The prophet here, as prosecutor in God’s name, draws up an indictment against the Jews for wilful disobedience to the commands of their rightful Sovereign. For the more solemn management of this charge,
I. He produces the commission he had to draw up the charge against them. He did not take pleasure in accusing the children of his people, but God commanded him to speak it to the men of Judah, Jer. 11:1, 2. In the original it is plural: Speak you this. For what he said to Jeremiah was the same that he gave in charge to all his servants the prophets. They none of them said any other than what Moses, in the law, had said; to that therefore they must refer themselves, and direct the people: “Hear the words of this covenant; turn to your Bibles, be judged by them.” Jeremiah must now proclaim this in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, that all may hear, for all are concerned. All the words of reproof and conviction which the prophets spoke were grounded upon the words of the covenant, and agreed with that; and therefore “hear these words, and understand by them upon what terms you stood with God at first; and then, by comparing yourselves with the covenant, you will soon be aware upon what terms you now stand with him.”
II. He opens the charter upon which their state was founded and by which they held their privileges. They had forgotten the tenour of it, and lived as if they thought that the grant was absolute and that they might do what they pleased and yet have what God had promised, or as if they thought that the keeping up of the ceremonial observances was all that God required of them. He therefore shows them, with all possible plainness, that the thing God insisted upon was obedience, which was better than sacrifice. He said, Obey my voice, Jer. 11:4 and again Jer. 11:7. “Own God for your Master; give up yourselves to him as his subjects and servants; attend to all the declarations of his mind and will, and make conscience of complying with them. Do my commandments, not only in some things, but according to all which I command you; make conscience of moral duties especially, and rest not in those that are merely ritual; hear the words of the covenant, and do them.” 1. This was the original contract between God and them, when he first formed them into a people. It was what he commanded their fathers when he first brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, Jer. 11:4, 7. He never intended to take them under his guidance and protection upon any other terms. This was what he required from them in gratitude for the great things he did for them when he brought them from the iron furnace. He redeemed them out of the service of the Egyptians, which was perfect slavery, that he might take them into his own service, which is perfect freedom, Luke 1:74, 75. 2. This was not only laid before them then, but it was with the greatest importunity imaginable pressed upon them, Jer. 11:7. God not only commanded it, but earnestly protested it to their fathers, when he brought them into covenant with himself. Moses inculcated it again and again, by precept upon precept and line upon line. 3. This was made the condition of the relation between and God, which was so much their honour and privilege: “So shall you be my people and I will be your God; I will own you for mine, and you may call upon me as yours;” this intimates that, if they refused to obey, they could no longer claim the benefit of the relation. 4. It was upon these terms that the land of Canaan was given them for a possession: Obey my voice, that I may perform the oath sworn to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, Jer. 11:5. God was ready to fulfil the promise, but then they must fulfil the condition; if not, the promise is void, and it is just with God to turn them out of possession. Being brought in upon their good behaviour, they had no wrong done them if they were turned out upon their ill behaviour. Obedience was the rent reserved by the lease, with a power to re-enter for non-payment. 5. This obedience was not only made a condition of the blessing, but was required under the penalty of a curse. This is mentioned first here (Jer. 11:3), that they might, if possible, be awakened by the terrors of the Lord: Cursed be the man, though it were but a single person, that obeys not the words of this covenant, much more when it is the body of the nation that rebels. There are curses of the covenant as well as blessings: and Moses set before them not only life and good, but death and evil (Deut. 30:15), so that they had fair warning given them of the fatal consequences of disobedience. 6. Lest this covenant should be forgotten, and, because out of mind, should be thought out of date, God had from time to time called to them to remember it, and by his servants the prophets had made a continual claim of this rent, so that they could not plead, in excuse of their non-payment, that it had never been demanded; from the day when he brought them out of Egypt to this day (and that was nearly 1000 years) he had been, in one way or other, at sundry times and in divers manners, protesting to them the necessity of obedience. God keeps an account how long we have enjoyed the means of grace and how powerful those means have been, how often we have been not only spoken to, but protested to, concerning our duty. 7. This covenant was consented to (Jer. 11:5): Then answered I, and said, So be it, O Lord! These are the words of the prophet, expressing either, (1.) His own consent to the covenant for himself, and his desire to have the benefit of it. God promised Canaan to the obedient: “Lord,” says he, “I take thee at thy word, I will be obedient; let me have my inheritance in the land of promise, of which Canaan is a type.” Or, (2.) His good will, and good wish, that his people might have the benefit of it. “Amen; Lord, let them still be kept in possession of this good land, and not turned out of it; make good the promise to them.” Or, (3.) His people’s consent to the covenant: “Then answered I, in the name of the people, So be it.” Taking it in this sense, it refers to the declared consent which the people gave to the covenant, not only to the precepts of it when they said, All that the Lord shall say unto us we will do and will be obedient, but to the penalties when they said Amen to all the curses upon Mount Ebal. The more solemnly we have engaged ourselves to God the more reason we have to hope that the engagement will be perpetual; and yet here it did not prove so.
III. He charges them with breach of covenant, such a breach as amounted to a forfeiture of their charter, Jer. 11:8. God had said again and again, by his law and by his prophets, “Obey my voice, do as you are bidden, and all shall be well;” yet they obeyed not; and, because they were resolved not to submit their souls to God’s commandments, they would not so much as incline their ears to them, but got as far as they could out of call: They walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart, followed their own inventions; every man did as his fancy and humour led him, right or wrong, lawful or unlawful, both in their devotions and in their conversations; see Jer. 7:24. What then could they expect, but to fall under the curse of the covenant, since they would not comply with the commands and conditions of it? Therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, that is, all the threatenings contained in it, because they did not what they were commanded. Note, The words of the covenant shall not fall to the ground. If we do not by our obedience qualify ourselves for the blessings of it, we shall by our disobedience bring ourselves under the curses of it. That which aggravated their defection from God, and rebellion against him, was that it was general, and as it were by consent, Jer. 11:9, 10. Jeremiah himself saw that many lived in open disobedience to God, but the Lord told him that the matter was worse than he thought of: A conspiracy is found among them, by him whose eye is upon the hidden works of darkness. There is a combination against God and religion, a dangerous design formed to overthrow God’s government and bring in the pretenders, the counterfeit deities. This intimates that they were wilful and deliberate in wickedness (they rebelled against God, not through incogitancy, but presumptuously, and with a high hand),—that they were subtle and ingenious in wickedness, and carried on their plot against religion with a great deal of art and contrivance,—that they were linked together in the design, and, as is usual among conspirators, engaged to stand by one another in it and to live and die together; they were resolved to go through with it. A cursed conspiracy! O that there were not the like in our day! Observe, 1. What the conspiracy was. They designed to overthrow divine revelation, and set that aside, and persuade people not to hear, not to heed, the words of God. They did all they could to derogate from the authority of the scriptures and to lessen the value of them; they designed to draw people after other gods to serve them, to consult them as their oracles and make court to them as their benefactors. Human reason shall be their god, a light within their god, an infallible judge their god, saints and angels their gods, the god of this or the other nation shall be theirs; thus, under several disguises, they are in the same confederacy against the Lord and against his anointed. 2. Who were in conspiracy. One would have expected find some foreigners ring-leaders in it; but no, (1.) The inhabitants of Jerusalem are in conspiracy with the men of Judah; city and country agree in this, however they may differ in other things. (2.) Those of this generation seem to be in conspiracy with those of the foregoing generation, to carry on the war from age to age against religion: They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, and have risen up in their stead, a seed of evil-doers, and increase of sinful men, Num. 32:14. In Josiah’s time there had been a reformation, but after this death the people returned to the idolatries which then they had renounced. (3.) Judah and Israel, the kingdom of the ten tribes and that of the two, that were often at daggers—drawing one with another, were yet in a conspiracy to break the covenant God had made with their fathers, even with the heads of all the twelve tribes. The house of Israel began the revolt, but the house of Judah soon came into the conspiracy. Now what else could be expected but that god should take severe methods, both for the chastising of the conspirators and the crushing of this conspiracy; for none ever hardened his heart thus against God and prospered? He that rolls this stone will find it return upon him.