This paragraph, which contains so much of God’s wrath, might very well be expected to follow upon that which goes next before, which contained so much of his people’s sin. When God found so much evil among them we cannot think it strange if it follows, Therefore I will bring evil upon them (Jer. 11:11), the evil of punishment for the evil of sin; and there is no remedy, no relief: the decree has gone forth and the sentence will be executed.
I. They cannot help themselves, but will be found too weak to contest with God’s judgments: it is evil which they shall not be able to escape, or to go forth out of, by any evasion whatsoever. Note, Those that will not submit to God’s government shall not be able to escape his wrath. There is no fleeing from his justice, no avoiding his cognizance. Evil pursues sinners and entangles them in snares out of which they cannot extricate themselves.
II. Their God will not help them; his providence shall no way favour them: Though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken to them. In their affliction they will seek the God whom before they slighted, and cry to him whom before they would not vouchsafe to speak to. But how can they expect to speed? For he has plainly told us that he that turns away his ears from hearing the law, as they did, for they inclined not their ear (Jer. 11:8), even his prayer shall be an abomination to him, as the word of the Lord was now to them a reproach.
III. Their idols shall not help them, Jer. 11:12. They shall go, and cry to the gods to whom they now offer incense, and put them in mind of the costly services wherewith they had honoured them, expecting they should now have relief from them, but in vain. They shall be sent to the gods whom they served (Jdg. 10:14; Deut. 32:37, 38), and what the better? They shall not save them at all, shall do nothing towards their salvation, nor give them any prospect of it; they shall not afford them the least comfort, nor relief, nor mitigation of their trouble. It is God only that is a friend at need, a present powerful help in time of trouble. The idols cannot help themselves; how then should they help their worshippers? Those that make idols of the world and the flesh will in vain have recourse to them in a day of distress. If the idols could have done any real kindness to their worshippers, they would have done it for this people, who had renounced the true God to embrace them, had multiplied them according to the number of their cities (Jer. 11:13), nay, in Jerusalem, according to the number of their streets. Suspecting both their sufficiency and their readiness to help them, they must have many, lest a few would not serve; they must have them dispersed in every corner, lest they should be out of the way when they had occasion for them. In Jerusalem, the city which God had chosen to put his name there, publicly in the streets of Jerusalem, in every street, they had altars to that shameful thing, that shame, even to Baal, which they ought to have been ashamed of, with which they did reproach the Lord and bring confusion upon themselves. But now in their distress their many gods, and many altars, should stand them in stead. Note, Those that will not be ashamed of their commission of sin as a wicked thing will be ashamed of their expectations from sin as a fruitless thing.
IV. Jeremiah’s prayers shall not help them, Jer. 11:14. What God had said to him before (Jer. 7:16) he here says again, Pray not thou for this people. This is not designed for a command to the prophet, so much as for a threatening to the people, that they should have no benefit by the prayers of their friends for them. God would give no encouragement to the prophets to pray for them, would not stir up the spirit of prayer, but cast a damp upon it, would put it into their hearts to pray, not for the body of the people, but for the remnant among them, to pray for their eternal salvation, not for their deliverance from the temporal judgments that were coming upon them; and what other prayers were put up for them should not be heard. Those are in a sad case indeed that are cut off from the benefit of prayer. “I will not hear them when they cry, and therefore to not thou pray for them.” Note, Those that have so far thrown themselves out of God’s favour that he will not hear their prayers cannot expect benefit by the prayers of others for them.
V. The profession they make of religion shall stand them in no stead, Jer. 11:15. They were originally God’s beloved, his spouse, he was married to them by the covenant of peculiarity; even the unbelieving Jews are said to be beloved for the fathers’ sake, Rom. 11:28. As such they had a place in God’s house; they were admitted to worship in the courts of his temple; they partook of God’s altar; they ate of the flesh of their peace-offerings here called the holy flesh, which God had the honour of and they had the comfort of. This they gloried in, and trusted to. What harm could come to those who were God’s beloved, who were under the protection of his house? Even when they did evil yet they rejoiced and gloried in this, made a mighty noise of this. And when their evil was (so the margin reads it), when trouble came upon them, they rejoiced in this, and made this their confidence; but their confidence would deceive them, for God has rejected it, they themselves having forfeited the privileges they so much boasted of. They have wrought lewdness with many, have been guilty of spiritual whoredom, have worshipped many idols; and therefore, 1. God’s temple will yield them no protection; it is fit that the adulteress, especially when she has so often repeated her whoredoms and has grown so impudent in them and irreclaimable, should be put away, and turned out of doors: “What has my beloved to do in my house? She is a scandal to it, and therefore it shall no longer be a shelter to her.” 2. God’s altar will yield them no satisfaction, nor can they expect any comfort from that: “The holy flesh has passed from thee, that is, an end will soon be put to thy sacrifices, when the temple shall be laid in ruins; and where then will the holy flesh be, that thou art so proud of?” A holy heart will be a comfort to us when the holy flesh has passed from us; an inward principle of grace will make up the want of the outward means of grace. But woe unto us if the departure of the holy flesh be accompanied with the departure of the Holy Spirit.
VI. God’s former favours to them shall stand them in no stead, Jer. 11:16, 17. Their remembrance of them shall be no comfort to them under their troubles, and God’s remembrance of them shall be no argument for their relief. 1. It is true God had done great things for them; that people had been favourites above any people under the sun; they had been the darlings of heaven. God had called Israel’s name a green olive-tree, and had made them so, for he miscalls nothing; he had planted them (Jer. 11:17), had formed them into a people, with all the advantages they could have to make them a fruitful and flourishing people, so good was their law and so good was their land. One would think no other than that a people so planted, so watered, so cultivated, should be, as the olive-tree is, ever green, in respect both of piety and prosperity, Ps. 52:8. God called them fair and of goodly fruit, both good for food and pleasant to the eye, both amiable and serviceable to God and man, for which the greenness and fatness of the olive both are honoured, Jdg. 9:9. 2. It is as true that they have done evil things against God. He had planted them a green olive, a good olive, but they had degenerated into a wild olive, Rom. 11:17. Both the house of Israel. and the house of Judah had done evil, had provoked God to anger in burning incense unto Baal, setting up other mediators between them and the supreme God besides the promised Messiah; nay, setting up other gods in competition with the true and living God, for they had gods many, as well as lords many. 3. When they have conducted themselves so ill they can expect no other than that, notwithstanding what good he has done to them and designed for them, he should now bring upon them the evil he has pronounced against them. He that planted this green olive-tree, and expected fruit from it, finding it barren and grown wild, has kindled fire upon it, to burn it as it stands; for, being without fruit, it is twice dead, plucked up by the roots (Jude 1:12), it is cut down and cast into the fire, the fittest place for trees that cumber the ground, Matt. 3:10. The branches of it, the high and lofty boughs (so the word signifies), are broken are broken down, both princes and priests cut off. And thus it proves that the evil done against God, to provoke him to anger, is really done against themselves; they wrong their own souls; God is out of their reach, but they ruin themselves. See Jer. 7:19. Note, Every sin against God is a sin against ourselves, and so it will be found sooner or later.