We may observe in these verses, as before,
I. The sin of this people, upon which the commission signed against them is grounded. God disowns them and dooms them to destruction, Jer. 5:10. But is there not a cause? Yes; for, 1. They have deserted the law of God (Jer. 5:11): The house of Israel and the house of Judah, though at variance with one another, yet both agreed to deal very treacherously against God. They forsook the worship of him, and therein violated their covenants with him; they revolted from him, and played the hypocrite with him. 2. They have defied the judgments of God and given the lie to his threatenings in the mouth of his prophets, Jer. 5:12, 13. They were often told that evil would certainly come upon them; they must expect some desolating judgment, sword or famine; but they were secure and said, We shall have peace, though we go on. For, (1.) They did not fear what God is. They belied him, and confronted the dictates even of natural light concerning him; for they said, “It is not he, that is, he is not such a one as we have been made to believe he is; he does not see, or not regard, or will not require it; and therefore no evil shall come upon us.” Multitudes are ruined by being made to believe that God will not be so strict with them as his word says he will; nay, by this artifice Satan undid us all: You shall not surely die. So here: Neither shall we see sword nor famine. Vain hopes of impunity are the deceitful support of all impiety. (2.) They did not fear what God said. The prophets gave them fair warning, but they turned it off with a jest: “They do but talk so, because it is their trade; they are words of course, and words are but wind. It is not the word of the Lord that is in them; it is only the language of their melancholy fancy or their ill-will to their country, because they are not preferred.” Note, Impenitent sinners are not willing to own any thing to be the word of God that makes against them, that tends either to part them from, or disquiet them in, their sins. They threaten the prophets: “They shall become wind, shall pass away unregarded, and thus shall it be done unto them; what they threaten against us we will inflict upon them. Do they frighten us with famine? Let them be fed with the bread of affliction.” So Micaiah was, 1 Kgs. 22:27. “Do they tell us of the sword? Let them perish by the sword,” Jer. 2:30. Thus their mocking and misusing God’s messengers filled the measure of their iniquity.
II. The punishment of this people for their sin. 1. The threatenings they laughed at shall be executed (Jer. 5:14): Because you speak this word of contempt concerning the prophets, and the word in their mouths, therefore God will put honour upon them and their words, for not one iota or tittle of them shall fall to the ground, 1 Sam. 3:19. Here God turns to the prophet Jeremiah, who had been thus bantered, and perhaps had been a little uneasy at it: Behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire. God owns them for his words, though men denied them, and will as surely make them to take effect as the fire consumes combustible material that is in its way. The word shall be fire and the people wood. Sinners by sin make themselves fuel to that wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men in the scripture. The word of God will certainly be too hard for those that contend with it. Those shall break who will not bow before it. 2. The enemy they thought themselves in no danger of shall be brought upon them. God gives them their commission (Jer. 5:10): “Go you up upon her walls, mount them, trample upon them, tread them down. Walls of stone, before the divine commission, shall be but mud walls. Having made yourselves masters of the walls, you may destroy at pleasure. You may take away her battlements, and leave the fenced fortified cities to lie open; for her battlements are not the Lord’s he does not own them and therefore will not protect and fortify them.” They were not erected in his fear, nor with a dependence upon him; the people have trusted to them more than to God, and therefore they are not his. When the city is filled with sin God will not patronise the fortifications of it, and then they are paper walls. What can defend us when he who is our defence, and the defender of all our defences, has departed from us? Num. 14:9. What is not of God cannot stand, not stand long, nor stand us in any stead. What dreadful work these invaders should make is here described (Jer. 5:15): Lo, I will bring a nation upon you, O house of Israel! Note, God has all nations at his command, does what he pleases with them and makes what use he pleases of them. And sometimes he is pleased to make the nations of the earth, the heathen nations, a scourge to the house of Israel, when that has become a hypocritical nation. This nation of the Chaldeans is here said to be a remote nation; it is brought upon them from afar, and therefore will make the greater spoil and the longer stay, that the soldiers may pay themselves well for so long a march. “It is a nation that thou hast had no commerce with, by reason of their distance, and therefore canst not expect to find favour with.” God can bring trouble upon us from places and causes very remote. It is a mighty nation, that there is no making head against, an ancient nation, that value themselves upon their antiquity and will therefore be the more haughty and imperious. It is a nation whose language thou knowest not; they spoke the Syriac tongue, which the Jews at that time were not acquainted with, as appears, 2 Kgs. 18:26. The difference of language would make it the more difficult to treat with them of peace. Compare this with the threatening, Deut. 28:49; which it seems to have a reference to, for the law and the prophets exactly agree. They are well armed: Their quiver is as an open sepulchre; their arrows shall fly so thick, hit so sure, and wound so deep, that they shall be reckoned to breathe nothing but death and slaughter: they are able-bodied, all effective, mighty men, Jer. 5:16. And, when they have made themselves masters of the country, they shall devour all before them, and reckon all their own that they can lay their hands on, Jer. 5:17. (1.) They shall strip the country, shall not only sustain, but surfeit, their soldiers with the rich products of this fruitful land. “They shall not store up (then it might possibly by retrieved), but eat up thy harvest in the field and thy bread in the house, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat.” Note, What we have we have for our families, and it is a comfort to see our sons and daughters eating that which we have taken care and pains for. But it is a grievous vexation to see it devoured by strangers and enemies, to see their camps victualled with our stores, while those that are dear to us are perishing for want of it: this also is according to the curse of the law, Deut. 28:33. “They shall eat up thy flocks and herds, out of which thou hast taken sacrifices for thy idols; they shall not leave thee the fruit of thy vines and fig-trees.” (2.) They shall starve the towns: “They shall impoverish thy fenced cities” (and what fence is there against poverty, when it comes like an armed man?), “those cities wherein thou trustedst to be a protection to the country.” Note, It is just with God to impoverish that which we make our confidence. They shall impoverish them with the sword, cutting off all provisions from coming to them and intercepting trade and commerce, which will impoverish even fenced cities.
III. An intimation of the tender compassion God has yet for them. The enemy is commissioned to destroy and lay waste, but must not make a full end, Jer. 5:10. Though they make a great slaughter, yet some must be left to live; though they make a great spoil, yet something must be left to live upon, for God has said it (Jer. 5:18) with a non obstante—a nevertheless to the present desolation: “Even in those days, dismal as they are, I will not make a full end with you;” and, if God will not, the enemy shall not. God has mercy in store for his people, and therefore will set bounds to this desolating judgment. Hitherto it shall come, and no further.
IV. The justification of God in these proceedings against them. As he will appear to be gracious in not making a full end with them, so he will appear to be righteous in coming so near it, and will have it acknowledged that he has done them no wrong, Jer. 5:19. Observe, 1. A reason demanded, insolently demanded, by the people for these judgments. They will say “Wherefore doth the Lord our God do all this unto us? What provocation have we given him, or what quarrel has he with us?” As if against such a sinful nation there did not appear cause enough of action. Note, Unhumbled hearts are ready to charge God with injustice in their afflictions, and pretend they have to seek for the cause of them when it is written in the forehead of them. But, 2. Here is a reason immediately assigned. The prophet is instructed what answer to give them; for God will be justified when he speaks, though he speaks with ever so much terror. He must tell them that God does this against them for what they have done against him, and that they may, if they please, read their sin in their punishment. Do not they know very well that they have forsaken God, and therefore can they think it strange if he has forsaken them? Have they forgotten how often they served gods in their own land, that good land, in the abundance of the fruits of which they ought to have served God with gladness of heart? and therefore is it not just with God to make them serve strangers in a strange land, where they can call nothing their own, as he has threatened to do? Deut. 28:47, 48. Those that are fond of strangers, to strangers let them go.