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The second chapter forms the introduction of a group of discourses (Jeremiah 2-6), which should be read together. It is called By Ewald (and the position of the prophecy favors this view) the first oracle which Jeremiah delivered in public ("oracle" is, in fact, the nearest English equivalent to those two remarkable Hebrew synonyms, massa and neum—especially for the latter). This would bring it into the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah (see Jeremiah 1:3), though of course we cannot be sure that references to a later period may not have been inserted afterwards. It is, obviously, only a summary of the prophet's spoken words which we have in this most impressive discourse. In order to appreciate it, we must bear in mind the external political relations and the internal religions condition of the kingdom of Judah. These have Been already touched upon in the general introduction. Suffice it to remind the reader that Josiah's reformation—in the strict sense of the word—did not begin till the eighteenth year of that king's reign; and that the state of things was at this time complicated by a dangerous alliance with that power against whoso religion the teaching of the prophets of Jehovah was a continual protest (on the Egyptian alliance, comp. Ewald, 'History of Israel,' 4.218). The first section of the prophecy is a general introduction, already full of serious charges against the people (verses 1-9); in the second, the special occasion of the discourse is declared in the form of a question, and the sin referred to is rebuked (verses 10-19); in the third, Judah's inveterate idolatry is denounced, and the disappointment and ruin to which it led candidly pointed out (verses 20-28); and in the fourth, "half in earnest and half in ironical satire" (Ewald), the prophet points the moral of this foolish Egyptian fever which has seized upon rulers and people (verse 29-37).
It is always interesting to notice how later inspired writers hasten to do honor to their predecessors. Originality is not an object with the prophets, but rather the developing and adapting the truths long ago "delivered." The whole group of prophecies to which Jeremiah 2:1-37. belongs contains numerous points of contact, in ideas or phraseology, with the song of Hoses (Deuteronomy 32:1-52.). The following have been indicated:—Cf. Jeremiah 2:5 with Deuteronomy 32:4; Deuteronomy 32:11, Deuteronomy 32:12 with Deuteronomy 32:1, Deuteronomy 32:21; Deuteronomy 32:20 with Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:26-28 with Deuteronomy 32:6, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:37, Deuteronomy 32:38; Deuteronomy 32:31 with Deuteronomy 32:5; Jeremiah 3:19 with Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 4:22 and Jeremiah 5:21 with Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 5:7 with Deuteronomy 32:15; Jeremiah 5:14 with Deuteronomy 32:22; Jeremiah 5:28 with Deuteronomy 32:15; Jeremiah 6:11 with Deuteronomy 32:25; Jeremiah 6:15 with Deuteronomy 32:35; Jeremiah 6:19, Jeremiah 6:30 with Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:19.
Moreover; literally, and. The introductory formula agrees with Jeremiah 1:4. We have as it were two parallel prophecies (Jeremiah 1:4, etc; and Jeremiah 2:1, etc.); both branching out of the original chronological statement in Jeremiah 1:2 (see Introduction).
In the cars of Jerusalem. Presumably Jeremiah had received his call at Anathoth (comp. Jeremiah 1:1). I remember thee, etc.; rather, I remember for thy good the kindness of thy youth. It is an open question whether the "kindness" spoken of is that of God towards the people, or of the people towards God. The usage of the Hebrew (khesed) admits of either acceptation; comp. for the first, Psalms 5:7, Psalms 36:5, and many other passages; for the second, Hosea 6:4, Hosea 6:6 (in Hosea 6:6 rendering for "mercy," "goodness") and Isaiah 57:1 (rendering "men of piety"). But the context, which dwells so strongly on the oblivion into which the Divine benefits had been allowed to pass, is decidedly in favor of the first view. How beautiful is this condescending language! Jehovah's past feelings come Back to him; at least, so it appears to the believer, when God lets the light of his countenance shine forth again (comp. Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 9:10). He even condescends to overlook the weakness and inconsistency of the Israel of antiquity. He idealizes it (i.e. Jeremiah is permitted to do so). This is in harmony with other prophetic passages (see Isaiah 1:26 ("as at the first"); Hosea 11:1, Hosea 11:3, Hosea 11:4; Ezekiel 16:6-14). The figure of the bride recurs constantly (see Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:20; Isaiah 54:4, Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16:8). Thine espousals; rather, thy bridal state. When thou wentest after me (comp. Deuteronomy 8:2, "all the way which Jehovah thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness").
Israel was holiness, etc. Israel was a consecrated people (comp. Exodus 19:5, Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; Deuteronomy 26:19). Isaiah, fond as he is of the phrase "Israel's Holy One," does not expressly enforce the correlative truth, as Jeremiah does here. The first-fruits of his increase; rather, his firstfruits of increase. Israel is compared to the firstfruits (reshith) of the land, which were devoted to the house of the Lord (Exodus 23:19; Numbers 18:12, Numbers 18:13). So in Amos 6:1, the title given him is "the chief [margin, 'firstfruits'] of the nations" (in Jeremiah 31:7, a synonymous and cognate word, rosh, takes the place of reshith for "chief"). All that devour him shall offend; rather, all that ate him incurred guilt, or became guilty of a trespass. Foreigners were forbidden to eat of consecrated things; by breaking this law they became guilty of a "trespass," having invaded the rights of Jehovah (Leviticus 22:10, Leviticus 22:15, Leviticus 22:16). The word for "trespass" is the same as that rendered "guilt."
What iniquity, etc.; rather, what unrighteousness, etc. (comp. Deuteronomy 32:4, "a God of faithfulness, and without unrighteousness," alluding to the "covenant" between Jehovah and Israel). God's condescending grace (his 'anavah, Psalms 18:36). As if he were under an obligation to Israel (comp. Micah 6:3, etc.; Isaiah 5:3). Vanity; i.e. the idols; literally, a breath (so Jeremiah 10:15; Jeremiah 14:22; Jeremiah 16:19). Are become vain. The whole being of man is affected by the want of solid basis to his religion (comp. Jeremiah 23:16; Psalms 115:8); and the evident allusion to our passage in Romans 1:21. The clause is verbally repeated in 2 Kings 17:15, with reference to the ten tribes.
Neither said they, etc.; as their children's children were forced by stress of trouble to say (Isaiah 63:11; see note). A land of desserts and of pits. The first phrase applied to the region through which the Israelites passed ("a wilderness") was vague, and might mean merely pasture-land. The remainder of the description, however, shows that "wilderness" is here meant, as often (e.g. Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 50:2), in the sense of "desert." Though recent travelers have shown that the Sinaitie peninsula is not by any means universally a "desert," and that in ancient times it was still less so, it is not unnatural that an agricultural people should regard it as a most inhospitable region, and should even idealize its terrors (comp. Deuteronomy 8:15). "Pits," i.e. rents and fissures in the soil, in which the unwary traveler might lose his life (Jeremiah 18:20, Jeremiah 18:22).
A plentiful country. "A Carmel land," as it were (so Payne Smith). "Carmel" is strictly an appellative noun, meaning" garden-land," i.e; land planted with vines and other choice plants. So Jeremiah 4:26; Isaiah 29:17; Isaiah 37:24.
The priests, etc. The blame principally falls on the three leading classes (as in Jeremiah 2:26; Micah 3:11). First on the priests who "handle the Law," i.e. who have a traditional knowledge of the details of the Law, and teach the people accordingly (Deuteronomy 17:9-11; Deuteronomy 33:10; Jeremiah 18:18; see also on Jeremiah 8:8); next on the "pastors," or "shepherds" (in the Homeric sense), the civil and not the spiritual authorities; so generally in the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 3:15; Jeremiah 10:21; Jeremiah 22:22; Jeremiah 25:34; Zechariah 10:3; Zechariah 11:5, Zechariah 11:8, Zechariah 11:16; Isaiah 44:28); and lastly on the prophets, who sought their inspiration, not from Jehovah (comp. note on Jeremiah 2:30), but from Baal. To prophesy by (by means of) Baal or rather, the Baal, implies that prophecy is due to an impulse from the supernatural world; that it is not an objectifying of the imaginations of the prophet himself. Even the Baal prophets yielded to an impulse from without, but how that impulse was produced the prophet does not tell us. We are told in 1 Kings 22:19-23, that even prophets of Jehovah could be led astray by a "lying spirit;" much more presumably could prophets of the Baal. The Baal is here used as a representative of the idol-gods, in antithesis to Jehovah; sometimes "Baalim," or the Baals, is used instead (e.g. 1 Kings 22:23; Jeremiah 9:13), each town or city having its own Baal ("lord"). Things that do not profit. A synonym for idols (comp. Jeremiah 16:19; Isaiah 44:9;. 1 Samuel 12:21). An enlightened regard for self-interest is encouraged by the religion of the Bible, at any rate educationally. Contrast Comtism.
I will yet plead, etc. Repeated acts of rebellion call forth repeated abjurations and punishments. With your children's children. For God "visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Exodus 20:5).
Justification of Jehovah's judicial action towards Judah. Consider the heinousness of the offence. Pass over—rather, pass over to—the isles of Chittim; i.e. the islands and maritime countries of the West, represented by Cyprus (see on Genesis 10:4). For the wide use of Chittim, comp. Numbers 24:24; Daniel 11:30). Kedar, in the narrower sense, is a large tribe of Arabian origin, whose haunts were between Arabia Petraea and Babylonia. Here, however, it is used in a wider sense for the Arab tribes in general (so Jeremiah Tiler 28; Isaiah 21:16, Isaiah 21:17).
Hath a nation changed their gods? Has any heathen nation ever changed its idol-god for another? The prophet clearly implies a negative answer; and yet it must be admitted that the adoption of a new religion, under the pressure of conquest or a higher foreign civilization is not an unknown phenomenon in the ancient world. Glory; i.e. source of all outward prosperity (comp. Psalms 3:3," my Glory, and the Lifter up Of my head"). Religion was, in fact, the root of national life in antiquity; contrast our own division between the sacred and the secular Jehovah elsewhere receives the title "the Pride of Israel"—Authorized Version, rather weakly, "the Excellency of Israel"—(Amos 8:7; Hosea 5:5. Comp. the parallel passages, Psalms 106:20; Romans 1:23).
Be astonished. "Be appalled" would more nearly express the force of the Hebrew (so Jeremiah 18:16; Jeremiah 19:8). Be ye very desolate; literally, become dry; i.e. not so much "shrivel and roll up" (on the analogy of Isaiah 34:4), as "become stiff with horror."
Two evils. Israel has not merely offended, like the heathen, by idolatry, but by deserting the only God who can satisfy the needs of human nature. The fountain of living waters. So Jeremiah 17:13 (comp. Psalms 36:9). Fountain; literally, tank or reservoir. Such reservoirs were "dug in the ground (see on Jeremiah 6:7), and chiefly intended for storing living waters, i.e. those of springs and rivulets" (Payne Smith). Cisterns, broken cisterns. A cistern, by its very nature, will only hold a limited amount, and the water "collected from clay roofs or from marly soil, has the color of weak soapsuds, the taste of the earth or the stable." Who would prefer such an impure supply to the sweet, wholesome water of a fountain? But these cisterns cannot even be depended upon for this poor, turbid drink. They are "broken," like so many even of the best rock-hewn cisterns. How fine a description of the combined attractiveness and disappointingness of heathen religions, qualities the more striking in proportion to the scale on which the religions problem is realized (e.g. in Hinduism)!
Israel's punishment and its cause.
Is Israel a servant? The speaker is evidently the prophet, who exclaims in surprise at the view which his prophetic insight opens to him: "quasi de re nova et absurda sciscitatur" (Calvin). For Israel is a member of Jehovah's family; he is not a servant (except in the same high sense as in Isaiah 40-53, where "servant" is virtually equivalent to "representative"), but rather in the highest degree a free man, for he is Jehovah's "firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22). How is it, then, that he is dragged away into captivity like a slave who has never known freedom? The view of some, that "servant" means "servant of Jehovah" (comp. Jeremiah 30:10), and that the question therefore is to be answered in the affirmative, is less natural. "Servant," by itself, never has this turning; and there is a precisely similar term in the discourse at Jeremiah 2:31, where the negative answer of the question does not admit of a doubt.
The young lions, etc. A fresh figure, and a most natural one in Judaea; already applied to the Assyrians by Isaiah (v. 29, 30). Burned; rather, made ruinous (comp. "ruinous heaps," 2 Kings 19:25).
Also the children of Noph, etc. This is the climax of the calamity. Noph, called Moph in the Hebrew text of Hosea 9:6, is generally identified with Memphis, which was called in the inscriptions Mennufr, or "the good abode," but may possibly be Napata, the Nap of the inscriptions, the residency of the Ethiopian dynasty (De Rouge'). Tahapanes. The Hebrew form is Takhpanes or Tahhpanhhes. This was a fortified frontier town on the Pelusiot arm of the Nile, called in Greek Daphnae (Herod; Hosea 2:20), or Taphnae. Have broken, etc.; rather, shall break, or (for the pointing in the Hebrew Bible requires this change) shall feed off (or depasture). From this verse onwards, Judah is personified as a woman, as appears from the suffixes in the Hebrew. Baldness was a great mark of disgrace (2 Kings 2:23; Jeremiah 48:45). There is a striking parallel to this passage in Isaiah 7:18-20, where, in punishment of the negotiations of Ahaz with Assyria, the prophet threatens an invasion of Judah both by Assyria and by Egypt: and employs the very. same figure (see Isaiah 7:20). So here, the devastation threatened by Jeremiah is the punishment of the unhallowed coquetting with the Egyptian power of which the Jewish rulers had been recently guilty. The fact which corresponds to this prediction is the defeat of Josiah at Megiddo, and the consequent subjugation of Judah (2 Kings 23:29). The abruptness with which verse 16 follows upon verse 15 suggests that some words have fallen out of the text.
Hast not thou procured this? rather, Is it not this that doth procure it unto thee (namely) that thou hast forsaken, etc.? or, Is it not thy forsaking Jehovah that pro. cureth thee this? When he led thee by the way. The prophet thinks, perhaps, of the rebellion of the forefathers of Israel, who too soon ceased to "go after" Jehovah (comp. Jeremiah 2:2), and whose fickleness was imitated but too well by their descendants. This view is favored by the phraseology of Deuteronomy 1:33; Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:15. But we may, if we prefer it, explain "by (or, rather, in) the way," on the analogy of the promise in Jeremiah 31:9, "I will lead them … in a straight way," i.e. I will grant them an uninterrupted course of prosperity. The omission of the adjective in the present passage may be paralleled by Psalms 25:8, "Therefore will he instruct sinners in the (right) way."
What hast thou to do in the way of Egypt? rather, with the way to Egypt. Isaiah (Isaiah 30:2-5; Isaiah 31:1) and Hosea (Hosea 7:11, Hosea 7:16) had already inveighed against an Egyptian alliance. The name given by Manasseh to his sen and successor (Amen) suggests that at one period in his reign an Egyptian policy was in the ascendant, which coincides with the tradition preserved in 2 Chronicles 33:11, of an Assyrian captivity of Manasseh. Jehoiakim at a later period was a vassal of Egypt (2 Kings 23:31, 2 Kings 23:35). To drink the waters; taking up the idea of the second clause of verse 13. Sihor, or Shihor, occurs again in Isaiah 23:3, as a name of the Nile. It properly means, not so much "the black" as "the dark grey" (connected with shakhar, the morning grey), from the color of the water. Rosenmüller's contrast between the muddy waters of foreign streams and the "fountain of living waters" is uncalled for; besides, the Nile water has always been held in high esteem. The Septuagint has Γηών, i.e. Gihon, also a name of-the Nile according to Ecclesiasticus 24:27. The way of—rather, to—Assyria. It is true that Assyria was, to say the least, powerless to interfere for good or for evil, when these words were written. But in verse 5 the prophet has already warned us that his complaints are partly retrospective. It would seem that the Assyrian party from time to time gained the upper hand over the Egyptian in the councils of the State. Or perhaps the prophet may refer to the Quixotic fidelity to Assyria of Josiah (see below on verse 36). The river; i.e. the Euphrates, "the great river" (Genesis 15:18). Babylonia it should be remembered, was in nominal subjection to Assyria; the Euphrates was the boundary between Syria and Palestine on the one hand, and Assyria—here the Assyrio-Babylonian region—on the other.
Shall correct … shall reprove; rather, chastise … punish. It is a constantly renewed punishment which follows the ever-repeated offence.
Here a new section begins. I have broken … burst. This is, grammatically, a possible rendering, but inconsistent with the second person in thou saidst, unless indeed (with Ewald) we suppose that something has fallen out of the text between the first and the second clauses of the verse. The best critics, except Ewald and Dr. Payne Smith, are agreed that we should follow the Septuagint and Vulgate in rendering "thou hast broken … (and) burst." This does not, strictly speaking, imply a new reading of the text, for ti was the old form of the suffix of the 2nd pers. fem, sing.; there is a precisely similar case in Micah 4:13. It is a true description of the history of Israel before the exile. It would almost seem as if there was a fusion of two races among the Israelites, and that the smaller but nobler stock supplied all the great men in the sphere of religion; just as in Florence, most of the men who have illustrated her annals bear names of Teutonic origin. So we might argue, if we wished to explain the Biblical history from purely natural causes. But God (to apply the Caliph Omar's words) "knoweth his own." Bands (see on Jeremiah 5:5). I will not transgress. This is the translation of the marginal reading in the Hebrew Bible, which, though implied also in the Targum, is probably a conjecture of the Jewish critics. The text reading is, "I will not serve," (equivalent to "I will not be a slave any longer"). Obviously this does not harmonize with the rendering "I have broken," etc; in the first clause (unless, with Dr. Payne Smith, we explain "I will not serve" as virtually equivalent to "I will still serve my idol-gods"); hence the Jewish critics, by just adding a κέραια (Matthew 5:18), changed "serve" into "transgress." They did not venture to alter the next clause, which, quite as much as the first, presupposes the reading "serve" (see next note). When—rather, for—upon every high hill, etc. Bare, treeless heights were favorite spots for sacrifices, especially for Baal; groves, and leafy trees, in general, for the lascivious rites of Asherah and Ashtoreth. The apparently extreme statement of the prophet is not to be minimized. Travelers still tell us of vestiges of ancient and doubtless pro-Christian idolaters worship still visible on almost every attractive spot in the open country in Palestine. Under every green tree. We have no single word to convey the "fluid" meaning of this expressive word. It combines, in fact, the senses of pliant, sappy, leafy (comp. note on Jeremiah 11:16). Thou wanderest; rather, thou wast stretching thyself out.
A noble vine. Jeremiah means the choicest kind of Oriental vine, called sorek (from the dark-red color of its grapes), and mentioned again in Isaiah 5:2. The figure of the vine is one endeared to us by its association especially with our Lord; it was endeared to the Jews by the annual festivities of the vintage. The sacred writers are never afraid of its palling on the ear by repetition (comp. Jeremiah 5:10; Jeremiah 6:9; Jeremiah 12:10; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:2, Isaiah 27:3; Ezekiel 17:6; Psalms 80:8-16). A right seed; i.e. a vine-shoot of the genuine sort. "Seed" for "shoot," as in Isaiah 17:11 (comp. Isaiah 17:10). The degenerate plant; rather, degenerate shoots (if at least the text is right).
Nitre does not mean the substance which now bears that name, but "natron," a mineral alkali, deposited on the shores and on the bed of certain lakes in Egypt, especially those in the Wady Nat-run (the ancient Nitria, whence came so large a store of precious Syriac manuscripts). In ancient times, this natron was collected to make lye from for washing purposes (comp. Proverbs 25:20). Sope; rather, potash; the corresponding vegetable alkali (comp. Isaiah 1:25). Thine iniquity is marked. So Kimchi and Gesenius (through a doubtful etymology); but the Aramaic use of the word favors the rendering stained, i.e. filthy. The word is in the participle, to indicate the permanence of the state (comp. "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood," etc.? 'Macbeth').
How canst thou say, etc.? This is not a mere rhetorical fiction equivalent to "or if thou shouldst perhaps say," but probably represents an objection really made by the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah. Their fault was not in neglecting the public worship of Jehovah in his appointed temple, but in superadding to this, idolatrous rites inconsistent with the spiritual religion taught by Jeremiah. The people did not, it seems, regard this as tantamount to "following Baalim," just as some converts to Christianity in our own foreign missions might exclaim against being accused of apostasy, because they secretly carry on certain heathen practices. The prophet, however, applies a more rigorous test to their conduct. Baalim; the plural of Baal, used for "other gods" (Jeremiah 1:16; comp. on Jeremiah 1:8). Thy way in the valley. The valley in this context can only be that of Hinnom (see on Jeremiah 7:31), which from the time of Ahaz had been defiled with the rites of "Moloch, horrid king" (see ' Paradise Lost,' 1.392-396). Thou art a swift dromedary. Ewald would attach this half of the verse to verse 24; and there is something to be said for this plan. Swift dromedary is, properly speaking, in the vocative. The ardor of the people for idolatry is expressed by the comparison of it to the uncontrollable instinct of brute beasts. The word rendered "dromedary" is in the feminine gender; it means strictly the young she-camel which has not yet had a foal. Traversing her ways; rather, interlacing her ways; i.e. running backwards and forwards at the impulse of passion.
A wild ass, etc. The type of wildness and independence (comp. Genesis 16:12; Job 39:5-8). That snuffeth up the wind; to cool the heat of her passion. In her occasion … in her month; i.e. at the pairing-time.
Withhold thy foot, etc. Hitzig, with unnecessary ingenuity, explains this with reference to the fatiguing practices of the heathen cultus, comparing 1 Kings 18:26, where "vain repetitions" of "Baal, Baal," and (as he thinks) barefoot religious dances, are mentioned as parts of the worship of Baal. Umbreit's view, however, is far more natural. "God the true husband exhorts Israel not to run barefoot, and with parched throat, like a shameless adulteress, after strangers" (Payne Smith). There is no hops; i.e. the exhortation is in vain (so Jeremiah 18:12).
Is … ashamed. It is the per-feet of prophetic certitude.
And to a stone, etc. Stone ('ebhen) is feminine in Hebrew, and therefore addressed as the mother.
According to the number of thy cities, etc. A remarkable statement, and one that well illustrates the superficial character of Hezekiah's reformation. True, Manasseh's reactionary reign had intervened, but his counter-movement would not have been so successful had it not been attended by the good wishes of the people; and besides, the last years of Manasseh, according to the tradition in 2 Chronicles 33:12-16 were devoted to undoing the mischief of his former life. The force of the prophet's words is strikingly brought out by M. Renan (he led an expedition to Phoenicia), who has shown that every district and every town had a cultus of its own, which often only differed from the neighboring cultus by words and titles (nomina, numina); comp. Baal-Hamon, Baal-Hazor, eta Dr. Payne Smith well expresses the argument of Jeremiah: "When every city has its special deity, surely among so many there might be found one able to help his worshippers."
Wherefore will ye plead with me? How can ye be so brazen-faced as to attempt to justify yourselves?
Have I smitten your children. The cities and towns of Judah are represented as so many mothers, and the populations as their children. It would, no doubt, be more natural to take "children" literally; but then we must read the verb in the next clause, "Ye have received," as the Septuagint actually renders. In the former case the "smiting" will refer to all God's "sore judgments"—sword, drought, famine, pestilence; in the latter, to the loss of life in battle. Your own sword hath devoured your prophets. Manasseh's persecution (which extended, according to Josephus, especially to the prophets) may account for the preponderance of "false prophets" referred to in verse 8 (cf. Matthew 23:29).
O generation, see ye. It is doubtful whether generation here means "contemporaries" (equivalent to "men of this generation"), or, like γενεά sometimes in the New Testament, a class of men united by moral affinity (comp. Psalms 14:5; Psalms 78:8). In the latter case we should rather attach the pronoun in "see ye" to "O generation," and render "O (evil) generation that ye are!" So Hitzig, Keil, and Payne Smith; Ewald and Delitzsch adopt the first rendering. Have I been a wilderness, etc.? "Have I not been the source of light and happiness to my people, and of all temporal blessings?" (comp. Jeremiah 2:6). So the Divine speaker in Isaiah 45:19, "I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain," or more literally, "in chaos" (same word as in Genesis 1:2); "chaos" and "the wilderness" are both images of that which is utterly unremunerative. A land of darkness. This is, of course, not literally accurate as a description of the Arabian desert. "Darkness" is here used as a synonym for "misery." Cloud and rain occupy precisely opposite places in the estimation of nomadic and agricultural peoples respectively. "The Bedouins," says an Arabic scholast, "always follow the rain and the places where raindrops fall;" whereas a townsman of Mecca calls himself "child of the sun." So Indra and Varuna, originally belonging to the cloudy and rainy sky, are in the Vedic hymns endowed with solar traits. It should be added here that it is an old problem, and too difficult a one for us to investigate, whether we should render "the darkness of Jah" (Jehovah) or (as Authorized Version) simply "darkness." The former rendering will mean very great darkness, such as Jehovah sends in judgment (e.g. to the Egyptians, Exodus 10:21-23). On this question, see Dr. Ginsburg on Song of Solomon 8:6 (where a similar doubt exists), Geiger's 'Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel,' p. 276; Ewald, 'Lehrbuch der Hebraischen Sprache,' § 270 e. We are lords; rather, we have broken loose. It is, however, a difficult word, which only occurs elsewhere in Gen 26:1-35 :40; Hosea 12:1; Psalms 55:3.
Or a bride her attire. The prophet perhaps means the magnificently adorned girdle which the bride wore on her wedding day (comp. Isaiah 49:18). But the word only occurs again in Isaiah 3:20, and its precise signification is uncertain.
Why trimmest thou thy way I rather, How well thou contrivest thy way, etc.? Therefore hast thou also taught, etc. The meaning which floated before our trans-labors seems to be this: "so utterly immoral is thy course of life, that even the worst of women ['wicked ones' is in the feminine] have been able to learn something from thee". But a more natural rendering is, "Therefore [i.e. to gain thine ends] thou hast accustomed thy ways to those evil things." Nemo repente fuit tupissimus. It required a deliberate "accustoming," or "training" (such is the literal meaning of limad), to produce such a habit (ἕξις) as is here rebuked.
Also in thy skirts, etc.; or, there is even found in thy skirts (or, perhaps, in thy sleeves—the wide sleeves of an Eastern mantle). The fact which follows is adduced as the crowning evidence of wickedness. Blood of the souls is explained by the statement in Le Jeremiah 17:11, "The soul of the flesh [i.e. of the body] is in the blood;" hence the importance of the blood in the Mosaic sacrifices. The historical reference of this passage of Jeremiah may well be to the persecution of Manasseh, who is said to have "shed innocent blood very much" (2 Kings 21:16). It is Judah, no doubt, who is addressed, but the prophets mostly assume the "solidarity" of king and people (analogous to that of a forefather and his posterity); Manasseh, moreover, probably had the support of a large section of the population, at any rate in so far as he favored the inveterate cultus of the high places or local sanctuaries. I have not found it by secret search; rather, thou hast not found them breaking through (houses). The phraseology agrees with that of Exodus 22:2, the law against "breaking through;" it suggests that the houses of all but the highest class in ancient as well as often in modern Palestine, were made of mere sun-dried brick, which could be easily "dug into" (comp. Ezekiel 12:5; Matthew 6:19, Matthew 6:20, in the Greek). [Lieut. Conder states, it is true, that in hilly districts of Palestine the houses of the villages are built of stone, but he adds that the stone is simply taken from the ruins of the ancient towns.] Burglars caught in the act might be killed (Exodus 22:2), but the innocent victims of persecution could not be brought under this category, and hence those who slew them were really guilty of murder. But upon all these; rather, but because of all these things; i.e. not for any crime, but because of thine things," as in Jeremiah 3:7); so Hitzig, Keil Payne Smith; less naturally De Dieu, "because of those false gods"
Because. This "because" is misleading; there is no argument, but the statement of a supposed fact. The particle so rendered merely serves to introduce the speech of the Jews (like ὅτι). Shall turn; rather, hath turned. Judah had so long been undisturbed by any foreign power, that the people fancied the promises of Deuteronomy were being fulfilled, and that they, on their part, had pleased God by their formal obedience. I will plead with thee. Here, as in some other passages (e.g. Isaiah 66:16; Ezekiel 38:22), the word includes the sense of punishing.
Why gaddest thou about so much—many render, Why runnest thou so quickly; but the verb simply means to go, and it is enough to refer to foreign embassies, such as are alluded to in this very chapter (Jeremiah 2:18)—to change thy way? The "way" or policy of Judah was "changed," according as the party in power favored an Egyptian or an Assyrian alliance. Thou also shalt be ashamed of; rather, thou shalt also be brought to shame through. As thou art ashamed of Assyria (correct rendering as before). This is certainly difficult, for in the reign of Josiah it would appear that the political connection with Assyria still continued, Is it possible that Jeremiah, in these words, has in view rather the circumstances of Jehoiakim than those of Josiah? Does he not appear to look back upon Judah's final "putting to shame through Assyria" as a thing of the past? And to what event can this expression refer but to the overthrow of Josiah at Megiddo (so Graf)?
From him; i.e. from Egypt, personified as a man (so whenever a people is referred to; a laud is represented as a woman). Egypt was, in fact, the only great power capable of assisting Judah at this time (see Introduction); yet even Egypt, the prophet says, shall disappoint her Jewish allies, for Jehovah has rejected thy confidences (i.e. the objects of thy confidence). As a matter of fact, "the King of Egypt came not again any more out of his laud" after Necho's crushing defeat at Carehemish (2 Kings 24:7; comp. Jeremiah 37:5).
Recollections of the happy past.
It is pleasing to see how the prophet of judgment opens his first oracle with touching reminiscences of the early happy relations between God and his people. Thus the young man connects his new utterances with ancient experience and the old well-tried principles of spiritual religion. Thus, too, he leads the way from thoughts of God's goodness and memories of early devotion to a right condition of reflectiveness and tenderness of heart, in which the revelation of dark truths of the future will be less likely to harden his hearers in rebellion than if they had been spoken abruptly and harshly.
I. MANY OF US, LIKE THE JEWS, MAY BE REMINDED OF A HAPPY PAST. In years of deepening disappointment the sunny days of youth rise up to memory anal rebuke the cynical mood which sorrow is too ready to engender. In years of lessening spirituality the holy seasons of early devotion may be recalled to mind to startle us out of our self-complacency. It is well to reflect upon such a past history as that of the Jews.
1. This was marked by peculiar blessings on God's side.
(1) It was a time when God's love and kindness were felt with all the fresh receptiveness of youth; and
(2) it was memorable for remarkable Divine protection and blessing.
2. This was characterized by great fidelity on the side of Israel. In spite of frequent murmurings and rebellions, the age of the Exodus had been the heroic age of Israel's national and religious history.
(1) The people then followed God with affectionate devotion; they "went after him."
(2) They consecrated themselves in purity and in service; "Israel was consecrated unto the Lord."
(3) They were the earliest true servants of God—God's "firstfruits." Yet the first may become last (Matthew 20:16).
(4) This devotion was witnessed under trying circumstances. It was "in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." God's love is sometimes most manifest when outward circumstances are most distressing, and men are often more faithful to God in the wilderness than in the land flowing with milk and honey. What a strange irony of history is this, that though, while passing through the wilderness, the people looked forward to their happiness in the possession of the promised land, after they have had long possession of it they are led to look back on those early homeless wanderings as containing the most blessed age of their existence! But true happiness is ever found, not in external comfort, but in spiritual blessedness. Can we recollect early days when the battle of life was hard, and we longed for the ease which came with success, and now see that there, in that hard battle, our best days were lived, our true blessedness was realized? Such a memory must be full of pathetic suggestions.
II. THE RECOLLECTION OF A HAPPY PAST IS PROFITABLE.
1. God remembers the past. Not like the sour censor who remembers only our past faults, but rather like the kind parent who delights to call to mind the goodness of his children's early days, God makes no mention of the sins of the wilderness life, but dwells graciously on its happy features. God remembers our past for our good:
(1) as a link of affection after subsequent sin has driven us from him;
(2) as an ideal to which he would bring us back; and
(3)—still for our good—as a standard by which to measure our present condition, and a just ground for wholesome chastisement.
2. We are to recollect our happy past. Israel is reminded of his early days. If we have "lost our first love" it is well that we should know this:
(1) that we may see how far we have fallen, and repent (Revelation 2:4, Revelation 2:5);
(2) that the recollection of the blessedness of early devotion may revive the longing for its return;
(3) that the consciousness that this was once attained may encourage us to believe that it is a possibility, and therefore may be attained again, In conclusion, note:
1. It is foolish simply to regret the happy past. The use of memory is not to give to us profitless melancholy, but to lead us actively to do better for the future.
2. It is a mistake for us to seek simply to regain the lost past, because
(1) this is gone irrevocably,
(2) the new age requires new forms of life, and
(3) we should seek better things in the future. The second Adam is better than the first Adam before the fall. The kingdom of heaven is more glorious than the garden of Eden. The ripe Christian is higher in the spiritual life, though he may have fallen in the past, than the innocent child who has never known evil but has not experienced the discipline of life.
The ingratitude of sin.
Of the many aspects under which sin may be viewed none is more sad than that of ingratitude to God. Every act of sin is a distinct act of ingratitude; for every such act is an offence against him who has shown to us nothing but love, and from whom we are taking innumerable favors in the very moment of our transgression.
I. THE INGRATITUDE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE FORGETFULNESS OF GOD'S SAVING MERCY. So the Israelites forget the glorious deliverance from Egypt, and preservation amidst the horrors of the wilderness (Jeremiah 2:6). God is resorted to in distress only to be ignored, forsaken, insulted, directly rebelled against, when he has effected a deliverance.
II. THE INGRATITUDE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE IGNORING OF THE PRESENT GOODNESS OF GOD. (Jeremiah 2:7.) The Israelites were eating the fruit of the good land which God had given to them while they were rebelling against him. This is even worse than ingratitude for past blessings. Such ingratitude might attempt to plead the excuse of failure of memory; but ingratitude for present mercies can only arise from gross spiritual blindness or willful disregard of all claims of justice and affection.
III. THE INGRATITUDE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE FALSE CHARACTER WHICH IS ASCRIBED TO GOD. God asks, "What unrighteousness have your fathers found in me?" The conduct of the Jews was a direct indictment of the character of God. They deliberately insulted him, and rejected him for heathen deities. Such conduct could only be justified by the discovery that he was not what he claimed to be. After God has revealed himself to men in myriad fold evidences of goodness, there are some who hold, if they do not confess to, such evil conceptions of his character as amount to the basest calumnies of heartless ingratitude.
IV. THE INGRATITUDE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE CHARACTER OF THE GODS WHO ARE PREFERRED TO JEHOVAH. These are "false" gods. Jews who knew that converted religious worship into an unreality, and thus became themselves hollow and unreal. For this miserable result did they forsake the God of heaven and earth, their Savior and constant Benefactor! If they had found a rival with some pretensions to worth the insult would have been less. Herein is the grossness of the insult to God seen in all sin. What do men prefer to him? Transient pleasures, earthly dross. The pearl of great price is flung away, not for a smaller pearl, but for dust and ashes.
V. THE INGRATITUDE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE ABUSE AND CORRUPTION OF GOD'S GIFTS. God gave the Israelites "garden-land," and they defiled it; they made God's heritage an abomination. When we sin we do so by employing the very powers which God has bestowed upon us. We insult him by turning his own gifts into weapons of rebellion. We blaspheme him with the tongue which he has made.
Wickedness in leading men.
The great indictment of Israel reaches its climax in the accusation of the leaders of the people. Even they who should have been the guardians of truth and the vindicators of right have turned aside to evil ways. After this the defection of the whole nation appears utter and hopeless. We have here an instance of the terrible condition into which a country has fallen when its leaders, its teachers, its responsible civil and religious authorities, are unfaithful to their mission and set examples of wickedness.
I. CONSIDER THE SIGNS OF WICKEDNESS IN LEADING MEN.
1. These are often unrecognized until the evil has wrought disastrous effects. For there are circumstances which make them difficult to detect, viz:
(1) External propriety. The priests still minister at the altar, the Law is still slavishly observed in ceremonial details, rulers still exercise authority, prophets still write and preach in orthodox language, and on the outside all things go on respectably, while there is rottenness hidden within. This was specially the case after the reformation of Josiah, when an outward respect for religious observances was established without any purification of heart or revival of spiritual life.
(2) Respect for authority. Many people are too subservient to question the character of their leaders. They would rather unite with their rulers in crucifying Christ than recognize his claims against the authority of these men. They do not judge of the character of their leaders by any standard of morals, but found their standard of morals on that character.
2. The signs of wickedness in leading men may be detected in its bearing on the special functions of their respective offices. The priests are the temple servants of Jehovah, yet they never seek their Master. They who are familiar with the precepts of the Law know nothing of the person and will of the Lawmaker. The civil rulers who are ruling under a theocracy directly transgress the Law of God. The prophets lend themselves to a corrupt source of inspiration. So now again we may see men abusing the powers of office, and sinning in the very exercise of the responsibilities which are entrusted to them for the sake of the maintenance of right and truth. Therefore we must be on our guard, and not simply follow those who claim to lead because of their rank or office. Men of leading are not always men of light. We must try the spirits (1 John 4:1), and judge of the character of those who claim to lead us by their actions, "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16).
II. CONSIDER THE PECULIAR GUILT OF WICKEDNESS IN LEADING.
1. It is contrary to knowledge. The priests handle the Law. Men of influence are usually in a position to learn what is wise and good. Teachers of religion may be presumed to know more than the average of men. How great, then, is their guilt when their conduct is corrupt (Romans 2:21-23)
2. It is contrary to profession. These leaders set themselves up as examples to others, and then even they go wrong. They who assume a high position should justify that position by manifesting a high character. More is expected of the professed Christian than of the confessed man of the world.
3. It is an abuse of great responsibility. If men willfully employ positions of trust as means of violating the very objects of those trusts, their guilt is proportionate to the privileges they have received and the honors they have accepted. He who uses a Christian pulpit to propagate doctrines subversive of Christianity is guilty of base treason.
III. CONSIDER THE INJURIOUS EFFECTS OF WICKEDNESS IN LEADING MEN. These will be great in proportion to the influence of the men, and will partake of the special characteristics of that influence, viz.:
1. Breadth. Leading men have a wide influence, and the seeds of evil which they sow will be widespread.
2. Depth. Leading men have power at their disposal. Their example is weighty.
3. Subtlety. Dignity, prestige, authority, disguise the evil which would be recognized if it were stripped of the pomp of price. Therefore:
(1) see that good men are chosen for posts of influence, and let the selection and education of civil and religious leaders be a matter of more prayer and thought on the part of the Church; and
(2) be not too ready to follow with blind obedience those who may be in high positions. Be independent and watchful. Follow the one infallible Leader, "the Good Shepherd," Christ.
I. ALL MEN NEED SPIRITUAL REFRESHMENT. The soul has its thirst (Psalms 63:1).
1. This is natural. We are born with instincts which reach out to the unseen, and the worldly habits which deaden these instincts cannot utterly eradicate them. If they could, we should cease to be men and become merely rational brutes, for "man is a religious animal."
2. This is intensified by the presence of life. Thirst is increased by a heated atmosphere, hard work, disease, and special agents, e.g. salt water; so spiritual thirst is deepened by the heat and burden of life, by its toil and battle, by the fever of passion and the weariness of sorrow, by the poison of sin and the disappointment of delusive promises of satisfaction. How pathetic is this picture! If the living water is forsaken, cisterns—even poor, broken cisterns, with scant supply of foul water, are resorted to, for in some way the burning thirst of the soul must be quenched.
II. THEY WHO FORSAKE GOD INJURE THEIR OWN SOULS. Hitherto the prophet has spoken of the guilt of unfaithfulness. He now speaks of the loss this entails. It is right that we should first think of the simple sinfulness of our sin, for this is its most important feature. But it is profitable to consider also the folly of it, and the misery that it must bring upon us. This is not to be all relegated to the world of future punishments. It is to be felt now, and would be felt keenly if men were not blind to their own condition. As godliness has the promise of the life which now is as well as of that which is to come, so ungodliness brings present loss. This must not be looked for in the direction of material profit and loss, of bodily pain and pleasure, towards which the Jew was too much inclined to turn his attention. It is inward and spiritual, yet it is not the less real. For the spirit is the self. When the noise of the world is stilled, in silent watches of the night, in lonely hours of reflection, does not the poor homeless soul feel some sense of unrest, some vague thirst which no pleasure or possession has yet satisfied?
III. THE INJURY ARISING FROM FORSAKING GOD IS FOUND FIRST IN THE VERY LOSS OF GOD. God is more to us than all his gifts. The greatest loss of the prodigal son is not the food which he craves for in the land of famine, but the father whom he has forsaken. God is the chief source of the soul's refreshment. Men talk of the duty of religion. They should consider its blessings, and learn to sock God as they seek their bread and water—the first necessaries of life. God is a Fountain of living water.
1. His refreshing grace is ever flowing, and in great abundance, not limited in quantity as that of the largest cistern may be so that there is enough for all, and it may be had at all times.
2. It is fresh, like the mountain stream bubbling forth cool from the rock, not like the stale waters of the cistern. "He giveth more grace" (James 4:6), and "grace for grace" (John 1:16). The Christian does not have to go back to the grace of God in past ages. There is a fresh stream now flowing, and prayer opens to us fresh supplies of the love and help of God.
3. It is wholesome and invigorating, unlike the earthy waters of the cistern. How foolish, then, to turn aside from such a supply for anything! We need no better.
IV. THE INJURY ARISING FROM FORSAKING GOD IS INTENSIFIED BY THE UNSATISFACTORY NATURE OF THE SUBSTITUTES MEN TURN TO.
1. These are stir-made. God makes the fresh spring, man makes the cistern. Can our work equal God's?
2. They are limited in supply—reservoirs, not flowing streams.
3. They are often impure; the cistern soon gets impregnated with unwholesome matter.
4. They are imperfect of their kind. The cisterns are broken; what little unwholesome water they have leaks away. All these characteristics apply to the waters men turn to in preference to God—e.g. human religion, philosophy, public occupation, social distraction, pleasure; these all fail to slake the soul's thirst. "Cor nostrum inquistum est donec requiescat in te."
I. SIN BRINGS ITS OWN CHASTISEMENT.
1. Sin reveals its evil character as it comes into existence, and is no sooner completed than it is regarded by its parent with disgust. The wicked action which looks attractive in desire is repulsive to reflect upon. The very sight and thought and memory of sin are bitter. The burden of guilt, the shame of an evil memory, the sin itself is thus its own chastisement.
2. Sin naturally produces its punishment. The penalty of sin is not arbitrarily adjudicated nor is it inflicted ab extra. It is the natural fruit of sin. It is reaping what we have sown (Galatians 6:7, Galatians 6:8). This fruit the guilty man must eat as his bread of sorrows (Proverbs 1:31). Thus intemperance naturally breeds disease, mental degradation, poverty, and dishonor. Greedy selfishness brings upon a man dislike and provokes retaliation. Unfaithfulness to God deprives us of the communion of his Spirit and the protection of his providence. We have to wait for no formal sentence, no executioner. The law within us carries its own sentence, and is its own executioner, and even as we do wrong we begin to bring upon ourselves the penalty of our conduct.
H. THE CHASTISEMENT OF SIN IS TO REPROVE AND CORRECT. The headache of the morning is a warning to the drunkard not to repeat the debauch of the night.
1. Chastisement corrects by bringing us to our right mind. It sobers a man, and thus helps him to look at his life in a true light.
2. Chastisement corrects by revealing the true character of sin. Its charms are all torn off, and the hideous monster is revealed in its naturally hateful shape. Then we see that all sin involves our forsaking God, and is due to the loss of respect for his will—the loss of the "fear of God" according to the Old Testament view, the loss of love to God according to the Christian view.
III. IT IS NOT WELL TO WAIT FOR THE CORRECTIVE INFLUENCE OF CHASTISEMENT BEFORE REPENTING OF SIN.
1. The chastisement may be a terrible experience from which we would fain shrink if we knew the nature of it.
2. Sin is evil in itself, and the sooner we stay our hand from it the better for ourselves, for the world, and for the honor of God. It is better not to fall than to fall and be restored.
3. God has provided a higher means than chastisement for delivering us from sin. This is an exercise of his goodness to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The gospel shows us how Christ can save us from our sins by drawing us to himself and constraining us by his love to walk in his footsteps of holiness.
The stains of sin.
I. SIN STAINS THE CHARACTER AND LIFE OF MEN.
1. Sin leaves stains behind it. No man can have clean hands after touching it. These stains are of two classes:
(1) internal—the soiled imagination, the corrupted will, the vitiated habit which a single act of sin tends to produce; and
(2) external, in the form of guilt before God, and lowered reputation in the sight of men.
2. The stains of sin are not natural. They are no part of the true color of a man's character. They are all contracted by experience.
3. These stains are all evil things. They are not like marks of immature development or of the necessary imperfection of humanity. They are products of corruption.
II. NO MAN CAN WASH THE GUILT OF SIN FROM HIS CHARACTER. (Jeremiah 13:23.) The Jews were attempting this by denying the offences charged against them or excusing them. They would not admit their apostasy; but in vain.
1. Sin cannot be undone. We cannot recall the past. History is unchangeable. What we have done we have done.
2. Sin cannot be hidden. We can never hide it from God, who searches the heart (1 John 3:20). We cannot long or perfectly hide it from man. It will color our lives and reveal itself in action, in conversation, in countenance.
3. Sin cannot be excused. We may point to our training, our temptations, our natural weakness, our ignorance; and no doubt these facts are important as determining the degree of our guilt (Luke 23:34). But the sin itself, greater or less as it may be, cannot be explained away. Our sins are our own or they would not be sins.
4. Sin cannot be expiated by us. Sacrifice is of no real avail. That was only acceptable as a symbol and type of God's method of cleansing sin. Penance could only act as discipline for the future; for the past it is no better than a fruitless sacrifice. Future goodness cannot atone for the past; for that is required on its own account, and if it were perfect it would be no more than it ought to be—we should still be "unprofitable servants."
III. No MAN CAN WASH THE STAIN OF INDWELLING SIN FROM HIS LIFE. Men have tried all methods; but in vain.
1. Simple determination to conquer it. But he who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34), and a slave who cannot emancipate himself. The worst effect of sin is seen in the corruption of the will. Hence we have not the power to reform until our will is renewed, i.e. until, in New Testament language, we are "born again."
2. Charge of external circumstances. This is a helpful accessory of more effectual means, but it is not sufficient in itself, because sin is internal, and no change of scene will effect a change of heart. A man may cross the Atlantic, but he will be the same being in America that he was in England. He may be lifted from the dunghill to a throne, but if he had a vicious nature in his low condition he will carry that with him to his new sphere. Base metal does not become gold by receiving the guinea's stamp. Sanitary arrangements, education, reforming influences, etc; are all helpful, but none are fundamental enough to effect the complete change. The stains are too ingrained for any such washing to remove them.
IV. IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST WE MAY SEE THE MEANS FOR CLEANSING BOTH THE GUILT OF CHARACTER AND THE STAIN OF INDWELLING SIN.
1. Guilt is shown to be removed by the free forgiveness of God in Christ, for no merits of our own, but for the sake of his work and sacrifice; by no effort of ours, but on condition of repentance and the faith which trusts him as our Savior, and submits to him as our Lord (Acts 10:43).
2. The stain of indwelling sin is shown to be removed by the renewal of our nature, so that we are born "from above" and "of the Spirit" (John 3:3-8), and become new creatures in Christ by means of the same faith of trust and submission (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I. THE GROUNDS OF FALSE CONFIDENCE.
1. Assumed innocence. Israel says, "I am innocent;" "I have not sinned." This assumption may result from
(1) self-deception, or
2. A claim to be favored by God. Israel says again, "His anger has turned from me." Present peace is taken as a warrant for expecting continued security, so that the very forbearance of God is converted into an excuse for presumption and indifference. Perhaps, too, pride comes in and aids the assumption that the guilty people are special favorites of Heaven and will be protected, whatever wrong they do. This was the mistake of the contemporaries of our Lord when they relied on the mere fact that they were Abraham's children (John 8:39).
3. Trust in human aid. Judah turned first to Assyria, and then to Egypt. So men look to worldly associations for security in trouble.
4. Reliance on diplomatic skill. Israel turned from Assyria to Egypt when the former power failed and the latter was in the ascendancy. Men think to protect themselves by their own ingenuity.
II. THE FAILURE OF FALSE CONFIDENCE. The reasons of this may be noted:
1. The reality of sin. This is not the less real because it is denied. God still sees it. It still bears its necessary fruits.
2. The rejection of God. Israel turned from God to man. How then could he expect God's continued protection?
3. Lack of principle. Israel turned about from Egypt to Assyria. There was no settled policy. When expediency is the sole guide of conduct we are sure to be landed in ultimate failure.
4. The character and fate of the human objects of confidence. These were rejected by God. They who trust them must share their doom. It is always vain to "put confidence in princes" (Psalms 118:9). But when these are bad men, godless men, rejected by God, the consequences of trust in them will be fatal. We are always involved in the fate of what we trust ourselves to. If we trust to the world, to human aid, to errors and falsehoods, to evil things, the certain overthrow of these must involve us in its ruin.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
A sweet remembrance embittered;
or Divine delight turned by his people's ingratitude into Divine distress.
I. GOD GREATLY DELIGHTS IN HIS PEOPLE'S LOVE. See the similitude he employs: "the love of thine espousals." It is difficult for us to recall any period in the history of Israel when such high praise as this was merited by them. For it is of their love to God rather than of his to them—though there was never any doubt about that-that the prophet is here speaking. But when was Israel's love at all of such devoted and intense order as to deserve to be thus spoken of? It is difficult to say. And he that knows his own heart will be slow to credit himself with any such ardent affection as is spoken of here. The explanation of such language is found in that joyous appreciation by God of all movements of our hearts towards him which leads him to speak of our poor offerings as if they were altogether worthy and good. Cf. "Lord, when saw we thee and hungred, or athirst," etc.? (Matthew 25:44); also our Lord's estimate of the widow's two mites; the cup of cold water given in his Name, etc. Still, whilst the believer is compelled to confess that his Lord's loving estimate of his poor service and affection is an exaggerated one, it is one which is nevertheless founded upon a very blessed fact. There is such a thing as the child of God's "first love," when our delight in God was intense, real, abiding; when prayer and service were prompt and frequent and delightful. Then we were content to leave the world, and to go out into the dreary wilderness if but our God led the way. Then there was not, as now there too often is, a wide separation between our religious and our common life; but, as Jeremiah 2:3 tells, we ourselves and all we had were counted as holy unto the Lord. We sought that in whatsoever we did we might do all unto the glory of God. Now, such service is a delight to the heart of God. We are shown, therefore, that we can add to or diminish the joy of God. Such power have we. And the Divine appreciation of such service is shown by his anger towards those that in anywise hurt his servants. "All that devour him," etc. (Jeremiah 2:3). The Book of the Revelation is one long and awful declaration of how the Lord God will avenge his saints.
II. BUT THIS DIVINE DELIGHT HAS BECOME DIVINE DISTRESS. The remembrance has become hitter. The cause of this change is by reason of his people having forsaken him. As is the joy of God at men's hearts yielding to him, so is his grief at their unfaithfulness. The heart of God is no figure of speech, but a reality. It rejoices in our love, it mourns over our sin. And this all the more because of the aggravation attending such forsaking him. For:
1. It is in violation of solemn vows and pledges of fidelity which, we have given him. The yielding of the soul up to God is likened unto the espousal of the soul to God. At the time we made our surrender we joyfully confessed, "Thy vows are upon me, O God: O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord." Now, to go back from God is to violate all these sacred vows.
2. And whatever departures from God have taken place, they have been without any provocation whatsoever. Verse 5, "What iniquity have your fathers found in me?" etc. Has he been hard with us, or impatient, or unready to answer prayer, or faithless to his promise? Can any who have forsaken God charge him so?
3. And such forsaking of God has been an act of base and shameful ingratitude (cf. verse 6). God had brought Israel up out of the land of Egypt, etc. And he had brought them into a plentiful country, but they had polluted it, etc. (verse 7). All men are under a vast debt of gratitude to God, even the heathen—so St. Paul teaches us—who never heard his Name. But how much more vast is the debt of those who have "tasted that the Lord is gracious," and known his redeeming love, and who yet "turn back and walk no more with him!"
4. Such departures from God are characterized by most unheard-of and monstrous foolishness. The prophet in contemplating it (verse 12) calls on the heavens to be astonished, etc. For such conduct was unheard of (cf. verses 10, 11). Idolatrous nations remained true to their gods, though they were no gods; but Israel, etc. Too often is it that the professed people of God are put to shame by those who make no such profession at all. And it was as monstrous as it was unheard of (cf. verse 13). It was as if any should abandon the waters of some bright, pure running fountain for the muddy mixture of a tank or cistern, which at the best is almost repulsive to one accustomed to the fountains of living water. And the folly of such exchange is even exceeded, for not only was it this foul cistern for which the living fountains had been forsaken, but even these very cisterns were flawed and fractured so that they could "hold no water." The force of folly could no further go. And men do the like of this still. As, e.g; when they forsake the faith of the Father in heaven for the creed of the materialist, the agnostic, the atheist; when they choose rather the peace of mind which contemplation of their own correctness of conduct can afford instead of the joyful assurance of sin forgiven and acceptance with God, gained through Jesus Christ our Lord; when, in the controversy that is ever going on between God and the world, they decide for the world; when, reliance is placed on a religion of sacraments, professions and forms of worship, instead of that sincere surrender of the heart to God, that spiritual religion which alone is of worth in his sight; when the lot of the people of God is rejected in order that the pleasures of sin may be enjoyed for a season, and in many other such ways.
5. And the sin is of such desperate character. For see (verse 8) how it has mounted up and overwhelmed those who from their profession and calling we should have thought would have been above it. The ministers of religion, the priests, pastors, teachers, have all been swept away by the torrent of sin. When these whose lives are given to prayer, to the study of God's holy Word, and to that sacred ministry which should be a bulwark and defense, not only for those for whom, but also for those by whom, it is exercised; when these are seen to be involved in the common corruption, then the case of such a Church, community, or nation is hopeless indeed. See, too, the insensibility that such sin causes. In verse 2 Jeremiah is bidden "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem." As you would bend down your face to the ear of one in whom the sense of hearing was all but dead, and would place your lips close to his ear, and by loud, clear utterance strive to make him hear, so had it become necessary by reason of the insensibility which their sin had caused, to deal with those to whom the prophet wrote. It is one of the awful judgments- that overtake the hardened and impenitent, that whereas once they would not hear the voice of God, they at length find they cannot. Oh, then, let the prayer of us all be "From hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment, good Lord, deliver us"—C.
The Divine ideal, how lost and regained.
The prophet has in his mind what was God's original thought for Israel, the Divine ideal concerning him; and along with that the mournful and utter contrast of his actual condition. An indignant "No" is the answer which rises to the prophet's lips as the questions, "Is Israel a slave? Is he a home born slave?" are asked. He thinks of God's words (Exodus 4:22). But then there stares him in the face the most distressing but yet most unanswerable fact that Israel has become altogether such an one. "He is spoiled; the young lions roar over him," etc. (Jeremiah 2:15). Applying the story of Israel to ourselves, we learn—
I. THE DIGNITY AND GLORY WHICH GOD DESIGNED FOR HIS REDEEMED. They were to be as his sons (cf. John 1:12, and parallels). Think of the ideas which we associate with the relationship of sons. Take the story of Abraham and Isaac as setting forth in human form what these relationships are. What affection, what confidence, what sympathy, what affluence, what honor, were Isaac's because he was Abraham's son! All that appertained to him no doubt manifested his happy consciousness of the place he held in his father's love. His looks, his tones, his dress, his demeanor, the respect paid to him, the freedom of his intercourse with Abraham, the influence he had with him, wall made manifest his honored and his happy position. Now, all that which was Isaac's because he was Abraham's son, God purposes should be ours because we are his. Were the Divine ideal fulfilled, all that appertains to us would reveal the terms on which we stand towards God. Our look, our voice, our demeanor, our freedom from care, the general brightness of our life,—all would show our happy consciousness that we were the "sons" of our Father in heaven. The delight that Isaac had in Abraham, the delight that children have in their parents (Proverbs 17:6), above all, as the supreme example of true sonship, the delight that Jesus had in God, we should increasingly realize. Such is God's ideal for his redeemed.
II. THE SAD CONTRAST WHICH ACTUAL FACTS TOO OFTEN PRESENT TO THIS IDEAL. This contrast Jeremiah presents in a series of vivid similitudes.
1. Israel is "spoiled." That is, he who had been a beloved son, happy, honored, and free in his father's affluent home, is made a prey of, bound, beaten, abused, carried off as a slave.
2. Next he is likened to some unhappy traveler who, passing by a lion's lair, has fallen a victim. The beast's talons are fastened in his quivering flesh as he lies prostrate on the ground, and its fierce, exultant yells over him make the forest ring again.
3. The next is that of a wasted land, the desolated homesteads, the stripped fields, the torn-down vineyards, the flocks and herds all driven away.
4. The next, that of once goodly cities, their buildings now a heap of smoldering ruins.
5. And last, that of mocked and insulted captives in Egypt. Their captors have inflicted on them the indignity, so terrible in the eyes of a Hebrew, of shaving off their hair; the words "broken the crown of thy head" rather meaning "shorn the crown of thy head." Now, all these pictures which would call up vivid ideas of humiliation and suffering before the minds of Israel, the prophet suggests in these several sentences, in order to show the Contrast between what God proposed for Israel at the first, and that to which he had now fallen. But that which was true of Israel is true now, once and again, of those who should have continued as God's sons. Does not that verse "Where is the happiness I knew?" etc; and the whole tone of that well-known hymn, describe a spiritual condition all too common? Our very familiarity with it shows how often there has been the sad experience of which it tells. One reason why we love the Psalms so much is that they clothe our own thoughts in the very words we need; they say what our hearts have often said, and not least do they thus speak for us when, as they so often do, they confess the smart, the shame, the pain, and the manifold distress which our sin has brought upon us.
III. THE CAUSE OF ITS CONTRAST. (Verse 17.) Did not thy forsaking of Jehovah thy God procure thee this? Let conscience confess if this he not the true explanation of verse 19. Let us beware of explaining away the true cause, and sheltering our sin beneath some convenient excuse.
IV. THE REMEDY FOR THIS CONDITION OF THINGS.
1. There must be the clear perception of its true cause. Verse 19, "Know therefore and see that," etc. To further this most salutary knowledge was the reason of so many distresses coming upon Israel, and for the same reason God will not suffer sin to be only pleasant, nor the cup of iniquity to be free from bitterness. To the riot and gaiety of the prodigal in the "far country," God added on the poverty, the swine-feeding, the rags and wretchedness, the husks for food, and the desertion by all his so-called friends,—all that misery that he might "come to himself," which whilst his riches and riot lasted he never would. And this is God's way still. He would have us know and see that it is an evil thing and hitter to forsake the Lord.
2. And when this has been thus known and seen, would we regain what we have lost, we must have done "with the way of Egypt and the waters of Sihor," that is, we must resolutely abandon those forbidden ways in which we have hitherto been walking. Verse 18 is an earnest expostulation with such as have wandered flora God. It seems to say to such, "What hast thou to do to be going after the world's sinful ways, or to be looking for help from her Sihor-like, her foul dark, waters? Oh, have not her ways harmed thee sufficiently already? will not the burnt child dread the fire? Wilt thou again belie thy name, and live rather as the devil's slave than as God's child? Was the one sorrow and shame which thy sin heaped upon thy Savior not sufficient, that thou must crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him anew to open shame? Shall the dove vie with the vulture in greed for foul food, or the lamb find satisfaction in the trough of the swine? As soon shouldest thou, child of God, love sin and its evil ways." Let us remember for our great comfort, when well-nigh despairing of deliverance from the dread power of sin, that Christ has as certainly promised to deliver us from this, the power of sin, as he has from its guilt. The earnest look of trust to him, pleading his promise herein,—this repeated day by day, and especially when we know that "sin is nigh," will break its mastery, and win for us the freedom we need.—C.
Jehovah's indictment against Israel.
I. ITS MANY COUNTS.
1. Their sin of outrageous character. It is spoken of as in Jeremiah 2:20, because it so commonly involved the grossest fleshly sins, and because it involved shameful denial of God. Cf. Jeremiah 2:27, "Saying to a stock, Thou art my father," etc. And it was chargeable with numerous and shameful murders (Jeremiah 2:30). Killing the prophets of God; Jeremiah 2:34, "In thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents," etc.
2. Of long standing. Jeremiah 2:20, "Of old time thou hast broken thy yoke" (see exegesis for true translation), "and saidst, I will not serve."
3. In no wise chargeable to God. Jeremiah 2:21, "Yet I had planted thee a noble vine," etc.
4. Was ingrained into their very nature (Jeremiah 2:22). All manner of endeavor had been made to cleanse away the defilement, but its stain remained in them still.
5. Was fiercely and determinately pursued after (Jeremiah 2:23, Jeremiah 2:24, Jeremiah 2:33; see exegesis). They "worked all uncleanness with greediness."
6. And this in spite of all that might have taught them better.
(1) Warnings (Jeremiah 2:25, where they are entreated to have done with such wickedness).
(2) Miserable results of their idolatry in the past (Jeremiah 2:26-28).
(3) Divine chastisements (Jeremiah 2:30).
(4) God's great mercy in the past (Jeremiah 2:31). God had not been to them as a wilderness.
(5) The honor and glory God was ready to place upon them (Jeremiah 2:32), like as a husband would adorn his bride with jewels.
7. And their sin is aggravated by
(1) their shameless assertion of innocence (Jeremiah 2:23, Jeremiah 2:35);
(2) their persistence in sin (Jeremiah 2:36), "gadding about to change their way," going from one idolatry to another, one heathen alliance to another.
II. THE MISERABLE DEFENSE OFFERED. It consisted simply in denial (Jeremiah 2:23, Jeremiah 2:35). It augmented their guilt and condemnation (Jeremiah 2:37).
III. THE INSTRUCTION FROM ALL THIS FOR OUR OWN DAY AND FOR OUR OWN LIVES.
1. It shows us the terrible nature of sin.
(1) The lengths it will go.
(2) The gracious Barriers it will break through.
(3) The condemnation it will surely meet.
2. It bids us not trust to any early advantages. Israel was planted "a noble vine, wholly a right seed,"
3. The folly and guilt of denying our sin (cf. 1 John 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin,:' etc.).
4. The needs be there is for us all of the pardoning and preserving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.—C.
The sinner's attempt to wash away his sin.
I. WHEREFORE HE MAKES THE ATTEMPT. Sometimes it is that
(1) conscience is aroused; or
(2) the Word of God is too plainly against him; or
(3) Divine providence threatens ominously; or
(4) like Felix, he trembles as some Paul preaches.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH HE PROCEEDS.
1. He partially abandons known sin, as Pharaoh, Nineveh, Israel. at time of Josiah's reformation, Herod.
2. Multiplies religious services.
3. Is ready with good resolves.
4. There is some stir of religious feeling. Tears are shed, the emotional nature is excited, and there is some temporary tenderness of conscience. Added to all this there may be:
5. Self-inflicted punishments, bodily mortifications. Such is the washing with nitre and the taking of much soap which the prophet describes.
III. ITS USELESSNESS. The stain of the iniquity is there still (Jeremiah 2:22). How powerfully is this confessed in the great tragedy of ' Macbeth'! After his dread crime, the conscience-stricken wretch thus speaks—
"How is't with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? Ha! they pluck out mine eyes!
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green—one red."
IV. THE TRUE CLEANSING WHICH IT SUGGESTS AND INVITES US TO. Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.—C.
A dread snare of the devil.
I. IN WHAT IT CONSISTS. The persuading the sinner that "there is no hope."
II. ITS TERRIBLE CHARACTER. It leads the sinner to excuse himself in his sin by the false belief that he is delivered to do all his abominations. It encourages him to go on in his sin (cf. Jeremiah 2:25), instead of resolutely breaking away from it
III. How MEN FALL INTO IT. By letting sin become the habit of their lives; the constant repetition of separate sinful acts forges the chain of habit, which it is hard indeed for any to break through.
IV. How MEN MAY GET OUT OF IT.
1. By prayerful pondering of the many proofs which show that this suggestion of Satan, that "there is no hope," is one of his own lies. These proofs are to be found in the plain statements, and in the many examples of the Word of God, which tell of God's grace to the very chief of sinners. They are to be found also in the recorded biographies and observed lives of many of the people of God. And also in our own experience of God in the past.
2. By then and there committing our souls into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon, for restoration, and for safe keeping for the future.
3. By renewing this self-surrender day by day, and especially when we are conscious that danger is near. So shall we be able to say, "My soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler."—C.
Jeremiah 2:36, Jeremiah 2:37
The restlessness of sin.
"Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy way?" etc.
I. THIS IS A COMMON COURSE OF CONDUCT IN SINFUL MEN.
II. THE REASONS FOR ADOPTING IT ARE OF VARIOUS KINDS.
1. Hope of larger gain.
2. Prospects of increased pleasure.
3. Disappointment with the way that has hitherto been tried.
4. Conscience will not be quiet in continuing the present way, etc.
III. BUT IT IS ALL OF NO AVAIL. The same wretched result is reached whichever way is taken (Jeremiah 2:36, Jeremiah 2:37).
IV. GOD IN ALL THIS IS SAYING, "LET THE WICKED FORSAKE HIS WAY, AND THE UNRIGHTEOUS," ETC. (Isaiah 55:1-13.).—C.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
God's estimation of his people's love.
A remarkable passage: to be taken in its evident meaning, and not to be explained away. What a loving use to make of the past faithfulness and attachment of his people! He would remind them of them, that they may repent and return.
I. IT IS FULL OF INTEREST TO HIM. TO those who feel intense love for others, it is exceedingly grateful to find their love reciprocated. High, pure, disinterested love, like that of God for men, never receives equal return; but what it does elicit it prizes beyond all its intrinsic value. The parent thinks more of the child's love for him than the child of the parent's.
1. It spoke of trust. There is no fear or selfishness in love Divine love awakens. The wilderness could not daunt the simple hearts of faithful Israel. They were willing to take God at his word, and to look for the ]and of promise. So with respect to Christ.
2. It spoke of gratitude. He had saved them from Egypt's bondage, and made them his own freemen. No service was too arduous; no trial too severe. Jesus has saved us from sin and its consequences; we owe to him a deeper gratitude.
3. It spoke of an affection that was its own reward. There was delight in the presence and communion of God. Worship was rapture. The chief interest of life was spiritual and Divine. The life of Israel was separated and sanctified to God. Love that could manifest itself thus was a sign and guarantee that the love of God had not been in vain.
II. ITS FAILINGS ARE CONDONED BY ITS GENUINENESS. No mention is made of their murmurings, their disobedience, and unbelief. Where the true spirit of Divine love is exhibited God can forgive defects, etc. To him it is enough for the present that we do our best, and are true and earnest. So at the first signs of repentance he is willing to forget all our offences. What is good and real in men, is of infinitely more value to him than we can imagine, and for the sake of that he is willing to cover the guilty past. This is all the more precious a trait in the Divine character that it does not spring from ignorance of us. He knows us altogether, our secret thoughts, our down-sitting and our uprising. The readiness of God so to forgive and to overvalue past love and trust on the part of his people, ought to fill us with compunction and shame. We ought to ask, "Was this our love?" "Lord, when saw we thee an hungred," etc.?
III. THOUGH TRANSIENT, IT ELICITS AN ETERNAL ATTACHMENT AND LEAVES AN UNDYING MEMORY. "I remember." It ought to be a strong motive to the Christian to think that his-little works of faith and labors of love are so highly prized, and so long remembered. "For thy works' sake." Who would not rather charge the memory of God with such gracious memories, that "heap up wrath against the day of wrath?"—M.
Jeremiah 2:2, Jeremiah 2:3
First love to God.
We have here a picture of the idyllic days of the soul's first love for God. The emphasis is on the sentiment—its depth, reality, and attractiveness. It is spoken of as something in which' God delights; as in the odor of a rose, the beauty of a landscape, or the pleasant melody of a song.
I. IT IS ATTRACTIVE. For its spontaneity; its spirit of self-sacrifice; and its absoluteness.
II. IT IS IMMEDIATE IN ITS INFLUENCE. UPON CHARACTER AND LIFE. Generous sacrifice. Dominance of spiritual aims and interests. Personal holiness.
III. IT IS FULL OF PROMISE. Not only what it is, but what it may become. In one sense the bud is more valuable than the leaf, or flower, or knit. It has the interest of growth and the future about it. Israel's best gifts, then, were to God but "first fruits." God only knows what capacity of spiritual progress and enlargement is ours; and he alone can tell the influence and importance of his people's faithfulness.—M.
Guilty instruments of Divine judgment.
A great problem in morals. Pharaoh's "heart is hardened," and yet his guilt remains. Nations are raised up to punish Israel for unfaithfulness, yet they "offend" in doing this very thing.
I. WHEREIN THE GUILT OF INSTRUMENTS OF DIVINE VENGEANCE MAY CONSIST. At least two explanations of this are to be found:
1. In the distinction between the formal and the material character of actions. The essential evil or good of an action is in the intention, the subjective conditions that originate and give character to it. It is subjective, not actualized; or its actualization in one of several forms or directions is indifferent. Towards any of these the Divine power may direct the impulse and tendency; or they may be shut up to them through the unconscious influence of providence, working in wider cycles.
2. In the overdoing or aggravation of the appointed task.
II. WHAT IT IS THAT AGGRAVATES THE GUILT OF THE WICKED INSTRUMENT OF DIVINE WRATH. It is the character of God's people, and the relation they boar to him. They have been "holiness unto the Lord." In so far as this character is interfered with or injured by the instruments of vengeance, the latter shall be the more guilty. In so far, too, as hatred for this character, either as past or present, in God's people has actuated the vengeance inflicted, the avengers "shall offend." (Cf. for a similar sentiment, Matthew 18:6.) The Divine Being declares his personal attachment to those he has chosen, and his identification with them. To injure them is to injure him. They also represent, even in their apostasy, the stock from which salvation is to come, and the world's spiritual future.—M.
The indictment of Israel.
The chosen nation is arraigned in all its generations and in all its orders. It is a universal and continuous crime; and it ran parallel with a succession of unheard-of mercies, deliverances, and favors. In these respects it corresponds to the sin of God's people in every age—forgetfulness of past mercy, abuse of present blessings, the corruption and perverseness of those who were entrusted with Divine mysteries and sacred offices.
I. JEHOVAH APPEALS TO HIS CHARACTER AND DEALINGS IN THE PAST IN DISPROOF OF THERE BEING ANY EXCUSE IN THEM FOR THE SIN OF HIS PEOPLE. Inquiry is challenged. History is rehearsed. So it always has been. The reason for the sins, etc; of God's people is in themselves and not in God. God is just, and all the allegations and murmurs of unbelieving and disobedient Israel are lies. So the excuses Christians often give for their faults and offences are already answered in advance. We have received from him nothing but good. His help and protection were at our disposal; but we forsook him, and sinned against both him and ourselves.
II. THE ENORMITY OF THE OFFENCE IS THEN SET FORTH. The recital is marked by simplicity, symmetry, force, and point. It contains the undeniable commonplaces of history and experience, but the artist's power is shown in the grouping and perspective.
1. It is ancient and hereditary. The fathers, the children, and the children's children. Just as they could not go back to a time when God had not cared for them and blessed them, so they could not discover a time when they or their forefathers had not shown unbelief and ingratitude. It is pertinent to ask in such a case, "Must there not be some hereditary and original taint in the sinners themselves?" What will men do with the actual existence of depravity? How will they explain its miserable entail? Human history in every age is marked by persistent wickedness; Christianity suggests an explanation of this. It is for objectors to substitute a better.
2. It consists in ingratitude, unbelief, and the service of false gods. The Exodus with all its marvels and mercies, the blessings that surrounded them in the present, go for naught. They are forgotten or ignored. And idols, which are but vanity, are sought after to such an extent that their worshippers "are like unto them." This is the history of religious defection in every age. Forgetfulness of God, ingratitude, and the overwhelming influence of worldly interests and concerns, and the lusts of our own sinful nature, work the same ruin in us. How many idols does the modern world, the modern Church not set up?
3. It is marked by the abuse of blessings and the breach of sacred trusts. When men are rendered worthless by their sinful practices, they cannot appreciate the good things of God. Divine bounty is wasted, and blessings are abused. Sacred things are desecrated. Those who ought to be leaders and examples are worse than others. The priest who, if any one, ought to know the "secret place," "the holy of holies," of the Most High, is asking where he is. The lawyers are the greatest law-breakers. The pastors, who ought to guide and feed, are become "blind mouths." And the prophets are false. Corruptio optimi pessima. How hard is the heart that has once known God! "If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" The backslider, the child of holy parents, etc; who shall estimate their wickedness?
III. FOR ALL THESE THINGS MEN WILL BE BROUGHT INTO JUDGMENT. The assurance is very terrible: "I will yet plead with" (i.e. reckon with or plead against) "you … and with your children's children will I plead." This is the same Jehovah who "keepeth mercy for thousands" but "visiteth the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." There is a solidarity in Israel, Christendom, and the race, which will be brought to light in that day. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," and to bear our offences in the company of transgressors and the universal connection of the world's sin. "But as in Adam all have died, so in Christ shall all be made alive." Jesus is set forth as the Head and Representative of the humanity he redeems. Let us seek oneness with him through faith.—M.
The marvel of unbelief.
A magnificent apostrophe. Yet this is no mere rhetoric. There is a terrible reality in the phenomenon to which attention is directed. Chittim, the general name of the islands and coast of the eastern Mediterranean, stands for the extreme west; and Kedar, the general name of the Arabs of the desert for the extreme east of the "world," with which the prophet and his hearers were familiar. Our "from China to Peru" would represent its meaning to us.
I. THE CONSIDERATIONS THAT MAKE IT MARVELLOUS. The people themselves were but dimly conscious of the strangeness of their apostasy. The prophet seeks to rouse their better nature by the most striking comparisons and illustrations.
1. He compares it with the general fixedness of heathen systems. A tendency to subdivide and stereotype life in the family, society, and the state is shown by idolatry. Idolatries reflect and pamper human desires and ideas, and enter into the whole constitution of the people. They undermine the moral life and spiritual strength, and flourish upon the decay they have made. Their victims are helpless because they are moribund or dead. The words of Isaiah are justified in such a case; "from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it," etc. This is the reason of the perpetuation of error and superstition; but the fact is there all the same, and it is in striking contrast to the vacillation and apostasy of God's people. That which only appears to be good is clung to with reverence and tenacity from age to age. That which is acknowledged to be best, and in part realized to be so, is east aside repeatedly.
2. Look too at the character of him who is forsaken. He has already told them a little of God's doings (verses 5-7). Now it is sufficient to describe him as the "Glory" of Israel. The heavens, which look at everything all the world over, are to wonder and to be horror-struck at this unheard-of ingratitude and folly.
3. Disadvantage and dissatisfaction must evidently result. The action of the apostate is twofold—negative and positive. Describe the figure. How great the labor of worldliness; and its disappointment!
II. How SUCH CONDUCT CAN BE ACCOUNTED FOR. If it were the result of genuine and honest experience, it might be fatal to the claims of Jehovah. But it is explained by:
1. The influence of the near and sensible. The physical side of our nature is more developed than the spiritual. Our need appeals to us first and most strongly on that side. Abraham, who pleaded for Sodom, lied for Sarah. Jacob, the dreamer of Bethel, is the craven at Penuel. How unaccountable the yielding of the man of God to the false prophet (1 Kings 13:1-34.)! After David's signal escapes and deliverances, he yet said in his heart, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines." Elijah, after all his miracles and testimonies, sighs out, "Let me die." Peter, upon whoso witness Christ was to found his Church, is addressed as he is ready to sink at the vessel's side, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" Paul, who had withstood them "that seemed to be pillars," quails beneath the "thorn in the flesh."
2. The demands made by true religion. Self has to be denied. The whole carnal life is condemned. Diligence is insisted upon. We have to "pray without ceasing," to labor and not faint. We have to "press toward the mark for the prize." Patience is demanded, and the Christian profession commits us to indefinite sacrifice.—M.
The unreasonableness of appealing to worldly assistance in spiritual enterprises.
This was the tendency of Israel when her faith grew weak. It is shown even now by those who trust to the arm of flesh, and who seek worldly alliances for the Church. We ought to be deterred from this when we consider—
I. THE OPPOSITION OF THE CHARACTER AND AIMS OF THE WORLD TO THOSE OF SPIRITUAL RELIGION.
II. THE UNRELIABLENESS OF THE WORLDLY.
III. THE DISHONOR AND SPIRITUAL PERIL OF SUCH ALLIANCES.—M.
God's method of punishing apostasy.
I. ITS OWN SIN IS TO FIND IT OUT.
II. THAT THE TRUE CHARACTER OF ITS ACTIONS AND THE BITTER FRUITS OF ITS SIN MAY APPEAR.—M.
The shameless shame of idolatry.
I. ITS DEGRADING INFLUENCE. It violates all morality. Is repeatedly affronted by the discoveries which are made of its wickedness and folly. It affects the whole nation from the highest and the best. The reason is debased and set at naught.
II. CALAMITY IS THE TEST OF ITS PRETENSIONS. Whilst things go well with the idolater he forgets God or consciously dishonors him. But when he is overtaken with the consequences of his evil deeds he is not ashamed to call upon God. The unreasonableness and inconsistency of this conduct are no barrier to it. Beneath the unbelief and worldliness of men there is a tacit belief in the goodness and power of God. In prosperity they are idolaters, in adversity they find their way back to the God they had despised. This is the universal and permanent inconsistency of the world life.—M.
Lords many and gods many.
The multiplicity of idols contrasts with the unity of the true God. It involves inconsistency, spiritual confusion, etc. But here the argument is—
I. THAT IDOLATRY IS A LOCAL, EXCLUSIVE, AND SEPARATIVE PRINCIPLE.
II. IT IS THUS THE CREATURE AND THE OCCASION OF IGNORANCE, PREJUDICE, AND DISCORD.
III. IT IS THEREFORE BOUND TO DISAPPEAR BEFORE THE LIGHT AND PROGRESS OF HUMANITY.—M.
Rejecting the chastisements of God.
The spiritual benefits of pain, calamity, etc; are contingent for the most part upon their being received in a right way—as from God, and not by accident. They are intended to discover our sins to us, and to lead us to the love and righteousness of God. Where this result is not effected, "chastisement is not accepted."
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF REFUSING CHASTISEMENT.
II. MISERY AND PAIN ARE NOT OF THEMSELVES MINISTERS OF GRACE.
III. RIGHTLY RECEIVED, OUR GREATEST GRIEFS MAY BECOME OUR GREATEST MERCIES.
The plea of innocence a culminating sin.
We do not know to which particular charge this reply is given. Perhaps the key is contained in 2 Kings 23:26. An external reformation was considered enough in the reign of Josiah, and it was assumed that the anger of God was thereby turned away. The prophet assures them that this was a mistake, and more than this, a sin in itself.
I. DEADLY SIN MAY EXIST IN THE MIND WHICH IS NOT SPECIALLY CONSCIOUS OF IT.
II. SUCH UNCONSCIOUSNESS EXHIBITS PERVERTED MORAL NATURE AND CALLOUSNESS OF HEART.
III. IT PROVOKES THE MORE SEVERE JUDGMENT FROM GOD.—M.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Israel's desertion of Jehovah viewed in the light of the past.
Desertion rather than apostasy is the word by which to describe the offence charged against Israel in this chapter. Apostasy from principle is too abstract and unemotional a way of putting the thing. The spectacle presented to us is that of one person deserting another in the basest and most ungrateful way. It is a desertion without excuse, aggravated by every circumstance which can aggravate it. And now Jehovah sends his servant to bring the reality of this desertion distinctly before the nation. And suitably enough he sends him to "cry in the ears of Jerusalem." Whatever is sounded forth in the capital by a man who has had the words of God put in his mouth may be expected to go to the ends of the land.
I. THE WHOLE NATION IS SPOKEN TO. God has the power to look at human life in the light of a unity which the individual man is scarcely able to conceive. Here he looks not only at the living generation of those who had sprung from Jacob, but all backward through the past; each generation is, as it were, a year in the life of one who still lives, and is able to look back on things that happened centuries ago as events of his own youth. Thus not only is it true that one generation goes and another comes, while God abides forever, but it is also true that while one generation goes and another comes, Israel abides forever. Israel is spoken to as a full-grown man might be spoken to, exhorted in the midst of backsliding and unworthy habits to look back on the far different promise of his youth.
II. THE NATION IS SPOKEN TO AS SUSTAINING A MOST ENDEARING RELATION TO GOD. Even as a husband loves and cherishes his wife; so God has loved and cherished Israel. He looks back into the past, and he sees a great fall. The youth of Israel, according to his present view of it, was a time of love and devotion. No doubt there were murmurings and rebellions; and indeed, when we think of some of the things that Israel did during the leadership of Moses, the words of God seem exaggerated in speaking of the kindness of Israel's youth and the love of its espousals. But then we must bear in mind that we know only in a very imperfect way what is recorded, whereas God saw all, and to him the enthusiasm of the people on certain memorable occasions was very significant. He remembered all those events in which Israel rose to the height of its better self, and indicated the possibilities that might be expected from it. Such events now stand forth like sunny heights in memory. They are reasons why God should not allow his people quietly to depart, farther and further, into the alienations of idolatry. This is what makes the present attempt at restoration so full of interest, that it is an attempt to bring back the erring spouse to her
III. The nation is viewed in the light of A PAST IN WHICH JEHOVAH HAD MADE GREAT PROMISES AND ENTERTAINED GREAT EXPECTATIONS WITH REGARD TO ISRAEL'S FUTURE. They were reckoned a holy nation. They were as firstfruits of the whole earth, to which he attached an especial value. Levi he brought in sacred nearness to himself in lieu of the firstborn of Israel. It is one of Christ's distinctions that he has become the firstfruits of them that slept; and so here there was a nation which was the first to step out from long-accustomed idolatry. The glory of Abraham's faith in the unseen was still, as it were, resting on Israel in the wilderness. Jehovah told the people where to go; he gave them bread, water, and defense against enemies, in a land of peculiar desolation and danger. Promises for the future were given in the most effective way by distinguished services rendered in the present. When at last the Israelites settled down in Canaan, it might have been said to them, "May you not Be sure that he who has freely, amply, and just at the right time, supplied your every need, will also, in all the generations to come, whatever their peculiar experiences, do the same thing?" God had taken his people into the deepest darkness, and put out every earth-enkindled light, just that he might manifest in greater glory and attractiveness that light which is the portion of all unwavering believers in himself. Thus the past of Israel glorified the Cod of Israel; and at the same time, it not only disgraced Israel itself, but had in it such elements of God's favor and assiduity as made the national desertion of him a great mystery.
IV. OBSERVE HOW COMPLETELY IT IS BROUGHT OUT THAT THE DESERTION IS A NATIONAL ACT. The priests appointed mediators in offering and atonement between Jehovah and his people; the expounders of the Law, whose business it was to keep ever manifest the difference between right and wrong; the shepherds, such, for instance, as every father at the head of his household, providing and guiding; the prophets, who should have been the messengers of Jehovah;—all these, far away from their right place, are found in the very forefront of iniquity. Jehovah is not only ignored; he is almost treated as if he were unknown. The people carelessly let their superiors think for them. When the priest in the parable went by on the other side, the inferior would have thought it presumption to have acted differently.—Y.
Jeremiah 2:10, Jeremiah 2:11
Heathendom gives an unconscious rebuke to apostate Israel.
From humiliating contrast of the present conduct of Israel with what might have been reasonably expected from the peculiar experiences of the past, God now turns to make a contrast more humiliating still with heathen nations. The request to look back is succeeded by a request to look round. Search through every nation, inquire in every idol temple, watch the religious life of idolaters, and everywhere you will see a fidelity which puts the apostate children of Israel to shame. The heathen gods themselves Jehovah has indeed put to shame, notably the gods of Egypt and Philistia; but in spite of all, the heathen are still clinging to the falsehoods in which they have been taught to believe. Their fanatical devotion is, indeed, a pitiable thing, but even in the midst of all that is pitiable, God can find something to be used for good. This very fidelity to what is so false and degrading may be used to point a keen reproach to those who owe but do not pay allegiance to Jehovah.
There is thus suggested as a topic the UNCONSCIOUS REBUKES WHICH THE WORLD GIVES TO THE CHURCH. The heathendom on which Jehovah bade his people look has long passed away. In spite of the fidelity here indicated, the temples have fallen into ruin and the idols are utterly vanished. Nay, more; increasing signs come in from year to year, that all heathendom is gradually dissolving, so that, in one sense, Jehovah's words may be said no longer to apply. But we know that, in the spirit of the words, they continue to apply only too forcibly. It is but the form of the idol that passes away; the reality is the same. Thus he who calls himself and wishes to be thought a believer in Christ, does well to look out and see what he can gather by way of spiritual instruction and rebuke from the world. The world has much to teach us if we would only learn. Jesus himself gave the New Testament parallel when he spoke of the children of the world being wiser in their generation than the children of light. And though we should be very foolish to pay any attention to the world, when it puts on the air of a wiseacre and talks with the utmost self-conceit of things it does not understand, there is all the more reason why we should learn all we can by our own divinely directed observation. How the world rebukes us, for instance, every time we see men of science searching after truth! Think of the patient attention given day after day with the telescope, the microscope, and all the apparatus of the experimentalist in physics. Think of the perils and privations of the traveler in tropic and in arctic zones. Think of the unwearied hunting of facts, for possibly a whole lifetime, in order to turn some hypothesis into an established truth. And we also have truth to attain. Jesus and his apostles often spoke of truth which we have to make our own; understanding it, believing it, and making it part of our experience. But that truth assuredly is not to be won without effort. The question may well be asked if such differences would continue to exist among Christians as do exist, provided they only set themselves in reality and humility to discover all that may be known on the subject-matter of their convictions. A man of science, for instance, would not grudge the labor needed to learn another language, if he felt that an increase of knowledge would prove the result to be worth the labor. But how many Christians can be found who have any notion that it might be worth their while to learn the Greek Testament for themselves instead of depending upon even the best of translations? Again, the world rebukes us as we consider the enthusiasm of terrestrial citizenship. There is much for the Christian to learn as he contemplates the spirit breaking forth in many men at the thought of the land that gave them birth. How the feelings of such men glow to fever heat with the exhibition of a national flag, the singing of a national anthem, or the mention of great military and naval triumphs, with the names of the captains who achieved them! Then think of what is better still, the unwearied labors of social reformers, simply from love to their country, to lessen crime, vice, disease, and ignorance. In view of all this deep attachment to the land where the natural man has sprung into existence and is sustained, may not Christ well ask his people, if the heavenly πολιτεία into which they have been introduced by the second birth, is as dear to them? Then, what a rebuke comes to us as we look at the efforts of commercial enterprise. What toil there is here! what daring investments of capital! what quick combinations of the many to attain what cannot be done by the one I what formation of business habits so as to make easy and regular what would otherwise be difficult, perhaps impossible I And yet it is all done to get that wealth on which the Scriptures have so many warning words to speak. As these gods of the nations were no gods, so the wealth men think so much of is really no wealth at all. We are not to look towards the goal of their desires, nor follow in their steps. But as earnestly as they look towards the goal of an earthly fortune, we should look towards that of a heavenly one. As we stand among men clinging to riches which they cannot keep, and clinging none the less firmly because the riches are hollow, let us bear in mind how easy it is for us who are but sinful mortals also to be deluded away into neglect of the true riches.—Y.
Forsaking the fountain of living waters.
I. THERE IS SUGGESTED HERE AN INCONCEIVABLE ACT OF FOLLY. It is a thing which could be believed of no one in his sound senses that he would leave a fountain of living water, knowing it to be such, and enjoying the use of it; and be contented with a cistern such as is here described. A fountain is that from which he benefits without any trouble; it is a pure gift of grace, and all he has to do is to take up his habitation by it. Why, then, should he leave a fountain for a cistern, even if the cistern were ready-made? Still less credible is it that he should take the trouble to make a cistern. And the incredibility reaches its height when we are asked to suppose him doing all this with the end of possessing a broken cistern that can hold no water. Such broken cisterns the people of Israel seem to have known only too well. Dr. Thomson says there are thousands such in Upper Galilee, which, though dug in hard rock and apparently sound, are all dry in winter; at best they are an uncertain source of supply, and the water, when collected, is bad in color and taste, and full of worms. The whole action, then, of the character here indicated is scarcely conceivable, unless as the expression of fear in a diseased mind. In somewhat of this way we have heard of men acting, who, after having made great fortunes, have become victims to the horrid delusion that they are paupers, and must make some sort of provision against utter destitution. So we might imagine the victim of delusion, with fountains all round him, still insisting upon having some sort of cistern provided. Note, moreover, that the aspect of folly becomes more decided when we consider that it is water which is treated in this way. The water which is offered so freely and continuously in the fountain is a thing which man needs, and yet it is for the supply of that which is a great and may be a painful need that he is represented as depending on broken cisterns which with great toil he has constructed for himself.
II. THERE IS MENTIONED AN INDISPUTABLE ACT OF DESERTION. Israelites, stung to wrath by a charge of folly, might reply that they had not left a living fountain for broken cisterns. This, however, was but denying the application of a figure; the historical fact which the prophet had connected with the figure they could not possibly deny. Assuredly they had forsaken God. Not simply that at this time they were without him, but, having once been with him, they had now left him. Had' he not taken them up when they were in the weakness, dependence, and waywardness of national infancy? Had they not received all their supplies from him, and gathered strength and prestige under the shelter of his providence? They owed the land in which they lived, and the wealth they had heaped up, to the fulfillment of his promises, and yet they were now worshipping idols. Their worship was not a momentary outbreak like the worship of the golden calf, soon after leaving Egypt, and when they had so long been living in the midst of idolaters. It was a steady settling down into the worst excesses of an obscene and cruel worship, after long centuries during which the Mosaic institutions had been in a place of acknowledged authority. What extenuations there may have been for this apostasy are not to be considered here. The thing insisted upon is the simple undeniable fact of the apostasy itself.
III. THIS DESERTION OF JEHOVAH IS DIVINELY ASSERTED TO BE AN ACT OF THE GROSSEST FOLLY. We have noticed the figure under which this act is set forth; and if Israel meant to get clear of a humiliating charge, it was only by denying that God was indeed a fountain of living water. The figure, therefore, resolves itself into a sort of logical dilemma; and the fact is clearly shown that in spiritual affairs men are capable of a folly which, in natural affairs, they are as far from as possible. Man holds within him a strange duality of contradictions. In some directions he may show the greatest powers of comprehension, insight, foresight; may advance with all the resources of nature well in hand. But in other directions he may stumble like a blind man, while around him on every hand are piled up the gracious gifts of a loving and forgiving God. There is no special disgrace to any individual in admitting what a fool he may be in spiritual things. In this respect, at all events, he is not a fool above other fools. He may see many of the wise, noble, and mighty of earth who have lived and died in apparent neglect as to the concerns of eternity and the relation of Christ to them. Men toil to make securities and satisfactions for themselves, but if they only clearly saw that they are doing no better than making broken cisterns, their toils would be relinquished the next moment. It is but too sadly plain how many neglect the revelations, offers, and promises of God; but who can doubt that if they could only really see him to be the true Fountain of living waters, the neglect would come to an end at once?—Y.
A shame to be ashamed of.
There is, as Paul tells us (2 Corinthians 7:1-16.), a godly sorrow and a sorrow of the world; a godly sorrow working out a repentance never to be regretted, and a sorrow of the world which works out death. So there is a shame and humiliation which is profitable in the right way and to the highest degree, when a man comes into all the horrors of self-discovery, and is ready to declare himself, feeling it no exaggeration, as the chief of sinners. Such a shame is indeed the highest of blessings, since it gives something like a complete understanding of what human nature owes to the cleansing blood of Christ, and to the renewing power of the Spirit. But there is also shame and humiliation such as the jailer at Philippi felt when he suspected his prisoners were gone, and degradation was impending over him at the hand of his masters. It is to such a shame that our attention is directed here. The shame of a thief, not for the wrong he has done, but because he is detected in the doing of it. Israel, we see, is being dealt with in very plain language. Already the nation which God had so favored, and from which he had expected so much, has been spoken of as lower than an idolater. And now it is likened to the thief in the moment when his knavery is discovered. Consider, then, as here suggested—
I. WHY THE SINNER SHOULD BE ASHAMED. The thief, of course, ought to be ashamed, and ashamed whether he is caught or not. He ought to come into such a state of mind as to acknowledge his offence and make restitution, even when otherwise his offence might remain undiscovered. He should be ashamed because he has done wrong; because he has broken a commandment of God; because he lives on what has been won by the industry and toil of his neighbors; because, in addition, he is robbing his neighbors of what benefit should have come to them from his own industry and toil. Some have enough to make them bow their heads in despair of ever being able to make restitution; and it is just when we thus begin to estimate the sense of shame that should fill the thoughts of the thief that we also come to have a clear idea of what a universal feeling amongst mankind shame should be. "The thief should be thoroughly ashamed of himself, you say, in all possible ways. True, he ought. But now take to mind the home-pressing words of the apostle, "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things" (Romans 2:1). Nay, there may be more to be said for the thief than for thee. Only too often he has a bad start, and no real chance of getting out of bad associations. He may get so hemmed in with temptations as to find it very difficult to resist. And in any case, the thief has no more cause to Be ashamed of his theft than any other sinner for his own particular mode of self-indulgence. God does not draw the distinctions which we are compelled to do, between wrongs that are crimes and wrongs that are not crimes. His distinctions are made on altogether different principles—principles which abide. If the thief has wronged his neighbor in one way, be sure of this, that you have wronged him in another. If the thief has sinned against God in one way, you have sinned against him in another. You may go through the world without the slightest fear of anything leaping to the light such as will bring the detective's tap upon your shoulder, and nevertheless you have yet to be bowed in unspeakable bitterness of shame because you have been defrauding God and missing the great end of life. What is wanted is that all of us should come to ourselves—being guided by that unerring Spirit which guides into all truth, and self being revealed by the light of the cross and of eternity.
II. WHY THE SINNER ACTUALLY IS ASHAMED. Discovery is what he dreads; discovery puts him in utter confusion. Discovery is disgrace and ruin, so far as his future relation to men is concerned. Henceforth he passes into a suspected and avoided class; he has test the mark of respectability and confidence. The sad thing is that, in the eyes of a large part of mankind, discovery seems to make all the difference. One may do a great deal of wrong with social impunity, if only there is cleverness enough to keep on the hither boundary of what is reckoned criminal. Those who are most serenely indifferent to the Law of God will fall into all sorts of sins, real and far-reaching evils, rather than transgress a certain social code. It is not so long ago since the duel ceased to be a part of the social code of England; and what a curious standard of honor was involved in such a practice! There are countries still where a man is disgraced if he refuses to fight; if he fights and kills his man it is reckoned no shame at all. The most immoral and debauched of men are yet curiously sensitive to what they choose to consider points of honor. People will plunge over head and ears into debt, and run into the wildest extravagance, that they may flourish a little longer in the social splendor which they know they have not the honest means to maintain. They feel it is a greater disgrace to sink in the world than to he unable to pay their debts. How needful it is for the Christian to take up all positions which he feels to be right—right according to the Divine will, no matter how much he may be exposed to the reproach of folly, Quixotism, and fanaticism I Let us pray that we may ever have a godly shame when the light of heaven is thrown on us, and we are contrasted with God in his holiness and Jesus in his perfect manhood. Let us equally pray that we may never Be ashamed of Jesus. It is a harder thing than many seem to think, even though they are constantly acknowledging in hymn and prayer what they owe to Jesus in the way of gratitude and service.—Y.
Why the confidences of men do not prosper.
The people of Israel are set forth, even within the limits of this one chapter, as having multiplied and extended their confidences; and yet it could not be said that they were prospering. Men with the religious element in their nature strongly clamoring for satisfaction, had turned to the gods of neighboring nations, and multiplied these objects of worship until it could be said, "According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah." God compares them to thirsty people who, with a copious fountain in their midst, work and toil to make cisterns, only to find that the end of their labor is in broken cisterns which can hold no water. And then, when their broken cisterns had proved quite unavailing, they fly to drink of Nile and of Euphrates. Evidently their confidence had not prospered, and a continuance and increase of adversity was threatened, the cause of it all being that their confidences were such as God, in his righteousness and majesty, must inevitably reject. Consider—
I. WHY THIS QUESTION AS TO THE SUFFICIENCY OF HUMAN CONFIDENCES IS SO IMPORTANT. The answer is that men cannot do without confidences. The events of a single day of life might be registered in such an aspect as to show what a confiding creature man is. Faith has become so much a habit with him as to be almost a second nature. Hence, even in the great concerns of life, we find many reposing trust with very little inquiry. Looking at others, we find their lives proving the need of confidence by the very frequency of doubt and irresolution in them. They are ever asking the question, yet never quite able to answer it, "What is the best thing for me to do?" And then, as so often happens, the end of hesitation and perplexity is, that they seem to have no choice at all, and go submissively towards the confidence that happens to be most inviting at the moment. Seeing, therefore, that we are compelled to have confidences, it is of the first importance to discover in what sort of confidences prosperity will alone be found.
II. MANY ACTUAL CONFIDENCES OF MEN PROVE FAILURES IN THE END. They approach men invitingly, they seem to stand well in the judgment of past generations, they may be the objects of very general approval, and yet, when they are searched into, when the truth concerning them is got from the bottom of the proverbial well, that truth is seen to Be well expressed in the words which say men have not prospered in them. There is, for instance, a very plausible appearance of prosperity in worldly wealth. Many fail to acquire it, and when they acquire it, fail to keep it; but this is held to come in the majority of cases from some fault in the man, and not in the stability of his possessions. To say that a possession is as safe as the Bank of England is to utter the strongest conviction as to its stability and security; and yet such confidences fail because they are not enough for the whole man. It is just one of the perils of wealth that man should let his whole heart rest upon it; should come to let the comforts, occupations, and hopes of life depend upon external possessions. There is failure also when men put confidence in self, confidence in present views of life, present feelings, present vigor of body and mind, in natural qualities, such as shrewdness, self-control, presence of mind, and in habits of attention, industry, and promptitude, that have been cultivated. What manifest failure also often comes from too much confidence in the judgment of man! The counsels of the wisest, most experienced, most successful of men, must be listened to with discretion.
III. THE REASON WHY SUCH CONFIDENCES DO NOT BRING PROSPERITY IS MADE PLAIN. They are not confidences after God's own heart. They are an ungodly waste of affections and energies given for higher purposes and more durable occupations. The practical lesson is that we should reject all confidences if we are not made quite certain that God approves them. Blessed is that man who has found his way, it may be through many losses and agonizing pains, to the truth that the unseen is more trustworthy than the seen, the eternal than the temporal. One who has thus risen into the sphere of Divine realities may have his confidences rejected and despised of men. What do these rejections matter? He who has firm hold of God himself need not to care for contemptuous words. The hard words of worldly men cannot destroy spiritual prosperity.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
The people's sin.
This is the sum and substance of the charge the prophet was called to bring against Israel. Idolatry was their destroying sin, the root of all their discords and miseries. It involved the renunciation of their allegiance to the God of their fathers, and in this their conduct was without a parallel. No instance of such apostasy could be found elsewhere. Those whom God had chosen to be witnesses for him before all the world were put to shame in this respect by the very heathen whom it was their mission to enlighten and bless. But we may regard this as the condemnation of the whole human race. "They have forsaken," etc. Note the view we get here—
I. OF THE BEING OF GOD AND THE RELATION HE SUSTAINS TOWARDS US. "The Fountain of living waters "(see also Jeremiah 17:13; Psalms 36:9).
1. He is emphatically the Living One. The grand distinction of the Bible is that it reveals "the living God." The Name Jehovah, the mysterious and incommunicable Name, was expressive of this. "And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM," etc. (Exodus 3:14). Absolute existence—essential, independent, necessary being—is the idea it conveys. The knowledge of such a spiritual Being, of a personality kindred with our own but absolutely exempt from its limitations, is our supreme need. David did but utter forth the insatiable longing of our nature for its true home, its only possible resting-place, when he cried, "My soul thirsteth for God, yea, for the living God." We want, not mere vague impressions of infinitude and eternity, but an Infinite and Eternal One in whom we may trust. Not mere abstract ideas of truth, and beauty, and righteousness, and love, but One of whom these are the unchanging attributes, and to whom, in the frailty of our nature, we can fly for refuge. "Our heart and our flesh cry out for the living God."
2. He is the Giver and Sustainer of all other forms of spirit-life. The "Fountain" of life; all other existences are dependent upon him. "The Father of spirits;" "we also are his offspring;" "in him we live and move and have our being." Whether our spirit-life once given can ever become extinct again may be a matter of doubt and controversy, but certainly it cannot be regarded as absolute and necessary existence. Though God may have endowed our nature with his own immortality, we do not possess immortality in the sense in which he does. "He only hath immortality." Ours is not self-existent being; it is dependent on him from whom it came—an outflow of the "Fountain" of life.
3. He is the Source of all that nourishes, enriches, and gladdens this dependent creature-life—"the Fountain of living waters." "Living waters" are the Divine satisfactions of the human soul. The Scriptures abound with similar figurative representations (Genesis 2:10; Zechariah 14:8; John 4:14; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:17). Every age has had its witness to the truth that man's real satisfactions are only to be found in God. In Christ that witness is perfected, that truth verified. "This is the record," etc. (1 John 5:11, 1 John 5:12). Here are the conditions of infinite blessedness for every one of us. To be separated from God in Christ, to turn away from him, is to perish, to doom yourself to the pangs of an insatiable hunger and a quenchless thirst. "This is life eternal, that they might know thee," etc. (John 17:3). This is death eternal—not to know him, to refuse the knowledge of him, to dream that you can live without him.
II. THE FOLLY AND EXCEEDING SINFULNESS OF SIN; The "two evils" here spoken of are but two forms, two sides, of one and the same thing. There is the self-willed departure from God, and there is the endeavor in that to lead a self-determined and self-sufficient life.
1. They have forsaken me. All sin is a forsaking of God. Adam turned his back on God when he listened to the voice of the tempter. The prophet rebukes here the shameful idolatries of the people. Think what idolatry means. It has, no doubt, its fairer side, in which it is seen to be the ignorant but still honest expression of the religious sentiment in men—the blind "feeling after God if haply they may find him." But think how it arose, and what its issues have been. St. Paul tells us how it was born of the corruption of man's nature, and has ever since been the Satanic means of deepening that corruption (see Romans 1:20, et seq.). So is it with every sinful life. It begins with a more or less intentional and deliberate renunciation of God. The exact point of departure may not be very definitely marked; but as the life unfolds itself, the fact that this is its true meaning becomes more manifest. How marvelous a picture of this dread reality of moral life does our Lord's parable of the prodigal supply! Such is the history of prodigal souls. Happy are they who "come to themselves" before it is too late to return to the forsaken home of the Father.
2. The dream of a self-determined and self-contained life. "They have hewed them out cisterns" of their own, which shall render them, as they think, independent of the "Fountain of living waters." Here is the idea of a proud endeavor to find in one's self and one's own self-willed way all necessary good. But it is altogether vain. The cisterns are miserably shallow, and they are "broken." It is true of every man, indeed, that his satisfactions must spring from what he finds within rather than from his earthly surroundings; but then he is "satisfied from himself" only because he has learnt to link himself with the Divine Source of all blessedness—the living God.
"Here would we end our quest;
Alone are found in thee
The life of perfect love, the rest
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany