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Against them that dwell in the midst of them that rise up against me. The Hebrew has lēb-kāmai, which is Kasdim, or Chaldea, written in the cypher called Athbash (see on Jeremiah 25:26); just as Sheshach in Jeremiah 51:41 is equivalent to Babel. The question arises whether the prophet himself is responsible for this covert way of writing, or a scribe in later times (so Ewald). In favour of the former view it may be urged that Babylon and Chaldea receive symbolic names (though not in Athbash) in the connected chapter (Jeremiah 50:21, Jeremiah 50:31, Jeremiah 50:32); in favour of the latter, that the Septuagint has Χαλδαίους in Jeremiah 51:1, and does not express Sheshach in Jeremiah 51:41, also that the clause to which Sheshach belongs in Jeremiah 25:26 is of very dubious genuineness. A destroying wind; rather, the spirit (ruakh) of a destroyer (or perhaps, of destruction). The verb rendered in this verse "raise up," when used in connection with ruakh, always means "to excite the spirit of any one" (Jeremiah 25:11; Haggai 1:14; 1 Chronicles 5:26).
Farmers. This is supported by the Septuagint, Peshito, Targum, Vulgate, according to the Massoretic pointing, however, we should render "enemies." Possibly the prophet intended to suggest both meanings, a and o being so nearly related. Shall empty her land. The original has a much mere striking word, shall pour out (for the figures, comp. Jeremiah 48:12), which occurs again in similar contexts in Isaiah 24:1; Nahum 2:3 (Hebrew, 2).
Against him that bendeth, etc. There are two readings in the Hebrew Bible—one that given by the Authorized Version; the other, "Against him that bendeth (let) him that bendeth his bow (come)." The difficulty, however, is in the first two words of the clause, which are the same in either reading. It would be much simpler to alter a single point, and render, "Let not the archer bend his bow; and let him not lift himself up in his coat of mail" (for the old word "brigandine," see on Jeremiah 46:4); which might be explained of the Babylonians, on the analogy of Jeremiah 46:6, "Let him not bend his bow, for it will be useless;" but then the second half of the verse hardly suits the first—the prohibitions seem clearly intended to run on in a connected order. On the other hand, the descriptions, "him that bendeth," and "him that lifteth himself up in his brigandine," seem hardly a natural way of putting "the Chaldean army."
In her streets; i.e. in the streets of Babylon.
The covenant between Jehovah and Israel is one reason why Babylon must fall; and Babylon's own guilt is another. Hence pity is out of place.
"Here liveth piety where pity ends;
Can any man be guilty more than he
Whose bias with the doom of God contends?"
(Dante, 'Inferno,' 20.28, Cayley.)
Flee, therefore, lest ye be involved in Babylon's ruin. For Jehovah's purpose of vengeance cannot be reversed.
Hath not been forsaken. The Hebrew is much more forcible, "is not widowed"—alluding to the fundamental Old Testament idea of a mystic marriage between God and his people (comp. Isaiah 50:1; Isaiah 54:4-6; Hosea 2:1-23.). Was filled with sin; rather, with guilt (Hebrew, āshām).
Babylon, as the instrument used by God for his judicial purposes, is likened to a wine cup, which "made all the earth drunken" (comp. Jeremiah 25:15, Jeremiah 25:16); and, more than this, to a golden cup, such was the impression made upon the Jewish prophets, by Babylon's unexampled splendour. So, in Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the image, the head of the image is of gold (Daniel 2:32, Daniel 2:38). But neither her splendour nor her honourable position as God's minister could save her from merited destruction.
Destroyed. The Hebrew, more forcibly, has "is broken." The Authorized Version wished, perhaps, to avoid the objection that a golden cup could not, properly speaking, be broken. But if we once begin to harmonize the language of Hebrew poetry, we shall have no end. It is not the cup which falls, but the state, considered as a house (the "breach" of God's people is constantly referred to; e.g. Psalms 60:2; Isaiah 30:26). Howl for her. Sympathetic bystanders are dramatically appealed to. From the next verse it would seem that they are the various foreigners who, whether by choice or force, have been resident in Babylon, and who have acquired an interest in her fate. Hitzig thinks the foreign mercenaries (Jeremiah 50:37) or allies are specially referred to. Take balm for her pain (comp. Jeremiah 8:22; Jeremiah 46:11). The images of fracture and wound are combined, as in Isaiah 30:26.
We would have healed Babylon. Experience shows that it is useless to attempt to correct such inveterate evils. Everyone into his own country (as Jeremiah 50:16). Her judgment; i.e. her punishment. Perhaps there is an allusion to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, burned by fire from heaven. But we might also render "her crime" (comp. Deuteronomy 19:6, where "worthy of death" is more strictly "a capital crime").
Our righteousness; literally, our righteousnesses; not in the sense of "righteous deeds "(as in Isaiah 64:6; Judges 5:11), but "those things which prove us to righteous; i.e. by punishing Babylon he hath justified us" (Payne Smith).
Make bright; rather, polish, so that the arrows may penetrate easily (comp. Isaiah 49:2, "a polished shaft"). Gather the shields; rather, fill the shields (viz. with your arms); i.e. take hold of them. Comp. the phrase, "to fill the hand with the bow" (2 Kings 9:24). The rendering" quivers" is wanting in philological authority, and seems to have been inferred from this passage, where, however, it is unnecessary. The kings of the Medes. The prophet speaks of the Medes and not the Persians (comp. Isaiah 13:17). "The reason, probably, is twofold:
(1) that the name Madai became known to the Jews at an earlier period than Paras, 'Persia;' and
(2) that the generals of Cyrus were apparently Medes". The new Cyrus inscription throws light on the latter circumstance.
Upon the walls of Babylon; rather, toward the walls (as Jeremiah 4:6). The "standard" was carried before the army, to show the direction of the march. Make the watch strong. Not merely for the safety of the invaders, but to blockade the city. Comp. the phrase, "Watchers [a synonymous Hebrew word is used] came from a far country" (Jeremiah 4:16); i.e. besiegers. Prepare the ambushes. To press into the city when the besieged have made a sally (as Joshua 8:14-19; Judges 20:33, Judges 20:37).
Babylon is addressed as thou that dwellest upon many waters, with reference, not only to the Euphrates, but to the canals, dykes, and marshes which surrounded the city. The measure of thy covetousness. A strange expression, even when we have supplied (and have we a right to do so?) a suitable verb, such as "is full." "Measure" is, literally, ell, "covetousness" should rather be gain, or spoil. Another possible rendering is, "The ell measure of thy cutting off." In fact, the root meaning of the word rendered "gain," or "covetousness," is "to cut off;" and the figure of cutting off a man's half-finished life, like a web from the loom, is familiar to us from the psalm of Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:12; comp. Job 6:9).
Surely I will fill thee, etc. This is the rendering of Hitzig and Graf; the enemies are compared to locusts, as in Jeremiah 46:23. But the expression, "to fill a city with men," is more naturally taken of the increase of the population of the city; and it is better to render, with Ewald and Keil, "Even though [or, 'Surely even though'] I have filled thee with men, as with locusts, they shall raise over thee the cheer of the vintage;" i.e. the millions of Babylon's population will not save her from the most utter ruin. For the vintage cheer, see on Jeremiah 25:30; and for the figures, see especially, Isaiah 63:1-6.
Probably interpolated from Jeremiah 10:12-16 (the only verbal difference is in Jeremiah 10:19, where "Israel" is left out before "the rod of his inheritance"). But may not Jeremiah have quoted himself? Conceivably, yes; but he would surely not have quoted such a passage here, where it spoils the context. For granting that a point of contact with verse 14 may be found for verses 15, 16 (Jehovah who has sworn has also the power to accomplish), yet the passage on the idols stands quite by itself, and distracts the attention of the reader.
Israel is now to be Jehovah's hammer, striking down everything, even the Chaldean colossus. But though Babylon may be as great and as destructive as a volcanic mountain, it shall soon be quite burnt out.
My battle axe; or, my mace. The mace (for a picture of which, see Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 1.459) was a weapon constantly employed by the Assyrians and presumably by the Babylonian kings. The battle axe was much less frequently used. But who is addressed by this terrible title? The commentators are divided, some inclining to Babylon,
(1) because Babylon was the last person addressed (see Jeremiah 51:14), and
(2) because a similar title was given to Babylon in Jeremiah 50:23 : others to Israel, on the ground that the tenses are the same throughout the passage (Jeremiah 50:20-24). The latter view is probably the best. How could Babylon be said to shatter her own "governors" and "viceroys" (for the prophet deliberately chooses the Babylonian official names)? The argument from the context is not very weighty; for it is clear that the connection of the parts of this prophecy is very loose. We may assume, then, that Jeremiah 50:20 begins a fresh paragraph, standing quite apart from that which precedes. The objection of Graf and Keil, is that Israel could not himself be styled a "mace," it being Israel's destiny to be delivered by others. But is not a very similar statement made of Israel in Isaiah 41:15; Psalms 149:7-9? (Kuenen offers a third explanation—Cyrus.) The nations … kingdoms. First the great social organisms are mentioned; next comes the military power; next the population, according to sex, age, and class.
Captains; rather, governors. It is the Hebraized form (pekhah) of the official name of an Assyrian or Babylonian governor (pahhat). Rulers; rather, viceroys; Hebrew, segamin (plural). The singular, sagan, is Hebraized from the Assyrian sakun, Babylonian sagun.
Jeremiah 51:25, Jeremiah 51:26
Another image for the destruction of Babylon.
O destroying mountain. The description evidently points to a volcano.
(1) Jehovah says that he will roll the mountain down from the rocks, which can only be understood of the stones and lava hurled down from the crater;
(2) that he will make it a "mountain of burning," i.e. either to a burning, or, more forcibly, a burnt out mountain; and
(3) that, as a consequence of this, its stones shall be unsuitable for the purposes of the builder. Now, Palestine, it has been clearly made out, "lies almost in the centre of one great volcano region of the earth's surface, that, namely, which includes the basin of the Mediterranean and the provinces of Western or Central Asia. Traces of that volcanic action are found in every direction. The black basaltic rock of the Hauran, the hot springs of Tiberius and Emmaus and Gadara, the naphtha fountains near the Dead Sea, the dykes of porphyry and other volcanic rooks that force their way through the limestone, the many eaves in the limestone rocks themselves,—all these show that we are treading on ground where the forces of the hidden fires of earth have been in times past in active operation. We are, that is, in a zone of earthquakes". There is a striking parallel to this prophetic description in Revelation 8:8, where the destruction of a great empire is likened to the submersion in the sea of a great burning mountain, (Vitringa has noticed the parallel.)
And they shall not take of thee, etc. "Of thee," i.e. "of the Babylonian power" personified—not "of Babylon," which was built of brick, not of stone. The figure of the mountain is still preserved.
A more detailed sketch of the conquest of Babylon; followed (somewhat out of the natural order) by a complaint on the part of Israel, and a promise of championship on that of Jehovah.
Prepare the nations; literally, consecrate the nations; viz. by religious rites. It is in an especial sense a religious war to which they are summoned (see on Jeremiah 6:4, and comp. Isaiah 13:3). Ararat. Ararat appears in the cuneiform inscriptions under the form "Urartu? In Isaiah 37:38 the Authorized Version renders correctly by "Armenia." The Assyrian kings, since Shalmaneser, were constantly at war with the Armenians; Assurbanipal reduced them to pay tribute. Minni. The Mannai of the cuneiform inscriptions. The locality of this tribe has been hitherto wrongly given as the mountain country about Lake Vau. But Professor Sayco has shown that they are rather to be looked for to the southwest of Lake Urumiyeh. A captain. The word (tifsar) is singular, but is probably to be understood collectively as equivalent to "captains," like the word (sus, "horse," equivalent to "horses") to which it is parallel. It is here used loosely of certain officials of the Armenians; but properly it is an Assyrian word (adopted from the Accadian or proto-Babylonian), meaning "tablet writer," and derived, according to Friedrich Delitzsch, from dip or dup, a tablet, and sat, to write (Accadian words). As the rough caterpillars. This is the third of the four kinds of locusts mentioned in Joel 1:4; or, to speak more precisely, it is the locust in its penultimate stage, when its wings are already visible, but enveloped in horn-like sheaths, which stand up upon its back. Hence the epithet "rough," or "bristling." Keil's rendering, "as the dreadful (horrifying) locust," implies a faulty interpretation of Joel 1:4. It would be strange indeed if Joel had accumulated four synonymous terms for locust in such a peculiar context.
The captains … the rulers; rather, the governors … the viceroys (as Jeremiah 51:23). Thereof refers to the land of Medea; his dominion to the King of Medea, as the suzerain of the inferior chiefs.
Shall tremble and sorrow. The Hebrew has "trembled and sorrowed" (or, "quaked and writhed for pain"); and in the sequel, have stood (i.e. been ratified by the event, as Jeremiah 44:28). The prophet here, as so often, regards what is still future as past from the point of view of eternity.
Despair of the Babylonian warriors. Have forborne to fight should rather be have ceased to fight. In their holds. The word is used of hill or mountain fastnesses, and such presumably are referred to here. Their might; rather, their courage. They have burned, etc. The subject is "the enemies." Her bars; viz. those with which the city gates were secured (comp. Isaiah 45:2; Amos 1:5).
One post shall run to meet another, etc. The wall being broken through at various points, couriers would meet each other on their way to the royal palace. This was itself a fortress in the centre of the city, on the Euphrates. The newly discovered cylinder inscription, however, shows that Nabonidus, the last King of Babylon, was not actually in the city at the time of the capture. At one end; rather, from end to end (see on Jeremiah 50:26).
And that the passages are stopped; rather, are seized (as Jeremiah 48:41). Babylon, it should be remembered, was divided nearly in half by the Euphrates. It was guarded, says Professor Rawlinson, "by two walls of brick, which skirted them along their whole length. In each of these walls were twenty-five gates, corresponding to the number of the streets which gave upon the river; and outside each gate was a sloped landing place, by which you could descend to the water's edge, if you had occasion to cross the river. Boats were kept ready at these landing places to convey passengers from side to side; while for those who disliked this method of conveyance, a bridge was provided of a somewhat peculiar construction" ('Ancient Monarchies,' 2.514). The reeds they have burned with fire. This rendering is no doubt tenable, though it gives an unusual meaning to the first noun. The "reeds" would be those of the marshes in the neighbourhood of Babylon; and Kimchi suggests that these would be cut down to facilitate the entrance of the army into the city, Surely a very forced explanation. The natural meaning of the first noun is "pools" or "lakes," and, considering that Herodotus (1.185) speaks of a lake in connection with the defences of Babylon, it has been thought (e.g. by Vitringa) that the prophet may refer to something which was to happen to this and similar lakes; "burned with fire" is then regarded as a hyperbolical expression equivalent to "dried up" (comp. Jeremiah 51:36). This, however, is hardly less forced than the first interpretation; and we seem almost compelled to assume s corruption of the text, and to read (for 'agammı̄n) 'armōnı̄m, palaces. If "palaces" (i.e. lofty houses, for such is the etymological meaning) were not uncommon at Jerusalem (Isaiah 32:14), much more frequent must they have been at Babylon, Or perhaps the prophet refers to the two magnificent royal palaces, which, together with the temple of Bel, constituted the wonders of Babylon. They were on opposite sides of the river, and were guarded with triple enclosures, the circumference in the one case amounting to sixty stadia (nearly seven miles), and in the other to thirty (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2.514, etc.).
It is time to thresh her; rather, at the time when it is trodden (i.e. made level by treading or trampling); comp. Isaiah 21:10; Micah 4:13.
The Jewish captives are introduced, describing the offences of Babylon. Hath devoured me; rather, hath devoured us, and so on. "My delicates" (delights), however, is correct. He hath made me; rather, he hath set us (down) as. Swallowed me up like a dragon; or, literally, like the dragon. Comparing this with Jeremiah 51:44, it is difficult not to see an allusion to the Babylonian myth of the Serpent, who in the fight with Marduk (Meredach) devoured the tempest, which rent asunder her belly. The cuneiform text is given in Transactions of Society of Biblical Archaeology, vol. 4. part 2, appendix plate 6. Part of it runs thus—
25. ip-te-ra pi-i-sa Ti-amtu a-na la-h-a-h-sa
Opened also her mouth Tiamtu to swallow it.
26. rukhu limnu yus-te-ri-ba a-na la ca-par sap-ti-sa
The evil wind he caused to enter into the uncovering of her lips [= into her lips before she could close them]
27. iz-zu-ti rukhi car-sa-sa i-tsa-mi-va
violent (were) the winds (which) her belly filled; and
28. in-ni-kud lib-ba-sa va-pa-a-sa yus-pal-ki (?)
she was pierced in her heart and her mouth it caused to divide.‹je-7›
Readers of Smith's 'Chaldean Genesis' will remember Tiamtu the dragon, and the representations thereof given from the gems. In line 27 the word rendered "her belly" contains the Babylonian analogue of the word rendered in this verse "his belly" (kres). With my delicates, he hath cast me out; rather,… cast us out; or, from my delights he hath cast as out. For the variation of person, comp. Judges 11:19, "Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place;" and on the whole phrase, Micah 2:9, "… ye have cast out from their pleasant homes."
And to my flesh; rather, and my (eaten)flesh (comp. Micah 3:3). Inhabitant; rather, inhabitress; i.e. virgin inhabiting.
Her sea; i.e. the Euphrates (comp. Isaiah 21:1), or perhaps the lake dug by Nitocris to receive the waters of the Euphrates, Herod; 1.185 (Payne Smith). Comp. on "the reeds," Jeremiah 51:32. Her springs, rather, her reservoirs. There are no springs, remarks Dr. Payne Smith, in the flat alluvial soil of Babylonia. The Hebrew word makor is used here collectively for the whole system of canals and reservoirs for the storing of the water.
Heaps. "Vast 'heaps,' or mounds, shapeless and unsightly, are scattered at intervals over the entire region where it is certain that Babylon anciently stood" (Rawlinson, 'Ancient Monarchies,' 2:521). Dragons; rather, jackals.
Fall of Babylon; joy of the whole world.
Jeremiah 51:38, Jeremiah 51:39
They shall roar …. In their heat; rather, They may roar … (yet) when they wax warm (with lust) I will prepare. The banquet which Jehovah will prepare is the "cup of bewilderment" spoken of in Psalms 60:3; comp. Isaiah 51:17 (i.e. a calamitous judgment).
I will bring them down, etc. (comp. Isaiah 34:6; Ezekiel 39:18).
How is Sheshach taken! The Septuagint omits "Sheshach" (see, on the name, Jeremiah 25:26), and very possibly rightly.
The sea is come up, etc. It is not clear whether this is to be taken literally or metaphorically (of the sea of nations, comp. Jeremiah 51:55). Probably it is meant literally. It is said that the annual inundations of the Euphrates at present render many parts of the ruins of Babylon inaccessible.
Bel; i.e. Merodach, the patron deity of Babylon (see on Jeremiah 50:2). Swallowed up. An allusion to the myth mentioned above (see Jeremiah 51:34). That which Bel, i.e. Babylon, has "swallowed up" is not only the spoil of the conquered nations, but those nations themselves. Yea, the wall of Babylon shall fall; literally, is fallen (is as good as fallen). The famous wall of Babylon (comp. Jeremiah 51:58) is described by Herodotus. From this clause down to the first half of Jeremiah 51:49 is omitted in the Septuagint.
And lest your heart faint, etc.; rather, and (beware) lest, etc. A rumour shall both come; rather, for a rumour shall come. The war, then, will last some time, and all kinds of rumours will be in the air. Keil compares Matthew 24:6.
From the north. The same statement as in Jeremiah 50:3, Jeremiah 50:9, Jeremiah 50:41.
As Babylon hath caused, etc. The verse is very difficult. Ewald and others render thus: "Not only must Babylon fall, O ye slain ones of Israel, but slain ones of the whole earth have fallen because of Babylon." But why this address to the slain ones of Israel? Besides, the antithesis indicated in the Hebrew is thereby destroyed. Hell explains the antithesis thus: "Just as Babylon was intent on the fall of slain ones in Israel, so also there fall because of Babylonian slain ones of all the earth," viz. because there are to be found, in the capital of the empire, people from all quarters of the world, who are slain when Babylon is conquered. A better antithesis seems to be gained if we follow the Peshito, and read, at the end of the verse, "in the whole earth." It will then be asserted by the prophet that, just as Babylon was the cause of the slaying of Israelites, so (as a punishment) the Babylonian fugitives shall be slain wherever they may wander.
Conclusion of the prophecy.
Ye that have escaped the sword. Evidently Jews are the persons addressed. It is not, however, perfectly clear whether the escape is from the sword of Babylon or from that of Divine vengeance. The parallel of Isaiah 24:14 would suggest the latter; but in the following verses the fall of Babylon is described as still to come. Stand not still. Lest ye be overtaken by the judgment.
We are confounded. A reflection of the exiles, expressing their deep shame at the ignominy which has been their lot. Are come; or, came.
The height of her strength; i.e. her lofty walls and towers.
The great voice; rather, the loud sound; i.e. the tumult of the city. When her waves; rather, and her waves; i.e. the conquering hosts (comp. Jeremiah 46:7).
The Lord God of recompenses shall, etc.; rather, The Lord is a God of recompense; he will, etc.
Her captains, and her rulers (see on Jeremiah 51:23).
The broad walls of Babylon … and her high gates. See Herod; 1.179, 181, and the parallel accounts from other authors, cited by Duncker ('Hist. of Antiquity,' 3.373, etc.), who taxes Herodotus with exaggeration, but admits as probable that the walls were not less than forty feet broad. Utterly broken; rather, destroyed even to the ground (literally, made bare). The people; rather, peoples.
Epilogue. The word, etc. (see Jeremiah 51:61). Seraiah. Apparently the brother of Baruch. With Zedekiah. The Septuagint has "from Zedekiah," which is referred by Bleek and Gratz. It would thus be an embassy, of which Seraiah was the head. According to the ordinary reading, Zedekiah went himself. A quiet prince. Not so. The Hebrew means probably, "in command over the resting place," i.e. he took charge of the royal caravan, and arranged the halting places. But the Targum and the Septuagint have a more probable reading (not, however, one involving a change in the consonants of the text, "in command over the gifts," i.e. the functionary who took charge of the presents made to the king. M. Lenormant speaks of an official called "magister largitionum" (bel tabti) in the Assyrian court.
(Comp. Jeremiah 50:3; Jeremiah 51:26.) And shalt see, and shalt read; rather, See that thou read.
And they shall be weary. Accidentally repeated from Jeremiah 51:59 (see introduction to Jeremiah 1:1-19.). Thus far, etc. Proving that the Book of Jeremiah once ended with Jeremiah 51:1-64.
Suffering, but not forsaken.
Israel is not forsaken because she is driven from her home. Babylon is not more favoured because she flourishes for a season as a "golden cup in the Lord's hand." For the land of the Chaldeans is filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel. Thus the truth is quite contrary to appearances.
I. WHEN GOD CHASTISES HIS PEOPLE HE MUST NOT BE THOUGHT TO HAVE FORSAKEN THEM. The chastisement is for their own good. It is, therefore, a proof that God has not neglected them. Instead of being an indication of hatred or indifference, chastisement is a sign of God's love. Moreover, when his people suffer God is peculiarly near to them. Those captives who hung their harps on the willows by the rivers of Babylon found God more present than he had been to the careless sinful Jews who assembled in the courts of his temple. It is to be remembered that God is near to us when we do not perceive him, and often nearest in those dark hours when bitterness of soul prevents us from having any comforting hope in him.
II. THOUGH GOD WILL CHASTISE HIS PEOPLE HE WILL NEVER FORSAKE THEM. This is a further step. Not only is the chastisement no proof of God's having forsaken his people, but in no case will he forsake them; no such proof can ever be found. True, they may be separated from God and may become "castaways;" but this is only because they forsake him. He is ever true to his side of the covenant. Let us, therefore, be prepared to expect the chastisement, but also be well settled in faith that the far worse trouble, the neglect of our souls by God, can never come.
III. OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES ARE NO INDICATIONS OF OUR RELATIONS WITH GOD. The great contrast between Israel and Babylon furnishes a striking instance of this truth. It is strange. For one would have thought that the outward and inward life would harmonize. So they will ultimately. Then the "golden cup" will be broken and the suffering child of God exalted to honour. But now the world is in confusion, evil is allowed a certain liberty for the consequent discipline of good, and thus the sufferers may be near to God while the fortunate and happy are far away in sin,
In the destruction of Babylon and the restoration of Israel the devout sufferers of the Captivity see the justification of their conduct which had lain under a shadow while they shared in the punishment of their guilty brethren. So happy an issue from their troubles calls for devout gratitude, and this finds its expression in hymns of praise and public thanksgiving.
I. PRAISE IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF WORSHIP. Two faults may be observed in much of our worship—both arising from our centring it in ourselves.
1. It is too selfish. We are more earnest in prayer than in praise. In sore need we cry out with terrible anxiety; but when the need is satisfied we return thanks in poor and faint tones. We are eager to obtain blessings for ourselves, but little desirous of glorifying God. Yet the essence of worship is self-surrender. We degrade it and contradict its spirit when we make it serve the ends of self-seeking.
2. It is too subjective. We dwell much on our own feelings instead of going out of self in the contemplation of God. Consequently our worship is pitched too much in the minor key. We wail out "Misereres" when we should be shouting "Magnificats." We have much to say about our low estate, but little concerning the way in which God has regarded it. But, the highest worship is adoration—the going out of self in wonder, love, and praise towards the glory of God. It would be well if we made less mention of our own feelings and were more ready to "declare the work of the Lord our God."
II. PRAISE MUST BE DEFINITE IF IT IS TO BE EARNEST. Much of our worship is vapid and senseless because it is expressed in big vague phrases which carry little thought to our minds.
1. We should praise God by declaring his works. It is his character that we adore. But we see and realize this as it is reflected in his works. We see the glory of the sun, not by gazing with eagle vision into its dazzling centre, but by looking abroad on the many hues that it casts on land and sea and sky. We cannot see the glory of God by abstract speculations on divinity; we must study his works in nature, providence, and redemption.
2. We should praise God by noting those particular works which affect our experience. This is the secret of earnest praise. The Jews declare the works they have witnessed; i.e. the special blessings of the restoration. Each man can call to mind some of the blessings he has personally enjoyed, and in the consideration of these see good ground for glorifying God.
III. THE EXPRESSION OF PRAISE SHOULD BE PUBLIC. The people come together; they assemble at Zion, the place of public worship; they declare—make public—the works of God. This is fitting for many reasons.
1. It glorifies God. This is the only way in which we can glorify him. We cannot add to his glory, but we may reflect it.
2. It increases our own thankfulness. Joy is sympathetic. By sharing it we increase it.
3. It leads others to see the same glory and goodness of God. A song of praise is the most effectual sermon on the grace of God; for it is
(1) the language of experience,
(2) an expression of feeling, and
(3) a vivid representation of "the works of the Lord our God."
(See homily on Jeremiah 10:16.)
God's battle axe.
I. GOD SOMETIMES WORKS DESTRUCTION. He does not. delight in destruction. It is not his chief work. But he has performed it and he may again. When a thing is absolutely evil it is best that it should cease to be. For the prevention of further evil it must be destroyed. The Creator then becomes the destroyer.
II. GOD USES HUMAN INSTRUMENTS. He might have sent death, as he created life, with a word. But he chose to use a weapon, "a battle axe," i.e. a human instrument. Thus
(1) he honours good men by making them his servants, and
(2) he counteracts the evil influence of bad men by overruling it for ends of Divine judgment.
III. THEY WHO CANNOT SERVE GOD IN THE HIGHER WORK MAY YET SERVE HIM IN SOME NEEDFUL MISSION. The man who cannot become a prophet may act as "God's battle axe." In God's great kingdom there is work for all classes and kinds of men. Rough and rude natures may find some mission. Still the highest mission is not that. of destruction. The most worthy servant of God is he who follows Jesus Christ and. "goes about doing good,"
Flight from the city of Destruction.
As Christ advised his disciples to flee from Jerusalem when the judgment of heaven was about to fall, Jeremiah here calla upon the Hebrew residents in Babylon to escape from the doomed city. The parallel suggests that similar circumstances may render similar conduct again desirable.
I. THE SINFUL WORLD IS A CITY OF DESTRUCTION. The world as God created it. is good and safe. But man has made the world a dangerous place by his abuse of its lower properties. Thus the worldly spirit is an evil spirit, and the prince of this world is the supreme power of wickedness. Jesus Christ blended together his picture of the destruction of Jerusalem with a larger vision of the end of the world. In what way the wider and more distant fulfilment of his prophecy will come about we cannot tell; the day of it is known to no man, not even to the "Son of man" (Matthew 24:36). Meanwhile the world lies under a certain doom. It has been so corrupted and abused that to yield to its spirit, to follow its ways, to live mainly for its advantages, is to court ruin.
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS URGED TO FLEE FROM THIS CITY OF DESTRUCTION. (2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1.) It would seem that the sharp line of separation between the world and the Church is melting away. Perhaps it was somewhat stiff and arbitrary. Many innocent things were once put under the ban which most of us would not now think of condemning, and an unhealthy sanctimoniousness was fostered by the idea that strictness was holiness. We are growing more free and more reasonable in some respects, learning that "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified through the Word of God and prayer." Moreover, we may hope that the Spirit of Christ has penetrated into the world beyond the boundaries of the Church, so that the very atmosphere of worldly society is more or less permeated by purifying Christian ideas. Nevertheless the approach of the world and the Church is mutual If the world is coming nearer to the Church, the Church is in some respects approaching the world. A worldly spirit in business, in pleasure, even in religion, is too apparent. We forget that we are pilgrims and strangers here and seek another city. We live too much as if worldly prosperity were the goal of life. We need to be reminded that this is not our rest, that in so far as we yield to the spirit of worldliness we court the doom of the city of Destruction.
III. THE CHRISTIAN'S FLIGHT FROM THE CITY OF DESTRUCTION MUST BE SPIRITUAL. Jews were to flee bodily from Babylon and Christians from Jerusalem But the flight we need is wholly different in character. Monks and hermits thought to flee from the world by hiding within still cloisters or far away among desert solitudes. But they made a double mistake. They neglected their duty to the world and yet they did not escape from the evil of it. We may carry the world into the wilderness, for it is in our hearts. While we have bodies and live on the earth no change of place will be an escape from the world. Then we have a mission to fulfil, and no pretence of care for our own souls can excuse us for shirking the work of life; certain views of salvation are often put forth according to which Christianity is supreme selfishness—the saving of one's own soul even though others suffer. These are false. The great duty of the Christian is to live for me good of his fellow men. To do this he must be in the world. Intercourse with the world for such a purpose is right. It is foolish to visit an infected locality for pleasure, but divinely charitable to do so to minister to the sick. The flight from the world must be escape from its spirit, its evil influence, its sinful delights. Christ prays, not that we shall be taken out of the world, but that we shall be saved from the evil of it. Through him we may have this deliverance, because he has "overcome the world."
The duty and encouragement of the saved.
I. THE DUTY. "Stand not still."
1. Why the duty is requisite. Past deliverance is no security for the future. The first arrow missed the mark, but the second may strike. The tide advances; though the waves have not yet reached us, they will overwhelm us if we remain where we are.
(1) It is possible to avoid one earthly trouble and succumb to another—to escape the sword and fall a prey to the pestilence.
(2) It is possible to escape much distress in this world and then to fall under a terrible doom in the next world.
(3) It is possible to be safe now from the terrible effects of sin and to yield to future temptation and so bring upon our heads ruin in the future.
2. How the duty is to be performed.
(1) We must be prayerful. As the danger is ever renewed so must the grace be. Therefore we need to be always seeking aid from heaven.
(2) We must be watchful.. New dangers may arise at any moment.
(3) We must be anxious to flee from evil. Our whole course must be with the back to the city of Destruction.
(4) we must be diligent. The attainments of the past will not suffice. Forgetting those things which are behind, we must press forward. The Christian's safety is not in indolent reliance upon Christ, but in trustful obedience.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT. "Remember the Lord from afar, and let Jerusalem come into your mind"
1. God's grace in the past is an encouragement for the future. Past deliverances will not secure us against future danger, but they wall furnish reasons for seeking safety again in God.
2. The chief reason for pressing diligently and hopefully forward is to be found in the contemplation of God. His holiness should make us fear sin; his love should make us trust in his helping grace. That we may not stand still, we should "remember the Lord."
3. Our very remoteness from God should urge us not to stand still We may have wandered far from God in sin, or have forgotten him among the crowd of worldly distractions. But when we realize our condition, when we come to ourselves, we shall see that our only safety will be in arising and going to our Father. We can never be too far to return by Christ" the Way." The further we are from God the greater is our danger, the nearer we approach him the more of his grace and help shall we enjoy.
4. Thoughts of our mission and destiny should induce us not to stand still. The Jews are to remember Jerusalem, their ancient home, the seat of their future destinies. If there were no such city they might despair in their exile. The thought of Jerusalem suggests a centre of union and an aim for the future. If a man loses all hope, he loses himself. When we think of our possible future and of our mission, we are roused to take up the tangled threads and weave our life's work with patience according to the pattern of God's will.
The book cast into the river.
I. MEN DO NOT SUFFER FOR THEIR SINS WITHOUT WARNING FROM GOD. Seraiah was to go to Babylon and see that he read there the words of the prophecy concerning the city. God has warned us of the doom of sin, and he has sent the warning to us. We have not to search for it. It sounds in our ears. It is written large in the Bible. It is repeated in the lessons of providence.
II. IF A DIVINE WARNING IS DISREGARDED IT IS USELESS TO THE DOOMED. The prophecy seems to have had little or no effect on the people of Babylon. No doubt it was sent in mercy like Jonah's preaching against Nineveh, to lead the people to repentance. But if they failed to repent, the Divine message could afford no protection. Unless we are influenced by the Bible, it will be useless for us to hold it in our hands. It can be then only a witness against us. Neither the mere possessor of Scripture, nor the reader, nor the student of it finds a way of safety in its teachings, but only he who follows its truths in practice. He who hears Christ's sayings and does them builds on the rock.
III. WHEN A DIVINE WARNING IS PROVED TO BE INEFFECTUAL IT MAY BE WITHHELD. The book, no longer of use, is to be cast into the river and sunk with a stone attached to it. The voice of conscience grows silent from being long unheeded. While men neglect to obey the teachings of Scripture, they harden themselves against the reception of them. If there is no mere warning, they may grow careless as though there were no more danger. They should rather take this silence as Ominous of the approaching destruction which the warning has been ineffectual in urging them to escape.
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Divine love not to be severed from its object.
A marvellous statement. A down-trodden, sinful remnant of his people, who had broken every engagement of his covenant, is still owned and cared for.
I. A PROOF OF THE FAITHFULNESS AND LONG SUFFERING MERCY OF GOD.
1. Having entered into covenant relations with Israel, he will not withdraw from them, even although their portion of the agreement has not been kept. He remains faithful, notwithstanding human unfaithfulness. The awful guilt of the elect nation cannot invalidate the obligations God has imposed upon himself. He is ready, therefore, at any moment to fulfil these when the conditions are complied with.
2. But it is rather to be taken as illustrating Divine mercy. The purposes of his love are never laid aside. He devises schemes of salvation when we are yet sinners.
3. Though hidden from human eyes, Divine love works continually and through all things. It was hard for mere men to see the favour of God in such times. Many of the Israelites themselves, doubtless, imagined themselves forsaken. Yet was redemption nearer to them in Babylon than when at Jerusalem they insulted and disobeyed him. "All things work together for good to them that love God," ere.; "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
II. A REVELATION FULL OF WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. The enemies of the Church are not to presume upon her misfortunes.
2. The Church itself, although cast down and feeble, is to be of good courage, for it is not cast off. Adversity is not forsakenness. "Lo, I am with you alway." There is no room for presumption, for the chastisements of love have greater severities in store for aggravated guilt. But, relying on the grace of God, it may arise and recommence the mission it has forsaken.—M.
Jeremiah 51:6, Jeremiah 51:50
The duty of separating from the world.
I. IN WHAT SENSE OBLIGATORY UPON THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. Spiritual detachment is always the duty of saints. In heart and life they are to be separate unto the Lord. Their motives, ulterior aims, and dispositions are to be such as the Holy Spirit creates and fosters. They obey the law of the resurrection life, and "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, setting their affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:1, Colossians 3:2).
2. Physical removal may be requisite when
(1) all hope of saving or benefiting sinful men is at end; or
(2) there is danger that we snail yield to the temptations of their society, or encourage them in their evil courses, and thus share their curse. The Jews were to seek the peace of Babylon so long as that was possible; to share in civic life, business pursuits, and social intercourse, until this prophecy came to their knowledge.
II. THE MOTIVES AND AIMS THAT ARE TO INFLUENCE US IN DOING THIS, They are not selfish. It is only when spiritual interests are at stake. There must be no idleness or lingering when the call of duty comes. The Jew was to arise and seek his long forsaken land at once. His motives were:
1. Allegiance to God. He was to "remember the Lord afar off." God was indeed near to him, even there in Babylon. lie is to seek more closely to serve and honour him. And this ought ever to be the aim of Christians: "a closer walk with God." And if he be spiritually minded, he will feel the attraction of the Divine presence and the blessedness of the Divine communion, which far more than make up for temporal loss or sorrow incurred for conscience' sake. It is the special duty of Christians to call upon God and obey him when amongst those who do not know his Name.
2. The interests of the kingdom of God on earth. God sought to separate and sanctify to himself a peculiar people in olden time, that it might witness to his truth. He still seeks to gather a spiritual Church, whose communion consists of those who are redeemed by the blood of his Son. Through its manifold ministries he is carrying out the salvation of the world. Every Christian is bound to connect himself with it in some form or other, and to take his part in its worship and work. The language of the ancient exile might well be adopted by every member of the new Israel—Psalms 122:1-9.; Psalms 137:5, Psalms 137:6.—M.
Praise the outcome of saintly experience.
These are the words of Jeremiah, but there can be little doubt he is but instinctively interpreting the emotion that must fill the breasts of his countrymen when his predictions were accomplished. As a representative Israelite, he expresses the deep-seated impulse that is felt when the greater providences and special spiritual deliverances of life are realized.
I. EXPERIENCES OF SAVING GRACE AN OCCASION OF THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE. We owe thankful recognition to God for our creation, preservation, and the recurring, mercies of our temporal life; but there are stronger emotions awakened by the experiences of grace in the spiritual nature.
1. Notice some of these. This deliverance from Babylon. Conversion, or the rescue of the soul from the spiritual Babylon. The triumphs of the gospel; faithfulness of saints; increase of spiritual power and influence; preservation of Christian institutions in times of spiritual apathy or persecution; evangelization of heathen lands, etc. Special answers to prayer, or peace and comfort in private fellowship with our heavenly Father.
2. Their general character. "The Lord hath brought forth our righteousness" ("righteousnesses"). This deliverance was a great act of judgment. The cause of God's people was vindicated, and the guilt of Babylon avenged! (cf. Psalms 37:6). The whole world was witness of the character and meaning of the event. And this is the element in all the experiences of grace that awakens special thanksgiving—they are manifestations of Divine righteousness in the life of men; triumphs of truth and holiness and love.
II. THE SPECIAL DUTY TO WHICH THEY CALL US.
1. Declaring and interpreting God's work to men,
(1) by word;
(2) by work.
2. Public celebration in God's house. Zion was the most fitting and representative, place for such a duty. Public worship should be linked with the experiences of private devotion and the spiritual life. Public and common praise is the privilege and delight of Christians.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Escape for thy life!
"Flee out of the midst of Babylon," etc. This word was addressed to those who should be found in Babylon when the day of vengeance came upon her (cf. Genesis 19:15). And it seems to anticipate what was afterwards the fact—that many of the Jews would not care to go away from Babylon. Note—
I. WHO ARE TO ESCAPE. This word was not addressed to all. Many of God's people did "let Jerusalem come into their mind," and, as soon as ever opportunity was given them, they returned to their own land. But there were many who chose to stay. They had long dwelt in Babylon. They had got to like her rule, for they had prospered in this world's wealth. The surrounding idolatries did not "vex" their souls. They felt secure in her; they had become morally and spiritually enslaved. Hence they would not return with their brethren when the opportunity came. And how like is the position of men now! They are in bondage and spiritual captivity under the power of "the prince of this world." Some have heard the word and have escaped, but others care not to flee. They are content to be where and as they are.
II. WHENCE THEY ARE TO ESCAPE. Babylon stands for the kingdom of evil, which is ruled over by the spirit of evil. Now, that kingdom is fitly represented by Babylon. The power, the attractiveness, the fascination, the deceptiveness, the widespread and long continued rule of the one find their type and likeness in the other. And the unwillingness which was felt by the great majority of Jews to quit Babylon is paralleled by the more sad unwillingness to abandon that kingdom of evil which God is ever bidding us escape and flee from.
III. WHY WE ARE TO ESCAPE. It is "for our life." This cannot be taken literally of the Jews in Babylon. For, so far as this life was concerned, they prospered greatly under the Persian rule (cf. Book of Esther in proof). And their descendants lived on right down to the times of the apostles, and were those "of the dispersion" of whom we read in the New Testament. But for the most their national and spiritual life was lost by their disobedience to this command. They ceased to be Jews, and were absorbed in the heathen nations around. And, of course, their religious life perished at the same time (see histories of the Captivity). And so in regard to the spiritual analogies of these events. Men will not, do not, literally lose this life by refusing to come away from the kingdom of evil into the kingdom of God. On the contrary, they seem to flourish greatly. The prosperity of the ungodly has been a notorious and perplexing fact in all ages of the world, And it is a sore temptation and trial to those who feel the drawing of the kingdom of God. And the temptation can only be overcome by remembering that the life of the soul depends upon our obedience to this word. It is when the unseen and the eternal are seen by faith that the gloss and glamour of the world are seen at their real and poor value, and the solid worth of the kingdom of God is confessed and yielded to. The angels had to "hasten" even "just Lot," though the fire of the Lord was on the point of descending on "the cities of the plain." And how we need hastening now! How slow to believe that judgment is nigh! For with the advent of death that judgment begins to every soul that enters into eternity unforgiven and unsaved.
IV. HOW WE SHALL ESCAPE. The one all-essential question is—Do you really wish to? For if there be the genuine desire, the path of escape will be soon revealed. No directions are of any use until this desire be awakened in the soul. But where it exists, it will express itself in what the Bible calls "seeking the Lord." And, as this is continued, there will he deepened in the soul that hatred of sin and aspiration after holiness which lie at the root of all true religious life. Repentance will thus be formed within the soul, and will be fostered by careful obedience to the will of God as declared in his Word. But—
V. WHITHER SHALL WE ESCAPE? There is but one answer to this. To the Lord Jesus Christ. It is as we look up to him in lowly, earnest trust, renouncing all self-reliance, that the new life is begotten in us, and we are grafted in him, and so become "new creatures," as St. Paul tells, and so are we in the kingdom of God, and clean escaped from the kingdom of the evil one. We are pardoned, accepted, made possessors of the Holy Ghost and of eternal life.—C.
The response of the redeemed.
"The Lord hath …come, and let us" etc.
I. WHAT THE LORD HATH DONE. "Brought forth our righteousness." Now, by this we may understand:
1. The Lord lath brought forth, made known, revealed, him who is our Righteousness. By his representative character, what is done by him is as done by us. "We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Corinthians 5:14). There is nothing unreasonable in this. We are perpetually imputing to others what is not in them or but very faintly in them. We do so when we treat strangers with all kindness for the sake of those—some honoured and beloved ones—who commend them to us. We cause to flow over on them the worth and goodness of those by whom they are commended. They may not merely be strangers, but unworthy and evil, and yet, for the sake of others, we deal with them, not as they are, but as those are from whom they come. So is the Lord Jesus our Righteousness, blessed be his Name!
2. The Lord hath brought forth righteousness in us. But for him there would have been no righteousness at all. Some speak of "natural goodness." There is no such thing. All goodness, like all light, has but one source. Divines tell of ruined arches, stately pillars, etc; relies of the noble fabric that once was. But Scripture rather teaches that sin wrought death. If, then, there be aught that is beautiful and good, fair and righteous—and there is, and much—it is not a relic, but a new creation. It comes from him who is "the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:1-51.; cf. James 1:16). And when a man yields up his soul to Christ, then—vitally grafted into him, the true Vine, and having become a living branch—he will more and more yield the fruit of righteousness, as he never did or could before.
3. The Lord hath brought forth his covenant. That is to say, he hath brought forth in his own mind, so as to remember, his covenant that he made (cf. Psalms 105:8-15; Psalms 111:1-10; etc.). It is ever declared to be on the ground of this covenant that God dealt well with his people. Now, that covenant had been, as it were, put out of the Divine mind by the multitude of their sins. But now he brings it forth again.
4. The Lord hath vindicated us. The enemies of the Lord blasphemed his people. Counted them as having no worth or goodness at all; as far inferior to all others. But, despised as his people were and condemned, now, by God's redemption of them, he was to bring forth their righteousness, vindicate them, on and before all (cf. Psalms 37:5-7). This, which he did for Israel, he will do for all his people—"will bring forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday."
II. WHAT, THEREFORE, SHOULD WE DO? "Come, and let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God." This is what we are to do.
1. Why should we do this? For the honour of God. It is his due. For our own soul's sake; to keep silence on what he has done for us is not only dishonouring to him, but disastrous to our own souls. For the encouragement of others, that they may be led to trust in him.
2. How should we do this? Openly: "Let us declare in Zion," etc. Not concealing our obligation, not refusing to confess him. Unitedly: "Come, and let us," etc. Join with them of a like mind. Heartily: calling on others to do the like, "Come," etc. In his Church: "In Zion." There taking our place, falling into rank in the army of the Lord. In the heavenly Zion the redeemed of the Lord never tire of thus declaring the work of the Lord.—C.
The Portion of Jacob
The Church God's battle axe.
God ever employs instruments to accomplish his purposes. He is a God that "hideth" himself. Hence many see nothing but instruments, and forget, or deny, the hand that uses them. "That does not seem much of a sword;" said one, as he looked upon the treasured weapon of a great national hero and valiant soldier. Ah, but you do not see the hand that wielded it, was the just reply. So as we look on the agencies God employs, how feeble they seem to be! But think of the force behind them, and then the works they accomplished are explained. Now, this is true of all God's works. Especially is it true in all the great spiritual achievements which we have heard of or seen. This verse refers to Israel, in reference to the idolatrous nations around them, and to Babylon especially. Israel was the unseen cause that led to the overthrow and destruction of one nation after another. For the Church's sake God governs the world. "All things are yours." Now, note—
I. THE WITNESS OF HISTORY to the truth that God's people are his "battle axe and weapons of war." "I came not to send peace upon earth, but a sword," said Jesus, and in the same sense as this verse declares that word is true. "Magna est veritas, et prevalebit," is another rendering of the same fact.
1. Before the birth of Christ the pure monotheistic faith of Israel had, after their captivity, begun its iconoclastic work. Over large portions of the then civilized world that faith began to permeate and cleave its way. So that the old idolatries were in many places stricken with a mortal blow before even he was proclaimed who was to draw all men unto him.
2. The downfall of paganism. Notwithstanding the many accretions of error and superstition with which the pure faith of Christ so soon became encumbered, there yet remained inherent in it and inseparable from it such vital and mighty energy that it smote as with a "battle axe" one falsehood after another, until they were well nigh all slain. The forces against her in that ancient world were simply tremendous, but the Church went forth conquering and to conquer. In vain the scorn of the great, the fires of awful persecution, the power of venerable superstition; in vain the hindrances which she herself put in her own way; the Church was still God's destroying power against the false religions of that age, until at length the last emperor of Rome who endeavoured to revive paganism, Julian—whom a corrupt hierarchy malignantly branded as "the apostate," though, in fact, he was less apostate than themselves—confessed with his dying breath, "O Galilaean, thou hast conquered!" In all that long and heart-stirring conflict this declaration of the prophet was illustrated again and again.
3. In the Reformation. Not alone in those nations in which the Reformation principles took root, but in the Church of Rome herself, was the error and evil destroying power of the truth that dwelt in the hearts of God's people made manifest. See in such a book as Ranke's 'History of the Popes' what vast difference and improvements were brought about in the Catholic Church itself by the awful discipline through which she had then to pass. Whatever stern censures may have to be passed on that Church since the days of the Reformation—and they are neither few nor light—yet candour must admit that they are far fewer and far lighter than those which the outraged conscience of Christendom heaped upon her in the generations before.
4. In all missionary and evangelistic triumphs over heathendom.
II. THE WITNESS OF INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. We are wont to speak of the truth of God as "mighty to the pulling down of the strongholds of sin and Satan." This is a Christian commonplace. And is it not true? What but this battle axe slew the giant sins that ruled and oppressed in each soul?
III. THE SECRET OF THIS FORCE. What makes the Church God's battle axe? We answer:
1. The truth that sustains her. The truth concerning God and our relations to him—he our Father and we all his children.
2. The spirit that animates her; not one of hate or disregard to man, as was common before Christ came, but love—love even towards the vilest for Christ's sake.
3. The rule that regulates her. The heathen looked on with amazement at the blamelessness of life and the sanctity of character which the faith of the Church produced, and they felt and owned its power.
4. The love that constrains her. She ever "bore about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus," and, mindful of that, she shrank from no suffering and refused no service.
5. The hope that cheers her. She wrought, not for a corruptible crown, but an incorruptible; and the hope, "that blessed hope," of her Lord's appearing to receive and reward his people, cheered them on amid the awful sufferings which they were called on to bear. And still it is in proportion as these mighty motives animate the Church in the individual soul that faithful and effectual service is done for Christ against the many and mighty adversaries of God with which the world abounds.—C.
A fatal fact.
"Behold, I am against thee."
I. ITS TRUTH CONFESSED. When Jerusalem was taken the captain of Nebuchadnezzar's army avowed that what had happened was of God (cf. Jeremiah 40:2). So afterwards when, by the Roman army, Jerusalem was again captured, as our Lord foretold it would be, then too we have it on record that a like avowal was made by the leader of the Roman armies. And so here in regard to Babylon, no other conclusion could be come to. So vast was the power of Babylon that only the Divine opposition could explain the calamities that came upon her. And so when we see nations, Churches, men, that have every worldly advantage nevertheless brought low, as Rome was by the Goths, we can account for it only by this fact—"I am against thee."
II. ITS FATALITY SHOWN. If empires like Babylon cannot stand when God is against them, who else can stand? "If these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" If the mightiest fall beneath the Divine opposition, who of lesser power can hope to endure? "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." He is sure to if these do.
III. ITS CONCLUSION EVIDENT. Send an embassage and seek conditions of peace (Luke 14:31). "Be ye reconciled unto God." "Acquaint thyself with God, and be at peace."—C.
Harvests of horror and threshings of wrath.
The Bible continually makes use of the similitude of the harvest and its labours, but it is only by its qualifying words that we can know what kind of harvest is meant. Here we have the frequent metaphor, but it tells of no joy, of sorrow only. Similar language has been used of Israel as is here used of Babylon (cf. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 41:15). Israel's sins had been the seed of that harvest, and it was a terrible one. All the sorrows of the invasion and destruction of their beloved land and city, their holy city, Jerusalem, and all those which were associated with and sprang out of their bitter exile in Babylon, were but parts of that harvest and strokes of "the bruising flails of God's corrections." But here it is Babylon that is spoken of (cf. Isaiah 21:1-17. for a yet earlier prediction of Babylon's fall). She had sown the seed; the cup of her iniquity was full ere the harvests and threshings told of here came upon her. "Dissolute and luxurious in their habits, the Babylonians hid under their soft luxurious exterior a fierceness, an insatiable lust for blood, such as marked many Eastern tribes—such, for instance, as we ourselves have found in 'the mild Hindoo.' The Hebrew prophets describe them as 'a bitter and hasty,' a 'terrible and dreadful' people, 'fiercer than the evening wolves,' a people who 'made the earth tremble and did shake kingdoms.'" They conquered well nigh all the kingdoms of the then known world; they pillaged every country they conquered, and often went far to depopulate the countries they pillaged. In Judaea, for instance, the land became a mere haunt of wild beasts after the Babylonians had subdued it, and from Jerusalem they pillaged even the sacred vessels of the temple. Hence to Isaiah they appeared as "the spoiler spoiling, and the destroyer destroying." And besides all this, there seems to have been an inherent and ineradicable wickedness in the nation itself, or it could hardly have been selected, as it is, as the type of all that is abominable and hateful in the sight of God. For many a generation and century she had been spared. From the beginning to the end of the Bible we read of her. In her decayed greatness there was a little Christian Church there, of which St. Peter tells (1Pe 5:1-14 :19). But up to the time of the Exile, and during far the grater portion of it, Babylon seemed only to advance in splendour, in wealth, and power. But at length the time of her harvest—an awful time, indeed—came, and in the sorrows connected with her capture and overthrow, and in the hard and hated rule of her Persian lords, there was the "threshing" of which both Isaiah and Jeremiah tell The contemplation of it filled the Prophet Isaiah with an unspeakable horror: "My loins are filled with pain: pangs have taken hold on me" (Isaiah 21:3, Isaiah 21:4). Jew as he was, he could not behold the dread vision of what was to come on Babylon without deep anguish. She "must have filled in his thoughts much the place which Rome held in the mind of a cultivated Spaniard or Carthnginian of the early Christian centuries. To him the Medes and Persians, plunging down from their unknown, mysterious mountain fastnesses upon the wealthy Babylonian plain, must have seemed much as the Goths and Vandals morned to the more civilized races of Europe, when they came pouring down the Alps, to carry sword and fire through the storied plains of Italy. The whole Christian world shuddered when Rome fell; and as her fall to the modern so was the fall of Babylon to the ancient world." Harvest and threshing: these images of the barn commonly suggest that which is peaceful and joyous; but here they tell of the reverse of that—of horror and woe unspeakable. Learn, therefore—
I. SINS ARE SEEDS WHICH MAY HAVE A LATE, BUT SHALL SURELY HAVE A LARGE AND TERRIBLE HARVEST.
II. RELUCTANT AS GOD MAY BE TO AFFLICT THE CHILDREN OF MEN, HE WILL NOT SPARE A SINGLE STROKE SO LONG AS THEY CLING TO THE EVILS WHICH DEGRADE AND DESTROY THEM.
III. THE JUDGMENTS AND PUNISHMENTS OF GOD ARE NOT VINDICTIVE AND FINAL, BUT THE "THRESHINGS OF THE CORN OF HIS FLOOR" (Isaiah 21:10). The separation, that is, of the evil from the good, the worthless from that which is precious and shall be preserved forevermore.—C.
Joy over judgment.
I. THE SINNER WILL WEEP AND WAIL. This is the constant declaration of the Word of God. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Would that the sinner would look steadily on to the end, and so consider his ways!
II. HUMAN NATURE, IN SYMPATHY WITH THE SINNER'S WOES, WILL SORROW. (Cf. Isaiah 21:10.) We have need to be on our guard against this. In the present day our sympathy with the suffering leads us to forget the causes and the blessed results that come from the judgment of God. No criminal is ever condemned to die but at once there are those who strive to get his punishment remitted. It is a false sympathy and needs to be resisted.
III. BUT HEAVEN AND EARTH REJOICE. Cf. the many psalms in which we are called on to rejoice because the Lord "cometh to judge the earth." The grounds of this joy are:
1. Righteousness is vindicated.
2. The oppressed are delivered.
3. Men will learn righteousness.
4. They that are judged will be brought to a better mind.
5. The kingdom of God will more speedily come.—C.
The charge to them that are spared.
This charge, addressed to Israelites spared from Babylon, may be applied to all in Christ. For—
I. ALL IN CHRIST ARE SPARED ONES. Spared from:
1. The condemnation due to sin.
2. The abiding tyranny of sin.
3. The crushing power of sorrow.
4. The misery of alienation from God.
5. The might of death.
II. TO SUCH THIS THREEFOLD CHARGE IS ADDRESSED.
1. They are to "go away, stand not still." As Israel from Babylon that had enslaved them, so these from the sins which. God has forgiven them. "Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Many Jews despised this charge, and stayed on in Babylon. Some not merely stayed in Babylon as Jews, but probably far more of them were "mingled with the heathen, and learned their ways." "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Even those who disobeyed only the letter of the command suffered, whilst those who disobeyed both the letter and the spirit were simply lost, cut off from the house of Israel. And they who have received Christ, if they do not break away from their old sins and from all that would hold them in bondage to such sins, will lose their religion and are in sore peril of apostatizing from Christ. Therefore let such put further and further distance between themselves and their former life, lest again they be entangled and. overcome.
2. To "remember the lord afar off." In their sin and misery God seemed afar off to Israel. "My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God"—such was their grievous lament. But they were to remember him, turn their thoughts and prayers toward him, and believingly wait his promised answer. And to the believer now "it doth not yet appear what we shall be;" we are far off from that; but we are to remember the Lord, though we be yet in condition and character so far off from him. Remember him in our meditations, prayers, purposes, and aims; wait on him, and so renew our strength.
3. "Let Jerusalem come into your mind." How blessed to be there! how she demands our earnest service!—her joys, her sanctity, her children, her employ; our place there prepared for us, and our preparation for the place. So remember her, and so be delivered from being wearied and faint in our minds.—C.
The broad walls.
I. THE EMPIRE OF SIN HAS SUCH WALLS. Those referred to here may be taken as a type of them. They were:
1. To separate. Have we not proof of this in the wide distance, the invincible barriers, Which keep the ungodly from sympathizing, associating, or in any way uniting, with the people of God? The kingdom of evil remains shut up from the kingdom of God. Mansoul cannot be entered by way of the gates; the messengers of the King seek admission, but cannot obtain it. And hereafter the Reparation will continue (cf. Luke 16:1-31; "Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed"). Separation, which is voluntary now, becomes involuntary then.
2. For security. A terrible security it is. In vain do the ambassadors of God endeavour to penetrate within those walls. In vain do his soldiers seek to scale them and his weapons of war to destroy them. The strong man armed keepeth his goods in peace. What minister of Christ has not again and again retired baffled from before these broad walls, so high, so strong, so impregnable?
3. For enjoyment. The broad walls of cities such as Babylon were places for pleasant walking for recreation and enjoyment. So does the sinner's fancied security lull his soul to rest, make him cry, "Peace, peace!" when there is no peace. But—
II. THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS ITS BROAD WALLS. (cf. Nehemiah 3:8, where we read of the broad walls of Jerusalem.) Let us see to it that we maintain and preserve those walls.
1. For separation. Let us not seek to come close to the world, in its habits, maxims, spirit, behaviour. Keep the wall broad, strong: high. We cannot serve God and mammon. Let there be no attempt at compromise. And these walls are also.
2. For security. If we do not maintain them we run great risk for ourselves. Tampering with sin is perilous work. And let us not think that we are more likely to win the world by such breaking down of the broad walls. The result is all the other way. See how broad a wall Christ maintained between himself and the world. God has built these walls. His power, his wisdom, his love, his promise, are all portions of these walls by which his Church is guarded and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
3. For enjoyment. What comfort there is in the thought of them, of the sure defence, the wall of fire, which God will be to his people! And on these walls, as we "walk about Zion, and go round her, and tell the towers thereof," what rest, what communion one with another, and what bright prospects are ours! The broad walls of Babylon shall be "broken down;" but these are eternal. Are we within them?—C.
The weariness of sin.
"They shall be weary." With these sad words the Prophet Jeremiah closes his book. The shadows are over it all, nor are they in the least lifted where we most love to see them lifted—at the end. They are spoken of the inhabitants of Babylon, and repeat what was said in verse 58. They suggest the theme—The weariness of sin.
I. WEARINESS IS ALWAYS PAIN. It may be of the body, and then exhaustion and fatigue render exertion any longer only so much torture. Or of the mind. The brain becomes dazed, bewildered, incapable of effort. Or of the heart—that which is caused by disappointment, ingratitude, unfulfilled desire, hopelessness. Or that of the soul, which is the weariness told of here. But in all cases it is full of pain.
II. WEARINESS IS A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE. The child of God is often weary. Such are exhorted not to be "weary in well doing," the exhortation implying the more than possibility of such weariness being experienced. And our Saviour knew this weariness—never of, but often in, his work. In a world like this there are causes enough for such weariness to lay hold on the servants of God. But if they know weariness, yet more do the children of this world; for—
III. THE WORST WEARINESS IS THAT OF SIN. For a while the enjoyment which springs from sin may so intoxicate and dazzle the wrong doer that he will laugh at the idea of weariness, and declare that his is the alone path of pleasure and good. But after a while that ceases, and then comes satiety and weariness.
1. The causes of this are:
(1) Negative. In serving sin we have not those great aids to endurance and restoration of strength which are ever present to the child of God. The servant of sin has no high and noble motive, no worthy motive at all, in what he does. The motives of affection, of duty, of gratitude, of love, which sustain so mightily the mind of the Christian,—these are all lacking in the servant of sin. Good hope also cheers the child of God; but what harvest can the sinner expect to reap? It is such as he dares not, and therefore will not, contemplate. The communion of the Spirit of God—that Spirit who "giveth songs in the night," is present to the Christian, and in the deepest distress enables him to rejoice. But nought of this can the ungodly know in their hard work and service. Drawing near to God is another aid of the child of God. For—
"We may kneel and cast our load,
E'en while we pray, upon our God,
Then rise with lightened cheer;
Sure that the Father, who is nigh
To hear the famished ravens cry,
Will hear in that we fear."
This most real help the ungodly never know.
(2) But there are positive causes of weariness in the service of sin. Jesus said, "Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." His cup of woe was bitter, but theirs would be more bitter still. Now, the positive causes of the weariness of sin are such as these. The powerlessness of sin to minister pleasure continually. The goadings of conscience, which will not be silent. God's judgments—so full of pain, so inevitable, so irremediable, as these on Babylon. The hopelessness of sin's outlook—nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment.
2. The effects of this weariness are seen in such as Saul and Judas, and in the myriad others who have sought, in self-destruction or by wild plunging into yet deeper sins, to escape that weariness which tracks their footsteps continually. Well might Paul ask, "What profit had ye in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?" Who would begin a career that ends in such a way? What an argument such facts furnish for seeking, if haply we may find it:
3. The cure of all such weariness! The child of God knows it well. The ungodly may know it too if they will. It consists in submission to that Lord who says to all such, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden," etc. There alone is the cure.—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
I. AN APPARENT FORSAKING. Israel looked forsaken. It was in exile, in captivity, and under the asserted judgment of Jehovah. We have always, to a certain extent, to accept the appearances of things. God's presence had been manifested in outward favour and prosperity, and what was more plausible than to say that the withdrawing of the favour and prosperity meant the withdrawing of God himself? But then it is forgotten that God's presence may be manifested in many ways. Outward prosperity is not essential to signify God's satisfaction with us. Nor must we infer that, because a backsliding Christian has fallen into trouble and misery, therefore God has forsaken him. The signs of man forsaking God are made very clear, so that there may be all possible incentives to repentance; but if God ever does forsake a man, leaving him utterly to his own folly and recklessness, no sign of it is given to us. There is quite enough already in our own wild fancies to make us desponding and despairing.
II. A PLAUSIBLE CAUSE FOR FORSAKING. The land of Israel was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel. Men think of God as they do of themselves. The patience of the human master soon gets exhausted with the servant who disobeys many commandments and obeys others in the most perfunctory way.
III. A REAL CAUSE FOR CLOSE ADHERENCE. That Israel, chosen and beloved of God, fills his land with sin, so far from being a reason for forsaking, is a reason for closer adherence than ever. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in safety and goes into the wilderness after the lost one. If only men, brought at last to a sense of their wickedness and recklessness, could see how near God is to them, how ready and able to help, they would be filled with hope. "God is love," and therefore the greater our need the greater his nearness. The real difficulty is that we flee to the succours and solaces of self, and so the nearness of Cod, with all his suitable and ample supplies, is only too easily obscured.
IV. A FRESH MANIFESTATION OF THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL. Never does God's holiness so appear as when he is dealing with sinners in the way of long suffering, if perchance they will surrender at last and permit him to restore them to righteousness and peace. Surely God's holiness shines most in his greatest attribute, and that is love. God is marked off from all created things by his power and his righteousness, but most of all by his transcendent love. Here is the most glorious aspect of his holiness, that, no matter how much men may sin against him, neglect his will, and abuse his world, yet, when they are ready to turn, he is close at hand with everything prepared to receive them.—Y.
Two whole chapters are taken up in enforcing the inevitable doom on Babylon. The city as a whole cannot possibly escape; therefore so much the more necessary is it to point out escape for the individual and put hope into his heart. Observe—
I. HOW THIS EXHORTATION TO THE INDIVIDUAL SETS BEFORE US CLEARLY THE GENERAL DOOM. All who stay in heedlessness and unbelief must perish. Particular inhabitants of Babylon have not to sin some special sin in order to bring destruction on themselves. All they have to do is just to go on in their buying, selling, and getting gain. So the natural man everywhere has just to go on within the common worldly limits and according to the common worldly traditions. Going on quietly accepting the position of the unregenerate, he will assuredly come to the end of such. "Out of Christ we may perish" is not the word to be said, but "Out of Christ we must perish."
II. GOD'S CONSTANT CONSIDERATION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL. Masses of men have to suffer because the great bulk of them will ever be heedless of the signs of danger. But every wise, foreseeing individual, in whose heart there are steady inclinings to the right, may escape. Certainly we cannot escape always involvement in temporal calamities. It might even be cowardly and selfish to run away from them. To run away from a temporal calamity might be the very way to bring on ourselves the severest spiritual calamity. But with respect to spiritual perils, in comparison with which temporal perils are mere trifles, every individual has his chance. He must have individuality of character in this matter, ability to see danger when others see none, and courage to flee when others stand still and laugh at him. Recollect that there may be flight in one sense, while in another sense things remain unchanged. We may remain in a community, and yet flee from all danger by avoiding its follies and its disobedience to God.
III. THE NEED FOR PROMPTITUDE AND DECISION. Not specified, promptitude is yet evidently implied. Flee at once; for if you wait until you can see danger, it may be too late.—Y.
Declaring in Zion the work of the Lord.
I. THAT WHICH HAS TO BE DECLARED. The work of Jehovah, the God of Israel, that work being the brining forth of what is described as "our righteousness." What, then, was this righteousness? We can only conjecture, but probably it was that righteousness, ever well pleasing to God, shown by those who believe in his promises and obey his directions. There was ample field for righteousness of this kind on the part of the Israelites in captivity; for had not God told them expressly, however unlikely the event might appear, that they would yet return to their former dwelling place? In due time there was to be a vindication of their faith. But out of that faith there is to be kept every element of self-glorification. It is man's blessedness, but not his praise, that he recognizes the certainty of what a promise keeping, omnipotent One will do for him. Declaring the work of God is always a satisfactory thing, for the work of God itself is always satisfactory. Well begun, thorough, completed, necessary work it is.
II. THOSE WHO DECLARE IT. Those who are the materials of the work and for whom the work is done. They are not mere bystanders and spectators. The sign that real Divine work is being done in a human heart comes when praise and acknowledgment of the great Worker is expressed. We are God's workmanship. It is he who extricates us from our confusions, nullifies the vain doings of the merely natural man, and makes us capable of actions that will abide and glorify him. It is part of God's very work to put into us the spirit of declaration, so that we perceive the change wrought in us, the Worker of it, the continuity of it, in short, all the good connected with it. And perceiving all this, how should we do other than declare in one mingled utterance the glory of God and our gratitude to him?
III. THE PLACE OF DECLARATION. In Zion, with its memories of Jehovah's presence in the past. Zion was a name to humble Israel, in the thought of former apostasy and idolatry; but Zion was nothing but glorious so far as Jehovah was concerned. Zion had been too long neglected, not indeed so far as a certain outward worship was concerned, but the worship of the heart was lacking. Now Zion would appear in an altogether new aspect. Instead of mere words, mere ritual routine, there was an acknowledgment of deeply felt benefit at the hands of God. The place of worship was the same, yet not the same, for the old scene had new associations. We may acknowledge God anywhere; we must acknowledge him everywhere; but yet there is a suitability in making certain acknowledgments in certain places. What could be more appropriate than to utter forth words of true spiritual recognition on that sacred spot where God had been so long misunderstood and defied?—Y.
The dweller on many waters.
I. THE RECOGNITION OF NATURAL RESOURCES. The great natural advantages of Babylon are allowed to the fullest extent. She stands on "the great river Euphrates." A great river for navigable purposes means prosperity to a city. There is also to be considered the facility of getting water for all the other purposes of life. The abundance of Babylon's treasures was in part a result of her dwelling on many waters. The waters helped to set off the magnificence and splendour of her buildings. Nothing is gained by minimizing the treasures of this world. Let them be displayed and acknowledged to their fullest extent (see Revelation 18:1-24.).
II. THESE RESOURCES CANNOT AVERT DOOM. The fact is that the abundance of these resources can only manifest itself in certain directions. There is abundance of that which ministers to carnal ambition and lust, abundance of that which feeds the pride of individuals and nations, abundance of that which gives merely human security against merely human attack. But when we come to consider the highest satisfactions and the greatest dangers, then we find scantiness instead of abundance. The many waters dry up into a shallow pool here and there. The characteristic of the abundance given by Christ is that it avails for all possible needs. Never can it be said to the Christian, livingly connected as he is with his heavenly treasures, that his end is come. Of his treasure, his blessedness, and his security, there shall be no end.
III. AN INDICATION OF WHAT MADE THESE RESOURCES SO DECEITFUL. They were, largely at least, the accumulations of covetousness. We must not look too closely at the magnificent houses of a great city, with their contents, or else we shall be speedily undeceived as to their real glory. We shall see how much greed and unjust gain and the grinding of the poor had to do with such buildings. Grand buildings for some men to live in can have no charm to the Christian eye, if a necessary condition for their existence is that many others should live in ruinous hovels. The just and loving God must look on splendid cities with a very different eye from the human one. And doing so, he must of necessity fix a limit to covetousness. Covetousness goes on adding to its treasures, until at last it excites the covetousness of others. And even apart from this, outward treasures, unduly esteemed, must in time corrupt the inward man.—Y.
The resources of Jehovah.
Here are the resources of Jehovah as over against the resources of Babylon. Note the differences between them.
I. THEY ARE RESOURCES IN JEHOVAH HIMSELF. It is from the very being of Jehovah that his works flow forth, whether these works be considered as illustrating his power, his wisdom, or his understanding. When a prophet of Jehovah has to speak of human resources, he speaks of things outside the man. Apart from the soil on which he stands, the world in which he lives, what can man do? His very body is derived from the soil, and to the soil returns. His chosen treasures, the things on which he leans, are treasures upon earth. But when a prophet comes to speak of Jehovah, he can think of him separated from all the visible and tangible. He does not depend on these things, for they would have had no existence but for him. We may, in a certain qualified sense, speak of human power, wisdom, and understanding; we must indeed use such terms, for some men are so weak that others must be spoken of as powerful, some so foolish that others must be spoken of as wise, some so shallow and ignorant that others must be spoken of as men of understanding. But the very power of a man reveals in time his essential weakness, his very wisdom his essential folly, his very understanding his essential ignorance. God alone is power, and in him is no weakness at all; God alone is wisdom, and in him no folly at all; God alone is understanding, and in him nothing of the limited and erroneous knowledge which is so often a humiliation to human pride.
II. THEY ARE RESOURCES UNITED IN ONE BEING. Judged according to human standards, some men are powerful, some men wise, and some are men of understanding; but very seldom, even according to the human standard, are all three qualities united in one man; and it is not very often that even two of them are found. Man may have power, mere muscular strength, the power of the athlete, the power of the ox, without anything worthy the name of wisdom. So there may be wisdom without power; and there may be a very high degree of wisdom apart from large knowledge or a powerful understanding. Men are made so that what is defective in one may be supplied by another. The greatest human works are done when the power of one is joined with the wisdom of a second and the understanding of a third. But with Jehovah all these qualities, in their highest degree, are found united in One. The only account after all that man can give of the making of matter is that it has been made by a God. And then his wisdom has reduced everything to order, arranged the world in all its grades, organisms, and mutual connections. The natural man comes nearest to God when he can combine the power of one, the wisdom of another, and the understanding of yet a third, to make as it were one new man for the doing of special work; and the spiritual man comes nearest to God when, still preserving his individuality of action, he exchanges for his natural weakness the spiritual power of Christ, for his natural folly the spiritual wisdom of Christ, and for his often useless and deluding knowledge of the things of this world that knowledge which comes in the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.—Y.
The Portion of Jacob contrasted with the confidences of Babylon.
I. THE NAME BY WHICH JEHOVAH IS HERE INDICATED. The Portion of Jacob. So the psalmist says, "My flesh and my heart faileth … but God is my Portion forever" (Psalms 73:26; see also Psalms 16:5). Men had their appointed portions, and no doubt they varied in value. But few were those who could rise above mere external things and look on the invisible God as their real Portion. And yet these were the only ones who had a portion and inheritance in the fullest sense of the words. For only so were they lifted above all temptation to envy, and above all the consequences of terrestrial impairments and losses. True, we have an inheritance of invisible and everlasting things, of which the present visible possessions give the preparatory conditions; but to possess these things we must possess God, must be sure of his interest, his spiritual providence, his sufficiency, for only in him can even spiritual possessions have their beginning and continuance. Nor must we fail to note what may be called the mutual character of this portion and inheritance. Jehovah being the Portion of Jacob, it is equally true that Jehovah's portion is his people (Deuteronomy 32:9). Even the best possessions of a natural man are not mere legal property, not mere intellectual knowledge, but those human beings whom he can call friends. Such a one is rich according to the quality of his friends, those on whom he has claims and who have claims on him. He is rich according to the opportunities he has of getting service from them; richer still according to his opportunities for rendering service, on the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And so God will be our Inheritance just in proportion as we are God's inheritance. We cannot get satisfaction out of God unless he is getting satisfaction out of us. Our faith, our obedience, our devotion, are the conditions of his peculiar and richest bounty.
II. THE CONTRAST OF JACOB'S PORTION WITH THE PORTION OF OTHERS. They inherit a barren land. It may look promising; it may yield the appearance of fruit; but real and abiding fruit there is none. Babylon has taken Bel for its portion, and now the portion and the possessors are alike turned to confusion. Indeed, the portion has vanished into nothingness; for never was it anything but a name, an imposing fiction, a proof both of man's need of a portion and how incompetent he is to make such a portion for himself. But Jehovah always remains a Portion. The typical Jacob, the typical people of God that is, were unable to keep Jehovah as their Portion; they never had any real grasp of him, never more than the merest external acquaintance. But for those who can lay bold of him he is surely a Portion still.—Y.
Jeremiah 51:25, Jeremiah 51:26
The destroying mountain destroyed.
I. THE DESTROYING MOUNTAIN. The mountain is a very fitting symbol of a people eminent among the nations and seeming easily to dominate over them. In such a symbol there is involved the undisputed assertion of superiority. The mountain looks down on the plains, and the plains accept the position. But whereas, in nature, the mountain looks down upon the plains with a mingling of benefits and injuries, of which even the injuries are seen to be benefits when looked at more closely, here we have a destroying mountain spoken of—a mountain that destroys the whole earth. God is against Babylon, not merely for the hurt it has inflicted on his own people, but because destruction is the very element in which it lives. Wheresoever Babylon came it brought spoliation, enslavement, and misery. Men and nations are made eminent that, like the mountains in the natural world, they may communicate good everywhere. But if they form destroying purposes then their very eminence increases their destroying power. The mountain that by its very elevation helps to distribute pleasant and profitable waters over the face of the earth, when turned to a volcano is just as well placed for sending down the lava torrents.
II. ITS UTTER DESTRUCTION. That which must be considered first of all is the safety of the whole earth. It is God's way to uproot all that menaces the security and peace of his universe. To impair and enfeeble is not enough; the evil thing must be destroyed. And this is possible because it is God who is against it. He can destroy and obliterate where men would not for a moment dream of such a possibility. Did not Jesus tell his disciples that great mountains could be plucked up and cast into the sea, great obstacles and great menaces to Christian progress be utterly removed? And here the prophet signifies the completeness of the destruction by asserting that Babylon shall become as a mountain reduced as it were to mere ashes. To that mountain men have been in the habit of resorting to find corner stones and foundation stones, but such is their resort no longer. There is complete destruction of the enemies of God's people, and of course this implies complete safety of God's people themselves. (For a corresponding metaphor, see Isaiah 30:14.)—Y.
Doubtless in this utterance there is something of the then customary scorn with respect to women. But this must not make us forget that one of the worst things to be said of a man is that he has become as a woman, just as one of the worst things to be said of a woman is that she has become as a man.
I. THIS UTTERANCE DOES NOT REPROACH THE WOMAN, BUT THE MAN. Woman has her natural limitations. Her usual place is not in the battlefield or on the walls of the attacked city. An army of women against an army of men would be an unnatural, a revolting spectacle. But this very difference between the proper place of women and the proper place of men intensifies the reproach against a man when it can truly he said of him that he has become as a woman. Those qualities which in a woman are womanly in a man are only effeminate.
II. THE CORRESPONDING POSSIBLE REPROACH UPON WOMEN. A woman must not allow it to be said of her that she has become as a man. She must never forget the limitations and duties of her sex. Yet on the other hand, she must not be too ready to accept common opinion in interpreting those limitations and duties.
III. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT MAY BE THE GREATEST HONOUR TO A MAN TO BECOME AS A WOMAN. There are times when the strength of the man, without being lost, becomes unnoticed because of the presence of a woman-like tenderness. And of course there is the corresponding truth that woman may be honoured in becoming as the man, else where would be the fame of Joan of Arc and the Maid of Saragossa? Both men and women alike must have the courage to face mere external reproaches. Nothing is easier than to taunt a man with being unmanly and a woman with being unwomanly, but if only men and women alike persevere in what they feel to be fight, they will in due time escape from the region of baseless taunts. After all, the humanity common to men and women alike is greater than peculiarities of sex. In Jesus Christ there is neither male nor female.—Y.
Making the springs dry.
I. MAN'S EFFORT TO SUPPLY HIS NEED. There are the springs breaking forth among the hills and inviting men freely to use them. But there are also the wells men dig for themselves. Men must have water, yet they cannot always go and live by the natural springs, and so where they have to live they dig wells, and wonderfully do they succeed oftentimes in getting what they want. Water comes apparently in exhaustless abundance. Thus it is with the natural resources which man strives to obtain for himself. They open out before him far larger than any present wants. And thus when man sees all this within his reach, he naturally devises great undertakings on the strength of such great resources.
II. THE SELFISH USE OF HIS SUCCESS. It not unfrequently happens that the man who digs a well for himself does it at the expense of others, making their wells to run dry. The thing may be done unintentionally, or almost on a commonly accepted principle of every one looking out for himself; still it is to be looked on as pure selfishness. The resources of Babylon were increased by diminishing the resources of other peoples, This is a point to be always looked at in estimating men of large resources, namely, how far those resources have been gained by leaving others without resource at all or with but a scanty one.
III. GOD'S REMOVAL OF HIS RESOURCES. "I will make her springs dry." God can dry up all humanly provided wells. We must not boast ourselves of their number, their depth, or the ease with which they keep to a certain level in spite of all drains upon them. Powerful nations, proud of their history and their achievements, need to remember this Divine interference. Men, looking hack on a long course of individual success, need to remember the same. One can imagine a city in a time of siege, thoroughly provisioned, knowing exactly how much it had for food, and not troubling itself at all about drink, seeing that it had a deep well, the waters of which showed hardly any difference even in the driest summer. Yet all at once that well may fail, and, however large the other supplies, thirst will compel surrender. God dries up all wells that have been dug in covetousness and injustice.
IV. THE IMPLICATION OF OTHER ENDURING RESOURCES. "With thee is the fountain of life," says the psalmist (Psalms 36:9). We must look, not to the wells of our own digging, but to the springs from the everlasting hills. Especially we must catch the spirit of Psalms 87:1-7. There the psalmist praises Zion, and finishes up by saying, "All my springs are in thee." Let our springs be in the holy and abiding mount of God (Hebrews 12:22).—Y.
A timely recollection and its practical effect.
Jehovah is making his severest judgments to fall on Babylon. How severe they are is indicated by the fact that two long chapters are occupied with denunciations upon her. But all the time Israel is in her midst. Israelites are domiciled and settled down. How far they lived by themselves and how far they mingled with their captors we cannot tell. One thing, however, we are sure of, that in the midst of so much destruction to Babylon they, or at least the bulk of them, were preserved. It must have been a very discomposing time for them, even though they had tolerable confidence that all would turn out right. There may be real safety where as yet there is not clear perception of it, and therefore no possibility of untroubled peace. But at last the danger is over, and what will the Israelite do then? He may elect, for reasons personal to himself, to stay in Babylon. He may be tempted to forget his duty as a part in a greater whole. Not for himself, however, not to further any aims of his own, was he thus preserved. He has escaped the sword only that he may the better serve God. Present ease, pleasant associations, may rise attractively in his mind. Not, of course, that these could be found in desolated Babylon, hut they might surely be found somewhere else than in Jerusalem so far away. Against natural thoughts of this kind the prophet's word comes in here as a guard. It is a word for those Israelites living in Babylon at the time of Babylon's downfall. The things near to them, which their eyes see and their hands handle, are the least important. The really important considerations are those which may most easily be forgotten. Thus, so to speak, they must be pushed before the mind. Every right-hearted Israelite would keep the God and the city of his fathers in his heart. And so we should keep Jehovah and Jerusalem in mind. The greatest duties and hopes of our life come from our connection with such recollections.—Y.
Evil written in a book.
I. THE FACT THAT EVIL IS WRITTEN AS WELL AS SPOKEN. The evils that Jehovah denounced against Babylon were such as could be written in a book, because the denunciations were not those of selfish and hasty passion, but expressed the calm wrath of a righteous God. The judgment on Babylon arose from the necessity of the position. A righteous God could not have acted otherwise. What a difference between his words in anger and our words! If all our angry, hasty, petulant words were perforce written in a book, what a record of shame there would be! Such a consequence of their utterance might make us a little more cautious, but still the words would come at times. If we are to understand what it is to be really angry and sin not, we must look at the deliberate records of Jehovah's wrath in the Scriptures. We are glad that our angry words should be forgotten; God, so to speak, takes trouble that his words should be remembered.
II. THE NECESSITY THAT THESE WORDS SHOULD BE WRITTEN. It is not enough that the words might be written—there had to be a reason for the writing. This is found in the necessity for doing all that could be done by way of warning and preparation. What was written could be shown first to one and then another. There was a necessity that even people of Babylon themselves should have ample opportunity to profit by the words spoken against their city. A necessity too in history. The fall of Babylon is a remarkable event in history, altogether outside of Scripture records, but the real secret of its fall is only to be known when we read such solemn and sustained predictions as are found in these two chapters.
III. GOD'S DENUNCIATIONS ARE NOT HIS ONLY WRITTEN WORDS. God has to write down his threatenings, but we are bound to remember that they are only a part—and how small a part they are!—of the total that he has caused to be written. How different he is in this respect from men! Their threatenings and angry words would sometimes fill a goodly volume, but their words of kindness and long suffering, on, now few are they! God's delight is to cause words of grace and premises of reward to be written.—Y.
Jeremiah 51:63, Jeremiah 51:64
A symbol of irretrievable loss.
It was fitting that the exhibition and record of a symbol such as this should close the long denunciation of Babylon. Where God determines to destroy no man can either avert or recover. This stone, perhaps, still lies at the bottom of Euphrates, and possibly even there may be something to signify the book once attached to it. We know not what relics of Old Testament times might yet be disentombed, what confirmations and revelations are still in actual existence.
I. GOD'S POWER OF UTTER DESTRUCTION. The impossibility of discovering this stone has to be considered relatively. Strictly speaking, it might perhaps have been recovered if it had been worth while. But for all practical purposes it was finally lost. Here is the difference between human destructions and the Divine destruction. Babylon is a wilderness still. Where God has chosen to make special marks of his wrath with the unrighteousness of men there rests a blight which no human effort can overcome; and generally speaking there is no disposition to overcome it. But where destruction comes simply through human passion and power there may be comparatively speedy recovery. This is a side of war on which we do well to reflect. Wars, with all their terrible accompaniments, may do something to get rid of some evils, and may thus be the condition of great good. Man cannot destroy where God wills to preserve. But where God destroys he destroys finally, and it is just this dreadful possibility of final ruin that should make men cautions in their estimate of the future, and prompt to turn from all evil and selfish paths.
II. THE CHEERING SIDE OF GOD'S UTTER DESTRUCTIONS. With God destruction always means salvation. Destruction is never for its own sake, never an arbitrary, aimless thing. All Divine destruction must be looked on as part of the process of salvation. Nations are scattered, human institutions overthrown, the temporal life of individuals ended, but the individual man in his abiding relations to God remains. This stone lost in one sense was not lost in another. Nay, it was serving a higher purpose than any it could have served simply as a stone. It became a teacher, and it is a teacher still. Abel, being dead, yet speaketh. And this stone from the bottom of Euphrates speaks still, warning all ambitious men and all neglecters of the commandments and predictions of Jehovah.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 51". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30