This chapter may be illustrated by a comparison of it with Jeremiah 46:1-28. There Jeremiah exults ever the destruction of a nation (Egypt) which was one of the chief enemies of God's people, and on hearing or reading the inspired eloquence of the prophet the heart of a Jew could not but be moved with the liveliest sympathy. But it is another strain which meets us in this chapter, and one which to a Jew would certainly neutralize the favorable feelings which prophecies like that referred to must have awakened. Here Jeremiah announces that the last moment of grace for Judah is past, and the time for judgment come. The long-suffering of Jehovah has been exhausted; the fall of the commonwealth cannot any longer be delayed. Such was the strange destiny of the prophet; he was sent to "pull down" and "to build," but the destructive element (as Jeremiah 1:10 suggests) was largely predominant. Specially predominant is it in this important chapter, in which the prophet begins to fulfill the mission to the heathen with which twenty-three years ago he had been entrusted. One by one, "all the nations" directly or indirectly connected with Israel are called up to hear their punishment. There is no indulgence, no respite; only a gleam of hope in the promised final destruction of the tyrant-city Babylon (verses 12-14). The prophecy falls naturally into three parts, verses 15-29 forming the center. The date assigned to this chapter in the first verso is remarkable; it is the fatal year of the battle of Carchemish, which brought Syria and Palestine within the grasp of Babylon.
The first year of Nebuchadnezzar.
From the thirteenth year; etc.; alluding to the chronological statement in Jeremiah 1:2. The three and twentieth year; counting nineteen years under Josiah and four under Jehoiachin, and including the three months of Jehoahaz.
(Comp. Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 35:15.) They said; literally, saying. The prophet mentally resumes the statement of Jeremiah 25:4. He hath sent his servants the prophets." Turn ye; rather, return ye, conversion being the return of the sinner to his natural home.
The families of the north (comp. Jeremiah 1:15, note). And Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant. This is the rendering of the Targum, the Syriac, and the Vulgate, and corresponds with the reading of a few extant manuscripts. The received text, however, reads, "and unto Nebuchadnezzar," etc. Neither reading is satisfactory. The latter one is intolerably harsh; the former makes Nebuchadnezzar a mere adjunct of the tribes of the north. In the other passages, moreover, where this king is solemnly entitled "my servant," the clause is the most prominent one in the sentence (see Jeremiah 27:6; Jeremiah 43:10). The words in question have a sort of family resemblance to the glosses which meet us occasionally both in the form of the Hebrew text represented by the Massoretic recension, and those by the principal ancient versions. The words are omitted by the Septuagint. My servant. Generally to be a "servant" of Jehovah or of any supposed deity is to be a worshipper. Thus Daniel is called by Darius, "servant of the living God" (Daniel 6:20), and thus Abdallah, "servant of Allah," has become a favorite surname of the followers of Mohammed. In the Book of Jeremiah itself (Jeremiah 30:10; Jeremiah 46:27, Jeremiah 46:28), and in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:25), "my servant" is the form in which Jehovah addresses his chosen people; and in the second part of Isaiah the suffering Messiah is so styled. Here, however, a foreign king is thus entitled. How is this to be explained? Cyrus, no doubt, in Isaiah 44:28, Isaiah 45:1, is called "my shepherd" and "my anointed one;" but then Cyrus, in the view of the prophet, was a genuine though unconscious worshipper of the true God (Isaiah 41:25), whereas Nebuchadnezzar was known to be a polytheist and an idolater. We must, therefore, take "servant" to be applied to Nebuchadnezzar in a lower sense than to the other bearers of the title. The Hebrew 'ebbed, in fact, may be either "slave" in something approaching to the terrible modern sense, or in the sense in which Eliezer was one (i.e. little less than a son, and a possible heir, Genesis 24:2; Galatians 4:1), and which is still in full force in Arabia. An astonishment (see on Jeremiah 2:11). An hissing (comp. Jeremiah 18:16; Jeremiah 19:8).
The sound of the millstones. Modem travel enables us (so conservative is the East) to realize the full force of this image. The hand-mill is composed of two stones. As a rule, "two women" (comp. Matthew 24:41) sit at it facing each other; both have hold of the handle by which the upper is turned round on the 'nether' millstone. The one whose right hand is disengaged throws in the grain as occasion requires, through the hole in the upper stone" (Dr. Thomson). "The labor," remarks Dr. Robinson, "is evidently hard; and the grating sound of the mill is heard at a distance, indicating (like our coffee-mills) the presence of a family and of household life" ('Biblical Researches,' 2.181). Add to this the light of the candle (or rather, lamp), and we have two of the most universally characteristic signs of domestic life. No family could dispense with the hand-mill, and, as the sermon on the mount implies, the poorest household had its "lamp" (Matthew 5:15—the poverty of the family is indicated by the various uses to which the lamp-stand was applied). Comp. this verse with the imitation in Revelation 18:22, Revelation 18:23.
Shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Widely different opinions are held as to the meaning of this prophecy. The most probable view is that "seventy" is an indefinite or round number (as in Isaiah 23:17), equivalent to "a very long time." This is supported by the analogy of Jeremiah 27:7, where the captivity is announced as lasting through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar, his son, and his grandson—a statement evidently vague and indefinite (see ad loc.), and in any case not answering to a period of seventy years. Besides, we find the "seventy years" again in Jeremiah 29:10, a passage written probably eleven years later. Others think the number is to be taken literally, and it is certainly true that from B.C. 606, the fourth year of Jehoiakim, to the fall of Babylon, B.C. 539, sixty-seven years elapsed. But is it desirable to press this against the internal evidence that Jeremiah himself took the number indefinitely?
The judgment upon Judah and the nations.
Perpetual desolations. Thus, too, we read in Isaiah 13:20, that Babylon "shall never be inhabited." There is a dispute between Dr. Keith and Dr. Kay on the one side, and rationalistic commentators (e.g. Kuenen) on the other, whether these prophecies have received a circumstantial fulfillment. The truth is that authorities are not entirely agreed on the area covered by the site of Babylon. General Chesney remarks that, so far from being uninhabited, "A town of considerable population, villages, date groves, and gardens, are found still on the very site of ancient Babylon". Similarly M. Menant, a veteran French Assyriologist, remarks that "Hillah, according to M. Oppert, was a quarter of Babylon, probably that which was inhabited by the working population, without the precincts of the royal palaces. Numberless traces of ancient habitations indicate this origin of the modern town". Mr. George Smith, however, in his 'Assyrian Discoveries,' simply states that, "A little to the south rose the town of Hillah," apparently assuming (what is impossible to prove, as the walls of Babylon have not yet been discovered) that Hillah lay just outside the city enclosure. But even he adds that it was "built with the bricks found in the old capital," which is, strictly speaking, inconsistent with the absolute abandonment of the site of Babylon implied in Isaiah 13:20-22. The dispute is an unfortunate one, as it tacitly implies that circumstantial fulfillments are necessary to the veracity of prophecy. The truth seems to lie in the mean between two opposing views. As a rule, the details of a prophetic description cannot be pressed; they are mainly imaginative elaborations of a great central truth or fact. Occasionally, however, regarding the prophecies in the light of gospel times, it is almost impossible not to observe that "the Spirit of Christ which was in" the prophets (1 Peter 1:11) has overruled their expressions, so that they correspond more closely to facts than could have been reasonably anticipated. Such superabundant favors to believers in inspiration occur repeatedly in the prophecies respecting Christ. They may, of course, occur elsewhere for a sufficient reason, but we have no right to be surprised if we do not meet with them. The general truth of the prophecy is that the empire of Babylon shall fall forever. As Dr. Payne Smith remarks, it was practically the work of one man (Nebuchadnezzar), and after his death it only lasted for a few years, during which its history is a series of murders and usurpations.
And I will bring, etc. Clearly this verse cannot have formed part of the original prophecy, but must have been added whenever the collection of prophecies against foreign nations finally assumed its present form (see introduction on Jeremiah 50:1-46; Jeremiah 51:1-64). It should be mentioned that the Septuagint separates the last clause of the verse, "that which Jeremiah prophesied," etc; and makes it the heading of the group of prophecies against the nations, which in the Hebrew Bible stand at the end of Jeremiah's prophecies, but which, beginning with "Elam," the Alexandrian Version inserts at this point.
For many nations … shall serve themselves of them else; i.e. put forced labor upon them also. The same phrase is used of the conduct of the Egyptians to the Israelites (Exodus 1:14). Of them also; and "also" suggests that the calamity of the Chaldeans is a retribution (comp. Isaiah 66:4), as the next clause, in harmony with Jeremiah 50:29, Jeremiah 51:24, emphatically declares.
For thus saith, etc. Out of this verse and the following, to the end of the chapter, the Septuagint makes the thirty-second chapter, Jeremiah 25:1-38 being completed by the prophecy against Elam (Jeremiah 49:34-39). The symbolic act which the prophet is directed to perform is mentioned in order to explain the word of threatening just uttered. So, at least, we must understand it, if we accept the arrangement of the Hebrew text. But the connection is certainly improved if we follow Graf, and omit Jeremiah 25:11-14; Jeremiah 25:15 thus becomes an explanation of the threat against Judah and the other nations in Jeremiah 25:9-11. The wine, up of this fury; or, this wine-cup of fury. The wine with which the cup is filled is the wrath of God. The figure is not an infrequent one with the prophets and the psalmists (comp. Jeremiah 49:12; Jeremiah 51:7; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:22; Ezekiel 23:31-34; Habakkuk 1:16; Psalms 60:3; Psalms 75:8).
And be moved, and be mad; rather, and reel to and fro, and behave themselves madly. The inspired writers do not scruple to ascribe all phenomena, the "bad" as well as the "good," to a Divine operation. "Shall there be evil in a city, and Jehovah hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6). "An evil spirit from Elohim came upon Saul, and he became frenzied" (1 Samuel 18:10; see also Isaiah 19:14; Isaiah 29:10; 1 Kings 22:19-23, and especially the very remarkable prologue of the Book of Job). To understand this form of expression, we must remember the strength of the reaction experienced by the prophets against the polytheism of the surrounding nations. It was not open to them to account for the existence of evil by ascribing it to the activity of various divinities; they knew Jehovah to be the sole cause in the universe. To us, "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought," such a doctrine occasions "great searchings of heart," and is sometimes a sore trial of our faith. But the prophets were not logicians, and their faith, compared to ours, was as an oak tree to a sapling; hence they can generally (see, however, Isaiah 63:17) express the truth of the universal causation of Jehovah with perfect tranquility. Because of the sword. Here Jeremiah deserts the figure of the Cup, and, as most commentators think, uses the language of fact. It is not, however, certain that "the sword" means that of God's human instruments; Jehovah himself has a sword (Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 47:6; Jeremiah 50:35-38; Isaiah 27:1; Isaiah 34:5; and elsewhere), just as he has a hand (Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 59:1) and an arm (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 53:1). All these belong to a group of childlike symbolic expressions for the manifestation of the Deity. Jehovah's "sword" is described more fully in Genesis 3:24; it "turns hither and thither," like the lightning—a striking figure of the completeness with which God performs his work of vengeance (see also on verse 27).
Then took I the cup … and made all the nations to drink. It is too pro-sale to suppose either that Jeremiah made a journey to "all the nations," or that he actually went through the form of presenting the cup to the ambassadors who (it is conjectured, comp. Jeremiah 27:3) had come to Jerusalem to take measures against the common foe (so J. D. Michaelis). But the supposition arises (as Keil has well observed) out of an imperfect comprehension of the figure. It is not a cup with wine which the prophet receives from Jehovah, but a wine-cup filled with the wine of God's fury, which wine is no more a literal wine than the "sword of Jehovah" is a literal sword. The "making all the nations to drink" is simply a way of expressing the prophet's firm faith that the word of Jehovah will not "return unto him void "—that a prophecy once uttered must fulfill itself; and "sent me," in the last clause, merely means "entrusted me with a message" (comp. Proverbs 26:6). For the fulfillment of this detailed prediction, see on Jeremiah 46-51.
The kings thereof (see on Jeremiah 19:3). As it is this day. As to the meaning of this phrase, see on Jeremiah 11:5. The words evidently presuppose that the prediction has already been fulfilled (comp. Jeremiah 44:6, Jeremiah 44:23); consequently, they cannot have stood here in the original draft of the prophecy. An early editor, or even Jeremiah himself, must have inserted them. They are omitted in the Septuagint.
Pharaoh king of Egypt. After leaving Judah and Jerusalem, the prophet turns to the far south—to Egypt; then he ascends to the south-east (Uz), and the south-west (the Philistines); thence he passes to the east (Edom, Moab, Ammon); and thence to the west of the Holy Land (Phoenicia). This suggests the maritime lands "beyond the sea" (including especially Cyprus); a sudden transition brings the prophet to the Arabian tribes (Dedan, etc.), from whence he passes by the road of the northeast (Elam, Media) to the indefinitely distant north. Last of all, in solitary grandeur or infamy, Babylon is mentioned.
The mingled people; Septuagint, καὶ πάντας τοὺς συμμίκτους: Vulgate, et universes generaliter. The Hebrew ‛erebh probably means, not "mingled [i.e. 'motley'] people," as the Authorized Version, but "foreign people," i.e. a body of men belonging to some particular nation intermixed or interspersed among those belonging to another. This explanation will account for the use of the word in all the passages in which it occurs (here and in Jeremiah 25:24; also Exodus 12:38; Nehemiah 13:3; ‹je-1›, 1 Kings 10:15; Jeremiah 1:1-19 :37; Ezekiel 30:5; and perhaps 2 Chronicles 9:14). The context here and in 1 Kings 10:15 seems to imply that the name was given especially to the tribes (probably Bedawin tribes) on the frontier of Judah towards the desert, though in Ezekiel 30:5 it is evidently applied to a people which in some sense belonged to Egypt. In Exodus 12:38 it may be doubted whether the phrase is used from the point of view of Egypt or of the Israelites; in Jeremiah 50:37 it is used of the foreigners in Babylon in 2 Chronicles 9:14 the Massoretic critics have pointed the consonants of the text wrongly (‛arabh, Arabia, instead of ‛erebh), but without injury to the sense; the Vulgate and Syriac have done the same in 1 Kings 10:15. The notion that the word means ' auxiliary troops" arises (as Thenius on 1 Kings 10:15 remarks) from the free rendering of the Targum at 1 Kings 10:15 and Jeremiah 1:1-19 :37. Uz. The land associated with the name of Job, and probably east or south-east of Palestine, and adjacent to the Edomites of Mount Seir (Lamentations 4:21). Of the Philistines. Observe, Gath is alone omitted of the five Philistine towns (Joshua 13:3; 1 Samuel 6:17). It had been reduced to complete insignificance (Amos 6:2), through Uzziah's having "broken down" its walls (2 Chronicles 26:6), and is equally passed over in Amos (Amos 1:6-8), Zephaniah (Zephaniah 2:4), and Zechariah (Zechariah 9:5, Zechariah 9:6). Azzah; i.e. Gaza, the Septuagint form (the G representing the initial ayin), which is everywhere else adopted by the Authorized Version. The remnant of Ashdod. A significant phrase, which can be explained from Herodotus (2.157): For twenty-nine years Psamnutichus "pressed the siege of Azotus without intermission." We can imagine that he would not be disposed to lenient dealings with the town upon its capture. (An earlier and shorter siege of Ashdod is mentioned in Isaiah 20:1-6.)
Kings of Tyrus, kings of Zidon. Under the names of the two leading cities, the prophet includes the various dependent Phoenician commonwealths. Hence the plural "kings." The isles. The Hebrew has the singular, "the isle," or rather, "the coast-land" (more strictly, the region), i.e. perhaps either Tartessus in Spain, or Cyprus (which Esarhaddon describes as "lying in the midst of the sea," and as having two kings, 'Records of the Past,' 3:108).
Dedan, and Tema, and Buz. Three tribes of North Arabia, bordering on Edom. The two former are mentioned as commercial peoples in Isaiah 21:13, Isaiah 21:14; Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:20; Ezekiel 38:13; Job 6:19. Elihu, Job's youngest friend, was of Bus (Job 32:2). All that are in the utmost corners; rather, all the corner-clipped (see on Jeremiah 9:26).
All the kings of Arabia. Not "Arabia" in our sense (which is never found in the Old Testament), but the desert region to the east and south-east of Palestine, occupied by nomad or "Ishmaelitish" tribes. The mingled people; rather, the intermingled people (see on Jeremiah 25:20); i.e. probably in this passage populations of a different race interspersed among the Aramaic tribes to which most of the inhabitants of the desert belonged.
Zimri. The Zimri were a people to the northeast of Assyria, against whom various Assyrian kings waged war. Whether they axe to be connected with the Zimran of Genesis 25:2 seems doubtful; their locality hardly suits. Elam. Elam, one of the most ancient monarchies in the world (comp. Genesis 14:1-24.), is again coupled with Media in Isaiah 21:2. It was a region on the east of the lower Tigris, bounded westward by Babylonia, northward by Assyria and Media, southward by the Persian Gulf. To say that it is put either here or anywhere else in the Old Testament for the whole of Persia seems a mistake, as the Persians were hardly known before the time of Cyrus.
The kings of the north. The distant, mysterious north. Far and near, one with another. The Hebrew has, "the near and the far, the one to the other;" i.e. whether near or far in relation to each other, for of course with regard to Judah they were all "the far north." All the kingdoms of the world, etc. This is far from being the only instance in which a special judgment upon a nation or nations is apparently identified with a great final judgment upon the world (see Isaiah 2:12; Isaiah 3:13; Isaiah 13:9; Isaiah 24:1-12). The truth is that every great serf-manifestation of the Divine Governor of the world is a fresh act in that great drama of which the universal judgment will be the close. Hence the prophets, whose perspective was necessarily limited, seeing the cud but not all that was to precede it, speak as if the end were nearer at hand than it really was. The king of Sheshach, etc. This clause, however, is omitted in the Septuagint, and is too manifestly the insertion of an unwise copyist or editor. For, though perfectly true that Babylon was to suffer punishment afterwards, it is most inappropriate to mention it here at the end of a list of the nations which Babylon itself was to punish. "Sheshach," it should be explained, is the form assumed by the word "Babylon" in the cypher called Athbash (A=T, B=SH, etc.). It happens to convey a very appropriate meaning, viz. "humiliation" (comp. Isaiah 47:1). A similar instance of cypher allegory occurs in Jeremiah 51:1. "Sheshach" occurs again in Jeremiah 51:41, where, however, it is omitted by the Septuagint. [Dr. Lauth, of Munich, thinks that Sheshach is equivalent to Sisku, the name of a district in Babylonia; but the reading Sisku is uncertain.]
Therefore thou shalt say, etc.; rather, And thou shalt say, etc. This verse is probably a continuation of Jeremiah 25:16, Jeremiah 25:17, Jeremiah 25:18-26 being apparently inserted by an afterthought. The message given to Jeremiah to deliver is that the judgment is both overpoweringly complete and irreversible. If God's own people has not been spared, how should any other escape (comp. Jeremiah 49:12)?
I will call for a sword. It is probably that awful sword referred to in Jeremiah 25:16 (see note).
The judgment upon the world.
Therefore prophesy thou, etc. Babylon, like the smaller kingdoms which it absorbed, has fallen, and nothing remains (for nothing had been revealed to the prophet concerning an interval to elapse previously) but to picture the great assize from which no flesh should be exempt. As the lion suddenly bursts, roaring, from his lair, so Jehovah, no longer the "good Shepherd," shall roar from on high (comp. Amos 1:2; Joel 3:16) even upon his habitation, or rather, against his pasture, where his flock (Jeremiah 23:1) has been feeding so securely. He shall give a shout. It is the technical term used at once for the vintage-shout and for the battle-cry. In Isaiah 16:9, Isaiah 16:10, there is a beautiful allusion to this double meaning, and so perhaps there is here (comp. Jeremiah 51:14).
A noise. The word is used elsewhere for the tumultuous sound of a marching army (see Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 17:12). He will plead; rather, he will hold judgment. Jehovah's "contending" sometimes involves the notion of punishing, e.g. Ezekiel 38:22; Isaiah 66:16. In 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 22:8, the same verb in the same conjugation is forcibly rendered in the Authorized Version, "to execute judgment."
A great whirlwind; rather, a great storm (as Jeremiah 23:19). The coasts of the earth; rather, the furthest parts of the earth. The storm, as it appears on the horizon, comes as it were from the ends of the earth; perhaps, too, there is an allusion to the distant abode of the foe (comp. Jeremiah 6:22).
The slain of the Lord; i.e. those slain by the Lord, as Isaiah 66:16, where his sword is further spoken of as the agent (see on Isaiah 66:16). They shall not be lamented, etc.; parallel to Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 16:4.
Wallow yourselves in the ashes. Supply rather, in the dust (comp. Micah 1:10), as more suitable to the figure (see on Jeremiah 6:26). The shepherds, and the principal (or, noble ones) of the flock, are, of course, merely different forms of expression for the rulers. The days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; rather, your days for being slaughtered are fulfilled; and I will scatter you (or, dash you in pieces). This is the reading of an old and valuable manuscript at St. Petersburg, and is partly favored by the pointing; it is adopted by most modern critics, the form in the text being ungrammatical. Pleasant; or, precious (comp. Daniel 11:8, Authorized Version). Compare the figure in Jeremiah 22:28.
Jeremiah 25:36, Jeremiah 25:37
The prophet seems in his spirit to hear the lamentation to which in Jeremiah 25:34 he summoned the "shepherds." A voice of the cry should be, Hark I the cry (omitting "shall be heard"); the clause is an exclamation. Hath spoiled; rather, is spoiling (or, laying waste). The peaceable habitations; rather, the peaceful fields (or, pastures). Are cut down; rather, are destroyed; literally, are brought to silence (comp. Jeremiah 9:10).
Close of the prophecy with a fuller enunciation of the thought with which the paragraph was introduced. He hath forsaken; comp. Jeremiah 25:30, and notice the impressive non-mention of the subject (as Jeremiah 4:13, etc.). Their land; i.e. that of tile shepherds. The fierceness of the oppressor. A various reading, supported by some manuscripts, the Septuagint and the Targum, and accepted by Ewald, Hitzig, and Graf, and is the oppressing sword (so Jeremiah 46:16; Jeremiah 50:16). The text reading is very difficult to defend, and the punctuation itself is really more in favor of the variant than of the received text.
A melancholy review of twenty-three years of work.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE WORKER. A three and twenty years' experience furnishes a good test of character. So long a time is quite sufficient to eliminate the accidents of passion and temporary enthusiasm, and to bring to light the general principles of a man's conduct. These constitute his character; they reveal the true features of him. We should not judge a man by his latest action, perhaps a hasty and quite uncharacteristic one; to be fair, not to say charitable, we should consider the whole course of his life. To know ourselves we must look back on the years of our lives, and not pass a superficial judgment on our present mood. The character of Jeremiah, revealed by the test of twenty-three years of work under the most harassing circumstances, is worth our reverent study. Consider the salient points in it:
1. Fidelity. All this time he was working as God's servant, in opposition to the spirit of the age, provoking enmity, calumny, haired. The bearer of a message which it must have been a pain for him to deliver, a message of denunciation and menace, Jeremiah boldly declared it and adhered to it, in spite of every inducement to follow the fashion of the prophets of flattery. We meet with men who are proud of representing the spirit of their age. Nothing is easier. Nothing is more simple than to be an echo, a reflection, a mouthpiece to the general voice. The difficulty is to utter a contrary voice, not out of stubbornness, or a spirit of willful antagonism, but out of calm fidelity to duty. This is the task of the great.
2. Perseverance. For three and twenty years Jeremiah had persisted in his unpopular course. We know that he continued equally staunch for many more years. Here is the great test. It is possible to be an Elijah, and stand alone facing the howling multitude of priests and slaves of Baal in one supreme moment of conflict and speedy triumph, and yet after this to flee to the wilderness, and to feel unequal to the task of constant fidelity, in season and out of season, through long dreary years, without the excitement of a dramatic scene of heroism, worn and fretted by incessant, petty, spiteful enmity. Yet this was the experience of Jeremiah.
3. Earnestness. "I have spoken," he says, "rising early and speaking." The prophet is not a passive martyr, nor a mere confessor who dares to speak out his conviction when it is directly challenged. He goes forth on a mission urging his message upon men. He is a model preacher. He is no perfunctory official droning through a dreary task, no mere professional preacher, honestly discharging his work, but with little interest in it, like a hired pleader. His heart is with his work. He has an end in view, and he sets himself with all his might to accomplish it. In all this the prophet reveals to us the long-suffering and earnest desire of God to deliver his children. All this while God was inspiring Jeremiah, as he had inspired a succession of prophets, to rouse and urge the people to repentance.
II. THE RESULTS OF THE WORK. Apparent failure. "Ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear." It would seem that all this labor, earnestness, persistence, and fidelity had been so much wasted work.
1. The preacher must not be blamed for apparent fruitlessness. No greater mistake can be made than that of judging a man by the manifest effect of his work. The most popular preacher is not necessarily the most faithful servant of God. The unpopularity and seeming failure of a preacher is not in itself a reason for condemning him. No fault can be found with the preaching of Jeremiah, yet it was not successful. Christ spake as never man spake, and "the Pharisees derided him." He was popular for a season, but ultimately "all men forsook him." The most important truths may be the least popular.
2. The preacher must not be too confident in expecting time to reveal the fruits of his work. Twenty-three years made no such revelation to Jeremiah. A faithful man may toil on through the long night of a whole lifetime of difficulty, and die without seeing the results of his labor. It is well to be prepared for this possibility.
3. The responsibility of rightly receiving a Divine message rests with the hearers. We are always lecturing the preachers. "Take heed how ye speak." These words are not in the Bible. Christ was more anxious about the hearers. "Take heed how ye hear." Of course the preacher has his high responsibilities, but so have the hearers. The poorest sermon of a good man who is trying to expound Divine truth may contain something of profit to a devout listener, who is more anxious to receive the good in it than to pass a barren criticism on its defects; for if the messenger is sadly wanting, and his language and thought as poor as possible, the message which he handles so badly is not the less God's truth. But if the preaching of a Jeremiah, of a Christ even, is unheeded, what qualities in the preacher can command success with an unsympathizing audience?
4. Still no good work ultimately fails. Jeremiah did not speak for nothing. His message bore good fruit with many of the captives—perhaps with Daniel. Preserved to our time, it has been a blessing to generations.
Jeremiah 25:5, Jeremiah 25:6
The chief purpose of prophecy.
Jeremiah here sums up the general purpose not only of his own mission—extending now over twenty-three years—but of that of the whole series of Hebrew prophets. We may thus see the one great aim towards which all their labors were directed.
I. PROPHECY IS PRACTICAL. Jeremiah's summary takes the form of an exhortation. The prophets were preachers, not philosophers. Their aim was not to satisfy curiosity but to affect conduct. In this they are an example to all preachers. The preacher's duty is to lead men, not merely to teach doctrines. Still the exposition of truth is necessary to effect this end. The prophets did not content themselves with simple exhortations to good conduct. These exhortations needed the enforcement of clear conviction. Their authority was not magisterial (a mere command of superior power) nor priestly (an influence of spiritual rank erected on unquestioning faith), but reasonable (the authority of truth seen and felt). Hence their revelations of God and of the future. Yet these were all given for a practical end. The preacher should make his most abstract expositions of truth point towards some course of conduct.
II. PROPHECY IS A CALL TO REPENTANCE. This urgent call rings through the messages of all the prophets. It was revived by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:2), adopted by our Lord (Matthew 4:17) and his apostles (e.g. St. Peter, Acts 2:38; and St. Paul, Acts 17:30), and by all great reformers, such as Savonarola, John Knox, John Wesley, etc.
1. Men must be preached to about their own condition as well as about God's will. We want a Divine revelation that we may know ourselves just as much as that we may know God. A large part of the Bible is occupied with revelations of human nature.
2. Together with these revelations there comes the call to turn and change. The result of the exposure of mankind to itself is not satisfactory. This exposure alone is a call to turn from our evil ways. The mere exposure, however, is of little use. A Juvenal is not a Jeremiah. A satirist is not a prophet. There must be the call to a better life, and a declaration of the way to find it.
3. The prophets imply that men not only need to change but can change. The most fundamental change of heart must be through the influence of God. Yet this is only possible when men freely and willingly turn to him in repentance.
4. The special sin denounced was apostasy from God; the special repentance called for was a return to God. These are always the fundamental elements of sin and repentance.
III. PROPHECY IS A VOICE OF WARNING AND OF PROMISE. Evil is denounced to the impenitent; good is promised to the penitent. This is the simplest form in which the motives to repentance can be put. But the tracing out of it is not simple. It required an inspired prophet to detect the seeds of ruin in riotous prosperity and the dawning of a day of redemption in the stormy night of adversity. The prophets not only detect these facts, they discern the principles that govern them. Thus they speak for all ages. They show us how sin is ruinous; how God has a sure blessedness in store for his faithful children—a blessedness which is eternal.
Nebuchadnezzar … my servant.
A strange expression! It is not found in many manuscripts and versions. But it is more likely that dull officious scribes should erase such an "improper" phrase than that any should insert it in the manuscripts and Targum where it is preserved. We cannot suppose that Nebuchadnezzar is called God's servant in consideration of any characteristics of his later career, such as the repentant state following his insanity recorded in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 4:33-37). The prophecy of Jeremiah belongs to a much earlier period. Nebuchadnezzar, a heathen, an idolater, entirely ignorant of the religion of the Jews, just appearing as the great conqueror and oppressor, and striking Syria dumb with terror by his victory at Carchemish—this man is called God's servant. The expression is significant.
I. GOD'S AUTHORITY EXTENDS TO ALL MANKIND. He is not the God of the Jews only, nor of the Christians only, nor of the religious only. He is the God of heaven and earth, the Sovereign and supreme Master of all creatures. We talk of the godless heathen. They may be living without the knowledge of God, but not without his knowledge of them, his care, his influence.
II. GOD CAN USE FOR HIS PURPOSES MEN WHO DO NOT KNOW HIM. Nebuchadnezzar did not know the true God. Yet he was an instrument in God's hands for the chastisement of the Jews. Many a man is unconsciously working out God's will even when he thinks he is fighting against it. God's purposes are deeper than our thoughts.
III. GOD CAN MAKE BAD MEN DO HIS WILL. Such men do not do God's will in themselves, but by doing their own evil will they produce results which fall in with God's larger designs. Of course this is no justification for their conduct, since our responsibility turns on our motives, not on the unexpected results of our conduct. It must not be supposed that God sanctions the wicked passions that drive a man to an action which God overrules for good. Nebuchadnezzar is to be punished for the very act in which God uses him as his servant (verse 12). Yet the relation between God and his wicked servants is wholly mysterious.
IV. GOD EXERCISES AUTHORITY OVER THE MOST IRRESPONSIBLE TYRANTS. Nebuchadnezzar is the greatest monarch of the world. He is just inflated with one of the grandest victories in all history. Naturally he is an autocratic tyrant who makes an idol of his own will. This man is really God's slave. God overrules all kings, shapes and molds all history, and manifests his providence in the great onward march of humanity. This fact should give us confidence in the midst of the darkest events. It should humble the great to feel that they are as nothing before God.
V. THE UNCONSCIOUS SERVANTS OF GOD DO NOT KNOW THE BLESSEDNESS OF HIS HIGHER SERVICE. AS they do not willingly serve, so they do not reap the spiritual joys of service. The service is nothing to them, though much to the world. The true servant of God knows his master's will and delights to do it, sacrifices his own will and submits obediently to the higher will. To fulfill such service is the highest privilege of mankind. In the accomplishment of it is peace and blessedness (Psalms 40:6-8).
The wine-cup of fury.
I. THE WRATH OF GOD IS LIKE INTOXICATING WINE.
1. It is powerful. The wine is strong drink. We are too ready to close our eyes to this aspect of the Divine nature. The love of God is so treated by some that it leaves no room for anger. But God is not weakly indulgent; if he were so, even his love would be found wanting, for there is no wrath more terrible than that of outraged love.
2. The anger of God produces terrible effects. The wine intoxicates. It cannot be a matter of no concern to us to know how God feels towards us. All affections tend to actions. The anger of a man is not likely to waste itself in aimless fury; it will flow out in deeds. God is a King whose wrath will find expression in acts of sovereignty, a Father whose anger must necessarily affect his treatment, of his children. If there are men at whose anger we may smile, there are others who cannot be safely despised. But who dare disregard the wrath of God? Once it is outpoured it must be overwhelming, must take possession of men.
3. It will not only produce outward distress, but inward confusion and helplessness, so" that they shall reel to and fro, and behave themselves madly." Therefore the man who is smitten by Divine wrath has not those internal sources of comfort and strength with which we try to hear up under outward calamity.
II. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN THE WINE-CUP OF FURY IS POURED OUT. It is not always flowing. Though "God is angry with the wicked every day," he is forbearing, and restrains his wrath till it cannot longer be justly withheld. Then we may suppose that the longer it has been accumulating the worse will be its outflow. Men have been treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Such seasons of the outpouring of the cup of fury may be noted in history; e.g. in the invasions of Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, the sacking of Rome by Alaric. It is important to note that this happens in seasons. It is not always harvest. But the spring sowing prepares for the autumn reaping. We may be now preparing for an outburst of wrath. How foolish not to guard against it because it has not yet come! Delay of judgment is no excuse for doubt about it, for this is part of the Divine method of action.
III. ALL THE GUILTY MUST DRINK OF THE WINE-CUP OF FURY. Jeremiah summons the various nations to partake of it. The Jews are not spared though they are the "elect people." The heathen are not excluded though they do not recognize God truly. God is still the impartial Father of all, and must execute judgment upon all classes, while, of course, he has due regard to the light and opportunities of each. "Religious" people will have to drink of the dreadful cup, if they are morally corrupt. Worldly people will also have to receive it, though they may profess to have nothing to do with God and his laws. There is no escape in the day of judgment. Men may refuse to taste of God's love; they cannot refuse to partake of his wrath (verse 28).
IV. THE BITTER CUP WHICH CHRIST DRANK IS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE WINS-CUP OF FURY. God could never have been angry with his beloved Son. He must have regarded it as he was in his pure goodness; could not have imputed to him sins of which he was not guilty, nor have looked wrathfully upon him when he was regarding him with nothing but love and approval. But Christ was so one with us, so took our place as our High Priest, that he must have felt, as the most guilty man never felt, the horror of the wrath of God against the sinful world of which he stood forth as the Representative. He drank to the dregs the bitter cup of spiritual woe as well as that of his bodily passion. The gospel of his grace proclaims to us that they who are liable to the outpourings of a Divine judgment on their sins may find through Christ's sacrifice peace with God. By faith in Christ we are reconciled to God, and find that his anger is put away forever in the free pardon of our sins.
The ineffectual palladium of a great name.
Jerusalem was called by God's name; yet Jerusalem was not to be spared in the general outpouring of the wine-cup of fury. The Jews were vainly trusting in their name. We are all inclined to think too much of mere names. Certainly there is something in a name; it may command respect, influence, etc. Yet this applies only in regard to human considerations; it can have no weight with God. Even with men it is less potent than its possessors would fain believe. The influence of it is slowly won, easily lost, and only recovered with the utmost difficulty, if at all.
I. A NAME MAY BE GREAT BECAUSE IT REPRESENTS CONNECTION WITH THE GREAT. It may indicate relationship to a family, a clan, a nation. We are proud of the name of Englishmen. St. Paul, professing himself a Roman, was able to claim the rights of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25). But the name is here useful only in so far as the privilege it implies extends. St. Paul had a right not to be scourged, but none to save him from being beheaded by the order of the emperor. We may claim undue privileges because we bear the name of Christian, because we were born in Christendom, are citizens of a Christian state, are members of a Christian Church. These associations count for nothing before God. We shall "all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body" (2 Corinthians 5:10). It will be vain then to say, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy Name," etc.? If Christ must answer, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23, Matthew 7:24).
II. A NAME MAY BE GREAT BECAUSE IT REPRESENTS HIGH RANK, Social distinctions cannot be ignored while they exist, and in them the favored necessarily enjoy many amenities that are denied to the commonalty. But they are snares when they tempt their owners to expect peculiar privileges with Heaven. In spiritual matters we approach God, not as rich or poor, not as prince or beggar, but as man. Rank goes for nothing there; character is everything. This applies to ecclesiastical rank. They who hold high office in the Church are tempted to expect exceptional judgment. They will be judged, not as officials, not as popes, bishops, priests, but as men, and will find that their holy office will be no sanctuary when the awful sword of Divine judgment is unsheathed.
III. A NAME MAY BE GREAT BECAUSE IT REPRESENTS A GOOD REPUTATION. If the reputation is justly earned, the name is a real honor. "A good name," says the wise man, "is rather to be chosen than great riches" (Proverbs 22:1). Shakespeare's Cassio exclaims, "Reputation, reputation, reputation!" Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial." Yet, if reputation is "got without merit," it is a poor refuge to flee to from before the all-seeing God. Even when it is solid and honest it stands only as a record of the past, and a presumption in our favor when our conduct is equivocal. But it does not mitigate the guilt of subsequent offences. We are judged by our conduct, not by our fame. It is vain to have a name to live if we are dead; the name will not galvanize us back into life.
IV. A NAME MAY BE GREAT BECAUSE IT REPRESENTS A GREAT PROFESSION. Men assume big names and flourish them before the world in pretended evidence of their own excellence, and the world, being too blind and too indolent to make very searching inquiries, commonly takes men much at their own reckoning. The advantage of such a deception can only be superficial and transitory. The foolish boast will soon be exploded. Before God it matters little what a man calls himself. The one question is as to what he is.
In the general calamity of the nation the shepherds are especially called upon to howl and cry and wallow in the dust. The shepherds are the leaders of the people. These leaders, therefore, are not to be exempt from the distresses of the common people; on the contrary, trouble is to fall upon them in an aggravated degree.
I. HIGH RANK IS NO SECURITY AGAINST TROUBLE. It may free a man from many annoyances, it cannot defend him from all kinds of calamity. It is chiefly a safeguard against the smaller vexations of life; the more serious troubles sweep over it unchecked. It is like a small breakwater that will keep back the little waves of a fresh sea, but is overwhelmed in the storm. When it is most needed it is of least use. Rank is no protection against disease and death, against general human calamities, such as the desolation of an earthquake, the ravages of a plague, the devastation of a war. Nevertheless men do trust to rank unreasonably, and find it a snare when their false confidence is exposed.
II. LEADERS OF MEN SUFFER FROM THE TROUBLES THAT FALL UPON THEIR FOLLOWERS. The shepherd suffers with his flock. The patron is dependent on his clients. The king is great with the greatness of his people, and brought into trouble by his nation's distress. This is more than sharing a general calamity. It is experiencing a trouble that is directly caused by the distress of dependants. History has proved the mistake of those tyrants who have thought to secure their own grandeur by the brutal degradation, the bondage and misery of their subjects. The truly prosperous sovereign is net the Pharaoh reigning in lonely magnificence over a nation of slaves, but the beloved ruler of a free and enlightened people.
III. PERSONS IN EXALTED POSITIONS ARE LIABLE TO PECULIAR TROUBLES FROM WHICH ORDINARY MEN ARE EXEMPT. Not only are they not free from the common distresses of mankind, not only are they directly affected by the distresses of those beneath them; they are also subject to special dangers arising from their high and prominent position.
1. They are burdened with a responsibility that is proportionate to their elevation. If much has been given to them, much is expected of them. Every eye is upon them. Any mistake of theirs which might pass unnoticed in obscure men, is dragged into the full blaze of jealous criticism. If such men abuse a great trust they may expect to be visited with a great judgment.
2. They are liable to special attacks of animosity. Like officers in the field, they are picked out by opponents. Kings have dangers of assassination which obscure men need never fear. The highest tree catches the fiercest blast of the gale, while humble shrubs grow at peace in sheltered nooks.
3. They feel the blow of trouble most acutely. They who stand highest can fall lowest. Poverty is not the calamity to a born pauper that it proves itself to a bankrupt prince.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
I. CAREFUL REMINDER OF THE EXTENT OF HIS MINISTRY. (Jeremiah 25:1-3.)
1. The moral value of this is great. It is no vague indictment, but one made out with all accuracy and conscientiousness. We ought to take note of the extent of our privileges and opportunities, for we shall have to give an exact account of them all.
2. Its evidential value is equally great. The date of the prediction is thus fixed, and history becomes a long verification of his prophetic truth.
II. ASSERTION OF HIS OWN AND OF GOD'S DILIGENCE AND FAITHFULNESS. (Jeremiah 25:3-6.)
1. God has been diligent. He has "risen up early." The welfare of his people is of intense interest to him. The delays of his dispensations are only seeming. No earnestness on the part of the creature can ever anticipate or outrun his love or readiness to provide.
2. His servant the prophet was so also. It was God's Spirit in him that they heard. He was obedient to the heavenly Spirit, and announced its messages as they were received.
III. THE PERSISTENT UNBELIEF AND DISOBEDIENCE OF THE NATION DENOUNCED. (Jeremiah 25:3-7.) There is something very impressive in the repeated "Ye have not hearkened." It defines and characterizes the guilt of the apostate. There was not even the beginning of serious attention (Jeremiah 25:5, Jeremiah 25:6); and their indifference had become systematic and habitual. What wonder that God should have been provoked to wrath? And this is the sinner's position today. It would be impossible to fathom the depths of our depravity by nature, or to trace it to its ultimate issues.
IV. THE SPIRIT AND SUBSTANCE OF THE MESSAGE IS REPEATED. How great is the long-suffering of God! The unbelief of the people had been marvelous, considering the signs which had been given. Another opportunity, however, was afforded ere the catastrophe should take place. No details of the teaching are entered into, but great plainness of speech is used. The emphasis is upon essentials and permanent principles. The "spirit of prophecy" is intensely moral; and this is why the "testimony of Jesus" represents it. It is the grand resultant of all the forces working through ancient prophecy, and casts its revealing light backward upon the prophetic page. These repentances so often urged but never forthcoming, these "returns" and obediences which were to crown with blessing and surround with Divine favor, are only possible through his Spirit. The future of the world, as of every individual and nation, is inextricably associated with the cause of righteousness, and therefore with. the gospel.—M.
Judgment plainly declared.
The agents of the visitation are more precisely defined than hitherto, and the leader of the invasion is actually named. The extent also of the region to be devastated, and the time the captivity is to last, viz. seventy years, are set forth.
I. THIS TENDED TO HEIGHTEN THE MORAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE PEOPLE. A vague indefinite calamity or series of calamities would have failed to strike deeply enough into the conscience of the transgressors; whereas a precisely marked off and defined set of occurrences could not be misunderstood.
1. The nearness and inevitable character of the judgment are thereby realized.
2. It is seen to be imposed by the moral government of God. "My servant." God permits, nay, appoints, Nebuchadnezzar.
II. IT PRESENTED THE PERIOD OF CALAMITY AS PART OF AN ORDERED WHOLE, WITH A DEFINITE OVERCOME AND OBJECT. Great as the trial would be, it was nevertheless a measured and therefore a bearable one. There need be no wild abandonment to despair. The believer could possess his soul in patience. The allurements of heathenism would lose much of their power. A quiet, reverent, and repentant study of the meaning of the dispensation would be encouraged; and in this way it would act as discipline for the future. We can never be certain as to the limits of our trials; but we have the assurance that our Savior, who has a fellow-feeling with his people, will not impose anything above what we are able to bear. And through the revelation of spirituality in the gospel, and the greater spiritualization of our hopes and aims through its teaching, we are able with greater calmness to contemplate our "light affliction, which is but for a moment."
III. THE PROPHECY WAS THEREBY PROVED TO BE GENUINE, AND THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD REVEALED BEYOND DISPUTE. As if conscious of this, Jeremiah for the first time calls himself "the prophet," when he has fairly committed himself to exact dates and personages. It would be open to the survivors of that predicted dispensation to denounce him an impostor, and to discredit the practice of prophesying. But the seer was certain; and the verdict of history confirms his forecast, and demonstrates that it was no ex post facto fabrication, but real Divine foreknowledge of events yet future.—M.
Judgment beginning at the house of God.
I. THE ORDER OF GOD'S JUDGMENT.
1. It begins with his own people.
2. Reasons for this are:
II. THE EXTENT OF IT. "All the inhabitants of the earth." Thus early—nay, from the first sin onwards—does he begin the judgment of the whole earth. The sin of one is but a symptom of the universal depravity of all. The oneness of the world in its fall and the evolution of its sin, is constantly declared in Scripture.
1. This is demanded by the justice of God. "Should ye be utterly unpunished?" It would be manifestly unfair that the child of God alone should suffer for that which is primarily a sin of all mankind.
2. It is founded upon the solidarity of the race. There is a universal kinship in sins. "In Adam (they) all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22).
III. THE MEASURE OF IT. "A sword" (cf. Jeremiah 25:33). This signifies destruction, death. That which opposes itself to him will be utterly destroyed. He begins his judgment upon his own, but it passes from them and rests forever upon his enemies. The picture painted by Jeremiah (verses 30-38) is but one of many similar ones in the Bible. The utter holiness of God cannot endure the sinfulness of men; it must consume it and all that identify themselves with it. In the New Testament the horizon widens, and the spiritual world participates with the living upon earth in the sentence of the Judge. The first duty, therefore, of every awakened sinner is to flee from the "wrath to come." Whilst he remains unconverted he is a "child of wrath." Punishment has a different significance to him from what it would have if he were "in Christ." It is the same principle of solidarity which condemned us that now avails for our salvation. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).—M.
The vision of final judgment.
A sublime and terrible description; corresponding with many others throughout the Old and New Testaments.
I. IT SERVES A GREAT ETHICAL PURPOSE. The sense of wrong-doing is thereby intensified, and some idea is given of the awful consequences of sin and its hatefulness to the mind of God.
II. AN EVIDENCE OF THE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF SIN AND SALVATION. By such visions as these the ages of the world are linked together and shown to be convergent in one point. There are not to be so many judgments of isolated offences, but one judgment, towards which all the world has looked forward. Sin increases with the lapse of time, and develops into a more pronounced opposition to truth and goodness only in final judgment can all its significance be comprehended and its issues be stayed.
III. AS EVIDENCE OF THE REALITY OF THE PROPHETIC GIFT AND ITS SPIRITUAL END. This vision is corroborated by the universal instincts of man, on the one hand, and by the endorsement of Christ on the other. The various minor judgments which have intervened between that time and this are so many proofs of the correctness of the prophet's intuition. And the manner in which he and other seers have laid chief emphasis upon this event exhibits the fundamental moral purpose of all prophecy. Its intention is to reveal the righteousness of God, and to lead men into its practice and love.—M.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
A twenty-three years' ministry.
Here we get a statement, brief but not at all uncertain, of what had been done in the prophetic way during twenty-three years. Three parties are concerned in this statement:
I. GOD. Nebuchadnezzar, who is to act as the servant of God (Jeremiah 25:9) in the great overthrowing work, has just come to his throne, and is unconsciously preparing for that to which God had appointed him. Hence it was fitting that, just at this crisis, God should point back over the past and show how very much he had done to bring about a different result. Not that this comprehensive view was likely at the eleventh hour to make any change in Israel itself; but it is well that it should stand recorded in the history. It is well that we who come after should be made to see clearly how continuously God protested against the wickedness of his people. Jeremiah himself, out of his own experience, speaks as a witness of what had been going on for twenty-three years; and he knew further that he was only one out of many agents by whom God had been doing the same kind of work.
II. THE PROPHET. Not Jeremiah peculiarly, but Jeremiah as representative of all the faithful prophets; those to whom he here refers as having been engaged in the same kind of service. He brings against the people a serious charge of persistent neglect; but it also involves a serious confession with respect to himself. A serious confession, but not a shameful one. Though his long ministry has not had the desired end, it is by no means a failure. For twenty-three years the work has been laid upon him of denouncing national apostasy and individual transgression, in all the varieties of it. The substance of this long ministry is written down and the spirit of the ministry made evident. We know the things he spoke of, and how he spoke of them; the enemies he made, the sufferings he endured, the pangs with which his heart was torn. In his ministry he gave himself, without stint. Nor does his work stand alone. He was not the first to exhort to repentance. He succeeded men who had been as faithful as himself, and engaged as long a time in the service of God. And yet, after so many remonstrances, the nation remains stubborn in its apostasy, infatuated as ever in its rapid descent to ruin. Hence we learn how chary we should be in talking of unsuccessful ministries. No ministry, whatever its other results may be, can be unsuccessful in the sight of God, if only there is unshaken fidelity to him. It is fidelity that he rewards, not obvious results. In spite of all the husbandman's care, digging about the tree and dunging it, it may yield no fruit; but the fidelity of the husbandman deserves a reward all the same. Industry cannot overcome the bad elements in what is given him to cultivate. All who have to engage in preaching and prophesying duties must learn the lesson, that more is needed for success than mere perseverance. Perseverance is like the dropping water which wears away the stone; but what is here required, is that the stone should be changed as to its nature, not worn away. If Jeremiah had been able to prophesy twenty-three centuries, instead of twenty-three years, the result would have been the same. All he could do was to reiterate, in the ears of the people, the necessity of repentance. It is in the light of a passage like this that we learn more of what Jesus meant when he said he came to fulfill the prophets. It was his not only to accomplish their predictions, but do what they could not possibly do by all their appeals—turn the hearts of the disobedient to God. Compare the barren ministry of Jeremiah, prophet of Jehovah, with the fruitful ministry of Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet Paul did not speak one whit more earnestly concerning righteousness and repentance and submission to God. The difference lay in this, that Paul was not only a preacher, but when he preached there was a subduing and renewing Spirit.
III. THE PEOPLE. This is a serious charge brought against them, that one man had been in their midst for all these years, with one message, never varying and never slackening, and yet that they had paid, as a nation, not the slightest heed to it. When Nebuchadnezzar did come, there was no chance for them to say that they had not received proper warning. They could not blame Jeremiah. Their very persecution of him was a witness against themselves. Thus there is a warning to those who are hearers of the gospel with all the voices with which it is addressed to them. It is not outside of themselves they must look for explanations of why the truths of the gospel have found no lodgment in their hearts. The cause is within. How many have been listening to the news of Jesus Christ for many more years even than twenty-three, and every year seems to bring a lessening probability that they will treat the message as having a practical concern for themselves!—Y.
Nebuchadnezzar, the servant of God.
I. THE CONTRAST WITH OTHER SERVANTS. Observe the mention, in Jeremiah 25:4, of those very different servants of God, the prophets (so mentioned elsewhere). God had sent many of them and many times, and hardly any attention had been paid to them. Higher motives had been appealed to in vain. Considerations of duty and prudence were thrown to the winds. And now the mighty king Nebuchadnezzar comes, with a very different sort of force—not looking at all like a servant of God; and yet he is just as much the servant of God as is any of the prophets. Indeed, king of a great people though he was, his rank in the service of God was not so high as that of the prophets. He appears in this place as nothing more than the final executioner of justice.
II. NONETHELESS EFFICIENT A SERVANT BECAUSE THE SERVICE WAS RENDERED UNCONSCIOUSLY. Nebuchadnezzar, despot as he was, would have been very wrathful if he had known exactly how he appeared in the sight of God. He had certain purposes of his own, and he succeeded in effecting them; but the very energy with which he worked for himself only made him to render his service to God more complete. And may it not be happening in the world, a great deal more frequently than we think, that the very success of selfish and domineering men is being so handled by God as all the more to serve his purposes?
III. THE LIMITATIONS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR'S SERVICE. The service, with all its completeness, was only within certain limits. It does not require much intelligence to destroy what is destructible. But if there is to be a building-up work for God, then there must be a conscious, voluntary, and devoted service. Israel was meant to be a servant of God in the fullest and noblest sense of the word. It had been instructed in the will of God and borne with patiently in many failures to obey that will. Hence the description of Nebuchadnezzar as a servant is an implied rebuke of those who had refused to be servants. Note the great contrast found in the New Testament, where Christ's apostles, at the beginning of their Epistles, hasten to proclaim themselves as the servants of God.—Y.
Jehovah's controversy with the nations.
This necessary controversy explains all the proceedings described from Jeremiah 25:15 to the end of the chapter. Jeremiah is not a prophet to Israel only, but to all who are guilty of similar transgressions. The cup of God's holy wrath goes on filling wherever he beholds wrongdoing. It is easy to see, if we only ponder a little, that some such outburst as this must come in all true prophecy. As the Apostle Paul puts it, the nations that sinned without law perished without law. The peculiar light vouchsafed to Israel was not the only light for which men were responsible to God. Accordingly we find that it seems to have been one main ground of appeal taken by the apostle to the Gentiles that God had not left himself without witness amongst them. If, on the one hand, he could denounce Israel for being so indifferent to the Law he had formally given, so, on the other hand, he could denounce the Gentiles for their negligence of the light of nature. Idolatry, as we perceive, had produced the most fearful results in Israel; but everywhere else it must, of course, have produced results quite as had, only they do not happen to occupy such a prominent position in history, And thus we have indicated to us here, as indeed in so many places elsewhere, the way in which to consider the decline and fall of great nations. It is not enough for the Christian to rest in the consideration of secondary causes. And if a nation's decadence be so gradual and imperceptible as to show no obvious sign of what secondary causes may be operating, then there is all the more need to rise to the height of a true faith in God and believe that his judgments are assuredly at work. Wherever there is unbridled self-indulgence, still spreading wider and wider, there we may be sure God is carrying on those judgments which cannot fail. But is there not also a brighter side suggested by one passage in this chapter? As we read of all these lands to which, in a kind of apocalyptic vision, Jeremiah presented the cup of Jehovah's fury, we cannot but think of that other list so graciously represented on the day of Pentecost. Nations, in the manifold wisdom of God, may rise, decline, and fall; but such a fate will trouble none save those who exaggerate patriotism into a cardinal virtue. The serious matter is when the individual will not show a timely wisdom, and in humble repentance put away his mistaken past, and in humble faith accept the redemption and guidance which God alone can provide.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany