The first eight verses form the necessary conclusion of the group of discourses summarized in Jeremiah 21:1-14; Jeremiah 22:1-30. Like Isaiah, our prophet follows up denunciation with consolation, and will have the mind rest on the sure promises of God for the Messianic future. A part of the people has been already scattered abroad. In Jeremiah 24:8, "those who dwell in the land of Egypt" are a section no less important than "those who remain in this land;" and the Babylonian Captivity is an event only too certain to take place (comp. Jeremiah 24:8). Unhappy Judah! for though not free from responsibility, it is the kings who are the prime authors of the calamity. Yet happy Judah! for "the days come" that an ideal king shall arise, even the promised Messiah. (Comp. Ezekiel 34:1-31, which seems like a development of this section.) Some have represented the promises of this chapter as fulfilled in the return from Babylon, with perhaps the Maccabean glories in addition. The fulfillment would in this case correspond but ill to the prediction; the context, too, is equally opposed to it. For, as Hengstenberg points out, the "gathering" and "bringing back" of Israel is in Jeremiah 24:4 closely connected with the raising up of good shepherds; and, according to Jeremiah 24:5, that promise is to find at any rate its culminating fulfillment in David's "righteous Branch," the Messiah. The mistake has been partly caused by a reluctance to increase the number of prophecies still awaiting their fulfillment, and partly by the false supposition that the events described must take place simultaneously (against this view, see Jeremiah 24:7, Jeremiah 24:8). Hengstenberg himself thinks that the fulfillment lies in the conversion of Israel to the gospel. "Canaan had such a high value for Israel, not because it was its fatherland in the lower sense, but because it was the land of God, the place where his glory dwelt." To be in Christ is to be in the true Canaan.
Woe be unto the pastors, etc.! This "woe" is a pendant to the" woe" upon Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 22:13. The original form of the verse shows the strong feeling with which the prophet both wrote and spoke: "Woe I shepherds who destroy," etc. By "shepherds" Jeremiah means rather the civil than the spiritual authorities, especially the kings— ποιμένες λαῶν, as Homer calls them. This is, in fact, the general Old Testament application of the term (see on Jeremiah 2:8). That destroy; if it is true of all sin that no one can calculate its issues, this is specially true of the sins of rulers. Delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi; or, as an inspired teacher puts it, "The leaders of this people became false guides, and those whom they led were lost men" (Isaiah 9:16). How these evil shepherds "destroyed" the people we are not here told; but from Jeremiah 22:3, Jeremiah 22:13, it is clear that sins of injustice, ranging from oppressive exaction to murder, are specially intended. Scatter; the captivities of the Jews being directly owing to the want of good government and teaching. How could the prophets stem the tide of popular corruption, when the ruling classes opposed their efforts? The sheep of my pasture; or, the sheep of my pasturing—the "pastors" are Jehovah's under shepherds. The figure is a favorite one, especially with the psalmists of the school of Asaph (see Psalms 74:1; Psalms 77:20; Psalms 78:52 (comp. Psalms 78:70-72); Psalms 79:13; Psalms 80:1).
The Lord God of Israel; strictly, Jehovah the God of Israel. This national title of Jehovah suggests, in such a connection, that the crime of the kings is nothing short of sacrilege. Ye have scattered, etc.; i.e. been the cause of their scattering, Have not visited them. "To visit" often, by a natural association of ideas, means "to give attention to." By an equally natural association, it means "to fall upon, to punish." Hence, in the next clause, I will visit upon you. We have the same combination of meanings in Zechariah 10:3.
Parallel passage, Ezekiel 34:12-15. I will gather the remnant;. For the ill usage of foreign oppressors has supplemented that of home tyrants, so that only a "remnant" is left. And they shall be fruitful and increase. The fertility of the Jewish race in modern times has been a frequent subject of observation, and supplies the best comment upon Jeremiah s prophecy.
And I will set up shepherds; e.g. rulers, not necessarily kings (see on next verse). Which shall feed them. For the evil shepherds "fed themselves, and fed not my flock" (Ezekiel 34:8). And they shall fear no more. Ezekiel again contributes an essential feature to the description. The neglect of the shepherds left the flock exposed to the ravages of wild beasts (Ezekiel 34:8). Neither shall they be lacking. A speaking phrase. Too many of the sheep had fallen down precipices or been carried off by lions. Yet the context rather favors a slight and palaeographically natural emendation of Hitzig, "Neither shall they be terrified." The Septuagint omits the word altogether, which favors the supposition that they read as Hitzig would read, for they are apt to condense by omitting synonyms.
Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6
(Comp. the parallel passage, Jeremiah 33:15, Jeremiah 33:16.)
Behold, the days come. The use of the analogous phrase, "And it shall come to pass in that day," would lead us to suppose that this verse describes a fresh stage in the progress of events, as if the faithful shepherds (Jeremiah 23:4) were to precede the "righteous Branch" (Jeremiah 23:5). Such a view, however, is not very plausible, for the Messtab, according to prophecy, is to appear in the darkest of times. The prophet simply means to impress upon us the greatness of the revelation which he is about to communicate. I will raise unto David. The promised Messiah, then, is certainly to be of the family of David (comp. Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1; Micah 5:2). A righteous Branch; rather, a righteous Plant: the root means "to bud, or sprout." This is the first time in which the title the Plant is unmistakably applied to the Messianic King (possibly, but less probably, to the Messianic kings). It indicates that this great personage stands in connection with the divinely ordained and ancient royal family, but that he is in some way unique, and far surpasses his human ancestors. He "springs forth;" therefore he is not a sort of meteoric appearance, without any natural home among men, but rather the blossom of the Jewish nation, the embodiment of its highest qualities. And yet there is something extraordinary about him, for it is needful that Jehovah himself should "raise" this Plant from the almost worn-out stock of David. Note that the word rendered here in the Authorized Version "Branch" is not the same as that in the parallel passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1). It is, however, the word employed in Isaiah 4:2, which is taken by many, especially the elder interpreters (but with very doubtful justice), to be a prophecy of the Messiah. It is also the word used by Zechariah (Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12), as a proper name of the Messiah, which is one strong reason for rejecting the view mentioned above that the word rendered "the Branch," or "the Plant," is to be taken collectively as equivalent to "branches," or rather "plants" (the article is not expressed in the Hebrew). In short, this passage and the prophecies referred to in Jeremiah are exceptions to the general Old Testament usage of the Hebrew word (cemakh), which is elsewhere a collective term equivalent to "plantation." It is true that in verse 4 "shepherds," in the plural, are spoken of, but there is no reason why this title should be confined to kings—it may as fairly be extended to the chief rulers under a king as the term "king" itself (see on Jeremiah 17:20); and true, further, that ill Jeremiah 33:17 a continuous succession is promised of Davidic heirs to the throne, but this is not decisive in favor of the collective meaning, any more than Isaiah's later prophecy that "the [reigning Davidic] king shall reign in righteousness" disproves the strictly Messianic reference of his earlier promise in Isaiah 11:1. All prophecy is conditional; there may have been moral reasons why a continuance of the Davidic dynasty was held out by Jeremiah at one time as a possible prospect. (It is, however, extremely probable that Jeremiah 33:14-26 is the work of some other inspired writer; see ad loc.) The thirty-fourth chapter of Ezekiel, which is so closely parallel to this section, appears to interpret the prophecy of a single Messianic king (Ezekiel 34:23). And a King shall reign; rather, and he shall reign as king; i.e. he shall be the realized ideal of an Israelitish king—a second David. And prosper; or, and deal wisely. There is the same doubt as to the rendering of the verb in Isaiah 52:13 a. The radical idea is that of wisdom, and the analogy of Isaiah 11:2 favors the alternative rendering here. Shall execute judgment; in contrast to the neglectful conduct of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:3).
Israel shall dwell safely. In the parallel passage (Jeremiah 33:16) we read "Jerusalem," and there can hardly be a doubt that "Jerusalem" ought to be restored here. This is not the-only instance in which, by mistake, the scribe has written "Israel" instead of "Jerusalem" (see Jeremiah 32:30, Jeremiah 32:32; Jeremiah 51:49; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 12:1). In Zechariah 1:19 the scribe discovered his mistake, and wrote the right word, "Jerusalem," after the wrong one, "Israel," but without canceling the latter. And this is his name whereby he shall be called. There is a various reading, which may be rendered either, whereby they shall call (him, or her), or, which they shall proclaim, supported by the Peshito, Targum, Vulgate, and a few manuscripts (St. Jerome, too, mentions this reading). There is also a more important difference among the commentators as to the person who was to bear the name. The older Christian interpreters contended with all their might for the view that the name belonged to the Messiah, partly on real philological grounds, partly with the illegitimate theological object of obtaining a proof-text for the orthodox doctrine of the person of the Messiah and (in the case of Protestant writers) of justification. It is much to the credit of Hengstenberg that he sets this object aside, and while maintaining the Messianic reference of the pronoun interprets the name with a single eye to the requirements of the context, "He by whom and under whom Jehovah will be our righteousness." The objection is that in the parallel passage (Jeremiah 33:16) Jeremiah assigns the name "Jehovah-Tsidkenu," not to the Messiah, but to Jerusalem. The prophet must be allowed to be his best interpreter, so that we must, it would seem, at any rate, reject the Messianic reference. But then how are we to explain the pronoun? It is right to refer the parallel pronoun in Jeremiah 33:16 to "Jerusalem," because the pronoun there is feminine, and evidently refers to a city, but it is not natural in our passage to explain "his name" of "Israel," seeing that the subject of the noun in the parallel line is, not Israel, but the Messiah. is the text here correct? A comparison of the parallel psalms 14. and lift; and of the corresponding chapters in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, will show how easily errors made their way into duplicate copies of the same passage. Granting that we have such duplicate copies of this prophecy in Jeremiah, there can be no doubt which is the more original; the form of Jeremiah 23:6 has a difficulty from which Jeremiah 33:16 is free—a difficulty of interpretation and a difficulty also of grammar. For, as Ewald has already pointed out, the contracted suffix is very rarely attached to the simple imperfect, and the clear style in which this section is written justifies us in regarding any unusual form with suspicion. "Israel" thus was probably written by mistake for "Jerusalem," and this error soon led to others—first, the omission of "her," and then the prefixing of "his name" for clearness, and (on the part of the authors of the points) the mispointing of the verb (so as to include in the form the pronoun "him"). It is some confirmation of this view that there are several other passages in which the words "Israel" and "Jerusalem" appear to have been confounded (see preceding note). Read, therefore, as in Jeremiah 33:16, And this is the name wherewith she shall be called. THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS; Hebrew, Yahveh (Jehovah) Tsidkenu. The name is formed on the analogy of other symbolic names, such as El-elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:20), Jehovah-Nisei (Exodus 17:15 ), and especially Jehovah-Shammah (Ezekiel 48:35), also a name of Jerusalem. These names are, in fact, sentences; Jehovah-Shammah, for instance, means "The Lord (is) there;" and the name in the present verse, "The Lord (is) our Righteousness" (Hengstenberg's view mentioned above seems less natural). It is singular that Zedekiah's name should come so near to that announced by the prophet. But there is still a difference between them. Zedekiah must mean "The Lord (is) righteousness," i.e. is ever faithful to his revealed principles of action. But Jehovah-Tsidkenu may be correctly paraphrased, "The Lord is the author of our prosperity," or, more strictly, "of the justification of our claims in the sight of our enemies" (comp. Isaiah 45:24; Isaiah 50:8; Isaiah 54:17; Isaiah 58:8; Isaiah 62:1,Isaiah 62:2). Similar applications of forensic language are familiar, e.g. "When they speak with their enemies in the gate" (Psalms 127:5).
Jeremiah 23:7, Jeremiah 23:8
This is another of Jeremiah's repetitions (see Jeremiah 16:14, Jeremiah 16:15). Either the Septuagint translator or the copyist of the Hebrew manuscript which he used appears to have thought that the passage might, therefore, be dispensed with. In the Septuagint it is placed at the end of the chapter (being possibly supplied from another Hebrew manuscript), and the form given in this version to the close of verse 6 ( ἰωσεδὲκ ἐν τοῖς προφηταῖς, combining the opening words of verse 9) shows that verse 9 followed immediately upon verse 6 in the Hebrew manuscript.
These verses form a complete prophecy, the title of which Jeremiah himself supplies in the words, "Concerning the (false) prophets" (see below); comp. Jeremiah 46:2; Jeremiah 48:1; Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:7, Jeremiah 49:23, Jeremiah 49:28. It is true the rendering of the Authorized Version (Jeremiah 49:9), Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets, is not purely arbitrary; it is favored by the exegetical tradition represented by the Hebrew accents. But it is not probable that two entirely different causes should be given for the prophet's deep emotion (see the latter part of the verse). Besides, "breaking of the heart" is nowhere a sign of anger (as Authorized Version would suggest), but either of grief (see on Jeremiah 8:20, or, as the context implies here, physical disturbance at the solemn message of Jehovah (comp. Jeremiah 6:11; Jeremiah 20:9). All my bones shake. It is a very uncommon verb, occurring only twice elsewhere (Genesis 1:2; Deuteronomy 32:11, in Piel). The words of his holiness; co, his words of holiness; i.e. his holy words, the words of the Holy One on the unholy doings of the false prophets.
The land is full of adulterers. The false prophets connive at flagrant immoralities, one of which is mentioned as a typical sin. As to the nature of the adultery, see note on Jeremiah 5:7. Because of swearing; rather, because of the curse; the curse, namely, with which God punishes the guilty earth (comp. Zechariah 5:3; Daniel 9:11; and especially Isaiah 24:6, where in the original there is a paronomasia very similar to that here). The land mourneth; a figurative expression, suggested partly by the assonance of the word for "curse." Drought is what is meant (comp. Jeremiah 12:4; Jeremiah 14:1, Jeremiah 14:2). The pleasant places of the wilderness; rather, the pastures of the prairie-land ("wilderness" suggests ideas very alien to the context). Their course; literally, their running (comp. Jeremiah 8:6). The subject is "the inhabitants of the land." Their force is not right; rather, their might (or, heroism) is untruth. They are "mighty men" only in telling untruths (comp. Jeremiah 9:3; Isaiah 5:22).
Both prophet and priest are profane; i.e. are unholy, disobeying the Divine commands (see on Jeremiah 5:7). The same two important classes specified as in Jeremiah 6:13. Yea, in my house, etc. Evidently some sin specially incongruous with its locality is referred to, either idolatry (comp. Jeremiah 7:30) or the totemistic worship of figures of animals (Ezekiel 8:10, Ezekiel 8:11). Comp. note on Jeremiah 5:7.
Their way shall be unto them as slippery ways, etc.; rather, slippery places. The passage has a manifest affinity with Psalms 35:6 (in one of the Jeremiahizing psalms; see on Jeremiah 18:19, Jeremiah 18:20). They shall be driven on; or, as Ewald, taking over the last word of the preceding clause, they shall be thrust into the darkness. This involves a reminiscence, probable enough, of Isaiah 8:22 b. It is against the accentual tradition, but improves the rhythmical derision of the verse. If we ask who "thrusts" them, Psalms 35:5 supplies the answer—it is not merely external circumstances, but "the Angel of Jehovah," i.e. Jehovah himself. As Bishop Hall says, "God wounds us by many instruments, but with one hand." I will bring evil upon them, etc. Favorite expressions of Jeremiah (comp. Jeremiah 11:23).
Jeremiah 23:13, Jeremiah 23:14
The prophets of Samaria were no doubt guilty enough, but their offences dwindled by the side of the "horrible" transgressions of those of the southern kingdom. The prophet apparently means, not only that the former, having fewer spiritual advantages, were less responsible than the latter, but also that they had not violated the moral code so conspicuously.
I have seen folly; rather, absurdity or unseemliness; literally, that which is unsavory (comp. Job 6:6). The word occurs with a similar reference to Jehovah in Job 1:22; Job 24:12. To "prophesy by Baal" was "absurd," "unseemly," because Baal was a "non-entity" (Isaiah's word for an idol). In Baal; rather, by, or by means of, Baal (see on Jeremiah 2:8).
I have seen also, etc.; rather, But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen. Horrible; as in Jeremiah 5:30. They commit adultery, etc.; literally, the committing adultery and the walking in lies—a much more forcible way of putting it. They are all of them; rather, They have become all of them; vie. either the prophets or the people in general. The inhabitants thereof; viz. of Jerusalem.
On the punishment hero threatened, see note on Jeremiah 9:15.
A warning addressed to the people against the false prophecies (comp. Ezekiel 13:1-23.).
They make you vain; i.e. fill you with vain imaginations. A similar phrase occurs in Jeremiah 2:5, on which see note. A vision of their own heart; the heart being the center of the intellectual as well as of the moral life, according to the Hebrew conception.
Unto them that despise me, The Lord hath said. The Septuagint and the Syriac render the same text (the consonants are alone the text) with different vowels, thus: "Unto those who despise the word of the Lord." In favor of this it may be urged that the phrase, "The Lord hath said," is nowhere else used in this abrupt way to introduce a real or supposed revelation, and Hitzig and Graf accordingly accept it. Ye shall have peace; as Jeremiah 6:14. After the imagination; rather, in the stubbornness (see on Jeremiah 3:17).
For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord; rather, in the council. This verse is connected with Jeremiah 23:16; it gives the reason why the false prophets were not to be listened to. None of them had been admitted to the secret council of the Lord; the interrogation is here a form of denial. "To stand in the council" is not the same as "to sit" (Psalms 1:1); the latter phrase implies taking an active part in the consultations. It is specially applicable to the true prophets, according to Jeremiah 23:22, and this, as we gather from other passages, m a twofold sense. Sometimes the prophets had visions, in which their inner eye was granted a sight of Jehovah in consultation with his trusted servants (Isaiah 6:1, comp. Isaiah 6:8; 1 Kings 22:19); and the words of Eliphaz, "Weft thou listening in the council of God?" (Job 15:8), appear to be descriptive of a similar experience. But the phrase may also be used in a wider sense of entirely unecstatic revelations. Amos says (Amos 3:7), "Surely the Lord Jehovah will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret counsel unto his servants the prophets; ' and a psalmist extends the term "secret counsel" to the communion which God grants to the pious in general (Psalms 25:14; comp. Proverbs 3:32). Thus there is no hard and-fast line between the experiences of the prophets and those of humbler believers. In so far as the latter are "disciples of Jehovah" (Isaiah 54:13), they too may be truly said to "stand," at least in the doorway, "in the council of Jehovah;" just as a well-known collect inherited from the Latin Church beseeches that "by God's holy inspiration we may think those things that he good." Who hath marked his word? A Jewish tradition, represented by the marginal notes in the Hebrew Bible, has taken offence at this variation in the expression, and would correct the reading to "my word." But such changes of person are of frequent occurrence, and we know that the prophets were thoroughly assured that the word which they spoke was not theirs, but that of him who sent them.
Jeremiah 23:19, Jeremiah 23:20
These two verses seem to be connected with Jeremiah 23:17. The false prophets say, "Ye shall have peace." How different the message of the true! (A duplicate of these verses occurs in Jeremiah 30:23, Jeremiah 30:24.)
A whirlwind of the Lord, etc.; rather, A storm of the Lord, even fury, is gone forth, and a whirling storm—upon the head of the wicked shall it whirl. The hurricane has already broken out; it will soon reach Jerusalem. This seems to be the force of Jeremiah's expressive figure.
The anger of the Lord. The prophet's interpretation of the image. It is the judicial anger of Jehovah, personified as Divine manifestations so often are (hence "shall not return"). The form of the verse reminds us of Isaiah 55:11. In the latter days; rather, in future days, as Dr. Henderson rightly renders. It seems better to restrict the term "latter days" to the Messianic period ("the coming age," Matthew 12:32), to which, in fact, it is often applied (e.g. Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5). The phrase in itself simply means "in the sequel of the days," i.e. in the future; its Messianic reference, when this exists, is inferred solely from the context. In the passage before us, and in Deuteronomy 4:30, Deuteronomy 4:30 :29, there can be no intention of pointing to the Messianic age. Precisely the same phrase occurs in an Assyrian inscription, where its meaning is clear from the context (aria akhrat yumi irib, "For a sequel of days—i.e; for a future time—I deposited"). In the present case it is no distant period to which the prophet refers, for he continues, Ye shall consider it, etc; or rather, ye shall understand it clearly, viz. that the calamities which will have come upon you are the Divine judgment upon your sins.
Jeremiah 23:21, Jeremiah 23:22
In Jeremiah 23:17-20 Jeremiah has shown that these cannot be true prophets, because their message is diametrically opposed to the true revelation. He now proves it from the absence of any moral effect from their preaching.
Jehovah has observed and will punish the false pretensions of the prophets.
Jeremiah 23:23, Jeremiah 23:24
Am I a God at hand, etc.? ("At hand" equivalent to "near.") Eliphaz may again assist us with an illustration. "And thou sayest "—he is expostulating with Job—"What doth God know? can he judge through the dark cloud? thick clouds are a covering to him, that he seeth not; yea, he walketh upon the vault of heaven" (Job 22:13, Job 22:14). It might seem, from the preponderance of the false prophets ever the true, as if Jehovah were unaware of the mischief. Not so; Jehovah is omnipresent.
I have dreamed. Jeremiah mentions it as one of the marks of a false prophet that he appealed to his dreams (comp. Jeremiah 29:8); true prophecy contented itself with less ambiguous media of communication with the unseen world. It may be objected that Abraham (Genesis 15:12), at any rate, and Abimelech (Genesis 20:3) received Divine revelations in dreams; but these were not officially prophets. Nathan and the contemporaries of the author of Job had messages from God by night, but these are called, not dreams, but visions. Deuteronomy (and this is one of its striking points of agreement with Jeremiah) expressly describes a false prophet as "a dreamer of dreams". Two passages in the Old Testament seem inconsistent with this discouragement of dreams as a medium of revelation—Numbers 12:6, where the Lord is said to make himself known to prophets by visions and dreams, and Joel 2:28, where the prophetic dreams of the old men are one of the features of a Messianic description; but it is noteworthy that the first of these refers to the primitive period of Israel's history, and the second to the distant Messianic age. In its classical period prophecy kept itself sedulously aloof from a field on which it had such compromising companionship (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:7).
How long shall this be in the heart, etc.? i.e. how long shall this be their purpose, viz. to prophesy lies? But this rendering leaves out of account a second interrogative which in the Hebrew follows "how long." It is better to translate this difficult passage, with De Dieu and many moderns, thus: "How long (quousque durabit haec ipsorum impudentia)? Is it in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies, and the prophets of the deceit of their own heart; are they thinking (I say) to cause my people to forget," etc.? On this view, Jeremiah 23:27 resumes the question interrupted in Jeremiah 23:26.
Every man to his neighbor. Not merely one prophet to another prophet, for it is "my people" whom they cause to forget my Name (comp. Jeremiah 23:32), but the prophet to his fellow man. Have forgotten my name for Baal; or, forgot my name through Baal.
Let him tell a dream; rather, let him tell it as a dream; let him tell his dreams, if he will, but not intermix them with Divine revelations. Jeremiah, then, does not deny that there is a measure of truth in what these prophets say; he only demands a distinct declaration that their dreams are but dreams, and not equal in authority to the Divine word. For, as he continues, What is the chaff to the wheat? What right have you to mix the worthless chaff with the pure, winnowed grain? How, he implies, can such an adulterated message produce the designed effect of a prophetic revelation? (St. Paul has a somewhat similar figure, 1 Corinthians 3:10-13.) So Naegelsbach. Keil, however, denies that there is any thought of an adulteration of the Divine word by the "false prophets." According to him, the question in this verse is simply meant to emphasize the contrast between the false, dream-born prophecy of Jeremiah's opponents and the true revelations. How can the false prophecy pretend to be the true? They are as different as chaff and wheat. Both views are admissible. Naegelsbach introduces a new element by suggesting the intermixture of false and true in the utterances of the "false prophets;" but his view is not inconsistent with what the prophet has stated before, and it is favored by verse 30 and by the command, Let him speak my word faithfully; i.e. in its genuine form; comp. Jeremiah 2:21, "A faithful or trustworthy [i.e. a genuine] seed;" also, for the general sense, 2 Corinthians 2:17.
Is not my word like as a fire? As in Jeremiah 23:19, Jeremiah 23:20, so here, the prophet contrasts the message of the false prophets with that of the true. The former flatter their hearers with promises of peace; the latter speak a stern but potent word, which burns like a fire, and crushes like a hammer. Observe, the prophet does not define the activity of the fire as he does that of the hammer; for the fire has a twofold effect—protection to God's friends and destruction to his enemies. On the figure of the hammer, comp. Jeremiah 1:1-19 :23; Jeremiah 51:20.
The punishment solemnly introduced by a three times repeated, Behold, I am against, etc; corresponding to three several features of the conduct of the false prophets. First we are told that the prophets steal my words every one from his neighbor. The latter part of the phrase reminds us of Jeremiah 23:27, but the neighbor in this case must mean, at any rate primarily, a fellow-prophet, one who has really received a revelation at first-hand from Jehovah. The "false prophets," not trusting to their "dreams" alone, listen greedily to the discourses of men like Jeremiah, not with a view to spiritual profit, but to making their own utterances more effective. We must remember that they lived by their prophesying (Micah 3:5).
That use their tongues; literally, that take their tongue, like a workman's tool—as if prophecy could be turned out to order. And say, He saith. The word rendered "he saith" is one which the prophets habitually used to affirm the revealed character of their teaching. It is the participle of the verb rendered "say." Adopting a Miltonic verb, we might render, and oracle oracles." The "false prophets" adopt the same forms as the true; but they are to them only forms.
That prophesy false dreams (see on Jeremiah 23:25). By their lightness. The word is an uncommon one, and implies arrogance or boastfulness (comp. Zephaniah 3:4); the root means "to bubble over." Therefore they shall not profit; rather, and they cannot profit.
The abuse of a consecrated phrase. The prophets were accustomed to apply the term massa to their prophetic declarations in the sense of "oracle," or "utterance"—a sense derived from the use of the cognate verb for "to lift up the voice," i.e. to pronounce clearly and distinctly. But the word massa was also in common use for "load, burden," and hence the "false prophets" applied the term derisively to Jeremiah's discourses. "Rightly does he call his word a massa; it is not merely a solemn utterance, but a heavy burden; as De Wette puts it, not merely a Weissagung, but a Wehsagung. The passage is important as indicating the sense in which the true prophets understood the term. It should be added that the term mused is prefixed to at least four Biblical passages which, not being of threatening import, do not admit of being entitled "burdens" (Zechariah 9:1; Zechariah 12:1; Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1; comp. Lamentations 2:14). How remarkable is the line adopted by Jeremiah 1:1-19 He simply abandons the use Of the term massa, consecrated as it was by the practice of inspired men! Better to adopt a new phrase, than to run the risk of misunderstanding or, even worse, profanity.
What burden? etc. The Hebrew text, as usually read, is extremely difficult; the Authorized Version is entirely unjustifiable. It is just possible to explain, with Ewald, "As to this question, What is the burden? the true meaning of the word is that," etc. But how harsh and artificial! By a change in the grouping of the consonants (which alone constitute the text), we may read, Ye are the burden. So the Septuagint, Vulgate, Hitzig, Graf, Payne Smith. We must in this case continue, and I will cast you off, as the same verb is to be rendered in Jeremiah 7:29; Jeremiah 12:7. Instead of carrying you with the long-suffering of a father (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 46:4; Isaiah 63:9; Psalms 28:9), I will east you off as a troublesome load (Isaiah 1:14).
What hath the Lord answered? i.e. a simpler phraseology is to be used, Jehovah hath answered, saying, or, Jehovah hath spoken, according as a definite question had been put before the prophet or not.
And the burden of the Lord, etc.; i.e. ye shall no longer use the word massa at all. Every man's word shall be his burden; rather, the burden to every man shall be his word; i.e. his derisive use of the word massa shall be a burden which shall crush him to the ground. Ye have perverted; i.e. have turned them round, and put them into a ridiculous light" (Payne Smith).
But since ye say, etc.; rather, But if ye say, etc. In case the false prophets disobey, and persist in using the old expression, the threatening already uttered shall come into operation.
I, even I, will utterly forget you; rather, I will even take you up, and east you off. This involves a slight difference in the pronunciation of the text from that adopted by the Massoretes, but is adopted by the Septuagint, Peshito, Vulgate, a few manuscripts, and most critics; it is, in fact, almost required by the figure which fills the verse. And cast you out of my presence. "And cast you" is not in the Hebrew; nor is it necessary to supply the words, if the preceding clauses be rightly translated.
With this verse, comp. Jeremiah 20:11.
The character of leading men.
The character of its leading men is a matter of first importance to a people. Israel had been led astray by his kings; one of the first blessings promised to him on his return is the possession of good leaders. In the most free state there must always be leading men—men exercising influence by reason of their office, their rank and position, or their capacities. Observe this in regard to the various classes of leading men.
I. POLITICAL LEADERS. On their character depends the questions
II. SOCIAL LEADERS. The moral influence of the court is always great and widespread; how important that this should be pure! There are people whom rank or personal attractiveness, or powers of persuasion, endow with power to influence the customs of their age. These need be well advised that their influence may be on the side of truth, purity, and humanity.
III. INTELLECTUAL LEADERS. Shall the reformer be a Luther or a Voltaire? The poet a Wordsworth or a Byron? The historian an Arnold or a Gibbon? The philosopher a Butler or a Hume? Surely for the real welfare of a people the moral tendency of its literature is more important than the intellectual brilliancy.
IV. RELIGIOUS LEADERS. Are these men barren controversialists, or earnest practical guides to their flocks? Are they loyal to truth, or merely bigoted defenders of their own crotchets? Are they spiritual-minded servants of Christ, or ambitious priests? Are they true shepherds, or wolves in sheep's clothing? These questions touch the welfare of a people very closely. Note, the one essential is that the leading men should desire to serve the good of others and not simply to increase their own power and honor; to feed the flock, not to scatter it by reckless indifference, selfish ambition, or tyrannous cruelty. The power of leading men is a great and dangerous gift, only entrusted by Providence to those who possess it for the sake of the good it may be the means of conferring on the community at large. The state is in a healthy condition only when public characters are inspired by public spirit.
The Branch of David.
The glorious prophecy of the Messianic future which here bursts forth from Jeremiah, after his denunciation of his nation's sin and lamentation over its approaching calamities, is necessarily clothed in the language of the age, and viewed in an especial relation to contemporary wants. The people are suffering from bad rulers and an unrighteous government. A good king, administering his kingdom happily and justly, is promised for the golden age of the future. Associated with this king is, no doubt, that succession of righteous sovereigns referred to in the fourth verse. It was not given to anticipatory visions to show how unique and solitary and eternal was to be the kingship of the Messiah. Yet even there he stands forth in marked prominence, and towers above his successors, who are only regarded as following his initiative. Regarding the prophecy with the fuller light of Christian times, we may see how it is a true foreshadowing of the nature and work of Christ, though, of course, only partial and limited, as the shadow can only indicate the general form of its object, and that in but one aspect.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE MESSIAH.
1. He comes from a human stock. He is called a "Branch," or, rather, a "Sprout." Christ entered the world by birth; he was "made of a woman." Hence his oneness with us, his human sympathy, true example, and representative character as the High Priest of the race.
2. He comes of the family of David. This historical fact is significant. Christ is a born King, a rightful Sovereign. He realizes the ideal which the kings of the Jews had failed to attain, but which the best of them had aimed at.
3. He comes quietly and gradually. The sprout springs from a bud by slow growth. Christ began his life as an infant, and grew in physical, mental, and spiritual powers (Luke 2:52). He did not astonish the world with a sudden apparition of majesty. His kingship is like his kingdom, a quiet and gradual growth as that of a tree from a seed (Matthew 13:31-32).
4. He comes with close relations to the circumstances of the world. The sprout is vitally connected with the earth and the atmosphere. It grows in the natural season of growth. Christ is associated with all human interests. The ages before his advent were preparing for him. He is the representative of their highest aspirations, the satisfaction of their deepest needs. He comes in the "fullness of time."
5. He comes from a Divine origin. God raises up the righteous Branch. The text tells us no more than that the coming of Christ is providential and through special Divine influences; but we know that God not only raised him, but was in him, as one with his very being.
II. THE OFFICE OF THE MESSIAH. He is to be a King. It was natural that the Jews should anticipate a temporal sovereign, and natural, therefore, that they should have been disappointed at the appearance and conduct of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet was he not, is he not, a King? He professed to be a King (John 18:37). The apostles claimed submission to him as to a King (Acts 17:7). His influence is kingly. The essence of kingship is not seen in the sitting on a material throne and wearing a visible crown, but in the exercise of power over men. Christ is the one true King, because he rules the thoughts and affections and wills of men. Human sovereigns can only command external obedience. While the slave cringes before the throne he may be cursing his master in his heart. Christ is satisfied with no such superficial loyalty. He seeks the allegiance of the heart, and he wins it from all his people. We must, therefore, recognize this great fact—Christ is a King as well as a Savior. While he delivers us from ruin, he expects submission to his authority. He is a Savior partly by being a King, for his royal influence is one means of his deliverance of mankind. Therefore the selfish Christianity which would accept escape from ruin, but would not accord loyal obedience, is a delusion. We cannot even be safe, cannot even escape from the ruin of our sin, except by bowing to the rule of Christ. We can only find rest unto our souls by taking on us his yoke. True faith, therefore, includes trust in the kingship as well as in the redemption of Christ, i.e. active fidelity in addition to passive confidence.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE MESSIAH.
1. He is righteous. This was much in contrast to the unrighteousness of contemporary rulers. Taking the word "righteous" in the largest sense, we have assurance of the truth, justice, holiness, and goodness of Christ. If this righteousness of the Messiah is a ground of rejoicing to the prophet, how much more shall we Christians rejoice in witnessing his gentleness, compassion, and love?
2. He rules righteously. The character of the government is necessarily determined by that of the ruler. The great King comes to live not for himself, but for his people, and not to execute stern judgments upon them, but to secure their highest good. Christ reigns for the good of his people. If we submit to his rule we find our own blessedness secured thereby.
The new name.
(See also Jeremiah 33:16.) God's people are to have a new name. In the epistle to the Church at Pergamos, every one "that overcometh" is assured that he will receive "a white stone, and in the stone a new name written" (Revelation 2:17). This is suggestive, not only of a change of character, but of a change of reputation. The redeemed will no longer be thought of in connection with the old associations of their sin and shame. These will be forgotten, and a new name given to them, describing their holier character and happier condition. Consider the significance of this new name—"The Lord our Righteousness."
I. GOD IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. He justifies his people in the face of their maligners by proving the rightness of their cause. For this, like David, they may appeal to him (Psalms 35:23, Psalms 35:24).
2. God's righteousness is the ideal of righteousness for his people. True righteousness is that which is after God's mind. Men have their notions of right, which are often perverted by passion and prejudice. But the redeemed have a vision of a higher law and a purer type of goodness. God is righteousness to them. He is the Good, the only true Good (Mark 10:18).
3. God is the Source of righteousness to his people. None can make himself righteous; righteousness is an inspiration. This idea is suggested by Plato in the 'Meno,' where he represents Socrates as saying, "To sum up our inquiry—the result seems to be, if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous;" and again, "Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of God." How singularly near is this to St. Paul's teaching about the righteousness of God without the Law (Romans 3:21-26)!
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS COEXTENSIVE WITH SALVATION. When the people are saved, they receive the new name. We are not delivered on account of our righteousness, but in our sin and need and ill desert. Nevertheless, salvation brings righteousness, includes the gift of righteousness—is, indeed, essentially a restoration of righteousness, a deliverance from sin to a state of holiness. The two ideas may be separated in thought; they cannot be separated in experience. It would be unjust and unholy for God to deliver a man from the penalties of his sin while he remained in the practice of it. But when deliverance comes, no part of it is more full of joy and blessedness to the redeemed, and none reflects more glory on the Redeemer than the salvation from the power of sin and the creation of a new nature of holiness.
III. THE DIVINE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS CONFERRED THROUGH CHRIST. The giving of the new name follows the advent of the Messiah and the exercise of his kingly rule. Here we are carried beyond the vague and apparently casual Platonic notion of the inspiration of virtue to the definite Christian doctrine of righteousness through Christ.
1. Christ secures redemption for us by his life work and his sacrificial death, and with this comes righteousness.
2. Christ is the incarnation of the Divine righteousness, and breathes that into us by his vital contact with his people.
3. Christ rules in righteousness over a people whom he teaches to follow and obey him with righteousness. Therefore, if we crave the honor and the blessedness of the new name, let us yield our souls in trust and obedience to the claims and grace of Christ.
The Jews were warned not to listen to the prophets, because they were not inspired by God. This fact was considered to be a sufficient proof of their inefficiency, and necessarily so, since the prophets professed to be acting as the oracles of God, and not merely indulging in their own speculations and conjectures. Herein lay the danger of their position. They held official rank as religious teachers, their claims were backed by venerated tradition, they boldly professed to speak with Divine authority; yet they were not sent by God. The same danger accompanies the pretensions of men in our own day, who claim a right to be heard without question by reason of their high office in the Church, and yet have no Divine commission. The appearance of this uninspired prophecy in Jeremiah's age may, therefore, be a warning to modern times.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THIS PROPHECY WAS PRIVATE SPECULATION. The prophets spoke "a vision of their own heart." Such a vision could only be a revelation of themselves. This is what uninspired religious speculation amounts to. It is a revelation of man, not a revelation of God. Attempts are made to arrive at truth in three ways.
1. By observation. But observation cannot reveal
2. By reasoning. This must be based on experience, and can bear no more strain than its basis. It is not found that we have sufficient data in normal experience to warrant important predictions of history and conclusions on vexed theological questions.
3. By intuition. Intuition does reveal truth, but only the truth of our own nature. We have no reason for supposing that this is always a counterpart to the facts of the larger world.
II. PRIVATE SPECULATION WAS ESPECIALLY LIKELY TO IMPORT ERROR INTO THIS PROPHECY. It was always fallible, but in the present instance it was peculiarly likely to err.
1. It was attempting too great a task. The prophets were venturing to predict the future of their nation under the most difficult circumstances.
2. It was biased by prejudice, passion, and interest. The prophets were swayed by their own inclination. In religious questions personal considerations blind men to pure truth.
III. NEVERTHELESS THIS PROPHECY WAS VERY POPULAR.
1. It was recommended by the official teachers.
2. It was recommended by the majority of the prophets. Jeremiah stood almost alone; his opponents were numerous.
3. It was flattering to the people; it represented them as less guilty, as deserving less punishment than was threatened by Jeremiah.
4. It was pleasant. The prophets spoke smooth words and promised comfortable things. Such teaching is only too popular.
IV. NO PROPHECY IS RELIABLE WHICH IS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD. The prophecy is condemned simply for want of this one fundamental condition. The history of religions speculation proves the helplessness of all attempts to solve the great problems of the future and of the spiritual by bare human intelligence. If, therefore, we believe that the Bible is inspired, weight should be given to its teaching as to an authority. In our own thought, and our meditation on the Scriptures, we need those lesser degrees of inspiration by which all Christians may be led into truth (John 16:13).
Jeremiah 23:23, Jeremiah 23:24
The omnipresence of God.
I. THE FACT. God must he thought of as fully present everywhere; not as a great Being who fills a great space with, however, only distinct parts in each section of space. The whole of God is present everywhere. He is as much present in every separate locality as if he existed nowhere else. All his infinite attributes of knowledge, power, and goodness are present, to be brought to bear on each individual of the infinite variety of things in the universe. God is as much present in the less seemly places as in those that are recognized as fitting temples for him to dwell in. He is in the earth as well as in heaven. Heaven is described as his throne, earth as his footstool. He is present with the godless as well as with the godly, in the heathen world as well as in Christendom. More particularly:
1. God is present with those who do not recognize him. The sunlight is not limited by man's vision; it shines as clearly about the blind man as about one with keen eyesight. So, though we may not think of God's presence, it is not the less near to us.
2. God is present with those who refuse to obey him. We cannot remove ourselves from the observation and control of God by forsaking all allegiance to him. Jonah could flee from his mission, but he could not flee from his God. God's eyes are on the evil as well as on the good.
3. God is present with those who are far from enjoying the blessedness of the full manifestation of his presence. God is present with the Christian all through his earthly pilgrimage. Though God appears to hide himself for a season, though thick clouds intervene between the soul and that beatific vision which is reserved for the future state, God is as truly with his people on earth as he will be in heaven.
II. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. It is foolish to expect to escape from the judgment of God. God never abdicates his right to be the Judge of all his creatures. There is no possibility of hiding from him. God searches us and knows our deepest heart-secret. Will it not, then, be best for us to be true and open and frank with him?
2. We must not ascribe the confusion of the world to God's indifference. If he knows all and does not set it right, this must be
3. No change of place will bring us nearer to God. "He is not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:27). Therefore
4. Christians need fear no harm. They must meet with troubles and temptations, but God is present to uphold them. They must go through the valley of the shadow of death, but God is there. They must enter the strange land of departed souls, but he is there also. And wherever God is it must be well with his faithful children.
Jeremiah 23:33, Jeremiah 23:34
The abuse of a word.
This is not a mere play upon a word, but a mocking abuse of the meaning of it, designed to convey a sinister insinuation. It illustrates what a dangerous and uncertain weapon language is. We are all inclined to attach too much importance to words, forgetting that they are not rigid landmarks of thought, but variable in meaning with the variations of the ideas we import into them.
I. THE WORDS OF TRUTH MAY BE USED IN THE SERVICE OF FALSEHOOD. The Jews repeated the phrase of Jeremiah, but with a new and false signification. The "burden" as an utterance, was entirely distinct from the "burden" as a weight to be borne. Of course, mendacity belongs to our thought and intention, not to our mere language. We may tell a lie by using true words in such a way as to infuse into them a false meaning. Such conduct is peculiarly mean and dishonorable. It is robbing the armory of truth to turn its weapons against itself. No condemnation can be too strong for the treachery and dishonesty of those persons who appropriate the consecrated phrases of Christianity as a subterfuge under which to attack its spiritual truths. Let us be careful in using the Bible, not to read our own thoughts into the text, but to search simply for the original meaning of it.
II. CONTROVERSY BECOMES DISHONEST WHEN IT IS MAINTAINED BY THE CONFUSION OF WORDS. This is the essence of sophistry. A word is spoken with one meaning; it is replied to with another. Often and often this is done unconsciously. Indeed, a large part of our contentions rest on nothing but "misunderstandings." Under such circumstances we may deplore the error, but we cannot severely condemn the moral conduct of the misguided disputants. But it may be done deliberately, to throw dust in the eyes of an opponent, to raise a laugh without justification, to gain a point by mere word-fencing. When this is the case it is untruthful and ungenerous. If we must dispute, let us be frank and fair, using every effort to understand our opponent, carefully guarding against misrepresenting him. So long as a word is used as the embodiment of a thought, it is a sacred thing to tamper with which may be to murder a truth.
III. NO VERBAL BULWARKS WILL PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY OF TRUTH. This is just a corollary on what precedes. But it is sufficiently important to claim distinct and emphatic notice. Truth must find its expression in words, and to be intelligible these should be clear and definite. Hence the need of formulae. But nothing is more unreliable than a formula. Since it may be used against truth with all the force of its prestige if a new false meaning is foisted into it, we need to be constantly considering it afresh in the light of facts. Creeds may be useful as the expression of "views" of truth, but history proves that they are of little good as defenders of the faith.
IV. WHEN A WORD HAS GIVEN TROUBLE IN CONTROVERSY IT MAY BE WELL TO ABANDON IT. Jeremiah is bidden no longer to use the word "burden." We are too jealous of words. There is a superstition of phrases. It is foolish to fight for a word. Anxiety about words is generally a sign of the loss of hold upon truth. If we are sure of possessing the truth and feel the living reality of it, we can afford to abandon any form of language, and can soon find other words in which to clothe it. Truth will not suffer. If it loses the aid of old associations, it loses also the hindrance of misunderstandings and antagonisms, and it gains the freshness of new suggestions. Let us be careful not to be the slaves of a vocabulary. We shall often find it wise to melt down our theological phrases and cast them in a new form, or rather to bury the old ones and let new ones naturally spring up as the embodiment of fresh living thoughts. Remember, "the letter killeth."
I. IT IS A MISTAKE TO REGARD THE REVELATION OF TRUTH AS A BURDEN. It comes to lighten our burdens. At first it may seem to increase them by making us conscious of them. It opens our eyes to our own condition. The very light may serve to reveal the existence of the deep mystery all around us, which was not felt while the soul slumbered in darkness. Yet the light does not make the darkness that fringes its radiance. Revelation does not create the burdens of which it makes us conscious. It has rather the opposite effect.
1. All truth clears away some of the burden of superstition. Men people the unknown with horrors. Midnight shadows shroud dread nightmares. Daylight dispels the shadows, and the evil dreams melt away.
2. Divine truth is expressly designed to liberate the soul from spiritual burdens. It is a light of blessing, not a message of death; an evangel promising consolation to the weary. Even the darker elements of truth have this object to attain, since the evil that they reveal is only made manifest that we may see how to escape it, or be prepared to endure it, or receive it so as to profit by it. On the whole and in the end the truth of God is revealed for the loosening of the weary weight of men's greatest burdens, the burden of unforgiven sin, the burden of impossible duty, the burden of unendurable sorrow, the burden of unintelligible mystery.
II. MEN WHO DO NOT RECEIVE THE REVELATION OF TRUTH MAY REGARD IT AS A BURDEN. Thus these Jews derided Jeremiah by mocking his language with words, however, which expressed their own sentiments if not their deeper convictions. To them his word was a weariness, a very burden. Is it not so regarded by many? We should note the causes of this sad mistake.
1. Ignorance. The word is heard, but it is not understood. On the outside it is harsh. This is the characteristic of much Divine truth. Far off it sounds like grating thunder, terrific and repellant. We must be near to hear its sweet but hidden music.
2. Want of sympathy. All truth is burdensome to those who have not sympathy with it. Spiritual truth is a weariness to the unspiritual.
3. Partial faith. Jeremiah's words produced enough conviction to rouse fear, but not enough to lead to confidence in the wisdom, righteousness, and goodness of God in his acts of discipline and chastisement. A weak faith always makes truth a burden. To be joyous and exultant we must be trustful.
III. THE REJECTION OF TRUTH WILL BRING A BURDEN, The revelation is not a burden, but the neglect of it will make one (verse 36). Men turn from God's truth for the trouble they think it threatens. They will find that this very act will bring the greatest trouble upon their heads.
1. This involves the loss of the blessing that truth is designed to bestow upon us. If we reject the truth we must bear the inevitable which the acceptance of it would have lightened. We then go our own way to meet unaided the crosses and toils of life.
2. This involves the addition of a new burden of guilt for the sin of rejecting truth. A willful rejection of light is, of course, wicked and most culpable in the sight of God. It must bring trouble.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
False shepherds and the true.
The reference here is to the kings of the house of David, as the leaders of a theocratic people; and secondarily, to the spiritual purpose of all true kingship.
I. THE MISCHIEF OF FALSE SHEPHERDING. This is twofold, viz. scattering and destroying. The false shepherd has no real interest in the sheep; being but a hireling, his chief consideration is a selfish one. The kings of Judah had sought to realize their own ambitions and to indulge their own lusts. The moral and spiritual advancement of the people—the foundation of all real material prosperity—was not sought. The royal example which ought to have been influential for righteousness was directly opposed to this, and all classes of the people were infected with the licentiousness of prince and noble. The results appeared in crime, idolatry, and banishment.
II. ITS JUDGMENT. The calamity was to come chiefly upon those who had been unfaithful stewards of great responsibilities. Office which is thus abused will soon be taken away. According to responsibility will be punishment. He who causes to offend is worse than the offender, and will meet with corresponding severity of judgment. The nation outlives the dynasty. Unfaithful shepherds of the theocracy sink in ignominy and ruin, but God preserves a seed to serve him, and a generation to call him blessed.
III. ITS CORRECTION. The deceived of God's people, being distinguished from the deceivers, will undergo a kindlier discipline. The shepherd's care, as the symbol of royal responsibility, is intended as an ideal corrective. It teaches the principle that the king exists for the people, and not vice versa. It is under Christianity that popular liberties, national development, and social purity have become the aims of rulers. In modern times there have been many who have illustrated this ideal of royalty; but Christ alone is the Head of redeemed humanity—the good Shepherd that lays down his life for his flock. In him the throne of David is eternally restored. Not yet do we see all things put under him, but the time draws nigh when he shall reign from shore to shore, and from the river even unto the ends of the earth. Ancient Israel depended for its very existence upon spiritual obedience to God's Law. The Church of Christ in all its offices must respect his authority and be actuated by love to him. Its character and influence must be purely spiritual, or its message will be neutralized and soon perverted to unholy ends.—M.
Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6
The Lord our Righteousness.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WOULD RULE IN THE MIDST OF HIS PEOPLE. The question of the singular or plural interpretation of the word "scion" need not trouble us. To the prophet it was enough to declare that the offspring of David would yet reign in righteousness. All lesser fulfillments of this prophecy are thrown into insignificance by the great Son of David, who so grandly fulfilled the essential conditions of the prediction.
1. Righteousness would yet become the law of human life.
2. This would be achieved through a personal influence. The King of men will wield a spiritual scepter, but his influence will be the more real. Righteousness will be manifested as a life and vindicated in sacrificial death.
3. The house of David would be restored in him as its offspring.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WOULD BE TRANSFERRED TO HIS PEOPLE. "The Lord our Righteousness," be it the title of Prince or people, is sufficiently significant to explain its own essential meaning. There would be a transfer of the righteous character of the Ruler to the ruled; their spirit and aims would be identical with his; and he would embody their ideal life and present it to God. Through him the Divine righteousness would be the possession of the least saint. This evidently could only be perfectly accomplished in Christ. Nothing less than a unity of spirit and life with Jesus Christ, through faith, could achieve such a result.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD THUS EMBODIED AND COMMUNICATED WILL SAVE HIS PEOPLE.
1. The power of this righteousness.
2. Its desirability.
3. Its attainableness. The ideal future of Israel and the Church.—M.
Jeremiah 23:16-18, Jeremiah 23:22
Trying the spirits.
In Jeremiah 23:18 read, "For who hath stood in the counsel of Jehovah? Let him see and hear his word: who hath marked his word? Let him proclaim it."
I. HEARERS ARE TO DISCRIMINATE BETWEEN FALSE PROPHETS AND TRUE. A very serious permission. But not for an occasion only: to be exercised whenever the witnesses conflict. The essential principle of Protestantism. The prophet is one who speaks in God's Name and reveals his will. The question, therefore, is of interest for all time; is exceedingly important, but not morally difficult.
1. The effect of false prophecy is disastrous.
2. Earnest and prayerful discrimination is the best safeguard against religious indifference.
II. A DISTINGUISHING TEST IS FURNISHED. It is a moral one. By their relation to the Law of Moses were the different prophets to be judged of.
1. The marks of the false prophet. His influence is an unrighteous one. He encourages evildoers, either by directly unrighteous teaching or through the indirect influence which he exercises.
2. The marks of the true prophet. He is as unmistakably in favor of morality and religion. He is distinguished:
The credentials of the ministers of God are ever a matter of consequence. Exceptional service in the Church demands exceptional qualifications, and amongst these a direct Divine call is imperative. The wickedness of those who usurp sacred office is that they ignore the necessity for such a call, and, adding deliberate falsehood to impiety, they speak in the Name of God without having heard his voice.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF LEGITIMATE SERVICE IN GOD'S NAME.
1. Those who minister in his Name must be appointed by himself. "I have not sent them." For the sake of order an outward and conventional human recognition of office may be requisite. But that is not the essential thing. The minister of God—prophet, priest, Christian minister—must be sent and set apart in the first instance by God. This is an immediate spiritual, Divine act. It may be performed variously, as we find in Scripture it actually was; but the original impulse and impression of obligation are from the Spirit of God. It may be impossible to define the mode, yet the fact and the nature of it cannot be mistaken. So as to the degree of intensity with which the "call" should be attended difference of opinion may exist; but the greatest ministers of God have been those who waited until the Divine ordination was certain and confirmed. A feeble impulse at the outset is less likely to result in a grand consecrated ministry. And yet there is a sense in which the "calling" cannot be made sure until after it has been acted upon. So little is it a mechanical act that sinks into historical background,—the individual must ever have it present to his consciousness and crescent through active fulfillment of it. And the "call" is ever a differentiated one, having regard to special service. It is not enough for one to assume the minister's office merely because he is fired with the general spirit of Christian enthusiasm.
2. Only as he reveals it to men can they declare his truth. "I have not spoken to them." The prophecies of the Old Testament were the outcome of special and particular inspirations, as a reference to the descriptions of prophets themselves will prove. With some the period of active inspired utterance was comparatively brief; others were visited by the inspirations of God all through life. But even the (generally) inspired prophet might be destitute of inspiration on particular occasions, or might outlive it. In such cases silence is highest duty and truest wisdom. "The Word of God" on special occasions, as generally, is a finely organized spiritual emanation, a delicate creation or outbirth of the infinite Spirit, and may be misrepresented by unsympathetic, unenthusiastic reception. He must first be a reverent, believing "hearer" who would worthily prophesy or preach (the modern phase of the same essential work). It is only as the Spirit takes the "things of Christ" and shows them to us that we can understand, appreciate, and livingly present them to others. This necessary experience is finely expressed in the old phrase, "It was laid upon me," or, as Jeremiah has it, "But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jeremiah 25:9).
II. HE WHO USURPS THE SACRED OFFICE IS GUILTY OF THE GRAVEST SIN. It is instructive to observe that that which, when worthily fulfilled, is pleasing to God, is altogether otherwise if illegitimately performed. Because:
1. True prophets are thereby discredited.
2. Divine truth is misrepresented. By bald unsympathetic literalism, etc.
3. Divine truth is actually contradicted.
III. GOD WILL REPUDIATE AND DISCREDIT ALL SUCH. Through genuine revelations. In the event. By the results attendant upon faithful preaching. In the great day of account.—M.
Jeremiah 23:23, Jeremiah 23:24
The omnipresence of God.
I. A PERSONAL ATTRIBUTE.
1. Infinitely near to all his creatures.
3. Filling all in all.
II. A MORAL INFLUENCE. The question is asked. Every conscience confesses it. The dispensation of the Spirit which convinces the world "of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" is the latest expression of this.
Dreams that make the Name of God to be forgotten.
This is a very difficult passage, but its general sense is plain. It seems to be this: The false prophets whom Jehovah can not sent imitated the form of inspired utterance—the dream as distinct from the vision—which could most easily and with least chance of detection be fabricated. This vehicle of communicating their false doctrines they strongly affected. "I have dreamed, I have dreamed." Although delivering these utterances in the Name of Jehovah, they thereby sought to alienate the people from him, and to cause his Name to be forgotten.
I. PERSONS MAY SPEAK IN GOD'S NAME WHO ARE REALLY HIS ENEMIES. These false prophets used the Name of God to commend their own deceitful doctrines and practices. The latter would have no permanent influence apart from this association. It is a favorite device of Satan to appear as an angel of light. There is nothing more diabolical, and the pretence should ever be regarded with critical suspicion, and exposed without hesitation when discovered. "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my Name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:5).
II. IT IS EASY TO IMPART A RELIGIOUS ASPECT TO THAT WHICH IS OPPOSED TO TRUE RELIGION. Here one of the chief vehicles of inspiration is employed for quite another purpose than the revelation of God's truth. Its mystery, vagueness, etc; imposed upon the people; and detection was rendered difficult, as no one could be sure whether the prophet dreamt or not. The real message they delivered was one of personal ambition, lust, etc. So men baptize their carnal dreams and desires with Christian names. It is very necessary to discriminate and to be sincere. Now it is a dream, an ordinance, at another time a doctrine.
III. FALSEHOOD IS MOST TO BE DREADED WHEN IT SIMULATES TRUTH.
1. Because it is essentially unaltered. By saying this is truth, it is really no more so than at first, but it gets the character of it.
2. The association thus created greatly increases its power. The sanctions of religion are given to ungodly and sinful practices. Delusion is most inveterate when it blends with superstition.
3. It destroys those whom it professes to bless. The mental habit is thereby corrupted, and the spiritual nature rendered unfit for real Divine communications. The danger is not discovered until it has made fearful advances and worked irrevocable mischief.
IV. IT SPECIALLY PROVOKES THE ANGER OF GOD. It is blasphemy; mocks him; and arrogates his place and functions, becoming more daring with apparent impunity.—M.
Jeremiah 23:28, Jeremiah 23:29
The faithful utterance of Divine revelation.
If God in very deed reveals his will to men, it is essential that it be simply and truthfully conveyed.
I. HUMAN INTERMIXTURES WITH DIVINE TRUTH ARE HURTFUL AND WEAKENING IN THEIR INFLUENCE. The word of human origin is placed on the same level with the Divine. When the former is proved fallible or untrue, the latter is discredited. Efforts after novelty and strangeness generally ensue; and these are condemned by the Word of God (Jeremiah 23:30, Jeremiah 23:31).
II. THESE ARE WHOLLY UNNECESSARY, AS THE WORD OF GOD IS SUFFICIENT FOR ITS PURPOSE. "God's Word shall not return unto him void" (Isaiah 55:11). It is the truth, and must prevail.
III. THE SPURIOUS INTERMIXTURE WILL BE REVEALED BY THE DIFFERENCE OF ITS EFFECTS. "What has the straw to do with the grain?"—a question sure to arise in those who receive such messages. The connection of the one element with the other is evidently incongruous. The stalk sustains the ear which develops from it whilst growing; but when the field has been harvested the two are separated, and have to be used apart. To mix up the chopped straw with the grain would only be to spoil the latter. And so it is when human ideas are mixed with Divine revelations: the mixture fails to edify or satisfy. And in its effect upon the moral nature the true message distinguishes itself from the false. "Fire," in its scorching, consuming power, cannot well be counterfeited; but such is the effect of the Word of God. The "hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces" demonstrates its legitimacy as an instrument of grace by its power upon the hard and impenitent heart (Hebrews 4:12).—M.
I. THE HONOR OF GOD IS BOUND UP WITH HIS WORD.
1. It expresses his character. A careful, gradual unfolding of himself in his attributes and personal relations.
2. It declares his will.
The prophecies of God with his promises and appeals.
3. In its loftiest embodiment—Jesus Christ—it is identified with himself. (John 1:1.)
II. HE WILL NOT SUFFER IT TO BE TREATED LIGHTLY. To do so would be to court contempt, if not to condone the offence. As a sign of his displeasure:
1. He will give the false prophets another message to deliver. This is said satirically (Jeremiah 23:33); their circumstances will prove that the true message is not one of acceptance but of rejection. The whole nation will be thrust out of covenant relationship.
2. Special penalties will be inflicted upon particular offenders. (Jeremiah 23:34.) Handling the Word of God deceitfully will bring upon a man evident tokens of the Divine displeasure.
3. The word "burden" itself will have a new and fearful significance. It was a spiritual offence to talk about "burdens" so lightly. People to whom the true message of God had no awful impressiveness would be taught reverence and fear by that which he would inflict upon them. It would be a true "burden," not so readily got rid of (Jeremiah 23:39, Jeremiah 23:40).—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The Lord our Righteousness.
How pleasant it is, after a traveler has for long days of travel been occupied in passing through a dreary, monotonous country, to come to a region where Nature puts on her loveliest and most attractive aspect; where, instead of fiat plains, unrelieved by hill or dale, or any object on which the wearied eye can fasten with delight, you find yourself in a land of noble rivers and rushing torrents, lofty mountains and exquisite valleys, flourishing cities and noble buildings! With what pleasure does the traveler enter such region after the far different and far less delightful scenes he has been fatigued with for so long! Now, akin to such pleasure is that of the persevering student of these prophecies of Jeremiah, when at length, quitting the monotonous and painful recitals of Israel's sins, and the distressing records of the dread judgments of God which were to come upon them in consequence, with which the foregoing chapters have been mainly filled, he enters, in these verses which belong to our text, on a portion of the prophet's writings which tells, not of sin, but of righteousness; not of the Lord the Avenger, but of the Lord the Redeemer and Savior; the Restorer because the Righteousness of his people. It is like an oasis in the desert; like what Elim must have been to the Israelites after their weary journey to Marah, where burning heat and thirst and much distress had been their continued lot. And no doubt Jeremiah and the faithful few who adhered to him were wont to solace their saddened minds by turning their thoughts, as they do here, away from the dark and terrible present to the bright and happy future when Israel should dwell safely under the rule of the Lord their Righteousness. That was a bright onlook, by means of which the heavy burden of the days in which the prophet actually lived and labored became more endurable, and their spirits were kept from being utterly overwhelmed. Now, concerning this glorious name of Jehovah, "the Lord our Righteousness," we will first show that—
I. THIS NAME BELONGS TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is impossible to conceive of any devout Jew ascribing the name of Jehovah to an ordinary earthly monarch, however great or famous he might be. Every Israelite would count it blasphemy so to speak of him. Moreover, the extravagance of the assertions here made, if regarded as descriptive of an earthly monarch, preclude the possibility of their having been so intended. How could any such be called the righteousness of his people? Zerubbabel was undoubtedly a noble prince, and in such measure as was possible to him answered to the prophetic description. He was a branch of the house of David, and nothing is known against him. But his power was very limited, and in no sense did he fill up the portraiture that is given here. Jew and Christian alike agree that neither he nor any of his obscure descendants could possibly answer to this name of "the Lord our Righteousness." Both alike affirm that the promised Messiah is meant, and to him along can it belong. And that our Lord Jesus was that Messiah the Scriptures constantly assert. He was "the Root and the Offspring of David," was born "of the house and lineage of David" according to the flesh. He was the tender Shoot, the Sprout that sprang from the original root when all the stock and branches of the stately tree that had once grown on that root had died down, decayed, and disappeared. But he was more than the Branch of Jesse: he was the Lord from heaven, the Son of God. Therefore to speak of him as Jehovah is consistent with all the Scripture representations of his Divine dignity. And although the day of his complete triumph has not yet come, nor is his kingdom fully set up, still we clearly see its beginnings, its advance, and its continual growth, so that it is not hard to believe in all those coming glories of his reign on which the ancient prophets, as Jeremiah here, loved to dwell. On all these grounds, therefore, we claim this high and sacred title for the Lord Jesus Christ. He the Church has held all along is "the Lord our Righteousness" whom the inspired prophet foretold. And—
II. THIS NAME IS ALTOGETHER APPROPRIATE TO HIM. Not because of the righteousness of his character alone, nor either because of the happy condition to which he would one day bring the Jewish people. We believe that he will do for them all that is here said. We see no objection to the taking of the promises made concerning them in their literal meaning. But if this were all that is contained in this name, then St. Paul could not be justified in claiming, as he perpetually does, the righteousness of Christ to be to and upon all them that believe. This view is limited to no one age, no one country, no one people, but reaches out to all everywhere and of every age. But the true justification of this glorious title lies in such facts as these:
1. The Lord Jesus makes us righteous in God's esteem. God ever demands righteousness. It is his incessant appeal here in all these prophecies. But it is here that men have ever failed. They have evaded this Divine demand, and have endeavored to substitute all manner of things in its place, and so to compensate for it. They have refused nothing so long as they might be let off this. Hence the word of the Lord, "There is none righteous, no, not one." It is in this emergency that "the Lord our Righteousness" comes forward, takes up our case, and causes us to be esteemed righteous before God—causes us to be looked upon as what we really are not; as righteous when there is much unrighteousness in us all, and scarce aught else in some. Of course this is objected to and caviled at not a little, and many fail to see how it can righteously be. But all the while the like is occurring every day. Does not the government of a land continually do things which involve the whole people of the land, although many of them may entirely disapprove? Still it is the whole country that is regarded as acting by and through its government. And yet we assent to this arrangement, this principle of representation, as equitable, just, and necessary. And not merely in dealings between man and man, but in those between God and man, this same principle of representation may be seen perpetually at work. Assuredly the whole human race was represented in its first parents, and God held it to be so, so that the consequences of their actions have passed over to their posterity right down to the present day. And in each family the head of it involves all the members, so that there are many innocent victims of their fathers' sin, and more, we trust, who are recipients of favors won by their fathers' virtues and obedience to God's will rather than their own. It is the principle of representation again. Is it, then, a thing to wonder at that a good and gracious God should devise another system of representation to meet and counteract that which has wrought so much ill? That is, is it to be wondered at that the Lord Jesus Christ should be constituted as much the Head and Representative of his people as Adam was constituted the head and representative of all who have descended from him; that there should be a second Adam as well as a first, and that Christ should be that second Adam, as St. Paul declares he is? Surely there is nothing unreasonable in all this. It is in harmony with what we perpetually see. And if he who is our Representative desired so to be, as our Lord did—for he yearned to draw all men unto and into him—surely this, his own desire, makes his being constituted our Representative more reasonable still. And because he qualified himself for this office so perfectly. He came and was one of us, lived our life, bore our burdens, submitted to our sorrows, bore the penalty of our sins, "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin; Now, if the principle of representation be just at all, surely it is still more so that the Lord Jesus should be that Representative. But if he be, then, because he is altogether righteous, acceptable, and well pleasing before God, we must be so too; yea, we are so, for he is "the Lord our Righteousness." God looks not upon us, but he beholds Christ, who is "our Shield;" he looks on "the face of his Anointed." "We are accepted in the Beloved." "Christ is made unto us righteousness."
2. And he makes us to be as the righteous in our conditions. So only can the paramount and predominant features of God's dealing with us now be accounted for. Man being what he is, why should he be dealt with so mercifully as he is? The answer is, because it is the Lord who is our Righteousness. I see a number of poor destitute people taken, and clothed, and fed, and dealt with in all kind and beautiful ways, and I ask the explanation, I am at once pointed to some one who has secured all this favor for them, and by whose kindness it has become theirs. And when I see man, despising God, prayerless, sinning daringly day by day, ungrateful, evil, disobedient continually, destitute of all goodness, and yet treated with all kindness and love, must I not conclude that the righteousness of another is the secret of his mercies, and the real cause of the goodly portion he enjoys?
3. But Christ is "the Lord our Righteousness" because he makes us righteous in ourselves. If it were possible that God could forever esteem and deal with as righteous, not only those who were not righteous, but who never could become so, we should find it difficult to maintain the truth taught us by this name. But God's counting us righteous in Christ is reasonable and right, because we are in the sure way to become so. For when any come to the Lord Jesus Christ in living faith, a new will is given them. They are, as our Lord says, "born again." It is as on a railway, where by one movement of the points the whole train is turned on to another line, and proceeds afterwards in quite a different direction. So by this coming to Christ the man is placed on another line, started in a new direction; a new will is his, and he is a new man. When the turbid stream of the Rhone falls into the Lake of Geneva it loses its old character, and its waters assimilate themselves to the exquisite clearness and color of that lake, so that when they flow out at the other end they are as a new river altogether—" old things have passed away, and all things are become new." So is it in the great change when a man comes to Christ. And when we remember that whilst man looketh at the outward appearance, God looketh at the heart, it is easy to see that God may count a man to be righteous whom we should not think so at all. If the will, the heart, be Christ's, though it may be once and again overborne by the fierce rush of temptation, as David's was, yet, because the heart is right, God counts that man righteous still. And this new will, the new heart, ever tends to embody and express itself in act. It will be like a hidden fire, struggling and struggling on till it can find vent and work its good desire. And it shall do this in due time. Meanwhile God but anticipates; looks on to the harvest as the husbandman does even when the blade has not shown itself as yet above the ground. But he imputes the righteousness of the harvest to those fields though not a blade appears. The parent imputes the righteousness of the intelligent, loving youth to the little infant just born, not because it has it, but because he believes it will have it. And God counts us as righteous, not alone because Christ is our Representative, but because he will restore our souls. He will make us righteous in ourselves as well as before God. And he does this by setting before us in his own life the perfect example, and attracting us thereto by an ever-increasing attraction; and by imparting to us his own Spirit, who nourishes us in all goodness; and by bringing to bear upon us the mightiest motives which can ever control or influence the human heart—love, gratitude, holy fear, bright, blessed hope,—all these and yet others; so day by day does he strengthen and confirm the good will which, when we first came to him, he gave us as his first gift. Thus does he make those righteous whom God for his sake now counts to be so. And now—
III. CAN WE SAY THAT THE LORD IS "OUR" RIGHTEOUSNESS? We may have correct views on this great doctrine, we may believe in a general and abstract way that the Lord is the Righteousness of his people, but all this is far short of being able to say that the Lord is our Righteousness. We can only say this as we daily and habitually trust him—as we "keep touch" with him, as it were, continually looking to him and. relying upon him. For faith, it is which vitalizes our connection with him. The wires of the electric cable may stretch all the way beneath the ocean, and each shore of the Atlantic be joined together by them; but there is no communication until the electric current is sent along that cable, and then the circuit is complete. And so the channel along which our faith may pass is provided; but until faith goes from our heart—that electric force of faith—the connecting bond may almost as well not be. Until then Christ is a Representative of-man before God, but he is not our Representative. It is faith that vitalizes that connection, and he is not our Righteousness until we believe. Faith brings us into real union with him, reproduces in us the mind which was in him, lays hold on the grace which he holds out to us, leads us to repent, to love, to obey, to follow him in the daily walk and conversation. Remember, the Lord demands righteousness. We have it not in ourselves. In this our destitution the Lord comes to us and offers to be our Righteousness. We have but to appropriate and claim that which he offers. Shall we be so sinful, so mad, as to refuse? The great day when the banquet for God's saints shall be spread is hastening on, and we shall all of us be eager to crowd in and take our place there with the blessed. But what if, when the King comes in to view his guests, we have not on the wedding-garment, but are dressed in some robe of our own, which we think will answer as well? You know how he was dealt with who presumed so to do. Oh, then, that such may not be our doom, let us hasten unto Christ, and pray him now and forever to be "the Lord our Righteousness."—C.
What is the chaff to, etc.
One seems to see the flash of the prophet's eye, the tremulous emotion, the indignant scorn, with which he bursts out with this scathing question; one can almost hear his loud, vehement tones as he taunts with it the false prophets, against whose wickedness he had been protesting throughout the greater part of this chapter. What sternness, what biting severity, characterize it! As one has said, "It cuts like the edge of a razor. As a saber flashing over one's head; a sword gleaming to the very point; a fire lurid with coals of juniper;—we are appalled as we glance at it. It strikes with implacable resentment. There is no word of mercy toward the chaff; not a thought of clemency or forbearance. He bloweth at it as though it were a worthless thing, not to be accounted of—a nothing, that vanishes with a puff." It reminds us, as so much in Jeremiah's character and experience does, of our Lord's indignation against the false teachers of his day. What terrible, burning words were those which he uttered against the "scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites," who swarmed around him! Where there is deep love of God and of man, there cannot but be such holy hatred of such as are what those were whom our Lord and the prophet denounced. Jeremiah in this chapter, from the ninth verse downwards, has been pouring out his soul against them. He declares himself broken-hearted because of them—by their conduct and the woes it was bringing upon his people. He laments the grievous wickedness of the nation, but charges it all upon these faithless prophets, who taught men to sin by their bad example, and encouraged them therein by their false teachings. And as he thinks of the worthlessness of the men and of their prophesyings, his sacred anger and scorn mount up and burst forth in these terrible words, "What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Yes, these are terrible words; but how applicable, how necessary they are to be insisted upon, even now! For, monstrous almost as it may appear, men are, as they have ever been, most prone to care more for the chaff than for the wheat; to spend themselves on securing that which is worthless, whilst that which is most precious they despise. And the danger is increased because those things which are as the chaff to the wheat are often, as the chaff and wheat themselves, closely associated together, have grown up together, are very difficult to separate, and are mutually dependent one upon another. It is easy enough, when we see the wind driving the chaff away, to discern the difference between it and the wheat, and the inferiority of the one to the other; but it is not so easy whilst the two are together, and seeming so much as if they were all of one nature and value. Now, apply all this in regard to sundry matters in which this discrimination needs sorely to be made. And—
I. TO THE PROPHESYING OF THE PRESENT DAY. The occasion and connection of the words we are considering at once suggest this application. And let us be grateful to God that, amid the much prophesying of our own day, we have much of that" sure Word" to which St. Peter bids us give heed, as to a light shining in a dark place. Yes, there are faithful ministries, blessed be God for them; and that they are like the precious wheat, in contrast to the worthless chaff, has been proved over and over again by the testimony God himself has given to them. For, like the pure grain, they nourish the souls that are fed upon the Word they minister. The instruction that builds up, consolidates, and strengthens the spiritual frame is shown by that very fact to be not as chaff, but as wheat. And he would not only be ungrateful, but untruthful, who should deny that God has given and is maintaining many who minister to his people, whether young or old, in the congregation, the family, or the school, the pure Word of God. And the other striking characteristics of the true Word of God which are here spoken of are also found in their prophesyings. The Word of God which they minister is as a fire. How it enlightens, how it cheers, as on a cold wintry day. How it consumes the dross of the evil nature, burning on until all the evil in us be burnt out! Ah, yes, the pure Word of God—which still, thank God, is preached—is as a fire consuming the miserable pretences of self-righteousness in which the souls whom it touches have hitherto been trusting, and compelling them to hasten for shelter to him who is" the Lord our Righteousness." And it is a hammer, which, smiting the obdurate heart, causes the tears of true repentance to flow forth and refresh those who long have been thirsting to see such living waters. As at Pentecost the hammer of that Word fell upon those hearts which had been hard enough to crucify the Lord, and it so smote them as to break them, rock-like though they were, and they cried out, "What shall we do?" These are the signs of the Word of God, and they are not wanting still. But yet there is much of instruction given that is far different from this—as unlike it as chaff is unlike wheat. It may be the ministry of eloquence, or of ritual, or of philosophy, or of human learning, or of taste, or of fashion; and not a little of such ministry there is in the present day. It is brilliant, attractive, followed by crowds, admired, applauded; it is associated with all that art, culture, music, and ritual pomp can supply; it is very fashionable; for the sake of it humbler worship is abandoned, though that which is abandoned may be purer and more wholesome by far. But because in connection with all this ministry so pleasing to human likings there may be lacking that which alone nourishes the soul, and which has upon it the sure tokens of the Word of God, therefore, when there is this lack, God calls it chaff, and despises it accordingly. Do not think that all these things are in themselves to be despised. No; we would fain have the ministry of the Word of God surrounded with all that can serve to win attention, command reverence, and excite interest; we should be alert to look out for such things, and to secure them so far as we may; but let us see to it that they be but subordinate, that they all are used as aids to what is far higher and more important than themselves—that within this husk the pure grain of God's Word is enshrined and preserved. What is the good of any preaching or instruction, however pleasing or attractive it may be, that does not set the pure wheat of God's Word before hungry souls? Souls must live, and they cannot live on chaff. Oh that all those who preach and teach may more and more hear ever sounding in their ears this startling word, "What is the chaff," etc.! Apply this word—
II. TO OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER—what we, each one, are. If we are the children of God, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, and humbly striving day by day to do his will and to be well pleasing to him, then there is much that is wheat-like in us. That repentance, that faith, that regenerating grace, that law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, its meekness, patience, zeal, love,—all these things are as the wheat, and blessed be God they are to he found in some measure—would that it were larger—in us all. But there is so much of a contrary nature, so chaff-like, as well. Yes, verily, as chaff lying close by the side of our heart, wrapping it round, long associated with it, grown up with it, hard, hard indeed, to be parted from it; so is the evil of our hearts, the fleshly nature, the carnal mind, which yet clings to us as the husk does to the grain. And often we are at a complete loss to tell whether there is more of wheat or chaff about us—whether our destiny is to be stored in the garner, or to be as the chaff which the wind driveth away. But do we think about the chaff and the wheat as God thinks about them? Are we willing—yea, longing—to be utterly rid of the chaff? Are we content to bear "the bruising flails of God's corrections "until they have "threshed off from us our vain affections?" Do we desire that every portion of this chaff may be got rid of, and "that we, wholesome grain and pure may be," and that only? Perhaps God's flails are laid upon us now, or his winnowing work is stripping off much from us, and making "our very spirit poor." Oh, if it be but to rid us of this chaff, let us not complain. Death itself is but God's chief flail" to purge the husk of this our flesh away, and leave the soul uncovered." Complain not, for "what is the chaff," etc.? And not only the sin in us, but much that looks and is reckoned as far other than sin, may be, after all, only chaff. Much of that feeling and conduct which is associated with our religious life may be of itself of a very worthless sort. Those tears which flow so freely when the preacher is in a pathetic mood—what are they all worth if they never lead to a genuine repentance, a real turning of the soul to Christ? And that open profession of religion, coming to the table of the Lord and partaking of the sacred bread and wine, what is that if it be not the index and outward sign of a heart that trusts, that loves, that is consecrated to Christ? And that correct and orthodox creed for which we are so ready to show fight, and the deniers or doubters of which we so eagerly condemn, what is the good of it if it be not the guardian of a God-fearing and righteous life? And that giving of money—for it is to the amount kept back after we have given, and to the motive which prompts the gift, that God looks to determine which is wheat and which is chaff. And that eager activity in many forms of Christian work which some show, unless it be the outcome of a heart aglow with love to Christ, counts for very little with him who here asks, "What is the chaff," etc.? Again we say we do not despise these things—we would that there were more of them; but if at the heart of them there be not faith and love towards Christ, which alone are the wheat which these things are intended to serve and minister to, then they are but as the chaff which the wind driveth away. We are apt to think a great deal of them, and to rely upon them not a little for ourselves and for others. But they are not the wheat, only its husk, and" what … Lord." Apply this question—
III. TO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH. And without doubt it may be alarmed that if the pure wheat of God's garner be not to be found in the fellowship of the Church, it is to be found nowhere. What our Lord said of his Church at the beginning," Ye are the salt of the earth.; ye are the light of the world," is true still. Oh, how many, thank God, of meek, pure, devout, consecrated souls has the Church ever numbered in her fellowship, and does so even yet! But still, even on the best threshing-floors the chaff is mingled with the wheat. Even those Churches which claim to be most careful over admission to their fellowship, and demand valid evidence to be given that there has been a real change of heart, a true conversion to God—even those can no more keep out the chaff than others who throw the responsibility of religious profession entirely on those who make it. But the presence of the chaff along with the wheat could be better borne if the two were always estimated as they should be. But it is not so. Let an unspiritual, worldly minded, hard, and unloving man find his way into a Church—and many such do—and if he be rich, or hold a good position in the world, he will at once be allowed an influence and an authority which he ought not to have—no, not for an hour. And if a Church can get hold of a number of such people, if wealth, and social influence, and education, and fashion flock to their doors, there you have the Church of Laodicea reproduced in most exact form. They will count themselves, and others also will count them, to be "rich, and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing." But what will the Lord say when he cometh with his winnowing fan to thoroughly purge his floor? We are sorely tempted, all of us, to crave with a great craving the presence amongst us of persons of influence, wealth, and power. And all well and good if they be earnest, godly men at the same time. But we are in danger of welcoming them even if this great qualification be largely absent. And that we do too often find this sad intermixture of the worthless with God's wheat, is seen in the quick falling off of some of those who once were gathered with the Church of God. A little persecution, loss of worldly advantage, desire to stand well with those around,—these have all served as pretexts for not a few to break away altogether. Like "the nautilus, which is often seen sailing in tiny fleets in the Mediterranean Sea, upon the smooth surface of the water. It is a beautiful sight, but as soon as ever the tempest begins to blow, and the first ripple appears upon the surface of the sea, the little mariners draw in their sails and betake themselves to the bottom of the sea, and you see them no more. How many are like that! When all goes well with Christianity many go sailing along fairly in the summer tide, but no sooner does trouble, or affliction, or persecution arise, than where are they? Ah, where are they? They have gone." Let us see to it that we esteem the wheat, however poor its surroundings, above all chaff, however richly it may be endowed. And above all, let us by our own loyalty to God, our sympathy with Christ, our love to our brethren, our cheerful self-sacrifice, our daily obedience, show that we are of those whom the Lord will own at the last, and not as the chaff which he will despise and destroy.
IV. TO GOD'S FINAL ESTIMATE OF US ALL. For the great question which concerns every man who reads or hears these words is—Which am I, chaff or wheat? And that question is to be decided, not according to man's estimate, but God's. It is what he will judge, not what we may. Here in this world we are all mingled together, in every Church, family, town, village, society, or community whatsoever. In all places, under all circumstances and in all ways in this world, this commingling of the evil and the good is found; the chaff is ever closely associated with the wheat. "Let both grow together until the harvest," is our Lord's command, and no endeavor of ours can sever the two completely. But the very word" until" which our Savior employs shows that there shall be a separating time; the two shall not forever be conjoined as they are now. "Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left." In the same church, sitting side by side in the same pew, there may be found both chaff and wheat. Anticipate that awful separating time. It will come upon us as it came upon those ten virgins, five of whom were wise and five were foolish, but which was which none knew until the cry was heard, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" And so, though now none of us can tell what those are who gather with us, and join in the same holy service, listen to the same gospel, and unite in the same prayers, praises, and confessions, though outwardly we are all as the wheat of God, yet whether we be so or no God alone can tell. But do any ask—How can I, though consciously worthless as the chaff, yet become as the wheat? Blessed be God, such a great change is possible. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ; tell him how poor, wretched, evil, you know yourself to be. Cast yourself down at his feet. Call upon him for his aid. Thou shalt become a new creature in Christ, old things shall pass away, all things shall become new. The chaff shall be changed into the wheat, death shall be exchanged for life, and now, worthless once, thou art in Christ precious forever, and the garner of the Lord shall be thine everlasting home. Come unto Christ in faith and love, for the heart so yielded is alone God's wheat; but if when the great separating day comes thou seekest to find safety in aught else, however precious you and others may deem it, he will spurn both it and you. For "what is … Lord."—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6
It is in his kingly character that the uprising of the Messiah is here predicted. The shepherds that destroyed and scattered the flock of God were the corrupt rulers of the line of David. God was visiting upon them one after another "the evil of their doings;" and after them he would raise up men of a nobler sort—men like Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees, who should be true leaders and commanders of the people (verse 4). But these, again, would but prepare the way for One far greater. Beyond all these changes the eye of the prophet is fixed on the time when out of the seemingly withered root of David a sapling shall arise, "the righteous Branch;" One who shall perfectly realize the Divine idea of "a ruler of men" (2 Samuel 23:3, 2 Samuel 23:4) rather King who shall "reign in righteousness," and of the "increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1-6; Isaiah 32:1; Zechariah 9:9). Towards him the hopes of loyal, hearts, through, every previous age reached forth in him the "desire of all nations finds its glorious fulfillment. "And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness." In unfolding the full significance of this name, consider
I. HIS PERSONAL RIGHTEOUSNESS. He is emphatically "Jesus Christ the Righteous," the one only absolutely righteous being ever born into the world. Our human nature, the beauty and harmony of which, in the person of Adam, the father of oar race, the touch of moral evil had defaced and destroyed, appeared again in him, the "second Adam," in all its sinless, faultless perfection, absolutely free from the taint of evil. And this not as a development, but as a new Divine revelation; not as the consummate product of moral forces inherent in our nature, but as a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle, in the sphere of man's moral life. In him the "righteousness of God" appeared, embodied and illustrated in human form. Our faith in this historic fact rests on different grounds.
1. The angelic testimony (Luke 1:35).
2. The direct testimony of the Father (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5).
3. His declarations respecting himself (John 8:29, John 8:46; John 14:1-31, 30; John 15:10; John 17:4).
4. The witness of his enemies (Judas, Herod, Pilate and his wife, the Roman centurion).
5. The apostolic testimony (Acts 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 3:5).
6. The profound impression left on our spirits by a careful study of the Gospel records. The absolute sinlessness of Jesus is one of the foundation stones in the fabric of Christian doctrine, and to doubt or deny it is to undermine and destroy the whole. But his righteousness means more than faultless personal character. It includes the positive fulfillment of the Father's purposes and of the work the Father had given him to do. "I have glorified thee on the earth," etc. (John 17:4). "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering," etc. (Hebrews 10:5-10). His was a righteousness wrought out through all the patient obedience of a blameless life, consummated in the vicarious shame and sorrow of the cross. As the sunbeam receives no contamination from the foulest thing on which it may chance to fall, so did he pass triumphantly through all the evil of the world and go back to the bosom of the Father with a purity as unsullied as that in which he came. "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4).
II. HOW HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS BECOMES OURS.
1. As the ground of our forgiveness. Faith in him as our righteous "Advocate with the Father" delivers us from condemnation. We believe in no "transference of a moral quality." As a man's sins are his own and not another's, so whatever of virtue there may be in him belongs to himself alone. But is it incredible that God should deal with sinful men in the way of mercy because of the perfect righteousness of "the man Christ Jesus?" "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is an instinctive witness in our souls to the fact that if "grace reigns" towards us it must be through righteousness. This is God's answer to that instruct: "By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Romans 5:18).
2. As the inspiring cause of our personal sanctification. The gospel is God's method of making men righteous, not a scheme by virtue of which he reckons them to be so when they are not. Faith in Christ's mediatorial work as the ground of forgiveness draws the soul irresistibly into living sympathy with himself. It is impossible to dwell in fellowship with him without sharing his spirit and becoming "righteous even as he is righteous." Not more surely does the prepared surface receive the picture the sun's rays paint upon it, than does the reverent, trustful, loving soul reflect his image. "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass," etc. (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus does his righteousness become ours.
3. As the rectifying power in the general life of the world. "A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of his kingdom," and wherever he reigns the discords of the world are resolved into a blessed harmony. He is the Creator of "the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."—W.
Jeremiah 23:23, Jeremiah 23:24
The omnipresent God.
It is an essentially heathen conception of the Deity against which these grand words bear witness. There were two false tendencies of the heathen mind to which the Hebrew faith was a perpetual rebuke—one was that of thinking of the Deity as dwelling remote from the ways of men, "throned in sequestered sanctity," too lofty to take any interest in the affairs of earth; the other that of localizing and limiting the Deity, conceiving of him as exercising a partial jurisdiction, as belonging to a particular place and people. The God of the Jews was no mere distant abstraction, but an ever-present, ever-active power; not the God of one nation only, but of the "whole earth." Consider—
I. THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD HERE INDICATED. Two attributes—omnipresence and omniscience—are asserted. But they are so mutually dependent and so inseparable as to be virtually one. By the very necessity of his Being as the infinite Spirit, God is not more in one place or sphere of existence than another, but alike in all, "afar off" as well as "at hand," filling heaven and earth; and wherever he is, there he is in all the fullness of his perfect intelligence, not observant or cognizant of some things or beings more than others, but having infallible knowledge of all. Note respecting this divine attribute:
1. Its mystery. The being of One who is thus superior to the limitations of space and time and to all our finite conditions—to whom there is no nearness and no distance, neither past nor future, nothing new and nothing old, to whom "all things are naked and opened,"—must needs be inscrutable to us. Our boldest images are but the veil of our ignorance, and even the sublimest representations of the inspired Word leave the problem as insoluble as ever. The celebrated dictum, "His center is everywhere and his circumference nowhere," in no way helps us to any real comprehension of infinity; and such grand poetic utterances as those of the hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, however much they may find their echo in the depths of our spiritual consciousness, only call forth the confession, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it."
2. Its moral significance. The moral conditions involved, the moral attributes associated with it, and their direct relation to ourselves, clothe it with profound interest and solemn importance. If God were at an impassable distance, it might little signify to us what his moral attributes were. But now that he is thus near—a presence from which we cannot escape, an eye that is always searching us through and through, a hand that is always laid upon us—the question as to what his dispositions towards us are is one of unspeakable moment. ]is absolute knowledge of us is connected with a present secret act of judgment, prophetic of the open judgment to come. And it is his perfection that is thus coming into perpetual contact with our imperfect thoughts and ways. His holy love is the light that searches into us, the fire that tries us. This attribute of omniscience derives tremendous importance from the fact that "our God is a consuming fire."
3. The individuality of its application. "Can any hide himself?" Like all other Divine truths, this is nothing to us until we bring it to bear on our own personal condition and doings. The fact itself is independent of all our thoughts about it, and even of our very existence. But for it to have any real influence over us we must reduce it from its vague generality to the narrow compass of our own being, and concentrate the force of it upon the single line of our own daily history—"Thou God seest me." We apprehend the universal truth aright only so far as that cry of Hagar expresses our soul's deepest consciousness—as if the whole world of accountable beings around us were annihilated, and we stood, as in the solitudes of a desert, alone with God.
II. THE PRACTICAL EFFECT THAT TRUTH MAY BE EXPECTED TO PRODUCE. We cannot imagine one more fitted to have a salutary influence in every way upon us. Let God be to you only a distant object of contemplation, as he is to the mere theological disputant, and with whatever attributes you may clothe him, they touch no part of your being with any living power. Conceive of him, in a dreamy pantheistic way, as a mere impersonal, all-pervading force, and there is nothing in your belief to elevate your moral character and ennoble your life. But believe in the God of the Bible, whose voice is heard in the text, and you embrace the grandest and most influential truth the human soul is capable of entertaining. The truth, rather, will touch you, as no other truth can, molding and governing your whole nature, and adapting itself in an infinite variety of ways to every aspect of your being and life.
Chiefly two lessons are enforced:
1. Self-scrutiny. We shall be concerned to become acquainted with ourselves that we may know how far the spirit and tenor of our moral life is in harmony with the will and the life of God. Not that a mere curious and anxious habit of testing the quality of one's own feelings, and weighing and measuring one's motives, has necessarily any healthy moral effect. It may be the reverse. But the sense of God will naturally awaken a desire that the relation in which we stand towards him may be a right and happy one. "If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart," etc. (1 John 3:23, 1 John 3:24). The loyalty of the heart to God is the essential principle of a religious life. The sin of these false prophets was the loosening of the bond of their spiritual allegiance to him. "They stood not in the counsel of the Lord." In the case of the Pharisees, their external proprieties were but the veil of internal hollowness and corruption and death; and Christ said to them," Ye are they that approve yourselves unto men, but God knoweth your hearts." Let our hearts be right with God, let the main stream of our inner life be flowing heavenwards, and we need not tremble to know that "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do."
2. Earnest preparation for the future and final judgment. "He hath appointed a day," etc. (Acts 17:31); "We must all appear," etc. (2 Corinthians 5:10). Your personal alienation from God may give you little trouble now, but "what will you do when he riseth up? when he visiteth, what will you answer him?' (Job 31:14). There is no way of preparation for the solemn judgment of the future but in that personal forgiveness and reconciliation, that moral cleansing and righteousness of life, that comes through fellowship with the Savior (Philippians 3:9).
"Low at his cross we view the day
When heaven and earth shall pass away,
And thus prepare to meet him."
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Shepherds, bad and good.
I. THE SENTENCE ON THE UNFAITHFUL, SHEPHERDS. This is perhaps the most special and emphatic of all Jeremiah's references to the unfaithful shepherds. Nowhere does he go into such detail as Ezekiel does (Jeremiah 34:1-22.). But whatever may be lacking in illustrative detail, the essential facts are mentioned. Here are men upon whom is laid a charge such as is laid on a shepherd by the owner of the pasture and the flock. The business of such a man is to provide food for the flock, defend it from beasts of prey, prevent as far as he can any of the flock from wandering; and if any should wander do his best to restore them. This might be a task of no small difficulty to the literal shepherd of the literal sheep. It required courage, watchfulness, patience, promptitude, and above all, fidelity. And yet even a shepherd enriched by these virtues might have many losses and failures. God knew, indeed, that for kings and persons in authority to guide those under them was a task more arduous far than that of shepherding sheep; and it was not mere failure that he complained of. He complained because there had been no serious attempt to attain success. The very men who should have ruled firmly and righteously and with fidelity to Jehovah had been spoilers of the sheep, using them to serve their own ends, and leaving every one to do what was right in his own eyes. The rulers had thus rejected the authority and service of Jehovah and set up self in his place. Self was to rule, self was to be served. The sentence upon this traitorous conduct is given in very general terms, but was nonetheless real and effective. God did visit on these rulers the evil of their doings. It was necessary to give a hint of this in passing, to show that, while God delights in mercy, he must also always be just. The great matter to be spoken of here is the restoring and securing of the scattered flock, and if the judgment on those who have helped to make the mischief is simply mentioned in passing, it is enough. Besides, we must remember that the sheep also had their share of the shame. The rulers could not have done so much harm if under them there had been a people of a widely different spirit.
II. THE RESTORATION OF THE SCATTERED. The pastors are spoken of as those who have destroyed and scattered the sheep. The mischief they do is therefore not confined to a simple scattering. That which is destroyed cannot be restored. But the part that has been scattered, God has in his keeping; and in due time he will bring it together again. Note how Jehovah, Who announces punishment to the unfaithful shepherds because they have scattered and dispersed his flock, goes on to say that his own hand has been concerned in this same dispersion. Here is a beautiful illustration of how God overrules calamities. Though it is the recklessness of evil men that has scattered Israel, yet the good hand of God is stronger than any hand of man; and the dispersion has been into such directions as God saw to be best. Though these remnants of the duck were far from their proper pasturage, they were nevertheless in safe places, where they would be exercised in a truly profitable discipline. They were perhaps but a very feeble remnant as man counts feebleness, and yet in God's hands a small part may be more effectual for his purposes than the incongruous whole from which it has been separated. There may be in it a peculiar coherency and submissiveness, and a peculiar energy of growth; so that the promise of fruitfulness and increase will be amply fulfilled. The Divine course of action with this remnant seems to be much the same as that followed with Noah and his family in the re-peopling of the world after the Deluge.
III. THE SUFFICIENCY OF PASTORAL OVERSIGHT PROMISED FOR THE FUTURE. Of bad shepherds there have been only too many, and of good shepherds none have been so good but what they might have been a great deal better. The cause of all these hitter experiences has, however, lain with the people themselves. Wanting to be like nations round about, they desired kings; and God gave them these desires to the full, to show what the end would be. Then when the folly of the sheep, in trying to choose shepherds of their own devising, has been illustrated sufficiently, God sends shepherds who shall be true shepherds. He alone is able, as he alone has fight, to appoint such shepherds as will be equal to all the serious charge put into their hands. No pastors will be able to do anything for God's flock save those who are indubitably of God's appointment. Our wisdom is to allow God to provide out of his knowledge, rather than try ourselves to provide, seeing how ignorant we are. The acceptance of God's true teachers and guides has to come at the last, and many disappointments and vexations would be spared if this acceptance were allowed to come at the first.—Y.
Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 23:6
The righteous Scion of David.
What is general in Jeremiah 23:3 and Jeremiah 23:4 now becomes exceedingly definite. Attention is directed to one particular person in whom shall center all the blessings that can come through a king worthy of the name. The days are coming in which he will rule in the midst of a kingdom worthy of him. Jehovah sees these days coming as a watchman might observe people approaching in the far distance and moving steadily in the right direction. These days are on the way, and the actual experience of them is only a matter of time. In these days will appear—
I. A SCION OF DAVID. "Branch" is a somewhat misleading word here, especially considering the use which is made of the branch in the New Testament. The branch is properly taken in relation to the trunk, both being parts of a living whole. "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." Instead of the Christ being spoken of as a Branch from David, David is rather to be spoken of, by virtue of his faith in the coming One, as a branch of the Christ. The real meaning, of course, is that, at some time in the future, one of the lineal descendants of David will fulfill these purposes of God and the consequent hopes of devout men. Hence the importance which belongs to the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. The more the Gospels are looked into, the more it will be seen how they are constructed on certain lines indicated in the prophecies. The two Gospel genealogies become additionally credible when we reflect what a motive there was to preserve the record of lineal succession from David. Considering how uncertain it is that any man will have lineal descendants centuries after his own times, it is a peculiarly noticeable miracle that he who appeared something like a thousand years after David to do such great works, should have been unquestionably David's descendant, born at Bethlehem and named as Son of David by the common people.
II. A RIGHTEOUS SCION OF DAVID. In a not unreasonable sense of the word, David was himself a righteous man. We cannot say anything for him, any more than for ourselves, if we contrast him with the righteous God. But we have also to look at him over against the vile men with whom he was so often in conflict, men who appear not to have had one generous feeling or upward aspiration. Especially we must contrast him with some of his own descendants. When we look down the line as far as history gives the opportunity, we see first good men and then bad men. And it is a great mystery in the Christ's human nature that he should have been a Scion of the bad as well as the good in this line. We are, therefore, obliged to recollect:
1. That David, who was righteous in a modified sense, was in due time followed by a descendant who was completely righteous. He who was ever reaching forward, trying to approximate more and more to the will of God, was followed by One who revealed that will in all the conduct of his life on earth.
2. That even as a bad father had a good son (or take, as a very striking illustration, the bad grandfather Manasseh and the good grandson Josiah), so all these bad kings had in due time a successor in Jesus of Nazareth, who was undefiled by any taint that might reasonably be supposed to have come down from them. As we think of the contrasts thus furnished, the use of all these deplorable records in the Books of Kings and Chronicles comes manifestly out. The mischief and misery which wicked kings can work must be seen in all their hideousness, so that all the more a disposition may be excited to attend to the blessings which Jesus will secure and multiply when he comes to reign as King.
III. THE PROSPERITY OF THIS RIGHTEOUS KING. It must be made clear in some great and everlastingly conspicuous instance that practical righteousness is followed by prosperity, and that nowhere is the connection more sure between a cause allowed fully to operate and its full effect. The most hurtful kind of wickedness, the men who commit it do not. delight in for its own sake. Their aim is outward prosperity, to secure riches in the easiest, and most rapid way; and this may necessitate a degree of wickedness of which oftentimes they seem not in the least conscious. Then, of course, in the end the prosperity proves corrupt and ruins the man who risked everything for it. But now turn to the individual experience of Jesus. His course in this world had nothing in it of prosperity as some count prosperity. He lived in poverty; he did not live long; and he died as criminals die. All these experiences, however, only bring out the real prosperity. After the cross the manifestation of his glory and power bedaub, in the acceptance of him by hearts that he had completely subdued. There never has been such a king as Jesus of Nazareth; never any one who has elicited such whole-hearted homage, such complete, faithful, self-denying service. He prospers and he makes his servants prosper. The more his glory shines, the more their lives are brightened. This surely is indeed a royal prosperity.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF THE PEOPLE IS INDICATED:
1. By the king's own action in judgment and righteousness, or, as we might otherwise put it, in righteous judgment. As one in authority and power, he has to give decisions, and these decisions are always righteous. Human kings were arbitrary and capricious; their likes and dislikes, their political necessities, had much to do with the decisions they gave. But with this righteous Scion of David it is very different. He lays down great principles which, if men would only attend to them and take in the spirit of them, would stop all disputings and litigations.
2. By the security of the people. The subjects of Jesus have true safety. They are safe in themselves and safe in their spiritual possessions. He who enables them to acquire the true riches shows also how to hold them fast; else the riches would not be true riches at all. And it is not the least boon that he gives them the power, if only they have faith to exercise it, of living without anxiety and distraction. It is very dishonoring to our great King not to believe that all our best interests are perfectly safe in his charge.—Y.
Prophets strengthening the hands of evildoers.
Jeremiah had much to say at different times on the unfaithfulness of the prophets—how flatly opposed they were in all their conduct to that required by the duties of their office, how utterly negligent they were of the great opportunities of rebuke which were peculiarly their own. And there stands in this verse an expression which gives a climax to their evil-doings. A prophet shows himself most of all an evildoer when he upholds the hands of evildoers.
I. THE PROPHET IS REQUIRED IN A SPECIAL MANNER TO DO WHAT HE CAN TO WEAKEN THE HANDS OF EVILDOERS. All who respect the will of God, and feel sympathy with what is right and trim and Divine, are bound to hinder bad men in their actions; but he who held the office of a prophet among the people of God was looked to as speaking with an authority higher than that of a private person. Officialism, with all its drawbacks and perils, with all its risk of self-assertion, has been of great advantage to practical religion. It is true, on the one hand, that to put a bad man into a holy office is to bring that office into contempt, but surely it is also true, on the other hand, that a good man in a holy office has his power for good much increased. Here in Israel at this time there was a multitude of evildoers, doing evil with both hands earnestly. At the same time, there were doubtless those who did evil with weak and uncertain hands. It is matter of thankfulness that evildoers are so often practically restrained in this way. Disposition is willing, but resolution is weak. There is the desire to do very bad things, but the courage is lacking. We have an instance of this in those enemies of our Lord who were so often hindered in their designs because they feared the people. If all the evil could be done that is desired to be done, society would become intolerable. Now, the peculiar mischief that these prophets did was in strengthening the hands of wicked men who were also weak. They spoke encouragingly, and perhaps drew them on by example. Hence evil was done openly that otherwise might have been done secretly. Conspiracies and alliances became more practicable. Evil was made to put on the aspect of good, and men did energetically with perverted consciences what otherwise they might have done with much hesitation, and therefore with diminished force. There are certain men always to whom evil doing becomes easy when it becomes respectable. Thus we see how great were the responsibilities and opportunities of the old Hebrew prophets.
II. Hence we see something of what A DUTY AND OPPORTUNITY BELONG TO ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE. Are not all the Lord's people prophets, if only they choose to regard their opportunities? With regard to evil men, it is especially laid on us to hinder their action by all wise and rightful means. The formation of their designs we cannot hinder; we cannot see beneath the surface, and prevent the germination of the poisonous growth; but when it appears above the surface, we may do our best to pluck it out. Under the specious guise of love for individual liberty we may tolerate the greatest evils till they grow beyond our control. The man who took a tiger's cub for a pet found it become perilous long before he expected. We should do all we can to strengthen those who are the modern equivalents to the Hebrew prophets. Such men appear from time to time, and we should pray for insight that we may discern their mission and claims. Such men are sent to weaken, and ultimately to paralyze, the strong hands of the wicked. They are the representatives of great causes; and if through cowardice, self-indulgence, and fear of being thought peculiar, we neglect them, then we may do much harm.
III. THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF STRENGTHENING THE HANDS OF ALL WHO WANT TO BE GOOD. They are so often weak in action. "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." They are hindered by strong temptations which come in their way, when they are striving to get nearer God's ideal for them. They are in need of sympathy. They have to be helped in reaching encouraging views of Divine truth. They need to be remembered in prayer, and generally to have more heart and spirit put into them; then, having abundant life within, they will not lack force, steadiness, and persistency of hand. If we are actively engaged in strengthening the hands of the good, we are to this extent weakening the hands of the evil And, finally, it is very consoling to recollect that when those who profess to be good are found strengthening the hands of evildoers, this is precisely the time when God's indignation is aroused and his opposition. most effective. "If God be for us, who can be against us?"—Y.
Speaking the vision of one's own heart.
I. THERE IS THE PUTTING OF ONE'S OWN IMAGINATION IN THE PLACE OF GOD'S TRUTH. A prophet, divinely sent, expresses the words which God has put into his mouth, or reports the vision which God has made to rise before him. If, then, it was true that these prophets, as prophets, were speaking only the vision of their own hear% it was quite enough to condemn them. It is very possible that they had' brought themselves to believe that they were speaking the truth. In the days when prophetic vision was vouchsafed to man nothing was easier than for a heated imagination to see whatever it wanted to see; and then the subject of this vision would persuade himself that the vision was of God. How, then, was a prophet to know that what he had seen was truly of God? The answer is very largely to be found in considering the sense of burden and responsibility which evidently rested on true prophets. About a true prophet there was nothing egotistic, conceited, or impetuous. Generally, too, he had to say things which were painful for a sensitive man to speak, and humiliating for self willed people to hear; whereas these prophets against whom Jeremiah warns the people managed to say things very agreeable. We read that they proclaimed peace and prosperity to the evildoer. Now, whatever peculiarity there was in the visions given to the prophets, it is plain that there could be nothing contradictory to God's holiness and his laws, so clearly expressed, for human life. When prophets came with visions contradicting human self-will and human expectations, there was in this a presumption that they were sent of God. David desired to build a house for God in place of the old tabernacle, and doubtless the desire seemed to be one to which there could be no possible objection. Nathan, however, bad a vision by which David was forbidden to build. It would have been pleasanter to go to the king with a message more accordant to his wishes, but he could only speak what God had shown him—a word requiring submission of the human will to a higher and a wiser one. So, turning to the New Testament, we find Ananias at Damascus and Peter at Joppa receiving visions which seemed to them full of incredibility, going right in the face of all their previous experiences and convictions. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that some, at least, of these lying prophecies were purchased with money. People paid the diviners to hear pleasant things, and pleasant things must be told them even if they were false.
II. THERE WERE EFFECTIVE TESTS FOR THESE VAIN IMAGINATIONS FOR ANY WHO CARED TO EMPLOY THEM. Honest minds know how to receive a true prophet. There is a subtle sympathy between speakers of the right sort and hearers of the right sort. God, who sent so many prophets to Israel, was not likely to leave Israel without a sure way of testing them. So if the prophet or dreamer of dreams gave the people a sign or wonder, and then told them to go after other gods, they might thereby know that he was a deceiver. No sign, however specious and wonderful it be, can make that a truth today which yesterday was a lie. Every fresh prophet must be in harmony with the tried and approved prophets who have gone before him, There is, indeed, no greater peril than to turn away from any true messenger of God; and happily there is no need to do so, through uncertainty as to his credentials, Any one who points out a present wrong in our lives that needs to be put right immediately, is to that extent a prophet of God; and if, in addition, he ventures on certain predictions, then all we can do is to wait. Gamaliel's shrewd advice cannot be too constantly kept in mind. What we cannot be certain about while a thing is in the seed will be made clear when it comes to the fruit. The most important matters are ever those on which we have to decide at once; and God never fails to send forth his light and truth so as to make the decision right.—Y.
The giving forth of the word of man as the word of God.
I. GOD'S UNFAILING OBSERVATION. All the reasonings within the minds of these false prophets are open to God. They themselves, audacious, and to some extent self-deluded, reckon on not being detected. They speak what the people wish to believe, and are thus pretty certain of finding acceptance from them. But they forget, or rather they have never properly understood, the omnipresence of God. If this attribute of God had been a reality to their minds, they would not have come so much under idolatrous influences. The possibility of lying or in any way distorting and manipulating the truth seems to depend on an utter forgetfulness of the fact that God is indeed everywhere, filling all space, so that his eye and ear are everywhere. When we read of God appearing to men in different places, we know that the men traveled from one place to another; but God, even when he appeared to them in the new place, was not a whit the less remaining in the old. That God is everywhere is a truth meant to have a most confirming and cheering influence upon the mind of man; but because this truth is not apprehended man both loses what he was meant to enjoy, and becomes presumptuous and reckless in his practical denial of God's authority. God, therefore, makes his assurance through the true prophet that his eye is upon every movement of the false ones. Those who assure themselves that God is ignorant would be far wiser in reckoning on the ignorance of the most vigilant and penetrating mind among their fellow men.
II. God's observation being such, THE PROCEEDINGS OF THESE PROPHETS CAN BE EXACTLY KNOWN. What is here said of the false representations of these prophets is given forth, not as the result of human inquiry, but of a divinely perfect observation. Not all that God thus saw was here described, but only such things as the needs of the times demanded to be made known. Far more might have been told that was true, but there was no need to tell it. God does not publish the wickedness of these prophets for any delight that he has in exposing them, but that he may be justified in the sight of the people for the things that he is about to do. In their hearts, the prophets must have known that the thoughts of those hearts ware discovered. How important it is to bear in mind that many of the indications as to the wickedness of wicked men in the Scriptures come from him who is the omnipresent and omniscient One, who sees everything exactly as it is, and who puts into the mouth of those speaking his Word just those expressions which will describe the things essential to be known! God published the deeds and character of these false prophets that those who were true to him might guard against them. So Jesus warned his disciples against the time-honored, time-consecrated pretensions of the Pharisees. God puts into the hearts of those who keep near him a feeling which guards them against all who for their own selfish ends make a pretence of being interested in holy things.
III. There is in this passage a special charge against the prophets, to which the preliminary and more general accusations lead up. The prophets are charged with making a CONFUSION BETWEEN THE HUMAN AND THE DIVINE IN THEIR UTTERANCES. This charge is summed up in the question, "What is the chaff to the wheat?" or, as it is more nearly rendered, "What has the straw to do with the grain?" The straw and the grain, close together as they may be for a while, are separated at last; and one will by no means serve the purpose of the other. Grain is meant for man's support, and straw will not take its place. Straw has its own place, and may be very useful, so long as it is kept in it. But if straw and grain are to be all mixed up together, the result will be very unsatisfactory. We all need to bear in mind this illustration, for we may all have, to some extent, the duty and opportunity of being prophets of God. He is a rare man who can tell forth things exactly as they are. It is not for man, by a plausible eclecticism, to take something of human experience and something of Divine revelation and mix them up into what he trusts may somehow prove acceptable to men. Human experiences and conjectures have their part. When a man honestly tells us what he thinks and feels, we know how to estimate his statement; and when he comes professedly with a Divine message we have some notion how to test him. But what shall we do with him who claims to limit and modify Divine revelation, so that it may fit into what he is pleased to call the inexorable molds of human reason? We must ever make the distinction between the straw and the grain in our search for truth. Some truth is discoverable by observation, experiment, deduction; other truth only by the spiritual intuitions of a devout and humble mind placing itself before the statements of Divine revelation. So with regard to human and Divine government. There is no possibility of acting so as to please both God and men. There is no possibility of building up a perfect society out of such elements as we have at present. On one hand, we have to bear in mind the limitations of society in the actual existence of it. What we make a law to ourselves, in our own individual relations to God, we cannot impose on others. On the other hand, we must not allow the low conceptions which others may have of God's claims to drag us down to their level. Let God's Law stand out distinct and authoritative before our minds to guide us in our individual life. That Law must not be in any way modified, under a notion that compliance with it is impossible of attainment. If we persevere in receiving God's Word and persevere in repeating it, we shall find that it will make its way mightily, not as by brute force, but because it is the Word of truth, the Word that has abiding fitness for the deepest needs of men.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany