Part 2: Jeremiah 26 - Jeremiah 52
The second division of Jeremiah begins with Jeremiah 26, and is distinguished by its taking up special circumstances rather than the general proof of the iniquity of the Jews and of the nations which brought them all into a state of subjugation to Nebuchadnezzar.
In what follows, we find the moral ground in details. "In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, king of Judah came this word from Jehovah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah." Josiah was the one in whose reign the reformation which we have noticed before took place. The reform awakened a transient hope in pious minds of a permanent change Godward in the people, but this was a delusive hope. Indeed, we are never to entertain such hopes.
Once declension has set in, there may be temporary recovery and blessing, and there may even be deepening blessing as evil deepens. The light vouchsafed of God to faithful individuals may become more and more bright, as lights in a dark place. But once evil pervades the mass of those who bear the name of the Lord, it only corrupts as a leaven more and more. Man cannot stay its progress, and God Himself does not take away the leaven. God permits the evil to develop in intensity and presumption in order that His judgment may become necessary, and felt to be so by those who have the secret of the Lord.
When the hearts of the pious are bowed under the prevailing evil, they are led like Jeremiah into the greater desire for their own souls and for their own separateness from evil, and, on the other hand, they cry to God much more earnestly for their nation than if things went on with outward fairness and decorum. Thus, a double good is effected. The sons of God learn to hate evil with a deep and holy hatred, and, on the other hand, they distrust themselves and look away from the earth to the Lord for help and deliverance. These two effects especially are wrought in the soul by the Spirit of God in a day of evil.
The great crisis in the national history brought before us is in the days of Jehoiakim, and it could not have occurred sooner. Under Josiah, there was an outward restraint of evil. The piety of the king affected the nation and brought a blessing upon it from God, but when his son Jehoiakim was on the throne, there was no moral ground found among the people for the favour of God.
Hence, "Thus saith Jehovah; Stand in the court of Jehovah's house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in Jehovah's house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word: if so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent Me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings" (Jer. 26:2, 3).
This is a fresh commission in a modified sense given to the prophet. Jeremiah had, as we saw in Jeremiah 1, already received his great call. Now, in the beginning of the second division of the Book, he again addressed the people, and admonished them against diminishing a single word of what God had to say by him.
"Thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith Jehovah; If ye will not hearken to Me, to walk in My law, which I have set before you, to hearken to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth. So the priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of Jehovah" (verses 4-7).
We find after this warning a division occurred among the people. Some heeded the words of Jeremiah and defended him (verses 17-24); others hardened themselves against him and sought his life, the priests being the most violent. "Now it came to pass, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that Jehovah had commanded him to speak unto all the people, that the priests and the prophets and all the people took him, saying, Thou shalt surely die" (verse 8).
They were indignant that the prophet should pronounce ruin upon the holy temple of Jehovah. It seemed to them as if his warnings of judgment were an impeachment of Jehovah's blessing upon the nation and of His choice of Israel to be His people. Did not his words prove that Jeremiah had less confidence and less faith in Jehovah than they?
"When the princes of Judah heard these things, then they came up from the king's house unto the house of Jehovah, and sat down in the entry of the new gate of Jehovah's house. Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes, and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die" (verses 10, 11). The princes of Judah showed more conscience than the people or the priests or the prophets. The priests influenced the people, as is habitually the case, and the princes, being men of more independence of mind and less influenced by the feelings of the masses, were to some extent impressed by the weight and solemnity of the prophet's warnings.
So Jeremiah speaks to all the princes and to all the people. He does not now remonstrate with the priests and the prophets; they were thoroughly hardened and sold to evil; but he does appeal to the princes on the one hand and to the people on the other, who, after all, were simple. And he says, "Jehovah sent me to prophesy against this house." He did not prophesy out of personal feeling. He was not prompted by private animosity. Surely they did not think that Jeremiah would take pleasure in the destruction of his own city and the sanctuary of Jehovah.
"Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of Jehovah your God; and Jehovah will repent Him of the evil that He hath pronounced against you." Jeremiah's prophecies are more conditional than any other, save only that of Jonah. Indeed, they are more conditionally expressed than even Jonah's. Jonah did not put forward a condition; "If you repent, God will spare Nineveh." But Jeremiah does state the condition; "If you repent, Jehovah will repent of what He means to do."
But the reason why Jeremiah's prophecies are more conditional is that, more than any of the other prophets, he alludes to the impending judgment of Israel and the nations by Nebuchadnezzar. And as this judgment was but a temporal one, a condition is attached to the prophecy. When the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the judgment that He will execute form the prominent topic before the mind of the Holy Ghost, no conditions of repentance are expressed. There God has distinctly before Him the consummation of the frightful apostasy of man - of the Jews, of the Gentiles, and, we can now add, of Christendom. Therefore inasmuch as the measure of the wickedness to be judged is certain, so the coming of the Lord to judge that wickedness is also certain. It is a fixed event, and so far as I know, this coming in judgment is never stated conditionally. There is no warning, such as, "If you repent, the Lord will not come." It would in fact be a kind of dishonour to the Lord Jesus.
But as only an earthly instrument was to be employed in this case to inflict the judgments, we can well understand the Lord saying, "If you repent, I will not send this Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to beat you down." This is the reason, as it appears to me, why this feature appears more in Jeremiah than elsewhere. Moreover, while it is entirely wrong to apply Jeremiah's prophecies exclusively to the days of Nebuchadnezzar, it remains true that the historical Nebuchadnezzar is more prominent in this Book than anywhere else in scripture.
"Then said the princes and all the people unto the priests and to the prophets; This man is not worthy to die; for he hath spoken to us in the name of Jehovah our God. Then rose up certain of the elders of the land, and spake to all the assembly of the people, saying, Micah the Morasthite prophesied in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, and spake to all the people of Judah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts; Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest" (verses 16-18). What happened to Micah? Did they treat him as a traitor? Was Micah judged to die? Not so.
Now this instance from Hezekiah's reign was the more striking and emphatic because Micah (Jer. 3: 12) had prophesied of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple in the days of a good king. Surely, therefore, his prophecy was more surprising than Jeremiah's prediction of the same thing in the days of a bad king. The defence, therefore, of the prophet was complete. "Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear Jehovah, and besought Jehovah, and Jehovah repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls" (verse 19).
Then the case of Micah was followed by another. Urijah, the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath-jearim, who in the name of Jehovah, prophesied against the city of Jerusalem and the land of Judah. "And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men, and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death: but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid, and fled, and went into Egypt; and Jehoiakim the king sent men into Egypt, namely, Elnathan the son of Achbor, and certain men with him into Egypt. And they fetched forth Urijah out of Egypt, and brought him unto Jehoiakim the king who slew him with the sword, and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people. Nevertheless, the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death" (verses 21-24). Thus, while there was the greatest danger that Jeremiah would suffer martyrdom as Urijah had done, the Lord watched over him. It was an honour to Urijah to die, but it was a mercy to Judah that Jeremiah was not put to death.