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The first of a series of chapters (40-45.) describing Jeremiah's fortunes and ministry after the fall of Jerusalem.
The liberation of Jeremiah.
The word that came to Jeremiah. The formula seems to announce a prophecy; but no prophecy follows. It is not allowable to suppose, with Keil and others, that "the word" describes the entire body of prophetic utterance in ch. 40-45 (in spite of the fact that Jeremiah 44:1-30. and 45. have special headings). The use would be unexampled; and a prologue of forty verses (see Jeremiah 42:7) is equally contrary to prophetic analogy. Apparently the "word," or prophecy, which originally followed the heading has been lost or removed to some other place. Had let him go from Ramah. Here is an apparent discrepancy with the account in Jeremiah 39:14. The brevity of the latter seems to account for it. No doubt the more precise statement in our passage is to be followed. After the capture of the city, a number of captives, including Jeremiah, were probably conducted to Ramah (see on Jeremiah 31:15), where they had to wait for the royal decision as to their fate. Jeremiah, however, had already been in custody in the "court of the watch," and the writer of Jeremiah 29:14 simply omits the second stage of his captivity (Keil). In chains. See Jeremiah 29:4, "The chains which were upon thine hand."
The Lord hath brought it, etc. The colouring of the speech is that of a Jewish prophet (comp. Isaiah 36:10).
Now while he was not yet, etc. This rendering, however, seems against the Hebrew usage. Two renderings are open to us.
1. "But since one returneth not from Babylon, then go back to Gedaliah," etc.; so Hitzig.
2. Taking Jeremiah 40:5 as a continuation of "but if it seemeth ill to thee," etc; "forbear" (in Jeremiah 40:4), and, supplying, "I have spoken the word," continue, "and it shall not be reversed; yea, go back;" so Graf, regarding the passage as an explanation of the permission to "forbear." A reward; rather, a present.
To Mizpah. A place in the tribe of Benjamin, where Samuel judged, and where Saul was elected king (1Sa 7:15, 1 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 10:17).
The Jewish fugitives resort to Gedaliah, who promises them protection as long as they are loyal to Babylon.
In the fields; rather, in the field; i.e. in the open country, as opposed to the towns. Men, and women, and children. Old and worn out men, helpless widows, and fatherless children. Royal princesses were among them (Jeremiah 41:10).
Jonathan. This name is omitted in the parallel passage (2 Kings 25:23), and by the Septuagint here. It may, of course, be a corruption of Johanan, as Ewald supposes. If so, we must read "son" for "sons," with Septuagint. The Netophathite. Netophah was in the neighbourhood of Benjamin. The son of a Maachathite; rather, the Maachathite. Maachah was a Syrian district in the neighbourhood of Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5). Jezaniah was, therefore, a naturalized foreigner, like Doeg the Edomite (Hitzig).
To serve the Chaldeans; rather, to stand before the Chaldeans (so literally); i.e. to mediate between you and them (comp. Jeremiah 15:1). Gather ye wine, etc. It was the fifth or sixth month (comp. Jeremiah 41:1; 2 Kings 25:8), the end of July or the beginning of August, when grapes, figs, and olives become ripe. Observe, "wine" is here the wine in the grape; the Hebrew yayin seems originally to have meant a cluster of grapes, like the corresponding word (wain) in Arabic (comp. on Jeremiah 48:33). That ye have taken; rather, that ye shall have taken. (The "captains" had up to this time been in the open country, Jeremiah 40:7.)
Gedaliah receives a warning of a plot against his life.
Baalis the king of the Ammonites. Perhaps the same king referred to in Jeremiah 27:3 as seeking alliance with Zedekiah. He was naturally opposed to the Babylonian official, Gedaliah. Hath sent Ishmael. Ishmael was connected with the royal family (Jeremiah 41:1), and was probably jealous of Gedaliah.
I. THE INNOCENT OFTEN SUFFER WITH THE GUILTY. It would seem that orders had been given in Jerusalem for the liberation of the prophet (Jeremiah 39:11-14), but that, in the confusion of the sack of the city, inferior officers had led off Jeremiah in chains with the rest of the captives. Thus he shared the indignities and hardships of companions who deserved a fate from which his innocence should have saved him. It is part of the discipline of life that we should suffer one with another. Amongst men justice is irregular; ignorance and mistakes often result in unintentional cruelty. Men are dealt with in masses, and the individual must suffer with the multitude.
II. JUSTICE WILL BE ULTIMATELY EFFECTED. Jeremiah is discovered at Ramah, and the mistake rectified. This does not always happen so soon. It is sad to think that, even with our enlightened system of justice, there may be innocent men suffering long years of penal servitude in convict establishments, without a chance of clearing their character this side the grave. How much more often must such mistakes occur in more barbarous countries! But it is a consolation for all who are unjustly treated to know that this is but one of the trials of life, overruled to work wholesome discipline, and is but transitory. Ultimately God will visit each man individually with strict fairness and no possibility of error. There were mistakes made in the sack of Jerusalem; there will be none in the judgment of all men at the end of the world. All will be judged, but in the vast crowd of cases there can then be no error, for "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
III. A RECOGNITION OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD TENDS TO MAKE MEN MORE JUST. The captain of the guard had given sufficient attention to the teaching of Jeremiah to see that the destruction of Jerusalem was predicted by him as a punishment for the sins of the Jews. It may appear hypocritical for one of the soldiers, who had been engaged in the cruel carnage, to reflect piously on the Divine justice of the fate of his victims. But is it not quite possible that the impressive words of an inspired prophet—of which his own are evidently a literal repetition—may have led to his sincere adoption of this view? Alaric seemed to have honestly believed in his mission as a scourge of God. Might not some such idea have taken possesssion of Nebuchadnezzar and his soldiers, if only as an after thought? Then it would raise their minds to the sense of the obligations of justice.
IV. LIBERTY IS ONE OF THE FIRST OF EARTHLY BLESSINGS. This is now accorded to Jeremiah. Like health and wealth, it is not appreciated till it is lost. We who enjoy it, however, should remember to be more grateful, and to fulfil our noble mission of carrying it to others who are yet languishing under tyranny or in slavery. One of the first promises of the gospel is the gift of liberty to captives (Isaiah 61:1). Physical freedom is but the smaller half of the liberty we need. We may have this and yet be slaves. Jeremiah could enjoy it to the full, because he was also possessed of that higher, glorious liberty of the sons of God.
The choice of a residence.
The captain of the guard gave to Jeremiah the choice between an honourable asylum in Babylon and a return to his own land. The prophet selected the latter course. Why did he do so? Although the circumstances of the case were peculiar, the answer to this question may throw light on some of the considerations which should guide men generally in the selection of their places of abode. Several characteristics may be noted in Jeremiah's decision, viz.:—
I. PATRIOTISM. Jeremiah had been accused of a treasonable friendship for Babylon. His conduct in deciding to remain in his native land, wrecked and deserted as it was after the war, in preference to enjoying the position of a privileged guest at Babylon, is an ample refutation of all such charges. Patriotism is more than a sense of duty, it is an affection. It does not speak much for the depth of a man's nature that he can leave his native country without a sigh of regret. If we find it necessary to emigrate, genuine patriotism will certainly incline us to settle in one of the colonies of the British Empire rather than in a foreign country. This point should be insisted on as a duty, not merely treated as a question of sentiment.
II. CONSIDERATION FOR RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS. Babylon was a heathen city. Jeremiah preferred to remain in the Holy Land. Surely the religious advantages of a neighbourhood should he taken into account as of first importance. Yet many people seem to be strangely blind to all such considerations. The soil, the scenery, the society, the convenience of the house, are duly considered; but the Church accommodation is scarcely thought of. A gravel soil is most essential; healthy religious influences are regarded as of very secondary interest. A beautiful view must be got, though the enjoyment of it means banishment from all healthy Church life. How strange that heads of families professing to be Christian should act like pagans in this matter, and care so little for the spiritual atmosphere in which their children are to be brought up!
III. THE SACRIFICE OF PERSONAL CONVENIENCE TO THE GOOD OF OTHERS. Ezekiel could minister to the captives in Babylon. Jeremiah had his work in comforting the remnant in the land of Israel. If he had consulted his own convenience, he might have accepted the offer of a safe and probably honourable position in the land of exile. But he had his work to do at home, and he stayed to do it. Such conduct is a fine example to those of us who, in choosing a place of residence, think of our own pleasure and profit rather than of the good we may do. More especially does this apply to Christian ministers. If the choice lay between easy work in a beautiful place in Devonshire, and the toil of service amid all the squalor and ugliness and wretchedness of a densely populated district in the east end of London, should we be willing to choose the harder but more useful life?
IV. CONTENTMENT AND SIMPLICITY. These are minor characteristics of the choice of Jeremiah, but they are not without their significance. Jeremiah was satisfied to stay in the old land with the poor, after the wealthy and great had been banished. To the luxuries of court life at Babylon he preferred the homely ways of the peasants of Israel. In abandoning simplicity for display and excitement, the fashion of our age drives men and women to a life that is neither healthy nor happy. Even if the outward surroundings of a quieter life are not so attractive, its true experience will give a restfulness and a satisfaction that cannot be found in the race of worldly pleasures.
The duties of adversity and their reward.
I. THE DUTIES.
1. Submission. We are not required to yield before avoidable troubles; but finding some to be irresistible, we are to learn the wisdom and obligation of bending to them without further demur. The captains were no cowards; they had fought and had lost. Their resistance against the inevitable was a mistake; continued resistance after defeat would have been nothing but folly. Submission is much easier when we remember that the trouble is in accordance with the will of a God who is always wise, fair, and merciful,
2. Industry. Gedaliah advised the people to set to work at their regular avocations. "But ye, gather ye wine, and summer fruits, and oil, and put them in your vessels," etc. (Jeremiah 40:10). It is difficult for a dispirited, humiliated, poverty striken people to settle down to quiet, earnest work. Nevertheless, their duty and their happiness lie in their doing so:
(1) their duty, for adversity is no excuse for indolence; and
(2) their happiness, because
(a) the fruits of their labour would be a beginning of a return to prosperity and wealth, and
(b) in the very exercise of work they would find a solace and a refreshment.
There is nothing so weak or so injurious as an idle brooding over trouble. Be up. and doing! And though the work is irksome at first, it will prove itself a great healer of distress.
II. THE REWARD.
1. A healthy influence over others. The example of the quiet condition of the remnant of Jews in their native country attracted fugitives to return from the neighbouring countries (Jeremiah 40:11). Their action was a confirmation of the wisdom of their brethren. A man's behaviour under great trial is keenly observed. If he do well then, he may be the means of influencing others as he can never influence them under ordinary circumstances. Thus he may find consolation for his sorrow in the enlargement of his service to his fellow men.
2. The successful issue of industry. The Jews reaped an unusually abundant grape and fruit harvest (Jeremiah 40:12). "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy." If we complain and despair under distress, we have no right to expect a happy issue out of it. But patient endurance and diligent attention to duty may make us reasonably expect brighter days in the future. Borne with these accompaniments, trouble often reveals itself as less terrible than our fears. When distress comes, we imagine that it has blighted every tree in the orchard and every grape in the vineyard, and so we neglect what consolation we might have in those fruits of patient industry which might still be given to us. Let us remember that during the sad seventy years, and even just after the horrors of the Chaldean invasion, the Jews could gather "wine and summer fruits very much."
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
The murder of Gedaliah; or, noble credulity.
No sooner was the new government in a fair way of being settled and prosperous, than untoward circumstances occurred. Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, a connection of the royal house, inspired, perhaps, with a jealous feeling towards Gedaliah, began to plot with the King of Ammon against him. Under cover of paying his respects to the new governor, he visited him at Mizpah, and partook of his hospitality. Although warned by Johanan the son of Kareah that Ishmael entertained hostile designs against him, Gedaliah refused to credit the information, and indignantly forbade his informant carrying out his proposal to assassinate Ishmael. The latter, finding thus a clear way for his schemes, took advantage of the trustfulness of Gedaliah to accomplish his murderous purpose and to deceive his leading supporters. This done, crime followed upon crime with startling rapidity, until Jehanan overtook the miscreant at the "great waters that are in Gibeon," and delivered the prisoners whom he was carrying off. In this tragic incident we see—
I. HOW THE VIRTUE OF ONE POSITION MAY BE THE VICE OF ANOTHER. A trusting, ingenuous man like Gedaliah was out of place in more senses than one as governor of such a people. In any circumstances it is necessary that the utmost precaution should be taken with respect to the person of a ruler, as there are always evil disposed persons who may take advantage of an opportunity, and accidents and misfortunes are continually possible. The off hand openness, therefore, which is so admirable in the private citizen, upon whose life so little depends, is highly reprehensible in one occupying so responsible a position. When it is remembered that the people over whom Gedaliah ruled were wholly undisciplined, and had but recently been exposed to the most demoralizing influences, his rashness will be even more apparent. It is well when a ruler can combine the trustful ingenuousness of the private citizen with the sagacity and watchfulness his responsibilities impose upon him. Life is full of such misplaced virtues. The poor man open-handed and lavish as when he was wealthy; the rich man meanly careful as when he had everything to acquire, etc.
II. HOW MUCH IS REQUIRED TO JUSTIFY A WRONG ACTION It was a case, apparently, on Johanan's showing, of self-protection. Ishmael contemplated murder and treachery; what more natural than that he should be killed? Yet this consideration had no weight with Gedaliah. His informant might be mistaken, and was, perhaps, interested. It was foreign to his disposition to be suspicious; and he could not brook the idea of assassination. If the governor was wrong in neglecting the most ordinary precautions, he was certainly right in this. The instinct of the true man is ever averse to underhand actions, even although their object be to avert contingent or certain evils. It is never right to do evil that good may come or evil may be averted. The weapons which God's children have to wield are ever those of truth and honour; and these are sufficient if they be sagaciously handled.
III. HOW GREAT A CRIME AND CALAMITY MAY BE DivinELY PERMITTED.
1. Jeremiah, for the most part, resided with Gedaliah, and yet no warning appears to have been given him of the catastrophe. How was this? Had it not as profound a bearing on the future of God's people as the march of Nebuchadnezzar's armies? It is a great mystery, and there are many like it. How appalling the wickedness of our Saviour's crucifixion.! Yet are the fruits of it a world's salvation.
2. The dictates of common sense and worldly experience, had they been attended to, might have proved sufficient. God's interpositions are not always to wait upon human folly. It is our duty to make the best of the means and information at our disposal This is especially incumbent with regard to the warnings and instructions of the gospel. The rich man, eager for an evangel from Hades to his careless, sinful brethren, is assured, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31). We may wait long if we expect to be converted by a miracle. The commandment is binding now: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Jeremiah 40:2, Jeremiah 40:3
The blind seeing, the seeing blind.
This heathen captain, who could not be expected to know the truth, who was, as it were, born blind as to the truth of God, sees clearly that truth, and declares it; whilst the people of Judah and Jerusalem, their kings, their priests, their nobles, all of whom regarded themselves as knowing the truth, who, as in John 9:41, said, "We see," are found to be completely blind as to that truth. Note herein -
I. HOW CLEAR WAS THE RECOGNITION OF GOD. He ascribes all to "the Lord thy God." He recognizes the prophet as sent of God (John 9:3), "According as he hath said" He traces their calamities to their true cause—sin against God. He recognizes that Babylon and her troops are but ministers of God to do his will.
II. THE PROBABLE SOURCES OF HIS KNOWLEDGE. Perhaps:
1. The general belief that each nation had its own deity.
2. Yet more, the prophecies of Jeremiah.
3. Also the strength of Jerusalem. Never, apart from the people's sin, has such a fortress been overthrown.
4. The madness of the people. Quem deus vult perdere prius dementat. Only a God forsaken people could have thrown away their well being as these had done.
5. The judgments that came upon them.
III. WHAT SUCH FACTS AS THESE—the blind seeing, etc.—REVEAL.
1. How clear the light of truth which God has given! Were it not so clear, such as this heathen would not see it.
2. How dense the darkness which persistent sin spreads over the soul! Hence the "seeing blind."
3. How awful the doom of those who seeing, see not! Cf. Matthew 11:1-30; "Woe unto thee, Chorazin," etc.!—C.
Jeremiah 40:4, Jeremiah 40:5
A strait betwixt two.
St. Paul tells how he was in such strait. He was willing to stay, but ready to depart home to his eternal rest, which would be far better. And oftentimes we are in perplexities as to choice in the common events and circumstances of our lives. It is so difficult to see what we ought to do, what it would be best to do. Here we have an instance. The patriotic prophet had a perplexing choice put before him. Consider—
I. THE ALTERNATIVES PROPOSED.
1. He might go to Babylon, where, no doubt, the same favour that had shown him such consideration thus far would bring him to honour there.
2. He might stay amongst his own people. Amid their poverty, their displeasure, their disgrace.
3. Or he might go anywhere he pleased—to Tarshish, as Jonah tried, if so he pleased.
II. THE ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST EACH.
1. For Babylon. Safety, wealth, honour, help to his countrymen there.
2. For staying in Israel. There he had been called; there he was yet needed; Ezekiel and Daniel were in Babylon. Against this, he had no command of God; the peril in which he would be placed.
III. THE DECISION. He resolved to stay. This come to, not because the captain (verse 5), who saw him lingering, bade him go back, but because the hardness of the duty seemed to declare it was his duty. In such cases choose what you like least.—C.
That we may be godly and quietly governed.
These verses are an illustration of men's desire for such government. In the disorder and confusion of the times, men were looking out for some settled rule. Companies of armed men were camping about, only waiting for some sign to indicate to whose standard they should repair. That which they wanted seemed to be found in Gedaliah. Hence they go to him (Jeremiah 40:8). The incident here recorded suggests, in regard to government generally—
I. THE COMMON CONSENT OF MEN AS TO ITS NECESSITY. It was not merely one company of the scattered Jews that were on the look out for a leader, but all the companies, and not the men only, but their officers also. And in every collection of human beings, however they group themselves, however casually they may have been thrown together, if they have to dwell and to work together the choosing of a leader, one who shall rule them, is a never disregarded need.
II. THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THIS CONSENT RESTS. They are such as these:
1. There can be no well being—strength, peace, happiness—without order.
2. No order without law.
3. No law without a lawgiver, and a law upholder, i.e. a government. It may be monarchical, an oligarchy, a republic, a democracy, only in some way law must be expressed and upheld. Because men feel that this last is necessary to the first, men will ever seek after government, good, if possible, but any is felt to be better than none. Anarchy is so much misery. Thus do men reason in regard to their temporal affairs.
III. THE EXCEPTION WHICH MEN MAKE TO THIS CONSENT. It is strange that there should be exception, but there is. We find it when we look at men's spiritual affairs. Government there is as necessary as in that which is temporal—indeed, far more so, considering the far greater value of the interests at stake. And yet men will not have it. Each seeks to do that which is right in his own eyes. What would be ruin in regard to their secular affairs they deem to be no great harm in things that are spiritual. We see this anarchy at times in the things of the Church. If the Church of Christ is to do her work and glorify her Lord, there must be unity, cohesion, subordination, obedience. But these words, and yet more the things they represent, are hateful to not a few. And so the paralysis that has come over large sections of the Church. The prince of this world knows the force and value of the maxim, Divide et impera, and he has sought all too successfully to do the one that he may attain to the other. And so in the individual sphere of the soul. The one rightful ruler is God, speaking by his vicegerent conscience. All our sin and misery is owing to our disregard of this rule. The world is so mournful a world because it is so sinful a world. Loyal obedience is our life and health and peace. And because we refuse this, we are weak and sad, as well as sinful.
IV. THE DIVINE METHODS OF BRINGING THIS EXCEPTION TO AN END. For he will bring it to an end, glory be to his Name. He must reign till he hath put all things under his feet. And he thus works to this end:
1. By powerful instructors. Conscience. His providence, shown now in blessing, now in stern judgment. His Word, in which his law is laid down.
2. By bringing to bear the most mighty of motives. Love, which rises at the cross of Christ. Hope of his acceptance and reward. Fear of his awful displeasure and doom.
3. By his Spirit striving ever with men. - C.
"Charity" says St. Paul," thinketh no evil." But without question, there are times when it ought to think evil, and not to think so is evil. For else charity will be misplaced, thrown away, productive of hurt and harm and not of good. Now—
I. THERE HAVE BEEN AND ARE MANY INSTANCES OF SUCH MISPLACED CHARITY.
1. The miserable way by which Gedallah came by his death, as told in the above section, is an illustration. He ought to have been on his guard. He was warned. He would not believe, but blamed severely the friend who warned him. And all because of his overconfidence in Ishmael, who murdered him.
2. And there have been many other such instances. Perhaps the king who said, concerning the wicked husbandmen, "They will reverence my son." And Paul, who, though warned again and again, would go to Jerusalem. He thought that the loving gifts he bore from the Gentile Churches to the mother Church in Jerusalem would soften their hard hearts. But it was not so. The elder son—though he was quite wrong—thought that his father's treatment of his prodigal younger brother was as unwise as it was kind. We have known those who would never let themselves speak anything but good of others, and the result was that they often misled those who trusted to their over lenient judgments. How often, after the most atrocious crimes, there will be found some who would try to prevent the criminal receiving the due reward of his deeds! What is it but charity in the wrong place?
3. But most of all are we guilty of this toward ourselves. We so little like to think harshly of ourselves, and hence we make all manner of excuse for our faults. We tamper with temptation; we spare ourselves when we ought to be most stern.
II. AND MUCH SORROW AND TROUBLE ARISE THEREFROM. Cf. above history; the massacres that followed; the ruin of the nation. Never did a seeming virtue work such ill. Charity to the evil is cruelty to the good. Choosing Barabbas means crucifying Christ. It discourages all virtue. Wherefore should I strive after excellence it the worthless are to be dealt with even as I? This was the elder son's complaint (Luke 15:1-32.). And there seemed to be a good deal in it; hence the father took care to point out to him how much preferable was his own lot: "Son, thou art ever with me," etc. Thy lot is ever so much the best, as the lot of him who never leaves the father's house is far better than that of him who comes back after a wretched leaving of it for the far country. But most of all the evil results are seen in our misplaced charity to ourselves. Temptation tampered with triumphs, and we who would not be stern with ourselves perish. Hiding from ourselves the truth as to our real condition, we never g¢ to him who alone can make us what we need to be, and so souls are lost.
III. HOW EXCELLENT THE EXAMPLE AND TEACHING OF OUR LORD ON THIS SUBJECT. Full of charity as he was, tender and gentle as a mother to the weak and sinful, to the poor outcasts who came to him, yet he was never guilty of any spurious charity. He did not, nor does he, warm vipers in his bosom who should sting him at the last. Cf. John 2:1-25. at end, "Jesus did not commit himself unto them." "But"—so the Gospel goes on; the word is unfortunately rendered "and" in our Authorized Version "there was a man of the Pharisees," etc. (John 3:1).
1. It means that our Lord did commit himself to this man—as we see he did—since he was very different from those whom our Lord could not and would not trust. His treatment of Judas was no exception to his rule. He knew him from the beginning. Nor is his treatment of ourselves, poor, sad recompense as we make him. He has taken us in hand, and he will not put us out of his hand until he has wrought in us all that he designs, he exemplified his own word about being, whilst harmless as doves, wise as serpents also. He says (Matthew 7:1), "Judge not." But almost the next verse bids us not cast pearls before swine! The intent is that, whilst we should not be censorious, we are not to be blind fools, who will imagine in their false charity that pearls will be appreciated by pigs. Charity is to think evil when evil is palpably there.
IV. WHAT LEADS TO THIS ERROR. Cf. the history.
1. Perhaps Gedaliah's conscious integrity; his freedom from all intent of evil.
2. Or over elation at the loyalty and trust that were being displayed on all sides.
3. The accused man had himself (John 2:8) come to Gedaliah.
4. Or dislike to Johanan and his proposals.
5. Or reliance on his own capacity of taking all due care. And when we are wrongly charitable to what is evil, our motives are akin to these. We intend no evil; that which is said to be evil has wrought no harm in others. We intend to be on our guard and deem ourselves to be quite able to take care of ourselves. We dislike the safeguards proposed. We do not believe in the peril against which we are warned. We are disposed to think well of and to like the evil.
V. OUR SAFEGUARDS.
1. Seek the knowledge of man.
2. Seek the Spirit of Christ.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jeremiah a free agent.
We have here an expansion of verses 13 and 14 of the previous chapter.
I. ONE OF THE BEST THINGS A MAN CAN HAVE IS FULL INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY. The royal master of the captain of the guard was anxious to do the best he could for the prophet; and he seems to have understood fully that only the prophet could decide on this best. The captain of the guard, in all he says, is but the mouthpiece of the king. Very likely the captain, if he had been left to decide, would have said, "What better thing can happen to this man than go to Babylon with me?" and so, meaning well enough, he might have done ill. Good intentions are not enough in providing for others. We go rather by our notion of what they want than by what they really want; and thus we are disappointed in our efforts. There never can be anything wrong in giving a man the largest scope to settle his path for himself. We may easily become cramped as a result of the ignorant kindness of others.
II. THERE WAS AN INCREASED RESPONSIBILITY FOR JEREMIAH. For a long time he had been in prison, and all he had to do was to endure captivity in a patient, trustful way. But now comes liberty, and in his case a peculiar responsibility. Few men, perhaps not even a single one, had the liberty enjoyed by him at this moment. Others had not been asked whether they would go to Babylon or stay. The conquerors settled all that. But Jeremiah has free choice, and he has to decide in very altered conditions of the land. Freedom brings human judgment into full strength and exercise.
III. JEREMIAH WAS SURE TO DECIDE RIGHTLY. Why? Because the first thing he would look to was the will of Jehovah. What lesson had he been learning all through his prophetic life but this, that negligence of the will of Jehovah brought incalculable mischief? Here is the necessity for us to keep in a state of discernment with respect to the will of God. As a general rule, we do not need special intimations of the Divine will; right is seen to be right and wrong to be wrong. But there are also times when, as we need such special intimations, they are sure to be given.—Y.
The difficulties of a governor.
To govern a country is never an easy task; but how difficult it must be when the work is that of reconstruction! Gedaliah has to begin, as it were, at the beginning. One of his first difficulties is to know exactly what he has to deal with. There are turbulent as well as peaceful dements, bands of free-lances, who, now that the Chaldean has gone, make their appearance before the governor to see what the prospect may be. Another difficulty is that of inspiring confidence. Those who have just been plundered may be excused for apprehensions lest they should soon be plundered again. On the other hand, Gedaliah was better off than the king who had just been dethroned. The latter vainly held on to a tottering building, whose very foundations were going, while the former was free from the pernicious elements which so long had made all government in the land an abomination. With all his difficulties, Gedaliah had some encouragements. There appears to have been a general gathering to him as a centre. Most men generally tend to the point where there are the greatest prospects of social order, security, and stability.—Y.
Trusting a traitor.
I. IN SPITE OF CAUTIONS. Gedaliah was told that Ishmael meditated his death. Told, not by one man, but by all who had opportunity of knowing the traitor's designs. Was it, then, blameworthy in him to neglect the information? We cannot tell. It may have been that he knew of jealousies which made him think that the rest of the captains were slandering Ishmael. Slanderers, be it remembered, are quite as numerous as traitors. The fault of Gedaliah, if fault it was, was that of a generous heart. It is one of the weapons of a traitor to put on the semblance of a true man. Then probably Gedaliah was further influenced by the proposition to kill Ishmael. If the informers had merely urged him to guard himself, they might have been better attended to. But those were days when, if people wanted to get rid of a troublesome man, they had little scruple in taking the most effectual way.
II. AN INSTANCE OF RASH JUDGMENT. Gedaliah in one breath judged the traitor to be a true man and the speaker of truth to be a slanderer. In this world of uncertainties there is no need to refuse any accusation. Only let the accusation be accompanied with evidence. Trumped up evidence soon shows its faults and contradictions. If Gedaliah had bid Ishmael meet the accusation, he might have prevented the serious migration spoken of at the end of the next chapter, he had to take care of himself not only for his own sake, but as the representative of Babylon.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 40". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29