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JEREMIAH'S TRIAL AND DELIVERANCE.
The prophecy in Jeremiah 26:2-6 is a summary of that contained in Jeremiah 7:1-15; the narrative, which stands in no connection either with Jeremiah 24:1-10 or Jeremiah 27:1-22, relates the consequences of that bold declaration of the word of the Lord. The present position of the chapter is only surprising to those who assume that the works of the prophets were necessarily arranged chronologically. How many violations of chronological order meet us in other books, e.g. in Isaiah. It is only reasonable to expect similar phenomena in the Book of Jeremiah. To estimate the circumstances of the prophecy aright, we must remember that in Jehoiakim's reign a Chaldean invasion was the danger by which all minds were constantly preoccupied.
Jeremiah is to take his stand in the court of the Lord's house; i.e. the outer court, where the people assembled (comp. Jeremiah 19:14), and preach unto all the cities of Judah; i.e. to the pilgrims who had come from the provincial towns (comp. Jeremiah 11:12). His discourse is not to be an eloquent appeal to the feelings, but a strict and peremptory announcement; he is to diminish (or, subtract) not a word (comp. Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32; Revelation 22:19).
That I may repent; literally, and I will repent; the idea or object is derived from the context. (On the Divine repentance, see note on Jeremiah 18:8.)
The contents of the discourse (see especially on Jeremiah 7:12-15). The priests and the prophets interfere, arrest Jeremiah, and accuse him of a capital crime. It would appear that some at least of the "false prophets" were priests; thus Pashur, we are told, was a priest (Jeremiah 20:6).
To all devout Jews this prediction of the destruction of the temple must have been startling; but to those who placed their confidence in the mere exist-once of a consecrated building (Jeremiah 7:4), it was like a blow aimed at their very life. Besides, were not the majority of the prophets of Jehovah of entirely another way of thinking? Did they not promise peace? And what could justify Jeremiah in announcing not merely war, but the downfall of the Divine habitation itself? Hence no sooner had the prophet concluded his discourse, than he was arrested, accused, and condemned to death.
Had made an end of speaking. They allowed Jeremiah to finish his discourse (of which we have here only the briefest summary), either from a lingering reverence for his person and office, or to obtain fuller materials for an accusation (comp. the trial of Stephen, Acts 6:12-14). All the people. The "people" appear to have been always under some constraint. As long as the priests and prophets were alone, they dominated the unofficial classes, but when the princes appeared (verse 11), the new influence proved superior. In verse 16 princes and people together go over to the side of Jeremiah. Thou shalt surely die. Death was the legal penalty both for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16) and for presuming to prophesy without having received a prophetic revelation (Deuteronomy 18:20). Jeremiah's declaration ran so entirely counter to the prejudices of his hearers that he may well have been accused of both these sins, or crimes. True, Isaiah and Amos had already predicted the destruction of Jerusalem (Isaiah 5:5, Isaiah 5:6; Isaiah 6:11; Amos 2:4, Amos 2:5; Amos 6:1, Amos 6:2); but it may have been contended that the timely repentance of Judah under Hezekiah and Josiah had effectually cancelled the threatened doom, and though Isaiah 64:10, Isaiah 64:11 evidently refers to a time later than Josiah, and represents the ruin of Jerusalem as practically certain, it would seem that the prophetic book (Isaiah 40-66.) to which this belongs (to say the least) was not generally known.
Were gathered against; rather, assembled themselves unto; i.e. constituted themselves into a legal qahal, or assembly (see on Jeremiah 26:17).
The princes. The term will include the members of the various branches of the royal family, who acted as judges (see on Jeremiah 21:12), and the "elders," or heads of families (see Jeremiah 26:17). Without the presence of the former, Jeremiah could only have had a mock-trial. Came up, etc. (see on Jeremiah 22:1). Of the Lord's house; better simply, of the Lord. The gate is the same which is referred at Jeremiah 20:2.
This man is worthy to die; literally, a sentence of death (belongs) to this man.
Jeremiah's defense. He is conscious that he has not spoken uncommissioned, and leaves the result. He urges the people to amendment of life, while there is time, and warns them that his own unmerited death will bring a curse upon themselves.
The truth makes an impression upon the princes and the people, who declare Jeremiah to be a true prophet, and therefore innocent.
The elders of the land add their voice in favor of Jeremiah, not, however, without first of all consulting the people whose representatives they are. The whole verse is thoroughly technical in its phraseology. The word (qahal) rendered "assembly" is the traditional legal term for the "congregation of Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:30); comp. verse 9, where the verb is the corresponding one to qahal. Thus, with all the faults of the government of Judah, which Jeremiah himself reveals to us, it was very far removed from the Oriental despotisms of our day. The "elders" are still an important element in the social system, and form a link with that earlier period in which the family was the leading power in the social organization. Originally the term denoted, strictly and in the full sense, heads of families; they have their analogue in the councils of the Aryan village communities. "References to their parliamentary status occur in Exodus 3:16; 2 Samuel 19:11; 1Ki 8:1; 1 Kings 20:7. The institution lingered on during and after the Babylonian Exile." We find another reference to their quasi-judicial authority in Deuteronomy 21:2.
Jeremiah 26:18, Jeremiah 26:19
Micah the Morasthite, etc. The "elders" appeal for a precedent to the case of Micah (called after his native place, Moresheth-Gath, to distinguish him from other Micahs), who had been equally explicit in his declarations of woe to Jerusalem, without incurring the charge of blasphemy. The prediction referred to is in Micah 3:12, the form of which agrees verbally with our passage.
Thus might we procure, etc.; rather, and we are about to commit a great evil against our souls (not merely "against ourselves"). The blood of the slain would cry for vengeance against his murderers, who would come to an untimely end, their "souls" being sent down to lead a miserable parody of a life (βίος ἄβιος) in Sheol or Hades.
The murder of the prophet Urijah. At first sight, these four verses appear to belong to the speech of the elders, but the appearance is delusive,
(1) because the issue of the affair of Urijah cannot possibly have taken place "in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim" (Jeremiah 26:1); and
(2) because the passage stands in no connection with what precedes, whereas it is related, and that very closely, to Jeremiah 26:24 (see below). The case is similar to that of certain passages in St. John's Gospel, where the reflections of the evangelist are put side by side with the sayings of our Lord. Jeremiah, writing down his experiences at a later time, introduces the story of Urijah to show the magnitude of the danger to which he had been exposed. The notice of Urijah has an additional importance, as it shows incidentally how isolated a spiritual prophet like Jeremiah was, and how completely the order of prophets had fallen below its high ideal. We have no further knowledge of the prophet Urijah.
Kirjath-jearim; a city in the territory of Judah, on the west frontier of Benjamin.
His mighty men. The "mighty men" (gibborim) are not mentioned again in Jeremiah, and the Septuagint omits the word. But it is clear from Isaiah 3:2 that the "mighty men" were recognized as an important part of the community. From 1 Chronicles 10:10 it appears that the term indicates a position of high command in the army, which is in accordance with the notice in 2 Kings 24:16. Went into Egypt. Egypt was the natural refuge for a native of Palestine, just as Palestine was for a native of Egypt. The latter, however, proved to be not a safe asylum for Urijah, as Pharaoh was the liege lord of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34), and the extradition of Urijah as a criminal naturally followed.
Elnathan. The name occurs again in Jeremiah 36:12, Jeremiah 36:25. Possibly this man was the "Elnathan of Jerusalem" mentioned in 2 Kings 24:8 as the father-in-law of Jehoiakim.
Into the graves of the common people; literally, of the sons of the people (comp. Jeremiah 17:19; 2 Kings 23:6). "The graves" is equivalent to "the graveyard," as Job 17:1.
Nevertheless the hand of Ahi-kant, etc.; i.e. in spite of the prepossession against prophets like Jeremiah which this incident reveals, Ahikam threw all his influence into the scale of toleration.' The same Ahikam is mentioned in circumstances which reflect credit on his religion in 2 Kings 22:12-14. One of his sons, Gemariah, lent Baruch his official room for the reading of the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 36:10); another was the well-known Gedaliah, who became governor of Judah after the fall of Jerusalem, and who was himself friendly to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:14; Jeremiah 40:5).
The duty of declaring the whole truth.
I. THE DUTY. Jeremiah is commanded to "diminish not a word" from the Divine message. A similar obligation rests upon every man who is called to speak for God to his fellow-men. The duty is urgent for two reasons:
1. Truth is a trust. Thus Timothy is admonished by St. Paul to keep that which is committed to his trust (1 Timothy 6:20); and the apostle speaks of the "gospel which was committed to my trust" (1 Timothy 1:11).
2. Truth is needed by the world, It is not a private monopoly; it belongs to mankind. The world is dying for lack of it. He who has possession of it and refuses to reveal it to others is like a man who has discovered a secret spring of abundant water and churlishly keeps his knowledge to himself though his companions are perishing of thirst. Divine truth is of practical moment. It is not a mere curiosity, to be exposed or hidden as its owner thinks fit, as though his treatment of it made little difference to other men. When the four lepers of Samaria found the Syrian camp deserted, their first impulse was to pillage it quietly and hide the treasures, keeping the great discovery secret; but wiser thoughts prevailed, and they hastened to acquaint the citizens with their unexpected deliverance (2 Kings 7:3-11). So every one who has seen the redemption of Christ has no right to keep his knowledge to himself while the world is in sore need of it. The Church is entrusted with the gospel, not for her own enjoyment alone, but for the good of the world. The same duty applies also to the possession of darker truths. It is evident, indeed, that a certain liberty and discretion are left with us, It is for us to arrange and present truth as it seems best to us; to give relative prominence to its various parts according to our idea of their importance; to lead men up to the reception of it by degrees. It may he that there are truths which the teacher sees, but which the scholar is not yet fit to receive. If they were declared to him he would not understand them, and they would only injure him. A wise teacher will reserve these. We act in this way with children. It may be right sometimes to do the same with those who are babes in knowledge. But is not this a violation of the duty of the text? By no means. For:
(1) If we are sure the truth will be misunderstood we cannot really teach it; for to teach a thing is to make another understand and know it, not merely to speak out unintelligible words about it. We are not to cast our pearls before swine, though we are to remember that no human beings are to be regarded as hopelessly and forever swinish.
(2) Truth may be with-holder, for a time with the object, not of suppressing it, but of the better leading them up to the ripe reception of it.
(3) The vision of truth must be distinguished from the mission to declare it. No doubt the one directly leads to the other. But they may not be contemporaneous. Questions of method, order, seasonableness, come between. The duty is to diminish nothing of the prophet's message.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO FAIL IN THIS DUTY.
1. Personal fear may tempt a man to "diminish" part of the Divine message. Jeremiah knew that the full utterance of his message would provoke violent opposition. He was warned not to shrink from declaring it on that account. In Christian lands and quiet times we do not feel the same terrible temptation to unfaithfulness. But it comes to us in another form. There are ideas which we believe to be true, but we fear they are unpopular; they will excite controversy, they will provoke ridicule, they will lead to neglect of the preacher. He is tempted to shun these truths that he may swim with the tide of popularity, but he is guilty of gross unfaithfulness if he thus shuns to declare the whole counsel of God.
2. It may appear that men will not receive the message. Of course, as has been remarked, we must use wisdom and discretion, seeking rather to convince men than to provoke them. But it may even be a duty to declare a truth as a testimony against men. In any case the responsibility for rejecting it will lie with them, as it should. But who can tell whether or no his work will be fruitless? The most unsympathetic hearers have sometimes been reached and affected and subdued by the truth which they came to mock or oppose. When the bow is drawn at a venture it may hit the most unlikely marks. It is certain that more good has been missed by our faithlessness in not" sowing beside all waters" than harm done by our rashness in blurting out truths in unseemly circumstances.
3. Certain truths may seem to be of no practical use. We are inclined to neglect these for those that are plainly profitable. Now, there can be no doubt that some truths are of more practical importance than others, and these should naturally receive our more earnest attention. Bat it is a mistake to neglect any truth on this account. Truth should be loved and taught for its own sake. It is degraded when it is regarded solely from a utilitarian standpoint. It is well that men should be true philosophers—lovers of wisdom. Moreover, it is impossible to tell what will be the future practical influence of a truth. Some of the most abstruse scientific inventions have led to results of great, though unexpected, human advantage. If research were confined within the limits of the evidently practical, it is certain that many of the most important discoveries—discoveries of the greatest use to man—would never have been made. Thus, if electricity had not been studied for purely scientific purposes we should never have had the telegraph. We do not know all the effects of Divine truth. It may not affect others as it does us. It may have special effects in the future, not felt as yet. It is our duty to preserve and transmit it to the ages when it may bear most fruit.
4. Some truths may appear difficult and mysterious. Of course, if a truth is wholly unintelligible, it cannot be taught. We are only uttering words when we try to expound it. But without being unintelligible it may be mysterious, it may be inexplicable; it may come, so to speak, with trails of dark shadows. The temptation is to leave this and only touch what is clear throughout. But the very sense of mystery may be beneficial. So much of the truth as is clear may be useful. If we are convinced that a thing is true, we may accept it without explaining the whole rationale of it. The mystery may grow clearer as we practice what we know of the truth. In any case the Christian teacher is God's ambassador, commissioned to declare his Master's message entire, unmutilated, whatever opinions he may have of the utility of it.
A scene in a Jewish court of law.
We have here a graphic picture of the procedure under the Hebrew criminal law, for it would appear that Jeremiah was indicted and tried in accordance with correct legal order. The details of such a trial are not unimportant to the student of constitutional history. But they are also full of human interest. The law-court is a strange mirror of character. Many as are the objections to the publication of police news in the daily papers, it does at least serve to open our eyes to the eccentricities as well as the enormities of our variegated human world. Let us see what light this trial of Jeremiah throws upon the various persons concerned.
I. THE ACCUSERS. The leading accusers are priests and prophets. The priests, also, were foremost in the accusation of our Lord. Jeremiah had threatened the temple; it is not wonderful that temple officials should be enraged with him. Religious persecution is generally instigated by the professional clerical class, whose vested interests have been attacked by the reformer. The prophets were directly opposed by the teaching of Jeremiah. If orthodoxy is to be decided by the vote of the majority, they were the orthodox of their day. They were annoyed by the contradiction of the greatest man of their order. Unable to answer him, they tried to suppress him. The conduct of these men may suggest some general lessons, viz.
(1) fidelity to the ordinances of worship is no proof of fidelity to God;
(2) professional religiousness may be far removed from religiousness of character;
(3) they who claim to be regular teachers of religion may Be the last to recognize fresh truth;
(4) they who are interested in a controversy are bad judges of the merits of the case.
II. THE ACCUSED.
1. Jeremiah remains faithful to his message. He reiterates it with new emphatic warnings. His defense is that he is sent by God to speak as he has spoken. He rests on innocence, truth, Divine authority. With such a plea he dare not recant. The true servants of God will know that they ought to "obey God rather than men," and therefore, like St. Peter and St. John, that they "cannot but speak the things which they have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
2. Jeremiah showed indifference to his own life (verse 14). He was a brave man, though his enemies accused him of advocating a coward's policy. It is noble thus to have strength to act on the conviction that truth is more precious than life.
3. Jeremiah warned the people of the consequences of injustice (verse 15). This he did more for their sakes than for his own. Nothing can be more fatal to a country than the corruption of justice.
III. THE JUDGES. The princes and elders seem to have the position of judges. They are cool and impartial. In the Jewish state the office of judge came with birth and rank. The most radical friend of the people may see that the superior culture and freedom from popular passions of these men may have fitted them in some measure for their work. Unhappily, Jeremiah has exposed another side of their character. It speaks well for them, however, after the severe castigation he had given "the shepherds" (e.g. Jeremiah 25:34-38), that they had the magnanimity to lend the prophet an impartial hearing, in spite of the virulent opposition of the priests. But possibly these two classes of leading men were not on the friendliest of terms with one another. Even if this be the case it is well that, unlike Herod and Pontius Pilate, they did not come to an agreement through the sacrifice of an innocent victim. Some of the elders cited the precedent of Micah's case. We see here the value of such an illustration. It serves to detach the principle under consideration from the prejudice of the passions of the hour.
IV. THE JURY. The assembly of the people seems to have acted as a jury. The priests and prophets present their accusation to them and the princes. The people and the princes pronounce the opinion that Jeremiah is innocent. The elders address themselves exclusively to the assembly of the people. This assembly shows the weakness of a popular concourse. The people are swayed from side to side. First they side with the priests, then with the rulers. It also shows its advantages. The people are open to impression; they do not care for formal consistency to a previous conviction; they like to see fair play. When their broad human instincts are appealed to they respond rightly.
The story of an obscure martyr.
I. UNORIGINAL MEN MAY DO GOOD SERVICE IF THEY FOLLOW GOOD LEADERS. Urijah had no new message; but he followed Jeremiah fully and firmly. Accordingly, though not especially inspired, he was able to prophesy "in the Name of the Lord." It is more important to be true than to be original. It is the duty of the Christian teacher to speak in the Name of God, but only according to the teaching of prophets and apostles, and above all, Jesus Christ. If we do this we can speak "with authority."
II. SMALL MEN MAY EXERT GREAT POWER WHEN THEY ARE ON THE SIDE OF RIGHT AND TRUTH. Urijah is an insignificant personage, yet all the court is in dismay at his preaching. There is irony in this fact, if not intended by the language with which it is described. We have "Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all his princes," alarmed and enraged at the preaching of one obscure man. What a testimony to the power of truth! Magna est veritas et prevalebit.
III. OBSCURE MEN MAY SUFFER WHEN GREATER MEN ARE SPARED. Urijah is killed; Jeremiah is acquitted. The Jews were overawed by Jeremiah; Urijah was an enemy small enough to be made a victim without danger. There is something terribly humiliating to human nature in this. How often do we see the same meanness choosing the underling rather than the leader for spiteful but safe revenge!
IV. IT IS SOMETIMES SAFER TO FACE DANGER THAN TO FLEE FROM IT. Jeremiah held his ground, and his life was spared; Urijah fled to Egypt, and he was dragged back to Jerusalem and ignominiously slain. The dauntless courage of the one man overpowered opposition; the cowardice of the other tempted it. It is always better even for ourselves to be brave and faithful. After his previous recantations Archbishop Cranmer could feel little of the triumph of a Ridley and a Latimer in the flames of his martyrdom.
A friend in need.
Ahikam proves himself to be a true friend to Jeremiah by standing by him in the hour of danger. He is not like Joseph of Arimathaea, who was unheard of till he came and begged the dead body of his Lord. When the danger was greatest, he first made himself known on the side of the prophet.
I. HE WAS JUST. Jeremiah had been maligned. But Ahikam knew him to be innocent. To have allowed him to perish would have involved complicity in the murder of the prophet. Yet how many would have washed their hands and contented themselves with taking no active part in a public crime! It is not enough to refrain from joining in an injustice; duty requires us to resist it,
II. HE WAS INDEPENDENT. Jeremiah was unpopular. Though the unanswerable truthfulness of his defense secured him a verdict of acquittal at the regular trial, there can be no doubt that his life was in imminent peril from unscrupulous conspirators, now that the general sentiment was against him. It is a proof of staunch fidelity to stand by a man when he is unpopular. There is little merit in showing friendship for men who are fawned upon by fashion.
III. HE WAS COURAGEOUS. He could only defend Jeremiah at the peril of his own life. By siding with the prophet he allowed his name to be associated with all that was disliked and feared in the persecuted man, and he must have known this. For a person in high station to come out in this way by himself and defend a solitary, persecuted man required no little boldness.
IV. HE WAS USEFUL. Ahikam could not prophesy; but he could save a prophet's life. Possibly but for him Jeremiah's mission would have been cut short. To him, therefore, we owe the possibility of all the remainder of the great prophet's work. It is noteworthy that Ahikam had shown respect for the prophetic order before this, when, with his father and others, he went on an important mission from King Josiah to consult the prophetess Huldah (2 Kings 22:12-14). Many a man who can do little directly may be the means of securing immense good by fostering and furthering the work of others. It would be happy for us to think less of our own prominence and more of the accomplishment of God's will, no matter who may be the honored instrument. We may look beyond the human friend and see the hand of Providence in this deliverance of the prophet. God raises up helpers when we least look for them. Among all the blessings of life none should command more thankfulness to God than the gift of good friends.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
God's mercy shown in his messages.
I. IN THEIR BEING REPEATED. It was substantially the same message as had been delivered before and been rejected. The question was not finally closed. Jehoiakim might show a disposition to repent and alter the policy of his father's government. In any case a new chance is afforded him and his people. God is slow to anger (Romans 10:21). The invitations of his love are still extended to us, notwithstanding the sins of the fathers and our own repeated violations of his Law (Hebrews 4:6-9). Even the backslider is addressed with frequent warnings and appeals—a proceeding which would have no meaning apart from God's reserved purpose of grace.
II. IN THEIR TIMELINESS. It was not only at the middle or end of Jehoiakim's reign, when he might have thought himself involved too deeply to retrace his steps, but at the very beginning. With a new king a fresh opportunity is offered for the nation also to return to its allegiance. Similarly does he stand at the threshold of every life and the opening of every career. He has "risen up early" and anticipated the transgressor in his evil way, or guided his faithful child into the paths of peace (cf. John 1:9).
III. IN THEIR FAITHFULNESS. "Stand in the court of the Lord's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah … diminish not a word." To declare "all the words of this life" is the commission of Christ's servants, and to do this "in season and out of season." The exact situation of men, and the relation into which sin has brought them with respect to God, must be plainly stated; there is no room for flattery. It is absurd to suppose that such a policy is clue to vindictiveness. It can only be explained on the hypothesis of an earnest and thorough-going scheme of salvation. Sinners require to be faithfully dealt with, in order to awaken their conscience and constrain them to take advantage of the means provided for their deliverance.
IV. IN THEIR REVELATION OF HIS WILLINGNESS TO SAVE. It might almost appear weakness, yet is not Jehovah ashamed of this long-suffering. The attribute of mercy does not detract from the dignity or authority of Divine character; rather is it its glory. This forbearance and hesitation to inflict punishment can be attributed to no base motives. It is in harmony with his behavior at all times. How important is it that the repentant sinner should know the merciful disposition of him with whom he has to do l It is essential in every preaching of the gospel that this impression should be produced. The failure of one generation, again, is no reason for another being condemned before probation. God is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9)—M.
Jeremiah 26:1-17, Jeremiah 26:24
The prophet of God arraigned by the nation.
Jeremiah's position, as that of all prophets, was necessarily a public one; to every man is he sent with the message. It is inadmissible for him to soften or lessen what he has to speak, which is nothing else than an indictment of the entire people (verses 4-6). In default of their repentance his arraignment by them is, therefore, all but inevitable. Indifference could not well be feigned; words like his were certain to produce an effect.
I. HIS RECEPTION. It is tumultuous and threatening. He is treated as a criminal. The people, under the influence of his enemies, the priests and the prophets, said, "Thou shalt surely die," and were "gathered together against" him (verses 8, 9). It was to be expected that the priests and the prophets should have been his accusers (verse 11), and they already anticipate an unfavorable verdict. It is the educated and influential amongst the laity who are his judges (verse 10)—a fortunate thing for him, as the event showed. They seem to have been more open to conviction, as they were probably better acquainted with the moral condition of the court and the political situation. The opposition of men is to be expected by the follower and witness of truth, for "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). But some will ever be found, if not convinced by him, yet, through the work of the Spirit, open to conviction. There is nothing which true religion demands in these crises but a fair hearing and an impartial judgment.
II. HIS DEFENSE. He declares the reality of his mission—"the Lord sent me" (verses 12, 15); his faithfulness to his instructions, and the merciful aim which he had in view (verse 13); his helplessness and indifference to personal consequences (verse 14); and his own innocence of any evil design against the nation. God's servants, when thus arraigned, ought to be gentle and yet faithful to their message; the issue is to be left to him. The fear of man is to be forgotten in the fear of God and the enthusiasm of salvation.
III. HIS DELIVERANCE.
1. The verdict is sensible and wise (verse 16), and receives the adhesion of the people. It is the false prophets who are most obstinately opposed, who would probably have aroused the popular prejudices, had it not been for the interference of certain elders who recalled previous instances in point (verses 17-23); and the strong personal influence of Ahikam, son of Shaphan. We are reminded of our Savior's experience at the bar of Pilate (Matthew 27:19-25).
2. The most prominent feature of the judgment is its consequence. God's children must frequently be disappointed in their appeals to men and their expectation of results from his Word. His ways are hidden, inscrutable, and hard to acquiesce in. A clear and intelligent verdict is not to be expected from those who are not prepared to yield themselves to God's authority. The clearest and most faithful expositions of truth will frequently appear to fail of immediate effect. The servant of God is to care chiefly to deliver his soul; his personal safety may be left to God. God can raise up influential friends for his people in critical times, but he will work out his schemes in his own way.—M.
Spiritual prerogative not inalienable.
The utterance of these words is the chief charge against the prophet; only, as in the case of Stephen (Acts 6:13), the statement is mutilated in the accusation, the condition of the prophecy being entirely ignored (Jeremiah 26:9, Jeremiah 26:11). The principle of indestructible consecration is still clung to by many in the face of the plainest declarations of Scripture. It may be well, therefore, to discuss its bearings in the present instance.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF ITS BESTOWAL. It was Divine grace to which it was due; but for this Jerusalem would have been like other cities. This favor had to be continued from moment to moment, being indeed only secured by the continued indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What was due to grace could be freely withdrawn by its Donor. As a matter of history, the most sacred places of Israel were repeatedly ruined and profaned. This destruction is matter of ancient prophecy, as in the present instance.
II. THE TERMS OF ITS TENURE. The repeated warnings and injunctions given prove that the consecration of the sacred places depended upon their occupancy by God's Spirit, and this in turn upon the faithfulness of his people. Either these had no meaning or the grace could be taken away. Jeremiah said, "If ye will not hearken to me, then will I make this house like Shiloh." The testimony of 1 Kings 9:6-8 is precisely similar (cf. Psalms 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12).
III. ITS OWN ESSENTIAL NATURE. Strictly speaking, all things made by God are good and holy, but they may be desecrated, in a secondary sense, by being misused, profaned, or defiled. Institutions, buildings, or material or mechanical structures of any sort, are at best but secondary receptacles of Divine grace. "God dwelleth not in temples made with hands." It is the person occupying these who is the true temple, and when he is defiled by sin or unfaithfulness there can be no virtue inherent in the places which he frequents. Consecration is alone transmissible through the operation and presence of the Holy Spirit, and ceases with the withdrawal of the same. It consists primarily in the personal character through which it is expressed, and only secondarily in places and things, through the uses and practices carried on by holy men in connection with them. To the unholy, therefore, every place and thing will be unholy, and vice versa (Titus 1:15). Material edifices, organization, and official prerogative, are nothing apart from this personal consecration associated with them; and the loss of that involves the loss of usefulness, of peace, and of sacredness, even in connection with that with which they have been most identified.—M.
Jeremiah 26:8, Jeremiah 26:9
The perils of prophesying.
I. THE PROPHET OF GOD MEETS WITH UNIVERSAL OPPOSITION.
II. HE IS IN PERSONAL DANGER.
1. The responsibility of the judgments predicted is attached to himself. This is due to a false principle of association, having its root in human ignorance and depravity. Not even God is responsible. The sinner must blame himself (Galatians 4:16).
2. The worst consequences are threatened. Hatred to God expresses itself in hatred to his servant. It is, therefore, violent and in defiance of all justice. Transgressors think to escape judgment by denying it and destroying its witnesses.
III. CHARACTER IS JEOPARDIZED. The verdict was but a half-hearted one, and did not meet with general assent. The worst charges are brought against Christian men who are faithful to their convictions; and it is not always the case that their groundlessness is made clear. This is part of the "reproach of Christ."—M.
The defense of the witness for the truth.
I. AN APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE. The message repeated in its baldest form. Its genuineness insisted upon, and its reception earnestly urged upon men. A high moral standpoint is maintained, and there is no compromise or apology. He stands at the bar of human conscience.
II. OBEDIENCE TO LAWFUL AUTHORITY. He hands himself over to them to deal with him as they will; is careful to state his case as God gives him ability; and appeals to no unlawful means of deliverance.
III. REFERENCE OF THE WHOLE MATTER TO GOD. God sent him—that is sufficient. He has been faithful to his instructions; is really not to be judged by man, but leaves all with God.—M.
Help raised up for God's servants in times of peril.
I. OF WHAT SORT IT IS.
4. Not what man would choose.
II. WHAT IT TEACHES US.
1. The infinite resources of God.
2. The weakness of evil.
3. Those who will not willingly obey God are made to serve him unwillingly.
4. God chooses his own way of dealing with his servants and his truth.—M.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jeremiah reckoned worthy of death.
I. WHO THEY WERE THAT PRONOUNCED THIS JUDGMENT. There is already a statement in verse 8 that priests, prophets, and people had laid hold on Jeremiah with a threatening of death; but we must allow something for the feelings produced on the first reception of an exasperating and humiliating message. The case is worse when the priests and prophets, having had some time for consideration, however short, press upon the princes and people a demand for the death of Jeremiah. The lead the priests and prophets here take goes a long way in showing who were mostly responsible for the deplorable state of things in the land. If things were to be put right, these two classes of men must be conspicuous in repentance. Those who were so ready to sentence Jeremiah to death were really most of all deserving of death themselves. He had simply spoken words against the city and the temple, words which were not his own; those who condemned him had so lived that their life had been a sedulous undermining of all that constituted the prosperity and glory of their country.
II. WHAT IT WAS THAT PROVOKED THE JUDGMENT. Jeremiah had prophesied against the city. Observe, not simply that he had spoken blasphemous and contemptuous words against the city; but that he had prophesied against it. Thus did the priests and prophets show how little they understood the nature of true prophecy. They did not understand that when the Lord sends forth a man to speak, he puts a word in his mouth which shall commend itself to all who love truth and certainty. To the mind of these priests and prophets everything began with this postulate, that nothing must be said against Jerusalem and the temple. And to them it was no sort of answer that the sins of Jerusalem deserved and demanded that something should be said against it. The good name of Jerusalem, however lacking in any sort of correspondence with reality, had become a sort of point of honor. Thus we see how the pride of men goes before their destruction. A conventional sense of honor leads them into paths thickly strewn with stumbling-blocks. These men had become so stuffed with spurious patriotism that they could not bear to have Jerusalem spoken against. Hence they are logically compelled to imply that Jeremiah is a false prophet, and that God has not spoken at all. They were as those who shut their eyes, and then say there is nothing to be seen.
III. THE DOOM THEY INVOKED. The man who speaks against Jerusalem is reckoned worthy of death. We must not, of course, measure this judgment by our notions of what may require the death penalty. To speak against a parent was by the Law of Moses to incur the death penalty. As the Apostle James uses many forcible expressions to illustrate, great is the power of the tongue; and a bad man may do mischief with his tongue worthy of the severest punishment men can inflict. If Jeremiah had gone about among the people stirring them up to rebellion and national discord, there would have been nothing very astonishing in an attempt to put him to death. But he gave no exhortation to the people save what each one could carry into effect without the slightest injury to any one; nay, rather the obedience of each would be to the real and abiding advantage of all. He spoke not of anything he himself intended to bring about, but of what was going to happen altogether irrespective of him. His death, supposing he were slain, would make no difference; nay, it would only help to proclaim his message louder and more abidingly. Those who feel themselves attacked by the truth, strike out recklessly with the first instrument they can get hold of; but though they may seem thus to destroy God's agencies, it is found in the end that they are efficiently promoting his work. They that were scattered abroad by the great persecution which arose at the time of Stephen s death, "went everywhere preaching the Word."—Y.
Jeremiah reckoned not worthy of death.
The contrast is very decided between verse 11 and verse 16. In verse 11 there is what appears an irresistible and deadly accusation, coming from men who hardly knew a check of any kind. In verse 16 there is the answer of those to whom they speak, refusing to ratify their demand. What has happened between? Only the appeal of one who was strong in the consciousness that he had been a faithful servant of God. If we consider his words carefully, we shall see that underneath them there are three considerations, of which the first is more important than the second, and the second more important than the third.
I. We may say that, first of all, HE IS THINKING OF THE GOD WHO HAD SENT HIM. That which threatened him at the same time insulted and tried to thwart Jehovah. Not that Jeremiah was careless about his own safety, but the glory of his God was paramount in his thoughts. He had in him the true spirit of apostleship; the claims he had to make were not his own claims; he was a sent man, and sent of God. Just in proportion as a man feels that God has sent him, must be his distress to find that others do not recognize the credentials of the messenger and the importance of the message. On one side the prophet was dealing with God, on the other with men. Every day deepened on him the impression of God's intimate presence with him; and yet this same God who was so much to him was nothing to these people; the name that thrilled and subdued his susceptible heart, was perhaps the least potent of sounds in their ears. Hence the need of appealing to them again and again, if perchance there might be roused in them some sort of apprehension that they were dealing, not with a brother man, but with the almighty and holy God. While they were all absorbed in considerations of their own territorial dignity, God in his justice was comings, ever nearer. Whatever happens to the people or to the prophet himself, that prophet will at all events exalt God before them to the latest hour of his existence. If he has to die, the message of God shall live more gloriously in his closing hours.
II. HE IS THINKING OF THE INTERESTS OF THIS APPARENTLY OBDURATE PEOPLE. Though at the present moment it is he who seems to be in danger, he well knows that his peril is but a surface trifle when compared with that attaching to the scowling enemies who are crowded around him. He can be rescued, if so it please God; but who is to rescue those who are striding onwards, ever more swiftly, to a righteous doom? God can deliver the prophet from his enemies, for the prophet himself interposes no obstacle to his deliverance; but these people of Judah and Jerusalem interpose insurmountable obstacles, in that they will not amend their ways and doings and obey the voice of God. More than that, it seems as if they were about to add a fresh obstacle by shedding the innocent blood of God's latest messenger. The persecutor is always in greater peril than the persecuted. Physical pain and physical death are transitory and unreturning ills, but the evildoer has to face the worm that dieth not. Compare with the words of the prophet here the words of Jesus as he was being led to crucifixion: "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children" (Luke 23:28).
III. HE IS THINKING OF HIS OWN PRESENT POSITION. (See verse 14.) This verse reveals a calm, intermediate position between the reckless fanaticism that even courts death and the spirit that turns back the moment threatening is heard. "I am in your hands," says the prophet. He admits their power to the fullest extent, and he does not in any way dare them to the exercise of it. He is neither anxious for life nor afraid of death. This surely is the spirit to be gained if one would be a true witness for God. Jeremiah seems to speak here as one who had gained, for the moment at least, something of the calm of eternity. And his very calmness must surely have been a considerable element in determining the rapid change of feeling among the multitude. Perfect presence of mind, when it comes from an all-sufficient Divine stay within, must have a wondrous power in checking those whose fury is roused by an attack on their base and selfish interests,—Y.
An argument from history.
A prophet, a king, and a people belonging to a past generation are brought forward to justify the conclusion to which the princes and the people here had come. Here, then, is an eminent instance of what a practical study history may become. One must be so acquainted with the past as to seize just that completed event which will cast light on the duties and necessities of the present.
I. AN INSTANCE OF A PROPHET'S UNPALATABLE MESSAGE. No word could have been more provocative of resentment than this. It threatened those to whom it was spoken in the closest possible way. It meant that they were to be subjected to their enemies, driven from their homes, and deprived of their most substantial possessions. The message being such, what comfort Jeremiah might obtain from recollecting that his predecessors treading his thorny path before him were now remembered in such an honorable way! Micah had been faithful to his God, his message, and his audience; and the impression of his faithfulness is still deep when something like a century has elapsed. These people now listening to Jeremiah were thus made responsible for Micah's words as well as Jeremiah's. What harmony there is in true prophecy! False prophets, from their very position, cannot be got to agree; but here Jeremiah's words at once recall to mind Micah's similar words, and help to drive them with a deeper impression into some at least of this subsequent generation. Thus also, reciprocally, Micah's words help Jeremiah's. And not only was there harmony between the prophecies; there was harmony between the characters of the prophets as well. All the prophets would have understood one another perfectly if they had been gathered together in one assembly.
II. AN INSTANCE OF HOW A PROPHET SHOULD EVER BE RECEIVED. Jeremiah is able to look back on a man of like spirit with himself in. the prophet Micah, but the present leaders of Israel have their thoughts turned to a very different king from Jehoiakim. We can guess how Hezekiah behaved toward Micah from the way in which he behaved toward Isaiah. The narrative here concerning the fate of Urijah seems to be introduced to show that, though Jeremiah escaped from peril at the hands of these priests and prophets, their nature and the nature of Jehoiakim remained the same. When Hezekiah heard the truth, bitter as it was, he humbled himself and averted doom. But Jehoiakim and his profligate and rapacious circle hated every one who spoke the truth. Hence it was not enough for them that Urijah fled; they followed him and brought him back to suffer their vengeance. Thus it is made evident how Jehoiakim was a man of very different spirit from Hezekiah.—Y.
A friend in need.
I. THE EVIDENT PERIL OF JEREMIAH. A large Body of the people had been somehow influenced to take his side, but how long their favorable mood of mind might continue, who could tell? There was no Hezekiah on the throne to encourage such a feeling and make it permanent. Moreover, there is an ebullition of fury which is fatal to one who, as far as the record enables us to judge, occupied a far less prominent position than Jeremiah. If Urijah was slain, how could Jeremiah hope to escape? We must try to get a distinct impression of all the peril in which Jeremiah was in order to appreciate the services rendered to him by Ahikam.
II. THE TIMELY HELP OF AHIKAM. Nothing is told us save the bare fact of protection, We must not assume that Ahikam was fully in sympathy with Jeremiah. We have no means of judging as to his character and his motives, as to the risks that he ran, and the ultimate results to him. The one clear thing is that at this time he was a man of power, and was for some reason disposed to shield the prophet. It may be that, if we could lay bare and analyze his motives, they would be found very mixed as to their kind. But, whatever the motives, the practical service was the same. Jehovah could, of course, have protected his servant by supernatural means, but it is his principle of working not to employ the supernatural when the natural would serve the purpose. Hezekiah could do more than Ahikam, seeing that he turned to God and kept hack the dreadful visitations. But Ahikam did all that was necessary for the present occasion. Compare the position of Ahikam here with that of the Duke of Lancaster towards Wickliffe and the Lollards.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 26". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24