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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 18–23
Verses 18–23

The prophet Jeremiah has much in his writings concerning himself, much more than Isaiah had, the times he lived in being very troublesome. Here we have (as it should seem) the beginning of his sorrows, which arose from the people of his own city, Anathoth, a priest’s city, and yet a malignant one. Observe here,

I. Their plot against him, Jer. 11:19. They devised devices against him, laid their heads together to contrive how they might be in the most plausible and effectual manner the death of him. Malice is ingenious in its devices, as well as industrious in its prosecutions. They said concerning Jeremiah, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof—a proverbial expression, meaning, “Let us utterly destroy him root and branch. Let us destroy both the father and the family” (as, when Naboth was put to death for treason, his sons were put to death with him), or rather “both the prophet and the prophecy; let us kill the one and defeat the other. Let us cut him off from the land of the living, as a false prophet, and load him with ignominy and disgrace, that his name may be no more remembered with respect. Let us sink his reputation, and so spoil the credit of his predictions.” This was their plot; and 1. It was a cruel one; but so cruel have the persecutors of God’s prophets been. They hunt for no less than the precious life, and very precious the lives are that they hunt for. But, (2.) It was a baffled one. They thought to put an end to his days, but he survived most of his enemies; they thought to blast his memory, but it lives to this day, and will be blessed while time lasts.

II. The information which God gave him of this conspiracy against him. He knew nothing of it himself, so artfully had they concealed it; he came to Anathoth, meaning no harm to them and therefore fearing no harm from them, like a lamb or an ox, that thinks he is driven as usual to the field, when he is brought to the slaughter; so little did poor Jeremiah dream of the design his citizens that hated him had upon him. None of his friends could, and none of his enemies would, give him any notice of his danger, that he might shift for his own safety, as Paul’s sister’s son gave him intelligence of the Jews that were lying in wait for him. There is but a step between Jeremiah and death; but then the Lord gave him knowledge of it, by dream or vision, or impression upon his spirit, that he might save himself, as the king of Israel did upon the notice Elisha gave him, 2 Kgs. 6:10. Thus he came to know it. God showed him their doings; and such were their devices that the discovering of them was the defeating of them. If God had not let him know his own danger, it would have been improved by unreasonable men against the reputation of his predictions, that he who foretold the ruin of his country could not foresee his own peril and avoid it. See what care God takes of his prophets: He suffers no man to do them wrong; all the rage of their enemies cannot prevail to take them off till they have finished their testimony. God knows all the secret designs of his and his people’s enemies, and can, when he pleases, make them know. A bird of the air shall carry the voice.

III. His appeal to God hereupon, Jer. 11:20. His eye is to God as the Lord of hosts, that judges righteously. It is a matter of comfort to us, when men deal unjustly with us, that we have a God to go to who does and will plead the cause of injured innocency and appear against the injurious. God’s justice, which is a terror to the wicked, is a comfort to the godly. His eye is towards him as the God that tries the reins and the heart, that perfectly sees what is in man, what are his thoughts and intents. He knew the integrity that was in Jeremiah’s heart, and that he was not the man they represented him to be. He knew the wickedness that was in their hearts, though ever so cunningly concealed and disguised. Now, 1. Jeremiah prays judgment against them: “Let me see thy vengeance on them, that is, do justice between me and them in such a way as thou pleasest.” Some think there was something of human frailty in this prayer; at least Christ has taught us another lesson, both by precept and by pattern, which is to pray for our persecutors. Others think it comes from a pure zeal for the glory of God and a pious and prophetic indignation against men that were by profession priests, the Lord’s ministers, and yet were so desperately wicked as to fly out against one that did them no harm, merely for the service he did to God. This petition was a prediction that he should see God’s vengeance on them. 2. He refers his cause entirely to the judgment of God: “Unto thee have I revealed my cause; to thee I have committed it, not desiring nor expecting to interest any other in it.” Note, It is our comfort, when we are wronged, that we have a God to commit our cause to, and our duty to commit it to him, with a resolution to acquiesce in his definitive sentence, to subscribe, and not prescribe, to him.

IV. Judgment given against his persecutors, the men of Anathoth. It was to no purpose for him to appeal to the courts at Jerusalem, he could not have justice done him there: the priests there would stand by the priests at Anathoth, and rather second them than discountenance them; but God will therefore take cognizance of the cause himself, and we are sure that his judgment is according to truth. Here is, 1. Their crime recited, on which the sentence is grounded, Jer. 11:21. They sought the prophet’s life, for they forbad him to prophesy upon pain of death; they were resolved either to silence him or to slay him. The provocation he gave them was his prophesying in the name of the Lord without license from those that were the governors of the city which he was a member of, and not prophesying such smooth things as they always bespoke. Their forbidding him to prophesy was in effect seeking his life, for it was seeking to defeat the end and business of his life and to rob him of the comfort of it. It is as bad to God’s faithful ministers to have their mouth stopped as to have their breath stopped. But especially when it was resolved that if he did prophesy, as certainly he would notwithstanding their inhibition, he should die by their hand; they would be accusers, judges, executioners, and all. It used to be said that a prophet could not perish but at Jerusalem, for there the great council sat; but so bitter were the men of Anathoth against Jeremiah that they would undertake to be the death of him themselves. A prophet then shall find not only no honour, but no favour, in his own country. 2. The sentence passed upon them for this crime, Jer. 11:22, 23. God says, I will punish them; let me alone to deal with them. I will visit this upon them; so the word is. God will enquire into it and reckon for it. Two of God’s four sore judgments shall serve to ruin their town:—The sword shall devour their young men, though they were young priests, not men of war (their character shall not be their protection), and famine shall destroy the children, sons and daughters, that tarry at home, which is a more grievous death than that by the sword, Lam. 4:9. The destruction shall be final (Jer. 11:23): There shall be no remnant of them left, none to be the seed of another generation. They sought Jeremiah’s life, and therefore they shall die; they would destroy him root and branch, that his name might be no more remembered, and therefore there shall be no remnant of them; and herein the Lord is righteous. Thus evil is brought upon them, even the year of their visitation, and that is evil enough, a recompence according to their deserts. Then shall Jeremiah see his desire upon his enemies. Note, Their condition is sad who have the prayers of good ministers and good people against them.