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make him 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, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.”
An iron pillar and brazen walls well symbolize the character of Jeremiah, stanch, inflexible, and much-enduring, he stood unflinching against the opposition of the nation and its rulers, and, amid the tumult of the times, and above the strife of tongues, he lifted his unwavering voice proclaiming the eternal verities of righteousness and the word which the Lord had spoken.
The special message which Jeremiah had to deliver to his own people was the doom of the nation, the righteous judgment which God was about to execute on Judah and Jerusalem.
The purpose of God to chastise his people is the substance of the first revelation made to the prophet. “Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, a rod of an almond tree.”
A rod, indeed, lifted oftentimes before in warning, now about to fall in punishment and correction.
This vision of the rod gives the leading motif of the whole book, and like the theme of some great oratorio, it is heard at intervals, and dominates the entire composition. e. g. “I will correct thee with judgment and will in no wise leave thee unpunished.” XXX:11. “Behold, I will bring evil on this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle.” XIX:3. "I will cause them to know, this once will I cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is Jehovah.” XVL:21.
Again and again the certainty of God's purpose is affirmed, but it is accompanied by the offer of pardon on condition of repentance, and the prophet pleads with the people to consider
their ways and return to righteousness.
Again and again, his discourses are framed on the same plan. First, the indictment of the nation, charging them in general with the disobedience to God's commandments and specifically with various crimes and vices. Second, a declaration of God's purpose to punish them with great severity. Third, the hope of grace if they repent and reform. Fourth, an exhortation and encouragement to righteousness.
This is the content of each of the first nineteen chapters Read, for example, chapters iv and ix.
In these earlier prophecies, the prophet seems to have some hope that the call to repentance may be regarded, and his cry is a cry of distress but not of despair.
"Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken.
Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and while ye look for light He turn it in the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness.” Such is the burden of his entreaty always, even unto the end; but, in his later prophecies, he seems to feel that it is but a forlorn hope, and that the nation is incorrigible.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”
From the first, the prophet sees not only the rod of correction impending over the nation, but identifies the rod as the nations to the north.
"The word of the Lord came unto me the second time saying, What seest thou ?
And I said, I see a seething caldron; and the face thereof is from the north. Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.”
Later, this "evil" was more definitely revealed, and Nebu
chadnezzar, king of Babylon, named as the "rod" in the hand of God for the chastisement of Judah.
More and more specifically the purpose of God is foreseen, and the destruction of the nation predicted and the carrying away of the people into captivity.
In view of the certainty of this event, the prophet urged upon the king and princes of Judah the policy of submission to Nebuchadnezzar.
This advice was exceedingly offensive to the rulers who were already committed to an alliance with Egypt. It was offensive to the people also, because they were stupidly unwilling to look at the facts, or hear advice that was distasteful to their national pride.
It was this message that brought Jeremiah into such disfavor.
If he had confined his preaching to the denunciation of the prevailing evils of his time, and the need of repentance and reform, he would not have aroused the wrath and resentment of his hearers.
It is always safe to preach the commonplaces of morality, to rebuke sin in general and to urge the obligations of righteousness; but to point out specific sins to be repented of, to rebuke the conduct of those in high position, and to cry against the popular will and the settled prejudices of the people is always a dangerous office.
Moreover, in times of political unrest and public danger the people's nerves are irritated and their resentment easily provoked.
In view of the conditions of the time, it is not strange that Jeremiah's doleful message brought down upon his head the wrath and hatred of the people and their rulers.
They set him in the stocks, to be mocked and derided by the rabble of the streets.—XX:2. They haled him before the court, and threatened him with death; from which indeed he was saved only by the traditional respect for the prophetic of
The king, Jehoiakim, was so enraged by the prophecy that Jeremiah had written, that he burned the book, and sought to lay, hands on the prophet who escaped by hiding himself. XXXVL:9-26.
He was afterwards arrested and imprisoned in a dungeon, where he sank in the mire and would have perished but for the action of the king Zedekiah, who, though too cowardly to defend the prophet, sent for him secretly to ask his advice. XXXVII:11-21.
Such treatment, added to the distress of mind that he suffered because of the doom he knew to be impending over the people whom he loved, and his utter failure to arouse them to a sense of their danger, drove him almost to despair. He poured out his soul in lamentations; he chants the most heart-rending elegies over the dead hopes of the nation, and bemoans his fate that he was born for such a time, and charged with such a task. XV:10, XX:14.
But through all these distressing experiences he never hesitates or wavers from his duty, but with burning zeal proclaims the word of God in truth and faithfulness, and with tears predicts the terrors of judgment which God had revealed to him concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
There is the ring of heroism in his pathetic complaint that his familiar friends had forsaken him because he could not do other than speak the truth which God had given him to speak.
"If I say I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in mine heart, as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I cannot contain."
Yet, Jeremiah is not to be thought of as a weak and doleful spirit, finding a mean satisfaction in the visions of defeat that he saw concerning his enemies. He is indeed rather bitter at times, as when he prays for the destruction of the false prophets
and the venal priests who betrayed their sacred trust and spoke lies and deceived the people.
His heat against them was certainly justified by the fact that through their "wordy truckling to the transient hour" they heaped up the load of misery which the people would suffer because they were misled. XXIII:15-32.
But the most important message which Jeremiah had to deliver was a message of hope; his most significant prediction was the promise of deliverance and unending glory.
The downfall of the kingdom, the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people are foretold in positive terms and terrible clearness; but no less positive are the assurances of ultimate victory of the cause of the world's redemption through the seed of Abraham, the chosen race.
Chastisement, not destruction is the purpose of all this predicted suffering.
The vision of the “rod” which he saw at the beginning of his ministry is the symbol of God's purpose throughout. And the dark clouds that he saw so thickly gathering upon the near horizon are to be followed by the bright light of returning sunshine, when the storm is past.
If any one thought is dominant in the whole book, it is the indestructibility of God's gracious purpose.
While Jeremiah was in prison, in the darkest hour of the nation's history, he received the clearest instruction of God's purpose to restore the nation and fulfill his covenant promise that in them all the nations should be blessed. The whole of Chapter xxxm is as sweet and comforting, as gracious and catholic as any revelation ever given to mankind. It is singularly rich in definite and tender promises—"Behold I will bring it healing and cure, and I will cure them: and I will reveal unto them abundance of peace and truth.
“And I will cleanse them from all their impurity, whereby they have sinned against me; I will pardon all their iniquities