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Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 42

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-22


Jeremiah receives a request to inquire of God concerning the proposed emigration, and a "word of the Lord" follows.

Jeremiah 42:1

Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah. For "Jezaniah," the Septuagint has "Azariah," the name given in the Hebrew text of Jeremiah 43:2.

Jeremiah 42:2

Said unto Jeromiah the prophet. Jeremiah, we have been already told, was one of the refugees at Mizpah (Jeremiah 40:6), and consequently was forced into the train of Ishmael (Jeremiah 41:16). Pray for us. This petition has been accused of hypocrisy, but the prophecy of Jeremiah assumes throughout that it was made in earnest. The "captains" never supposed it possible that Jeremiah could direct them to stay in Judah; the only question with them was as to the best direction for flight.

Jeremiah 42:5

A true and faithful witness between us; rather, against us. If they broke their promise, Jehovah was to "witness against" them by punishing them.

Jeremiah 42:7

After ten days. Why this delay? Keil thinks it was for the sake of the people, who needed time to collect themselves and listen calmly to the revelation. Ezekiel once waited seven days (Ezekiel 3:16); but this was owing to his own disturbed state of mind. The answer of the Lord extends to verse 18, the last four verses being an epilogue enforcing the Divine declaration. It consists of the promise (verses 9-12) that, if the people will remain quietly in the land, they will be protected; and of the threat (verses 13-18) that, if they presume to migrate into Egypt, they will perish there by sword, famine, and pestilence.

Jeremiah 42:10

Build you, and not pull you down, etc. Some of Jeremiah's favourite phrases (see on Jeremiah 24:6). I repent me. And yet in 1 Samuel 15:29 we read that "Israel's Trust … is not a man that he should repent." The key to the discrepancy may be found in Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26, "With the pious thou showest thyself pious … and with the froward thou showest thyself froward." There is no change in the nature or purpose of God, but only in his conduct towards man. The term "repent" is, therefore, only used analogically.

Jeremiah 42:12

I will show mercies unto you; rather, I will procure you mercy. And cause you to return to. As if the journey to Bethlehem were a virtual Exodus, But it is far more natural to read the consonants of the text in a slightly different manner, rendering, "and cause you to dwell in." So the Syriac, the Vulgate, and Aquila.

Jeremiah 42:15

And now therefore. Omit "and;" the vau simply marks the apodosis of the two previous verses.

Jeremiah 42:16

The sword, which ye feared; rather, which ye fear. The calamities mentioned were precisely these of which the Jews were apprehensive in their own country. So afterwards, "whereof ye are afraid." Shall overtake you there. For a further explanation, see Jeremiah 43:8-13.

Jeremiah 42:20

For ye dissembled in your hearts; rather, for ye have gone astray (from the right path) at the risk of your lives; or, another possible rendering, for ye hate led yourselves astray. Hypocrisy is certainly not the accusation which Jeremiah brings against the people.


Jeremiah 42:1-6

Taking counsel with God.

I. TROUBLE DRIVES MEN TO PRAYER. In their trouble "all the people, from the least even unto the greatest," sought help from God through the prayers of Jeremiah. In deep distress there are common wants of humanity, which touch alike the prince and the peasant. Then one common cry will burst from all lips to the God of all flesh. The beggar and the king in their agony utter the same moan, "My God!" There was but "a remnant" of the Jews left in the land. All these united to seek counsel of God. United prayer is prevailing prayer. If we are few, the more reason we should be united, and the more reason that each of us should come forward and do his part. If a congregation is small, it can the less afford that any one member should be prayerless or idle.

II. IN PERPLEXITY WE SHOULD SEEK LIGHT FROM GOD. His Spirit is a Spirit of light. We have a right to expect guidance because we have Divine assurances of this (Psalms 32:8). God will guide us, however, through our own thinking, and not by audible voices, nor should we look for the direction in mystic inward impressions, the origin and character of which we cannot test. God has given us eyes, and he expects us to use them. His guidance is the purging of our vision, that we may see the better with our own organs of sight; the rectifying and strengthening of our intelligence and conscience, that we may use these as right instruments for discerning truth.

III. CHRISTIAN MEN SHOULD PRAY FOR OTHERS. Every Christian has now the privilege of being a prophet (Joel 2:28) and a priest (Revelation 1:6). Every Christian, therefore, has the responsibility which accompanies his privilege, and is required to act as the intercessor for others. Are we not too selfish in our prayers? Nevertheless it must be remembered that men gain little good from the prayers of others unless they will also pray for themselves. The worst man is not left dependent on the intercession of good men. Through Christ he may approach the heavenly throne with his own cry for mercy.

IV. IT IS THE DUTY OF THOSE WHO ARE CONSULTED TO GIVE PAINFUL AS WELL AS PLEASANT ADVICE. Jeremiah warned the people that he would "keep nothing back." The seeming kindliness that restrains the utterance of unpleasant but important home truths is really only a cloak for selfishness. The preacher must not shun to declare the whole counsel of God—the hard sayings of Scripture, the unpopular doctrines of Christianity, the unflattering truths of human nature.

V. IF WE TAKE COUNSEL WITH GOD, WE MUST CONSENT TO OBEY HIM. Otherwise our prayer is a mockery; for God is not an Oracle, but an Authority. What he reveals is not merely hidden mystery, but obligations of duty. He guides us to his will. It is our place to follow the guidance and do what is thus not only declared, but commanded.

Jeremiah 42:3

Divine guidance.


1. It arises out of our obligation to do the will of God. We are not left to carve out a career for ourselves, but to fulfil a Divine vocation. With this definite end before us, our life must fail unless we are directly making for it. A harmless life, following its own whims and fancies, is a wasted life. But only God knows his own will. Therefore we need that he shall reveal this to us, to show us, not only the path of safety, but the way he wills us to go. The most clear sighted need this guidance. As servants, we wait for our Master's orders; as soldiers, we are to follow our Captain's commands. Without these, how can we do the one thing needful?

2. It arises out of our own ignorance and blindness. We do not know all the circumstances which surround us; we cannot predict the exigencies of the future; the ultimate issue of our actions is beyond our reckoning; the limits of our powers are not known to us; our future requirements and capacities cannot now be gauged. Yet we must decide and act at once in relation to all these unknown quantities. Therefore only a higher wisdom and a larger knowledge can secure us from fatal blunders.

II. THE METHOD OF DIVINE GUIDANCE. The Jews appealed to a prophet. We have no Jeremiah. Yet we have essentially the same means of guidance, now broken into two parts, for the higher education of our spiritual nature.

1. The revelation of God's will and truth in Scripture. There we have God's guidance in the words of the prophets, and in addition to that in the higher thought of the apostles of the New Testament and of Christianity. Above all, we have the great example, the speaking lessons, of the life and character of Christ, who is the "Light of the World." In all this we have larger, clearer views of God's will and of man's duty than were given to the Jews under the earlier dispensation.

2. The light of the Spirit of God in our mind and conscience. It may be urged that, while the instructions of the prophets for the guidance of Israel were definite and particular, the lessons which we may gather from revelation are general; and that, though the ideas of conduct thus communicated to us are higher and larger than those of the Jewish economy, they are nevertheless so abstract that we may make great mistakes in the practical application of them. This is true; and therefore, with the less particular revelation, God gives to us more light for the interpretation of it. We live under that dispensation of the Spirit wherein all Christians are, in a measure, prophets, and God's Spirit is poured out upon all flesh (Acts 2:17). By God's light in our souls, interpreting God's revelation in Christ, we may know God's will concerning our lives; and, no longer slaves to the letter of unintelligible precepts, we may carry out the broad principles of the spiritual life by a thoughtful and conscientious application of them to the details of daily life.

III. THE USE OF DIVINE GUIDANCE. God reveals the way; we must walk therein. The direction may be so clear that he who reads may run, yet he must run. The sign post is not a carriage to convey the indolent traveller to his journey's end. God reveals his will; he leaves it to our free choice and effort to obey it. He does not guide us, like the horse or mule, with bit and bridle. We are not forced to follow the revelation, but we are bound in moral obligation to do so. The main object of the revelation of truth is to guide us in practice. God enlightens our darkness that we may gird up our loins and walk in his ways.

Jeremiah 42:5, Jeremiah 42:6

Implicit obedience.

The people swear to obey the voice of God before they know what injunctions it will lay upon them, They contemplate the possibility of receiving unpleasant commands; but they leave the decision in the hands of God, undertaking to follow it, whatever form it may take. Thus they bind themselves to implicit obedience. Let us consider the obligation and the limitation of implicit obedience.

I. THE OBLIGATION OF IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE. This requires us to obey the voice of God when it calls us to do anything within the range of right and possibility; i.e. anything which a wise and good God would ever command. It implies a possible conflict with our inclination, our opinion, or our worldly interest. Otherwise the obedience becomes a mere form. If we only obey when we like to do the thing required, we are not really obeying a higher will, but simply following out our own will in accidental coincidence with the will above us. True obedience only begins when it leads us to do what Our own wisdom or desire would not have prompted. It must, therefore, be prepared to run counter to these private tendencies. It must be the submission of our will and opinion to God's will and wisdom. Now, not only is this implicit obedience obligatory, but it is a certain fact that God will put it to the test. His higher will and larger wisdom must often conflict with our foolishness and self-will. Moreover, amid the trials of life, God will certainly sometimes require us to do what seems evil to us, i.e. what is painful and contrary to our wish. Therefore faith is essential to obedience. In so far as we can trust God, we shall be able to obey his darker counsels.

II. THE LIMITATION OF IMPLICIT OBEDIENCE. The highest obligation is to do right. If, therefore, we could be required by a supreme being to do what we knew was wrong, it would be our plain duty to disobey his will. The being who laid such a mandate upon us could not be God. He would be an almighty demon. Were such a monster to exist, it would be the duty of all creatures to resist him, though they became martyrs for their fidelity to righteousness. Our obligation to obey God rests on the fact that he is supremely good, and not merely on his infinite power and greatness. Let us suppose that we received a seemingly Divine mandate requiring what we felt to be wrong—what should we do? Three courses would then be open to us. We might believe that it emanated from a supreme being who was wicked, and should therefore be disobeyed; we might conclude that we were mistaken in supposing it to come from a supreme being—that we were suffering from a hallucination; or we might feel convinced that it was sent by the holy God, and that we were wrong in our impression of its unrighteous character. To Christians who believe in a perfectly good God, only the two latter alternatives could present themselves. But here the choice lies between the inward and the outward voice. If, then, the inward voice is clear and unmistakable, we are bound to give the preference to this. The outward voice claims to come from God; but so does the inward voice. If the two conflict, we must choose between them, and then we should feel that it is more likely we are suffering from a delusion in our external perceptions than that what we firmly believe in our conscience to be wrong is yet right. loyalty to God will lead us to obey God's voice in the conscience above all things. At all events, so long as we believe—though even erroneously—that a thing is wrong to us, it is wrong, and no prophet's or angel's words should lead us to perform it without first convincing us that it is right.

Jeremiah 42:7

The answer to prayer delayed.

I. THE FACT. Ten days elapsed before Jeremiah was able to give an answer to the people. When Christ was asked to give his aid at the wedding feast where the wine ran short, he refused to do anything immediately (John 2:4); and when summoned to the sick bed of Lazarus, "he abode at that time two days in the place where he was" (John 11:6). We must, therefore, expect that a similar delay may sometimes attend the answer of our prayers. Perhaps the interval will be much longer. We have cast our bread upon the waters, and it will not appear till after many days. We should learn, therefore, that prayer does not fail because the response is not immediate. Whatever be the delay, we may be sure that to a true prayer in Christ's Name the right answer will come at the right time. God is not dilatory. He will never wait beyond the very best season for acting.

II. THE CAUSE. Much of this is mysterious, and we must learn to accept the mysteries of Providence with faith in the unfailing love of God. But some grounds for the delay of God's answers to our prayers may be discerned and should be considered to check our impatience.

1. There is a season foreverything. God will watch for the fitting opportunity, and send his blessing when it will be most profitable.

2. The fitness of God's answer to prayer depends on our condition. There are things which would injure us as we are. God waits to be gracious, waits till we are in a fit state to receive his grace.

3. Some things given as the answer to prayer require time for development. At the beginning of Daniel's prayer the angel was sent, but some time elapsed before the prophet received his message (Daniel 9:23). God may set in train the actions which are in answer to our prayer immediately the prayer is made, and we may only be waiting for that result which could not come quicker.

4. Meanwhile God tests our faith by delaying the answer to our prayer. The time is not lost. It is profitably spent in the trial and culture of our own souls. So it is with the greatest blessing of the heavenly reward and with many lesser good things; God withholds them for a time that we may learn to walk by faith.

Jeremiah 42:9-12

The blessedness of patient endurance.

In answer to the appeal of the people for guidance, Jeremiah has to tell them that good will attend them so long as they stay in their land, but curses if they flee to Egypt. Hardships crowd upon them at present, and dangers threaten for the future. But if they will but endure these patiently, God will save and prosper them.


1. It was the will of God. When we know his will, if we know nothing more, that alone should be a final answer to all questions. Because he is our King we are bound to obey, and because he is our Father his will must be for our good.

2. It was the course of faith. Flight to Egypt was always regarded as a sign of distrust in God and reliance upon the arm of flesh. Repeatedly had the people been warned not to trust "upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh King of Egypt unto all that trust on him" (2 Kings 18:21). When Pharaoh takes the place of Jehovah, when any earthly judge is trusted rather than God, it will surely betray us.

3. It was a safeguard for purity. Egypt was a heathen power. An asylum in Egypt would bring temptations to immorality and unfaithfulness to the God of Israel. It is always unwise and wrong to run into temptation in order to escape from trouble.

4. It was a sign of contentment. It is happiest for a man to do his duty in that state of life into which it has pleased God to call him, though if God calls him out of one state to a more prosperous one, he may enjoy the greater comfort thus gained.


1. Prosperity would be restored. The troubles of God's people are transitory. Patient endurance will see the end of all of them. Then God will bring, not bare deliverance, but happiness and prosperity. The Jew looked for this in temporal concerns; the Christian expects it in eternal things.

2. The people would be delivered from danger. God would save them from the King of Babylon. And if this salvation was possible, shall we not believe that all other deliverances are possible, and rest calmly assured that to those who patiently and obediently submit to God no real harm can come? Nebuchadnezzar may triumph insolently; but God can cast him down to the level of the brutes. The lions may roar, but they are chained, or God wilt send an angel to shut their mouths.


1. They were assured of the presence of God. "I am with you" (verse 11). If God is with us, we can dispense with the patronage of a Pharaoh, even though a Nebuchadnezzar is thundering at our gates.

2. They were assured of the active help of God. "I am with you—to save you." The very object of God's presence is his people's good. When present he does not only observe; he acts, saves, delivers.

3. They were assured of the continued mercy of God. "I will procure you mercy" (verse 12).

4. They were assured that God would overrule their enemy and convert him into their friend. Nebuchadnezzar should be made to have mercy upon the people. Thus what we most fear is led by God to work our good when we are obedient and submissive.

Jeremiah 42:19

Contradictory requirements.

The Jews were here required not to flee into Egypt. Joseph was warned by an angel in a dream to "arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt" (Matthew 2:13). The Scriptures represent both commands as coming from God. Yet they are contradictory. This is but one instance of a discrepancy often to be met with. Let us consider the meaning of it.

I. DIVINE REQUIREMENTS MAY BE OUTWARDLY CONTRADICTORY AND YET CONSISTENT IN PRINCIPLE. In general principle what is right once is right eternally; what is right for one man is right for all men; what is right in one place is right everywhere. The moral laws of God are eternal, immutable, universal. They are as true in Sirius as on the earth, to angels and to demons as to men. But the application of these principles necessarily varies.

1. The same act has a different character under different circumstances. Egypt was an imposing heathen power in the days of Jeremiah; it was but a Roman province in the time of our Lord. Flight to Egypt at the earlier time meant distrust in God and reliance on the arm of flesh; no such alternatives accompanied the decision of Joseph. Thus it often happens that consistency to principle will permit and require great variations of conduct according to the changing necessities and dangers of life.

2. The same act may have a different character with different persons. Identical general moral obligations apply to all of us equally. But men have different duties in the carrying out of those principles, according to their constitutional differences of capacity and disposition. One man can stand on the verge of a precipice without a tremor, another turns giddy as he approaches it. For the one to be there is harmless, but it is most dangerous for the other. The first man may do what is no risk to him, but the second will be foolish and wrong if he follow his example. So there are scenes which afford temptation to some temperaments and none to others. The duty to avoid them must vary with this variation of danger.

3. The same act may have a different character according as it is performed with a different motive. Flight may denote cowardice or prudent caution. Passive endurance may be determined by weakness and indolence, or it may result from submissive trustfulness.


1. We should be careful not to condemn others because their behaviour strikes us as superficially opposed to what is right from our own point of view. Their circumstances, character, and motives may be quite different from what we suspect. The man who is condemned as a miser may be wisely thrifty. He who is regarded as a meddlesome busybody may be conscientiously discharging what to him is a public duty. The seeming devotee of pleasure may be generously laying himself out to brighten the sad world with ministries of happiness to others. The apparently ambitious despot may be an enthusiast for the regeneration of humanity.

2. We must beware of the slavish imitation of the best examples. What was wise and right in them may be positively wrong in us. Even our imitation of Christ must be spiritual rather than external. Surely in calling us to follow him, he does not require us, like St. Francis, to become homeless wanderers, because the Son of man had not where to lay his head. Because he drove out the desecrators of the temple with violence, it may not be right for us to use similar violence, when what was done by him from pure zeal might only be followed by us with angry passions.


Jeremiah 42:1-6

Inquiring of God is great crises.


1. Because of his claim to respect and obedience. It was a traditional custom in Israel. Jehovah was their national God. He had delivered them, created them into a nation, and laid them under eternal obligations.

(1) There is a general obligation upon all so to do. Even those who do not recognize any special relation existing between God and themselves have reason for drawing nigh to him. There are moments when the things of life assert their sacredness and awful mystery, when God besets them behind and before. His providence is a continual appeal. And the sense of sin, of helplessness, and of indefinite hope leads them to his footstool.

(2) It is specially incumbent upon those who are related to him through grace. Judah represented ancient Israel, and, although now but a remnant, was still privileged with the presence of a true prophet of God. Christians should be eager and ready to call upon him, as they have the promises reaffirmed in Christ, and the witness of his Spirit in their hearts that they shall not ask in vain. Their whole position is due to his grace, and it is but right that this should be acknowledged.

2. Because of helplessness and danger. The petitioners were "left but a few of many." They knew that it was through their own folly for the most part that they had been brought to such a pass. We know that in the great crises of life we are unable to guide ourselves. The future is dark and full of trouble.

3. Because of God's wisdom, power, and love. He knows all things, and is able to deliver from all evil; and he has assured us of his willingness to guide and protect. The larger, grander policy of life is only possible with his inspiration.


1. Humility. In external attitude and language they left little to criticize (Jeremiah 42:2). Consciousness of our own need and weakness.

2. Confidence. We must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of all them that diligently seek him. Their requesting Jeremiah to pray to the Lord his God, and their expression of willingness to do as he should advise, showed a measure of faith.

3. Obedience. This they professed (verse 6).

4. Sincerity. (Verse 6.)

III. THE DANGERS TO WHICH IT IS EXPOSED. Notwithstanding all their profession, we can detect:

1. Signs of systematic neglect of God and religious ordinances. The expression "came near" suggests a previous habitual distance from Jehovah. They appear more anxious to conciliate the prophet than him whom he served. There is no confession of sin. Probably Jeremiah had been all but ignored up to that time. What a strange phrase, "the Lord thy God"! The prophet seeks gently to lead them to a better standing—"the Lord your God;" which they seem to adopt. "To whom we send thee" still betrays the absence of filial love and intimacy. Their subsequent behaviour showed that:

2. They were unreal and hypocritical in their whole attitude. They had made up their mind as to what was best for them to do, as the resort to the "habitation of Chimham" already proved. With one foot in Canaan, as it were, and another out of it, they pretended to inquire of God. This is a very common practice, but it is one which not only robs prayer of its meaning and efficacy, but also brings upon the head of those who are guilty of it a grievous curse, as in this instance. A portion of their prayer was answered, but in a way they little expected: "The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us."—M.

Jeremiah 42:19-22

Carnal predispositions.

I. THEY ARE THE GREAT SOURCES OF UNREALITY IN RELIGION. In sending Jeremiah to God they did not mean what they said. There was no honest willingness to do as the prophet might reveal. The only hope for them in their forlorn condition is thus tampered with and destroyed. It is possible that at first they may have meant well, but as they proceeded with their inquiry through the prophet they must have known that they had only one intention, which they had not laid aside or even held in abeyance. Yet such is the subtlety of the hypocritical heart that it continues in its hypocrisy until it deceives itself. "They inquire not to learn what is right, but only to receive encouragement to do what they wish."


1. They deceive and injure themselves. "Ye dissembled in your hearts" (verse 20); literally, deceived yourselves; "used deceit against your souls" (margin). Thinking they were taking counsel of God, they were really obeying their fears and lusts. Can a greater wrong be done to one's self than this—to think one's self religious and obedient to the heavenly will when one is only selfish and sinful? Safety and happiness lay in following simply the Divine guidance; but this they could not do, for they knew not God's message when it came. "Thinking themselves wise, they became fools." Their spiritual nature is henceforth unreliable, and their greatest perils will be encountered in their most religious hours, and when they think themselves most in agreement with God's will.

2. The curse of God is denounced against them. What they choose will be their destruction. The very things they sought to avoid by going to Egypt are met there. And there is no mitigation; the position is one wholly wrong, and consequently the wrath of God is unceasing until they cease to occupy it. To remain in Egypt, with its idolatries and abominations, was virtually to annul the covenant. Soon every trace of true religion would disappear, and they would become like their neighbours, and be absorbed into the nations in whom God had no pleasure. He cannot tolerate falsehood, pretension, the form of godliness without the reality. And this severity is true mercy. Many a one "plucked as a brand from the burning" has had reason to thank his Saviour that "the way of transgressors is hard." "Let a man examine himself." "Be not deceived: God is not mocked."—M.


Jeremiah 42:1

Jeremiah 43:7

Dissembling in prayer.

This section may teach us much on this very serious matter.


1. To pray in a deliberately continued unregeneracy of heart. The hearts of not a few of those Jews who now sought Jeremiah's prayers were deliberately held in a condition of disobedience. They had never really repented. How many such pray, but their prayer is a dissembling!

2. When allowing ourselves in forbidden paths. The Jews had no business on that border land. It was a yielding to temptation to go there. So when we come from sin to the throne of grace, and go thence to sin again, this is, etc.

3. When we are not setting ourselves to mortify our evil affections. The Jews here showed no real, sincere intention to give up their own will and to obey God's. They would not have been on that border land had such been the case. And so where there is no real striving against sin, this is, etc.

4. When whilst we pray we regard iniquity in our heart. That is to purpose and intend it; or to look upon it complacently and desiringly. The Jews, whilst praying to know God's will, were all the while looking with strong desire after what they knew was wrong. Like as when Balaam offered his many sacrifices, his heart was all the while going after its covetousness.

II. WHAT CAN LEAD MEN TO BE GUILTY OF SUCH DISSEMBLING? We should imagine they never could be; that the thing would be too outrageous, wicked, and absurd for any one to be guilty of. And yet there have been and are many such prayers. They may be partly explained by:

1. The force of habit. The locomotive, if left to itself, will run along the rails for considerable time and distance, slowing and stopping only very gradually, though the steam has been shut off the whole while. So those who have been wont to offer prayers will keep up the form and habit, though the heart be wanting.

2. They may be themselves deceived. Their strong desire for God's sanction might lead them to imagine they would gain it by their prayers.

3. They would not break with God altogether, and they deem that they can keep up their communications by such methods as these.


1. By anger at their refusal. See how angry these Jews were. The state of mind with which we come away from our prayers will show much the true nature of those prayers.

2. When we make them only through others. The Jews left it to Jeremiah. So now men leave to their ministers or friends the prayers they profess to value.

3. When they are followed by open and defiant disobedience. So was it here (Jeremiah 43:1-7). Nothing could more plainly have shown how hollow and insincere were their prayers. And so now, when men pray, and rise up and go and do worse than before, what can their prayers have been?

IV. WHAT ARE THE RESULTS OF SUCH PRAYERS? They grieve the Spirit of God. They harden the heart, and tend to make men of a reprobate mind. Cf. our Lord's words to the Pharisees—the pattern dissemblers of his day. They pave the way to "the damnation of hell." Therefore—thus let us conclude—be our prayer, "Search me, O God, and try my heart," etc.—C.

Jeremiah 42:7-18

Man's utter dependence upon God.

These verses plainly show this much forgotten but never failing truth. They tell how the land of Judah, desolate, unprotected, and oppressed, could be and should be made a happy land for them. Whilst Egypt, the land they hoped so much from, should bring on them all the sorrows which they thought by going there to escape. Thus we are taught that it is according to God's favour our lives are blessed or unblessed, bright or dark. Mere circumstances are unable to ensure either the one or the other, but the presence or absence of God's favour alone. Now—

I. MEN DO NOT THINK THIS. See their frantic endeavours to make their circumstances pleasant. And how they struggle against adversity, as if all evil were contained in that! Their opinion is very clear.


1. Our happiness or unhappiness depends entirely on the way in which we regard these circumstances. That is to say, it depends upon our mind, upon that which is within us rather than that which is without. Hence what gives great pleasure to one yields none or even the reverse of pleasure to others. The merry laugh of children, e.g,, to one in deep sadness, or irritable, or discontented. And vice versa. But:

2. God has constant access to the minds of us all, and he has made their satisfaction to depend upon him. "Nostrum cor inquietum est donec requiescat in te". He can flood them with joy in the darkest hour—Paul and Silas in the dungeon at Philippi; and he can make the most favourable circumtances powerless to render a man happy—Haman because of Mordecai; the conscience stricken, those from whom for any cause he hides his face, are illustrations. And abundant facts prove the powerlessness of mere circumstance over the minds of men.


1. Not to lead us to despise circumstances, and so to be careless as to the outward lot of either ourselves or others. For though they have not all power over the mind, God has given them very much power—a power that they lose only when he pleases.

2. But to estimate them rightly. This we can only do as we bring into view the unseen and the eternal, which can only be as we live in view of it by the habit of prayer, thought, and practical regard to God's will as expressed in conscience and his Word. So shall our balances be adjusted, and we shall rightly judge. There is a machine employed at the Mint of such perfect accuracy and finish that, when a number of sovereigns are tested by it, it will automatically and instantly and infallibly reject every one that fails in the least degree to come up to the proper standard of weight. So if we thus bring into view the unseen and eternal, all the crowd of facts and events that come before us day by day will each one spontaneously, promptly, and infallibly be judged, and we shall neither under nor over estimate them but as we ought.

3. To seek above all things the favour of God; for "in his favour is life, and his loving kindness is better than life itself."—C.


Jeremiah 42:1-6

Waiting on the Divine ordinance


1. The apparent unanimity of it. All the people come, from the least to the greatest. Certainly there were not very many of them. They were but a remnant to begin with, and now still further reduced. But such as they were, an outward unity obtained among them. Outward unity is often obtained with comparative ease, but it must not be forgotten that it may cloak indifference, discord, opposition, and may be followed by contradictory conduct, even on the part of those who make the largest professions of submission.

2. The profession of submission to Jehovah. The request described a real want, whether the people meant all they said or not. And there is no reason to suppose that they did not mean it at the present time of asking. Men ask sincerely enough for Divine guidance, not being able to see at the time how hard it will be to follow it up. They want to be shown a way in which to walk, and then, when the way is shown, it looks too hard and perplexed to be God's way. They want to be shown the thing to do, and, when it is shown, there appears to be no use in it, no obvious relation of means to ends. Here is a result of prophetic teaching. The people had learnt from many prophetic utterances what they ought to ask for.

3. Their dependence on the prophet. Here is man showing his need of mediation. The people had come to know at last that Jeremiah was the faithful and accepted servant of God, This is the best way of recognizing a good man—to ask him to help those in need. And they wished also to commend their desires to the prophet. They wished him to pray a prayer that should be his as well as theirs.

II. THE PROPHET'S ANSWER. That he complies with the request is little to say. The prayer was one he could pray with all his heart. Well would it have been if he had been asked to offer it years before. That which taxed him was to tell them that he would faithfully report the answer. For he knew that God's message would go deep into the necessities of the case; that God's answer could not be comprehended by the limits of man's desires. This is the temptation of messengers, to keep something back through fear, or expediency, or mistaken kindness. Now, Jeremiah was well assured from a long experience that Jehovah never said a word too many or too few. The genuine promptings of the Spirit of God are the very best guide as to what we should tell men in the hour of their need.

III. THE PROMISE OF THE PEOPLE. They seem to hint that they are ready for difficult and painful requirements. History is not lost upon them so far as their professions are concerned. They hint how they have learnt that disobedience to God brings the worst of evils. One thing, however, they had not yet learnt, and that was the difference between knowledge and power. When men are in great straits they will make large promises in the hope of deliverance; not at all insincerely, but meaning all they say. It was with the people here as it is with people in dangerous illnesses—the way of restored health is to be the way of obedience and piety. That people make such promises shows that the promises are right; the wrong thing is that they lack in strength, persistency, and inward purpose to keep them. God has to make this lack plain before men will humble themselves to have it supplied.—Y.

Jeremiah 42:7-12

Divine comforts for those in doubt and fear.

I. THE MEANING OF THE INTERVAL. There are ten days to wait between the prayer of Jeremiah and the answer of Jehovah. Why this waiting? It must have been in some way for the sake of the people. They had said very emphatically they would be obedient; would they be obedient to begin with, to the extent of waiting ten days for God's answer? It had also to be seen whether they would continue in the spirit of obedience at all; and would they all continue in the same spirit?

II. EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON THE DISPOSITION OF THE PEOPLE. God will do great things for them if only they do not destroy the effect of his actions by their self-will and instability. They were to show their trust in God by abiding in the land. Nothing could be done without this. God uses, to indicate his work for them, two words which imply fixity—building and planting. Let us also recollect the greatness of God's power to them that believe. If we take no trouble to furnish the occasion, we must not complain.

III. THE GREAT WORK GOD IS DISPOSED TO DO. It is indicated by these two net infrequent figures of buildin gaud planting. God was willing to make these people his husbandry, his building (1 Corinthians 3:9). He had been lately engaged in a great pulling down and rooting up; and why? Because his people had been putting up the wrong buildings, planting the wrong plant. Every plant not planted by God must be rooted up. God is the Builder, not a mere helper in building. We may be said to be fellow workers with God, but it can never describe him rightly to call him fellow worker with us. The work and the glory are his of building up the holy character, the perfect manhood, the everlasting home. Pie it is who makes his people fruitful in every good word and work. And the way for all this building and planting was now clear so far as God himself was concerned. All the pulling down and rooting up was done. Only let the people give the needed opportunity and all else would prosper.

IV. CAUTION AGAINST NEEDLESS FEAR. The temptation here, as so often, was to fear man too much and God too little or even none at all. "The fear of man bringeth a snare." The people feared the King of Babylon, forgetting the limits of his rower and the way in which he was controlled by Jehovah.—Y.

Jeremiah 42:13-18

A land to be avoided.

How solemn and urgent this warning! Let us ask why it was needed, why God seemed thus to cast doubt on the power of the people to obey him.

I. THE PERILOUS LAND WAS NEAR. They were right in the way to Egypt, having, indeed, moved Egyptwards rather than in any other direction (Jeremiah 41:17).


1. It seemed to be a land of peace. Egypt had been locked to as a friend and ally. The desolation of Jerusalem had come from the north. When people have been going through a time of war and siege, peace is naturally the blessing put in front of their thoughts. And is not this a good thing, it may be asked? Yes, surely, if peace be desired on high grounds, and from a horror of discord among men. But men may seek it simply to escape from disturbance and from loss of life and property. Their seeking of peace may be a sign of cowardice and altogether grovelling aims. Danger may be escaped by the outer man, only to be concentrated more effectually on the man within.

2. It would be a land of bread. Another recommendation of a land which it was unquestionably right, for men to attend to. Egypt was one of the great granaries of the ancient world. But it did not therefore follow that it was a land to live in. Israelites, in particular, needed to recollect how their fathers, beginning by going to Egypt for bread, ended by sinking into most oppressive bondage. Besides, even the land of bread was at times a land of famine.

3. It consequently looked a land to dwell in. God is the God of his people only when they are in their proper place. He was God of the exiles in Babylon, because their going into Babylon was of his operation. But those who went to Egypt in search of mere immunity from toil and inglorious ease could not expect to have the Divine favour. They wanted to get the great ends of life without discipline, sacrifice, and endurance.

III. THE VAIN PURPOSE TO ESCAPE FROM EVIL. God tries to make the people understand that they take the germs and principles of evil with them. What we find in any place depends on what we bring; and what we bring we must, in process of time, inevitably find. What had there been to hinder the land of Israel from being a land of peace and a land of bread? Nothing but the faithlessness and general wickedness of the people. We cannot sow wickedness in one place, and then hope to go and reap only good things in some other place. God can turn any place, however fruitful, into a wilderness; and, on the other hand, we know how Jesus made a wilderness a place to feed five thousand men. Jehovah spoke with all this severity to these people to make them understand how hard a thing real obedience was.—Y.

Jeremiah 42:19-22

Searching the heart.

There is here a very sudden and striking turn away from the tone of the previous part of the message. God looks into the future, and, seeing what actually will happen, seeing that Egypt will maintain its attraction, he warns the people they are going towards a certain doom. Their present state was one of undue, overweening self-confidence; and God will not allow people to remain under deception as to their own weakness, if a startling and abrupt message will serve to arouse them from it. Perhaps we shall not be far wrong in assuming that the changing tone of the prophecy is occasioned by the changing mood of the audience. While the prophet is speaking of the dangers of Egypt, their deep desire after Egypt is half revealed. The one gate into which they wished to enter is peremptorily closed against them. All at once there may have been a sort of awakening to the fact that God knew their hearts better than they did themselves We must recollect, too, that Jeremiah spoke out of no short or imperfect experience. He saw that the people were disappointed; that, instead of a word pointing them towards Egypt, there was sentence upon sentence warning them against it. How hard it is to be sure of knowing the will of God! How easy to mistake for it the impulses of indulgent human prudence! God tells the people plainly they are going to seek for things they wilt never find. Instead of living in peace, they are to die by the sword. Instead of getting abundance of bread, they are to die by famine and by the pestilence that accompanies lack of bread. Here altogether is an example of the need of that prayer in Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24.—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 42". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/jeremiah-42.html. 1897.
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