Jeremiah an Example

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How instructive it is to remark the instruments God uses wherewith to accomplish His designs. As His resource when all had failed, by which He could show Himself just and yet the justifier of them that believe in Jesus, surpasses all that man had conceived, or could have dreamed of, so often when He works, the instruments selected are just those which man would have rejected as utterly unfit for the occasion. But those very instruments, when taken up and fitted for the object God has in view, bring out His power and redound to His glory. Of this Jeremiah is a striking instance, who, naturally timid and retiring, is yet made by the Lord as bold as a lion, and able to do and to brave what the stoutest heart might well have shrunk from.
To testify against evil, to expose the wickedness of a generation, and declare the sin of a people, is ever a difficult task to the creature. It shrinks back at the bare thought of it, and well it may, for what power has 'the earthen vessel in itself? But if the Lord is with it, if He deigns to use it, weak and fragile in itself, in His hand it can become a " defensed city, an iron pillar, and brazen walls." (Jer. 1:1818For, behold, I have made thee this day a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. (Jeremiah 1:18).) One thus situated is brought into opposition to the current thoughts and feelings of the world, making him clash with the opinions, maxims, and habits of those who, whatever they profess, are really opposed to God, and under the power and authority of the great enemy of the Lord. " The friendship of the world is enmity with God." (James 4:44Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. (James 4:4).) It must be a work of faith, and the work of faith attests the impotency of the creature, and the power of God. For if confident in its own strength, and assured it can overcome by its own power, it seeks not elsewhere for assistance; but if the task assigned is felt to be too great, it can only go forward in the strength of another. And if it then turns away from all earthly sources, and looks alone to God, it walks by faith. And the walking by faith is the going contrary to that which nature would dictate, the incurring that which worldly prudence would avoid, and the doing that which a regard to personal comfort and ease would counsel the individual most strongly to leave alone.
Weak and timid as a child is Jeremiah as presented to us in chapter i., when the prophetic commission is announced to him. " Ah, Lord God, I cannot speak, for I am a child." (Ver. 6.) Such are the first accents of the future prophet which burst on our ears. He stands aghast at the task assigned him-" A prophet unto the nations." " I am a child," he says. Did not the Lord know this? Assuredly He did; for He had already said, " Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou earnest out of the womb I sanctified thee; I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." His commission now delivered him was clearly no after thought. The One who sends him forth to the nations had formed him from the belly, and sanctified him from the womb for this very work. Before Jeremiah entered on the future scene of his prophetic ministry, the Lord had sanctified him, and ordained him a prophet to the nations. This announcement, so comforting and cheering to one who has learned to trust the living God, failed to support Jeremiah. He was occupied with his weakness; he saw that; he felt that. He could give no heed to the words, " I formed thee, I sanctified thee." He urges objections, " I cannot speak, for I am a child." His youth he thought a reasonable objection to obedience to the divine command. His inability to speak is in his eyes a fitting reason why the Lord should not send him; yet the Lord had ordained him from the womb for this work. How often do we see similar conduct in God's children, perhaps have experienced it in
our own case. God calls, His servant objects. There is a difficulty, an obstacle which we have discovered that God has overlooked; an obstacle which must prove a most effectual hindrance to compliance with His will. He cannot speak, he is a child; as with Jeremiah, so with Moses; objections- of
personal inefficiency are urged. Has God made a mistake? How could He? He has formed him. It is well to be thoroughly sensible of our own weakness, and to feel that we cannot do anything of ourselves. " When I am weak, then am I strong." But it is never right to make our sense of weakness an excuse for disobeying God. We cannot be too sensible of our nothingness, but let us be as fully sensible of God's all-sufficiency. Obedience to God is always right. God had called him to the office, however unfit he felt himself for it. Doubtless, humanly speaking, he was unfit. If man had been selecting a suitable person, it would probably not have been Jeremiah. Jesse never thought of presenting David before Samuel. Samuel thought Eliab was the one God had chosen; but till David came they could not sit down to meat, and when he came the Lord's anointed stood before them.
In objecting Jeremiah was wrong. Conscious of God's express command objections could have no place. Besides what good was gained by this? Could he turn aside the Lord from His purpose? Sooner or later he must obey. Jonah, dismayed at the work given him to do, attempts to fly to Tarshish to avoid its execution. He could delay its commencement by his disobedience, but he could not change God's counsel concerning him. Go he must, and go he did. Israel in the wilderness shrunk from personal conflict with the nations of Canaan. ' The war was delayed for forty years, but had to be encountered at last; and the very enemies which their fathers feared to meet, the children had to overcome. Jeremiah endeavors, but in vain, to change the mind of the Lord. " The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?" The prophet's failure gives occasion for the manifestation of the Lord's graciousness who allows his servant to reason with Him, not to change His mind, but to be overruled by assurances of His help and protection. Say not I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord." (Ver. 7, 8.) If his being a child is no valid objection to his employment as prophet, neither is his inability of speech to be an hindrance for the work. " And the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold I have put my words in thy mouth. See I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant." (Ver. 9, 10.) What a commission is here l To nature most appalling, to faith God's will, and that is enough.
But his work does not end here. He might have discharged the office of prophet to the nations without once coming into contact with the subjects of his prophecies, by sending them to the different nations by the hand of messengers, as he did in some cases. (Chapter 27:2; 59—64.) What follows, however, cut off all hope of seclusion. He must face men, prophecy against Judah, and announce judgments against Jerusalem. " Thou therefore gird up thy loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command thee; be not dismayed at their faces, lest I confound thee before them. For, behold, I have made thee this day a defensed city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, against the princes thereof, against the priests thereof, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against thee; but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee to deliver thee." (Chapter 1:17-19.) From this there could be no escape. If he drew back the Lord would confound him before them. If he went forward it would be to incur their hatred, and encounter their opposition. " They shall fight against thee." To stand still was impossible; retreat was out of the question; to go forward is all he could do; and " I am with thee to deliver thee," is all he had to trust to: but that was the word of His God.
His message was to be one of reproof and judgment, though many precious promises were mingled with the announcement of coming wrath. There are some who seem to take pleasure in predicting evil, and foretelling the judgments which impend on their adversaries. Had Jeremiah been one of this class, he might have found his difficulties in some degree counterbalanced by the pleasure of foreseeing the confusion and misery of his oppressors. But he was a man of a different stamp. In accordance with the spirit of the dispensation under which he lived, he could pray for the punishment of his enemies. (Chapter 15:15.) Yet we find him grieved to the heart at the evil he was the medium of predicting. (Chapter 4:19-26;8. 18 -22; ix. 1; xiii. 17.) In no way, then, was the office of prophet congenial to his nature. Naturally timid, he shrank from conflict with the wicked; and when uttering the word of the Lord, foretelling the punishment and misery coming on his people, his gentle soul is pained, and the spirit of intercession, which arose from the depths of his heart, is only checked by repeated injunctions from the Lord to refrain. (Chapter 7:16;11. 14, 15; xiv. 11; xv. 1.)
From the beginning to the end of his ministry he is obliged to face the ungodly part of the nation, and even to enter the king's house, and there deliver his messages of woe. He is continually put forward and made by the Lord to take a most prominent place in his country's history. How does he comport himself in this, to him, unwished-for position?
His first public acts are to press home on the conscience of the nation, if possible, a conception of the enormity of their guilt. From chapter he is occupied with setting before them their iniquities, which may be summed up under three heads-general corruption, idolatry, and covenant breaking.
From chapter ii.-vi. he unfolds their general corruption, crying in the ears of Jerusalem-The Lord had only done them good from the earliest period of their national existence. They had requited Him with the blackest ingratitude, having forsaken Him, the fountain of living waters, and hewn out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that could hold no water. From the Lord they had turned to Assyria, and when that failed, they had looked to Egypt for help. Their glory they had changed for that which did not profit. Idolatry was established, with its concomitant vices, for which the prophet reproves them. (Chapter 2:27;3. 9; v. 7-9.) The Lord's word was disbelieved. (Chapter 5:12.) They were rebellious. All classes were corrupt. Providential dealings had no effect. (Chapter 3:3.) " As a fountain casteth out her waters, so Jerusalem casteth out her wickedness." (Chapter 6:7.) No shame could be seen on their face, not a blush on their cheeks. (Ver. 15.) Reprobate silver would they be called, because the Lord had rejected them. (Ver. 30.) Among such was Jeremiah placed " as a fortress and tower to know and try their ways." (Ver. 27.)
From chapters 7-10. the prophet is sent to speak to the men of Judah in the house of the Lord, to show up their abominable sins carried on whilst calling out, " The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these." (Chapter 7:4.) They were hypocrites. They could steal, murder, commit adultery, burn incense to Baal, and come to the Lord's house, saying they were delivered to do all these things.
Their idolatry is then denounced. But in this they were not alone. The heathen were guilty of it likewise, therefore a message is sent to them by the " prophet to the nations," announcing (in Chaldee) (Chapter 10:11) that "the gods who have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens." After this we have the contrast between idols and the Lord God brought out, (10:14-16) and judgment is prayed for on the heathen, " for they have eaten up Jacob and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate."
But if Judah was guilty in common with the Gentiles of idolatry and its accompanying vices, there was a sin peculiarly their own-they had broken the covenant. This is next charged against them. (Chapter 11;12) God has therefore forsaken His house, left His heritage. (Chapter 12:7.) Prayer for them is now of no avail. (Chapter 11:14.) Yet afterward the Lord will be gracious. The nation shall be restored, but in the meantime those who have provoked His anger will suffer for it.
These three grand charges having been pressed on them, the prophet is next shown, under different figures, the certainty of the Lord's rejection of His people. The girdle marred at the river Euphrates, (chap. is explained to mean the bringing down of their pride. God " will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together." (Ver. 14.) He will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy. By the occasion of a dearth, the prophet learns again, when desirous to intercede, that the Lord will not accept it now, and even if Moses and Samuel stood before Him, He would not hear them. The sword, the famine, death, captivity will be their portion, and nothing now remains for the faithful but separation from the ungodly. (Chapter 14;15) The two next chapters (xvi., xvii.) bring out in full relief how far the separation is to be carried; not merely separation in heart, but in act. (Chapter 16:1-8.) Difficult indeed must such a path ever be, but the faithful are strengthened by the assurance of blessings to those who trust in the Lord, and the curse that should follow those who trusted in man. (Chapter 17:5-.8.) The putter's vessel marred in the potter's hand, and the vessel broken by the prophet in the valley of the son of Hinnom before certain of the elders of the people and elders of the priests, illustrate God's power and right to do as He will with His people, and the certainty of their being broken before Him. (Chapter 18 xix.) Chapters 21-24 comes in the royal house of David, its punishment, and the future glory attaching to it. Shallum, Josiah's son, will return no more, nor see his native country again. Jehoiakim will be buried with the burial of an ass; Coniah, a despised and broken vessel, should die in Babylon. Zedekiah will be childless, yet the family of David shall not be cut off forever. " Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his day Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, Jehovah our Righteousness." (Chapter 23:5,6.) But this was future, and is future yet. At the time Jeremiah lived, how different the scene In the midst of unrighteousness of kings, prophets, and priests this prophecy comes, a bright spot in the surrounding darkness. Before, however, it could be realized, and the reign of righteousness commence, a general judgment of the nations must take place. The cup, drunk first by Judah, must be afterward drunk by all, and by Babylon, the scourge used of God to carry out His purposes. This is the subject of the following chapter (15)
Another part of the book now commences. The sovereignty departing from Judah was to be transferred to Gentile hands, and all must submit to him, for so had God willed. The prophet is now placed in a very difficult position, he must exhort his countrymen still in Judaea, and these already in captivity, with the nations around the land, to accept the sovereignty of Nebuchadnezzar. But it would be only for a limited time. Afterward Israel would be restored, and be again governed by their own rulers, and David their king be in their midst. This is the leading subject of chapters xxvi.-xxxiii. From xxxiv. -xlv. we have illustrated the different ends of those who profess, and those who practice, obedience. Those who manifest profession without reality are destroyed; those who are obedient have life. Jonadab should never want a man to stand before the Lord forever; and Baruch's life is given him for a prey. The concluding portion is occupied with the predictions against certain nations, two of them descendants of Ham, the others descendants of Shem.
Throughout his ministry we see the prophet brought prominently forward, the consequences to himself it is not difficult to guess. Four times is his life in danger. (Chapter 11:19-21;26. 11; 36:26; 38:4.) The hostility of the people is not confined to threats. Once is he put into the stocks, (chap. xx.,) twice into dungeons, to be kept in prison, when delivered from the pit in the house of Malchiah, till Jerusalem was taken. (Chapter 37:16;38. 6, 13; 39:14.) The book ends with the prophet in Egypt, carried captive thither by Johanan, and the remnant left in the land. Truly he was a man of woes. " Woe is me, my mother, that thou halt borne me a man of strife and contention to the whole earth I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury; yet every one of them doth curse me." (Chapter 15:10.)
What a place for him to occupy. From the thirteenth year of King Josiah to the flight of Johanan into Egypt, for a period of more than forty years, was Jeremiah before his people, reproving them and warning them of coming judgments. On several occasions their rage against him was openly manifested; yet he persevered in spite of all. A good illustration of his boldness and faithfulness is afforded us in chapter xxvi. 14, when his life was threatened by the priests, the prophets, and their partisans among the people. There is no drawing back, no cringing, no temporizing. " As for me, behold I am in your hands; do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you." Death he is ready to meet, anything rather than withdraw his words, or refuse to utter what God had commanded. How different his words here to what we have in chapter i. There he feared the faces of men, (i. 8, 17,) now he only fears God. He speaks as directed and leaves the issue with the Lord. He suffered much. He suffered from foreseeing the calamities which were coming on his country: he suffered in showing her calamities when they came. He suffered from his countrymen, who rewarded him evil for good and hatred for his good will.' From the heathen monarch, the destruction of whose kingdom, and capture of whose metropolis he foretold, he received nothing but kindness. (39:11; 40:4.) From his own countrymen, some bright examples excepted, as Ahikam and Ebed-melech, he experienced nothing but bitterness, hostility, and persecution.
We see in him the feebleness of the creature and the strength which God can give. He failed sometimes. Who is there but One who could tread such a path without failure? But if we refer to this it is not to make a spectacle of human infirmity, still less to sit in judgment on the prophet. If any take pleasure in such a task let them perform it, taking care that he that is without sin should cast the first stone at him. For us his failure, weakness, and natural timidity of character are occasions for illustrating what the power of God can do; how He can fit the most unlikely instrument to human eyes to perform the greatest work, and how the agent least suited apparently for such a service may be enabled effectually to perform it.
This leads us to the consideration of the secret of his success. He obeyed God unhesitatingly, and brought all his difficulties to Him with the simplicity of a child. When first called to his office, as we have seen, he questions before he obeys; ever after he obeys before he questions. He learned his lesson of obedience at the commencement of his ministry. Have we learned ours? Grievous to him, indeed, were the messages he had often to give, but he delivers them as received; hence his boldness. Assured it was the word of the Lord, he goes forth to encounter the opposition of priests, prophets, kings, and people. No matter who opposes, or who may threaten, he must speak, and he does. See him in chapter xx. after he has come out of the stocks, put into them by Pashur, the governor of the house of the Lord, for predicting the desolation of the city: he has felt the power of man for his faithfulness to God. When let out the next day he repeats the unwelcome truth, directly charges Pashur with prophesying lies, and calls him Magor-missabib. Then see him before God: " O Lord, thou hast deceived me (or persuaded), and I was deceived (persuaded): thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, but his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." (Chapter 20:7-9.) Before the Lord he unfolds his thoughts and fears. Before men he is bold as a lion, the brazen wall and iron pillar. Before God we see him pouring out his complaint, confessing his hesitation, setting forth his troubles. He unbosoms himself to the Lord. This gives confidence. For the Lord, before whom and to whom be speaks, was with him " as a mighty and terrible One; therefore," he says, " my persecutors shall stumble and they shall not prevail; they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten." (Verse. 11.) With this confidence he can sing unto the Lord, and exhort others to do the same, on the ground of deliverance accomplished, " He hath delivered the soul of the poor from the hand of evildoers." (Ver. 13.) With Jeremiah the path of obedience is the only safe path, and he walks therein in faith: obedience carries him forward, faith keeps him up. Obedience did not bring him into an easy place. It did not put away difficulties. It seemed to create them, but it always afforded a way of surmounting them. To go forward was the command to Israel at the Red Sea; here their obedience was tested to trust in the Lord to open the way; here their faith was tried, so with Jeremiah, and with all God's people. The only safe principle is obedience on the ground of faith. He went through difficulties, suffered imprisonments, bad his feet made fast in the stocks, passed some time in the dungeons, sank deep in the mire. He suffered this and much more because he was obedient; he could trust the Lord, and therefore he could look each difficulty in the face, and go forward; not that his faith never failed. In this very chapter we have an instance of failure. (Ver. 14-18.) But the principle that he acted on was obedience, and he found it one which could stand every test to which it was subjected.
Again, see him in chapter 32, when told to buy the field of Hanameel, the son of Shallum, his uncle. He does not understand it, but be buys it according to the word of the Lord. After he has bought it he asks the Lord about it; and He, who always responds to His people's faith, answers him with words of comfort, telling of the blessing yet in store for the nation and places the prophet so truly loved.
In all this there is much instruction for us. The prophet, when obedient, finds God always faithful. He had promised his enemies should not prevail against him. This always came true. They could oppress, they could afflict, they could threaten, they could imprison, they could attempt his life, but never take it. Pashur should die in Babylon. Hananiah must die that same year he prophesied, and he did just two months after his prediction, (chap. 38:1, 17,) because he taught rebellion against the Lord. Shemaiah the Nehelamite should not see the good the Lord would do to Israel, nor have a man to dwell among his people. (Chapter 29:32.) But the Lord's promise to Jeremiah never failed. "I am with thee to deliver thee." (Chapter 1:19.) Few though these words are, how much was conveyed by them. The presence of the Lord to deliver him. Into a strange land he would go. With the remnant of the people he would share the affliction of his nation. But who could break the iron, even the northern iron and brass? (Chapter 15:12.) The Lord made him a brazen wall, which could not be broken.
A man of sorrows truly he was. Yet he had a joy in spite of his circumstances and even in the midst of his greatest trials. His joy was the word of his God. That which seemed to outward eyes the cause of his troubles afforded him solace in these troubles. "Thy words were found and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts." (Chapter 15:16.) But if the word received into his soul gave him joy, it was the instrument which separated him from the surrounding evil. " I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced; I at alone, because of thy hand; for thou hast filled me with indignation." Personifying the faithful remnant, he expresses what they suffered. But grievous as their position was, it was the place of testimony and the sphere of influence. What follows shows this. " If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: let them return unto thee; but return not thou unto them. And I will make thee unto this people a fenced brasen wall: and they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee: for I am with thee to save thee and to deliver thee, saith the Lord. And I will deliver thee out of the hand of the
wicked, and I will redeem thee out of the hand of the terrible." (Chapter 15:19-21.)
We see what the word of the Lord was to him. According to it he walked in obedience. From it be drew comfort and joy. By means of it he was separated from the evil around him. What the word was to him, that it should be to God's people at all times. Is it so with us? He went not by his thoughts, his feelings, his surmises. He walked according to the word as soon as he was assured it was the word. Nothing more is required of us. It is to the word, the doctrine, we are to give heed, the doctrine, according to godliness, the word of God's grace. That word separated him from evil. Does it so act on us? It should: but if we are to walk in obedience to God's word it must be in separation from all that is contrary to it. Comfort there will be from the word in the assured presence of the Lord, and the joy which the truths He has made known give to the heart which feeds on them; but separation there must be. How often is the bait held out of greater influence at the price of unfaithfulness. Too rigid conformity, it is said, to the word of God offends some. A little relaxing, a little yielding to the opinion of others will enable personal influence to have its due weight. Such are man's thoughts. How contrary to these are God's. So chapter xv. 19 and 2 Tim. 2:2121If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21) show. " If thou take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth." " If a man purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared for every good work." We cannot want more. Here is influence indeed. Be as God's mouth, a vessel meet for the master's use, and prepared for every good work. But this can only be reached by separating from all that is contrary to God.
May the Lord give to all His people the desire to know what this is and to act on it. Obedience to God's word is the safeguard in days of evil. That leads to separation, a painful and difficult path, but there is then found a joy from the word which was unknown before. And we can only be happy, only be strong, only be influential when walking by faith in child-like obedience to the Lord's revealed will.