The Lord gave Jeremiah a message of reproof to bear to his people, charging them with the continual rejection of God's counsel: "I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto Me. I have sent also unto you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers."
God pleaded with them not to provoke Him to anger with the work of their hands and their hearts, "but they hearkened not." Jeremiah then predicted the captivity of the Jews as their punishment for not heeding the word of the Lord. The
Chaldeans were to be used as the instrument by which God would chastise His disobedient people. Their punishment was to be in proportion to their intelligence and to the warnings they had despised. God had long delayed His judgments because of His unwillingness to humiliate His chosen people, but now He would visit His displeasure upon them as a last effort to check them in their evil course.
In these days He has instituted no new plan to preserve the purity of His people. As of old, He entreats the erring ones who profess His name to repent and turn from their evil ways. Now, as then, by the mouth of His chosen servants He predicts the dangers before them. He sounds the note of warning and reproves sin just as faithfully as in the days of Jeremiah. But the Israel of our time have the same temptations to scorn reproof and hate counsel as had ancient Israel. They too often turn a deaf ear to the words that God has given His servants for the benefit of those who profess the truth. Though the Lord in mercy withholds for a time the retribution of their sin, as in the days of Jeremiah, He will not always stay His hand, but will visit iniquity with righteous judgment.
The Lord commanded Jeremiah to stand in the court of the Lord's house and speak unto all the people of Judah who came there to worship, those things which He would give him to speak, diminishing not a word, that they might hearken and turn from their evil ways. Then God would repent of the punishment which He had purposed to inflict upon them because of their wickedness.
The unwillingness of the Lord to chastise His erring people is here vividly shown. He stays His judgments; He pleads with them to return to their allegiance. He had brought them out of bondage that they might faithfully serve Him, the only true and living God; but they had wandered into idolatry, they had slighted the warnings given them by His prophets. Yet He defers His chastisement to give them one more opportunity to repent and avert the retribution for their sin. Through His chosen prophet he now sends them a clear and positive warning, and lays before them the only course by
which they can escape the punishment which they deserve. This is a full repentance of their sin and a turning from the evil of their ways.
The Lord commanded Jeremiah to say to the people: "Thus saith the Lord; 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." They understood this reference to Shiloh and the time when the Philistines overcame Israel and the ark of God was taken.
The sin of Eli was in passing lightly over the iniquity of his sons, who were occupying sacred offices. The neglect of the father to reprove and restrain his sons brought upon Israel a fearful calamity. The sons of Eli were slain, Eli himself lost his life, the ark of God was taken from Israel, and thirty thousand of the people were slain. All this was because sin was lightly regarded and allowed to remain among them. What a lesson is this to men holding responsible positions in the church of God! It adjures them faithfully to remove the wrongs that dishonor the cause of truth.
In the days of Samuel, Israel thought that the presence of the ark containing the commandments of God would gain them the victory over the Philistines, whether or not they repented of their wicked works. Just so, in Jeremiah's time, the Jews believed that the strict observance of the divinely appointed services of the temple would preserve them from the just punishment of their evil course.
The same danger exists today among the people who profess to be the depositaries of God's law. They are too apt to flatter themselves that the regard in which they hold the commandments will preserve them from the power of divine justice. They refuse to be reproved for evil, and charge God's servants with being too zealous in putting sin out of the camp. A sin-hating God calls upon those who profess to keep His law to depart from all iniquity. Neglect to repent and obey
His word will bring as serious consequences upon God's people today as did the same sin upon ancient Israel. There is a limit beyond which He will no longer delay His judgments. The desolation of Jerusalem stands as a solemn warning before the eyes of modern Israel, that the corrections given through His chosen instruments cannot be disregarded with impunity.
When the priests and the people heard the message that Jeremiah delivered to them in the name of the Lord, they were very angry and declared that he should die. They were boisterous in their denunciations of him, crying: "Why hast thou prophesied in the name of the Lord, saying, This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate without an inhabitant? And all the people were gathered against Jeremiah in the house of the Lord." Thus was the message of God despised and the servant with whom He entrusted it threatened with death. The priests, the unfaithful prophets, and all the people turned in wrath upon him who would not speak to them smooth things and prophesy deceit.
The unfaltering servants of God have usually suffered the bitterest persecution from false teachers of religion. But the true prophets will ever prefer reproach, and even death, rather than unfaithfulness to God. The Infinite Eye is upon the instruments of divine reproof, and they bear a heavy responsibility. But God regards the injury done to them through misrepresentation, falsehood, or abuse as though it were done unto Himself, and will punish accordingly.
The princes of Judah had heard concerning the words of Jeremiah and came up from the king's house and sat in the entry of the Lord's house. "Then spake the priests and the prophets unto the princes and to all the people, saying, This man is worthy to die; for he hath prophesied against this city, as ye have heard with your ears." But Jeremiah stood boldly before the princes and the people, declaring: "The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that ye have heard. Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God;
and the Lord will repent Him of the evil that He hath pronounced against you. As for me, behold, I am in your hand: do with me as seemeth good and meet unto you. But know ye for certain, that if ye put me to death, ye shall surely bring innocent blood upon yourselves, and upon this city, and upon the inhabitants thereof: for of a truth the Lord hath sent me unto you to speak all these words in your ears."
Had the prophet been intimidated by the threats of those in high authority and the clamoring of the rabble, his message would have been without effect, and he would have lost his life. But the courage with which he discharged his painful duty commanded the respect of the people and turned the princes of Israel in his favor. Thus God raised up defenders for His servant. They reasoned with the priests and false prophets, showing them how unwise would be the extreme measures which they advocated.
The influence of these powerful persons produced a reaction in the minds of the people. Then the elders united in protesting against the decision of the priests regarding the fate of Jeremiah. They cited the case of Micah, who prophesied judgments upon Jerusalem, saying: "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." They put to them the question: "Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? did he not fear the Lord, and besought the Lord, and the Lord repented Him of the evil which He had pronounced against them? Thus might we pro cure great evil against our souls."
So, through the pleading of Ahikam and others, the prophet Jeremiah's life was spared; although many of the priests and false prophets would have been pleased had he been put to death on the plea of sedition, for they could not endure the truths that he uttered exposing their wickedness.
But Israel remained unrepentant, and the Lord saw that they must be punished for their sin; so He instructed Jeremiah to make yokes and bonds and place them upon his neck, and
to send them to the kings of Edom, of Moab, of the Ammonites, and of Tyrus and Zidon, commanding the messengers to say that God had given all these lands to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, and that all these nations should serve him and his descendants for a certain time, till God should deliver them. They were to declare that if these nations refused to serve the king of Babylon, they should be punished with famine, with the sword, and with pestilence, till they should be consumed. "Therefore," said the Lord, "hearken not ye to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land; and that I should drive you out, and ye should perish. But the nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord; and they shall till it, and dwell therein."
Jeremiah declared that they were to wear the yoke of servitude for seventy years; and the captives that were already in the hands of the king of Babylon, and the vessels of the Lord's house which had been taken, were also to remain in Babylon till that time had elapsed. But at the end of the seventy years God would deliver them from their captivity and would punish their oppressors and bring into subjection the proud king of Babylon.
Ambassadors came from the various nations named to consult with the king of Judah as to the matter of engaging in battle with the king of Babylon. But the prophet of God, bearing the symbols of subjection, delivered the message of the Lord to these nations, commanding them to bear it to their several kings. This was the lightest punishment that a merciful God could inflict upon so rebellious a people, but if they warred against this decree of servitude they were to feel the full rigor of His chastisement. They were faithfully warned not to listen to their false teachers, who prophesied lies.
The amazement of the assembled council of nations knew no bounds when Jeremiah, carrying the yoke of subjection about his neck, made known to them the will of God. But Hananiah, one of the false prophets against whom God had warned His people through Jeremiah, lifted up his voice in opposition to the prophecy declared. Wishing to gain the favor of the king and his court, he affirmed that God had given him words of encouragement for the Jews. Said he: "Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of the Lord's house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried them to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went into Babylon, saith the Lord: for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon."
Jeremiah, in the presence of all the priests and the people, said that it was the earnest wish of his heart that God would so favor His people that the vessels of the Lord's house might be returned and the captives brought back from Babylon; but this could only be done on condition that the people repented and turned from their evil way to the obedience of God's law. Jeremiah loved his country and ardently wished that the desolation predicted might be averted by the humiliation of the people, but he knew the wish was vain. He hoped the punishment of Israel would be as light as possible, therefore he earnestly entreated them to submit to the king of Babylon for the time that the Lord specified.
He entreated them to hear the words that he spoke. He cited them to the prophecies of Hosea, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and others whose messages of reproof and warning had been similar to his own. He referred them to events which had transpired in their history in fulfillment of the prophecies of retribution for unrepented sins. Sometimes, as in this case, men had arisen in opposition to the message of God and had predicted peace and prosperity to quiet the fears of the people and gain the favor of those in high places. But in every past instance the judgment of God had been visited upon Israel
as the true prophets had indicated. Said he: "The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him." If Israel chose to run the risk, future developments would effectually decide which was the false prophet.
But Hananiah, incensed at this, took the yoke from Jeremiah's neck and broke it. "And Hananiah spake in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years. And the prophet Jeremiah went his way." He had done his work; he had warned the people of their danger; he had pointed out the only course by which they could regain the favor of God. But though his only crime was that he had faithfully delivered the message of God to an unbelieving people, they had mocked his words, and men in responsible positions had denounced him and tried to arouse the people to put him to death.
But another message was given to Jeremiah: "Go and tell Hananiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Thou hast broken the yokes of wood; but thou shalt make for them yokes of iron. For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; I have put a yoke of iron upon the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him: and I have given him the beasts of the field also. Then said the prophet Jeremiah unto Hananiah the prophet, Hear now, Hananiah; The Lord hath not sent thee but thou makest this people to trust in a lie. Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, I will cast thee from off the face of the earth: this year thou shalt die, because thou hast taught rebellion against the Lord. So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month."
This false prophet had strengthened the unbelief of the people in Jeremiah and his message. He had wickedly declared himself to be the Lord's messenger, and he suffered death in consequence of his fearful crime. In the fifth month
Jeremiah prophesied the death of Hananiah, and in the seventh month his death proved the words of the prophet true.
God had said that His people should be saved, that the yoke He would lay upon them should be light, if they submitted uncomplainingly to His plan. Their servitude was represented by a yoke of wood, which was easily borne; but resistance would be met with corresponding severity, represented by the yoke of iron. God designed to hold the king of Babylon in check, that there should be no loss of life nor galling oppression; but by scorning His warning and commands they brought upon themselves the full rigor of bondage. It was far more agreeable to the people to receive the message of the false prophet, who predicted prosperity; therefore it was received. It wounded their pride to have their sins brought continually before their eyes; they would much rather put them out of sight. They were in such moral darkness that they did not realize the enormity of their guilt nor appreciate the messages of reproof and warning given them of God. Had they had a proper sense of their disobedience they would have acknowledged the justice of the Lord's course and recognized the authority of His prophet. God entreated them to repent, that He might spare them humiliation and that a people called by His name should not become tributary to a heathen nation; but they scoffed at His counsel and went after false prophets.
The Lord then commanded Jeremiah to write letters to the captains, elders, priests, prophets, and all the people who had been taken as captives to Babylon, bidding them not to be deluded into believing their deliverance nigh, but to quietly submit to their captors, pursue their vocations, and make for themselves peaceful homes among their conquerors. The Lord bade them not to allow their prophets or diviners to deceive them with false expectations; but He assured them by the words of Jeremiah that after seventy years of bondage they should be delivered and return to Jerusalem. He would listen to their prayers and give them His favor when they turned to Him with all their hearts. "And I will be found of you,
saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the Lord; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive."
With what tender compassion did God inform His captive people in regard to His plans for Israel. He knew what suffering and disaster they would experience were they led to believe that they should speedily be delivered from bondage and brought back to Jerusalem according to the prediction of the false prophets. He knew that this belief would make their position a very difficult one. Any demonstration of insurrection upon their part would have awakened the vigilance and severity of the king, and their liberty would have been restricted in consequence. He desired them to quietly submit to their fate and make their servitude as pleasant as possible.
There were two other false prophets, Ahab and Zedekiah, who prophesied lies in the name of the Lord. These men professed to be holy teachers; but their lives were corrupt, and they were slaves to the pleasures of sin. The prophet of God had condemned the evil course of these men and warned them of their danger; but, instead of repenting and reforming, they were angry with the faithful reprover of their sins and sought to thwart his work by stirring up the people to disbelieve his words and act contrary to the counsel of God in the matter of subjecting themselves to the king of Babylon. The Lord testified through Jeremiah that these false prophets should be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon and slain before his eyes, and in good time this prediction was fulfilled.
Other false prophets arose to sow confusion among the people by turning them away from obeying the divine commands given through Jeremiah, but God's judgments were pronounced against them in consequence of their grievous sin of bringing rebellion against Him.
Just such men arise in these days and breed confusion and rebellion among the people who profess to obey the law of God. But just as certainly as divine judgment was visited
upon the false prophets, just so surely will these evil workers receive their full measure of retribution; for the Lord has not changed. Those who prophesy lies encourage men to look upon sin as a small matter. When the terrible results of their crimes are made manifest, they seek, if possible, to make the one who has faithfully warned them responsible for their difficulties, even as the Jews charged Jeremiah with their evil fortunes.
Those who pursue a course of rebellion against the Lord can always find false prophets who will justify them in their acts and flatter them to their destruction. Lying words often make many friends, as in the case of Ahab and Zedekiah. These false prophets, in their pretended zeal for God, found many more believers and followers than the true prophet, who delivered the simple message of the Lord.
A Lesson from the Rechabites
God commanded Jeremiah to gather the Rechabites into the house of the Lord, into one of the chambers, and set wine before them and invite them to drink. Jeremiah did as the Lord commanded him. "But they said, We will drink no wine: for Jonadab the son of Rechab our father commanded us, saying, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons forever."
Then came the word of the Lord unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Go and tell the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to My words? saith the Lord. The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed, for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment."
Here God contrasts the obedience of the Rechabites with the disobedience and rebellion of His people, who will not receive His words of reproof and warning. The Rechabites obeyed the commandment of their father and refused to be enticed into transgression of his requirements. But Israel
refused to hearken unto the Lord. He says: "I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking, but ye hearkened not unto Me. I have sent also unto you all My servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, saying, Return ye now every man from his evil way, and amend your doings, and go not after other gods to serve them, and ye shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your fathers: but ye have not inclined your ear, nor hearkened unto Me. Because the sons of Jonadab the son of Rechab have performed the commandment of their father, which he commanded them; but this people hath not hearkened unto Me; therefore thus saith the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered.
"And Jeremiah said unto the house of the Rechabites, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Because ye have obeyed the commandment of Jonadab your father, and kept all his precepts, and done according unto all that he hath commanded you: therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before Me forever."
The Rechabites were commended for their ready and willing obedience, while God's people refused to be reproved by their prophets. Because He had spoken unto them but they had not heard, because He had called unto them but they had not answered, therefore God pronounced judgment against them. Jeremiah repeated the words of commendation from the Lord to the faithful Rechabites and pronounced blessings upon them in His name. Thus God taught His people that faithfulness, and obedience to His requirements, would be reflected back upon them in blessings, as the Rechabites were blessed for their obedience to their father's command.
If the directions of a good and wise father, who took the best and most effectual means to secure his posterity against the evil of intemperance, were to be so strictly obeyed, God's
authority should be held in as much greater reverence as He is holier than man. He is our Creator and commander, infinite in power and terrible in judgment. In mercy He employs a variety of means to bring men to see and repent of their sins. If they will continue to disregard the reproofs He sends them, and act contrary to His declared will, ruin must follow; for God's people are kept in prosperity only by His mercy, through the care of His heavenly messengers. He will not up hold and guard a people who disregard His counsel and despise His reproofs.
The Warnings of God Rejected
Jeremiah was already deprived of his liberty because he would obey God and give to the king and others occupying responsible positions in Israel the words of warning which he had received from the mouth of God. The Israelites would not accept these reproofs nor allow their course to be questioned. They had manifested great anger and contempt at the words of rebuke and at the judgments which were predicted to come upon them if they continued in rebellion against the Lord. Although Israel would not hear the word of divine counsel, it did not make that word of less effect, neither did God cease to reprove and to threaten with His displeasure and His judgments those who refused to obey His requirements.
The Lord directed Jeremiah, saying: "Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them; that they may return every man from his evil way, that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin."
Here is shown the Lord's reluctance to give up His sinning people. And lest Israel had so far neglected His reproofs and warnings as to let them pass from their memory, He delays His judgments upon them and gives them a full
rehearsal of their disobedience and aggravating sins from the days of Josiah down to their own time, and of the judgments He had pronounced in consequence of their transgressions. Thus they had another opportunity to see their iniquity and repent. In this we see that God does not delight in afflicting His people; but with a care that surpasses that of a pitying father for a wayward child, He entreats His wandering people to return to their own allegiance.
The prophet Jeremiah, in obedience to the commands of God, dictated the words that the Lord gave him to Baruch, his scribe, who wrote them upon a roll. See Jeremiah 36:4. This message was a reproof of the many sins of Israel and a warning of the consequences that would follow a continuance of their evil course. It was an earnest appeal for them to renounce their sins. After it was written, Jeremiah, who was a prisoner, sent his scribe to read the roll to all the people who had assembled "in the Lord's house upon the fasting day." Said the prophet: "It may be they will present their supplication before the Lord, and will return everyone from his evil way; for great is the anger and the fury that the Lord hath pronounced against this people."
The scribe obeyed the prophet, and the roll was read before all the people of Judah. But this was not all; he was summoned to read it before the princes. They listened with great interest, and fear was stamped upon their faces as they questioned Baruch concerning the mysterious writing. They promised to tell the king all they had heard in regard to him and his people, but counseled the scribe to hide himself, as they feared that the king would reject the testimony God had given through Jeremiah, and seek to slay not only the prophet, but his scribe.
When the king was told by the princes of what Baruch had read, he immediately ordered the roll brought and read to him. But instead of heeding its warnings and trembling at the danger that hung over himself and his people, in a frenzy of rage he flung it into the fire, notwithstanding certain ones who were high in his confidence had begged him not to burn
it. When the wrath of this wicked monarch rose against Jeremiah> and his scribe, and he forthwith sent for them to be taken; but the Lord hid them." After the king had burned the sacred roll, the word of God came to Jeremiah, saying: "Take thee again another roll, and write in it all the former words that were in the first roll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah hath burned. And thou shalt say to Jehoiakim king of Judah, Thus saith the Lord; Thou hast burned this roll, saying, Why hast thou written therein, saying, The king of Babylon shall certainly come and destroy this land, and shall cause to cease from thence man and beast?"
A merciful God had graciously warned the people for their good. "It may be," said the compassionate Creator, "that the house of Judah will hear all the evil which I purpose to do unto them, that they may return every man from his evil way; that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin." God pities the blindness and perversity of man; He sends light to their darkened understanding in reproofs and threatenings which are designed to make the most exalted feel their ignorance and deplore their errors. He would cause the self-complacent to feel dissatisfied with their attainments and seek greater blessings by closer connection with heaven.
God's plan is not to send messengers who will please and flatter sinners; He delivers no messages of peace to lull the unsanctified into carnal security. But He lays heavy burdens upon the conscience of the wrongdoer, and pierces his soul with sharp arrows of conviction. The ministering angels present to him the fearful judgments of God, to deepen the sense of his great need and prompt the agonizing cry: "What shall I do to be saved?" The very hand that humbles to the dust, rebukes sin, puts pride and ambition to shame, lifts up the penitent, stricken one, and inquires with deepest sympathy: "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?"
When man has sinned against a holy and merciful God, he can pursue no course so noble as to sincerely repent and confess his errors in tears and bitterness of soul. This God requires of him; He will accept of nothing less than a broken
heart and a contrite spirit. But the king and his lords, in their arrogance and pride, refused the invitation of God to return; they would not heed this warning and repent. This gracious opportunity was their last. God had declared that if they refused to hear His voice, He would inflict upon them fearful retribution. They did refuse to hear, and He pronounced His judgments upon Israel; He visited with special wrath the man who had proudly lifted himself up against the Almighty.
"Therefore thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost. And I will punish him and his seed and his servants for their iniquity; and I will bring upon them, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and upon the men of Judah, all the evil that I have pronounced against them; but they hearkened not."
The burning of the roll was not the end of the matter. The written words were more easily disposed of than the reproof and warning which they contained and the swift-coming punishment which God had pronounced against rebellious Israel. But even the written roll was reproduced at the command of the Lord. The words of the Infinite were not to be destroyed. "Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah; who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire: and there were added besides unto them many like words."
God does not send judgments upon His people without first warning them to repent. He uses every means to bring them back to obedience and does not visit their iniquity with judgments until He has given them ample opportunity to repent. The wrath of man sought to prevent the labors of the prophet of God by depriving him of his liberty; but God can speak to men through prison walls, and even increase the usefulness of His servants through the very means by which their persecutors seek to limit their influence.
Many now despise the faithful reproof given of God in testimony. I have been shown that some in these days have even gone so far as to burn the written words of rebuke and warning, as did the wicked king of Israel. But opposition to God's threatenings will not hinder their execution. To defy the words of the Lord, spoken through His chosen instruments, will only provoke His anger and eventually bring certain ruin upon the offender. Indignation often kindles in the heart of the sinner against the agent whom God chooses to deliver His reproofs. It has ever been thus, and the same spirit exists today that persecuted and imprisoned Jeremiah for obeying the word of the Lord.
While men will not heed repeated warnings, they are pleased with false teachers who flatter their vanity and strengthen their iniquity, but who will fail to help them in the day of trouble. God's chosen servants should meet with courage and patience whatever trials and sufferings befall them through reproach, neglect, or misrepresentations because they faithfully discharge the duty that God has given them to do. They should remember that the prophets of old and the Saviour of the world also endured abuse and persecution for the word's sake. They must expect to meet just such opposition as was manifested by the burning of the roll that was written by the dictation of God.
The Lord is fitting a people for heaven. The defects of character, the stubborn will, the selfish idolatry, the indulgence of faultfinding, hatred, and contention, provoke the wrath of God and must be put away from His commandment-keeping people. Those living in these sins are deceived and blinded by the wiles of Satan. They think that they are in the light when they are groping in darkness. There are murmurers among us now, even as there were murmurers among ancient Israel. Those who by unwise sympathy encourage men in rebellion when their self-love is smarting beneath merited reproof are not the friends of God, the great Reprover. God will send reproof and warning to His people as long as they continue upon earth.
Those who valiantly take their position on the right side, who encourage submission to God's revealed will and strengthen others in their efforts to put away their wrong-doings, are the true friends of the Lord, who in love is trying to correct the errors of His people, that He may wash them and, cleansing them from every defilement, fit them for His holy kingdom.
Zedekiah succeeded Jehoiakim in reigning at Jerusalem. But neither the new king nor his court nor the people of the land hearkened to the words of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah. The Chaldeans commenced the siege against Jerusalem, but were diverted for a time to turn their arms against the Egyptians. Zedekiah sent a messenger to Jeremiah, asking him to pray to the God of Israel in their behalf; but the prophet's fearful answer was that the Chaldean army would return and destroy the city. Thus the Lord showed them how impossible it is for man to avert divine judgment. "Thus saith the Lord; Deceive not yourselves, saying, The Chaldeans shall surely depart from us; for they shall not depart. For though ye had smitten the whole army of the Chaldeans that fight against you, and there remained but wounded men among them, yet should they rise up every man in his tent, and burn this city with fire."
Jeremiah considered his work done and attempted to leave the city; but he was prevented by a son of one of the false prophets, who reported that he was about to join the enemy. Jeremiah denied the lying charge, but nevertheless he was brought back. The princes were ready to believe the son of the false prophet because they hated Jeremiah. They seemed to think that he had brought upon them the calamity which he had predicted. In their wrath they smote him and imprisoned him.
After he had remained in the dungeon many days, Zedekiah the king sent for him and asked him secretly if there was any word from the Lord. Jeremiah again repeated his warning that the nation would be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon.
"Moreover Jeremiah said unto King Zedekiah, What have I offended against thee, or against thy servants, or against this people, that ye have put me in prison? Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto you, saying, The king of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against this land? Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there. Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison."
The wicked king dared not openly manifest any faith in Jeremiah, but his fear drove him to seek information of him. Yet he was too weak to brave the disapprobation of his nobles and of the people by submitting to the will of God as declared by the prophet. At last men in authority who were enraged because Jeremiah persisted in prophesying evil went to the king and told him that as long as the prophet lived he would not cease to predict calamity. They urged that he was an enemy to the nation and that his words had weakened the hands of the people and brought misfortune upon them, and they wanted him put to death.
The cowardly king knew these charges were false; but in order to propitiate those who occupied high and influential positions in the nation, he feigned to believe their falsehoods and gave Jeremiah into their hands to do with him as they pleased. Accordingly the prophet was taken and cast "into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire." But God raised up friends for him who besought the king in his behalf and had him again removed to the court of the prison.
Once more the king sent privately for Jeremiah and bade
him faithfully relate the purpose of God toward Jerusalem. "Then Jeremiah said unto Zedekiah, If I declare it unto thee, wilt thou not surely put me to death? and if I give thee counsel, wilt thou not hearken unto me? So Zedekiah the king sware secretly unto Jeremiah, saying, As the Lord liveth, that made us this soul, I will not put thee to death, neither will I give thee into the hand of these men that seek thy life." Then Jeremiah again sounded the Lord's note of warning in the ears of the king. Said he: "Thus saith the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house: but if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon's princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand. And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me. But Jeremiah said, They shall not deliver thee. Obey, I beseech thee, the voice of the Lord, which I speak unto thee: so it shall be well unto thee, and thy soul shall live."
Here was exhibited the long-suffering mercy of God. Even at that late hour, if there were submission to His requirements, the lives of the people would be spared and the city saved from conflagration. But the king thought he had gone too far to retract. He was afraid of the Jews, afraid of becoming a subject of ridicule, afraid for his life. It was too humiliating, at that late day, to say to the people: "I accept the word of the Lord as spoken through His prophet Jeremiah. I dare not venture to war against the enemy in the face of all these warnings."
With tears Jeremiah entreated the king to save himself and his people. With anguish of spirit he assured him that he could not escape with his life, and that all his possessions would fall to the king of Babylon. He could save the city if he would. But he had started upon the wrong track and
would not retrace his steps. He decided to follow the counsel of false prophets and of men whom he really despised and who ridiculed his weakness of character in yielding so readily to their wishes. He yielded the noble freedom of his manhood to become a cringing slave to public opinion. While he had no fixed purpose of evil, he also had no resolution to stand boldly for the right. While he was convicted of the truth as spoken by Jeremiah, he did not possess the moral stamina to obey his counsel, but advanced steadily in the wrong direction.
He was even too weak to be willing that his courtiers and people should know that he had held a conference with the prophet, so far had the fear of man taken possession of his soul. If this cowardly ruler had stood bravely before his people and declared that he believed the words of the prophet, already half-fulfilled, what desolation might have been averted! He should have said: "I will obey the Lord and save the city from utter ruin. I dare not disregard the commands of God for the fear or favor of men. I love the truth, I hate sin, and I will follow the counsel of the Mighty One of Israel." Then the people would have respected his courageous spirit, and those who were wavering between faith and unbelief would have taken a firm stand for the right. The very fearlessness and justice of this course would have inspired his subjects with admiration and loyalty. He would have had ample support, and Israel would have been spared the untold woe of fire and carnage and famine.
But the weakness of Zedekiah was a crime for which he paid a fearful penalty. The enemy swept down like a resist less avalanche and devastated the city. The Hebrew armies were beaten back in confusion. The nation was conquered. Zedekiah was taken prisoner, and his sons were slain before his eyes. Then he was led away from Jerusalem a captive, hearing the shrieks of his wretched people and the roaring of the flames that were devouring their homes. His eyes were put out, and when he arrived at Babylon he perished miserably.
This was the punishment of unbelief and following ungodly counsel.
There are many false prophets in these days, to whom sin does not appear specially repulsive. They complain that the peace of the people is unnecessarily disturbed by the reproofs and warnings of God's messengers. As for them, they lull the souls of sinners into a fatal ease by their smooth and deceitful teachings. Ancient Israel was thus charmed by the flattering messages of the corrupt priests. Their prediction of prosperity was more pleasing than the message of the true prophet, who counseled repentance and submission.
The servants of God should manifest a tender, compassionate spirit and show to all that they are not actuated by any personal motives in their dealings with the people, and that they do not take delight in giving messages of wrath in the name of the Lord. But they must never flinch from pointing out the sins that are corrupting the professed people of God, nor cease striving to influence them to turn from their errors and obey the Lord.
Those who seek to cloak sin and make it appear less aggravating to the mind of the offender are doing the work of the false prophets and may expect the retributive wrath of God to follow such a course. The Lord will never accommodate His ways to the wishes of corrupt men. The false prophet condemned Jeremiah for afflicting the people with his severe denunciations, and he sought to reassure them by promising them prosperity, thinking that the poor people should not be continually reminded of their sins and threatened with punishment. This course strengthened the people to resist the true prophet's counsel and intensified their enmity toward him.
God has no sympathy with the evildoer. He gives no one liberty to gloss over the sins of His people, nor to cry, "Peace, peace," when He has declared that there shall be no peace for the wicked. Those who stir up rebellion against the servants whom God sends to deliver His messages are rebelling against the word of the Lord.