The profaneness of the people, with that of the priests and prophets, is here reproved in a particular instance, which may seem of small moment in comparison of their greater crimes; but profaneness in common discourse, and the debauching of the language of a nation, being a notorious evidence of the prevalency of wickedness in it, we are not to think it strange that this matter was so largely and warmly insisted upon here. Observe,
I. The sin here charged upon them is bantering God’s prophets and dialect they used, and jesting with sacred things. They asked, What is the burden of the Lord? Jer. 23:33, 34. They say, The burden of the Lord, Jer. 23:38. This was the word that gave great offence to God, that, whenever they spoke of the word of the Lord, they called it, in scorn and derision, the burden of the Lord. Now, 1. This was a word that the prophets much used, and used it seriously, to show what a weight the word of God was upon their spirits, of what importance it was, and how pressingly it should come upon those that heard it. The words of the false prophets had nothing ponderous in them, but God’s words had; those were as chaff, these as wheat. Now the profane scoffers took this word, and made a jest and a byword of it; they made people merry with it, that so, when the prophets used it, they might not make people serious with it. Note, It has been the artifice of Satan, in all ages, to obstruct the efficacy of sacred things by turning them into matter of sport and ridicule; the mocking of God’s messengers was the baffling of his messages. 2. Perhaps this word was caught at and reproached by the scoffers as an improper word, newly-coined by the prophets, and not used in that sense by any classic author. It was only in this and the last age that the word of the Lord was called the burden of the Lord, and it could not be found in their lexicons to have that signification. But if men take a liberty, as we see they do, to form new phrases which they think more expressive and significant in other parts of learning, why not in divinity? But especially we must observe it as a rule that the Spirit of God is not tied to our rules of speaking. 3. Some think that because when the word of the Lord is called a burden it signifies some word of reproof and threatening, which would lay a load upon the hearers (yet I know not whether that observation will always hold), therefore in using this word the burden of the Lord in a canting way they reflected upon God as always bearing hard upon them, always teasing them, always frightening them, and so making the word of God a perpetual uneasiness to them. They make the word of God a burden to themselves, and then quarrel with the ministers for making it a burden to them. Thus the scoffers of the latter days, while they slight heaven and salvation, reproach faithful ministers for preaching hell and damnation. Upon the whole we may observe that, how light soever men may make of it, the great God takes notice of, and is much displeased with, those who burlesque sacred things, and who, that they may make a jest of scripture truths and laws, put jests upon scripture language. In such wit as this I am sure there is no wisdom, and so it will appear at last. Be you not mockers, lest your bands be made strong. Those that were here guilty of this sin were some of the false prophets, who perhaps came to steal the word of God from the true prophets, some of the priests, who perhaps came to seek occasions against them on which to ground an information, and some of the people, who had learned of the profane priests and prophets to play with the things of God. The people would not have affronted the prophet and his God thus if the priests and the prophets, those ringleaders of mischief, had not shown them the way.
II. When they are reproved for this profane way of speaking they are directed how to express themselves more decently. We do not find that the prophets are directed to make no more use of this word; we find it used long after this (Zech. 9:1; Mal. 1:1; Nah. 1:1; Hab. 1:1); and we do not find it once used in this sense by Jeremiah either before or after. It is true indeed that in many cases it is advisable to make no use of such words and things as some have made a bad use of, and it may be prudent to avoid such phrases as, though innocent enough, are in danger of being perverted and made stumbling-blocks. But here God will have the prophet keep to his rule (Jer. 15:19), Let them return unto thee, but return not thou unto them. Do not thou leave off using this word, but let them leave off abusing it. You shall not mention the burden of the Lord any more in this profane careless manner (Jer. 23:36), for it is perverting the words of the living God and making a bad use of them, which is an impious dangerous thing; for, consider, he is the Lord of hosts our God. Note, If we will but look upon God as we ought to do in his greatness and goodness, and be but duly sensible of our relation and obligation to him, it may be hoped that we shall not dare to affront him by making a jest of his words. It is an impudent thing to abuse him that is the living God, the Lord of hosts, and our God. How then must they express themselves? He tells them (Jer. 23:37): Thus shalt thou say to the prophet, when thou art enquiring of him, What hath the Lord answered thee? And what hath the Lord spoken? And they must say thus when they enquire of their neighbours, Jer. 23:35. Note, We must always speak of the things of God reverently and seriously, and as becomes the oracles of God. It is a commendable practice to enquire after the mind of God, to enquire of our brethren what they have heard, to enquire of our prophets what they have to say from God; but then, to show that we enquire for a right end, we must do it after a right manner. Ministers may learn here, when they reprove people for what they say and do amiss, to teach them how to say and do better.
III. Because they would not leave off this bad way of speaking, though they were admonished of it, God threatens them here with utter ruin. They would still say, The burden of the Lord, though God had sent to them to forbid them, Jer. 23:38. What little regard have those to the divine authority that will not be persuaded by it to leave an idle word! But see what will come of it. 1. Those shall be severely reckoned with that thus pervert the words of God, that put a wrong construction on them and make a bad use of them; and it shall be made to appear that it is a great provocation to God to mock his messengers: I will even punish that man and his house; whether he be prophet or priest, or one of the common people, it shall be visited upon him, Jer. 23:34. Perverting God’s word, and ridiculing the preachers of it, are sins that bring ruining judgments upon families and entail a curse upon a house. Another threatening we have Jer. 23:36. Every man’s word shall be his own burden; that is, the guilt of this sin shall be so heavy upon him as to sink him into the pit of destruction. God shall make their own tongue to fall upon them, Ps. 64:8. God will give them enough of their jest, so that the burden of the Lord they shall have no heart to mention any more; it will be too heavy to make a jest of. They are as the madman that casts firebrands, arrows, and death, while they pretend to be in sport. 2. The words of God, though thus perverted, shall be accomplished. Do they ask, What is the burden of the Lord? Let the prophet ask them, What burden do you mean? Isa. it this: I will even forsake you? Jer. 23:33. This is the burden that shall be laid and bound upon them (Jer. 23:39, 40): “Behold I, even I, will utterly forget you, and I will forsake you. I will leave you, and have no thoughts of returning to you.” Those are miserable indeed that are forsaken and forgotten of God; and men’s bantering God’s judgments will not baffle them. Jerusalem was the city God had taken to himself as a holy city, and then given to them and their fathers; but that shall now be forsaken and forgotten. God had taken them to be a people near to him; but they shall now be cast out of his presence. They had been great and honourable among the nations; but now God will bring upon them an everlasting reproach and a perpetual shame. Both their sin and their punishment shall be their lasting disgrace. It is here upon record, to their infamy, and will remain so to the world’s end. Note, God’s word will be magnified and made honourable when those that mock at it shall be vilified and made contemptible. Those that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.