The first verse is the title of the whole chapter: it does indeed all concern the dearth, but much of it consists of the prophet’s prayers concerning it; yet these are not unfitly said to be, The word of the Lord which came to him concerning it, for every acceptable prayer is that which God puts into our hearts; nothing is our word that comes to him but what is first his word that comes from him. In these verses we have,
I. The language of nature lamenting the calamity. When the heavens were as brass, and distilled no dews, the earth was as iron, and produced no fruits; and then the grief and confusion were universal. 1. The people of the land were all in tears. Destroy their vines and their fig-trees and you cause all their mirth to cease, Hos. 2:11, 12. All their joy fails with the joy of harvest, with that of their corn and wine. Judah mourns (Jer. 14:2), not for the sin, but for the trouble—for the withholding of the rain, not for the withdrawing of God’s favour. The gates thereof, all that go in and out at their gates, languish, look pale, and grow feeble, for want of the necessary supports of life and for fear of the further fatal consequences of this judgment. The gates, through which supplies of corn formerly used to be brought into their cities, now look melancholy, when, instead of that, the inhabitants are departing through them to seek for bread in other countries. Even those that sit in the gates languish; they are black unto the ground, they go in black as mourners and sit on the ground, a the poor beggars at the gates are black in the face for want of food, blacker than a coal, Lam. 4:8. Famine is represented by a black horse, Rev. 6:5. They fall to the ground through weakness, not being able to go along the streets. The cry of Jerusalem has gone up; that is, of the citizens (for the city is served by the field), or of people from all parts of the country met at Jerusalem to pray for rain; so some. But I fear it was rather the cry of their trouble, and the cry of their prayer. 2. The great men of the land felt from this judgment (Jer. 14:3): The nobles sent their little ones to the water, perhaps their own children, having been forced to part with their servants because they had not wherewithal to keep them, and being willing to train up their children, when they were little, to labour, especially in a case of necessity, as this was. We find Ahab and Obadiah, the king and the lord chamberlain of his household, in their own persons, seeking for water in such a time of distress as this was, 1 Kgs. 18:5, 6. Or, rather, their meaner ones, their servants and inferior officers; these they sent to seek for water, which there is no living without; but there was none to be found: They returned with their vessels empty; the springs were dried up when there was no rain to feed them; and then they (their masters that sent them) were ashamed and confounded at the disappointment. They would not be ashamed of their sins, nor confounded at the sense of them, but were unhumbled under the reproofs of the word, thinking their wealth and dignity set them above repentance; but God took a course to make them ashamed of that which they were so proud of, when they found that even on this side hell their nobility would not purchase them a drop of water to cool their tongue. Let our reading the account of this calamity make us thankful for the mercy of water, that we may not by the feeling of the calamity be taught to value it. What is most needful is most plentiful. 3. The husbandmen felt most sensibly and immediately from it (Jer. 14:4): The ploughmen were ashamed, for the ground was so parched and hard that it would not admit the plough even when it was so chapt and cleft that it seemed as if it did not need the plough. They were ashamed to be idle, for there was nothing to be done, and therefore nothing to be expected. The sluggard, that will not plough by reason of cold, is not ashamed of his own folly; but the diligent husbandman, that cannot plough by reason of heat, is ashamed of his own affliction. See what an immediate dependence husbandmen have upon the divine Providence, which therefore they should always have an eye to, for they cannot plough nor sow in hope unless God water their furrows, Ps. 65:10. 4. The case even of the wild beasts was very pitiable, Jer. 14:5, 6. Man’s sin brings those judgments upon the earth which make even the inferior creatures groan: and the prophet takes notice of this as a plea with God for mercy. Judah and Jerusalem have sinned, but the hinds and the wild asses, what have they done? The hinds are pleasant creatures, lovely and loving, and particularly tender of their young; and yet such is the extremity of the case that, contrary to the instinct of their nature, they leave their young, even when they are newly calved and most need them, to seek for grass elsewhere; and, if they can find none, they abandon them, because not able to suckle them. It grieved not the hind so much that she had no grass herself as that she had none for her young, which will shame those who spend that upon their lusts which they should preserve for their families. The hind, when she has brought forth her young, is said to have cast forth her sorrows (Job 39:3), and yet she continues her cares; but, as it follows there, she soon sees the good effect of them, for her young ones in a little while grow up, and trouble her no more, Jer. 14:4. But here the great trouble of all is that she has nothing for them. Nay, one would be sorry even for the wild asses (though they are creatures that none have any great affection for); for, though the barren land is made their dwelling at the best (Job 39:5, 6), yet even that is now made too hot for them, so hot that they cannot breathe in it, but they get to the highest places they can reach, where the air is coolest, and snuff up the wind like dragons, like those creatures which, being very hot, are continually panting for breath. Their eyes fail, and so does their strength, because there is no grass to support them. The tame ass, that serves her owner, is welcome to his crib (Isa. 1:3) and has her keeping for her labour, when the wild ass, that scorns the crying of the driver, is forced to live upon air, and is well enough served for not serving. He that will not labour, let him not eat.
II. Here is the language of grace, lamenting the iniquity, and complaining to God of the calamity. The people are not forward to pray, but the prophet here prays for them, and so excites them to pray for themselves, and puts words into their mouths, which they may make use of, in hopes to speed, Jer. 14:7-9. In this prayer, 1. Sin is humbly confessed. When we come to pray for the preventing or removing of any judgment we must always acknowledge that our iniquities testify against us. Our sins are witnesses against us, and true penitents see them to be such. They testify, for they are plain and evident; we cannot deny the charge. They testify against us, for our conviction, which tends to our present shame and confusion, and our future condemnation. They disprove and overthrow all our pleas for ourselves; and so not only accuse us, but answer against us. If we boast of our own excellencies, and trust to our own righteousness, our iniquities testify against us, and prove us perverse. If we quarrel with God as dealing unjustly or unkindly with us in afflicting us, our iniquities testify against us that we do him wrong; “for our backslidings are many and our revolts are great, whereby we have sinned against thee—too numerous to be concealed, for they are many, too heinous to be excused, for they are against thee.” 2. Mercy is earnestly begged: “Though our iniquities testify against us, and against the granting of the favour which the necessity of our case calls for, yet do thou it.” They do not say particularly what they would have done; but, as becomes penitents and beggars, they refer the matter to God: “Do with us as thou thinkest fit,” Jdg. 10:15. Not, Do thou it in this way or at this time, but “Do thou it for thy name’s sake; do that which will be most for the glory of thy name.” Note, Our best pleas in prayer are those that are fetched from the glory of God’s own name. “Lord, do it, that they mercy may be magnified, thy promise fulfilled, and thy interest in the world kept up; we have nothing to plead in ourselves, but every thing in thee.” There is another petition in this prayer, and it is a very modest one (Jer. 14:9): “Leave us not, withdraw not thy favour and presence.” Note, We should dread and deprecate God’s departure from us more than the removal of any or all our creature-comforts. 3. Their relation to God, their interest in him, and their expectations from him grounded thereupon, are most pathetically pleaded with him, Jer. 14:8, 9. (1.) They look upon him as one they have reason to think should deliver them when they are in distress, yea, though their iniquities testify against them; for in him mercy has often rejoiced against judgment. The prophet, like Moses of old, is willing to make the best he can of the case of his people, and therefore, though he must own that they have sinned many a great sin (Exod. 32:31), yet he pleads, Thou art the hope of Israel. God has encouraged his people to hope in him; in calling himself so often the God of Israel, the rock of Israel, and the Holy One of Israel, he has made himself the hope of Israel. He has given Israel his word to hope in, and caused them to hope in it; and there are those yet in Israel that make God alone their hope, and expect he will be their Saviour in time of trouble, and they look not for salvation in any other; “Thou hast many a time been such, in the time of their extremity.” Note, Since God is his people’s all-sufficient Saviour, they ought to hope in him in their greatest straits; and, since he is their only Saviour, they ought to hope in him alone. They plead likewise, “Thou art in the midst of us; we have the special tokens of thy presence with us, thy temple, thy ark, thy oracles, and we are called by the name, the Israel of God; and therefore we have reason to hope thou wilt not leave us; we are thine, save us. Thy name is called upon us, and therefore what evils we are under reflect dishonour upon thee, as if thou wert not able to relieve thy own.” The prophet had often told the people that their profession of religion would not protect them from the judgments of God; yet here he pleads it with God, as Moses, Exod. 32:11. Even this may go far as to temporal punishments with a God of mercy. Valeat quantum valere potest—Let the plea avail as far as is proper. (2.) It therefore grieves them to think that he does not appear for their deliverance; and, though they do not charge it upon him as unrighteous, they humbly plead it with him why he should be gracious, for the glory of his own name. For otherwise he will seem, [1.] Unconcerned for his own people: What will the Egyptians say? they will say, “Israel’s hope and Saviour does not mind them; he has become as a stranger in the land, that does not at all interest himself in its interests; his temple, which he called his rest for ever, is no more so, but he is in it as a wayfaring man, that turns aside to tarry but for a night in an inn, which he never enquires into the affairs of, nor is in any care about.” Though God never is, yet he sometimes seems to be, as if he cared not what became of his church: Christ slept when his disciples were in storm. [2.] Incapable of giving them any relief. The enemies once said, Because the Lord was not able to bring his people to Canaan, he let them perish in the wilderness (Num. 14:16); so now they will say, “Either his wisdom or his power fails him; either he is as a man astonished (who, though he has the reason of a man, yet, being astonished, is quite at a loss and at his wits’ end) or as a mighty man who is overpowered by such as are more mighty, and therefore cannot save; though mighty, yet a man, and therefore having his power limited.” Either of these would be a most insufferable reproach to the divine perfections; and therefore, why has the God that we are sure is in the midst of us become as a stranger? Why does the almighty God seem as if he were no more than a mighty man, who, when he is astonished, though he would, yet cannot save? It becomes us in prayer to show ourselves concerned more for God’s glory than for our own comfort. Lord, what wilt thou do unto thy great name?