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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Jeremiah 18

 

 

Verses 1-4

Jeremiah 18:1-4. The word which came to Jeremiah, &c. — We have here the beginning of a new discourse of Jeremiah, which, if introduced in its proper place, as we have reason to think it is, was probably also, as well as the foregoing, delivered in some part of the first three years of Jehoiakim’s reign. Arise, and go down to the potter’s house — Some well-known place where pots were made; and there I will cause thee to hear my words — I will further reveal my mind to thee, that thou mayest make it known to this people. God has frequently condescended to teach us his will by very familiar and striking images. Then I went, &c. — Not being disobedient to the heavenly vision. And behold he wrought a work on the wheels — Hebrew, על האבנים, literally, upon the stones. Thus also the LXX., επι των λιθων. “There can be no doubt,” says Blaney, “that the machine is intended on which the potters formed their earthen vessels; and the appellation, οι λιθοι, the stones, will appear very proper, if we consider this machine as consisting of a pair of circular stones placed one upon another like millstones; of which the lower was immoveable, but the upper one turned upon the foot of a spindle or axis, and had motion communicated to it by the feet of the potter sitting at his work; as may be learned from Sirach 38:29. Upon the top of this upper stone, which was flat, the clay was placed, which the potter, having given the stone the due velocity, formed into shape with his hand.” And the vessel that he made of clay — Hebrew, כחמר, as clay, that is, while it was yet clay, was marred, was spoiled in the potter’s hand, so that he did not think fit to go on with his design, as to the form of the vessel, but turned the same clay into a vessel of another form: as he judged best. Nothing can more strongly represent the absolute dominion God has over us than this image of the potter fashioning his clay into what form or vessel he pleased.


Verse 6

Jeremiah 18:6. Cannot I do with you as this potter? — Have I not as absolute an authority and power over you? Nay, God has an infinitely clearer title to dominion over us than the potter has over the clay, for the potter only gives the clay its form; whereas we have both matter and form from God. As the work of his hands, made and preserved by him, and yet more as sinners redeemed by him, we are entirely in his hands, and at his disposal, and he has an undoubted right to do with us what he pleases. But as a being infinitely holy, just, and gracious, in all his conduct toward his intelligent, free, and immortal offspring, he acts by fixed rules of perfect equity and infinite goodness. He frequently dispenses favours, indeed, to individuals, families, and nations, in a way of sovereignty, but never punishes by arbitrary power. Strong is his hand, and high is his right hand, (Psalms 89:13,) but, as it there follows, justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. He asserts his absolute power, and tells us what he might do; but at the same time assures us that he will act as a merciful and righteous judge.


Verse 7-8

Jeremiah 18:7-8. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, &c. — God speaks thus concerning nations and kingdoms in his word, and by his prophets and ministers. Thus he told Jeremiah 1:10, that he had set him over the nations, to root out and pull down — That is, to declare they should be rooted out and pulled down, or to make known the divine purposes concerning them. If that nation, against whom 1 have pronounced, turn, &c., I will repent, &c. — Repentance in man produces repentance in God. The threatenings of God being conditional, when they are suspended by his long-suffering and mercy, or prevented by the amendment of the persons against whom they are denounced, he is said, in Scripture, to repent; not that the phrase implies that there is any change in him, but that there is a change in us; and that his conduct toward us, provided his denunciations were not conditional, is the same as if he repented or changed his mind. But the reader is desired to see what is said on this subject, Genesis 6:6.


Verse 9-10

Jeremiah 18:9-10. If I shall speak concerning a nation to build and to plant — That is, To advance and establish all the true interests of it; if it do evil in my sight, &c. — If it lose its piety and virtue, and become profane and vicious; then will I repent of the good, &c. — I will not proceed with the good work which I was performing in its behalf, but it shall be intermitted; and what favours were further designed it shall be withheld. Thus God changed his purpose concerning Eli’s house, 1 Samuel 2:30; and hurried Israel back into the wilderness, when he had brought them within sight of Canaan; and thus he rejected those lost sheep of the house of Israel who refused to embrace the gospel, notwithstanding the general promises he had made to that people, and even after he had sent his Son to seek and save them. In like manner neither can any particular Christians, nor Christian churches, lay any claim to God’s general promise of preserving and finally saving them, any further than they keep close to that rule of faith and manners which he hath prescribed to them in the New Testament.


Verse 11-12

Jeremiah 18:11-12. Now therefore speak to the men of Judah — The Lord now commands his prophet to make a particular application of the more general doctrine which he had before delivered. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I frame evil against you — I have a work upon the wheel, which, when finished, will effect your ruin; it is therefore your wisdom now to return from your evil ways, and make your doings good. And they said, There is no hope — Thou dost but labour in vain in talking to us. We will walk after our own devices — We will proceed forward in our old course; and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart — It cannot be supposed that they would call the imaginations of their hearts evil; nor does the prophet mean that they actually expressed themselves in these words; but this was the language of their conduct. They gave evident proof that they were determined to continue in their sins.


Verse 13-14

Jeremiah 18:13-14. Ask ye now among the heathen — Such an apostacy as you are guilty of (see Jeremiah 18:15) is not to be paralleled among the heathen. Compare Jeremiah 2:10. Who hath heard such things — When did people ever behave toward their idols, which yet were no gods, as my people have behaved toward me? The virgin of Israel — That people who were dedicated to me as a chaste virgin, have since corrupted themselves, and gone a whoring after idols. Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon, &c. — “The two similitudes in this verse are evidently designed to illustrate the unnatural and absurd conduct of the Jewish nation in deserting their own God, and adopting the superstitions of a strange idolatry, in preference to the good old paths which God had ordained for them to walk in. As to the first, Lebanon, it must be observed, was the highest mountain in Israel, lying to the north of it, and having its summit almost always covered with snow; from the whiteness of which it is supposed to have derived its name.” See Ancient Univ. Hist. vol. 1. book 1. p. 570, fol. The same circumstance is also recorded by Tacitus, Hist. lib. 5. c. 6. “Præcipuum montium Libanum erigit, mirum dictu, tantos inter ardores opacum fidumque nivibus.” If we follow the translation in our text, the sense is, It is as strange and unreasonable for men to forsake the true God for idols, as it would be for a thirsty traveller to forego the cold refreshing streams that come in his way, flowing from the melting snows of Lebanon, or the clear waters issuing from a pure spring, in order that he might drink of the stagnant waters of some muddy pool. But, it is to be observed, the words a man, and which cometh, are not in the Hebrew, but supplied by our translators, and considerably alter the sense, which literally is, Will the snow of Lebanon cease from the rock of the field? That is, Will it cease to flow, &c. And by the rock of the field, may be meant the rocks on the level ground on the very top of Lebanon; from which the snow, being melted, flowed down into the vales at the bottom of the mountain. Or, shall the cold overflowing waters, running down, fail? The Vulgate translates the verse to exactly the same sense, “Nunquid deficiet de petra agri nix Libani; aut evelli possunt aquæ erumpentes frigidæ, et defluentes?” And the LXX. to nearly that sense, ΄η εκλειψουσιν απο πετρας μασοι, η χιων απο του λιβανου; μη εκκλινη υδωρ βιαιως ανεμω φερομενον; Shall the breasts (that is, the springs) fail from the rock, or snow from Lebanon? Shall water, borne along violently by the wind, turn aside? The sense of the verse seems to be, that the Jews ought no more to have failed in their adherence to the true God, and his service, than the snow on mount Lebanon, or the waters which flow from that mountain into the fields under it, ever fail; in other words, That, as the works of nature preserve their order, and fail not of answering the ends for which they were appointed; so the Jews ought not to have failed of performing their duty to, and showing forth the praises of, Him who chose them to be his peculiar people, and conferred singular privileges upon them in order to these very ends.


Verses 15-17

Jeremiah 18:15-17. Because my people have forgotten me — The fountain of living waters; have forgotten what I am in myself, and what I have been, and am still ready to be to them; have lost their knowledge of me, and their remembrance of what I have done for them; they have burned incense to vanity — To vain idols, the products of men’s vain imaginations, and serving no good purpose whatever; and they have caused them to stumble, &c. — “The worship of idols hath perverted them from following the old, beaten track, plainly set forth in the law of Moses, and in the examples of former ages; (see Jeremiah 6:16;) and hath engaged them in such new and untried ways of worship as will end in their ruin.” — Lowth. To make their land desolate — Though the Jews did not practise idolatry and other sins with this view for they wished nothing less than the desolation of their country; yet they acted as if they wished it, and God had sufficiently warned them it was an effect which would follow upon their conduct. And a perpetual hissing — To be hissed at perpetually by way of insult and scorn, by those who pass by. I will scatter them as with an east wind, &c. — The east wind, being dry and blasting, is commonly used to express the calamities of war, and such like wasting judgments. But the words may perhaps be more intelligibly rendered, As the east wind the stubble, so will I scatter them before the enemy. And I will show them the back and not the face — I will manifest the same aversion from them which they have shown from me; I will not favour but be against them. The metaphor is taken from the custom of kings and princes, which is, to turn their backs on, or go away from, those supplicants whose petitions they will not grant.


Verse 18

Jeremiah 18:18. Then said they, Come, &c. — Namely, after they had heard from Jeremiah what God had ordered him to say to them concerning their destruction; for this seems to be understood. Let us devise devices against Jeremiah — Let us accuse him of being a false prophet; for the law shall not perish from the priest, &c. — For his threatenings plainly contradict God’s promises made to his people. “They seem to have been incensed against him on much the same ground as the Jews, in aftertimes, were against our Saviour and his apostles. They had persuaded themselves, that God had intended for them a perpetual establishment; and would accordingly provide them with a constant succession of man, in all departments, to preserve and maintain the general welfare; namely, priests to direct in all matters of law and religion; wise statesmen to manage their civil concerns; and prophets to make known to them the immediate will of God on all important and extraordinary occasions. Upon this presumption they inferred, that Jeremiah, who foretold the contrary, was a false prophet, and, as such, they determined to punish him.” — Blaney. Let us smite him with the tongue — Let us calumniate and disparage him, traducing him as an enemy to his country. Let us accuse him of crimes against the state, and by that means take away his life; then all his prophecies will die with him. In the margin we read, for the tongue, which may signify, “Let us punish him for his malignant speeches.” “But I rather think,” says Blaney, “we should render it, Let us smite him on the tongue, that is, on the offending part; alluding to a very significant mode of inflicting punishment, by directing it to that particular member which had the most immediate share in the offence, although here it may possibly carry this general import only, ‘Let us punish him so as effectually to silence him.’“


Verses 19-23

Jeremiah 18:19-23. Give heed to me, O Lord — The people had determined not to give heed to any of his words, (Jeremiah 18:18,) nor to admit any of his complaints, nor take the least notice of his grievances; therefore he appeals to God, as an impartial judge, that would hear both sides, as every judge ought to do. It is a matter of comfort to faithful ministers that, if men will not give heed to their preaching, yet God will give heed to their praying. And hearken to the voice of them that contend with me — Hear what they have to say against me, and for themselves, and then make it appear that thou sittest upon the throne judging right. Shall evil be recompensed for good? — And shall it go unpunished? Wilt not thou recompense me good for that evil? see 2 Samuel 16:12. “To render good for good,” says Henry, “is human, evil for evil is brutish, good for evil is Christian, but evil for good is devilish; it is so very absurd and wicked a thing that we cannot think but God will avenge it.” They have digged a pit for my soul — That is, They have laid snares for me as for a wild beast; for pits are digged for wild beasts to fall into, that so they may be taken. Therefore the sense is, They have formed a design against my life, and that not in a generous way, by an open assault, against which I might have had an opportunity of defending myself; but in a base, cowardly, clandestine way. Such was the evil they did or devised against him. But see how great the good was which he had done for them: Remember, he says, that I stood before thee to speak good for them — That is, in the execution of my prophetical office, I always interposed, with my prayers, in their behalf, to avert those judgments which, by thy command, I denounced against them. Therefore deliver up their children, &c. — Since they are thus incorrigible, I shall not any more intercede for them, but let those calamities of famine and sword, with which thou hast threatened them, overtake them. Let a cry be heard from their houses, &c. — When they are unexpectedly assaulted by a troop of their enemies, that come to plunder and destroy them. Yet Lord, or, rather, For Lord, thou knowest all their counsel against me, to slay me; forgive not their iniquity, &c. — Compare chap. Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 15:15; Psalms 59:5; on which passages see the notes. Although it redounds to the glory of God’s justice that incorrigible sinners should meet with exemplary punishment; yet these strong imprecations are not to be considered as the effusions of an unholy zeal, but as simple prophecies, in which light, we have shown, in our commentary on the Psalms, many similar expressions occurring there are to be considered.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 18:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/jeremiah-18.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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