds and beasts of prey come up to devour the heritage.
1. It needs no positive act of God's to bring desolation on his sinful people. If he but withdraw his protection, the natural evils of the world and the special evils which they have provoked will be enough to bring ruin on their heads.
2. God's people will suffer in an especial way by the withdrawal of the Divine presence. The heritage is "like a speckled bird." It is strange, and so it draws upon itself opposition. The Jews were a mark for the enmity of the heathen through the singularity of their national customs. Christians are often singled out for opposition from the world for similar reasons. If they have lost their peculiar protection, their peculiar position and nature will invoke a peculiar ruin.
I. PUNISHMENT WILL CONSIST IN PART IN THE PROFITLESSNESS OF LABOR. This will perhaps be the special punishment of industrious bad people. To them it will be peculiarly painful, for in proportion to the zest and earnestness with which any work is carried on will be the bitterness of disappointment when this is seen to fail Thus the victorious general is punished by being robbed of his conquests, the statesman by having his political schemes frustrated, the inventor by finding his invention superseded or rendered futile, the literary man by seeing his pro-auctions treated with neglect.
II. LABOR MAY BE GOOD IN ITSELF AND YET PROFITLESS. It need not be mistaken in direction nor incompetent in execution.
1. It may be real sowing. "They have sown "—have not simply run uncertainly nor beaten the air with indefinite energy.
2. It may be the sowing of good seed. "They have sown wheat."
3. It may be assiduous and arduous. "They have put themselves to pain."
III. LABOR WILL BE PROFITLESS IF IT BE CURSED BY GOD. "They are ashamed of their increase because of the fierce anger of Jehovah."
1. We cannot succeed in our work without the blessing of God. This is necessary, not only for those things in which we can do nothing and are wholly dependent on him, but also in regard to our own efforts. Man sows, but God must give the increase. We cannot order the seasons, command the weather, determine the germinating power of nature. The farmer is but the attendant of nature. The real work of the farm is done by nature, and nature is a name we give to the action of God. If, therefore, God did not follow with his work, the farmer might as well scatter sand of the desert over his fields as sow good wheat. So also all our labor depends on God's biasing for its fruitfulness.
2. The curse of God will destroy the fruits of labor. Tremendous destructive agencies are in his hands. He can send frost to nip the tender buds, drought to wither the growing plant, blight to destroy the filling ears, storms to beat down the ripe corn. Sickness, commercial disaster, wars, etc; may frustrate the wisest, ablest, most industrious efforts of men. Therefore let us learn
General punishment and general restoration.
I. PUNISHMENT IS GENERAL. It is not selective, it is impartially administered.
1. The people of God do not escape. If the Christian falls into sin, the Law of God must be vindicated on him at least as rigorously as on the worldly man, Judah had shared the sins of her neighbors; she must also share their punishment. If sin is general, so must be its penalties. No religious position which does not secure us against wickedness will protect us against its consequences.
2. The godless do not escape. The heathen nations are to suffer with Judah. Though they were sometimes the instruments in the hands of God for the chastisement of Judah, they were not on that account exonerated from blame for the bad motives of their conduct. The sin of others is no excuse for us in wronging them. The executioner of the law is himself subject to the law. They who do not admit the authority of God are not the less subject to his authority. Men who refuse to submit to the Law of God will be judged by that Law as certainly as those who have freely gone under its yoke. It is not for us to choose our government in spiritual things, but to submit to the one righteous government which God has set over all men. In the execution of this it will be found that all men have sufficient light to render them accountable for their actions, though the degree of their responsibility will vary with the degree of their knowledge.
II. RESTORATION IS GENERAL. This is offered to the heathen nations as well as to Judah. As general punishment must follow general sin, so general restoration will follow general repentance. Here, too, God is impartial.
1. This restoration is not the less perfect for each individual by being general. "Every man" is to come and each to his "own land" and his "own heritage." There are men who seem to fear the broadening of the mercies of God, last they should become less valuable to each recipient, and so they would jealously narrow them to protect their full privileges for a few. Such ideas are not only basely selfish—since the holders of them quietly assume that they are among the few—they are dishonoring to the grace of God, which is exceeding abundant, with enough for all who need it.
2. The general character of the restoration is its most happy feature. It will mean the abolition of war, rivalry, jealousy, separation, and the enjoyment of peace and brotherhood, the realization of the glory of the unity of the race through harmony in the unity of faith. "Then shall they be built in the midst of my people." Thus through the great restoration, i.e. through the perfected redemption in Christ, we may look for the fulfillment of the great ideal human brotherhood.
3. The conditions of this restoration are the same for all, viz.
They who taught Judah to serve Baal must learn with Judah to follow the true religion. But if this condition is not fulfilled, the restoration can never be enjoyed.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Moral difficulties with the providence of God.
The tone of this address to Jehovah is strikingly contrasted with that to the men of Anathoth. To them he is as a lion or a brazen wall. To Jehovah he is as a fretful child, ignorant, willful, perverse, and requiring to be corrected.
I. THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO FAITH. (Jeremiah 12:1, Jeremiah 12:2.) David even is envious over this, and many a saint has felt its bitterness in his soul. That there are instances enough to make the idea plausible that wickedness is the best policy, we all know. The difficulties that beset the honest trader or the conscientious courtier and statesman are proverbial. And often just those measures which are most clearly condemned by Scripture and conscience appear to be the means most justified by the circumstances of the case. This view, however, is corrected by larger experience. It does not take all the facts within its scope, or it does not rightly interpret them. It is impossible for a mere outsider to judge of any one's actual happiness, or the private conditions which most powerfully affect the possession and enjoyment of wealth or high position. The teachings of history and of individual experience will in the end lead to the conclusion, "Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith" (Proverbs 15:16).
II. THE IMPULSE TO FORCE JEHOVAH'S HAND. (Jeremiah 12:3). This is the meaning of Jeremiah's imprecation. To one who sees by supernatural aid the tendencies of things, it must be very hard to refrain from this. Judgments that are justified to the moral nature sometimes appear to be mysteriously delayed. What would be well done had better be done quickly. But this is the presumption of the creature, the promptings of ignorance and not of faith. God can afford to wait. It is his character to have long patience, and the results more than justify this in the end. He will work out his purposes in his own way and in his own time, notwithstanding the impatience of his servants inquiring, "What or what manner of time?" There is a species of tempting Providence closely connected with this in many spiritual men. They have the clearest conviction that certain things are right and proper for them to do, and, without consulting as to seasonableness or the best means for their accomplishment, they hasten to do them, and then expect that God will recoup them for the loss they incur or extricate them from the difficulties in which they have entangled themselves. This certainly is not waiting upon the Lord, but an arrogant assumption of his prerogatives. It was the principle that lay at the root of Moses' great transgression; and even the disciples had to be rebuked because they knew not what spirit they were of.
III. THE TONE OF THE PROPHET'S PRAYER. Superficially it appears reasonable, considering the character and position of those to whom he refers. And there is at any rate a formal recognition of the righteousness of God to begin with. It is evident, too, that the conscience of the prophet is without offence in the sight of God, and yet there can be no doubt that the language he adopts is not to be justified. He is carried away by excess of zeal, but it is zeal without knowledge, and he himself will be the first bitterly to regret his presumption. It is a perilous thing for any man to attempt to judge his fellows by infallible standards. One thing in the behavior of the prophet was to be commended. He did not conceal these thoughts within himself. He says, "Let me talk with thee," conscious that in this openness of soul lay his moral safety. A few minutes' honest communion with God will tap many a festering sore and correct many a subtle error of spirit and life. The last lesson of Divine revelation is not severity but love.—M.
Jeremiah 12:5, Jeremiah 12:6
A prophet's foes they of his own household.
These two verses are related, and must be read together in order to get at their proper sense. The prophet had complained of the treachery and prosperous circumstances of the enemies of Jehovah; whereupon he was told that worse things were in store for him—that his own family would be his fiercest opponents. This was in a degree the lot of Christ; it is experienced by many of the true servants of God.
I. THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF THE FLESH, AND THEREFORE MAY BE EXPECTED TO EXCITE HATRED AND OPPOSITION WHERE THAT ASSERTS ITSELF.
II. THE SERVANT OF GOD WILL OFTEN BE TRIED BY THE FAILURE AND DEFECTION OF HIS MOST CHERISHED FRIENDS.
III. IT BEHOVES ALL WHO ARE ENTRUSTED WITH DIVINE TRUTH TO ASK THEMSELVES WHAT IS THE GROUND OF THEIR CONFIDENCE.—M.
Jeremiah 12:7, Jeremiah 12:8
Leaving all for God.
(Naegelsbach is of opinion that the words of Jeremiah 12:7-13 "are to be understood as having a double reference," i.e. both to the prophet's own feelings and to Jehovah's judgment. Zwingli and Bugenhagen consider that Jehovah begins to speak at "Go" or "Come," in Jeremiah 12:9. There is evidently an intimate blending of the prophetic with the Divine consciousness throughout the whole passage.) A hard duty, but one often devolving upon faithful servants of Jehovah. Indeed, spiritually, it is the first condition of discipleship imposed by Christ. Only thus can the soul preserve its equipoise and integrity in what may be required of it. The Master will brook no rival.
I. THE REASONS FOR SUCH A SACRIFICE. It is possible that for one with the keen, affectionate nature of Jeremiah, much intercourse with his family and friends would have interfered with the performance of his duty. He was appointed to discharge an anomalous function, for which the greatest concentration of energy and spirit was required. Even though he had to weep as he spoke the words that God had commanded him, he must speak. His duty to the nation overshadowed or pushed into the background the claims of friends. So the follower of Christ may be subjected to discipline in providence, or to voluntary self-deprivation of a like kind by the demands of spiritual work. And it behooves all who labor in the cause of truth to hold themselves spiritually detached from those things and relations which might impede true usefulness.
II. KEEN PERSONAL SORROW IS FREQUENTLY OCCASIONED BY IT. That it was a real trial to Jeremiah there can be no doubt; and probably the special discovery made to him (Jeremiah 11:18 seq.) was intended to facilitate the transfer of attachment to Jehovah. The endearing terms—"mine house," "mine heritage," "the dearly beloved of my soul," and the manner in which he repeats the history of his estrangement, prove how deeply the trial had affected him.
III. THEREBY IS TESTED THE LOYALTY OF THE SAINT TO GOD. In a question between one's friends and Jehovah, the settlement ought not to be doubtful to the mind of the saint. The reasons for withdrawal from entangling relations may not immediately appear, but the believer can with confidence leave them in the hands of God, by whom they will in due time be revealed. There is a danger in the midst of ordinary human relations that Jehovah shall be considered simply as an addition to our obligations, instead of being the supreme and all-modifying influence of our life. In proportion to the severity of the experience will be the consolations to be received.—M.
Mercy and judgment.
In these verses we have one of the "larger words "which make the whole world's testament of salvation and life. The threatenings are stern and will be executed to the letter; but the promises seem to transcend the immediate occasion. A gate of hope and redemption was herein opened to multitudes who at that date were not included in the covenant of Israel. The conditions upon which their possible comprehension within the future Israel is based are moral and spiritual, and therefore truly universal
I. THE GREATEST JUDGMENTS OF GOD UPON THE NEIGHBORS OF ISRAEL BUT CORRESPONDED WITH THEIR CRIMES. That grave evils were inflicted upon the enemies of Israel cannot be denied. Multitudes were put to a painful death. Nations were uprooted, and human life appeared to be looked upon as an insignificant thing. In judging of this, however, it must be remembered that they had clone and were ready to do similar things to Israel and Judah. The moral platform, too, upon which they lived has to be considered. Ages of depravity and barbarism, upon which higher appeals would have been utterly lost, had to be imaginatively impressed and overawed. And there were not wanting testimonies of conscience amongst the enemies of Israel themselves to justify this course. But—
II. EVEN IN BEING PUNISHED FOR THE SAKE OF ISRAEL, THEIR DESTINY WAS LINKED WITH HERS. If at first their lot would appear to be hard and inconceivably hopeless, yet in the end there can be no question that they were gainers by the association. In common life, with those whom they subdued they received manifold advantages, especially of a spiritual kind, and the choice was set before them of good as well as evil. On the principle, therefore, that it is better for one to suffer even severely at first if afterwards he may retrieve his position and attain to a higher and more desirable one through the initial discipline, it was better for these nations to Be brought to book in this way for Israel's sake. Enemies to Begin with, they might, and in many cases did, become friends and fellow-heirs of the promise.
III. APPARENT LENIENCY TOWARDS ISRAEL IS JUSTIFIED BY ULTERIOR PURPOSES OF UNIVERSAL BLESSING. As compared with her neighbors, it might appear as if one measure were meted out to her and another to them. But this is only contemporary and relative. The punishment inflicted has to be estimated by the spiritual deprivations which accompanied it. The deferring of Israel's hope must have been a keener sorrow than any mere temporal reverse. It must be remembered that through Israel, the seed of Abraham, all nations were to Be blessed. To avert from her utter extinction was indirectly to ensure the greater benefit to the future. But that to be made to cease as a nation from the face of the earth would have been relatively less painful than many of the dispensations through which she had to pass, cannot but be allowed.
IV. IN THE MIDST OF DESERVED JUDGMENT THE FREE MERCY OF GOD IS THE MORE CONSPICUOUS. How unlooked for this promise concerning the future of Israel's enemies! The silver thread of hope traverses the dark labyrinth of judgment. It is only the wisdom of infinite Love that could so disentangle spiritual possibilities from such stupendous and widespread ruin. How glorious the mercy which can so assert itself! The only phrase that can describe the phenomenon is "grace has reigned." The individual sinner, in the midst of his deserved miseries, may take comfort from this. However great the wretchedness and ruin which he has brought upon himself, and however long continued his alienation from God, if he but turn now from his wickedness, a way of escape will be opened up for him through the sacrifice of Christ.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?" etc. Unquestionably they very often do. Some of the reasons are—
I. THEY ARE MORE SHREWD. "The children of this generation are wiser than the children of light." They give more heed to the laws of success, are more alert to seize opportunities and to guard against those men and things which would work them harm. No amount of piety will compensate for inattention to the laws of success.
II. THEY ARE LESS SCRUPULOUS. Where success is thus won by some seemingly short cut which a godly man hesitates to take, it will not seldom Be found, after awhile, that the apparently long way round of the righteous was yet the nearest because the truest road. But meanwhile the ungodly appear to have the best of it.
III. THEIR ATTENTION IS MORE CONCENTRATED AND UNDIVIDED. The godly man cannot say in regard to the pursuit of this world's goods, "This one thing I do;" but the ungodly can. Whilst "not slothful in business," the Christian has also to "serve the Lord." Whilst a citizen of this world, he is also a citizen of another country, even a heavenly one, and by his faith he has avowed that he seeks that country. His attention must therefore be divided, as his who sows only to the flesh is not.
IV. THE LONG-SUFFERING OF GOD. The ungodly are his children, though ungrateful ones, and the heavenly Father would woo and win them back. Therefore in all gentleness he deals with them, making his sun to shine and his rain to descend on them as on his faithful children. The long-suffering of God is to lead to repentance.
V. TO TEST, IMPROVE, AND DECLARE THE FAITH OF THE GODLY. If righteousness were a royal road to riches, and faith infallibly led to fortune, where would Be the room for trust in God? How would such trust Be tested and deepened, and how would it ever be made manifest? The devil would have had reason for his taunt concerning Job, "Doth Job serve God for naught?" But that there may Be such men as Job, heroes of the faith, pure, noble, God-fearing souls, saints indeed, God does at times let such men serve him for naught so far as this world is concerned, and hands over this world's wages to the devil, that he may with them bribe, as he in vain sought to bribe our Lord, those who will "fall down and worship him." But that these questions may not perplex us, let us live day-by-day in view of the unseen and eternal, walking with God, holding communion with him; so shall our estimates of this world's prosperity be corrected, and we shall be able to behold with calmness the allotment of that prosperity to the ungodly rather than to ourselves.—C.
"Pull them out like sheep," etc. There are many of these. Some of them, like this one, are very terrible (cf. Psalms 109:1-31.; Psalms 137:9, etc.). How are they to be understood? how justified? Of what use are they to us now? Questions like these cannot but be started in reading such prayers. The difficulty of them has been felt by almost every Christian and even humane reader. To get rid of such difficulty—
I. SOME HAVE SPIRITUALIZED THEM. The slaughter work which they call for is to be done, not on human bodies, but on human wickednesses, those inward and deadly foes which are so many and which hate us with cruel hatred. But whilst it is quite lawful to so make use of these petitions, it cannot be said that this is what they who first prayed them meant.
II. OTHERS HAVE TRIED TO TURN THEM SIMPLY INTO PROPHETIC PREDICTIONS—mere announcements of what God would do. But such alteration would never have been thought of but for the moral difficulty of letting them stand as they are. And the alteration is not permissible.
III. OTHERS, VERY MANY, HAVE EXPLAINED THEM ON THE GROUND OF THE IMPERFECT SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF GOD'S ANCIENT PEOPLE. "They knew," it is said, "no better. True, their prayers are wrong, unchristian, cruel, but they are to be excused because of the dim light, the very partial knowledge, of those days." But, in reply, it is clear that they were not ignorant; they had plain laws against revenge (cf. Le Jeremiah 19:8; Exodus 23:4, Exodus 23:5). And hence St. Paul, when arguing against revenge, cites the Old Testament, as in Romans 12:19, Romans 12:20, quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35 and Proverbs 25:21 (cf. also Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:17). And Job (31.) emphatically disavows both the act and thought of revenge; and so David (Psalms 7:4, Psalms 7:5). And see David's conduct in regard to Saul twice. See, too, his gratitude to Abigail for holding him back from revenge (1 Samuel 25:1-44.). And they had numerous laws enjoining mercy (cf. also Balaam's speech, given in Micah, "What cloth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy," etc.?).
IV. OTHERS HAVE SAID THAT SUCH REVENGEFUL UTTERANCES ARE BUT THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT WRITERS—that they were not inspired when they thus speak. But David claims inspiration (2 Samuel 23:1, 2 Samuel 23:2). And the apostles claim it for him; and with especial reference to the hundred and ninth psalm, one of the most notable of these utterances (Acts 1:16). And they were composed for the temple service as acts of worship. Hengstenberg says of them," They were from the first destined for use in the sanctuary. The sacred authors come forth under the full consciousness of being interpreters of the spiritual feelings of the community, organs of God for the ennobling of their feelings. They give back what in the holiest and purest hours of their life had been given to them." Hence we are compelled to regard these utterances as being only—
V. THAT WHICH IT WOULD BE RIGHT FOR A GOOD MAN, PLACED IN THE LIKE CIRCUMSTANCES, BOTH TO FEEL AND UTTER. Let it be remembered:
1. They knew nothing or but little of the great day of future judgment as we do.
2. The judgments implicated are all temporal. It can never be fight to pray for the eternal damnation of any soul, and this they never do.
3. Many of the expressions are poetical.
4. These desires for the overthrow of their enemies were:
Failure in little things.
"If thou hast run with the footmen," etc.? The prophet of God was weary hearted. Like Job, like the writer of the thirty-seventh psalm, like John the Baptist, he was sore perplexed at God's dealings. The wicked prospered, the righteous were cast down. Hence he sadly asks, "Wherefore doth," etc.? (Verse 1). Now, God answers such questionings as these in different ways. Sometimes by showing his servant the true state of the ungodly, making him" to understand their end." Sometimes by revealing to the righteous the vast superiority of their portion over that of the ungodly. Sometimes by gently soothing the ruffled spirit. At other times, as here, by rousing rebuke and sharp remonstrance, bidding him bethink himself, if he broke down under these comparatively small trials, how would he bear up when much more terrible ones had to be endured? If running with "footmen" was too much for him, then how would he "contend" with the swift "horses '? If he could feel secure only in a quiet land (see Exposition), how would he do in a region full of peril like that of the jungle-land, the lair of the lion and other fierce beasts of prey, which stretched along the banks of the Jordan? Greater trials were to come to him than he had as yet known; how would he meet them if he failed in the presence of these lesser ones? Now, in applying the principle here laid down, note—
I. GOD PUTS UPON US FIRST THAT WHICH IS LESS, AND AFTERWARDS THAT WHICH IS GREATER, In all departments of life.
1. Our physical powers are taxed first lightly, afterwards more heavily.
2. So our mental powers; the easy lessons first, then-those that are more difficult.
3. So with our moral life; temptation comes "as we are able to bear it."
4. So in business life i the lesser responsibilities and duties first.
5. And so in the spiritual life; God does not expect from the young beginner that which the veteran in his service can alone render.
II. AND THE LESS IS TO PREPARE US FOR THE GREATER. Childhood is to prepare for youth, that for manhood, and all our life here for our everlasting life yonder. But—
III. FAILURE OF THAT WHICH IS LESS CARRIES WITH IT FAILURE IN THAT WHICH IS GREATER ALSO. This is the law implied by the question of Verse 5. And it is a universal law. Therefore we may ask this question, "If thou hast run," etc.?
1. Of such as are unable to bear the lesser trials of life. What unmanly complaining we often hear, though in the presence of sorrows compared with which their own are as nothing! If they fail here and now, what will they do there and then?
2. Of such as find a little prosperity do them harm. This is the reason why many are kept poor. God sees that they would be puffed up, spiritually injured in many ways, if worldly prosperity were granted them; and hence he keeps it away. A little was given, as if to test them, but they could not bear it; and hence in God's love they were not tried again.
3. Of such as fall before slight temptation. If conscience is set aside and trampled on in lesser matters, it will be served no better in such as are greater.
4. Of such as are looking for a more convenient season than now to yield themselves to God. Will the opposition of your own heart, of the world around you, of the power which habit has over you, become less? But if you yield thereto now, how will it be when all these have become, as they will, more powerful still?
IV. BUT THE REVERSE OF THIS LAW IS TRUE ALSO. Victory over the less will lead to victory over the greater. By the successful running with the footmen we shall be prepared for the severer contest with horses. Hence little trials borne well prophesy our bearing well such as may be greater, should God please to send them. And if, when entrusted with but a few things, we are found faithful in them, the Lord whom we serve is likely to make us" ruler over many things." The lesser temptation resolutely withstood prepares for withstanding the greater when it comes; and the overleaping of the frail barriers that now may oppose our self-surrender to Christ ensures that nothing at any future time shall be able to keep us back from him, nothing shall "separate us from the love of Christ."—C.
The hiding of God's face.
Here is a most terrible condition of things set forth. It may be taken as telling of the calamities which ensue when God hides his face from his people. It is terrible every way. Because—
I. OF HIM BY WHOM HIS FACE IS HIDDEN. It is God. We feel such conduct from our fellow-men according to our estimate of the person who manifests it. Now, all these facts which make the hiding of his face grievous to us meet in God—righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power. Were he devoid of these, could we question the existence of any of them in him, we could bear with more equanimity his hiding his face from us.
II. OF THOSE FROM WHOM HIS FACE IS HIDDEN. Had they been enemies all along, it would have been taken as a matter of course; that he should have regarded them with favor would never have been expected. Or had they been strangers and aliens to him, then, too, his favor would not have been looked for. Or had that favor never been known or enjoyed, then its absence would not have been felt, nothing that they had been accustomed to would have been missed. But the reverse of all this is the truth. They had been counted by him as friends, as dear children, as precious in his sight; and he had been wont to cause his face to shine upon them. See the endearing epithets by which he describes them. He had counted them as "the dearly beloved of his soul" (Jeremiah 12:7), "his portion," "his pleasant portion," etc. (Jeremiah 12:8-10). How dark, therefore, must be the frown of God to such! how intolerable to them his displeasure ]
III. OF THAT WHICH ACCOMPANIED THE HIDING OF HIS FACE. There is withdrawal:
1. From the sanctuary. "I have forsaken mine house." The customary services went on, but the glow, the unction, the power of them had departed. The place where his honor dwelt, the dearly beloved of his soul, was forsaken by him.
2. From the people. His heritage was no longer pleasant to him; he delighted not to dwell amongst them. All that joy, strength, prosperity, which belonged to them when God was amongst them had departed.
3. From the land. "The whole land is made desolate." In the outward circumstances and surroundings of the people the effect of God's hiding his face from them became terribly manifest. And there has come a terrible revulsion of feeling on the part of God towards them (see Jeremiah 12:8, Jeremiah 12:9). And not only his mind, but his hand, his providence, is awfully changed towards them. He calls on their enemies to come (Jeremiah 12:9). And they come (Jeremiah 12:12). And the ruin is complete: "The sword of the Lord shall devour from the one end of the land even to the other" (Jeremiah 12:12). All their own plans—their sowing of wheat (Jeremiah 12:13)—for their own good are miserably defeated, they "reap thorns." Thus the inward displeasure of God manifests itself oftentimes in the outward circumstances of a man or nation.
IV. OF THAT ON ACCOUNT OF WHICH GOD'S FACE IS HIDDEN. It was "because no man layeth it to heart" (Jeremiah 12:11). The lesser judgments of God, his repeated warnings, had been disregarded—hearing they heard not, seeing they saw not; and hence all this. Had the cause of their woe been their misfortune, the result of mistake, or ignorance, or lack of timely counsel, then there would have been some element of consolation amid all they had to suffer. But to add to their distress was the ever-present reflection, "It was all our own fault; we brought it all on ourselves." With what intense hatred, therefore, should we look upon all that grieves the Spirit of God! and with what earnest haste should we endeavor to return unto God, if we have wandered from him! These miseries which beset those from whom God hides his face are his loving scourgings whereby we may be led to say, "I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father,! have sinned," etc.—C.
The speckled bird.
A great preacher relates the following incident:—He says, "I had during my early ministry to preach one evening at a neighboring village, to which I had to walk. After reading and meditating all day, I could not meet with the right text. Do what I would, no response came from the sacred oracle, no light flashed from the Urim and Thummim. I prayed, I meditated, I turned from one verse to another; but the mind would not take hold, or I was, as John Bunyan would say, ' much tumbled up and down in my thoughts.' Just then I walked to the window and looked out. On the other side of the narrow street in which I lived I saw a poor, solitary canary bird upon the slates, surrounded by a crowd of sparrows, who were all pecking at it as if they would tear it to pieces. At that moment the verse came into my mind, ' Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird; the birds round about are against her.' I walked off with the greatest possible composure, considered the passage during my long and lonely walk, and preached upon the peculiar people and the persecutions of their-enemies, with freedom and ease to myself, and I believe with comfort to my rustic audience. The text was sent to me, and if the ravens did not bring it, certainly the sparrows did." But while the use here made of the text is a legitimate one, it certainly is not its meaning. That, therefore, as in all cases, has the priority of claim to be considered, and we note how it tells—
I. OF WHAT MAY BE THE RELATION OF GOD'S HERITAGE TO HIMSELF. He who had once so loved them as to call them by all endearing names, "the dearly beloved of my soul" (Verse 7), "mine heritage" (Verse 8), "my portion," "my pleasant portion" (Verse 10), and whose hand had been wont to follow the dictates of his heart, had now completely changed towards them. HIS love had departed, and in place thereof had come aversion and anger (cf. Homily on Verses 7-13). Sad as it is, this similitude snows what may come to be the relation between God and his people. "Therefore have I hated it" (Verse 8), saith God. We cannot but inquire the cause of so terrible a change. It was because "no man layeth it to heart' (Verse 11); no man, i.e. would give heed to God's words and signs of warning, but went on in sin just the same. They would not repent, but persisted in their evil ways. But we may take the words also as suggesting—
II. WHAT WILL BE THE RELATION OF GOD'S PEOPLE TO THE WORLD. The world will hate the Church. "The birds around" will come "against her." Sometimes it seems as if it were not so. For unquestionably there are many portions of God's heritage that the world does not persecute. The age of martyrdom is over. God has shut the lions' mouths. He puts his fear upon the world; they see that God is with his people; or they are partly in sympathy with them. But at other times it is true as it was with that poor bird amongst the sparrows. "Well may we pity a godly wife bound to an ungodly husband; alas! full-often a drunkard, whose-opposition amounts to brutality. A tender, loving spirit, that ought to have been cherished like a tender flower, is bruised and trodden underfoot, and made to suffer till the heart cries out in grief. We little know what lifelong martyrdoms many pious women endure. Children also have to bear the same when they are singled out by Divine grace from depraved and wicked families. Only the other day there came under my notice one who loves the Lord. I thought if she had been a daughter of mine I should have rejoiced beyond all things in her sweet and gentle piety; but the parent said, 'You must leave our house if you attend such and such a place of worship. We do not believe in such things, and we cannot have you about us if you do.' And nobody knows what godly working men often have to put up with from those among whom they labor. Frequently the working men are great tyrants in matters of religion. If a man will drink with them and swear with them, they will make him their companion; but when a man comes out to fear God, they make it very hard for him." Yes; God's heritage is in the eyes of the world "as a speckled bird," etc. But let God's servants remember, when they are thus tried, that they have fellowship with Christ. They were forewarned of it; Christ did not conceal the cross from them. "Behold," he said, "I send you forth as sheep amongst wolves." But they cannot do you much harm (cf. Matthew 10:1-42). The day is soon coming when their power will be forever destroyed. Meanwhile, keep away from them as much as you lawfully may. Do not needlessly provoke them; whilst harmless as doves, be wise as serpents also. Do not be like them, and do not be afraid of them. Go not alone with them; have the Lord Jesus ever with you, and you will be able to meet them in all holy and courageous wisdom and meekness. If the persecution be very great, ask the Lord to place you somewhere else, if so it may be. And till he does, and always, pray for them—Sauls may become Pauls.
III. IT IS A RELATION IN WHICH GOD'S HERITAGE MUST STAND EITHER TO GOD OR TO THE WORLD. There cannot be compromise. "No man can serve two masters." "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "The friendship of the world is enmity against God." "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Whose aversion, then, will you have, since that of God or of the world you must have? Your peril is not that you should deliberately choose to have the aversion of God rather than that of the world, but that you should seek to compromise. But that also is impossible. In coming to a decision be sure you take eternity into view, and may God who compels you to make this great choice help you—as he will if you seek his grace—to choose, like Moses, "rather to suffer affliction with," etc.—C.
The tide that has no ebb, but overflows.
Such is the grace of God.
I. IT HAS NO EBB. It seemed to be going back in regard to those to whom the prophet wrote. What terrible calamities were threatened and also came! How dark the face of God seemed towards them! But they were to be restored Jeremiah 12:14, "I will pluck out the house of Judah from among ye. And even yet God's mercies to his ancient people are not done. Another restoration is to be theirs. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (cf. Romans 11:1-36.). And Israel is but a type of humanity at large. God has not created all men in vain. Man, as such, is precious in his sight; "the dearly beloved of his soul." And notwithstanding the dark records of human history—man's sins and sorrows—God's love is upon him still. He "so loved the world," and that love has not ceased. The tide of his grace has not ceased to flow. But there may be barriers in the way of its onward progress. Human sin is such. It is so in nations and in individuals, and not only do men by their sin bar for themselves the inflow of God's grace, but for those who come after them. And to break through and break down these barriers is a work of time. Ages and generations may elapse. In mountainous regions you may often see a river flowing through what was manifestly once the bed of a vast lake. But after the lapse of long ages the waters rose and burst through the barriers that held them back from the valleys and plains beneath, and from that moment the river has flowed on in the channel in which we now see it. So will it be with God's grace to mankind at large. Its waters shall rise, and by-and-by the rocky barriers of man's sins, and all that man's sin has built up, shall he broken through and broken down, and then "the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the seas." The tide has never gone back; it has been but delayed. Wise and holy fatherly love is at the root of all things, and is the key which unlocks, as none else will, all the problems of life. That love held his people down to the sufferings they had to endure until the evil mind departed from them, and so it holds humanity down and individual souls down to what they have to endure until they be changed in the spirit of their minds. But all this while the tide of his gracious purpose is rising, and soon that which hinders shall be taken out of the way. Judah was to go into captivity, but Judah was to be "plucked out' from thence, and that is but a pattern of God's dealings with us all.
II. But not only has this tide no ebb, IT FLOWS ON EVERMORE. Not only was Judah to be restored, but forgiveness and salvation are offered to her "evil neighbors" (Jeremiah 12:14), who had done her harm. God's purpose in the election of some is not the reprobation of the rest, but the salvation of all. "In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." The "evil neighbors" had corrupted Judah (Jeremiah 12:16), and they had persecuted her (Jeremiah 12:14); but now the set time to favor them also had come, and salvation is offered to them (Jeremiah 12:16). Thus the tide of God's grace flows on evermore, and where it seemed as if it would never come. From all which we may learn: The redemption of the world is the purpose of God. But every nation and people in their own order. The elect are the firstfruits; those nearest to them come next. If any refuse, their national life is lost (Jeremiah 12:17). But the unfaithfulness of man shall not make the faith of God of none effect. Let us take this tide at its flood; it will lead us on to life eternal. It is the "tide in the affairs of men" which calls us to launch forth upon it, that it may bear us to never-ending bliss.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The prophet's complaint.
The writings of the prophets are often as much historic as they are prophetic; historic of personal as well as national experiences, of inward thoughts and emotions as of outward incidents. In tracing the current of events, the writers disclose the workings of their own spirits, and in expounding and vindicating God's ways with Israel or with other nations, they indicate the method of his dealings with themselves. This was singularly true of Jeremiah, and we have here a striking illustration of it. This passage probably marks the time when the people of his own native city of Anathoth, and even his kindred, his "brethren of the house of his father," could no longer bear his faithful rebukes, and he was compelled to take refuge in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 12:6). Consider
I. THE PROPHET'S STATE OF MIND. It contains a singular mixture of good and evil, thoughts and emotions both noble and base. So conflicting and even contradictory sometimes are the voices of the truest human heart. This outburst of hostility from the men of Anathoth has plunged his spirit in confusion. Like a ship checked in its course, with its sails taken aback by a sudden squall, its guiding principles and powers are for a while disturbed, and its balance lost. Note different elements of feeling.
1. Deep perplexity. He cannot reconcile the events that are taking place and the seeming prosperity of the wicked with the known rectitude of the Divine character. "Righteous art thou, O Lord; … yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments," etc. Why this "yet '? If he is thus convinced of God's righteousness, why this wish to reason with him? There is a conflict between unbelief and faith, between the disposition to judge by sensible appearances and the desire to judge by eternal principles. And the difficulty is aggravated by the fact that the designs of the wicked seem to succeed because God smiles on them. "Thou hast planted them, etc." This fact of successful wickedness under the wing of a Divine Providence is the deep and awful mystery that has been a source of perplexity and trouble to thoughtful men in every age. David felt the full force of it (Psalms 73:1-28.). His "feet had well-nigh slipped" because of it, "until he went into the sanctuary of God," and then the problem was solved. It is when we get away from our carnal reasonings into the sanctuary of spiritual contemplation and the realm of faith that we can alone hope to understand these things. When God's ways most perplex and confound us we must keep fast hold of right thoughts about himself. His judgments are a mighty deep. But as beneath the heaving, storm-tossed ocean there lie great mountains of the solid world, so does God's righteousness underlie all the agitations and conflicting phases of human history. Faith in that will give us rest and peace.
2. The sense of his own rectitude. "But thou, O Lord, knowest me," etc. This is not the utterance of vain self-righteousness. A "conscience void of offense," the persuasion that our purpose is pure and our hearts right with God, is never to be con founded with spiritual pride. Without a shadow of vain-glory you may know well that you are better than many around you, and could not do as they do. There are times in a man's history when nothing but the sense of personal rectitude can sustain him. When calamity comes upon him, when he falls, perhaps, from some high position and is cast forth upon the world homeless and friendless, what a bitter ingredient in his cup is an accusing conscience! On the other hand, he may defy everything to rob him of his peace, and, like Job, may preserve his soul in serenity in spite of blighted hopes and withered joys, a taunting world and scornful friends, if he can say, "My witness is in heaven, and my record is on high" (Job 16:19).
3. The spirit of revenge. "Pull them out," etc. He would fain antedate the day of slaughter. This may have been an unguarded, momentary outburst of impatient resentment. But it was none the less evil and irreligious. Why was he rebuked for it if it were not wrong? (Similar examples in Moses, Elijah, Jonah, the disciples James and John.) Let us beware how we take God's judgments into our own hands. "Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19). Never let us speak as if the punishment of the wicked, which is the Lord's "strange work," were regarded, by us with complacency.
4. Human sympathy. "How long shall the land mourn, etc.? The prophet is true to himself here. He grieves for the misery inflicted on the innocent by the wrong-doing of others. The humane heart groans with the "groaning creation," and sighs for the time when all shall be renewed. He who" endured the contradiction of sinners against himself" teaches us to take upon ourselves, as he did, the sins and sorrows of the world.
II. THE DIVINE REMONSTRANCE. "If thou hast run with the footmen," etc. (For explanation of these references, see Exposition.) There is extreme gentleness in this rebuke. It is interesting to note how uniformly gentle the reproofs God administered to the prophets were. Two things are noticeable in this remonstrance.
1. It refers to Jeremiah's want of courage, and says nothing about his mental perplexity. We are reminded that the best cure for our morbid conditions of thought and feeling is that we should brace up the energies of our soul to bear whatever Providence may see fit to lay upon us, and valiantly to contend for the cause of truth and goodness in the face of all opposition.
2. It speaks of severer trials that are in store for him in the future. Life is for us all a course of Divine discipline, in which all lesser tests of faith and fortitude are intended to prepare us for sterner conflicts and nobler victories.—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The prophet puzzled by the prosperity of the wicked.
I. How THIS PUZZLE ARISES. It arises from the presence of a number of facts together, the coexistence of which the prophet finds it impossible to explain.
1. There is his assurance as to the character of Jehovah. He speaks confidently as to the Divine righteousness. Observe how it is the thing that he starts with. All our doubts will get cleared up in the end, however long the process may be, if only we start with the sure practical conviction that Jehovah is, and that he is righteous. "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." And as one would not doubt the existence of them, so neither must one doubt the righteousness of God.. Jeremiah could not. but become acquainted with the character of one who was so constantly manifesting himself to him. Besides, there was the history of Jehovah's consistent and glorious dealings in the past to fall back upon, and it was presumed that Jeremiah was well acquainted with that history. If it had not been so, there would have been little use in referring him to Moses and Samuel (Jeremiah 15:1). It was no earthly governor swayed about by all sorts of motives with whom Jeremiah had to deal.
2. From the manifest wickedness of the wicked and their equally manifest prosperity. Jeremiah has no more doubt about the character and deserts of his enemies than he has about the character of his God. He speaks as if there were some close connection between the wickedness and the prosperity, and as if the unscrupulous man could boast himself without contradiction being possible as to the results of his audacity. It seems to the prophet as if there should be an instant and complete stoppage of all this pride and deceit.
3. From some special advantages they have had not of their own procuring. "Thou hast planted them." This is a way of indicating that all outward circumstances favored men when they started on their knavery. They were well placed for the attainment of prosperity, and the same kind of outward circumstances had continued. They had grown and brought forth fruit. It seemed that if they had been planted at random, planted anywhere else, these wicked purposes would have been comparatively fruitless. Probably Jeremiah's notion was that God located every man in his starting-place, and if so, it is easy to see how such a consideration would increase his perplexity.
4. From the hypocrisy of the wicked. While Jeremiah sees only too plainly their wickedness, they pretend to be righteous and devout and God-honoring. The name of Jehovah is, perhaps, oftener on their lips than on the lips of the prophet himself. They may be full of zeal for the temple, for incense, for offering; they may even make capital by reproaching Jeremiah for his utterances on these subjects (Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:1-34.).
5. From the suffering they inflict on the land. The wicked may prosper, and yet in their very prosperity suck away the lifeblood of a nation. That is no true prosperity where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The words of the prophet suggest that there was grinding and rapacity, and thus no encouragement to the tiller of the soil to do his best. Truly have the fruits of the earth been called "kindly," for they are kindly to one who will diligently cultivate. But no one will diligently cultivate if the fruits of his toil are to come to one who reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has not strawed.
6. From the scorn these wicked heap on the prophet himself. "They said, He shall not see our last end." Of course we are not to suppose that the prophet was influenced here by considerations of personal resentment. Doubtless what chiefly moved him was to maintain his sacred work. These wicked men were like the scoffers of whom Peter speaks, walking after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming?"
II. HOW THE PUZZLE WAS TO BE DIMINISHED. By the time we reach the end of the Book of Jeremiah, God's judgments on all the prosperous wicked are amply manifested. When Jeremiah came to close the roll of his prophecies, and reflect on all that God had said in them and done 'even in Jeremiah's own time and under his own eyes, and when further he recollected his own hasty complaints, he would surely feel that a trustful and patient waiting for the full event would have been much wiser. Perhaps no prophet ever saw more of the accomplishment of his own prophecies than Jeremiah did. He did see the end of those who, in their pride and fatness, had reviled him. Let us be true and faithful to what the Spirit of truth has made known to us as the will of God, and everything in the way of vindication will come if we only wait. We must not mistake precipitation and impetuosity for zeal. God's people have to wait for their own perfection and their own reward; they have also to wait for the execution of God's judgment against his enemies. Through all the centuries that have passed since Jeremiah's complaint here, oppression and robbery have continued, and they continue still. And as we think of such things, it will he well for us if we can end our thoughts where Jeremiah began: "Righteous art thou, O Lord."—Y.
The inheritance that has lost its charms.
I. WE HAVE HERE REGRETFUL THOUGHTS OF THE PAST. We can see what the prophet once hoped and desired. Not only what he had hoped and desired in those dreams of youth before God had touched his heart and claimed the service of his lips, but also what he had hoped and desired since becoming a prophet. Dear as Anathoth with its inhabitants may have been before, it would become dearer still when he thought of impending calamities to the whole land. There are cherished objects indicated by the words "house," "inheritance," and "desire of the soul." What is precisely indicated by these words it is of course impossible for us to say; but any of us, thinking for a little of the objects that lie nearest to our hearts, will comprehend that the prophet is here speaking of separations he had found it very hard to achieve. He did not pretend that alienation from house and heritage and kindred was an easy thing. Then we must bear in mind that the references here have a deeper meaning than to Jeremiah's purely human relations. It is pretty well agreed that the full truth of these words is only reached when we think of Jeremiah as representative of Jehovah. God's separation from his people was the thing of most serious moment. God had a house; God had an inheritance; God had a beloved object, an object of desire (Deuteronomy 32:9). God had been with these people now for many centuries, and there was much to make them precious in his sight. They were the seed of Abraham, the descendants of those whom he had delivered from Egypt and guided through the wilderness into the land where they now dwelt. Things might have been so different, if only the people had been of a different spirit. There was no necessity in the nature of things that. Israel should have become so idolatrous, so hostile to Jehovah, any more than there was necessity that Anathoth should become a place of mortal snares and perils to the prophet. What a fall there was from the triumphal march across Jordan, under Joshua, to the march at the heels of a conqueror all the way from Jerusalem to Babylon! Again we say things might have been so different. That which God had cherished might have become a rich earthly manifestation of His glory. The vineyard on a fruitful hill might have become what it was intended to be—a fruitful vineyard.
II. PRUDENT AND DECISIVE ACTION IN PRESENT NECESSITIES. Natural affection must yield to spiritual duty. Jeremiah might doubtless have kept the good will of his kinsfolk, such as it was worth, if only he had been able and disposed to remain silent as a prophet. Happily there is no hesitation, there is no sign of its even being possible. Let us seize on every record that illustrates how strong, how immovable, those become who put their trust in God. The path that Jeremiah had to tread was trodden afterwards by Jesus himself. His kinsfolk would have interfered with main force to stop what they reckoned the vagaries of one who was beside himself; and so as far as Jesus could be said to have had any abiding-places, they were in Capernaum and Bethany, not in Nazareth. So with Jeremiah. He had to give up all that on earth he had any natural claim to, and throw himself on God, and those who perchance might help him for the sake of God. Nor was he disappointed. There is certainly no indication here of the compensations that came to the prophet for his fidelity and self-denial. It is hardly the place to mention them. But we do see this clearly, that when once the lower is relinquished, decisively relinquished, and a higher station taken up, the lower is seen to be lower. Temporal and natural relations, that count for so much when one is in the midst of them, are seen then in their comparative unimportance. Let it not be supposed that, after cutting off the right hand, one must of necessity wait for the fullness of life eternal to get anything like compensation. The compensation begins in the very act of self-sacrifice. Does not the prophet here say that what had once been so loved had come to put on such a threatening, maleficent aspect that he also had come to hate it? What has had to be relinquished for Christ only leaves so much the more of opportunity to grasp and to use the spiritual wealth which is in him.—Y.
Shepherds where they ought not to be.
The words of this verse suggest a degradation of the vineyard, which may have been accomplished in one of two ways. The prophet may have been indicating the miseries of his country by a scene from real life, a literal spoiling of a vineyard by the literal flocks of careless or unscrupulous shepherds. Either a vineyard becomes neglected by its owner, and so lays itself open to the inroads of a roaming flock, or the shepherd comes, and, regardless of all right, breaks his way in by sheer force. In a land where there were both vineyards and flocks, nothing was more likely than that the oppression of the weak by the strong should be illustrated in some such way. And when we pass to the figure, recollecting that Israel was reckoned as a flock and its rulers as shepherds, then we begin to discern how these rulers are once more to be blamed. Neglect is the least thing to be laid at their door; they are chargeable with even more than neglect, even with high-handedness and utter lack of regard for neighborly rights. These rulers are charged in other places for their want of fidelity in making due provision for the flock; here, while they make a sort of provision, they do it in a way which indicates how little they think of the real interests of their sheep.
1. There is presented to us here a picture of two occupations, two possessions, both right in themselves. It is not the robber who desolates this vineyard, the man to whom violence is an ordinary element. It is the shepherd, the marl whose work is every whir as useful and commendable in its way as that of the vinedresser. God made the surface of his earth for his creatures, animate and inanimate, and there is an appointed and sufficient place for all. There are pasture-grounds where the sheep may grow and by its wool provide clothing for men, and there are the tillage-grounds whence come the corn, the oil, the wine, which are equally for the sustenance and pleasure of men.
2. The mischief which may be done by a selfish occupation with one's own interests. In one sense the shepherd could not be too careful about his own interest. He had food to search for, his flock to keep together, wanderers to restore, wild beasts to drive away. This was all very difficult, but the difficulty should have taught him to look sympathetically at the interests of others. The vine-dresser would have in his own way as hard and anxious a life as the shepherd. There are difficulties enough in human existence from things which cannot be helped. Why should they be added to by the thoughtlessness of those who can be thoughtful if only they care to be, unselfish if only they care to be? A shepherd with the heart of a brother in him would be doubly careful when he came near a vineyard. It was easy for his heedless sheep to do a damage which, once done, no amount of regret could undo.
3. Heedlessness of the interests of others works to our own serious damage in the end. The position of these kings of Israel and Judah had to be set forth by more than one image. Their people had to be looked at in the aspect of a flock and of a vineyard, and so indeed each one of us has to look at his own life in more aspects than one. A narrow, one-sided view is ruinous; it may have temporary advantages, but they are soon gone, and then the full folly of short-sightedness will appear. These kings lived a self-indulgent life, and gathered round them a favored few, whom they enriched and pampered in like manner. Meanwhile the land was suffering from oppression and injustice, and these great ones advancing to an overthrow, the completeness of which would be intensified by the remembrance of past follies. That is the truly prudent man who is always looking beneath the surface and beyond the present. To find an easy, ready-to-hand way out of present difficulties may be the surest way of making future difficulties altogether unmanageable.—Y.
Sowing wheat and reaping thorns.
It is true that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." It is also true that "men cannot gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles." And at the same time it is emphatically true that men may sow wheat and yet reap thorns. The contradiction is only on the surface; it suggests inquiry, and the further the inquiry is continued, the more it is seen what serious truth is contained in the prophet's statement. Consider, then, the statement in two aspects.
I. AS SHOWING THAT MEN DO NOT REAP WHAT THEY HAVE SOWN. They sow wheat. It is surely not to a mere semblance of wheat-sowing that the prophet here refers. It is true that men sow unconsciously the seeds of misery, of a bitter and shameful harvest, the gathering of which they cannot escape. It is true that the men who con-suit present pleasure and the present appearances of things are every day sowing evil seed, without having the least suspicion that they are sowing at all. It is even true that men may be so led away by errors of education, or habits received by mere tradition, as to go on all life through in what they suppose to be right, but which nevertheless is utterly wrong. All this, however, is rather to be classed under the sowing of tares which are like wheat. The prophet is here dealing with the sowing of something really good, and something capable of truly satisfactory results. The truth he would indicate is more fully set forth in our Lord's parable of the four different kinds of seed. The seed which the sower went forth to sow was all good seed. The seed which fell in the good ground was not one whir better than what fell by the wayside. We see, therefore, that a large part of good seed is not reaped. Just according to the area comprised by the terms trodden ground, stony ground, and thorny ground, is there force in the statement that wheat has been sown, and yet wheat not reaped. The prophet's reference is to the great, unquestionable, and peculiar privileges of Israel. The Lord had not dealt with any nation as he had dealt with Israel. Other nations had found rising up amongst them men of genius and worldly wisdom and originating power; but no other nation of antiquity shows in its history any man like a Moses, a Samuel, or a David, or even the very least of the prophets. We look upon Israel, therefore, as representative of all who have enjoyed abundance of religious privileges, of those whose early days have been in the midst of religious instructions and associations. Yet out of this very class the worldliest of the worldly have come. For all the truth that has been bountifully sown not one stalk of result is to be seen. Mark that what is to be first noticed is the negation of good results. Is it not a sad thing that one should have to read first of all of so much Divine truth coming down from heaven, so many glorious revelations, so many angelic visits, so many inspired prophets and witnesses, and then, on the other hand of so little manifest result in regenerated and purified human lives?
II. AS SHOWING THAT MEN REAP WHAT THEY HAVE NOT SOWN. Thorns, of course, could not be reaped unless thorns were planted, but no one would deliberately plant thorns. That would be to say, at the very beginning of one's possibilities of choice, "Evil, be thou my good." But the heart of man, rich, deep, inexhaustible ground as it is, has come under a curse of which Genesis 3:18 is but a shadowy suggestion. The vicious willingness of the ground to bring forth thorns and thistles every husbandman knows full well. Jeremiah 4:3 needs to be borne in mind: "Sow not among thorns." Men shrink from the toil and suffering needful to uproot the false and the injurious, and still more difficult do they find the watchfulness and determination which would prevent thorns from getting hold at all; and yet it is perfectly certain that thorns, allowed to continue, wilt in time destroy anything like abiding fruit from the good seed. Note the important difference between the tares and the thorns. The wheat and the tares grow together till the harvest; then the tares are easily separated and burnt. The perfected wheat is as easily separated and garnered. But the thorns choke the wheat, and there is never any real gathering at all. Wheat that does not reach maturity is worth nothing as wheat. It cannot be put into the garner. Hence the keeping down of the thorns is every whir as important as the pushing forward of the wheat. If the negative conditions are neglected, the positive conditions are nullified. Israel was now, as we see, sunk in the filthiest abominations of idolatry. But it had come to this through a long neglect of the most earnest warnings. Note in particular Numbers 33:55, "If ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides." The idolatry of Israel was a far worse thing than the idolatry of the heathen; just as a neglected garden overrun with weeds and briars is worse than a weedy and briery corner of the wilderness (Le Numbers 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:38-40; Micah 6:15; Haggai 1:6).—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany