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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Jeremiah 23

 

 

Verses 1-40

CHAPTER VIII

BAD SHEPHERDS AND FALSE PROPHETS

Jeremiah 23:1-40, Jeremiah 24:1-10

"Woe unto the shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!"- Jeremiah 23:1

"Of what avail is straw instead of Grain?is not My word like fire, like a hammer that shattereth the rocks?"- Jeremiah 23:28-29

THE captivity of Jehoiachin and the deportation of the flower of the people marked the opening of the last scene in the tragedy of Judah and of a new period in the ministry of Jeremiah. These events, together with the accession of Zedekiah as Nebuchadnezzar’s nominee, very largely altered the state of affairs in Jerusalem. And yet the two main features of the situation were unchanged-the people and the government persistently disregarded Jeremiah’s exhortations. "Neither Zedekiah, nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of Jehovah which He spake by the prophet Jeremiah." [Jeremiah 37:2] They would not obey the will of Jehovah as to their life and worship; and they would not submit to Nebuchadnezzar. "Zedekiah did evil in the sight of Jehovah, according to all that Jehoiakim had done; and Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon." [2 Kings 24:18-20]

It is remarkable that though Jeremiah consistently urged submission to Babylon, the various arrangements made by Nebuchadnezzar did very little to improve the prophet’s position or increase his influence. The Chaldean king may have seemed ungrateful only because he was ignorant of the services rendered to him-Jeremiah would not enter into direct and personal cooperation with the enemy of his country, even with him whom Jehovah had appointed to be the scourge of His disobedient people-but the Chaldean policy served Nebuchadnezzar as little as it profited Jeremiah. Jehoiakim, in spite of his forced submission, remained the able and determined foe of his suzerain, and Zedekiah, to the best of his very limited ability, followed his predecessor’s example.

Zedekiah was uncle of Jehoiachin, half-brother of Jehoiakim, and own brother to Jehoahaz. Possibly the two brothers owed their bias against Jeremiah and his teaching to their mother, Josiah’s wife Hamutal, the daughter of another Jeremiah, the Libnite. Ezekiel thus describes the appointment of the new king: "The king of Babylon took one of the seed royal, and made a covenant with him; he also put him under an oath, and took away the mighty of the land: that the kingdom might be base, that it might not lift itself up, but that by keeping of his covenant it might stand." [Ezekiel 17:13-14] Apparently Nebuchadnezzar was careful to choose a feeble prince for his "base kingdom"; all that we read of Zedekiah suggests that he was weak and incapable. Henceforth the sovereign counted for little in the internal struggles of the tottering state. Josiah had firmly maintained the religious policy of Jeremiah, and Jehoiakim, as firmly, the opposite policy; but Zedekiah had neither the strength nor the firmness to enforce a consistent policy and to make one party permanently dominant. Jeremiah and his enemies were left to fight it out amongst themselves, so that now their antagonism grew more bitter and pronounced than during any other reign.

But whatever advantage the prophet might derive from the weakness of the sovereign was more than counterbalanced by the recent deportation. In selecting the captives Nebuchadnezzar had sought merely to weaken Judah by carrying away every one who would have been an element of strength to the "base kingdom." Perhaps he rightly believed that neither the prudence of the wise nor the honour of the virtuous would overcome their patriotic hatred of subjection; weakness alone would guarantee the obedience of Judah. He forgot that even weakness is apt to be foolhardy when there is no immediate prospect of penalty.

One result of his policy was that the enemies and friends of Jeremiah were carried away indiscriminately; there was no attempt to leave behind those who might have counselled submission to Babylon as the acceptance of a Divine judgment, and thus have helped to keep Judah loyal to its foreign master. On the contrary Jeremiah’s disciples were chiefly thoughtful and honourable men, and Nebuchadnezzar’s policy in taking away "the mighty of the land" bereft the prophet of many friends and supporters, amongst them his disciple Ezekiel and doubtless a large class of whom Daniel and his three friends might be taken as types. When Jeremiah characterises the captives as "good figs," and those left behind as "bad figs," (chapter 24) and the judgment is confirmed and amplified by Ezekiel, (chapters 7-11) we may be sure that most of the prophet’s adherents were in exile.

We have already had occasion to compare the changes in the religious policy of the Jewish government to the alternations of Protestant and Romanist sovereigns among the Tudors; but no Tudor was as feeble as Zedekiah. He may rather be compared to Charles IX of France, helpless between the Huguenots and the League. Only the Jewish factions were less numerous, less evenly balanced; and by the speedy advance of Nebuchadnezzar civil dissensions were merged in national ruin.

The opening years of the new reign passed in nominal allegiance to Babylon. Jeremiah’s influence would be used to induce the vassal king to observe the covenant he had entered into and to be faithful to his oath to Nebuchadnezzar. On the other hand a crowd of "patriotic" prophets urged Zedekiah to set up once more the standard of national independence, to "come to the help of the Lord against the mighty." Let us then briefly consider Jeremiah’s polemic against the princes, prophets, and priests of his people. While Ezekiel in a celebrated chapter (chapter 8) denounces the idolatry of the princes, priests, and women of Judah, their worship of creeping things and abominable beasts, their weeping for Tammuz, their adoration of the sun, Jeremiah is chiefly concerned with the perverse policy of the government and the support it receives from priests and prophets, who profess to speak in the name of Jehovah. Jeremiah does not utter against Zedekiah any formal judgment like those on his three predecessors. Perhaps the prophet did not regard this impotent sovereign as the responsible representative of the state, and when the long-expected catastrophe at last befell the doomed people, neither Zedekiah nor his doings distracted men’s attention from their own personal sufferings and patriotic regrets. At the point where a paragraph on Zedekiah would naturally have followed that on Jehoiachin, we have by way of summary and conclusion to the previous sections a brief denunciation of the shepherds of Israel.

"Woe unto die shepherds that destroy and scatter the sheep of My Pasture!

Ye have scattered My flock, and driven them away, and have not cared for them; behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings."

These "shepherds" are primarily the kings, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin, who have been condemned by name in the previous chapter, together with the unhappy Zedekiah, who is too insignificant to be mentioned. But the term shepherds will also include the ruling and influential classes of which the king was the leading representative.

The image is a familiar one in the Old Testament and is found in the oldest literature of Israel, [Genesis 49:24] J. from older source. [Micah 5:5] but the denunciation of the rulers of Judah as unfaithful shepherds is characteristic of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and one of the prophecies appended to the Book of Zechariah. (Chapters 9-11, Zechariah 13:7-9.) Ezekiel 34:1-31 expands this figure and enforces its lessons:-

"Woe unto the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool. Ye kill the fatlings: but ye feed not the sheep. The diseased have ye not strengthened, Neither have ye healed the sick, Neither have ye bound up the bruised, Neither have ye brought back again that which was driven away, Neither have ye sought for that which was lost, But your rule over them has been harsh and violent, And for want of a shepherd they were scattered, And became food for every beast of the field." [Ezekiel 34:2-3]

So in Zechariah 9:1-17, etc., Jehovah’s anger is kindled against the shepherds, because they do not pity His flock. [Zechariah 10:3; Zechariah 11:5] Elsewhere [Jeremiah 25:34-38] Jeremiah speaks of the kings of all nations as shepherds, and pronounces against them also a like doom. All these passages illustrate the concern of the prophets for good government. They were neither Pharisees nor formalists; their religious ideals were broad and wholesome. Doubtless the elect remnant will endure through all conditions of society; but the Kingdom of God was not meant to be a pure Church in a rotten state. This present evil world is no manure heap to fatten the growth of holiness: it is rather a mass for the saints to leaven.

Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel turn from the unfaithful shepherds whose "hungry sheep look up and are not fed" to the true King of Israel, the "Shepherd of Israel that led Joseph like a flock, and dwelt between the Cherubim." In the days of the Restoration He will raise up faithful shepherds, and over them a righteous Branch, the real Jehovah Zidqenu, instead of the sapless twig who disgraced the name "Zedekiah." Similarly Ezekiel promises that God will set up one shepherd over His people, "even My servant David." The pastoral care of Jehovah for His people is most tenderly and beautifully set forth in the twenty-third Psalm. Our Lord, the root and the offspring of David, claims to be the fulfilment of ancient prophecy when He calls Himself "the Good Shepherd." The words of Christ and of the Psalmist receive new force and fuller meaning when we contrast their pictures of the true Shepherd with the portraits of the Jewish kings drawn by the prophets. Moreover the history of this metaphor warns us against ignoring the organic life of the Christian society, the Church, in our concern for the spiritual life of the individual. As Sir Thomas More said, in applying this figure to Henry VIII, "Of the multitude of sheep cometh the name of a shepherd." A shepherd implies not merely a sheep, but a flock; His relation to each member is tender and personal, but He bestows blessings and requires service in fellowship with the Family of God.

By a natural sequence the denunciation of the unfaithful shepherds is followed by a similar utterance "concerning the prophets." It is true that the prophets are not spoken of as shepherds; and Milton’s use of the figure in "Lycidas" suggests the New Testament rather than the Old. Yet the prophets had a large share in guiding the destinies of Israel in politics as well as in religion, and having passed sentence on the shepherds-the kings and princes-Jeremiah turns to the ecclesiastics, chiefly, as the heading implies, to the prophets. The priests indeed do not escape, but Jeremiah seems to feel that they are adequately dealt with in two or three casual references. We use the term "ecclesiastics" advisedly; the prophets were now a large professional class, more important and even more clerical than the priests. The prophets and priests together were the clergy of Israel. They claimed to be devoted servants of Jehovah, and for the most part the claim was made in all sincerity; but they misunderstood His character, and mistook for Divine inspiration the suggestions of their own prejudice and self-will.

Jeremiah’s indictment against them has various counts. He accuses them of speaking without authority, and also of time serving, plagiarism, and cant.

First, then, as to their unauthorised utterances: Jeremiah finds them guilty of an unholy license in prophesying, a distorted caricature of that "liberty of prophesying" which is the prerogative of God’s accredited ambassadors.

"Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you.

They make fools of you:

The visions which they declare are from their own hearts,

And not from the mouth of Jehovah.

Who hath stood in the council of Jehovah,

To perceive and hear His word?

Who hath marked His word and heard it?

I sent not the prophets-yet they ran;

I spake not unto them-yet they prophesied."

The evils which Jeremiah describes are such as will always be found in any large professional class. To use modern terms-in the Church, as in every profession, there will be men who are not qualified for the vocation which they follow. They are indeed not called to their vocation; they "follow," but do not overtake it. They are not sent of God, yet they run; they have no Divine message, yet they preach. They have never stood in the council of Jehovah; they might perhaps have gathered up scraps of the King’s purposes from His true councillors; but when they had opportunity they neither "marked nor heard"; and yet they discourse concerning heavenly things with much importance and assurance. But their inspiration, at its best, has no deeper or richer source than their own shallow selves; their visions are the mere product of their own imaginations. Strangers to the true fellowship, their spirit is not "a well of water springing up unto eternal life," but a stagnant pool. And, unless the judgment and mercy of God intervene, that pool will in the end be fed from a fountain whose bitter waters are earthly, sensual, devilish.

We are always reluctant to speak of ancient prophecy or modern preaching as a "profession." We may gladly dispense with the word, if we do not thereby ignore the truth which it inaccurately expresses. Men lived by prophecy, as, with Apostolic sanction, men live by "the gospel." They were expected, as ministers are now, though in a less degree, to justify their claims to an income and an official status, by discharging religious functions so as to secure the approval of the people or the authorities. Then, as now, the prophet’s reputation, influence, and social standing, probably even his income, depended upon the amount of visible success that he could achieve.

In view of such facts, it is futile to ask men of the world not to speak of the clerical life as a profession. They discern no ethical difference between a curate’s dreams of a bishopric and the aspirations of a junior barrister to the woolsack. Probably a refusal to recognise the element common to the ministry with law, medicine, and other professions, injures both the Church and its servants. One peculiar difficulty and most insidious temptation of the Christian ministry consists in its mingled resemblances to and differences from the other professions. The minister has to work under similar worldly conditions, and yet to control those conditions by the indwelling power of the Spirit. He has to "run," it may be twice or even three times a week, whether he be sent or no: how can he always preach only that which God has taught him? He is consciously dependent upon the exercise of his memory, his intellect, his fancy: how can he avoid speaking "the visions of his own heart"? The Church can never allow its ministers to regard themselves as mere professional teachers and lecturers, and yet if they claim to be more, must they not often fall under Jeremiah’s condemnation?

It is one of those practical dilemmas which delight casuists and distress honest and earnest servants of God. In the early Christian centuries similar difficulties peopled the Egyptian and Syrian deserts with ascetics, who had given up the world as a hopeless riddle. A full discussion of the problem would lead us too far away from the exposition of Jeremiah and we will only venture to make two suggestions.

The necessity, which most ministers are under, of "living by the gospel," may promote their own spiritual life and add to their usefulness. It corrects and reduces spiritual pride, and helps them to understand and sympathise with their lay brethren, most of whom are subject to a similar trial.

Secondly, as a minister feels the ceaseless pressure of strong temptation to speak from and live for himself-his lower, egotistic self-he will be correspondingly driven to a more entire and persistent surrender to God. The infinite fulness and variety of Revelation is expressed by the manifold gifts and experience of the prophets. If only the prophet be surrendered to the Spirit, then what is most characteristic of himself may become the most forcible expression of his message. His constant prayer will be that he may have the child’s heart and may never resist the Holy Ghost, that no personal interest or prejudice, no bias of training or tradition or current opinion, may dull his hearing when he stands in the council of the Lord, or betray him into uttering for Christ’s gospel the suggestions of his own self-will or the mere watchwords of his ecclesiastical faction.

But to return to the ecclesiastics who had stirred Jeremiah’s wrath. The professional prophets naturally adapted their words to the itching ears of their clients. They were not only officious, but also time serving. Had they been true prophets, they would have dealt faithfully with Judah; they would have sought to convince the people of sin, and to lead them to repentance; they would thus have given them yet another opportunity of salvation.

"If they had stood in My council,

They would have caused My people to hear My words;

They would have turned them from their evil way,

And from the evil of their doings."

But now:-

"They walk in lies and strengthen the hands of evildoers,

That no one may turn away from his sin.

They say continually unto them that despise the word of Jehovah,

Ye shall have peace;

And unto every one that walketh in the stubbornness of his heart they say,

No evil shall come upon you."

Unfortunately, when prophecy becomes professional in the lowest sense of the word, it is governed by commercial principles. A sufficiently imperious demand calls forth an abundant supply. A sovereign can "tune the pulpits"; and a ruling race can obtain from its clergy formal ecclesiastical sanction for such "domestic institutions" as slavery. When evildoers grow numerous and powerful, there will always be prophets to strengthen their hands and encourage them not to turn away from their sin. But to give the lie to these false prophets God sends Jeremiahs, who are often branded as heretics and schismatics, turbulent fellows who turn the world upside down.

The self-important, self-seeking spirit leads further to the sin of plagiarism:-

"Therefore I am against the prophets, is the utterance of Jehovah,

Who steal My word from one another."

The sin of plagiarism is impossible to the true prophet, partly because there are no rights of private property in the word of Jehovah. The Old Testament writers make free use of the works of their predecessors. For instance, Isaiah 2:2-4 is almost identical with Micah 4:1-3; yet neither author acknowledges his indebtedness to the other or to any third prophet. Uriah ben Shemaiah prophesied acording to all the words of Jeremiah, [Jeremiah 26:20] who himself owes much to Hosea, whom he never mentions. Yet he was not conscious of stealing from his predecessor, and he would have brought no such charge against Isaiah or Micah or Uriah. In the New Testament 2 Peter and Jude have so much in common that one must have used the other without acknowledgment. Yet the Church has not, on that ground, excluded either Epistle from the Canon. In the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the glorious company of the apostles no man says that the things which he utters are his own. But the mere hireling has no part in the spiritual communism wherein each may possess all things because he claims nothing. When a prophet ceases to be the messenger of God, and sinks into the mercenary purveyor of his own clever sayings and brilliant fancies, then he is tempted to become a clerical Autolycus, "a snapper up of unconsidered trifles." Modern ideas furnish a curious parallel to Jeremiah’s indifference to the borrowings of the true prophet, and his scorn of the literary pilferings of the false. We hear only too often of stolen sermons, but no one complains of plagiarism in prayers. Doubtless among these false prophets charges of plagiarism were bandied to and fro with much personal acrimony. But it is interesting to notice that Jeremiah is not denouncing an injury done to himself; he does not accuse them of thieving from him, but from one another. Probably assurance and lust of praise and power would have overcome any awe they felt for Jeremiah. He was only free from their depredations, because-from their point of view-his words were not worth stealing. There was nothing to be gained by repeating his stern denunciations, and even his promises were not exactly suited to the popular taste.

These prophets were prepared to cater for the average religious appetite in the most approved fashion-in other words, they were masters of cant. Their office had been consecrated by the work of true men of God like Elijah and Isaiah. They themselves claimed to stand in the genuine prophetic succession, and to inherit the reverence felt for their great predecessors, quoting their inspired utterances and adopting their weighty phrases. As Jeremiah’s contemporaries listened to one of their favourite orators, they were soothed by his assurances of Divine favour and protection, and their confidence in the speaker was confirmed by the frequent sound of familiar formulae in his unctuous sentences. These had the true ring; they were redolent of sound doctrine, of what popular tradition regarded as orthodox.

The solemn attestation NE’UM YAHWE, "It is the utterance of Jehovah," is continually appended to prophecies, almost as if it were the sign manual of the Almighty. Isaiah and other prophets frequently use the term MASSA (A.V., R.V., "burden") as a title, especially for prophecies concerning neighbouring nations. The ancient records loved to tell how Jehovah revealed Himself to the patriarchs in dreams. Jeremiah’s rivals included dreams in their clerical apparatus:-

"Behold, I am against them that prophesy lying dreams-Ne’um Yahwe-

And tell them, and lead astray My people

By their lies and their rodomontade;

It was not I who sent or commanded them,

Neither shall they profit this people at all, Ne’um Yahwe."

These prophets "thought to cause the Lord’s people to forget His name, as their fathers forgot His name for Baal, by their dreams which they told one another."

Moreover they could glibly repeat the sacred phrases as part of their professional jargon:-

"Behold, I am against the prophets,

It is the utterance of Jehovah,

That use their tongues

To utter utterances"

"To utter utterances"-the prophets uttered them, not Jehovah. These sham oracles were due to no Diviner source than the imagination of foolish hearts. But for Jeremiah’s grim earnestness, the last clause would be almost blasphemous. It is virtually a caricature of the most solemn formula of ancient Hebrew religion. But this was really degraded when it was used to obtain credence for the lies which men prophesied out of the deceit of their own heart. Jeremiah’s seeming irreverence was the most forcible way of bringing this home to his hearers. There are profanations of the most sacred things which can scarcely be spoken of without an apparent breach of the Third Commandment. The most awful taking in vain of the name of the Lord God is not heard among the publicans and sinners, but in pulpits and on the platforms of religious meetings.

But these prophets and their clients had a special fondness for the phrase "The burden of Jehovah," and their unctuous use of it most especially provoked Jeremiah’s indignation:-

"When this people priest, or prophet shall ask thee,

What is the burden of Jehovah?

Then say unto them, Ye are the burden.

But I will cast you off, Neum Yahwe.

If priest or prophet or people shall say,

The burden of Jehovah, I will punish that man and his house."

"And ye shall say to one another,

What hath Jehovah answered? and,

What hath Jehovah spoken?

And ye shall no more make mention of the burden of Jehovah:

For (if ye do) men’s words shall become a burden to themselves.

Thus shall ye inquire of a prophet,

What hath Jehovah answered thee?

What hath Jehovah spoken unto thee?

But if ye say, The burden of Jehovah,

Thus saith Jehovah: Because ye say this word, The burden of Jehovah.

When I have sent unto you the command,

Ye shall not say, The burden of Jehovah,

Therefore I will assuredly take you up,

And will cast away from before Me both you

And the city which I gave to you and to your fathers.

I will bring upon you everlasting reproach

And everlasting shame, that shall not be forgotten."

Jeremiah’s insistence and vehemence speak for themselves. Their moral is obvious, though for the most part unheeded. The most solemn formulae, hallowed by ancient and sacred associations, used by inspired teachers as the vehicle of revealed truths, may be debased till they become the very legend of Antichrist, blazoned on the Vexilla Regis Inferni. They are like a motto of one of Charles’ Paladins flaunted by his unworthy descendants to give distinction to cruelty and vice. The Church’s line of march is strewn with such dishonoured relics of her noblest champions. Even our Lord’s own words have not escaped. There is a fashion of discoursing upon "the gospel" which almost tempts reverent Christians to wish they might never hear that word again. Neither is this debasing of the moral currency confined to religious phrases; almost every political and social watchword has been similarly abused. One of the vilest tyrannies the world has ever seen-the Reign of Terror-claimed to be an incarnation of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."

Yet the Bible, with that marvellous catholicity which lifts it so high above the level of all other religious literature, not only records Jeremiah’s prohibition to use the term "Burden," but also tells us that centuries later Malachi could still speak of "the burden of the word of Jehovah." A great phrase that has been discredited by misuse may yet recover itself; the tarnished and dishonoured sword of faith may be baptised and burnished anew, and flame in the forefront of the holy war.

Jeremiah does not stand alone in his unfavourable estimate of the professional prophets of Judah; a similar depreciation seems to be implied by the words of Amos: "I am neither a prophet nor of the sons of prophets." One of the unknown authors whose writings have been included in the Book of Zechariah takes up the teaching of Amos and Jeremiah and carries it a stage further:-

"In that day (it is the utterance of Jehovah Sabaoth) I will cut off the names of the idols from the land,

They shall not be remembered any more;

Also the prophets and the spirit of uncleanness

Will I expel from the land.

When any shall yet prophesy, His father and mother that begat him shall say unto him,

Thou shalt not live, for thou speakest lies in the name of Jehovah":

"And his father and mother that begat him shall

Thrust him through when he prophesieth.

In that day every prophet when he prophesieth

Shall be ashamed of his vision;

Neither shall any wear a hairy mantle to deceive:

He shall say, I am no prophet;

I am a tiller of the ground,

I was sold for a slave in my youth."

No man with any self-respect would allow his fellows to dub him prophet; slave was a less humiliating name. No family would endure the disgrace of having a member who belonged to this despised caste; parents would rather put their son to death than see him a prophet. To such extremities may the spirit of time serving and cant reduce a national clergy. We are reminded of Latimer’s words in his famous sermon to Convocation in 1536:

"All good men in all places accuse your avarice, your exactions, your tyranny. I commanded you that ye should feed my sheep, and ye earnestly feed yourselves from day to day, wallowing in delights and idleness. I commanded you to teach my law; you teach your own traditions, and seek your own glory."

Over against their fluent and unctuous cant Jeremiah sets the terrible reality of his Divine message. Compared to this, their sayings are like chaff to the wheat; nay, this is too tame a figure-Jehovah’s word is like fire, like a hammer that shatters rocks. He says of himself:-

"My heart within me is broken; all my bones shake:

I am like a drunken man, like a man whom wine hath overcome,

Because of Jehovah and His holy words."

Thus we have in chapter 23, a full and formal statement of the controversy between Jeremiah and his brother prophets. On the one hand, self-seeking and self-assurance winning popularity by orthodox phrases, traditional doctrine, and the prophesying of smooth things; on the other hand, a man to whom the word of the Lord was like a fire in his bones, who had surrendered prejudice and predilection that he might himself become a hammer to shatter the Lord’s enemies, a man through whom God wrought so mightily that he himself reeled and staggered with the blows of which he was the instrument.

The relation of the two parties was not unlike that of St. Paul and his Corinthian adversaries: the prophet, like the Apostle, spoke "in demonstration of the Spirit of power"; he considered "not the word of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." In our next chapter we shall see the practical working of this antagonism which we have here set forth.


Verses 3-8

CHAPTER XXXI

RESTORATION II

THE NEW ISRAEL

Jeremiah 23:3-8; Jeremiah 24:6-7; Jeremiah 30:1-24; Jeremiah 31:1-40; Jeremiah 33:1-26

"In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name whereby she shall be called."- Jeremiah 33:16

THE Divine utterances in chapter 33, were given to Jeremiah when he was shut up in the "court of the guard" during the last days of the siege. They may, however, have been committed to writing at a later date, possibly in connection with Chapters 30 and 31, when the destruction of Jerusalem was already past. It is in accordance with all analogy that the final record of a "word of Jehovah" should include any further light which had come to the prophet through his inspired meditations on the original message. Chapters 30, 31, and 33 mostly expound and enforce leading ideas contained in Jeremiah 32:37-44 and in earlier utterances of Jeremiah. They have much in common with 2 Isaiah. The ruin of Judah and the captivity of the people were accomplished facts to both writers, and they were both looking forward to the return of the exiles and the restoration of the kingdom of Jehovah. We shall have occasion to notice individual points of resemblance later on.

In Jeremiah 30:2 Jeremiah is commanded to write in a book all that Jehovah has spoken to him; and according to the present context the "all," in this case, refers merely to the following four chapters. These prophecies of restoration would be specially precious to the exiles; and now that the Jews were scattered through many distant lands, they could only be transmitted and preserved in writing. After the command "to write in a book" there follows, by way of title, a repetition of the statement that Jehovah would bring back His people to their fatherland. Here, in the very forefront of the Book of Promise, Israel and Judah are named as being recalled together from exile. As we read twice [Jeremiah 16:14-15; Jeremiah 23:7-8] elsewhere in Jeremiah, the promised deliverance from Assyria and Babylon was to surpass all other manifestations of the Divine power and mercy. The Exodus would not be named in the same breath with it: "Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that it shall no more be said, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the Israelites out of the land of Egypt: but, As Jehovah liveth, that brought up the Israelites from the land of the north, and from all the countries whither He had driven them." This prediction has waited for fulfilment to our own times: hitherto the Exodus has occupied men’s minds much more than the Return; we are now coming to estimate the supreme religious importance of the latter event.

Elsewhere again Jeremiah connects his promise with the clause in his original commission "to build and to plant": [Jeremiah 1:10] "I will set My eyes upon them" (the captives) "for good, and I will bring them again to this land; and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up." [Jeremiah 24:7] As in Jeremiah 32:28-35, the picture of restoration is rendered more vivid by contrast with Judah’s present state of wretchedness; the marvellousness of Jehovah’s mercy is made apparent by reminding Israel of the multitude of its iniquities. The agony of Jacob is like that of a woman in travail. But travail shall be followed by deliverance and triumph. In the second Psalm the subject nations took counsel against Jehovah and against His Anointed:-

"Let us break their bands asunder,

And cast away their cords from us";

but now this is the counsel of Jehovah concerning His people and their Babylonian conqueror:-

"I will break his yoke from off thy neck,

And break thy bands asunder."

Judah’s lovers, her foreign allies, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and all the other states with whom she had intrigued, had betrayed her; they had cruelly chastised her, so that her wounds were grievous and her bruises incurable. She was left without a champion to plead her cause, without a friend to bind up her wounds, without balm to allay the pain of her bruises. "Because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee, saith Jehovah." Jerusalem was an outcast, of whom men said contemptuously: "This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after." But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity; because Judah was helpless and despised, therefore Jehovah said, "I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds."

While Jeremiah was still watching from his prison the progress of the siege, he had seen the houses and palaces beyond the walls destroyed by the Chaldeans to be used for their mounds; and had known that every sally of the besieged was but another opportunity for the enemy to satiate themselves with slaughter, as they executed Jehovah’s judgments upon the guilty city. Even at this extremity He announced solemnly and emphatically the restoration and pardon of His people.

"Thus saith Jehovah, who established the earth, when He made and fashioned it-Jehovah is His name:

Call upon Me, and I will answer thee, and will show thee great mysteries, which thou knowest not."

"I will bring to this city healing and cure, and will cause them to know all the fulness of steadfast peace . . .

I will cleanse them from all their iniquities, and will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned and transgressed against Me."

The healing of Zion naturally involved the punishment of her cruel and treacherous lovers. The Return, like other revolutions, was not wrought by rose water; the yokes were broken and the bands rent asunder by main force. Jehovah would make a full end of all the nations whither He had scattered them. Their devourers should be devoured, all their adversaries should go into captivity, those who had spoiled and preyed upon them should become a spoil and a prey. Jeremiah had been commissioned from the beginning to pull down foreign nations and kingdoms as well as his native Judah. [Jeremiah 1:10] Judah was only one of Israel’s evil neighbours who were to be plucked up out of their land. And at the Return, as at the Exodus, the waves at one and the same time opened a path of safety for Israel and overwhelmed her oppressors.

Israel, pardoned and restored, would again be governed by legitimate kings of the House of David. In the dying days of the monarchy Israel and Judah had received their rulers from the hands of foreigners. Menahem and Hoshea bought the confirmation of their usurped authority from Assyria. Jehoiakim was appointed by Pharaoh Necho, and Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar. We cannot doubt that the kings of Egypt and Babylon were also careful to surround their nominees with ministers who were devoted to the interests of their suzerains. But now "their nobles were to be of themselves, and their ruler was to proceed out of their midst," [Jeremiah 30:21] i.e., nobles and rulers were to hold their offices according to national custom and tradition.

Jeremiah was fond of speaking of the leaders of Judah as shepherds. We have had occasion already (Cf. chapter 8) to consider his controversy with the "shepherds" of his own time. In his picture of the New Israel he uses the same figure. In denouncing the evil shepherds he predicts that, when the remnant of Jehovah’s flock is brought again to their folds, He will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them, [Jeremiah 23:3-4] shepherds. according to Jehovah’s own heart, who should feed them with knowledge and understanding. [Jeremiah 3:15]

Over them Jehovah would establish as Chief Shepherd a Prince of the House of David. Isaiah had already included in his picture of Messianic times the fertility of Palestine; its vegetation, by the blessing of Jehovah, should be beautiful and glorious: he had also described the Messianic King as a fruitful Branch out of the root of Jesse. Jeremiah takes the idea of the latter passage, but uses the language of the former. For him the King of the New Israel is, as it were, a Growth (cemah) out of the sacred soil, or perhaps more definitely from the roots of the House of David, that ancient tree whose trunk had been hewn down and burnt. Both the Growth (cemah) and the Branch (necer) had the same vital connection with the soil of Palestine and the root of David. Our English versions exercised a wise discretion when they sacrificed literal accuracy and indicated the identity of idea by translating both "cemah" and "necer" by "Branch."

"Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise up unto David a righteous Branch; and He shall be a wise and prudent King, and He shall execute justice and maintain the right. In His days Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell securely, and his name shall be Jehovah ‘Cidqenu,’ Jehovah is our righteousness." Jehovah Cidqenu might very well be the personal name of a Jewish king, though the form would be unusual; but what is chiefly intended is that His character shall be such as the "name" describes. The "name" is a brief and pointed censure upon a king whose character was the opposite of that described in these verses, yet who bore a name of almost identical meaning-Zedekiah, Jehovah is my righteousness. The name of the last reigning Prince of the House of David had been a standing condemnation of his unworthy life, but the King of the New Israel, Jehovah’s true Messiah, would realise in His administration all that such a name promised. Sovereigns delight to accumulate sonorous epithets in their official designations-Highness, High and Mighty, Majesty, Serene, Gracious. The glaring contrast between character and titles often only serves to advertise the worthlessness of those who are labelled with such epithets: the Majesty of James I, the Graciousness of Richard III. Yet these titles point to a standard of true royalty, whether the sovereign be an individual or a class or the people; they describe that Divine Sovereignty which will be realised in the Kingdom of God.

The material prosperity of the restored community is set forth with wealth of glowing imagery. Cities and palaces are to be rebuilt on their former sites with more than their ancient splendour. "Out of them shall proceed thanksgiving, and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. And the children of Jacob shall be as of old, and their assembly shall be established before Me." [Jeremiah 30:18-20] The figure often used of the utter desolation of the deserted country is now used to illustrate its complete restoration: "Yet again shall there be heard in this place the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride." Throughout all the land "which is waste, without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof," shepherds shall dwell and pasture and fold their flocks; and in the cities of all the districts of the Southern Kingdom enumerated as exhaustively as in Jeremiah 32:44 shall the flocks again pass under the shepherd’s hands to be told. [Jeremiah 33:10-13]

Jehovah’s own peculiar flock, His Chosen People, shall be fruitful and multiply according to the primeval blessing; under their new shepherds they shall no more fear nor be dismayed, neither shall any be lacking. [Jeremiah 23:3-4] Jeremiah recurs again and again to the quiet, the restfulness, the freedom from fear and dismay of the restored Israel. In this, as in all else, the New Dispensation was to be an entire contrast to those long weary years of alternate suspense and panic, when men’s hearts were shaken by the sound of the trumpet and the alarm of war. [Jeremiah 4:19] Israel is to dwell securely at rest from fear of harm. [Jeremiah 23:6] When Jacob returns he "shall be quiet and at ease, and none shall make him afraid." [Jeremiah 30:10] Egyptian, Assyrian, and Chaldean shall all cease from troubling; the memory of past misery shall become dim and shadowy.

The finest expansion of this idea is a passage which always fills the soul with a sense of utter rest.

"He shall dwell on high: his refuge shall be the inaccessible rocks: his bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure. Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold a far-stretching land. Thine heart shall muse on the terror: where is he that counted, where is he that weighed the tribute? where is he that counted the towers? Thou shalt not see the fierce people, a people of a deep speech that thou canst not perceive; of a strange tongue that thou canst not understand. Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tent that shall not be removed, the stakes whereof shall never be plucked up, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. There Jehovah will be with us in majesty, a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby." (Isaiah 33:16-21; , Isaiah 32:15-18.)

For Jeremiah too the presence of Jehovah in majesty was the only possible guarantee of the peace and prosperity of Israel. The voices of joy and gladness in the New Jerusalem were not only those of bride and bridegroom, but also of those that said, "Give thanks to Jehovah Sabaoth, for Jehovah is good, for His mercy endureth forever," and of those that "came to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving in the house of Jehovah." [Jeremiah 33:11] This new David, as the Messianic King is called, [Jeremiah 30:9] is to have the priestly right of immediate access to God: "I will cause Him to draw near, and He shall approach unto Me: for else who would risk his life by daring to approach Me?" {Jeremiah 30:21, as Kautzsch.} Israel is liberated from foreign conquerors to serve Jehovah their God and David their King; and the Lord Himself rejoices in His restored and ransomed people.

The city that was once a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse among all nations shall now be to Jehovah "a name of joy, a praise and a glory, before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them, and shall tremble with fear for all the good and all the peace that I procure unto it." [Jeremiah 33:9]


Verse 17

CHAPTER XXVIII

PERSISTENT APOSTASY

"They have forsaken the covenant of Jehovah their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them."- Jeremiah 22:9

"Every one that walketh in the stubbornness of his heart."- Jeremiah 23:17

THE previous chapter has been intentionally confined, as far as possible, to Jeremiah’s teaching upon the moral condition of Judah. Religion, in the narrower sense, was kept in the background, and mainly referred to as a social and political influence. In the same way the priests and prophets were mentioned chiefly as classes of notables-estates of the realm. This method corresponds with a stage in the process of Revelation; it is that of the older prophets. Hosea, as a native of the Northern Kingdom, may have had a fuller experience and clearer understanding of religious corruption than his contemporaries in Judah. But, in spite of the stress that he lays upon idolatry and the various corruptions of worship, many sections of his book simply deal with social evils. We are not explicitly told why the prophet was "a fool" and "a snare of a fowler," but the immediate context refers to the abominable immorality of Gibeah. [Hosea 9:7-9 : cf. 19:22] The priests are not reproached with incorrect ritual, but with conspiracy to murder. [Hosea 6:9] In Amos, the land is not so much punished on account of corrupt worship, as the sanctuaries are destroyed because the people are given over to murder, oppression, and every form of vice. In Isaiah again the main stress is constantly upon international policies and public and private morality. (Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13, is excluded from this statement.) For instance, none of the woes in Isaiah 5:8-24 are directed against idolatry or corrupt worship, and in Jeremiah 28:7 the charge brought against Ephraim does not refer to ecclesiastical matters; they have erred through strong drink.

In Jeremiah’s treatment, of the ruin of Judah, he insists, as Hosea had done as regards Israel, on the fatal consequences of apostasy from Jehovah to other gods. This very phrase "other gods" is one of Jeremiah’s favourite expressions, and in the writings of the other prophets only occurs in Hosea 3:1. On the other hand, references to idols are extremely rare in Jeremiah. These facts suggest a special difficulty in discussing the apostasy of Judah. The Jews often combined the worship of other gods with that of Jehovah. According to the analogy of other nations, it was quite possible to worship Baal and Ashtaroth, and the whole heathen Pantheon, without intending to show any special disrespect to the national Deity. Even devout worshippers, who confined their adorations to the one true God, sometimes thought they did honour to Him by introducing into His services the images and all the paraphernalia of the splendid cults of the great heathen empires. It is not always easy to determine whether statements about idolatry imply formal apostasy from Jehovah, or merely a debased worship. When the early Mohammedans spoke with lofty contempt of image worshippers, they were referring to the Eastern Christians; the iconoclast heretics denounced the idolatry of the Orthodox Church, and the Covenanters used similar terms as to prelacy. Ignorant modern Jews are sometimes taught that Christians worship idols.

Hence when we read of the Jews, "They set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to defile it," we are not to understand that the Temple was transferred from Jehovah to some other deities, but that the corrupt practices and symbols of heathen worship were combined with the Mosaic ritual. Even the high places of Baal, in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, where children were passed through the fire unto Moloch, professed to offer an opportunity of supreme devotion to the God of Israel. Baal and Melech, Lord and King, had in ancient times been amongst His titles; and when they became associated with the more heathenish modes of worship, their misguided devotees still claimed that they were doing homage to the national Deity. The inhuman sacrifices to Moloch were offered in obedience to sacred tradition and Divine oracles, which were supposed to emanate from Jehovah. In three different places, Jeremiah explicitly and emphatically denies that Jehovah had required or sanctioned these sacrifices: "I commanded them not, neither came it into My mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." The Pentateuch preserves an ancient ordinance which the Moloch worshippers probably interpreted in support of their unholy rites, and Jeremiah’s protests are partly directed against the misinterpretation of the command "the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give Me." The immediate context also commanded that the firstlings of sheep and oxen should be given to Jehovah. The beasts were killed; must it not be intended that the children should be killed too? A similar blind literalism has been responsible for many of the follies and crimes perpetrated in the name of Christ. The Church is apt to justify its most flagrant enormities by appealing to a misused and misinterpreted Old Testament. "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and "Cursed be Canaan" have been proof texts for witch hunting and negro slavery; and the Book of Joshua has been regarded as a Divine charter, authorising the unrestrained indulgence of the passion for revenge and blood.

When it was thus necessary to put on record reiterated denials that inhuman rites of Baal and Moloch were a divinely sanctioned adoration of Jehovah, we can understand that the Baal worship constantly referred to by Hosea, Jeremiah, and Zephaniah was not generally understood to be apostasy. The worship of "other gods," "the sun, the moon, and all the host of heaven," [Jeremiah 7:2] and of the "Queen of Heaven," would be more difficult to explain as mere syncretism, but the assimilation of Jewish worship to heathen ritual and the confusion of the Divine Name with the titles of heathen deities masked the transition from the religion of Moses and Isaiah to utter apostasy.

Such assimilation and confusion perplexed and baffled the prophets. Social and moral wrongdoing were easily exposed and denounced; and the evils thus brought to light were obvious symptoms of serious spiritual disease. The Divine Spirit taught the prophets that sin was often most rampant in those who professed the greatest devotion to Jehovah and were most punctual and munificent in the discharge of external religious duties. When the prophecy in Isaiah 1:1-31 was uttered it almost seemed as if the whole system of Mosaic ritual would have to be sacrificed, in order to preserve the religion of Jehovah. But the further development of the disease suggested a less heroic remedy. The passion for external rites did not confine itself to the traditional forms of ancient Israelite worship. The practices of unspiritual and immoral ritualism were associated specially with the names of Baal and Moloch and with the adoration of the host of heaven; and the departure from the true worship became obvious when the deities of foreign nations were openly worshipped.

Jeremiah clearly and constantly insisted on the distinction between the true and the corrupt worship. The worship paid to Baal and Moloch was altogether unacceptable to Jehovah. These and other objects of adoration were not to be regarded as forms, titles, or manifestations of the one God, but were "other gods," distinct and opposed in nature and attributes; in serving them the Jews were forsaking Him. So far from recognising such rites as homage paid to Jehovah, Jeremiah follows Hosea in calling them "backsliding," [Jeremiah 2:19, etc.} a falling away from true loyalty. When they addressed themselves to their idols, even if they consecrated them in the Temple and to the glory of the Most High, they were not really looking to Him in reverent supplication, but with impious profanity were turning their backs upon Him: "They have turned unto Me the back, and not the face." {Jeremiah 32:33, etc.} These proceedings were a violation of the covenant between Jehovah and Israel. {Jeremiah 22:9; Jeremiah 11:10; Jeremiah 31:32, and Hosea 6:7; Hosea 8:1]

The same anxiety to discriminate the true religion from spurious imitations and adulterations underlies the stress which Jeremiah lays upon the Divine Name. His favourite formula, "Jehovah Sabaoth is His name"; [Jeremiah 10:16 cf. Amos 4:13] may be borrowed from Amos, or may be an ancient liturgical sentence; in any case, its use would be a convenient protest against the doctrine that Jehovah could be worshipped under the names of and after the manner of Baal and Moloch. When Jehovah speaks of the people forgetting "My name," He does not mean either that the people would forget all about Him, or would cease to use the name Jehovah; but that they would forget the character and attributes, the purposes and ordinances, which were properly expressed by His Name. The prophets who "prophesy lies in My name" "cause My people to forget My name." Baal and Moloch had sunk into fit titles for a god who could be worshipped with cruel, obscene, and idolatrous rites, but the religion of Revelation had been forever associated with the one sacred Name, when. "Elohim said unto Moses, Thou shalt say unto the Israelites: Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations." All religious life and practice inconsistent with this Revelation given through Moses and the prophets-all such worship, even if offered to beings which, as Jehovah, sat in the Temple of Jehovah, professing to be Jehovah-were nevertheless service and obedience paid to other and false gods. Jeremiah’s mission was to hammer these truths into dull and unwilling minds.

His work seems to have been successful. Ezekiel, who is in a measure his disciple, drops the phrase "other gods," and mentions "idols" very frequently. Argument and explanation were no longer necessary to show that idolatry was sin against Jehovah; the word "idol" could be freely used and universally understood as indicating what was wholly alien to the religion of Israel. Jeremiah was too anxious to convince the Jews that all syncretism was apostasy to distinguish it carefully from the avowed neglect of Jehovah for other gods. It is not even clear that such neglect existed in his day. In chapter 44 we have one detailed account of false worship to the Queen of Heaven. It was offered by the Jewish refugees in Egypt; shortly before, these refugees had unanimously entreated Jeremiah to pray for them to Jehovah, and had promised to obey His commands. The punishment of their false worship was that they should no longer be permitted to name the Holy Name. Clearly, therefore, they had supposed that offering incense to the Queen of Heaven was not inconsistent with worshipping Jehovah. We need not dwell on a distinction which is largely ignored by Jeremiah; the apostasy of Judah was real and widespread, it matters little how far the delinquents ventured to throw off the cloak of orthodox profession. The most lapsed masses in a Christian country do not utterly break their connection with the Church; they consider themselves legitimate recipients of its alms, and dimly contemplate as a vague and distant possibility the reformation of their life and character through Christianity. So the blindest worshippers of stocks and stones claimed a vested interest in the national Deity, and in the time of their trouble they turned to Jehovah with the appeal "Arise and save us." [Jeremiah 2:27]

Jeremiah also dwells on the deliberate and persistent character of the apostasy of Judah. Nations have often experienced a sort of satanic revival when the fountains of the nether deep seemed broken up, and flood tides of evil influence swept all before them. Such, in a measure, was the reaction from the Puritan Commonwealth, when so much of English society lapsed into reckless dissipation. Such too was the carnival of wickedness into which the First French Republic was plunged in the Reign of Terror. But these periods were transient, and the domination of lust and cruelty soon broke down before the reassertion of an outraged national conscience. But we noticed, in the previous chapter, that Israel and Judah alike steadily failed to attain the high social ideal of the Mosaic dispensation. Naturally, this continuous failure is associated with persistent apostasy from the religious teaching of the Mosaic and prophetic Revelation. Exodus, Deuteronomy, and the Chronicler agree with Jeremiah that the Israelites were a stiff-necked people; [Jeremiah 27:23 : cf. Exodus 32:9, etc. Deuteronomy 9:6;, 2 Chronicles 30:8] and, in the Chronicler’s time at any rate, Israel had played a part in the world long enough for its character to be accurately ascertained; and subsequent history has shown that, for good or for evil, the Jews have never lacked tenacity. Syncretism, the tendency to adulterate true teaching and worship with elements from heathen sources, had been all along a morbid affection of Israelite religion. The Pentateuch and the historical books are full of rebukes of the Israelite passion for idolatry, which must for the most part be understood as introduced into or associated with the worship of Jehovah. Jeremiah constantly refers to "the stubbornness of their evil heart": "they have walked after the stubbornness of their own heart and after the Baalim." This stubbornness was shown in their resistance to all the means which Jehovah employed to wean them from their sin. Again and again, in our book, Jehovah speaks of Himself as "rising up early" to speak to the Jews, to teach them, to send prophets to them, to solemnly adjure them to submit themselves to Him: but they would not hearken either to Jehovah or to His prophets, they would not accept His teaching or obey His commands, they made themselves stiff necked and would not bow to His will. He had subjected them to the discipline of affliction, instruction had become correction; Jehovah had wounded them "with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one"; but as they had been deaf to exhortation, so they were proof against chastisement-"they refused to receive correction." Only the ruin of the state and the captivity of the people could purge out this evil leaven.

Apostasy from the Mosaic and prophetic religion was naturally accompanied by social corruption. It has recently been maintained that the universal instinct which inclines man to be religious is not necessarily moral, and that it is the distinguishing note of the true faith, or of religion proper, that it enlists this somewhat neutral instinct in the cause of a pure morality. The Phoenician and Syrian cults, with which Israel was most closely in contact, sufficiently illustrated the combination of fanatical religious feeling with gross impurity. On the other hand, the teaching of Revelation to Israel consistently inculcated a high morality and an unselfish benevolence. The prophets vehemently affirmed the worthlessness of religious observances by men who oppressed the poor and helpless. Apostasy from Jehovah to Baal and Moloch involved the same moral lapse as a change from loyal service to Christ to a pietistic antinomianism. Widespread apostasy meant general social corruption. The most insidious form of apostasy was that specially denounced by Jeremiah, in which the authority of Jehovah was more or less explicitly claimed for practices and principles which defied His law. The Reformer loves a clear issue, and it was more difficult to come to close quarters with the enemy when both sides professed to be fighting in the King’s name. Moreover the syncretism which still recognised Jehovah was able without any violent revolution to control the established institutions and orders of the state-palace and temple, king and princes, priests and prophets. For a moment the Reformation of Josiah, and the covenant entered into by the king and people to observe the law as laid down in the newly discovered Book of Deuteronomy, seemed to have raised Judah from its low estate. But the defeat and death of Josiah and the deposition of Jehoahaz followed, to discredit Jeremiah and his friends. In the consequent reaction it seemed as if the religion of Jehovah and the life of His people had become hopelessly corrupt.

We are too much accustomed to think of the idolatry of Israel as something openly and avowedly distinct from and opposed to the worship of Jehovah. Modern Christians often suppose that the true worshipper and the ancient idolater were as contrasted as a pious Englishman and a devotee of one of the hideous images seen on missionary platforms; or, at any rate, that they were as easily distinguishable as a native Indian evangelist from his unconverted fellow countrymen.

This mistake deprives us of the most instructive lessons to be derived from the record. The sin which Jeremiah denounced is by no means outside Christian experience; it is much nearer to us than conversion to Buddhism-it is possible to the Church in every stage of its history. The missionary finds that the lives of his converts continually threaten to revert to a nominal profession which cloaks the immorality and superstition of their old heathenism. The Church of the Roman Empire gave the sanction of Christ’s name and authority to many of the most unchristian features of Judaism and Paganism; once more the rites of strange gods were associated with the worship of Jehovah and a new Queen of Heaven was honoured with unlimited incense. The Reformed Churches in their turn, after the first "kindness of their youth," the first "love of their espousals," have often fallen into the very abuses against which their great leaders protested; they have given way to the ritualistic spirit, have put the Church in the place of Christ, and have claimed for human formulae the authority that can only belong to the inspired Word of God. They have immolated their victims to the Baals and Molochs of creeds and confessions, and thought that they were doing honour to Jehovah thereby.

Moreover we have still to contend like Jeremiah with the continual struggle of corrupt human nature to indulge in the luxury of religious sentiment and emotion without submitting to the moral demands of Christ. The Church suffers far less by losing the allegiance of the lapsed masses than it does by those who associate with the service of Christ those malignant and selfish vices which are often canonised as Respectability and Convention.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 23:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/jeremiah-23.html.

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