Jeremiah 17:1-18 are closely connected with the preceding chapter. We have just been pointed to the striking contrast between the conduct of the heathen and that of the backsliding men of Judah. The inspired orator's indignation swells as he thinks of the inveterateness and indelibleness of Judah's sin. Then he passes to a subject immediately suggested by the policy of the court, viz. the true source of safety in dangerous times. Trust in man brings a curse; trust in Jehovah a blessing (Jeremiah 17:5-13). From this portion of the prophecy we can venture to fix the date of the whole. Jeremiah 17:11 is, in fact, a shorter form of the denunciation in Jeremiah 22:13-19, which is directly addressed to Jehoiakim; and the most natural view of Jeremiah 22:5-10 is to regard them as a warning against the negotiations with Egypt entered into by Jehoiakim after his revolt from Nebuchadnezzar (see Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4.261). The emphasis on the deceitfulness of the heart, in Jeremiah 22:9, is readily intelligible in this connection; it reminds us of the woe pronounced by Isaiah against those who "seek deep to hide their counsel from Jehovah" (Isaiah 29:15), and which undoubtedly refers to a projected Egyptian alliance.
The sin of Judah, etc. "Judah's sin" is not merely their tendency to sin, but their sinful practices—their idolatry. This is said to be graven upon the table of their heart, for it is no mere form, but carried on with passionate earnestness, and as indelible as if engraved with an iron pen. How unlike, however, is this record to that of which the same expression is used in Job 19:24! With the point of a diamond; or, with a point of adamant (harder than flint, as Ezekiel 3:9 says). Fragments of adamant, says Pliny ('Hist. Nat.,' 37.15), are sought out by engravers and enclosed in iron; they easily overcome every hardness. Upon the horns of your altars. First of all, what altars are referred to? Those erected for the worship of idols or the two in the temple of Jehovah, which had been defiled by idolatry? And why is the sin of Judah said to be engraved upon the horns of the altars? Probably because the "horns," i.e. the projections at the four upper corners (Exodus 28:2) were smeared with the blood of the victims. The direction in Exodus 29:12 and Le Exodus 4:7 was doubtless not peculiar to the ritual of the Law.
Whilst their children remember, etc. The connection of this with the preceding verse is rather obscure. Probably it is intended as an exemplification of the "sin of Judah," the inveterateness of which is shown by their thoughts spontaneously turning to the altars and symbols of the false gods whenever they are near a leafy tree or a high hill. To make "their sons" the accusative (with Hitzig and Keil), rendering, "As they remember their children, [even so they remember their altars]," seems unnatural; why should "children" and "altars" be associated in idea? Groves; rather, idols of Asherah, the Canaanitish goddess.
O my mountain in the field; a still more obscure passage. The question is whether "my mountain in the field" is a vocative or an accusative dependent on "I will give." If the former, then the phrase will mean Jerusalem (comp. "rock of the plain," Jeremiah 21:13). This, however, does not suit with the second half of the verse ("thy high places," etch), and still less with Jeremiah 17:4, which evidently refers to the people of Judah. Added to this, if Jerusalem were here addressed we should certainly expect feminine suffixes. It remains to take "my mountain," etc; as an accusative. It describes, not Jerusalem, but Mount Zion as the site of the temple, the mountain of the house of Jehovah (Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:3; Psalms 24:3). Render, therefore, my mountain in the field will I give. The prophet magnifies Zion into a mountain with a widely extended prospect (comp. Jeremiah 17:12 and Jeremiah 21:13). Thy substance and all thy treasures; i.e. these of the people. The part of the verse which begins here is almost the same as Jeremiah 15:13 (see note). And thy high places for sin. Keil explains, Jehovah declares that he will, on account of the sinful practices upon them, deliver up the high places throughout the land. Gesenius, "He will deliver up the high places with the sin attaching to them;" Hitzig, "as a sin offering." There is a question, however, whether there is not a corruption in the text, and whether we should not read, with Ewald, "without price for thy sins" (as in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 15:13).
(Comp. Jeremiah 15:14.) Even thyself; literally, even with thyself, i.e. with thy bare life (if the text, which is here evidently rather out of order, is correct). Shalt discontinue. The word involves an allusion to the Law in Exodus 23:11 and (especially) Deuteronomy 15:2 (see the Hebrew). The latter passage suggests a correction of the difficult "even with thyself," just preceding, into "thy hand." Thus we get for the opening of this verse, "And thou shalt let loose thy hand" (i.e. as Authorized Version, "shalt discontinue").
In the higher gnomic or proverbial style. God and man, flesh and spirit, are natural antitheses (comp. Isaiah 31:3; Psalms 56:4). The prayer of the believer is, "Be thou (O Jehovah) their arm every morning;" not Egypt, not Assyria, not any "arm of flesh."
Like the heath in the desert; as forlorn as some well-known desert plant. But which plant? St. Jerome explains, "Et erit quasi myrice ['tamarisk'], quae Hebraice dicitur Aroer (?) sire, at interpretatus est Syrus, lignum infructuosum." The versions agree in supposing the comparison to be to a plant; and a very similar word in Arabic (ghargar) means the mountain juniper; Tristram, the dwarf juniper. Most, however, take the word to be an adjective equivalent to "destitute." Dr. Thomson tells a story of a poor destitute woman he found in the desert (comp. Jeremiah 48:6—the form there is Aroer, here it is ‛ar‛ār; Psalms 102:18). Shall not see; i.e. shall not perceive, or feel any evil consequences (comp. Isaiah 44:16, "I have seen the fire," equivalent to "feel the flame"). A salt land; i.e. one entirely barren (comp. Deuteronomy 29:23).
Shall not see; rather, shall not fear—this is the reading of the Hebrew text, and of the Septuagint, Peshito, and Vulgate. The Authorized Version represents that of the margin, which is conformed to Jeremiah 17:6, but is against the parallelisms.
Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10
The crocked devices of the human heart, which is characterized as deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, or rather, desperately sick (see Jeremiah 15:18, where it is explained by the words, "which refuseth to be healed"). The Septuagint reads this verse differently, "The heart is deep above all things, and it is a man."
As the partridge … hatcheth them not; rather, as the partridge sitteth on eggs which it hath not laid; a proverbial illustration of the Divine retributive justice. The prophet assumes the truth of a popular belief respecting the partridge (still a common bird in Judaea), that it brooded upon eggs which it had not laid. As the young birds soon leave the false mother, so unjustly acquired riches soon forsake their possessors. [Canon Tristram rejects this explanation, on the ground that the statement is not true to natural history; the partridge neither steals the broods of others nor needs to do so, as it lays a very large number of eggs. But grammar requires us to translate as suggested above, and consequently excludes any other explanation-May not the unusually large number of the eggs laid by the partridge have led to the fancy that they could not be all its own?]
Jeremiah 17:12, Jeremiah 17:13
An address to Jehovah in two parts, the first specially referring to the temple regarded as the sacramental symbol of the Divine presence (comp. Psalms 5:7), the second to Jehovah himself. It seems to us, no doubt, singular thus practically to identify, Jehovah and his temple; but the prophet s meaning is that God can only be addressed in so far as he has revealed himself. The temple was not, strictly speaking, the "Name or revelation of God, but it was "the place of the Name of Jehovah," and in the language of strong feeling might be addressed as if it were really the Divine Name. The disciples of the incarnate Name were familiar with the idea that their Master was in some sense the antitype of the temple (Matthew 12:6; John 2:19). In proposing this explanation, it has been tacitly assumed that the Authorized Version, A glorious high throne … is the place of our sanctuary, is wrong. Grammatically, indeed, it is not indefensible; but it is a weak rendering in such a context. Render, therefore, Thou throne of glory, a height from the beginning, thou place of our sanctuary, thou hope of Israel, Jehovah. The temple is called "the throne of thy glory" in Jeremiah 14:21; "height" is a common synonym for heaven (Psalms 7:8, Hebrew; Isaiah 57:15, Hebrew), but is also applied to Mount Zion (Ezekiel 17:23; Ezekiel 20:40, quoted by Keil), which is also in Isaiah 60:13 called, "the place of my sanctuary." By adding the concluding words of the address (at the opening of Isaiah 60:13), the prophet prevents the suspicion that he attached importance to the mere outward buildings of the temple, like those formalist Jews, whose words are quoted in Jeremiah 7:4.
They that depart from me. The abrupt change of person is extremely harsh; the Vulgate, followed by Ewald and Olshausen, supposes that a final caph has dropped out, rendering, "they that depart from thee." Shall be written in the earth; a contrast to that which is recorded for all time "with a pen of iron" (Jeremiah 17:1). The fountain, etc.; a favorite phrase of our prophet (see Jeremiah 2:13).
A prayer of the prophet in this his hour of need. He who makes his boast of Jehovah may reckon upon his help. This is Jeremiah's principle. He prays for healing, Heal me … and I shall be—rather, that I may be—healed. He is one of those "broken in heart," whom Jehovah alone can "heal" (Psalms 147:3).
The occasion of this prayer is the hostility of his neighbors, and their mocking question, Where is the word of the Lord? The prophecy seems to be floating as it were in mid-air, unable to alight (Isaiah 9:8) and fulfill itself, so that Jeremiah could be plausibly treated as a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:22). Hence, as Keil remarks, the discourse of which this forms the conclusion must have been spoken before the first Babylonian invasion of Judah.
I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee; i.e. I have not eagerly withdrawn from following thee as a shepherd (or prophet). The prophet does not follow his own vague inclinations; he is but an under-shepherd, and waits on the will of his superior. He is, as Hosea calls him (Hosea 9:7, Hebrew), "the man of the Spirit." If God leads any one, whether people or individuals, it is through the agency of the Spirit (Isaiah 63:11, Isaiah 63:12); and it is the characteristic of the typical prophet that his ear is "wakened morning by morning" to receive his daily lesson. Only by thus "following" the Divine Leader, can a prophet act as pastor to his people. [The construction is, however, rather simplified by the rendering—a perfectly legitimate one … from following thee as a companion.] The woeful day. The word for "woeful" is the same rendered "desperately wicked" (verse 9); the "day" of Judah's calamity is metaphorically "sick," like the heart of man. So, other words being used, Isaiah 17:11 (end). Was right before thee; rather (since some adjective must be supplied), was manifest before thee. He appeals to the all-seeing Eye as a witness to his fidelity to his mission.
Jeremiah reckons on Jehovah's protection; he therefore entreats that his God will not bring him to shame by leaving his prophecies unfulfilled. A terror is a weak rendering; a consternation would be better.
(On this terrible execration, with reference to Jeremiah's character, see the general Introduction.) Destroy them with double destruction. "Double" here means "amply sufficient" (comp. Revelation 18:6, and see on Jeremiah 16:18).
An exhortation to a more strict observance of the Sabbath. The reward held out is Jerusalem's continuance in all its old pomp, both temporal and spiritual, and the penalty the destruction of the city by fire. This passage stands in absolutely no connection with the preceding and the following prophecies; and we have just the same sense of suspicion in meeting with it here, in the midst of perfectly general exhortations, as in reading the parallel exhortations to Sabbath-keeping in Isaiah 56:1-12. and 58; surrounded as they are by the moving and almost evangelical rhetoric of the second part of Isaiah. Geiger and Dr. Rowland Williams have hence been led to conjecture that this section (or part of it) was introduced into the roll of Jeremiah's prophecies to assist the reforming movement of Ezra and Nehemiah. Certainly the regard for the Sabbath, so conspicuous in the later Judaism, dates, so far as we can see, from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 13:1-31.), though it is credible enough that the perception of the high importance of this holy day (comp. Heine's 'Prinecssin Sabbath') began to acquire greater distinctness as the other parts of the social and religions organization were seen to be fading away (comp. art. "Sabbath" in Smith's 'Bible Dictionary').
In the gate of the children of the people. It is uncertain which of the gates of Jerusalem is meant, and not perfectly clear what is the meaning of the title. Does it mean Israelites as opposed to foreigners, or laymen as distinguished from priests? Whereby the kings of Judah come in. Jeremiah appears to use the phrase "kings of Judah" in a particular sense (see on verse 20). He may, no doubt, simply mean to say that those who are from time to time sovereigns of Judah enter by this gate. But once grant that the prophet does sometimes use the phrase in a sense of his own, and that in the very next verse, and it is very difficult to avoid interpreting it so in this passage.
Jeremiah addresses himself first of all to the kings of Judah. As it would be very unnatural for a public orator to appeal to the yet unborn members of the reigning dynasty, and as there are several indications that the "house of David" was able at this period, as also in that of Isaiah, to exercise a decisive political and civil influence, even, as appears from Jeremiah 21:11, Jeremiah 21:12, monopolizing the judicial functions, it is natural to suppose that "kings of Judah" is here used in a very special sense, via. of the members of the various branches of the royal family ("The sons of the king," Zephaniah 1:8; comp. Jeremiah 36:26, "Jerahmeel, a king's son"), and their descendants, who received the royal title by courtesy (parallels for this will be found in Gesenius's 'Hebrew Thesaurus,' s.v. me'lek). The queen-mother was probably the leader of this plan; "the mistress," as she was called (see on Jeremiah 13:18), and the royal princes (among whom the "house of Nathan," Zechariah 12:12, would doubtless be reckoned), constituted in fact a body almost as numerous as they did (according to Brugsch Bey) in Egypt, and politically much more influential; so much so indeed that only a king of unusual force of character, like Hezekiah or Josiah, could venture, and that timidly, to oppose them. The weak-principled Zedekiah seems to have been entirely dominated by this powerful caste, and to have been little more than a maire du palais (the same sense of the phrase is required in Jeremiah 19:8, and probably in Jeremiah 25:18).
Take heed to yourselves; rather, Take heed heartily, conscientiously; literally, in your souls. So in Malachi (Malachi 2:15, Malachi 2:16), "Take heed in your spirit" (not, "to your spirit," as Authorized Version).
Neither do ye any work; according to the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:14).
This verse is modeled on Jeremiah 7:26, Jeremiah 7:28.
Parallel passage, Jeremiah 22:4, where, however, we simply meet with "kings sitting upon the throne o f David," not, as hero, "kings and princes." Has the latter word come in by accident, owing to the frequent combination of kings and princes in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 2:26; Jeremiah 25:18; Jeremiah 32:32; Jeremiah 44:17, Jeremiah 44:21)? Shall remain forever; rather, shall be inhabited forever.
Parallel passage for the catalogue of the districts of Judah, Jeremiah 32:44. Three divisions are mentioned.
I. SIN LEAVES A RECORD OF ITSELF. It is not an isolated act. It begets consequences—plants memories, creates guilt. The record remains even if we do not read it. God still notes it, and will some day confront us with it. Hence it is not enough to amend our ways for the future. We need to have past transgressions blotted out if we are to be restored to peace with God.
II. THE RECORD OF SIN IS ENGRAVED ON HEART OF THE SINNER.
1. It is written on the memory. Men who have forsaken the scenes of their evil deeds cannot shake off the clinging burden of the memory of them. The criminal is haunted by his crimes. They people his dreams with horrors; they overshadow his waking hours with gloom. Even when sin is put out of mind it is probably buried in the secret chamber of memory, to be ultimately brought to the light of consciousness. The experience of those who have been recovered from drowning and from delirium suggests the idea that forgotten memories can be revived, and that probably the whole of the soul's experience is indelibly written upon the memory. No other recording-angel may be wanted. The soul carries its own indictment in the record it bears of its own conduct.
2. This is also written on the affections. Sin begets the passion for sin. Vice springs from the heart, and it corrupts the heart. That which is first committed under the stress of temptation comes at length to be sought with the hunger of a natural appetite.
III. THE RECORD OF SIN IS ENGRAVED ON THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE. Judah desecrated the altar of Jehovah with idolatrous rites. We desecrate Divine things by sinful conduct.
1. We cannot leave our guilt behind us when we enter the temple of worship. If it is not repented of it will vitiate the worship. The sin of the week-day renders worthless the offerings of the Sunday.
2. Sin directly connected with religion is peculiarly wicked. The altar is defiled. Thus the offering of gifts from base motives, deceit, and unholiness in worship, stamps our sins with peculiar guilt on the altar of God.
IV. THIS RECORD OF SIN IS NATURALLY INDELIBLE. It is graven with an adamant.
1. It is, therefore, useless to ignorant.
2. It is vain to try to wash it away by any effort of our own.
3. It is foolish to expect peace with God till this terrible hindrance has been removed out of the way.
4. We have every motive to seek in penitence and in faith that God should blot out our sin, not only from his book of remembrance, but also from our hearts, even though it is so deeply written there that nothing short of the creation of a new heart will remove it (Psalms 51:10).
The desert shrub and the flourishing tree.
I. THE DESERT SHRUB EXEMPLIFIES THE CURSE OF WORLDLY CONFIDENCE.
1. Note the character of worldly confidence.
2. Consider the curse of this worldly confidence. It makes one like a desert shrub.
II. THE FLOURISHING TREE EXEMPLIFIES THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUST IN GOD.
1. Note the character of trust in God.
2. Consider the blessedness of this trust in God.
Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10
The evil heart searched and judged.
I. THE EVIL OF THE HEART.
1. The most important question concerning a man is as to the state of his heart—his thoughts, affections, intentions. In the heart we find the true man. The outer life is but the clothing and may be the mask of the man. From the heart spring all the actions of life. The character of the fountain determines that of the stream (Matthew 15:18, Matthew 15:19).
2. The root of the evil of the heart is self-will. It is rugged above all things, proud, not compliant with God's will, wrapped up in self.
3. The character of the evil of the heart is desperate sickness.
4. The evil of the heart is inscrutable to man. "Who can know it?" This is the case,
II. THE DIVINE SEARCH AND JUDGMENT. The heart is difficult to understand, but God thoroughly searches it. "Who can know it?" "I the Lord."
1. God searches and tries,
2. God knows the heart. The search is effectual. The trial is fruitful. God knows us, while the world is deceived. How foolish, then, to play the hypocrite! For it matters little what men think of us, but God's thoughts concerning us are of infinite moment. God will judge justly and reasonably, for he knows all.
3. God will administer judgment according to the character of men's actions revealed by his searching and trying. God's knowledge is followed by his action. He is not simply a great contemplative Being. He has an arm to make bare for action as well as eyes to see the evil and the good. Judgment will be for our actions, but according as these are read in the light of the state of our heart. God searches and gives to men according to their ways. This judgment is universal—"to every man," discriminating—to each "according to his ways," and natural—"according to the fruit of his doings, according to their natural products, each in its own kind, so that men shall reap what they sow as by a law of nature.
I. ILL-GOTTEN RICHES BETOKEN AN UNNATURAL CONDITION Of SOCIETY. It is not natural that strange eggs should be found in a partridge-nest. Violence and fraud and more subtle sharp-practice are proofs of a disorganized state of society.
II. ILL-GOTTEN RICHES MAY BE MINGLED WITH JUST GAINS. It may not be that all the eggs are strange. The business man who is dishonest in some transactions may be honest in others; but his very correctness may be only a cloak for his fraud.
III. ILL-GOTTEN RICHES MAY PROSPER FOR A TIME. The eggs are hatched. Schemes of fraud succeed. The wicked prosper.
IV. ILL-GOTTEN RICHES WILL ULTIMATELY BE LOST. How often does the ablest device of dishonesty fail of ultimate success! The swindler is taken at the height of his prosperity. If he is not discovered he cannot take his wealth with him when he dies.
V. ILL-GOTTEN RICHES LEAVE THE POSSESSOR OF THEM CONVICTED OF FOLLY. He thinks himself supremely clever, and smiles with contempt on his credulous victims. But he is really the greatest dupe of his own devices, since in the end all his labor is wasted and his ultimate condition ruinous (Luke 12:20, Luke 12:21). "Honesty is the best policy" in the long run, though, as has been shrewdly observed, no man is truly honest who only acts on this maxim.
The Hope of Israel.
I. THE REVELATION OF THE HOPE OF ISRAEL.
1. God is revealed as the Hope of his people; i.e. as the source
2. God is thus revealed in connection with the sanctuary,
3. Experience confirms this revelation of God. The glorious character of God has been true of him "from the beginning." The antiquity of the temple was the proof of this to the Jew, the history of Christendom should be more so to the Christian.
II. THE FOLLY OF FORSAKING THE HOPE OF ISRAEL.
1. It is foolish to forsake God. We know that it is wrong; we have to learn that it is also injurious to ourselves. The character of God should make this apparent. Such a character as has been above ascribed to him shows that he is "the Fountain of living waters," i.e. the one Source of pure, life-giving energy. Though no true roll on can be founded on low motives of self-interest, self-interest should at least show us the mistake of irreligion.
2. The results of forsaking God are shame and destruction:
III. THE PRAYER OF CONFIDENCE IN THE HOPE OF ISRAEL. (Jeremiah 17:14.)
1. A prayer for healing. Though we hope in God we may suffer at present. We need not so much improved circumstances as a bettering of the condition of our own souls—not so much wealth as health.
2. A prayer for salvation. The prophet feels himself in danger. Dangers of various kinds wait on all of us. Salvation is a large word, meaning deliverance from all real harm. It is a large thing to ask for, but not too much for faith.
3. A prayer of assurance—"I shall be healed." What God does he does effectually.
4. A prayer of humble thankfulness—"For thou art my Praise." True faith rests, not on our merits, but on God's mercy, and therefore all prayer should confess his goodness and all supplication be mingled with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).
As Gentiles we were never under the special regulations of the Jewish Law, and as Christians we are free from all formal laws of "ordinances," and called to free spiritual obedience. Like St. Paul, we may be able to see that no one day is more sacred than other days (Romans 14:5); and if we are unable to go so far as this, we must admit that there is, in the New Testament, no direct command to Christians to observe the first day of the week just as the Jews observed the seventh. Still, to him who is in sympathy with the thoughts of God and desires to do the will of God rather than to seize excuses for liberty only to exercise his own serf-will, there is much in the Old Testament Sabbath requirements which must command the reverence of his conscience as springing out of Eternal Divine counsels, and representing what is inherently good and profitable.
I. CONSIDER IN WHAT THE OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH CONSISTED.
1. Rest. "Bear no burden." Work is holy, but so also is rest, and if work usurp the place of rest it becomes unholy, as anything does which is in the wrong place. Men bear burdens on their minds. If the shop is shut but the mind of the tradesman continues devoted to business cares on the Sunday, he is making no more Sabbath of the day than if he were openly buying and selling. The rest needed for refreshment is rest from the toils and anxieties of the mind, quite as much as a cessation of manual labor.
2. Hallowing the day. The Jew treated the Sabbath day as essentially holy. We may have freer notions. But we, too, can hallow the day if we devote it to sacred uses. We should remember that it is not the day that hallows the conduct, but the conduct that hallows the day. Sacred days, like sacred places, are not endowed with a mystical consecration, which transfers its grace to whatever is done in them, but they are simply made sacred by the acts of goodness to which they are devoted.
3. Personal care to observe the rest and sanctity of the day. "Take heed in your souls;" "diligently hearken." The observance of the Sabbath was to the Jew a duty to be personally regarded and conscientiously executed. If we feel any corresponding duty, the example of the more lax conduct of others should not affect us, nor should we be content with the outward decorum which satisfies the world.
II. CONSIDER THE OBLIGATION TO KEEP THE SABBATH.
1. The Sabbath was instituted by the command of God. It was required by one of the ten commandments, and thus exalted to a position of peculiar sanctity. To the Jew who felt that this law of God was binding on him, the duty of implicit obedience was imperative. When once we know God's will no valid excuse can be found for neglecting it. Though the letter of the Mosaic Law was limited and temporal, the spirit of its obligations is eternal, since they spring from the changeless character of God. It is for us to discover the eternal Divine principle which led to the institution of the Sabbath, and see that this is obeyed.
2. It corresponded to the constitution of nature. Changes in nature are recurrent. Rest and labor alternate in the physical world.
3. It was designed to benefit men. (Mark 2:27.) The wealthy might not have felt the requirement, but the burden-bearers and hand-laborers did, and must have enjoyed the repose it afforded them. Do we need this? If in quieter times such a rest was necessary, is it needless in the rush and roar of our wearing modern life? If seasons set apart for religious observances were ever profitable, are they useless amid the pressing claims and innumerable distractions of the age we live in?
III. CONSIDER THE BLESSEDNESS OF OBSERVING THE SABBATH. The Jews had premises of blessing to the court, the city, the country, and the Church (see Matthew Henry, in loc.).
1. This might be expected as the reward of obedience. It is always blessed to do the will of God, though the first doing of it is often painful.
2. This might also be expected, because the Sabbath was made for man. It was a beneficent institution. It is found by experience that the observance of a weekly day of rest is conducive to the prosperity of a people.
3. Accordingly, the neglect of the Sabbath might be expected to bring disaster (Jeremiah 17:27). This was the case with the Jew, not because of the inherent sanctity of the day or of the essential immorality of working on it, but because the breach of the Sabbath was a breach of the Law, an act of overt rebellion against God. If we disobey what we believe to be the will of God, this must be to our own hurt.
4. The blessedness of the observance of the Jewish Sabbath teaches us all to avoid treating the day of rest as a gloomy day, and making children and dependants dislike it on account of the formalism or harshness of our behavior. The day of rest should be the brightest day of the week. To the Christian, Sunday is "the Lord's day," the day of Easter gladness, commemorating the joy of the Resurrection.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 17:1, Jeremiah 17:2
I. THE RECORD IS INEFFACEABLE. This is contrary to the notions of very many. Sin, when it is committed, wears the aspect of insignificance and triflingness. It is the gratification of a momentary impulse, of a personal and individual character; and it is not supposed that any one else, or at any rate any large number of persons, can be affected by it. The sinner supposes that he himself will be able to condone it, and that, when the active prompting of which he is conscious retires into the background, he will be as he was before. All sins, e.g. idolatry, which deeply engage the affections and the highest capacities of men, have a lasting influence upon their character. And when they are systematized into a religion they exert a daily influence which at last fixes itself. But the same is true, in a very serious degree, with all sins. They are contradictions of conscience and the Law of God, and can only be repeated without scruple by inverting and hardening the moral nature. In this sense we are all guilty before God. Our every sin has had its influence upon us, and has left its indelible impress. Conscience stores the guilty memory in its archives; habit perpetuates the evil impulse in conduct; and our relations and associations are involved in the wicked practices which ensue.
II. HOW USELESS, THEREFORE, ATTEMPTING TO EXCULPATE OURSELVES! This arrangement, by which sin leaves its impress upon the character and life, is of God. It is a law of nature, and cannot be set aside by private understanding. Even where it appears to be inoperative, its effects are only accumulating themselves in a more hidden manner, and some day they will be the more overwhelming in their manifestation. It is the common question of the sinner, when addressed by the ministers of God, "Wherein have we sinned?" But this only shows a dullness of spiritual self-knowledge and a general lowering of the moral standard. Others are not so oblivious to the fact. They have witnessed the excesses and been involved in the complications of their immorality. In this case the children whose companions had been sacrificed to Moloch looked on the horns of the altars with aversion and loathing. It was a memory of horrid cruelty never to be effaced. There is every reason to believe that the sin we commit does not cease its work when its immediate outward effects take place. An ever deepening and widening circle of influence results. And, just as now it is impossible for us to plead innocence with so many proofs of our guilt staring us in the face, in the great day of judgment the secret sins will be set in the light of God's countenance, and the thoughts and intents of the heart revealed. Our character will be our condemnation, and many witnesses will rise on every side to swell its testimony.
III. HOW NECESSARY, TOO, THAT THE PRINCIPLE OF SALVATION SHOULD BE RADICAL AND THOROUGH. The sinner needs a saving power that can penetrate to his inmost nature, cleansing the conscience, rectifying the character, and making the weaknesses and defects created by sin a means of grace. And this is supplied by the gospel, which furnishes a new motive and principle to the character and a new law to the conduct. So profound is its effect that it may be said by the saved sinner, "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new," It is as a character-power that the "cross" asserts its preeminence over every other principle of reformation. There is nothing superficial, partial, or one-sided about it.—M.
Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10
Heart mysteries and their Interpreter.
The repudiation of his charges by Judah and Jerusalem leads the prophet to advert to the causes of this behavior. They not only declare their innocence when guilty, but pursue after unholy aims on the plea of serving God. How are such ignorance and infatuation produced? The reply is that the natural heart is deceitful and corrupt above everything else.
I. THE MYSTERY OF THE HEART.
1. It is a "mystery of iniquity." The heart is affected by what it contains. It is itself the greatest dupe and sufferer. And, being so inextricably bound up with evil, it is involved in its danger and judgment.
2. Exceeding human diagnosis. No one is so ignorant of his own depravity as the sinner himself; and no earthly eye can read the true significance of the symptoms.
3. Preeminent in this respect. It is the source of it all The master is greater than his work. The center contains all the threads of connection.
II. ITS INTERPRETER.
1. Jehovah. Because
2. This qualifies and authorizes him to judge. It is not his only qualification, nor is that the sole reason for his knowledge. But it is obvious that, as knowing man so intimately, he also is able to judge of his state. And he alone has the standard of perfect righteousness.—M.
Jeremiah 17:12, Jeremiah 17:13
The saint's Refuge.
The construction Of the clauses of the twelfth verse is very difficult, and it is not easy to determine their exact relations. It may be better to take them as simple and independent exclamations, united in their being addressed to a common object rather than by any grammatical nexus: "O throne of glory, height from the beginning, place of our sanctuary!" But, taken by itself, this would have no particular sense. It is only as a preface to Jeremiah 17:13 that we can thoroughly understand its bearing. Jeremiah, full of anxiety and distress at the general depravity, looks instinctively upon Jerusalem, and reflects that only through that which it represents can the future of Israel be secured. There is a gradually ascending climax of spiritual reference, culminating in the words, "Hope of Israel, Jehovah."
I. THE SAYING POWER OF THE HOLY CITY IS DERIVED FROM HIM OF WHOM IT IS THE SHRINE. It is obvious that the descriptions of Jerusalem are all relative to this, which gathers up and concentrates everything in a person. The series of epithets of verses 12 and 13 are cumulative, and express a gradually deepening spiritual insight. Through the material the prophet looks until his eye rests upon the spiritual. God is the center of attraction and the Savior of the worshipping soul. Everything in the ritual and teaching of the temple pointed to him. The glory of the temple was his. It was only as he condescended to use it that men could find therein the spiritual rest and safety they needed. And the same is true of the Church of Christ. It is not the institution which saves, but Christ working in and through it. There is danger of this being overlooked by non-spiritual men. Association connects the grace of salvation with the means or instrumentality, and ignores the original source. It is the virtue of the prophet's insight that it penetrates the veil of rites and ordinances, and fastens itself upon God as the only saving power.
1. Spiritual men should examine themselves and see whether they rest upon this true spiritual foundation. The process of the prophet's mind is one through which all true saints have to go. In many instances there will not be the eagle-like directness and happy immediacy of his discovery. There may be clouds and difficulties. But no true satisfaction can be attained until he be discovered and rested in. We are all prone to stay ourselves upon prescription, antiquity, authority, that are merely human. The doctrine, the rite, the priesthood, may intervene, not to unite, but to separate.
2. It behooves those who call themselves by God's name to exalt and honor him. If there is danger of his being ignored or pushed into the background, the more need is there of a bold and frequent assertion of his power and grace.
3. It is only by a living, experimental, practical faith that this connection with God can be sustained. The sorrow and trouble of Jeremiah drive him inwards for comfort. His meditation was like a voyage of the soul through the straits and shallows of ceremonialism into the great ocean of the personal presence and love of God.
II. THE THREEFOLD CLAIM OF GOD'S CITY TO THE REGARD OF MEN. Jerusalem, as the seat of the theocracy, was:
1. The seat of authority and splendor. The power of Israel amongst and against the nations consisted in the spiritual influence emanating from Jerusalem and its temple. The house of God, as the center of all rule and influence, is a throne. It is its own protection, and its authority is self-sustained and self-commended. It is a refuge for the oppressed and a place of justice for the wronged. "Go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks;' for this city is our city, and "this God is our God forever and ever." "Because thou hast made the Almighty … thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." And this power to enforce its mandates and its authority brought with it the glory of security, honor, and respect. Its whole history had been one of growing luster and renown, and its influence had ever "made for righteousness." The saved sinner breathed freely within its precincts, and the victories of Divine love were celebrated within its courts. Those who believe in Christ constitute a Church which is his abode and "the praise of his glory." The distinction and eternal glory of God is that he is "just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly."
2. It is chosen from eternity. Although only for a few centuries the actual center of Divine rule in the earth, it was not by accident it had become so. From the beginning it was foreseen in God's thought: "It was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the world was." This was a conviction deeply fixed in the hearts of all true Israelites. The eternal purpose of God had not only determined upon Jerusalem as his dwelling-place, but, through Jerusalem, that purpose was being carried out in the redemption of mankind. And the Church of Christ must be regarded in like manner as the abode of God's Spirit, chosen from eternity. It is a new dignity for the saints that they had been set apart for this long ere sin had desolated the world. It links the Church with celestial and eternal institutions, and precludes the possibility of its ever having originated in accident or human contrivance.—M.
Divine prophecy and human impatience.
I. THE CREDIT OF THE PROPHET IS BOUND UP WITH HIS MESSAGE. He is conscious that this is the case. It is the test laid down by the Law (Deuteronomy 18:21, Deuteronomy 18:22), and that it should be so is beneficial. This is the universal law for all who declare the will of God. It is tried by human experience, by spiritual results. The prophet is expected to "heal."
II. MEN TRY HIM BY CHALLENGING A SPEEDY FULFILLMENT. Just as in nature men, as Bacon says, would anticipate, so in grace. There is a lack of patience, or impatience is made a mask for unbelief. In either sign it is a lack of faith. So men manufacture tests for prayer, for reality of conscience.
III. HE FINDS REFUGE AND COMFORT.
1. In the answer of a good conscience toward God. It was not idleness, love of filthy lucre, or eagerness for pre-eminence that led him to the work, but a consciousness that he was speaking God's own word, no man's fancy or device.
2. In earnest prayer that God will make good his word. There are elements in this prayer from which we shrink. But should we? The fulfilling of evil prophecy may sometimes be a national benefit.
3. In the unshaken faith that what God willeth will be. He appears to be sore distressed. Perhaps personal perplexity enters into his grief. But there is no sign of lack of faith in its ultimate fulfillment. What a support is that to him who foretells or does the will of God! "In due season we shall reap if we faint not." "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away."—M.
The Sabbath and its obligation.
I. IT WAS OF UNIVERSAL OBLIGATION. The prophet was to stand in "the gate of the children of the people" and "all the gates" to proclaim its sanctity. The laity and the priests, the princes and the people, were all bound to observe it, as one of the patriarchal and Mosaic institutions. It is expressly enjoined in one of the "ten words," and without reservation of any class.
II. HOW IT SHOULD BE OBSERVED.
1. By rest. Labor was to cease as far as practicable. The body was to be set at liberty from its burden. Traffic was to cease. The constant stream which flowed out and in the gates of the temple might still go on, but for a different purpose. Care and worry were to be laid aside. The mind was to abstain from business.
2. By religious exercises. (Jeremiah 17:26.) It is worthy of remark that this portion of the command is not spoken of as a binding duty like the other, or a merely negative one. It is referred to as part of the blessing that would ensue on thorough Sabbath observances; that they should have sacrifices to give, and be willing and eager to offer them. With the cessation of secular traffic the religious instincts of the people would recover themselves, and their natural channel would be filled. The true rest of man consists, not in mere abstinence from labor, but in the free play of his higher faculties—a change of occupation and interest. And the real wealth and success of man will show itself in his religious gifts. They are poor who have nothing to spare for God. Their conception of life is such that the true riches exist not for them, however they may have succeeded in accumulating material resources. The chief end of man is thus to be secured in the increase of Divine service and the hearty dedication of himself and his substance to Jehovah.
III. THE BLESSINGS THAT WOULD ATTEND UPON SABBATH OBSERVANCE.
1. National perpetuity. Jerusalem, the center of the theocracy, should remain forever. This indicates the essential and fundamental position occupied by the Sabbath amongst Mosaic institutions. It was in this way that the idea and authority of Jehovah were to be impressed upon the heart of Israel But to the preservation of this primitive revelation was due the strength of Israel within herself and against the heathen.
2. National prosperity. It is a goodly spectacle that is presented in this promise. There is no lack of gifts nor of willingness to give. Only a time of profound peace and of abounding harvests could furnish such a demonstration.
3. National unity. Jerusalem is the convergent point of many pilgrim trains: "from the places about … from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south." In this way the brotherhood and the solidarity of the people would be sealed.
4. National piety. This is the natural outcome even of rudimental religious observances. It is the tendency of true religion to increase upon itself. It cannot remain stationary. Therefore this outburst of enthusiasm and Divine service.
IV. HOW IT IS REPRESENTED IN EVANGELICAL TIMES. So far as it was a physical requirement for the health and efficiency of man, it must still be observed. This is a question for comparative physiology. But the essence of the Sabbath is rather in its religious observance. What becomes of that? The spirit of it is still preserved in the Lord's day, although under new associations and under other obligations.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The sin of Judah.
That which the prophet has to say concerning it in this part of his prophecy is in answer to the question of Jeremiah 16:10, Jeremiah 16:11, where Judah inquires what their sin is. In reply, the prophet—
I. RECITES THEIR INIQUITIES. (Jeremiah 16:11, Jeremiah 16:12.)
II. DENOUNCES GOD'S JUDGMENTS. (Jeremiah 16:13-18.)
III. CITES WITNESSES AGAINST THEM.—C.
The place of our sanctuary.
Some four hundred years had passed between the date of these words and the marriage of Solomon with the daughter of the Egyptian king. But that remote event, fruitful of consequences as it was at the time, was fruitful also in results for generation after generation in the centuries to come. And it is to one of those results that this verse has reference, or rather was occasioned by it. Forever since that marriage there had been an Egyptian party in the court of Judah, which sought to sway the affairs of Judah in harmony with those of Egypt. On the other hand, there were the representatives of another near and mighty monarchy which sought to render Judah subservient to their interests. This was the Assyrian power. There was consequently a perpetual tendency on the part of Judah, when trouble came, to make alliance with one party or another. Now the Egyptian alliance was preferred, and now the Assyrian—Isaiah 30:1-33. and the history of the reign of Josiah and his death are instances in proof. But the prophets of God were ever against these alliances, and lifted up their voices, though in vain, in protest. These verses, 5-12, are one of those despised utterances, denouncing the false trust and exhorting to the true. This twelfth verse—
I. SPEARS OF THE TEMPLE AT JERUSALEM.
1. For that temple has a throne. It was the earthly throne of God. There was the mercy-seat and the cherubim bowing in profound homage over it, and between them was the visible presence of the glory of God, that Shechinah, that wondrous appearance so bright and awful that but one out of all Israel, and he only once a year, could look thereupon and live. "In Salem was his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion."
2. And it was a glorious throne. By reason of its external magnificence; but more especially of the glorious manifestations of God which had been seen in connection with it.
3. And a high as well as a glorious throne. Not only because Jerusalem was a mountain-city, the loftiest in the world, so high and lifted up was the "mountain of the Lord's house," but also because of the spiritual glory—so far excelling all other—which belonged to it. The ancient psalmists and prophets were never tired of declaring and demonstrating how the Lord was "King above all gods."
4. Venerable also: "from the beginning," from the first days of their national life, God had chosen a place for his Name—beneath the rugged cliffs of Sinai then, and now in the magnificent temple, the place of their sanctuary. But—
II. IS DESIGNED TO SUMMON GOD'S PEOPLE TO TRUST IN HIM.
1. For to assert that the place of their sanctuary was a "throne," was to assert that Jehovah was a King. Kings occupy thrones. The sovereignty of God is declared by the prophet's words. And what a King! How glorious, let all the records of their race declare. How preeminent over all the gods of the nations, let the gods of Egypt, of Philistia, of Tyre, and others confess. And he was the eternal God. "From the beginning" his rule and majesty had been confessed. But the prophet reminds his countrymen of all this that they might see and own the folly of trusting in gods of the heathen as they were so prone to do.
2. And he reminds them of the nearness of God. For the place of their sanctuary was his court, his throne, his abode. Therefore to forsake such a God, and one so near, for idol-gods, and they afar off,—what folly, what ingratitude, what sin that! But the same memory cherished concerning God, his glorious sovereignty, his all-superintending power and his nearness to us,—how would this strengthen and cheer our hearts oftentimes! Our sins and sorrows, our faint-heartedness, our fears and dismay, are all largely owing to our forgetfulness of that glorious and precious truth which the prophet here declares. And—
III. MAY BE TAKEN AS A SETTING FORTH OF WHAT OUR SANCTUARIES SHOULD BE.
1. For God should rule in them. A Christian Church, whether we speak of the fabric or the people, should be a throne of God. His Law supreme, his will the rule confessed of all. Human governance in any shape or form which will infringe on the Divine authority, is forbidden. Christ is the Head of the Church, and the "crown rights of the Redeemer" should be jealously maintained.
"Let Caesar's dues be ever paid
To Caesar and his throne,
But consciences and souls were made
To be the Lord's alone."
2. And if our churches be the Lord's throne, he will make it "a glorious high throne." We should try to make our church buildings glorious outwardly, so far as we may, coveting what is splendid, majestic, beautiful, in architecture, music, adornment, to lay as a tribute at our Sovereign's feet. Where, consistently with other claims, this may be done, it should be. But he himself will make our Churches his "glorious high throne,': by coming into their midst. On how many a Sunday his people have known that he has been with them!
"The King himself comes near
And feasts his saints today."
And by asserting his power over men's hearts. This is his most glorious power—to sway the spirit, to lead the will, to bend the heart. And this, by his Spirit in connection with the proclamation of the Word of his grace, he will do, and so the Church will become "a glorious high throne" of the Lord.
3. And because of "the communion of saints," and the consequent union of the Church of today with the Church of all the ages past, therefore the Church is God's throne which has been "from the beginning." The Church of today is in the honored succession of the Church of the first days, through its long line of patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, saints, and thus may claim to have been the "glorious high throne of the Lord from the beginning." Let us cherish and seek to hand on this succession, and thus justify our claim to the august title con-rained in these words. But most of all these words—
IV. REMIND US OF CHRIST AND HIS CROSS, THE TRUE SANCTUARY OF SOULS. The cross of the Lord Jesus Christ—type of all ignominy and shame, though it was—has become the Lord's "glorious high throne." From it and by it he has wielded a sovereignty so glorious, so wide, so holy, so enduring, that, far more than the mercy-seat, its ancient symbol, it deserves thus to be described. Whether we consider the number of his subjects, their character, the means by which his rule over them has been won and is sustained, or the nature of his rule,—all justify the ascription to his cross and to him the supreme reference of these words. Let each one ask in conclusion—Is the cross of Christ the place of our sanctuary, the place where we worship, the beloved retreat of our souls? God grant it may be!—C.
Be not a terror unto me.
It is a common observation how all things are affected by the medium through which we view them. This is true in regard to the natural vision, but yet more true in regard to that which is mental and spiritual. Thus God, whom the prophet speaks of (Jeremiah 17:13) as "the Hope of Israel," the "Fountain of living waters," and as the alone true Healer, he now prays not to be "a terror" unto him.
I. GOD IS SO TO THE UNGODLY. All his attributes are terrible to them. His holiness, for it condemns their sin. His justice, for it demands their punishment. His power, for it reveals the means whereby he can requite them. His love, for it makes their sin without excuse. His wisdom, for it renders them unable to deceive him. Hence it is that of the wicked it is said, "God is not in all his thoughts." They like not to retain God in their knowledge. To think steadily of them must be a terror to their souls. But—
II. HE SEEMS SO AT TIMES EVEN TO THE GODLY, God is to them what in their happier moments they delight to call him—their Father, their Redeemer, their Strength, their Refuge (cf. Jeremiah 16:19). But at times he seems to be "a terror" unto them. The causes of this are sometimes:
1. Morbid state of health.
2. Lack of submission to the Divine will.
4. False theological teaching.
5. Dwelling too much on the darker and more mysterious aspects of the Divine providence.
6. Depression of spirits.
7. Prolonged affliction.
III. BUT TRUER AND BRIGHTER THOUGHTS OF GOD MAY BE REGAINED. Various means may be suggested.
1. Dwelling resolutely on the mercies and loving-kindnesses of God. This is why St. Paul bids the "careful," those weighed down with care, to make known their requests to God, not only "by prayer and supplication," but "with thanksgiving" also. And elsewhere he bids us "in everything give thanks." For this compels us to, go over in our minds the happier circumstances of our lot, and when we do this we shall find-
"Our cheerful cry will oftener be,
'See what the Lord hath done for me.'"
2. And, as the words of St. Paul teach, "prayer" will help us. We
"Kneel and cast our load,
E'en while we pray, upon our God,
Then rise with lightened cheer."
The public worship of God in his sanctuary, in union with his people,—how often, like Hannah, the soul has come to God's house burdened but gone away "lightened!"
3. And "supplication." This tells of the more private, personal outpourings of the soul before God. Like the supplication in Gethsemane compared with the prayer—the Lord's Prayer—given for the common united use of his people. Here, too, vast relief is found, and the cloud clears away between us and God, and his face shines upon us once more.
4. Careful conscientious obedience and perseverance therein.
5. Seeking to comfort others. We learn in teaching, and this is true of the love of God as well as of other truths.
6. Coming again to the cross of Christ as having nothing, but looking for all in him.—C.
I. IN WHAT IT CONSISTS. Not in the mere Judaic strictness of the Old Testament Law, or of that set forth in these verses. All that might be, and yet in its true sense the Sabbath be flagrantly violated and its purpose destroyed. But in:
1. Rest. This to be both of body and mind. The student may no more pursue his studies than the laborer his toil. Rest both of body and mind from their ordinary pursuits; rest, not mere slothfulness, but such as will recreate the exhausted limbs or brain.
2. Worship. Not that it is to absolve other days from worship or to sanction their unhallowed use, but to lead to the more religious regard of all our days, the one day in seven is specially set apart.
3. Charity. In works of mercy and love to our fellow-men. Proclaiming the gospel, teaching the young, visiting the sick, relieving the poor.
II. IT IS OF DIVINE COMMAND. It is coeval with the creation of man (Genesis 1:31; Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11). And its embodiment in the moral Law seems to denote its permanence and abiding obligation.
III. ITS TRANSFER TO THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK DOES NOT ALTER ITS OBLIGATION. Our Lord taught us "the Sabbath was made for man," and therefore, though for various reasons its observance was in substance transferred from the seventh day to the first, yet, because the need is permanent, the obligation is likewise.
IV. ALL GOD'S LAWS—AS WELL AS HIS WRITTEN LAW—SANCTION IT. Those that are:
1. Physical. The body requires it, is blessed by it, harmed if deprived of it.
2. Religious Religion demands set times and observances. Without these it will die out. The Sabbath, therefore, is imperatively needed if religion is to be maintained amongst any people.
3. Moral Secular pursuits tend to absorb all the energies of the soul. Worldliness is dominant enough as it is in every man; but the break of the Sabbath does much to hold these mighty but malevolent forces in check, and gives opportunity for the exercise of other and counteracting ones.
4. Social. The indebtedness of happy family life, of prosperous national life, of friendship between man and man, to the weekly day of rest is unspeakable (cf. prize essay, 'Workman's Testimony to the Sabbath').
5. Spiritual. What records have the Sabbaths of spiritual blessing gained on and through the holy observances of that day? Sinners won to God, burdened consciences blessed with peace, tempted souls strengthened, sad and troubled ones made joyful in God, believers helped forward in the heavenly road, etc. All these facts attest the graciousness and the obligation of the command to hallow God's Sabbath. And, on the other hand, its disregard has ever been followed by moral and spiritual and often secular deterioration. It has been ill with those who have set at naught this sure law of God. Therefore let us each one do what we may to preserve to our land the unspeakable blessing of the weekly Sabbath. Better to err on the side of strictness in its observance than on the side of laxity. But let us not think that we have hallowed the Sabbath unless the ends for which it was desired have been secured by us. It is but a means, not the end, and, unless it have furthered in us love to God and man, each Sabbath as it returns is but a lost day.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Trust: human and Divine.
The prophet here presents before us a vivid contrast between two types of human character. He does this by the use of suggestive images drawn from the realm of nature, as one accustomed to see the great lessons of man's moral life and destiny reflected in visible forms in the sandy desert and sterile places of the wilderness, and in the fertile valleys and woody banks of the flowing river. The imagery is peculiarly Oriental We can all appreciate it in some measure, but those who have seen the scanty, stunted vegetable growths of the desert side by side with the rich foliage that clothes the moist ravines and the borders of the water-courses, can best understand the exquisite truth and fitness of the analogies. Consider these two opposite kinds of trust—
I. TRUST IN MAN. To "make flesh one's arm" is suggestive of personal reliance on merely human and earthly resources, in neglect of the spiritual and Divine. It takes the form of undue self-confidence—confidence in one's own wisdom and strength, or confidence in our fellow-creatures, who are as ignorant and weak and fallible as ourselves, or confidence in that which is outward and circumstantial—worldly riches, sensible gratifications, material guarantees. The features of such a trust are:
1. Vanity. Its hope is false and delusive. It has no sure foundation. It seeks life in the region of death. As the plant finds nothing to nourish it in the barren sand, so man can never draw the nutriment his being needs from mere human and earthly resources.
"Unless above himself he can erect himself,
How mean a thing is man!"
And how can that which is fleshly, and therefore perishable, ever satisfy the necessities of an immortal spirit?
2. Loss: "He shall not see when good cometh." As the influences that come down upon it from the heaven above are lost upon the plant that is rooted in the desert ground, so this earthly trust robs a man of the power to use aright even the opportunities of higher good that are within his reach. Heavenly influences appeal to him in vain. He knows not the richer possibility of good that surrounds him, fails to apprehend it, cannot see when it cometh.
3. Fruitlessness. The "parched places in the wilderness' yield no solid food. Labor bestowed on them is profitless. Such is the "curse" that rests upon the man who makes the "arm of flesh "his trust—a vain hope, destitution of the good that might be his, a withered, wasted life.
II. TRUST IN THE LORD. Blessed is the man whose whole being is rooted and grounded in God. His is a life fed at the unseen and eternal fountains. "Your hearts shall live that seek God" (Psalms 69:32). The image of the "tree planted by the waters" is suggestive of certain important aspects of that life.
1. Growth. As the trees by the mysterious prolific energy with which it is endowed, strikes its roots deeper, and spreads forth its branches over a wider space, so the freshness and force of Divine life in the soul manifests itself in ever-deepening, enlarging, heightening forms of moral and practical goodness. This is a matter both of Divine purpose and of natural organic tendency. Spirit-life, like plant-life, knows no stagnation. Where there is no growth there is decay.
2. Beauty. Of all the fair objects of nature, a well-grown tree is one of the fairest. The symmetry of its proportions, the blending in harmonious negligence of its forms and colors, the play of light and shade among its leaves and branches, all combine to make it the fitting type of moral dignity and loveliness. We cannot wonder at the graceful imagery of Hebrew poets and prophets when we remember how they dwelt in a land of olives and palm trees, of cedars and lime aloes and pomegranates. Godly character is supremely beautiful. The actual forms of religious life that one sometimes meets with are intensely displeasing. But these are caricatures, not just representations. Only as our piety is pleasing and attractive to men is it divinely true. "Whatsoever things are true,.; honest," etc. (Philippians 4:8).
3. Strength. Here is the idea of a resistive force. The tree, in the vigor of its life, is able to resist the pressure of unfriendly climatic influences. It fears not the scorching heat, or the driving blast, or the rushing torrent. It is as though it "saw ' them not. All religious life is a conflict with difficulties. It flourishes just so far as it is able at once to appropriate the good and repel the evil that environs it. Christ gives "the spirit of power" to them that believe in him—power to overcome the most oppressive and the most seductive influences of a hostile world.
"Where is true faith, all change comes graciously,"
And neither providential trials nor the assaults of evil can shake the steadfastness of him whose heart is thoroughly "established with grace."
4. Productiveness. "Neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (see also Psalms 1:3; Psalms 92:14). The fruit of the producing tree is the final development, the end and aim of its life. All religious thought and feeling, and all Divine methods of spiritual culture, point to this as their ultimate issue—the production of enduring forms of practical goodness. "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit" (John 15:8). If Christ is our living root, there can be no limit to this process. The newborn soul knows no decay of its vital energies, but rather an eternal enlargement. "It gives, but still increases." The more it gives the more it increases. "As the outward man perisheth, the inward man is renewed day by day." And when death comes and cuts the body down and lays it in the dust, it only sets the spirit free to put forth the powers of its sanctified life in new forms of service in a nobler sphere, to bear fruit forever in the paradise of God.—W.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The profound impression of Judah's sin.
I. THERE IS IMPLIED JUDAH'S OWN INDIFFERENCE TO ITS SIN. With supernatural clearness of vision, the prophet saw the sin of Judah; and he spoke concerning that sin with words which Jehovah had put into his mouth. And yet it is evident the people would not admit his representations as being correct and as needing urgent attention. The great bulk of them thought that he was inventing or at least exaggerating. They had lived so long amongst evils as to have become quite used to them; nay, more, they made a pleasure and a profit of them. And this is just one of the great difficulties in preaching the gospel and trying to persuade men to repentance. They cannot be brought to see that there is anything to repent of; that, as far as the east is from the west, so far are they from being in a right state.
II. Over against this evident indifference there must be set the prophet's EMPHATIC STATEMENT OF THE HOLD WHICH SIN HAS UPON THE PEOPLE. That we do not see the evil of our life proves one of two things—either that there is no evil to see or that we are spiritually blind and cannot see the evil which there is. Now, spiritual blindness has for its usual concomitant spiritual pride; and the man spiritually blind is the very last who will admit that he is so. If we are left to ourselves we shall never discover the original cause and fountain of all our troubles; something outside of ourselves must come in and lead to an altered view of the purposes and possibilities of life. This is not the place to speak of all that is required to produce that alteration of view; but it is very plain that statements such as that of the prophet here must be helpful to produce it. Is it not a great matter for preachers to be able to fall back upon the thorough going, uncompromising statements of the Word of God? For, though these may find no present practical response in the consciousness of the hearer, yet this very failure is a reason for repeating them over and over again, until in some critical hour the faculty is given of seeing ourselves as God sees us, which is a faculty much more to be desired than the one so often commended of seeing ourselves as others see us. Two things are here referred to—the inscribing instrument and the substance on which the inscription is made. There is a necessity for both in order to make a deep, abiding, noticeable impression. A pencil may make upon a stone a mark of some sort, but it is a mark very easily rubbed out; a pen of iron may write some great truth upon the sand of the seashore, but one wash of the rising wave sweeps it all away. But when you have the materials for a deep inscription, then something is produced which can only be destroyed by destroying that on which it is written. Little wonder was it that these people of Judah would not face the task of inspecting their hearts. Sin is so intimately mixed with the heart that you cannot get it away save by a process tantamount to the removal of the old inward life and the substitution of a new one. Hence the fitness of the petition, "Create in me a dean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." But there is something more to show the hold which sin has on these people, and that is the terrible effect upon their children. A great many details might have been heaped up to show the reality of Judah's idolatry, but one crowning illustration was better still. Not even the most hostile to the prophet could well deny that the force which compelled them to inflict such cruelties on their children in the name of religion was a hideous force. Every evil, in default of ability immediately to see its real nature, must be measured by its worst visible effects. And this is just what the prophet does herd, when he puts in the front of his accusation the sufferings of the little ones of Judah. As if these little ones had not enough of unavoidable rain to suffer, without suffering being sought out for them.
III. THE EFFECT OF ALL THIS DEEPLY ROOTED EVIL AS SEEN IN JEHOVAH'S CONSEQUENT INFLICTIONS. (Jeremiah 17:3, Jeremiah 17:4.) The people may cry, in professed amazement, "Why all these sufferings? What have we done that we should be treated in this way?" The answer is that all this spoiling, all this turning of the promised inheritance into a place not worth having, all this bitterness of exile, were not produced in some arbitrary, incomprehensible way. The prophet was not astonished at these judgments coming; he saw them approaching, and knew why they came. Great effects always have great and appropriate causes; and great causes, left to operate freely, will produce great and proper effects. Every human heart holds within it enough to make indescribable misery; and unless that greater cause which God offers to put in certain operation comes in with its counteracting force, we may be sure that indescribable misery will be produced. Wherefore let us pray that more and more we may have eyes to see and perceive, ears to hear and understand.—Y.
The curse upon the man who trusts in man. In considering this passage it is important to bear in mind that two different Hebrew words ( גֶּבֶד and אָדָם) are rendered by the one word "man." A recollection of this difference will bring much more meaning out of the passage.
I. There is suggested for consideration MAN IN HIS OPINION OF HIMSELF. He reckons himself as גֶּבֶד, the strong one. He likes to estimate his great resources and use them for his own aggrandizement. He is filled with the ambition of achieving greatness in many ways. It is by his strength that he builds Babel and the Pyramids and all the great structures of both ancient and modern times. He gathers Heat armies and makes extensive conquests. He leans to his own understanding and is wise in his own conceits. And it must be admitted that it is hard for a man in the full strength of body and mind to take in, as a practical check upon all his castle-building, the necessary weakness of human nature. The discovery of our weakness will always be a humiliating thing, at least in the first aspect of it. We do not like to relinquish the glory which comes from physical strength, intellectual skill, in short, from the employment of all those faculties enabling a man to achieve what is called a successful career. Genius is semi-deified, while the Spirit of God working through some common man, who would be nothing without that Spirit, is despised or neglected. Successful military and naval commanders are made into nobles with the general approval. Every fresh application of natural forces is hailed as a tribute to the glory of mankind. Even those who are not deceived by the coarser forms of human power are deceived readily enough by the finer ones.
II. MAN IN GOD'S ESTIMATE OF HIM. This is set forth by a threefold indication of man's folly and wickedness.
1. He trusts in man; man as set forth by the word אָדָם. The strong man is assuredly no stronger than that upon which he leans. A building may be of substantial materials, but all its strength will avail nothing if the foundation be weak. Mark that it is not a question of trusting in sinful and fallen men. God does not find fault with us for trusting in bad men rather than good ones. He is speaking of all that essential defectibility, that susceptibility to temptation, which belonged to man even before he fell. We might put the matter thus: Cursed is the man who trusts in Adam, who forgets that he himself is beset with temptations, and that in a moment of heedlessness and vain self-confidence he may fall into shame, confusion, and perhaps despair.
2. He makes flesh his arm. All strength must act through an arm of some sort. A great deal of human power makes itself felt in a very literal way through the arm. Sheer strength in wielding the sword or the hammer; skill, as in holding the painter's brush, the sculptor's chisel, the musical instrument, and the innumerable tools of all sorts of handicraftsmen. Thus the arm becomes a great representative, showing all the varieties of human strength in action. Now, where man shows his folly is in this—that wishing to get his own way, to work out his own pleasure and glory, he has no better instrument than flesh. What a poor, uncertain creature man is, if he has nothing better to depend upon than his natural faculties! The eye may lose its vision, the arm its strength, the hand its skill, and then where are the schemes and projects of the ingenious brain? The thing intended by God is that man should be as an arm to carry out into action the wise and loving projects of the Divine will. Then there is no failure, no disappointment. What cannot be done in one way will assuredly be done in another, if only the will and counsel of God stand supreme in our regard.
3. His heart departs from Jehovah. The great privilege given to Israel was that they had been brought near to Jehovah. Fallen Adam had been cast out of Eden, but believing Abraham had been drawn near to God. And his descendants in particular, the chosen nation in the wilderness, had been made to approach to Jehovah, the great I Am, the Source of whatsoever strength and energy are to be found in his universe. Thus, then, we see the peculiar folly of the children of Israel. All men are fools because they trust in man and make flesh their arm; but the Israelite is a fool more than others because his heart departs from Jehovah. He cannot depart altogether; he cannot get away from the constraints of the Omnipotent; he must go through all the sufferings that are coming upon the guilty land; and even when he departs to Babylon he will not leave Jehovah behind. What folly, then, that he does not make an instantaneous clearance of his miseries by cleaving with purpose of heart to Jehovah as Jehovah desires to cleave with fullness of blessing to him! And let us recollect that, however far from Jehovah our hearts may depart, from his judgments and penal visitations it is impossible for us to depart.
III. THE CURSE WHICH RESTS ON ALL THIS MISTAKEN SELF-CONFIDENCE. Though there seems some uncertainty as to the meaning of verse 6, it is best for practical purposes to take it in contrast with verse 8. If we plant ourselves down confidently among our own resources, deceived by the smiles and attractions of first appearances, we must not be astonished if in due time the appearances vanish and leave the cheerless realities of the wilderness. Where man by his natural vision sees the garden with all manner of rich possibilities, God teaches the believer to discern the desolation and barrenness that lie underneath. Gardens very soon become wildernesses if the heart of the cultivator departs from Jehovah. Men who in the days of their prosperity draw around them crowds of flatterers and dependents no sooner fall into adversity than they fall also into comparative solitude. The time is coming when, if we have nothing better than the help of man to trust to, we shall really have no help at all.—Y.
Jeremiah 17:7, Jeremiah 17:8
The blessing on the man who trusts in Jehovah.
I. MAN'S CLAIM TO BE RECKONED AS STRONG NEED NOT BE AN EMPTY ONE. He deserves the appellation of גֶּבֶר if only he will set the right way to obtain it. Weak as he appears from the point of view given, when his natural resources are fully opened up and tested, he may nevertheless become strong by the favor of Jehovah to perform the most extraordinary achievements. From one extreme where the strength of the godless is found to be but a mockery, we are taken all the way to another extreme, illustrated by the confident assertion of the apostle that he could do all things through Christ who gave him inward strength. We are every one of us meant to be strong with a strength which can meet the severest tests; and those who are the weakest in other respects often prove the strongest in spiritual life with what it requires both of activity and endurance. And it is of particular importance to be observed that the man weak of will, easily yielding to temptation, bound these many years by the chain of some dehumanizing habit, can be made strong enough to overcome his enemies and trample them under his feet. There is that in him which can be so renewed, so vivified, that he will become steadfast and energetic in attaining the Divine purpose of existence. Recollect the instance of the man who was above forty years old when his feet and ankle-bones received strength. Jesus of Nazareth did not bring this about merely for this man's physical benefit; but chiefly that those who were inwardly lame should be stimulated to seek him, and have the feet and ankle-bones of the inward man strengthened for a holy and a truly manly service. God must needs pour contempt upon the boastings of the natural man, in order that, when he has effectually humbled him, he may then exalt him into the possession of true strength.
II. THE REQUISITE FOR THE ATTAINMENT OF TRUE STRENGTH IS POINTED OUT. Pointed out clearly and simply. He is the strong man who trusts in Jehovah, and he is strong just as far as he does trust. Notice how the requirement of trust is expressed twice over, first by a verb and then by a noun, both of which have the same root-letters. It is as if we first saw the man in the active exercise of trust, and then the habitual confidence of his nature. We see the man trusting and we also see the trusting man. "All things are possible to him that believeth." When God speaks, the trustful hearer readily acts upon the strength of God meaning what he says. The statements of the gospel transcend human powers of discovery, and they can only be believed because God makes them—he whose regular and beneficent ways in nature prove him to be so true. Man by faith puts himself in the hands of God, his Maker, and then he can do things far beyond what he has hitherto imagined to be practicable. Look at the sublimest illustration of this ever given upon earth; when the man Christ Jesus believingly said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Then, in a very few hours, the strength imparted even to the dead was revealed by the resurrection of Christ.
III. THE ILLUSTRATION OF HOW THE BLESSING COMES. Possibly there is here a reference to some regular practice of the foreseeing planter of trees. The necessity of planting trees near water-courses is not obvious to us, seeing that in our moist climate we often see noble umbrageous trees far enough from anything of the kind. The children of this world are wise in their generation. They bear in mind—they have to bear in mind—the scorching heat, the rainless, cloudless heavens, or, if clouds there be, too often waterless clouds, mocking, tantalizing beauties of the sky; and so they plant their trees where they may stretch out their thirsty roots to the passing stream. And yet these same children of this world, prudent for their trees, may yet be foolish for themselves, taking up a position in life admirable for the gaining of temporal ends, but leaving at a great distance the river that flows from "the throne of God and of the Lamb." Thus there is here a lesson from the tree which cannot choose to the man who can choose. We all have our choice of the essentials of position. There are two sets of circumstances—those we cannot choose and those we are bound to choose. It is in the power of us all to be planted by the waters. God's gifts of grace flow through fixed and well-defined channels, and to these we must go. We are not allowed to make compromises. A very little seeming difference may, in reality, make all the difference between wisdom and folly in this matter. It did not need that the tree should be planted very far away from the water, a few yards more or less might determine the result. There is also in this illustration the notion of a hidden means of supply. To outward appearance there is no connection between the tree and the river; the connection is underneath, and it is real, increasing, and constant.—Y.
Jeremiah 17:9, Jeremiah 17:10
The searching and knowing of the heart.
One is reminded here of the oft-quoted piece of advice, "Know thyself." The prophet's assertion places man before us as the victim of self-ignorance, self-confidence, and self-deception. He talks of truth when his mind is full of error, and thus he is prevented from taking the only real way by which he can attain to the knowledge of truth. In the prophet's assertion and question, and the Divine answer given to the question, there is much which upon the first aspect may humiliate. But the humiliation will itself prove a cause for rejoicing if only it leads us to profit by God's certain knowledge in matters when we are profoundly ignorant.
I. THINK OF THE VAST AND INCREASING EXTENT OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. If a man be ignorant of his own heart it surely cannot be because he himself is unfitted for the knowledge. He may have become unfit, and the unfitness may, by neglect, become more pronounced, but he cannot be unfit by reason of his original constitution. One may say that God must have intended him to have sufficient knowledge to keep his inward life right. Otherwise we have this curious contradiction—that man has achieved an immense amount of knowledge with respect to his physical constitution, but is doomed to remain in uncertainty and bewilderment as to the laws of a healthy and a happy inward life. "Who can know the heart?" says the prophet. And yet even with the limited knowledge of his age there were many men, doubtless, who knew many things. We all have the powers of observation, comparison, and experiment, and it is the largest pleasure of some minds to exercise these powers. And yet it is just to minds that are most trained, most confident in the principles of science, and most stored with the results of it, that this question might be put. It is not a question for the child just beginning to learn or for the savage unaccustomed to think; let it be put to man m his highest civilization, and then the fact will be seen that the question is no vain and inappropriate one.
II. Thus we are led to notice THE DREADFUL IGNORANCE WHICH MAY PREVAIL IN THE MIDST OF ALL THIS KNOWLEDGE. The progress of the world does not make the prophet's question one whir less pressing. Nay, it becomes more pressing than ever. Other objects of knowledge have an ever-increasing light cast upon them, and by the very force of the contrast man's inward life appears in still deeper darkness. Whatever the cause of the continued ignorance may be, that ignorance does continue, so far as man's unaided effort to remove it is concerned. In one single mind we too often see exemplified vast intellectual knowledge and complete spiritual ignorance. He who seems to know everything does not know his own heart, and apparently does not care to know it; reminding one of the man who had traveled over the whole world and yet had never beheld a scene as wonderful as any which was visible from a point on his own estate. The time is coming when knowledge will vanish away. But the neglected heart will still remain to force itself, in a way which cannot be resisted, upon the thoughts of its long indifferent possessor.
III. THE CAUSE OF THIS IGNORANCE IS MADE PLAIN. It all lies in the deceitfulness and utter corruption of the human heart. And notice in particular that it is by the heart that the heart is to be known. Heart-knowledge is not like other kinds of knowledge; it depends on the character of him who knows. There is no essential contradiction between high intellectual acquirements and a hard, selfish, and perhaps even, in some instances, a profligate life. Men of refined tastes and great intellectual sensibilities may be thoroughly selfish, careless about the toil and suffering of the world, so long as these plant no thorn in their pillows, infuse no bitterness into their cup. But one who would know the heart must be very sure of his own motives, otherwise he may make human nature to appear better in some respects and worse in others than it really is. The description here may, therefore, be taken as applying even more forcibly to the heart that knows than to the heart that is to be known. Here the great difficulty and danger lie. For the deceitful and corrupt heart can be known, if not by any one else, at all events by Jehovah himself. But the deceitful and corrupt heart cannot know; it does not, in the fullest sense of the word, know anything at all. With hearts put right, what a wonderful increase of knowledge and of the profit and pleasure of knowledge will there be! But till then we are not unlike those who suffer from diseased intellects. They come into great contrast with sane people from the way in which their minds get filled with hallucinations and incongruities. And so, if we try to compare ourselves in our notions of things with Christ's teaching, we shall see the difference between the view taken by a sincere sound heart, such as was that of our Lord, and the view taken by corrupt, deceitful hearts, which ours are and must be till we discover the need of a new and pure life to be put into them.
IV. GOD'S PERFECT KNOWLEDGE STANDS IN THE PLACE OF OUR IGNORANCE AND ERROR. God knows us in all our motives, through all our concealments, and can set our secret sins—the operation of destroying causes that lie even below our consciousness—in the light of his countenance. When once we discover how competent God is to search and try, we shall then see that it is vain for us to deny what he affirms, to excuse what he condemns, and to make out that we are not responsible when he lays evil at our doors. Jeremiah's scornful audiences may have said to him, "How come you to know these things about us? How come you to be so uncharitable as to bring these dreadful charges?" But then we know that they were not the prophet's own charges, but came from God himself. It was part of Jeremiah's grief that, on Jehovah's authority, he should have to believe things so bad of his nation. What God did to Israel was just; and more and more, as time went on, it was seen to be just. In all great exhibitions of Divine wrath we must be silent, recollecting that God knows what we cannot know, and perceives necessities where we can perceive none.—Y.
Riches wrongly gotten, and the consequence.
Here is an instance of illustration which, so far as our knowledge is concerned, is more obscure than the thing to be illustrated. But there was, no doubt, with regard to some bird a popular opinion which made the prophet's reference very suggestive to his hearers. The fact supposed is that some bird gathers the young of other birds, despoiling the nests of the real parents, only to find, when the young ones get sufficiently strong, that they can no longer be kept to its nurture and control. Whether there was a real fact corresponding matters very little. If we want a familiar and sufficiently corresponding instance, we may find it in the not infrequent one of a hen hatching a brood of ducklings, only to find how soon their alien nature is manifested when a pool of water comes within reach. Note—
I. THERE IS A RIGHTFUL GETTING OF WEALTH. External property occupies a position of approval in the Old Testament which is denied to it in the New. All the way through the New Testament the perils and deceptions attaching to mere external wealth are strongly insisted on. If not condemned per se, which of course is not possible, it is yet put forward as a heavy burden and perpetual stumbling-block to the Christian who has it. But in the Old Testament that very wealth is magnified, doubtless as a symbol of those better riches which would appear in something of their proper glory and satisfying power through the energetic ministrations of Christ's Spirit. God saw fit for a time to recognize ability, industry, and integrity in a way which would be plain to the most carnal of men. Take Job, for instance. And even in the New Testament a sharp line is drawn between wealth gotten honestly and that which came by extortion and cheating. There is a standard of integrity recognized by the natural man; and God also recognizes this standard, so far as it goes, Miserably short does it fall of his appointed height of perfection, but it is better than nothing. Those who fall short of even the moderate requirements of their fellow-men God will condemn. On them he will set an unmistakable mark. Bat in order to do this there must be some sort of modified approval of those who, in seeking wealth, strive to keep their integrity and refrain from doing that which may degrade and impoverish their fellow men.
II. THE PECULIAR UNCERTAINTY OF ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH. All external wealth is uncertain. "Riches take to themselves wings and flee away." They furnish one of the most impressive testimonies to the instability of terrestrial society. But ill-gotten gains are peculiarly unstable. Every rich man is envied, and few such escape slander. But he who becomes rich by unscrupulous methods has to lay his account with hostility on the part of all whom he has spoiled. Methods of unjust gain cannot but provoke the resolute, persevering, and ultimately successful opposition of all who hate injustice. Recollect the sudden and complete loss which came to the slave-holders of America, when their slaves were freed as a matter of military necessity. It is true that unjust gains seem to be often as stable as just ones; but still the peculiar uncertainty remains. A Christian possessing external wealth hears in mind the uncertainty of it, just as he bears in mind the uncertainty of his own natural life; but the heaper-up of filthy lucre has to reckon, not only with the perils of all human life, but also with those inseparable from his own evil courses. In some great storm, fatally threatening the ship of state, such a one may have to be thrown overboard, Jonah-fashion, in order to secure the safety of the rest.—Y.
Jeremiah 17:12, Jeremiah 17:13
An inspiring invocation.
We must take Jeremiah 17:12 as invocatory rather than indicative. The prophet speaks suitably in the language of apostrophe as he refers to the throne of Jehovah and the holy heights where he dwells. "O throne of glory, height of beginning, place of our sanctuary!" It will be felt that this apostrophe is well fitted to make the Hope of Israel a source of real hope in the hearts of Israel.
I. THE THRONE OF GLORY. This may be taken as having, by contrast, a double reference. He who sits on this throne is the Deity, Jehovah; hence all the seats of the Gentile gods may in like manner be considered as thrones. And because he who sits on a throne is reckoned as a king, there is also a contrast with human kings. This reference to the throne of glory amounts, therefore, to a condemnation of all idol shrines and human thrones as places to be ashamed of. The shrines were richly decorated and regarded with the utmost veneration, but this did not make them glorious. The practices of those connected with the shrines and the character of the worshippers showed that instead of glory there was shame. It has been the mark of all who have turned from formal idolatry or from the equally real idolatry of a worldly spirit to the living God, the God of Sinai and the tabernacle, of Calvary and of Pentecost, that they have become more and more ashamed of their ungodly past. Its defilement and unworthiness have been seen in a new light and with new eyes. When the slave becomes a freeman, servitude is more and more seen to be inexpressibly degrading. And so with regard to the thrones of human kings: these are just the places where human selfishness and pride are most conspicuous. To see how base and fiendish a man can become, we have only to select from the occupants of thrones. It is not meant that kings have been worse than common men; but their elevated position has both enlarged their opportunities for mischief, and also exposed them to the gaze of all succeeding generations. A Tiberius or a Nero gets an immortality of infamy, whereas an obscure villain of the same age passes swiftly into oblivion. Those kings who have really glorified thrones did so only as far as they were viceroys to him who is the King of kings. Human thrones may or may not be thrones of glory so far as glory can belong to the creature. Jehovah's throne must be glorious seeing that it is forever transfigured with the effulgence of him who sits thereon.
II. THE HEIGHT OF BEGINNING. "In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth." It is man coming in afterwards who has misemployed and degraded what God fashioned with certain Divine and supremely beneficial ends in view. Out of that which God has made for his glory man raises up things to glorify himself. The proudest system of idolatry, the system most deeply rooted in the hearts of millions, is but of yesterday when compared with those heavens which are God's throne and that earth which is his footstool. Measured against this height of beginning, the most ancient of human families is only an upstart. It is like the mushroom of a night when set over against some immemorial tree. The abode where and whence the glory of Jehovah is manifested is not a Babel edifice, which, however high it may rise, is humiliatingly conditioned by the unstable foundation on which it rests. Human power, at the summit of its splendor, has traversed and conquered large tracts of the earth; and so kings get the name of great; but the greatness is only a momentary, unsubstantial swelling. Their power, like that of the sudden torrent, swiftly passes away. One can imagine how the prophet, while he talked of this height of beginning, looked to the heavens, so unaffected by all the strife and pride of the generations which succeed one another in this lower world. Jehovah has not climbed through long struggles to his height of glory. There may be evolution and graduation among the creatures of his hand, but such conceptions of progress are nothing less than blasphemous when we try to apply them to him.
III. THE PLACE OF OUR SANCTUARY. The place which God had condescended to make holy in his special connection with Israel—the place where the Ark of the Covenant rested—had become also a place (the history of Israel being witness) where the people of Israel might have every confidence in God. The temples of idols had not an invariable connection with the triumphs of their worshippers; but just in proportion as Israel honored the Ark of the Covenant and the God of the ark, in the same proportion they were made to see the effect of their conduct in triumph over their enemies and success in their own affairs. It was because they forsook the ark that they themselves were forsaken in humiliation, adversity, and shame. Not, of course, that the prophet is thinking of the ark only here. The true place of sanctuary is also in his mind—the invisible abode of the invisible Jehovah.—Y.
Written in the earth.
I. As INDICATION OF WHY MEN DEPART FROM GOD. "Those who depart from Jehovah," says the prophet, "shall be written in the earth" Therefore we conclude that their aim is to be written in some more durable and trustworthy substance. When they are spoken of as departing from God, the description is one accommodated to our thoughts rather than exactly correspondent with reality. The connection has been real so far as mere opportunity and privilege were concerned, but nominal also, because the opportunity and privilege were never seized. God has drawn near to the man; the man has not been inclined to draw near to God. It has seemed to him that in drawing near there would be such a subordination of self as would amount to self-effacement. The lusts of the natural man are everywhere checked and contradicted by the commandments of God. Hence man strives to get away from God and into such relations with his fellow-men as will, he thinks, cause his name to be counted for more. It may be that it is self-glory he is seeking for; to have his name deeply graven on the world's memorial tablets as one who has achieved much and stood out like a Hercules from the common crowd. It may be that he hopes for great power; to have his name written on the hearts of thousands whose interests will be bound up with his so that they cannot succeed if he fails. It is very gratifying to the pride of man to feel that others cannot do without him.
II. THE SURE RESULT OF DEPARTURE FROM GOD. Men go away from God expecting to have their names written in the marble, and a very short experience shows that they are written, as it were, on the most shifty of all materials. From a certain point of view, nothing seems more irregular than the preservation of what was written in ancient ages. Deep letters on hard stones are long faded away, whale characters written on parchment or even paper survive to this day, and are now watched with an attention which bids fair to preserve them for many a year to come. But every one can see that what is written in the earth must, in the very nature of things, be quickly obliterated. Such writing may be the amusement of a child; it could never be the serious occupation of a man. And yet it is just by this figure that the folly of apostates from God is set forth. They write their names on a spot exposed to the trampling crowd of their fellow-men; and in their own selfishness they forget of how little account they are to others as selfish as themselves. And yet, in spite of such a warning to those who depart from God, they go on complaining because men forget them. It is just the way in which they must expect to be treated. It is the way of the world. After all, we are but weak creatures, with very limited powers, and we may well be excused if we cannot keep constantly in our minds those who have some claim on our sympathy and help. It is no fault of earth that it is earth instead of adamant. The fault lies with those who allow their names to be written there instead of in the enduring place which God has provided for them.
III. THE EQUALLY SURE RESULT FROM CLEAVING TO GOD. Though not stated in so many words, it is cheeringly implied that those cleaving to God have their names written whence they can never be erased. For their names are indeed written, as it were, on the heart of God himself. He cannot either forget or forsake them. They are ever remembered in the wisdom of his thoughts and the resistless movements of his ways. The Best thing that can happen to us in purely human relations is to be written in the hearts of those who love us; when they remember us, not because it is their interest to do so, but out of an unselfish fullness of desire for our welfare and happiness. But how much Better is it to Be thus remembered by God, seeing that with him there abides a love inexpressibly deeper than any human affection, and, along with this love, a wisdom and power with which even the highest human wisdom and power are not for a moment to Be mentioned!—Y.
He whom God heals is really healed.
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF INDIVIDUAL NEED. The prayer is "heal me;" "deliver me." The prophet shows how deep and pressing is his own need by the use of two figures. He feels the need of something being done internally and externally. Internally he is sick at heart, wounded and bruised in spirit. He needs healing from the state of mind produced through being despised and rejected by his fellow-countrymen. Still worse is the gnawing pain produced as he views the wickedness of the land and takes knowledge of the steadily advancing calamities. But we cannot doubt that beyond all this there was the consciousness of his own heart's pollution and unworthiness. So far as natural constitution and natural tendencies were concerned, he who spoke was no better than those to whom he spoke. Thus, in trying to waken others from their lethargy, he became more thoroughly wakened to his own state. The word which God had put into his mouth was spoken, not only to the outside audience, but down to his own sinning and ignorant heart. God cannot take for prophets and apostles those who care little about their own spiritual need. Paul became a better apostle because he reckoned himself, in such sincerity, the chief of sinners. It ought to be no marvel that those to whom we speak are indifferent to their state, if we who speak to them are largely indifferent to our own.
II. THE VANITY OF SEEKING ELSEWHERE THAN TO GOD. The very confidence which Jeremiah expresses that, if only God heals him, he will Be truly healed, seems to indicate that he had some experience of other modes of healing, such as had looked very promising at first, but proved utterly vain in the end. As a general rule, we have to Be disappointed in human agencies of healing Before we can be satisfied with the Divine one. It cannot be said that the nature and depth of the disease are adequately discovered, until we discover, from experience, how vain human resources are against it. We may be able to mitigate symptoms, to deaden pain, to rouse into a temporary cheerfulness; but in the end the relapse is certain and more confirmed than ever. It was a great thing for the prophet to Be brought to feel, as he evidently was, that anywhere else he went would Be with the probability of failure. With God there is not only the certainty of success, that success is with him alone.
III. THE PROPHET'S CONFIDENCE IN GOD AS A HEALER. The way in which he expresses this confidence is most worthy of notice. His confidence is, not that God will do something for him, but that whatever God does will be adequate for the end in view. It is much to feel that one may count upon Divine sympathy and effort; it is still more to feel that whatever help God gives will rise to the intensity of the need. He who gives the spirit of conviction, working deep in the natural heart and showing its diseased state and defiling, polluting activity, gives also the spirit of a real healing. The great ground of apprehension arises, not from the magnitude of the spiritual disease, but from the indifference of the sufferer and his indisposition to submit his heart to God's searching, healing power. The moment we are willing to submit ourselves to the great Physician, that moment the worst disease becomes a manageable and a virtually conquered thing. The course of the healing process may be long, tedious, and painful; but what matter these, if the end be perfect healing and everlasting health?—Y.
Where is the word of the Lord?
I. THE PRETEXT AND AIM OF THIS QUESTION. The prophet's subsequent comment on the question shows with what bitter hatred to him it was asked. Sad, indeed, it is to reflect that these very words might be asked in a far different spirit; that they might come from the depths of an ignorant seeking heart, wandering long amid idolatries and human systems of philosophy, without hearing anything to serve as bread of heaven for the deep hunger within. There are people upon whom God's Word has been pressed in every variety of appeal and representation. The Word has sought them out again and again; and yet in the end all they can do is to cast a scornful doubt on whether it is the Word of God at all. It may, indeed, be allowed that they did not mean to insult Jehovah; all they had in view was to express, in the most stinging way, their bitter hatred of this pertinacious, plain-spoken prophet—this man who had come as a comparative youth from little Anathoth, rebuking those who were high in rank, old in years, and looked up to by the bulk of the people. No fallacy infecting the regions of practical life is more pernicious than that which, professing to admit the authority of him who sends, yet discredits the status of his professed messenger. It is thus very easy to evade unpleasant, humiliating messages. So the Jews of our Lord's time were fanatically solicitous to honor their conception of Jehovah, and, as part of this devotion, they ended by crucifying Jesus as a blasphemer. The very people who asked, "Where is the word of Jehovah?" may have been the first to frame plausible repudiations of any wish to blaspheme him. Their great aim and purpose was to put this upstart Jeremiah in his proper place. They probably thought that these scornful speeches might become at last as a gag in his mouth. The lesson is plain: do not reject truth, or in any wise try to evade it because it comes through some one you do not like. What Jeremiah said here, respecting the character and work of these men, was true; and they do not deny the truth. They simply ignore the charges, and by one scornful question hint that the threatenings connected with the charges are but as empty words.
II. THE WAYS IN WHICH THIS QUESTION MAY BE ANSWERED, Jeremiah, we perceive, has his own answer appropriate to his individual circumstances. He fails back on his integrity. God knows the fidelity and obedience of his heart. God had put into his mouth the words he had spoken. They did not rise out of his personal feeling; they were not the breathings of an egotist, a fanatic, a madman, an enemy of his country. But inasmuch as this question is ever being asked by a certain class who will not believe in a Divine plan of the world—partly revealed in Scripture and the partial execution of which is shown in history—it is well to remember how Jehovah has honored his servants who have had in any way to fill the office of prophets. He who has gone forth to threaten the persistently impenitent has never been without some achieved judgment of God which he might adduce as an illustration. The shadows cast forward into the future have their correspondences in the substances belonging to the past. If we could only summon out of the invisible world the generation which perished in the Flood, the dwellers in the cities of the plain, Pharaoh and his army, those who were destroyed in the gainsaying of Korah, and many others, they would be able to give no uncertain answer to the question, "Where is the word of Jehovah?" The kingdom of God is not in word only; it has in it a power which can be manifested in all needful abundance, with all needful rapidity, and in whatever aspect may be proper to the occasion. God's Word becomes a complete and plainly perceptible deed exactly when the time is ripe. Shall man be able to arrange a time-piece so that when the hour hand and minute hand together point to twelve there shall be the striking which signifies noon has arrived; and shall not God be able to order the mysteries and complexities of the world so as to bring out the intended results just when he wants them? It is not for us to know times and seasons; but most emphatically it is for us to believe that every word of God is true. These very scorners of Jeremiah were about to add, in the course of a few short years at most, an illustration as forcible as any that what God has spoken may be taken as already done. God's calm advancing of his kingdom should do much to make his people calm. It is our fault if the sarcasms of the unbelieving become anything more than words; and mere words are best met by a silent, patient, and believing continuance in well-doing.—Y.
The prophet's consciousness of integrity.
We may take it that this one question, "Where is the word of Jehovah?" stands for a great deal in the way of taunt, The appeal to God, with which the prophet follows up the mention of this question, shows how much he felt the attacks made upon him. It would be too much to say that he did not expostulate with his enemies upon their injustice; but evidently his great resort was to the God who had sent him. If men perversely attributed to him daring imposture and bitter malignity, he could do nothing but fall back on God's knowledge of his course and motives. Four points are noticeable.
I. HIS OFFICE AS A PROPHET WAS NOT THE RESULT OF DISCONTENT WITH A PREVIOUS OCCUPATION. He had not hastened from being a shepherd. He was perfectly willing to have continued as a shepherd at Anathoth. It was not he who, looking out on the larger world, had wished to become conspicuous on a busier scene. He left his sheep because God had called him, as he called Moses, David, and Amos. It is true that, if a prophet would do his work ex animo, he must choose it; but first of all he must be chosen. It must be made perfectly plain to him, in a sober, wakeful moment, when all the faculties of life are collected, that he, and not some other person, was called to this work; to this work, and not to some other work. The office of a prophet, with all its toils, sufferings, perils, and temptations, was assuredly not an office to be grasped at. It needed that one should count the cost. We are not told much of the earlier history of the prophets, but some of them, at least, must have known long periods of discipline. For Jeremiah to say that he had not hastened to be a prophet really means that he had gone into the work with great deliberation, slowly and steadily following where God slowly and steadily walked before him. There is no haste in God's dealings, though in crises there may be suddenness and rapidity of action; and therefore there can be no haste with those who are the instruments and messengers of God's dealings.
II. THE REPUDIATION OF EVERYTHING LIKE PERSONAL MALIGNITY. He was compelled to speak of a calamitous day, but he spoke as one whose inexpressibly painful duty it is to break bad news. Moreover, it was bad news which concerned him as much as every other member of the nation. He was' not a mere outsider, looking on with pity at events which did not concern him individually. The calamities of his native land, although he might be free from their worst effects, could not leave him altogether unsmitten. Doubtless there were moments when he, like Paul, could have wished himself accursed for his brethren's sake. His feelings when he had to speak of impending calamities would be of the same kind (not, of course, so pure and intense) as those which Jesus had when he apostrophized Jerusalem, rushing to its fall, and careless about the things which made for its peace. Terrible truth may be spoken very tenderly and beseechingly. Juries find verdicts condemning to death, and judges pass the corresponding sentences, which they would all of them gladly escape if fidelity to truth and duty left an open way. That tenderness which shirks duty because of present, pain and difficulty, often proves in the end to be the worst of cruelty.
III. THE WORDS OF THE PROPHECIES ARE EXPRESSLY ATTRIBUTED TO GOD. It is a natural course to hold a man responsible for all that comes from his lips. The prophet could not escape this responsibility. It was not his to complain that his auditors challenged him as the constructor of these unpalatable speeches. If they looked to him, he in turn did the wise thing, the only thing that could be done—he looked to God. He was able to do this because he had been faithful. He had not garbled or mutilated his message to make it more tolerable. He understood perfectly well what, nevertheless, many fail to understand, that truth depends, not on what men are able to understand, but on what God clearly reveals. The prophet was in no manner of doubt as to the authority by which he spoke. Looking back and reviewing his utterances, he was perfectly sure that he had not confused his own thoughts with the commanded words of Jehovah. If what God reveals for us to speak, we speak; and if what he reveals for us to believe and act upon, we do believe and act upon; then with the utmost confidence we can go to him for support and defense. What could Jeremiah have done in his extremity if he had not been conscious of his fidelity as a prophet of God?
IV. GOD KNEW THE TRUTH OF ALL THAT THE PROPHET WAS ASSERTING. "Thou knowest." God knew his servants heart; knew the sincerity and simplicity of his service. It was of no use arguing with men. Either they were unable to discern how true and apposite were his words, or, discerning, they were not willing to make a corresponding acknowledgment. But where men were ignorant God had perfect knowledge; where men were indifferent God showed the deepest interest. Hence the prophet could look to him confidently for continued support and ample vindication. Rightly considered, there is nothing revengeful or merely personal in verse 18. We may well believe that the prophet's great anxiety was that the truth of Jehovah should be honored, even though it might be by terrible judgments upon despisers and unbelievers.—Y.
The hallowing of the Sabbath day.
I. THE PLACE FOR ANNOUNCING THE MESSAGE.
1. It was a place where the king, as much as the people, would hear. Whatever else may be signified by "the gate of the children of the people" it seems clear that it was a gate in which, at certain times, the king would be found. In his own house it might be impossible to gain access to him; but the gate was open to all; and there he could not choose but listen to a man who would speak earnestly and commandingly; because the word of Jehovah lodged in him, came from the depths of his concurring heart. The king, doubtless, by their own individual leadership and encouragement, were responsible for much of the evil of Sabbath-breaking. The state of Jerusalem in particular would be largely influenced by them. A corrupt court makes a corrupt capital, and a corrupt capital is not without effect towards the making of a corrupt nation.
2. It was the place for the greatest general publicity. One gate is specified, but not one of the gates was to be omitted. The king, with his peculiar responsibilities, was warned in a peculiar way; but there was no one in such a private and irresponsible position as to be without concern in the message. The ten commandments were commandments for every individual among the people; hence the need of a warning which, in the mode of giving it, should be likely to arrest the attention of all. It was Jehovah's message delivered at least as many times as there were gates in Jerusalem. We may well believe that it was delivered over and over again. 1N note of time is given, but of course the prophet would choose the time when there were most passengers; nor would he omit to deliver the message upon the Sabbath day itself.
3. The message was given upon one of the most conspicuous scenes of transgression. If the prophet went to one of the most frequented gates on a Sabbath, there he found transgressors, crowds of them, in the very act of transgression. They could not deny the act, and all he needed to do was to adduce the commandment against it. God can always make it clear that he does not send forth his prophets without occasion.
II. THE MESSAGE ITSELF. This command with respect to the Sabbath day seems to come in very abruptly here. And yet no one who considers the prominence of Jehovah's injunction to "remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" will wonder at the definiteness and emphasis of the prophet's message. The details of his message make it only too sadly evident how far the people had departed from the original commandment. Here we have one of two extremes of disobedience in which the practical attitude of Israel towards this commandment appears. The sacred day which God had hallowed both in word and deed was recklessly and shamelessly made into a common day. If a stranger went into the streets of Jerusalem on a Sabbath, he might have great difficulty in discerning by any external sign that it was a Sabbath. The people would be going into the city and coming out of it much as on any other day. The other extreme is seen in the reasonless and fanatical formalism of the Jews, who so often attacked our Lord. There is certainly a great difference externally between these two extremes. It is very wonderful to consider that such a transition should be possible from the careless crowding of the gates with burdens on the Sabbath, to the savage bigotry which attacked Jesus for healing sick folk on the same day. Yet underneath external differences there was the same unabated, worldly, ungodly spirit. Those whom Jesus had to denounce for their shameless trafficking in the holy precincts were the children of those whom Jeremiah had to denounce for doing their own selfish will and needless acts on God's Sabbath. And so we see that this passage from the prophet needs to be considered along with those passages in the Gospels where Jesus deals with the sabbatarianism of his time. His painful experiences of such professed honorers of God, and his searching exposures of them, need w be complemented by this message of Jeremiah. We shall always find in Scripture something to check us from "the falsehood of extremes." Sabbatarians twist a commandment; Sabbath-breakers trample it underfoot. The evil which Jeremiah deals with here is dealt with even more solemnly by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 22:1-12, where in Ezekiel 22:8 Sabbath-breaking is particularly referred to as one of many terrible transgressions. See also Nehemiah 9:14; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Isaiah 56:2; Ezekiel 20:12-24; Ezekiel 46:1-5).—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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