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Jeremiah 50:1-46. AND 51. ON BABYLON.
We have now reached a point at which some reference is necessary to the centre versies of the so called "higher criticism." An attempt must be made to put the reader in possession of the data which are so variously estimated by critics of different schools. Theological considerations need not, and therefore ought not, to be admitted; like every other critical question, that which we are now approaching can be argued out on purely literary grounds. At first sight, indeed, it would appear not to require a long debate, seeing that in Jeremiah 1:1 and Jeremiah 51:60 the prophecy is expressly attributed to Jeremiah. But, on the other hand, it must be observed that the authorship of the heading in Jeremiah 1:1 is altogether obscure; very possibly, like those of so many of the psalms, the heading may be incorrect. And as to Jeremiah 51:60, can we be absolutely certain that the expression, "all these words," was intended to refer to the prophecy which now precedes Jeremiah 51:59-64? No doubt Jeremiah did write a prophecy against Babylon, and give it to Seraish with the charge described in Jeremiah 51:61-64. But how do we know that this prophecy has come down to us in the form in which it was written?
This attitude of reserve is not assumed without substantial grounds, derived from two sources—the epilogue (Jeremiah 51:59-64) and the prophecy itself. First, as to the epilogue. It is clear that the words, "and they shall be weary," are out of place in Jeremiah 51:64, and that they are wrongly repeated from Jeremiah 51:58. But how came they to be repeated? Because, originally, the declaration, "Thus far are the words of Jeremiah," stood at the end of verse 58. When the short narrative in verses 59-64 (ending at "I will bring upon her") was combined with Jeremiah 1:1-51:58, the declaration in question was removed from Jeremiah 51:58 to Jeremiah 51:64, and, by accident, the preceding word (in the Hebrew) was removed with it. This leaves it open to us to doubt whether the present prophecy on Babylon is really the one referred to in Jeremiah 51:60, supposing, that is, there are other reasons, derived from the prophecy itself, for questioning its Jeremianic authorship.
The reasons which have been adduced for doing so are analogous to those which lead so many students to doubt the Isaianic authorship of Isa 40:1-31 :46. ‹je-5›
I. The author of the latter prophecy (or the greater part thereof) writes as if he were living at the close of the Babylonian exile. So does the author of Isaiah 1:1-31 and Isaiah 51:1-23. "Yet a little while," he says (Jeremiah 51:33), "and the time of her harvest shall come" the time, that is, of that judicial interposition which (comp. Isaiah 17:5, Isaiah 17:11; Matthew 13:39) is the heavenly antitype of harvest. He urges his fellow countrymen to flee, while there is still time, from the doomed city (Jeremiah 51:6, Jeremiah 51:45). He mentions, as the instruments of the Divine vengeance, the Medes (Jeremiah 51:11, Jeremiah 51:28), and, as it would seem, refers, though obscurely, to Cyrus (Jeremiah 51:20-23).
2. Although the above statement is literally true of most of Isa 40:1-31 :66; yet there are some passages which are much more suggestive of a Palestinian origin than of a Babylonian (see Cheyne's 'Prophecies of Isaiah,' 2:202). Precisely so in Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23; at least according to one prevalent interpretation of Jeremiah 50:5; Jeremiah 51:50 (which are thought to imply a residence in Jerusalem); Jeremiah 50:28; Jeremiah 51:11, Jeremiah 51:35, Jeremiah 51:51 (suggestive, perhaps, of the continuance of Jerusalem and the temple); Jeremiah 1:17; Jeremiah 51:34 (implying, as some think, that Nebuchadnezzar was still alive). Still, there is so much doubt respecting the soundness of the inferences, that it is hardly safe to rely too confidently upon them. The case of Jeremiah 1:1-19, and Jeremiah 51:1-64. is, therefore, in so far rather less favourable to Jeremiah's authorship than that of Isaiah 40-66, is to that of Isaiah.
3. Amongst much that is new and strange in the style of phraseology of Isaiah 40-66; there is not a little that reminds one forcibly of the old Isaiah. Similarly with Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23, as compared with Jeremiah, "Every impartial judge," says Kuenen (who will not be suspected of a prejudice for tradition), "must admit that the number of parallel passages is very large, and that the author of Jeremiah 50:1-46 and Jeremiah 51:1-64. agrees with no one more than with Jeremiah." For instance, the formula, "Thus saith Jehovah Sabaoth, the God of Israel" (Jeremiah 1:18; Jeremiah 51:33), also occurs in Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 9:15, and some twenty-six other passages; comp. also Jeremiah 1:3 with Jeremiah 9:9; Jeremiah 1:5 with Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 1:7 with Jeremiah 2:3, Jeremiah 14:18, Jeremiah 17:13; and see other passages referred to in the Exposition.
The probability would, therefore, appear to be that, whatever solution we adopt for the literary problems of Isaiah 40-66; an analogous solution must be adopted for Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23. The whole question is so large, and connects itself with so many other problems, that the present writer declines to pronounce upon it here. Only it should be observed
(1) that both subject and tone remind us of Isaiah 40-66, and the kindred prophecies scattered about in the first part of the Book of Isaiah, and more especially of Isaiah 13:1-22. and the closely related prophecy, Isaiah 34:1-17;
(2) that these two chapters, Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23; present some striking points of contact with Ezekiel, who, though contemporary with Jeremiah, was still a later contemporary, and allusions to whom (since Ezekiel was a literary rather than an oratorical prophet) imply that his prophetic book was already in circulation—in other words, suggest a date well on in the Exile for the prophet who alludes to him;
(3) that, though there are many Jeremianic allusions in Jeremiah 50:1-46 and Jeremiah 51:1-64; there are also several passages copied almost verbally from prophecies of Jeremiah, and applied to Babylon and its assailants (it seems difficult to believe that Jeremiah should have been such a good economizer of his literary work). It deserves to be added
(4) that, though Jeremiah is a great student of the earlier prophetic writings, and makes numerous allusions to them (see especially ch. 46-49.), nothing approaching to the mosaic work in Jeremiah 50:1-46 and Jeremiah 51:1-64. can be pointed to in the undoubted prophecies of Jeremiah. In fact, the Exposition will show that the author of these two chapters has borrowed almost the whole of their contents from other prophets—his own property, so to speak, being too insignificant to be worth mentioning.
Here, in justification of
(1) is a list of points of contact between Jeremiah 50:1-46 and Jeremiah 51:1-64. and Isaiah 13:1-22.:—
(a) "To consecrate [or, 'sanctify']," used of persons, Jeremiah 51:27; Isaiah 13:3. Here only (elsewhere with "war" following).
(b) "Lift ye up a banner," Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:27; also Isaiah 13:2.
(c) Comp. Jeremiah 50:16 with Isaiah 13:14; close phraseological agreement.
(d) Comp. Jeremiah 50:6, Jeremiah 50:17 with first part of Jeremiah 13:14; agreement as to sense.
(e) "Behold, I will stir up against Babylon," Jeremiah 51:1 (comp. Jeremiah 50:9); so Isaiah 13:17. Comp. also, however, Isaiah 41:25; Joel 3:1-21. (Hebrew, 4.) 7-9.
(f) Comp. Jeremiah 51:3 (Jeremiah 50:14, Jeremiah 50:29) with Isaiah 13:18; agreement as to sense.
(g) Comp. Jeremiah 51:11, Jeremiah 51:28 with Isaiah 13:17 (mention of the Medes).
(h) Comp. Jeremiah 50:39, Jeremiah 50:40 with Isaiah 13:19-22.
This last parallel may, perhaps, be questioned. At first sight it may appear that both Jeremiah 50:40 and Isaiah 13:19 are based upon Jeremiah 49:18 (which see), but when we inspect Isaiah 13:19 more closely in the Hebrew, we shall find reason to conclude that the original, both of this passage and of Jeremiah 50:40, is Amos 4:11. We must, therefore, put Jeremiah 49:18 out of the question, and learn to be on our guard against plausible inferences. The only point which remains to be decided is the relation between Jeremiah 50:40 and Isaiah 13:19; which passage is the original? One important element in our decision will be the naturalness in the mode of reference to Sodom and Gomorrah; to the present writer this seems to determine the question against Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23. and in favour of Isaiah 13:1-22. (The imitation is limited to Isaiah 13:1-22. because Isaiah 14:1-32. passes on to another though a related subject.)
And here, in justification of
(2) are points of contact between Isaiah 50:1-11 and Isaiah 51:1-23. and the Prophet Ezekiel.
(a) Ideas and "motives."
(α) Figure of scattered flock, Jeremiah 50:6, Jeremiah 50:7 (Ezekiel 34:1-31.).
(β) Effects of the avenging Sword of Jehovah, Jeremiah 5:1-31:35-38 (Eze 21:1-32 :80; Ezekiel 33:1-6).
(b) Words and phrases
(α) No word is more distinctly peculiar to Ezekiel than gillulim, idol blocks, which occurs no less than thirty-nine times in his book, and elsewhere only once in Leviticus, once in Deuteronomy, six times in Kings, and once in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:2).
(β) Anaq, to groan, occurs thrice in Ezekiel, once in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 51:52), and nowhere else. It is remarkable that in the latter passage we find not only a word but a phrase of Ezekiel's (see Ezekiel 26:13).
(γ) Pekod, the name of a Chaldean district, occurs in Jeremiah 50:21; also Ezekiel 23:23.
(δ) The striking combination, pakhoth useghanim, occurs in Jeremiah 51:28, Jeremiah 51:57; also Ezekiel 23:6, Ezekiel 23:12, Ezekiel 23:23.
(ε) Kasdim for "Chaldea" (properly the Chaldeans), Jeremiah 51:10; Jeremiah 51:24, Jeremiah 51:35; also Ezekiel 16:29; Ezekiel 23:16.
(ζ) Ch. 51:25, 26 seems to allude to Ezekiel 35:3-5, Ezekiel 35:9 (see the Hebrew, and verify the statement by the Hebrew concordance).
(c) General characteristics of style. Granting that the style of ch. 50. and It. approaches nearest on the whole to that of Jeremiah, it must be admitted, in the words of the latest German critic, Budde, that it "frequently enough declines from the simple, plain, and rather loose style of Jeremiah, to the flowery and turgid manner of speech of Ezekiel;" also that the points of contact are such as imply the originality of Ezekiel and the dependence upon him of ch. 50 and 51.
Against; rather, concerning.
Babylon's fall and Israel's deliverance.
Jeremiah 50:2, Jeremiah 50:3
The prophet, with the eye of faith, sees his revelation accomplished. Babylon (like Moab) is taken; her idols are destroyed. In his exuberant joy, he calls on the bystanders to proclaim the good news to the sympathetic nations, and to set up (or rather, lift up) a standard (as Jeremiah 4:6), to call the attention of those who might not be within hearing of the proclamation. The idols have been convicted of false pretensions; they are ashamed and dismayed (so we should render rather than confounded and broken in pieces) at the terrible result to their worshippers. Bel and Merodach are not different deifies, but merely different names of one of the two principal gods of the later Babylonian empire. Bel, it is true, was originally distinct from Merodach, but ultimately identified with him. Merodach was the tutelary god of Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar seems to have been specially addicted to his worship, though, indeed, he mentions Nebo also with hardly less honour. This is the beginning of an inscription of this king's, preserved at the India House:—"Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, glorious prince, worshipper of Marduk, adorer of the lofty one, glorifier of Nabu, the exalted, the possessor of intelligence" (Mr. Rodwell's translation, 'Records of the Past,' 5:113). Elsewhere Nebuchadnezzar speaks of Marduk as "the god my maker," "the chief of the gods," and of himself as "his (Marduk's) eldest son, the chosen of his heart." Her images. It is a very peculiar word (gillulim), specially frequent in Ezekiel, and also found in a chapter of Leviticus with which Ezekiel has affinities (Leviticus 26:30). It evidently involves a sore disparagement of idol worship. The etymological meaning is "things rolled," which may be variously interpreted as "idol blocks" (Gesenius), or "doll images" (Ewald).
Out of the north. There was a peculiar mystery attaching to the north in the Hebrew mind, as, in fact, the word very for "north" in Hebrew (literally, the hidden) indicates. The burnt offering was to be sacrificed on the north side of the altar (Le Jeremiah 1:11), and the four cherubim, in the vision of Ezekiel, are described as coming from the north (Ezekiel 1:4). The horror with which Babylon was regarded was intensified, apparently, by its northern position (Jeremiah 1:14), and now the "hidden" north again pours forth its swarms of warriors against Babylon herself. They shall remove, they shall depart; rather, they are fled, they are gone; almost the same clause occurs in Jeremiah 9:10. The prediction is realized as past.
In those days, etc. The destruction of Babylon is immediately followed by the deliverance of Israel. But the description of the latter is a remarkable one. We are by no means to regard it as an idealized picture of the return of the Jews under Zerubbabel, any more than we can suppose the glowing promises in the second part of Isaiah to have their sole fulfilment in that disappointing event. No; it is the characteristic of Messianic prophecy that, with "foreshortened perspective," the prophets represent as equally near events which are really separated by ages. In the Book of Isaiah, for instance, preliminary judgments are repeatedly described in terms which, properly speaking, only apply to the great final judgment. In fact, each great political revolution is a stage in the Divine drama of judgment, which will reach its close in the final cataclysm. And so too here (as well as in Isaiah 40-46.) the promise of mercy to Israel, which began to be fulfilled in the edict of Cyrus, is represented as if the still future conversion of the people of Israel were actually accomplished. The description reminds us of Jeremiah 3:18-21. Notice the penitence of the returning exiles, and the reunion of Israel and Judah (see on Jeremiah 3:18). Going and weeping; they shall go; rather, they shall go, weeping as they go.
Thitherward; rather, hitherward: The prophet is evidently writing from Jerusalem (comp. Jeremiah 51:50). Let us join ourselves. A conjectural emendation (nilveh for nilvu, a difficult reading, meaning, perhaps, "join yourselves"). A perpetual covenant. The same phrase occurs in Jeremiah 32:40. The addition, "that shall not be forgotten," reminds us of "the ark of the covenant," which was "not to be remembered" (Jeremiah 3:16).
Lost sheep. Not merely with reference to the scattering of the Captivity (as in Isaiah 27:13, where the Authorized Version has "ready to perish"), but to the transgressions of the Law of God, of which the Jews had been constantly guilty (comp. Psalms 119:176; Isaiah 53:6). Their shepherds … mountains. This is the marginal correction in the Hebrew Bible; the text has, "Their shepherds have caused them to go astray upon the seducing mountains"—a strange expression, which is, however, defended by Naegelsbach on the ground of Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:2, Jeremiah 3:23; Jeremiah 17:2. Their resting place; literally, their couching place; i.e. their pasture, Jehovah, at once their Pasture (Jeremiah 17:7) and their true Shepherd (Psalms 23:1).
We offend not; rather, we incur no guilt. As long as Israel lived a life consecrated to Jehovah, "all that devoured him incurred guilt" (Jeremiah 2:3). But now that he had wandered from Jehovah, and so forfeited his protection, his adversaries denied that they could be brought to account. Habitation of justice; strictly, pasture of righteousness. The same title is applied in Jeremiah 31:23 to Jerusalem. But Jerusalem's spiritual efficacy is only derivative; rest and life flow from Jehovah alone, who is, therefore, the true Pasture of his people. In the Hebrew, "Jehovah" is placed emphatically at the end of the verse. The hope of their fathers (comp. Psalms 22:4). To forsake Jehovah was an act of treason to the former generations.
The prophet returns to the fate of Babylon. He exhorts the captive Israelites to flee in time, before the hostile army reaches the city (comp. Isaiah 48:20). Be as the he goats before the flocks; rather, as the rams, whose example is followed unhesitatingly by the flock. The "flocks" in this case are the strangers in Babylon (Jeremiah 50:16).
I will raise; literally, I will stir up (or, awaken); comp. Jeremiah 6:22; Isaiah 13:17. An assembly of great nations. So in a parallel prophecy, "the kingdoms of nations gathered together" (Isaiah 13:4). Callias in Ebers' learned story, 'The Egyptian Princess,' speaks of "an empire so casually heaped together, and consisting of seventy populations of different tongues and customs, as that of Persia." From thence; i.e. from the headquarters of the array of nations. As of a mighty expert man; rather, as of an expert warrior (or, mighty man). The marginal rendering of the Authorized Version represents a various reading of the Hebrew found in three old editions, and presupposed in the Targum and Vulgate, "one making childless," i.e. "a destroyer." The received reading, however, is self-evidently right. None shall return in vain. It seems doubtful whether this refers to the arrow or to the mighty man. The arrow may be said to "return [or, 'turn'] in vain" when it misses its aim or strikes the mark without piercing it; the mighty man when he retires from the field defeated. This wider use of the phrase is sanctioned by Isaiah 55:11.
Babylon's desolation and Israel's glorification.
Jeremiah 50:11, Jeremiah 50:12
Because ye were glad, etc.; rather, Truly ye may be glad; truly ye may rejoice, ye spoilers of mine heritage; truly ye may leap as a heifer at grass, and neigh as steeds; yet your mother, etc. Your triumph shall be of short duration; disgrace follows closely upon its heels. "Your mother" is a term for the nation regarded as a whole (comp. Isaiah 51:1; Hosea 2:2; Hosea 4:5). "At grass" is the reading adopted by the Septuagint and Vulgate; the pointed text has (the vowels alone are different), "(a heifer) that thresheth," i.e. allowed to eat its fill of corn, agreeably to the direction in Deuteronomy 25:4. It is not clear why the Authorized Version deserted the received pointing. Behold, the hindermost of the nations shall be a wilderness; rather, Behold, the hindermost of the nations! a wilderness, etc. The subject understood in the first part is obviously the people, in the second the land, of Babylon.
All but the first clause of this verse is taken from Jeremiah 19:8; Jeremiah 49:17.
Put yourselves in array, etc. The Authorized Version, guided, perhaps, by considerations of rhythm, has misplaced the first stop, which ought to be after "bow." The Medes are referred to in a parallel prophecy as great archers (Isaiah 13:18).
Shout against her; i.e. raise the battle cry (comp. Joshua 6:16; Isaiah 42:13). She hath given her hand. This action is generally mentioned as a pledge of friendship or a ratification of a promise (2 Kings 10:15; Ezekiel 17:18; Ezra 10:19); but the notion of surrender or submission would naturally follow (so in 1 Chronicles 29:24; 2 Chronicles 30:8). Dr. Payne Smith well quotes the words of Turnus, when begging his life of AEneas, "Vicisti, et victum tendere palmas Ausonii videre" ('AEneid,' 12.936). Her foundations. The word is difficult, but a comparison with the Syriac suggests the rendering, her walls. "Foundations" is obviously wrong.
Cut off the sower, etc. "Babylon" here probably means Babylonia, for it is clear from Jeremiah 50:12 that the curse belongs to the country as well as the city of Babylon; indeed, "Babylon" in Jeremiah 50:13 seems to be used in the wider sense. Others think of the open spaces within the walls of Babylon, in which it is said that crops were raised to provision the city in case of a siege (see Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:518); but this is less natural. They shall turn, etc. The subject is, not the husbandmen, but the strangers in Babylonia; comp. the parallel passage, Isaiah 13:14, on which this passage is based. AEsehylus ('Pers.,' 53) speaks of the Πάμμικτος ὄχλος in Babylon. Whether brought by force from their homes, like the Jews, or voluntary residents for the sake of commerce, all should hurry from the doomed city.
Israel is a scattered sheep, etc. Here a pause in the discourse occurs. The prophet returns to the present condition of Israel, who is likened to a sheep scared away from its fold by lions. The ruin wrought by the lions is described first as "devouring" and then as "breaking the bones" of Israel—in either case it is complete destruction, but the completeness is more emphasized by the second figure. In fact, when the "ten tribes" were carried captive, the elements of the theocracy still remained in the southern kingdom.
The flock restored. His habitation is an unfortunate rendering, which obscures the beautiful figure; read, his pasture (as in Jeremiah 50:7). The places mentioned were all famous for their rich pasturage (comp. Jeremiah 22:6; Isaiah 33:9; Micah 7:14 (especially); Ezekiel 34:13, Ezekiel 34:14; So Ezekiel 4:1).
In those days, etc. An evangelical promise, reminding us of Jeremiah 31:34 and Jeremiah 33:8, and of the combination of spiritual with temporal blessings in the latter part of Isaiah.
The punishment of Babylon, corresponding to her crimes.
The land of Merathaim; i.e. of double rebellion. Probably enough an actual geographical name may lie at the root of this singular expression; but we are not able at present to say what it was. The prophet has, at any rate, modified it in such a way as to convey a definite meaning, symbolic of the character of Babylon (comp. on Jeremiah 50:31). What was this meaning? According to Gesenius, there is an allusion to the two great blows inflicted on Israel and Judah by Assyria and Babylon respectively; but as these two powers were but the instruments of a higher Hand, this explanation would seem to be inconsistent with the prophetic teaching. Dahler, De Wette, and Keil take the two rebellions to be the spiritual ones of idolatry and pride; and there is no obvious objection to this. But the dual may be simply intended to express intensity; comp. Jeremiah 17:18, "Destroy them with double destruction" (see note). The inhabitants of Pekod; i.e. of punishment. But here too a geographical name very probably lies underneath. The Taylor cylinder inscription of Sennacherib mentions a Pukudu (= Pekod), together with Havrann (Hauran) and Nabatu (Nabathaeans); but this was the name of a tribe. In Ezekiel 23:23 we read, "The Babylonians, and all the Chaldeans, Pekod, and Shoa, and Koa," etc.; and in 'Records of the Past,' 11.92, we find a town Pikudu mentioned, lying to the south of Babylon, which may, perhaps, have given its name to a district, and to this district the prophet not improbably alludes. M. Halevy conjectures that the event which corresponds to the prophecy is the decisive battle which virtually terminated the Babylonian empire. According to the newly discovered Cyrus inscription, this battle was fought near a place called Rutu, which appears to have been situated in the neighbourhood of Pukudu ('Records,' l.c.). About the symbolic meaning there can be no doubt: Pekod is a worthy pendant to Merathaim. Sin and punishment are so closely connected in the prophetic mind that one word sometimes covers both notions. It is doubtful, for instance, whether the better rendering of Isaiah 5:18 is "draw sin as with a cart rope" or "draw punishment."
The hammer of the whole earth. So in Isaiah (Isaiah 14:5), "Jehovah hath broken the staff of the wicked, the rod of the rulers; which smote peoples in passion with an unceasing stroke." In the next chapter a similar title is conferred upon Israel, with the right to retaliate upon Babylon all the evil which Babylon had done to Zion (Jeremiah 51:20-24). Compare the epithet Martel, "The Hammer," given to Charles, Duke of the Franks, on account of his great victory over the Saraoens at Tours; it is tempting to add "Makkabi," the epithet of Judas (Maccabaeus), but the k is not the same letter as that in maqqab, hammer.
I have laid a snare for thee. It was very natural, as long as Cyrus's own account of the capture of Babylon was unknown, to refer for a fulfilment to the stratagem which, as Herodotus relates, that king employed, viz. diverting the waters of the Euphrates into an already existing reservoir, and entering the city unexpectedly by the river channel (Herod; 1.191). But the cylinder inscription, translated by Sir H. Rawlinson in 1880, shows that Babylon opened its gates of its own accord, on hearing the defeat and capture of Nabonidus. There is no occasion to look for any further fulfilment of the prophecy than the surprise which must ever come upon the bystander when he sees a mighty empire suddenly pass into the hands of its enemies. The tenses in this verse are not very happily rendered. It would be better to translate, I laid a snare for thee, and thou wast taken, O Babylon, unawares; thou wast found, etc; because thou hadst striven against the Lord.
Hath opened his armoury. A truly grand figure. The north country (the "hidden" part of the earth, as it was called in Hebrew) is regarded by the prophet as a storehouse of young and "inexhaustible" nations, from which Jehovah can at any time "bring forth weapons of his indignation." The latter phrase, occurs again in the parallel prophecy (Isaiah 13:5), where it is evidently applied to the army of Medo-Persian invaders. For this is the work, etc.; rather, For the Lord, Jehovah of hosts, hath a work.
Come against her; rather, Come to her. Dr. Payne Smith infers that Babylon has already fallen, and that the persons addressed are not warriors only, but plunderers of every kind. This is almost too subtle. The prepositions "to" and "against' (literally, upon) are so frequently interchanged (comp. Jeremiah 46:22; Jeremiah 49:9). From the utmost border; rather, all together; it is an idiom expressing universality. Those who are spoken of are regarded as a totality, "from the utmost end" of which its members come. Cast her up as heaps; rather, Cast it up as sheaves; i.e. ransack the repositories of Babylon's wealth, and heap it up like corn; last of all, destroy her (rather, it) utterly. The verb is a very emphatic one. Its primary meaning is "to cut off, or shut off." Hence kherem, a devoted thing, is applied in the Law to that which is "tabooed," as it were, cut off from any but sacred uses. In Le Jeremiah 27:21 it is used of a field wholly appropriated to the sanctuary, and in 1 Samuel 15:21 and 1 Kings 20:42 to living beings doomed to destruction. Destruction is generally a part of the meaning; but it is not merely destruction, but an act of homage to the Divine justice.
In this verse we are told that the kherem, i.e. the Divine ban, falls upon the entire male population, as in the holy wars of Joshua (Joshua 6:21; Joshua 11:11, Joshua 11:20). All her bullocks. As in Jeremiah 51:40 and Isaiah 34:6, the doomed people is likened to sacrificial victims (comp. Jeremiah 46:10). The same fact is described without figure in Jeremiah 48:15. Go down to the slaughter; i.e. be forced down to the slaughtering trough.
The voice of them that flee, etc.; rather, Hark! those that flee, etc. A confused murmur indicates the approach of the fugitives with their great tidings. The vengeance of his temple; i.e. the punishment due to Babylon for burning the temple; comp. next verse, also Jeremiah 50:15, "The vengeance of the Lord," and Jeremiah 51:11.
The completeness of Babylon's destruction.
Call together the archers, etc. A dramatic way of indicating that the siege is about to begin.
With the exception of "her" in the second clause, a repetition of Jeremiah 49:26.
O thou most proud; rather, O Pride! Just as in Jeremiah 50:21 Babylon is called Merathaim, and as Egypt is, in Hebrew poetry, called Rahab, i.e. "boisterousness" or "arrogance" (Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 51:9; Job 26:12; Psalms 87:4; Psalms 89:10).
The most proud; rather, Pride. Raise him up. For the sake of uniformity, "her" would be better; for it is Babylon who is spoken of. There is an inconsistency in the use of the persons in the original. Elsewhere in this description Babylon is feminine; here it is masculine, to agree with "Pride."
At the end of Jeremiah 50:32 a pause occurs in the discourse. Then the prophet takes up the theme again with renewed emphasis. Were oppressed; rather, are oppressed. Because the oppression of Israel and Judah still continues, whereas Israel has by this time been amply punished ("received double," Isaiah 40:2) for her transgressions, Jehovah will himself interpose. He is, in fact, Israel's Goel ("Redeemer"), i.e. charged, like the next of kin, with the duty of recovering thy rights and avenging thy wrongs (comp. Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 47:4). On the Goel, see Le Jeremiah 25:25; Ruth 4:6; Num 30:1-16 :19.
That he may give rest to the land; rather, to the earth. Babylon was one of the great world empires; we can hardly dispense with this convenient Germanism. It was the wont of the Chaldeans, as Habakkuk puts it (Habakkuk 1:6), "to walk through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that were not theirs." Observe the striking contrast—"rest" to the world which has been too long deprived of it, and "disquiet" to those who have hitherto spread it far and wide (comp. Isaiah 14:2, Isaiah 14:3).
No human aid avails against so terrible a foe; therefore Jehovah calls upon his Sword (see on Jeremiah 47:6) to avenge the cause of his people.
A sword is, etc; should rather be, Sword upon the Chaldea, it is an exclamation equivalent to "Let the Sword come upon the Chaldeans"—that sword which never "returns empty." The wise men are, partly the astronomers and astrologers at the various observatories in Babylonia, whose duty it was to send in monthly reports of the appearances in the sky, which were regarded as having an occult political significance (comp. Isaiah 47:13). In the next verse they are called liars, or praters. In Isaiah 44:25 this word stands parallel to "diviners." Possibly "liars" may be a wider term than "wise men," and includes an inferior grade of pretenders to "wisdom."
The mingled people; rather, the foreign peoples. Even if in Jeremiah 25:20 the Hebrew ‛erebh is an ethnographical term reminding us of the Assyrian Urbi used of Bedouin tribes, ‹je-6› it is clear that no such explanation will suit here (see on Jeremiah 25:20).
A drought. The Maasoretic critics, in their prosaic realism, were unable to see how a "sword" could be "upon the waters;" hence they altered khereb into khoreb. But the sword is merely a symbol of the Divine vengeance, and may be interpreted differently according to the exigencies of the context. Render, Sword upon the waters. They are mad upon their idols; rather, through Terrors they befool themselves. "Terrors" is a synonym for the gods of the heathen, which inspired a feeling of awe rather than affection, unlike Jehovah as he revealed himself through the authors of the psalms and prophecies.
Parallel passages: Isaiah 34:14; Isaiah 13:20-22. The wild beasts of the desert; rather, wild cats. Wild beasts of the islands; rather, jackals. Owls; rather, ostriches.
A verbal copy of Jeremiah 49:18.
Jeremiah 51:4.—The instruments of the judgment. The section is partly a cento from other prophecies. Thus Jeremiah 51:41-43 are a repetition of Jeremiah 6:22-24, except that what is there said of Jerusalem is here applied to Babylon; and verses 44-46 of Jeremiah 49:19-21, the reference, however, being in the latter passage to Edom. In verse 46 At the noise of the taking of Babylon would be more literally rendered, At the cry, Babylon is taken.
The judgment of Babylon.
The position and history of Babylon give a peculiar significance to the judgment against her.
I. BABYLON HAD BEEN THE GREATEST POWER OF HER TIME.
1. Earthly greatness is transitory. The supremacy of the world is an insecure position. Rivalries and hatreds inevitably spring up about it.
2. No might nor dignity can secure a people from the judgment of Heaven. The more talents are entrusted to a nation the heavier must its responsibility be. England will have to answer to God for her use of the vast resources on which she foolishly prides itself. The wealth and population of London are no defence against Divine judgments.
II. BABYLON HAD BEEN THE MOST VICTORIOUS KINGDOM OF HER TIME. She had conquered in her wars with neighbouring nations. While they failed she had succeeded; fortune, frowning on them, had smiled upon her. Yet Babylon's time came. No ground of confidence is more delusive than previous success. If success induces carelessness and self-indulgence, it is sure to prepare the way for future failure. The "fortunate man" has not the slightest reason for presuming that his good fortune will help him in the future life. If he can argue anything from it, he may conclude that, since he has had his good things in this life, the evils that fall to his share must await him in the next.
III. BABYLON HAD TRIUMPHED OVER THE PEOPLE OF GOD. Some might have thought that this was a victory of her patron god over the Jehovah of the Jews. But now "Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces." For a season the evil powers of the world may triumph over the Church of Christ. But ultimately they must succumb. Persecution cannot finally crush the truth. Unbelief, proud and insolent as it may be for a while, must ultimately bow before the power of faith. For truth is great and eternal, and God is fighting on its side.
IV. BABYLON HAD BEEN AN INSTRUMENT IN THE HANDS OF GOD. Jehovah speaks of Nebuchadnezzar as "my servant" (Jeremiah 27:6). Yet he must suffer. For he was not a deliberate, willing servant. If God overrules the action of a man for good, this result is no justification of his conduct. For he is judged by his aims and motives, and not at all by the unintentional and unforeseen results of his actions. The only service of God which renders the servant acceptable in his sight is conscious, willing, obedient service. We may be used by God for other service, and then be cast off and suffer for our sinful deeds as much as if no Divine ends had been fulfilled in in them. Thus the scourge is scourged.
Jeremiah 50:4, Jeremiah 50:5
This picture of the restoration of Israel is interesting for the prominence given to the spiritual reformation of the people. It would be vain for them to return to their land unless they also returned to their God. The spiritual recovery that thus forms the centre of the Messianic restoration is typical of the recovery of God's wandering children as returning penitents. Consider the leading points of it.
I. REPENTANCE FOR THE PAST. The two elements of repentance are here indicated.
1. Sorrow for sin. The children of Israel are depicted as "weeping as they go." A due sense of sin will produce Sorrow. The penitent will feel himself a "miserable sinner." But to be genuine the sorrow of penitence must rise directly out of the conviction of sin. If it were induced by sympathy, by sensational influences, etc; it would be a vain and useless thing. Moreover, grief arising out of the fear of the painful consequences of sin is not the grief of repentance. This must be a sorrow of conscience directly produced by regret for the sin itself.
2. Change of conduct. The penitents are to "come" and "go," etc. The prodigal arises and goes to his father. Mere idle tears are not repentance. Real repentance is the turning round of the soul from darkness to light, the active desire to amend one's ways. It is true that repentance is not regeneration. It is not a renewal of nature nor is it the realization of a better life. But it is the first step towards this, and it must grow out of an honest desire to attain it.
II. AWAKENED RELIGIOUS DEVOTION IN THE PRESENT.
1. Inquiry. They "seek the Lord;" they "ask the way." The penitent becomes the seeker after light. Truth, which was once a matter of indifference, or a subject of abstract questions, is now felt to be of great practical importance.
2. A return to God. The sinner had feared the visitation of God, but the penitent new voluntarily seeks to enter his presence. There is awakened a desire to be reconciled to God and to enjoy close communion with him.
3. A revival of interest in public worship. The penitents are described with their faces turned Zionward. Love to God induces interest in the worship at his house, no doubt a far less important thing than the spiritual return to God, yet noteworthy as an evidence of this. One of the leading signs of a change of heart is a renewed interest in the ordinances of religion.
4. Brotherly companionship. The children of Israel and the children of Judah come together. The tears of repentance melt away the old barriers of jealousy and contention. When on our knees before God we are all brethren. The forgiveness of our sin by God is conditional on our mutual forgiveness of one another (Matthew 6:14, Matthew 6:15). Through union with the common Saviour all the redeemed become one family.
III. A NEW COVENANT FOR THE FUTURE. Repentance is but a beginning. The wicket gate is entered; now the pilgrimage must be followed. The soldier is enlisted; the warfare lies before him. The Christian must live in the future, not wasting his remaining days in idle grief for the misspent past, but "forgetting those things which are upon the new born fervour of the hour of penitence. We need a solid conviction, a firm resolution, a covenant. He who becomes a Christian enters a covenant. He receives blessings from Christ, but he binds himself to the service of Christ. In the course of years he may be tempted to forget it. He therefore needs constant prayer and watchfulness. God will not be satisfied with the fact that some one "great transaction" is "done." The transaction is the forming of a perpetual covenant. It brings the obligation of lifelong fidelity—faithfulness "unto death."
I. MEN ARE LIKE GOD'S SHEEP. In the Old Testament the Jews appear as the only flock, but Christ teaches us that all mankind is so regarded by God.
1. We are like sheep, because
(1) we are foolish and prone to err;
(2) we are weak and defenceless; and yet
(3) of some value in the sight of God.
2. We are like God's sheep, because
(1) we are not our own masters, we belong to God;
(2) he watches over us, guides, feeds, protects, and blesses us.
II. SIN IS LIKE THE STRAYING OF LOST SHEEP.
1. It is straying from God. The shepherd goes first; the way he chooses may be narrow, steep, rugged; it may seem to lead to pastureless deserts or to dangerous forests; but it is the duty of the flock simply to follow the shepherd wherever he goes. It is our one duty to follow God in Christ. To sin is to follow the devices and desires of our own heart instead of following his will.
2. It is straying from our own vocation. There is a path for the sheep. There is a path forevery man—a way of life into which he is called to walk. When he knows this, if he turn from his duty to any other way, no matter how pleasant and profitable it may be, he is failing in his mission, wandering from the right way.
III. MEN ARE LED ASTRAY BY BAD SHEPHERDS. It is terrible to think of the fatal work of men of great talents who have spent them in deluding or debasing their fellows. What vast harm has been done by the evil genius of great men! Intellectual leaders, philosophers, religious teachers, poets, directly turn men astray when their teaching is false and corrupt. Political leaders bring nations into great criminal wars. Court influence is potent for evil when the court is corrupt. Nevertheless men cannot throw off their own guilt upon their leaders. For they act with their free will.
IV. THE RESULT OF STRAYING IS HOMELESS WANDERING.
1. It is to be homeless. The sheep are lost on the mountains. God is the Home of his sheep. To be far from God is to be on the wild mountains, open to the tempest, at the mercy of the fiercest foes.
2. It is to be restless. The sheep "have forgotten their resting place." The fascination of liberty to roam over the mountains tempts the sheep to wander from their shepherd. They soon find that this very liberty becomes a curse, and the wandering a doom of wretchedness. What the soul wants is rest, and it can find no rest but in God.
V. CHRIST RECOVERS THE WANDERING SHEEP. The sheep could not find their way back to the fold, neither could men find their way back to God. Christ came to seek as well as to save. As the good Shepherd, he gave his life for the sheep. They who have wandered furthest are not beyond recovery by Christ. If but one sheep be still straying, he will not be satisfied till that one is brought back. If, then, we have wandered, our safety will be found in hearkening to the voice of the good Shepherd and following him back to our home in God.
I. IN WHAT IT CONSISTS. When God forgives a man he pardons him completely, as Christ thoroughly cured all the sick persons whom he healed in any way. There is no middle course here. Either the forgiveness is total or it is not accorded at all.
1. This is more than the remission of penalties. Some consequences of sin must still remain, though these are no longer indications of God's anger, but converted into merciful chastisements. But the essence of forgiveness lies deeper than any manipulation of external experience. It is inward, in the relation of God to the soul.
2. This spiritual forgiveness consists in the removal of all estrangement between God and the sinner. It is perfect reconciliation with no shadow cast upon it by old offences, Many men profess to forgive and yet bear a grudge, or say they will forgive but cannot forget, or forgive partially but retain a certain suspicion and coolness. God's forgiveness goes further. He is said to remove our sin from us "as far as the east is from the west," to "cast it into the sea," to "remember it no more." He treats his guilty but penitent child as if the sin had never been committed. No record of guilt is preserved, none can be found, even if an enemy search for it. The prodigal is not made a hired servant; he is welcomed with joy. The Christian is not grudgingly received into the outer courts of God's house; he is called to the presence of his Father and blessed with full privileges of sonship. If he is justified he is also glorified. Hence we may learn
(1) that, after genuine repentance and faith, a man need not remain in a state of fear and sadness; he may rejoice with confidence. His sin is not to be found; then he need think no more of it. If God has forgotten it he also may forget it. The typical Christian is not a weeping Magdalene, but a happy, hopeful servant of Christ. We may also learn
(2) to extend more charity and confidence to other men in their penitence. If God has forgiven them, who are we that we should treat them with contempt or anger?
II. HOW IT IS OBTAINED.
1. Often after chastisement. The promise to Judah and Israel is forgiveness after the sufferings of the Captivity. This is not invariably the case; for
(1) chastisement may fail in its work upon the soul, and then the forgiveness will not follow; or
(2) God may bring the sinner to penitence by milder means. But it is the design of chastisement to lead us to the blessedness of reconciliation.
2. After repentance. The people are first depicted as "going, weeping as they go." Forgiveness is offered to the worst man who repents, but not to the mildest offender who remains impenitent.
3. Through the mercy of God. This forgiveness is part of the blessedness of the restoration which God promises to effect for his children. It is not earned by future good conduct nor by any sacrifice or penance. We now know that it is not cheap. The price is no less than the life of the Son of God. But to us it is a free gift of God's love.
The strong Redeemer.
I. THE CHARACTER AND POWER OF THE REDEEMER.
1. God is the Redeemer. He is the Goel, the Friend, Advocate, Avenger, and Saviour of his children.
(1) The goel was the next of kin (Le Jeremiah 25:25). No man is so nearly related to us as God is.
(2) The goel was bound by law to redeem or avenge the sufferer. Human laws, in so far as they are just and good, are shadows of the Divine laws, i.e. of the ways of God's procedure. If the Jewish law of redemption was inspired by God, it was made after the pattern of God's manner of acting. In the New Testament we see this side of God's work brought into leading prominence. Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God in the flesh, and Jesus Christ is pre-eminently "the Redeemer" (Ephesians 1:7).
2. The almightiness of God is our assurance of redemption. The massive strength of the rock makes it painful for us to fall upon it, and fearful and fatal for it to fall upon us; but this very characteristic renders it a blessing if we rest under its shadow, build on its foundation, or cling to it for support in the driving tempest. Men may well shrink from the might of God when they are opposed to it, and tremble and despair when it rises up, awful and irresistible, to crush them; but if they can turn to it with trust and know it is working their good, they will find in it a ground for solid assurance. How disastrous would it be for us to have a weak God, though he might have all other Divine perfections! His love might be infinite; but if he could only pity, and not effectually save us, his grace would be of little use. But our Redeemer is the Lord of hosts. If a host encamp against us, the Lord of hosts is on our side. The strength of the Redeemer is of importance, because
(1) our foes are great—earthly trouble, sin, death;
(2) our evil state is disastrous—we have fallen far into sin, some of us, perhaps, into deep wretchedness, only a strong hand can pull us out of so horrible a pit;
(3) our own strength is slight. We are not able to cope with the dangers that beset us. In face of the great forces of evil we are like withered leaves before the autumn blast. Hence to us weaklings amid the strange and awful powers of time and eternity, what grand comfort lies in the thought that "our Redeemer is strong"!
II. THE METHOD AND FRUITS OF HIS REDEMPTION.
1. The method, "He shall throughly plead their cause." The case is intricate, many cross issues arise. The honour of God, justice, the maintenance of respect for law, the government of the universe, the highest good of all creatures, are concerned in the sin of man and its effects, and they must all be considered and fairly treated before redemption is possible. But we have no weak Advocate. God has gone through the whole labour and sacrifice. He has paid the price even the gift of his Son to die for us.
2. The fruits.
(1) Rest. "That he may give rest to the land." This was the greatest blessing to people who had been harried by invasions and wearied with exile. Rest is what the world most wants in its war and confusion, its toil and its sorrow. "Peace on earth" is the gospel benediction. Rest is what the soul most needs—rest from sin, from self, from fear and doubt and wearing grief. Rest is the blessing Christ offers to those who will "come unto" him. Heaven is rest.
(2) The overthrow of foes. Babylon, the troubler of the nations, will be disquieted. Christ, the Rock of salvation, is to his enemies "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence." In the spiritual redemption of Christians the spiritual foes are vanquished; sin and death, the last enemies, are slain. We can only have rest to our souls in proportion as our sins are conquered. So the Redeemer who brings balm for our soul's wounds brings a sword for its sins.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
This is described as twofold—the historical circumstances and the correlative spiritual experience. Apart from its verification in the case of ancient Israel, it is true to the actual process of many an individual conversion.
I. A PROVIDENTAL EVENT. The outward circumstances of life are altered. External tyrannies are brought suddenly to an end, and the children of God are set free to serve God or not as they please. In every life there are some such occurrences. The spell of evil is broken and moral freedom rendered possible. And this is often brought about impressively, with the stamp of the supernatural upon it. Especially was it so with Israel's escape from Babylon, because of the permanent influence that event was to have on the spiritual history of mankind.
1. It was of world wide import. Babylon was the central world power, holding in iron subjection many nations. As a universal empire it is to be broken in pieces, and its sentence is not only announced, but published abroad as an evangel to the nations.
2. Of evidently Divine authorship. The clear prophecies; the moral recompense involved in its fall, and so wonderfully corresponding to its deserts, and the vast spiritual consequences accruing therefrom, make this indubitable. And equally, we may be sure, was the hand of God visible to those who were the subjects of the deliverance (see Psalms 124:1-8.).
II. A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE. This corresponds to the external circumstances and gives them their real significance and effect.
1. Sorrow for past offences. "Weeping"—tears of grief and shame. The marvellous grace of God has broken their hearts. Tears, too, of joy and gratitude.
2. Return to the true God. Idolatry was henceforth and forever forsaken. The sublimity and spirituality of God have taken possession of imagination and heart. Each step of the way to Palestine is a further removal from the sin which took them away. And it is not the carnal delights of the promised land which constitute its attraction. It is Zion they seek, the house of the Lord, that they may rebuild her ruins and restore her worship. This proves repentance real.
3. Renewal of the covenant. In this is repentance perfected. It is to be a new covenant—more spiritual, vital, and therefore eternal. The awful years of visitation have left an undying memory; but the interposition and grace of God have written his covenant upon their heart.—M.
Jeremiah 50:4, Jeremiah 50:5
To Zion, with their faces thitherward.
A picture of genuine repentance. The action and attitude suit the profession. The point of attraction is Zion, not Carmel or Bashan. Repentance is—
I. UNREAL. When the outward behaviour contradicts the profession, or the conduct exhibited is only conventional or intended to deceive. It is either:
1. Half hearted, not having its root in deep conviction of sin, and unaccompanied by thorough separation from carnal interests. The looks of the heart are alternately attracted towards Zion and towards the world, whilst the feet go to and fro or stand still. Or:
2. Hypocritical When there is no conviction and the behaviour is a pretence. When worldly aims are cloaked by religions profession.
II. REAL. "Their faces thitherward." The attitude and movement correspond with the profession. Every preparation is made to go away from "Babylon," and the journey is commenced at once. Grief and heavenly longing are the grand motives.
1. Genuine sorrow. "Weeping" as they go.
2. Pure aspiration. They seek Zion. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," etc.
3. Resolute endeavour. The return is at once made, notwithstanding its difficulties and dangers. Only in Palestine can the perfect theocracy, the spiritual future, be realized, i.e. in a true Church fellowship, which they hasten to realize.
4. Inward and eternal fidelity. Covenant relationship is renewed. A new spiritual covenant, whose provisions are written on their hearts, is entered into. They are no longer their own, but the servants of God, "bought with a price."
5. Perfect unanimity. Both Israel and Judah. A guarantee this of success and thoroughness. The lesson has been learnt by all, and united Israel is "holiness to the Lord."—M.
Jeremiah 50:6, Jeremiah 50:7, Jeremiah 50:17-20
Israel as lost sheep.
This is a favourite theocratic title of Israel—the sheep of God's pasture. In itself an appeal to the traditional pastoral character of the nation, and to the marvellous guidance of their forefathers by Jehovah through the wilderness. He was the Shepherd of Israel. The extent of their apostasy is here described.
I. IT WAS COMPLETE.
1. They had wandered. The allurements of idolatry had led them on and on, and they had at length yielded to them. They had sought other pastures and acquired preferences for other worship. It is an evil sign when men lose taste for the simple services of a spiritual religion. God should be sought alone and for his own sake.
2. They became alienated. A natural consequence. Step by step they went so far that they could not find their way back. Spiritual unfaithfulness produces confusion and spiritual darkness. They forgot their own fold.
3. They became degraded and morally odious. They bore the sign of their spiritual fall upon them. Their history, too, was the record of their shame to the neighbouring peoples. The backslider can never erase the past. He will bear his Cain mark to the end, and even the heathen and unbeliever will despise him. Their oppressors are so struck with the justice of their sentence that they justify themselves in even greater cruelties than were warranted. There is no corner of the world where the backslider can escape God's curse or hide his shame. Do what he may, he will not be as other men.
II. YET IT DID NOT BAFFLE THE SHEPHERDING OF GOD.
1. To avenge. The overdone punishment is not lost sight of; it will be duly recompensed. And the sacred character of the exiles will add to the guilt of those who used it as an excuse for their cruelties. God is the Judge of his lost ones even to the end. He commits his authority to no other. He who causes a child of God to go further astray, and delights in his degradation and ruin, will have to account terribly for this to his Father and Saviour.
2. To bring back. God's arm is strong to destroy the detaining influences, and outstretched far enough to reach his wanderers, even to the extremities of transgression and ruin. And he can detect them in every hiding place and covert. He is the good Shepherd. No wilderness too wide, no mountain too high or rocky, for him to traverse. He will bring them back to righteousness and then to happiness and peace.—M.
Divine forgiveness an absolute oblivion.
The attribute of completeness characterizes God's work of destruction (Jeremiah 50:14-16); equally does it pertain to his work of salvation (Jeremiah 50:19, Jeremiah 50:20). In both is manifested his righteousness in its elements of wrath and mercy. His forgiveness acts in perfect harmony with his severity.
I. HOW IT MANIFESTS ITSELF.
1. Retrospectively. Sins that are past are to be blotted out. A complete severance is to be effected between the era of apostasy and the new one upon which they are to enter. The strictest justice, the most jealous hostility, will fail to make out a valid indictment.
(1) In the character. It will be purified and confirmed in the righteousness of God.
(2) In the conduct. There will be no more lapses or infidelities. Israel will be "a peculiar people, zealous of good works." It is for the sake of this new future that the guilty past has been cancelled; and it is the legitimate fruit of the experience of God's pardoning grace that the "reserved" ones shall give themselves "with a glad heart and free" to his service and glory.
II. TO WHAT IT IS DUE. Not to Divine goodness in conflict with Divine righteousness, but to the satisfaction of Divine righteousness.
1. In atonement. The sacrifice of Christ was anticipated, and for its sake the national tribulation through which Israel had passed was accounted a satisfaction for guilt incurred. In itself that tribulation could never effect such an end, nor in any sense as supplementary of the sufferings of Christ, but only symbolically and representatively, such as the lamb slain on the temple altar. The sinner is identified with the Saviour.
2. In making righteous. "Justice looking at the sinner, not simply as the fit subject of punishment, but as existing in a moral condition of unrighteousness, and so its own opposite, must desire that the sinner should cease to be in that condition; should cease to be unrighteous—should become righteous; righteousness in God craving for righteousness in man, with a craving which the realization of righteousness in man alone can satisfy. So of holiness." (Macleod Campbell.)—M.
The hammer broken.
Babylon was to be crushed by Persia—one hammer by another. As universal world powers, the rise and fall of these had immense importance, and they illustrate the duties and responsibilities of power.
I. ALL POWER IS A STEWARDSHIP FROM GOD. The vast extent and influence of those empires, and the special mission divinely appointed them, cannot but impress one with a sense of special responsibility. There seems something supernatural in their very origin and continuance. And yet it is equally true that the humblest power is a responsibility. It might be said that a great deal of the influence of great nations arises unconsciously, mechanically, and as it were as the result of their own momentum; and also that the distribution of official duties divides, if it does not quite dissipate, individual responsibility. Yet each contributes his quota to the general result, and in the end each will have to account for his own influence. The nation as a whole will be judged, and in that judgment each will be apportioned his due share. How much more, therefore, may the individual be held responsible for the use of those powers belonging to his own nature and person, and which are under his own control or have been in great part created by his own cultivation. We are doubly responsible, viz.
(1) for the acquisition, and
(2) for the use of power.
II. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE THE INSTRUMENT OF DIVINE JUSTICE AND YET BE GUILTY. Babylon was clearly and definitely "commanded" to perform its work of conquest and destruction. But it overdid its task through arrogance and unbelief. It was the land of "Double defiance" (Merathaim), inasmuch as it had first illegitimately acquired its position by revolt against Assyria, and secondly it had triumphed in a cruel and unseemly manner over Israel (Naegelsbach). For this it was brought to account, and, therefore, is again named "Visitation." This self-sufficiency and unbelief rendered it guilty ("Against Jehovah hast thou striven," Jeremiah 50:24), and yet the work it did, even in excess, was turned to account by God. We are responsible, not only for doing what God commands, but for doing it in the right spirit and manner. That God should overrule our evil for the good of others does not alter its character, which depends upon motives and dispositions. Especially in judging or punishing others ought we to keep watch over ourselves and examine our own hearts. National and official action will entail moral responsibility as much as personal, although, it may be, not so directly.
III. THE ABUSE OF POWER WILL BE TERRIBLY AVENGED. In the case of Babylon it involved it in complete destruction. The influence which had in part been a Divine creation rapidly degenerated into a merely human and sinful one.
1. Because the consciousness of power tempts to greater arrogance and depravity; and:
2. Because all power has. involved in it corresponding moral capacity.
3. It is the perversion and abuse of a gracious privilege.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Jeremiah 50:4, Jeremiah 50:5
In these verses we have given us not a few of the characteristics of real repentance—that repentance which never needs to be repented of. Note some of these as seen in Israel and Judah.
I. THEY ACTUALLY SET OUT TO SEEK THE LORD. The time of thinking about it and talking of it was over. All indecision on the matter had ceased, and we see them arising and going on this blessed journey.
II. TEARS. Had there not been the actual setting out, these tears might not have counted for much. But it is said they were "going and weeping." Too many are quite capable of the weeping, but the other and the far more important part they fail in altogether. But when the fruits go along with the signs of godly sorrow, then those signs are of real worth, telling as they do of the broken and contrite spirit with which God is ever well pleased.
III. SINKING OF ALL DIFFERENCES AND OLD RIVALRIES. Unity taking the place of strife. The old rivals, Israel and Judah, were united now. And the giving up of former grudges and grievances is a real sign of a genuine work of grace in the soul.
IV. INQUIRY. This was an open and practical acknowledgment of their former wrong, a real confession like the "Father, I have sinned," of the returning prodigal.
V. THE ZIONWARD FACE. Jeremiah 50:5 : "With their faces thitherward," it is said. There are many who talk about religion, but with their faces all the while world ward. What does our common talk, our every day life, our ordinary spirit and conduct, declare? They show which way our face really is, no matter what our tears or inquiries have been.
VI. STIRRING ONE ANOTHER UP TOWARDS THE GOOD WAY. "Come, and let us," etc. (Jeremiah 50:5). When we see men trying to win others for God, to lead men not away from him, as heretofore, but to him, we conclude that that man's repentance is real.
VII. SOLEMN COVENANTING WITH GOD. The value of such vows and covenants is that they render going back from God more difficult. They help to steady the will and confirm the wavering purpose. They commit us to the right side. It is a kind of breaking down the bridges behind us, a burning of the boats, so that the soldiers started on the enterprise may not be able to recross the river. Hence we urge such open and solemn avowal, consecration and covenanting with God. It tends to make your adhesion to God "perpetual," and your holy purpose to serve him far less likely to "be forgotten." Thus was it with Israel and Judah—never since have they fallen into idolatry, and though yet "the veil is before their faces," they are far other than what they were. And in our own Churches such consecration has again and again been greatly blessed.—C.
Forgetting our Resting place.
This chapter was written for the comfort of exiles in Babylon. They were told that their oppression was not to be forever. "God giveth songs in the night." He will not utterly cast down. But before he gives comfort he clearly shows the people their sin. And one chief part of that sin was that they had forgotten their resting places. So many generations had lived and died in the neglect of God, their Resting place, that he had become forgotten by them. The habit of resorting to him was broken; other gods had been chosen instead. And now, in the sorrow of their exile, they knew not where to turn. Treating the subject generally, we note—
I. A PRECIOUS TRUTH IMPLIED. There is a Resting place provided for us. Weary we often are, by reason of conscience and temptation and earthly trouble and fear. But there is a resting place for us. "We who have believed" in the Lord Jesus Christ "do enter into rest." His one sacrifice gives rest as to the past, his intercession ensures grace sufficient for all the present and the future too, and his resurrection is the pledge that "he will redeem" my "life from destruction, and crown" me "with loving kindness and tender mercy."
II. A SAD ACCUSATION MADE. That we "have forgotten," etc. Now, this is very grievous; for:
1. It involves deep ingratitude. Think at what a cost our rest was purchased for us. Our pardon, peace, sanctification, and life eternal were not the result of a mere wish on the part of God, but they cost the life and death of the Son of God. Ponder that vast price paid for redemption, and think what must that heart be that forgets all this—what Christ has done for us, is doing, and will do. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass," etc. (Isaiah 1:3).
2. And it is such folly. For no more surely do we need the bread that perisheth for our bodily life than we do "the Bread of life," which is Christ, for the sustenance of our spiritual life. And this not mere theory, but all who have ever known him as our Rest, know what a Rest—how gracious, how perfect, how constant and sure!—he is. And to neglect, abandon, forget that!—"Can the force of folly further go?" It is an exchange of Eden for the wilderness, of the father's house for the swine feeding and the husks, light for darkness, life for death.
3. It causes such misery. See the picture in the verse. It is that of a hunted, worried sheep. If that were the condition of such sheep, instead of being led by the shepherd by green pastures and lying down there by the still waters, what would its life be worth? And so with our souls; their misery betrays itself in the haggard look or the flippant laugh, or the hideous attempt to stifle all thought and memory in the wild pursuit of pleasure, of business, or—worst of all—of sin. Conscience will rebuke; memory will recall bitter times and moan, "Oh that it were with me as in times past!" Prayer and the means of grace seem unable to help; we are powerless for good; and the scorn of men of the world. Yes; thus to forget is misery indeed.
4. And the danger is very great. For if we do not return, we are lost. The terrible words of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Jeremiah 6:4-6) will be fulfilled in us, and then all hope is gone. "O ye children of God, ye have a Resting place; how is it that ye can forget it? Touch upon the things of nature, how they chide you! Bring to your remembrance the birds of the air, the beasts of the forest, the dumb driven cattle accustomed to the yoke, and let them chide you; for they forget not their resting place. Carried away to the city the other day, the dove was taken from its cage, and they let it loose, fastening to it the message that was to be sent. It mounted aloft, it whirled around awhile, that it might see Where it was. It was far, far away from the dove cote; it was found hundreds of miles away; but whither did it fly? Swift as an arrow from the bow, it sought its resting place with the infallibility of affection; it found its nearest way to the cote where it had been reared, and brought its message safely there. And even the dog which thou despisest, taken away from its master, carried many miles away, in darkness too, so that it might not know its way, has been known to swim rivers, cross byways it could not have known, and then is found barking for admission at its master's door; oh, so happy when it hears its master's voice again. It could not rest elsewhere. O my heart, wilt thou let the pigeon outstrip thee in affection? art thou more doggish than a dog? Dost thou forget thy Lord, when dogs remember well their masters? Let us learn from them and forget our Resting place nevermore" (Spurgeon).
III. EARNEST INQUIRY SUGGESTED.
1. As to the source of such forgetfulness. Sometimes it arises from mere thoughtlessness. Cf. the seed that fell by the wayside (Matthew 13:1-58.). Or from the unsubdued heart, which likes not to retain the memory of God. Or from the cares of this world. The children of Israel when in Egypt could not listen to Moses by reason of the bitterness of their bondage. And yet more often from wicked worldliness. The hurry and drive, the everlasting rush of business, and the setting aside of everything that stands in its way, the determination to be rich at all hazards. Unbelief is also another cause, the materialistic doubts, the questioning that arises as to the truth of there being any such resting place at all. And the bewilderment caused by sin. The soul is stunned, dazed, and has lost its powers.
2. As to its cure. "Let the wicked forsake," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).—C.
Jeremiah 50:19, Jeremiah 50:20
The forgiveness of God.
These words are a beautiful setting forth of God's abundant pardon. Concerning it note how—
I. IT BRINGS UNSPEAKABLE JOY. In the former part of this chapter (cf. Jeremiah 50:6) the prophet has pictured Israel and Judah like to a driven, hunted flock of sheep, never allowed to rest in peace, worried by fierce dogs, and hence in perpetual distress. But here there is a complete contrast. The flock feeds on Carmel and Bashan, the richest pastures. The most perfect rest is theirs. The lot of the flock told of in Psalms 23:2 is theirs. So full of peace and joy are they. And the forgiveness of God does bring deep joy to the soul. The sense of such forgiveness is very delightful—the realization that God doth no more remember our sin. And the manifestations of that forgiveness are also very blessed. For very generally God causes his providence to be gracious and kindly to that man whom he has pardoned. And the fruits of it are also blessed, in the character, the peace, the energy, the strength, it imparts. But—
II. IT IS CHALLENGED. "The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for" (verse 20). There are those who question very much the Divine forgiveness, who maintain that the sin is still where it was. Often the forgiven man himself does this. He cannot "read his title clear;" he trembles at the future and cannot be persuaded that God has put away his sin. He is filled with doubts and fears. But often the seeking after the iniquity of God's people is done malignantly. The enemies of God rejoice when they can find a solitary blot or blemish in the character of God's children. What a yell of triumph they raise when they light on such a discovery! Satan is "the accuser of the brethren." He is ever on the search for their iniquity. And they who are of him are ready with the charge of cant, hypocrisy, etc.; refusing to believe that there can be any such person as a real saint of God. And pharisaically also Israel's iniquity is frequently "sought for." See that elder son in the parable (Luke 15:1-32.). How slow he was to believe in anything but the hardened iniquity of his younger brother! A great deal may be urged in favour of his Slew of things. Such kindly treatment did seem unjust, putting bad and good on one level. He would not have objected—as such men, and there have been and are myriads of them, do not object—to show some little favour to a repentant sinner, after a long course of testing him and proving whether he was worthy of any further forgiveness; but to give him all at once such complete pardon, such elder sons never believe in that. And by some the iniquity of those whom God has pardoned is sought for philosophically. "Plato, Plato," said Socrates, "I do not see how God can forgive sins." And when we see, as we do see, how in the whole realm of nature every force goes on until it has produced its full effect—there is no loss of force anywhere—how can sin be made an exception? how can it be prevented from having its due and full effect, sad and terrible as that is? Philosophically speaking, there can be no forgiveness. What a man soweth, that must he also reap, in nature and measure, in kind and degree. Thus is God's forgiveness challenged. But—
III. IT IS VINDICATED. Verse 20, "The iniquity.; shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins … and they shall not be found." The sacrifice and the Spirit of Christ are the vindication of God's forgiveness. The former by vindicating the Divine righteousness in such forgiveness. For there are two ways of accomplishing this. One is the way of condign punishment. But God desires atonement, reconciliation, as well as vindication, and therefore this way will not serve. The other the way of repentance, the accepting the contrite confession of sin, and prayer for its forgiveness. And this is the way God has chosen. Cf. "I said I will confess … and thou forgavest," etc.; "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit," etc. Now, this way of dealing with sinners vindicates God's righteousness. For, though we cannot offer an adequate confession, repentance, and intercession, yet, in Christ, this has been done; and when, in sympathy with him, in "the fellowship of his sufferings," and "made conformable to his death," we make our confessions and prayers, they are accepted for the sake of him who has offered perfectly the spiritual sacrifice which we can offer only imperfectly. Now, this way of dealing with sinners vindicates God's righteousness; yea, it causes sinners to be made "the righteousness of God in him," that is, Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). God's righteousness is thus made illustrious, conspicuous, as by no other means whatsoever. For when it is clearly seen, as in the kingdom of God it will be clearly seen,
(1) the depths whence the sinner has been drawn, and
(2) the glorious height of purity and excellence to which he has been by this grace of God upraised, that spectacle will silence all objections, and will prove that that way must have been a righteous way which has had such righteous results. And the Spirit of Christ, producing sanctity in the hearts and lives of believers, is the vindication of this way of grace to all eider sons, and, indeed, to all else who challenge what God has done.
1. Rejoice in such forgiveness, that you have it to proclaim, to think of, to rest your soul upon.
2. Adore. What else can we do but sing our "Magnificats" to such a redeeming God?
"Who is a pardoning God like thee?
And who hath grace so rich and free?"
3. Come away from all self-trust, all reliance on your own deeds for justification and forgiveness.
4. Tremble, O unsaved one, to be found amongst those who have despised such grace. "How can we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"—C.
Hammer versus hammer.
Babylon was "the hammer of the whole earth" in the days in which and of which Jeremiah wrote. Nineveh had striven to resist, as had Tyre, Syria, and Egypt, but one by one they had been crushed beneath Babylon's ponderous blow. And now Judah and Jerusalem were crushed likewise. But God's Word was that other hammer, against which even the force of the hammer of the whole earth should be put forth in vain. "Is not my Word … as a hammer, saith the Lord, which breaketh the rock in pieces?" (Jeremiah 23:29). And it did thus break the power of Babylon, and made her "a desolation among the nations." Now, all this is a parable of what is and long has been in the spiritual world. Note—
I. THERE IS A HAMMER-LIKE FORCE WORKING AGAINST GOOD IN THE WORLD. See how it crushes joy, innocency, purposes of good, noble endeavours, life itself. It is the kingdom of Satan; such crushing of so much that is good is of those "works of the devil" to destroy which the Son of God was manifested.
II. BUT THERE IS A GOD-LIKE FORCE WHICH SHALL PROVE A MIGHTIER HAMMER STILL. The strong one shall be driven out by the stronger. For proof of this, see:
1. The progress of humanity. Surely he must be blind who will deny the improvement in the general condition, conduct, and character of men since Christ lived and died on this earth. Most admit it, but ascribe it to merely secular, natural, and subordinate causes.
2. The laws of civilized nations. How much more just, humane, and righteous they are than they once were!
3. The philanthropic instinct amongst men. What abundance of objects there now are on which this instinct flings itself and toils for their good! Now, these things are, at least, "aids to faith," in a fuller and more complete deliverance of man from all evil, which it is the glory of the gospel both to promise and to promote. But see this Divine power at work in the individual soul. The fear which hath torment is taken away. The sin which tyrannizes is broken and subdued. The good which was weak is made strong, the evil which was strong is made weak. The sorrow which killed all joy is hushed. Death which destroyed is itself destroyed by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. These are some of the present trophies of the grace of God, and they are but an earnest of more and far better things to come. But in virtue of them we believe in the Son of God, who shall subdue all things unto himself. God's Word, God's providence, God's Spirit, all unite to testify to the existence and by and by the exercise of that triumphant power by which all the might of evil shall be crushed, shattered, and broken forever. On which side, then, are we taking our place?—C.
A strong Redeemer.
"Their Redeemer is strong."
I. IT WAS NECESSARY THAT HE SHOULD BE SO.
1. This is true of Israel's Redeemer. See the power ranged against them. Physical, in the might of Babylon and the many hostile nations. Spiritual, in the justice of the sentence under which they were suffering. Moral, in the enfeebling effects of their disobedience, causing despondency, despair, timidity, giving power to evil habits, and making very difficult the acquirement of such as were good. But:
2. It is true of our Redeemer. The powers by which humanity is held in captivity are more terrible and unconquerable than were those by which Israel was held. These powers are commonly classified under the threefold division—a trinity of hell—of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Consider the power:
(1) Of the world, in enslaving the soul of man. The seductiveness of its smile, the terror of its frown, the overpowering force of its rewards, the awfulness of its punishments. And yet all this might is against God and against the soul.
(2) Of the flesh. Yes; it does beat against the spirit, it warreth against the soul. If it once have gained dominion, is that dominion ever entirely destroyed while this life lasts? And in some, yea, many, its dominion is allowed as something that cannot be broken. A moral despair comes over many in regard to it, and they cease to contend against a tyranny which they affirm they are powerless to escape from.
(3) Of the devil. He is no mere imagination, or myth, or invention of a credulous and superstitious age, but a living reality, against whom our Saviour, who knew his strength and terror as none other did—for he had just come away from his encounter with him—bade us in our daily prayer say, "Deliver us from the evil one." Who but he is it that is ever plying us with unhallowed thought and suggestion, causing the will and opportunity to sin so fatally to combine? But who of us is or can be ignorant of his devices? And when the force of all these terrible foes is augmented, as it is by the force of habit, of example, of inherited tendency, of enfeebled power of resistance the result of past defeats,—oh, what need, indeed, is there that our Redeemer should be strong! But—
II. BLESSED BE GOD, HE IS SO. In regard to Israel, he did redeem them in part, and their more complete redemption is yet to come. In regard to humanity at large, he is strong likewise. See in proof of this:
1. His mighty power when here on earth. All those signs and wonders, those glorious miracles, were designed to confirm our faith in our Redeemer as One "mighty to save." Hence diseases fled devils were cast out, nature obeyed, Death gave up her dead, at his word. All these things were, as St. John calls them, "signs."
2. His might displayed in his Church. "I will build my Church," he said; and in spite of the feebleness in numbers, in influence, in intellectual or social power, in adaptation of methods, in selection of men; in spite of all the force that numbers, wealth, power, rank, cruelty, hate, could bring to bear;—still his word was accomplished and is yet being accomplished. Must we not confess, in view of facts like these, that our Redeemer is strong?
3. His power over the individual soul. How he gives strength against the terror of a violated law, the might of an indwelling sin, the crushing power of earthly sorrow, the king of terrors, death itself! "Conversion is the standing miracle of the Church"—the transformations of character, condition, and conduct, which are perpetually being wrought by the power of Christ. All these compel the glad confession that Christ is "mighty to save." Now, note—
III. THAT HIS STRENGTH BECOMES OURS BY MEANS OF OUR FAITH. For faith in him brings to bear the power of:
1. The unseen.
3. The new life. And so these marvels are wrought.
"Mighty Redeemer, set me free
From my old state of sin."
The liars' sword.
I. IT IS ONE WHICH THEY WIELD. It cuts asunder:
1. The ties which bind man to man.
2. Those which bind the soul to truth and virtue.
3. Those which bind the heart to God.
4. Those which would lead the man to eternal life.
II. IT IS ONE WHICH THEY FEEL. It pierces the soul with shame, with anguish, with a deadly wound.
III. IT IS ONE BY WHICH THEY WILL SOONER OR LATER BE DESTROYED.
1. It is often so in this life. Men will league themselves together against a liar as against a wild beast or serpent, to destroy it. In the hearts of all men there is a protest against lies. That protest cannot be stifled universally, or for long, or over wide reaches of the world. It will break forth. It did break forth, and down went the paganism of the Roman empire, the priestly lies of the Church of Rome in the days of the Reformation, the political lies of despots as in the French Revolution, the Jesuitical lies by which that order has been disgraced and on account of which it has once and again been driven forth in shame. And the like of all this is seen in the condemnation and punishment of the convicted liars even now.
2. But yet more will it be so hereafter. See the awful doom that is pronounced against liars in the Word of God: "All liars shall have their part in the lake of fire, which is the second death."
1. Dread this sword.
2. Love and cherish truth, in thought, word, and deed.
3. Give yourself to him who is the Truth.—C.
The fall of hell.
Babylon is continually taken in Scripture as the type of the kingdom of evil, that which our Saviour termed "the gates of hell." Her antiquity, her vast power, her wickedness and cruelty, her utter overthrow, all justify the similitude which St. John especially so frequently employs. But the kingdom of evil is to be destroyed. For this purpose "the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." And as when the literal Babylon fell there was a "cry," so shall it be when that yet more dread power of which she was the type shall, in its turn, fall and perish. But that cry will be of a varied nature. On the part of all those who have trusted in and served it there will be—
I. A CRY OF TERROR. Their confidence, their pride, will be shattered, and they will quail at "the wrath of the Lamb" which they have provoked. But there will be many who will behold that overthrow and from them—
II. A CRY OF WONDER will be heard. That kingdom of evil so widespread, so ancient, so established, so seemingly undisputed in its possession during all the long ages hitherto, now completely overthrown. How many valiant soldiers of the cross and faithful servants of God have in past ages hurled themselves against her ramparts and tried to storm her citadel, and have, apparently, but thrown their lives away! Therefore, when at length it is proclaimed, "Babylon is fallen!" what wonder and astonishment will fill the minds of all beholders! But it will be also—
III. A CRY OF JOY. It will be the day of jubilee, the setting free of the oppressed, the opening of the prison doors, the giving of liberty to the captives. Hence the psalms perpetually bid us sing unto the Lord—sing a new song; "for he cometh, he cometh to judge the earth." We are accustomed to speak of the judgment day as one of terror only; we forget that it will be a day of unspeakable joy to the multitudes of the oppressed, like as, when Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore, they sang their song of triumph. And it will be also—
IV. A CRY OF THANKSGIVING, of adoration and praise. How can it be otherwise? "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together" beneath hell's dread oppression. Shall there not be unspeakable gratitude felt when the Lord crushes this awful tyranny and destroys it forevermore?
1. Remember that this overthrow will take place. They who believe in this kingdom of evil say, "We shall never be moved." But they are deceived and will, one day, be terribly awakened.
2. Which cry shall be ours?—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jeremiah 50:4, Jeremiah 50:5
Reunited Israel seeking Jehovah.
I. THE VOLUNTARINESS OF THIS QUEST. How it is exactly that Israel becomes master of its own choice is not indicated here. Nor need we stop to notice the indications elsewhere. The great thing to note is that Israel, being free to choose, chooses the right thing. Israel might have chosen to stop in Babylon. Thus a great difference is indicated between the circumstances in which the first covenant with Israel was made, and these circumstances of the second covenant. We search the Book of Exodus in vain for any evidence of such a free and profoundly penitent spirit as we find here. God has shown by the history of Israel that a covenant made in constraint may be necessary, but also it can only be preparatory. All the elements here are of strong voluntary action. The people come; they are not driven. They weep with the noble emotion of penitence. All the waste of past centuries stands before them, seen as it might have been seen before if only they had had eyes to see. Then there is the seeking, hoping spirit to be considered. The people are willing now to go to God, whom so long they had forsaken in idolatry and unrighteousness.
II. THE UNION OF THOSE WHO HAD BEEN UNNATURALLY SEPARATED. Why this distinction between the children of Israel and the children of Judah? The very names indicate something wrong, something having its basis in self-will and jealousy. For the children of Judah were also children of Israel. Thus the common Christianity underlies all sectarian names. These names originate in certain historical necessities, and the sects keep them because they are thinking of the different starting points whence they have come rather than of the common goal whither they tend. In uniting thus together, Israel and Judah were doing things meet for repentance. They were doing all they could do while they remained in exile. Past alienations and antipathies were submerged in the rise of a strong feeling of desire after their God. When men want to be brothers and companions, most difficulties in the way can be easily pushed aside.
III. A SUBORDINATE ELEMENT IN THE QUEST OF JEHOVAH. The people know they must turn their footsteps toward a certain place, even Zion. God is always to be sought in a certain appointed way. Seeking Zion, the people are doing a great deal towards finding God. The people knew the way to look toward Zion, even from afar; we have illustration of this in the praying attitude of Daniel, who bowed his knees three times a day, his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem. Whether we shall find God depends upon where we are disposed to seek him. We shall certainly never find him apart from Jesus Christ, nor anywhere else than as connected with the heavenly Zion, the city of the living God. The vague aspirations of natural human sentiment promise a great deal, but they perform nothing. They follow an ignis futuus, and not the star that goes on till it stands over Bethlehem. God is to be found by those who will accept the guidance of his Spirit, making known to them the riches which are in Christ.—Y.
Jeremiah 50:6, Jeremiah 50:7
The wolf excusing himself.
These verses remind us of the well known fable of the wolf and the lamb. The wolf, acting according to its wolfish nature, devours the Lamb, but first of all it makes a pretence of having some show of reason to go upon. So here the cruel spoilers of Israel try to make out that all their cruelty and rapacity were perfectly right, because Israel had done so much wrong. We have here—
I. A TRUE ACCUSATION. Israel's wrong doing is not at all overstated. They have sinned against Jehovah. Nor is this accusation left in all its wide generality. Note the rendering of Naegelshach: "Jehovah the true Pasturage and their fathers' Hope." Thus the figure begun in the previous verse is continued. For the sheep a true, ample, rich pasturage is provided and protected. The shepherd makes that pasturage with all its needs his peculiar charge. If the sheep will not have faith in their shepherd, submission to his ordinances, satisfaction with his provisions, and general content in all their appointed lot; if they prefer an erratic, self-providing, self-protecting lot;—then they must take the consequences. There was nothing wonderful in Israel having becoming a lost and miserable flock. The wrong doing of a man does not excuse bad treatment of him by others, but it explains how bad treatment often becomes possible. If, overleaping the bounds and Laws of Divine wisdom, we go of our own choice into the way of the adversary, we must not complain of consequent spoliation and suffering.
II. A BAD REASON. The adversaries of Israel made Israel's wickedness a plea for their own wickedness. We must distinguish between the conquerors of Israel as made use of by Jehovah and the purposes and feelings of the conquerors themselves. It is evidently God's principle to make use of what already exists: these people were bent on attacking the land of Israel, and, when Israel had so utterly apostatized in heart from Jehovah, there was no reason why he should defend them. The wickedness of man often wonderfully serves a Divine purpose, but that does not make it wickedness any the less. Wicked men are not necessary to God, however useful they may be in the present conditions of things. Vain will it be for any man to plead that, in the event, his wickedness has brought some good thing to light. The purposes of his heart were evil and only evil, and by those purposes he must be judged.
III. INDICATION OF THE PROPER TREATMENT. The proper treatment of the sheep that have forgotten their resting place is fully revealed in the Gospels. There the true Shepherd is set before us, no self-indulgent one, no self-seeker, no hireling; but he who came to seek out the lost sheep, and who dies for his own. We must never forget, in all comparisons between straying men and straying sheep, that God means us thereby to be deeply impressed with the need of his provisions and protections. He who remembers that we are dust, remembers also that at the best we are as sheep, needing for the present to be watched very closely, and kept within a place of safety by all sorts of checks and constraints.—Y.
The punishment of those who rejoice wrongly.
I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH BABYLON SHOULD HAVE DONE ITS DESTROYING WORK. Jehovah meant Babylon for the chastisement and the humiliation of his own people, that they might be enlightened and purified through the losses they thus sustained. They lost many things they loved, but at the same time they lost things which tempted and ensnared. The description here, "Destroyers of mine heritage;" indicates sufficiently the spirit in which Babylon acted. What God wanted was the thorough purification of his heritage, not at all its destruction. Babylon cared nothing as to whether Israel was better or worse for its afflictions. It could only rejoice over another nation conquered, another territory acquired, and a fresh degree of brightness added to its military glory. It is surely a terrible thing when men do good work unconsciously and not meaning it to be good work at all. When we have to engage in any work that inflicts suffering, shame, and loss on others, it ought to be under the sternest pressure of necessity and as the sorrowing ministers of violated law. There are times when we cannot escape being the agents of suffering to wicked and foolish men; but if we only act in the right spirit, keeping our hearts free from all that is vengeful and exulting, we may even have some share in turning them from their wickedness. Everything that savours of our personal satisfaction and gain must be kept away when we have to make others suffer.
II. THE CERTAIN RETRIBUTION ON THOSE WHO REJOICE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF OTHERS. A disposition to rejoice in this way indicates, of course, a general iniquity of life which is sure to bring retribution. But retribution will take special forms according to the sin, and those who have gloated over the humiliations of others are taking a sure way to have others gloat over them in the day of their humiliation. Israel itself, which had been rejoiced over by Babylon, had first of all been rejoicing where it ought not to have rejoiced. If we exult and insult where we ought to pity, then nothing is more certain than that we shall meet with insult in turn.
III. A DIRECTION SUGGESTED IN WHICH THERE MAY BE GREAT REJOICING. Man was made to rejoice; the pity is that so often his rejoicing comes from individual and selfish considerations. When the right spirit is in our hearts, we too shall rejoice that so many are cast down, hut it will be because of the opportunities given to lift them up. There should be the greatest of gladness in serving the lowly and the needy. Thus, while there never can be joy at suffering for its own sake, there can be much joy because of the opportunities given for glorifying Christ.—Y.
Jeremiah 50:19, Jeremiah 50:20
The feeding places of the flock.
I. WHAT JEHOVAH HAD PROVIDED AND THE PEOPLE HAD LOST. Carmel and Bashan, Ephraim and Gilead, were not something altogether new. They were memories of the past as well as hopes of the future. Israel had been a scattered sheep. Out of Christ not only are we ourselves lost, but we have lost the use of the appropriate possessions of humanity. Really what God does in restoring his people is to bring them to something a great deal better than the places mentioned; but these places represent an actual, experienced good. And it is well that God should give us, as one aspect of the future, a restoration of all that was satisfying in the past.
II. JEHOVAH IS ABOUT TO RESTORE' HOW WILL THE PEOPLE USE WHAT IS TO BE RESTORED? Restoration by itself will do nothing. If the man comes back to his possessions as he went away, then he can only misuse and squander as of old. The house swept and garnished only presented to the evil spirits a chance for greater riot and defilement than before. To the old land there comes back a new people. After tasting the bitterness of wanderings, they have tasted also the powers of the world to come—old carnal temptations no longer charm, new spiritual considerations stand full in view. Formerly, even on Carmel and Bashan, Mount Ephraim and Gilead, there had been discontent, because, with all the goodness in these places, there was not enough for the carnal heart. But now, when things are used spiritually, there is enough and more than enough. If only we follow where God leads there will be ample provision and ample blessedness.—Y.
A vain quest.
I. IN CONTRAST WITH PREVIOUS QUESTS OF THE SAME KIND. Then hardly anything but iniquity and sin were to be found. The few righteous and godly men only called attention more emphatically to the general wickedness. God is ever seeking in the earth for all that is true and good, and whatever there be of it he is sure to find. He misses nothing, searching into every man according to the fundamental thoughts of his heart. In former days sin and iniquity had been the great burden of prophetic deliverances, and the mention of them a continual exasperation to the people.
II. THE REASON WHY THE QUEST HAS BECOME VAIN. All is pardoned. There has been deep and adequate repentance, adequate atonement, and consequently there is full forgiveness. Iniquity and sin cannot be found, because they have vanished as disturbing elements in human consciousness. What an intensely evangelical verse this is, full as it can be of one of the great results of the gospel! God, who sends prophets into the midst of sinful men, calling attention to the universal presence of evil; works remove that evil, so that it shall no longer be possible to find it. This inability to find evil is not the report of man merely; if so, we might suspect the worth of the report as being nothing more than shallow optimism. When God says that evil cannot be found he means that it has ceased to exist.
III. THIS VAIN QUEST IMPLIES OTHER GUESTS EQUALLY VAIN. No consequences of sin shall be left. When the roots are gone, clean extirpated, vain will it be to seek for the fruits. There can be no pain where there is no sin. There can be no death. Fulness of life and health will succeed. There will be no seed but good seed, no ground but good ground. And hence there will only be good fruit springing forth abundantly.
IV. ANOTHER QUEST THAT WILL BE SUCCESSFUL. The matter must be looked at positively as well as negatively. Iniquity is not to be found, i.e. complete conformity to law is found everywhere; sin is not found, i.e. every man in his own nature is fully glorifying his Maker and his Redeemer. More and more we must seek to see the depth and reality of present iniquity and sin; so shall we better understand the work whereby God will slowly remove—slow]y, that is, to our apprehension—all these evil things away—and cause harmony, holiness, and happiness to rise enduringly in their place.—Y.
The sword everywhere.
I. THE DESTROYING AGENT. Not a deluge, not fire from heaven, but an ordinary human agent, working with energy and thoroughness. The weapon which Babylon in its greed of conquest had used against Jerusalem is turned against itself. First of all, Babylon looks covetously on the land of Israel, and spoils it of its people and their possessions. And then, enriched, Babylon becomes in turn an object of desire. God has only to leave covetousness and grasping alone, whether in nations or individuals. There will generally come in some human agency to dissipate ill-gotten gains. As Babylon became richer in external goods, it became weaker in manly resources. There was more to invite attack, more need of the best defences, and yet at the same time less ability to defend. The sword stands here as the great symbol of human physical force. We must not infer that God approves it: he simply points out how it must have free scope upon the surface of things. Babylon took the sword, and she in turn must perish by the sword; and that same sword, successful against Babylon, points to the destruction of those who wielded it. Nothing abiding, nothing permanently satisfying, is to be achieved by the sword.
II. THE EXTENT OF THE DESTRUCTION. Physical force can make short work of all man's natural treasures; all that is wanted is a sufficient amount of it. Skill compensates for force only up to a certain point. Vain was it for Babylon to count up its mighty men and parade its horses and chariots. If we would arrive at right conclusions in the matter of security we must know the strength of our enemies as well as our own. As to one element in its strength in particular, Babylon would be dreadfully deceived. It could not realize how, as the agent of a punishing Jehovah, there had been more than its wonted strength bestowed on it against sinning Israel. It plumed itself too much on conquered Israel, and thought itself stronger than it really was.—Y.
Capital events in history.
Capital events in history are of two kinds.
1. Those which by the magnitude of them arrest attention and deeply impress the imagination of the world. Such was the taking of Babylon. It was like the fall of a mighty building; when the fall came, it could not but shake the earth. The effects were of necessity far reaching. The political centre of gravity got shifted. The fall of Babylon meant a new kind of government for a great many people. It meant a total change in temporal circumstances. Then the whole thing was to a large extent unexpected. Many such events have happened in history. Great struggles between nations and confederated nations, lasting for years, come to their consummation in some battle, and then for a while there is comparative equilibrium.
2. Those which excite tittle or no attention at the time. The death of Christ is the crowning instance of events of this kind. Locally and for a short time it did make a deep impression, but certainly the earth was not moved, nor was there a cry heard among the nations. The movement was in spiritual regions; heaven it was that got moved; and the cry was heard among the principalities and powers in the invisible world, whether they were good ones or bad ones. We need a divinely chosen standpoint from which to measure the magnitude of terrestrial events. We enlarge where we should diminish, and diminish where we should enlarge. It has truly been said that history is too full of wars and conquerors. These have been recorded, while other events dropped into oblivion, which now we should give a great deal to understand. We must guard against letting the deepest impression on us be produced By mere noise and hulk. As history is commonly written, critical, seminal events are to be looked for in the quiet comers of it, and often they are treated in a very hasty way. If we would discover the fountains of what is really momentous in human affairs, we must be obedient to the guidance of God's Spirit. We must be delivered from the snares of mere national prosperity and glory. Then, conversely, in our own actions we must not be troubled if little attention is pain to them by others. A man may be sowing the seeds of immense, world wide benefits, all unconsciously, knowing only this, that he is doing the thing, the evidently appointed work for him—lying nearest to his hand.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 50". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29