Here is, I. Ruin threatened as before, that the Jews shall go into captivity, and fall under all the miseries of beggary and bondage, shall be stripped of their clothes, their skirts discovered for want of upper garments to cover them, and their heels made bare for want of shoes, Jer. 13:22. Thus they used to deal with prisoners taken in war, when they drove them into captivity, naked and barefoot, Isa. 20:4. Being thus carried off into a strange country, they shall be scattered there, as the stubble that is blown away by the wind of the wilderness, and nobody is concerned to bring it together again, Jer. 13:24. If the stubble escape the fire, it shall be carried away by the wind. If one judgment do not do the work, another shall, with those that by sin have made themselves as stubble. They shall be stripped of all their ornaments and exposed to shame, as harlots that are carted, Jer. 13:26. They made their pride appear, but God will make their shame appear; so that those who have doted on them shall be ashamed of them.
II. An enquiry made by the people into the cause of this ruin, Jer. 13:22. Thou wilt say in thy heart (and God knows how to give a proper answer to what men say in their hearts, though they do not speak it out; Jesus, knowing their thoughts, replied to them, Matt. 9:4), Wherefore came these things upon me? The question is supposed to come into the heart, 1. Of a sinner quarrelling with God and refusing to receive correction. They could not see that they had done any thing which might justly provoke God to be thus angry with them. They durst not speak it out; but in their hearts they thus charged God with unrighteousness, if he had laid upon them more than was meet. They seek for the cause of their calamities, when, if they had not been willfully blind, they might easily have seen it. Or, 2. Of a sinner returning to God. If there come but a penitent thought into the heart at any time (saying, What have I done? Jer. 8:6; wherefore am I in affliction? why doth God contend with me?) God takes notice of it, and is ready by his Spirit to impress the conviction, that, sin being discovered, it may be repented of.
III. An answer to this enquiry. God will be justified when he speaks and will oblige us to justify him, and therefore will set the sin of sinners in order before them. Do they ask, Wherefore come these things upon us? Let them know it is all owing to themselves.
1. It is for the greatness of their iniquities, Jer. 13:22. God does not take advantage against them for small faults; no, the sins for which he now punishes them are of the first rate, very heinous in their own nature and highly aggravated—for the multitude of thy iniquity (so it may be read), sins of every kind and often repeated and relapsed into. Some think we are more in danger from the multitude of our smaller sins than from the heinousness of our greater sins; of both we may say, Who can understand his errors?
2. It is for their obstinacy in sin, their being so long accustomed to it that there was little hope left of their being reclaimed from it (Jer. 13:23): Can the Ethiopian change his skin, that is by nature black, or the leopard his spots, that are even woven into the skin? Dirt contracted may be washed off, but we cannot alter the natural colour of a hair (Matt. 5:36), much less of the skin; and so impossible is it, morally impossible, to reclaim and reform these people. (1.) They had been long accustomed to do evil. They were taught to do evil; they had been educated and brought up in sin; they had served an apprenticeship to it, and had all their days made a trade of it. It was so much their constant practice that it had become a second nature to them. (2.) Their prophets therefore despaired of ever bring them to do good. This was what they aimed at; they persuaded them to cease to do evil and learn to do well, but could not prevail. They had so long been used to do evil that it was next to impossible for them to repent, and amend, and begin to do good. Note, Custom in sin is a very great hindrance to conversion from sin. The disease that is inveterate is generally thought incurable. Those that have been long accustomed to sin have shaken off the restraint of fear and shame; their consciences are seared; the habits of sin are confirmed; it pleads prescription; and it is just with God to give those up to their own hearts’ lusts that have long refused to give themselves up to his grace. Sin is the blackness of the soul, the deformity of it; it is its spot, the discolouring of it; it is natural to us, we were shapen in it, so that we cannot get clear of it by any power of our own. But there is an almighty grace that is able to change the Ethiopian’s skin, and that grace shall not be wanting to those who in a sense of their need of it seek it earnestly and improve it faithfully.
3. It is for their treacherous departures from the God of truth and dependence on lying vanities (Jer. 13:25): “This is thy lot, to be scattered and driven away; this is the portion of thy measures from me, the punishment assigned thee as by line and measure; this shall be thy share of the miseries of this world; expect it, and think not to escape it: it is because thou hast forgotten me, the favours I have bestowed upon thee and the obligations thou art under to me; thou hast no sense, no remembrance, of these.” Forgetfulness of God is at the bottom of all sin, as the remembrance of our Creator betimes is the happy and hopeful beginning of a holy life. “Having forgotten me, thou hast trusted in falsehood, in idols, in an arm of flesh in Egypt and Assyria, in the self-flatteries of a deceitful heart.” Whatever those trust to that forsake God, they will find it a broken reed, a broken cistern.
4. It is for their idolatry, their spiritual whoredom, that sin which is of all sins most provoking to the jealous God. They are exposed to a shameful calamity (Jer. 13:26) because they have been guilty of a shameful iniquity and yet are shameless in it (Jer. 13:27): “I have seen thy adulteries (thy inordinate fancy for strange gods, which thou hast been impatient for the gratification of, and hast even neighed after it), even the lewdness of thy whoredoms, thy impudence and insatiableness in them, thy eager worshipping of idols on the hills in the fields, upon the high places. This is that for which a woe is denounced against thee, O Jerusalem! nay, and many woes.”
IV. Here is an affectionate expostulation with them, in the close, upon the whole matter. Though it was adjudged next to impossible for them to be brought to do good (Jer. 13:23), yet while there is life there is hope, and therefore still he reasons with them to bring them to repentance, Jer. 13:27. 1. He reasons with them concerning the thing itself: Wilt thou not be made clean? Note, It is the great concern of those who are polluted by sin to be made clean by repentance, and faith, and a universal reformation. The reason why sinners are not made clean is because they will not be made clean; and herein they act most unreasonably: “Wilt thou not be made clean? Surely thou will at length be persuaded to wash thee, and make thee clean, and so be wise for thyself.” 2. Concerning the time of it: When shall it once be? Note, It is an instance of the wonderful grace of God that he desires the repentance and conversion of sinners, and thinks the time long till they are brought to relent; but it is an instance of the wonderful folly of sinners that they put that off from time to time which is of such absolute necessity that, if it be not done some time, they are certainly undone for ever. They do not say that they will never be cleansed, but not yet; they will defer it to a more convenient season, but cannot tell us when it shall once be.