We have here the people’s obstinate refusal to submit to the power of the word of God in the mouth of Jeremiah. We have scarcely such an instance of downright daring contradiction to God himself as this, or such an avowed rebellion of the carnal mind. Observe,
I. The persons who thus set God and his judgments at defiance; it was not some one that was thus obstinate, but the generality of the Jews; and they were such as knew either themselves or their wives to be guilty of the idolatry Jeremiah had reproved, Jer. 44:15. We find, 1. That the women had been more guilty of idolatry and superstition than the men, not because the men stuck closer to the true God and the true religion than the women, but, I fear, because they were generally atheists, and were for no God and no religion at all, and therefore could easily allow their wives to be of a false religion, and to worship false gods. 2. That it was consciousness of guilt that made them impatient of reproof: They knew that their wives had burnt incense to other gods, and that they had countenanced them in it, and the women that stood by knew that they had joined with them in their idolatrous usages; so that what Jeremiah said touched them in a sore place, which made them kick against the pricks, as children of Belial, that will not bear the yoke.
II. The reply which these persons made to Jeremiah, and in him to God himself; it is in effect the same with theirs who had the impudence to say to the Almighty, Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.
1. They declare their resolution not to do as God commanded them, but what they themselves had a mind to do; that is, they would go on to worship the moon, here called the queen of heaven; yet some understand it of the sun, which was much worshipped in Egypt (Jer. 43:13) and had been so at Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 23:11), and they say that the Hebrew word for the sun being feminine it may not unfitly be called the queen of heaven. And others understand it of all the host of heaven, or the frame of heaven, the whole machine, Jer. 7:18. These daring sinners do not now go about to make excuses for their refusal to obey, nor suggest that Jeremiah spoke from himself and not from God (as before, Jer. 43:2), but they own that he spoke to them in the name of the Lord, and yet tell him flatly, in so many words, “We will not hearken unto thee; we will do that which is forbidden and run the hazard of that which is threatened.” Note, Those that live in disobedience to God commonly grow worse and worse, and the heart is more and more hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Here is the genuine language of the rebellious heart: We will certainly do whatsoever thing goes forth out of our own mouth, let God and his prophets say what they please to the contrary. What they said many think who yet have not arrived at such a degree of impudence as to speak it out. It is that which the young man would be at in the days of his youth; he would walk in the way of his heart and the sight of his eyes, and would have and do every thing he has a mind to, Eccl. 11:9.
2. They give some sort of reasons for their resolution; for the most absurd and unreasonably wicked men will have something to say for themselves, till the day comes when every mouth shall be stopped.
(1.) They plead many of those things which the advocates for Rome make the marks of a true church, and not only justify but magnify themselves with; and these Jews have as much right to them as the Romanists have. [1.] They plead antiquity: We are resolved to burn incense to the queen of heaven, for our fathers did so; it is a practice that pleads prescription; and why should we pretend to be wiser than our fathers? [2.] They plead authority. Those that had power practised it themselves and prescribed it to others: Our kings and our princes did it, whom God set over us, and who were of the seed of David. [3.] They plead unity. It was not here and there one that did it, but we, we all with one consent, we that are a great multitude (Jer. 44:15), we did it. [4.] They plead universality. It was not done here and there, but in the cities of Judah. [5.] They plead visibility. It was not done in a corner, in dark and shady groves only, but in the streets, openly and publicly. [6.] They plead that it was the practice of the mother-church, the holy see; it was not now learned first in Egypt, but it had been done in Jerusalem. [7.] They plead prosperity: They had we plenty of bread, and of all good things; we were well and saw no evil. All the former pleas, I fear, were too true in fact; God’s witnesses against their idolatry were few and hid; Elijah though that he was left alone: and this last might perhaps be true as to some particular persons, but, as to their nation, they were still under rebukes for their rebellions, and there was no peace to those that went out or came in, 2 Chron. 15:5. But, supposing all to be true, yet this does not at all excuse them from idolatry; it is the law of God that we must be ruled and judged by, hot the practice of men.
(2.) They suggest that the judgments they had of late been under were brought upon them for leaving off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, Jer. 44:18. So perversely did they misconstrue providence, though God, by his prophets, had so often explained it to them, and the thing itself spoke the direct contrary. Since we forsook our idolatries we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword, the true reason of which was because they still retained their idols in their heart and an affection to their old sins; but they would have it thought that it was because they had forsaken the acts of sin. Thus the afflictions which should have been for their welfare, to separate between them and their sins, being misinterpreted did but confirm them in their sins. Thus, in the first ages of Christianity, when God chastised the nations by any public calamities for opposing the Christians and persecuting them, they put a contrary sense upon the calamities, as if they were sent to punish them for conniving at the Christians and tolerating them, and cried, Christianos ad leones—Throw the Christians to the lions. Yet, if it had been true, as they said here, that since they returned to the service of the true God, the God of Israel, they had been in want and trouble, was that a reason why they should revolt from him again? That was as much as to say that they served not him, but their own bellies. Those who know God, and put their trust in him, will serve him, though he starve them, though he slay them, though they never see a good day with him in this world, being well assured that they shall not lose by him in the end.
(3.) They plead that, though the women were most forward and active in their idolatries, yet they did it with the consent and approbation of their husbands; the women were busy to make cakes for meat-offerings to the queen of heaven and to prepare and pour out the drink-offerings, Jer. 44:19. We found, before, that this was their work, Jer. 7:18. “But did we do it without our husbands, privately and unknown to them, so as to give them occasion to be jealous of us? No; the fathers kindled the fire while the women kneaded the dough; the men that were our heads, whom we were bound to learn of and to be obedient to, taught us to do it by their example.” Note, It is sad when those who are in the nearest relation to each other, who should quicken each other to that which is good and so help one another to heaven, harden each other in sin and so ripen one another for hell. Some understand this as spoken by the husbands (Jer. 44:15), who plead that they did not do it without their men, that is, without their elders and rulers, their great men, and men in authority; but, because the making of the cakes and the pouring out of the drink-offerings are expressly spoken of as the women’s work (Jer. 7:18), it seems rather to be understood as their plea: but it was a frivolous plea. What would it avail them to be able to say that it was according to their husbands’ mind, when they knew that it was contrary to their God’s mind?