Here is, I. A command given to Jeremiah to go and carry a message from God to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He was charged in general (Jer. 1:17) to go and speak to them; here he is particularly charged to go and speak this to them. Note, It is good for ministers by faith and prayer to take out a fresh commission when they address themselves solemnly to any part of their work. Let a minister carefully compare what he has to deliver with the word of God, and see that it agrees with it, that he may be able to say, not only, The Lord sent me, but, He sent me to speak this. He must go from Anathoth, where he lived in a pleasant retirement, spending his time (it is likely) among a few friends and in the study of the law, and must make his appearance at Jerusalem, that noisy tumultuous city, and cry in their ears, as a man in earnest and that would be heard: “Cry aloud, that all may hear, and none may plead ignorance. Go close to them, and cry in the ears of those that have stopped their ears.”
II. The message he was commanded to deliver. He must upbraid them with their horrid ingratitude in forsaking a God who had been of old so kind to them, that this might either make them ashamed and bring them to repentance, or might justify God in turning his hand against them.
1. God here puts them in mind of the favours he had of old bestowed upon them, when they were first formed into a people (Jer. 2:2): “I remember for thy sake, and I would have thee to remember it, and improve the remembrance of it for thy good; I cannot forget the kindness of thy youth and the love of thy espousals.”
(1.) This may be understood of the kindness they had for God; it was not such indeed as they had any reason to boast of, or to plead with God for favour to be shown them (for many of them were very unkind and provoking, and, when they did return and enquire early after God, they did but flatter him), yet God is pleased to mention it, and plead it with them; for, though it was but little love that they showed him, he took it kindly. When they believed the Lord and his servant Moses, when they sang God’s praise at the Red Sea, when at the foot of Mount Sinai they promised, All that the Lord shall say unto us we will do and will be obedient, then was the kindness of their youth and the love of their espousals. When they seemed so forward for God he said, Surely they are my people, and will be faithful to me, children that will not lie. Note, Those that begin well and promise fair, but do not perform and persevere, will justly be upbraided with their hopeful and promising beginnings. God remembers the kindness of our youth and the love of our espousals, the zeal we then seemed to have for him and the affection wherewith we made our covenants with him, the buds and blossoms that never came to perfection; and it is good for us to remember them, that we may remember whence we have fallen, and return to our first love, Rev. 2:4, 5; Gal. 4:15. In two things appeared the kindness of their youth:-- [1.] That they followed the direction of the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness; and though sometimes they spoke of returning into Egypt, or pushing forward into Canaan, yet they did neither, but for forty years together went after God in the wilderness, and trusted him to provide for them, though it was a land that was not sown. This God took kindly, and took notice of it to their praise long after, that, though much was amiss among them, yet they never forsook the guidance they were under. Thus, though Christ often chid his disciples, yet he commended them, at parting, for continuing with him, Luke 22:28. It must be the strong affection of the youth, and the espousals, that will carry us on to follow God in a wilderness, with an implicit faith and an entire resignation; and it is a pity that those who have so followed him should ever leave him. [2.] That they entertained divine institutions, set up the tabernacle among them, and attended the service of it. Israel was then holiness to the Lord; they joined themselves to him in covenant as a peculiar people. Thus they began in the spirit, and God puts them in mind of it, that they might be ashamed of ending in the flesh.
(2.) Or it may be understood of God’s kindness to them; of that he afterwards speaks largely. When Israel was a child, then I loved him, Hos. 11:1. He then espoused that people to himself with all the affection with which a young man marries a virgin (Isa. 62:5), for the time was a time of love, Ezek. 16:8. [1.] God appropriated them to himself. Though they were a sinful people, yet, by virtue of the covenant made with them and the church set up among them, they were holiness to the Lord, dedicated to his honour and taken under his special tuition; they were the first fruits of his increase, the first constituted church he had in the world; they were the first-fruits, but the full harvest was to be gathered from among the Gentiles. The first-fruits of the increase were God’s part of it, were offered to him, and he was honoured with them; so were the people of the Jews; what little tribute, rent, and homage, God had from the world, he had it chiefly from them; and it was their honour to be thus set apart for God. This honour have all the saints; they are the first-fruits of his creatures, Jas. 1:18. [2.] Having espoused them, he espoused their cause, and became an enemy to their enemies, Exod. 23:22. Being the first-fruits of his increase, all that devoured him (so it should be read) did offend; they trespassed, they contracted guilt, and evil befel them, as those were reckoned offenders that devoured the first-fruits, or any thing else that was holy to the Lord, that embezzled them, or converted them to their own use, Lev. 5:15. Whoever offered any injury to the people of God did so at their peril; their God was ready to avenge their quarrel, and said to the proudest of kings, Touch not my anointed, Ps. 105:14, 15; Exod. 17:14. He had in a special manner a controversy with those that attempted to debauch them and draw them off from being holiness to the Lord; witness his quarrel with the Midianites about the matter of Peor, Num. 25:17, 18. [3.] He brought them out of Egypt with a high hand and great terror (Deut. 4:34), and yet with a kind hand and great tenderness led them through a vast howling wilderness (Jer. 2:6), a land of deserts and pits, or of graves, terram sepulchralem—a sepulchral land, where there was ground, not to feed them, but to bury them, where there was no good to be expected, for it was a land of drought, but all manner of evil to be feared, for it was the shadow of death. In that darksome valley they walked forty years; but God was with them; his rod, in Moses’s hand, and his staff, comforted them, and even there God prepared a table for them (Ps. 23:4, 5), gave them bread out of the clouds and drink out of the rocks. It was a land abandoned by all mankind, as yielding neither road nor rest. It was no thoroughfare, for no man passed through it—no settlement, for no man dwelt there. For God will teach his people to tread untrodden paths, to dwell alone, and to be singular. The difficulties of the journey are thus insisted on, to magnify the power and goodness of God in bringing them, through all, safely to their journey’s end at last. All God’s spiritual Israel must own their obligations to him for a safe conduct through the wilderness of this world, no less dangerous to the soul than that was to the body. [4.] At length he settled them in Canaan (Jer. 2:7): I brought you into a plentiful country, which would be the more acceptable after they had been for so many years in a land of drought. They did eat the fruit thereof and the goodness thereof, and were allowed so to do. I brought you into a land of Carmel (so the word is); Carmel was a place of extraordinary fruitfulness, and Canaan was as one great fruitful field, Deut. 8:7. [5.] God gave them the means of knowledge and grace, and communion with him; this is implied, Jer. 2:8. They had priests that handled the law, read it, and expounded it to them; that was part of their business, Deut. 33:8. They had pastors, to guide them and take care of their affairs, magistrates and judges; they had prophets to consult God for them and to make known his mind to them.
2. He upbraids them with their horrid ingratitude, and the ill returns they had made him for these favours; let them all come and answer to this charge (Jer. 2:4); it is exhibited in the name of God against all the families of the house of Israel, for they can none of them plead, Not guilty. (1.) He challenges them to produce any instance of his being unjust and unkind to them. Though he had conferred favours upon them in some things, yet, if in other things he had dealt hardly with them, they would not have been altogether without excuse. He therefore puts it fairly to them to show cause for their deserting him (Jer. 2:5): “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, or you either? Have you, upon trial, found God a hard master? Have his commands put any hardship upon you or obliged you to any thing unfit, unfair, or unbecoming you? Have his promises put any cheats upon you, or raised your expectations of things which you were afterwards disappointed of? You that have renounced your covenant with God, can you say that it was a hard bargain and that which you could not live upon? You that have forsaken the ordinances of God, can you say that it was because they were a wearisome service, or work that there was nothing to be got by? No; the disappointments you have met with were owing to yourselves, not to God. The yoke of his commandments if easy, and in the keeping of them there is great reward.” Note, Those that forsake God cannot say that he has ever given them any provocation to do so: for this we may safely appeal to the consciences of sinners; the slothful servant that offered such a plea as this had it overruled out of his own mouth, Luke 19:22. Though he afflicts us, we cannot say that there is iniquity in him; he does us no wrong. The ways of the Lord are undoubtedly equal; all the iniquity is in our ways. (2.) He charges them with being very unjust and unkind to him notwithstanding. [1.] They had quitted his service: “They have gone from me, nay, they have gone far from me.” They studied how to estrange themselves from God and their duty, and got as far as they could out of the reach of his commandments and their own convictions. Those that have deserted religion commonly set themselves at a greater distance from it, and in a greater opposition to it, than those that never knew it. [2.] They had quitted it for the service of idols, which was so much the greater reproach to God and his service; they went from him, not to better themselves, but to cheat themselves: They have walked after vanity, that is, idolatry; for an idol is a vain thing; it is nothing in the world, 1 Cor. 8:4; Deut. 32:21; Jer. 14:22. Idolatrous worships are vanities, Acts 14:15. Idolaters are vain, for those that make idols are like unto them (Ps. 115:8), as much stocks and stones as the images they worship, and good for as little. [3.] They had with idolatry introduced all manner of wickedness. When they entered into the good land which God gave them they defiled it (Jer. 2:7), by defiling themselves and disfitting themselves for the service of God. It was God’s land; they were but tenants to him, sojourners in it, Lev. 25:23. It was his heritage, for it was a holy land, Immanuel’s land; but they made it an abomination, even to God himself, who was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel. [4.] Having forsaken God, though they soon found that they had changed for the worse, yet they had no thoughts of returning to him again, nor took any steps towards it. Neither the people nor the priests made any enquiry after him, took any thought about their duty to him, nor expressed any desire to recover his favour. First, The people said not, Where is the Lord? Jer. 2:6. Though they were trained up in an observance of him as their God, and had been often told that he brought them out of the land of Egypt, to be a people peculiar to himself, yet they never asked after him nor desired the knowledge of his ways. Secondly, The priests said not, Where is the Lord? Jer. 2:8. Those whose office it was to attend immediately upon him were in no concern to acquaint themselves with him, or approve themselves to him. Those who should have instructed the people in the knowledge of God took no care to get the knowledge of him themselves. The scribes, who handled the law, did not know God nor his will, could not expound the scriptures at all, or not aright. The pastors, who should have kept the flock from transgressing, were themselves ringleaders in transgression: They have transgressed against me. The pretenders to prophecy prophesied by Baal, in his name, to his honour, being backed and supported by the wicked kings to confront the Lord’s prophets. Baal’s prophets joined with Baal’s priests, and walked after the things which do not profit, that is, after the idols which can be no way helpful to their worshippers. See how the best characters are usurped, and the best offices liable to corruption; and wonder not at the sin and ruin of a people when the blind are leaders of the blind.