Jeremiah – The Potter and the Clay
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Please forward this error screen to 192. Jeremiah’s prophecies began in the thirteenth year of Josiah, king of Judah, and continued after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar some forty years later. His testimony was therefore rendered at the time when the kingdom of David was about to be abolished as a national witness for Jehovah in the earth. There is some analogy in moral character between the last days of Judah and the last days of the church, and as the various truths delivered by Jeremiah were chosen by the Spirit to suit the condition of the Jewish people, this Book has great practical value in the present times. Many salutary lessons of faithfulness and obedience amid prevailing weakness and confusion may be gathered from the prophet’s own experiences and from the messages he received from the Lord.
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To his office as a spokesman for Jehovah, Jeremiah was sanctified from birth, and he is distinguished among his fellow-prophets of the Old Testament as a prophet to the nations. Jerusalem was set in the midst of the Gentiles as the centre of divine government in the earth. Before the city of Zion was destroyed by the Gentiles, Jeremiah’s is the last voice to utter from that centre the word of Jehovah to Judah and Israel and to the surrounding nations. The prophet himself was a man of keen sensibilities and tender feeling, much hated and despised by his fellow-countrymen for the fidelity of his prophetical service to them.
His personal sorrow and actual suffering arose both from his fervent zeal for the glory of Jehovah and from his intense affection for his fellow-Jews. Throughout the Book, the pious exercises of Jeremiah’s heart are displayed upon the dark background of the inveterate evil in the hearts of the men of Judah and Jerusalem. Some of Jeremiah’s prophecies have been fulfilled, while others still await fulfilment. In the former class are included the return of Jewish captives from Babylon after an exact period of seventy years, and also the destruction of the empire of Babylon itself, the first great Gentile power to which world-dominion was entrusted by God at the displacement of Israel. Among those of his prophecies as yet unfulfilled is that relating to the restoration of both Israel and Judah to be Jehovah’s peculiar people in the earth, when all the families of Israel will return in prosperity under the direct rule of the long-promised Son of David, Jehovah’s righteous Branch and Israel’s King. In the comparatively brief outline by the late William Kelly, these and other topics in the Book are indicated as and where they occur. This outline has been prepared from records of his oral ministry.
The different character and style of Jeremiah as compared with Isaiah must strike any careful reader. Here we have not the magnificent unfoldings of the purposes of God for that earth of which Israel was the centre, but we have the prophecy in its moral dealing with the souls of the people of God. Hence Jeremiah is the only one who gives us the Book of Lamentations. These lamentations are the outpourings of his soul to God, which approach very much the character of the Psalms, as indeed his prophecy also does more than any other of the prophets, either greater or lesser. In this way, then, Jeremiah has quite a character of his own and one of no small importance.
Practically, I think, his style is very instructive for the soul of the believer. We shall find that we have the prophet’s inward experiences recorded as far as this could be according to the measure of the revelation that God had made of Himself in Old Testament times. From the very first verse we find these features. Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin.
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The word of Jehovah came to him in the days of Josiah, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. That is, he was called to the work when God was working powerfully not only in the good king Josiah but in a few of the Jewish people. Now it is clear that this partial repentance of the people was unsuited to the character of the work entrusted to Jeremiah. His was really an inward work in the conscience.
But what brought out the expressions of his grief was that the effect of Josiah’s reformation was merely an outward one. Hence, therefore, this condition of the people gave occasion to the double character of Jeremiah’s prophecy. They had outward pretence and profession, great appearance of good, a little real good underneath the surface with a great deal of outward show. Their condition was not precisely as shown in the fig tree that came under the Lord’s curse — abundance of leaf and no fruit. The word of Jehovah, as we are told in Jeremiah 1, came to Jeremiah, saying, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.
I ordained thee,” it is carefully added, “a prophet to the nations. This special commission brings before us a peculiarity of Jeremiah’s service which we shall find abundantly verified in this book. Nay, further, we shall find that when the coming judgment of the nations is declared, Jerusalem is put among them as the very first of the nations to be judged. If the Jews did not rise morally above the nations from whom He had separated them, why should God continue to treat them as His own people by a special title? If they surrendered all that was distinctive by lapsing into Gentile idolatry, God would not support them in such false pretensions. His judgment, the Jews come as the first of the nations, not for blessing but for chastening and punishment. Jeremiah, accordingly, was ordained a prophet to the nations, because the peculiar feature of his prophecy is that Jerusalem is given a priority of judgment when God takes up the world to deal with its sins.
This unusual commission brings out Jeremiah’s timorous spirit. Then said Jeremiah, Ah, Lord Jehovah! I cannot speak: for I am a child. Jehovah’s answer is, “Say not, I am a child. This was not at all the question but who was sending him. 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, says Jehovah.
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Then Jehovah put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And Jehovah said to me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth. See, I have this day 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. The meaning of this commission is that Jeremiah was chosen to be the announcer of the troubles and judgment that were coming upon all nations. God therefore, as He surely would accomplish every threat that Jeremiah pronounced upon them, speaks of the prophet as if he were pulling down and planting and building and destroying according to the prophecies that God gave him to utter. Now this was an extremely painful task to Jeremiah. I think myself that of all the prophets, greater or smaller, that were employed, there never was one to whom it was a greater trial to pronounce judgment than to Jeremiah.
He was a man of an unusually tender spirit. He shrank from the work to which he was called for the very reason he was called to it. Jeremiah was, in a certain sense, to harden himself, not as if he did not feel, but going through the depth of the feeling of what was the import of his prophecies. He was to be the simple vessel and channel of what God put into his lips. Hence, therefore, in this prophet was a heart full of agony at all that he had to announce, but a mouth that spoke boldly whatever God put into it. Such was the character of Jeremiah, and the first chapter shows it. Hence we find two visions together.
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Jehovah says, “Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. I will hasten My word to perform it,” alluding to the early blooming of the almond tree. And the word of Jehovah came to me the second time, saying, What seest thou? This is an allusion to the great northern enemy of Israel that was employed not only to put down Judah but also to put down the nations.
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Jeremiah first to last dwells very much upon Babylon. Babylon was this northern power that is in the mind of the Spirit of God throughout. The Assyrian was northern too, but the Assyrian power was now destroyed, and it is only in the latter day that Assyria will rise again. But meanwhile Babylon was the great power that overshadowed the earth, and Jeremiah accordingly draws attention to this new kingdom. Jerusalem, and against all the walls thereof round about, and against all the cities of Judah.
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There the Lord rehearses what He had been to His people, and what their conduct had been, spite of His favours. In Jeremiah 3 He says what He is going to do for them. Now I need not dwell upon the bitter charges of the prophet — the double evil of the Jews by their forsaking the Lord — the only source of living waters, and their recourse to cisterns that could hold no water by their flying to idolatry and all its corrupting influences. But, in Jeremiah 3, we have a pleading of the Lord with them. He shows them that bad as Israel might have been, Judah that had held out for a time and gave fair promises under Josiah would turn out no better. So in this very chapter after having pressed it all upon them, he says, “Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against Jehovah thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed My voice, says Jehovah.
God’s grace for the whole people in the latter day, after not only the Assyrian captivity which had already taken place, but the Babylonish one which was going to take place. Now it is perfectly plain that there has not been even an approach to the accomplishment of these national blessings. What was known after the Babylonish captivity was the return of a mere handful of the Jews with a few straggling Israelites. Here, contrariwise, the prophet speaks of a state surpassing all that had been known under their best monarchs, and as to its being the gospel or that which we know now under Christianity, there is not the slightest resemblance. Now that is not the gospel.
The gospel is not the throne of Jehovah. The throne of Jehovah means the governmental power, according to His name, Jehovah, put forth over the whole earth. At that time, Jeremiah says, Jerusalem shall be called the throne of Jehovah. Further, “all the nations shall be gathered to it. What popery has sought under the gospel, namely, to set up a universal spiritual monarchy, will be really done under the only one that is entitled to it, namely, the Lord Jesus.
He will have this kingdom upon the earth, Jerusalem His centre, and all the nations His sphere. At the same time, He will have the heavens, and the new Jerusalem will be the metropolis. Thus, we see that the peculiarity of that glorious time will be not the heavens only for the soul, nor the earth only for men in their bodies, but the heavens and earth both put under the reign of the Lord Jesus, and Christ the acknowledged Head of all things heavenly and earthly, the church reigning with Him in the heavens, and the Jewish people placed under Him here below. This is what is described here, at least, the latter part. We must have recourse to the New Testament in order to see the former part of it, that is, the heavenly part. The earth is always the grand subject of Old Testament prophecy, and indeed of all prophecy in general, but the New Testament shows also the heavens as they are to be under Christ.
Jeremiah 4 pursues the moral pleadings with the people. If thou wilt return, O Israel, says Jehovah, return to Me. And then comes the call that God could not be satisfied with outward forms. Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it.
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Then said I, Ah, Lord Jehovah! In verse 14, he appeals to Jerusalem to repent: “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved. How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? So mighty are the coming disasters that in the vision before him we are reminded of the chaotic state of the world set out in the very beginning of Genesis. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.
This subject of judgment is pursued in Jeremiah 5, while the prophet still shows the frightful moral condition of Jerusalem, and he warns them of the penalties about to come: “How shall I pardon thee for this? Me, and sworn by them that are no gods: when I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery, and assembled themselves by troops in the harlots’ houses. They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife. My people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof? This subject is continued to the end of Jeremiah 6.
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Jeremiah calls upon the nations to hear his message: “Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened to My words, nor to My law, but rejected it. To what purpose comes there to Me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? In Jeremiah 7 he begins another strain. He takes up the temple itself, and shows that the tide of evil in Judah had completely polluted the very sanctuary of Jehovah. Moreover, in the midst of their peril, they were trusting not in God nor in His word, but in lying words of their own that the outward forms would be a sufficient stay against the destroying Gentile.
And he shows them that their boast in an uninterrupted succession of national privilege was a vain trust. This false confidence was quite as strongly the notion of the Jews as it has ever been of papists and others in Christendom. The delusion was equally destructive to them as it will be to Christendom. There is nothing more certain to bring destruction upon Christendom than the notion of an indefectible security. I do not mean security for the soul, for the believer. Christendom the notion that it will go on indefectibly when God, on the contrary, has warned us in His word that Christendom will fall just like the Jewish state before it is to be caught by the wiles of the wicked one.